Thursday, July 2, 2020

Pandemic Products Review

All right, today we're going to talk about pandemic products - not products that are directly related to the pandemic (masks, etc.), but rather, products that I've tried out due to shortages of the stuff that I usually buy. And here to help me out are special guests Joel and Felicity.
B: Say hi, you two.
J: Hi.
F: Whatever.
B: Okay, so first off - due to the lack of regular Spam that I mentioned in this previous post, I ended up buying something called "Bacon Spam."
J: I thought Kyle brought over a bunch of Spam from another store.
B: He did, but I bought this before that happened.
J: Oh.
B: So, yeah, what did you guys think of this?
J: I thought it tasted fine.
F: Anything "bacon" has to try hard not to taste good.
B: It did have a richer flavor than regular Spam, I will say that.
J: Actually, what you used to buy all the time is Spam Lite, not regular. And regular Spam is actually called Spam Classic. And Bacon Spam is actually called Spam with Real Hormel Bacon.
B: True.
F: Surprisingly, Spam Lite has more sodium than Bacon Spam.
J: But Bacon Spam has twice as much saturated fat. And two-point-five-times as much regular fat.
B: Yikes. Okay, so what's the verdict - would we eat this again?
F: I would.
J: Since Kyle brought over a bunch of Spam - officially, Spam Less Sodium - shouldn't we eat all of that first?
B: Yeah, good point. All right, moving on.
B: So here we have "antibacterial ripe melon" hand soap. Which, for whatever reason, has been more available than the types of hand soap I used to buy.
F: Which were...
B: The "pear and coconut" and "honey citrus and shea butter."
F: Oh, right - you liked the "pear and coconut" because it's green and supposedly matches the color scheme of the house.
J: It really doesn't, though.
B: I didn't care for this "antibacterial ripe melon" at first because it doesn't lather up as well and is harder to wash off. But after using it for a while, I started to get used to it.
J: I thought Kyle also brought over a bunch of hand soap that he wasn't going to use.
B: He did, and we're using them in a couple of the rooms now, but the kitchen sink still needs the old-style soap containers, partially due to the size and also because the cats will probably attack anything that's different from what they're used to.
F: Ah, cats. Gotta love 'em.
B: Anyway, you guys have used this "ripe melon" soap, right?
J: Yeah.
F: Sure.
B: So, verdict?
J: I don't like it.
F: Me neither.
B: All right, I'll try to look for alternatives. But we still have a couple more to use up first.
F: Really, though, I'm just grateful that we have soap at all.
B: Sounds like you absorbed the lesson in appreciation that I was trying to impart in Volume One.
F: What? Volume One?
J: What is that?
B: Never mind. Okay, finally, we have -
B: "Select-a-sheet" paper towels. Which, for those who don't know, are the kind where the perforations come at smaller intervals so you can just tear off what is essentially half a sheet.
J: That seems smart to me.
F: What I don't understand is why you didn't use them before.
B: I actually did, but I had been finding that I never really used less than a "whole" sheet anyway, and I was paying a little extra for the additional perforations.
F: Ah.
B: But since the full-size sheet option seems scarce now, I went back to these. And you know what?
J: What?
B: I kind of like them. Having to use these has forced me to figure out ways to be more efficient with my paper towel usage and get by with a half sheet where before only a whole would do.
J: Well, that's good, but you already were pretty efficient with paper towel usage.
B: I was?
F: Yeah, because you'd reuse sheets. That's why there are always those little balls of used towels by the sink.
B: True. Anyway, I think I'll continue to use this variety even if and when the full-sheet option becomes more available.
F: Okay. Can we go now?
B: Sure.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Statii Update

It's hard to be productive at the moment. Even though I'm used to working at home by myself (or with cats), there are - obviously - a lot of world-event-level distractions going on, and frankly, it's all a bit exhausting. That said, I'm trying my best to keep pushing forward, little by little, day after day, making as much progress on my projects as I can even if that means just writing one paragraph in a draft that might get thrown away later, or coming up with a vocal harmony for a single line in a chorus. Here's the latest on what I've been up to:
Music
The virus-induced lockdown threw a wrench into the plans for Second Player Score's fourth album, as we were neither able to get together for rehearsal nor did we know when we might be able to go back into the studio. After three months our area moved into Phase 2 reopening which allowed the three of us to be in the same room together once again, so now we're starting to get back on track. Since the fourth album (entitled Four-D, more details here, here, and here) will be split into four seasonal "suites" of four songs each, we targeted the "Winter Suite" as being first up since it seemed to be the most likely one that we'll be able to bootcamp (i.e. do pre-production on), record, and then release during the time period in which it's set (the winter). Two of the songs are already fully written and arranged, which leaves two others in need of things like lyrics and vocal harmonies. Oh, and a guitar solo.

Writing
I recently wrapped up yet another read-through of Joel Suzuki, Volume Five, making a few updates and edits along the way before I sent it off for a sensitivity-reader check. While that's being done, I've actually started on Volume Six(!), crafting a basic outline along with around 2000 words or so. Granted, said words are pretty terrible, but I needed to - as part of the process for Volume Five - at least get the beginning of the story down on paper, making sure that the continuity jives so that I don't find myself stuck in a corner that I can't write myself out of later on.

I also finished a seven-week script-writing workshop with Jonathan Stark and Tracy Newman, two Emmy Award-winning writers who created the Jim Belushi show According to Jim, among their other numerous accomplishments. It was a fun and educational experience that I got to share with a group of writers from L.A. and elsewhere (all done via Zoom, of course), all of whom are extremely cool and talented people. Each week, we took turns critiquing one another's scripts (I submitted Hold My Beer for consideration) and exchanging ideas. It was supposed to end after the sixth week, but John and Tracy were generous enough to add an extra week where we would each write a single five-page scene and then we would review them all and try to guess who wrote what. For my scene, I wrote a fictionalized account of the time when my son asked me to write him a book (which, as you probably know, was the actual genesis of the Joel Suzuki series). Everyone's scenes went over so well that we're all now developing them into full pilot scripts that we will send to John and Tracy later and possibly meet up again to discuss at some point in the future.

So that's mostly what's been going on, along with managing the Kickstarter campaign for Glorified Issue #3 (which ends next week), applying for a screenwriting development program from Imagine Impact (writers, you should check it out), continuing to learn Japanese (kanji is so dang confusing), and recording weekly episodes of the Second Player Speaks podcast. If that sounds like a lot, understand that I'm just doing it all in bite-size chunks in between checking the news and watching anime. It's like if you eat three blueberries every day, after a little over a month you'll have eaten a hundred blueberries. Okay, never mind, terrible example, but I think you get the idea. The important thing is that, like a shark, you just have to keep moving - and that's my productivity tip of the week.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Anime Roundup: Art Imitates Life Imitates Art Edition

Here we are with another edition of Anime Roundup! This time around, we have some fun shows that are about people who create art, people who ARE art (literally), and people who symbolize life and society in general. As always, mild spoilers are to be found. Ikimashou!

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend
At first, you might think that this is one of those animes about several teenage girls who all inexplicably like the same boring dude (yes, that's a subgenre), but...well, it is sort of like that, but the fun part is that it KNOWS it. The basic gist of the story is that there's an otaku (nerdy) guy who wants to create his own dating sim game, so he recruits some friends/classmates/relatives - that are all way more talented than him - to join his doujinshi (essentially, indie creator) team, and then, of course, all sorts of hilarious and dramatic escapades ensue. I especially enjoyed the meta moments where the characters spoke to each other as if they knew they were in a show ("You can't start vying for screen time now, it's the third act! Especially after you were essentially missing for the entire second half!")

Re: Creators
Speaking of meta, this is an anime about anime/manga/video game characters ("Creations") from different genres - mecha, fantasy, magical girl, dating sim, etc. - who come to life in the "real" world and then join forces against one main villain (herself a Creation) and a few of her flunkies in order to save all worlds, fictional or not, from total destruction. Kind of like if the members of the Avengers or Justice League were pulled not only from Marvel/DC comic books, but also from Star Wars movies, Harry Potter novels, My Little Pony, etc. (can you imagine a super-team consisting of Spider-Man, Luke Skywalker, Hermione Granger, and Twilight Sparkle?) It's a great concept and very well-executed with a nice blend of humor, drama, and action - in fact, this show just might have cracked my personal Top 10 list. I often found myself wondering if the "real world" characters knew that they, themselves, were also in a fictional realm of existence (which we may ourselves be??). I also pondered what some of my own creations would think and feel if they found themselves in a similar situation - Gloria, for example, would absolutely hate my guts for having made her world a desolate, post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Gekkan Shoujo (Monthly Girls') Nozaki-Kun
A light-hearted rom-com about a girl who has a crush on a hunky dude who is secretly a romance manga writer-artist but who is completely oblivious to romance in real life and then she tries to get closer to him by becoming one of his assistants since she's also a really good artist but any attempt on her part to initiate anything with him ends up with him interpreting her actions as simply a good example for a storyline that he can incorporate into his work, this one was a lot of fun and I wish there were more than twelve episodes.

Seven Senses of the Reunion
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has pointed this out, but this show is totally a straight-up mashup of Sword Art Online and Anohana. Which - to me, anyway - is not a bad thing, mind you. There's even a little bit of Uploaded with the concept of dying in the "real" world but living on in a "virtual" one. Good times.

Promare
My daughter tipped me off to this one. Her track record of pop culture recommendations in general is pretty impeccable (Doki Doki Literature Club, Animal Crossing, Ouran High School Host Club, Legend of Zelda, etc.), so I figured I should check it out. Conclusion? You have excellent taste, my dear. A full-length feature film, Promare starts off being about a brash firefighter who clashes with a fire-generating mutant (kind of like Pyro from X-Men), but then it develops and goes off into a bunch of different storyline directions, some predictable, some not. It has a unique animation style that I've never seen before and a great sense of humor (I especially loved the part where Galo slept through Deus Prometh's expository dialogue), and it's very fast-paced with astounding action sequences. It also reflects some serious themes about prejudice and diversity that are always relevant, but especially now.

Anyway, on to the next batch!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Second Player Stir-Fry

So ever since I posted my recipes for Garlic Spam-ghetti and Spam Curry and then followed those up with a shout-out to Spam in general, it appears that the trend of pandemic-related hoard-shopping has moved on from toilet paper to - you guessed it - Spam. Weeks have gone by and only once during my more-numerous-than-is-probably-prudent grocery shopping expeditions have I found even one can of Spam on the shelves (I found two, actually - the last two, which I immediately snatched up).
The good news is that in crisis lies opportunity; necessity is the mother of invention; etc., etc., because behold! In the wake of the Spam shortage, I have come up with a new bachelor chow pub food recipe that is just as cheap, almost as easy to make, and quite possibly even more delicious. I call it: Second Player Stir-Fry.

Ingredients:

- One box thin spaghetti (angel hair was my preferred form of pasta, but that's been in short supply as well, for some reason)
- One gallon of water
- Two eggs, scrambled
- Two or three Vienna sausages, sliced into 1/3 - 1/2" segments
- Sliced mushrooms (I use the canned kind)
- Baby spinach leaves
- Broccoli florets, small
- Minced garlic
- Cooking oil, about 1 tablespoon
- Dash of salt

Directions:

1. Bring the gallon of water to a boil in a large pot. Add a dash of salt.
2. Boil the spaghetti in accordance with the directions on the box (usually 8-10 minutes, until the noodles are reasonably soft)
3. In a separate pan, combine the sausages, mushrooms, spinach leaves, broccoli florets, and minced garlic. While stirring, fry on medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes or until the spinach leaves start to shrink and turn dark green, then move the mixture to one side of the pan.
4. On the other side of the pan, add the cooking oil and scrambled eggs. Fry the eggs for 1 minute, then mix with the other ingredients. Continue to stir and fry for another 1-2 minutes or until the eggs achieve a rubbery consistency.
5. Top the spaghetti with the stir-fried ingredients and then add shoyu (soy sauce) to taste.
6. Say "itadakimasu" (optional, but it makes the food taste better for some strange reason) and dig in.

(Note: makes 3 large servings)

Now, if after this blog post is published there is a sudden run on Vienna sausage, don't blame me. Or do. Whatever...

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Glorified Issue #3 Kickstarter

Hey there! Just wanted to let everyone know that the creative team behind the Glorified comic book series has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for the next issue in the series. I know that this is a tough time financially for many folks out there, but for those who can afford it, we have some fun rewards available, including the chance to appear as a character in the issue (and maybe even get killed by a young Gloria)!
Issue #3 ("Broken Ecstasy") features flashbacks to Gloria's past as she grows up in Fort Storm, trains to become an Enforcer, and eventually assumes the position of Alpha. These scenes are intercut with the present-day action of Gloria and Gage heading across the wasteland in a hovercraft toward the settlement of Tiger's Tree, where Gloria hopes to rekindle more of her lost memories.

Anyway, the Kickstarter campaign can be found here, and Issues #1 and #2 are available from the good folks at IndyPlanet. You can also find more information on the series itself here and here. Cheers!

/end commercial

Thursday, May 28, 2020

TV Roundup, Episode Three

Welcome to Episode Three of TV Roundup! If you've seen either of the first two episodes, then you know that in addition to anime and sports (well, not so much sports right now), I watch a truckload of "regular" shows as well. Here's some of what's been on lately:

Killing Eve
I was a huge fan of this show from the beginning. Now, Season 3 is wrapping up, and I have to say that it's reached that certain point - like The Magicians and some other shows before it - where I don't really know what's going on half the time but I enjoy it anyway. Some of you more savvy viewers are probably following along just fine, but for me, I need a scorecard to keep track of who's working for The Twelve, who used to work for them, and who's still working for them but doesn't want to any more. Also, obligatory SPSU reference #1: I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I had Jodie Comer in mind for the role of Thana when I was writing the scripts for the Nobody's Hero trilogy. I know that that particular piece of fantasy casting will probably never happen (unless, by some improbable miracle, the films get greenlit and put into production within the next couple of years or so), but, hey, I just wanted to mention it here for the record. Obligatory SPSU reference #2: when the show introduced Dasha (Villanelle's mentor) this season, I was like, "hey, that's kind of like The Matriarch and Gloria!" Because, you know, older mentor has love-hate relationship with their younger prodigy whose primary skill is killing people...anyway, moving on.

(on BBC America)

The Mandalorian
I said basically everything I wanted to say about this awesome show in last week's post.

(on Disney+)

After Life
A dramedy in which Ricky Gervais plays a character who is mostly a jerk to everyone after his wife dies of cancer but tries to become a better person as he slowly works through his grief. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for any kind of dark comedy featuring a lonely, grouchy, middle-aged single man, which I why I also enjoyed novels like We're All Damaged by Matthew Norman and One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper. I mean, not that I'm one of those kinds of people myself, mind you, but...anyway, moving on.

(on Netflix)

Upload
A fun action-comedy whose premise is that, in the near future, those who can afford it can get their consciousnesses uploaded into a digital afterlife (this show is more about a literal afterlife than After Life, discussed above) where there is an unlimited supply of maple bacon doughnuts - that is, until breakfast ends at 10am, at which time they all disappear. I have to say, this show checked all the boxes for me. Cool science-fiction-y concept? Yep. An "A" plot involving mystery, intrigue, and betrayal? Check. A "B" plot with an awkward but fun love triangle? Got it. Potty humor? Oh yeah. The funny thing is that I actually had a similar idea for something called "Uploaded" which was meant to be an episode of 200BPM back when 200BPM was going to be more of a Black Mirror-ish anthology before it turned into something resembling Killing Eve (see how we came full circle with that), except that it was going to be full-on psychological horror. Because, I mean, as appealing as computerized immortality may sound at first, you have to realize that you'd be at the mercy of the programmers of your world, who could change it into a complete hellscape at any moment if they so chose. Like, you know, getting rid of the doughnuts. P.S. I loved the blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment when the TV at Nathan's funeral was showing the Los Angeles Rams beating the New England Patriots, 45-17. I think someone may still be bitter about Super Bowl LIII.

(on Amazon Prime)

Living With Yourself
I wonder if this whole Avenger-actor-in dual roles thing is going to become a trend? I mean, first you had this dark comedy with Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) playing some everyday dude and his clone who is an improvement on himself in every way, and now there's this HBO miniseries called I Know This Much is True featuring Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk) as identical twins. I mean, what's next, Don Cheadle playing a rebooted version of Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager in which he visits the mirror universe and confronts the evil mustachioed version of himself? Actually, I wouldn't mind seeing something like that. Heck, I'll even write it. Hire me, CBS!

(on Netflix)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Okay, So I Finally Signed Up For Disney+

I had resisted signing up for Disney+ for the longest time (well, maybe not that long, compared to my Netflix holdout). My main reason? Because I really didn't want to add yet another monthly bill to the pile. I'm sure you know the feeling. Plus, I had been accessing my streaming services through my Wii U, which didn't support the new offering from the House of Mouse.

I knew it was inevitable, though, because I mean, c'mon, the forthcoming Obi-Wan series is mandatory viewing for all card-carrying nerds like myself once Lucasfilm finally figures out their scripting issues and actually produces the darn thing. Not to mention all the MCU shows that are in the works, as well as this. In the meantime, I knew there was already The Mandalorian, which I had heard nothing but good things about and had even managed to catch the first few episodes of over at my bass player's house.

There were some other factors that really cinched it as well, including (1) the fact that I was getting tired of my Wii U running out of power after a couple of hours at most, prompting my desire for a new interface (I can't leave it plugged in because my cats will chew on the charging cable); (2) a credit that I got from Amazon that I could apply toward a Fire or Roku stick, which would both replace my Wii U as a streaming device and allow me to access Disney+; and (3) the stay-at-home orders brought on by the current world situation you may have heard something about.

So I took the plunge and signed up, after which the first thing I did was to binge the aforementioned Mandalorian. Man, is that show good. To be honest, unlike most fellow Star Wars fans, I was never really into any of the Mandalorian-related story arcs in both the Expanded Universe/Legends canon or in The Clone Wars or Rebels series. I mean, Boba Fett is a great character, as is Sabine Wren, but once they started going into the whole background of their culture and civilization I was just like "meh, let's get back to the Jedi and Sith stuff. Lightsabers, Force powers, woo!" But this show turned all of that around for me. Maybe it's because its Western-style plot is reminiscent of Glorified's volume one arc. Or maybe because the main character is a middle-aged single dad just trying to make a living in an unfair galaxy. I mean, it couldn't just be all about Baby Yoda, now, could it? Anyway, can't wait for Season Two (as much as I'd like Ashley Eckstein to play the live-action Ahsoka Tano, you have to admit, Rosario Dawson looks like the character).

After that, I rewatched Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, and Rise of Skywalker, which I said in December I'd be seeing again, but I didn't say where! Turns out, it wasn't in the theaters, it was in my living room. I've also started on the Disney Gallery series featuring - what else - The Mandalorian, which they've been releasing single episodes of every Friday. Oh, and of course, I watched the final season of The Clone Wars, which was also pretty awesome and further reinforced my newfound interest in all things Mandalore. This is the way.

So, yes, Disney+ has been quite worth it so far, and I imagine it will only get better as it goes along especially since Disney basically OWNS EVERYTHING I LOVE (I wonder how soon it will be before they buy a Japanese anime studio?)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Glorified Issue #2 Released!

Great news - Glorified, Issue #2 ("Ragged Town") is now available on IndyPlanet!
For those of you who are new here, Glorified is the comic book series written by me and my fellow members of Second Player Score and wonderfully illustrated by the awesome Jenny Ho (aka Jenny Ling). It tells the story of an elite soldier in a post-apocalyptic future who goes on a rogue search for both her home and her humanity. If you like John Wick or The Mandalorian but with a butt-kicking female lead a la Kill Bill or Mad Max: Fury Road (because, let's face it, Furiosa was the main character of that film, not Max), then you'll probably like Glorified.

In Issue #2, Gloria - after escaping from Fort Storm in a stolen ship - crash-lands near a settlement called Ragged Town, where she's rescued by a benevolent machinist named Gage. The problem is that in Gloria's former role as an Enforcer for Fort Storm, she conducted raids on Ragged Town that involved her killing a bunch of people, so naturally, if the townsfolk found out she was in their midst, you can bet that there would be trouble.

For them, that is.

Because, you know, if they tried to get their revenge on her, she would go all Beatrix Kiddo on them. Gage, being the pacifist that he is, wants to avoid all of that, so he tries to sneak Gloria out of town quietly. Of course, that doesn't quite go as planned.

Anyway, the issue is available in both print-on-demand and digital formats, and you can get it at this link here. You can also catch up with the story by getting Issue #1 here. As for Issue #3, it's currently in development and is slated for release later this year!

(P.S. Glorified the comic book series is a tie-in to Glorified the music album, which you can find here. Each issue corresponds to a track on the album.)

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Anime Roundup: Love, Baseball, and Darkness Edition

Welcome to yet another edition of Anime Roundup, where I offer brief comments and random thoughts on various anime shows and films that I have watched. What? You're saying that you already know what Anime Roundup is? Well, then, ikimashou!

After the Rain
This is a wistful slice-of-life comedy/drama that, on the surface, is about a teenager who develops a schoolgirl crush on the middle-aged manager at her part-time job. Trust me, this is not as creepy as it sounds, because actually, the show is more about themes like loneliness, friendship, broken dreams, and, ultimately, discovering - or rediscovering - one's purpose in life.

Teasing Master Takagi-San
Netflix kept recommending this one to me, but I kept resisting, because it starts with Season Two. I mean, who wants to begin watching a show with Season Two? I finally gave in, and it turned out that it didn't really seem to make a difference, because this cute rom-com mostly consists of little vignettes featuring a girl who teases the boy she likes and his futile attempts to get back at her (she's Master Takagi-San, by the way, not him). There's continuity as far as the passage of time is concerned, but there's really no plot per se, so it was easy to pick up what was going on. I imagine that Season One was basically more of the same (apparently it was shown on Crunchyroll and Funimation but not on Netflix because the latter only picked up the show with the second season).

Eromanga Sensei
This quirky comedy is about a high school student who moonlights as a professionally-published (albeit not overly successful) light novel author who discovers that his reclusive younger stepsister is actually the person who illustrates the erotic pictures that go into his books and then they...develop sort of a crush on each other? Trust me, this is not as creepy as it sounds...okay, maybe it is a little creepy, but the show is obviously aware of that, playing up its "erotic" nature while never going too far over the edge. In other words, if you're fine with most Piers Anthony novels, then you should be okay with this. Underneath it all, there's a heartfelt message about how books and reading can bring happiness and joy to people's lives, which is a theme I totally endorse.

Battery the Animation
Do you miss baseball? I miss baseball, which is why I decided to give this one a shot. What I ended up finding was a quiet, contemplative, slow-paced show that is not really about baseball, but more about the complexity of interpersonal relationships. So, yeah, a typical sports drama, this is not. Plus, the protagonist was unlikable and everyone seemed much too tall and sulky to be middle schoolers. Still, though, the time went by pretty quickly as I was watching it, so I must have been having fun (either that, or I'm more starved for anything baseball-related than I thought).

Tatsumi
And now for something completely different. This feature-length animated film, which follows the real-life career of legendary manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi (intercut with segments based on his short stories), is not what you would expect from contemporary anime...in fact, it wasn't what I was expecting even after reading the description and watching the trailer. It is, however, a perfect representation of Tatsumi's gekiga subgenre, which typically deals with darker, more mature themes. It's a bleak and harrowing journey (I had to take several breaks) that may not be good to watch during challenging times...or maybe it is, because of the perspective that it provides. I'm not sure. Either way, if you decide to brave it, just know that the adjectives most commonly associated with this film are "sad" and "beautiful," which pretty much sums it up quite nicely. Trust me, you'll be thinking about it long after you finish watching.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Volume Five Status Update: Good News, Everyone!

Yes, the latest draft of Volume Five - a version that incorporates most of the revisions suggested by my editor - is now complete.
It took about 3 1/2 months since I had received her notes, and as usual, it involved many, many hours of work, but whew! Here we are. At one point during the rewriting process, I actually veered pretty far off course and ended up writing thousands of words before realizing that the direction I was heading in just would not work. The details of what happened will make for a funny story one day, after the book is released.

Anyway, the draft now clocks in at a little over 80,000 words (320 pages), which is about where I expected it to be last July when the first draft was completed. Of course, the original launch date of early-to-mid 2020 will not happen, but that's okay.

What happens next? Well, I will soon be asking for some beta reader feedback (while giving the draft yet another once- or twice-over myself), after which I will then ship the draft back to my editor for a line edit. During that time, I'll also start thinking about cover art! Then depending on how things go from there, I would say that we're now looking at a late 2020 or possibly early 2021 release. Better late than never, right? Either way, I'm really looking forward to sharing the latest installment of Joel's story with all of you. Hope you're all being safe and staying healthy!

P.S. While you're at home, why not catch up with the Joel Suzuki series if you haven't done so already?

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, April 23, 2020

April 23rd: The Day That Joel First Went To Spectraland

INT. BRIAN'S LIVING ROOM - DAY

A young man is here, sitting on the couch and fiddling on a guitar. This is JOEL. A young woman is also here, sitting on the ground and playing a video game. This is FELICITY. After a few moments, an older man enters the room, carrying a small cake with a lit candle on it. This is BRIAN.
B: Hey, guys.
J: Hello.
F (not looking away from her game): Whose birthday is it?
B: What? Oh - the cake. No, it's no one's birthday. It's for an anniversary.
F: Anniversary of what?
B: April 23rd, 2012 is the day that Joel first went to Spectraland.
F (to Joel): Is that right?
J: Yes. I thought you knew that.
F: Maybe I did. I probably forgot.
B: So, yeah, I figured that since the day falls on a blog post day this year, that we would have a little celebration.
F: What kind of cake is it?
B: Chocolate.
F: Okay, I'm down.

Brian puts the cake on a table and cuts it into three pieces.

J: Did you know that April 23rd is also World Book Day?
B: That's right!
F: Man, they have a day for everything now, don't they?
J: It started back in 1995, as a way to honor several famous authors who died on that date.
B: Including Shakespeare, right?
J: That's correct. He might have been born on April 23rd, as well.

Brian serves the cake to Joel and Felicity.

B (to Felicity): Are you gonna pause your game?
F: Hold on, I'm in the middle of a boss fight.
J: Also, the number 23 has a lot of interesting facts about it. It's the smallest odd prime number that isn't a twin prime. The Earth's axis is tilted at about 23 degrees. And human reproductive cells have 23 chromosomes.
F: There's also that Jim Carrey movie. And Michael' Jordan's jersey number. And the first half of the emergency code in Monsters, Inc.
J: True.
F: I think every number has interesting stuff about it, if you look hard enough.
B: Well, at any rate, happy Spectraland anniversary, Joel.
J: Thanks.
F: Wait, what about MY anniversary? I went to Spectraland a few days before Joel did and we didn't celebrate that.
B: Well, because it didn't fall on a blog post day. And also, that day wasn't chronicled in a book.
F: But Joel's was?
B: Um...no, just kidding. Anyway, I'll go get some diet soda. You finish your boss fight.
F: Whatever.

SMASH CUT TO BLACK

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Magic Number Four

If you've been reading this blog for a while (or, at least, for the last year or so), then you know that I and the other guys in Second Player Score are nerdy fans of numerology and thus have decided to name our fourth album Four-D and have it contain nothing but four-chord songs. In celebration of today's date - 4/16/20, all multiples of four! - I will go into more detail about why we think four is such an interesting number.
First of all, there's the power of the four-chord song. Many of you are probably already aware of "4 Chord Song" by the Axis of Awesome, which is a medley of a bunch of hits that all use the same four chords. If you've never heard it before, check it out (warning: there be swear words) and come back. We'll wait.

Okay, so besides that, what is the most common time signature in music? 4/4, where each measure contains four beats, and each beat is a quarter note. If you're not a musician, trust me on this one - most of the songs that you hear, especially in pop music, are in 4/4.

Another musical example is in phrasing. One of the secrets to writing a catchy tune is to have it follow a four-phrase pattern that goes like this: intro - rising action - climax - resolution (kind of like story structure!) For example, think of the "Happy Birthday" song, and you'll know what I mean.

And, of course, there are lots of examples outside of music: four elements, four seasons, four compass points, four mathematical operations, four blood types, four DNA components, etc. But don't just take my word for it, there are lots of places on the web (like this one) where you can read a long comprehensive list of number-four-related facts and trivia.

Interestingly enough, the number four has kind of a bad rap in East Asian countries, where the word for four ("shi") sounds similar to the word meaning death. So, in Japan, China, and other places you'll find buildings that skip over the fourth floor much like how some buildings in Western countries skip over the number 13. Still, though, that doesn't make it any less significant; in fact, it probably enhances its mystical nature.

Anyway, since we're on the subject, I should give you an Album Four status update. Boot camp has been put on temporary hold due to the current stay-at-home orders, but never fear, we are still writing songs and making plans to hit the studio as soon as conditions allow. Once we are able to record again, there's a chance we may begin releasing songs four at a time before the entire physical album comes out. Since the album is divided up into four seasonal suites (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring), it might be neat if we could get the timing of the releases to line up like that, but we shall see...

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Anime Roundup: Quarantine Edition

Yes, I know I just did an Anime Roundup post three weeks ago, but when yours truly complies with stay-at-home orders, anime gets watched. In large quantities. And then I have to talk about them before I move on to the next bunch. So here we go!

Akame ga Kill!
This is one of those shows that made me say out loud to my TV several times an episode, "THIS SHOW IS SO GOOD." I liked this one so much, it vaulted straight up to #4 on my all-time favorite list, which may not sound like much until you consider the vast amount of anime I've now seen (if you're curious, my top three are K-On!, Aggretsuko, and Madoka Magica). With its pitch-perfect blend of humor, action, emotion, video game-y tropes, shocking twists, and tons of extreme graphic violence on the level of John Wick or Kill Bill, it was right up my alley (but, despite its TV-14 rating, not very appropriate for younger audiences. Seriously, why shows like this get a TV-14 rating, but stuff like Hunter x Hunter gets TV-MA, I have no idea). Also, one of the many great things about it is the way it humanizes its villains to the extent where you almost sympathize with them, which is something you don't see very often. Anyway, if you're a mature viewer and decide you want to check this one out (it's basically about a band of assassins trying to overthrow a corrupt empire), do so but be warned: this show does not pull any punches, right up until the very end.

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
And now for something completely different! This is a light-hearted slice-of-life romantic comedy about two childhood friends who reconnect as adults and seem perfect for each other...except that they're otaku (basically, pop culture aficionados - or, simply, nerds). Is love hard for otaku? Yes, yes it is. I should know. Ahem. Anyway...

Kakegurui
I'm not into gambling at all (during my first trip to Vegas, I lost $20 in 10 seconds to a slot machine and then declared myself done), but still, I found this show - which is basically about a high school where the pecking order isn't determined by academics or athleticism, but by gambling skills - to be pretty dang entertaining. While most of the exposition (explaining how the particular games work, how the winners pulled off their improbable victories, etc.) flew right over my head, I really enjoyed all the manic reactions given by the various characters as they played for increasingly high stakes, along with the accompanying dissonant jazz soundtrack. There's also a live-action adaptation that loosely follows the plot of the anime, which I more-or-less watched concurrently and found to be just as fun (and delightfully over-acted).

The Garden of Words
At 46 minutes long, this isn't exactly a short film, but it isn't a full-length feature, either. What it is, though, is a touching and emotional rom-dram about a 15-year old boy and a 27-year old woman (trust me - in the film, this is not as creepy as it sounds) who keep running into each other in a park during rainstorms. It apparently has won a bunch of awards, which I don't find surprising.

Ninokuni
A full-length movie that is based on a video game and was directed by a Studio Ghibli animator, this one checks almost all the boxes on my I-Will-Enjoy-This List: Portal fantasy? Check. Parallel world where people in each world are linked to each other? Check. Action, humor, drama? Check. Love triangle, betrayal, plot twists? Check. Powers, magic, cute animal sidekicks? Check. In fact, about the only thing separating it from Joel Suzuki, Volume One is magical musical instruments.

And speaking of Joel Suzuki...in case you didn't know, you can get free sample chapters of Volume One simply by going to this link here and entering your email address! Don't worry, we won't spam you. Although, actual Spam (with a capital S) is quite yummy.
Mmm, Spam...

Thursday, April 2, 2020

We Get Through It, Because We Get Through It Together

Originally posted on July 6, 2017, but seems especially relevant now

In the season ten finale of Doctor Who, the Doctor willingly risks his life to save a small farming community from an advancing army of Cybermen.
Thing is, though, with the Doctor, doing something like that isn't that much of a risk because - as fans of the show know - if the Doctor dies, he'll just regenerate into a new version of himself (herself?)

Most of us aren't quite as fortunate. If we die, we generally don't start giving off bursts of yellow energy before changing into someone else. Which makes it even more impressive, I think, when people who aren't the Doctor put themselves in harm's way to help others.

Here's an interview I did with James, a real-life Doctor - a firefighter paramedic, actually - from California who has been practicing his profession for almost two decades now. I hope you find his story as interesting, informative, and inspiring as I did.

(Editor's note: answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.)

Is your job something that you always wanted to do (and continue to want to do), despite knowing the risks? If so, why?

My first recollection of being interested in this job was when I was around 4 or 5. My grandfather was a fireman, and he would often tell me stories about what it was like. Also, one of the popular shows of the time was Emergency!, which made the whole job look like a series of adventures and good times - for a show about life and death there was very little death or downside depicted.

I don't really know that I had a real understanding of the risks involved even as I began taking some prerequisite classes. There were discussions of the dangers, but until I started working in the field it was all something of an abstract concept. As I've grown in the job, though, I've seen and experienced many of the risks first hand. I've lost colleagues and seen many of them injured at one point or another. I, myself, have been pretty fortunate over the course of my career to have only received cuts, bruises, and minor burns.

Despite that, I still believe that I have the best job in the world. I don't really know of anything else I would rather do. It makes me proud to be there when people need me, and to have the skills, knowledge, and experience to solve their issue or stabilize them long enough to facilitate transport to a higher level of care.

Do you feel fear and/or stress at any point, and if so, when? When you first get called to a situation, when you arrive at the scene, or at some other time?

Stress seems most often to be like background music to me at this point in my career. It's there, but it's almost always just below notice. For me, stress doesn't really start to play a role until something goes sideways during the call. We have treatment protocols for patients and standard operating guidelines for incidents that we start with, but occasionally things don't fit into those templates so we have to adjust on the fly.

If you do feel stress, how do you overcome it? Are you just naturally "wired" to deal with it, or does it take practice and experience?

I don't think anyone is naturally "wired" to deal with the stress that we endure at times. It takes practice and training to stay on course when things are going wrong.

Having relationships with your crew and coworkers helps. We drive each other. There is a collective confidence when I'm working with experienced and competent people that I've known a long time.

Is there a long-term stress factor? If so, how do you deal with that?

The short answer is "of course there is." Some of the things we see and deal with leave lasting impressions. I can still remember almost everything about my first pediatric CPR - the boy's name, the porch, his mother arriving on scene, her anguished wails as our efforts failed to bring her child back. Those things stick with me and occasionally I have dreams about it. It's all a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. My employer offers a counseling program, but therapy often begins once we get back on the engine. We talk out the situation on the way back to the station and that's pretty much the end of it most of the time.

How do you "psych yourself up" in dangerous situations? Is it the motivation of knowing you're doing a good deed? Is there a thrill or an adrenaline rush factor involved?

When I first got hired, it was easy to be wound up for every call. As I've gained experience, most of the time I'm more calculating than I used to be. There is an intrinsic reward for helping people, whether it be a small thing or truly making a difference. It's a validation of your training and your choices. My crew and I have saved people's lives, and that's an awesome feeling.

And yes, of course there's an adrenaline rush - any time you go crawling into a burning structure there's some sort of thrill involved. It's the feeling of going where almost no one else goes and getting the job done.

It really comes down to the fact that I work with good, experienced people who aren't going to let me do anything dangerous alone. My saying is "we get through it, because we get through it together."

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Here Are Some Cat Pictures To Brighten Your Day

SO BORED

SCRATCH MAH TUMMY, I DARES YA

MOAR FUD NOW PLZ

I SEEN DIS SHOW BEFOAR

SO SLEEPY

I ATE UR TAKEOUT SORRY

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Anime Roundup

Guess it's a good time to stay home and binge lots of anime, eh?

Girls und Panzer
Kind of like K-On!, but with tanks instead of guitars. My guess is that the creators of this show decided to employ the cognitive dissonance formula common to lots of manga and anime concepts and, during a brainstorming session, thought "what if we took a bunch of kawaii (cute) high school girls and...made them fight each other with tanks!" Okay, yeah, sure, why not. And, of course, it works.

Samurai Champloo
Continuing with the whole cognitive dissonance thing, this show blends a historical Edo-period setting with some cultural anachronisms like rap music, graffiti, and breakdancing. Great action, a simple yet compelling plot, and a good balance of drama and humor make this one a modern classic, in my opinion. I had plans to go see Shing02 - the rapper who performs the main theme song - at a show in Portland this month, but, well, you know. Maybe I'll just rewatch this show instead.

Clannad
At first, you might think this is one of those animes about several teenage girls who all inexplicably like the same boring dude (yes, that's a subgenre), but...well, it is sort of like that, but it's so much more, as well. Based on a visual novel, it kind of meanders along slowly like a drowsy slice-of-life story for a while before it suddenly swells to a dramatic, emotional peak, settles down, and then repeats the process. Quite an entertaining roller coaster ride, if you ask me. Oh, and don't worry, they'll explain the whole girl-and-robot-on-a-different-world thing eventually, if you stick around long enough.

Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?
Yes, yes it is. But don't worry, this show isn't really about its title. It's mostly a D&Dish story about a teenage boy who becomes an "adventurer" in order to make ends meet and, to everyone's surprise (including his own), levels up and gains new powers faster than anyone ever has before. And yes, a few girls inexplicably become interested in him along the way, but that's just a minor part of the whole deal.

No Game No Life
A portal fantasy about a brother-and-sister uber-gamer team who are transported to another world where their considerable skills are put to the test. Kind of a neat idea, if you ask me. The climax to the first season even features a virtual world-within-the other world scenario, sort of like if Sword Art Online or Ready Player One existed in Narnia or Fillory. Oh, and as the TV-MA rating indicates, this is definitely not a show for kids.

Fireworks
This is a full-length animated adaptation of a live-action film from the '90s, which is pretty cool, because usually you see that kind of thing done the other way around. Anyway, the story is pretty much the dictionary definition of a romantic drama (or rom-dram, as opposed to rom-com), and it features a bit of magical realism/time travel, which I always appreciate. After you watch it, you, too, will be wondering: are fireworks round or flat?

Thursday, March 12, 2020

April and Lydia Predict The 2020 MLB Season

Today we have some very special guests joining us on the blog! You first met them last year in this post, and then heard more about them and their still-as-of-yet-unproduced screenplay in this SPSU update from last October. Please welcome: April Hayashi and Lydia Sanchez!
Lydia: Where is that applause coming from?
April: I don't know, but it's kind of embarrassing.
Brian: Hello, ladies! Welcome back.
Lydia: Hey.
April: Hello.
Brian: So glad you could make it.
Lydia: Yeah, well, just remember our deal - no questions about my prediction from last year.
Brian: Right, not a word.
April: We almost kind of have to talk about it, though.
Lydia: No, we don't.
April: I mean, we thought that because of what we did with the whole dispelling-the-curse thing, that the Mariners would finally -
Lydia: Ah! Stop! (hold hands to ears) LALALALALA
April: Okay, okay, sheesh.
Brian: It's not to say that it still won't happen, though. The team does seem to have some promise to it, what with all the young players.
April: Lydia has a crush on Jarred Kelenic.
Lydia: I do not.
April: Liar.
Lydia: Heh.
Brian: All right, so, we're here to discuss what you folks think will happen this season. Any thoughts?
Lydia: Boo, Astros.
April: Let's not open that can of worms, please.
Lydia: Yeah, you're probably right. I could go on for hours about that subject.
April: And you have.
Brian: How do you think the M's will do?
April: I think they'll be a little better than most people expect, although still not enough to make the playoffs.
Lydia: Yeah, I'm thinking maybe 75 wins. Ish.
April: I know they've been saying that wins and losses are not the most important metric in what is supposed to be rebuilding year, but I think you do kind of want to see some progress in that department, at least.
Lydia: Maybe a slow start followed by a better second half.
April: Yeah. 'Cause then that'll show that the young players are growing, adjusting, and developing.
Lydia: And learning how to win at the major league level.
April: Exactly.
Brian: All right, so I'll put Lydia down for 75 wins. April?
April: I'll say 76.
Lydia: What is this, the Price is Right?
April: Oh, hush.
Brian: How about another prediction - which Mariner player, or players, will make the All-Star team?
April: Hmm, that's a good question.
Lydia: Kyle Lewis.
April: I'll go with Marco Gonzales.
Lydia: Really?
April: I mean, I guess?
Lydia: All right, whatever you say. Oh, and maybe Evan White for AL Rookie of the Year.
April: Wow. That would be cool.
Lydia: Right?
Brian: Okay, and finally - who will win the World Series?
April and Lydia, together: Dodgers.
Lydia: They kinda deserve it. Because, you know, karma.
April: Not to mention an incredibly stacked roster.
Brian: All right, there you have it! April and Lydia's predictions for the 2020 MLB season. Thanks so much for joining us today, and we'll check back in the fall to see how things turned out.
April: Thanks for having us.
Lydia: Where's the beer? I heard there was supposed to be beer.
Brian: Good night, everybody!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

TV Roundup, Episode Two

Welcome to the second installment of TV Roundup! I just realized (only now?) that - between anime, sports, and other shows - I watch a pretty incredible amount of television. The only reason it doesn't border on unhealthy levels is that, as a writer, I consider it to be homework of sorts, as well as inspiration. Also, I usually try to exercise while watching. I guess that's two reasons. Anyway, tread carefully, for there will be spoilers.

Good Omens
I finally got around to watching this one after hearing lots of good omens things about it. I also read the book in parallel; like, I'd finish a few chapters and then watch the episode that more-or-less corresponded to said chapters, which was kind of a neat and enjoyable experience. All right, so David Tennant was a great Doctor, but who agrees with me in thinking that he's actually better at playing bad guys?

(on Amazon Prime)

Undone
I love time travel plots. And plots where the character (and the audience) isn't sure whether they actually have powers or if it's all just in their mind. The rotoscoping animation was cool, too. And apparently there's a second season coming, which thank goodness because - spoiler alert - the first one ended on a "that can't possibly be the end"-style cliffhanger.

(on Amazon Prime)

Doctor Who
Being the nerd I am, I have to admit that I didn't really dig Jodie Whittaker's first season as the Doctor all that much, not because of her performance (she did - and is doing - a great job, in my opinion), but because of the lack of references and callbacks to the show's extensive canon and lore. This season has been a whole different story, though. I mean, I spent way more time than I should have contemplating where Doctor Ruth from "Fugitive of the Judoon" fit into the whole timeline, and now, with the retcon of the retcon of the multiple unknown Doctors from "The Brain of Morbius," consider my mind blown.

(on BBC America)

The Magicians
Remember this post from last year, where I said that this show has reached a point where I don't understand what's going on half the time but I still love it anyway? Well, with Season 5 (the first and apparently only one without - spoiler alert - Quentin Coldwater, who was surprisingly killed off at the end of Season 4), I think I don't understand what's going on almost all of the time now. But yes, I still love it anyway, and will miss it.

(on SyFy)

Miraculous Ladybug
In case you forgot, this is the show that led to me signing up for Netflix in the first place. Since then, my daughter hasn't kept up with it, but as the big kid I am, I have. With its surprisingly robust worldbuilding and bet-you-didn't-see-this-coming-twists, I must say that Season 3 completely blew my mind. I mean, it even has time travel now! I did think that the episode featuring - spoiler alert - a hypothetical future scenario where everyone knew each other's secret identities would've made for a good series finale (after removing the hypothetical part), but, well, what do I know.

(on Netflix)

Raising Dion
As a big fan of Gravity Falls, I have to say that whenever Jason Ritter's character spoke, all I could think of was Dipper Pines. Still, though, any show about regular people with superpowers is all right with me. And I totally did not see the big twist coming (even though I probably should have), so, you know, good job, writers.

(on Netflix)

I Am Not Okay With This
I'd heard that this was sort of Stranger Things-meets-Carrie, so naturally, I was interested. And yeah, that description is pretty spot-on. You know what I think is weird, though? Like, when I'm deciding whether or not to check out a new show, I look at how many episodes there are and how long each of them is. Then if - like with this show - there aren't that many episodes and each of them are relatively short, I feel like, "okay, I'll give this a shot." I mean, really, why should that make a difference? If there are lots of long episodes, who cares? If you don't like it, you don't have to keep watching it, Brian. I dunno, I guess I just like to finish what I start. Plus, whenever I actually do abandon a show, it's always sitting there in my "Continue Watching" queue, staring at me and making me feel guilty. Anyway, this show is very fun and watchable with a satisfyingly shocking season finale, so season 2, hurry up!

(on Netflix)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more television to watch.