Thursday, October 17, 2019

Anime Roundup

That's right, it's time for another edition of Anime Roundup! No real theme this time, just the usual disclaimers: (1) these are not reviews, they're just my random personal observations, and (2) there may be spoilers. Hajimemashou!

March Comes in Like a Lion
Q: Can a show that is ostensibly about shogi (Japanese chess) make for compelling viewing?

A: Yes.

Because really, this show is actually about human emotions and relationships, which it does an excellent job of portraying. It's a great representative of the "slice of life" anime sub-genre in which the viewer is basically like a fly on the wall, watching the characters experience triumphs and failures as they go about their day-to-day lives. There's really no plot per se, and no "Big Bad," but it's extremely heartfelt and relatable. Oh, and it does even manage to infuse shogi matches with all the drama and tension of a championship sporting event.

Hunter x Hunter
I decided to check this one out after hearing someone on a YouTube video say that it was their favorite anime. Personally, I found it a little slow going (especially with the occasional dreaded clip show episode), but as per my stick-it-out-at-all-costs approach to watching anime, I eventually did make it through all three seasons that were available to me on Netflix (and sure enough, it escalated pretty quickly toward the end). One good thing that I got out of it was that Killua sort of resembled what I envisioned one of the Glorified characters to look like, so I ended up using a lot of screen shots of him as a shortcut when making my stick-figure storyboards.

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
This was a beautiful show that was sort of slice-of-life but with a bit of a magical/supernatural element and a definite plot arc. As an added benefit for me, it also spawned another character template that I used for storyboards for Glorified (in this case, the Anaru character).

Fairy Tail
Oh man, did I love this show. I saw something on the Internet where someone sarcastically wrote that in order to be a true hardcore anime fan, you have to make fun of anyone who likes both Sword Art Online and Fairy Tail, and I thought, "wait, that's me!" So, okay, bring on the hate, 'cause I don't care. What I really care about is where I can find more episodes of this show, because Netflix ran out after forty-eight of them.

Carole and Tuesday
I'm a sucker for just about anything music-related, especially a good origin story like this one that shows the formation of what I assume will eventually be the most popular musical duo in the history of Mars. Wait, Mars? Can Mars really be terraformed that thoroughly? And that quickly, since, based on some of their references, this seems to be taking place in the not-so-distant future? These are nerdy questions I ask myself while watching shows like these. News flash, Brian: it's fiction. Get over it.

A Silent Voice
As you may recall, I always try to include at least one feature-length anime per Roundup. At over two hours long, this one certainly qualifies, although when I watched it, it didn't feel like two hours at all, that's how much I enjoyed it. "Powerful" and "poignant" would be two words I'd use to describe it, and it touched on a lot of subjects that are important to me, like bullying, friendship, redemption, and forgiveness. Highly recommended, and certainly deserving of all the awards since its release in 2016.

That's it for this time! In the next Roundup, I (probably) give some shows a second chance...

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Words and Pictures Festival

Hey-o! If you're in the beautiful Vancouver/Portland area (or happen to have access to some form of inter-dimensional transportation device), please consider checking out the annual Words and Pictures Festival at Cascade Park Community Library this Saturday, October 12th.
It runs from 11am through 3pm, and I will be there along with a whole host of other cool authors, so there's sure to be something for everyone. There will be readings, panels, and a writers's resource room full of all sorts of awesome organizations like the Northwest Independent Writer's Association, Willamette Writers, SCBWI, and more. Hope to see you there! (AND IF YOU REALLY DO HAVE AN INTER-DIMENSIONAL TRANSPORTATION DEVICE PLEASE LET ME KNOW)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

SPSU Status Update

If you recall, nearly one year ago I announced the public unveiling of the Second Player Shared Universe (if you don't recall, go here), a multimedia franchise centered around my band, Second Player Score. Well, today, to celebrate the first anniversary of said unveiling, I'm going to provide you with descriptions and status updates on all the projects contained within the SPSU - including some that were formerly top secret - to give you a better understanding of what, exactly, this whole thing is about.
Graphic design by Dave Born
The SPSU currently comprises ten different projects, each designed to stand alone yet still exist within the same continuity. They are connected by Easter eggs and shared references in a manner similar to Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse or the Black Mirror universe. For example, April Hayashi, the star of one of the projects (who was introduced in this particular blog post), is Joel Suzuki's cousin. Or, the Glorified manga appears as an actual comic book in the screenplay for Nobody's Hero. Also, Second Player Score (the band) is either name-dropped or makes a cameo appearance in just about everything a la the late, great Stan Lee. So, here we go:

Fortress Storm Attack
Our ten-song debut album, we also envision this as someday being an anthology series in a manner similar to Love, Death, and Robots (or possibly this), where each episode - to be based on a song from the album - is written and illustrated by a different creator.

Nobody's Hero
Our sophomore record spawned a narrated flash fiction piece, three feature-length screenplays that we're currently shopping around to management and production companies, and a dozen beer recipes - one for each song on the album (except for the last song, which is so long it needed two different recipes). Of the three screenplays, the first is sort of like Deadpool-meets-Spawn, the second is sort of Carrie-meets-Mean Girls, and the third is like Dogma-meets-The Avengers.

Our recently-released third album has an accompanying manga-style comic book series, the first issue of which is now available. The other eleven issues that make up Volume One have been fully scripted and storyboarded and will be entering the formal illustration process soon. We also have a proof-of-concept trailer for an anime-style adaptation of the series that we've been shopping around to management and production companies.

As previously noted in this blog post from August, Four-D is our fourth album, currently still in the writing stage. There is also a related card game for which we've already designed and tested the gameplay, and the accompanying manga-style comic book and anime-style TV show scripts are in the development stage (the concept illustration of the main characters that you see above was drawn by my talented daughter). The basic idea is a mashup of Pokemon, Battle Royale, and Avatar: The Last Airbender: "A grieving grade school student is given the opportunity to be granted a single wish. The catch, however, is that he must win a dangerous contest involving parallel realities and elemental guardians before someone else claims his prize."

As also noted in that post from August, 200BPM is our fifth album that we are writing concurrently with Four-D. The screenplay for the accompanying film - which we envision as being a series of vignettes that you would watch consecutively to form a single movie experience - is in the development stage, and is sort of a cross between Killing Eve and Dexter: "When an artsy serial killer - think Banksy meets Aileen Wuornos - discovers that she has competition, she embarks on an escalating murder spree in an effort to not only outdo her rival but discover their identity as well. Will they end up killing each other, falling in love, or both?"

Whew! Pause for breath.

Okay, now we move on to the non-album-related half of the SPSU, led off by none other than...

The Joel Suzuki Series
I think most of you already know what this one is about. Volume Five, by the way, is currently deep into the rewriting stage, which is coming along nicely.

This is the project that stars Joel's cousin April Hayashi and her best friend, Lydia Sanchez. When I interviewed them earlier this year, the Seattle Mariners were off to a red-hot 13-2 start, prompting Lydia to make the bold prediction that the team would win the World Series this year. Of course, we all know how that turned out, but the question is: why did Lydia feel so confident at the time? Well, it's because of the events of Jinx, a romantic comedy in the vein of Crazy Rich Asians, Always Be My Maybe, and Fever Pitch that we're currently shopping around to management and production companies: "When a die-hard baseball fan discovers that jinxes are real, she seeks out the man who has cursed her favorite team. Now, though, she must choose between her fandom and her growing feelings for him before she loses everything she's ever held dear." (P.S. the Mariners' subsequent epic collapse has provided plenty of fodder for a Jinx sequel, which is currently in development. Also, I asked April and Lydia to do a follow-up interview this month to talk about the collapse, but they declined.)

Hold My Beer
Here's one you've never heard of before! It's a dramedy series that used to be an idea about a guy whose only talent is making good chili (don't ask me where that came from - I honestly don't know) that eventually evolved into its current form after we realized that we know way more about beer than chili. The script for the pilot episode is complete, and the logline reads as such: "After a middle-aged man loses his wife and job, he turns to the one thing he's always been good at: brewing beer. Now, though, he must prove his worth to everyone - especially his curmudgeonly brewmaster father - before his life falls apart even further." This is where all the non-Nobody's Hero beer recipes that we come up with will show up.

The Author
This is actually an idea for a series that I had been kicking around for a while. It's intended to be sort of like James Bond and Doctor Who, both in story concept as well as in the ability to recast the main character every so often, thus keeping the franchise going indefinitely. The basic premise is that an author is given a special pen that can rewrite reality (kind of like Death Note or Scribblenauts) as well as allow them to change identities. The script for the pilot episode is complete, and its logline goes like this: "When a womanizing, alcoholic English professor is given a writing instrument that can essentially script reality, he must learn to use it to take down the bad guys before his own personal demons get the best of him."

Rider Nine
And now we come to the last and latest, but certainly not least, member of the SPSU: Rider Nine, an adaptation of and homage to all the classic Japanese live-action solo superhero (tokusatsu) shows I used to love as a kid. Basically, this would be to Kikaida and Kamen Rider what the Power Rangers are to Gorenja, with a little dash of Miraculous Ladybug thrown in for good measure. Here's the logline: "After a shy middle-schooler's beloved older cousin dies in a tragic accident, she discovers that he was secretly a superhero protecting their city against an evil organization. Now she must take up his mantle and continue his legacy before the evil organization executes their plan for world domination."

So there you have it: the ten main projects that make up the Second Player Shared Universe. On top of that, we also have four short films that have been written and are waiting to be produced, as well as a podcast (called Second Player Speaks) that we recently launched.

But you know what? That's just the music and media quadrant of an even larger overarching pop culture production house that we call the Second Player Syndicate. The other quadrants include ideas for a beverages and brewpub division, a toys and technology division, and, of course, a charitable philanthropic arm. Our goal is to become a lifestyle and entertainment entity that helps make the world a more positive place through the proliferation of pop culture. We aim to inspire, entertain, and enlighten, with our four major points of emphasis being (1) accurate and respectful representation, (2) themes of empathy and acceptance, (3) creating opportunities for new talent, and (4) giving back to the communities that support us. I know it sounds ambitious, but thanks to you, our fans and supporters, we've been able to build a pretty solid foundation so far, and we have no intention of slowing down any time soon.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and keep watching this space for more SPSU updates!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

TV Roundup: Semi-Inaugural Edition

Hard to believe, but this is actually the first TV Roundup post I've written that isn't completely about Black Mirror. Sure, I've talked about what (non-anime) shows I've been watching in numerous Status Update posts, but I've never devoted an entire post solely to them - until now. So, here we go! (Oh, and tread carefully, for there will be spoilers.)

Stranger Things
We start off with a show that, back in May, I said that I had yet to check out. Then, on the eve of their Season 3 premiere in July, I decided, "okay, maybe I'll give it a shot now." And hoo boy, am I glad I did. Here are some actual things I said out loud to my TV while catching up on the first two seasons:

"OMG this show is so good!" (~174 times)
"The awesomeness-per-second ratio of this show is completely off the charts" (~57 times)
"Why hasn't anyone told me about this before? Oh, right - they have" (~90 times)

So, now I understand what all the buzz was about. After finishing Season 3, I read that the show had originally been rejected by fifteen different networks, mostly because it had - in the words of the late, great Blake Snyder - a "Double Mumbo Jumbo" element; i.e., two different magical elements happening at the same time, which in this case means Eleven's powers running alongside the whole paranormal thing. Well, needless to say, I think it works just fine. If you haven't seen this show yet, I strongly recommend you stop whatever it is you're doing - and yes, that includes reading this blog post - and go watch it.

The Boys
I have to admit, I wasn't familiar with this show's source material beforehand. Shame on me, because this show (so far, anyway) is so, so good. There were a few elements that normally would raise some eyebrows among literary critics, like the "fridging" of Hugh's girlfriend Robin and the one-in-a-million-chance park bench meeting between Hugh and Annie, but as I watched some more, I realized that all of those moments were actually part of the satire - or, at least, they appeared to be. Either way, it doesn't matter, because the whole thing is incredibly watchable. The one thing I noticed that the show does especially well is conflict. Lots and lots of conflict between characters in every scene, which helps to propel things along. Definitely not kid-friendly, but great fun for adult fans of dark - very dark - comedy.

Speaking of dark, this show - one of the live-action Japanese dramas I mentioned a couple of weeks ago - is a darker spin on the usual "body swap" tale (Freaky Friday, etc.) that delves into subjects like bullying, suicide, and body image issues. There are also some fun comedic elements as well, though, like when - spoiler alert - the four lead characters embark on a complex switching scheme that requires each actor to portray the other characters in turn. Rated TV-MA, it's not a show for kids, but I think that mature teens could handle it well enough.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
The "dark" theme continues! If, like me, you're a fan of the original The Dark Crystal movie from 1982, then, like me, I'm sure you were pretty stoked when you heard that this series - a prequel set before the events of the film - was coming out. And I'm also sure that you (like me) finished watching it weeks ago, and that you were completely blown away by it. Right? Right. Man, was it good. Even if you're not a fan of the film, I would highly recommend checking this out. Great writing (despite a couple of small hand-wavy parts) and even greater artistry that remains faithful to Jim Henson's original vision while still pushing way past the boundaries of what you would expect from what is essentially a fancy puppet show. I think I saw somewhere on the Internet where someone described it as "Game of Thrones with puppets." While not quite that extreme, it - spoiler alert - definitely doesn't pull punches in the body count department. Also, the ending - spoiler alert - may not have been quite what people would have been expecting, leaving ample room for more seasons (to which I say: yes, please.) Oh, and if you haven't done so already, make sure to check out the feature-length documentary The Crystal Calls - Making The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Trust me, it will blow your flippin' mind.

The Good Place
And that brings us to a series that I randomly stumbled upon some time ago while sifting through the innumerable choices on Netflix. I watched the two available seasons, enjoyed them, and wondered when the third was going to come out. Only then did I discover - because apparently I live under a rock - that this was actually a network TV show on NBC whose third season had already concluded! Fortunately, I was able to catch up with it recently, and am now anxiously awaiting the fourth and final season which will premiere tonight.

Coming up next week: a status update on the SPSU (Second Player Shared Universe)!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Give More 24!

Today is Give More 24! What is that, you ask? Why, it's 24 hours in which you can make a positive difference in the world by donating to any one of the awesome nonprofit organizations based in the Southwest Washington area. "Sounds great," you say, "but which organization should I donate to?" Well, each organization is definitely worthy of your support, but allow me to make a suggestion: Autism Empowerment.
Why, you ask? Well, because not only are we dedicated to improving the quality of life for people and families in the autism community both locally and worldwide via our various programs, support groups, events, resources, and more, but also because we promote a global culture of acceptance for people of all abilities.

If that sounds good to you, then simply go this link and make a donation. Even just the minimum of $10 will be greatly appreciated. All donations are 100% tax-deductible, and best of all, giving feels good! I know this first-hand, because not only will I be donating today, but I also donate to Autism Empowerment (on an ongoing basis) one dollar for every Joel Suzuki book that is sold.

Thank you! Mahalo! Arigatou Gozaimasu! Gracias!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

My Japanese-Language Learning Experience, Part Two

This is the second, and last, of a two-part blog post. Read part one here.

Signing up for Netflix was a turning point in how I viewed not only the Japanese language, but my own heritage as well. Why? Because of anime. Yup, anime (Japanese animation, for those of you who are new to this blog). Allow me to explain. Prior to my signing up for Netflix, my exposure to anime had been limited mostly to shows like Pokemon and - I'm dating myself here - Ikkyu-San.
However, my Netflix account opened me up to a whole new world of anime, which apparently had been growing like a uncontrollable forest-beast (no idea what that is) while I wasn't paying attention. There were shows upon shows upon shows, some of which I had heard about peripherally, like Death Note, for example.

So, I decided to give them a try, starting with the aforementioned Death Note. And, I was floored. Looking for more, I discovered Aggretsuko, and, with those two shows making up the proverbial one-two punch, my anime fandom had begun. I became hooked. Over time, I added titles like One Punch Man, Sword Art Online, Soul Eater, Bleach, and many more to my list of favorites, and I watched as many episodes as I had available to me.

These shows also exposed me to some awesome Japanese bands, including one - Stereopony - that eventually joined my personal Mount Rushmore of favorite musical artists (the others on the mountain being Metallica, Iron Maiden, Billy Joel, and The Dambuilders).

And so all of this together eventually served to rekindle...well, no, you can't rekindle something that had never really been kindled in the first place, so let's say that it served to ignite in me a newfound interest in Japanese language and culture. I bought some Japanese language books, downloaded some apps (one of which my daughter, who had previously shown an interest in learning Japanese, recommended to me with a look of "well it's about time you jumped on this bandwagon"), watched videos, and even changed the language of my cell phone to Japanese (at one point I panicked because I was getting a text and I couldn't figure out how to change the phone back to English). On a high school band trip for which I served as a chaperone, I even attempted to speak whatever little Japanese I knew to one of the other parent chaperones who is fluent (she was polite enough to humor me).

It was then that I realized: for probably the first time since I was in kindergarten, I was proud of my heritage.

And that brings us to today. I still have a long, long way to go ("mada mada desu"), but it's been a fun and rewarding new journey that I've found myself on. I've even branched out from anime to live-action Japanese dramas ("Switched," "Midnight Diner") and other kinds of shows ("Japanese Style Originator"), all of which I've found both entertaining and educational. Even though my Nihongo skills are about equal to a 2-year-old's at this point, I'm determined to continue the process and hopefully make a return trip to Japan someday soon (where I will try not to get lost this time).

Epilogue: at last month's Willamette Writers Conference, someone came up to my book signing table, saw the names "Suzuki" and "Tashima," and asked if I was Japanese. I gladly said yes. He followed that up with "genki desu ka?" meaning "How are you?" and I happily replied "genki desu," meaning "I'm fine" (I even knew that what we were saying wasn't even totally correct in context since we had never met before!) He still didn't buy a book, though.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

My Japanese-Language Learning Experience, Part One

As you may have guessed from the Japanese words that I occasionally sprinkle into my posts, I've been trying to learn Japanese (then again, I suppose you may have thought that I already knew a lot of Japanese, but whatever).
The truth is that I've had opportunities during my lifetime to learn Nihongo (which is how to say "the Japanese language" in Japanese), but I've never really taken full advantage of them. When I was a kid growing up in Hawaii, a lot of my classmates attended "Japanese school," which was basically an after-regular-school program designed to teach kids the language, culture, etc. My parents asked if I wanted to go, but being the rebellious punk that I was, I said no. Actually, I wasn't really a rebellious punk, but I did want to distance myself from my identity, thinking that if I were a Japanese person who couldn't speak Japanese, then that would somehow make me cool and unique. This was the logic of a ten-year-old (bear in mind, five years earlier I had spontaneously volunteered to sing the theme song to a tokusatsu - Japanese superhero - television show, in Japanese, in front of my whole kindergarten class, so, yeah, it's complicated.)

Later, in high school, we had a graduation requirement of two years of foreign language. When considering my options, I ended up deciding on Japanese - not because I had grown out of my resisting-my-heritage phase, mind you, but mostly because I was lazy. You see, despite my best efforts, I still knew more Japanese than any other language besides English, simply by virtue of my prior tokusatsu fandom as well as being surrounded by the local culture in Hawaii, which had long since integrated a lot of Japanese customs. On top of that, I had heard that the teacher was kind of on the lenient side when it came to homework and grading, so Japanese was the natural choice for someone who wanted to spend as little time studying as possible so that he could focus more on practicing heavy metal guitar (a pursuit that proved rather successful) and figuring out how to attract girls (not as much).

In college, after forgetting most of what I had learned in two years of high school Japanese, I suddenly found myself on a study tour of - you guessed it - Japan. We were there for a couple of weeks, and it was an awesome, amazing experience (I was suddenly of legal drinking age, so, yeah). I even ended up getting lost with a classmate somewhere in Hokkaido, only managing to make it back to our hotel by scraping up whatever little of the native language I knew from the deep recesses of my memory banks: "Sumimasen, watashi wa gaijin desu. Nihongo wakarimasen. Sheraton hoteru o doko desu ka?" (Roughly translated as "Excuse me, I'm a foreigner. I don't understand Japanese. Where is the Sheraton hotel?")

Despite all of this, after college and during the years that followed, I still resisted learning Japanese like a picky eater resisting brussels sprouts. I think eventually it just became part of a strange stubborn streak that I have, one that causes me to do certain things that really don't make much sense - like refusing to read Harry Potter novels because they were so popular (of course, we know how that eventually turned out). Even weirder, I actually felt a twisted sense of satisfaction at not knowing Japanese. As an example, during a book event for Joel Suzuki, someone came up to my table and the following exchange ensued:

Person: (looks at book cover) "Suzuki?" (looks at my business card) "Tashima? So, you're Japanese, right?"
Me: "Japanese-American." (extra emphasis on "American")
Person: "Hajimemashite. Nihongo ga hanasemasu ka?"
Me: (smiling, shaking head) "No idea what you're saying."
Person: (disappointed): "Oh." (walks away)
Me: (thinking that I probably just lost a potential sale, but that's okay because I SHOWED THAT PERSON NOT TO MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SOMEONE BASED ON THEIR LAST NAME HA!)

Then, in January of last year, I signed up for Netflix, and everything changed.

To be continued...