Thursday, January 16, 2020

My Japanese-Language Learning Experience, Part Four

Welcome ("youkoso") to another in what is now undoubtedly going to be an ongoing series of posts detailing my Japanese-language-learning journey.
If you recall from Part Three, at the time I was seriously considering signing up for a continuing education course at the local community college called "Conversational Japanese II" (there was no "I", but fortunately I knew all the prerequisite words and phrases listed in the course description). Well, shortly thereafter, I stopped considering and actually registered. I was pretty excited about it, because while learning Japanese on my own has been fun, I was really looking forward to practicing and developing my skills with other living creatures besides my cats, who, to their credit, are pretty nonjudgmental when I mess up (which reduces the stress level), but does nothing for my actual learning.

Unfortunately, I was just notified that the class has been cancelled due to low enrollment. That leaves me to continue practicing with my cats for at least a little while longer. Some of our more common conversations go something like this:

Boots: meow meow meow meow
Me: Doushita, Buutsu? ("What's up, Boots?")
Boots: meow meow meow meow
Me: Daijoubu? ("Are you okay"?)
Boots: meow meow meow meow

or, when Mittens starts chewing on a plastic grocery bag:

Me: Oi, neko - yamero! Rejibukuro tabenaide yo! ("Hey, cat - stop! Don't eat the plastic grocery bag!")
Mittens: *ignores me and continues chewing*

So, yeah, hopefully I'll be able to find some other alternative fairly soon*. My learning journey has been going on in earnest for well over a year now, and while I've made progress, I do feel like I'm at a bit of a plateau. Let's take stock of what I know at the moment:

- I can read all the hiragana and katakana (Japanese syllabary) characters
- I can write in hiragana, but my katakana is still a little rusty
- I know maybe around 50 kanji (those complex logographic) characters. In contrast, my daughter knows about 280 (most native Japanese speakers know ~2000 of them).
- My vocabulary is probably around 500 words or so (most native Japanese speakers' vocabulary is around 10,000 words)

To my credit, I did manage to decipher a random ad that I saw on a Japanese-language website that said, in hiragana/katakana/kanji, "Honto ni, eigo na no, kore?" ("Is this really English?") It helped that there was a contextual clue (below that sentence were a bunch of English slang words like "gonna" and "juwanna"), but still, I was pretty proud of myself.

Anyway, stay tuned for Part Five...

* and I just might have, details to come

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Anime Roundup: Exclamation Mark Edition

I've noticed that a lot of anime shows have titles that end in either one, two, or even three exclamation marks. There are a few articles floating around the Internet that claim to have one explanation or another for this phenomenon; I've read some of them and, for the most part, they seem pretty tongue-in-cheek to me. I think the creators of these shows (and the manga that they're based on) are just trying to inject a sense of excitement into the whole deal, kind of like the content-naming equivalent of a street vendor shouting at passerby to get their attention. Anyway, purely by coincidence, I've been watching a few of these lately, such as:

K-On!
This just might be my new favorite anime of all time. A slice-of-life comedy about a group of high school girls who form a band but hardly ever practice, it's funny, lighthearted, and a great portrayal of the beauty and power of friendship (even though the characters hardly practice, they hang out with each other so much and share such a strong bond that when they actually do play a show, they sound fantastic together). Just a few of the things that I love about it include:

- It's sweet but not saccharine; cute but not nauseatingly so

- It aces the Bechdel test over 99.9999% of its entire runtime, the only rare exceptions being when the girls bug their teacher/faculty advisor about her love life (or, more accurately, lack thereof). Yes, it's set at an all-girl school, but even so, the characters are too busy with their studies, music, and other aspects of everyday life to think about dating. Very refreshing.

- The musical instruments are drawn with precise and accurate detail, and when the characters play them, most of the time their hand movements actually look like they're playing what they're supposed to be playing. As a musician, I really appreciate this.

- Speaking of music, the songs from this show are AMAZING. All of them. I mean, I know I've said that most anime shows have great theme songs, but these go way beyond that. Which, I suppose, would make sense for a show about a band. The songs are so good (and popular), the show even pulled a cool meta maneuver and had the voice actors for the main characters take a crash course in their respective instruments and put on an arena-packing live concert.

Two seasons and a feature-length movie based on the show are available, but trust me, that ain't enough. Seriously, I could just watch this thing endlessly. But I suppose, like Stereopony, all good things must eventually come to an end, and maybe that's what makes them even better.

Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions!
At first, you might think this is one of those animes about several cute teenage girls who all inexplicably like the same boring dude (yes, that's a subgenre), but thankfully, it's actually a delightful young-adult rom-com-ish show about a boy who is trying to put his "chunibyo" (basically, a state of mind where you really believe that you have special powers) past behind and a girl who is still stuck in that phase. It's humorous, adorable, and very touching at times - especially during the lead-up to the end of season one. I love love love how it portrays the characters' imaginary magical battles as something real before it cuts to the actual action where all they're doing is clashing umbrellas with soup ladles. Or ARE THEY??

P.S. I'm still in my chunibyo phase, thank you very much.

Maid-Sama!
Another rom-com-ish show, this one is about a high school girl who is a heavy-handed class president by day and a waitress at a maid cafe - a totally family-friendly establishment, for those of you who don't know - by night. I've noticed that a lot of manga and anime have premises that employ a similar "contrast" setup, like Saiki K. (a boy with psychic powers who just wants to be an ordinary kid), One Punch Man (a superhero so powerful that he becomes bored with his life), The Devil Is a Part-Timer (Satan comes to Earth and finds himself having to flip burgers to make ends meet), and more. It's a pretty effective formula, if you ask me.

Haikyuu!!
This show's title gets two exclamation points!! I guess maybe because simply calling it "Haikyuu" ("Volleyball") sounds too boring otherwise? Or maybe because nobody actually calls volleyball "Haikyuu" in Japan (apparently, it's called "ba-re-bo-ru")? Who knows. Anyway, the basic idea is that there's a high school boy who really loves volleyball but is shorter than your average player so he makes up for it with grit and determination (and some serious NBA-level hops). It goes further than that, of course, introducing new teammates and highlighting the ensuing high school-haikyuu-high jinks (insert groan here) as our hero's team attempts to climb up through the ranks and win a championship. If you like volleyball and/or sports movies, this is for you.

Cells At Work!
If I told you that this was a show about anthropomorphic cells living and working within a gigantic city that is supposed to be a human body, you might think it was some kind of educational program geared toward young kids (or maybe a Japanese adaptation of Osmosis Jones). Turns out, it is pretty educational - the scientific factoids are (apparently) mostly accurate - and platelets are represented by cute little children, but then when, say, the white blood cells have to battle an infecting virus, it erupts into these vicious bloody fight scenes that would seem more at home in a Quentin Tarantino film, creating a massive sense of cognitive dissonance. Needless to say, it's a lot of fun.

Anyway, there are a LOT more exclamation-mark-titled shows (Angel Beats! Food Wars! Durarara!!), but we'll save those for a future roundup post. In the meantime, should I change the name of the Joel Suzuki series from "Joel Suzuki" to "Joel Suzuki!!"? Uh, no.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Spam Curry (And A Volume Five Status Update)

Another in what could possibly become an ongoing series of Spam-recipe posts (or not). For my Spicy Asian Fusion Garlic Spam-Ghetti recipe, go here.
One thing about watching anime is that, for some reason, whenever the characters are eating something, no matter what it is, it always looks so good. Whether it's a ten-course gourmet meal or a burger with fries, it never fails to make me hungry, even if I've just eaten.

Curry, being a popular dish in Japan, is no exception. After watching the Curry of Life episodes of Naruto (as well as numerous other examples), I just had to make some curry of my own. However, not wanting to take the time to make it from scratch, I simply went out and picked up a packet of S&B Japanese-style curry sauce for $2.99 from my neighborhood Fred Meyer. It fit the bill nicely enough, especially after I added the Hawaiian staple of diced, fried Spam to the mix and poured it all over a plate of steaming hot white rice.

So I guess this doesn't really qualify as a recipe as such, since really, all you have to do is follow the directions on the curry packet along with knowing how to cook rice (and fry Spam). Basically, it was just an excuse for me to talk about anime and post a picture of my dinner. I would recommend trying the whole watch-the-show-and-then-eat-the-food thing sometime, though - it's actually pretty fun and satisfying.

Oh, and the draft of Joel Suzuki, Volume Five has been sent off to my editor for a first round, story-level edit. It should come back before the end of the month, at which point the real work (i.e., rewriting and revising) will begin.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

I Don't Care What Anyone Says, I Loved The Rise Of Skywalker

So maybe I'm a sucker for nostalgia. So what? If I want to be intellectually challenged by a film, there are lots of other options.
To me, the whole Star Wars franchise has always been about simple, high-level, feel-good emotions. About hope. About friendship. About good triumphing over evil. And this movie, in my opinion, delivered all of that in spades.

It also helped that it was jam-packed with almost every uber-fan-satisfying moment you can squeeze into 2-1/2 hours while still retaining something resembling a plot (which was on the basic side, but it had to be, in order to hang all the nerd-pleasing bells and whistles on it). Here are just a few of my favorites (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT):

- The fact that Palpatine is still alive. Because, I mean, of course he is! The most powerful Sith Lord in the history of the galaxy wouldn't be done in just by being thrown down a shaft, now, would he?

- The fact that Palpatine created Snoke and even has a tank full of more Snokes in his secret lair.

- Leia being an awesome Jedi herself and training Rey. When Rey called Leia "Master," I was like, niiiiice

- Page-turners, they may not be, but the Jedi texts came in handy!

- The Knights of Ren actually do stuff in this movie

- Rey's Force lightning

- This wasn't a fanboy moment, but it was funny: C-3PO saying "wait, I have another idea" right before they wiped his memory

- Rey being the grandchild of Palpatine. I have to admit, despite previous fan theories to that effect that emerged after The Force Awakens came out back in 2015, I did not see that one coming (maybe because it sounded so preposterous at the time). Good job, J.J. Abrams. It explains why Rey has seemed so over-powerful despite limited training, and sends a good message that you don't have to be beholden to your bloodline.

- Villanelle from Killing Eve is Rey's mother! Well, not exactly, but you know what I mean.

- I like that Hux was the spy. Reminded me of Agent Kallus from the Rebels cartoon.

- The sunken X-Wing on Ahch-To came in handy!

- "What about the Holdo Maneuver?" "That was one in a million."

- ALL THE CAMEOS

- Chewbacca gets his medal

- Rey's yellow lightsaber

Look, I know some folks won't be pleased with what could be perceived as retconning the whole "Rey came from nowhere" idea, but, I mean, powerful Force-users who aren't descendants of a particular lineage are present everywhere throughout this franchise. There have been TV shows and books and all sorts of other media featuring characters like that, and I'm sure there will be much more. But this was the "Skywalker Saga," and as such, I think it was appropriate that it was kind of kept in the family, so to speak.

I think maybe the best way to put it is that I found this movie to be the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. It may have been simple, familiar, and even cheesy at points, but it was enjoyable and satisfying, and believe me, I'll be going back for seconds.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

2020: Stuff I'm Looking Forward To

You know what's nutty? That the last time I wrote a post like this, it was three years ago. Know what else? The fact that most of the movies I mentioned in that post have already been on regular cable TV.

Anyway, here are some pieces of pop culture that I'm looking forward to in 2020:

Shows
- The new season of Doctor Who (yay, classic villains!)
- The new season of The Magicians (funny how the top two on this list are the same as on the list from 2016)
- The new season of The Boys
- The series finale of The Good Place
- The new season of Saiki K.

Movies
- Black Widow
- Wonder Woman 1984
- Ghostbusters: Afterlife (hey, it looks good!)
- No Time To Die
- Matrix 4 and John Wick 4 (which are being released on the same day)
- Bill & Ted Face the Music

Books
- Joel Suzuki, Volume Five*

* Assuming I have time to finish it in between watching all the previously mentioned stuff

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Stereopony Reunion??

INT. BRIAN'S LIVING ROOM - NIGHT

A young woman is here, looking at the screen of a laptop computer. This is FELICITY.

F: Whoa! Dude!

A young man enters the room. This is JOEL.

J: What?
F: Check this out!
J: Check what out?
F: This tweet I'm looking at. On the computer.

Joel looks at the computer's screen.
J: Who are those women?
F: Dude, don't you remember? They're former members of Stereopony. You know, that band from Japan I told you about last year.
J: Oh, yeah.
F: How could you have forgotten? We even time-traveled to see their 2012 farewell concert.
J: We did?
F: Ugh, have you been messing with the timelines again?
J: Um...yeah. Sorry.
F: Whatever. Anyway, when you translate this tweet, it says "Flowers bloom in a nostalgic story. I wonder if someday I can meet with three people. Hashtag #Stereopony."
J: You can read Japanese?
F: No, duh. Twitter has a translation feature.
J: Oh. Right.
F: Okay, so, this tweet is from Nohana, the bass player. There's another one from Aimi, the singer/guitarist, that also shows the two of them hanging out. It says "Please support Aimi and Nohana who have grown up a little. Hashtag #Stereopony."
J: Um, okay.
F: Don't you see what this means?
J: No.
F: There might be a Stereopony reunion!
J: What gives you that idea?
F: Read between the lines, dude. When Nohana says "meet with three people," she's probably talking about including Shiho, the drummer. And when Aimi says "grown up a little," she might be referring to the fact that they're a little more mature now and can put their past differences aside.
J: Or it could mean exactly what they're saying - that they're both a little older and that maybe the three of them could hang out someday.
F: Maybe, but where's the fun in that? Like your cousin April always says, "it's all about having hope."
J: I think I've only heard her say that once.
F: You know what I mean.

An older man walks into the room. This is BRIAN.

B: Yo. What're you guys up to?
F: Dude, check out these tweets.

Brian looks at the computer screen.

B: Hey, it's Aimi and Nohana from Stereopony! Nice to see them getting along.
F: Yeah, and they're dropping ever-so-subtle hints that there might be a Stereopony reunion.
B: Wow. That would be awesome.
F: Right?
B: I've love to see them live.
F: Oh, trust me, they totally rock live.
B: I'm sure they - wait, how do you know?
F: Um...because I've watched videos of their live shows. Haven't you?
B: Sure, but the way you made it sound just now, it was like...
F: I mean, it's not like Joel and I traveled back in time to see them, or anything. Right, Joel?
J: Uh, right.
B (eyeing Joel and Felicity suspiciously): Hmm...
F: Anyway, gotta run out for a bit. We're out of diet soda again. Be right back.
J: I'll go with her.
B: Ohh-kay...

SMASH CUT TO BLACK

Thursday, December 5, 2019

My Japanese-Language Learning Experience, Part Three

Back in September I wrote what I said would be the last of a miniseries of posts about my Japanese-language learning experiences. Turns out, sore wa uso deshita (that was a lie).
For whatever reason, my fascination with the Japanese language and culture has continued unabated. A few weeks ago I took my kids and some of their friends to Kumoricon, an annual anime convention - it's like Comic-Con, only 99.5% anime-centric - held in the Portland/Vancouver area (or maybe I should say they took me; it was hard to tell who was having more fun). While there, I ran across a merchant table for a Japanese-language class at the local community college and proceeded to try out a little of my speaking skills on the instructor who was manning the table. Well, not really, actually; I asked all of my questions ("are these classes only for undergrads?" - yes; "do you have community ed classes at night for non-students?" - check our website) in English, but I did manage to end the conversation with what I hope was a fairly passable arigatou gozaimasu, yoroshiku onegashimasu (basically a long, polite way of saying thank you).

In the previous post I mentioned that I've been teaching myself the language with the help of some books, apps, and videos, and a lot of you have asked me which ones. Actually, sore wa uso deshita; no one has asked me that. But I'm going to tell you anyway! For books, I've been using Speak Japanese in 90 Days by Kevin Marx and Japanese for Dummies by Hiroko Chiba and Eriko Sato. For apps: Drops, Kanji Quizzer, imiwa?, and Japanese Word Dungeon. For videos: mostly That Japanese Man Yuta and Japanese Ammo. And right now I'm seriously considering signing up for a community ed class at the local community college called "Conversational Japanese II" which begins in January (yes, I checked their website).

To be honest, I'm not really sure why I'm so into this whole Nihongo thing right now. I know I previously said it was because of the anime and the J-Rock bands, but I'm starting to think that maybe there's more to it than that. Could it be that my fatewave* is leading me toward some Japan-related destiny? Only time will tell. Anyway, stay tuned, as I'm pretty sure this will end up becoming a ongoing series of posts. Mata ne (laters)!

* Don't know what a "fatewave" is? Check out Joel Suzuki, Volume Four: Fable of the Fatewave, written entirely in English.