Thursday, December 26, 2019

I Don't Care What Anyone Says, I Loved The Rise Of Skywalker

So maybe I'm a sucker for nostalgia. So what? If I want to be intellectually challenged by a film, there are lots of other options.
To me, the whole Star Wars franchise has always been about simple, high-level, feel-good emotions. About hope. About friendship. About good triumphing over evil. And this movie, in my opinion, delivered all of that in spades.

It also helped that it was jam-packed with almost every uber-fan-satisfying moment you can squeeze into 2-1/2 hours while still retaining something resembling a plot (which was on the basic side, but it had to be, in order to hang all the nerd-pleasing bells and whistles on it). Here are just a few of my favorites (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT):

- The fact that Palpatine is still alive. Because, I mean, of course he is! The most powerful Sith Lord in the history of the galaxy wouldn't be done in just by being thrown down a shaft, now, would he?

- The fact that Palpatine created Snoke and even has a tank full of more Snokes in his secret lair.

- Leia being an awesome Jedi herself and training Rey. When Rey called Leia "Master," I was like, niiiiice

- Page-turners, they may not be, but the Jedi texts came in handy!

- The Knights of Ren actually do stuff in this movie

- Rey's Force lightning

- This wasn't a fanboy moment, but it was funny: C-3PO saying "wait, I have another idea" right before they wiped his memory

- Rey being the grandchild of Palpatine. I have to admit, despite previous fan theories to that effect that emerged after The Force Awakens came out back in 2015, I did not see that one coming (maybe because it sounded so preposterous at the time). Good job, J.J. Abrams. It explains why Rey has seemed so over-powerful despite limited training, and sends a good message that you don't have to be beholden to your bloodline.

- Villanelle from Killing Eve is Rey's mother! Well, not exactly, but you know what I mean.

- I like that Hux was the spy. Reminded me of Agent Kallus from the Rebels cartoon.

- The sunken X-Wing on Ahch-To came in handy!

- "What about the Holdo Maneuver?" "That was one in a million."


- Chewbacca gets his medal

- Rey's yellow lightsaber

Look, I know some folks won't be pleased with what could be perceived as retconning the whole "Rey came from nowhere" idea, but, I mean, powerful Force-users who aren't descendants of a particular lineage are present everywhere throughout this franchise. There have been TV shows and books and all sorts of other media featuring characters like that, and I'm sure there will be much more. But this was the "Skywalker Saga," and as such, I think it was appropriate that it was kind of kept in the family, so to speak.

I think maybe the best way to put it is that I found this movie to be the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. It may have been simple, familiar, and even cheesy at points, but it was enjoyable and satisfying, and believe me, I'll be going back for seconds.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

2020: Stuff I'm Looking Forward To

You know what's nutty? That the last time I wrote a post like this, it was three years ago. Know what else? The fact that most of the movies I mentioned in that post have already been on regular cable TV.

Anyway, here are some pieces of pop culture that I'm looking forward to in 2020:

- The new season of Doctor Who (yay, classic villains!)
- The new season of The Magicians (funny how the top two on this list are the same as on the list from 2016)
- The new season of The Boys
- The series finale of The Good Place
- The new season of Saiki K.

- Black Widow
- Wonder Woman 1984
- Ghostbusters: Afterlife (hey, it looks good!)
- No Time To Die
- Matrix 4 and John Wick 4 (which are being released on the same day)
- Bill & Ted Face the Music

- Joel Suzuki, Volume Five*

* Assuming I have time to finish it in between watching all the previously mentioned stuff

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Stereopony Reunion??


A young woman is here, looking at the screen of a laptop computer. This is FELICITY.

F: Whoa! Dude!

A young man enters the room. This is JOEL.

J: What?
F: Check this out!
J: Check what out?
F: This tweet I'm looking at. On the computer.

Joel looks at the computer's screen.
J: Who are those women?
F: Dude, don't you remember? They're former members of Stereopony. You know, that band from Japan I told you about last year.
J: Oh, yeah.
F: How could you have forgotten? We even time-traveled to see their 2012 farewell concert.
J: We did?
F: Ugh, have you been messing with the timelines again?
J: Um...yeah. Sorry.
F: Whatever. Anyway, when you translate this tweet, it says "Flowers bloom in a nostalgic story. I wonder if someday I can meet with three people. Hashtag #Stereopony."
J: You can read Japanese?
F: No, duh. Twitter has a translation feature.
J: Oh. Right.
F: Okay, so, this tweet is from Nohana, the bass player. There's another one from Aimi, the singer/guitarist, that also shows the two of them hanging out. It says "Please support Aimi and Nohana who have grown up a little. Hashtag #Stereopony."
J: Um, okay.
F: Don't you see what this means?
J: No.
F: There might be a Stereopony reunion!
J: What gives you that idea?
F: Read between the lines, dude. When Nohana says "meet with three people," she's probably talking about including Shiho, the drummer. And when Aimi says "grown up a little," she might be referring to the fact that they're a little more mature now and can put their past differences aside.
J: Or it could mean exactly what they're saying - that they're both a little older and that maybe the three of them could hang out someday.
F: Maybe, but where's the fun in that? Like your cousin April always says, "it's all about having hope."
J: I think I've only heard her say that once.
F: You know what I mean.

An older man walks into the room. This is BRIAN.

B: Yo. What're you guys up to?
F: Dude, check out these tweets.

Brian looks at the computer screen.

B: Hey, it's Aimi and Nohana from Stereopony! Nice to see them getting along.
F: Yeah, and they're dropping ever-so-subtle hints that there might be a Stereopony reunion.
B: Wow. That would be awesome.
F: Right?
B: I've love to see them live.
F: Oh, trust me, they totally rock live.
B: I'm sure they - wait, how do you know?
F: Um...because I've watched videos of their live shows. Haven't you?
B: Sure, but the way you made it sound just now, it was like...
F: I mean, it's not like Joel and I traveled back in time to see them, or anything. Right, Joel?
J: Uh, right.
B (eyeing Joel and Felicity suspiciously): Hmm...
F: Anyway, gotta run out for a bit. We're out of diet soda again. Be right back.
J: I'll go with her.
B: Ohh-kay...


Thursday, December 5, 2019

My Japanese-Language Learning Experience, Part Three

Back in September I wrote what I said would be the last of a miniseries of posts about my Japanese-language learning experiences. Turns out, sore wa uso deshita (that was a lie).
For whatever reason, my fascination with the Japanese language and culture has continued unabated. A few weeks ago I took my kids and some of their friends to Kumoricon, an annual anime convention - it's like Comic-Con, only 99.5% anime-centric - held in the Portland/Vancouver area (or maybe I should say they took me; it was hard to tell who was having more fun). While there, I ran across a merchant table for a Japanese-language class at the local community college and proceeded to try out a little of my speaking skills on the instructor who was manning the table. Well, not really, actually; I asked all of my questions ("are these classes only for undergrads?" - yes; "do you have community ed classes at night for non-students?" - check our website) in English, but I did manage to end the conversation with what I hope was a fairly passable arigatou gozaimasu, yoroshiku onegashimasu (basically a long, polite way of saying thank you).

In the previous post I mentioned that I've been teaching myself the language with the help of some books, apps, and videos, and a lot of you have asked me which ones. Actually, sore wa uso deshita; no one has asked me that. But I'm going to tell you anyway! For books, I've been using Speak Japanese in 90 Days by Kevin Marx and Japanese for Dummies by Hiroko Chiba and Eriko Sato. For apps: Drops, Kanji Quizzer, imiwa?, and Japanese Word Dungeon. For videos: mostly That Japanese Man Yuta and Japanese Ammo. And right now I'm seriously considering signing up for a community ed class at the local community college called "Conversational Japanese II" which begins in January (yes, I checked their website).

To be honest, I'm not really sure why I'm so into this whole Nihongo thing right now. I know I previously said it was because of the anime and the J-Rock bands, but I'm starting to think that maybe there's more to it than that. Could it be that my fatewave* is leading me toward some Japan-related destiny? Only time will tell. Anyway, stay tuned, as I'm pretty sure this will end up becoming a ongoing series of posts. Mata ne (laters)!

* Don't know what a "fatewave" is? Check out Joel Suzuki, Volume Four: Fable of the Fatewave, written entirely in English.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Arigatou! Gracias! Thank You!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
We here at the Brian Tashima Blog just wanted to say:

Thank you for reading our weekly posts (even the ones that are about basically nothing).

Thank you for your support of the Joel Suzuki series and Autism Empowerment.

If you backed the recent Kickstarter campaign for issue #2 of Glorified and/or have helped to spread the word about Gloria's story, thank you.

Thank you for listening to Second Player Score's music and/or our podcast.

Thank you for being awesome!

and the entire SPSU family

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Favorite Classic Arcade Games

As you may have guessed by now, I used to spend a lot of time in video game arcades when I was young. In fact, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, a group of friends and I made daily treks to the nearest outlet of a mini-chain of arcades called Fun Factory, a business that still exists today, albeit in different locations.

For whatever reason, life has been sending me a lot of reminders about this lately, from the podcast episode that my band did last month where we discussed this very subject to the classic game arcades I visited in Las Vegas to the anime convention I attended with my kids this past weekend (which included a large gaming room). So, I thought I'd share with you some of my old favorites.

Mat Mania
Back in the day, due to a shortage of funds, I needed to find a way to stretch my quarters so that I could still make those aforementioned regular trips to the arcade and not have to sit around twiddling my thumbs while my friends used up their comparatively larger budgets. The answer, of course, was to find a game that I could get good enough at so that a dollar or so would go a long way. I'm not sure why (maybe my adolescent fondness for watching professional wrestling played a part), but this game ended up being the one. I got so good at it that I was able to last hours on a single token, even getting to the point where I could "flip" the score - i.e., amass so many points that the game's counter would reset to zero. If that sounds like I'm bragging, it's because I am. But then again, what I had in video game talent was directly offset by a lack of girl-attraction ability, so you decide which was more important.

Super Pac-Man
I liked the original Pac-Man, especially when it first came out, and I liked Ms. Pac-Man as well, but this one, for some reason, really struck a chord with me. I think it was probably the power rush that came from crashing through locked gates at a high rate of speed with a gigantic, invulnerable Pac-Man that did it. My skills with this game eventually reached the point where I entered a contest for it and took second place. Later, as an adult, I bought the home hand-held version and proceeded to set a high score that no one in my family has yet been able to beat (mind you, this is the only game that I'm better than my kids at).

Space Ace
Dragon's Lair, the original laserdisc game (for you younger folk, you may have seen it featured on Stranger Things), was HARD. At least it was for me. But maybe it was for other people as well, because this game seemed to be a little bit easier. Or perhaps I just liked the "energize" feature that allowed Dexter, the protagonist, to change into "Ace" in a manner similar to how Pac-Man could change into Super Pac-Man and then go around kicking some serious butt. Either way, I did manage to finish the game, albeit on the easiest setting *humblebrag*

Donkey Kong, Jr.
Okay, here's a game that I was never particularly good at, but for some reason I've always enjoyed it anyway, even 'til this day (it's one of my first choices whenever I visit a so-called classic game arcade). Lord knows I tried to get good at it when I was young, but I could never get past the second go-around of the fourth stage, where Junior finally rescues his dad. Could this all be due to some kind of repressed psychological angst stemming from my relationship with my real-life father, as documented here? Eh, probably not.

So there you have it, a foursome of my old faves (others include Gyruss, Q*bert, Joust, Defender, and many, many more). I'd love to hear what some of yours are, so feel free to let me know in the comments!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Learning To Fly

I'm back! Thanks (sort of) to Felicity for filling in while I was on vacation. This year, instead of going to Spectraland, I visited another exotic location known to most people as Las Vegas, Nevada. While I was there, I finally got to do something that Joel and Felicity learned how to do a while ago: fly. Or, well, as close as I could come to it without the use of a flying wavecast.
That's me on the Slotzilla Zip Line on Fremont Street. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, it's a zip line that starts eleven stories up (for the longer, more expensive option) and travels five blocks down the entire street. You can read more about it here. The short review is: it's an exhilarating experience. Despite the fact that I, like Joel, have a slight (okay, maybe more than slight) case of acrophobia, I really wanted to do it as both a bucket-list sort of thing and also so that I could experience something close to what Joel felt when he first flew back in Volume One.

We were able to sign up and get on pretty quickly, which was nice - I think that waiting in a long line would have just exacerbated any nervousness I was feeling. Another good thing is that for the most part, you're not really aware of just how high up you are. The one iffy moment came when a woman in the group before us kind of freaked out once she was suspended in air and demanded to be let off. I thought, "is that going to be me?" I mean, it's one thing to think "yeah, okay, this will be fine," but then - based on my prior experiences with roller coasters and other scary-ish carnival rides - once you're actually in it, sometimes it's more than you bargained for.
To my relief, though, once I got going, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't nearly as frightening as I had expected. I think the key was - upon advice from my friend Adam, who had done it before - to not look down the moment you leave the gate. Would I do it again? Sure. The question is, would I (as suggested by my friend Monica) now attempt the Stratosphere Tower SkyJump on the Las Vegas Strip, which starts from 855 feet up? Well, I'll have to think about that one. I know that in Joel's subsequent adventures, he's flown from much greater heights, but let's face it - he's a lot braver than I am.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Anti-Greatest Hits

Yo. Felicity here. Brian is on vacation this week, so he asked me to fill in. Thing is, I had no idea what to write about, so I decided to be lazy - um, I mean, take a page from Joel's playbook and do a so-called "Greatest Hits" post, kind of like the one he did in February of last year where he listed the five most popular posts from this blog based on their view counts.
Being me, though, I'm going to do the opposite - I'm going to list the five LEAST popular posts, based on view counts. Ha! So, here we go:

#5 - Speech! Speech! - June 12, 2013

Proof that no one wants to watch you talking, Brian. Although the fake English accent is kind of funny.

#4 - Band Rec O' The Day - October 8, 2012

The Zoobombs are awesome, so I'm just going to blame this one on the fact that this blog was just getting started at the time.

#3 - Just Dad - July 31, 2012

Same goes for this one, as it was just the second post ever. Brian, I think if you had included a picture of your kids, it would have been more popular.

#2 - This Saturday - September 19, 2013

I guess no one cared what your weekend plans were back then, dude. Kind of a shame, actually, because the Hillsboro Farmer's Market is really cool.

#1 - On Originality - January 10, 2013

All right, I guess this one probably deserved a little more attention than it got, as it contained some pretty decent advice about creating stuff that's both original and appealing. Also, there was a picture of a maple bacon bar.

Aaaand now I'm craving donuts. So, Smith out.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Horror Roundup

Happy Halloween everyone!

Now, I'm not a huge horror fan (Kyle, our drummer in Second Player Score, is our resident horror expert), but there are still a few things in - or close to - that genre that I appreciate, such as:

Doki Doki Literature Club
I said basically everything I wanted to say about this amazing and terrifying game back in this post from 2017. We didn't write a song called "Just Monika," but we did end up writing something called "Blood Letter," which was directly inspired by Doki Doki Literature Club and will show up on Second Player Score's eventual fifth album. Oh, and for my birthday, my talented daughter drew the Monika portrait you see above.

Black Mirror
I said basically everything I wanted to say about this amazing and (mostly) terrifying series back in this post from January. Since that time, the show came out with three more episodes, which I will slot into my list of favorites at #10 ("Striking Vipers," displacing "Nosedive"), #15 ("Smithereens," displacing "Metalhead"), and #18 ("Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too," displacing "Fifteen Million Merits") - I actually enjoyed that last one quite a bit, but it seemed more like a mainstream dark comedy than an episode of Black Mirror.

The Monkey's Paw
And by this, I'm referring to the original 1902 short story by W.W. Jacobs, not one of the numerous adaptations of it that have come along since then. I first read this story back when I was a kid, and it's stuck with me 'til this day as probably the scariest piece of horror fiction that I've ever experienced.

The 1976 version. Come to think of it, I actually used to watch more horror back in the '70s and '80s, including The Exorcist, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, and others, but eventually I just kind of drifted away from it for some reason (perhaps the fact that, as an adult, real life is plenty full of horror as it is). I guess I liked Carrie more than others because the killer - the protagonist, in this case - is a three-dimensional character who has clear reasons and motivations behind her actions, as misguided as they may be. Also, telekinesis! (P.S. I drew a lot of inspiration from this movie while writing the script for Nobody's Hero II.)

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Is this considered a horror movie? I guess so...Wikipedia calls it a "dark fantasy action horror film." Either way, I enjoyed this one a lot, and find it hilarious that it got such poor reviews at first (apparently it has since gone on to become something of a cult classic).

Happy Death Day
Is this considered a horror movie? I guess so...Wikipedia calls it a "black comedy slasher film." Either way, I also enjoyed this one, as I've previously said in this post from this past April.

I know, you're probably wondering "What about Get Out? Or The Babadook? Or The Conjuring?" Well, like I said, I'm not the biggest horror fan in the world, so you'll ask have to ask Kyle about those and others. Anyway, hope you all have a fun and safe time tonight!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Volume Five Status Update: Shorter Vs. Longer

The short version: Volume Five, Draft Two is done!
The longer version:

I finished the first draft of Joel Suzuki, Volume Five back in July. At the time, it came in at around 78,000 words, and I said that based on past experience I expected it to grow to around 81,000. Well, you can throw past experience out the window, because the opposite happened - it actually contracted to a little over 75,000 words (roughly 300 pages). But that's okay, because I think it makes for a much stronger story after I cut out all the stuff that I did. It still may expand after further revisions (my esteemed editor usually makes suggestions that end up requiring additional material), but if not, this will be the shortest volume in the series so far. But again, that's okay! Longer is not always necessarily better, and in the case of this particular story, I think a slightly leaner page count suits it perfectly.

So from here, I'll once again let it cool off in the oven for a bit before revisiting it and making any minor tweaks and changes that I feel are necessary. After that, it should be ready to ship off for a first round of editing. I know I said back in July that I expected to be at that particular stage by September or so, which puts me a little behind schedule, but in my defense, I got distracted for a while writing scripts and drawing storyboards for Issues #2 through #12 of Glorified (which, by the way, now has its own Facebook page and Instagram account). At any rate, Volume Five is still on track for a 2020 release, unless something changes (as the saying sort-of-goes: people plan, gods laugh - especially those who are in charge of literary deadlines).

All right, so what else do we know about Volume Five so far?

- Takes place mostly on Earth
- Minor characters from previous volumes will have larger roles
- Will be the "Blue" book
- The picture above is not the actual cover, nor is the subtitle the actual subtitle ("Duh," says Felicity)

Anyway, stay tuned for more updates!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Anime Roundup

That's right, it's time for another edition of Anime Roundup! No real theme this time, just the usual disclaimers: (1) these are not reviews, they're just my random personal observations, and (2) there may be spoilers. Hajimemashou!

March Comes in Like a Lion
Q: Can a show that is ostensibly about shogi (Japanese chess) make for compelling viewing?

A: Yes.

Because really, this show is actually about human emotions and relationships, which it does an excellent job of portraying. It's a great representative of the "slice of life" anime sub-genre in which the viewer is basically like a fly on the wall, watching the characters experience triumphs and failures as they go about their day-to-day lives. There's really no plot per se, and no "Big Bad," but it's extremely heartfelt and relatable. Oh, and it does even manage to infuse shogi matches with all the drama and tension of a championship sporting event.

Hunter x Hunter
I decided to check this one out after hearing someone on a YouTube video say that it was their favorite anime. Personally, I found it a little slow going (especially with the occasional dreaded clip show episode), but as per my stick-it-out-at-all-costs approach to watching anime, I eventually did make it through all three seasons that were available to me on Netflix (and sure enough, it escalated pretty quickly toward the end). One good thing that I got out of it was that Killua sort of resembled what I envisioned one of the Glorified characters to look like, so I ended up using a lot of screen shots of him as a shortcut when making my stick-figure storyboards.

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
This was a beautiful show that was sort of slice-of-life but with a bit of a magical/supernatural element and a definite plot arc. As an added benefit for me, it also spawned another character template that I used for storyboards for Glorified (in this case, the Anaru character).

Fairy Tail
Oh man, did I love this show. I saw something on the Internet where someone sarcastically wrote that in order to be a true hardcore anime fan, you have to make fun of anyone who likes both Sword Art Online and Fairy Tail, and I thought, "wait, that's me!" So, okay, bring on the hate, 'cause I don't care. What I really care about is where I can find more episodes of this show, because Netflix ran out after forty-eight of them.

Carole and Tuesday
I'm a sucker for just about anything music-related, especially a good origin story like this one that shows the formation of what I assume will eventually be the most popular musical duo in the history of Mars. Wait, Mars? Can Mars really be terraformed that thoroughly? And that quickly, since, based on some of their references, this seems to be taking place in the not-so-distant future? These are nerdy questions I ask myself while watching shows like these. News flash, Brian: it's fiction. Get over it.

A Silent Voice
As you may recall, I always try to include at least one feature-length anime per Roundup. At over two hours long, this one certainly qualifies, although when I watched it, it didn't feel like two hours at all, that's how much I enjoyed it. "Powerful" and "poignant" would be two words I'd use to describe it, and it touched on a lot of subjects that are important to me, like bullying, friendship, redemption, and forgiveness. Highly recommended, and certainly deserving of all the awards since its release in 2016.

That's it for this time! In the next Roundup, I (probably) give some shows a second chance...

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Words and Pictures Festival

Hey-o! If you're in the beautiful Vancouver/Portland area (or happen to have access to some form of inter-dimensional transportation device), please consider checking out the annual Words and Pictures Festival at Cascade Park Community Library this Saturday, October 12th.
It runs from 11am through 3pm, and I will be there along with a whole host of other cool authors, so there's sure to be something for everyone. There will be readings, panels, and a writers's resource room full of all sorts of awesome organizations like the Northwest Independent Writer's Association, Willamette Writers, SCBWI, and more. Hope to see you there! (AND IF YOU REALLY DO HAVE AN INTER-DIMENSIONAL TRANSPORTATION DEVICE PLEASE LET ME KNOW)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

SPSU Status Update

If you recall, nearly one year ago I announced the public unveiling of the Second Player Shared Universe (if you don't recall, go here), a multimedia franchise centered around my band, Second Player Score. Well, today, to celebrate the first anniversary of said unveiling, I'm going to provide you with descriptions and status updates on all the projects contained within the SPSU - including some that were formerly top secret - to give you a better understanding of what, exactly, this whole thing is about.
Graphic design by Dave Born
The SPSU currently comprises ten different projects, each designed to stand alone yet still exist within the same continuity. They are connected by Easter eggs and shared references in a manner similar to Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse or the Black Mirror universe. For example, April Hayashi, the star of one of the projects (who was introduced in this particular blog post), is Joel Suzuki's cousin. Or, the Glorified manga appears as an actual comic book in the screenplay for Nobody's Hero. Also, Second Player Score (the band) is either name-dropped or makes a cameo appearance in just about everything a la the late, great Stan Lee. So, here we go:

Fortress Storm Attack
Our ten-song debut album, we also envision this as someday being an anthology series in a manner similar to Love, Death, and Robots (or possibly this), where each episode - to be based on a song from the album - is written and illustrated by a different creator.

Nobody's Hero
Our sophomore record spawned a narrated flash fiction piece, three feature-length screenplays that we're currently shopping around to management and production companies, and a dozen beer recipes - one for each song on the album (except for the last song, which is so long it needed two different recipes). Of the three screenplays, the first is sort of like Deadpool-meets-Spawn, the second is sort of Carrie-meets-Mean Girls, and the third is like Dogma-meets-The Avengers.

Our recently-released third album has an accompanying manga-style comic book series, the first issue of which is now available. The other eleven issues that make up Volume One have been fully scripted and storyboarded and will be entering the formal illustration process soon. We also have a proof-of-concept trailer for an anime-style adaptation of the series that we've been shopping around to management and production companies.

As previously noted in this blog post from August, Four-D is our fourth album, currently still in the writing stage. There is also a related card game for which we've already designed and tested the gameplay, and the accompanying manga-style comic book and anime-style TV show scripts are in the development stage (the concept illustration of the main characters that you see above was drawn by my talented daughter). The basic idea is a mashup of Pokemon, Battle Royale, and Avatar: The Last Airbender: "A grieving grade school student is given the opportunity to be granted a single wish. The catch, however, is that he must win a dangerous contest involving parallel realities and elemental guardians before someone else claims his prize."

As also noted in that post from August, 200BPM is our fifth album that we are writing concurrently with Four-D. The screenplay for the accompanying film - which we envision as being a series of vignettes that you would watch consecutively to form a single movie experience - is in the development stage, and is sort of a cross between Killing Eve and Dexter: "When an artsy serial killer - think Banksy meets Aileen Wuornos - discovers that she has competition, she embarks on an escalating murder spree in an effort to not only outdo her rival but discover their identity as well. Will they end up killing each other, falling in love, or both?"

Whew! Pause for breath.

Okay, now we move on to the non-album-related half of the SPSU, led off by none other than...

The Joel Suzuki Series
I think most of you already know what this one is about. Volume Five, by the way, is currently deep into the rewriting stage, which is coming along nicely.

This is the project that stars Joel's cousin April Hayashi and her best friend, Lydia Sanchez. When I interviewed them earlier this year, the Seattle Mariners were off to a red-hot 13-2 start, prompting Lydia to make the bold prediction that the team would win the World Series this year. Of course, we all know how that turned out, but the question is: why did Lydia feel so confident at the time? Well, it's because of the events of Jinx, a romantic comedy in the vein of Crazy Rich Asians, Always Be My Maybe, and Fever Pitch that we're currently shopping around to management and production companies: "When a die-hard baseball fan discovers that jinxes are real, she seeks out the man who has cursed her favorite team. Now, though, she must choose between her fandom and her growing feelings for him before she loses everything she's ever held dear." (P.S. the Mariners' subsequent epic collapse has provided plenty of fodder for a Jinx sequel, which is currently in development. Also, I asked April and Lydia to do a follow-up interview this month to talk about the collapse, but they declined.)

Hold My Beer
Here's one you've never heard of before! It's a dramedy series that used to be an idea about a guy whose only talent is making good chili (don't ask me where that came from - I honestly don't know) that eventually evolved into its current form after we realized that we know way more about beer than chili. The script for the pilot episode is complete, and the logline reads as such: "After a middle-aged man loses his wife and job, he turns to the one thing he's always been good at: brewing beer. Now, though, he must prove his worth to everyone - especially his curmudgeonly brewmaster father - before his life falls apart even further." This is where all the non-Nobody's Hero beer recipes that we come up with will show up.

The Author
This is actually an idea for a series that I had been kicking around for a while. It's intended to be sort of like James Bond and Doctor Who, both in story concept as well as in the ability to recast the main character every so often, thus keeping the franchise going indefinitely. The basic premise is that an author is given a special pen that can rewrite reality (kind of like Death Note or Scribblenauts) as well as allow them to change identities. The script for the pilot episode is complete, and its logline goes like this: "When a womanizing, alcoholic English professor is given a writing instrument that can essentially script reality, he must learn to use it to take down the bad guys before his own personal demons get the best of him."

Rider Nine
And now we come to the last and latest, but certainly not least, member of the SPSU: Rider Nine, an adaptation of and homage to all the classic Japanese live-action solo superhero (tokusatsu) shows I used to love as a kid. Basically, this would be to Kikaida and Kamen Rider what the Power Rangers are to Gorenja, with a little dash of Miraculous Ladybug thrown in for good measure. Here's the logline: "After a shy middle-schooler's beloved older cousin dies in a tragic accident, she discovers that he was secretly a superhero protecting their city against an evil organization. Now she must take up his mantle and continue his legacy before the evil organization executes their plan for world domination."

So there you have it: the ten main projects that make up the Second Player Shared Universe. On top of that, we also have four short films that have been written and are waiting to be produced, as well as a podcast (called Second Player Speaks) that we recently launched.

But you know what? That's just the music and media quadrant of an even larger overarching pop culture production house that we call the Second Player Syndicate. The other quadrants include ideas for a beverages and brewpub division, a toys and technology division, and, of course, a charitable philanthropic arm. Our goal is to become a lifestyle and entertainment entity that helps make the world a more positive place through the proliferation of pop culture. We aim to inspire, entertain, and enlighten, with our four major points of emphasis being (1) accurate and respectful representation, (2) themes of empathy and acceptance, (3) creating opportunities for new talent, and (4) giving back to the communities that support us. I know it sounds ambitious, but thanks to you, our fans and supporters, we've been able to build a pretty solid foundation so far, and we have no intention of slowing down any time soon.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and keep watching this space for more SPSU updates!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

TV Roundup: Semi-Inaugural Edition

Hard to believe, but this is actually the first TV Roundup post I've written that isn't completely about Black Mirror. Sure, I've talked about what (non-anime) shows I've been watching in numerous Status Update posts, but I've never devoted an entire post solely to them - until now. So, here we go! (Oh, and tread carefully, for there will be spoilers.)

Stranger Things
We start off with a show that, back in May, I said that I had yet to check out. Then, on the eve of their Season 3 premiere in July, I decided, "okay, maybe I'll give it a shot now." And hoo boy, am I glad I did. Here are some actual things I said out loud to my TV while catching up on the first two seasons:

"OMG this show is so good!" (~174 times)
"The awesomeness-per-second ratio of this show is completely off the charts" (~57 times)
"Why hasn't anyone told me about this before? Oh, right - they have" (~90 times)

So, now I understand what all the buzz was about. After finishing Season 3, I read that the show had originally been rejected by fifteen different networks, mostly because it had - in the words of the late, great Blake Snyder - a "Double Mumbo Jumbo" element; i.e., two different magical elements happening at the same time, which in this case means Eleven's powers running alongside the whole paranormal thing. Well, needless to say, I think it works just fine. If you haven't seen this show yet, I strongly recommend you stop whatever it is you're doing - and yes, that includes reading this blog post - and go watch it.

The Boys
I have to admit, I wasn't familiar with this show's source material beforehand. Shame on me, because this show (so far, anyway) is so, so good. There were a few elements that normally would raise some eyebrows among literary critics, like the "fridging" of Hugh's girlfriend Robin and the one-in-a-million-chance park bench meeting between Hugh and Annie, but as I watched some more, I realized that all of those moments were actually part of the satire - or, at least, they appeared to be. Either way, it doesn't matter, because the whole thing is incredibly watchable. The one thing I noticed that the show does especially well is conflict. Lots and lots of conflict between characters in every scene, which helps to propel things along. Definitely not kid-friendly, but great fun for adult fans of dark - very dark - comedy.

Speaking of dark, this show - one of the live-action Japanese dramas I mentioned a couple of weeks ago - is a darker spin on the usual "body swap" tale (Freaky Friday, etc.) that delves into subjects like bullying, suicide, and body image issues. There are also some fun comedic elements as well, though, like when - spoiler alert - the four lead characters embark on a complex switching scheme that requires each actor to portray the other characters in turn. Rated TV-MA, it's not a show for kids, but I think that mature teens could handle it well enough.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
The "dark" theme continues! If, like me, you're a fan of the original The Dark Crystal movie from 1982, then, like me, I'm sure you were pretty stoked when you heard that this series - a prequel set before the events of the film - was coming out. And I'm also sure that you (like me) finished watching it weeks ago, and that you were completely blown away by it. Right? Right. Man, was it good. Even if you're not a fan of the film, I would highly recommend checking this out. Great writing (despite a couple of small hand-wavy parts) and even greater artistry that remains faithful to Jim Henson's original vision while still pushing way past the boundaries of what you would expect from what is essentially a fancy puppet show. I think I saw somewhere on the Internet where someone described it as "Game of Thrones with puppets." While not quite that extreme, it - spoiler alert - definitely doesn't pull punches in the body count department. Also, the ending - spoiler alert - may not have been quite what people would have been expecting, leaving ample room for more seasons (to which I say: yes, please.) Oh, and if you haven't done so already, make sure to check out the feature-length documentary The Crystal Calls - Making The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Trust me, it will blow your flippin' mind.

The Good Place
And that brings us to a series that I randomly stumbled upon some time ago while sifting through the innumerable choices on Netflix. I watched the two available seasons, enjoyed them, and wondered when the third was going to come out. Only then did I discover - because apparently I live under a rock - that this was actually a network TV show on NBC whose third season had already concluded! Fortunately, I was able to catch up with it recently, and am now anxiously awaiting the fourth and final season which will premiere tonight.

Coming up next week: a status update on the SPSU (Second Player Shared Universe)!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Give More 24!

Today is Give More 24! What is that, you ask? Why, it's 24 hours in which you can make a positive difference in the world by donating to any one of the awesome nonprofit organizations based in the Southwest Washington area. "Sounds great," you say, "but which organization should I donate to?" Well, each organization is definitely worthy of your support, but allow me to make a suggestion: Autism Empowerment.
Why, you ask? Well, because not only are we dedicated to improving the quality of life for people and families in the autism community both locally and worldwide via our various programs, support groups, events, resources, and more, but also because we promote a global culture of acceptance for people of all abilities.

If that sounds good to you, then simply go this link and make a donation. Even just the minimum of $10 will be greatly appreciated. All donations are 100% tax-deductible, and best of all, giving feels good! I know this first-hand, because not only will I be donating today, but I also donate to Autism Empowerment (on an ongoing basis) one dollar for every Joel Suzuki book that is sold.

Thank you! Mahalo! Arigatou Gozaimasu! Gracias!

Thursday, September 12, 2019

My Japanese-Language Learning Experience, Part Two

This is the second, and last, of a two-part blog post. Read part one here.

Signing up for Netflix was a turning point in how I viewed not only the Japanese language, but my own heritage as well. Why? Because of anime. Yup, anime (Japanese animation, for those of you who are new to this blog). Allow me to explain. Prior to my signing up for Netflix, my exposure to anime had been limited mostly to shows like Pokemon and - I'm dating myself here - Ikkyu-San.
However, my Netflix account opened me up to a whole new world of anime, which apparently had been growing like a uncontrollable forest-beast (no idea what that is) while I wasn't paying attention. There were shows upon shows upon shows, some of which I had heard about peripherally, like Death Note, for example.

So, I decided to give them a try, starting with the aforementioned Death Note. And, I was floored. Looking for more, I discovered Aggretsuko, and, with those two shows making up the proverbial one-two punch, my anime fandom had begun. I became hooked. Over time, I added titles like One Punch Man, Sword Art Online, Soul Eater, Bleach, and many more to my list of favorites, and I watched as many episodes as I had available to me.

These shows also exposed me to some awesome Japanese bands, including one - Stereopony - that eventually joined my personal Mount Rushmore of favorite musical artists (the others on the mountain being Metallica, Iron Maiden, Billy Joel, and The Dambuilders).

And so all of this together eventually served to rekindle...well, no, you can't rekindle something that had never really been kindled in the first place, so let's say that it served to ignite in me a newfound interest in Japanese language and culture. I bought some Japanese language books, downloaded some apps (one of which my daughter, who had previously shown an interest in learning Japanese, recommended to me with a look of "well it's about time you jumped on this bandwagon"), watched videos, and even changed the language of my cell phone to Japanese (at one point I panicked because I was getting a text and I couldn't figure out how to change the phone back to English). On a high school band trip for which I served as a chaperone, I even attempted to speak whatever little Japanese I knew to one of the other parent chaperones who is fluent (she was polite enough to humor me).

It was then that I realized: for probably the first time since I was in kindergarten, I was proud of my heritage.

And that brings us to today. I still have a long, long way to go ("mada mada desu"), but it's been a fun and rewarding new journey that I've found myself on. I've even branched out from anime to live-action Japanese dramas ("Switched," "Midnight Diner") and other kinds of shows ("Japanese Style Originator"), all of which I've found both entertaining and educational. Even though my Nihongo skills are about equal to a 2-year-old's at this point, I'm determined to continue the process and hopefully make a return trip to Japan someday soon (where I will try not to get lost this time).

Epilogue: at last month's Willamette Writers Conference, someone came up to my book signing table, saw the names "Suzuki" and "Tashima," and asked if I was Japanese. I gladly said yes. He followed that up with "genki desu ka?" meaning "How are you?" and I happily replied "genki desu," meaning "I'm fine" (I even knew that what we were saying wasn't even totally correct in context since we had never met before!) He still didn't buy a book, though.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

My Japanese-Language Learning Experience, Part One

As you may have guessed from the Japanese words that I occasionally sprinkle into my posts, I've been trying to learn Japanese (then again, I suppose you may have thought that I already knew a lot of Japanese, but whatever).
The truth is that I've had opportunities during my lifetime to learn Nihongo (which is how to say "the Japanese language" in Japanese), but I've never really taken full advantage of them. When I was a kid growing up in Hawaii, a lot of my classmates attended "Japanese school," which was basically an after-regular-school program designed to teach kids the language, culture, etc. My parents asked if I wanted to go, but being the rebellious punk that I was, I said no. Actually, I wasn't really a rebellious punk, but I did want to distance myself from my identity, thinking that if I were a Japanese person who couldn't speak Japanese, then that would somehow make me cool and unique. This was the logic of a ten-year-old (bear in mind, five years earlier I had spontaneously volunteered to sing the theme song to a tokusatsu - Japanese superhero - television show, in Japanese, in front of my whole kindergarten class, so, yeah, it's complicated.)

Later, in high school, we had a graduation requirement of two years of foreign language. When considering my options, I ended up deciding on Japanese - not because I had grown out of my resisting-my-heritage phase, mind you, but mostly because I was lazy. You see, despite my best efforts, I still knew more Japanese than any other language besides English, simply by virtue of my prior tokusatsu fandom as well as being surrounded by the local culture in Hawaii, which had long since integrated a lot of Japanese customs. On top of that, I had heard that the teacher was kind of on the lenient side when it came to homework and grading, so Japanese was the natural choice for someone who wanted to spend as little time studying as possible so that he could focus more on practicing heavy metal guitar (a pursuit that proved rather successful) and figuring out how to attract girls (not as much).

In college, after forgetting most of what I had learned in two years of high school Japanese, I suddenly found myself on a study tour of - you guessed it - Japan. We were there for a couple of weeks, and it was an awesome, amazing experience (I was suddenly of legal drinking age, so, yeah). I even ended up getting lost with a classmate somewhere in Hokkaido, only managing to make it back to our hotel by scraping up whatever little of the native language I knew from the deep recesses of my memory banks: "Sumimasen, watashi wa gaijin desu. Nihongo wakarimasen. Sheraton hoteru o doko desu ka?" (Roughly translated as "Excuse me, I'm a foreigner. I don't understand Japanese. Where is the Sheraton hotel?")

Despite all of this, after college and during the years that followed, I still resisted learning Japanese like a picky eater resisting brussels sprouts. I think eventually it just became part of a strange stubborn streak that I have, one that causes me to do certain things that really don't make much sense - like refusing to read Harry Potter novels because they were so popular (of course, we know how that eventually turned out). Even weirder, I actually felt a twisted sense of satisfaction at not knowing Japanese. As an example, during a book event for Joel Suzuki, someone came up to my table and the following exchange ensued:

Person: (looks at book cover) "Suzuki?" (looks at my business card) "Tashima? So, you're Japanese, right?"
Me: "Japanese-American." (extra emphasis on "American")
Person: "Hajimemashite. Nihongo ga hanasemasu ka?"
Me: (smiling, shaking head) "No idea what you're saying."
Person: (disappointed): "Oh." (walks away)
Me: (thinking that I probably just lost a potential sale, but that's okay because I SHOWED THAT PERSON NOT TO MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SOMEONE BASED ON THEIR LAST NAME HA!)

Then, in January of last year, I signed up for Netflix, and everything changed.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Glorified Comic Launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Movie Roundup: MCU Update Edition

Almost two years ago, I fulfilled a mission to list the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies in order from my least to most favorite. With the recent release of Avengers: Endgame on home video and the official close of the MCU's Phase 3, it now seems an appropriate time to update said list.
(Besides, the only movies I've had time to see in the theaters recently have been the aforementioned Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home, so, yeah.)

Several points to keep in mind as you read: (1) opinions are subjective, (2) to be honest, I actually like all of the movies on this list to some degree, even the lowest-ranked ones, and (3) there may be spoilers. Also, some of the rankings from the previous post may have moved around as time has changed my perceptions of those particular films.

Here we go!

#23 - The Incredible Hulk

No change here. Kinda wish they'd give Mark Ruffalo his own thing, but it doesn't look like that's gonna happen.

#22 - Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Down from #13. I didn't enjoy it as much upon repeated viewings.

#21 - Avengers: Age of Ultron

Started out low, went up as high as #10, and now is back down here.

#20 - Thor

I love that Joe Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, Sense8, and tons of other stuff (including a run as the writer on the Thor comic), has a cameo in this movie. I did not know this until I read his recent autobiography Becoming Superman (highly recommended reading, by the way).

#19 - Iron Man 2

R.I.P., Tony Stark (MCU version).

#18 - Thor: The Dark World

Can't wait for the Jane Foster Thor!

#17 - Doctor Strange

Love the scene with Doctor Strange and Thor where Doctor Strange offers Thor some tea and...wait, no, that was a post-credits scene from Thor: Ragnarok. Sometimes it's hard to keep track.

#16 - Iron Man

Funny how the comics version of Tony started looking so much more like Robert Downey, Jr. after this.

#15 - Guardians of the Galaxy

Down from #9, but that's 'cause it's getting crowded at the top.

#14 - Ant-Man and The Wasp

While I didn't enjoy this one as much as the first Ant-Man, it was still fun, especially coming after what happened in Infinity War.

#13 - Captain America: The First Avenger

The first Avenger, the third-best Cap movie. Still good, though.

#12 - Captain America: Civil War

I could watch the airport scene all day.

#11 - Iron Man 3

I still watch this when it comes on TV.

#10 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I still watch this when it comes on TV.

#9 - Thor: Ragnarok

Can't wait for the Jane Foster Thor! Wait, did I say that already?

#8 - Captain Marvel

I don't care what anyone says, I actually kind of like overpowered superheroes. It's fun to watch them kick everyone's butt.

#7 - Spider-Man: Far From Home

While I didn't enjoy this as much as Homecoming, it was still still fun, especially coming after what happened in Endgame. It took me a little while to figure out all the post-Blip timey-wimey shenanigans.

Oh, and hey, Sony and Disney - please kiss and make up. Thank you.

#6 - Black Panther

As I've said before, I really want to go to Wakanda.

#5 - Spider-Man: Homecoming

I can't believe that this one is already on regular cable TV.

#4 - Ant-Man

Yes, still one of my top favorites. Seriously.

#3 - Avengers: Endgame

Time travel, yay!

#2 - Avengers

Still so, so, good.

#1 - Avengers: Infinity War

Call me a sucker for unhappy endings, I guess.

Okay, Disney/Marvel, bring on Phase 4!