Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving Fun Fact

Hey there! A big thank you to everyone for reading this blog, supporting my various projects, and generally being awesome through what has definitely been a challenging year for us all.
I'm going to keep this one short, but here's a fun Thanksgiving fact: in case you didn't already know, the entire story of Joel Suzuki, Volume Four: Fable of the Fatewave - and the beginning of Volume Five, Ballad of the Bluerock - takes place on Thanksgiving day, Thursday, November 22, 2012, the same day that this previous blog post was written.

Of course, Joel goes to Spectraland during that day and has a whole host of adventures before returning to the same place and time that he left from (owing mostly to the temporal differences between the two worlds - time moves much more slowly on Spectraland than it does on Earth), so there's enough goings-on to fill a whole 361-page book, but still, it's essentially a Thanksgiving story.

And no, he never does finish his pie.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

TV Roundup, Episode Four

As you may know if you've been following this blog, I watch an incredible amount of anime. But I also watch an incredible amount of non-anime shows as well. Of course, since I'm a writer, it's all in the name of research, homework, and inspiration...and not me simply being a lazy couch potato...okay, well, that may be part of it too. Fine. Anyway, I've recapped a few of the shows I've seen in these previous TV Roundup posts, and now here's the latest batch!

Cobra Kai
I admit, I resisted watching this one at first, partly because it was on yet another subscription service that I didn't have, and partly because I thought, "it's probably just trying to cash in on cheesy '80s nostalgia." Then I started hearing good things about it. Then it moved to Netflix. Then Onofre Ramiscal of Taking the Lead Media appeared as a guest on my band's podcast and highly recommended it. So then I was like, okay, fine, I'll give the first episode of season one a chance. And boy, am I glad I did. Onofre, you were right. This show is one of those where I say out loud to my TV several times an episode "this is so good!" Sure, it references the original films and packs in the Easter Eggs for those of us who are fans of them, but you don't even have to be familiar with them to enjoy this show. It's fast-paced, balances drama and comedy with expert precision, and plays the "nobody is actually the good guy, we're all just flawed human beings" card to maximum effect. And the scenery is sooo Los Angeles (despite most of the show being filmed in Atlanta)! If you haven't already, do yourself a favor and watch Cobra Kai immediately. I can't wait for Season 3 in January.

(on Netflix)

Tokyo Girl
I had heard that this one was sort of like Aggretsuko minus the death metal karaoke, which provoked a mixed reaction from me - I mean, I love Aggretsuko (still my second-all-time-favorite anime), but without the rage-screaming, how fun could it possibly be? Answer: lots. A made-in-Japan dramedy, it follows the life of a woman from age 23 to 40ish as she navigates the choppy waters of work, relationships, and all sorts of existential first-world angst. Once I got used to the numerous fourth-wall breakage narrations (which are delightfully Japanese in nature, by the way), the jarring time jumps, and an initial teenage version of the main character who looks nothing like the older version you see throughout the rest of the show, I was hooked.

(on Amazon Prime)

Blood of Zeus
I loved Greek mythology as a kid, and the Percy Jackson novels as an adult, so I should've been all over this one right away, but for some reason it languished in my queue for a while until the bass player from my band recommended it. So then I watched it and was like, okay, yeah, I should've started on this earlier. Netflix calls it an "anime" but I'm including it here in TV Roundup as opposed to an Anime Roundup post because I'm one of those annoying purists who consider "anime" to be, by definition, an animated show produced in Japan. How about we call it "anime-style"? You know, like how I call the Glorified comic book series "manga-style"? Anyway, it has a cool retro animation look that I envision could be used for a possible Glorified anime - I mean, anime-style - show, and it is oh-so-gory. It also employs the "nobody is actually the good guy, we're all just flawed human beings (and superpowered godlike beings)" trope, which I always enjoy. You can hear me talk more about it with the guys in my band in episode 59 of our aforementioned podcast.

(on Netflix)

Dash & Lily
Okay, as a writer of young adult fiction, I watched this one - which is based on a popular YA novel - purely for research purposes. So, when you analyze the - oh, who am I kidding. I'm a sucker for light and fluffy rom-coms, especially when the leads are introverted bookworms whose courtship takes place not in person but via anonymous written messages in a notebook that they pass back and forth...which I guess makes it, instead of a Death Note, a...Love Note? Sorry, couldn't resist. Anyway, I binged this thing in less time than the male lead's namesake from The Incredibles would take to run a 100-meter, um, dash. Sorry again. ANYWAY...

(on Netflix)

Kim's Convenience
I actually watched all four seasons of this show a while ago, but I love it so much that I just had to include it in this roundup (which is saying something, because there have been a lot of other shows that I've really enjoyed that have never been mentioned in this blog for space and timing reasons). About a Korean-Canadian family who runs a convenience store in Toronto, it's sharp, witty, and laugh-out-loud funny. And it's been renewed for two more seasons, hooray! Oh, and for fans of The Mandalorian - Captain Carson Teva from the second episode of season two is the family patriarch in this show. And for Marvel fans, his son is going to be Shang-Chi in the upcoming MCU film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Anyway, I'm going to plug my band's podcast one more time and say that you can hear us talk about Kim's Convenience in episode 42. Okay, see you!

(on Netflix)

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Volume Five Title Announcement!

Joel Suzuki, Volume Five is back from editing! So to celebrate, I'm going to announce the official subtitle in 5, 4, 3...
The official subtitle of Joel Suzuki, Volume Five is "Ballad of the Bluerock." And here's the official back cover copy:

(WARNING - Contains major spoilers for Volume Four)

"After a disastrous concert festival that claimed the lives of thousands, Joel Suzuki's archenemy is now, quite possibly, all-powerful. The only way Joel can undo the damage and save the universe is to return to Spectraland, complete his training, and fulfill his destiny as the Virtuoso - the greatest Wavemaker of them all.

Trouble is, Joel is stuck on the Bluerock (Spectraland's name for Earth) with no idea of how to get back, and he has only a few months before the gateway between the two worlds closes forever. What's worse, the one person he thinks can help him - and that he can trust - doesn't believe his story.

Then there's the pesky private eye on his trail, investigating the disappearance of Joel's friend Felicity, who was tragically killed at the concert festival. Or was she? With no solid proof that Spectraland exists, Joel starts to question whether the island of music and magic was even real in the first place...or was it all in his imagination?"

So now the next steps are for me to polish the manuscript, finalize the cover, and get all the ducks lined up for a possible launch date either late this year or early next year. I can't wait to share Joel's newest adventure with all of you!

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Anime Roundup: New Seasons Edition

Over the last few months or so, Netflix has released new seasons of some of my favorite anime shows. Well, not exactly new new, as all of them (except for one) had already been out for a while in Japan and probably some other places. But they hadn't been available on the streaming service until now, so naturally I was pretty excited to check them out. What did I think of them? Read on and find out!

Food Wars!
I had been looking forward to the third season of Sword Art Online (see below) for quite a while. When the time finally came, I discovered that - without much in the way of advance notice - season 2 of Food Wars (called Food Wars! The Second Plate) had been released the very same day! So what did I do? Why, I put SAO on hold, of course, and devoured this one (heh) in short order. Most of the show is just an animated, dramatized version of Iron Chef, so I really don't know why it's so compelling, but it is. In fact, after I finished the new (not really new - it came out back in 2016) season, I bumped it up on my list of all-time favorites to third place, behind K-On! and Aggretsuko but ahead of Madoka Magica, Akame ga Kill, and others. There are three more seasons, the final one of which just finished its run in Japan, so hurry, Netflix, and serve them up already, would you? 

Sword Art Online
Okay, and then I moved on to Sword Art Online. The third season (which ran from 2018-2020 elsewhere) adapts the "Alicization" story arc of the original manga, which introduces some new characters (one of whom is named "Alice") and takes place mostly in a new virtual world setting called, naturally, the "Underworld." Overall, it's still very watchable, albeit a bit slower-paced than the first two seasons - there is a LOT of expository dialogue, with characters sitting or standing around, talking and explaining things to each other, even in the middle of battles - and much darker in spots, with one scene in particular that is pretty disturbing and definitely not for the younger viewers who may have been following the show up until this point. Also, semi-spoiler alert: what Netflix apparently considers "Season 3" doesn't include the whole second half of the arc, so we'll just need to wait for, I guess, "Season 4."

Aggretsuko
The only actually "new" season in this roundup. I've already said everything I wanted to say about it in this post.

Blue Exorcist
This show's second season (called "Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga") - which has actually been out since 2017 - is shorter than the first and mixes some fast-paced action with continued character development, apparently retconning part of season 1 to be more faithful to the original manga (I kept thinking, what is Yukio talking about? Everyone knows he's [SPOILER]).

Black Butler
I was little surprised to see that there was a new season of this show (although I shouldn't have been - it came out back in 2010) as the first season seemed to wrap things up pretty nicely (or maybe "completely" is a better word). At first I thought it was maybe just some random one-off adventures until I realized that there was actually a new storyline going on, complete with a new rival lord with his very own demon-butler. It's faster-paced and a little less quirky than the first season, and it weaves the main arc through the various episodes in an interesting fashion, culminating in a cool twist near the end. And then there's a "season three" as well, which is not the actual third season - which came out in 2014 - but rather a bunch of OVA ("original video animation" - the explanation of which is here) episodes that are more like what I was expecting of season two, with random one-off adventures that may or may not be part of the true continuity, including an absolutely delightful meta episode in which the characters play themselves as actors on the show.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

2020 Major League Baseball Season Recap With April And Lydia

Hey there! So, it's been a little over three months since we last spoke to April Hayashi and Lydia Sanchez, our own in-house baseball experts/die-hard Seattle Mariners fans. Since then, Major League Baseball has actually managed to complete a full - albeit truncated - season with expanded playoffs and all, so I thought we'd bring April and Lydia back to share their thoughts on their predictions, the Mariners, and more.
Brian: Welcome, ladies.
Lydia: Hey.
April: Hello.
Brian: Okay, let's get right down to it. April, back in July you predicted that the Dodgers would win the World Series.
Lydia: And you were right!
April: Well, they were the logical choice. I mean, that lineup is stacked.
Lydia: They almost didn't even make it out of the NLCS, though.
April: True.
Lydia: So, I say you're psychic.
April: Heh. Sure.
Brian: All right, next one. You said that the Mariners would finish 23-37 and in last place. They ended up in third place, at 27-33, and were actually in contention for a playoff spot up until close to the end.
April: Yeah, they exceeded my expectations, which was nice.
Lydia: Except for that kinda-sorta contention deal. Teasing us, once again.
April: Which is pretty Mariners, when you think about it.
Lydia: No kidding.
Brian: And Lydia, you said that they would finish fourth, ahead of the Astros, who would be [*checks notes*] 8-52. The Astros actually came in second, at 29-31, and almost -
Lydia: Yeah, yeah, I was being facetious. Remember, I also said that the season would be cancelled altogether.
Brian: True.
April: Thank goodness it wasn't. Even some baseball was better than no baseball.
Lydia: What, the KBO wasn't good enough for ya?
April: Only you get up that early.
Brian: Anyway, moving on. Despite not making the playoffs, the M's did have some bright spots, especially with the young players.
April: Oh, for sure.
Lydia: Kyle Lewis for Rookie of the Year, woo!
April: And even though guys like Crawford and Evan White had struggles at the plate, their defense was pretty terrific.
Lydia: And Sheffield looked like he could be solid.
April: Yup.
Brian: Okay, so let's turn our thoughts to next year. First question: do you like the expanded playoff format?
April: Sure. Keeps more fanbases engaged for longer.
Lydia: Nah. When the M's finally make it back in, I want them to have really earned it. I don't like teams getting into the playoffs with a losing record *cough*Astros*cough*
April: What if the M's win the division?
Lydia: Then that's fine.
Brian: Next question: do you like starting off extra innings with a runner on second?
April: No.
Lydia: Absolutely not.
Brian: Fair enough. Okay, last question: with the pandemic still going on, do you think the 2021 season will start on time and play a full 162-game schedule?
Lydia: Do we really have to answer this?
April: I keep telling you, Lyd, we do not have jinx powers.
Lydia: I dunno...
April: I'll say yes.
Lydia: Always so optimistic.
April: Hey, you gotta have hope.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Steak Saturday

Saturdays have recently become steak nights in my house. The three-bears picture below shows dinner for me, my daughter, and my son.
And no, they're not too hot, too cold, or just right - they're medium rare (me), medium (my son), and well-done (my daughter).

No need for a recipe, as it's pretty simple: I just cook it in a little canola oil with salt and pepper on both sides and it comes out great. We don't even use steak sauce. The sides are white rice (of course) and sliced mushrooms sauteed in the leftover steak oil with some garlic oil and butter added to it. My daughter doesn't eat the mushrooms - she hates mushrooms - but they're a big hit with my son (and me).

We don't do this EVERY Saturday because it's good to limit your red meat consumption, or so I've heard. But once in a while is nice. And, despite the current high prices of beef, it's still a pretty cost-effective way to feed three people, especially when compared to buying take-out (which we actually do quite a lot of. Support your local restaurants!)

Anyway, I -

Felicity: Yo. Where's OUR steak?
Brian: I...I didn't make any for you guys.
Joel: Why not?
Brian: You...don't actually eat.
Felicity: Sure we do. All the time.
Brian: I mean...
Felicity: Oh, is this that "you guys are fictional characters" argument that you always bust out whenever you don't want to spend money on us?
Brian: Well, it's just that -
Felicity (to Joel): C'mon, man. We'll go get our own dinner.
Joel: Um, okay. But we don't have any money.
Felicity (quietly): I still have his credit card from last time.
Brian: I heard that.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Anime Roundup: Plot Twist Edition

This recent batch of anime that I've watched all seem to have one thing in common: cool plot twists. Then again, I guess a lot of good shows have them, so maybe I'm just reading too much into it. Anyway, hajimemashou!

Erased
What would you get if you took Big or 13 Going on 30, flipped the original age differences of the protagonist, mixed that with Groundhog Day, and then changed the result from a drama/comedy into a twelve-part murder mystery/thriller? You'd end up with this show, which is pretty darn awesome. Although, the original Japanese name for it translates to "The Town Where Only I Am Missing," so I'm not sure how they got from that to "Erased"...oh well. Anyway, the basic gist of it is that a 29-year-old struggling manga artist (who also works as a pizza delivery boy to help make ends meet) has an ability he calls "revival" - no explanation for this is given, and none is needed - which involuntarily sends him back in time usually just a few minutes to a point right before a fatal incident occurs, allowing him to prevent it from happening. For the most part he treats this power pretty nonchalantly, occasionally saving lives like it's no big deal before resuming a mundane daily schedule. But then his mother is murdered by someone who frames him as the suspect and his ability sends him back not a few minutes, but eighteen years - and then the real story begins. With its compelling plot, interesting twists, and satisfying story beats, this one definitely makes my list of favorites. There's also a live-action adaptation which remixes the anime a little bit and plugs a few plot holes but basically follows the same storyline and is also a fun viewing experience.

Toradora!
A rom-com/dram about a boy and a girl who have crushes on each other's best friends so they scheme to set each other up while in the meantime it's pretty obvious they're actually a perfect couple, this one takes a few twists and turns - including the introduction of a fifth-wheel interloper - before eventually arriving at the place you knew it was going to all along. Or does it? Yes, it does. OR DOES IT??

The Promised Neverland
You already know something creepy is up when the show starts off with a bunch of happy orphans living in the same house, wearing the same white uniforms, with numbers tattooed on their necks. Oh, and a caretaker who seems nice but is obviously hiding something. This is not really a spoiler because the plot is revealed pretty early on: the kids are actually being raised as food for demons. So, of course, one day they discover the disturbing truth by accident and then spend the rest of the season trying to figure out how to escape. By the time you get to around episode six or so, you think to yourself "even if they get out, there is a LOT more to this story than this, kind of like in The Maze Runner" and sure enough, a second season is coming out next year (yay!) and you find out that the original manga upon which the show is based actually ran for four years over twenty volumes (181 chapters, of which the show's first season adapted 37).

Great Pretender
A crime comedy about a con artist who tries to con someone who is actually an even better con artist than he is so he ends up having to work for him, this show is fun and fast-paced with an original art style and some surprisingly deep character work. I like to watch all my anime in Japanese with English subtitles, but I get the feeling that this one might actually be better with the English dub since I think the characters are supposed to be speaking in English most of the time. My only question is: Netflix, since you own this show, why didn't you release all four cases (blocks of episodes that focus on one particular plot thread) worldwide at the same time?

A Lull in the Sea

A gentle drama with an interesting premise: two civilizations living side-by-side, one on land, one in the sea. The sea people are just like regular people but with something called "ena" that allows them to breathe underwater (no gills here) and dries them off instantly whenever they come to the surface. They also watch TV underwater, which I don't know how that works exactly, but whatever. Anyway, against that backdrop (and an "A" plot of a looming environmental disaster that threatens the surface), there's a coming-of-age story (the "B" plot) that starts off as a love triangle but then evolves into more of a love dodecahedron that you will need a scorecard to keep track of. The overall tone is pretty mellow, but it never gets slow or boring, and for the most part the show has the art of the episode-ending cliffhanger down pat.