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







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.

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.

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)

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.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Is It Spring Yet?

As of this past Sunday, the answer to that question was: no. No, it is not (unless you consider temperatures in the 40s with occasional rain showers to be Spring). But! It was a good day for a book reading event - titled "Is It Spring Yet? - a multi-genre reading" - with a bunch of awesome local authors.
I had the pleasure and privilege to share the stage with seven of my fellow writers, including:

Elizabeth Mitchell (who organized the event. Thanks, Elizabeth!) - suspense
Debby Dodds - young adult romance
Heather Ransom - young adult sci-fi
Margaret Pinard - historical fiction
Dede Montgomery - literary fiction
Lisa Todd - literary fiction
Beth Cook - young adult/middle grade

Check out their works at the links above! Also, I highly recommend paying a visit to Urbanite, the venue that hosted us. They have all kinds of sweet vintage items, antiques, furniture, lighting, art and other neat stuff that can be used to raise the coolness factor of any space by a factor of 10,000. AND they have a huge parking lot right in back of the store, which in downtown Portland is about as rare and unique as a silvertail in Spectraland (if you haven't read the Joel Suzuki series of novels yet, trust me, they're rare and unique).

Anyway, here's a short video clip of me doing my thing:
Looking forward to taking part in more events like this one!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Quickie Status Updates

Here's what I've been up to!
Joel Suzuki, Volume Five
I submitted the official first draft of the manuscript to my editor on December 30 and received it back with her notes on January 14. As always, she had tons of good feedback and suggestions, so right now I'm deep into rewriting mode. There's a lot of work to be done, but hopefully I'm still on track for a 2020 release. Or 2021. Whatever. We shall see. As we learned in Joel Suzuki, Volume Four: Fable of the Fatewave, things will work out the way they were meant to.

Glorified, Issue #2 ("Ragged Town")
All the pages have been thumbnailed, most of them have been sketched out, and a majority of them are already inked and complete. Very excited!

Second Player Score Albums Four ("Four-D") and Five ("200BPM")
Album Four has three songs with completed music, lyrics, and arrangement, and there are thirteen more in various stages of development.

Album Five has one song with completed music, lyrics, and arrangement - in fact, it's already been recorded! - and twelve others in various stages of development.

Facebook Live
The band and I are making plans to start livestreaming portions of our Sunday afternoon practices on Facebook. We did it once before, and it seemed to get a good response, so we figured we'd try doing it on a more consistent basis.

Second Player "Store"
We're also in the process of ramping up our merchandising efforts with more cool stuff and easier ways for people to get their hands on them.

Short Films
And finally, we're considering putting into production the short films that I discussed in this previous post, although possibly in a slightly different format, like breaking them up into even shorter segments and turning them into a webseries. We shall see.

Anyway, stay tuned for more updates!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Favorite Japan-Related Memoirs

As part of my recent (or not-so-recent, anymore?) rekindled interest in Japanese language and culture, I've been reading a bunch of Japan-related memoirs. Here are some of my favorites:

Lost in Tokyo: A Year of Sex, Sushi, and Suicide in the Real Japan
The story of a British dude who becomes a teacher in Japan, it's alternately hilarious (in a very British-sense-of-humor kind of way) and poignant (in a very traditionally Japanese kind of way). The quality of the writing itself isn't exactly top-notch, but still, this is a total page-turner nonetheless.

Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries
Another story about a Westerner (this time, from the Southern U.S.) who moves to Japan and becomes a teacher, this, too, was a fun and fast read. The humor comes not only from the fish-out-of-water angle, but also because I think Japan's culture and society are just inherently amusing in the same way that cats are, like where they are so eccentrically awesome that you can't help but to shake your head and chuckle.

Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo
This time, a whole family (husband, wife, daughter) moves to Japan for a month, not to teach, but to experience what I assume to be an incredible, amazing food culture (I haven't been to Japan in thirty years, but it was good then, so I figure it's still good now). Will make you laugh, and also hungry.

Across Tokyo
Look, ma, no subtitle! Anyway, this one chronicles the journey of two Western transplants (they're from the U.S., but have been living in Japan for many years now) who "urban hike" from one end of Tokyo to the other, a span of distance that is much longer than you might think. Like all the previous books mentioned in this post, it is laugh-out-loud funny.

Not One Shrine: Two Food Writers Devour Tokyo
Back to the subtitles, I see. Seriously, people, what's up with that? Is it some kind of nonfiction style rule that I don't know about? (Come to think of it, my friend Melissa Hart's recent nonfiction book Better With Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens has what is probably the longest subtitle in literary history. Check it out, though, it's terrific.) Anyway, this one is from the same guy who moved to Japan with his family for a month in Pretty Good Number One, only this time he's joined by his chef-friend and podcast co-host (who is the same person) as they go on a food crawl throughout Tokyo.

So yeah, if you're interested in Japan and enjoy some light, fun reading, I highly recommend all five of these books mentioned above. I'm also on the lookout for more, so if you know of any, let me know!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Laurelhurst Album Release & Farewell Show

For those of you in the Portland/Vancouver area, there's a really cool show happening this Saturday. Here's everything you need to know in one picture:
Well, not everything, I guess. Like, why is this Laurelhurst's last show? For the answer to that, check out episode 16 (appropriately titled "Laurelhurst") of the Second Player Speaks podcast here.

I've known the guys in Laurelhurst for over five years now and have shared the stage with them on many memorable occasions, such as:

- the CD release party for Second Player Score's first album, Fortress Storm Attack

- a show at Shanahan's Pub where I did a drunken half-dance/half-mosh kind of thing

- Anarchy Radio's 3rd birthday party in Oak Grove

- The launch party for Joel Suzuki, Volume Two: Mystery of the Moonfire

Looking forward to one more time! Laurelhurst rocks, as does the rest of the bill, so come check it out (for those of you - like me - who might not be able to read the smaller print on the picture above, here are the details again):

Saturday, February 8
Twilight Cafe
1420 SE Powell Blvd (where there is a parking lot!)
Portland, OR
7pm, 21 and over
$8 advance tickets at
$10 at the door

Thursday, January 30, 2020

What Is "Nerdpunk," Anyway?

Some of you may have noticed the term "nerdpunk" used in connection with my various (mostly band-related) activities, like on social media, this blog, or even in newspaper articles.
But what is nerdpunk, anyway? Is it a sound, like grunge, or metal? Well, if you Google "nerdpunk," what you get are mostly references to "geek rock," which, according to Wikipedia, is "a musical subgenre derived from alternative rock within the nerd music group...characterized by the standard instruments of rock music often combined with electronic and unusual instruments, references to geek culture and specialized, yet often mundane, interests, and an element of humor." The Wikipedia article goes on to say that "nerd punk is a fusion of nerd music and punk rock. It shares the characteristics of geek rock with the fast-paced songs, hard-edged melodies, and singing styles of punk" and cites the Portland, OR(!)-based band Thundering Asteroids! (2009-2016) as an example.

Okay, fair enough. But in my opinion, the label "nerdpunk" goes way beyond that. To me, it represents not only a musical sound or subgenre but also an entire lifestyle, an ethos. It embodies not only the desire to consume or create pop culture as a means of entertainment, but also the inspiration to nurture and develop projects, movements, and messages of your own that give back as much joy as you've received from the creations of others. It's a symbol of an independent, entrepreneurial DIY spirit motivated by a desire to make the world a more positive place through the things that we love and that bring us together, including art, stories, music (and beer, for those of us who are of age).

So yes, while nerdpunk may be a musical sound (Nerf Herder?) and/or style (Devo?), it's also a film school student who created a to-be cult classic out of an autocorrected word on his phone, or your former co-worker who started their own successful brewery from scratch, or a tech entrepreneur who went from running a job-creating nonprofit to running for president. It's, as Kyle Stevens of the geek rock band Kirby Krackle (who we met at a Comic-Con some years back) has said, "anything we are really passionate about."

That, to me, is #nerdpunk.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Second Player Speaks

Hard to believe, but the podcast that my band recently started up is now already four months old!
We just released our 17th episode this week, and overall it's been going along well. So far, we've talked about everything from pizza to the Matrix to what makes a good band name, all the while sampling some delicious beers from breweries around the world (just like Second Player Score itself, this podcast originated as a good excuse to drink beer, as well as to record sounds that we had been already making anyway). We've also had some really cool guests, including our friends Stab in the Dark, Old Cross, The Fauxriginals, Matt Danger, and Laurelhurst.

If you haven't checked it out yet, our basic format - loosely adhered to - is a thirty-ish-minute episode divided into three segments: music, pop culture, and craft beer. If, like us, you're a fan of any or all of those things, take a listen and see what you think. It just might be a cool way to pass the time while you commute to work, walk the dog, or whatever. You can find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Breaker, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, or right here.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

My Japanese-Language Learning Experience, Part Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, stay tuned for Part Five...

* and I just might have, details to come

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Anime Roundup: Exclamation Mark Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Spam Curry (And A Volume Five Status Update)

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!