Thursday, January 31, 2019

TV Roundup: Black Mirror Edition

It's now been over a year since I signed up for Netflix. Since then, I've watched a whole bunch of stuff on the service, including all the Marvel shows (R.I.P.) and, as you know, a ton of anime. There's one show, however, that I started on last year (by watching two episodes) but didn't pick up again until just recently. That show is Black Mirror.
Why did I stop, you ask? I'm not really sure, to be honest. Probably just because there were so many other things to check out. I do know why I got back into it, however. The fourth Second Player Score album (which we're already writing, even though the third album isn't due out until June) is expected to be another concept album, but this time it would be a psychological horror sort of along the lines of Doki Doki Literature Club, Perfect Blue, and, yes, Black Mirror. So, having played the the first of those three and watched the second, I figured I needed to do my homework and finish up all available episodes of the third. And, as expected, it did not disappoint.

I know there are a lot of "best Black Mirror episodes" lists out there already (I even consulted a few of them when deciding which episodes to watch first) but I'm going to add mine to the list of lists. These are my favorites, with some random thoughts for each, in order from least to most. Warning: possible spoilers to follow.

#20: The Waldo Moment
My least favorite is still an entertaining 44 minutes of viewing. I kinda wanted to see Waldo win.

#19: Crocodile
Yay, guinea pigs!

#18: Fifteen Million Merits
I actually watched about half of this episode last year, and then finished up the other half this year.

#17: The National Anthem
Every time I watch an episode of Black Mirror - like this one, for example - there almost always comes a point when I say, out loud, "yeah, this will not end well."

#16: Shut Up and Dance
The troll face still creeps me out every time I think of it. I'd like to see Karin and Blue from "Hated in the Nation" catch those guys.

#15: Metalhead
As a nerd, I really wanted to know the backstory of what happened to the world and what the original purpose of the dogs was.

#14: Playtest
Yay, giant spiders!

#13: Men Against Fire
Like the Matrix within the Matrix.

#12: The Entire History of You
Look, it's the Doctor! Yeah, I always get distracted when my favorite genre actors show up in other stuff.

#11: Arkangel
Every parent's worst nightmare. There are just some things you're better off not knowing.

#10: Nosedive
The part about not having the right adapter for the electric car was hilarious.

#9: Be Right Back
Look, it's Bill Weasley/General Hux and Peggy Carter!

#8: Hang the DJ
My usual Black Mirror declaration of "yeah, this will not end well" didn't come true this time! Unless you were one of the digital clones, I guess.

#7: Hated in the Nation
Look, it's Helena Ravenclaw! And Shona, and Wong! And isn't that Rosa Parks? Oops, there I go again.

#6: White Bear
Brilliant twist ending.

#5: Black Museum
Hey, it's Shuri! Okay, okay, I'll stop.

#4: White Christmas
Look, it's - right, I promised to stop. Anyway, another episode with a brilliant twist ending.

#3: San Junipero
A great episode with very cool '80s imagery.

#2: Bandersnatch
I think I watched this one like six or seven times just to get to as many endings as I could. Loved the meta ending the most.

#1: USS Callister
After I finished this episode I said out loud (I talk to my TV a lot) "that was probably one of the finest hours of television I've ever seen." I know people say this one had more humor and was more upbeat than other Black Mirror episodes, but I think it still definitely had some edgy horror elements to it that made it a nice overall blend.

Okay, so that brings us to the end of five straight weeks of Roundup posts. Tune in next week when I'll be giving you a Volume Five(!) status update...

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Band Roundup: Nippon Edition

One of the many things I love about anime shows is that they almost always have awesome theme songs. Not only that, but they usually have a different one for both the beginning and the end of the show, and then they change them for each season (and occasionally even mid-season). It's funny, because whenever Netflix tries to do me a favor by skipping the theme song, I'm, like, "No, go back! Play the song!" As a result, I've been introduced to a bunch of great bands from Japan, a few of which I'll share with you today.

This power trio - which, sadly, broke up in 2012 - has become one of my favorite bands of all time. Joel and Felicity talked about them in this post back in September of last year. I know this may sound cheesy, but it's like their music resonates at the same frequency as my inner Aura - possibly even more than my own music! They're just too perfect. Maybe they're a creation of the Matrix. Or, like Felicity suggested, maybe they're Wavemakers. I've listened to lead singer/guitarist Aimi Haraguni's subsequent solo projects as well as Draft King, the band that bassist Nohana Kitajima and drummer Shiho Yamanoha went on to form, and, as pleasant as those projects are, they're just not the same. It's like while Aimi (who I kind of think of as a long-lost younger sister) may have been the mind and soul of Stereopony, Nohana and Shiho were the heart, blood, and guts, and now that they're disconnected you just have two separate incomplete parts of a whole person. So please, please, ladies, if you're reading this, reunite.

Asian Kung-Fu Generation
I discovered these guys via their mega-awesome Naruto theme song, "Haruka Kanata." Singer/guitarist Masafumi Goto's tortured screams are simply epic (they sound like how I feel after the Seahawks lose a close game). And they're no one-hit wonder either; I followed them down the rabbit hole and discovered that they have a huge catalog of good stuff. If you like bands like Weezer, Teenage Fanclub, Supergrass, etc., I'd recommend checking them out.

In contrast to Stereopony (who, to my knowledge, generally used to just wear jeans and random T-shirts on stage), this group adheres a bit more to the Japanese girl-band formula of flashy matching outfits. Doesn't matter, though, 'cause they rock pretty hard. My favorite tune of theirs is "Shunkan Sentimental," which was used as a theme song for FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Impressively, they formed in 2006 and are still going strong today with the same original lineup.

Stance Punks
The Soul Eater ending theme song "I Wanna Be" was my first introduction to these guys. And then I heard "No Boy No Cry," an opening theme song for Naruto. Awesome, catchy, edgy but totally listenable straight-up punk rock in the tradition of bands like The Clash and the Ramones.

This is not a band that I discovered through anime, but I just had to include them in this post anyway. I was actually introduced to them back in 2015, when a friend got me into what's known as "kawaii metal" (cute metal). This is when you take the sugary-sweet vocals and choreographed dance routines of J-pop (Japanese pop music) and forcibly graft it onto brutal, face-melting metal riffage. There are/were a number of acts in this particular genre, but I latched on to Fruitpochette the most. I ended up buying both their EP and full-length album, the latter of which I wrote a review that you can read here (my review has the headline "If this album was ice cream, I would have gained two hundred pounds by now"). Seriously, I listened to that thing over and over again, especially during the writing of Volume Two. Sad to hear that they broke up in 2017.

Wagakki Band
Another band that I didn't discover through anime, although I suppose you could say it was an indirect connection since I stumbled across them randomly while binge-listening to Stereopony. Basically, they combine modern rock and metal with traditional Japanese instruments, and let me tell you, the result is mind-blowing. Check them out for yourself here.

There are lots of other cool bands with great anime theme songs, of course, but these have been my standout favorites so far. What are some of yours?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Anime Roundup: Delusional Self-Confidence Edition

Well hey, look, this time around I managed to wait a whole thirteen weeks before writing another Anime Roundup post! One big reason for that, of course, is that I've been distracted by the fourth installment of the Joel Suzuki series (you may have heard about it). But that doesn't mean I haven't been watching tons of anime in the meantime. So, hajimemashou!

(Remember, these aren't reviews, they're just my personal thoughts and opinions. Your experiences may vary.)

Category S: Loved Them So Much That Once I Got Going I Couldn't Stop

Aggretsuko: We Wish You a Metal Christmas
I was super stoked when I heard that this - a one-shot Christmas special - was coming out. And now that it's been out, I've watched it SIX SEVEN TIMES already, and each time I still laugh at the same parts. I'm telling you, it's sheer genius. Although, at about 22 minutes, it was a little short in my opinion. Of course, that's because I could probably watch hours and hours of this show on end and not get bored. I described it to one of my friends as "like if South Park and Hello Kitty had a daughter." I cannot wait for Season Two. My favorite moment from the Christmas special (among the many) is the exchange between Haida and Fenneko when they say "isn't that the mackerel in miso sauce you get from the convenience store for 258 yen? I love that stuff! Yeah, it's good stuff." Trust me, it's hilarious in context. Also funny: "we're gonna get a complaint from Instagram."

I'll admit, this show was a slow burn. Unlike other S-rankers like Aggretsuko and Soul Eater, I didn't fall in love with it right away, especially because of its penchant for spending nearly half of each episode recapping what happened in the previous episode (I understand the need for this when it was a weekly serial, but it makes binging it kind of tedious). To be fair, this practice tapered off as the seasons went along. Also, it got more and more exciting as new characters were introduced and the world-building really started to ramp up. I originally had access to six seasons on Netflix, but then when I was about near the end of Season Two, they were all removed! After that, I spent a few weeks with a Naruto-sized hole in my life that really gave credence to the whole "absence makes the heart grow fonder" thing. Fortunately, Netflix saw fit to replace it later, albeit with just five seasons instead of six. I resumed my binging from there and also made sure to add the myriad of Naruto movies (of which I've now seen three) to my list. Surprisingly, that wasn't the moment that I decided to promote this show to "S" rank - that moment was when I caught myself reading Naruto trivia on the Internet because I couldn't wait to find out whether Naruto ever becomes the Hokage or not. Final thought: I know he's just an anime character, but I find his delusional self-confidence to be very inspiring.

Previous category S shows: Bleach, The Devil is a Part-Timer, Perfect Blue (movie), Death Note, Aggretsuko (of course), Sword Art Online, Soul Eater, One Punch Man (season 2 coming April 2019 - Netflix, please say you will have it)

Category A: Didn't Love-Love Them, But Liked Them Well Enough

Tiger and Bunny
A superhero show whose main character is a single dad trying to hold on to the glory of his early days while surrounded by younger teammates who basically treat him with contempt? Yes please. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments, including every time Kotetsu (the aforementioned main character) calls his new partner "Bunny."

Little Witch Academia
If you've ever asked yourself "what if Hogwarts was an all-girls school where everyone spoke Japanese?" then this show is your answer. It's totemo kawaii (very cute) but it has a slight winking edge to it that keeps it from being too sugary. I love Akko's various expressions and the fact that she can't ride a broom. In fact, being sort of a Muggle, she's not very good at magic altogether, but, like Naruto, she has an inspiring amount of delusional self-confidence.

Forest of Piano
After Your lie in April was done, I guess I needed another piano-related show to watch, so Netflix suggested this one. And it was good! Thanks to this show, I memorized one of my first non-number kanji characters, for the word "forest" (it basically looks like three trees). Season two is supposedly coming out later this month, so yay.

Lost Song
Okay, these comments are going to be a bit spoiler-y, so if you don't want to know, skip down to the next section.

All right, so this show starts off innocently enough. Like, you're pretty sure you know what you're getting, which is sort of a standard coming-of-age tale in a semi-medieval/fantasy setting that involves music as magic (hey, that idea sounds familiar). But then, about halfway through, it totally flips stuff around and messes with your mind to the extent that I was yelling "whoa, no way!" over and over again at my TV. Everything that you thought you knew about the show changes, and it's amazing. I was a bit disappointed when it was over after only 12 episodes, but it ended in a way that felt right - like, it was really the only way the story could end, and it happened at the proper moment. I don't think there's going to be another season, but I've heard that there might be a related project in the works.

Previous category A shows: Blue Exorcist, Your lie in April, Flavors of Youth (movie), Devilman Crybaby, Ouran High School Host Club

Category B: Tried To Get Into Them But Just Couldn't For Some Reason; Might Try Again Someday

Hey, guess what - there are no Category B shows this time around! The reason? My guess is that it's either: (1) Everything I tried watching held my interest from the get-go; (2) I was a little more patient and stuck around longer than in the past; or (3) The more anime I watch, the more I can kind of see where a particular show is trying to go with its direction, if that makes any sense. I think it's probably a combination of the three. With that in mind, I'm sure I'll be giving the previous category B shows (listed below) another chance one of these days - that is, if I haven't already found tons of other stuff to try (a distinct possibility).

Previous category B shows: The Disastrous Life of Saiki K., Children of the Whales, Seven Deadly Sins, Fullmetal Alchemist, Kill La Kill, Violet Evergarden, Gurren Lagaan, Attack on Titan

Coming up next week: yet another roundup post!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Movie Roundup: Make-Believe Edition

If you've read the "Year In Review" post from a couple of weeks ago, then you know that I've been a little busy over the last few months. And when you're busy like that, then something's got to give. In my case, one of those things has been going out to the movies. There's been a lot of movies coming out that I've wanted to see, but it's just been a real challenge to find a three-hour-ish block of time in which to leave the house and get that accomplished.

In the meantime, Hollywood has been cranking these things out like there's no tomorrow. And since it's now been six months(!) since the last edition of Movie Roundup, I figured I'd better do a post now before the backlog becomes too large. But how can I do that when I haven't seen the movies in question, you ask? Well, that's where my skill as an author (i.e., professional maker-up-of-things) comes in handy! I'll simply talk about these movies as if I'd seen them, and then when they come out on home video or streaming or cable TV after what feels like a ridiculously short amount of time, I can try to watch them then and see if my actual reactions match what I expected them to be.

As with previous Movie Roundup posts, these are not really reviews, they're just my random thoughts. What will be different this time around, though, is that there won't be any spoilers as such, since I haven't seen the movie I'm offering random thoughts on. Or will there? Oh, and I actually have seen a few of these, so see if you can guess which ones they are. Here we go!

Ant Man and the Wasp
The first Ant-Man movie was actually, at one point, my second-favorite MCU film, so I was pretty stoked to see this one. And for the most part, it didn't disappoint. It was cool to see a separate, standalone adventure that wasn't really connected to the events of Infinity War (at least until the end). Speaking of which, I would say that after adding Infinity War, Black Panther, and this movie to the MCU list, this one probably now slots in somewhere around number nine or so.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies
I love this show. Felicity and I even liveblogged an episode of it back in 2014. It's probably the most enjoyable offering by DC, especially with the way it makes fun of itself (although it may have some competition from the Harley Quinn cartoon, the trailer for which I could not stop watching when it came out in October.) So, a feature-length version? Yes please! Okay, yeah, that totally sounds like I haven't gotten around to watching this yet.

Bohemian Rhapsody
My list of best male rock singers of all time - as far as sheer technical prowess is concerned, at least - probably goes something like: (4) Geoff Tate, (3) Steve Perry, (2) Chris Cornell, (1) Freddie Mercury.

Solo: A Star Wars Story
I enjoyed this one a lot more than I was expecting. I especially loved how they retconned the mixed pronunciations of "Han." Also, the alternative version of the usual Star Wars line  "I have a bad feeling about this" put a stupid grin on my face.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Hey, so they took my suggestion to cast Jamie Campbell Bower as Grindelwald! Johnny Depp is still there too, though. Oh well. By the way, if Grindelwald has heterochromia, does that mean he could be a mutant?

I Kill Giants
The film adaptation of one of my all-time favorite graphic novels. I thought they did a great job, especially with the casting. Naturally, there were some pretty big changes (I followed along by reading the graphic novel as I watched the movie), but they were necessary and well-executed for the most part. It probably helped that the author of the graphic novel also wrote the screenplay for the film. Totally deserving of more attention, in my opinion.

Ralph Breaks the Internet
As you probably already know, I'm a sucker for meta, so that scene with all the Disney Princesses was epic.

They actually figured out a way to get the iconic green-and-orange/gold outfit in there! I was thinking that maybe they were going to eschew it completely and just have Jason Momoa go shirtless throughout the whole thing.

Pretty silly overall, but still fun. I guess you really don't need Spider-Man to make a Venom movie work.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Speaking of Spider-Man, I...okay, I admit, I haven't seen this one yet. But I really want to. The idea of Peter Parker as a grumpy, middle-aged divorcee is both awesome and hilarious.

Whew! So now we're all caught up. Sort of, anyway. The next edition of Movie Roundup will include two movies that I guarantee I will be seeing no matter what, even if I have to ask Joel to perform some time travel magic: Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Tokusatsu Roundup

One of the cool things about growing up in Honolulu in the 1970s was the presence of the original KIKU-TV, a local independent television station that broadcasted shows from Japan (to this day, I still remember the station ID message: a cheerful woman's voice saying "K-I-K-U TV. Kee-koo! Nihongo Terebi desu"). Thankfully, the various shows would normally be subtitled in English so that those of us who didn't know Japanese that well - which was the majority of people on the island - could understand them.

A fair amount of these shows were of a genre known as "tokusatsu," which basically meant live-action programs that made heavy use of special - or as special as they could get in the 1970s - effects. Godzilla might be the most famous representative of this genre, but for us Hawaii kids at the time, the favorites were a bunch of superhero serials that typically involved a good guy/girl/robot in a mask battling a large evil organization that invariably sent a different monster-of-the-week out every episode to wreak havoc on the world. Here's a list of my - and probably any current middle-aged Hawaii alum's - favorites:

This is the big one. The influence and impact that this show had on my life rivals that of Star Wars. And I wasn't alone. It was so popular that a live stage show featuring unknown actors wearing costumes from the program sold out the local concert hall. The hero was an android named Jiro (pronounced "Jee-roh," rhymes with "hero") who was created to battle a large evil organization of other androids. The problem was, since he was built in the evil organization's lab and wasn't quite fully completed yet, he was susceptible to turning evil himself. Now, doesn't that sound like fun? In a possible foreshadowing of my future career as a performing musician, one day during kindergarten class my five-year-old self spontaneously volunteered to get up in front of my classmates and sing the show's theme song - in Japanese - in its entirety. It wasn't an assignment or anything like that (in fact, I think I may have interrupted the teacher's actual agenda), it was just something I felt compelled to do on the spur of the moment. Also, Jiro used to announce his appearance to the bad guys by playing a little tune on a guitar, an instrument with which I would become very familiar during the ensuing years.

Kikaida 01
Not quite as influential as his predecessor (and younger brother, in the show's continuity), "01" was still awesome nonetheless. I recall one of my friends making a replica of 01's chest-machine-sash-thingy out of plastic and spare parts and being so jealous. 01, or Ichiro, as he was called, used to announce his appearance to the bad guys by playing a trumpet, an instrument that I ended up playing in middle and high school band.

Kamen Rider V3
They never really showed the original Kamen Rider - V3 is the sequel series - in Hawaii, but it didn't matter, because V3 was amazing. Before each episode, the actor playing the main character would do this thing where he would spin around in a chair to face the audience and then launch into what basically amounted to a "don't try this at home, kids" kind of disclaimer. From that point on through the remainder of my childhood, whenever I encountered a spinning desk chair, I would proceed to replicate this action to a frighteningly accurate degree. Also, in high school, our school band (which I played trumpet in, see above) would perform an instrumental version of the show's theme song at football games, a fact that could possibly explain why our team would always do so well (they won the state championship in '84).

Think these guys look familiar? Kind of like the Power Rangers? Well, they - Gorenja - were the original. My favorite one was the Blue Ranger ("Aorenja"), although the Yellow Ranger ("Kirenja") did influence me to eat ridiculous amounts of Japanese curry at the time. And now I'm hungry.

Ultra 7
Another one where, like Kamen Rider V3, the sequel was shown in Hawaii but not so much the original (which was, in this case, Ultraman). It didn't matter, though, because - also like V3 - it was extremely popular nonetheless.

I loved this show too, but there was a small amount of trauma involved when I saw that the "human" identity of the title character was played by the same actor who played Jiro in Kikaida. I mean, you know, when you're a kid, you want to believe that this stuff is real, so seeing the "main guy" from the "main show" doing something on the side like this (actually, this gig came after Kikaida finished its original run) is just a little jarring. I wonder if young Harry Potter fans had the same reaction when Dan Radcliffe starred in The Woman in Black?

Speaking of trauma, my strongest memory of this show - potential spoiler alert - is one of the title character, a large robot, dying in the arms of his human handler and then the series coming to an end at that point. I'm not really sure if that's how it actually ended or not - cursory research seems to indicate that it's not - but I swear, that's how I remember it. Who knows, maybe KIKU just abruptly cancelled it for whatever reason. I guess I might just have to dig up some DVDs of the show or something.

Those seven were probably my main favorites, but there were more, like Robocon, Diamond Eye, Rainbowman, and Akumaizer 3. I also enjoyed some of KIKU's non-tokusatsu fare, like an anime about a child monk named Ikkyu-san and a jidaigeki ("period drama") called Toyama no Kin-San in which the title character - a samurai/magistrate - would pose as a commoner or petty thief in order to catch the bad guys and solve crimes (while in disguise, his samurai topknot would be askew, but then it would be straight when he was his "real" self, which I found both amusing and ingenious).

Anyway, that's enough nostalgia for one week. Tune in next time when I'll be doing the second installment of what I intend to be a series of four consecutive Roundup posts (unless some other shiny topic happens to distract me at the time). Until then, mata ne (Japanese for "see you later")!