Well that’s something. After six years here in Montreal, we’ve (my wife and I) decided to embark on a new adventure, and one that involves a return to Asia. It’s not a return to Japan, that I think many would have expected, but rather a return to China, which is how I started my Asia adventure in the first place.
May has turned out to be a defining month in my life — on top of the fact that it’s my birth month. It was in May 1997 that I first went to China, to the city of Tianjin for what was supposed to be a 10-week study program (an exchange program between my university in Montreal and Nankai University), and saw me changing my plans and remaining there until the end of the year. It was in May 1998 that I moved to Tokyo, which would become my home for over 15 years. It was then in May 2015 that I moved to Montreal to embark on a new journey working in the games industry (first at Eidos/Square Enix, then at Ubisoft).
And now, in 2021, it’s in May that I’ve accepted an offer to take on a new role at the Ubisoft Shanghai studio — I’ll start this new role in the summer, with the move happening when our visas our sorted, which we expect will be towards the end of summer, maybe September. After two years working in esports, this will also mark my return to game production — my new role, Production Services Manager, is a transverse role within the studio, working closely with all of the production services teams that support all of the production teams at the studio.
Why this move? After six years in Montreal, we felt like it was time to move on and experience something new. I’m incredibly thankful for the time I was able to spend at both Eidos Montreal and Ubisoft Montreal to “level up” this new career in games I embarked on not that long ago, but at the same time it hasn’t been as productive a time for my wife, in good part due to language issues, but we’ve had other challenges to deal with in our time here, and so we decided it was time for a new adventure in another city.
Why China? As I mentioned earlier, my first stop in Asia was in fact in China, as part of the East-Asian Studies program I was enrolled in at my university, which focused on the Chinese language and culture — and my time at Nankai University in Tianjin was spent studying Mandarin. It’s also where I met my wife, who was also studying Mandarin at the same university — and who, unlike me, continued to use it as part of her studies in the years following our move to Japan. So even though I have never been to Shanghai, I am excited at the prospect of rebuilding my Mandarin skills, and for my wife it means a chance to explore new opportunities in a language and setting that she knows very well. I’m also thankful to work in an expansive global company like Ubisoft, that let me find an opportunity like this, and that allows me to continue to build on the years of experience and contacts I’ve accumulated over my five years here.
So there it is, 2021 is turning out to be a big year for me, as I was hoping it would — it’s maybe a good sign that we’re in the Year of the Ox, which is my Chinese Zodiac.
I’ve decided to change the way I track all of the movies I watch — which I share here mostly in the form of my various movie marathons — and my book reading as well.
For books, I actually did start using Goodreads to track my book reading in 2019 when I decided to increase the number of books I read each year, but it was only at the end of the year that I bothered writing mini-reviews in posts here (2019, 2020). I’ve now copied over all of those mini-reviews to my Goodreads log, and written a few for what I’ve read so far this year (I’ve read 6 of my planned 20). So if you’re curious to follow what I’m reading and my thoughts on those books, I invite you to follow me on Goodreads.
As for the movie stuff, as mentioned, I’ve been writing mini-reviews for the movies that I watch as part of my movie marathons over in the “Debaser” section of this site, which I then sum up in round-up posts for each. In terms of all of the other movies I watch, I usually just write quick thoughts that I share on Twitter — like this thread when I recently started re-watching Wong Kar-wai movies, as well as the films of Zhang Yimou, and Tintin films. I started thinking there might be a better way to share and then track all of this, and remembered Letterboxd (I’ve had an account for years, but never used it). So I’ve gone and added most of my movie watching so far this year there, creating entries for all of the 1981 movies I’ve watched so far, and the other things I’m watching. My intention is to still create round-up posts here when I finish a marathon, like I’ve done in the past. So if you’d like to follow all of my movie viewing — which now include adding a star rating — I invite you to follow me on Letterboxd.
I’ve been a huge fan of Rekka and Devine’s — better known as Hundred Rabbits — adventures sailing around the world over the past few years, following them through their various posts, tweets, and especially videos that they would share as they sailed from Vancouver, down the coast to Mexico, then to New Zealand, before reaching Japan and then back again. But despite all the following I was doing, it’s reading their book Busy Doing Nothing that gave me the best understanding of what they were actually experiencing and going through as they made those multi-week crossings. From the mind numbing to the fear-for-the-end-of-your-life, the book is an extended log of the 51 days it took them to sail from Japan back to Vancouver, and it’s a fantastic read. As much as I admire what they achieved, there’s no way in hell that I could put myself through something like that, but Busy Doing Nothing at least gave me an intimate look at what they had to endure, both physically and mentally. You can read the raw logs on their website, but I recommend picking up the digital book, as it expands on the entries, with additional info and details, as well as all of the recipes that kept them going through those long days and nights. I can’t recommend this enough.
Well, here we go, another year-based movie marathon done (previously 1967, 1968, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989), this time for 1990. I started it quite a few months ago, stopped for a while (in part for my October marathon), and then started up again in December to finish it now. There are still a few films that I was originally planning on watching, like Flatliners, The Two Jakes, and Miller’s Crossing, but I felt like it was time to stop and move on to something else — I actually started watching Miller’s Crossing, but for some reason wasn’t getting into it at all, even though I used to consider it a fave. So I end it at 25 movies, which I think is a decent number — and I’ll say it was a pretty good year for films, and I quite enjoyed the vast majority of what I watched. Next up I’ll be taking a little break from marathons to catch up on various newer releases, but the next marathon will be for 1981, and I already have a long list of things I want to watch. Below, the list of all the movies from 1990 that I watched, with links to my short write-ups (or just go to the “1990” tag to see them all together).
At the start of 2019 I gave myself a goal to read more books (in an effort to rekindle my inner bookworm), and this past year saw a continued growth in the number of books I read, which makes me very happy. Following the 11 I read in 2019, I got through 16 this past year, which falls just short of the goal of 18 I had given myself, which is close enough for me. I did hit some dead spots throughout the year where I didn’t read any, and a few (like Ametora, Pure Invention, and Killing the Business) I ended up reading in 1-2 days. That said, I’m raising my goal for 2021 to 20 books, which I think is very doable, as long as I manage to be more consistent throughout the year — and I think the lesson here is to not feel bad about dropping a book if I’m not really enjoying it. Below, are a few thoughts on everything that I read in 2020, which again saw me mostly alternate between fiction and non-fiction.
Moonraker (Ian Fleming) This past year I continued to make my way through all of Fleming’s Bond novels. Despite being a huge Bond fanatic, this obsession has always entered around the movies, and I’ve never actually read all of the books (some here and there, but I don’t really remember which ones). This was one of my favourites so far — and it’s nothing like the wacky Star Wars-inspired spacefest that we see in the movie adaptation.
Katamari Damacy (L.E. Hall) I’m a big fan of the Boss Fight Books series — each one focuses on one game. I usually end up reading 1 or 2 each year, and this one was as enjoyable as they generally are — and it covered a game I’ve always loved. After reading this, I ended up with the multiple soundtracks of the game series on heavy rotation.
Agent Running in the Field (John le Carré) Despite my love for Bond and spy fiction in general, surprisingly, this is the first novel by le Carré I read. I really enjoyed it, and although it may be weird to start by reading his final novel, it did make me want to go back and read more (which I will surely do in 2021).
Diamonds Are Forever (Ian Fleming) This was the second Bond book I read this year, and I continue to read them in order of their release. Of all the Bond novels I’ve read so far, this one is maybe the one that feels the most like the movie, at least in terms of general structure.
Five Little Pigs (Agatha Christie) Reading Agatha Christie novels is comfort food for me, I feel so comfortable in them. It’s usually my go-to when I hit a patch of not reading for a while, as I find it easy to get back in reading mode, and getting through one doesn’t take very long. This was quite enjoyable as well, and I loved the structure.
Annabel Scheme and the Adventure of the New Golden Gate (Robin Sloan) This is more like a novella in terms of length — it’s a collection that was originally serialized in a newspaper. I quite like Sloan’s writing (including his newsletters), and this was as enjoyable as anything else I’ve read by him.
Magpie Murders (Anthony Horowitz) So far the only Horowitz I had read was his Bond novels, but there was a lot of buzz around this, and so I decided to give it a try. I ended up quite liking it — even though one aspect bugged me in that it had me knowing that something was up, and so I was anxious to get to a point where more would be revealed. But yes, it’s a very smart murder mystery, and this year I plan on reading the sequel that was published last year.
The Monocle Book of Gentle Living When I started this book reading quest in 2019, I told myself that I would just count regular books, and not something like this, which I guess falls more in the “coffee table book” category. But in the end, these Monocle books (I picked up a few this past year) are pretty text-heavy and take a while to get through, and so I felt like I should include them. And no, I don’t feel like this is cheating.
The Monocle Book of Japan Of all the Monocle books I read this past year (the three included in this list, as well as another one that I’m not done reading yet), this was my absolute favorite. It’s a beautiful love letter to Japan, and it definitely made me feel incredibly homesick.
The Monocle Guide to Shops, Kiosks and Markets I’ve always meant to buy the various books that Monocle has been putting out over the years, but never got around to it until recently. These are all beautiful publications, and I do intend on getting all of them eventually.
A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin) I don’t really read fantasy anymore, not since I was a kid, but I thought it might be interesting to read this, as it’s considered a classic. It was indeed an enjoyable read. Interestingly, after I was done I wasn’t really planning on reading any more in the series, but then I re-watched the Ghibli adaptation of the third book (Tales From Earthsea) and enjoyed it so much that it made me want to go and read more. I expect I’ll do that in 2021.
Young Bucks: Killing the Business From Backyards to the Big Leagues (Matt and Nick Jackson) The Young Bucks are not only two of my favorite wrestlers (along with Kenny Omega), but they are also the reason I’ve become such a huge fan of pro wrestling over the past two years (through their “Being the Elite” web series and the role they played in the formation of All Elite Wrestling). I devoured this in a day, as I just couldn’t put it down.
Ready Player Two (Ernest Cline) The first book has certainly been criticized a lot since it was originally published, but I remember having a really good time reading it, and so I was certainly willing to give the sequel a go. I enjoyed bits here and there (especially the sequence around John Hughes films) but overall it wasn’t as fun as I remembered the first one being, almost coming off as a parody of itself.
All Systems Red (Martha Wells) This is a novella that I read over the last two days of the year, and found it to be pretty fun. I had heard good things about this “Murderbot” series, and so was curious to check it out — and I won’t lie, I wanted to try and get one more book in before the end of the year. I think I’ll probably read more in this series.
For the 11th consecutive time (previously: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019), here’s my massive look-back at all my favorite things that I consumed over the past year. As always, this is limited to things that were released in 2020, and it’s of course HIGHLY subjective — this is not a round-up of the best media of 2020, but rather a look back at stuff I really enjoyed this past year, because I like the exercise of doing it. And that of course means there’s plenty that came out this year that I haven’t yet had the chance to check out, and I’m sure I’m also forgetting things I did enjoy. So be it. Each category is made up of an alphabetical top 5, followed by a few honorable mentions if warranted. I’ve added some new categories, with some disappearing, like board games (because I barely bought anything in 2020, for obvious reasons) and French comics (since I’ve been mostly limited to what’s available digitally from my local library).
Favorite Games Despite the list below, I will say that the highlight of my gaming year has been getting access to Game Pass when I got my Xbox Series S upon release, and catching up on tons of games I missed out on in recent years. And my most happy game times have been playing Forza Horizon 3 and 4 — these were the games that I was really sad I missed out on since I didn’t have an Xbox One, and it’s been a joy to dig into both over the past couple of months.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Xbox Series S)
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (Switch)
Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Xbox Series S)
Warframe (Xbox Series S)
Honorable Mentions: Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch), Destiny 2: Beyond Light (Xbox Series S), Genshin Impact (PS4), Ghosts of Tsushima (PS4), Watch Dogs Legion (Xbox Series S)
Favorite Mobile Games This is a category that comes and goes over the years, as some years I end up playing a lot of mobile games (mostly on iPad), and some I don’t. Up until about a month ago, I wasn’t planning on including it, since the majority of iOS gaming I did was on Apple TV with a controller (mostly Apple Arcade games), but then I got the Backbone One controller to use with my iPhone, and since then I’ve absolutely loved playing games on my phone, as it really does feel like I’m playing with a true portable gaming system.
Legends of Runeterra
Legend of the Skyfish 2
Honorable Mentions: Marble Knights, Slash Quest, South of the Circle, The Collage Atlas, The Last Campfire
Favorite Movies It was obviously a strange year for movies, with a lot of big releases being pushed back. But I did find a lot to like, even though I do probably spend more time watching older movies (through all the movie marathons I do) than I do new releases.
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
Da 5 Bloods
Weathering With You
Honorable Mentions: Altered Carbon: Resleeved, Beastie Boys Story, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Color Out of Space, The Go-Go’s, The Invisible Man, You Cannot Kill David Arquette
Favorite Movies of 1990 As I’ve been doing in recent years, here’s a top 5 for one of the movie marathons I did in 2020, for movies from the year 1990 (and I’m not done yet).
Die Hard 2
Favorite TV Yet another strong year for TV series, which made it difficult to narrow down what would make it to my top 5. But what is there is truly what I enjoyed the most — and if it had released a day earlier (and not on January 1), I would have included Cobra Kai.
Long Way Up
Honorable Mentions: Altered Carbon, Better Call Saul, Devs, High Fidelity, High Score, Lovecraft Country, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet, Raised by Wolves, Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek Picard, Ted Lasso, The Boys, The Last Dance, The Queen’s Gambit, Tiger King, Westworld, What We Do in the Shadows
Favorite Anime Even though I’ve gotten back into watching a lot of new anime series as of 1-2 years ago, this is the first time I include it as a category — I guess I finally feel like I’ve watched enough to be able to warrant making a list.
Japan Sinks 2020
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Sing “Yesterday” for Me
Wave, Listen to Me!
Honorable Mentions: Dragon’s Dogma, Kimetsu no Yaiba, The Millionaire Detective Balance: Unlimited, Woodpecker Detective’s Office
Favorite Web Series I do still spend a lot of time watching a lot of stuff on YouTube, to a point where this year I finally started paying for YouTube Premium because I couldn’t stand the insane amount of ads anymore. As you can see in my top 5, it’s pretty much all wrestling-related, except for the Formula 1 channel, which I tune in to watch the race previews, as well as First Practice and Qualifier highlights.
Favorite Music When I look at the automated list that Apple Music creates at the end of the year, it’s pretty much all composed of hard bop, which continues to be what I listen to the most, but I did enjoy quite a few new albums this year, as listed below.
Always Tomorrow (Best Coast)
Dry – Demos (PJ Harvey)
Everything Else Has Gone Wrong (Bombay Bicycle Club)
Honorable Mentions: Causers of This – Instrumentals (Toro y Moi), Domingo (Chip Tanaka), Fake It Flowers (Beabadoobee), Future Past Life (STRFKR), Giant Steps – 60th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition (John Coltrane), Host (Cults), It Is What It Is (Thundercat), Ludi (Chassol), Mordechai (Khruangbin), Mr Experience (Donny Benet), Not From Where I’m Standing (Various Artists), Palo Alto – Live (Thelonious Monk), Seeking Thrills (Georgia), The King of Sudanese Jazz – Habibi Funk 013 (Sharhabil Ahmed), To Bring You My Love – Demos (PJ Harvey)
Favorite Podcasts As with the web series category, my podcast listening is very wrestling heavy. My favorite new podcast though has been TokyoScope — I get a lot of enjoyment out of listening to Patrick and Matt talk otaku (and Tokyo in general) topics.
All Songs Considered
Talk Is Jericho
Honorable Mentions: Japan by River Cruise, Pop Culture Happy Hour, The Stack
Favorite Comics As I mentioned in the intro up top, I’m not including picks for French comics this year, since I didn’t read enough 2020 releases (due to me not going to the library). As for American comics, again, I should probably seek out more original graphic novels (that I keep seeing in year-end “best of” lists), but I’m a weekly comic reader.
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
Usagi Yojimbo (regular series and color reprints)
Honorable Mentions: Hill House (comic imprint), Pulp, Strange Adventures, Rorschach, Spy Island, Star Wars: Darth Vader
Favorite Magazines I love magazines, and I still read tons of them, but I’ve never included a category for some reason. The only two titles that I buy physically are Monocle and Konfekt (that just launched), and the rest I read digitally via Apple News+.
Following the October horror marathons I did in 2018 and 2019, I decided to do the same this year, and what a ride it was. I ended up watching much more this year than in the past (34!), which is especially surprising since that includes multiple episodes of a few series (Lovecraft Country, Ash vs Evil Dead, Creepshow, and The Haunting of Bly Manor). I think that what contributed to this was that since the start of the pandemic, I barely watched any horror — maybe not such a big surprise — and so even though I’d slowly started watching some recently, when I decided to dive in for October, well, I really dove in. So below are links to my short write-ups of everything I watched, or you can get to them all under the “October 2020” tag.
I’ll start off by saying that I’m completely embarrassed by the fact that it took until now for me to finally read my buddy David Marx’s Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style. I’m not quite sure why, I think it’s just one of those things that you keep meaning to do, and it slips through the cracks, and then you get to a point where you’re like, hey, I didn’t read this yet, what’s up with that?
With that out of the way, I just blasted through it over a couple of days (thank god for vacation time) as I couldn’t put it down. Just like my experience reading Matt Alt’s Pure Invention, I was just completely drawn into each chapter, which focus on various aspects of David’s thesis on how Japan absorbed American fashion styles, and ended up guiding it. Not only is it fascinating to see how all of this develops in the postwar era, but also how it links up to a lot of the companies and brands anyone who has spent time in Japan will be very familiar with.
One aspect I also loved is that the influential role magazines played in the development and evolution of these styles means that he spends a lot of space writing about how these magazines came to be and how their editorial direction evolved and grew — properly framing the “catalog” style of reportage any Japanese magazine addict is very familiar with. To be honest, my wish now is for David to do a book that focuses on the world of Japanese magazine publishing.
If you have any interest in contemporary Japanese culture — and of course fashion (but I don’t even think that’s necessary, as I’m not a particularly fashion-oriented guy) — then I can’t recommend this enough. Whatever next he’s working on can’t come out soon enough — and you should of course pick up the first issue of NJP magazine (if it’s still available).
The funniest thing though is that reading this has actually made me want to pay a bit more attention to what I wear (beyond my typical t-shirt and black jeans uniform).
I never got around to posting about what shows I checked out during this latest TV season, but I did do a Twitter thread about it, that I figure I’ll adapt as a post here. It’s getting more and more difficult to do a “start of season” post these days though, as a lot of these series that I’m watching are coming via Netflix, which just releases them whenever they feel like it.
Japan Sinks 2020 is one of those new Netflix series, and having watched it all I can say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. The opening credits sequence is a delight, and I really loved the pacing and overall mood of the show. Basically, a huge earthquake hits Japan, and it explores the aftermath. This was directed by Masaaki Yuasa, and it then got me to go and get caught up on all of the movies and series that’s he’s been producing in recent years, that I’ve been chronicling in this Twitter thread.
Based on the first episode, Deca-Dence takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting where humans are holding up in a moving fortress, to defend against the appearance of giant (and not so giant) monsters. My feeling was that I could go either way on this one, with the first episode being decent, and I was planning on giving it 1-2 more episodes. Well, I bounced off quickly, as I didn’t like the swerve it took in episode 2 (it’s a virtual game that weird cartoony bots/creatures are playing).
Dorohedoro aired in Japan late last year, but popped up on Netflix recently. I’ve watched the first few episodes and like it. It’s set in a weird post-apocalyptic world with forms of magic that deforms some people. I like the animation style — and it’s gory as fuck.
Great Pretender gets bonus points for its Lupin-like opening theme song. It’s about a Japanese grifter who in the first arc (of five episodes) finds himself in LA. It’s a very Lupin-like mix of humour and action, which is right up my alley (considering how big a fan I am of Lupin in general). I’m more than halfway through this first season, and I know that there are more episodes coming later this year. Again, it’s one of those Netflix series.
The only other series I wanted to watch this season was the return of The Millionaire Detective Balance: Unlimited, which was put on hiatus last season after only two episodes due to COVID. I like this show (it’s still airing new episodes), and episode 4 was especially fun.
I read it back in July, but I really need to highlight here just how much I enjoyed reading my old friend Matt Alt‘s fantastic deep-dive into Japanese pop culture of the decades following the end of the WW2. Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World is a ridiculously good read, and I found myself reading it in a couple of days because I couldn’t put it down. Each chapter focuses on a different topic (karaoke, anime, the Walkman, Hello Kitty, etc.), and it’s so satisfying to really dig into every single one of them in so much detail. I was expecting to enjoy more the chapters that touch on the 80s and later, but the context that you get from learning about what happened during those early post-war years — like the production of tin toys — was just so fascinating.
This is what you call a real page-turner, and sure, I’m of course partial to all things Japan and pop culture, but I can’t imagine someone not enjoying this.