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On Magazines: Haruki Murakami

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.

“Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey” by Haruki Murakami, from the June 8-15, 2020 issue of The New Yorker.

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.

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On Comics: Jérôme K. Jérôme Bloche

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.

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On TV: Saturday Watch Log

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.

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On Anime: Spring 2020 Season

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

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On Board Games: Tabletopia

“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.

Playing a session of 6-player Gorus Maximus on Tabletopia.

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.

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On Something

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.