Atlas Shrugged: The Sci-Fi Dystopia Novel That’s Also a Self-Help Book

I have the longest story with this book. I’ve been battling serious depression over the past two years (longer than that by the time the post actually goes out) because it feels like human civilization is falling apart. Heck, you could argue it’s been happening longer than that; since the #MeToo movement in 2017, it feels like violent protests have been a way of life. Of course, 2020 set a new precedent of despair, when COVID took the world, and simple matters of health became political. That same year, George Floyd was murdered, and divided the human race amongst itself overnight. 2021 began with a terrorist attack on Capitol Hill, organized entirely by American citizens with a political agenda. At the time of writing this paragraph, Russia is invading Ukraine, laying the groundwork for World War III. To top it off, earth is being ravaged by climate change, at a rate that keeps increasing at an exponential rate despite all the efforts that have been put in to delay it. As of completing the book, Ukraine is still at war, and abortion is now illegal on a constitutional level following the result of Roe v. Wade, not to mention a spike in mass shootings.

This is where Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged comes in. I was at a point when I finally figured out how to enjoy life, but now I’m drowning in despair. I can’t begin to list the violent emotions and twisted thoughts I’ve felt. To give you an idea, my mother has considered sending me to the psych ward numerous times. After some intense discussions with her, she offered up Atlas Shrugged. According to her, it would—at the very least—expose the media and these new-fangled activists as the BS-spewers that they allegedly are. I was skeptical, but Atlas Shrugged is apparently one of the most influential novels of all time; second only to The Bible.

Atlas Shrugged, however, is massive. This is the kind of book that I can only read with the new purging of pop culture media that I have committed to. One chapter can take about an hour, and there’s a lot of chapters; over a thousand pages’ worth. I started the book in February 2022, and you’re reading this post not long after I actually finished the book. That’s how much of an investment it is.

Like any hard SF novel, completing it is a monumental task. One aspect of these kinds of books is that merely figuring out the basic premise is a headache that you’re meant to experience, and thus, it feels like discussing any aspect of the novel is spoiler territory, even though it’s super old. So… Here’s a spoiler warning then. Read on if you wish.

Right off the bat, Rand’s prose feels like what a lot of modern writers, whom I consider pretentious, try to be. A lot of Atlas Shrugged is very verbose, and at first, it feels like nothing is happening. However, unlike books such as Monogatari, I wasn’t mad. A lot of passages give you hints pertaining to the book’s worldbuilding and how characters think and feel. The writing is also very poetic, describing things metaphorically but in a way that can be understood by anyone with a basic grasp of the English language; unlike a lot of YA and light novels that vomit nonsensical similes at everything. 

You are given your first signs of how messed up the world of Atlas Shrugged is with the initial conflict centered around Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company. The organization has always been run by Taggarts, and this generation is brother and sister James and Dagny Taggart. When one of their lines desperately needs fixing, Dagny is literally the only person to do anything about it. She orders an untested metal from a company that James doesn’t trust, while his “trusted” metals haven’t been delivered in over a year since being ordered. What jumps out is that she is the only one in the whole organization who’s proactive; everyone else, except a guy named Eddie Willers, sucks. 

The story also involves the creator of the aforementioned untested metal, Hank Rearden. He went from slaving away in the mines to owning his own steel plant, an achievement that he knows he’s damn well earned. Dagny’s order for his metal is the first big order his company has ever received. The reason for this is because everyone else is afraid to risk using it.

Right off the bat, Atlas Shrugged should resonate with just about anyone alive, especially these days. Heck, a lot of the stuff brought up in this book is stuff I’ve had internal debates about for years. I one hundred percent relate to Dagny and Hank, who feel like they’re surrounded by morons at all times. Well, I say morons, but a more literal term would be sheep; they just stick to doing what they’re told, with no drive to make anything better. This isn’t even remotely a new trope, but in Atlas Shrugged, it feels more grounded and real. Every writer and their grandma these days would chalk this up to how humans are wired to behave and there’s nothing we can do about it. Good ol’ Ayn Rand, however, presents this behavior as an unnatural, conscious choice that most people—unfortunately—decide to make. 

Words cannot describe just how vindicating Atlas Shrugged is. Every other scene, there’s something that feels like Rand literally wrote for me specifically. The inane ignoramity (professional term) of mankind feels like every day of my life since Donald Trump ran for President. On a side note, Atlas Shrugged is significantly easier to digest than what I thought going in. It’s lengthy, sure, but the actual content of the book is incredibly straightforward. If you could get through crap like Of Mice and Men in high school, then Atlas Shrugged will be no problem.

The plot starts off in earnest at the end of part one. Dagny and Hank go on a road trip and stumble upon a mysterious machine, abandoned in a junk heap in an equally abandoned factory. Turns out that this device, if seen through to the end, would literally solve all of humanity’s energy problems and save the world. However, its creator is unaccounted for, and she scrambles to find that creator or reverse engineer the machine, all while surviving the ignorant world she lives in. Survival is not easy, especially when the few smart people that remain start abandoning their businesses unannounced.

Of course, you could look at the publication year saying “1957” and chalk Atlas Shrugged up for yet another McCarthy-ist novel written during the Red Scare. The thing is, due to everything discussed up to this point, I would’ve never guessed this was a Red Scare book because it sure didn’t feel like it at all. Despite the difference in eras, I could attribute so much more about Atlas Shrugged to real life in this day and age than any other cyberpunk I’ve ever experienced. However, the fact that Atlas Shrugged feels even more relevant than it did at the time isn’t exactly a good thing.

If you couldn’t tell, Atlas Shrugged is meant to have only two likable characters, and they are Dagny and Hank. Let’s talk about Hank first, since I’m saving the best for last. He loves his career with Rearden Metal, especially more than the stupid people he’s surrounded by, including his stupid wife. He doesn’t let other people’s thoughts get in his way, including those in the media. It’s ironic that someone who cares so little about people contributes more to their lives than most… or at least he would be if there weren’t politically correct idiots trying to ruin his business.

Meanwhile, Dagny… ho-hoh boy, lemme tell you. I daresay that she is the Best Girl in all classic literature. She’s like Hank in not caring, only better. Her proactive personality feels so modern compared to any other character of classic literature. Dagny is unimaginably badass, and if you told me that girls like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind or anyone from Little Women were better, I would absolutely not believe you. 

Among these two awesome protagonists whom you’re meant to love, and these wingnuts that you’re meant to hate, there is an anomaly named Francisco d’Anconia. You could argue he’s the main villain of the book, despite him definitely not being an ignoramus like the rest of mankind. He has iconic and inspirational moments that feel amazing, like he really understands how life works, yet he seems to be working against the human race with most of his actions. I’d say he’s the extreme end of Dagny and Hank’s personalities, but at the same time, he could just be a massive troll.

If there are any flaws in the book’s writing, it’s that I always had trouble telling where anyone was in 3D space. The dialogue is the heart and soul of Atlas Shrugged, and it’s so easy to get absorbed in it that they can seemingly teleport to another location. You could also argue that some of the big long passages that convey the book’s themes get redundant (including a seventy page speech that is more-or-less a summation of all the themes explored), but the way Rand thinks is so unconventional, that you kind of need to see it multiple times to really process the full weight of her words.

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Final Verdict: 10/10

Why does anyone bother with any classic literature other than Atlas Shrugged? I’ve read crummy books with blurbs that say “I’ll be thinking about these themes for a long time”, but Atlas Shrugged is the first time I truly feel that way about a book. It’s so insane that—scratch that—it’s saner than almost anything else out there. If Ayn Rand wrote and published it today, it would get canceled ten times over. Heck, the FBI would’ve personally hunted her down. Atlas Shrugged would be considered by many to be pure evil, and that’s precisely why it’s a must-read. Just keep in mind that it will not give you hope for mankind; it’s only meant to give you hope for yourself.

Executive Action: When a WordPress Blogger Becomes a Published Author

Well, this is a first for me! I have never read an independently published book before, and Evolution’s Hand Book 1: Executive Action is by the very same Crow from Crow’s World of Anime right here on WordPress! I had a Barnes & Noble gift card leftover from Christmas, and since I don’t read light novels on nook anymore, I basically got this for free. Well, what’s important is that this review is going to help spread the word. That makes up for it, right?

I can’t really discuss the premise of Executive Action in a single paragraph like I normally do. It’s structured like a good ol’ fashioned sci-fi novel. You’re thrown right into the story, and introduced to many characters all at once. You don’t know who’s a main character or not because they all have full first and last names. There are also many different plot threads and POVs introduced right out the gate, making it even harder to know what’s going on. I would’ve devoured this book back in my teen years when this genre was my jam, but now as a weeb reading books for children… yeah, “rusty” would be an understatement here.

If anything about Executive Action is simple, it’s that it’s got the classic cyberpunk trope of “conglomerates ruin everything.” The big, bad company this time around is Terra Consolidated Products. They’ve gained so much traction that even the United Nations is powerless against them. Meanwhile, one of our intrepid heroes—Melchizedek Conrad—is running a small outfit called TranStell. They have a secret technology called Fissures, which expedite space travel, and it is inevitably leaked to TCP very early on in the story.

Crow, despite being an anime blogger, definitely didn’t write Executive Action for anime fans; this is adult fiction, and the first rule of being an adult is no fun allowed. The pacing is deliberate, the characters are grounded, and the “action” boils down to various forms of big business and subterfuge instead of cyborg Hollywood actors gunning everything up. On top of that, there are about as many subplots as characters, and you gotta keep track of them all!

The worldbuilding also keeps in hard sci-fi tradition. In order to be immersive, none of the actual mechanics are explained to us in any way; it’s supposed to be imagined as a contemporary novel in the actual future, instead of a hypothetical future. There are many new ways to address workers, for instance. Also, the notion that America will one day split into several splinter nations comes true in the book’s worldbuilding.

The main plot starts in earnest when a crew goes on their first expedition to the star system on the other side of the Fissure. TCP sends a mole in the form of Quaid Atair, who I of course pictured as Randy Quaid, to sabotage the crew. At this point, Executive Action becomes a long game of Among Us where we already know who’s sus thanks to the power of dramatic irony.

I sure sound like I’m giving Executive Action some flack, but I really mean the opposite. What I’ve described may sound like negatives, but this is simply what this kind of book is. Crow, for all intents and purposes, did everything one hundred percent correctly. The plot and its subplots all progress organically, and it feels like if Fissures were actually discovered IRL, things would play out more-or-less how they did in Executive Action, for better or for worse. In my case, it would be that latter.

As for characters, it’s a huge cast, and you’re generally not given enough features to visualize them, let alone keep track of them (this is also a hard science fiction trope, so it’s not a flaw on Crow’s part either). I’m sure I’ve put my fifteen cents in when it comes to super-grounded characters, but in case you didn’t see it before, allow me to tell you now: I have autism, and thus I cannot understand the appeal nor nuances of “normal” characters who behave very much like real people. It’s why I hate it when reviewers praise a character for “feeling like a real person” because I cannot understand how to arrive at that conclusion. In any case, I did find Matsushita to be the Best Girl. She’s Conrad’s secretary, and to be honest, she should be having his job because she’s better at it and more. She also gets to beat the crap out of someone, which was fun to see. 

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Final Verdict: 8.35/10

Objectively, Executive Action should have a higher score than this. While not on the level of peak sci-fi like Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, I could definitely see the same level of quality as with any big contemporary franchise of the genre. However, when you start reading manga for children for a decade, you kind of become… er… stupider. I was unable to appreciate Executive Action for what it was, and it’s entirely my fault. If you enjoy  business-y, dialogue-driven dramas, then Executive Action is an easy buy. 

Oh, and Crow, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for being harsh. I get the struggles of being a writer, and I truly wish you the best for your new career!

Mack’s Music Highlights: First Half of 2022

Welcome to yet another new attempt at formatting my blog! In case you couldn’t tell from reading my music reviews, I struggle hard with them. For some reason, other music reviewers can really break down each individual track, and provide distinct descriptions for each one, using terms that I don’t even understand. They’re super professional, and I am not. However, I was able to salvage two pretty meh reviews I did recently by combining them into one post. The reviews were still what they were, but for some reason, the post just felt more substantial by having two short reviews of those albums instead of me trying to replicate what I read on other sites. Mack’s Music Highlights is the same idea on steroids.

I plan to post this new series on a bi-annual basis. Like this, I can put short blurbs that more-than-sufficiently do the bands justice. More importantly, I can cram in as many bands as I want, as opposed to having to schedule one day for that one album review. I can also cover bands I wouldn’t normally talk about, due to my desire to prioritize more obscure bands over popular bands that I happen to like. Word of warning in case you’re new: I mostly cover metal here. I would call this “Mack’s Metal Highlights”, but there are a few non-metal bands I follow, and I love them just about as much as any metal outfit. Anyway, without further ado, let’s begin this… thing!


Power Paladin: With the Magic of Windfyre Steel

Power Paladin is my first ever impression of Iceland’s metal scene. The band consists of bassist Kristlefur þorsteinsson, drummer Einar Karl Júlíusson, guitarists Bjarni þór Jóhannsson and Ingi þórisson, keyboardist Bjarni Egill Ӧgmundsson, and vocalist Atli Guðlaugsson. Like with many new and obscure bands, that’s all I know about them. Holy crap, it took me at least five minutes to type the members’ names because of how many special characters I had to use!

What immediately jumps out is that Windfyre Steel is eighties A.F. Sure, I once said that DragonForce was “Survivor but with a touch of very fast metal” back before I knew what power metal was, but Windfyre Steel REALLY feels eighties. The tempo is a lot slower than DragonForce (i.e. normal, human speed), and the sound of the vocals is way more reminiscent of the time as well. In fact, the whole production has that tinny quality of a lot of hair metal, and it felt very nostalgic. There’s also the added benefit of it having nonsensical medieval theming versus the “I wanna grab that girl’s massively large posterior” that a lot of actual hair metal was about.

Verdict: 8.5/10


Vorga: Striving Toward Oblivion

I know nothing about Vorga other than that they’re from Germany. Don’t blame me; their label is literally called Transcending Obscurity, so this is one of those bands that’s proud to be underground. Unfortunately, here’s where it gets awkward. As of the release of Striving Toward Oblivion, their drummer has left the band. It must be really weird hearing an album that was recorded with the original lineup, but without that same lineup existing in the present. I wish them luck in finding a new member, or that one of the remaining members can play drums. 

I wasn’t expecting much with Striving to Oblivion, but it ended up surprising me as one of the best black metal debuts of the year. As evidenced by other sci-fi black metal bands like Imperialist, the subgenre really conveys the darkness of space (which is ironic, considering that most sci-fi extreme metal bands are technical death metal). However, I found Vorga to really kick it up a notch. While you might not like their modern sound (versus the REALLY staticy old black metal), each song is engaging and powerful. It’s nothing new, but it’s something worth checking out!

Verdict: 9.45/10


Pure Wrath: Hymn to the Woeful Hearts

According to Encyclopaedia Metallum, Pure Wrath is an atmospheric black metal band run by a dude named Januaryo Hardy. Although, to make things more confusing, Pure Wrath considers itself to be “melancholic black metal” on its Facebook page. Cool. I love subgenres.

Pure Wrath’s basic style is that of a more aggressive Sojourner. There’s some fast tempos, but always time for some string and woodwind instruments to put the “atmospheric” in atmospheric black metal. However, Woeful Hearts is a lot more intense. Surprising, I know, considering the cover art is an old lady with her back to a burning house. Pure Wrath’s 2020 EP, The Forlorn Soldier, was about the dark side of Indonesian history, and I can only assume it’s a new lyrical theme for his career moving forward. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense for this album to be so much heavier than the previous outings. Unfortunately, Hardy’s vocal performance isn’t the most fluent. Well, it’s the emotions that count, right?

Verdict: 8.9/10


Bloodywood: Rakshak

Apparently, Bloodywood is this year’s Spiritbox; i.e. 2022’s most anticipated debut. However, unlike with Spiritbox, I was on the hype train for this as well, even though I barely managed to board it on time for the album release! All you need to do is look at the epic cover art (not pictured) to know exactly what Bloodywood is about: folk metal straight from India.

However, it’s so much more than that. Bloodywood incorporates electronics and rap in addition to the usual traditional instruments and multilingual lyrics. Unfortunately, that’s about all that can be described in words, because you have to listen to the embedded music video to get an idea of just how good this record is. I’m totally not just using that as an excuse to make you watch the video and give them YouTube money. I also won’t tell you to share the band’s existence with everyone you know, but I highly advise it.

The band’s best strength, other than its youthful energy, is its lyrical themes. Rakshak goes through a wide variety of emotions, from anger, to joy, to loss; mostly anger, though. Half the songs on here are brutally honest social commentaries, but for some reason, something is more cathartic from them than any other metal band that covers politics. Even their angriest song shows some hints of hope for a peaceful solution. The lyrics themselves are also clever; only they can roast politicians and WWE during the course of the same song. To be perfectly blunt, Bloodywood saved my life. Although for the sake of staying on topic, I’ll elaborate in a future post.

Verdict: 10/10


Ghost: IMPERA

One of the worst aspects of this new series is that I really have no room to gush over cover art anymore. It sucks because I love showing my appreciation for a lot of the talented illustrators who make this artwork, especially whoever does Ghost’s art. This band’s album covers have been consistently getting better, and IMEPRA is a cut above the rest. It’s so intricate and detailed, yet not busy. I wouldn’t mind a mecha anime with this Papa Emeritus Gundam they got here.

For the past ten years, Ghost has employed an evolving but simple marriage of old-school metal and 1970s pop. However, IMPERA shows that they’re still capable of catching us off-guard.  ‘Twenties’, for example, is just… really weird. Every time I hear the word I’m instantly going to think of the high-pitched “Twen-tieeeeees!” in the song’s chorus for the rest of my life (along with the “Yesssss” in ‘Griftwood’). Of course, there are some normal-er Ghost bangers, such as ‘Call Me Little Sunshine’, and ‘Hunter’s Moon’, the latter of which was wasted on Steven Spielberg’s “final” Halloween movie. Overall, IMPERA was well worth the wait.

Verdict: 10/10


Vanaheim: Een Verloren Verhaal

Bloodywood might be the big folk metal band everyone is talking about, but from within the Netherlands rose an underground sleeper hit: this debut album by Vanaheim. Ironically, I only found out about them by Googling Bloodywood and this having come up in the “people also search for” tab. With no real experience in Dutch folk metal, this was an easy impulse listen.

I’d say I made a great call. Basically, take the extreme metal elements of Hand of Kalliach—one of my favorite debuts from last year—add the catchy pagan anthems of Elvenking—one of my favorite folk metal bands of all time—and you get Een Verloren Verhaal. The lyrics are also sung in Dutch to boot. It’s a no-brainer that I love everything about this record.

Verdict: 9.5/10


Esprit D’Air: Oceans

I had tried to get into this famous Japanese-British soloist, but for some reason… their music just didn’t quite hit me. I liked about half the songs they had been putting out, but that’s not enough for me to be a fan. I wasn’t too excited for their new full-length, Oceans, but Esprit D’Air’s cover art is always so eye-catching that I just had to give it a whirl!

Surprisingly enough, I really enjoyed it. For a while, I felt like Esprit D’Air’s style was more of a poppy sound with metal instrumentation, but I didn’t get that vibe on Oceans at all. It’s much heavier, but with no shortage of the artist’s usual, whimsical synth sounds. There are also some growling guest vocalists to contrast mastermind Kaito Takahashi’s silky-smooth clean singing. Overall, it’s a solid record.

Verdict: 8.4/10


Angel Nation: Antares

Boy, I really shot myself in the foot with this one. In my review of Catalyst Crime’s self-titled debut from last year, I said I would cover Angel Nation’s third album, and here we are. 

Angel Nation likes their music nice and simple. If you enjoy old-school, 1980s-pop-y metal, this band has it all, and Antares is a further step in the right direction. There are also plenty of synthesizers to boot.

Verdict: 8.4/10


Luminous Vault: Animate the Emptiness

I just learned of industrial metal, which is yet another of metal’s umpteen subgenres. I’ve apparently listened to a lot of bands considered industrial, and loved them without even knowing what it was. At first, I thought it was just a term used for high-synth elements in metal. Seems arbitrary.

However, on Luminous Vault’s debut, Animate the Emptiness, I learned of an important distinction that I would personally consider blasphemous: the drums are fake. I find percussion to be of utmost importance in music, and generally, those synthetic boots n’ cats just sound lifeless and wrong to me. Yet here we are with Luminous Vault, integrating that stuff with black metal.

Despite how much I don’t like not-drums, I actually found the album to be pretty solid. The sense of wrongness with the fake drums coupled with the actual guitars was very interesting. To give credit where credit is due, though, Luminous Vault is not remotely the first band to do this; apparently this style was pioneered by a band called Blut aus Nord from WAY back in the day (they just released a new album, and since they’re a popular band, I of course haven’t listened to it). In any case, this album’s pretty interesting.

Verdict: 8.5/10


Moonlight Sorcery: Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity (EP)

Hot take: I don’t exactly like old-school black metal. I tried with Behemoth, and I found myself pretty underwhelmed by them (well, there goes any qualifications as a metalhead that I could possibly have). However, I was still drawn into Finnish trio Moonlight Sorcery, on their compressed-as-all-get-out debut EP: Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity.

Moonlight Sorcery specializes in a rare subgenre called “melodic black metal”, which was apparently very criticized in the 1990s for no good reason. The icey-sounding synthesizers (which are the only other instruments that you can hear clearly besides the guitars) really sell the band’s brand, and make the album quite whimsical. What also stands out is hints of power metal melodies. This band has a lot of potential, hopefully to become the even rarer subgenre of “blackened power metal” in the future. We’ll have to see where their path leads them next!

Verdict: 8.55/10


Gloryhammer: Fly Away (Single)

I normally don’t talk about singles, but I REALLY feel like I need to discuss the current state of this band as soon as possible, just to get it off my chest. For those who don’t know, Alestorm vocalist Christopher Bowes has also been running a memey power metal band called Gloryhammer, chronicling the Scottish hero, Angus McFife, and his quest to defeat Zargothrax in the distant future of the 1990s. The band hadn’t done much after the third album, which ended with the presumed death of McFife. However, last year, they fired the charismatic Thomas Winkler, who had taken the role of McFife. Literally a day later, the band was accused of White Supremacy and misogyny, with evidence found in leaked private chats from several years ago. 

They survived cancel culture by maintaining radio silence, and it somehow worked. Despite the possibly unjustified hatred (honestly, I didn’t read the source posts since they were supposed to be PRIVATE, so I don’t really know the truth), they were able to hire former Helion Prime vocalist Sozos Michael to assume the role of McFife. I didn’t exactly like his presence in Prime’s second album, since it was more sci-fi oriented than the band’s usual brand of real-world science. However, in an over-the-top sci-fi-fantasy metal band like Gloryhammer, Michael couldn’t be a better fit. While his tenor voice isn’t quite as good as Winkler’s, Michael has the passion and energy to be McFife. Oh, and the song’s great too. The only issue is that it doesn’t really seem to explain his situation. It seems to take place in McFife’s consciousness, moments before his death. We’ll have to wait for the actual fourth album to find out what actually happens next!

Verdict: 9/10


Planeswalker: Tales of Magic (EP)

Speaking of Sozos Michael, here’s his current band now! Alongside Jason Ashcraft—also of Helion Prime—these two have created an old-fashioned power metal band themed off of Magic: The Gathering. Everything about the sound production and composition has that same Prime energy, but with some fantasy whimsy instead of edutainment. This album helped me to appreciate Michael’s ability as a songwriter. 

The highlight of the album is no doubt the twelve minute song shown in the embedded MV: ‘Oath of the Gatewatch’. It contains three guest vocalists: original Helion Prime vocalist Heather Michele, the iconic Brittney Slayes from Unleash the Archers, and whoever R.A. Voltaire is. While the whole album (other than an out-of-place KISS cover) is really good, this song is definitely a banger that’s worth checking out. Also, I really hope this band does more music please.

Verdict: 9/10


Conclusion

Well, I definitely feel like this is the way for me to cover music reviews moving forward. I don’t have to worry about making them poetic and verbose like most actual reviewers do. With that, let’s see if the rest of the year will be as good as this first half (music-wise)!

Eximius Blogger Award

Oh dear… it’s been a hot minute since this happened to me. Thank you, RiseFromAshes, for this tag! Without further ado, let’s dig into this thing! I’ll just Ctrl-C-Ctrl-V these rules real quick… 

  1. Use the official logo/graphic of the award and display it on your blog post
  2. List the rules (Oh hey! I’m doing it right now!)
  3. Tag the original creator, Riddhi of WhisperingStories, and the person who nominated me (did the latter already. Alright, I’m speedrunning this thing!)
  4. Mention the most exceptional thing about you and your blog (Oh… hm. Okay)
  5. Mention one thing exceptional about the blogger who nominated you
  6. Answer the three questions posed by the person who nominated you
  7. Share your favorite post from your blog
  8. Tag SEVEN people?! Because seven is such a magical number?! Well, SOMEONE hasn’t watched Schoolhouse Rock.

Exceptional Thing About Me

My statement here might sound pretentious, but from my perspective, I don’t know anyone else who possesses the following quality. The exceptional thing about me is that I’m restraintive, which is apparently a real word, since Google Docs didn’t put the red lines underneath it. I’ll keep it short for those who have already taken the time to read my various blurbs of emotional insecurity. Basically, I’ve been fighting to consume less media in this society where you have to consume all media, especially what’s popular. I’ve had a great time exercising this much restraint, although I still have anxiety over my tendency to take the path less traveled every. Single. Time. Well… A for effort, as they say!

Exceptional Thing About My Blog

This claim might be biased by my perspective as the writer of the posts on my blog, but here it goes anyway! In essence, my blog is not pretentious. One of my biggest issues as an autistic man is that I read other blurbs and blogs about stuff, and get taken in by some of the hyperbole they use. I go into the thing expecting literally what they said, I don’t experience it, and I end up feeling really salty… mostly about myself, since I take stuff too literally. In any case, other than some sarcastic humor, I try to refrain from phrases like “life-changing” or “transcendent” (the website J-rock News LOVES the latter). I feel like my writing style makes my blog more transparent than that of most people. 

Exceptional Thing About Rise

I say that not being pretentious is an exceptional thing about my blog… Yet, ironically, I feel the same way about Rise. Their posts are down-to-earth, and I’ve felt that they’ve been pretty consistent with the aforementioned unpretentiousness. Also, I have simply not seen anyone else on the Internet discuss Japanese dramas. It’s pretty fascinating that there’s a whole other industry of acting outside of anime, and that it doesn’t really seem to ever take off in the West at all. Availability is a problem too (fyi, Rise lives in Japan, where it’s easier to see that stuff).

Rise’s Questions

What medium (books, movies, etc) do you think is best for an immersive storytelling experience?

Well, I basically have this down to three candidates who all have different advantages, and those advantages only work out in the best case scenario for each thing. However, I feel like the one that’s easiest to strictly nail immersion is the realm of videogames. They have all the advantages of movies, but you’re an integral part of them. The right combination of artstyle, music, and ambience can really make you feel like you’re really there, no VR required.

Who is the blogger whose posts get you thinking the most?

I can’t answer this without spoiling someone whom I’m going to tag. Oh well! My answer is Irina, the drunken anime blogger. As if it was the late 1960s, her being so inebriated makes her smarter (I guess?)! She has a wide range of tastes, ranging from mainstream to off the beaten path. While she mostly posts anime reviews episode-by-episode, her little rants are her strength. She really cracks open the nut that is the anime community and digs deep into why it’s so depressing and horrible. It’s nice to hear a sane anime fan for once.

How often do you write for your blog in a given week?

Almost all the time. Whenever I have a thought, my phone, and a private place, I write away, right away (hooray, English puns). There are many posts you haven’t seen, and probably never will. 

Favorite Blog Post

For some reason, I’ve actually come to be the proudest of my retrospectives. I don’t do them too often, mainly because I have to both be willing to re-experience something, and not have re-experienced it in years. As much as I want to plug the Xenoblade X retrospective that I worked so hard on and got almost no views for, I kind of feel particularly proud of my Atlantis: The Lost Empire retrospective. While I ended up making a claim about its representation in Disney Parks that turned out to be incorrect, I feel like it has a good balance of love and criticism that isn’t blinded by nostalgia. Give it a read if you want to learn about one of Disney’s weirder movies from the 21st Century.

Seven Bloggers to Tag:

Questions for My Victims People I Tagged 

  1. What’s a mega-popular thing that you just cannot comprehend, and it makes you so mad to try and comprehend it?
  2. What is the most annoying contemporary music piece you have ever heard?
  3. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you enjoy/wholeheartedly resent the digital world of social media platforms?

Conclusion

Well, that’s another tag done! Other than finding people to tag, I really do enjoy answering the questions. Thanks again for the shout-out, Rise!

Top Five Upcoming Anime the Internet is Not Ready For

It’s been a while since I did an anime community-oriented post, on account of me abandoning said community. However, I still follow MyAnimeList on social media, mainly for news regarding manga. Speaking of manga (and light novels as well), North American publishers have really grown to the point where they’ll publish a lot of franchises well before they get picked up for anime. Because of that, I’ve had a great track record of predicting exactly how message boards will react to their anime adaptations. I’ve noticed that, for some reason, certain series with mature themes don’t get any controversy until after the anime in particular premieres; examples being Goblin Slayer and Interspecies Reviewers. It seems most anime fans are too young to comprehend anything other than a specific set of universally appealing tropes. 

With that in mind, boy oh boy! There have been some very… interesting adaptation announcements over the course of last year and this year. So, using my knowledge of my days in that community, how about I put together a fun list of upcoming series that I’m pretty darn sure will light a few fires in the digital world?


5: Jigokuraku

I never actually posted my final, full review of this manga following my First Impressions of it, mainly because said review was kind of awful. To reconcile that, I’ll basically state that Jigokuraku, after having finished it, remains a solid, edgy ride all the way through with a gaggle of likable characters. 

With this being at the bottom of the list, I don’t anticipate Jigokuraku being too controversial. MAPPA is a renowned studio, albeit pushed to unrealistic limits with having to animate this, the finale of Attack on Titan, and the most highly anticipated battle shounen anime of the year; at least the trailer shows promise.

Jigokuraku is a pretty straightforward battle shounen with seinen tropes. I imagine people will love Gabimaru for being edgy, and Yuzuriha for being sexy. There is some horror imagery with how the monsters look, as well as what happens to people who get consumed by the plants, but it’s not too bad, relatively speaking. Most of the controversy I anticipate is in Jigokuraku‘s antagonists. These androgynous superhumans can shift gender at will, and are bisexual as well. On top of that, they tend to be naked a lot. Any anti-LGBT people in the community will probably lash out unfairly at the show, and defending it will be a nightmare if that occurs.


4: Blue Lock

People familiar with Blue Lock might not agree with me putting it higher than fifth place, and to be honest, I feel like this should merely tie with Jigokuraku in terms of controversy. My logic with putting it here is based on the fans it will attract: those of sports anime, and probably yaoi to an extent. 

From watching Dr. Stone and The Rising of the Shield Hero as they aired, I noticed that a lot of people’s brains didn’t have the capacity to appreciate good anti-heroes, and more notably, well-written characters with bad personalities. As much as we don’t like Mary/Gary Sue, the trope’s existence makes sense because writers want young audiences to feel like they’re them; and they can’t do that if the main character isn’t “good” enough to connect with.

With Blue Lock, any semblance of teamwork and manly bromance that make other sports series appealing is thrown out the window. It is deeply psychological, with a training regimen oriented entirely around building the individual rather than the team. To top it off, it’s a battle royale, with the loser getting written out of the series permanently. Anyone who cries over Danganronpa is guaranteed to follow suit in Blue Lock. Conversely, astute observers might notice the appropriate flags. I’m a bit further in the manga from when I wrote my First Impressions, and it seems that they won’t kill off anyone until their character arc feels sufficiently resolved in some manner. Of course, the series is still young and my enjoyment of it is not dampered in the slightest. But knowing seasonals, critics won’t give it that chance.


3: The Executioner and Her Way of Life

This subversive isekai is going to be a doozie. The Executioner and Her Way of Life is a time-travel-driven murdering spree disguised as a yuri Isekai. People will cry as they draw fan art of Menou and Akari in an intimate relationship, knowing that said relationship canonically can never happen, since Akari is supposed to be murdered at the end of the story. 

On top of that, it’s very visceral. While not as horrific as Torture Princess or Roll Over and Die! (both of which have no anime adaptations, for obvious reasons), it has a lot of violence and gore. Plus, Princess Ashuna is a skank who will win the hearts of perverts, and be the target of just as many critics. 


2: Dead Dead Demon’s Dededededestruction

This is the most surprising for sure, because—to my knowledge—none of Inio Asano’s manga have been given a greenlight for a TV anime adaptation (Solanin might’ve gotten an OVA but don’t quote me on that), despite his popularity in Japan. The reason is simple to anyone familiar with his works: he’s brutal. I’ve actually read most of Dededededestruction myself, and I plan to publish my full thoughts on it once Viz published the rest of the series. In the meantime, I can say that it only got this adaptation because, at least compared to Goodnight Punpun, it’s the tamest of Asano’s projects. 

Of course, given some of the gratuitous content in Punpun, “tame” doesn’t mean squat for Asano. What can be—on the surface—described as “Slice-of-Life Meets Independence Day” is much more layered than that. It’s a bizarre and abstract social commentary on how humans are more of a threat than the imminent alien menace that looms over them. In addition, the forums can easily devolve into debates over whether or not the series is pretentious.

The big question manga fans might pose is: “How?” Asano’s style of storytelling is heavily reliant on the manga format. Plus, his backgrounds are intricate to the point where any studio would have a mass heart attack trying to draw them with a TV anime budget. If anything is certain, it’s that people will probably be horny over Oran’s really hunky, obese older brother.


1: Chainsaw Man

There is so much hype behind Chainsaw Man. Not only is the manga very popular, and deservedly so, but the manga’s sequel will also be launching later this year. To be fair, Tokyo Ghoul had some really messed up content. However, to my knowledge, none of the really heavy stuff—like the sex scene—was actually incorporated into the notoriously rushed anime. Conversely, if the adaptation of Chainsaw Man proves faithful, it will be one of the most brutal anime in recent years. Possibly ever.

Chainsaw Man has a pretty straightforward story, but twists shounen tropes into something more, well, twisted. All poor little Denji wants is a girlfriend, and a girlfriend he gets… sort of. He spends most of the story being exploited by older women in a harsh and psychological character study, while engaging in gore-infested battles with demons. And that’s just the tame stuff.

The last third or so of Chainsaw Man is a constant, visceral rollercoaster of nightmares. People are crumpled into distorted shapes, entire cities are gunned down, and more. It culminates in one of the most unusual and creative ways to defeat the main villain I have ever seen in a battle shounen. Lastly, I really hope “Halloween” becomes the meme I imagined it would be; liking cultural phenomena before it was cool always feels cathartic.


Conclusion

Not gonna lie, I’ve been tempted to dip back into the anime community to laugh while people lose their minds over these shows. More likely than not, however, I’ll just see the same robotic reactions I’ve had to sift through for years on MyAnimeList. Regardless, this year will be rather interesting in the anime world.

Having Restraint in a Capitalist Society is Hard: A Rant

PREFACE: Okay, so, this post is going to come off as very petty considering what’s happening right now. However, when scheduling for this post to go out, I wasn’t expecting international order to crumble overnight! Anyway, the real caveat with this post is an announcement regarding the blog, so if you don’t care for my jibber-jabber, just skip to the end. Oh, and, love for Ukraine.


This little blurb is basically a follow-up to  my There’s Too Much: A Rant post. To sum up that post (if you choose not to read it), I’ve been struggling to keep up with the—for lack of a better word—excessive amount of stuff in the first world. Additionally, I seem to be the only one who’s struggling; everyone else I know seems to enjoy themselves just fine in this murk. Fortunately, I’ve been surviving… to an extent.

The main thing that’s been helping me buy less is that I purchased one expensive thing, namely, a new gaming laptop. It’s a beauty, and it cost more than a pretty penny. To pay off the darn thing, I have been forced to really dumb down the crap I buy, making room for ONLY what I truly want. To tell the truth, it’s been liberating. You can save hundreds by not buying something you don’t actually want. Who’da thunk it?

However, marketing is a thing, especially in a first-world country. They do a really compelling job at making you think you NEED something that you don’t want. By following the manga market, I’m bombarded by all the hot stuff that everyone likes that you GOTTA check out for yourself because it’s POPULAR. Even though, with me being myself, I rarely like anything popular. 

I at least have an excuse with that market: insufficient funding. The hardest place to have restraint, of all things, has been Western literature. Thanks to public libraries, books are essentially free. That means I have no excuse to NOT read all those books that Barnes & Noble’s been telling me will change my life forever. 

While I could just ignore all that crap, there’s another dimension to the book market, and to an extent, a lot of the market here in America these days. In essence, I’m referring to the amplification of diverse voices. It’s good that there’s so many of them, but the problem is how those books are essentially weapons in marketing. Thanks to all the months dedicated to particular races, I’ve felt crushed by not celebrating them. I mean, it’s not like one of those dumb themes like Pizza Month; these are reminders of what makes us human. Also, due to how humans work, they’ll just become obsessed with whatever thing’s the newest (with the exception of long-staying fan-favorites like The Hate U Give). It’s just become a never-ending battle; you can never consume enough diverse media to satiate the P.C. community.

Videogames have also become painful. Every month or so, something takes the world by storm until something else causes a new storm in its place. It’s exceptionally rare that I’m part of that. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is my first time playing a trendy videogame since, quite possibly, Breath of the Wild. And as you’re reading this post, Elden Ring and Horizon: Forbidden West are the new storms being watched (or would be if it weren’t for the storm over Ukraine, but in an okay world, that’s what would be happening). I also feel bad at the end of every year in ProtonJon’s community. Fans post their own game clearing spreadsheets to be Booru, and when I see how much more they’ve done and experienced than me, something inside me breaks. I really want to be selective, but in a society all about having and having, it feels like I’m at gunpoint every day that I’m not in possession of the newest and shiny thing.

In conclusion, I’m announcing yet another change to my blogging schedule. If I can successfully resist the siren song of consumerism, I will have way less material to discuss here. Also, buying new blogging material will be harder while gas prices increase. As such, posts will only be on Saturdays, effective immediately. Quality over quantity, baby!

I Review a Pop Album for Once?: millennium parade — THE MILLENNIUM PARADE Album Review

I’m a big metalhead, but as much as I want to say I listen to metal 100% of the time, I don’t. The total is 99%, which feels like more than most metalheads, who enjoy even mainstream pop from time to time. If I can like a band as light as The Hu, then I really have no excuse. This review is super-late and unprofessional, but here it is anyway: my review of millennium parade’s debut album, THE MILLENNIUM PARADE.

My story with millennium parade is a long one. The band was formed quite recently as a side project of Daiki Tsuneta, the lead vocalist of super-popular Japanese rock band King Gnu. I had tried King Gnu in my pre-metal days and didn’t quite like it. At that time, however, millennium parade had released a few singles, most notably the opening theme of Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2045. I liked it significantly more than King Gnu, but it wasn’t long after that I got into metal. Their full-length debut has now premiered, and the band’s newest release happens to be one of the theme songs in Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle

Normally, rock bands have crap cover art (as much as I love BAND-MAID, they could use better art a lot of the time). However, millennium parade already stands out with their first album’s artwork. It’s an ukiyo-e-inspired illustration of yokai dancing about. It ties into the album’s intro track, ‘Hyakki-yagyo,’ which bleeds into the already-famous ‘Fly With Me’ (the aforementioned GitS OP). 

millennium parade’s basic style consists of an overwhelming amount of strange synthesizers and autotuning to create a vast and otherworldly soundscape. Apple Music calls it “alternative”, a genre that I still don’t know how to recognize, considering I’ve listened to a lot of the metal take on alternative (apparently). However, if I could call a pop artist “alternative”, then it would be millennium parade. 

The other draw to them is that they are definitely from Japan. That nation’s long history of social isolation that ended only one hundred and twenty years ago has created a very complicated society that can almost be described as “dystopian”. A lot of what initially enchants Westerners is just the unadulterated, unhinged strangeness of what they’ve put out, which contrasts with the centuries of ancient traditions. That shows in THE MILLENNIUM PARADE, whose incredibly modern sound contradicts the old-timey style of the cover art.

Sadly, that’s about where the positives end. Alternative or not, I think pop is superficial to the core, and so far, millennium parade is no exception. I had the same problem with King Gnu. Just like millennium parade, King Gnu had a lot of weird effects and crap in it, but musically, it was basic rock. The weird sounds might help millennium parade stand out among pop artists, but it doesn’t add anything. While I can appreciate them having animated music videos, they only serve to further disguise the basic pop beats beneath.

The vocals are… okay I guess? While ‘Fly With Me’ is sung by a masucline vocalist who sounds like Tsuneta himself, most tracks are by what sound like a female vocalist. Of course, how can I tell, when they all have eighty autotunes going on? Whatever person or people are singing, I do suppose they give THE MILLENNIUM PARADE its desired feel. However, the caveat is that they sound very robotic and deadpan; not at all my speed.

I might sound like I’m just being biased as a metalhead, but here’s the thing: there’s a pop band that I DO unconditionally love. The band is Mili, and ironically, they’re also from Japan. Mili is an independent outfit that I’ve discussed before, and despite my migration into the metal hole, Mili always has me coming out for a spell. They manage to sound perfectly “alternative” but without sensory overload; the core of most of their songs are vocals, percussion, and a piano. The melodies are legitimately not mainstream pop, and their vocalist Cassie is phenomenally talented, packing both personality and a memorable voice. Of course, it’s me of all people who says that a couple of people with no record label are significantly better than one of Japan’s most popular musicians. 

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Final Verdict: 7/10

THE MILLENNIUM PARADE is decent-at-best. Similar to King Gnu, I can’t exactly say I’m a fan of this band, especially when compared to Mili. At the very least, they’re marginally better than most of today’s biggest popstars. You can give them a try if you’re sick of hearing ‘Shake It Off’ on the radio ad nauseum.

The Night is Short, Walk on Girl: Monogatari But It’s Heavily Under the Influence

I read and wrote a review of the standalone Japanese novel, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, a long time ago. It was a month before the lockdown that changed all of us. Now, what feels like a lifetime later, I found myself watching The Night is Short, Walk on Girl‘s 2017 movie adaptation, since it was on HBO Max. One of the reasons is that I reread my review of the novel, and realized that it was god-awful. My opinion on the work will probably remain unchanged, but I want to give a more professional dissertation all the same. Also, one thing I didn’t mention in the book review is that I had a bad feeling about it even before going into it. Back in the old days of MyAnimeList, the movie was often paired with Monogatari and the like as a profound and mind-blowing examination of the human condition; the kind of “elitist” stuff that you can’t criticize without risking an insult to your intelligence (even if that criticism is very intellectual in and of itself). So, without further ado, let’s get to reviewing The Night is Short, Walk on Girl!

In The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, a young college student is finally about to confess his love to the girl of his dreams! However, she manages to elude him without even trying. Will he be able to survive a long night in Kyoto, and meet up with her by chance?

Before getting into the movie, I need to confess my love for the movie’s setting. City nightlife is a real experience, even more-so in urban Japan. The night is a rare chance for Japanese people to be their true selves, especially when drunk (a major theme of this movie). In fact, one of my research books said “you don’t truly know a Japanese person until you see them drunk.”

The strangeness of the night is brought to life with the movie’s unique visuals. It’s minimalistic and abstract, with cartoony movements happening alongside Dali-like surrealness. Already, I found this to be my preferred version of Night is Short just from the visuals alone. It’s a real surprise that the same team would end up doing Ride Your Wave.

In case you couldn’t tell, the dude spends the entire ninety-minute movie just trying to talk to this girl. Visuals aside, the movie is a pretty simple rom-com. Both man and woman end up in ridiculously silly situations, all while in relatively close proximity to each other. Just like the book, the movie is split into four acts. 

Of course, it takes more than whacky visuals for the anime community as a whole to consider Night is Short profound. The movie is full of philosophical nonsense, and you can bet your ass that people take it way more seriously than how it’s framed in context. The main profoundity (new word) that’s explored is fate. It’s a major symbol for the whole movie. Elements of the many different stories all have some sort of connection, in order to provoke your thoughts into thinking that fate is a real thing. The amount of coordinating all of this is admittedly pretty impressive.

Sadly, like the book, I did not give a rotting carp about it. I personally call philosophy “overthinking mundane things, the job”, and it’s because none of it matters in the long run. Like, what is the takeaway supposed to be here? Is it open to interpretation? Am I supposed to look at the world differently? Is it all a vain attempt at pretending to be smart? 

To go at this from a more personal angle, well… let me begin by stating that I have autism (in case this is the first post of mine that you’re reading). As an outlier, I overanalyze mundane aspects of life all the time, and it’s only led to mental anguish. To be perfectly real, a lot of the stuff that comes up in philosophy is all in our heads. Morality, for instance, is an entirely human construct. Any other species would go extinct if they had to live by our rules, simply because they would all be guilty of murder. To paraphrase Temple Grandin, the best way to approach all the mysteries of the human condition is to not even bother trying to figure it out in the first place, and works like this movie are the exact antithesis of that mentality.

Surprisingly, I ended up liking the characters more this time around. The voice actors all do an exemplary job at giving everyone a ton of personality. When I reviewed the novel, I accused the girl of having no personality, when she’s actually got quite a bit going on. She’s got a childlike innocence, and is attracted to pretty much everything (read as: “booze”). She believes in fate, yet ironically dismisses her encounters with the dude as coincidence.

Speaking of the dude, he’s a classic underdog. All he wants is love, yet it seems like the world is against him. Surrounding them are a quirky cast of characters, from the tengu whose name I forgot, to the old cynicist Rihaku. 

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 8/10

I enjoyed this version of The Night is Short, Walk on Girl more than the book. However, it’s still a pretty pretentious movie. I don’t know what it is, but a lot of Japanese writers have a real thing with trying to make the mundane feel otherworldly. Call me an uncultured swine, but I just don’t get it. In any case, I recommend this movie if you love Monogatari, or the novels of Haruki Murakami.

Dream Unending and Hand of Kalliach: Two 2021 Metal Debuts I Missed

There’s so much metal out there… seriously. The underground market is even larger, and as a blogger who likes to highlight obscure stuff, I feel pretty overwhelmed. I missed a lot of metal debuts last year, and I’m already behind on debuts from this year. Let’s catch up by discussing two of those debuts from 2021!


Dream Unending: Tide Turns Eternal

I don’t know much about Dream Unending except that it consists of vocalist/drummer Justin DeTore, and guitarist/bassist Derrick Vella. One member is from the States, and the other Canada, but Encyclopaedia Metallum doesn’t say who’s from where. Also, they’re so edgy that they don’t even have a Facebook page; the only way to follow them is through their label, 20 Buck Spin.

I usually dislike album cover art that looks awful, especially since a lot of the REALLY popular bands have awful cover art for some reason (I mean, look at Zeal & Ardor’s self-titled album for example. Two hands suspended in a white void, whoop dee doo). However, despite how awful Tide Turns Eternal looks at first, I found myself unable to look away. It’s incredibly fuzzy, with only three colors. Yet… there’s just enough there for the brain to vaguely form a sense of composition. I hate that I have no idea what I’m looking at, and that’s why I’ve come to love the artwork. 

I knew that Tide Turns Eternal was going to be a trip (also, take a shot for every paragraph I start with “I”), but it threw me for a loop minute one. Even with all the contrasting dualities that I’ve heard, Dream Unending is utter tonal whiplash. I don’t know what to call those riffs that are reminiscent of late 1960s acid rock, but that comes up just about as often as the doom metal subgenre’s signature deep guitar riffs. 

I don’t like the late 1960s era, but I was hooked on Tide Turns Eternal despite that. People love using the hyperbolic word “otherworldly”, but sometimes, there’s no other way to describe something. This record is a groaning, melancholic experience. Every track has a memorable and ominous atmosphere.

I have heard death growls in a myriad of ways. People can really draw them out, screech like banshees, and even rap in this style. However, DeTore taught me that… you can whisper in death growls? This man’s voice is scary in the best way possible. Instead of just trying to sound like a ravenous pig (apparently, that’s deathcore territory *shivers*), he uses the aforementioned technique to prove the deceptive versatility of extreme vocals.

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Final Verdict: 9.4/10

It’s amazing how fast I’ve gotten acclimated to metal. I go from resenting extreme metal, to now having my Top Three 2021 debuts all being extreme metal, with Tide Turns Eternal in third place (the moles in Earthbound would be proud). This album… just wow. Like with IOTUNN, I should’ve listened to it much sooner than when I did. Tide Turns Eternal truly is a dream unending. Even if you’re off-put by extreme metal, I recommend you give this a try; it’s just that unique and bizarre.


Hand of Kalliach: Samhainn

I know nothing about Hand of Kalliach, other than the fact that they are a husband and wife duo. Sophie and John Fraser hail from Scotland… and that’s literally it for what I know. Hooray for the underground! Oh, here’s one tidbit I learned: I don’t know if it’s the sole purpose of the project, but they supposedly donate some amount of their proceeds to a charity that they support. Follow them on Facebook for details (#notsponsored)!

I love the cover art… whatever it is. It looks like a wizard on a robot horse riding on a turbulent sea? Oh wait, that’s his left arm, not a horse’s head… In any case, I’m no doubt off the mark with this art, but that’s the thing about art; the emotion felt by the viewer. And the emotion I felt was anticipation for what Hand of Kalliach had to offer!

The thing I’m used to with folk metal is for there to be, well, folk instrumentation implemented with the metal sounds. Hand of Kalliach, however, doesn’t even have one bagpipe pipe. Despite that, however, something about it screamed “folk metal” to me.

Or rather, it growled “folk metal”, for Hand of Kalliach is a death metal band at its core. Don’t worry though; they’re not old-timey violent death metal. If anything it’s melodic death metal meets atmospheric black metal, kind of like IOTUNN, the otherworldly new prog-metal band whose debut I covered not too long ago. In a similar sense, the music is thunderously heavy, but there’s still a strange melancholy to the overall sound.

Of course, just because I’m comparing them to IOTUNN doesn’t mean the two bands are anything alike. In fact, “apples and oranges” couldn’t be a more apt analogy here. Hand of Kalliach, like I said before, manages to scratch that folk itch with pretty much no help from actual folk tradition. I honestly don’t know how they did it, except they did it, and REALLY well at that. Every track on Samhainn slaps with a whimsical and heavy atmosphere that I haven’t quite heard anywhere else.

The vocalists really tie the album’s sound together. Yes, vocalists. Most of the singing is done by John, who takes the role of the growler. He sounds like a feral beast, and sadly, isn’t as fluent as others I have heard. However, I didn’t get mad at that for some reason, like I did when I first heard Behemoth’s Nergal (I know it’s a hot take to not like Behemoth, but that’s just me; a butt-load of hot takes!). For some reason, his growls just worked, and I can’t imagine Hand of Kalliach without him. Same goes for the wife, Sophie. Her clean vocals are delicate and flow like a gentle stream, forming a perfect contrast with her husband’s savage growling.

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Final Verdict: 9.45/10

Hand of Kalliach proves both the versatility of extreme and folk metal. I believe Samhainn is a masterpiece, second only to IOTUNN’s Access All Worlds for my favorite 2021 debut. If you aren’t too off-put by how damn heavy it is, I highly recommend giving the record a spin.

Apparently, Triple-A Gaming is Scary: A Rant

I’m a Nintendo kid. Despite its shortcomings, such as terrible online servers (which I don’t use because I choose not to have friends), and games that don’t even remotely meet people’s expectations (that they continue to make despite negative feedback), I am prepared to follow them to the bitter end. In recent years, I’ve learned that many triple-A game studios are, for the most part, heartless swindlers, and Nintendo was the least of many evils.

One bad thing I’ve heard of is microtransactions in pay-to-win games. Normally, they show up in games that are free. However, I’ve heard of them showing up in a lot of games that cost money to buy, too (such as one of the Crash Bandicoot racing games). That’s pretty gross, but that’s only the tip of a much larger iceberg. And gamers are the Titanic.

The worst I had heard of was Bethesda, the creators of Fallout and Elder Scrolls. Their games are buggy; notoriously buggy. And. They. Don’t. Care. This studio rolls in millions of smackaroos by consciously putting out dysfunctional games that people still buy for some reason. Not only that, but some of the controversies I had heard of are actually illegal, such as a scam in Fallout ’76 Collector’s Edition merch, where people didn’t actually get what they paid for.

However, seeing is believing, and I had no idea just how bad triple-A gaming is; it’s gotta be the most corrupt consumer market next to car dealerships. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I bought a new gaming laptop. It’s small, but it’s a beast, and it can play pretty much any triple-A game coming out in the foreseeable future. There were some coming out this year that I actually wanted… and this is when I saw the corruption firsthand.

The first sign is Square Enix’s Forspoken. Apparently, PS5 games cost $69.99USD, but Forspoken costs that much on PC as well. According to the Steam forums, Forspoken will start a new precedent by Square Enix to gradually increase the price of all triple-A games… eventually topping off at $100USD. It’s not only disgustingly corrupt; it’s stupid. At this point, the only thing that this generation’s games have is better graphics, and to even appreciate those, you need to break out thousands on a TV that can support such ludicrous resolutions. And that’s not even taking into account the amount of these massively anticipated games that flop hardcore. Even if Forspoken was a good game—heck, even if it was a really good game that’s worth the money—buying it would only feed the beast.

Another problem is Bethesda’s Starfield. I ignored this game when it was announced, but recently, I’ve been watching Tom Fawkes play through Elder Scrolls IV: The Krug Khronicles. Elder Scrolls is my kind of game: open world sandbox, non-linear structure, a myriad of playstyles, and multiple solutions to quests. Bethesda has a good design philosophy… but sadly, they can’t—and won’t—execute it well. I would love to play Starfield, but it’s such a huge risk. As a weeb, I’m also interested in Ghostwire Tokyo. Although Bethesda’s merely its publisher, not its devs, they probably have the authority to tell the actual devs something like “So, if you happen to come across any bugs in the game’s programming, don’t do anything, ‘kay?”. They’ve gotten away with selling broken products for decades. In fact, people still buy their games despite this.

That last phrase is the real crux of the matter, isn’t it? Despite the glaring flaws that these games have, people buy them anyway. It’s almost like a vicious cycle. Square Enix can get away with what they’re pulling, because people will pay anything for the next big thing. I’ve lived through so many games that were supposed to “transcend reality” that ended up being mediocre disappointments. 

Us middle-class plebes boycotting a game won’t do much of anything, because of how the gaming landscape has changed. We have to factor in gamers, and I don’t mean people who play games as their hobby; I mean those who play games for a living. The algorithm is ruthless, and playing the right game at the right time is literally what puts a roof over their heads. Square Enix can raise their prices however high they want, for the professional gamers are obligated to buy any and all highly anticipated releases. They’ll shell out the triple-digit-dough for a special edition when applicable, especially when factoring in collectors. If Square Enix really plans to shift the market like this, they will succeed. It really won’t make any difference if I buy Forspoken or not. In fact, I’m tempted to get it day 1 because it would be an interesting experience to be part of the inevitable controversy surrounding its main protagonist, since apparently having a Black female lead protagonist in 2022 is utterly outrageous.

In addition to all that, we have to worry about these things called NFTs (short for Non-Fungible Tokens). I had heard of them on the Disc Only Podcast, where they were alluded to as harbingers of the apocalypse (I distinctly recall one person in chat responding with “We live in a dystopia”). No one on the podcast actually explained what NFTs were, so it meant they were a big enough deal to assume that everyone knew what they were. Of course, I didn’t because I’m me. Based on what I looked up, NFTs are simply the digital equivalent to a certificate of authentication on a collector’s item. The most corrupt aspect about them just seems to be the fact that rich people have spent millions on them, as opposed to giving that money to charities. I don’t quite know how they will bring ruin to our lives, but apparently, if they become incorporated into videogames, us consumers will suddenly find ourselves with empty wallets and no First Amendment.

The objectively better thing to do is back out and play indie games. While these smaller teams can still make equally bad decisions as triple-A studios (possibly even more-so), they at least cost less, at most half the price of a triple-A game. Best case scenario, you’ll have something that’s just as good as, if not better than, most triple-A games at their finest. Indie games will likely not be affected by an increase in triple-A game prices; in fact, it would only make people flock over to their more affordable games instead. I’m already stoked for this year’s indie titles, with Sea of Stars, SacriFire, and Slime Rancher 2 to name a few (oh right, I gotta upload my review of the first game eventually…). Not to mention that Nintendo still has a promising lineup of $59.99USD games, such as Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Mario and Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, Splatoon 3, and more. In fact, listing these titles off already made me more excited for them.

Speaking of Nintendo, I want to end this off positively. Not all of these studios are bad; you just have to look past the ads blaring “NEXT-GEN GRAPHICS” and whatnot. Some triple-A games are actually worth the $59.99USD, and not just Nintendo. For example, Yakuza is a very beloved SEGA I.P. that I’ve never once heard any of these con-art stories from. Also, I’ve been playing Grounded in Early Access. It’s by Obsidian, which is—I believe—a triple-A studio. I’ve really loved it, even in Early Access (although I can’t get any achievements because I don’t have an Xbox account and have to play offline). There are no absolutes in the infinitely complex world of gaming, except for “absolute wastes of money.” 

So, the moral of the story? Don’t play triple-A games, and don’t take up gaming as a career. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but you should be wary of how the market is because it is capitalism at its rudest. What is your experience with the con artists who make up triple-A studios? Have you converted to indie games because they’re cheaper?