I’ve admittedly — and strangely — never read a novel by Haruki Murakami. You’d think I would have by now, and I’ve certainly had the intention of doing so many a time over the years, but it’s something I’ve yet to do. I have finally read my first piece of fiction by him though.
Last week’s issue of The New Yorker — which I read through Apple News+ — featured a short story by him, and so I figured this would finally be my entry into his style of writing. And I liked it.
The story, “Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,” tells the surreal tale of a man who meets up with a talking monkey in an onsen town, and over one evening shares a drink, listening to his strange musings on life as a talking monkey. It’s quite enjoyable, and reads quite smoothly and fast.
I do have quite a few books lined up currently — yes, I’m still on my quest to increase the number of books I read — but I do want to read one of his novels before the year is out.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most in recent years since moving to Montreal is becoming a frequent user of the public library system, just like I did when I was a kid. More specifically, this got me back into reading French comics (bandes-dessinées), which I had a bit drifted away from over the years because of my lack of access (while living in Japan). So the past couple of years have seen me not only discovering plenty of new series, but also catching up on some, or going back and re-reading a few (or a mix of all of these).
When the quarantine period hit Montreal, I definitely started missing my close-to-weekly library visits, to get a haul of books, but then a few weeks ago I remembered that they also offer digital lending, and have been back at reading my dear bandes-dessinées. Sure, the digital collection on offer is restrained, but I’m still finding plenty to read, and in this post I’ll just highlight one series I’m glad I can continue reading.
Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche is a series by Alain Dodier that started in 1985, and is currently at 27 books, the last one released over the past year. It tells the story of a private detective who takes on, for the most part, pretty mundane cases. But the stories are really well told, fun to read, and I like the setting (Paris) and the character (doesn’t take things too serious, often to the detriment of making a decent living). It’s slice-of-life stuff mixed with various levels of mystery, and I really enjoy it. Although I remembered the name, I can’t remember if I really read any of the books when I was younger, but after reading the most recent books, I decided to go back and read it from the start, and just finished the 15th one. Highly recommended if you read French — although it’s quite possible that it’s been translated to English.
What I describe below is a mix of movies, documentaries, and TV shows that I watched throughout the day yesterday (a Saturday), and I’m just now realizing that in order to watch all of this, I had to use four different streaming services (Apple TV+, Netflix, NHK World, and Prime Video), which again, suggests that all of these services existing is just not sustainable in the long run. At least two of them are free (NHK World, and Apple TV+ since I got a year trial when I got my iPhone XR earlier this year).
It really is hard to describe just how much enjoyment I got out of watching Beastie Boys Story. It’s such a great way to tell a story (through a recorded theatre performance), and I was constantly reminded (emotionally so) just how much love I’ve had for this band my entire life. Check Your Head is still one of my favorite albums of all time, and probably the album I’ve listened to the most (yes, even more than the Pixies). When I moved to Tokyo in May of 1998, Hello Nasty was released that summer, and it was my soundtrack to this new life in the greatest city on Earth.
Extraction on Netflix is surprisingly good. It’s packed with energetic and really well put together action sequences. I’m not usually a big fan of shaky cams, but there were some great no-cut shots done here done in that style that were exciting to watch. It’s certainly one of the better action movies I’ve seen in recent years. Bonus points for the inclusion of Golshifteh Farahani, who I want to see in way more movies.
I finally watched that Sturgill Simpson Presents Sound & Fury thing on Netflix. It has some cool anime sequences (the reason I wanted to watch it), but it’s basically a 40-minute music video, and I couldn’t stand the music (I really don’t like country music), which made it a chore to watch.
I restarted watching the second season of The Expanse for the umpteenth time, and I think I’ve finally gotten hooked — I ended up watching the first four episodes back-to-back. I’ve had a weird relationship with this show — I always felt like I should love it, but never managed to.
There’s a very candid documentary series on NHK World called 10 Years with Hayao Miyazaki (I think in four parts). I watched the first episode, which covers the period when he started working on Ponyo. I quite enjoyed it — there’s something about the NHK style of doing documentaries that feels so serene — and I look forward to watching the rest.
“On Something” is a series of posts in which I tackle various topics, this time anime. You’ll find full archives here.
Over the last couple of years I started checking in on new anime TV seasons again — in Japan, TV goes through four seasons — and writing up posts about the shows I was interested in watching. I skipped the last couple of seasons, but recently found myself in the mood to watch some new anime, and luckily it coincided with the start of the spring 2020 season. Below is what I checked out and what I thought of the first episodes (based on this Twitter thread I shared). Since then, I’m still watching everything except Listeners.
Sing “Yesterday” to Me is what you’d describe as slice-of-life, and I quite liked this first episode (as well as the two that followed). It revolves around characters who have just graduated from university, and how they reconnect a few months later. Good drama, and I’ll keep watching.
Kakushigoto is about a dad who creates dirty manga, and wants to keep it a secret from his daughter. It’s a comedy, and pretty screwball at that. I had fun watching it (real laughs), and will give it some more episodes.
Tower of God is fantasy wrapped in a mystery, about a boy stuck in a tower, and to get out (or to reach the top) he needs to pass tests — the second test starts looking like Hunger Games (with plenty of other characters taking part). I was intrigued enough to want to want to continue, and now that I’m three episodes in I’m not sure if I’ll continue.
Listeners is a bit of a weird one. It’s a mech anime, but with a strong music theme, in that the mechs are transformed from what look like music amps, they fight an “audience” of the “Earless,” etc. I liked the first episode fine, but after three episodes I felt like I had enough.
Sol Levante is a new 4-minute short commissioned by Netflix from Production I.G, to showcase 4K HDR animation. It’s absolutely stunning, and I hope they do more with this.
The Millionaire Detective Balance: Unlimited is about a billionaire who decides to join a police force, using his substantial financial resources as he investigates/tries to stop baddies. The first two episodes were pretty good, and I want to watch more.
Wave, Listen to Me takes place in Hokkaido, and is the wacky story of a woman who ends up doing a radio show. The first episode jumps weirdly — in terms of narrative — but the main character is incredibly voiced. I had a lot of fun watching it, and three episodes in I’m still really enjoying it.
Woodpecker Detective’s Office is a detective series set in the Meiji era. From the first episode, I’m especially digging the setting — the mystery aspect is slow to start. I really was in the mood for a mystery/detective series, so hoping this will be good (only one episode has aired so far).
“On Something” is a series of posts in which I tackle various topics, this time board games. You’ll find full archives here.
You’d think that one of the gaming hobbies most affected by the current outbreak would be board games — and it’s certainly an activity that I enjoy in good part because I like the social aspect of sitting around a table and playing something together with friends. And yes, as I look at my shelves filled with games (although most of my collection is located at work, since that’s where I play them the most, I had started bringing some back from the studio in the weeks prior to our new work-from-home reality), it does make me a bit sad that I’m not playing at lunch time as I normally would.
Enter virtual online-based board games.
Sure, they’re not new, but I had never really had any interest in exploring these services/apps — because of what I just mentioned above — but the current situation has me thankful they exist. The three best options that I know of (if you don’t count board games that have specific video game adaptations) are Board Game Arena, Tabletop Simulator, and Tabletopia — this last one the service I’ve been using for the sessions I’ve played. The browser-based Board Game Arena doesn’t look as good as the other services, but it has the advantage of having “programmed rules” set in place to run games — the other two are simply virtual worlds filled with the components, and so you need to know how to play, and move everything yourself. I did want to try Board Game Arena, but the few times I tried their site was either having difficulties dealing with the load of users, or the games I wanted to play were locked behind a “premium” paywall.
(You can understand the chicken-or-the-egg situation here of not wanting to subscribe to a service that I can’t try and doesn’t seem to be accessible at all times.)
Tabletop Simulator is an app that you buy through Steam, and gives you access to all the pieces in a game, that you then need to manipulate yourself. I haven’t actually played it, but what is interesting here is that on top of the licensed games that you need buy separately to play, you also have access to a vast library of free user-created games — and that doesn’t mean user-designed, but just that users have taken existing games and scanned/uploaded them for use with the app.
The service I’ve been using is Tabletopia (playing through my browser, but there are also PC and iOS apps that you can use), which plays similarly to Tabletop Simulator (from the videos I’ve seen), except that it is run as a subscription service, with every game on the service properly licensed. There are tons of games to play for free though, and some games that are premium do let you play for free with a certain number of players. So far I’ve played a few sessions of 6-player Dice Throne and 6-player Gorus Maximus (a lunch-time favorite), and despite the fussiness that comes with trying to come to terms with the cameras and the interactions with the objects, I’ve had a great time playing. We’ve been using Discord for the voice chat, although at first we did it over Microsoft Teams.
Does all this beat playing traditional board games around a table? Fuck no, but I’m glad that it exists an option. And one very interesting aspect of these services is that it does give you a chance to try out a game, to see if you’d really like it. I’ve become a big fan of Dice Throne, and plan on buying a physical copy eventually, but I’ve also noticed that a lot of Kickstarted-games are available through Tabletopia, as a way to try the game before backing it.
I’ve been itching of late to start a new writing project on this ol’ site of mine. In recent years there was when I started blogging about Japan again, for a few months — I stopped because it was starting to bum me out to be writing about all these things that I couldn’t experience myself anymore. I think the last one was the shortlived “Game Boy” column I wrote in 2018.
I’ve always enjoyed launching projects throughout the years. I’d often kick off the year with a post on January 1 listing a few new things I was going to try. In the early years many were tied to the “Tokyo Boy” monicker I used a lot, and so you’d get stuff like TB.Grafico for a photolog, TB. Musica for music, TB.Movel when I was moblogging (wow, remember moblogging?) — I guess I had some sort of Portuguese fetish. There are also plenty of things I’d do at Cafe Pause in Tokyo — gallery shows, week-long events, and of course PauseTalk. I think the one I was saddest about ending was my online magazine, SNOW Magazine, although the favicon I use for this site is the logo that my friend Luis Mendo designed for that project.
So what next? I’ve been wanting to do more writing here, but need to find the right theme or structure to do it, an I think I’ve hit on it. Inspired by the monthly design column I wrote for The Japan Times for over a decade that was called “On Design,” which eventually inspired them to launch other columns using that nomenclature, I thought I’d write short posts about various topics I’m interested in, and so you’ll get On Games, On Comics, On Japan, On Wrestling, hell, “on” pretty much anything I feel like writing about. I’m note sure yet on the frequency (I want there to be a regular pulse though) and I’ll experiment a bit at first with the format, but you’ll be able to find them all under this category.
Oh, and what’s the name of the “project”? (I’m still calling it a “project” because I’m not sure what else to call it, as “column” doesn’t feel right.) I started writing this post still not having an idea what I wanted to call it (the umbrella title), and just typed “On Something” as the title in the meantime, and you know what, I like it.
So there you go, here’s the start of something new.
It just hit me today that five years ago this month I held what I then called the “final” edition of PauseTalk (Vol. 85) in Tokyo — here’s the post I wrote to mark that end. That event took place on March 2, 2015, and a few weeks later (on March 31) I would be leaving the city I called home for over 15 years.
Hey, do you miss running PauseTalk?
Of course I do. Not only was it a fantastic way for me to meet so many creative people over the years, it also made for a very fun and inspirational monthly outing. Imagine hanging out at a nice cafe, enjoying a few drinks, and chatting with an interesting bunch of people — how could I not miss it?
So then why, you may ask, have I never done something similar here in Montreal? There are definitely a bunch of different factors that make me feel like it wouldn’t really work here like it did in Tokyo. I’d say at the top of the list is that, because it was mostly attended by foreigners, it acted as a sort of support group for creatives based in or passing through Tokyo. But there’s also a more personal reason. For me, the events were a way to connect around and celebrate a city that inspired me and that I loved so much. I loved chatting about what was happening in Tokyo — on the cultural front — and to hear opinions from others, either as fellow residents, or through the fresh eyes of visitors. That passion for a city is just not something I feel I have here, and so organizing a PauseTalk makes no sense to me.
So, we’re never going to see another PauseTalk event?
As I wrote in that farewell post, I know better than to ever firmly close the door on anything. I was happy to “press pause” on the series when I left, as I still think it was the right thing to do — and the thing I was hoping would happen, to see others take up the mantle through creative/culture event series of their own, did in fact happen. Last year I did have the thought that on my next return to the city I would have liked to organize an edition, but that return (which happened in November of last year, as part of a business trip to attend our Rainbow Six Siege Pro League Finals) was a bit too short to be able to do something. But as Connery ended up doing in 1983, it’s usually best to never say never.
This past week I was incredibly happy and excited to receive the first issue of NJP, a new magazine by the creators of the Neojaponisme website. Full disclosure, the two masterminds behind the site (W. David Marx and Ian Lynam) are great friends of mine, and I was — if ever so slightly — involved with the launch of the original Neojaponisme website, but this is truly a thing of beauty, and I can’t recommend enough that you pick up a copy for yourself.
As I started reading the issue, as much as I was enjoying what I was taking in, I will admit that I did feel a tinge of sadness — bordering on jealousy — that I never managed to get a magazine project like this up and running. It’s no secret that I have a great love — bordering on obsession — for the medium of magazines, and it even resulted in an old website I used to run called The Magaziner. I always dreamed of producing some sort of indie magazine project, and what they’ve done with NJP is exactly the type of thing I had in mind — a beautifully designed “meaty” object with a strong theme.
But hey, at least someone is doing it, and I get to enjoy the results.
I mentioned it on the day of on Twitter/Facebook, but this past weekend — specifically February 15 — marked my 4th anniversary of working at Ubisoft here in Montreal. I’ve written in the past about how I ended up here, so what I’ll say now is that I’m just as happy working here as I was when I started. And what better way to mark this anniversary than at the Six Invitational, the culmination of all of Rainbow Six Siege‘s competitive programs — and even better the fact that it was an electrifying event.
I think the best part of my “life at Ubi” has been the opportunities I’ve been given to explore so many aspects of this industry I love so much, through the shifting roles I’ve had — from Production Coordination to Project Manager to Senior Manager, from the For Honor production team to company-wide online/live operations teams to esports. Everything I’ve experienced on all of these projects and teams has given me insights that has always translated into the next project/team I’ve embarked on, and that’s what career growth is all about.
The most important part of all this though is of course all of the amazing colleagues and teams I’ve been able to collaborate with over these four years — big hugs all around.
At the start of last year I wrote a post about wanting to read more books. As I wrote at the time, although I do a lot of reading, when it comes to getting through books proper, that was something I found myself not doing much of anymore. So I gave myself a pretty ambitious goal of getting through a couple of books a month, which I also set in my Goodreads account. Did I make it? No, but I’m still quite happy at how many books I did read (11, about to finish a 12th one as the year ended), which for me not only made me feel good about doing what I set out to do, but more importantly, also got me back in a book reading groove.
I’ll also say that I probably would have gotten closer to my goal if I hadn’t hit a couple of books that slowed me down (and that I ended up putting down) in the summer, as it then took months to get back “on the wagon.”
So what’s my goal for 2020? I’ve set it to 18, which I think is very doable — it’s just 6 more than last year, and I’m already about to finish my 2nd book this year (L.E. Hall’s book about Katamari Damacy, following Ian Fleming’s Moonraker). I also think that my plan to mostly alternate between fiction and non-fiction worked well, and so I’ll probably continue to do that.
Below, a list of the books I read in 2019, with a short write-up.
Forever and a Day (Anthony Horowitz) This was the Bond novel I was reading as the year started, telling the story of a young Bond as he becomes a 00 agent, and it was quite a good read. As with other recent Bond novels, I like that they are set in the years that Fleming wrote the original Bond novels, instead of just a modern take (which I already get out of the film series).
Maigret et le corps sans tête (Georges Simenon) I quite like murder mysteries, and it’s a genre you’ll see me revisit a lot, but I had never read a Maigret novel, and so figured it was finally time to do so. I really enjoyed this, and I like that it’s a quick read, which was good for me while I was trying to get back into the habit of reading. I definitely plan on reading another one this year, if not more. I read it in French, but I’m sure there are English translations.
Peyo l’Enchanteur (Hugues Dayez) This is a biography of Peyo, the creator of the Smurfs, and I found it to be a fascinating chronicle of his life/career. I’m sure I’ve read pretty much all of the series he’s created, but I liked finding out more about the context of when these were created. Again, this was a book I read in French, and I don’t know if it’s available in English.
The Moai Island Puzzle (Alice Arisugawa) This is one of my wife’s favorite Japanese mystery authors (and one of her favorite novels), and I’ll say that I enjoyed it immensely as well. Highly recommended if you like “closed room” mysteries — and I also enjoy the strong meta feel of the book (lots of references to the genre). One of the best mystery novels I’ve read.
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Soji Shimada) Another Japanese mystery novel, by an author who marked a big shift in the genre in Japan at the start of the eighties (he writes a great intro for The Moai Island Puzzle, in which he talks about this shift). I read a French translation, but it’s also available in English. I enjoyed Moai more, but this is still a fantastic read, and a fascinating puzzle to get though.
Final Fantasy V (Chris Kohler) I quite like the Boss Fight Books series, and have already read quite a few of them (and as I mentioned earlier, I’m currently in the middle of the Katamari Damacy one). Chris is a great writer, and this is a fantastic look at a game I’ve never played, but a series I know of-so-well.
Good Luck Have Fun: The Rise of Esports (Roland Li) I read this around the time I took on my new role at Ubisoft, and found it to be a great read on how we’ve gotten to what we have now when it comes to the world of esports. A good read if you want to know more about competitive gaming, and the major players (not necessarily current major players, but the people who helped define the scene).
Live and Let Die (Ian Fleming) About a year ago I picked up what I think is the entire Bond series in paperback form through a sale (except for Casino Royale, which wasn’t available anymore), as I figured that it’s about time I read all of these books. Yes, as much a Bond fanatic that I am, that’s always been on the movie side, and I’ve only read a few of the books over the years. So I’m reading them in chronological order, with Live and Let Die being the second Bond novel. It’s of course quite different from what we got in the movie, and there is a lot of unfortunate vocabulary that is used that certainly hasn’t aged well, but I still found myself enjoying it.
The A.B.C. Murders (Agatha Christie) Even though I haven’t read many books in recent years, I have read a few Agatha Christie novels here and there, as I discovered that I quite enjoy them. I pretty much just jump around when it comes to the one I’ll read next, selecting the ones that are considered her best. This was indeed a great read, with a great ending.