Listening/reading log #9 (June 2020)

If you feel like we’re living in a TV drama about an alternate history timeline, I do too. In which case I’d ask why I’m stuck playing the role I am, but that’s probably my fault for making poor life decisions. At least no matter what happens, short of the world actually ending in an apocalypse, we’ll be able to listen to music and read blogs, and that’s what I’ll be covering in this post as usual.

Ege Bamyasi (Can, 1972)

Highlights: Sing Swan Song, Vitamin C, Spoon

Maybe Can is a weird name for a band, and maybe a can of okra makes for a weird album cover, but this is absolutely one of my favorite albums ever. Can was a German band with an amazing rhythm section and a Japanese singer who sang bizarre nonsense lyrics. The effect is really striking on their best albums like Ege Bamyasi. I could have put most of the songs up in the highlights list really; they’re that good, though it’s a bit hard for me to explain why aside from saying… they’re good. I’m a pretty useless reviewer as it turns out.

This is another album that doesn’t feel like it means anything at all (though I could be wrong, maybe it’s really just about okra?) but that doesn’t matter when it’s so memorable and hypnotic. Very good music for studying because of those beats, though Damo Suzuki’s yelling can maybe be distracting sometimes. Tago Mago and Future Days are also great albums by Can to check out.

Touhou Explosive Jazz 7 (Tokyo Active NEETs, 2014)

Highlights: 六十年目の東方裁判, フラワリングナイト 〜紅霧夜華2014

I’ve already written about Tokyo Active NEETs once before, specifically a review of album #6 in this series, but they’re still one of my favorite doujin music groups out there. Active NEETs are a jazz ensemble that plays a lot of music derived from the Touhou Project series of shmups, already known for its excellent BGM.

And they totally do it justice. Just like 6, Touhou Explosive Jazz 7 is energetic, catchy, and full of great takes on songs this time from the game Touhou 9: Phantasmagoria of Flower View. Active NEETs also put up a lot of great videos on Youtube — be sure to check out the links above, the first of which is a live studio recording of one of the pieces from the album, and the second of which is an MMD animation of characters from the game in a band playing the various parts. Makes a little more sense if you’re familiar with the series (for example, the guy dancing around with a sack over his head, and two sort of friend/rival characters Reimu and Marisa cutting each other off during their performance in the animation) but they can still be enjoyed without knowing anything about Touhou, just like the music itself.

Close to the Edge (Yes, 1972)

Hightlights: Close to the Edge, And You And I

And finally, another repeat artist because I guess I’m getting lazy. Close to the Edge was one of those mind-blowing albums for me when I was young, though I discovered it thirty years after it came out, so I can only imagine the effect it had back then. Yes’ music sometimes gets accused of being weird and emotionally detached, and I think this album is part of why some people feel that way — some of it is very strange stuff, and the lyrics on it are seemingly 100% meaningless even though they do feel like they’re supposed to be about something. It also only features three songs, and the first one lasts 18 minutes.

But it’s also almost all just as catchy as good pop music, and with the added bonus of being played by astoundingly great musicians. If something is boring the shit out of me, I’ll stop trying to listen to it, but Close to the Edge holds a lot of energy and excitement. “Close to the Edge” is still one of my favorite songs ever, and the other two have some fine moments as well, though I do think the quality drops off in the closer. Even so, it’s still a great album. I also want to highlight this 8-bit version of the title track made by a guy on Youtube with the name EvangelionUnit06, because it’s also fantastic.

And now, the featured posts:

Let’s Get It On: Why Sex Scenes In Video Games Is One Experience I Can Live Without (simpleek) — Right out of the gate featuring a post about sex of course. Simpleek sets out an argument for why game developers might hold off on putting sex scenes into video games at least until the technology improves.

The Evolution of My Views on the CGDCT Genre & The Dangers of Positivism (I drink and watch anime) — Overly enthusiastic fans can sometimes raise expectations for their favorite works a whole lot, maybe too much. In this post, Irina explores how this has affected her experience with the “cute girls doing cute things” anime genre.

Visual Novel Theatre: Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan (Lost to the Aether) — Aether continues his look into visual novels with a review of a VN about a dopey weeb visiting Japan for the first time, where he’s unexpectedly hosted by two cute sisters, and it sounds like embarrassing situations also occur as a result. Who would have guessed such a thing would happen in a visual novel?

System Mastery is my Jam (Frostilyte Writes) — A game with mechanics that are harder to master can lead to a more fulfilling experience. Frostilyte explores this idea by contrasting indie games Dicey Dungeons and One Step from Eden.

12 Random Japan School Life Tidbits (Umai Yomu Anime Blog) — Yomu, who’s currently teaching at a school in Japan, gives some real examples of Japanese school life and how it’s both similar to and different from what we’ve seen in anime and games.

MOTHER Gallery at Shibuya PARCO (Resurface to Reality) — Those who are into the Mother series should read browsercrasher’s post about a Mother-related gallery exhibit in Japan. When things open up again, we should push for video game-related public exhibits here in the States.

Mega Man 5 (Extra Life) — I never got around to playing Mega Man 5, but Red Metal’s review of the game got me interested in it. It’s always amazed me how they were able to take the series all the way to six entries on the NES anyway.

The Vita’s Not Dead Yet! Three Reasons Why You Should Still Own A PS Vita In 2020! (Down the Otaku Rabbit Hole!) — From loplopbunny, a post about why the Vita is still a system worth owning even after the recent Persona 4 Golden release on Steam. I got a lot of use out of my Vita, so I don’t agree with the many people I’ve heard say it “didn’t have any games.” For a complete argument, check out loplopbunny’s post.

Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 – Part 1: Welp…. (Mechanical Anime Reviews) — It was rough to see the SAC_2045 series on Netflix. I really like the character designer (I’ve even written about one of his artbooks here, really a great artist) and the original Stand Alone Complex was excellent. But read Scott’s review to find out where and how this new series went.

That’s it for June. I have a lot lined up this month, including more of those short “summer cleaning” reviews, an extra-long game review, and another massive commentary/analysis/series of complaints, so I hope you look forward to those. Until then.

Listening/reading log #4 (January 2020)

Well!  We managed to almost get through the first month of the decade without a total global disaster occurring yet, so I guess that’s good.  More importantly, I got halfway through my latest deep reads series of posts this month, so check out the first and second parts of that if you haven’t already.  Since life in the world and here in my country continues despite all the unrest we’re going through, we may as well keeping listening to good music and reading good blog posts.  Here are some of those.

The Yes Album (Yes, 1971)

Highlights: Starship Trooper, I’ve Seen All Good People

I guess it’s tradition now that I include at least one classic prog album in my listening log, so here’s another one.  Out of all the big old classic prog bands, Yes is arguably the most positive in tone (they named themselves “Yes” for just that reason supposedly) and The Yes Album is maybe the most positive-sounding of their classic period, which just happens to start with The Yes Album.  It’s the first one of theirs I heard, and it’s a great introduction to the band, featuring some typically long as hell songs with a lot of impressive solos and the insane, seemingly meaningless lyrics of unearthly high-pitched singer Jon Anderson (no, that’s not a falsetto he’s singing in, that’s really his regular voice.)

My favorite track on the album is “Starship Trooper”.  Everything about it is great — it’s sort of a combination of folk-rock and space-rock, which probably sounds like it shouldn’t work but really does.  I don’t know if it has anything to do with the Heinlein novel (it’s always hard to tell with Mr. Anderson’s bizarre lyrics) but the title does remind me of the famous shower scene from the film adaptation, which affected me so deeply when I saw it as a kid.  I also really like “I’ve Seen All Good People”, a song you’ve probably heard a bit of in a commercial or on classic rock radio if you’ve ever bothered to turn it on.  I think it was in an Intel commercial once.  Excellent album, anyway.  If you need to hear some music that feels positive even though you can’t understand what the hell it’s about, try it.  (For all the JoJo fans — “Roundabout” is on the following album Fragile, which is also excellent.)

The Bends (Radiohead, 1995)

Highlights: Fake Plastic Trees, My Iron Lung, Just

I always feel the need to balance the moods out with the music I listen to over the long run, so to balance the sunshine and happiness of The Yes Album here’s a Radiohead album.  The Bends is one from my childhood — it came out a bit before I was old enough to be an angsty teenager, but it was there for me when I got to that point and got it along with OK Computer and Kid A.  And damn if this album wasn’t tailored exactly for an introverted 13 year-old boy to connect with.  The music has a sharp edge throughout, and Thom Yorke’s singing has a matching bitter, sarcastic feel to it.

However, this music doesn’t feel whiny or anything, partly because of that sharp instrumental edge and partly because Yorke’s voice wasn’t whiny like another popular 90s frontman’s (you know who I’m talking about maybe, no need to say his name) but mainly because most of the songs still hold up well. “Just” is especially good, my favorite on the album.  I also put “My Iron Lung” up because it captures that old teen angst from around my childhood/school years better than anything else.  Not sure that one holds up as well, but you can’t reason with nostalgia.  Though should I really be nostalgic about that time in my life?  I don’t know.  Let’s just move on.

Chopin – Complete Piano Music (Frederic Chopin/Idil Biret, 1820s-1840s/1995)

Highlights: too many to name, but here are a few samples

This album is really testing the format I’ve been using for these posts.  This truly is a collection of all the solo piano pieces written by the legend himself, the French-Polish Romantic period pianist and composer Fryderyk (or Frederic) Chopin.  This guy is claimed by both France and Poland as a kind of national artistic hero, and for good reason.  Chopin hits a wide range of emotions using only a piano.  There are plenty of longer epics on this collection, but a lot of these pieces are also very quick and catchy — a few are even under a minute.  Anyone who has a bias against classical music in general as being “that boring old stuff” should really give Chopin a try.  He’s one of my favorite composers.  In fact, if you check out the links above, you’ll discover where I got the original name for this site.  (Didn’t last very long as the “official” name, but I suppose it still is the name of the site in some sense.)

Pianist Idil Biret also does a fine job playing all these pieces.  At least I think she does.  I’m no expert.  I can scrape by with a few myself, but I make them sound like shit.  Biret is a real professional.

And now for the featured posts:

“Classical Music is Dead”: Misconceptions and More — rxtrogression takes on the many misconceptions a lot of people hold about classical music, a couple of which I mentioned in the bit above about Chopin, but also including equally mistaken ideas like “it all sounds the same.”  When you’re dealing with a set of music written across an entire continent and a few other places besides, and over a period of three centuries, you can’t generalize about it.  This piece does a great job at breaking that subject down.

5 things I’ve been doing wrong when writing posts — Irina recently attended a WordPress course and analyzes the wisdom its lecturers had to impart on writing a “good post.” These include such nuggets as “don’t go off on tangents”, “write fluff pieces”, and “don’t be too weird.”  Many of the blogs most worth reading break most of these rules, and Irina’s blog happens to be one of them, so you should check it out.

Trout Mask Replica — If you want to read some more comprehensive album reviews than the mini-reviews I write in these posts, you should follow Hi-Fi Adventures.  In this post, Matt analyzes Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, one of the most classic “weird albums” ever to exist.  It’s a complicated and interesting work, just like Beefheart himself, and Matt covers the subject very well.

All Good Things Come To Those Who Wait: Delaying The Release Of A Video Game — If you’re disappointed about the delay of Cyberpunk 2077, simpleek’s post is a good one to read, detailing why it’s better for a game to be delayed than released in a rush and providing examples.  Reasoning these points out doesn’t remove the sting from delay announcements, but it might make them easier to bear.

The Gutenberg WordPress Block Editor – An Update — I hate the new editor, but Yomu at Umai Yomu Anime Blog has a more nuanced view of it, discussing both its strengths and weaknesses.  Maybe I’m just not willing to try anything new at this point, no matter how good it might be.

You Best Took it Serious When You Heard the Tone. The Persona 3 Retrospective Part 3: Presentation — You know the deal.  It’s about Megami Tensei so of course I’m going to talk about it.  This is the next part in Aether’s insightful Persona 3 retrospective, this time getting into the game’s distinctive and beautiful presentation.

Finally, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out Red Metal’s Star Wars sequel trilogy reviews, starting with The Force Awakens.  They’re full of spoilers, but if you’ve seen the series and want some in-depth analysis of these films’ characters, plots, general feel and all the rest, you should absolutely read them.

So that’s it for the month.  I know this post is coming a bit early, but this week is going to be hell for me, so I thought I may as well write this end-of-month piece before I get mired in bullshit as usual.  I do plan to finish the Disgaea deep reads sub-series in February, though.  And if you’ve liked these commentaries I’ve been writing, I have good news: I already have plans for #3 and #4 in the wider series.  Might take a while to actually write them, but they will happen.  Once again, you probably won’t be surprised by what I’ve decided to write about.  Until next month, take it easy.

My seven favorite anime opening themes

Everyone else has made one of these lists, so I thought I should as well.  Also, I’m working overtime this week and weekend, so I didn’t have time to play enough of a game to write about in a meaningful way.  However, I was stuck in my car for several hours this week cumulatively, during which I listened to a lot of old favorites and classics I hadn’t put on for a while.  If there’s one good thing about shitty traffic, it’s the excuse to just sit for a while and listen to music.

Note: I’m not talking about the anime OPs themselves, though I could certainly make a favorites list of those as well. I’m only talking about the songs featured in said OPs. They’re placed here in no particular order, as usual. I’m really not good at ranking stuff if you couldn’t tell already.  There are also quite a few great opening themes that I’m not even bringing up because if I did, this list would be too damn long.

7) Hito Toshite Jiku ga Bureteiru by Kenji Ohtsuki & Zetsubou Shoujotachi  – Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei

People feel so strongly about which opening song of the neurotic comedy series Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is the best that they get into internet fights about it. I think they’re all good, but my vote goes to the first season opening song, also known simply as “bure bure” for that repetitive line in the song’s chorus. Singer Kenji Ohtsuki gives the song an especially sharp edge that makes sense, given that he seems to be representing the obsessive, depressive teacher protagonist Itoshiki complaining about how twisted of a man he is.

As if being a teacher weren’t bad enough, I’m also in despair

I also love the fact that the other characters from the show, all students in his homeroom class, are in-character background singers (they’re the ones credited as the “Zetsubou girls”.) This is simply a great song and an appropriate opening to a great show that I still find hard to watch because it reminds me too much of my own neurotic obsessions and fears. Same with Curb Your Enthusiasm. I know it’s good but I just can’t.

6) Katayoku no Tori by Akiko Shikata – Umineko no Naku Koro ni

Okay, just to be clear: the Umineko anime series absolutely sucks and you should not watch it. By all means play the visual novel series, but don’t watch the anime. Studio Deen just completely, utterly fucked the story in the transition to TV. However, one thing they did manage to get right was the music. Umineko has a fantastic soundtrack, and not only did Deen make good use of it in the adaptation, they even included a few songs unique to the show, including the opener “Katayoku no Tori” (“One-Winged Eagle”, a reference to the Ushiromiya family crest) written and sung by Akiko Shikata. I’ve mentioned Shikata already in my Ar tonelico II album review, and her work on the Umineko series is just as good. It’s bombastic and operatic, very fitting to open this supernatural murder mystery. Beatrice the Golden Witch would be proud. Too bad the show itself is crap.

5) Real World by Nano Ripe – Humanity Has Declined

Don’t be fooled by the happy pop sound of “Real World” or the pastel colors in the goofy-looking OP. Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita if you’re more familiar with that title) really is about the decline of humanity and the rise of the “new humanity”, the Keebler Elf-looking fairies who aren’t antagonists but just want to establish a good relationship with what’s left of our human race through a girl known only as “the mediator”. Unfortunately, this mediator ends up being put through a whole lot of shit thanks to her assignment that I can’t even really start to get into.

Mediator is done putting up with this shit

Humanity Has Declined is a dark comedy hidden in the shell of a light comedy, and “Real World” fits into that structure. It’s more the kind of song you’d expect from a “cute girls doing cute things” slice of life than a series about the fall of the human race. Very bright, energetic, and catchy, and weirdly enough it puts me in a better mood sometimes despite the theme of the show it’s attached to.

4) Tank! by Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts – Cowboy Bebop

I can’t very well make a best OP song list without including “Tank!”, the aggressive jazz punch that opens every episode of Cowboy Bebop. I don’t have a whole lot to say about “Tank!” except that it’s amazing. Cowboy Bebop was the second “serious” anime series I ever saw – I stayed up late nights to watch it on Adult Swim long before the days of streaming video services – and the opening sequence knocked me over the first time I saw it. Yoko Kanno and her band the Seatbelts are collectively one of the reasons Cowboy Bebop holds up so well to this day, and large parts of all four of its soundtracks have a permanent place in my playlist.

3) Roundabout by Yes – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

Agh – fine, fine, you got me. I’m cheating on this one. It’s not an opening but rather an ending song, specifically to the first season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. But I couldn’t resist putting “Roundabout” on this list, it’s such a deserving classic, and I didn’t feel like writing a separate list for ending themes, so here it is. Prog-rock progenitors Yes wrote “Roundabout” as the opener to their excellent 1972 album Fragile, but most of the internet now knows it as “that song that plays in the JoJo’s memes just before the ‘To Be Continued’ arrow flies in” thanks to its part in the series.

Fragile also has a great cover.  Someone still has this painted on the side of his van, I guarantee it

Well, it’s no surprise that a classic like “Roundabout” is part of JoJo’s – many of its characters are named after old rock and pop bands and songs, and series creator Hirohiko Araki himself was reportedly a fan of the song. Yeah, the lyrics are insane (sample: in and around the lake / mountains come out of the sky and they stand there and no, these lines don’t make any more sense in the context of the song) but that’s just something you have to get used to when it comes to Yes. Anyway, “Roundabout” is great, though my favorite Yes song is still Starship Trooper, a song that seemingly has nothing to do with the Heinlein novel or anything else you could possibly imagine.

2) Nantoka Nare by Furuido – Mahjong Legend Akagi

There isn’t a song I’ve heard attached to an anime series that captures the idea of world-weariness better than “Nantoka Nare”. This is another early 70s classic, this time by Japanese folk-rockish band Furuido, who wrote and performed a whole lot of other songs that seem to say “sure, the world is fucked, but just keep on going anyway.” That’s more or less the message of this song, a truly powerful one with a lot of feeling behind it. The title character of Akagi is a gambler with a genius-level talent who is so self-assured, but also so willing to take risks that might end up getting him killed just for the sake of finding an even greater challenge, that other characters often think of him as more of a demon than a human. So maybe it’s weird to say that “Nantoka Nare”, which expresses such a human emotion, suits Akagi well as a theme, but somehow it just does.

I know it doesn’t makes a lot of sense without the context, but trust me, this play is all kinds of insane

1) Inner Universe by Yoko Kanno and Origa – Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

This is another obvious pick.  “Inner Universe” fits the feel of Ghost in the Shell incredibly well, and the song is excellent even when it’s removed from that context.  A lot of songwriters and performers trying to pull off a haunting, spine-chilling feel, but Yoko Kanno (again!) and Origa (a Russian-born singer who’s sadly no longer around) succeed at it, thanks largely to Origa’s vocals.  I also just like songs that manage to use more than one language without sounding disjointed, which “Inner Universe” does with alternating lines in Russian, English, and Latin.

Feel free to share your favorite anime opening themes, or ending themes, or just your favorite music in general below.  Or just share how your day was if you want.  Why not?  In the meantime, I hope to finish one of these games I’m working on soon, which is probably contingent on my getting any damn time off work in the near future.  I’m not even eligible for extra overtime wages thanks to the professional exemption.  Can you believe that shit?  If I were in charge… but that’s a subject for a different post, and probably not one I’d ever write here.  If you want to read my angry, bitter screeds, you’ll have to follow my other site.  It’s sort of like the creepy basement to the two-story colonial brick house that this site is.

Okay, when my metaphors start to get this stupid I know it’s time to stop writing.

I’m still not dead

This is a sort of placeholder post, in case anyone cares to know what’s been going on with me – I’ve been making the final sprint through law school, and today is quite literally the last day of class (hopefully for the rest of my life.)  Naturally, I paid about 20% attention in my classes today.  Once I bust through the exams next month, it’s bar preparation, then the bar exam, then a lifetime of working.  As a lawyer.

Well, my life is what it is, but I’ll be back writing here on a semi-regular basis after exams.  In the meantime, have a nice piece of official art from the amazing Dreamcast JRPG Skies of Arcadia:

171-Skies_of_Arcadia-1

I’d rather be an air pirate than a lawyer, but sadly that career path is not open to me.

I’m spending my downtime watching JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, so my next post might have something to do with that.  It’s a fabulously insane show.  And the ending credits song is Roundabout by Yes, one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands, which is enough to make me want to watch the entire series.

Anyway, reader, see you again soon.