“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.
Back 10-15 years ago when I was the most active on this blog — and was mostly working as a freelancer — I used to kick off each year with a bit of a manifesto, laying out a bunch of new projects I wanted to attack that year. I haven’t done that in quite a long time — my days of organizing independent events, websites, and more are long behind me — but I’m feeling so optimistic about this year that I felt like I wanted to write something.
In terms of work, this past year was an exciting one for me, with my move mid-year to a new position (Senior Manager) and team (Esports) within the company (Ubisoft). Half a year later, I couldn’t be more excited about what I get to work on, and more importantly, everything that we want to accomplish this coming year (I of course can’t talk about it yet, but I can share my excitement).
Outside of work, this blog continues to be a place to chronicle my silly movie marathons (the latest ones were for 1989 and this year’s October horrorfest), and who knows, I might suddenly have something else I want to chronicle or write about.
So goodbye 2019, thanks for the career level up, and here’s to an even more exciting 2020 and beyond!
This marks my tenth year doing this annual reflection on my favorite media of the year, which means you can also easily see what my favorite media through the decade was (see 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018). As always, this is a look at the media released in 2019 that I was able to consume this year that I enjoyed the most — it’s not a “best” list, and of course it doesn’t include all of the things that were released this year that I haven’t yet had a chance to check out, and that might have made the list if I did. Instead, take it as a big ol’ recommendation list of stuff that came out this past year that I liked, and so you might like it too. Each category kicks off with an alphabetical top 5, and then I include a few honorable mentions if there are other things I would like to highlight.
Favorite Games I feel like I don’t have as many games in this category as in past years, but I think this is also a reflection of me spending more time playing fewer games. That’s especially the case with Destiny 2 — I could have listed the Shadowkeep expansion to indicate a 2019 release, but instead, I’ve decided to include a “live” game for the first time in my year-end list, since that’s how I’m consuming it (playing through the seasons, etc.) Sayonara Wild Hearts is included here and not in mobile because the best experience of this game for me was through Apple TV with a controller. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe for me was such a revelation because it was the first time I played a Mario game completely in co-op (with two colleagues at work), and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing a Mario game.
Destiny 2 (Stadia)
Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch)
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (Switch)
Sayonara Wild Hearts (Apple TV)
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)
Honorable Mentions: Death Stranding (PS4), Far Cry New Dawn (PS4), Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch), Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch), Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 (PS4)
Favorite Mobile Games This is a category that comes and goes, as some years I see myself barely playing anything on mobile (and the stuff that I do play is usually on iPad, although my new iPhone XR has me enjoying playing games on a phone again). This year of course marked the introduction of Apple Arcade, and that got me back into playing mobile games in a big way. Below are my favorites so far, but there are still loads of games I haven’t had a chance to properly play yet.
Assemble with Care
LEGO Builder’s Journey
What the Golf?
Honorable Mentions: Card of Darkness, Guildlings, Rayman Mini, Sky: Children of the Light, Steven Universe: Unleash the Light, Tangle Tower, Yaga the Roleplaying Folktale
Favorite Board Games I introduced this category last year — following my re-entry into having a board game collection (after the purge I did when I left Japan) — and again, I include games from 2018 (that I didn’t include last year) and 2019, since I feel like board game releases are a bit of a slower thing, especially with the way Kickstarter is used.
Architects of the West Kingdom
Detective: LA Crimes
Magic: The Gathering
Honorable Mentions: Hokkaido, Raids, Tower of Madness
Favorite Movies Since I spend so much time watching older movies, I do tend to have more trouble coming up with movies that are new releases — and even for this list, six of the titles included I ended up watching over the past week, as I tried to play catch up with 2019 releases. As a bonus, I include my top 5 of movies released in 1989.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The Art of Self-Defence
Honorable Mentions: Alita: Battle Angel, Avengers: Endgame, John Wick 3: Parabellum, Joker, Klaus, Midsommar, Missing Link, Ready or Not, Us
Favorite Movies of 1989
Dead Poets Society
Do the Right Thing
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Patlabor: The Movie
Favorite TV No big surprise, but this year was again a fantastic one for TV. And yes, for the time I’m including a wrestling show — this year marked my return to wrestling fandom in a big way, thanks to the new AEW league, which is absolutely my favorite thing to watch on a weekly basis (and the only one of these shows I watch live).
Formula 1: Drive to Survive
What We Do in the Shadows
Honorable Mentions: Black Mirror, GameCenter-CX, Game of Thrones, Fleabag, Jack Ryan, John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch, Killing Eve, Love Death + Robots, Patriot Act, Russian Doll, Saturday Night Live, Shameless, Star Trek Discovery, Stranger Things 3, The Boys, The Twilight Zone, The Umbrella Academy, The Witcher, Watchmen
Favorite Web Series This is another category I introduced in recent years, and this year I feel like my consumption of web shows/content really did explode. And yes, wrestling content takes up a lot of space, with both the AEW and NWA weekly web shows in my top 5, as well as the Being the Elite series, that I binged to completion this year as I played catch up, and then a couple of more channels I follow regularly included in the honorable mentions.
Favorite Music This is a really weird year in music for me. I did listen to a lot of new stuff, but I didn’t really spend a lot of time with most of those records, and so didn’t develop a lot of “loves.” I think it’s telling that according to Apple Music, my top 20 of most played tracks was entirely composed of hard bop — it’s definitely what I listened to the most this past year, and I continue to do so. And in the lead-up to my trip to Japan in November, I spent a month or two pretty much listening exclusively to my old Shibuya-kei favorites (Pizzicato Five, Cornelius, etc.) One of my new year resolutions is definitely to spend more time taking in new music.
Flamagra (Flying Lotus)
I Know You Like It (Shinichiro Yokota)
Reward (Cate Le Bon)
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (Billie Eilish)
Honorable Mentions: Beat Tape 09 (Eevee), Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police (Juliana Hatfield), Ladytron (Ladytron), Outer Peace (Toro y Moi)
Favorite Comics For the first time, I don’t include any honorable mentions in my comics list, and that’s telling. My interest in BDs (bandes-dessinées, or French comics) continues to eclipse my interest in comics, and I’ve seen my weekly reading list go down and down throughout the year. The absolute highpoint is Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X series, my favorite comics in years (at least since Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four and Avengers). Dawn of X refers to all of the separate Hickman-curated titles that have launched in its wake (X-Men, New Mutants, X-Force, Excalibur, Fallen Angels, Marauders), which I’m not as enthusiastic about, but still find them to be quite enjoyable (most of them).
Dawn of X
House of X/Powers of X
Peter Cannon Thunderbolt
Silver Surfer: Black
Favorite BDs My rekindled love of BDs (as of last year, when I started going to my local library) continues, and has grown, with this year being easier to include a lot of 2019 releases — although there are still some late-year releases that I’m sure would be included here (like the new Thorgal and XIII) but that I haven’t read yet. I do spend more time reading older releases (reading through a series) than new ones though.
Amazonie – Épisode 4
La Jeunesse de Thorgal – La dent bleue (7)
Renaissance – Interzone (2)
Retour sur Aldébaran – Épisode 2
Stern – L’Ouest, le vrai (3)
Honorable Mentions: Alix Senator – Les Spectres de Rome (9), Carthago – Le Pacte du centenaire (9), Katanga – Dispersion (3), Lefranc – Lune Rouge (30), Soleil Froid – L’armée verte (3)
Favorite Podcasts My rekindled love of wrestling is also evident here (what can I say, I’m hooked), as is my rekindled interest (since the Ayrton Senna era in the 80s) for Formula 1 — ignited by the excellent Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive (which got me excited about watching races again).
Pop Culture Happy Hour
The Chris Van Vliet Show
Honorable Mentions: All Songs Considered, Monocle 24: The Stack, On Margins
It took a while to complete it — and I blame Star Trek V for that — but I’m now done with my latest year-based movie marathon (following 1967, 1968, 1977, 1978, 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988) with the below list of 21 movies released in 1989. Why 21? I do usually like to keep it to a round number (10 or 20), and had planned to stop at 20, but then the day I was going to write this post I read a feature in Empire magazine about the madness that was the making of Tango and Cash, and felt like I needed to watch it — it’s also fitting that it came out at the tail end of 1989 (end of December), and so is considered to be the last 80s blockbuster. Below is the full list of the movies I watched, with links to each mini-review I wrote — you can also find them all through the “1989” category. What’s next? Next year I will be hitting 1990, but before that I plan on revisiting 1980 — this whole movie marathon endeavor started with 1985, so I still have the first half of the 80s to revisit.