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. 

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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?

Belle: Modern Fairytale Tropes Meet Internet Allegories

How long has it been since I saw an anime movie in theaters?! Oh right, 2021… Completely forgot about Earwig and the Witch (for good reason). More importantly, however, how long has it been since I saw a Mamoru Hosoda movie?! I actually own Summer Wars, his only movie I ever saw, and that was years ago. I didn’t exactly love it, mainly because I’m an autistic person who doesn’t understand neurotypical family relationships (i.e. half the movie), but his artstyle is pretty novel and I always wanted to give his other films a chance. The problem was that he apparently hates streaming? Call me a Zoomer, but streaming is a crucial money-saver in this century (and it helps Earth because it saves on the resources used to make a physical copy). Fortunately, Hosoda’s newest film, Belle, premiered in theaters just recently. I was skeptical due to it being a romance, but if I didn’t see it now, I wouldn’t be able to see it ever! Was the risk still worth taking, though?

In Belle, a social media network known as U is spreading like wildfire, dethroning Zuckerberg and becoming the most popular platform of its kind. It’s a virtual network that connects directly to your body and creates an avatar called an AS based off of your innermost self. It’s the perfect hobby for motherless, socially depressed Suzu, who ends up becoming Belle, the world-famous virtual singing sensation. However, things get dicey when she has a run-in with the Dragon, a naughty-boy avatar with a lot of cryptocurrency (and probably NFTs) on his head. 

Holy crap… Where do I begin with this movie? While straightforward, it ended up being way more involved than I had ever expected, especially compared to Summer Wars. Let’s start with the first thing you notice: how it looks. It’s called Belle (the French word for beauty) for a reason, and I’m not talking about the main character’s name. The movie looks absolutely spectacular. Hosoda’s style involves trading texture for consistent fluidity; basically, imagine a TV anime’s artstyle but with actual animation. The CG in Belle is some of the best I have ever seen in an anime, massive in scope yet able to incorporate the most minute little mannerisms. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, since it’s been over a decade since Summer Wars. I’m immensely glad I saw it in theaters.

I should also talk about the soundtrack. A lot of it is made up of original musical numbers, which are very orchestral and surprisingly powerful (for not being metal). One of these songs is called ‘U’ (like the setting), and it’s composed by King Gnu vocalist Daiki Tsuneta’s side band, millennium parade. They’re a band I tried when they were first starting out, but ended drifting away from when I converted to metal. I had no idea which song happened to be ‘U’, but since the whole soundtrack was solid, I feel like it was one of their better songs. However, you’ll just have to wait for my review of their debut album from last year before you know if I meant that as a compliment. Yay, marketing!

So, when it comes to Belle, it boils down to two major components: one, it’s inspired by Beauty and the Beast. No shit, Sherlock. The other aspect is that it’s an allegory to the beautiful digital prisons of our creation. It’s not new nor cerebral, but Hosoda conveys the general feel really well. Textboxes tend to clutter the screen as people mutter their crap. People make up stuff about themselves as well as stuff about others, such as the Dragon. Rumors form, cancel culture takes hold. The main villain, named Justin, is an SJW running a squad of Ultra-Mans who can literally reveal someone’s personal information to the world. As a blogger with a pen name, I could feel that anxiety of letting your other self be traced back to you. 

Of course, what it boils down to is some good ol’ fashioned waifu power. Suzu has to find the Dragon (or Beast, in case the symbolism wasn’t obvious enough), and make him less emo because… love? I dunno, she just gets enamored by his naughty-boy-ness when he first shows up. The plot is very straightforward for the most part. Despite it being Allegories ‘R Us, there’s nothing really left up to interpretation. Despite that, I still found myself surprisingly engaged throughout the whole film.

This is especially surprising because the cast was… something. Suzu is extremely relatable; in fact, Hosoda didn’t need to pull the “kill the mom” trope at all to make a character that people will resonate with, especially in this day and age. She has the classic Internet celeb character arc of having to find her true self between her physical and virtual bodies. Most of the others are just plot devices. Her nerd friend Hiro does all the techy stuff when she has to, these old ladies at this choir club Suzu attends offer support when they need to, etc. There’s some cringe-inducing, very teenagery romance, including a subplot involving some saxophone-playing girl and these two studs from school, and it means absolutely nothing. Also, why does Suzu’s father exist? He is the most passive fictional parent ever, practically letting her do whatever she wants. 

Also, the Dragon doesn’t get much elaboration either. It’s sufficient if you understand visual storytelling, and narrative tropes in general, but a lot of his arc also feels very plot device-y. Minor spoilers, he ends up not being among the characters we discussed, making his big reveal anticlimactic. On the flipside, it is realistic with how kids these days lose their minds over people whose physical forms they’ve never seen in any capacity (plus, Dragon’s situation is pretty darn urgent). Of course, being a romance, the ends justify the means this time around. 

Justin, the aforementioned villain, doesn’t get much development either. There’s no big fight against him or anything; he just ceases to exist after some point. Maybe that’s an allegory to beating back cancel culture people: ignoring them. In addition, don’t expect anything regarding the reason why U exists at all. They simply say it was created by “The Voices,” but we never get any more than that. The main focus of the movie is the romance, and the lack of any explanation of U is something that needs to be shrugged off.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

I dunno why, but I really loved Belle. I was prepared to call its social commentary pretentious and its romance manufactured, which it arguably is, but I wasn’t mad for some reason. Hosoda has the same Disney-like vision that Miyazaki has, but he adds a lot more of that quintessentially anime nonsense that makes Japanese culture so exotic to Westerners. Most importantly, he’s a SIGNIFICANTLY better director than Makoto Shinkai! I’d recommend Belle, but by the time you’re reading this, you’d probably have to rent it off of Amazon Prime video. Hosoda movies on streaming services pleeeeeeeeease!

Heavy and Colorful: A Look at Diversity in Metal

Metal has come a long way from leather-clad men with crazy hair. It’s a living entity that’s constantly growing, and has even come to welcome those in marginalized cultures. With all this color mixed in, the genre has exploded into a rainbow of infinite creativity. Let’s go over a small trickle of these diverse bands.


Wagakki Band

As a weeb, I have to start by discussing a Japanese band. Early on, all my music posts were exclusively about Japanese bands. And if I had to pick one for this post, it would be Wagakki Band.

Since the early 2010s, this group has combined the gentle beauty of traditional Japanese folk music with that of Western rock and metal. Despite the duality, this combo works really well. They’ve gotten enough acknowledgement to be allowed a collab with Amy Lee from Evanescence in 2020 (even though I think Wagakki Band is better than Evanescence and the honor should be Lee’s). 

The problem is that they’re a bit inconsistent with their style. Even during the course of the same album, their musical style has ranged from folk metal to folk pop, the latter of which completely abandons Western instrumentation and has simplistic, easy melodies. Their newest work, 2021’s Starlight EP, is the lightest thing they have ever released. As they become more popular internationally, I worry that they will be forced to sell out and not be metal in the future. But I guess we’ll never know until their next full-length album comes out!


Living Colour

I was reluctant to listen to this band, considering the searing nature of their lyrics; however, I gave them a try. Living Colour, known for their first hit single ‘Cult of Personality’, is an iconic example of a band consisting entirely of Black men, which was very rare at the time, since a lot of metal bands only had White guys. Beyond that song is a discography spanning six full-length albums in an ongoing career of over three decades, and they’re working on new music right now. 

The band combines funky fresh beats with hot n’ heavy metal. Naturally, a lot of the lyrics are sociopolitical commentaries on America, and—of course—racism is involved. The lyrics are brutally honest and, well, brutal. Living Colour is the only band to have me break out into uncontrollable sobbing. The song in question is ‘Flying’, their tribute to the 9/11 attacks. Of course, the rest of their stuff doesn’t slouch. Their newest album, Shade, is my favorite work from them thus far. Given the past couple years, expect their next outing to be brutal.


The Hu

Due to my anxieties discussed in the New Year’s update, I might have BS’d myself into loving this band. In fact, you probably heard of them, since they are hugely popular worldwide (based on what I read about them). Regardless of if I should like this band, I’d rather listen to The Hu than any popstar.

The Hu are from Mongolia, and incorporate the corresponding folk traditions into their music. However, the fusion between Eastern and Western is very loose; there really aren’t any electric guitars at all. Despite that, the musical style—using the Mongolian instruments—is undeniably that of Western rock. Although considered metal, The Hu really aren’t “heavy.” The songs are very catchy, and definitely feel a lot more like Mongolian rock n’ roll than folk metal.

But for whatever reason, I find myself captivated by the band, even though, as a pure metalhead, I shouldn’t be. The singing techniques sound really cool, and the instruments are neat to boot. Maybe they’ll get heavier when they follow-up their debut album, The Gereg, but we’ll never know until that next album comes out! 


Myrath

I had zero African bands on my docket for the longest time. The only African band I had heard of was South Africa’s Vulvodynia, a super duper violent death metal outfit; no thanks! I wanted African folk metal, but there were slim pickings. Of those pickings was Tunisia’s Myrath, and while not exactly what I was looking for, I ended up developing an interest in them all the same.

Incorporating Middle Eastern instruments, Myrath is a brilliant progressive folk metal band, although they lean toward the Western end of the fusion. Their style gradually shifts toward power metal (as shown in the embedded MV) which might be off-putting for some, but the songs are still fire, so it really just shows the band’s versatility. 


Alien Weaponry

Alien Weaponry is one of the more recent examples of metal being used as an instrument to fight for civil rights, and quite a successful one at that. This New Zealand outfit is descended from said nation’s native people, the Maori. Sadly, New Zealand’s British-run government has been systematically stamping out what little of the Maori remain (read this article for more details). With metal, Alien Weaponry seeks to represent their heritage and raise awareness of racism.

Unfortunately, I found them to be my second least favorite band on this post. The songs in which they incorporate their Maori language are great; they have a tribal and barbaric sound (which is exemplified by the fact that they perform with no shirts on). However, that’s only half the battle. A lot of their music is sung entirely in English, and when they do this, Alien Weaponry seems like a completely different beast. While the lyrical theme of racial injustice is still part of it (albeit in a different language), the all-English songs feel very contemporary and garden-variety by comparison. I usually do a three album rule if I can at least see potential for the band to grow (a rule that may or may not have been inspired by the notorious three episode rule for anime), so I’ll keep my eye on them for now. As it stands, Alien Weaponry is a pretty typical Western-style outfit with a Polynesian paint job.


Voice of Baceprot

This young Indonesian outfit seems to be the most popular band out of everyone on this post. Of course, they happen to be my least favorite as well. However, that’s not a particularly fair assessment since they have only two singles and several covers of early 2000s metal songs that I don’t like. 

What makes them attractive is that they are seriously young; I think they’re still teens. They’re also all girls who practice Islam, which apparently forbids music (at least where they’re from). VOB has become insanely successful, not only gaining a large swathe of metal fans, but the favor of political figures as well. Their critics, on the other hand, are so passionate as to threaten the girls’ lives. I don’t mean they are Internet trolls; these people have made actual, cruel attempts to murder the members of VOB.

I wanna support them, but what they have put out so far doesn’t impress me. Voice of Baceprot sounds like a very basic hard rock band. Their lyrics are definitely heavy, but the music just doesn’t accommodate. Regardless of what I think, people love them, and I’m willing to bet that a potential full-length debut album will be the most anticipated metal debut of the decade; likely the one thing that can dethrone Spiritbox. You can give them a try I guess. If you watched the embedded music video, you’ll have already heard 50% of their discography anyway.


Whispered

Okay, so this is the most unorthodox band I have on here. I have included Whispered only  because I want to bring up the concept of “cultural appropriation”. Like Wagakki Band, Whispered incorporates Japanese folk into heavy metal. Unlike Wagakki Band, Whispered are from Finland. 

I read up on cultural appropriation, and I’m afraid that Whispered might fall under it, and their very underground status is probably what’s kept them from any upheaval. The music is really good, basically a more extreme version of Wagakki Band, with that over-the-topness of European metal. It’s actually a really, really good band. I’d almost say they’re better than Wagakki Band. They incorporate the rare fusion of melodic death with power metal, and have taught me that Wizardthrone was not at all the first band to do it (in fact, Whispered would make a perfect replacement for them if they were to disband).

Whispered is taking its sweet time, with only three albums out in the course of a decade, and no set date for the fourth album has been confirmed. The lyrical themes are mostly bushido stuff, and sometimes cover Japanese mythology, but both check out based on my own knowledge of the culture. 

I don’t really know the nuances of cultural appropriation. The first and foremost thing is that it’s supposed to be offensive, but how do you know for sure? When I read up on it, I saw one example of Justin Bieber being accused just for wearing dreadlocks. Maybe he was wearing it “wrong(?)”, but I don’t know how you can be racist by wearing a cool hairstyle. Whatever the case may be, I’m concerned that the current mindset on racism will make it so that only people of a given ethnicity can be inspired by the corresponding culture. That sounds like the opposite of what needs to be done to me.


Arka’n Asrafokor

Despite the massive burst of inclusive media, there’s still a long way to go. As I mentioned before, I wanted African folk metal, specifically that of West Africa; the kind that’s represented at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Lodge. Togo’s Arka’n Asrafokor is the first band that came up when I searched, and according to what I’ve read, they’re the only metal band from Togo to begin with.

Like many underground units, they need time. Since its formation in 2009, the band has only released one album—2019’s Zã Keli—under its old name, ARKA’N. The album isn’t just novel; it slaps. As it says on the tin, it is a fusion of metal, and those old-timey African vibes. Using English, French, and their native Ewe, there are a lot of different vocal performances you’ll hear. I particularly love when they harmonize in the latter. 

According to my research, Zã Keli was very well-received when it came out, and most people who’ve listened to the band are already devoted fans. However, the fact still remained that I needed to Google Search this specific type of music for me to find them by happenstance. From what I read about them, the process of finding the necessary equipment was exceptionally difficult where they’re from, and that would probably explain why the album took so long to make. I hope that the stars will align with them in the future, because this is a band I want to see become more mainstream. While a lot of the diverse stuff in the mainstream emphasizes how great each culture is, they don’t really showcase either of those cultures “together”, if you catch my drift.

Unfortunately, it really seems that Arka’n Asrafokor is one of a kind, not just in Togo, but the world. Like I said, this is the only result I got for “African folk metal”, and that makes me feel sad. I wish this band takes over the world going into the 2020s. PLEASE.


Conclusion

We have a long road to travel to reach racial tolerance. In the meantime, these bands—and many more—are here to stay and won’t take no for an answer. Maybe someday, metal will remind us that we’re all human beings. If not, then pop will probably take that mantle instead. Hopefully, you’ll have been encouraged to broaden your horizon of music!

Second Album Already?!: Ad Infinitum — Chapter II: Legacy Album Review

Since I only ever discussed Ad Infinitum in my Top Five Song Covers post, I’ll reiterate how much I love them: A LOT. In fact, they’re one of my favorite new bands of the current decade. Their debut, Chapter I: Monarchy, was a pleasant surprise in that [insert hyperbolic negative adjective here] of a year. And barely a year after that, they’ve put out their next album with Chapter II: Legacy

Ad Infinitum formed in 2018 with former Rage of Light vocalist Melissa Bonny at the helm. She was still in Rage of Light while working with them, but ended up leaving them to focus solely on Ad Infinitum. Good call, girl (sorry, Rage of Light fans). 

So far, Ad Infinitum has a pattern of crazy, Hollywood-movie-poster-esque album cover art going for them. They are always well-dressed, and the band members’ all-too-apropos plague masks help the group stand out (although, this time, their masks aren’t covering the parts that make you sick). The sepia-like yellow and ebony color palette is also consistent with their previous outing.

In terms of style, Ad Infinitum is an old-fashioned, no-gimmick symphonic metal band. They have an epic, orchestral feel similar to Epica, albeit without a choir. However, the melodies have a more Disney-ish-feel, like with ILLUMISHADE, who debuted in the same year (what a coincidence, since they just had a gig together). As an Epica and ILLUMISHADE fan, my love for Ad Infinitum makes a lot of sense. 

This time around, Chapter II is a bit heavier. Don’t worry; the songs are still catchy in that European metal fashion. And, well, what else can I say? This album is really good. One of the best aspects is the song ‘Afterlife’, with guest vocalist Nils Molin. Most of you probably never heard of him, but if you’ve been following me, you know that I’m obsessed with Amaranthe. Molin is one of their vocalists, so hearing his sexy voice in an Ad Infinitum song makes me happy.

Bonny is also a very solid vocalist. It took me until I listened to this record to recognize that the occasional death growls incorporated into the band’s style were from Bonny and not another one of the members (I’m not trying to imply that women can’t growl, but the difference between clean and unclean vocals from the same person is like apples and oranges). Unsurprisingly, Bonny’s growls are as savage as her clean singing is beautiful.

The big thing I don’t get about Chapter II, and Ad Infinitum in general, is why I love it so much. As with Catalyst Crime, there really isn’t much that differs stylistically from normal symphonic metal. Yet, this album is my second favorite of 2021, only behind Epica’s Omega. Ad Infinitum is particularly similar to Beyond the Black, yet I found that band to be very unremarkable by comparison. Of all subjective tastes, music is probably the one that is the least explainable in human language. In case you couldn’t tell, I struggled with my music reviews because of this.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Although I can’t put my finger on a reason, Ad Infinitum is seriously worth their weight in gold. Chapter II is a fantastic record from start to finish, although that’s just my subjective experience talking. If you like the embedded music video, then you should have no problem with the rest of the band’s music.

Starting off the New Year with a Mental Health Update!

Happy 2022, guys! Year three of COVID—let’s goooooooo! Anyway, today’s topic of discussion involves my obsession over the past two years: COVID-19. It has changed a lot—scratch that—it changed human society from the ground up. It changed how we see each other, how we communicate, and exposed all of the inequalities that have existed since the very beginning. As a fellow human, it has also changed me. It has rewritten my genetic code and my own memories. 

In case you couldn’t tell, my posts have been getting a bit messed up. If you read my cynicism post, you’ll have seen my obsession with not just COVID, but racism and climate change as well. It’s worse than that. I have had several drafts of different rants written in advance; none of them have been published, and for good reason. I had a post about the pointlessness of social commentaries; however, the latter half was full of what could be considered extremist propaganda. 

One of my problems since COVID is that I’ve been falling into extremes. Keep in mind, I hate politics and would never involve myself with either side in a billion years; yet these past two years, I’ve been tormented by extreme thinking.  

The bulk of my issues can be boiled down to activists, and the media. While I support the causes of civil rights, LGBTQIA+ advocacy, and a better climate future, extremists who might’ve been shrugged off as P.C. as little as five years ago have more recently gained a stranglehold on mainstream culture that’s starting to affect me; it’s even being taught to vulnerable kids in schools, with picture books to boot (at least in my state). They basically just “decide” for everyone what they have to do, without exception, to be a good person. As a person with autism, who takes things literally and has a hard time understanding the gray areas in life, this has caused me to fall apart at the seams.

In other news, I have—for the first time in my life—voluntarily put on the news. The idea that it really is constant, unrelenting misery is completely true. Five minutes, and I guarantee you’ll lose all hope in mankind. I’ve been so shaped by these past two years during this STILL ONGOING pandemic that I’ve been making irrational choices. I’ve even had brief episodes of unhealthy altruistic delusions, where I was more-than-willing to donate irresponsibly to charities and run myself into bankruptcy (and that’s in addition to regular delusions in the form of uncontrollable sobbing). My loving mother is the only reason why I’m still here.

Similar to how COVID has opened us like a book, it made me face something that I had been doing my whole life: running from my American heritage. My strange disdain towards most things American is because of this. It’s why I rarely watch movies, don’t like death or nu metal (both of which originated in America), prefer to watch anime subbed, and don’t own an Xbox (the one American console I know of). It’s time I stopped running. Starting today, I will be beginning a New Years’ resolution to help people in any way I can for the rest of my life (for the sake of anonymity, I will not blog about any specific deeds (that also helps me build an unsung hero image)).

There’s also changes coming to the blog… well, one change. If you’ve read my latest Weeb Reads Monthly post, and light novel posts in general, you’d know how emotionally draining they’ve become. In case you haven’t noticed, there hasn’t been a Weeb Reads Monthly for December. And there won’t be one this month, or ever. Light novels—the initial reason why I started this blog—will never be covered again, effective immediately. The posts were just not good enough; I have no idea how Justus R. Stone’s group can write massive dissertations about a single volume. In any case, I will be able to enjoy light novels at my leisure again. You just won’t know what I think about them.

Let’s look at some more positives. Some kick-ass-looking metal bands are gonna debut this year, plus we get some hype videogames. That definitely offsets all the horrible things happening, right? I dunno. Maybe not. I’m still going insane. How have these past years treated you, and how do you plan to survive the third year of COVID?

Weathering With You: 2019’s Best Collection of Desktop Wallpapers

Anime movies are pretty hard to watch sometimes. While HBO Max has everything by Ghibli, they don’t have much of anything else. Streaming services are all missing a lot of movies by various people, especially Mamoru Hosoda. The Fathom Events screenings courtesy of GKids is the only option I have to see a movie when it’s new. Or… I could watch Weathering With You on HBO Max. Its famous creator, Makoto Shinkai, directed 2016’s Your Name, Japan’s highest grossing animated feature ever (unless the Kimetsu no Yaiba train movie beat it). I’m also pretty sure he’s the only anime movie director besides Miyazaki to get nominated for the Academy Awards’ Best Animated Feature (even if, like Miyazaki, he’ll never win because the Academy is the Academy). While not as popular as Your Name, Weathering With You was still immensely successful, both commercially and critically. With a new Shinkai movie in the works, I might as well watch one of his movies now to see what the hubbub’s all about.

In Weathering With You, a boy named Hodaka runs away to Tokyo. He lands a job with a single dad named Suga, who is sent to investigate an urban legend regarding the recent emergence of strange weather patterns. The source ends up being a McDonald’s employee named Hina, who has the power to make it sunny whenever she wants.

I already knew that Shinkai’s movies had impressive visuals, but seeing is believing. Weathering With You is gorgeous, sporting impressive feats such as individually animated raindrops. Even in crappy weather, Tokyo looks like an exotic paradise. No wonder why this man’s been nominated for the Academy Award.

The plot is a lot simpler than the actual animation work, though. When people start catching wind (or rather, catching sun) of Hina’s power, they pay her fat stacks to make it sunny all the time. In case it wasn’t obvious enough, her power will cost Hina her life. Oh, and the police get involved because Hodaka just so happened to have stumbled upon a loaded handgun.

The main philosophy of Weathering With You (besides “love trumps all”) is that the weather creates a placebo effect in humans’ moods. I don’t know if it’s because of the pandemic, but I found that belief to be a bit on the “dead wrong” side. There really is nothing else to the lore of the movie, except the apparent fact that cumulonimbus clouds all have golf courses atop the big flat bits that are home to magic water-fish.

Look, in case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t exactly enjoy the movie. That is also evident in the fact that I didn’t remember anyone’s surnames (their first names took everything I had). Naturally, I didn’t like a single person. Weathering With You has every appealing trope, presented in super-stock-looking characters. While Shinkai movies know how to have splendid backgrounds, these characters have the least style out of any anime movie I have ever seen. Sure, Ghibli and Hosoda’s tend to have same-face syndrome, but there’s at least a style. There is nothing in the cast that can even mildly perturb anyone.

That basically leads into my core gripe with the movie. I expected something that was at least so laughably bad, and manufactured, that I would enjoy roasting it. However, Weathering With You isn’t even that. Like Ride Your Wave, it is completely and utterly devoid of risk. Everything about the movie is precisely and perfectly set up. The commissioned musical numbers are also timed perfectly based on the mood to provide maximum emotion. Add the visuals to all this, and I completely understand how Shinkai works his magic. However, Weathering With You was still not an awful movie. I liked it more than Ride Your Wave and SIGNIFICANTLY more than Patema Inverted. The compliments end there, though. 

Be forewarned of the typical logistics issues that exist by nature in movies like this. I didn’t find them funny because… I guess I just expected them to exist, and they exist with no flare whatsoever. In essence, it’s a lot of the whole “kids constantly one-up the police” a la E.T. What makes this particularly stupid is that Japan has an uncompromisingly powerful police force when they’re actually needed, and it shouldn’t have been possible for anyone to oppose them. Also, at some point, Hodaka gets like a billion yen as “severance” pay. Yeah, sure, okay. Whatever, Shinkai.

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Final Verdict: 7/10

Weathering With You is very manufactured and accessible, and like many mainstream things, I do not understand why people think Shinkai is a genius. Yes, he knows how to pluck at your heartstrings, but I don’t consider that a compliment. This was extremely middle-of-the-road, and I can only be glad that I saw it included with a streaming subscription.

With that being said, I will probably pay to see his upcoming movie, Suzume’s Locking Up, in theaters when it comes around. I’m at least putting faith in Shinkai that his formula has some amount of variation. If not, then I disrespect him on an artistic and professional level. You, on the other hand, may enjoy Weathering With You to an extent, because it was tailor-made that way, but if you want a better anime feature with similar philosophies and actual balls, then watch the tragically underrated Children of the Sea instead.