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...