Don’t go to law school*: A lament and a warning

This Blaugust challenge has given me a lot to think about. For example, how should I fill up an entire month with daily posts when I can normally barely manage a weekly schedule? I hope I’ve done well this month with not too much tossed off bullshit.

There is one matter I’ve never really touched on the site, or not in much detail at least. It’s an issue I’ve been thinking about for almost ten years, just about as long as I’ve had the blog up, but since it wasn’t really related to the blog’s subject matter I never wrote about it. Now seems as good a time as any, though, since I’m trying to finish out this month of daily posts, so here it is: don’t go to law school.

This will take some explanation as you can tell from the length of the scroll bar, so prepare

I guess I could have ended this post with its title, but there are a few more important points and clarifications I should make. That’s what the asterisk in the title is for, since there are always some exceptions. First, I’m talking about American law school in this post because that’s the kind I attended and the only one I’m familiar with. I’ve heard that attorneys in Europe and other parts of the world major in law in university and don’t necessarily have to pursue an advanced degree past that stage like we do here (I’d say a law degree in the US, a JD or Juris Doctor, is roughly equivalent to a master’s degree — we’re not doctors despite the degree’s formal name, though we do get the right to that fancy Esquire title upon passing the bar exam that I’ve never used once in my life.) I’ve also heard the Canadian system of law schools is similar to ours, but I don’t know nearly enough about the situation in Canada to address it.

But I can speak to the situation down here, which is utter dogshit. I’ve been reading recently that law school admissions are down in the US. To any younger American lawyer or law grad who’s grown up in this environment, this should be no surprise at all. For those who don’t know the profession, here’s a very rough rundown of the typical path to becoming a licensed attorney (obligatory note: nothing in this post is professional advice and don’t rely on it, do your own research, it’s all based on personal experience.)

1) Get a bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t matter what kind, but given law’s emphasis on reading, writing, and rhetoric, most people go for something in history, political science (this was mine), or English, something in the humanities. Master’s degrees, MBAs and the like are also fine if you happen to have them, but not necessary at all. If you’re STEM, depending on your focus, you might also be able to break into patent law, which most of us are practically barred from.

2) Take the LSAT. As the name suggests, this is sort of a much harder and more frustrating SAT only without the math, designed specifically for law school admissions. It’s administered several times a year and scored on a scale from 120 to 180. Anything above a 160 is generally considered respectable, though if you can break the 170 mark you’ll be in a much more secure position. It is possible to improve your performance somewhat by studying and practicing on old exams and samples, and many candidates sit for the exam up to three times to try for a higher score.

3) Apply. This is a real pain in the ass and requires you to submit a lot of documents and transcripts similar to what you had to do for college admissions, only this time you probably won’t have a school counselor to walk you through the whole process.

This part of the process is filled with traps and pitfalls. Most law schools aren’t worth attending (more on that below) and charge insanely high tuition. Many students aim for the very top elite schools (Yale, Stanford, and Harvard being at the top of that pyramid) but if you can get in-state tuition at a respectable public law school, that may be your best bet. Though note that some states’ “in-state tuition” is still unforgivably high (California being the worst offender. In-state at 50K a year, huh? Why even bother with the distinction at that point?)

4) Get accepted and make it through three years of law school. Easier said than done.

5) Pass the bar exam. Also easier said than done. On top of your almost certainly extortionary tuition, you’ll have to pay out the ass for a bar prep course, money that goes to many of the same companies that run SAT and LSAT prep courses. Kaplan and their competitors are scavengers that feed off of the corpse of the rotting American post-secondary educational system.

If you fail the bar your first time, it’s not the end of the world — unless your new legal job is tied to your passing it, that is. But there’s really no shame in failing once otherwise. The exam tends to be pretty difficult, specific difficulty depending on the state, and pass rates are typically around 60-65% and sometimes even lower.

Failing twice is another matter. You can theoretically take the exam as many times as you need to pass it, but eventually it can become both a running joke and a waste of time. This has unfortunately happened to law school grads before.

That’s, again, a very very rough guide to becoming a licensed attorney. Note that I didn’t say an employed licensed attorney, however. Because even passing the bar absolutely does not guarantee you a job. Maybe it did back in the 80s, but it doesn’t now and hasn’t for a long time.

Here’s one piece of advice you’ll hear over and over if you seek it out (say on one of the subreddits or the forum top-law-schools.com): if you want to attend law school in the US, you have to attend one with a great reputation. There are about 200 accredited law schools throughout the country, and of these maybe a few dozen are worth attending, and even then only under the right circumstances, i.e. a serious reduction in tuition for merit because you got a high LSAT score and have a high or at least a respectable undergrad GPA. Or maybe you got into your local paper because you saved several children from a burning building, but even that might not help you out here.

Make no mistake: numbers matter here. American law schools live and die by their US News & World Report rankings. This list is reissued once a year and is based largely on the average LSAT scores and GPAs of incoming and recent students. Partly for this reason, schools with good reputations are very selective, and schools with stellar reputations won’t even bother considering you unless you have great numbers to show them. And no, they won’t give a shit about your great personality, unfortunately. An utter asshole with a 180 and a 4.0 GPA will excel in place of a decent person with more standard numbers (and note that Ted Cruz and Ron DeSantis are Harvard Law grads if that tells you anything.)

Time to recycle this now even more relevant screenshot. The LSAT logic games are a massive pain in the ass, but you can and will learn them if you’re taking the exam.

Yes, there are a ton of American law schools that will accept you without those great numbers, but these schools are almost without exception not worth attending because of their mediocre and in some cases abysmal bar passage rate and job placement numbers post-graduation. If you’re interested in any single law school, be sure to check their stats on Law School Transparency. Don’t believe the lies told by law school admissions officers who are only interested in securing your tuition funds. (Here I should add: I’ve known excellent lawyers who graduated from schools lower down in the rankings, and after a few years in the profession people care far more about your professional ability than the school you attended. The real problem is actually getting that experience to start with. It’s rough, but name and reputation absolutely matter at this point.)

But let’s say you make it through and manage to pass the bar and land a legal job. Great! Now you’re a working attorney. But is that something you really want to be? You’ve surely thought about the reasons you might want to get a law degree. I’ll run through a few of the most common reasons I’ve heard, both from fellow students in the past and from prospective ones. Here’s the template: I want to become a lawyer because…

I like to argue.

I’ve heard this one a lot. Often it seems tongue-in-cheek and there’s really more to it, but taking it at face value, this isn’t a great reason to become a lawyer. Sure, being an attorney can involve making a lot of arguments in briefs and possibly also in court depending on where you work and what you work at, but if this is really your reason for entering the profession, don’t. If you like to argue, then get on Twitter and argue. You don’t have to get an expensive and life-draining degree to do that.

Also, overly argumentative lawyers are pains in the ass. There’s being a zealous representative of your clients’ interests, which you’re duty-bound to be, and then there’s being an asshole, and the attorneys who consistently cross that line are widely hated in the profession. Usually hated by judges, too, and that’s something you want to absolutely avoid if at all possible.

I want money.

This is at least a refreshingly honest reason if you’re willing to openly admit to it. Some students are attracted by the money, after all. But it’s probably the worst reason of all to become a lawyer for the simple reason that this perceived “lawyer money” largely doesn’t exist. Back in the 80s and 90s, the profession may have been more lucrative, but it sure as hell isn’t now, and take that from someone who’s been in the legal job market for years now. The attorneys who make $120K+ salaries almost all work at big law firms, either straight out of school or after clerking for federal judges for a couple of years. Such jobs are difficult to get because of just how competitive the hiring process is, and if you’re not at an elite law school you’ll have a hard time unless you’re at the top of your class. Additionally, these attorneys are worked like dogs and are expected to bill massive hours, and as a result the long path to equity partnership at these firms (where the real money is) is littered with the bodies of burnouts.

No, most available legal jobs in the US are at small firms, government agencies, legal aid, and district attorney/public defenders’ offices and pay normal person salaries. I won’t tell you my own salary except to say that it’s regrettably not over $120K. It’s decent enough, but not more than what a lot of other “middle-class” professionals make, and certainly less than what a lot of my friends in IT make. If you want money, maybe consider IT instead? Because the vast majority of lawyers are not making amazing money and start closer to the 50-60K range. Some of these same jobs, particularly those at high-volume firms, will also work you to the bone and may even make you question the meaning of your own existence, and all without a commensurate salary (and again I speak from experience there.) If that’s shocking to you, then good — maybe you can rethink this reason for attending law school if that’s what you were aiming for.

Also consider that either way you may be saddled with hundreds of thousands in debt that you can’t even discharge with a bankruptcy. You probably won’t end up underground like Kaiji here, but it’s not much better.

You can do anything with a law degree.

Anyone who says the above to you is either misinformed or lying. A JD is a shackle; it chains you to law as a profession, and you can’t very easily break free from it if you decide you’re sick of law five or ten years down the line (a common angle taken by non-legal employers: “Why would you leave the lucrative and wonderful practice of law? You’ll just run back to a legal job at the first opportunity.” Both of which are complete misunderstandings as you can see above, but good luck convincing them otherwise.)

Though if you do manage to get out of the profession for something more lucrative and/or personally fulfilling, then God bless. I hear Hololive is taking audition submissions, and knowing Nijisanji they’ll be putting out about twelve more waves of VTubers in the next year. Your army of simps will pay you more in superchats and donations than your legal employer ever will. Just don’t ever, ever tell them you’re a lawyer. On top of the usual doxxing concerns, they will ask for legal advice in superchats and you absolutely do not want to risk creating an implied attorney-client relationship with GuraFan_420_69.*

I want to be a respected professional.

Nobody respects lawyers, and a lot of people downright hate us. If you care about what society thinks of you, do something else with your life.

Okay, this answer is partly a joke, but not entirely, because this is still a bad reason for studying law. Entering a profession just because of its perceived respectability, often at the insistence of family, is a terrible idea. I say that fully understanding how difficult it can be to withstand that kind of pressure. Just remember that you’ll be the one going through this ordeal, not them.

I want to help people.

Out of all the common reasons for attending law school, I think this one is the best. As an attorney, you can become uniquely positioned to help your fellow human, especially today in the United States where certain rights that many consider fundamental are being dissolved (yeah, I already got political here with the Ted Cruz and Ron DeSantis comment so whatever.) Aside from that extra-publicized issue (and rightly so) of reproductive rights, there are all sorts of issues to deal with in the fields of immigration (bonus points here if you speak a second language commonly found in the US like Spanish), labor, and landlord-tenant relations.

However, there’s another warning to heed here: getting into these areas can be difficult depending upon where you’re starting out. For one, they don’t pay that well (as you might imagine, since your clients generally won’t be rich.) Legal aid organizations do exist around the country and keep attorneys on staff, but these also don’t pay much. If you’re thinking that might make it easier to get those jobs, however, think again, because even low-paying legal aid organizations have selective hiring processes. And if you’re in a position where you can barely feed yourself on top of paying your probably large student loan debt, you won’t be in much of a position to help others. Still, if you can make it work, legal aid is an excellent calling, and if you’re instead in a traditional firm, taking pro bono work after you’re established is a great way to give back to the community.

I don’t know what else to do.

The final reason I’ll be considering, and another bad one. This was also my reason. I wasn’t sure what else to do with a fucking political science degree anyway. I certainly didn’t take it into politics, which I am thankful for at least.

All that said, does the title of this post still hold up? I’d say it does as long as you keep the exceptions in mind. I believe that likely most Americans thinking about law school now shouldn’t apply for it. That group might have even included me ten years ago, but I’m stuck in the profession now. I thank God I’ve found a niche that I can tolerate, but that was partly thanks to luck, and a lot of people can’t manage it. It’s not even a niche I would recommend getting into, which is partly why I’m not going into detail about it. It was more of an escape for me, and then not even a complete one.

But in the end, it’s your life, and you have to make your own decisions about how to spend it. If you’re dead set on also working as an attorney, all I can advise is that you do your best, take in and properly filter all the information and advice that you can, and absolutely do not walk in expecting to get the best possible outcome for yourself, because that’s just not how life works. I know I’m a pessimist, but here I think I’m being balanced — realistic expectations are vital to maintain. Law school is viciously competitive, everything is graded on a curve, and if you don’t already have connections in high places or a guaranteed well-paying job waiting for you by the end, you’ll have to rely on a mix of luck and skill to make it through to the other side in good shape. If you’re up for that challenge, then I honestly wish you the best of luck. We need good, decent people in this profession — otherwise society will suffer even more than it is already. The problem is the system doesn’t make always make it easy to do the best thing possible.

If you’re already a law student reading this, I also don’t want to discourage you. Sheer motivation isn’t enough to secure a great future, but it’s a necessary element and it does help a lot. And look, I’m still around and doing relatively okay, so it’s not actually the worst decision in the world to study law in the US if I’m any indication. It’s just a decision I might not make again, knowing what I know now. And again, my experience is just mine — I’m drawing from that and stories I’ve heard from friends and colleagues in the profession, but other attorneys and law grads might have different stories to tell you.

And anyway, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if I hadn’t gone through these ordeals. I can’t say whether that would be a good or bad thing, but it’s hard to talk about regret when you factor that element in.

We’re not kids anymore and life isn’t supposed to be easy anyway. I just don’t want to see people making it harder than it needs to be. And Azumanga Daioh is actually relevant here if you can believe that. I’ve been rewatching the whole series lately, so expect something on it soon-ish, it’s worth a serious look — I can appreciate some parts of it a lot more at my current age and point in life.

Now I’m at the point where I’ve really been rambling too long, so I’ll leave it here. Tomorrow I’ll write about something lighter (and it will be a far shorter post, I can promise that. Until then.)

 

* I know there are lawyers who stream on YouTube, yeah, but I’m sure they have ways of dealing with this. I just don’t know what they are. Not sure a plain disclaimer is enough, but I haven’t looked into it anyway since I have no interest in streaming myself.

Eight years on, a few thoughts

Hey, it’s time for another deeply personal post, so if you only want to read about games/anime/music/etc. feel free to skip this one. I won’t be offended. Hell, I won’t even know, really, so it doesn’t make a difference. However, there are a few thoughts I’ve had recently about writing, and specifically about my writing here, and these tie in with the subjects I write about and with my life as a whole. So it is relevant, but still, a warning: I complain a whole lot this time, so if you don’t want to read that, please wait for my next post. Also some stuff about depression and other problems probably. But it doesn’t have such a bad ending, I promise.

Still have to admit that his image is relevant to most of my waking hours, and even to some of the sleeping ones.

This month marks eight years I’ve had this site. When I started it in 2013, I was a different person in many ways. At the time, I was just starting my final degree program, whereas now I’m a working and licensed professional. I also didn’t have much of the responsibility — or sense of responsibility — that I feel now.

Without getting into too many specifics about my life, I can’t live the way I’d prefer for reasons that have to do with family and culture.* This has caused me a lot of stress over the last few years, stress that I haven’t even been able to express — at least not as myself, in my offline life. When I hear people talking about living for yourself, doing what’s best for you, I’m reminded that I can’t do that, and moreover that a lot of people don’t understand why I can’t do that, why I feel so constrained.

This is partly a result of being brought up in (or caught between, maybe) two cultures with very different concepts about tradition and family. I’m very much an American culturally, but the traditional culture of one side of my family has also had a massive impact on me, and one that I can’t avoid. This is partly what constrains me. If I were a more naturally generous and selfless person, I probably wouldn’t feel so constrained, but I have no illusions about myself. I’m actually selfish in the sense that I really want to live the way I like, but since I can’t, I pretend to be a better person than I am. Partly in an effort to actually be that better person, maybe. I don’t know if that’s working, but I still feel bitter about it sometimes.

I’m sorry to be so vague here, but I hope my feelings come across at least. This site is one of the only ways I have to express myself in the way I’d like. And that’s where all the bullshit I write about games and anime and music comes in. I have a few offline friends who share my weeb interests, but most of them don’t. The same is true of my professional colleagues. There are certainly other lawyers out there somewhere with my interests, but aside from one who I’ve more or less lost contact with (though the contact’s not broken at least; it’s really a matter of physical distance) I can’t get into these subjects with them.

That’s not unique to law, certainly — I get the impression that the same is true of almost any professional/corporate American setting. At least when fucking Game of Thrones was running I could relate to people about that, even when it really went bad. By contrast, Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro and similar stuff I write about here obviously doesn’t work as around the water cooler talk, even if it is popular in the fringe circles I and other writers get into here on WordPress.*

And I won’t even get into visual novels. At least not some of them.

This is doubly, triply true of family. Maybe it’s a cliché to say so, but they really wouldn’t understand my interests if they knew about them. I don’t think I’m jumping to conclusions here, either — the few times I’ve tested the waters in that sense, I’ve gotten burned, so I have good reason to believe as I do.

This brings me to the main point. A few years ago, I asked myself why I was keeping up a blog. When I asked myself that question, I had been pushed out of my last job, which I was naturally pretty distressed about. Technically I’d quit to save face, but I have to be honest about it — the axe was about to fall on my neck, and I knew it. And money was an issue for me as it is for almost everyone on Earth.

In fact, leaving that job and ending the daily misery associated with it was one of the best things that’s happened in my life to this point, but at the time, I had no idea where or how I’d end up. But thankfully, I’m in a much better place now. My health and mentality aren’t perfect, but certainly better than they were before, thanks in part to my new work situation over the last few years and to certain lifestyle changes I’ve made. I’ve also become resigned to some unavoidable constraints on my personal life — agonizing over them is useless, and as depressing as it might sound, giving up has helped me come to terms with that. Hope can be a good thing, but a pointless and worthless hope can eat at you and drive you insane — this is my feeling about it, anyway.

Because of all this, I’ve found that I can’t stop writing here. At the end of June, I took what I meant to be a hiatus to deal with certain matters that were causing me issues, and I’m still dealing with them, but I’ve found that writing actually helps keep me balanced. Ever since returning to writing on a regular basis here a few years ago, I haven’t been able to stop or slow down very much. It might have to do with my obsessive-compulsive personality — I don’t use that term lightly, because I do have some actual issues with OCD, though thankfully they’re minor and manageable. So maybe writing here is a kind of obsession as well.

I’m not qualified to say anything at all about psychology, so that might be total bullshit. But if it’s true, I don’t mind having this obsession. I enjoy writing here, even or maybe especially through harder-than-usual times, and so unless I happen to just fall over one day (a real possibility given the old “fast living” habits that I’ve gotten away from, but I don’t worry about that anymore) I’ll keep going here.

Semi-related: Chiri from SZS is a pretty good example of one of the ways OCD can play out.

Maybe this long rambling load of garbage I just wrote was completely unnecessary to express this feeling, but I have a lot I’m carrying around right now, and I felt I had to unload a bit. I’m well aware that I don’t have it so bad, especially compared to at least 95% of the rest of humanity, so I don’t want to say I’ve gone through hardships — I have plenty of family who have gone through truly serious hardships, and I know friends who have been through more than I have besides. But it’s all relative, and it’s hard to keep that kind of perspective when you’re wondering about the point of your life in itself. I hope I’ve at least gotten enough perspective to resolve that sort of existential crisis stuff, at least enough that I can go on living more or less productively.

And if you’ve stuck around for all my bullshit, dear reader, I want to thank you as well for helping me with that. I am really grateful for it. Next time, I’ll post something at least marginally less self-indulgent than this post was. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be leaning towards the anime reviews since I’ve been watching so much of it lately (and a reminder to check out Asobi Asobase! Weird in a good way.) But I won’t be neglecting games either — I just happen to be stuck in the middle of a few massive ones at the moment. There are still those itch.io indie games to get through, and some of them are pretty interesting, so I’ll be taking those on in the meantime as well. Along with one game in particular that’s extremely overdue for a review. Until then!

 

* Except to note that it has nothing to do with having a kid or a wife or anything. If that were the case, I’d dive into all that headfirst without complaint.

** Not that I really expect it to make for water cooler talk. Still, this is an issue that someone could write a book about. Maybe someone already has. The fact that I’m expected to give a fuck about pro and college football and the NBA, yet my fringe interests are just that: fringe. I know “nerd culture” is supposedly mainstream now, but it feels like only a narrow band of works are actually included in that. Namely the ones that are put out by major studios and publishers.

But I don’t want to have “nerd rage” here or whatever people who complain about nerds complaining about things call it. This is a subject for a different post, really, and one that I’ve written before and might write again later. I’m nothing if not repetitive.

A review of Shirobako

I’m not the biggest expert on anime out there — there are plenty of other writers here on the platform who have watched much more of it than I have. And there are some personalities on YouTube that are very knowledgeable as well worth watching if you can look past all the weird drama those types sometimes find themselves in. I’ve watched a decent amount of it since growing up as a kid in the 90s, back when watching anime wasn’t as socially acceptable as it is now (and I am thankful those days seem to be at least sort of over.) But one aspect of it I never knew much about was how it’s actually made.

The high school anime club that doesn’t just sit around watching anime but actually makes it

This is partly why I’m happy I finally got around to watching Shirobako (lit. “white box”, referring to the copy of an anime episode distributed internally in a studio before release.) This 2014-15 24-episode original series centers on Aoi Miyamori (center with the light hair) and her four high school friends who make up their school’s anime club. Anime club at my school just involved watching it (or that’s what I heard — as weird as this might sound, I never joined it) but this club creates anime, doing everything: the drawing, coloring, animation, sounds and voices. At first, Shirobako looks like it might stick around in high school following these girls’ antics for a while before they graduate. But three minutes after the opening, they all swear a pact on a bunch of doughnuts (???) that they’ll work in the industry as professionals and make anime together, and then there’s a jump forward a few years to Miyamori sitting in her car with a binder full of work and an exhausted expression.

Shirobako is an adult show, but not in the lewd sense — rather in the sense that it’s about a bunch of adults trying to make it in the world, and in this case, the world of anime production. The narrative doesn’t always stick to Miyamori, but she is the most central character among the show’s large cast. Her job as a production assistant at Musashino Animation requires her to coordinate with many other staff members and contractors, including animators, character designers, 3D modellers, sound engineers, and episode directors. And perhaps most critically with the series director himself, who’s talented but also lazy, requiring Aoi and her colleagues to constantly prod him to keep working. While she shares her duties at the production desk with a few other assistants working under the chief producer, there’s more than enough work to go around that she often feels stressed and has to work out how to cope with her schedule.

You might think of that scene from Office Space, but it’s really not like that.

Of course, Miyamori can’t only think about herself: her responsibilities as a production assistant force her to consider the schedules and workloads of many of the studio’s other employees. The way in which she and her colleagues at the production desk have to stay on top of their other colleagues makes their jobs very delicate, but also extremely important — they have to be understanding of the other creators’ workloads while also keeping them motivated and moving along at a regular pace.

On the surface, Shirobako is about an anime studio turning out two series, one in its first 12 episodes and another in the last 12. But it’s really more about all the personalities working on the shows, personalities that sometimes clash violently. Both within Musashino Animation and outside of it, conflicts flare up around the production of these two shows that Aoi and her production desk coworkers have to sort out. One such conflict involves a fight early on in the production of an action magical girl-looking show called Exodus! between a 2D and a 3D animator. The two fight over the use of 3D instead of 2D for a particular key action scene, with the 2D artist essentially storming out in protest. Eventually the two manage to find common ground and get back together on the team, but it takes some skillful diplomacy by Aoi and a couple of her colleagues to make this happen.

A completely different fight over which voice actresses to hire; this is one of my favorite scenes

There are several other character clashes like this throughout this series, and all of them feel very genuine, as if they could have easily been pulled out of real life. The same is true for the bonds of friendship we see develop, thanks largely to these employees all being thrown into the apparent meat grinder of anime production. Even when clashes occur, they manage to keep their professionalism and smooth things over. This is for the sake of the anime they’re putting out, but I also got the sense that the writer meant to express a sense of common respect among them. Anyone who’s ever been lucky enough to work in an office with a good, productive culture can probably relate. Deadlines are tight and demands can be difficult to meet, but when everyone pulls together things usually work out (by contrast, in a dysfunctional office with a toxic, backstabby culture, it’s usually just the opposite — you instead wonder how the hell the company is still operating.)*

For that reason more than any other, Shirobako feels like a very real-life show. This is true even when it shifts into its frequent fantasy sequences. Most of these involve two of Aoi’s keychain characters, a bear and a gothic lolita pirate captain-looking girl, coming to life and commenting on whatever problem she’s dealing with at the time — sort of like seeing two sides of her mind trying to work that problem out. It looks goofy, but it’s actually a great way to depict Aoi’s thought processes without just constantly going into internal monologue mode (not that that’s always bad, but I appreciated the different approach here.)

Plus some shared hallucinations, why not

Of course, it’s not possible to sustain a constant pace of work without burning out. To its great credit, that’s another aspect of working life that Shirobako addresses. Deadlines in anime production are apparently very tight, with one small delay in one piece of work potentially causing a massive ripple effect down the line. It’s very easy to see how this could result in extremely high levels of stress and burnout in those employed in the industry, especially at companies with reputations for high-quality work to uphold (the stories I’ve read of just how stressful working at Studio Ghibli can be, for example, make even more sense now, and not just because of Hayao Miyazaki’s apparently really complicated character.)

All these pressures often foster doubts in Aoi and her young colleagues just getting their starts in the industry. Even the veterans aren’t immune from the stress, but the natural doubts many younger people carry around about their talent and their goals in life can be hard to bear in these high-stress situations.

Aoi trying to comfort one of her high school friends Ema Yasuhara, an animator at the same studio.

Instead of just pushing through and eventually suffering from a stress-induced attack, Aoi and her colleagues find ways to cope with the stress while still maintaining their professionalism and work ethics. Part of this involves what some people now call “self-care”, stuff like exercise and walking around outside, along with Ema’s dance routine on the roof that makes for one of my other favorite scenes. Of course, there’s also plenty of drinking together to wipe that stress away, though I don’t think anyone in the show ever drinks to excess (aside from one freelance animator later on, whose drunkenness comes in handy when the team needs someone to agree to help with their series on short notice. Agreements made when you’re drunk aren’t enforceable where I live, but it all works out for Aoi and friends.)

It’s also admirable to see Aoi’s old friends from school sticking together, even when some of them aren’t quite making it yet. This sort of thing can sometimes inspire bitterness, but not here. While the five friends are mostly doing their own separate things throughout the show, they all eventually come together in the end in a way that’s satisfying, though I won’t spoil exactly how that goes.

Sometimes you just have to eat your losses and move on (edit: this isn’t how it ends though, just want to make that clear)

I wouldn’t call Shirobako a “feel-good” story exactly, since it does acknowledge all the awful bullshit that can occur when you’re working. However, it also has a positive message. Hard work isn’t quite enough to make it, but if you have the support of your friends and colleagues and manage to keep your ego in check, you can create great things. It’s a mature and realistic series. But it’s not deadly serious or overblown either; there are some pretty nice and relaxed stretches as well, and even in the high-pressure chaos stretches of the show, there’s some comedy.

So I highly recommend Shirobako. It’s a fascinating series to watch if you have an interest in anime; I learned something about the technical aspects of anime and some of the inner workings of the industry by watching it. However, even if you’re not interested at all in that, or even in anime in general (in which case thanks for reading my post about an anime series this far!) I’d say it’s still worth watching, since a lot of that message can be applied just as easily to most any industry. I think Shirobako has a really wide appeal, even if it might seem to be about a bit of a niche subject. And of course, the most important reason to watch: it’s entertaining. I don’t have a clever (read: stupid) way to end this review, so that’s it. I liked Shirobako and I think you should watch it.

* One of the reasons I think I connected so much with Shirobako is that I’ve had the good fortune to have worked in both kinds of offices. Thankfully, I’m at the good sort of company now, but I learned a lot from my time at the bad one, lessons that I might not have learned otherwise about the extreme importance of reading character and building professional relationships of trust. Shirobako really gets into the psychology of work in that sense.

The Real Neat Blog Award, round 3

It’s another award, this time from Pete Davison of MoeGamer.  Pete writes about worthy niche games that certain professional game review sites either look down upon or won’t get anywhere near.  It’s well worth reading, and if you like my stuff anyway, you’ll like his too.  Thanks very much again for the tag.

Here are the rules once again:

1. Display the logo
2. Thank the bloggers for the award.
3. Answer the questions from the one who nominated you.
4. Nominate 7 to 10 bloggers.
5. Ask them 7 questions.

So with 1 and 2 out of the way, let’s move on to the substance: the questions.

1. Have you ever deliberately sought out a piece of media you knew would make you uncomfortable somehow? If so, why did you do that and what was the experience like?

I can’t say I’ve done that.  I’ve watched movies and read books that have plenty of heavy, depressing parts to them, but I wasn’t really going in with the mindset that “I will be uncomfortable with some of this material” or anything like that.  I can’t even say I was seeking those kinds of works out because I thought they’d make me uncomfortable.  As far as media that expresses opinions I completely disagree with, I did read the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s book A Matter of Interpretation, but that was assigned for a class, so I don’t know if that counts.  For what it’s worth, Scalia was a very entertaining writer, a rarity for a federal judge or a lawyer of any kind (I hope I’m an exception to that rule too.)  I still think most of his views were repugnant and/or crazy, but it’s a great book to read if you want to understand the mindset of a typical conservative judge in a US court.

These days I spend most of my time at work, and when I play, watch, or read something for pleasure, I prefer something that brings me pleasure, not discomfort.  I do understand the value of playing games, watching movies, or reading books well outside your comfort zone, though, even if I don’t necessary seek them out myself.  I’m just getting old and cranky, that’s all.  But I believe there’s a lesson in this, especially for game developers: if you want to express an aggressively challenging message, just wrap it in great gameplay and interesting characters and have it sneak up on me and I’ll be all about it (unless your message is bullshit, of course.)  Also, for God’s sake, make the message just a little subtle.  I don’t want to be talked down to like I’m a child.  Even children shouldn’t be talked down to like they’re children.  Give your audience a little credit, please.

2. What is your favourite tangible, physical item that you own and why?

A page from the Harada artbook. Very worth buying if you can find it for a halfway decent price now.

Does my entire physical library of games, albums, and books count as one item?  No, I guess not.

I’m not sure there’s one single thing I can say I own that’s my favorite.  They all have different functions that are pretty useful to me. I don’t have any family heirlooms or anything, and even if I did, I don’t think I’d get much value out of having them myself beyond the memories that might come with them.  I do really like that Takehito Harada Art Works Vol. 1 artbook I was talking about a couple of posts ago, though.  If I were forced to sell all my artbooks but one (God forbid such a thing should ever happen) that’s the one I’d keep.  Harada is one of my favorite artists, and the book is full of art of some of my favorite characters, so how could I bear to part with it?  It’s also translated, which is nice because it means I can read it now instead of two or three years from now when I hopefully get through most of my Japanese lessons.

3. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever sat on deliberately?

I could think of all the sorts of lewd answers you might get to this question, but unfortunately I don’t have any of those.  My actual answer is the Duck, an old World War II amphibious military vehicle that’s basically a combination car and boat, a boat with wheels.  The “DUKW” as it was originally named (get it) is now used by a Boston tour company to take people around the streets and into the famous harbor.  I can’t remember whether the tour was worth taking — I was 8 or 9 at the time the one time I was in Boston.  But the Duck tours seem to still be operating, so I guess it’s something to do if you’re there for a while and have nothing else going on.

4. What do you want for Christmas? (I’m not going to get you it, I’m just curious.)

“What is this, exactly?”
“Don’t… don’t ask.”

You know you’ve truly become an adult when your answer to that question is “a Visa gift card so I can buy food.”  There are certainly some less necessary things I want, but I’m going to be buying those for myself, not asking my family or friends for them, because they’ll start to ask some questions about my interests at that point that I don’t feel like answering.  At least not until I’m rich enough to not have to care what anyone thinks of me anymore.  If you know a good way to make millions of dollars while not being an asshole tycoon who pollutes the environment or employs contractors like Foxconn, please let me know and we can work something out.

5. Do you have something you would like to achieve that you know is well within reach, but which you can’t seem to make progress on? If so, what do you think is stopping you? If not, what was the last major achievement you think you accomplished?

I need to get my piano proficiency back.  I used to play pretty well, but I’m rusty as hell after years away from it.  I know I can still play from messing around on pianos and keyboards a few times — once you’re good enough, playing an instrument isn’t something you ever forget how to do, no matter how much time has passed.  But I’d need a month or two to get back to where I used to be.  Sadly I don’t have room for the family piano where I live now, and I don’t have enough to afford a non-shitty keyboard with weighted keys, so there’s not much I can do at the moment.  Maybe next year.

6. Assume you work full-time if you don’t already. If we suddenly switched to a 4-day working week, what would you do with that extra day?

I usually work well more than full-time, so a 4-day week is an even better deal that it would be for actual 9-to-5 toilers.  Hell, I would jump at the chance to work four tens, but that’s just a fantasy.  Assuming the fantasy could come true, though, I would use that time to write and accelerate my Japanese studies.

7. Think of the characters you find attractive — in terms of both personality and appearance. What traits do they have in common, and what is it you find attractive about those traits?

Well, here’s the big question.  I thought about it a bit, and while I find a variety of characters attractive in personality and appearance, I really like those that are extremely loyal.  Not the yandere-crazy type of loyal, but the stubborn type.  Like Saber from Fate/Stay Night, Flonne from Disgaea, and Aigis (who you could argue as an android is programmed to be loyal, but it’s pretty clear she gained a sense of human-like identity in Persona 3 so I think there’s a lot more going on there.)

I suppose it’s pretty obvious why loyalty is attractive, at least on the surface.  It’s great to be with someone who you can trust even with your life.  On the other hand, loyalty can have its downsides — if it’s not reciprocated, it can cause a lot of emotional pain, and it can drive people to do stupid or even evil things if they’re loyal to the wrong sort of person.  A little skepticism can be good sometimes as well.  Even so, I like the idea of having a loyal partner if only for the reason that she’d force me to examine my own sense of loyalty and honor as well and hopefully make me a better person for it.

Or maybe I just like cute blonde girls.

***

Thanks to Pete again for the insightful questions.  Now here are the questions I promised last time.  I’m cheating a bit here because the previous nomination I received required 11 questions, but I’ve done a few of these now and the well’s run a bit dry.  I hope I’m not repeating any of my older questions with the following seven.  The last couple are holiday-related because I don’t know.  The holidays or whatever.  You know.

1) Is there a game, book, or other work that you’d like to experience but that you can’t because it’s untranslated, not ported, or otherwise inaccessible?

2) What’s one work that really affected you or stuck with you in the last year, and why do you think it did?

3) If you could revive one series of works that’s been abandoned or dropped by its creators for any reason, what series would it be and why?

4) When it comes to music, do you prefer songs with vocals and lyrics or instrumental pieces, or do you have a preference at all?  If you prefer one type over the other, why do you think that is?

5) When was the last time you bought a magazine, newspaper, or other form of print media?

6) Is there a holiday you don’t get to celebrate/take off because of family or work reasons but that you wish you could?

7) If you had to create a new holiday, when would it be and what would it involve?

And the tagged persons are:

NekoJonez

Scott @ Mechanical Anime Reviews

Gaming Omnivore

Frostilyte

Pinkie’s Paradise

Ospreyshire

Red Metal @ Extra Life

As usual — if I tag you too often, or you don’t care for these questions, feel free to ignore them, but if I haven’t tagged you, also feel free to answer them.  Do whatever you want, in fact.  Freedom is great, isn’t it?

Deep reads #0: Preface

Yes, it’s yet another new feature here on the site. This time, though, the idea behind it is very broad — it’s just going to be me writing about certain themes and concepts present in games and anime series and other forms of entertainment I like.  This gives me the opportunity to cover both works that I’ve written about before in greater detail and sharper focus and works that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while.  I’ll be lumping most of these posts into sub-series sorted by theme that might run anywhere from 2 to 4 or 5 posts.  I hope this whole series/sub-series setup doesn’t get too tangled up or confusing.

Hell, the title I’ve chosen for the feature is already confusing enough.  I went with “deep reads” because I’m covering these works in greater depth than I normally would in a basic review and because every other title I thought of was too clunky, but the “reads” part doesn’t make much sense because I probably won’t be covering any books.  I do a mind-numbing amount of reading at work anyway.  Someone else can write theses about profound works of literature; I’m sticking to weeb-centric and weeb-adjacent games and shows just like I always have.  And western stuff as well.  Anything that grabs my interest, really, but the point is it will be the same sort of stuff I’ve written about for the last few years here.

I admit I’d play video games for 3 days straight if I could get away with it, but I wouldn’t do those second and third things just to be clear

Since these posts are going to be more analyses than reviews, they’ll all be full of spoilers.  If you’re curious about my opinions of these works but you don’t want to read a particular post because you’re avoiding spoilers, here’s a blanket statement that you can rely on: I recommend checking out every single work I’ll be writing about in this series, because I more or less like all of them.  They might not all be for you, of course, which is why I say I recommend checking them out instead of buying them right away.  Though if you trust my judgment and taste enough to do that, I’d be very flattered.

You can look forward to the first post in this series soon (or soon-ish, at least.)  In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Twitter even though I hardly ever post there.

Caffeine mints have become my #2 energy source

For the curious, #1 is coffee. There is no #3. The natural joy of being alive and waking up in the morning gives me 0 units of energy. In fact, I think it might give me negative energy.

As a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I don’t like making personal blog posts. This is not a personal blog for the reason that I don’t find my life that interesting and don’t think that anyone else cares to hear about it. I also think this is true of 99%+ of people, and thus that personal blogs are generally pretty worthless outside of a small circle of family and friends around the author. Hence I try to make my writing have broad appeal with the game and travel posts and the lack of “here’s what I did today” type stuff.

However, this post has broad appeal too despite being a somewhat personal one, because who doesn’t like caffeine? As the most widely used drug in the world, caffeine is a staple of societies throughout the world and has proven benefits in productivity and creativity when used moderately. And if you like caffeine, you will probably also like caffeine mints.

Penguin_Peppermint_04

A few weeks ago, I ordered two types of caffeinated mints online. My plan was to buy energy cheaply and in a convenient form (meaning one I can take to the library and not worry about spilling all over the place.) The first I bought were several tins of Penguin mints. Each of these have 7 mg of caffeine. For reference, a typical cup of brewed coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine. These Penguin mints have apparently been around for a long time (20/30 years?) and are sweetened with aspartame, which maybe isn’t so great. That’s not going to stop me from eating them. They taste pretty much like regular mints, come in nice tins like Altoids and give you a kick if you eat enough of them (10+).

I also bought a can of mints on the cheap from a certain website that sells a lot of weird nerd stuff. These have 20 mg of caffeine each, are chalky and taste like ass. Strange, because the label says they have sugar in them. In any case, they’re good enough as an inexpensive boost. I’m a 2L on a law journal now, so I really need them.

This is the face of evil.

This is the face of evil.

If you are a law student like me, or are in any other kind of program or job that requires long nights, I highly recommend caffeine mints. But be careful. Some guy in England died after eating a lot of them last year and now his daughter is afraid of coffee.