Monday, October 15, 2018

Soft Weight

Wow! At last! More short stories!

Yes, after a long wait, Soft Weight is here. It's a collection of six new stories. Here is the cover:

The picture is one I took of my office on a grey day, with a "physical collage" of various things I bought emerging from approximately where my cubicle is.

Here are little breakdowns of each story:

Season of Death - I released this in November last year as a "single" so maybe you've seen it. I've used these characters a couple times before. I wanted to express my feelings about something that happened last year, but I couldn't really, so I tried looking at it from a different perspective.

Face of God - I wrote this I think mostly in response to seeing the movie It and trying to capture all the parts of it I liked best. Kids on bikes and nostalgia and such. My childhood was actually nothing like this so I hope it seems authentic regardless lol.

Known Stranger - This is a little one based on a phenomenon I think is interesting. I went in a neurotic sort of direction, which I am often wont to do, but I want to write something more "normal" about this idea in the future.

Rumbling Silence - A big long one that all came from thinking of one particular line that a character shouts near the end. I wanted to just "encase" that line properly, but it ended up becoming much huger and more ambitious. The title comes from a concept I learned about in a Levinas book.

LDNReconciliation - A new story about my oldest and most familiar characters, Alice and Ume. I think soon I should try to collect all the "loose" stories I have with them and finally make the true "LDN". I started writing this very excitedly and fluently but the last 20% of it was very difficult.

Winter Melody - The final part of a series of stories that appears in each of my previous short story collections. I've come to really like these characters so prolly they'll come back in some form. This is definitely the most ambitious thing I've ever tried writing. I get big ideas for things I'd like to see, and I get ideas for things I can actually write, and for the first time I dragged the former down into the world of the latter. It fought the whole way. It wanted to remain in the perfect world of unwritten dreams. It was very comfortable there. But I did it, I finally actually did it, and the hope it gives me for many other half-abandoned big projects is revolutionary. I think this is my favorite thing I've ever written, I really hope you like it too.

This is my fourth short story collection, after LMAX, Hot Summer, and 魔塵鬱圏. After each of these I had intended to write something more substantial, but the short story collections are more fun and much easier. Not easy, but easier - finishing this has been a really significant struggle. This is my first release in over a year, my first one of 2018, and the first collection of things I'd made entirely since I started working full-time. This is not a coincidence. My job has been a major impediment to fiction writing (non-fiction writing has remained fruitful, lol). When I get home I have to hit the perfect combination of motivated, awake, focused, and free to attempt writing, and even then sometimes I can't start hitting any sort of flow state before it's time for bed. Things like streaming myself writing were often successful in keeping me more focused but still required the right opportunity. And plus now my Youtube channel is gone ;_; so that option isn't available to me. Weekends are precious short and often gobbled up by a variety of social obligations or chores or indulgences.

The progress of working on it was something like this:

The periods of progress were difficult: I had challenges prioritizing things and I started resenting everything else that dared demand my time and energy, especially my job. But the real problems, of course, are the big plateaus where I'd just be doing other things and not even thinking about writing. I can't really explain why. Looking back at my motivations, it seems more like I'd have to make some feeling of significance or obligation to get myself to work, and that the default state was actually not working, not caring. Sometimes, like when I look at my diaries, or I consider how much I think about stories and characters and such, I think I have some sort of hypergraphia-like condition. But really maybe I don't care, and I just want to care and try to care, or maybe I'm growing out of caring, or something.

Haha just kidding not really. I can't actually believe that. Even if I was going to commit to some sort of new lifestyle plan, a life of "mainstream happiness" without "creative fulfillment" (and I have been considering things like this) I know that I would have to have some "finale" first, and that it would get postponed and replaced, always a more fitting finale would come to mind, and I'd never actually stop. So why even pretend? Even if I keep releasing things slower and slower, even if they get worse and worse, less and less ambitious, readership shrinking beyond the zero, I'd still keep going. I really believe that.

But I also really want to believe that I'll actually improve and accelerate. Now that my Youtube channel is on hiatus, I have a lot more free time. Unfortunately (?) I've wasted (??) a lot of that time at the gym (!!?!) and I don't want to stop doing that either (!!!??!?!?). In 2019 I want to go back to making lots of videos too, so uhh. Unsure how I figure this is all going to add up. Oh well. I make the same sorts of complaints and promises at the end of all these release posts. It's just how it is.

See you next time~!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Work Diary

Hi wow it's been almost a year since the last blog post! What have you been doing?


What's that like?

Overall it is OK. Sometimes stressful but mostly peaceful. Sometimes I really feel like I absolutely have to stop working as soon as possible but the feeling passes and then I remain and it seems like that could just go on forever. I've remained for one entire year as of today, 246 working days. Like almost every office job, there's some downtime, during which I wrote this diary:

The cover is a picture I took out the window near my cubicle.

Wow, it's uh, it's long...

Yeah, it adds up. You might think that this means I was either neglecting my work or didn't have much work assigned to me, but I think I'm fine in both those areas and it's more just that finding a few minutes here and there to write whenever you can ends up being a lot of words after a year. I'd typically "check in" with it whenever I was between tasks and didn't have anything immediately urgent, just to record any thoughts or feelings I had at the time. It doesn't really have much of substance in it. And it isn't that long I mean it wouldn't even make the Wikipedia list of longest novels so whatever.

So why did you do it at all?

Oh, who knows. I sorta wanted to make a counterpart to the NEET Diary, to see what changed in myself between these two eras of my life, salaryman and NEET, but outside of the shift in subject matter I seem to be roughly the same person. I use the same sorts of language, the same thought patterns, I have the same areas of interest. It is basically more of the same, just now about different stuff. So if you liked the NEET Diary, here's some more. It gets pretty personal at times but I don't think it warrants the same level of "this is actually disgusting" disclaimer that the NEET Diary had.

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to write, and the biggest thing that has always terrified me about getting a full-time job is that I would write much less or eventually stop. I think working on something like this was partially an attempt to feel like I was still writing, that I was still expressing myself creatively... but of course the writing that I want to do is more than this, it's fiction or at least substantial non-fiction essays, something with a definite value and possible legacy, not just endless rambling with an insight or phrase every dozen pages that I could feel proud of. Ideally I'd like to write things that could be published, that many people would read, that I could be paid for, that I could be paid for such that I could not have to work and just write for a living. That's the dream, and it has advanced very slowly since I got a job. I feel miserable about that, but not as miserable as I'd be if I didn't have this.

I dunno. I get some creative fulfillment from my Youtube channel too, of course, which has been growing nicely this whole time, and which I usually prioritize over writing when I have free time, for better or worse. So I'm not sure what actually is doing the most to alleviate my creative frustration, between the constant word-spam of this for almost no one, the constant rambling on camera for a small fanbase, or the infrequent attempts to make something that could eventually reach a much larger audience than either.

Really probably the answer is that I have some form of hypergraphia and that this helps sate it.

Check back next year for volume 2, and hopefully there's some other books before then. I have yet another book of short stories that's """"""almost done"""""" so maybe we'll see those soon.

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Finally, another book!

This is my new book of short stories, 魔塵鬱圏, which is pronounced as “magomiutsuken” (mah go me oo tisoo ken). It means “Magical Garbage Depression Realm”.

This is the cover, which I’m really happy with, it is very absurd. I’ll give you a prize if you can identify every person/character contained in it.

Download it here:
pdf (other formats coming soon, Google Drive is screwing up)

Initially this was supposed to be a sort of “b-sides” for another short story collection I was working on, which would just be for more substantial stories with some thematic links. The idea was that I could collect the other stuff I was working on that didn’t quite fit the main collection here, and be able to quickly and easily knock this one out to hold people over for the next one ha ha not likely. The words “quickly” and “easily” will never, and perhaps should never, reflect the action of writing. Most of the work for most of these stories was done last year, but then school/socializing/work intervened and it’s taken me until now to do the last ten percent. But it happened! It finally happened!

As before, here’s some brief commentary on each story:

Demons/Insects – I tried to explore the “neurotic” voice some more on this one, hopefully you’ll find the ideas relatable.
Click-Clacks/Bulb – This was a composite of several incidents and ideas from my childhood, maybe you had similar incidents too.
Grapes/Miracle – I’ve always been fascinated by cults so I wanted to try writing a story around one. I wanted it to be absurd without going too far in mocking the very real issue of cults in real life.
Responsibility – Magic realism lol. I have a few other ideas in this mode but it’s hard to get the tone right.
Bus Adventure – A very real incident from my real life, please try to sympathize but I’m sorry if you can empathize.
MP3 Player Adventure – Another very real incident from my real life that now I can look back at and laugh at, please laugh at it too.
Two Books Poorly Remembered – Features characters from Youth of the World and some other stories but is mostly just a way to talk about recently read books lol.
Bakuhatsu – Ranting from a very emotional place, I don’t feel like this rn don’t worry.
Soft Movement Exercises – Try them out!
Fall – I released this as a standalone last October, it hasn’t changed much since then. It’s a sequel to “Spring Album” and “Summer Night” from previous books – “Winter Melody” coming “soon”!
People I Could Be – These are also all real. Please try to have such experiences for yourself.

This is my third short story compilation, after LMAX and Hot Summer. Putting together these compilations, figuring out how I’ll arrange them, coming up with the title and cover, it’s all really fun, kinda addictive. I have two more underway now, the aforementioned one that this is the “b-sides” to, and another tightly thematically linked one that is almost done, and then probably another book like this of more stuff that doesn’t really fit in those. I expect to have them take roughly twice as long as I expect even including this caveat. Really tho, I want to release something novel-length again, so I’m trying to push myself for that. I have three candidate stories in various stages of development. That seems like a lot of writing but most of it was done before last fall i.e. when I was a NEET lol. I’ve taken some steps to try to secure productive writing time in my new working world and (since you’re reading this) it seems to be paying off, so please look forward to more soon. Submitting for publication still feels like an insurmountable nightmare but this system of self-release is still very exciting and fun, and I still feel like I’m growing substantially as a writer with each release, so I don’t think it’s a problem. I want to start writing blog posts again too, song of the day and stuff, maybe some lists, but no promises lol. Tbh I’m prioritizing creating content for my Youtube channel over these sorts of posts rn because it’s sorta similar (media discussion) and way easier to make and my Youtube channel is way more popular than the blog lol (ONE KAY BABY), but ideally I’ll find a way to do both.

Okay that’s all for now.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Top 10 Anime of 2016 - Part Two

"Here, it’s all ravaged grasses, clouds gone cold, evening distances, distances."

(Wang An-Shih (translated by David Hinton) on things that aren't anime)

Okay here's 5 more I hope you read em, and then download em from somewhere and watch em and feel some type of way.
(Part one is here)

5. Mob Psycho 100

With One Punch Man such a crossover hit that merchandise is showing up in videos like this, it seemed inevitable that ONE's other major series would also get an adaptation. The effortless humour and charm is the same, as is the enticing world building, and compelling psychological realism. Mob's near-limitless psychic power isn't too different from Saitama's OPness either, but, again, the battles are still exciting despite everyone knowing the inevitable victor. There's really no reason that any fan of OPM shouldn't check this one out too.

But this is a very different beast, too. Instead of the superhero metropolises of OPM, we get an intimate look at the schools of Seasoning City, where the small dramas of Mob's life unfold. Where OPM sets up monstrous disaster to motivate some realization, the process is reversed with Mob: his social anxieties and ambitions seem to manifest into the spirits he battles. The result is a more psychologically intense series, but a very morally grounded one; you really see Mob maturing as an individual, and feel that you might be too. Don't think this is some srs Dostoyevskycore thing, though - it's really hilarious, too, and the diversity of the cast, with psychics, frauds, spirits, and "civilians",  reaches many types of humour that OPM can't.

The biggest difference, though, is that Mob never received anything like OPM's Murata redraw, meaning the anime has to come straight from ONE's more, uh, amateur style. Where the OPM anime was glorious in its ability to bring Murata's already cinematic frames to life, Studio Bones had far more freedom in their adaptation. The result is some of the most unique and stylish animation we've seen in ages.  The original ONE designs are made iconic, and thus remain meaningful even when their depiction is most extreme.

And I do really mean extreme: Bones busted out the pencils, the crayons, even the heavy acyrilics, mashing these up with bold CGI work that delights in juxtaposition, rather than trying to covertly prop up lazy animation. The result is a series where everything surges freely in whole new dimensions. A fight scene escalates not just in intensity, but in the very materials of its composition; characters' emotions explode out of themselves to restructure the scene around them on the most fundamental levels. It's an absolute joy to watch, always unexpected but never underwhelming. 

But even better than the extremity of this depiction is the depicted aesthetic itself, which falls somehow between the electro-psychedelic-punk of cult movies like Electric Dragon 80000V or music like Boredoms, the charming earnest but innocent distance of something like Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou, and the frantic allegory and irreverence of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. If you can't imagine that bizarre intersection, just remember your adolescence, when there was nothing cooler than being cool, and everything seemed possible and maybe even imminent. That's what this show is about. 

4. Flying Witch 

Lately there's been a lot of debate around the idea of "the next Miyazaki". Usually this seems framed around the magnitude of their projects, their ability to cross demographics, and, ultimately, their box office success. But I think far too little is being said about the qualities of the works themselves that lead to this success. I think for too many people, especially in the west, Miyazaki has become synonymous with anime films of a certain magnitude, which not only limits the receptive possibilities of other possible projects (like can you imagine how Akira would be marketed to the west in the post-Spirited Away era?) but does a great disservice to Miyazaki's unique wonders. 

All of this tangential rant is obviously to say: if you want that real Miyazaki shit, you shouldn't necessarily look to other huge movies, but something like Ishizuka-sensei's wonderful series Flying Witch, and it's excellent adaptation. It's the simple story of Makoto, a trainee witch, who moves from the city to the countryside to continue her studies. You meet her friends and family, both magical and muggle, through a collection of largely adversary-free adventures.

The story takes a slow pace to match the laid-back rural environment, and there's a charm to the small hints of the people, allowing the wonderful effect of being able to extrapolate complete and pleasant lifestyles from these subtle details. Even the magical community is presented with this assumed familiarity, making the supernatural as natural as any home - imagining the day-to-day life of the magical cafe, for example, is wondrous but easy.

Because it isn't just about imagining the day-to-day, it's about the wonderful things that emerge from within it. Through either Makoto's city-slicker curiousity about agriculture and nature, or her non-magical family's awe at her witchy ways, the viewer always has a perspective that brings out the novelty of the world. This feeling of discovery combines with staple slice of life feelings like delight in small sensory pleasures, enjoying the company of friends, sentimentality and memorializing - all those classics - to create something both fresh and familiar, something like a fun but relaxing vacation.

But I think the true beauty of this attitude is how it blends the magical and non-magical worlds. Cooking class is as shocking as magical reactions, harvesting fiddleheads is as delightful as mandrake, and the canopy of an apple orchard is as enchanting as the back of a flying whale. This, I think, is the most essential aspect of Miyazaki's work, and it's alive and well in Flying Witch, too: that our natural Earth, and the feelings it evokes, is as wonderful and beautiful as any fantasy.

3. New Game!

Alright, here we go, real anime time. This is like, the dessert to Shirobako. Which was my AOTY last year. Like, above Hibike. And I LOVE dessert. So I'm saying a lot by this. I'm saying that this is again a show about people working together towards a creative goal: reasonable but quirky and ultimately lovable people, and a goal that is exciting and dear to the viewers' heart. Although it isn't as complicated as the world of Shirobako, their office environment hits a sweet spot from that chaotic potential and the more reliable structure of an American sitcom.

This balance is achieved wonderfully when it comes to the series' general attitudes towards work, too. As simple as possible, the lessons are like: 1. Work is Hard but 2. a. You Improve and b. You Have Comrades to Help You which makes it Not So Bad. We all know the horrors of Japanese work culture, and yeah, New Game! liberally sugarcoats them, much more than Shirobako, but to the extent that it engages with them, it provides an effective encouraging message of optimism and appreciation. It is from this appreciation that, like Shirobako, some of the best moments emerge: when you finally see the trailer for their game, you share in the awe of the characters, and in their triumph.

But the best parts of the show come from its other lessons about work, or about not-work, as it were: 1. You Are Fairly Paid in Proportion to Your Contribution, and thus 2. You Should Enjoy the Time and Money You Have Earned. Now, this is neither the time nor place for a radical leftist rant about the flawed ideology that informs these ideas: this is dessert time, it is time to accept them at smiling face value. And, of course, to enjoy New Game! as one of the best and purest all-girl moe slice of life shows... perhaps ever. We all know that that's like, the best genre hands down, so uh, that's saying a lot.

Compared to the typical high school setting of a SoL show, the non-work plots of New Game! emphasize even further their relative scarcity, and thus preciousness. Work-life balance is achieved through magnitudes of pleasure - again, probably an unhealthy attitude, but I digress. And the positives of work bleed into play: as with Hidamari Sketch (another show I am fond of, to say the least), Aoba's artistic ambitions enchants her world with meaning and potential. The result is a wonderland depiction of Tokyo, feeling especially fantastical in contrast to the static layout of the office... the show almost becomes a dessert to itself.

But the real treat is the aesthetics: Doga Kobo have seriously stepped up their game with this one. It feels like an undeniable challenge to other studios: for too long have 4-koma adaptations costed on voice acting and the cuteness of the original, taking only the most basic directive approach, sometimes hardly animating at all. Doga Kobo says: look to Kyoani. There is no reason we can't do the same. Well, okay: there is a gigantic financial reason. But we can try. And here: succeed. The direction is dynamic and immersive but not overwhelming. The animation is smooth and modern without being overly flashy. The characters are cute, so very cute, this is one of the cutest shows I've ever seen, and that has to be the most important part.

2. Flip Flappers

In the five years since Madoka, we've seen many alt-mahou shoujo shows try to recapture Shaft's globe-spanning magic, with, uh, varying success. Like varying between "OK" and "trainwreck". Most of them just try to go with some subset of what they figure must've made Madoka work: complex twist-heavy plotlines with mostly grim outcomes, intense and violent battles between magic girls, existential-going-on-nihilistic themes, surreal other worlds, etc, etc. And sure, that stuff was in Madoka, and it was great, but it wasn't really what made it great. The true lesson of Madoka is one that only Flip Flappers has picked up on: you can do whatever you want. It's that simple.

Do you want to plunge your characters into a psychedelic ura-dimension? Of course you do, basically every show is doing that one. But what aesthetics? Whatever you want! Flip Flappers riffs on the worlds of C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and George Miller. It is both Disney and Miyazaki. It gives us Tron vs Super Sentai vs Evangelion. It invokes the aesthetics of Yume Nikki and Silent Hill and Orange Milk Records album covers and things even beyond that, things that connect to nothing we knew before, nothing that we can describe in our crude human tongue.

And what do you want to have them do in this smorgasbord of the imagination? It has to be something thrilling, right? Flip Flappers understands: where many lesser series conflate edginess with tension or climax, moving towards the supposedly "gripping" sequences popular in Western TV, FliFla's combat and action sequences, because of their brightness and flashiness, can be bolder, more dynamic, more intense. The quality of the action choreography cannot be overstated: everything is charged with a visceral *punch*, everything surges with it, every directorial choice frames it.

The animation, too, nails every note in the direction. I've heard it claimed on /a/ that absolutely zero CGI was used in the development of the show. I don't know if that's true, but the point is that it's believable: the undeniable display of sheer effort permeates every frame. As such, beyond any particular impressive shot, it's the sense of potential that enlivens the series... it truly feels like, at any second, absolutely anything could happen. With other series, you can sort of feel the animators relax sometimes, right? You can feel the direction settle down, the keyframe count dip, and you temper your expectations accordingly. But never FliFla.

The quality of presentation is actually such that the usual patterns of signification are reversed. What I mean by this pseudo-Semiotic statement is that usually, especially in this genre, we're invested into the outcome of action scenes because of the plot, because of the ramifications it will have on future developments... but with FliFla, we're absorbed through sheer aesthetic ecstasy, we want to see more, even if we have no idea what is actually happening. This may seem unimportant, just another testament to the strength of its sensory storm, but the effect it has is profound... You end up in roughly the same psychological place as main character Cocona, confused and adrift but adventuring, secure in knowing that, unlike the blatant twist-baiting that plagues other "crazy" anime, or the disconnects of significance that can replace "woah!" with "huh?", you're right where you're supposed to be with FliFla's plot: having a blast.

But what *is* the plot? Again, we must look to the indulgent freedom of the true Madoka legacy... It's at once a very simple adventure story through a myriad of mashups of setting and genre, with well-defined Macguffin and antagonist roles. But it's also a strange pastiche of the Evangelion "project" structure - the titular lab, the frantic scientists, Dr. Salt even does the Gendo pose. And it's still a magical girl show, too: a story of transformation and camaraderie and resulting empowerment. And also a Pynchon-esque paranoid crisis of reality. And and a drama about desire and family and connections. Oh and of course excellent yuri too.

Look, I say a lot of stuff about "real anime" and "the point" of anime and most of it I hope is obviously just BSing around for fun (the rest is non-obviously BSing around for fun), but if I could speak seriously about such an idea, I'd speak about FliFla. The final product of this limitless indulgence is a smoothie of pure energy and love, something that I cannot imagine in any other medium, something so strong and so wonderful that the whole wretched entrenched industry and shameless devotion and relentless consumption is more than justified.

But it's got nothing on our #1...

A true masterpiece of competition and the human condition and yuri...

An achievement so beautiful that it will be spoken of in hushed tones for decades to come...

I speak,

of course,


1. Ping Pong Girls (Again)

okay look this show is ACTUALLY GOOD i have asked the opinion of many LITERAL GENIUSES and there was a CONSENSUS: ACTUALLY GOOD. just listen to the soundtrack omg the soundtrack is actually amazing like just listen starting at 17:21 in episode 10 like holy shit the sound it makes when it hits the sweet spot??? and then the song change??? how did they do that??? is this actually the best single moment of anime in 2016 yeah obviously it is like if u dont watch this show youre actually literally dumb its PING PONG SAKI like if u dont want ping pong saki then seriously why tf are you watching anime

oh wait no

1. Hibike! Euphonium 2

Yeah, it has to be this, the Joanna Newsom of anime: something so beautiful and sincere and meaningful that it almost becomes painful, almost impossible to even witness. Okay no I'm not just talking about the yuri aspect. I mean yes Nakatani Nio, author of Bloom Into You, probably the greatest yuri mangas running today, did say it "depicted everything [she] want[s] to do in yuri" but that isn't the only thing I care about. Actually I made a chart to figure out exactly how much yuri factored into this list. You can see that it's sort of a thing but not everything.

Really, the important chart is this one (spoilers). Yes, this is an emotional show. Like with Divers, I went in as emotionally vulnerable as I could be, hoping to be affected as much as possible, and it worked, it really really worked. The very feeling of letting go to that extent, to letting yourself be overwhelmed, it's so cathartic, so invigorating... Every week, for 20 minutes, absolutely nothing else mattered. A new emotional tide came in, the other 10060 minutes were washed away. It's similar to the feeling I described here, a great re-centering of importance in the world: geopolitical crises and personal anxieties were only a single facet barely influencing the only real and meaningful thing, which is feelings. This realization probably isn't "legitimate", it might not hold up to much scrutiny, but for those 20 minutes, it was well beyond believable, it was simply felt.

The aesthetic quality of the series is of course a big part in this nearly hypnotic immersion... it's Kyoani, so it probably goes without saying that it's beautiful and wonderfully animated but I really have to emphasize that this is Kyoani at their best, which, in the naturalistic mode, is simply the best. Hyouka has finally been surpassed. And stuff like the direction and the voice acting and the music and the performances (how many versions of "Crescent Moon Dance" did they record? I seriously get chills thinking about it) and the editing and the mise en scene and the art direction and the character design and everything, absolutely everything is flawless, this is the result when a group of extremely talented people set out with an extremely large budget to make a masterpiece and succeed.

The plot itself, though, is a little imperfect. Or at least not exactly what I wanted 100% of the time. And I think that adds a lot to the overwhelming emotional resonance of the show, too... I never felt entirely secure, there was so much potential in both directions, it felt like I was somehow engaged in it, that my emotional struggles in witnessing it could somehow influence the plot... Again, a very irrational feeling, but one I legitimately felt. Of course here I am talking about the yuri aspect, which I think I probably downplayed the significance of before. I have a hard time talking about the importance of yuri to me... I talked it about it a bit in this video, but I barely scratched the surface, really...

I dunno, I don't think there's a whole lot I want to say about this one. I've already said a lot of words about this series. It's just... beautiful.

Okay yeah that's enough

Gotta move on, I have a lot more 2016 blog posts to do before they become completely irrelevant.

2017 seems like it'll be an even shittier year than 2016 judging by everything said and done by the Trump administration and so anime might be even better? This season we got Little Witch Academia and Gabriel Dropout and motherfucking Maidragon so yes probably.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Top 10 Anime of 2016

10 Treasures from the 2D World

Most people seem to be in agreement that 2016 was kinda shitty irl. It wasn't all bad, but on personal, cultural, and global levels, I'm sure we can all identify more than a few instances of tragedy and disaster. Luckily for us, there seems to be some law of cosmic righteousness where the worse our 3D world gets, the better the 2D world must become. Indeed, this was a fantastic year for anime: after a slow start in the winter season, spring, the season of miracles, more than filled our needs in every essential genre. Summer dialed back just a little, but only to emphasize the insanity of fall, a season so fantastic that it could measure up to the all-time greats, so overwhelming on all fronts that it almost became cruel, silly, taunting... "You like anime, huh? Is this what you want? This many shows???"

Well yes, that is what we wanted, this is exactly what we wanted. All the injustice and sadness and rage and ideology in the world: it is the ability to turn away from all of that and towards a screen for 22 minutes and forget that anything exists beyond it: pure escapism: that is anime. It was pretty hard to get down to even 10 this year so we're doing a substantial honorable (sometimes dishonorable) mentions section, hold on...

ANNE HAPPY♪ - On one hand, this is a typical 5-girls slice of life show focusing on your standard friendship, enjoyment, sentimentality, etc. On the other, it's a bizarre story of robots and giant board games and objectophilia. Both ways are good.
Bakuon!! - Here we have high school girls riding motorcycles and it's completely insane, with Suzuki viruses and ghost girls and Biker Jesus, really more a collection of silly biking jokes than a standard slice of life show. My favorite is the MC's voice, which sounds like she's screaming all the time.
Boku no Hero Academia - This is one of my favorite shonen manga running right now, and the adaptation didn't do anything wrong, so I still really recommend it. It just didn't have the sheer creative genius of the shonen adaptation that did make the list.
Brave Witches - Like Love Live with Sunshine, they've bravely rebooted the Strike Witches franchise with nine new girls. Miraculously, they're all great, basically on par with the original cast! But it's still just more Strike Witches, more shootan and flyan and befriendan Strike Witches. Whether that's good or not is up to you.
Dagashi Kashi - This is a worthwhile show, with great character designs, lively animation, and often hilarious plotlines, but the highlight is still the educational and bizarre candy sequences. It's much more accessible than it might seem; I'd suggest giving it a try.
gi(a)rlish number - This is basically "what if everyone in Shirobako was a jerk and/or an idiot?" The answer is a hilarious but substantial story more in line with Western sitcoms than anything else. Really cute animation, too!
Keijo!!!!!!!! - This is a hundred times better than the exclamation points would suggest, and about ten thousand times better than the premise would suggest, largely because - not in spite of - the fact that it takes itself as seriously as any other sports show. But ten thousand times whatever you were thinking is maybe still not enough.
Kiznaiver - For some reason Trigger wanted to make a Shaft show. And they kinda succeeded!? The character designs? Great! The direction? Pretty great! The plot? Never speak to me about this again. At least it simulbirthed its godlike opposite, Space Patrol Luluco.
Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! - I really liked the episodes centered around slice of life antics in the fantasy world; they really created a warm community feeling. But no amount of EXPLOSION could make up for how much the fight scenes dragged and how generic it became...
Kuma Miko - This strange story of a backwater girl and her talking bear friend barely missed the list hue hue. It's pretty adorable, often hilarious, but mostly just... genuinely upsetting? A must-watch for despair-moe connoisseurs.
Long Riders! - After the madness of Bakuon!!'s high school girls on motorcycles, the sanity of this college girls on bicycles story felt kinda fresh again. But really, it's just a standard "cute girls doing [hobby] things" show, a genre which rarely produces masterpieces, instead reliably giving us warm and pleasant shows like this.
Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku - This ambitious show in the "dark magic girl battles" legacy of Madoka does some cool stuff: I liked the ambiguity of power levels, the variety of the girls' real-life forms was neat, and the last episode was pretty satisfying... but oml it was SO EDGY, like every episode was edgier and more violent than the last, I really don't need to see any of that.
Musaigen no Phantom World - Kyoani fight scenes is maybe enough of a reason to watch this, and the cat episode was sick, but there really isn't much else lol. Really trainwrecky at times, but you know what they say about looking away~
Sansha Sanyou - This is a great slice of life show with lovable characters, funny plots, and surprisingly lively animation. It proved to be just a warm-up for Dogakobo's other work this year, but it's definitely still worth a watch.
Stella no Mahou - If New Game! was too "real", check out these cute girls doing nerdy doujin things. At its best, it captured the fever, camaraderie, and triumph of actual doujin game production. The rest of the time, it was pretty standard moe SoL, and that's fine too.
tanaka-kun wa itsumo kedaruge - I was told BL actually has the best girls, and it was true! And this had some great yuri too?? And really, is it not time for me to diversify? The overlap between BL and yuri includes some of my favorite elements... Okay, but why is there tons of het in this show too? Who asked for that?

Okay, whew, that's it, that's enough. Or too much. Let's move onto the actual list!

10. Yuri!!! On Ice

Yes, I watched this. No, I wasn't tricked by the name. I watched it cause loads of people - including people that don't usually watch this "flavor" of anime, even people who don't really watch anime at all - kept telling me it was a great show. And it is! This is, before anything, a really solid competition show about figure skating: the crises of motivation are meaningful, the rivals are lovable (JJ Style!!), and the uncertainty of their success compelling. You truly feel their heartbreak and triumph, so what more could you want?

Well, if that was really all I wanted, I could have watched dozens of other shows. Shows with like, cute girls and stuff. But we aren't just about cute here; what truly sets Yuri!!! On Ice apart is its bold sexuality. Where so many series' fanservice is so inconsequential you can't even process it, the relationship between Yuri and Victor is explicit and meaningful. Moreover, that energy and gravity carries into the many skating sequences, infusing them with greater significance. It captures the intensity, fragility, and, most importantly, beauty, of the sport itself.

9. High School Fleet

After the runaway success of Kancolle and the rest of the military-moe genre, it was inevitable that we'd get cute girls crewing ships too. Most of these shows try to avoid villainizing any of their cast through either inhuman enemies or making the battles a harmless sport, but neither would suffice to adapt this genre. And sure, the justification they use is a little weak, but this cake-eat greediness allows them to nail all your favorite ship-movie tropes: cautious exploration, human-on-human tactics, spooky fog of war action, crises of command, and desperate survivalism.

But that survivalism is also domestic, and the show exceeds as a slice of life, too. All your favorites are here again, and supercharged by the unique setting: intimacy, relaxation, friendship building... it's hard to choose which episode is my favorite: the climactic battle or the wonderful festival. The cast is gigantic, but it doesn't dilute the experience, as even the most minor characters are interesting and lovable. The intersection between wartime job and peacetime personality creates a new dimension for each character; it's hype to meet other captains or high ranking staff and really believe that they've earned it. Oh, and they're all adorable, but that prolly goes without saying.

8. Scorching Ping Pong Girls

Okay you might have heard of a little show called Ping Pong? In the last few years, it's gone from a cult favorite to a crossover hit to the gospel of competitive Melee players. And I loved it too, I put it as my favorite show of 2014. But what was the one universally agreed upon flaws? Not enough cute girls!! Well, here is our salvation. No okay yes this is a very different show than Ping Pong. Instead of the Wallace-esque investigation of competitive attitudes, we start with the assumption that playing ping pong is fun and that's good enough and go from there. Their discovering and expressing this doki-doki feeling is so visceral and addictive that even I, barely coordinated enough to both sit and type, want to give the sport a try.

This straightforward motivation lets the show dive deeper into the mechanics of ping pong, too. The various spins and drives are pushed to almost parodious levels, but seeing how they match up is pretty exciting. Sure, the designs might look goofy, but the simplicity allows for really dynamic animation of all these absurd smashes, soundtracked to some kickass beatz. And once you see them in action, and the friendship they build off the court, they'll look a little less Western-How-to-Draw-Anime-bookcore and a lot more adorable and hype.

I think hype is really the only word for this series. Seeing new characters and wondering how strong they are? Hype. Mid-match revelations leading to comeback victories? Hella hype. Somehow being able to shout at length about how much fun you're having in the split second where the ball is hitting the paddle? This is the hype we live for. I think the bottom line is that this is Ping Pong Saki, and that should say enough either way.

7. Amanchu!

Let's move on from all this competitiveness and tension into the realm of Iyashikei, of real anime, into the paradisiacal seaside town of Amanchu!. We join newcomer Teko, feeling a little distraught and reserved in her new home, as she forms a fast and frantic friendship with Pikari, who's like an extreme version of HidaSketch's Miyako. There's all your typical slice of life bonding stuff, and it's lovely, but the focus of their relationship is diving, Pikari's beloved hobby, which she joyfully shares with the initially nervous Teko.

Like many "cute girls doing [hobby] things" shows, the journey we take with Teko to understand diving is enthralling and educational. We share in her tensions and triumphs, witnessing her fantasies of the open sea and wishing alongside her for them to come to pass. The real brilliance here, though, is how long they spend before Teko actually goes on a proper dive (spoilers: it's a long time). The magic of that eventual victory is made all the more sweet by the detours along the way.

This pacing reinforces the show's best quality: yuri. No, I mean sentimentality. This isn't just a sentimental show, but a show about sentimentality, about finding meaningful moments in life and remembering them and treasuring the memories. Diving, yeah, but also flower viewing, silly games, and, most importantly, friendship. No, wait, I mean yuri, which actually is still the best quality. I mean, the way they parallel the realization of the show's wonderful moral message, Teko finally entering the ocean, and the advancement of their relationship? That's genius, that's just straight up storytelling gold.

6. 3-gatsu no Lion

Shaft's only 2016 series, 3-gatsu no Lion tells the story of Rei, a young shogi pro. This is no Hikaru no Go - a simple look at the strategy and competition of the game would be way too easy. Nor is it just a character study of the players, though... sure, the narrative of sacrifice and determination that professional play necessitates is compelling and significant here - the aftermath of Rei's wins and losses, for him and his opponent, is especially haunting. But even that would be too easy!

No, no, what they went here was for some real life shit. Shogi is just a part; wacky best friend(?) Nikado is more than a rival(?); all his opponents go home and really live. There's Rei's tragic past, but also the warmth of the Kawamoto home, and but their tragic past too. There's the shogi hall, but also the river, the bar, the school roof. Happiness and sadness and silliness and intensity, nothing is black or white (I told you it wasn't go), 100% real life.

And Shaft went for it in the direction, too. You already knew it was gonna be gorgeous, but unlike the unreal landscapes of Monogatari, the settings here are very grounded in reality, building on the style of last year's Kofuku Graffiti. The emotional range of the show is expertly depicted in everything from editing to shot composition to colour; you feel, down to your bones, the intense isolation of the shogi game, the churning darkness of Rei's memories, the lively warmth of the Kawamoto sisters... Shaft's direction here begins to exceed any preconceived limits of anime, into the realm of Ozu and Bergman, into true cinema, or, dare I say it, kino?

Okay that's a fine spot to stop for now

Here's part two!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Top 5 Short Anime of 2016

Doing this list too now

There was a lot of good shorts this time so here's a little list just for them. It's a good warm up for the more substantial ones which are coming Soon™.

5. Oshiete! Galko-chan

The basic joke here - that Galko is surprisingly innocent and nerdy despite her gyaru appearance - provides a funny skeleton, but it's the meat of the show that sticks out: at considerable length, and with educational frankness, the girls discuss topics that any other SoL show would reduce to a single gag. Once you add just the right amount of heart, it's anatomically perfect!

4. Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou

Follow our titular hero in his quest to become a master DJ and fry cook, while learning that the roles aren't as dissimilar as you'd think. The artstyle has an endearing amateurishness, the extended cast is hilarious, and Agetarou's struggles and successes are compelling. But best of all: the songs they play, and the insights into dance music they provide, are genuinely fresh and funky.

3. Teekyuu

2016 blessed and/or condemned us with episodes 73 through 96 of Teekyuu, comprising seasons 7 and 8. Watch this Tim-and-Eric-plus-tennis-minus-budget audiovisual odyssey and reflect on the fact that not only was this allowed to happen, this was allowed to happen eight times.

2. Koyomimonogatari

This collection of Monogatari side stories flew under the radar when it aired web-only in January, but for fans of the series, it's a must-see. The stories weave themselves throughout the show's chronology, giving us rare and nostalgic glimpses of our favorite characters in different "modes". And while they remain familiar, the roles they play are shuffled; each instigates, advises, or impedes Aragagi as he attempts to solve the episode's mystery. Given the normally languid pacing of the series, you may not think much could happen in under 15 min, but it's a complete and fulfilling story each time, with everything you love from Monogatari - twists and punchlines, diegetic breaks, and poetically perfect endings - super condensed but still substantial, with each episode feeling like it exceeds the boundaries set by the one before it. And just when you think you've seen it all, the show transcends the bounds of a "side story" entirely, in one of the craziest finales of the year.

1. Space Patrol Luluco

Okay but if transcendence is what we want here, nothing can match the insane trajectory of Luluco. This is like... they took all the Triggeridium that they squeezed out of Kiznaiver, and then used that to fuel a rocket. Into the sun, which exploded. Into a giant robot, which transformed into a larger robot, which then fought another giant robot. And then they both exploded. This is just an analogy, the actual show's content is much crazier. If you love Trigger, you have to watch this show. If you love anime, you have to watch this show. If you are a living human being with a heart beating in your chest, you have to watch this show.

Okay that's it

Hey that was pretty easy, short = easy, I'm gonna do my albums list really short too

10. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo (2016-03-14 Revision)
9. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo (2016-03-15 Revision)
8. TOYOMU - 印象III - なんとなく、パブロ (Imagining -The Life of Pablo-)
7. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo (2016-03-30 Revision) 
6. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo (2016-04-02 Revision)
5. Kanye West/Dorian Ye - The Life of Paul
4. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo (Original Release)
3. Kanye West - The Life of Pablo (2016-06-14 Release)
2. D.R.A.M. - Broccoli (ft. Lil Yachty)
1. Lil B - Black Ken

Wow yeah very easy, music journalists have you been disrupted?

More lists to come soon unless I am a buster.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Song of the Day #346 - world's end girlfriend - in Silence / in Siren

Hello again

I dunno if the above link actually lets you play the track or what but uhhh... here we are again doing Song of the Day! After like a month and a half, sheesh. It was a very eventful time. Lots and lots of things happened. Some were bad, like shutting down, and losing my mp3 player, and school becoming very busy, also pretty much everything in the news. But some were good too, like apollo/pth growing very quickly, and getting a new mp3 player, and passing all my classes. And then I went to New York for a bit and it was good and I took these pictures and I just got home and I am very tired.

But I wanted to write a bit about this song, it is a fantastic song, it made me feel very fantastic whenever I listened to it. No matter if I was stressed or sad or happy or excited or what, I could listen to this album, and when I got to this song, it was as if all my emotions were crystallized and fell away from me, and I saw them from a distance, and they seemed perfect and beautiful but distinct from me, not controlling me, something else.

And something else filled me up, something completely new, as soon as the vocals started. They're so tender, so beautiful, and so simple... I'm really loving this style of a singular, straightforward, totally "clean" vocal line wrapped in so much complexity, drums and strings and synths, I loved it a lot in weg/Have a Nice Day!'s NEW ROMANCE, and here I love it for basically entirely different reasons lol. There it seemed like an avenue into the song, a way for the song and your hypothetical karaoke performance of the song to be merged. Here, it makes the song into something entirely Other, but a recognizable Other, an Other I associate with everything tender and beautiful and unreachable, e.g. or possibly i.e. yuri. I haven't bothered to try to transcribe and then shoddily translate the lyrics, outside of the few, very evocative, words that I know and can catch - "ai", "sayonara", "wakata", etc. - because I'm worried the real meaning of the song will conflict with this image that I find so immediate and understandable.

The way all the other sounds, besides that introductory piano, which is sort of like a between-meals sorbet, emerge from the vocals is really stunning to me. I mean first off just because this is a polysymphony of world's end girlfriend in his prime, which is basically the prime of anyone in this mode. There's gorgeous strings and chimes like ice and chords that feel like they're coming from your gut and sharp jazzy drums and apocalyptic howls and the pure electricity from an electric guitar and remnants from the territory only he can enter, like the sound at 3:43, what the hell is that? And it's all suspended across this swelling and shifting world, reflecting both the boldness and maturity he's shown in his structuring on this album... It feels like the entire soundtrack of some JRPG rushing up to meet you.

But again, the truly stunning part is the way that all of this seems to not be the setting for the vocals, but an expression of it, the manifestation of just the facet that can be reflected in audio. It is her vocals that command the tempest, her feelings. And it makes me really feel like everything else in the song, all this complexity and violence and completeness, all of it exists in the feelings of just this one girl. Of course it does, where else could these concepts exist? They must be in the feelings. And thus feelings must be the most important thing. As soon as I start to really believe that, which happens every time I listen to this song, it feels like the rest of the album, and the rest of my feelings that are orbiting around me, and everything happening in the world, and space and even stars, is cast again relative to the heart and mind of this one person, this vocalist: every single thing is just one facet of her emotions. It is dizzying, it is beautiful. And eventually, when I sort of regain myself, everything makes a little more sense, everything is in proportion, and my own little feelings of love or fear or loneliness or happiness feel like they have galaxies within them, but not in an overwhelming way, in a way that if I just sang some simple lines or said a few things I think it would be fine.

I'm off school now and all I want to do is write write write. Magomiutsuken is still coming "soon" although I'm falling into the trap of just adding more and more half-finished things YET AGAIN hahahaha. There's a lot of other song of the day posts I wanna do but tbh they're gonna be lower priority than other things. Like 2016 posts, I have to start working on those soon, I'm really excited to do them, anime and music were both really wonderful this year. Oh and the blog just hit 100k views!! So that's pretty great too!