The Eve

The end of the year draws near.

Ever since I’ve lived in Japan, I’ve always enjoyed celebrating New Year’s Eve in a quiet (and what I think is a relatively traditional) way. It’s late in the afternoon, and my wife is preparing lots of good food for dinner — in years past we’ve often just picked up a feast from the Seibu depachika, but this year we decided to cook instead.

The evening usually goes this way: We start eating (and drinking) as NHK’s Kohaku kicks off the evening of TV programming. The Eve is a ratings bonanza for all the networks, and they all have very big specials that run through the night. In years past I’ve given myself the duty of live tweetingKohaku, but I don’t think I’ll do that this year.

But you never know.

When it gets to about an hour or so before the changeover, we slurp up some soba, as is the tradition. After midnight, we head out to one of our local shrines or temples for a New Year “prayer,” bringing the pooch along.

The next couple of days are then filled with eating, drinking, relaxing in the futon, while reading, gaming, and watching various things on TV (or on my iPad). It’s also fun walking around the neighborhood during this time — it’s really the only time of the year that the city really shuts down.

So let’s end this year, and see you on the other side.

Holiday Break

My holidays start… here.

As I’ve probably written on this blog a bunch of times over the years, Christmas isn’t much of thing here in Japan — and in fact I was at the office on that very day — but the New Year is. That means that PechaKucha HQ — located within the KDa office — is closed next week, and so I’m on the holiday break as of today.

So what have I done so far?

I always enjoy getting a slow start on Saturdays, having coffee while still in the futon, reading various things on my iPad. It just becomes that much sweeter when you know that you have a week of doing this every day ahead of you.

I’ve been enjoying some of the year-end issues — Entertainment Weekly, Time, and Huffington — and for no particular reason, I accompanied it with the 80s radio station on Spotify. Made for a nice contrast: Scenes of Sandy, Obama, and Gangnam Style, to the sounds of Tear for Fears and Flock of Seagulls.

This morning’s gaming was mostly taken up by Into the Dead and Northmark on iPad, and later, while I was out and about, I played some Spectromancer on iPhone (one of my favorite games this year, although I usually play it on iPad).

I was very late with it, but I finally posted the list of attendees from this past month’s edition ofPauseTalk (Vol. 66). That’s what the holidays are for, right?

My next mission is to finish my annual “favorite media of the year” post, which I’ll then follow up with a couple of episodes of the Codex for my favorite tracks and favorite albums.

But first up, I think a nice cold stout is in order.

Favorite Media of 2012

This is what I liked this year. The most.

Every year (2010, 2011) I prepare a list of my favorite media, covering games, movies, TV shows, comics, and music — I skip books because I don’t feel like I read enough books in a year. Also, I am a bit loose in terms of when things were released — for the most part, these are things that did in fact come out in 2012, but I don’t mind highlighting things that came out the year before, but that I only got around to experiencing this year. And there’s of course a lot — especially in games and movies –that has come out in the latter part of the year that I have yet to experience. But who cares, in the end, you have to keep in mind that I’m not saying that this is the best that has come out this year, simply that these are some of my favorite things (what I could remember) in media that entertained me the most.

For each category I have a top 5 — listed alphabetically — followed by a few honorable mentions.

Favorite Games
This year I started being patient in terms of major releases, opting to wait for them to go on sale, and so a lot of what I played came out late last year — and there’s of course a lot that has come out this fall (like Dishonored and Far Cry 3) that I have yet to play. I list the platform that I played the game on — some of these are multi-platform releases.

  • Gravity Rush (PS Vita)
  • Journey (PS3)
  • Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360)
  • Sound Shapes (PS Vita)
  • The Walking Dead (iPad)

Honorable MentionsAssassin’s Creed: Revelations (Xbox 360), Asura’s Wrath (Xbox 360), Binary Domain(PS3), Dyad (PS3), Lumines: Electric Symphony (PS Vita), Max Payne 3 (Xbox 360), PixelJunk SideScroller(PS3), Rayman Origins (PS Vita)

Favorite iOS Games
Since I don’t think it’s fair to compare most iOS games to bigger budget consoles games, here’s a separate category for them — although I don’t include The Walking Dead, which I played on iPad (as I do all Telltale Games), since it’s a multi-platform release and it’s just one of the best games of the year, no matter the platform.

  • Groove Coaster Zero
  • Letterpress
  • Rayman Jungle Run
  • Spectromancer
  • Symphonica

Honorable MentionsInto the Dead, Law & Order: LegaciesMagic 2013Need for Speed: Most WantedTheatrerhythm Final FantasyThe World Ends With You: Solo Remix

Favorite TV
Yes, we are indeed in the midst of a golden age of TV, and it was rather difficult to narrow things down to a top 5.

  • Breaking Bad
  • Downton Abbey
  • Game of Thrones
  • Louie
  • Mad Men

Honorable Mentions: Boardwalk EmpireDexterGirls, Glee, Justified, Life’s Too Short, Parks & Recreation,ShamelessSherlockSons of Anarchy, Spartacus: Vengeance, The BridgeThe Walking Dead (3rd season), Wilfred

Favorite Movies
This is one of the categories where there’s tons of great films not included because they came out in the last few months.

  • Intouchables
  • Looper
  • Prometheus
  • Safety Not Guaranteed
  • Skyfall

Honorable MentionsDreddJeff Who Lives at HomeMagic MikeMoonrise KingdomRuby SparksThe Dark Knight RisesTotal RecallYour Sister’s Sister

Favorite Comics
When it comes to comics, as I go through lists of recommended stuff from 2012, I always encounter tons of stuff I didn’t read and that I will need to get to as soon as possible. I include James Kochalka’s American Elf, a web comic, because it’s been one of my favorite reads for years, and I’m very saddened that he’s ending it on December 31.

  • American Elf
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Hawkeye
  • Saga
  • The Massive

Honorable MentionsFriends With BoysParker: The Score, Raising RachelSweet ToothThe Walking DeadThief of Thieves

Favorite Tracks
It’s always so difficult to narrow this down — as listeners of my Codex podcast will know, this could go on for longer. And how about that, two singles called “Default.” Stay tuned for upcoming episodes of the Codex in which I’ll highlight these tracks and the albums below.

  • “Barely Standing (feat. Datsik & Sabi) (Diplo)
  • “Comeback Kid” (Sleigh Bells)
  • “Default” (Atoms for Peace)
  • “Default” (Django Django)
  • “Terrorist Threats (feat. Danny Brown & Jhene Aiko)” (Ab-Soul)

Honorable Mentions: “All of Me” (Tanlines), “Counter Charm (feat. Gaspar Claus)” (She Keeps Bees), “Honeycomb” (Animal Collective), “Hospitality” (Betty Wang), “I Want More (Viv Albertine), “Lens” (Mike Wexler), “Money Makin’” (A-Trak, Dillon Francis), “Nerve Damage!” (Unknown Mortal Orchestra), “No Love” (Hooray for Earth), “Sinful Nature” (Bear in Heaven)

Favorite Albums
When it comes to favorite albums, there are tracks off some of these that I could also include in my favorite tracks list, but I prefer not to do so — I feel like these albums go beyond singles, and are worthy of being enjoyed as a whole.

  • Channel Orange (Frank Ocean)
  • Cyrk (Cate le Bon)
  • Love This Giant (David Byrne & St. Vincent)
  • Sun (Cat Power)
  • Visions (Grimes)

Honorable Mentions: Happy to You (Miike Snow), June 2009 (Toro y Moi), Love at the Bottom of the Sea(The Magnetic Fields), Something (Chairlift), Spooky Action at a Distance (Lotus Plaza), The Only Place(Best Coast), The Sparrow (Lawrence Arabia), Traps (Jaill)

The New PechaKucha Website

The new PechaKucha website is now live.

It’s been live for a few days now, and I hope you all take some time over the holidays to check it out, and see what we’ve been up to for a good part of the past year, and take in a few presentations.

It’s a drastic re-imagining of our web presence, and something that was very much due — the previous site, built 4-5 years ago, wasn’t up to dealing with today’s ultra-sharable and mobile landscape. We worked with Chicago’s Firebelly and Table XI on the project, which was a fantastic experience — on my end, I dealt more closely with Table XI (the company behind the site’s programming), and offer big thanks to Mark Rickmeier and Melissa Sevilla for dealing with my constant stream of comments and feedback.

The look of the site is in good part due to the amazing work of Luis Mendo, who not only acts as our PechaKucha design director, but is a constant supplier of good vibes and comforting (for those times when things aren’t going the way we want them to).

And although it doesn’t need to be said, I of course thank Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham for not only inviting me on this crazy ride four years ago, but for also making me feel like I’m truly part of this grand adventure of ours.

There’s lots to take in with the new site, from stronger use of imagery throughout, more emphasis onsharing presentations online, and the introduction of “Channels.” You’ll also now find a “Presentation of the Day” featured on the front page of the site — today we mark the anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by highlighting a presentation that looks at the reconstruction efforts that followed that terrible disaster.

And this is just the start — wait till you see what’s coming in 2013.

A Merry PechaKucha Christmas

Let’s have a Merry PechaKucha Christmas.

The other day I wrote about how I’m not very Christmas-y here in Japan, but we’ve decided to have a bit of Christmas fun with this month’s PechaKucha Night here in Tokyo. We usually skip December — so many people are away — but this year we decided to do an event, and it will happen a bit earlier than usual — not on the last Wednesday, but rather this Wednesday (December 19) — so that we can beat Christmas.

You can expect a regular night of PechaKucha presentations, but we’re also going to have a few Christmas-related ones, as well as some fun with the atmosphere — I’m putting together a Christmas playlist, and the walls will be on fire (or at least covered in video of yule logs) — and a special drink or two on the menu. And yes, we’ll have a “PechaKucha Mix” improv presentation, and it will be festive.

Oh, and I’m going to present too.

When I was back home in August for a visit I ended up taking part in my hometown’s PechaKucha Night series, and did a presentation that tries to explain what I’ve been up to these last 15 years (since coming to Asia). I’ll be doing that presentation again.

So PechaKucha Night Vol. 98 (and here’s our Facebook event page), at our loving home ofSuperDeluxe as always, with doors opening at 19:00, presentations starting at 20:20, and a door charge of 1000 yen.

And this week will also see another VERY big development in PechaKuchaland. More on that soon…

A Codex Christmas

The Codex is going Christmas-y for a second time.

Two years ago, in the very early days of the Codex — my almost weekly podcast — I recorded a Christmas episode, and I’ve decided to do another one.

I don’t even celebrate Christmas here in Tokyo.

I’ve tried a few times, me and my wife talking about getting some decorations for our home, and we always just end up… not doing it.

We don’t actively decide not to do it, we just… don’t.

But I still always try to get a bit of a Christmas spirit going in other ways. I listen to some Christmas music, watch two Christmas TV specials — A Charlie Brown Christmas and Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean — and then always receive this reminder from my dad.

This is pretty much as Christmas-y as I get. Bah humbug.

Falling for Skyfall

I saw Skyfall, and I loved it.

I was quite nervous going in, afraid the film wouldn’t live up to the extended — and, frankly, ridiculous — anticipation I’ve been fueling for the past few months. But it was great.

Truly great.

I loved the story, the pacing, the characters, the cinematography — dude, that Shanghai assassination sequence, come on — the nods to the old films, and the new status quo introduced at the end of the film.

Oh, and can we just let Sam Mendes direct all Bond film from now on?

It was also my first time seeing a film in IMAX — I may have been to an IMAX theater back in the days when they only showed documentaries, but not quite sure — and I couldn’t have picked a better film to start with. Seeing the film on such a large screen with that level of audio, well, it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

My next mission: To watch Skyfall again.