Thursday, August 22, 2019

Movie Roundup: MCU Update Edition

Almost two years ago, I fulfilled a mission to list the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies in order from my least to most favorite. With the recent release of Avengers: Endgame on home video and the official close of the MCU's Phase 3, it now seems an appropriate time to update said list.
(Besides, the only movies I've had time to see in the theaters recently have been the aforementioned Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, so, yeah.)

Several points to keep in mind as you read: (1) opinions are subjective, (2) to be honest, I actually like all of the movies on this list to some degree, even the lowest-ranked ones, and (3) there may be spoilers. Also, some of the rankings from the previous post may have moved around as time has changed my perceptions of those particular films.

Here we go!

#23 - The Incredible Hulk

No change here. Kinda wish they'd give Mark Ruffalo his own thing, but it doesn't look like that's gonna happen.

#22 - Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Down from #13. I didn't enjoy it as much upon repeated viewings.

#21 - Avengers: Age of Ultron

Started out low, went up as high as #10, and now is back down here.

#20 - Thor

I love that Joe Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, Sense8, and tons of other stuff (including a run as the writer on the Thor comic), has a cameo in this movie. I did not know this until I read his recent autobiography Becoming Superman (highly recommended reading, by the way).

#19 - Iron Man 2

R.I.P., Tony Stark (MCU version).

#18 - Thor: The Dark World

Can't wait for the Jane Foster Thor!

#17 - Doctor Strange

Love the scene with Doctor Strange and Thor where Doctor Strange offers Thor some tea and...wait, no, that was a post-credits scene from Thor: Ragnarok. Sometimes it's hard to keep track.

#16 - Iron Man

Funny how the comics version of Tony started looking so much more like Robert Downey, Jr. after this.

#15 - Guardians of the Galaxy

Down from #9, but that's 'cause it's getting crowded at the top.

#14 - Ant-Man and The Wasp

While I didn't enjoy this one as much as the first Ant-Man, it was still fun, especially coming after what happened in Infinity War.

#13 - Captain America: The First Avenger

The first Avenger, the third-best Cap movie. Still good, though.

#12 - Captain America: Civil War

I could watch the airport scene all day.

#11 - Iron Man 3

I still watch this when it comes on TV.

#10 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I still watch this when it comes on TV.

#9 - Thor: Ragnarok

Can't wait for the Jane Foster Thor! Wait, did I say that already?

#8 - Captain Marvel

I don't care what anyone says, I actually kind of like overpowered superheroes. It's fun to watch them kick everyone's butt.

#7 - Spider-Man: Far From Home

While I didn't enjoy this as much as Homecoming, it was still still fun, especially coming after what happened in Endgame. It took me a little while to figure out all the post-Blip timey-wimey shenanigans.

Oh, and hey, Sony and Disney - please kiss and make up. Thank you.

#6 - Black Panther

As I've said before, I really want to go to Wakanda.

#5 - Spider-Man: Homecoming

I can't believe that this one is already on regular cable TV.

#4 - Ant-Man

Yes, still one of my top favorites. Seriously.

#3 - Avengers: Endgame

Time travel, yay!

#2 - Avengers

Still so, so, good.

#1 - Avengers: Infinity War

Call me a sucker for unhappy endings, I guess.

Okay, Disney/Marvel, bring on Phase 4!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Albums Four And Five Status Update

Yep, you heard right. My band, Second Player Score, is currently in the process of writing our fourth and fifth albums at the same time. I'll tell you how that came to be.
For a while now, even as our third album Glorified was being recorded, we'd been working on songs for the follow-up, which was to be titled 200BPM, named after the tempo that a lot of Second Player Score songs seem to be played at.

But somewhere along the way, especially after hearing how "More Than I Can Give" - an uptempo punk rock track off of Glorified - turned out, we decided that we needed a whole album full of short, speedy, simple tunes that evoked images of spiky hairdos and sweaty mosh pits. And, being the nerdy fans of numerology that we are, we decided that said album would have to be our fourth album, since it would contain nothing but four-chord songs a la Face to Face's "Disconnected."

On top of that, since - as you know - all we write are concept albums, we came up with a related storyline that would be sort of a mashup of Pokemon and Battle Royale that would involve elemental guardians, parallel threads of reality, and the ability to see into - naturally - the fourth dimension.

And thus, Four-D was born. It might well be our most ambitious project to date, because not only is there the album, but, like Glorified, there are plans for a related comic book and another product that I'll go into more detail on in a future Album Four Status Update post.

But what about 200BPM? Well, we certainly didn't want to abandon that project, especially since we had already written the music for a lot of it and even recorded one of its songs in the studio. So, it was decided that it would not only become our fifth album, but that we would have to work on it simultaneously with Four-D in order to keep the songs fresh in our minds and not waste all the time we had put into practicing them up until that point.

And so, that's the story of how we got ourselves into this particular predicament. But, hey, challenge accepted, right? At the moment, we have the music written for all 16 (four times four, of course) songs on Four-D, and 9 of the 13 planned songs on 200BPM. Next up are the lyrics, then vocal harmonies, then boot camp.

Oh, and what is the concept behind 200BPM, you ask? Well, the original idea was sort of a psychological horror anthology in the vein of Black Mirror, but then after I realized that no one can really out-Black Mirror Black Mirror, it morphed into the story of a female serial killer who considers her murders to be, essentially, performance art. It's kind of a cross between Killing Eve and Dexter, two of our favorite shows.

Anyway, stay tuned!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

On This Day In History

Today we'll take a look back at what I was doing on this date in history (well, not this exact date, but close to it) over the last seven years via the blog posts that I'd written at the time:

Can you believe I've been writing Anime Roundup posts for well over a year now? When I wrote this particular post, I'd just finished watching Sword Art Online, Soul Eater, and One Punch Man, three of my all-time favorites.


Ah, it was not so long ago that I actually had time to go the movies. This was, of course, before the Muse of Screenwriting visited me in June of 2018, chained me to my desk, and commanded me to write, write, and write some more until my fingers bled and my eyes popped out of their sockets.

Thursday, August 11, 2016 - Pokemon Go - Um, I Mean, Wilsonville Fun In The Park & Ash Street Saloon Recap

Man, this was a busy day! Or a recap of a busy day, anyway. Apparently I spent all morning and afternoon in the sun catching Pokemon - I mean, selling books - and then all night playing a show with my band (and catching more Pokemon). I'm amused by the fact that at this time, our second album hadn't even been released yet.

Thursday, August 13, 2015 - Quickie Status Updates

Wow. When I wrote this particular post, Book Two and Album Two were both still in the development phase, and Gravity Falls was still putting out new episodes. Ah, nostalgia...

Thursday, August 28, 2014 - Random Thoughts: Doctor Who & Video Game Update

Peter Capaldi had just started his run as the Doctor, and Hyrule Warriors hadn't even come out yet.

Thursday, August 8, 2013 - Greetings From Spectraland: Day Four

At this time, I was on summer vacation in Spectraland. Or, actually, deep in writing mode, which is kind of the same thing. Following several days of nonstop writing, the first draft of Book Two stood at 26,000 words.

Monday, August 6, 2012 - My Weekend

I had spent the weekend prior to this at the always-awesome Willamette Writers Conference, which - we've come full circle here - I attended this past weekend as well!

And thus ends our look back in time. Funny how so much has changed while so much has remained the same. Wonder what next August will have in store? Anyone have a time machine I can borrow?*

* yes, I will keep asking that question until I finally get an affirmative response

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Spicy Asian Fusion Garlic Spam-Ghetti

In this food-related post from last month, I mentioned that I can make three large servings of pasta in only a few minutes with just a few dollars' worth of ingredients. Well, today, by popular demand*,  I will share with you my recipe for what I call Spicy Asian Fusion Garlic Spam-Ghetti.
Now, understand, this is not fine dining. This is total bachelor chow pub food. That said, it really is quite tasty, believe it or not.

Ingredients:

- One box angel hair pasta (the store-brand kind costs about one dollar and is more than sufficient for our purposes)
- One gallon of water
- Spaghetti sauce (I use the store-brand red sauce with the mushroom and onion flavoring, but just about anything will work)
- Spam (because I'm from Hawaii, where Spam is a staple food)
- Minced garlic (I use the squeeze bottle kind)
- Tabasco
- Soy sauce
- Black pepper
- Turmeric
- Dash of salt, optional

Directions:

1. Bring the gallon of water to a boil in a large pot. Add a dash of salt.
2. Boil the pasta in accordance with the directions on the box (usually 5-7 minutes, until the pasta is reasonably soft)
3. Cut four slices of Spam, dice, and fry on medium-high heat (no oil) until lightly brown.
4. Add the spam to the pasta.
5. Add the sauce (no need to preheat) to the pasta.
6. Add minced garlic, Tabasco, soy sauce, black pepper, and turmeric to taste.
7. Say "itadakimasu" (optional, but it makes the food taste better for some strange reason) and dig in.

That's it! Man, now I'm hungry...

* Actually no one demanded it

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Volume Five Status Update: Draft One Is Done

Note: this post was originally published on November 30, 2017, except then I was talking about Volume Four, so some relevant details have been changed.
Yup, you heard right. The first draft of Joel Suzuki, Volume Five is officially complete. At the moment it's clocking in at a robust 78,000+ words, which - based on past experience - should grow to be around 81,000 (i.e., about 324 pages) by the time it's finalized. Woohoo!

So right now I'm just going to let it cool off for a little while before I come back to it in a few days. After that I'll do some more revisions and cleanups, and then once I have a "Draft 1-A" prepared (probably in a couple of months or so) I'll send that off to my editor for her to savagely rip apart - um, I mean, offer some gentle feedback after lots of careful and sensitive deliberation (Hi Susan!).

Once that part of the process is complete, I'll settle into full-on rewriting mode, which should take somewhere around 6-8 months. Or maybe less. Or maybe more! Either way, the target launch date for Volume Five is early-to-mid 2020, so I'm still right on schedule.

And what, exactly, is Volume Five about, you ask? Well, let me tell you. Or not! Suffice it to say that most of the action takes place not in Spectraland, but back on good old Earth, and a lot of characters who were just bit players in previous volumes will have much larger roles this time around. To say any more would be a spoiler for anyone who hasn't read Volume Four yet, so I'll stop there.

Anyway, I'll be disclosing more details in the weeks and months to come, so keep tuning in to this space for the latest updates. And if you haven't starting reading the Joel Suzuki series yet (gasp!), you can catch up right here:

Joel Suzuki, Volume One: Secret of the Songshell
Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire
Joel Suzuki, Volume Three: Legend of the Loudstone
Joel Suzuki, Volume Four: Fable of the Fatewave

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Anime Roundup: No Opening Theme?! Edition

One of my favorite things about anime shows is the theme song. Or theme songs, I should say, as there's usually an opening theme as well as an ending one. As I believe I've mentioned before, Netflix will automatically assume that I want to skip the songs, which oftentimes will make me yell "No, play the song!" at the TV, which startles my cats. I don't know why most anime theme songs are so good. Actually, I do have a theory, but it's top secret for now because I'm integrating said theory into the plot for Joel Suzuki, Volume Five (seriously, I am).

I bring this up again because it seems like a lot of the recent crop of anime shows I've been watching don't have an opening theme song. Or either that, some of the episodes do have one while others don't. Or it takes a long time to actually get to the song. What is happening here, showrunners? Don't you know that not only does an epic opening theme song make your series that much better, but that it also offers an opportunity for bands - some of whom might be signed to the same company that is producing your show - to get their music out to a larger audience? I mean, epic anime theme songs are how I discovered a lot of my current favorite J-Rock artists, especially since a few long-running shows change up their themes each season or mid-season.

Anyway, let's get on with the Roundup, shall we? (Beware, for there may be spoilers.)

Ultraman
Having grown up in Hawaii, I was always more a fan of Ultra Seven than of his predecessor, Ultraman. Nevertheless, I was still very interested in checking this show out. And I'm ultra-glad I did (insert well-deserved groans here). So far, through the first season the show has established itself as a darker, grimmer take on the original that explores some of the real-world ramifications of being Ultraman; not only the collateral damage aspect, but also the moral dilemma involved with killing aliens, even if they're bad guys. It balances that darker tone well with some humor and lighter moments (I loved the Rena's hat-and-glasses disguise joke), something that I really appreciate.

I also appreciated all the easter eggs that called back to some of the original tokusatsu shows, like Dan as a sort-of-Ultra Seven and Seiji as a sort-of-Ultraman Ace. Oh, and also the fact that the statue of the original Ultraman in the SSSP museum has the little eyeholes that the actor used to see through.

The CG art and animation is very video-gamey, which is not a criticism. I suspected, based on the movements of the characters, that they were using motion capture, and sure enough, when the ending credits rolled, I was able to use my rudimentary knowledge of katakana to see that there were "motion capture actors" and "motion capture animators." The show is rated TV-14, but it pushes right up to the border of that rating and sometimes, in my opinion, crosses over into TV-MA territory with its somewhat gratuitous use of blood, violence, and profanity (not a problem with me, but just in case you're thinking this might be a good show for young kids).

Note: this show has no opening theme song. Nevertheless, can't wait for season two!

Gunslinger Girl
This show was definitely not what I expected. Based on the description, I thought it was going to be some sort of Sailor Moon-meets-Hit Girl kind of deal, where an ensemble of young women with extraordinary fighting skills routinely take on and wipe out cadres of bad guys before going home and having tea and cake. And, granted, while there is a fair bit of that happening in this show, it goes a lot deeper than that, exploring - like the new Ultraman does - a lot of complex moral issues. The slow, quiet moments actually outnumber the violent ones, and (spoiler alert) there isn't really a story arc to speak of, which makes the proceedings feel very realistic - or as realistic as a show about preteen cyborg assassins can get.

Note: this show has no opening theme song.

Fate/Extra Last Encore
In the last Anime Roundup post, I said I'd probably check out more Fate titles after having watched Fate/Zero and Fate/Stay Night (Unlimited Blade Works). And, well, I'm a man of my word. This show was interesting to me because it basically took a bunch of the more familiar characters from the other series and gave them entirely new personalities. There was really no continuity with the other shows aside from a few similar worldbuilding elements, and the storyline somehow managed to be very simple but also extremely complicated at the same time. But guess what? None of that means that I didn't enjoy the show - in fact, I liked it a lot. I also loved Saber's catch phrase (or catch word, I suppose): "Umu!"

Note: the first episode had no opening theme, which prompted me to say "Really? Another show like that?" Yes, I talk to my television a lot. But then, starting with the second episode, the show introduced a pretty rockin' opening song, so, whew.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Bizarre adventure, indeed! This show, while embodying all the stereotypical over-the-top attributes normally associated with anime, was so, so watchable. I guess that explains why there's an entire franchise built around it that I haven't even started to scratch the surface of yet. I love how some of the characters are named after classic Western rock bands (REO Speedwagon, AC/DC, The Cars, Dio, etc.), and the ending - which wasn't actually an ending, as there are lot more episodes that aren't available to me at the moment - was pitch-perfect.

Note: the first episode had no opening theme.

Ingress: The Animation
This was a fun show. Very Matrix-y. Each episode went by really quickly. I did not know that it was based on an actual existing augmented reality game until afterwards. The concept of "XM" (exotic matter) was very cool, as was the idea of "Sensitives" (people with XM-powered abilities). I kind of wished that Sarah had played a bigger role instead of being a standard damsel-in-distress for most of the season, but oh well. Everything kind of wrapped up neatly at the end (despite the cliffhanger) so I'm not sure where, exactly, they would go with this for a second season assuming there is one, but if there is, I'll be there.

Note: it took a while to get to the opening theme in the first episode, nearly prompting me to talk to my TV yet again, but it got there eventually.

Revisions
In keeping with this recent trend of "darker and grittier" (see Ultraman, above), it seemed to me that this show sort of wants to be to the isekai (portal fantasy) and mecha (giant robot) genres what Madoka Magica is to the "magical girl" genre, with unexpected twists, realistic characters (or as realistic as these things can get), and sometimes shocking moments. Despite plot developments that left me confused at certain points (I thought Milo was going to return to 2010 much earlier than she did) and a supposed main protagonist who was thoroughly annoying and unlikable for most of the season (there were a couple of fun meta moments when the writers themselves seemed to be aware of this), I found this show to be incredibly watchable; when the end credits for each episode started to roll, I always thought "wow, that went by fast." I also liked how the season wrapped things up nicely but still left plenty of room for more. Bring it on, I say!

Note: this show had a cool opening theme song from the get-go.

In This Corner of the World
To fulfill my one-feature-length-anime-per-Roundup requirement, I chose this one, which isn't a classic (yet) along the lines of Akira or Battle Angel Alita but is nevertheless highly acclaimed, having won a boatload of awards since its release in 2016. A fictionalized account of a woman's life as she grows up in Japan pre- and during-WWII, it's slow and gentle in tone while still being unflinching in its depiction of the horrors of war. The fact that you, the viewer, knows what's coming - namely, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima - lends an undercurrent of somber uneasiness to the whole proceedings, which are otherwise basically slice-of-life vignettes that follow the main character as she grows up, gets married, and tries to live a simple and honest life. At two hours and nine minutes, it's on the long side, but very well worth it. Strongly recommended.

In the next roundup, probably: Hunter x Hunter, March Comes in Like a Lion, Fairy Tail, A Silent Voice, and more!

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Spectraland Cuisine

Continuing with the "food" theme from a few weeks ago, I decided to take a closer look at what kind of meals are eaten in Spectraland. Now, for readers of the Joel Suzuki series, you've probably noticed that the foodstuffs in the "other world" are often described in a less-than-palatable-manner, but that's just because we're looking at them from Joel's point of view, and he's a somewhat picky eater. The reality is that, in most cases, they're more delicious than they would seem.
Here's a list of what's been on the table so far, and a little commentary for each:

Volume One, Secret of the Songshell

1. Plumeria Juice: the first thing that Joel was served in Spectraland, this drink is described as being of a "sickly green color" and smelling "like plumeria flowers." He didn't try it, but if he did, he would have found that it was actually quite good, as it tastes something akin to orange juice.

2. Unidentified Brown Soup: described as a "murky brown fluid," Joel didn't eat it, but if he did, he would have found that it tasted similar to miso soup, which is actually something that he likes.

3. Fuzzy Roast Beef: Joel actually did try this, and it was okay! See, Joel, you just need to be a little more adventurous.

4. Lifepods: the staple food of Spectraland, a lifepod is a small, round blue fruit that tastes like banana and watermelon, with a slight minty aftertaste. Everyone, especially Felicity, consumes a lot of it over the course of this and subsequent volumes.  I've even attempted to replicate it here on Earth, with varying degrees of success.

Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire

1. Stripeclaw Steak: this was seen being eaten by Chief Raintree in the form of a "big green bone that was shaped like the capital letter A." Made from an animal called, naturally, a stripeclaw, it looks odd but tastes like a cross between beef and pork.

2. Spiral Landing Stew: described as a "black liquid that smelled like old milk" that contained "various pieces of unidentifiable solids (that) bobbled up and down in it like little buoys," this dish is actually...well, yeah, all right, this one is an acquired taste, even for Spectraland natives.

3. Burnt Leg of Bullrat in Sunseed Sauce: this wasn't actually seen or eaten in the story, but the recipe for it was mentioned by Chief Sandthroat. Basically, it tastes like sesame chicken.

Volume Three: Legend of the Loudstone

1. Cloudrunner Six with Extra Crystal: a jet-black alcoholic beverage in the Mono Realm/Six States Beneath the Shroud, which is where most of the action in Volume Three takes place (rather than in Spectraland). Joel, being underage, doesn't try it.

2. Thin Wafers: crispy and tasting like a sugar cookie, this is one of the few things in the other world that Joel actually eats and enjoys.

Volume Four: Fable of the Fatewave

1. Lifepod Cake: invented by Felicity, this is made from lifepods (see above) and flour created by grinding up the cattails from the Groaning Geyser.

2. Rat Skewers: okay, I admit, these don't sound very appetizing ("small rat-like animals that had been burnt, skewered, and drizzled in a thin red sauce that may or may not have been blood"), but they're really not all that bad...if your name is Andrew Zimmern or Bear Grylls. Just kidding. Mostly.

3. Lifepod Wine: another lifepod-based creation, this is an alcoholic drink that was actually replicated here on Earth for the Volume One relaunch party back in 2013.

And there you have it! So, if you're ever lucky enough to find yourself in Spectraland or the surrounding areas during your lifetime, don't let Joel and Felicity's experiences deter you from trying the food. You might just discover a new and surprisingly tasty culinary experience.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Glorified Release Party Recap

The Glorified launch party was epic! If a picture is worth a thousand words, then prepare yourself for a 6000+-word post.
The night kicked off with Matt Danger of Ninjas With Syringes and No Pants Records, laying down a tasty solo acoustic set.
Next up were The Fauxriginals with their awesome hooks and killer vocal harmonies.
They were followed by The Doom Generation, who rocked the house.
Second Player Score then proceeded to take the stage, where we performed every song off of Glorified, in order, accompanied by our brand-new anime teaser trailer and video game montage.
All SPS photos courtesy of Neko Sixx
We even had a very special guest guitarist - Adam Tolentino from Hawaii - join us on our last song.
Then, after a pause to give away the Glorified guitar, we finished the night with a cover of Stereopony's "Hitohira No Hanabira." We had a great time and would like to thank the bands who played, everyone at Lola's Room/Crystal Ballroom for having us, and all of our fans, friends, and family (some of whom flew all the way out from Michigan!) for coming to the show and helping us celebrate. Now, on to albums four and five!*

* Yes, we're writing both of them at the same time

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Glorified CD/Comic Release Party Tonight!

Remember when I talked about my band's third album and the accompanying comic book last month? Well, the release party is tonight!
As a reminder, here are all the details:

Thursday, June 20
Lola's Room at the Crystal Ballroom
1332 W. Burnside
Portland, OR
7pm-11pm
All ages
$8 pre-sale/$10 door

Special musical guests will include Matt Danger, The Doom Generation, and The Fauxriginals, and there will be a free drawing for a Second Player Score-themed guitar signed and customized by us.
We'll also be bringing along our usual video game merch booth setup while premiering not only the teaser trailer for the Glorified anime show, but also a entire video narrative that will play in the background while we perform every track, in order, off the new album. On top of that, part of the proceeds from sales of the album and comic will be donated to the Oregon chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Lens of Acceptance (a.k.a. the "Dad Story")

Here's an article I wrote for the latest issue of Spectrum Life Magazine. The issue is packed with lots of other great stuff as well, so you should check it out for free at this link!
This is a story about my dad.


As I was growing up in Hawaii, we had what you could call a strained relationship. He would often do things that I didn’t quite understand, like stare at strangers in the grocery store or decorate the side of our family car with a bird made from pieces of reflective tape. He would also get very upset about what I thought were relatively minor annoyances, like when he sneezed more than three times or when soda manufacturers changed their cans from pop-tops to stay-tabs (an obvious attempt, he said, to poison the population by making us immerse the aluminum tab into our drinks).

As far as I could tell, he also never really had any friends. There was one gentleman who I suppose my dad considered a friend, as they used to talk on the phone quite a lot. Only—from my perspective, at least—these conversations appeared to be mainly one-sided, as my dad would talk nonstop about all these ideas he had while the other guy patiently listened on the other end.

Everything in our household had to function in a very particular and oftentimes peculiar way. For example, if you took out the garbage, you would have to change all your clothes before you could fully reenter the house because the “garbage fumes” would have “infected” whatever you had been wearing. Also, he hated to admit when he was wrong or had made a mistake, so when something didn’t go according to his (extremely specific) plans, he would blame it on whoever happened to be around, which was usually me or my mother.

All of this led to a fair amount of arguments and strife. Needless to say, I was more than happy to move out of the house when college arrived and I could live at the dorms. I hate to admit that I didn’t mind putting even more physical distance between us when later, as an adult with a family of my own, I left Hawaii for the mainland.

Years passed by and I eventually discovered that my young son was on the autism spectrum. Not having known anything about autism prior to that, I dedicated myself to learning as much as I could about his condition while also getting involved in the local autism community via the Autism Empowerment organization. I would communicate some of this information to my parents back home, especially once I started writing the Joel Suzuki series of young adult fantasy novels and becoming an active advocate not only for my son but for autistic kids everywhere.

Then one day I thought about my dad and said to myself, “Hey…wait a minute.” Because besides the behaviors that I had considered to be quirky, he was also always a very smart and talented person. He could surf, he had a black belt in judo, he could fix cars—all of these things that I couldn’t do. He could also see details that other people usually missed (which is something my son can do as well) and oftentimes perceived events in such a way that it almost seemed like he was predicting the future. On top of that, he was an excellent high school biology teacher who developed a personal philosophy of education that was probably ahead of its time, one in which every student had an equal chance to succeed regardless of their background or level of ability.

So, when I went back to Hawaii one year for a visit, I sat down with him and, in the middle of a conversation about autism, asked, “Do you ever think that maybe you’re, you know…?” And his answer was, “Oh, yeah. I figured it out.” As it turned out, after having read the information I’d been sending back, he’d self-diagnosed as being on the spectrum.

It made a lot of sense. It explained so much. And so after that, with me viewing him through this new lens of acceptance, our relationship improved significantly because now I understood him that much more. I understood his behavior. I understood why we had all those fastidious household rules. I understood his challenges as well as his strengths. I looked at him and saw my son in him, and vice versa. Now, instead of getting upset when he does stuff like call at midnight and leave cryptic messages about my mom’s health failing (she’s fine) and then turning off their phone until the morning not thinking that I would be calling back right away in a panic, I just nod and smile (after confirming that my mom was okay, of course). Now we agree on many subjects that in the past we might have argued about, and some of the things he used to do actually seem rather brilliant in retrospect (the bird on the car was pretty epic).

As an added benefit, this lens of acceptance has also improved how I view other people and the world in general. Whereas before I would have gotten all road-ragey at someone who cut me off in traffic, now I just think, “Okay, maybe it was a mistake.” Or when I hand-carry a misdelivered package to a neighbor who doesn’t say thanks and slams his door in my face, I think, “Okay, maybe he’s just having a bad day.” Because really, most of the time we don’t know what’s going on beneath the surface with other people, right? So I think it’s to one’s own benefit to show some understanding and empathy in cases like these, because not only does it help keep your blood pressure down, it helps make the planet a more positive place. It’s practicing what I like to call active acceptance, where—as opposed to passive acceptance, like when you allow yourself to be taken advantage of—you are making the choice to forgive and embrace others despite whatever differences and disagreements you may have.

I wish we’d had the same amount of autism awareness and acceptance back when I was a kid that we do now. I think it would have made a big difference in my family’s life and in the lives of others as well. Because this isn’t just a story about my dad, it’s a story about everyone.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Eating On A Budget

So, if you're like me and you find that one of your largest expenses is food but you need to be allocating scarce resources to much more critical things like album covers and book editing, you can cut corners by eating on a budget. This doesn't have to mean skipping meals or doing the Retsuko thing of having bread crusts dipped in mayo for lunch; there are other options that are more satisfying and probably healthier while still being cost-conscious.
Here are some of the ideas I employ (note: I'm not a doctor or a nutritionist, so I don't endorse these ideas as ways to lose weight or anything like that. This is coming purely from a financial perspective. Remember: don't take health advice from authors, musicians, or especially author/musicians. It will not turn out well.)

The Stardew Valley Diet
I named this idea as such because when I tried - unsuccessfully - to play the open-ended role-playing game called Stardew Valley a while back, the only thing my character would eat for dinner was spaghetti, day in, day out. This was done partially out of laziness but also for budget reasons. Being lazy and cheap in real life as well, I thought, "hey, why not apply that idea to my actual diet?" So I did, and the results were great. For about two or three dollars worth of ingredients, I can make three huge servings of pasta in just a few minutes with no cooking knowledge whatsoever other than how to boil water (by the way, if you want my recipe for Spicy Asian Fusion Garlic Spam-ghetti, just let me know.)

Choppin' Broccoli
I've always liked broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, but it was only recently that I started consuming it in bulk. While it's fairly cheap if you buy it whole from the produce section, I tend to go for the bags of pre-cut florets, which are a bit more expensive by volume but saves you some time. The cost savings comes from the fact that broccoli is very filling, so if I eat a bunch of it along with some other small stuff (like bread crusts dipped in mayo) it ends up feeling like a meal, tiding me over to the next one quite nicely. I now literally eat broccoli at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and as a late-night snack.

Tea and Water
In addition to doing the above, I also drink copious amounts of water and hot green tea. I mean, I guess it's supposed to be healthy, but I mainly do it for the same reasons that I eat broccoli: it's filling and I like it. For those of you who don't like plain water, seltzer can be a good alternative if you buy the cheap store-brand variety.

Other obvious ideas: don't waste food (you can always make a decent toast out of the loaf-ends) and eat cheap stuff (in my twenties I used to have a cup o' noodle and a PBJ for lunch every day). I'm sure there are many more ways to effectively eat on a budget, but these are just some of the things that have worked for me that I'm sharing with you today. Employing them has, in part, allowed me to not only invest in my various artistic endeavors but also to enjoy a nice pizza every once in a while.

Itadakimasu!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

It Takes A Village 2

This coming Saturday, Washington Autism Alliance and Advocacy is putting on their second annual It Takes a Village Conference from 9am - 4pm at Clark College in Vancouver, WA!
There will be a large, diverse group of service providers, panelists, and speakers there, including Autism Empowerment and yours truly. If you're in the area, please come by and check it out. Clark College is located at 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver, WA 98663.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Most Popular Pieces Of Pop Culture That I Have Not Seen Or Read...Yet

Now, most of you who read this blog on a regular basis probably know that I'm pretty well-versed in pop/nerd/geek/whatever-you-want-to-call-it culture. I'm capable of carrying on in-depth conversations regarding everything from big-name franchises (Star Wars, Harry Potter, the MCU, Doctor Who, Legend of Zelda, etc.) to the more niche-y stuff like anime, Killing Eve, Black Mirror, and so on.

But! Given the absolute wealth of great stuff out there these days, it's practically impossible to be on top of it all. Yes, even for a card-carrying nerd such as myself, there are still some seemingly ubiquitous pieces of pop culture that manage to evade one's radar for whatever reason, be it lack of access, lack of interest, or, simply, lack of time. Here are a few examples of stuff that I have had basically zero exposure to so far:

Game of Thrones (TV show)
Gasp, I know. I've actually read the first four installments of the book series upon which this show is based, but I've not seen one iota of the show itself except in previews, commercials, and still shots. It's mostly because it's only available (I believe) via HBO and Hulu, neither of which I subscribe to (yet). I did get some amusement out of all the public outcry over something Daenerys supposedly did in the recent penultimate episode, though; in fact, all that hubbub is what inspired me to write this blog post in the first place.

The Fast and the Furious
Somehow, while I wasn't looking, this little movie from 2001 about illegal street racing has turned into one of the biggest media franchises of all time. And yet, despite there now being nine full-length feature films, two shorts, multiple video games, toys, and theme park attractions, I've only ever seen bits and pieces of it in trailers. I've heard that there's an animated spin-off in development at a streaming service I actually do subscribe to (rhymes with "Yetflix"), so who knows, maybe I'll start there.

Stranger Things
Or maybe not, because even though I do subscribe to Netflix, I've never seen this particular show, which apparently is one of the service's crown jewels and is very popular with the other guys in my band. Actually, correction - the bass player for Second Player Score did try to have me check it out a few years ago, but about ten minutes into the first episode I started to get sleepy (the Korean BBQ we ate beforehand certainly didn't help), so he changed it to Kung Fury instead. And, well, if you've been following this blog for some time, you know how that turned out.

Twilight
Maybe not so surprising? I mean, I don't know, the fact that it's paranormal romance shouldn't have been a factor, as I've read and enjoyed other works in that genre before, and as far as the alleged dubious writing quality goes, I've read lots of stuff that has prose - and even basic grammar and punctuation - that could be considered below-average at best, so I don't see why that should've deterred me from giving this series a chance. Besides, I've always been a proponent of not putting much stock into a preceding reputation without checking out the subject in question for myself first.

No, I think the real issue preventing me from reading these books has been my general snobby resistance to super-popular stuff that I haven't been on board with since the very beginning - a filter that even got applied to things like Harry Potter and Legend of Zelda, if you can believe that (a friend eventually convinced me to give Harry a shot, and my daughter did the same for Zelda, so I'm very grateful to both of them for that). So, if you have some compelling reasons why I should start on the Twilight saga now, let me know!

Star Trek: The Ones That Start With "D"
i.e., Deep Space Nine and Discovery. Oh, and the Enterprise prequel. I have seen just about everything else, though.

One Piece
As you're aware, I've been watching a TON of anime lately. I've managed to get pretty deep into most of the heavy hitters (Naruto, Bleach, Death Note, etc.), but one that I have not sampled yet is One Piece, a show based on the best-selling manga of all time. Why, you ask? Again, mostly because it's only available on Hulu. Man, maybe I'm really gonna have to just give in and sign up for that darned thing already (it does have other stuff I want to check out, like the second and upcoming third seasons of The Handmaid's Tale and the umpteenth-infinity-billion seasons of Bleach and Naruto, both of which ended on Netflix after only a few seasons). Then again, there really is only so much time in the day.

So there you have it, proof that even uber-geeks can have blank spots in their punchcards that need filling in. What are some of yours?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

You've Just Been Glorified

This is an Album Three status update. But it's also so much more.

The process for Second Player Score's third album started quite some time ago, but it was first documented in this blog post from December 2016. From there, I've written numerous other posts that tracked the progress of the album as it slowly worked its way toward completion.

If you've been following along, then you already know that there's also a companion manga-style comic book, shown here:
as well as a forthcoming minute-long trailer showing what Glorified could look like as an animated show. You also know that this project shares the same continuity and universe as all my other projects, including Joel Suzuki.

What you may not know is how this all got started. Well, here's the origin story.

On our first album, Fortress Storm Attack, there's a song called "Gloria." This song is important to Second Player Score lore in that it was the first song to which we applied our now-trademark three-part vocal harmony technique. It's also mentioned in Mystery of the Moonfire, Volume Two of the Joel Suzuki series (in one scene, Felicity plays a bit of it on her wavebow).

In the past we've often been asked "just who is Gloria, anyway?" and the answers have ranged from "a girl that I used to know in college" to "just a random word that seemed to fit the vocal chorus melody." But, as it turned out, the real answer was that Gloria - last name, Sin - was a woman living in a dystopian future who had been trained to be the best soldier of her generation.

The idea for this sprung from the song's opening line, "Did you remember to die today?" We examined what that line could possibly mean, and from there, Gloria's story arose. We then set about to build an entire album on that foundation, writing lyrics that would sketch out the arc of Gloria's journey.

Then, at a certain point, we thought (because we're a bunch of overly-ambitious nerds) "hey, wouldn't it be cool if we made a comic book out of this?" So we wrote a script for the first issue based on the lyrics for the first song on the album and had the first four pages illustrated. Those pages turned out well, but at that point we realized (because we're a bunch of picky, masochistic nerds) that what we actually wanted was to have them done in the style of traditional Japanese manga. So we commissioned a different artist who not only redid the first four pages, but also completed the entire first issue as well as the album artwork, shown below:
And so now, the next step will be - you guessed it - the album release party! Here are all the details for that:

Thursday, June 20
Lola's Room at the Crystal Ballroom
1332 W. Burnside
Portland, OR
7pm-11pm
All ages
$8 pre-sale/$10 door

Special musical guests will include Matt Danger, The Doom Generation, and The Fauxriginals, and there will be a free drawing for a Second Player Score-themed guitar signed and customized by us. We'll also be bringing along our usual video game merch booth setup while premiering a video narrative that will play in the background while we perform every track, in order, off the new album. On top of that, part of the proceeds from sales of the album and comic will be donated to the Oregon chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The release party isn't the end, though. We're still writing the scripts for the rest of the issues that comprise Volume/Season One (2-4 are done, working on 5-12 now) and hope to eventually get those produced as comics as well as - fingers crossed - the aforementioned animated series.

Oh, and where did the title "Glorified" come from, you ask? Well, there's a scene in one of the later issues where, after Gloria goes all Beatrix Kiddo on some bad guys, one of the other characters, enthusiastically appreciating Gloria's handiwork, tells the fallen baddies "You've just been Glorified, b***h!"* So, yeah, there you go.

* Not really a swear word - heck, it was used in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - but I do try to keep this blog as family-friendly as possible

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Post About Pizza

Apparently pizza and pop-punk music are a thing. I did not know this. There are even articles and podcasts and reddit threads devoted to and/or named after this subject.
I was pleased to discover this connection because I and my pop-punk - or #nerdpunk, as we like to call our own particular brand of the sound - bandmates in Second Player Score are, and have always been, huge fans of pizza. Collectively, we probably eat a football field's worth of the stuff over the course of a year (exaggeration? You decide.) So I guess it makes sense.

Here are my current favorites:

Twilight Pizza
Anyone who lives in my neighborhood knows this place. Or if they don't, they should. Every other Saturday, my kids and I will order an 8" cheese with no green sprinkles (for my daughter), an 8" pepperoni (for my son), and an 8" Mount Hood (for me), which is basically a supreme-style pizza with pepperoni, Italian sausage, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, and olives. We're to the point now where they have our order basically memorized, which is how you know you've achieved "regular" status. I'm not sure what makes it so good, but my daughter has said that "there's just something different about it." Indeed, my dear, indeed.

Little Caesars
My go-to place when cheap, fast, and lots are the keywords.

Flying Pie
Speaking of lots - good lord. This place, with four locations around the Portland area, piles on the toppings like there's no tomorrow. Two slices of their Combo Supreme 1 and I'm done. Carrying out from the Gresham store has become a tradition whenever I'm hanging at Dan the Bassist's house to watch movies and/or play card games. Second Player Score has even performed an acoustic set at their Milwaukie site!

Tombstone
As far as frozen brands go, I've been eating this particular one for years. At four bucks a pop, you can't really go wrong - although I do tend to eat the whole thing myself in one sitting for whatever reason.

Gilbert Residence
Although all of the above are great, Kyle the Drummer's wife makes THE best pizza, hands down. She makes the dough from scratch, and her Garlic Chicken Pizza is especially to die for. They used to have pizza parties at their house and Second Player Score would perform (I work for pizza, but only if it's made by Kyle's wife). The parties became less frequent as time went along, a lamentable development that inspired me to write a script for a SPS-origin-story short film that includes a scene at a Gilbert Residence Pizza Party, partially out of historical accuracy but mostly so that they would need to throw another one. My dream is to one day start up a pop-culture-themed brewpub that would serve Kyle's beers and his wife's pizza so that everyone would have a chance to experience the sheer joy that comes with consuming such delights. I'll be the guy in the corner booth, passed out.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Anime Roundup: Following The Wave Of Fate Edition

Believe it or not, it's time for another edition of Anime Roundup! This time, I managed to wait a whole ten weeks since the last one. Anyway, hajimemashou!

Fate/Zero
I had noticed that there were a bunch of different shows with the "Fate" name, so I decided to jump in and check them out. The first thing I did was look up answers to the age-old question, "which series should I start with?" The majority opinion I ran into on the Internet was to start with this one, because it's sort of a prequel to the entire franchise (even though, in Star Wars-style, it actually came out later in our-world-time). Normally, I actually prefer to be introduced to characters first before seeing their backstories (e.g., Obi-Wan Kenobi) because it makes for cool nerdy moments of easter-egg recognition, but I decided not to argue with the wisdom of the Internet masses.

So anyway, I found this one to be pretty slow going at first. I mean, for the first few episodes, there are a LOT of scenes where the characters basically just stand around and talk to each other at length. On top of that, it felt like many of said characters were tall dudes with spiky hairdos whose names all started with the letter "K." At times it was hard to keep track of who was who, to be honest.

But, as I learned, you need to have patience when watching anime. Madoka Magica was also a slow burn, but then it turned into probably one of my top three all-time favorites. And so I stuck with it, and was eventually rewarded with what turned out to be a pretty cool show. The real reward, though, was that it led into...

Fate/Stay Night (Unlimited Blade Works)
Now, this show was fun to me because, while the prequel series was kind of dark and grim all the way through, this one had a good dose of humor and action (and even some romance) to balance out all the serious stuff. I always say that the best stories are the ones that make you feel a whole range of emotions, and this show did a good job of that. There was even a cool twist that I didn't see coming (although I probably should have), so, well done, writers. But then why does - spoiler alert - Sakura disappear for most of the series after it had been strongly hinted that she was a Master? I know that there's another series that shows her story in a kind of parallel-timeline dealio (apparently these shows are based on a visual novel where Sakura or Rin or Saber play bigger roles depending on the player's choices), so maybe I'll have to dig that one up.

The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
Another one where patience pays off. If you recall, I had previously lumped this one into "Category B: Tried To Get Into Them But Just Couldn't For Some Reason; Might Try Again Someday" back when I used to use such categories. But boy, am I glad I came back to it. Once you get used to the mini-episode format, it is so much fun. The humor is witty and very meta, often using Saiki's psychic powers as an in-universe explanation for typical cartoon inconsistencies like why the characters don't age even though years pass by in real (and show) time. It wrapped up pretty neatly after two seasons, so when I heard there was a third season in production, I was kind of like, "eh...I don't know..." But, well, yes. Third season, please.

Black Butler
An unconventional and slightly quirky show, it combines a pretty dark storyline with moments of traditional anime slapstick, making for an interesting (and sometimes jarring) contrast. It also does something that a lot of other anime shows do, which is to make demons and reapers and other normally "evil" beings into somewhat sympathetic characters. Somewhat. Anyway, I didn't really love it, but it did contain some of the best catch phrases I've ever heard in an anime show.

Last Hope
The art in this show was absolutely gorgeous (especially the cityscapes). And the food scenes never failed to make me hungry, even if I'd just finished eating. The pseudoscience was also very cool, dealing with alternate realities and timelines and other such geeky stuff. There were some slow stretches, but also some pretty epic moments, including the climactic battle scene.

Baki
This show is a plot tease. It makes you think it has a plot, and then it digresses into long periods of time where nothing happens except for two impossibly large and indestructible gentlemen beating the living daylights out of each other, kind of like pro wrestling without the laws of physics. I'm serious - several episodes can go by without the title character appearing even once (except in the opening and closing credits). Maybe Part 2 (which was just released on Tuesday) contains more of an actual storyline?

Rilakkuma and Kaoru
I enjoyed this one a lot. You may think, because of its cuteness and TV-PG rating, that it's aimed at kids, but it isn't, really; the overall tone is actually kind of wistful and melancholy, and it spends a lot of time simply portraying the mundane aspects of life as a single twenty-something-year-old going through a quarterlife crisis. As mundane as life can get, I suppose, when your roommates are two bears and a bird who can hold down jobs and summon UFOs. It was kind of like Aggretsuko without the sugar rush. Oh, by the way, the stop-motion animation is absolutely stunning.

Akira
Continuing with my trend of catching up with at least one classic anime movie per roundup, I managed to get a hold of this one, which I'd heard is widely considered to be the film that paved the way for anime to break ground with Western audiences. And after watching it, I can see why. It wasn't really what I expected, but it blew me away. Highly recommended, if you can find it.

Well, that's it for now. Tune in next time, when the roundup will probably include things like Ultraman and Gunslinger Girl as well as more Fate titles. Until then, mata ne!