Jack White’s Boarding House Reach [Album Review]

Before giving this album a listen, I wasn’t familiar with The Whites Stripes, you know other than hearing that bassline (that’s not actually played with a bass guitar) from “Seven Nation Army” in one of those “Popular guitar riffs played in a guitar store” Youtube videos.

So yeah, I jumped into this album rather blindly after I saw Reviewbrah’s video on the album… yup, this one of those rare occasions where I didn’t get recommended an album by the Melon. But according to them, this is a very ‘out-there’ album by Jack White… and I realized it is after I listened through the album, even though I had no exposure to his music before then.

This is a pretty freaky album and the tracklisting is as eclectic as it gets- from spoken word to jam session excerpts to a rap piece to a classical piano piece, this album has almost everything. Driven by prominent percussion and filled with a lot of weird synth-sample placements, vocal editing, high-pitched guitars along with some thick, buzzed ones- instrumentally, this album is one hell of a ride. So let me get on with the track-by-track rundown.

The opening track ‘Connected by Love’ is about someone reaffirming himself and his lover that they have a special bond, that they are connected by love. Jack’s passionate vocals are backed up by a choral interjection by a couple of female voices during the second chorus was what sold the song for me. Then came the organ and guitar solo, the organ laying the foundation of the groove and then a guitar, with an almost camouflaged tone of the organ, comes in to cement it. The percussive feel of the album bleeds into the next track (as it does into almost every other track of the album) with a fuller and omnipresent sound- ‘Why Walk a Dog?’ is a short song that doesn’t take many (or any) sonic detours like the opening track. Here, according to an interview, Jack White comments on the blurred lines between the feeling of ownership and companionship that humans have for pets; and he finds it funny that we have to walk our ‘companions’, something they can do themselves in their natural state.

Now, if I had to pick the best five tracks from the album, I would pick ‘Corporation’, ‘Ice Station Zebra’, ‘Over and Over and Over’, ‘Everything You’ve Ever Learned’ and ‘Respect Commander’. So let me give a rundown of these picks.

‘Corporation’ starts with a jam session driven by a playful layering of at least two different percussion tracks, and two differently toned guitars. This jam session part goes on for a full 3 minutes with a few vocal interjections of ‘Who’s with me?’- it’s like a procession of different instruments sharing the stage, each leading one to another instrument. And the abrasive ‘Woo!’s… wooh boy… that hypes me up. The buzzing guitar builds it up and gives in to another long, ear-ripping ‘Woo!’ and rinse and repeat. Oh and the song is about someone hyping people up because they are going to start a corporation… but it’s all empty hype, because they have no clear goals in mind… except just ‘doing a giant drop’ and taking it ‘right to the top’.

‘Ice Station Zebra’ is the song that warmed me up to this album. It’s so groovy, Jack’s rap-like delivery here fits the shuffling bass and percussion like a pair of gloves. The salon piano and those wispy synths chiming in now and then are also nice touches. The song is stripped down instrumentally in the middle of the song allowing breathing space for the lyrical content of the song. And boy oh boy, Jack unloads quite a rant riddled with references in this song- my favorite bit being:

Here’s an example
If Joe Blow says “Yo, you paint like Caravaggio”
You’ll respond “No, that’s an insult, Joe;
I live in a vacuum, I ain’t coppin’ no one”
Listen up, son

Everyone creating is a member of the family
Passing down genes and ideas in harmony
The players and the cynics might be thinking it’s odd
But if you rewind the tape, we’re all copying god
Copying god, copying god
Copying god, copying god
Add your own piece, but the puzzle is god’s

Here Jack seems to be talking about originality and creativity, commenting that all artists are essentially just rearranging ‘the genes’ of their art. Essentially meaning that all originality is just a derivation from existent ideas- all art is the same. But its all conjecture from my end here- would be interested in hearing out other people’s (I’m sure, much better fleshed out) interpretations.

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From the music video of ‘Over and Over and Over’

‘Over and Over and Over’ opens with a buzz guitar riff that plays throughout the song over and over and over… you get the point. Admittedly, lyrically- I have no idea what Jack is on about but I love the tensed energy of the song. The drums also help to maintain that high throughout the song, and again, those backing vocals rock. And of course, the track wouldn’t be complete without that abrasive guitar interlude near the end.

‘Everything You’ve Ever Learned’ opens with an emotionless voice welcoming the listener in a very creepy way and that dissipates with another voice, but this time a passionate one, commencing a spoken word section. The synths disappear and drums take the front seat. The voice tells us to ‘Shut up and learn’ and then disappears again. This one is my favorite spoken word track from the album.

‘Respect Commander’ starts with another jam session with a strong sense of pacing. The percussion, guitar and some synth lead all seem to rile up like a storm is approaching- but only to trick the listener- they break down the pacing, then rebuilds it again and breaks down again. Jack then sings about respecting a commandeering woman, and he likes getting ‘driven by her’- so yeah, kinkiness doesn’t escape from the myriad of themes in this album. Then, of course, an animalistic high-pitched guitar crashes in for a superb solo. The song closes on the same percussive rhythm it started on.

Now onto the spoken word tracks. ‘Abulia and Akrasia’ is a rather humorous bit where C.W. Stoneking dramatically asks for a cup of tea. ‘Ezmerelda Steals the Show’ is another weird, atmospheric track where Jack White, along with another layer of his voice narrates a scene in what he says is a children’s recital with Ezmerelda ending the song saying, ‘You people are totally absurd’.

‘Hypermisophoniac’ goes over-board with that right channel directed synth that sounds like a bubble blowing up and then popping- it really distracts me from the other cool instrumental samples in the song. I know that’s what Jack White was going for, but damn…

This brings me to the last trio of songs that end the album. ‘Get in the Mind Shaft’ starts with a spoken word section that dissolves into a robo-funk groove featuring Jack on a voice changer and he does some interesting detours with his voice samples. ‘What’s Done Is Done’ feature Esther Rose and they sing about a relationship ending, it’s a surprisingly straight-forward track in spite of all the freaky, hybrid tracks a listener will have trudged through by then. ‘Humoresque’ has a pretty interesting history- it was written by Al Capone (a famous American gangster) and Jack won a bid to claim the rights to the lyrics, then Jack found out that the composer was actually Dvorak. This is another straight-forward song featuring a really soothing piano, and it ends with a nice solo where a pattering drum takes the front seat to give a final flourish to the song.

And that ends my individual track-by-track rundown.

Of course, this album won’t impress everybody- in fact, the inconsistency of ideas, the rambly and cryptic songwriting and the experimental instrumentation will make a lot of people turn away from the album. But for me, the fact that this album is all over the place was a charming aspect for me, because it told me that the artist is being sincere with himself and laying himself bare- it gives the album its own dynamic personality. But most importantly, most of the tracks are fun as hell. This will definitely be among my favorites of the year.

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Rewatching: Steins;Gate

Steins;Gate is one of the first five anime I watched on the internet. I was kind of a science fiction nerd back in seventh grade, albeit for a very short time until I became more of a character drama guy. So yeah, I remember coming across a review where it started off with something like, ‘Ever heard of a story where people time travel using a phone and a microwave?’

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I was sold thanks to my curiosity and I watched it in grainy quality on a totally-legal streaming site with my totally-fast internet at the time. Anyway, I came away finishing the show with a really positive outlook, and after rewatching it over the last week, I still think it’s a fantastic anime.

This post is going to be a pretty meandering rundown of what I love about the show and some criticism. So here goes…

Favorite episodes

I think Steins;Gate is a series where looking at it episode by episode, especially when it’s your first time watching it, won’t impress a lot of people since the show doesn’t set up a conflict and resolve it immediately within a single episode in every episode. Not that it’s not possible but it takes away from the patient build-up that is needed for a well-fleshed out science fiction story, especially if the science-fiction is about as creatively demanding and set-up reliant as a time-travel story.

Given that, on a rewatch, I came to appreciate more to how each episode builds up certain elements of the story and how those things come into play in the later episodes- that shows how well-thought-out the plotting is in this show. A lot of episodes come to mind, especially a lot of the early ones, like episode 7 (“Divergence Singularity”) where a plot point of going beyond 1% divergence gets brought up in a pretty early stage of the story. But my favorite from these batch of early set-up episodes is the first one (“Turning Point”).

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The first episode foreshadows certain ‘future’ plot points that loops from the last episode back to the first episode, which is a good indicator of careful (and cool) plot threading to me. Plot points like- Kurisu meets future Okabe before she meets the present Okabe, that only Okabe has the ability to retain memories when traveling from one worldline to another, and also Suzuha’s time machine. Sure, it’s a slow episode and presentation in the first episode (as well as for the subsequent 5 or 6 episodes) is pretty cryptic, but upon a rewatch I feel that one would definitely come to appreciate the care the writer took in setting up the narrative.

Another aspect of this episode that I loved (and this applies to the rest of the show as well), is the cinematic feel of the visual presentation. The sun-bleached color palette is still one of the coolest color-grading I’ve seen in anime so far. There are also those scenic cutaway shots that we see a lot in Japanese cinema. The sound design is also on point, using silence and timely placement of certain soundscapes, like the summer’s ambient cicada calls, and some high-frequency strings (or string-like synth… not entirely sure) coupled with an unsettling bassline when Okabe senses that something is wrong after sending his first D-mail. And even in that same scene, the strings get drowned with a windy drone as Okabe looks up to find an alien object (Suzuha’s time machine) embedded onto the Radio Kaikan building. So yeah, there’s a lot to unpack and enjoy in this episode.

After episode 12, the narrative takes a dark turn when Okabe realizes that time traveling produces or leads to, unrepairable events- following the principle of chaos theory. This dark turn also brings out a new side of Okabe in full bloom that had been festering in him for the previous two episodes. The playful paranoia that Okabe has been acting out since the beginning gets back to bite him when Okabe realizes that he has really messed things up.

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And it’s this real despair that Okabe feels as he fails to save Mayuri after countless attempts, makes the episode one of the most memorable ones from the show. I really appreciate how the show didn’t go overboard with Mayuri’s and Okabe’s backstory; and, again, the neat presentation of Okabe’s attempts through visual cues (like Mayuri’s stopwatch and the boy and the mother on the bridge) in spite of the looping and chaotic hustle that Okabe goes through in the episode. I think that the clear-cut presentation of Okabe’s attempts to rescue Mayuri helps to make the audience feel the helplessness along with Okabe, rather than staring at the screen trying to figure out what the hell is happening. Most importantly, this episode marked the addition of an emotional side of storytelling to an already well-constructed sci-fi mystery: and that really impressed me, both on my first watch and on this rewatch as well.

So yeah those are my favorite episodes from the show; possibly one of my favorite episodes in anime in general.

Writing and Themes

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Like I mentioned before, constructive writing is key when it comes to a compelling sci-fi… at least for me. The first seven episodes are essentially set-up episodes where the characters are introduced, and time is given to the audience to get used to the characters. Even though narrative-wise, the pacing is patient and new ideas get revealed with each episode, the character cast and their slice-of-life interactions kept me entertained in the midst of all the scientific unraveling- there’s a fine balance between these contrasting tones of storytelling in anime, and that’s not something every anime does well.

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Speaking of scientific unraveling, the level of detail that Makise and Okabe go through to trying to explain to themselves (and the audience) is neither too brief for me to not rewind to try and get what they were saying, nor too painstakingly tedious that would essentially pull a halt on the pacing, and ultimately remove the entertaining SoL elements of the show. And while I’m on the topic of sci-fi elements of the show- I found the unique mechanism of time travel to be really cool since it as that believable quality to it that I don’t find in stories with a conventional time machine- believable sci-fi stories appeal to me a lot more since they don’t have glaring plot-holes. And the way Okabe and Kurisu completed their time machine through experimentation, the John Titor references, also adds to that believable quality. I also appreciate that the show doesn’t disrespect the audience’s intelligence and introduce jargon to appear too ‘intellectual’- not saying the mechanism of time-travel isn’t clever, it is.

Until the end of the twelfth episode, character dynamics were almost solely within the parameters of comedy- and I didn’t mind that at all, because the show has a colorful cast of characters with distinct personalities. I related to all chuunibyou characters then, and even though I’m not as fond of that character trait now, I didn’t really get tired of his antics because there’s always Kurisu with her not-as-in-your-face tsundere quirks and Mayuri Shiina’s divine warmth to enjoy (Mayushii is the best girl in the show, period). Rukako is as beautiful as I remember him to be, and I still get annoyed by the onslaught of nyaas Faris ends her sentences with Which brings me to a point that the characterization is pretty trope-y and seems to fulfill some kind of otaku-pandering checklist- and this is one of my mild criticisms of the first half of the show.

Admittedly, the writer does interesting things with Okabe’s delusional and playfully-paranoid character in the latter half of the show, as well as adding nuanced traits/ backgrounds to Faris and Moeka (I’m sorry, the Rukako episode did nothing for me)- so my criticisms on the characterization don’t carry weight in the second cour of the show. Also, some of the characters like Okabe and Kurisu are aware of their trope-like characteristics, so that results in some fresh meta jabs now and then (ah~ when meta in anime wasn’t so in-your-face all the time).

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Anyway, that’s all I had to say about the narrative and character writing in the show, so let me present a personal gripe on the show’s ending. Now, technically, it’s a perfect ending, there are neither any plot holes nor there are any plot contriving ideas that were brought in to tie up the series- actually the way Okabe deceived ‘fate’ is pretty clever. It’s just my personal preference that I think the beta-worldline depressing ending would serve better since Okabe sacrificed Kurisu to save Mayuri, and that would give weight to his previous attempts. The happy ending is too perfect, it’s like washing down the heaviness of his previous attempts to save Mayuri. I don’t know how to construct this any better, I think the ending is kind of sanitized. Then again, “it’s all the choice of the Steins;Gate”… I guess

Art and Sound

I think I bled out everything I love about the audiovisual ambiance of this show in the opening segment of this post. So let’s move on to the art styles and character designs…

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The art director for the anime is Etou  Kouji, and according to his profile, he has contributed to a lot of shows- plenty of ufotable anime (like the Fate series, Kara no Kyoukai movies), Psycho-Pass, Angel Beats!, Oreimo (?)… and the list goes on. So it is kind of clear that Etou Kouji usually does glossy, detailed, scenic backgrounds- and that’s pretty evident in the backgrounds of the scenic city shots and the residential area near the lab. But I’m glad that the backgrounds get minimal in interior spaces like the lab, where the background doesn’t need to be distracting.

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The character designs are pretty sharp and distinct from each other. There are enough details in their designs to make a viewer get an idea of their character traits- that Kiryuu Moeka is socially inept from her dulled eye pupils, that Kurisu is a real science person from just her pseudo-formal attire, that Mayuri is the all-seeing goddess of the lab from just her green eyes and her oceanic wardrobe, and that Okabe is a playful and delusional mad scientist from his badly slicked back hair and his unshaven chin… or I am the delusional one and just reaching to tie up my point. But seriously, Steins;Gate features some cool looking character designs. huke (character designer) gives good emphasis on a character’s eyes, and eyes are the best emoters in anime- so I would agree that the character animation in this show is pretty good. If you disagree, watch episode 12-13 again and look at Okabe’s face.

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Like I mentioned before, the sound design is used to a cinematic effect in the show- and that’s great. I neither hate nor love the BGM tracks- they are nice piano tunes though they could have been a bit more diverse. Both the opening and ending are great, both the songs and the visual sequences. Especially, the opening with that glitched-out feel along with the superposed images of the gears of the clocks and all- it’s one of the most visually striking sequences I have seen in anime openings so far.

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So, sound-wise, I think the show does a solid job.

Conclusion

Steins;Gate is a sci-fi anime that, by introducing unconventional and fresh concepts in a pretty saturated and cliched genre of sci-fi (time travel stories), has become a story that has stuck with for a long time. Most of the cast members are lovable, making the light-hearted bits all the more enjoyable. There isn’t anything in the show that I absolutely disliked or hated. Sure, this series isn’t the perfect anime- but I think it’s close to being one for me. I enjoyed this series just as much, if not more, as I have when I first watched Steins;Gate five years ago… so is it still a favorite? Yes.


Ok. That’s all I had for this post of “Revisiting Favorites”. I have caught up with the currently airing sequel, so I plan on writing a review when I complete it. So far, I have a positive impression on it.

Anyway, if all goes according to keikaku, the next “Revisiting Favorites” post will be on Death Note… and hopefully, with a better post title… I already started my rewatch and so far, I’m three episodes in- so, hopefully I would be ready with that post by the third week of this month. But till then, I have a couple of music-related posts I want to write.

Thanks for reading.

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Phonic-Phobia [Fiction]

Every day, since last week, Stu wakes up to feed. Not himself, but the generations and generations of birds that his father used to look after.

Apparently.

Because whenever he sticks those peeled oranges in the bush of rusted thorns from which the birds plucked their food from, he was greeted not by the chirping of the birds, but only by the deafening chilly stillness of the cold air, and feel his tinnitus slowly taking over his senses. Nonetheless, Stu continues with this early morning ritual since he notices that the oranges disappear into thin air the next morning.

He pokes the giant bird house every now and then, he hears some chirping but that aural cue is his only evidence of their existence. He has never seen a bird appear from that gaping, pitch-dark entrance.

Enough about the birds. Stu watches the sun creep up behind his neighboring skyscraper with a smile tearing his face.

***

The city sucks. The brief hints of dryness and freshness in the mornings condense into a miasma of sweat, shit and piss as horns ricochet off the graffiti-riddled walls of the sidewalks. Angry, ear-clogged drivers screaming through their horns at other angry, ear-clogged drivers. An endless chain reaction that accompanies Pid throughout her walk to her class like a free moving orchestra of untasteful and unwanted abrasiveness.

Even under the all-revealing, blinding fluorescence of the tube lights- the class is filled with noise, students talking about themselves. Just nodding to what others say, waiting for their turn to talk. Talk about what they already talked about in social media.

You are obsessed with yourself, you little shit. And if you are so pissed, put some music in your ears.

Is what her friend says. But Pid says to herself that at least she’s aware of it. She’s aware of her annoying cynicism.

It’s a disease. It eats away at her and she eats it up. She switches on her phone, plugs her ears to a white noise generator app and opens up Facebook.

***

Stu loves the ambient drone of the city, it makes him feel alive. The dry, cold, suffocating noose of the cold air loosens up and gives away to the heat of the vehicles and the energetic vibrations from the crazy horns, all bouncing off each other like dissonant yet sequential notes of an orchestra.

Things are moving, Stu feels the sounds bouncing of walls of the sidewalks are vividly colored with illegible writing. On entering the classroom, the sun-bathed streets are replaced with the blinding flood of fluorescence of the classroom. But blinding only for a instance. Even the classroom has its own visual and aural appeal to its atmosphere. Everything looks spick and span, the students are all arranged symmetrically, though they are all agitating in their seats, talking to each other. The swarm of horn sounds are replaced with an uniform drone. Stu takes it all in. It makes him feel alive. His tinnitus drowns in the sea of sound.

Pid glances at the boy who just stopped in the middle of the classroom, he has his eyes closed, smiling to himself. Weirdo.

***

Pid returns home, exhausted  from an hour-long class on advanced trigonometry.  She stomps on the elevator floor, the elevator sways in reply. “Why study shit that can be done with computers? Why not just study programming? Why waste time?”

Why are you wasting your time being hesitant and lazy, and then blaming “society” for it? Her friend says to that.

The harsh yellow sunlight floods her vision as she steps out of the fan-cooled elevator, it’s hot.

It was so cold in the morning, though. Can’t wait to turn the AC on. But the AC is loud as hell.

She says to herself as she turns the keys to her apartment. The boiled air wafts through her, soaking her skin with humidity. Yup, turning the AC on.

The humidity disperses out as the still, water-soaked air gets replaced with a dry, superposed sound of the whirring of blades and a ear-rattling drone. Pid closes her eyes to get a wisp of an afternoon nap…

As soon as she feels herself sinking into sleep, the harsh yellow sunlight greets her again, and she finds herself standing before her locked apartment entrance again. She can’t hear the drone of the AC anymore. Upon a short flick of the wrist with the doorknob, she realizes that her door is unlocked.

More fluorescence bleaches her retinas as she opens the door. She recovers her vision to find herself back in her Maths class. She looks up from her phone and removes her earphone as the professor enters the classroom. Dampness and decay enters the room with him. It smells. It smells like outiside.

The chirping of birds zooms through the room as she, simultaneously, hears the shattering of the large-panel windows beside her desk. Shards flew through the air, like triangular glitters caught in a sandstorm. Glitters that rip her skin and wakes her from her dream.

Pid wakes up- bathed in cold sweat, shattered glass riddling her legs, which seem to have displaced blood, which now stains her pyjamas. Sunlight flooding her bed and turning her dried blood look brown and rusty. Her AC drones on, but the humidity has overtook the air in the apartment.  I smell like outside.

The birds are there circling her apartment. Chirping… chirping as if laughing at her. Shut up!  Is all that she could muster.

“No you shut up, it’s 3 in the morning and you are shrieking like a banshee.” Her friend says. Pid wakes up, blanketed in cold sweat. No blood. No bird.

***

No food for them today. Stu says to himself, sinking his clawed fingers into the foam of the edge of his bed- trying to recover from the cold sweat he woke up from. Not until I see them myself.

Something has gotten over Stu tonight. He has just been woken up by an almost unrecognizable furious chirping cacophony of birds- the noise resembled an angry, amplified courtship call of cicadas. Stu glanced at his phone- it was 3 in the morning.

Stu briskly makes his way to his veranda, tripping over cords of miscellaneous equipment he uses for making music. Why am I so nervous about this? It was probably just a dream. I was having such a good day in a long time… why do I feel so unsettled?

It was so quiet, he couldn’t even hear his sandal-clad feet slap against the tiles. His dreaded tinnitus overtook all sensory information. He tried to breathe noisily- suctioning in air and jetting out air with the roof of his mouth for extra acoustics- just to bury his sensory-saturating tinnitus. But to no avail.

He sees the veranda door ajar, letting a puddle of moonlight onto the matt tiled floor- taking the shape of a welcome mat. His tinnitus cleared up a bit upon seeing the full moon.

The oranges from the morning have grown dark patches.

Without any audible cue, uncountable birds catapult out of the giant mud birdhouse behind Stu. Tiny birds, resembling like bats of the size of his palm, all chirping like angry cicadas. Stu sees the birds stream out, and the discolored oranges follow with them. The birds block the stream of moonlight for a split second, their large eyes reflecting the moon’s gleam.

Enough about the birds, Stu’s body folds in from shock. His view swishing from the silver ball to the point of view of a bird swooping in to collect an orange. Except there weren’t any oranges. Stu watches the gleaming, uneven, silvery rust coating of thorn bush. Thorns tearing his face.

[END]

An update: Two years/ Anime fatigue/ Blog Name Change/ What now?

Never posted an update in full-post form before, but here goes…

It’s been a while since I have been posting regularly, and it will take a while to get back into regular weekly posts. Why? Mostly because I ain’t motivated enough and slack around most of the time.

(History) It’s been two years…

Blogging wasn’t really a new thing for me when I started this blog, from 2014-15, I and a friend wrote short fiction on a blog called “The Pen Breakers”- it was going fine until we ran out of steam and left it hanging. A year later, on July 2016, I started this blog (at least officially) with “Spring 2016 Wrap-up“. The post is horrible, has a structure unsightly to the eyes and has no pictures- kind of like this post- what an improvement, I say. With gleaming eyes, confident 16-year-old me thought that I would review every seasonal anime I watch… then I realized I didn’t have the passion to write full-post-form reviews for every watched anime.

So, after some reviews that were pretty standard and a post where I just literally posted my favorite anime backgrounds at the time and wrote like two sentences about them, in August my blog underwent its first of many blackouts. I returned again in October with reviews and then from January of 2017 I started the Anilog series which produced a spike in my readership. Then I disappeared again because of finals and then came back until this year’s finals, mostly just writing episodic reviews for Sangastu and never completed and then I disappeared again. So yeah, I would say I am a very active blogger.

That’s it for what’s been happening blog so far.

Here are my wonderful stats:

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“1 comment per post” LOL. Those were probably pingbacks from my own site.

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That one email follower is my brother. Biggest Hunter x Hunter fan I know.

But I will drop my unfunny cynicism here, there are a couple of posts that I am actually proud of, which also happen to have long titles:

Things to Love and Things to Hate: Hunter x Hunter (2011)–  The first post where I went into detail and kind of broke down the things I found good and bad about this wonderful shounen series. Yeah, the title is a bit bait-y I guess.

Character Expression Through Rakugo: Kikuhiko’s Performance of ‘Shinigami’ and his Solace in Solitude– My first writing on the blog that resembled anything like an analysis. I want to get around to write a character study on Yahiko in the future.

Angel’s Egg: A Surreal, Engrossing and Ambiguous Visual Discussion on Faith & Existentialism– My favorite post in the blog so far. I was surprised at how well-fleshed out my ideas got in this post.

Le Portrait de Petit Cossette: Style Over Story?– The first review where I rewatched the anime for it. I wasn’t a rewatch guy at the time, so it was a big deal for me then.

March Comes in Like a Lion S2 Ep 4: “You Did the Right Thing”– Yeah I am proud of how competently I broke down the visual aspects of this unforgettable episode from this unforgettable anime.

The 2017 year-end lists: The only completed blogging series I have done so far… no matter how delayed it got.

Special thanks to these wonderful people, who often stop by this blog and making me feel ( probably undeservedly) good about what I write, and to whom I also apologize for not keeping up with their posts recently:

Karandi from 100 Word Anime– who runs one of the biggest and most active blogs in the anime blogosphere, was the first commenter on the blog and she has been a regular reader and commenter since then, and for that, I am really grateful.

Ran Tanuki from the-not-so-popular-opinion: The blog’s first follower. He hasn’t been active as a blogger for a long time, though…

Nesha from #moe404: The only blogger I keep in contact with through Twitter. He’s super nice, like the rest of the aniblogging community in WordPress.

Ospreyshire from Ospreyshire’s Realm and Iridium Eye Reviews: He left the second most number of comments on my blog- had some nice exchange of comments. Thanks so much!

The Otaku Judge from The Otaku Judge: He also left a lot of comments on my blog. Thank you!

Keiko from Keiko’s Anime Blog: One of the most regular visitors of the blog since 2017. Can’t name a post where she didn’t leave a like. Thanks!

And to these regular/occasional visitors too!

Jon Spencer from Jon Spencer Reviews

Aldael from Aldael’s Attic

Remy from The Lily Garden

Irina from I drink and watch anime

Chloe from The Spooky Red Head

Thethingsiveseenblog

Krystallina from Daiyamanga

Auri from Manga Toritsukareru Koto

Ayano from kawaiipaperpandas

Kimchisama

Alfredo from Slice of Alfredo

Takuto from Takuto’s Anime Cafe

Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews

ignite18 from Marvelously Mismatched

I am terribly sorry if I left anyone out. It’s not intentional.

Now that the self congratulatory part of the post is done. Let me move on to why I haven’t been active lately.

Anime fatigue

I got burnt out on anime before, especially after summer vacations where I binge on a lot of shows. But this ‘burn out’ period has been pretty long. I haven’t watched any seasonal shows since Sangatsu and Devilman: Crybaby this year… well, I’ve been keeping up with My Hero Academia though, because I watch with my brother. Whenever I go on Twitter or on WordPress reader, I see people talking about new anime, and I feel that maybe I don’t want to watch anime anymore.

That’s more of a half-truth, though. It’s not like I have suddenly dislike anime, it’s just that I am not interested in seasonal anime or the conversation around seasonal anime anymore… or at least, for now. That’s the main reason I haven’t been keeping up with your blogs and blogging, in general.

But I have been watching non-seasonal anime, although sporadically, which are mostly anime films. Like, recently I finally got around to watch Tekkonkinkreet, Arrietty, checked out another Dezaki feature (a Black Jack film) and got around to watch Nausicaa, which has instantly taken a place in my top 5 Ghibli films.

So what have I been watching these past few months? I have turned into a cinephile and have been binging on some classics, some Asian cinema, some world cinema and some Marvel films I never got around to watch. If you are interested in what I’ve been watching, here’s my Letterboxd link.

Blog Name Change

So I very recently changed my blog’s name and url very impulsively. I should have read up some stuff before I made the url change, but this guy has some issues with being level-headed. Anyway, what’s done is done, so in case you are like me who types in urls in the browser- I dropped the ‘anime’ in the url, so it’s just “rodrovich.wordpress.com”. As you may have guessed, I want the content of ths blog to expand beyond anime- I want to talk about films and music, too. Probably even video games and books, which I currently am not an avid consumer of.

What Now?

Well, many of you- I mean, all of you have noticed I have made appearances on #moe404 blog several times as worst contributor. I plan to write for the blog for the foreseeable future. Nesha, the most chill guy I know, has been really patient with me given that I am very sluggish with writing a post. (Hell, this post took 2 days to write- for no real reason).

For this blog, a big blogging project that I want to complete by the end of the year is “Revisiting Favorites” where I want to get my thoughts on my favorites from anime, films and music out there on the internet. I will discover whether I still like said favorites just as much as I think I do, in the process. And I always wanted to rewatch them anyway.

So that’s it for this post. Thanks for reading.  Here’s to another… alright.

It’s the Year of the Snitch!

I started listening to Death Grips in the summer of last year, when I was trying to get into exercising and needed some energetic music (and oh boy- did I get a lot more than that). I started with The Money Store, and it immediately went down as one hell of an abrasively explosive, yet weirdly catchy listens I ever had- more than half of the tracklist are absolute bangers. The Money Store featured punchy instrumental pieces that blew me away with how well they complement MC Ride’s animalistic and off-kilter vocal performances. Then, I checked out Bottomless Pit, which sounded like a continuation of the Money Store’s sound with less surprising and cutting-edge instrumental pieces, but I still found really catchy tracks like ‘Hothead’, ‘8080808’, ‘Eh’ and ‘Giving Bad People Good Ideas’. After that I gave a listen to No Love Deep Web- and it sounded like pure gore. To me, that album still remains one of the hardest ones to listen through because of how ear-rippingly abrasive it sounds, unless I am on a particular mood; yet, ‘No Love’ remains to be one of my top 7 tracks from what I have heard from them so far.

BeFunky-collage(Left to right): The Money Store, No Love Deep Web (had to use the censored version for that one, a bit too graphic for my taste) and Bottomless Pit. You can guess their sound from their album arts… I guess.

Then I stopped exercising.

Listening to Death Grips became less of an enjoyable thing as I had a depressive period from June to September thanks to my illogical health anxiety. Anyway, the point is that I never got around to check out the rest of their discography. After my initial Year of the Snitch, I checked out Ex-Military, which should be the album I should have listened to before the Money Store and Jenny Death, which featured guitars? Ok.

I first listened to Year of the Snitch last Tuesday when I wasn’t getting any sleep and decided to check out the Youtube Music App and came across the album in the new releases section. I got hooked on the first track, Death Grips is Online, and I have listened through the whole album eight times so far, and it still hasn’t worn off on me.

‘Death Grips is Online’ is an instant favorite for me, the lo-fi, rave-like and static-y feel of the vocals and the instrumental track. The layering is great and switches up things to make stuff more interesting- basically, it’s everything I want in a Death Grips track. The next rack, ‘Flies’, features a more aggressive and clearer vocal performance from Ride and the backing track strips down a bit, revealing a more skeletal synth-lead that really brings out the distressing feeling of being in the middle of a swarm of… flies? The third track, ‘Black Paint’ paints the return of Death Grips’ ‘usual’ industrial sound with that sludge-y backing track and MC Ride just going ham with his punchy vocals. And the song ends with a left hook-  an electric guitar solo.

That transitions effortlessly to ‘Linda’s in Custody’ which is my favorite track from the album. MC Ride gets on a low tone and lets the synth leads take the flow of the song. The layering in this track is tight and the way the samples follow up from each other sounds great. Then there’s hook, ‘If you got the will to jump, eat it like the devil’s cunt’ which still remains to be one of the most memorable and catchiest of lines from the album for me. Even though this track is supposed to be a lo-fi cooldown moment after the high-energy ‘Black Paint’, it still manages to be as catchy and groovy as Death Grips’ more abrasive and heavier sounding bops like ‘Hustlebones’, ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ and ‘No Love’. Songs like ‘Linda’s in Custody’ remind me why I started liking Death Grips in the first place- because of the instrumentals.

The fifth track, ‘The Horn Section is an insert that picks things up with a drum-driven solo and some swarming synth leads. It’s a pretty good transition into ‘Hahaha’, which also features an ear-rattling drum-driven backing track in the beginning then those cool samples chime in and a guitar comes to play during the hook (‘Hahaha bitch’) which is the funniest hook in the album. The crazy drums and the rock sound bleed into their seventh track, ‘Shitshow’ where MC Ride gets on top of his scream-rap game again, it’s another abrasive track, but the backing track isn’t as grimy as I expected it to be like the title suggests. Then again, about the 1-minute mark, there’s this high-frequency cymbal-like electronic sample that screamed to me, ‘Did ya miss the abrasion?’

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The lo-fi sound clears up in the seventh track, ‘Streaky’- which is my second most favorite track, and it’s probably the most accessible song in the album. The colorful and bubbly production on the backing track makes it stand out as a really solid electronica piece in the midst of the lo-fi sound that the album carries. It’s an absolute joy to listen to. MC Ride takes his normal tone of voice for this one, making the lyrics a bit easier to make out, still yet, I can’t decipher their message without looking them up in Genius.

And with another seamless transition, the next song ‘Dilemma’ starts with a few spoken words from Andrew Adamson (the director of Shrek), then the song gets back on the rock-centric groove, except this time the guitar is more prominent, the drums are less explosive and the samples are less kooky. ‘Little Richard’ starts off a really cool transition off ‘Dilemma’ with that spinny-squeaky sample that has already been used significantly throughout the album. Then, the song divulges into a rave-like traveling synth lead that goes through the song in a predictable way, which is kind of underwhelming.

The eleventh track, ‘The Fear’ starts off with another meme-y line: ‘I don’t know dude. I just drink blood dude’. Then a sinister, dissonant falling of, what sounds to me as piano chords, take over the lead in the track. MC Rides also shout-raps here, but his voice isn’t in the forefront anymore, instead, the instruments take the spotlight. It’s probably the quirkiest song in the album, yet, I still find the pacing of the song really tight with its occasional switch-ups. ‘Outro’ is another insert that brings out the rock-drone sound in its full form, though it’s not the real outro, it feels very much like one. The final track of the album, ‘Disappointed’ features a train-beat drum-ride in conjunction with ‘wah wah wah wah disappointed’ and I love the inter-cutting of Ride’s vocals during his rap verses in this song. Then he drops another really memorable lyric: ‘WHY ME?’. It’s emotional even though I can easily see the memetic value it carries with it. Then it just disappears into the ether, just like ‘Death Grips is Online’ appeared from the ether.

So those are my thoughts on the individual tracks of the album. Although the tracks in the Money Store are more explosive and groovy, I found the Year of the Snitch as a more complete album listening experience- with its interesting lo-fi elements, the inserts and the smooth transitions from one particular sound into another.

This has been my first time writing anything that resembles an album review so feedback would be helpful. I don’t plan on reviewing every album I like, but it’s been a while since I came across this refreshing of an album listening experience and I felt like sharing it.

Sorry about the weird formatting here, if you are reading this on a browser, I copied my review from Word and I can’t fix this.

Also, it’s been two years since I first posted on this blog. Yay!

Running in Devilman Crybaby: Passing the Baton

Devilman Crybaby is Masaaki Yuasa’s latest directorial series with his animation studio, Science SARU. This 10-episode anime is about Akira Fudou- initially, a shy, overly-empathetic highschooler who cries for the sorrow of others- who merges with the demon Amon and becomes a Devilman through the persuasion of his prodigious childhood friend Ryo. The story of Devilman Crybaby follows him, Ryo, Miki, Miko and the rappers in the neighborhood, as they witness their everyday lives change, as demons suddenly appear on the streets, looking to take over the world and the throw civilization into their own hellhole through chaotic acts of demonic debauchery.

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But the story doesn’t even comprise half of the watching experience for me. There are the thematic elements of, for instance, how humans are scarily similar to demons when push comes to shove and that we are all Devilmen. Hell, there’s also some (though it seemed kind of heavy-handed to me) social commentary on how people are always quick to judge on appearances in episode 5- a topic we don’t see discussed in anime a lot.

The visual department takes a big slice of the cake with those trademark Yuasa free-flow animation cuts, the sharply color-coordinated sexually explicit titillation- often getting amped up to an exploitative level- and the splatterfest-y gore that tonally bend the otherwise emotional storytelling of the anime. On the surface level throughout most of its runtime, the anime is an edgy nihilistic teenager’s wet dream (aka mine).

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Emotional storytelling in a nihilistic nightmare? Well.. yeah. Yuasa, in an interview, mentions that he set out to tell the story, in the midst of all the tits, butts and spilled guts, of how love really matters by the end. Yuasa aimed to make Ryo the character that starts and ends the story, with Akira, Miki, and Miko serving as the emotional core of the series. Among different narrative and thematic devices like social media and rap, track running became an apparently strong one at the chaotic tail end of the series.

Now that the 350-word introduction is done, let’s talk about running in Devilman Crybaby.

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In the first episode- after the introductory narration from Ryo, the first look into the present world is a practice track run in Akira’s high school. The run itself doesn’t lend the audience any character narrative- obviously- but rather introduces the audience to the characters. But the fact that the high school track is the setting where the characters are introduced say that running is a pretty important thematic groundwork in the anime.

But the talk about running doesn’t stop in the first episode, while Ryo drives Akira to the Sabbath, he poses a question- “Why do you run?… The human ability of movement can never reach those of dogs, cats, or birds. Weapons and vehicles are what bring out the abilities of humans.” Akira doesn’t have an answer to that. This is the moment where it is revealed that Ryo doesn’t really have everything figured out, he is still asking questions. Questions that a normal human doesn’t ask themselves openly.

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Why do we run, indeed? Everyone has their own reason, and so do the characters in the anime.

Akira runs because “It’s what you do on the track”. His answer isn’t really surprising and actually fits his character- he is someone who follows his heart rather than what he thinks is rational. Akira emotes for others than think about himself. In fact, the question also pops up when Akira was trying to get away from a demon in the Sabbath- really never got a straight answer and instead (kind of) agreed with Ryo and subconsciously wanted to surpass human capabilities at that moment by becoming a demon… ok, that’s enough of me jabbering.

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Miko runs for a more textured form of reasons. Initially, it seems like she has a rivalry with Miki where she hopes to one day be as fast as her. As the series progresses, her emotions get muddied and her rivalry turns into jealousy as she realizes that no matter how much she practices, she may never outrun Miki. This (primarily) catalyzes her transforming into a demon. But by the end, after an honest conversation with Miki, she finds the most complete answer to why she runs: love and admiration for Miki fuel her, she has already beat Miki in terms of time on the track but it didn’t give her the satisfaction she wanted.

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The question of “Why do you run?” doesn’t come up, at least directly, again until the end of episode 9 where Miki runs from the mob, she barely outruns the vehicle but she can’t outrun bullets. As a slow-motion montage of people running plays, Miki explains that she just can’t point to a reason, it’s just that she gets a feeling of progress as she runs- she thinks that by running, she can get the world to change even by a little. Miki runs to reaffirm her hope for progress. Even then, as she ran from the witch-hunting mob, she holds onto hope and belief, she believes that Akira will make things better again. I think that this part of the 9th episode really made Miki the best-written character from the rest.

Now a red baton shows up on screen.

In the same interview that I linked before, Yuasa mentions the intertwined nature of his character narratives:

…Besides Akira and Ryo’s story, the character I felt I had to get right was Miki. Why is Akira so attached to Miki, and where does her hope come from? And building on that, why does Ryo come to love Akira? What is it that Ryo takes away from meeting Akira and Miki? I set out to show just how the emotions of these three intertwine… (from Buzzfeed Japan, translated by Sakugabooru)

 

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The passing of the baton can be seen as a way that Yuasa and Ichiro Okuchi (the screenwriter for the series) wrote about the intertwining of emotions from the four characters: Akira, Ryo, Miki, and Miko. In episode 10, there is a pretty long and loopy animation cut which hammers in that aspect of character narration. As Akira fights Ryo in the midst of the apocalypse, that looped animation plays as in-between cuts where the baton passes from Miko to Miki, which symbolizes the dependence of Miko on Miki as a role model through love and admiration. The baton is then passed to Akira, showing that Miki puts her trust in Akira when the situation gets dire. Akira then proceeds to pass the baton to Ryo who drops it on the ground- indicating Ryo’s indifference to human emotions. But by the end, the baton does reach Ryo… by then, it’s too late. Ryo never ran, he never thought he needed to, he never got his question answered. Instead, he felt pain from Akira’s death.

So demons and humans both have emotions. They both run, it’s just that demons are faster.

The goal of this post wasn’t to show that Devilman Crybaby has some thoroughly solid thematic framework that intertwines seamlessly with its character narrative. Admittedly, the anime gets inconsistent and clumsy in its presentation of the themes and character development at several points in its runtime. Rather, I just wanted to share my appreciation for one of the ways Yuasa and the crew tried to put an emotional core to the story in the midst of all the brisk-paced ultraviolent, hypersexual demonic splatterfest. And I would say they did a good job.

Oh wait, how can I end this post about running without sharing my favorite meme from January 2018?

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Ugandan Knuckles who?

Actually, I could end this post without that.

Thanks for reading and I will see you next year with another clumsily-written post.

March Comes in Like a Lion S2 Ep 20: Hina & Highschool

This is going to be a short one because I don’t have much to talk about in this episode, other than that this episode fleshed out Hina’s way of thinking even more, and made me appreciate her even more as a personality.

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The episode starts off where the last left off, on Hina’s drawings. Rei, like Akari, finds the colorful drawings delicious. Hina lets out a sigh and laments that she has so many ideas for sweets that she’s going to sell in a future festival, but she has a mountainous pile of homework- which has built up since her class got behind because of the bullying incident. The conversation takes an awkward detour where Hina asks Rei when he decided that he wanted to be a pro-shogi player.

Rei starts off with a prelude of being in fourth grade and then the memory of his family’s funeral came up, that made him steer more towards more to the real reason- that he didn’t have anything to hold onto when tragedy befell him.

Anyway, Hina talks about wanting to help her Grandpa with the shop with her ideas, but she can’t do that because of entrance exams and homework. She also levels with the idea that maybe she just wants a distraction- which made me appreciate this angel of a personality even more. She is anxious about getting in a new environment, who may or may not bode well for her. With all of this laid out, Rei, considerately so, invites her and Momo to a flume noodles party (I don’t know what exactly it’s called).

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When the Kawamotos arrive, they confuse Noguchi as the teacher, a joke that weirdly hasn’t been done before. Hayashida also gets introduced to the Kawamotos, and he gives some jabs to Rei after he sees how cute Hina is. But, on seeing Akari, he forgets all about Rei and Hina, and freezes. It’s love at first sight.

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A light-hearted sequence follows where the science boys have a bit of a problem with calibrating the height of the bamboo shoot, and then Hayashida fails to get tempura. Among this, the Kawamotos see Rei having a fun time and Hina says, ‘I didn’t know there were fun high schools like this.’ And one can guess where the conversation goes from here. Hina wants to give entering Rei’s high school a try.

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When Rei finds out that Hina will be trying to get into his school, he is ecstatic; so he comes by the next day with a serious study plan. Akari also joins in to help with Pampered Udon, which she got the idea from her mother. This is shown through a neat little flashback where Mikako cooks that udon for Akari during her entrance exam prep.

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The episode ends with Hina confronting her Grandpa about her going to a private high school and him having to work even more to pay for her tuition. And he gives the best speech imaginable. He praises Hina that she has a sound mind on family finance, but he says that he wants Hina to enjoy her life more than anything else. And that brings Hina to tears- who wouldn’t cry when you hear a cool speech like that?

The viewers are reminded that it’s New Years in Sangatsu’s world.

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