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.

Glorified
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.

Four-D
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."

200BPM
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.

Jinx
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.

Switched
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, well...wow. 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...

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Glorified Comic Launch

As you may know, Glorified the album and Glorified the comic book (issue #1) were both officially launched back in June.
However! Up until now, the only way to get your hands on a copy of the comic was to purchase it as part of a bundle with the physical album. But what if, like many people today, you don't really buy CDs anymore? I mean, who even has a CD player these days? (I do, but I'm old-fashioned.) What if, say, you already have access to the full album in digital format, or via streaming, or what have you, and you still want to read the comic?

Well, fear no more, for Glorified the comic book (issue #1) is now available a la carte, thanks to the good folks at IndyPlanet. Just go to this link here.

A summary of the story in issue #1 is as follows:

Gloria Sin, the Alpha Enforcer of Fort Storm, is injured during a raid on a nearby settlement and is forced to perform a traditional suicide ritual. At the last minute, however, she chooses to live and steals a ship, hoping to escape. Will she make it, or will she be captured by her former colleagues?

Because suicide has impacted the lives of all the members in my band, suicide prevention is a cause that we strongly believe in. We've already donated a portion of the proceeds we made at the CD release party in June to the Oregon chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and since September is Suicide Prevention Month, we're going to donate 100% of the profits from sales of the Glorified issue #1 comic from now until the end of September to AFSP-Oregon.

By the way, if you want to get some exclusive behind-the-scenes content on the making of Glorified, you can sign up for the Second Player Score mailing list at our website here. While you're there, you can also listen to the album, preview the comic, watch the Glorified anime trailer, and more.

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