Woah, I actually read books in 2020?!

Y’know, I have been in the mood for making some list posts. I was thinking about things I could make an end-of-year list for while I catch up on 2020 anime. The number of movies I have watched that came out last year were in the single digits but  I remembered that I read quite a few books in the summer of last year and there were some books that I still think back on now and then. So let’s just jump into my top 5 books that I read in 2020.

5. Osamu Dazai – No Longer Human

This is probably one of the most disturbing novels I’ve ever read; the detached, sterile narration is compelling. I knew about how this book is semi-autobiographical and how it kind of foretold how Dazai himself took his life not long after this book got published. It’s not disturbing in the sense that it’s shocking or visceral but rather in a way that haunted me for at least a week after I finished it. Yozo’s outlook on uncaring, nihilistic outlook on life sometimes felt real to me, and it’s in those moments that I felt that I was never going to forget the alienating sense of dread that this novel carries.

4. Charles Bukowski – Tales of Ordinary Madness

Bukowski might not have been the most pleasant human being to be around with, his writing is mostly direct, spiteful and vile but there are often moments of beautiful profundity throughout this collection of short stories that moved me. The stories are sometimes absurd, some of them read like smut, and some of them contain insightful social commentary. Even with all the grime in his prose, his writing feels very human and it’s such an effective style that it never fails to make my jaw drop. This book (along with the Post Office) made me acknowledge Bukowski as one of my favorite writers, simply because he’s a genius at putting together words, to put it bluntly.

3. Hunter S. Thompson – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Reading this was exciting, it took me two afternoons to burn through this – I couldn’t put it down. Similar to Bukowski, the Gonzo journalist’s writing has speed. Reading the dialogue feels like listening to a catchy, witty punk song with the hook getting faster throughout it’s runtime. There’s a groovy cadence to this whacked out story’s progression. Still, even under all this chaos there are moments of clarity near the end – the drugs can only distract you from the wasteland of the American Dream for so long, as Geroge Carlin once said “That’s why they call it the American Dream, you have to be asleep to believe it”. Although this novel very much fed into my cynicism, it’s definitely one of the most fun reading experiences I had in a long, long, long while.

2. Natsume Soseki – Kusamakura

If watching a iyashikei anime was a reading experience, with a more meditative feel to it – it would be reading Soseki’s Kusamakura. It offered the perfect escapism during a time when I much needed it, and for that, it holds a special place in my heart to this day. There is no concrete story backing the protagonist’s tangential, meditative self-narration, but there are forms of a romance that goes nowhere, the overtaking of industry and machinery in the traditional Japanese lifestyle are discussed. Even among this tranquilly-toned, floral prose, there are short goofy parts in it that caught me off-guard… in a good way. I have a hard time believing Soseki produced this masterpiece in a week of feverish writing, but at the same time, I don’t find it completely surprising since the protagonist goes on tangential ramblings that somehow elevated my engagement in whatever’s happening in the novel. This is some magical stuff.

1. John Williams – Stoner

There are very few books that left me flattened emotionally, but Stoner did it in a way unlike any other. The writing style doesn’t attempt to oversell or romanticize the emotions involved in this near biographical story of William Stoner, but the effectiveness of its honesty is something unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s a bleak story with Stoner trying to fix things in his life, only to find out he messed up everything else – almost nothing goes right. But even in the midst of its crushing bleakness there are moments of blinding beauty and uplifting warmth, especially near the end, that made me bawl my eyes out.

It’s the most human novel without any noticeable theatrical traits. Stoner is by no means, a pure character, he’s very much a flawed, regular human being but his obsession with singular things and the uncaring, rapidly changing world around him didn’t leave him much room to make things right the way he wanted it. The “side” characters are very well-written, I didn’t come away from this novel feeling angry towards the people around him because they had their own problems to deal with.

This is definitely my favorite book that I read last year. There’s a Morris Dickstein blurb at the back cover – “Stoner is something rarer than a great novel – it is a perfect novel” and I whole-heartedly agree. If you have time to read one book for the rest of the year, read Stoner.

And that’s it for my list.

I don’t know why but my writing’s tone was kinda lofty in this post… thank you for enduring it. See you soon.

Remembering Gintama: Favorite OP/EDs

Gintama just officially ended a few days ago, and I can’t put to words how I feel about it – firstly, I haven’t watched the final movie yet, and secondly, I’m not sure whether to feel sad or relieved that the show’s finally over. It’s complicated.

What’s not complicated is my adoration for this anime over all these years, it’s an absolute favorite of mine. So this is a small way of remembering my love (and laughs) for Gintama.

Prepare for a severe overusage of the word “nostalgic”.

Read More »

My Top 40 Albums of 2020

I seem to have lost the ability to write a introductory paragraph. 2020 can do that to ya. I don’t really want to think back on the year, other than talk about things that helped me escape temporarily, and music was definitely the biggest form of media I sought escape in.

And thanks to our wonderful artists, there were great music to make the year slightly more tolerable. I already shared my top 10 EPs of the year. So after dozens of rearrangements, here are my top 40 albums of 2020.

40. Sunny Day Service – Iine!

A wonderful spring time album that came out in March. Listening to it around that time made the initial bout of quarantining a bit more bearable. There is nothing groundbreaking about the pristine instrumentation, the breezy guitar riffs, and the summery vocals – some of them sound like CM songs – but it’s all so nicely packaged into a short sweet 35-minute that I can’t help but go “iine~”.

39. Moses Sumney – Græ

The enigma of grae is irresistible and it certainly caught me off guard. The sound play and production are colorful and entrancing, Sumney’s vocals sound uninspired in a few tracks but his songwriting still stood out to me the more I listened to this album. I think, with the album trimmed, I would’ve placed this higher on my list.

38. Dope Body – Home Body

I find the mixtape-like flow of the album really fun, it accentuates the volatile vibe of the band’s mutated and noisy instrumentation. Even though the mixing kind of falls flat in a few places, especially with the vocals – the kooky lo-fi aesthetic in the songs here kept me coming back to this record.

37. Gezan – KLUE

When I first heard the album, the vocals really put me off but on further listens my opinion on them did a complete 180 – they are the biggest appeal of the album for me now. The song structures and instrumental motifs are compelling but they get recycled quite a bit and I wish they went a bit further and made each song stand out on their own. Still, as an album listening experience, it’s pretty unique and I hope Gezan evolves their sound even more in the future.

36. ZOMBIE-CHANG – Take Me Away From Tokyo

I was always kind of skeptical of Meirin attributing the anti-EDM genre tag to her music.. until this – this certainly embodies anti-EDM. Zombie-Chang is yet to bore me, and it‘s not surprising given how readily she adapts new sonic ground in every new release. The pacing of the record is a bit off but there are still fun bangers backed by creative production on here.

35. Deerhoof – Future Teenage Cave Artists

Future Teenage Cave Artists is filled to the brim with fun guitar effects and riffs, and they rarely got overbearing for me the more listen-throughs I gave the album. The LP displays a great balance of melody and noise, and the odd hooks in quite a handful of songs are super sticky.

34. Dorian Electra – My Agenda

While not as thematically cohesive as their previous album, I still love how Dorian keeps expanding their stylistic range with each project and most of their experiments pans out to produce one banger after another. The features on this album are great, the tracklist is an eclectic mix of genres, production is on fleek as always – Dorian is yet to disappoint.

33. Fleet Foxes – Shore

With more shimmery instrumentation and the warm beach-side aesthetic of its production, Shore is one hell of a cleansing album. The first six tracks of the album are some of my favorite and anxiety-relieving musical experiences in 2020. While the magic doesn’t stay afloat throughout the entire album because the instrumentation kind of rethreads its own steps, I still think this is the most immediately catchy Fleet Foxes has ever sounded.

32. Horse Lords – The Common Task

Whatever the band brings to the table on this album is achieved through anything but a common task – there’s some kind of wizardry in how they transform these off-tempo mechanical-sounding mutant rhythms to make a catchy, dynamic piece. The length of the album could’ve been trimmed in some places and the transitions between signs were a bit rough. But overall, it’s definitely one of the more creative rock albums of 2020 for me.

31. clipping – Visions of Bodies Being Burned

I found this album to be a lot more tighter in terms of pacing than their last horrorcore album in 2019. I love how noise is mixed in the tracks here – it’s like abrasive ear candy –  especially in Make Them Dead. There’s more stylistic ground covered here compared to their last album. I think this is the first clipping LP that I enjoyed listening to as an entire project.

30. Kamisama Club – Jura

Jura is like a compilation of the band’s previous releases over a couple or more years. In this album, the duo brings refreshing takes on synth pop through some wonky, playful production, with Haru’s kiddish and playful vocals producing a fun dynamic with it. I love how boundaryless their stylistic palette is in this album… I mean, there’s even a smooth sax solo closing the album.

29. Rina Sawayama – Sawayama

The marriage between 00’s pop glam and nu-metal is super cohesive on Sawayama, Clarence Clarity’s production is as compelling as ever and Rina’s vocal performances sound even more dynamic. I could say that the pop diva aesthetic feels derivative but that wouldn’t be entirely true since she really makes it her own. Even so, there were still tracks that I never found myself coming back to, so I’m not ranking this higher.

28. Lovely Summer Chan – The Third Summer of Love

For a 1-hour album of seemingly unconnected tracks this is paced surprisingly well. The production is punchy and the guitar tones are colorful. I love how the instrumental psychedelic textures in a few tracks are joyously bright without being too overbearing. Aika’s saccharine vocals carry over to the instrumentation smoothly for most of the record but sometimes they lose presence in the mix. Still, it’s a really enjoyable rock album.

27. Goto Mariko acoustic violence POP – POP

Following up from her DJ510Mariko moniker, Mariko Goto subverted my expectations this December by putting out a set of some of the sweetest acoustic pop I’ve heard all year. I mean.. the name and the cover tell you otherwise. The recording and production reach a springtime-level of fresh and Mariko’s vocals remain playful and a joy to listen to no matter what genre she sings on.

26. Ichiko Aoba – Windswept Adan

Although I prefer her more acoustic albums a bit more, I still dig the change up in sound Ichiko made with this album. The serene, oceanic atmosphere is impossible to not love –  the production is gorgeous and compelling. I expected a bit more versatility in the instrumentation, since I went into this album knowing there would be a sonic change-up. I still love the song structures and the flow of the record – it feels a lot shorter than 50 minutes.

25. Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas

The album’s got one of the most stunningly gorgeous and powerful vocals I’ve heard all year – it is nearly overwhelming. Although the instrumentation in some songs leave me wanting more, the Lianne’s songwriting is emotionally potent and the recording of the tracks have a warm, in-the-moment atmosphere around them. And that Weird Fishes cover… Lianne made that song her own, in my honest opinion.

24. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

The core appeal of the album for me is how confrontational, vivid and gut-ripping Fiona’s lyrics are here and how her vocals sound volatile yet powerful. I love the dog bark samples scattered throughout the record and the percussion choices create a likeable DIY-aesthetic. My biggest issue with the album is that quite a few tracks close out a bit sluggishly. Despite the very raw nature of the lyrics, there are a handful of catchy hooks in the songs.

23. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – K.G.

It’s not a popular opinion but I enjoy K.G. more than the albums they put out last year. Although the band isn’t covering new ground, the tracklist is filled with a larger variety of ideas and they are packaged well in 41 minutes. The song transitions are smooth, but that’s nothing new for King Gizz, it’s just more impressive given the amount of jumping they do between styles in the album.

22. Seiko Oomori – Kintsugi

Even with no track dropping under 4 minutes, Seiko makes one of the more engaging J-pop albums of 2020. The song structures and the instrumental pacing in almost every song is measured. Seiko’s vocal style has become more mature but her signature kawaii-grit is still somehow there. Although I wish there was more back-and-forth between the singer-songwriter and erratic experimental elements, this is still a solid showing from one of my favorite artists in Japan.

21. Clown Core – Van

Van is just 17 minutes long, I would consider it as an EP if it weren’t for the number of tracks, but it’s undeniable how replayable the songs are on this thing. I would be lying if the music videos didn’t increase my appreciation of what the duo is going for. The flow of the tracks is tight and even though there isn’t a lot of variety in the recording instruments, the tones explored in the record are varied and the overall instrumentation itself is catchy as hell – the sax solos never miss. Even the slower, smooth jazzy ones are wonderful.

20. Twice – Eyes Wide Open

This is the best release from the group so far, it’s consistently catchy – I love how mature their sound has gotten, their vocal arrangements are catchier than ever, even the rap portions are decent. The production is polished but not to the point where it sounds too pristine and sterile. I have noticed Twice’s previous mini-albums experimenting with different genres but this is the one where almost everything pans out smoothly.

19. Against All Logic – 2017- 2019

I ended up liking this a bit more than the previous AAL album, I love the industrial elements incorporated while keeping the house groove intact – it’s almost like controlled chaos, with the risks that Jaar seemed to take on the production largely paying off. The flow of the record isn’t the smoothest and some of the tracks grew off me over the months, but the highs on this album are soaring highs. This is definitely one of the more exciting electronic albums that came out early in the year.

18. Zen huxtable with trial of the golden witch – return to a world of love

This is my favorite material Digi has put out in terms of their music so far. Zen’s musical talent fills in with instrumentals playing with layering and Digi’s vocal delivery is more varied. They always tried to experiment in their musical projects but I think this is the first time where each experiment has panned out this well throughout an entire album. This is some lightning in a bottle stuff.

17. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now

I honestly loved this way more than her 2019 album – while there aren’t any gigantic multi-collaborated pop anthems on here, the tracklist is tighter and Charli’s songwriting shines through a lot more strongly. The production plays with left-field ideas as usual, and it also has a claustrophobic aesthetic to it. Even with more inward-facing songwriting, Charli’s songs are as catchy as ever.

16. Chiaki Mayumura – Nihon Genki Onna Kashu

Chiaki released two solid pop albums this year but this one won me over with a more eclectic set of tracks. It’s amazing that she still hasn’t run out of creative juice given how prolific she was this year. My only issue with the album is that her rap delivery gets uninspired at points. Still, it’s impressive how effortlessly her vocals cross genre boundaries – and with a more vivid and playful production – Chiaki remains one of the most exciting voices from Japan for me.

15. Shabaka and the Ancestors – We Are Sent Here By History

Spearheaded by Shabaka Hutchings on the tenor sax and strongly influenced by African rhythms – this jazz record’s themes expand from topics like toxic masculinity to depicting the birth of our species, and war, and the war on white supremacy. It is pretty politically charged, thanks to the passionate vocals from Mthembu. The compositions themselves are fiery and smoky in texture and meditative in pacing. While this album isn’t as explosive or psychedelic as the Comet is Coming, its dynamic spiritual effect is undeniable.

14. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

Punisher, at its best moments, is emotionally crushing… and there’s a lot of best moments here. The stripped-back, dewy, nocturnal atmosphere of the record is so rich that it’s something I can drench in for hours. Phoebe’s breathy vocals are hauntingly beautiful and her story-telling kind of songwriting is something very undeniably special. The closing track is definitely one of the best album closers of 2020.

13. The Microphones – Microphones in 2020

Phil Elvrum is a very visual songwriter and it’s no less apparent in this one-song, 44 minute record. I love how the instrumental sounds cyclic but as the album progresses it gets more dynamic with more layering – it’s entrancing. Granted, it might sound boring to people not familiar with his work since it’s a personal album. But I think that’s the charm of the record, I think almost every aspect of it stems from his earnest reflections. It’s not profound in a grand sense but beautiful things don’t have to be profound.

12. The Strokes – The New Abnormal

I didn’t expect the Strokes to be back in form in 2020. What a tightly paced, gorgeously produced batch of tracks this is. Julian’s voice doesn’t sound aged one bit, some of his best vocal performances in two decades turn up on this album. The instrumentation sounds very live in the mixes. The smooth mixing also makes for one of my relaxing (although the lyrics aren’t quite relaxing) album listening experiences all year. Also, the LP’s got one of favorite album covers of 2020, hands down.

11. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?

Sensual disco grooves hard on this LP but Jessie Ware also brings in more textures of soul, funk, R&B, and pop and blends them into a tracklist that flows like butter on the ears –  there is almost zero fatigue my ears accumulate throughout its runtime. It is kind of scary how smooth the record flows despite its length, even the couple of songs that I don’t care for often flow by before I remember to skip them. The production’s charm is irresistible.

10. AJJ – Good Luck Everybody

This record grew in relevance to me as the months rolled on in 2020, the despair felt real. It’s near prophetic. I love Sean Bonette’s songwriting and he’s still got it in this album – his lyrics remain as sticky and visual as ever. True, this is not nearly as “folk-punk” in terms of instrumentation and performances as their previous albums but I think their politically and socially charged spit and grit are still there in the lyrics.

9. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

What a timely release this was back in June. Even without the context of mass unrest and the duo’s cutting political commentary, this 39 minute album feels larger than the listener. The beats are punchy and they could easily be soundtracks in a dystopian movie –  which was pretty much a reality for some people in 2020. The big name features actually elevate the sheer power of the tracks. RTJ4 is definitely one of the biggest statements in hip-hop in 2020.

8. Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind

On the outside looking in, Bowie’s transmutation of versatile dishes of genres and song structures on this album seem impossible and dizzying but the end result turned out to be way more cohesive and focused than expected. The basslines on this album are delicious and the soul bits play between sweet and sensual. There aren’t enough nice things to say about this album, I hope Yves comes out with more music with this same experimental vision in the future.

7. Natalia Lafourcade –  Un canto por México vol. 1

Natalia reworks and channels some of her previous material along with some covers into a Mexican folk avenue and the end result is one of the most gorgeously recorded LPs of 2020. I can’t have enough of Natalia’s vocals and the compositions are rich – it’s like aural honey. The album feels like a celebration of traditional Mexican music and I think it transcends cultural barriers really effectively – it’s a pure joy to listen to. I can’t wait for volume two.

6. TORIENA – Pure Fire

It is. It is pure fire. This starts hard, goes hard, and keeps on going hard – the production never stops evolving through its runtime and Toriena never runs out of creative gas with the synth-play. The breaks on this are insane and as raw as the meat on the cover. Pure Fire ended my search for a better rave album for the rest of the year. The only reason I’m not ranking this higher is that the album doesn’t quite stick the landing with the ending track. But other than that, get ready to turn fun inside out with this.

5. Dan Deacon – Mystic Familiar

Never heard of Dan Deacon (the shame) before this album but boy oh boy – what a life-affirming record this is. The arrangement is gorgeous in all of the tracks, the production has an colorful, ethereal spirit to it, and Dan’s contemplative songwriting meshes in with the mystical abstract aesthetic of the album. I know I’m kind of using five-dollar words to describe the record but it really is that compelling. It feels like a journey, and it made for one of my favorite musical experiences of 2020.

4. Boris – NO

The band still has it after all these decades, they somehow revived the noisy sludge metal magic of Heavy Rocks (2002) and Pink and evolved it by amalgamating it with the contrasting atmosphere of Dear and the speed of crust punk. The transitioning between the faster and slower tracks is seamless. The pacing of the entire album is tight. This record’s got some of the strongest vocal work in years, the guitar tones are ear candy and the drums got power. I would even go as far as saying that, out of the pummeling sludge metal albums in their discography, this is second only to Heavy Rocks for me. Yeah, Boris ain’t fucking around in this one.

3. Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM

Over the last couple of years, Jeff has quickly become one of my most listened to singer-songwriters. I love his direct, visceral songwriting and his angst is infectious – and all of these qualities are prominent in No Dream. Even the energetic pop-punk instrumentation takes a back seat to Jeff’s electric yet melodic vocals. No Dream feels like a sequel to his 2016 album Worry – where things that weren’t going well are going worse and you JUST WANT TO SCRAM. This record has songs on it that I sang in the shower all summer this year – it’s that catchy.

2. Adrianne Lenker – songs

Gosh, what an emotionally unwinding album this is. The folk instrumental atmosphere is entrancing. I don’t know what kind of production spell Adrianne used to make acoustic guitars sound so full of life – it’s almost as if Adrianne is harnessing nature to sound through guitars and organic sounding production here. I love how her honeyed and fragile vocals pours through the notes in the songs. Her lyrics are so vivid and they cover an entire palette of emotions. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve come back to this album since I first listened to it in late October. Also, shout out to her grandmother, Diane Lee, for the gorgeous album cover.

1. Black Dresses – Peaceful as Hell

As the album name suggests, Black Dresses finds the perfect balance between raw, emotionally chaotic noise and catchy, melodic pop anthems. Even concept-wise they complement their grimey angst with feelings of wholesomeness through tasteful walls of distortion. Their songwriting is visceral and it comes from a vulnerable place that I found myself relating with heavily. There’s a lot of hooks that stuck with me for a long time this year. This record is akin to taking a trip down through the metaphorical grimey tubes of the internet and discovering and cherishing the kind, wholesomeness that some parts of the internet emanate – and that makes it all worth it. And so this album makes me hopeful, and it always will.

That’s it for my favorite albums of 2020! Happy New Year, y’all.

My Favorite EPs of 2020

I’m just hopping on quick to share my favorite EPs of this godforsaken year – 10 of them to be exact.

10. xiangyu – kiki

Compared to her last EP, this is a much tighter set of tracks in terms of her rap/sing-talky delivery and runtime while keeping the range in sonic palette intact. Wednesday Campanella’s Hidefumi produced this so expect some “world music” aesthetic laced in techno form (I heard that the beats take inspiration from Gqom). This is a bubbly, playful listen.

9. ITZY – It’z ME

I don’t follow Kpop as closely as I used to a couple of years ago but there are still groups that I try to keep up with. ITZY has been one of them, and this is probably my favorite mini-album from them so far. The production sounds fresh in almost every track, it features a wider sonic palette and the vocal lines are catchy – I mean do that consistently, and you got a solid pop project.

8. Uboa – The Flesh of the World

While Uboa doesn’t sound as crushing as she did in her 2019 album, this EP expands on the darkwave ambient aspects of album. The song structures aren’t as varied but the synth palette for all the tracks is amazing. Although kind of formulaic, I still love the meditative buildup followed by a cathartic climax in each track.

7. Dirty Projectors –  Windows Open

This project had quite a creative run this year, putting out a series of five EPs pulling sounds from various genres – they are all decent but the first one stuck with me the most. The stripped back acoustic instrumentation is sweet and there’s something captivating about Maia Friedman’s vocals on this project.

6. Crystal Tea – Pink Movie

Crystal Tea dons the 2000’s J-pop rock aesthetic and compellingly makes it her own on this EP. The tracklist is sweet, catchy – neon guitar tones coupled with slick production. The songs don’t overstay their length, even the steadier, slower ones like Roman Porno and Twinkle Twinkle Little Scar don’t ruin the flow of the EP.

5. Tkay Maidza – Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2

This plays like the perfect nocturnal playlist. The sweeter RnB and pop elements mesh with the more industrial tracks near immaculately – the production is pure ear candy. This is definitely one of the smoothest flowing projects of the year.

4. Shygirl – ALIAS

Dark, slimy and raunchy – Shygirl’s brand of deconstructed club and UK Bass fucks, even literally. The stylistic variety on this EP is pretty wide, especially for its runtime, but there’s a strong aesthetic cohesion glueing them together. This is like a spider web I don’t want to get unstuck from.

3. Soul Glo – Songs to Yeet at the Sun

I think this is where hardcore punk has sounded the most gut-ripping and adrenaline-pumping all year. The band managed to fit a banging hip-hop track in the tracklist and I don’t know how it didn’t put me off one bit. If you are at all interested in punk and you have 11 minutes to spare, spend them on this.

2. Haru Nemuri – Lovetheism

Compared to her last album, this is a smaller release but sonically, it matches the scale and intensity of Haru to Shura in terms of anthemic rushes fueled by her alchemical mix of genres. It’s amazing how more in-the-moment and “live” some of the tracks sound here, like Pink Unicorn and Umi ni Natte. What an electric release this is, I hope Haru Nemuri keeps evolving her sound and continues to make more noise of us.

1. Satoko Shibata – Slow In

The healing power in Satoko Shibata’s music couldn’t have felt more potent to me in a year like 2020. This EP is just four perfect chamber pop tracks that makes 14 minutes feel like a fresh breeze – light on the ears, soothing to the heart. The recording of the songs is pristine, the instrumentation thrives in its simplicity and Shibata’s vocals on this should be prescribed as anti-anxiety medication.

So imagine my shock when I found out this is my most played EP of the year.

That’s all for my favorite EPs of 2020. See you with another year-end list soon!

Revisiting Favorites: Hausu

Hausu is the only movie I have watched four times and it still hasn’t lost its magic. A short 90-odd minute, masterfully paced, trip just crammed with absurdist humor and an even more absurd storyline.

This 1977 cult classic is a very visual film. The first thing that pops out in terms of the movie’s visual identity is the editing – the only readily describable characteristic of it is that it gives throwbacks to old commercials which makes sense because I read somewhere that the director, Nobuhiko Obayashi (or was it the editor Nobuo?), used to make TV commercials. The editing screws with you – the transitioning shots are trippy, the timing stutters, and the manga-like paneling of shots here and there are treats.

The color grading/lighting, for the most part, give a shimmery, other-worldly look to it. Another aspect of the visuals that pop is the special effects that look “bad”, like Birdemic levels of bad, but upon rewatches it became more apparent that their implementation is intentional, as to create this freakish alien world and also simultaneously mess with the viewer. Hausu rejects visual cohesion and embraces the freak that it wants to be.

Also, did you know that Hausu is the progenitor of cat videos?

Technically, Hausu is a well-shot movie, the angles get crazy (*gets flashbacks to the glass floor bedsheet beatdown*) but there are no insane, expensive block-buster level camera movements. The shot compositions are very deliberate which, again, tells me the movie is constructed in that freakish way intentionally. The sound design of the film isn’t as mind-bending but the main theme of the movie is catchy, I love how its color in the instrumentation gets more and more stripped back throughout the film’s runtime.

Hausu’s poster is one of my favorites.

Technical aspects aside, the core narrative of Hausu is a straightforward yet somber one. Gorgeous (Oshare), a highschooler wants to reconnect with her late mother through her aunt after her father starts to date another woman, so she takes her friends for a visit to her aunt’s HAUSU. I think you can guess what ensues from there but turn the weirdness up unscalable times – then you’ll get a feel for it. I don’t want to spoil (but I will to some extent) as to what heights of ambition the absurd imagination of Hausu’s scriptwriters push the “scary” scenes. I read somewhere that the director’s daughter came up with some ideas for the horror scenes too – maybe she inspired the quote “it’s like cotton candy!” referencing a certain horrific event – it’s just peak dark comedy.

The cast of characters, other than Gorgeous and the Aunt, share simplistic writing but their interactions never fall short of entertaining . My favorite character is Kung-fu. She’s bad-ass, she got some legs on her  – you’ll know what I mean near the end of the film. Also, Miki Jinbo is pretty as hell in this.

On to one of my favorite scenes – Melody’s piano scene gave birth to one of my favorite lines in all of cinema – “Oh my! That’s naughty.” 

I know you are probably confused, so am I… still. I don’t know why I find it so funny every single time. It might be the context, it might be the whacked out visuals, it might be the intonation of Melody’s voice, might be her smile – maybe it’s everything.

I don’t think any review of Hausu justifies or even describes how amazing it is – you have to watch it and find out. There are still so many details that unraveled before me throughout my rewatches and I think it still will in future rewatches.

I wish I could take the time to do a detailed analysis like my last Revisiting Favorites post (two years ago) but I wanted to come back to my blog for a short post, and besides, what’s a better occasion to recommend this other than Halloween?

Hausu is a Halloween essential. No, it’s a life essential – watch it before you die.

Coexistence in Eizouken

Every now and then, a show comes along that act like a nostalgic stimulus that uproots the core reasons why I was drawn to anime since my formative years. Seeing Asakusa and her crew dive into their imaginative antics brought back memories of me being 9 or 10 years old – it would be after Toonami ended, and me and my younger brother would zip around the house re-enacting (or maybe LARPing?) our own “prediction” fan-fiction sequel of the DBZ or Naruto episode we then finished. We definitely looked pretty insane stomping through the apartment for a solid half an hour (maybe it was all the sugar in the milk tea we had) but in our heads we were checked in into our own world. I never really fully committed and wrote down an entire fanfiction (thank the lord), but I can relate to the surge of inspiration Asakusa felt when she saw Conan of the Lost Island.

Screenshot (221)

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is the latest project from Science SARU, spearheaded by Masaaki Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi – highly respected profiles in the industry and among fans. It follows a slice of the story of three high school girls as they produce anime films,  and polish their craftsmanship.

While these “love letters to the medium”- type shows, like Shirobako takes a more fleshed-out dive into how anime production works on a bigger scale, and simultaneously explores the psyche of different people in different departments of production, Eizouken is more focused on distilling out the ideals of work ethic and artistic vision, and does it in compelling ways. And that’s sort of a trend I see as I watch more shows directed by Yuasa, it’s that he prefers to focus on a message and make it bleed into almost all departments of the show.

As far as the technical aspects of the anime go, the soundtrack and its spacious sound design are my favorite parts. The soundtrack is other-worldly, mystical at times, and playful at others. It’s refreshing, the soundtrack sounds like spring. It goes well with the reality-imagination shifts that happen often throughout the series. I doubt these transitions are meant to be a device for narrating magical realism, rather it seems pretty clear that are supposed to be visual representations of emotions and thought-processes behind the characters. The fact that these transitions rarely have any visual or audio cues make them feel, weirdly real, as if they are part of the main narrative – maybe they are to some extent. It’s up to imagination.

Screenshot (194)

While I am not 100% on board with these un-cued and sometimes random forays into “imagination world”, I feel like they add character to the show and they are animated as imaginatively as they are storyboarded. More often than not, these transitions remind me that I really am watching an anime – a visual medium, where tedious verbal exposition and dialogue is replaced by free-spirited animation. Interestingly, the show itself mirrors these elements in the Eizouken girls’ productions – there’s a lot of emphasis on visuals and BGM.  The OP is catchy – the looping bluesy riff and chelmico’s playful verses don’t come up in the short version of the song but it’s still fun. I’m a big fan of the color scheme in the sequence, it pops just as much as the character designs do – maybe it’s the other way around, maybe it’s the OP that gives the designs so much memorability for me.

Screenshot (218)

Eizouken is a fantastic-looking show. In addition to the neat character designs, the CG rendered backgrounds surprisingly mesh well with the exaggerated POV and character animation. There’s also a bit more control in the fluidity of the character animation, it seems – and while this is a bit off the beaten-path for a Yuasa show, I don’t hold any grievances over it. The visual direction of the show still has its own brand of flair – from cinematic camera movements to panel divisions.

The chemistry between the main trio is… unique. It’s not the cute dynamic you expect in a Doga Kobo-esque CGDCT (I almost forgot the term, it’s been a while), where the girls in a club are working towards a goal, driven with an unbridled passion for the medium; and when shit hits the fan, they join hands and boost each other up to overcome it. Not saying that Eizouken doesn’t share these elements in the character dynamic – there’s a sense of realism to it. Mizusaki is probably the closest to a genki-girl you can find in the group, she’s got a real drive to get things done, but at the same time, she gets stuck on minute details an average viewer wouldn’t care about – she gets too stuck on her craft to maintain a constant workflow. Asakusa starts out as a timid aspiring concept artist, her ambition can pierce the heavens! And Mizusaki’s entry seemed to jumpstart Asakusa’s visionary drill. It seemed that the girls are ready to pour their souls out for their craft.

Screenshot (223)

But that’s rarely how anything turns out – there are always restrictions. Artistic ambition and talent can only get you so far when it comes to real-life productions in real-time, compromises to your vision need to be made in order to come up with a final product – and that’s a message the show hammers on whenever the Eizouken girls finish one of their shorts. Mizusaki and Asakusa accept that success and failure aren’t binaries (they coexist) and that there’s always room for improvement – ambition is a drill that doesn’t stop spinning because there’s always a wall behind the one you just overcome.

Hard-headed Kanamori is a mediator of the duo’s ambition and work ethic. She is the funniest character on the show for me, but there’s no doubt that she is the pivot of the trio that the show needed to cement their core message of coexistence. Whenever the club’s production runs into a wall, Kanamori steps up and tries her best to get things going again. Why? She wants to have productive profit – good money. She wants to prop up things that she feels other people should pay attention to.

And through this juxtaposing dynamic between Kanamori’s hard-headedness, Mizusaki’s perfectionist drive and Asakusa’s unbridled artistic vision drives home the show’s theme of coexistence. That in order to produce a finished product, the three should find a compromise, passion isn’t supposed to be extinguished, but rather should be supported by level-headedness – with some compromise. A bit of compromise might make your workflow feel a bit easy breezy.

Although, Eizouken’s message of accepting coexistence is strong, it would feel a bit too short-sighted – not all fights are caused through misunderstandings or lack of empathy, there are just purely malicious people out there. Still, I like to think that the message has more weight to it than depth. Another criticism I have is that I wish the supporting characters had a bit more going to them, most of them were just for laughs. Speaking of which, the comedy didn’t always stick, especially when it came to the episode-by-episode student council shenanigans, I became numb to it to some degree over the episodes.

Screenshot (224)
The head tilt showdown was funny for a couple of episodes

Even with all that said, Eizouken is an exciting show – it feels very much like a tribute to the work ethic and ambition of the people behind anime. It also reminded me of a more fundamental reason for my attachment to anime – an interest in cool alternative realities. The anime also carries a hopeful message that while limitless dreams and mundane reality are seemingly opposites now, we have the power to stitch them together through an exciting piece of work in the future – piece by piece, one stitch at a time.

Thanks for reading. Hope y’all are staying safe.

Screenshot (204)

My Top 30 Albums of 2019

Welcome to my first post of the year, and it’s time to share my top 30 albums of 2019!

I’m pretty happy with my consistency with the music roundup series last year, and thanks to that 2019 had been yet another taste-expanding year of music for me – it’s been really fun talking about them in the roundups and I hope I keep on doing them in 2020 as well.

Initially, I had a shortlist of 40 albums but I was having anxiety while I was trying to cut off 15 from the list, so I settled for 30. I love them all, just in slightly varying degrees. Another thing to note is that some albums grew on me, and some grew off (sadly) – but that’s how year-end lists go. Okay, I think that’s enough of a preamble, let’s get started with this.

#30 3776 – Saijiki

3776 saijiki

A dense concept pop album where it’s thematic elements are layered as thickly as the sonic elements going into it – every track corresponds to a month of the year and brings forth natural and festival sounds related to that month, and track-by-track playback gives off the smoothness of a well-curated DJ mix. The freshness of the mix doesn’t wear off easily.

#29 Weatherday – Come In

weatherday come in album art

It was a gut-punching listen the first few listens around, and although that effect wore off over the months – it’s undeniable how much heart this record carries under the envelope of its rough lo-fi aesthetic. The bright guitar passages and the unfiltered vocals still sound warm and full of life.

#28 Haruomi Hosono – Hochono House

haruomi hosono hochono house

Although it’s a “rework” of Hosono’s 1973 tropical pop-rock classic Hosono House, the record sounds like a brand new one. By no means is this a lazy “rework”. Hosono’s vocals sound reserved, and the coffee-lounge aesthetic of the versatile instrumentation made it a really great comfort album – an album that I found myself returning to more often than I expected throughout the year.

#27 Brockhampton – Ginger

brockhampton ginger

Ginger sits significantly at a lower level in terms of “creatively unstable energy” in the boyband’s discography but it’s packed with some of the most centered and depressing content the boys’ have put out. There are tracks here that are some of the best songs they’ve come out with so far, and they hit differently.

#26 Chai – Punk

1aCHAI009_BH1A_H1-4_Q3511_prep.pdf

This neo-kawaii pop-punk outfit’s 2019 was really great in terms of their popularity outside of Japan, and it couldn’t have come along with a better record release. Punk‘s instrumentation is catchy yet textured like its energy is barely in control, the bass riffs are great, and their choruses are heartful and anthemic – it’s clear that Chai has got a solid command over their brand of sound by now.

#25 Rainbow Chan – Oblivion

rainbow chan pillar

Just a sleek, alien-sounding art-pop record that still sounds alluring and haunting at the same time. Chan’s vocals mostly feel distant in the textured mist of the mutated production but when they come to focus – my ears start to melt. Oblivion was certainly an album that stood out for me in terms of listening experiences in 2019.

#24 James Blake – Assume Form

james blake assume form

Gorgeous, gorgeous vocals are complemented with flowery electronic textures on this melancholic LP. The aesthetic of the record feels like an even split between hip-hop and ballad but Blake manages to bring them together thanks to some solid features and a soulful vision in his songwriting.

#23 Lightning Bolt – Sonic Citadel

lightning bolt sonic citadel

Although this might be the noise-rock duo’s most accessible album, it features some of the wildest cuts in their discography. The energy of the drums and bass is infectious, and the record’s cacophonous noise textures pack more melody than their previous ones. I  don’t need to be in a certain mood to listen to this album – it brings in the mood.

#22 Hina Ohta – Between the Sheets

hina ohta between the sheets

Nocturnal and lush are two words that would describe the production on this album. And Ohta’s controlled vocals only help with the ebb and flow of the album. There are versatility and dynamism in the electronic textures – definitely a beautiful record I would not forget to include in my favorites list.

#21 Lingua Ignota – Caligula

lingua ignota caligula

Nearly traumatic, but completely cathartic – Hayter’s brand of neo-classical darkwave sounds chilling. The lyrics are cursed and pained, the vocals bite and the production cleanses in a strange way. Listening to this album needs some mental bracing beforehand.

#20 Thom Yorke – Anima

thom yorke anima album art

On initial listens, Anima seemed to a collection of bustling, rich IDM cuts but Yorke’s floating and barely-present vocals soon reveals the restless anxiety that the synths are alluding to. The abstract hypnotic mix of the instrumentation sometimes transports me to these eerie dreamscapes, it’s weirdly meditative but kind of itchy as well.

#19 ・・・・・・・・・(Dots) – Points

dots points

The shoegaze idol group’s final album gives off the feeling of timeless nostalgia – with a versatile range of stylistic influences incorporated in a way that sounds polished and not novel at all. The technopop cuts sandwiched between the swirling dreamy ones make for quite an engaging listen.

#18 Caroline Polachek – Pang

caroline polachek pang

Pang‘s real allure lies in the sonic welding of Caroline’s saccharine vocals and the rich, cerebral production. It has certainly made for some of the most uniquely sweet musical experiences last year.

#17 Moka Sato – merry go round

moka sato merry go round

Sweet, cute, comfy wintertime pop tunes with seamless RnB integration make up the bulk of merry go round but they rarely got stale through the months I’ve listened through this because the production is that pristine, and Sato’s vocals are gorgeous on almost every track.

#16 Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿

danny brown uknowhatimsayin

Danny has cleaned up his image but his music is yet to disappoint. Although this record isn’t as feverish and out-there as Atrocity Exhibition, his music still remains psychedelic and explorative in terms of production and his nasal flow remains fresh. The features here are solid.

#15 Pup –  Morbid Stuff

pup morbid stuff

Pup’s third full length features some of the catchiest pop-punk anthems of the year. While the lyrics aren’t super witty (they are often self-aware, though), the unabashed earnest energy they are performed with makes the listening experience all the more relatable and sort of cathartic.

#14 Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains

purple mountains album art

The album sounds all the more crushing after Berman’s passing. There’s something deeply resonating with how Berman often combines his wallowing depressing songwriting in an uplifting instrumental casing. It’s not a novel aesthetic since it’s apparent that he wanted to lighten the weight with it. An essential singer-songwriter album of 2019.

#13 Otoboke Beaver – Itekoma Hits

otoboke beaver itekoma hits

Just brimmed with catchy, melodic and gritty punk cuts – Itekoma Hits is nearly pure ear candy. It’s not just the riot-grrrl aesthetic that drives the impact of the record, the instrumentals have space and are playful, the vocal performances have power and the chemistry between the members is noticeably good. If there’s a Japanese punk album you should check out – this is it.

#12 Tropical Fuck Storm – Braindrops

tropical fuck storm braindrops

Like a stroll through a sandstorm on psychedelics – listening to Braindrops is in equal parts disorientating and resonant. The instrumentation and vocals are alien yet human with its rough edges. It’s definitely a punk album that displayed the most warmth and bared the band’s unkempt emotions most rivetingly.

#11 Hakushi Hasegawa – Air Ni Ni

hakushi hasegawa air ni ni

Hasegawa displays that he has a solid command on rhythm manipulation on Air Ni Ni – and the versatile, jittery jazz-breakcore cuts still have an unmistakable pop appeal in the midst of all the chaos – and there’s rarely anything more impressive than a producer having full control of whimsical chaos. I have grown to like Hasegawa’s breezy vocals on this quite a bit as well. The whole record is a treat.

#10 Uboa – The Origin of My Depression

uboa the origin of my depression

My first listening experience of this album was nearly scarring. It’s unfiltered and definitely not for the squeamish because Xandra unloads it in such a distressing way so that the listener gets an inkling of an idea of her traumatic experiences through this atmospheric noise project.

#9 never young beach – Story

never young beach story

A nearly perfect record to put on a chill Sunday afternoon. Story is actually one of the more energetically subdued releases from the Japanese surf outfit but the guitar passages are some of the most memorable ones from last year. Personally, this is an album that made me cope with homesickness when I moved out for college – because the tone of the album sounded nostalgic.

#8 Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising

weyes blood titanic rising

An emotionally riveting chamber pop album. Natalie’s vocals are mellifluous – it’s the glue that melds together the production and songwriting. The production gives this timeless aesthetic to the sound of the record. The instrumentation in each of the tracks seems to have their own lives – their own distinct personality – and it couldn’t be more apparent that a lot of care is put behind their arrangements.

#7 100 gecs – 1000 gecs

100 gecs 1000 gecs

This 23-minute album grew on me like a pleasant tumor (as if that exists) throughout 2019 – and I think this my second most played record of the last year. I even grew fond of the two sound collage/DJ-mix-like tracks that I couldn’t stand on initial listens. The rest of the record features tracks which are essentially what I hope are the prototypes of bubblegum-bass-centric pop music to come.

#6 Dorian Electra – Flamboyant

dorian electra flamboyant

2019 is thankful for Dorian’s genre-blending and gender-bending brand of flamboyant pop. Their lyrical and aesthetic vision feels so refreshing right off their debut. The production on here is so sticky, it’s truly a meeting of the some of the best producers in the game. While it’s a fun pop album on the surface, Dorian lays down some relevant social commentary pertaining to gender politics and turns some of them into anthemic pop bangers.

#5 Satoko Shibata – Ganbare! Melody

satoko shibata ganbare melody

There are few other singer-songwriter albums I heard in 2019 that feature songs that exhibit a catchy sense of melody. There are tracks on this I still hum to this day, and they haven’t gone stale in the slightest. The backing band behind the production is lively and Shibata’s voice is sweet. I don’t think there’s a better album I could point to that came out last year that encapsulated the warm and hearty folk aesthetic as compellingly as this record.

#4 black midi – Schlagenheim

black midi schlagenheim album artwork

Undoubtedly the most creative rock album of 2019 – Schalgenheim feels polished despite Greep and the crew cramming so many sonic textures pulling from various underground genres of rock, and arranging them in such a satisfying way. The songwriting here seems absurd on the surface, but reading into them reveals their cryptic meta shining through the snippet-like point-of-view narratives. What a versatile debut – and I have no idea what the band’s going to do next, and that’s exciting.

#3 Angel Olsen – All Mirrors

angel olsen all mirrors

This album (as Endless Jess would say) unzipped me emotionally. I never got as close to bawling my eyes out listening to an album like this one. The orchestra-backed half and pop-ish parts of the production are in equal parts intimate and flooring. Angel’s vocals are nearly on the verge of drowning in the titanic production, but they still don’t lose their soul-baring allure. Her presence is ghostly and haunting, and that’s something that makes the album sound so timeless and unforgettable.

#2. Chiaki Mayumura – Gisshiri Haguki/ Meja Meja Monja

Yeah I know I am cheating by putting two albums on the same rank but I really couldn’t pick the better one from the two – both records appeal to me in equally compelling yet different ways. Gishhiri Haguki (released in January) is supposed to be Chiaki’s debut commercial release but the double album feels like a “best of” collection with the versatility and stylistic range Chiaki displays here. That album instantly made her one of the most refreshing voices in J-pop for me in 2019. Meja Meja Monja (released in May) only built-up in terms of production quality, and it’s an album I would point to for new fans because it’s tracklisting is shorter. Chiaki’s brand of singer-songwriter pop radiates charisma, and I love how willing she is in pushing the stylistic envelope for pop music and still keep it fun.

#1 The Comet is Coming – Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery

the comet is coming trust in the lifeforce of the deep mystery

Cosmic jazz-fusion has never sounded more ear-melting, brain wobbling, and heartwarming than on the latest the Comet is Coming album. It’s just 9 tracks but listening through it feels like a journey through the birth and death (and rebirth) of an entire civilization – I love how the sonically the album loops. The saxophone arrangements are as dynamic as they probably can get on this record – they sometimes sound apocalyptic and gargantuan on some tracks, and intimate and warm on others. Kate Tempest bites in the only vocal passage on the album, and it’s great. The electronic incorporation is just enough – the synths have color. This record truly makes for one of the most intense musical experiences I had last year. So there you go, Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery – it’s my album of the year.

Whew. That’s a lot of albums to write about again. I hope you try some of them. See you soon.

Final Music Roundup of 2019

So here’s the last batch of music releases I’ll talk about for 2019. November was a dead month for me – quite a few things didn’t go well and my mental state wasn’t in a favorable place during that time. December has been treating me way better, though. I have been writing up some posts but I haven’t finished any of them so far. I really hope I get to at least post some of them soon.

I wish I could’ve digested the albums that came out in the last week of this month, but I was away with my family for the last few days – so they would be included in January’s roundup if I have substantial opinions on them. Anyway, let’s get to this list. As usual, the albums are in rough ranked order (from most favorite to least favorite). The EPs and singles don’t follow any order.

Hakushi Hasegawa – Air Ni Ni

hakushi hasegawa air ni ni

Favorite tracks: Only You; o(__*); Scary Point; Desert; Cold Goat; Stamens, Pistils, Parties; Evil Things; I Can See Mountains; Neutral

With Air Ni Ni Hasegawa has put out one of the year’s most deliciously versatile breakcore jazz-pop albums. It may sound like a chaotic freestyle jazz mix on first listen, the tracks actually reveal that they have more structure, stylistic range and dynamic qualities to them on further spins.  Make no mistake, this is a catchy pop album despite all the abstract elements coming into play here – Hakushi’s airy (and often playful) vocals weave effortlessly in between the odd-time-signatures of the bustling instrumentals, and they still have a prominent presence throughout the record. So yeah, what mind-molding pop album this is. Damn.

Lingua Ignota – Caligula

lingua ignota caligula

Favorite tracks: Faithful Servant Friend of Christ, Do You Doubt Me Traitor,  Butcher of the World, May Failure Be Your Noose, Sorrow! Sorrow! Sorrow!, Spite Alone Holds Me Aloft, Fucking Deathdealer, I am the Beast

I finally got to listen to this and man, what a bone-chilling, cursed album this is. Hayter’s spite featured in her lyrics stab deep but her hauntingly melodic, sermon-like vocals leave scars on the back of my brain. The gothic production pulled me in on the first listen. The middle portions of the album don’t have the gut-punch like the rest of it but the first and last four tracks are still painful in the best ways, even after these couple of months. The accursed and demonic sound of the album reminded me of Uboa’s album that came out earlier in the year, while that was delved more into industrial and harsh noise, Caligula is steeped into a more uniform and digestible yet, at the same time, denser and bitter brand of atmospheric neoclassical darkwave. Still, go listen to both of these fantastic records if you are looking for some demonic catharsis.

PUP – Morbid Stuff

pup morbid stuff

Favorite tracks: Morbid Stuff, Kids, Free at Last, See You at Your Funeral, Closure,  Bloody Mary Kate Ashley, Sibling Rivalry, Full Blown Meltdown, Bare Hands

I am super late to the party to listen to this album but still, I’m glad I got to it before the year ended. Although the overall sound of the album isn’t as fringe and off-the-wall you would expect from a punk album, the record features some of the catchiest pop-punk anthems I have heard all year. It’s high-energy and admittedly really emo – but I find the lyrics relatable and the length of the album couldn’t be more streamlined. Sweet.

Satoko Shibata – Satoko Shibata Tour 2019 “Ganbare! Melody” Final at Liquidroom

satoko shibata live labum

I have to give a shoutout to Satoko’s live album. It’s fantastic – the performances are as catchy and sweet as the studio versions themselves. If you haven’t listened to her latest album Ganbare! Melody – I think you are missing out – it’s one of my favorite pop albums of the year.

SPOTIFY LINK

Ecco2k – E

ecco2k e

Favorite tracks: AAA Powerline, Peroxide, Fragile, Calcium, Security!, Time

I never got the chance to check out Drain Gang’s music before this one, but this record’s wintery production makes me want to check out what this collective had put out so far. It’s a great short album to play when taking a walk on a winter night. Even though I’m more confused than impressed with the lyrics, the vocals and beats sell the ethereal soundscape of the album. Give it a try, it’s a short one.

Hannah Diamond – Reflections

hannah diamond reflections

Favorite tracks: Invisible, Love Goes On, Never Again, True, The Ending, Shy, Fade Away

The long-awaited debut album from one of the big names from PC Music is pretty sweet but every time I go through the record’s short and sparkly bubblegum-flavored tracklist, I am left wanting more. Maybe because I have been subjected to more versatile and denser-sounding renditions of bubblegum bass-centric pop this whole year from PC’s brand of pop, that Reflections feels like lukewarm fluff to my ears. The tracks are not exactly catchy, the lyrics are equally fluffy but the songs are comfy as hell. I don’t really mind that, I  would still recommend this album, but I hope Hannah Diamond brings something more active in her next (hopefully soon) release.

Meitei – Komachi

meitei komachi

Favorite tracks: Seto, Ike, Nami, Sento Pt. 2, Maboroshi, Kawanabe Kyosai Pt. 1, Shinkai

Unfortunately, I never really got the time to listen to a lot of ambient records this year, but I see this being a sort of a gateway drug to me listening to more field recording, ambient records. Komachi features a stimulating and symmetric mix of electronic and field recordings of the countryside – and it paints a really vivid picture, the album packs a strong teleportative effect in that sense. Give it a listen while you are doing some menial tasks, it might turn out to be a good time.

 

Ana Frango Elétrico – Little Electric Chicken Heart

ana frango little electric chicken heart

Favorite tracks: Saudade, Promessas e previsões, Tem Certeza?, Chocolate, Caspa

Ana serves up a comfy yet eclectic pop album with Little Electric Chicken Heart (which one of the cutest album names of the year). There are some groovy jazz nuggets and sunny chamber pop featured in the tracklist – the songs sound like they were performed live, so there’s a very “warm” aesthetic to them. Although I often lose my attention somewhere in the latter half of the album, it’s the type of uplifting warm album to listen to during the winter holiday.

Izumi Makura – As Usual

izumi makura as usual

Favorite tracks: As Usual, End Roll, Sunshine, Yunagi, Inochi

While I’m not the biggest fan of Izumi’s monotone vocal performance on its own, I think it meshes well with lofi hip-hop like beats so well that it makes the album feel like really easy listening, although I get the feeling that Izumi is going full singer-songwriter and pouring her heart out in the lyrics. I think the producers did a great job with the beats here. It’s a short album and I think it’s a great one to study to.

 

cacophony – Dream

cacophony dream

Favorite tracks: Return, Tahiti, Tu me dis, Please, The Whole Night, Fate, Parallel World

I wish I liked this more. Sonically, this is pretty similar to her debut album but somehow, it doesn’t pack the punch that record had. I think the ideas got diluted by the length of time, there’s a lot more fluff in the instrumentals. Still, cacophony’s vocals are still as captivating as they were in her debut. To first time listeners, I would recommend her first album over this.

 

Swans – leaving meaning

swans leaving meaning

Favorite tracks: Annaline, Amnesia, Sunfucker, Cathedrals of Heaven, It’s Coming It’s Real, Some New Things, My Phantom Limb

Sadly, I find this Swans album a disappointing lull in their discography. I think the second half presents more engagingly meditative pieces than the first – which features some frankly tedious instrumentation. The features don’t get much spotlight as I expected from the credits revealed on their website before the album dropped. I wish this double album didn’t feel so… watery. I included this record in the roundup anyway because it’s not that boring – there are some tracks that bring in the “highs” I would expect from a long Swans album.

 

EPs

TNGHT – II

tnght II

Favorite tracks: Serpent, Dollaz, First Body, Club Finger, What It Is, Gimme Summn

Well, here’s a hot (or maybe not) take – this EP is better than their first one. Their self-titled EP sounds pretty out-dated. II is more of a wonky update on their first, and with the kooky vocal samples and skeletal song structures, it’s pretty apparent to me that this EP isn’t for everyone. I would still recommend this because it sounds like a wild colorful carnival that doesn’t overstay its length.

 

Poppy – Choke

poppy choke

Favorite tracks: Choke, Voicemail, Scary Mask, The Holy Mountain

I think this is my favorite Poppy release so far. If her previous music releases were this streamlined and condensed – I wouldn’t have much of a hard time loving them. And this EP puts out her versatile stylistic range without being tedious about it. The production on each track is pristine and grimey all at the same time. I hope Poppy used this momentum to paint a more well-fleshed out sonic image in her upcoming album. Can’t wait to find out.

 

IU – Love Poem

iu love poem

Favorite tracks: unlucky, Blueming, above time, Love Poem

It’s been in a while since my ears have been blessed with IU’s brand of fresh, sweet, and bubbly pop. Even her ballads radiate an aura of freshness from them, in the midst of the sonically stale melancholic K-ballads – maybe because she has a very distinct and polished vocal presence and also maybe because there’s actual craftsmanship put behind the production. Anyway, this EP has a solid tracklist – featuring quite a cohesive breadth of stylistic and emotional range between just 6 tracks.

Reol – Bunmei

reol bunmei

Favorite tracks: ALL OF THEM

This is a late edit. I can’t believe I forgot about this when I was copying the entries from Google Docs to the WordPress editor. Anyway, this Reol release might sound like “typical” Reol but that doesn’t take away from how water-tight the track-to-track playback feels here. Reol’s vocals aren’t as impressive in the first two tracks as her final two, but Giga-P’s production is pristine and hits hard. It’s got an industrial aesthetic to it despite sounding so clean.

Singles/MVs

Rina Sawayama – STFU!

Hell yes! Great to see Clarence and Rina jump into the nu-metal pop train with such a polished anthem.  That harmonized laugh was amazing, and Rina’s lyrics have bite.

The three new Chiaki Mayumura tracks

Chiaki’s got a new album coming out in January. The album cover is really intriguing to say the least. The first song she released (Ganmen Faraway) is apparently a fan tribute of some kind – and honestly, the video is more interesting than the track itself. The drums sound very uhh… faraway, but the chorus is catchy. I think I would appreciate the song more if I knew the lyrics.

Then Squat BunBun came out, and it’s catchier. I saw this song performed in a few live performance clips and I loved the workout dance choreography to it. The production is sweet, and Chiaki’s vocals make it all the more uplifting.

But it’s Obachan Side Throw that’s my favorite out of the three. It’s the quirky side of Chiaki’s song ideas that I’m attracted to the most, and this song does that. The instrumental is very simple but it’s groovy. The trap-like breakdown near the end was funny. Again, the choreography here is eye-catching.

Nature – Oopsie

It’s ridiculously fun and very glammy. The production is detailed and bubbly like most Nature’s title tracks so far but this song packs the most heat with that beat switch up after a fake chorus. Or is it part of the chorus? I don’t know, but it’s good.

Oohyo – Butter Chicken

Oohyo’s latest album this year kind of hinted to towards this cosmic and space-y aesthetic development to her sound. But I didn’t expect it to be fleshed out to this “full” of proportions. Beautiful indeed.

Kilo Kish – Bite Me

Although I’m not crazy about her EP, I’m crazy about this song. She snaps here, and the beeping synth makes this an earworm. The ending portion is fantastic.

That’s all for this post. Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

Music Roundup: October 2019

This is probably going to be one of the bigger roundups because, in addition to albums, I have a handful of amazing EPs featured here. October has been a great month for music – I say that almost every month – but there are legitimately a lot of great releases I have to share in this post.

Angel Olsen – All Mirrors [Album of the Month]

angel olsen all mirrors

Favorite tracks: ALL OF THEM

Angel’s previous albums haven’t really clicked with me until this one, the first listen floored me… damn, what an overwhelming record. The opening two tracks are gigantic, they lay down the sonic foundation of the album really well. The production makes the album sound gargantuan, the strings are gorgeous, the reverb on the vocals always drowns me every time I give this a spin, the lyricism isn’t as dense as her previous works, but it’s as powerful as ever.

There are indie-pop motifs found in Too Easy, New Love Cassette, What It Is, Spring, and Summer but even then Angel’s vocal performances remain as revealing and potent as they do in the overwhelming string-backed and sweeping synth chord-riddled tracks like Lark, All Mirrors, Impasse, Tonight and Endgame. Chance is another blow to the heart, it sounds so intimate that it swells my eyes with tears. Angel lets the titanic production drown her often throughout this album, but strangely that makes her performances all the more vulnerable and revealing, so revealing that it leaves my head feeling giddy and light after each listen. The replay value on this record is strong, too – no reason why I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone, even if you are not familiar with Angel Olsen, give this a listen.

Caroline Polachek – Pang

caroline polachek pang

Favorite tracks: The Gate, Pang, New Normal, Hit Me Where It Hurts, I Give Up, Look at Me Now, Ocean of Tears, Caroline Shut Up, So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings, Door

With excellent singles leading up to her album release, Caroline delivers with her brand of bittersweet art-pop. This is not an upbeat album like the tracks So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings and Ocean of Tears but rather the production takes a more introspective and spacey route. And Caroline’s dreamy vocals mesh into that really well. So even though it’s not the richly textured experimental pop album most of the teaser tracks hinted at, the spacey and cerebral aesthetic of the record packs an equally sweet rush from her songwriting and vocal performances. Especially in tracks like The Gate, Hit Me Where It Hurts, I Give Up, Look At Me Now, Caroline Shut Up and Door.

Still, there are more “poppier” tracks with interesting synth textures like Pang and New Normal. Overall, this LP gets a solid recommendation from me.

Lightning Bolt – Sonic Citadel

lightning bolt sonic citadel

Favorite tracks: Blow To the Head, Air Conditioning, Hüsker Dön’t, Big Banger, Halloween 3, Don Henley in the Park, Tom Thump, Bouncy House, All Insane, Van Halen 2049

The legendary noise rock duo is back with another helping of tightly and brutally composed drum and bass passages… but this time around, they have more melody and the brutality is toned down to the point where I didn’t get dizzy from the first listen as I did with Wonderful Rainbow. There’s a flavor of arena-rock in the riffs, especially in Air Conditioning, All Insane, Big Banger. But the dizziness of unbridled chaos that Lightning Bolt is known to unleash in their LPs isn’t missed particularly in the track Van Halen 2049, and again, Big Banger.

Overall, this is a delightful noise rock album, almost all of the tracklist left an impression on me. And if you are looking to dip your toes in the genre, I think Sonic Citadel would be a good starting point – I think it’s among the more digestible albums from what I have heard from their discography.

Boris – LφVE & EVφL

boris love and evol

Favorite tracks: Away From You, Coma, EVOL, uzume, LOVE, Shadow of Skull

I wrote a review of it last month. It’s a classic Boris revival. Read it here.

Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿

danny brown uknowhatimsayin.jpg

Favorite tracks: Change Up, Theme Song, Dirty Laundry, Savage Nomad, Best Life, Negro Spiritual, Combat

It has taken me a while to warm up to Danny Brown’s music. If this album didn’t exist, I would have a hard time fully “getting” what Atrocity Exhibition was about. While Atrocity Exhibition was a feverish downward spiral to the depths of Danny Brown’s darkest psyche, uknowhatimsayin brings me a new image of Danny – a more hopeful and “cleaner” one. This change has made me appreciate his last work even more, and sort of like a positive feedback loop, it has elevated my appreciation for this new album as well.

The production feels fresh as hell on this one, with the psychedelic tinges in Change Up, Theme Song, and Savage Nomad, and the pure blissful arrangement of Best Life. Danny’s sharp writing and flow aren’t missed, especially in tracks like Change Up, Theme Song, Dirty Laundry and Combat. The only dud on this LP is probably Belly of the Beast, the vocal sample is kind of overkill. Otherwise, I’m really enjoying this album – the length is perfect, too.

SCJ – Escapizm

scj escapizm

Favorite tracks: Roll Out, Bobbit To The Beat, My Bed’s On Fire, Stretch My Feet Out, WWWelcome To Online, La Haine, G.F.U.T.U.F.U., Escapizm

Listening to this album front to back is like taking an adrenaline shot. It rockets up within the first two tracks and it never falters down throughout the entirety of its 35-minute length. It’s pretty amazing how well curated this whole mix is with its transitions, sampling and just the control and creativity SCJ has on the chaotic elements in the mix – it’s kind of crazy to think that the whole thing was made in 3 weeks. The last leg (last 7 tracks or so) delve into gabber territory and it peaks there and plateaus out. And by the end the mix ends, it stops mid-flight and leaves me coming back to get that feeling back. I recommend this to anybody looking for some good workout/running music.

ESCAPIZM by SCJ (FKA Smith Comma John)

Clipping – There Existed an Addiction to Blood

clipping there existed an addiction to blood

Favorite tracks: Nothing is Safe, He Dead, Club Down, The Show, Blood of the Fang, Story 7

This is one of those albums I admire more than enjoy. As much of an ambitious, riveting and atmospheric narrative the trio present on this record, it’s not something I see myself revisiting all that often. I think a lot of the tracks lose their edge on re-listens and the interludes don’t really add much cohesion to track-by-track play. I wish the album felt more cohesive rather than just a collection of horrific vignettes. After each listen, the album leaves me with a stronger feeling that I’m missing something, that I’m not “getting” it.

Still, there are some tracks I see revisiting on their own are Nothing is Safe, He Dead, Club Down, The Show, Blood of the Fang and Story 7. I mean, this album is getting rave reviews and I get why, but I am not digging it all that much at the moment.

EPs

Lim Kim – Generasian

lim kim generasian

Favorite tracks: ALL OF THEM

What IS this?  Lim Kim’s transition from making dreamy Kpop tunes to putting out one of the wildest concoctions of hip hop, and Korean folk and club I have heard so far. She carries so much infectious, commanding swagger in her vocals and the production is pristine despite hosting such a stark clashing of genres. Her English lyrics pack as much of a punch as the vocal performances do, with Kim addressing people’s narrow views on women in the Kpop industry and Asians in general.

Her lyrics also charges into countering male dominance and racial discrimination – these are topics that most artists in the Kpop industry aren’t always willing to speak up about. Anyway, whew – what a trailblazing artistic statement this EP is – and I think this is needed from Kpop now more than ever, with newer people getting into idol-groups and developing a certain image for singers from the industry, and the industry just feeding into that.

Kero Kero Bonito – Civilisation I

kero kero bonito civilisation 1

Favorite tracks: ALL OF THEM

KKB has done it once again – it’s amazing how willing the band is to transform their brand of sound between releases and still be so good at it. The band returns to their synth-driven roots (from Bonito Generation) but brings some dream-like mystical edge to it.

The synth passages sound really colorful and in contrast to them, the lyrics are rather socially-charged and paint a bleak picture of a potential future of our civilization. It’s just under 13 minutes in length, I don’t see a reason why you wouldn’t want to put your ears on this.

Polkadot Stingray – Hyper Horn

polkadot stingray hyper horn

Favorite tracks: Bakenokawa, Otoshimae, Oyasumi, A-Un

I listened to the band’s album that they dropped earlier this year, and I found it to be kind of bloated with tracks that more or less reconstructed the similar tunes track after track (there are some great songs on it though) – it was pretty tiresome to listen through. But this EP has more polished pacing, and that immediate elevates the overall listening experience for me.

I think Polkadot sounds better in EP form than in LP form. The guitar passages hit the colorful tone the band always seems to strive to curate in their tracks, the bass is bubbly – it’s the sweet brand of Japanese pop-rock tunes you expect yourself to find in anime OP/EDs. Give it a try.

Guerilla Toss – What Would the Odd Do?

guerilla toss what would the odd do

Favorite tracks: What Would the Odd Do?, Plants, Future Doesn’t Know Me

I tried to get into Guerilla Toss’ music in previous years, but never really found anything that stuck with me. But this EP is different, this is the type of richly textured and melodic yet psychedelic synthy-dance-punk energy I had been looking for in their previous stuff. The vocal lines are clearer. And the shortness only adds to the replay value of this EP. It’s a lot of fun, check it out.

xiangyu –  My First Picture Book

Favorite tracks: Go Mistake, Poo Pad Pong Curry, Mycorrhizal Fungi, Human Evolution, Gyoza

xiangyu my first picture book

On my first listen to this EP, the production reminded me of Wednesday Campanella, and it didn’t surprise me when I found out that Kenmochi HIdefumi was behind it. Xiangyu as a vocalist is pretty nondescript but I think the hip-house-inspired beats don’t really demand a lot of vocal fidelity. Nonetheless, I think there’s a handful of catchy tracks on this EP. IF you are looking for some cool, easy-on-the-ears poppy house beats, look no further.

MINAKEKKE – Oblivion

minakekke oblivion

Favorite tracks: Luminous, Young & Shame, Golden Blue, Oblivion

This EP is a pleasant surprise. I dig the somber nocturnal aesthetic to the production, Minakekke vocals feel more dynamic than in her previous release (Tingles), or maybe the skeletal production in that project made her sound that way. Either way, in terms of atmosphere, this EP marks a huge step up. The grainy guitars sound great on this EP.

I wish Minakekke went a bit further into packing more distinctive elements into other tracks like she did with Luminous and Young and Shame. Golden Blue and the title track are good, but I think a bit of trimming wouldn’t hurt the atmosphere of the EP and instead concentrate its intended aesthetic more effectively. But if you are looking for some slightly anthemic yet spacey and dark sounding art pop-rock, this Oblivion will scratch that itch and probably more.

tricot – Afureru (Single)

tricot delivers again with this single. The band seems to revisit their older sound in Afureru, with the bass and guitar taking over percussion, but with added math-rock playfulness. Naka (the B-side) leaps to their current sound with a heavy emphasis on adding layers of riffs on top of each other, and more skeletal instrumentation. Good stuff front to back.

I think that’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading.

Seasonal Standouts: Winter and Spring 2019

I started putting this list together about four months ago, but it took me a while to get caught up with shows I wanted to watch from the two seasons.

Honestly, the first half of the year in anime wasn’t the greatest for me – a lot of the shows were just okay (Hitoribocchi, Benkyou Dekinai) and others had promising starts but just ended up being underwhelming (Dororo, Kakegurui xx). But hey, I’m pretty sure that my excitement for the medium hasn’t dulled all that significantly, because I still have 10 shows that I like enough to talk about in this post. You could say this is my top 10 (completed) shows from the first two seasons… but this is in no particular order.

Attack on Titan S3 Part 2

2688b0492d779756fecec2e757d0e1cb

I don’t think I will write a full-length post on this cour despite me liking it a lot because it’s been a while. Anyway, this ten-episode cour upholds some of the best aspects of the show – the pacing is as water-tight as ever, there’s rarely a dull moment. Even the flashbacks are layered-in aptly to produce some of the most emotionally poignant moments in the entire anime. I have been waiting for that Levi takedown to be animated for years, and I am not disappointed. The score is as grand as ever. And speaking of sound design, along with the use of silence and acting in episodes 54 and 55 – were essential elements to what I can say are some of my favorite anime episodes of the year so far.

The only thing I didn’t like about this installment of the show is the opening – it sounds like a lazy remix of the first one, and the color grading of the visuals look pretty tacky to my eyes. I loved how Levi’s humanity, Erwin’s resolve, and Armin’s heroism is put on display here, their moments are bulit-up smoothly. All things considered, it wouldn’t be a lie that this lived up to the hype the manga promised.

Mob Pyscho 100 S2

vlcsnap-2019-05-26-01h32m57s758.png

The second season of Mob Psycho has been my favorite show of the year so far. I have already written a post about how much more I love this over the first one, I don’t really have any criticisms for it. Loved the development between Mob and Reigen, the animation is as striking as ever, and the opening is even better than the first one. And if nothing else, the theming of the show resonated with me. I will leave this entry at that, and if you want more detailed thoughts – here it is.

The Promised Neverland

The-promised-neverland-screenshot

First of all, the opening is awesome – it’s interesting how the visuals remain engaging throughout the opening sequence despite it not featuring any big “sakuga” moments, and the song itself is hype and the “it’s on fire” vocal samples never get old. In my eyes, this show is a really interesting “shounen” – one that relies more on the unseen psychological battles than physical ones and they are pulled off in the most entertaining of ways. And I would attribute that to the ambitious directing of the series – there are some cool cinematic techniques showcased in the series where the animators play around with camera angles and movements and episodes are edited like a horror-thriller.

I love how the main trio bounces off each other with their personalities and ideas – the character chemistry is definitely something to remember the show by. Although the whole season felt like an introduction and a set-up of plot points to be explored later on, again, it’s done in the best way possible, the writing and pacing from episode to episode feel water-tight. The Promised Neverland is looking really promising.

Hulaing Babies

vlcsnap-2019-06-06-20h32m07s210.png

While this anime thrives in its novel, formless visual style, there’s still some semblance of form in its theming and writing. The characters don’t have a lot of depth to their writing but they are entertaining whenever they are on screen, the anime is paced lightning-fast so the characters need to always have flair and exaggeration in their interactions.

The narrative is presented in the simplest of ways but the quick comedic interactions that are thrown to the wall stick more often than not. The ending sequence is one of my favorites from this year, the oji-san storytime segments rarely failed to give me that hit of dark comedy. I know this show has the narrowest of appeal compared to other entries here, but give it a shot, the entire anime is like 30 minutes. If it was longer, I wouldn’t  have enjoyed it as much.

My Roommate is a Cat

vlcsnap-2019-06-04-14h03m31s966

I’m not a cat person at all (unless it’s anime cats – Nyanko-sensei FTW), whenever I visit my grandma and I see her cats being just selfish attention-seeking felines, my day is ruined. With that said, you are probably wondering how my cat-hating self bothered to watch this anime, which going by its title and poster clearly is about a cute cat doing cute things type of show – I don’t know either, but I’m glad I did. Because this anime is more than that… like the cat is portrayed as an actual character in the show. I think the emotional core of the anime is well-written, the character interactions between Haru and Subaru feel organic.

I don’t think there’s a single disposable character in the story off the top of my head, they all feel like they belong to the show in positive ways. It’s impressive how consistent the anime is with presenting both sides of the main characters’ (Subaru and Haru) inner dialogue for a scene and making them feel natural and equally engaging. The art is good, and the style is flexible enough to give that warmth to emotional scenes and hit the cute-comedic moments with hyperbole. Sure, the production isn’t top-tier with just pristine visuals and super-attentive sound design, but it does the job well. Overall, this is a pretty impressive show, it’s definitely a standout from all the SoL shows I’ve seen in the first two seasons of the year.

Kono Oto Tomare

vlcsnap-2019-09-03-22h59m29s454.png

Oh boy, the production aspects of this show feel unfairly cheap, the sound design is as barren as a desert, so many corners were cut in the animation department, only the art feels consistently done (the water-colored still frames are great). I say unfair because I really like the character writing and the overall setting of the anime. The plot progression at times felt kind of contrived but seeing that resulting in interesting character chemistry doesn’t really leave me any more room to complain.

I mentioned about the skeletal sound design before but whenever the performances spring up, the koto playing rarely feels artificial, I just wish the performances lasted longer in the first half of the series. All the members of the club are likable to some degree, and watching them support each other left me with pretty high expectations for the second season this fall. I am also hyped for this sports anime type of set-up to progress into more character-related development for the club.

Miru Tights

Q3v8OGJ - Imgur.png

I am probably shooting myself in the foot (haha) with this but… Miru Tights is unironically a good show. The softly outlined and glossy art style reminds me of art I usually see on pixiv, and it turns out it’s adapted from yomu’s work  – who is a popular artist on that site. Thicc-legs-fetish aside, the anime is really well produced – the minimal sound design and color grading give off this comfy atmosphere I don’t see in many other erotically (or fetishistically) inclined anime – the only other show I can point to that has a similar “vibe” is Getsuyoubi no Tawawa where the show follows a similar SoL vignette-like structure with the fetishization being focused on big boobs, instead.

The character designs are some of my favorites of the year so far, the “fanservice” is “tasteful” where the show rarely boxes itself within cliched forms of fanservice – like most shows of the genre do by just framing them under a male gaze and the girls act/feel “helpless” – you know what I’m talking about; not saying that the show doesn’t pander to the male gaze – it very much does (I mean the show’s title literally translates to “See Tights”), but it does it in a less… uh, blatant and boring way. Anyway, the yuri moments are cute, and the ending song is actually sweet. I won’t deny this is the perfect escapist blend of iyashikei and ecchi with slight creepy-stalker vibes that an unsocial teenager would enjoy on a rainy afternoon. And I won’t deny that was me.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War

vlcsnap-2019-05-28-22h31m05s770.png

I have already written a full-length post on this show. I am not the biggest fan, but I can’t deny how well presented everything is in this series. It’s funny, it’s alive and the couple’s character writing and development throughout the season were solid. Chika is definitely among my favorite anime characters of this year. I didn’t like how the ending “reset” everything, but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed the anime.

Sarazanmai

vlcsnap-2019-10-12-16h57m39s774.png

Manifesting from the wild mind of Kunihiko Ikuhara, Sarazanmai serves up a dish of absurdist comedy and well-presented emotional character arcs of three protagonists. The anime shares a lot of thematic DNA with Mawaru Penguindrum (another show from Ikuhara), and I don’t mind. Sarazanmai has enough unique qualities going for it to stand out as a unique story. The kappa transformation sequences never lose their comedic edge and the musical numbers are well performed and they are catchy. Production-wise, the quality is near impeccable.

The story is concise episode by episode but the tail-end felt a bit rushed. Surprisingly, Sarazanmai has a clearer and more-straightforward narrative arcs than Penguindrum – so if you are going into the show expecting another epic and complexly structured story like Penguindrum, you might be disappointed. Sarazanmai doesn’t need to be as grand as Penguindrum – it’s a damn good story on its own.

Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan

vlcsnap-2019-10-24-23h19m34s155.png

It’s not just the show’s unconventional episodic structure that made me choose this for the post – it’s the way the interviews provided insight that one can’t usually find in regular episodes of anime, or outside of bonus episodes. I enjoyed most of the conversations the VAs and directors had, there were a couple of episodes where the back-and-forth between the director and VAs were uninteresting (like the POV one). The “main” episode is just a few minutes long, and not all of the three-minute sequences were great – there are some duds but I enjoyed the interviews afterward, anyway.

It’s cool seeing the show act as a petri-dish for the variety of artistic and narrative styles and different interpretations of the titular character. The main message of the show is somewhat alike to  “there’s a form of Ekoda inside all of us”, and I did relate to the character in instances of throughout the show’s runtime (even though I don’t belong to the manga’s demographic). I know this format of anime is definitely not for everybody, but give this a try if you are interested in learning about the thought processes 12 different directors go through to make a 3-minute episode stand out.

I think that’s all I have for my favorite picks from the first half of 2019. Let me know your favorite shows from this year’s  Winter and Spring in the comments – I haven’t watched every show from those seasons and it’s always good to get recommendations. Thanks for reading.