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?)