Why the Cyberpunk Genre is Stale: A Rant

The cyberpunk genre is definitely not as huge as it was in the late Twentieth Century, but it’s still a genre that a lot of people love and think is mindblowing. But as I said in my first impressions of the manga, No Guns Life, I find the genre to be not-so-mindblowing. In fact, it’s second only to romance (ROMANCE!) as my least favorite genre of all time. This rant details why, based on my admittedly small experience with the genre.


The Human Condition, Turns Out, is Pretty Conditional

To begin this passage, I’ll tell you about a memoir I came across, once for no particular reason (as in there’s no particular reason why I came across it, not why I’m telling you about it). I forgot its title, but it was published in the early 2000s, and it was about a deaf person who willingly signed up to have a computer installed that would essentially replace their dysfunctional human ears. According to the book’s description, the person had an existential crisis and began to question whether or not they were human, simply because they were hearing a “digital interpretation of a real sound instead of the real sound” or something. Although I never read it, coming across this book is one thing that made me question the popularity of cyberpunk.

Why would you have an existential crisis over one part of your body being a machine? I’ve seen this trope before. The main character sometimes has a robot arm or something, making them a cyborg, and then they’re all like “I’m not so human anymore.” My grandfather, who I love dearly, got an intramuscular pacemaker implanted in his heart, and it’s been proving to be one of the best health decisions he’s ever made. But by cyberpunk logic, he would no longer be considered my grandfather, let alone a human being, because the organ that gives him life is not entirely “organic”.

Beyond the scope of cybernetic augments, the trope makes cyberpunk extremely pretentious because it’s all under the notion that humans are special. Sure, we’ve evolved abnormally fast and done some crazy things, but that doesn’t make us special. There’s this one episode of the Neil DeGrasse Tyson reboot of Cosmos where he goes down a list of different animals who display traits that are conventionally thought of as distinctively human. It shows that we aren’t that much different from other species. Because of this, the big “What makes us human?” question that often frames the cyberpunk genre seems pretentious to me. And for the record, that’s why I hate the word “human” as an adjective for a well-written character arc.


“Robotic Overlords”

I’ve seen enough cyberpunk to differentiate between cyborgs and androids. While the previous passage mainly focused on cyborgs, this one will focus on androids, and A.I.’s in general. Androids are 100% machines, built from scratch, with the  intention to be sentient. Out of all the cyberpunk tropes, these guys can at least be done in an interesting way, if done well. But of course, I find them to almost never be done well.

Part of it is because it feels like nobody has bothered trying anything new with them in the past forever. While not technically cyberpunk, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot did something important with the android trope in the Three Laws of Robotics. To sum them up in one sentence, the Three Laws of Robotics are a set of codes that make it so androids cannot harm humans, and also have to protect humans over themselves. The fact that this essentially robs what are technically living, sentient beings of their rights as people does raise some legitimate questions. But sadly, it feels like writers just repeatedly ask this same question over and over again in cyberpunk.

The whole “humans are special” stigma also applies to androids at times. If there’s one that isn’t evil, it usually hates its own existence. They observe humans and are all like “Wow, emotions are beautiful. Why don’t I have those?” They would give anything to be human, but the fact that they even want something means that they kind of already have what they wanted in the first place. The problem is that I’ve never seen any progress with the trope after the character arc of Data from Star Trek: Next Generation.

Like I said before, androids are the smallest problem I have with cyberpunk. But A.I. are worse. Technically, androids are A.I., but I’m kind of referring to sentient computer programs as opposed to humanoid machines. I’ve never seen this character type done in a way that’s interesting. They’re either some Mr. or Ms. Existential Crisis that—like Data—wants to be human, or something that wants to take over the world “for the good of the human race.”

A recent example of me having been disappointed by an A.I. is  a visual novel that I watched YouTuber NintendoCaprisun play a while back: Eliza. Again, I don’t know if it counts as cyberpunk, but I wanna talk about it anyway. Eliza is about the titular A.I. program, programmed to serve as a therapist. This could’ve been interesting, but nope, they cop out big time. Eliza feeds prompts to a human proxy to read aloud to the client as a form of A.I. therapy. I had hope with Eliza in that first client, when it was able to essentially pretend that the human proxy itself was  speaking to the client, when they were actually still reading the prompts. But from there, it goes south. All Eliza can do is provide a preconceived response to every patient, which doesn’t help them, and it concludes by making them load up on prescription drugs. And when you’re able to deviate from the A.I.’s responses at the end of the game—Whaddya ya know?—it low-key instantly helps everyone. Instead of making us consider the possibility that A.I. could be used as a psychiatrist, they do the “normal” thing and make it bad. I want to say that the message of the game is that A.I. technology is at such an infant stage that no one really knows what the future holds. But with the way the game presents itself, and the fact that its main antagonist wants to use Eliza to steal people’s information for his company’s gain—a typical conspiracy theory trope—I’m led to believe that they didn’t have the guts to challenge conventional thinking. The game slanders conspiracy theories left and right in its dialogue, but sadly, doesn’t practice what it preaches.


Don’t Believe Everything You Hear On the Internet

The Eliza part of the rant feeds into this passage. Cyberpunk first came around during a genuinely scary time in U.S. history, and it kind of warranted the social commentaries. But these days, it feels like the basis for cyberpunk is in the toxicity of social media.

You see, the media thrives on attention. And to generate attention, they have to present the news in a way to make people buy it. Sadly, because of how the human mind works, people are more interested in something negative than positive. As a result, the media will present certain bits of information and withhold other bits in such a way to make it seem that the world is ending. Many people know this and try to shrug it off, but there’s a very vocal, vulnerable part of society who will take it to heart, and if you have a social media account, you will be bombarded with this constant cynicism.

Some of these cyberpunk worlds, and dystopian worlds in general, are ruled by censorship and facist governments, and they’re supposed to be an allegory to our own society. And just… no. Ever since the U.S. federal government formed, people  seem to live under the impression that the president can—at any time—just do whatever he wants, without checks and balances. The U.S. Constitution was made specifically so that it doesn’t happen, even if George Washington and Alexander Hamilton both knew that the country’s political climate would go to hell. If I can’t take our actual society seriously, I can’t take a fictitious world based off of it seriously.

Am I wrong about this? I admit that I’m pretty out of the loop with society, and it often feels like I live in a different world. Everyone else seems to legitimately believe that George Orwell’s 1984 is happening right now, even though the book was an allegory to Communism. Also, they act like censorship is a current, prevailing issue in this century that’s rapidly worsening, as if the government can just disappear anyone at anytime, like in that “F.B.I. open up!” meme. I have no idea where people get this impression, and maybe that’s because I’m falling for that very censorship. How about I move on before I continue to counter-argue with my own post?


Oh No, My American Values!

I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a bad person, but I feel like a lot of writers are not willing to explore the less comfortable themes of cyberpunk. It’s not really anyone’s fault; people are raised on whatever cultural values of, well, whatever place they grow up. Cyberpunk is supposed to explore some darker areas, but in my experience, they take anything that an average person would fear, and don’t bother turning that fear into interest.

My biggest example is Arc of a Scythe (assuming it’s a cyberpunk). I covered it in detail once before, but basically, it’s set in a world where immortality is achieved, and specific humans are hired to govern all death in the human population. If it sounds scary to you, then you’re probably an average person. The author does the basic, obvious thing and makes the idea objectively terrible. A system like this could work, given an insane number of background checks, but in the context of the story, it’s the typical “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. No room for interpretation. And why? Because the idea is too uncomfortable. 

This also gets hammy when it comes to messing with individuality, something I’ve learned is highly prioritized, in the U.S. in particular. You know, the opposite of Spock’s famous “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” line. I most often see this tackled with the issue of altering people’s memories. First off, while the idea is scary, how the crap are we supposed to have that technology? The only way we can give someone false memories is to meet an amnesiac and tell them incorrect information about their identity. I sincerely doubt it’s possible to use technology to inject someone’s brain with an entire prefabricated lifetime. The other application is making an A.I. and giving it a real human’s memories. While that is also scary, my argument is: what’s the practicality of doing that?! That’s just a critical system error waiting to happen, and with how expensive they are, you don’t want to do that. Regardless of how this trope is handled, individuality is pushed to the Nth degree. It’s annoying, especially given COVID, where that individuality made people not willing to follow protocols for the sake of national health.

A great example of this tired trope being subverted is Ghost in the Shell, which I can at least admit is one of the better cyberpunks out there. SPOILERS for the ending: Kusanagi willingly fuses with another cyborg, and it’s painted as a good thing. What an outlandish turn of events, and all it took was coming from a country that’s not as uppity about the self as the U.S. of A!

One final thing I need to mention, which happens to be short enough to not get its own section, is that I have autism. As a result of living in society as someone with autism, I’ve had to study my own mind in order to combat my many anxieties; something I’m still doing to this day. So when the blurb says “This made me really look at the world and myself differently”, they probably mean that, since it actually WOULD be their introduction to such deep thoughts. My lack of interest in cyberpunk themes can easily be chalked up to the fact that I’ve already done the deep thinking that the genre is supposed to make you do for the first time.


A Silver Lining

Not to toot my own horn, but I’m nowhere near as conditional as a lot of other people on the Internet. I’ve seen so many comments from people who act like it’s written in stone that “generic protagonists” or “simplistic narratives” are objectively bad. Despite how much I rag on romance and slice-of-life, I enjoy some very specific ones. And I think the same for cyberpunk as well. The aforementioned Ghost in the Shell is one example. Furthermore, despite everything I’ve said, they still have some good entertainment value from their visually appealing settings (almost all of which look vaguely like Tokyo, which is a bonus for me), sexy sci-fi outfits, high-octane action, electronic soundtracks that pack ambience as well as adrenaline.

I might have ended up ranting about science fiction as a whole and not just cyberpunk (which is ironic because I had a separate rant about that). In any case, cyberpunk really isn’t as stale as I claimed in the post title. Like every other genre, 90% of it is crap. While it still bothers me that people actually think that this media rooted in archaic Red Scare thinking has any kind of accurate representation of our future, the genre is at least more respectable than romance.


Postscript

Look, full transparency here. This whole post was me trying to make a Hail Mary pass at disputing the common consensus that stuff like 1984 are accurate to our current society. Honestly, given my anxieties, I am actually all too willing to take cyberpunk worlds as accurate portrayals of our future. I mean, how many U.S. election results have been falsified? That, in addition to COVID data, including the stats on the CDC’s own website? I’ve also seen, in limited capacity, the notion that hackers are developing A.I. to pose as world leaders. Also, I don’t think I’m alone when it comes to feeling that crushing pressure to consume the same predetermined set of media, lest I be cast off from the human race.

But at the same time, what if it’s not society at all, and cyberpunk is just as BS as I made it out to be. Recently, I’ve had to dive into my own mind, and learn how human insecurities work. Our anxieties are not directly caused by society, but by how we respond, emotionally, to the stimulus from society. Basically, what if—in the same way that the media uses topics like illegal immigrants and minorities (which have real issues) as scapegoats for America’s problems—we use allegedly corrupt governments and censorship as scapegoats for our own individual problems? In that case, cyberpunk is just a shallow method to reaffirm those beliefs.

Look, I know America is not perfect; it never was. But at the same time, the Founding Fathers were idiots for making the American Dream something as impossible as a perfect nation. Sorry for rambling… Basically, cyberpunk can be a great subgenre, I just try to take it with a grain of salt.

I Gave BABYMETAL Another Shot!

In one of my older posts, I ripped into everyone’s favorite Japanese kawaii-desu metal crossover band: BABYMETAL. In their defense, I only listened to their first two albums, which doesn’t tell you crap about a band in the long run (unless it’s with god-tier bands like Alestorm). Also, that post was horrible, and I wasn’t as much of a metalhead then as I am now. With a much firmer grasp of the genre (and its ludicrous number of subgenres), I decided to try BABYMETAL again. 

Anyway, in the off chance you haven’t heard of BABYMETAL, here’s a basic run-down. They formed in 2010 under the guiding hand of producer Key “Kobametal” Kobayashi. Their style is, obviously, a fusion of googoogaga J-pop with metal. But unlike most traditional metal bands, the girls have zero know-how with the genre, the songs are all composed by people behind the scenes, and the instrumentation is done with hired help. Somehow, they have managed to catapult themselves into mainstream status, earning acknowledgement from figures like Rob Zombie, and the Metal God himself; yes, Rob Halford likes them. And they probably don’t even know who he is. I’m not jealous on behalf of other bands at all.

First off, one criticism that I will still stand by is their album cover art. Every single one is just the band’s name with different Photoshop effects on it. I’m sorry, but I’ve never loved a band with horrible album covers. Maybe some of the ones from the olden days are a bit dated, but with the power of current technology (and freelance artists online), anything should be possible. A real album would’ve had, like, ridiculously busy hand-drawn art of Japanese highschoolers shooting zombies with machine guns.

So, the music. Um. Where do I even start? Upon reexamination, a lot of it is quite good. Of course, for me “quite good” is not a particularly high score. The sound production is great, and they do genuinely sound like metal, strictly in terms of music. And given the branding, the melody and lyrics are really catchy. I can thank Ghost and Amaranthe for making me realize that pop and metal work well together; after all, metal has its roots in R&B. But for some reason, I still wasn’t entirely enthralled. 

Admittedly, I have no idea how  the music industry as a whole works, but I feel like part of why I’m not enthralled is because the music production is manufactured. While some people can decide to not care that something is manufactured, I feel like there is a visible effect. None of the music is written by the girls, nor by the hired band. And that just feels… weird. There’s some kind of chaotic beauty when it comes to a band (with italics): even if it’s only two members, I want to believe that multiple band members bouncing ideas off of each other is important for the creative process. Of course, if it’s not, then feel free to reprimand me in the comments!

Because I’m insane, I didn’t only base this post on the music itself. I just had to consult the Internet as to why people like BABYMETAL, and then indirectly offer responses to each answer. Keep in mind that a lot of these were Reddit posts from well before other Japanese artists like BAND-MAID started to gain a foothold. But you know what, BABYMETAL is still one million times more popular than them, so they aren’t entirely outdated!

According to what I gleaned, they apparently have wild live shows. As someone who’s never been to a concert, I can neither agree nor refute that. Someone else, in addition to the Apple Music bio, says that they adapt all kinds of metal subgenres into their music. Honestly, metal has such a maze of subgenres that I don’t even know if the bands themselves know what their own stuff falls under. For example, Oceans of Slumber’s OFFICIAL Facebook bio says that they’re a prog-metal band from Texas. However, every review of any of their stuff I read was all like, “Oh boy, this is great doom metal!” So who do I trust? For me, BABYMETAL has only encompassed thrash, power metal, and straight-up vanilla metal. For the sake of simplicity, I’m just going to believe it to be a fact so that I don’t go insane from subgenre inflation.

A lot of the other reasons given by the less than 1% of humanity that can’t help but feel represent the entire human race are mostly refutable. Well, not refutable, per sé; they are technically correct as far as BABYMETAL itself is concerned, such as the notion that BABYMETAL is very clean and family-friendly by metal standards. However, their reasoning doesn’t appear to take many other bands into account, like a cappella metal band Van Canto for example (who predate BABYMETAL by a LONG TIME). That’s why I feel like most BABYMETAL fans aren’t really metalheads, because as a metalhead, I feel like they should at least know of a lot of these other bands by comparison. Some of the comments I’ve read implied that all the bands they had listened to were stale, and BABYMETAL taught them to love the genre as a whole again.

I must say: Who the eff have these people been listening to (or lack thereof) to think that?! In just the past ten years alone, metal has gotten more varied than ever, and without BABYMETAL’s help, thank you very much. If you name me a reason to love BABYMETAL, I can recommend at least two other bands that satisfy the same condition (and obviously, they do it better). If you have listened to these other bands and still like BABYMETAL more, at least you had a fair comparison to make. 

But you know what, I can’t blame people for having never heard of these other bands. Becoming mainstream puts you in a position of robbing the poor to feed the rich. What I mean by that is that you’ll get so much attention, the niche bands who have to work harder to get attention get exponentially less attention unless they become mainstream themselves. I, for instance, haven’t heard of most of my niche bands until I magically stumbled upon them by looking at random lists in Apple Music. But even before then, I knew I had something missing musically in my life. You just have to be explorative, which is easy if you have a streaming service for music. It’s not at all hard to follow the metal market. Have some of BABYMETAL’s older fans completely shut themselves out of the market due to nostalgia? And if so, why did BABYMETAL of all things drag them back into the fold? J-Rock News had an article with interviews of fans of various ages, but none of them explained exactly how they came across BABYMETAL. I know I did because of Mario Maker. But how could an old geezer who doesn’t follow the market come across them WITHOUT also coming across these other bands?

Seriously though, the gap between mainstream and niche is monumentous, especially in a country as powerful as the U.S. In my experience, BABYMETAL is the only 2010s band to become this big in American culture. Beyond them, the most popular American hard rock and metal bands have still been Linkin Park and Slipknot for the PAST TWENTY YEARS. What about Oceans of Slumber, Helion Prime, A Sound of Thunder, or In This Moment? All new, shiny American metal bands, and yet they’re still little babies in diapers. The latter even had a Grammy nomination and I still don’t know ANYONE who’s even heard of them. 

Another reason for my not liking them is something I didn’t write in the old post, but something I had discussed with another blogger in that post’s comments. It was actually my first ever interaction with RiseFromAshes (who has great Japanese pop culture blogs, by the way)! Plugging aside, the thing that bothered me about BABYMETAL has to do with how Japan is viewed on an international scale. By being an idol-metal outfit, they cement the stereotype that Japan is all about goofy silly kawaii-desu sensory overload nonsense. As someone who’s studied the nation at length, I know that this stuff is a big part of Japanese culture. However, an uninformed American might not necessarily understand kawaii-ness is a recent addition to something much deeper and infinitely more complicated. BABYMETAL gives off an impression that Japan can’t be manly, even with a genre as manly as metal, and makes things rough for old-fashioned-type J-metal bands such as Lovebites.

I also read a big fat post on Reddit about BABYMETAL being special because they’re accessible. I don’t know enough of the facts to vouch for the age variety of fans they claim to have, but I can say that I don’t like how accessible they are. What pisses me off about it is that it’s framed as if their accessibility is factually good. In my experience, the toxicity of fandoms has consistently been proportional to its size. Yet, the notion that “accessibility = good” is arbitrarily a fact makes me feel like a subhuman species. Of course, that could be how I’m reading into whoever wrote that. As much as I try to sound as subjective as possible on my reviews, someone could see my values and think that I’m assuming that those values are factually good. Being human is fun, isn’t it?!

But you know what, no matter how much I can explain with facts, this all remains an opinion. In the end, I cannot explain why I’m not in love with BABYMETAL. I don’t think Su-metal is a particularly talented singer, for starters. I welcome the earworm that is Ghost’s ‘From the Pinnacle to the Pit’, but songs like ‘Gimme Chocolate!’ feel like an ear-parasite. And as far as memey-ness is concerned, any band with Christopher Bowes has more memes in one song than BABYMETAL has in an entire album.

Overall, I like BABYMETAL more, but I also dislike them more. The music is better than I thought, sure. But now, my envy toward them is worse than ever. Not only have they taken more attention from a lot of Japanese bands, I now realize that they’ve taken attention from a massive slew of Western bands as well. It’s good, but I don’t know what makes people (including the Metal God) think that BABYMETAL is one of the greatest things since sliced bread. Well, it’s not exactly new for me to have animosity towards something mainstream, is it?

Project Winter is Better than Among Us: A Rant

If you’re reading this, then the unthinkable has happened: One of the biggest gaming trends of 2020 has managed to stay trendy into an entirely separate year. Yes, even an uncultured swine such as myself has been aware of Among Us, the game that coined the term “sus”, which is a shortened version of the word “suspicious”. As to be expected, things that are trendy tend to be inferior to a more niche product of its ilk. In this case, an online multiplayer deception game known as Project Winter is significantly better, and I will detail why.

Just take my claims with a grain of salt; I have not played either game myself. One of my biggest gripes with online multiplayer games is that they’re considered so great, despite the fact that you need eight or more friends in order to play them at all. That kind of hurts what little confidence I have; it’s as if having over eight friends is NORMAL in life. Personal issues aside, I at least have some confidence in this post because I have watched many-a gaming video of both games, specifically those uploaded by ZeRoyalViking and ChilledChaos (who you should watch by the way because they have really good multiplayer gaming videos). 

How to Play

Before getting into the topic at hand, I must explain the basic mechanics of both games, just in case someone is as uncultured as I am. In Among Us, you are a bunch of little bean astronauts who are marooned in a base that needs fixing. They all must fix the various areas of the facility to win. However, there are two imposters who can kill crewmates. No one is able to speak while walking around in Among Us, except in two circumstances: either someone reports a dead body, or uses one of their limited uses of the Emergency Meeting button. This triggers a brief period where the players can talk to one another, and eject a player through voting; their only way to defeat an imposter. If the crewmates finish all tasks or defeat all imposters, they win. But if the imposters kill enough people so that there is one crewmate left for every imposter, then the imposters win.

In Project Winter, a group of people are stranded in a randomly generated frozen world. In half an hour, a giant blizzard will appear and snuff the life out of them. They must quickly craft, hunt, and repair in order to call a rescue vehicle to save them. However, there are two traitors in the group, who must try to stop the survivors’ efforts. Both traitors being felled DOES NOT declare survivor victory; the only way survivors can win is for at least one of them to escape. Traitors must see every survivor fall; even if they themselves die, it still counts as long as they bought enough time for the Mega Blizzard to finish off the survivors.

Among Us: Pros

Among Us is the more accessible of the two games. It can be played on pretty much any system, including mobile devices. That makes it so anyone can play! It’s also a lot simpler, since you don’t talk to people for that long. 

What makes Among Us fun is the lack of communication. Imposters must take advantage of what the crewmates know or don’t know in order to build abilis for themselves. Both sides have a good number of tools at their disposal. Imposters can use vents to quickly travel around the map (as long as they aren’t seen), such as getting a kill and quickly escaping the crime scene so that no one’s like “Uh I saw that guy walking away from the body”. They can also shut off the lights, or trigger a nuclear explosion that instantly gives them the win if two people do not stop it together, which also gives the imposters an opportunity to off two people. 

It would be too easy if imposters could just kill willy-nilly. Both imposters have a kill cooldown, and they need to try to act as “un-sus” as possible during that time. Crewmates also have access to cameras, which can be decisive evidence if a killer is caught in the act. Imposters can talk during the meetings to spread discourse among the crew. They can also stick with players for long periods without killing them in order to “marinate” them. Crewmates will need to be clever, and observe every insignificant detail of the players’ pathing; one of them could’ve used a vent (or you could be Ze who gets accused just by walking around).

Among Us: Cons

I don’t know if they fixed it, but one of the dumbest things in Among Us is the fact that the codes for private lobbies are constantly displayed at the bottom of the screen (and since Ze and Chilled have not moved their webcams from that spot, I assume the issue’s still there). That’s just plain dumb. 

As far as gameplay is concerned, things can get stale fast. I don’t know if playing Among Us is better or worse with experience. Rookies are likely to play with settings like Visual Tasks, which show animations to all players and can guarantee someone as a crewmate, or Confirm Ejects, which will tell you if you offed an imposter through voting. With those disabled, the game is more fun… or is it?

In an experienced lobby, there are so many nuances that are just understood that it almost puts an unfair advantage in favor of crewmates. Imposters usually spend time standing next to a task to “fake” it. But when you’re a veteran, you know the exact amount of time—down to the second—that it takes to finish a task, and there aren’t many that they can defend themselves with (like the asteroids or card swipe tasks). It’s also understood that the imposters will clarify whom the crew is voting against during a meeting, just so they can off a crewmate. Experienced players also have a system on when to vote and when to abstain based on the amount of people left, which can be used against them by imposters, but still makes games redundant.

There are also a lot of little “cheap” things that anyone can do. The Emergency Meeting button cools down faster than the Imposters’ kill button, but the Imposters’ sabotage ability is ready to go right after a discussion. With good timing, imposters can kill the lights or set off the reactor to where their cooldown is complete before the crew can fix those areas (since the Emergency Meeting won’t work during a sabotage). If they only need one kill (or two if both are still alive) in order to win at that point, then they win. The only way for crewmates to prevent a double kill is for one of them to mash the shortcut key for interacting with something in order to potentially report the first person’s body the instant before they themselves are killed, but it’s not always possible.

Crewmates also have annoying perks. They can stick together, making it impossible for imposters to win unless they get the rare “stack kill” (but even then, it’s possible to tell who did it because of subtle details with the server’s latency). The crewmates can also have someone camp the light fixtures, instantly fixing them as soon as they go out, disabling the imposters’ best tool. There’s also a rock in one particular map that someone can hide behind and catch someone using the nearby vent. Overall, I feel like Among Us can quickly devolve into the same thing over and over again. The whopping three maps don’t help its case either.

Project Winter: Pros

Unlike Among Us, everyone talks constantly. However, Project Winter has proximity chat; a piece of 21st Century technology that dynamically adjusts the volume of players’ voices in the call based on their distance. Things get more interesting thanks to the radio items. By pressing the CTRL key, you can talk to anyone who has the same color radio over any distance. Traitors also get a free red radio to coordinate on. 

Project Winter plays like Minecraft; you have to worry about hunger and warmth along with your actual HP. You can cook food, and craft weapons and resources. Every game of Project Winter requires you to fix two facilities located somewhere on the map. These can require sets of mechanical parts, electronic scrap, and gasoline, or batteries and buried pieces spread throughout the world.

What makes Project Winter fun for traitors is having to hold a conversation with the survivors, while also coordinating with each other over their radio. Imposters get better firepower and items through traitor-only boxes found throughout the map, but obviously, they cannot be seen opening them. The ideal strategy for traitors is to spread discourse among the survivors. While they can try to get survivors alone, it would look extra sus if they were the only one of two people to return to the hub area. If tasks are being done, they can try to sneak a sabotage on the repaired objectives. Unlike Among Us, traitors can still try to win even if caught. There is a voting system to exile them from the hub, but they can easily live off of traitor crates around the world. 

Nature itself will try to mess with the crew. Wild animals will attack, for starters. Also, random events will occur. They can scatter boxes throughout the map, or do things like make everyone go crazy, turning them into bunnies who look indistinguishable from one another (a perfect opportunity for a traitor to launch a surprise attack). While not nature-related, there’s also the possibility that an escape pod will spawn, allowing one player to abandon the mission and secure a win for themselves (like Ze did in that one video).

I’ll admit that Project Winter wasn’t at its best in earlier versions, but it gets a lot more depth with current patches. One notable addition is that of roles, special abilities that both traitors and survivors can have. You can have a scientist, able to bring a player back to life at a special area on the map (although that player will be muted), or a hacker who can open bunkers by themselves. There’s also the defector, a survivor who can open traitor crates; an easy alias for traitors to claim.

Project Winter gets even MORE interesting with its new Blackout mode. In the Blackout, there is only one traitor. However, that traitor can convert survivors to traitors in one of two ways: as a Demon, they can revive a downed player to convert them, and as a Whisperer, they can use an AOE attack to slowly fill up a traitor gauge and convert players. It’s a really good, long-con style mode that can go south for the survivors if the traitor manages to convert several people (although one of them could accidentally throw when they get converted for the first time by yelling out “They made me a traitor!” in a panicked stupor). There are also some scary new events, like darkness covering the whole map (except for traitors, who can see with “red vision”), and sending the spirits of all the animals that players have killed against them. Blackout also has the yeti, a neutral role who cannot be converted, and must merely live to the end of the game to win, even if it means siding with the traitors.

Project Winter: Cons

Since I obviously like this game better, there aren’t as many issues. One annoying traitor tactic is the ability to steal necessary parts to repair facilities and hiding them behind structures (which cannot be seen due to the fixed camera). There’s also the fact that dead players can use their chill ability on the traitors to send a message from beyond the grave. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, as dead traitors can also use this to spread discourse, but I doubt it was the dev’s intention for the dead powers to be used this way. Inventory management is also abysmal, even by survival game standards. 

The Most Important Ingredient for Both Games…

The thing with online multiplayer games comes down to one simple monniker: they are only as good as those you are playing them with. The digital world is full of toxic people. But even in private lobbies, you get bad games of Among Us AND Project Winter, even with your personal friends. This passage is probably because I’ve only watched YouTubers play these games. I get that they’re entertainment, but it’s annoying when they throw “for content” (even if Tay killing everyone because of Chilled getting her to write Ze’s name from beyond the grave was pretty hilarious). 

I’ll admit that a bad Project Winter match is worse than a bad Among Us match. Everyone in Ze’s group has good enough experience in Project Winter to know exactly what to do, yet Ze tends to be the only one who actually tries to help, even as a traitor! The others, even as crewmates, will just mess around, and sometimes consider offing someone for shits and giggles (however, I’ll admit that the one time Chilled made poison berries and stuck them in the community chest was pretty funny). It’s unfair for both sides, because the survivors would be losing a valuable person, or they could just get a lucky BS shot on a traitor. While it does capture that “survival drama” feeling really well, it’s annoying to see only one person (i.e. Ze) carry the game EVERY SINGLE TIME. 

Overall, Project Winter at its best is a really fun experience. There’s more opportunities for role-playing, which can be really fun if you have really good friends. The random maps make it to where you can’t just memorize everything like in Among Us, requiring players to not just play fast, but learn fast. And even if the traitors get a really good gun, it’s possible for a survivor to win with just punches (even if it’s unlikely). 

Conclusion

It’s pretty consistent in popular culture: the less depth, less thinking required, and more accessible something is, the more popular it’ll become. Project Winter takes a lot to get used to—but dammit—it’s better than Among Us by a longshot! Well, that’s another item on my list of popular things I don’t like. I think the lesson learned is that gaming is better if you have eight or more friends… Man, there goes my confidence again.

I Miss Hard Science Fiction: A Rant

Honestly, I don’t even know if I wanna post this, but it’s something that’s bothered me for a couple of years and I wanted to get off my chest. If you’re familiar with my other rants, you’d know that I had very different tastes back when I was a teenager. I was SO edgy, I did things that not even edgy kids did. For music, I only listened to classic rock. For movies, I only watched old movies; from classics like Dead Poets Society to freaking Spellbound (which is a boring slog that’s only any good in the climax). And for books… I read hard science fiction. 

Hard? Haha, like a—

I know it’s a euphemism, but hard science fiction is a genre. Think of popular science fiction like Star Wars. Epic battles, witty dialogue, memorable characters, spectacular spectacle… Now, think of the opposite of all that; think of Star Wars’ rival older cousin, Star Trek. Slow pacing, tons of dialogue, tackling some very difficult ethical issues… That is hard science fiction. 

As implied by the title, hard science fiction is meant to read like a history book of the future. And also implied by the title, it’s difficult. Perhaps more difficult than any genre to comprehend. They really pour everything into trying to make their worlds as immersive as possible, and it’s a damn undertaking. Tolkein was impressive enough with his Middle Earth. But hard SF authors had to do the same thing, only with multiple star systems, each with as much history as Middle Earth itself. Most adults would have a hard time reading it, and as a teenager, well… Results varied.

Greg Bear

Okay, so, technically, my first hard SF novel was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But, well, that one is just technically a satire and definitely not meant to read like a future history (right?). However, when I first bought it, I saw some books by a Greg Bear next to it. And, well, after finishing Hitchhiker’s (and almost having my brain fall out), I tried out some good ol’ Bear. You saw the last two words of the previous passage, right?

The first novel of his I read was called Darwin’s Radio. The premise was simple.: Sscientists discover ancient cave drawings (or something) that show that mankind has been slowly evolving into a new species. There was a lot of dialogue, a lot of which was just buildup to the revelation that mankind has been evolving in the first place (oops, spoilers).

As expected, racism is the immediate public response (side note: one of my most distinct memories is Bear actually writing in dialogue from a certain someone who I can’t name because he was a celebrity until people realized he was a rapist. But it’s still funny how it makes the novel dated due to whom Bear chose). This isn’t “racism” as we know it today; unlike people with other ethnicities, this is a legit new species. And another curveball is that mankind had a decent basis to become racist. Due to how evolution and natural selection works, Homo sapien was essentially going to go extinct due to this new species, and thus they respond in fear, which is expressed in the form of racism. 

I remember being both bored and engaged with the novel at the same time. It was weird, but I loved it. There was also a sequel, Darwin’s Children, but all I remember is that there’s some kind of concentration camp for kids of the new species and it’s supposed to make us, the readers, angry that they’re being treated that way. One big issue with both novels is that they had incredibly loose endings. To this day, I have no idea if Bear wrote a third book (or if he even still writes). 

The Bear doesn’t stop there! I was hooked enough on his writing prowess to read a rather thick standalone novel: The City at the End of Time. This book went places. What I remember most is that there were these people who had these emblems and had to stop… something from happening. It was nonsense for the sake of nonsense, from the objects getting folded and crumpled into incomprehensible shapes, to cats guiding some guy through some weird castle. Beautifully written, but with no purpose nor meaning. After this, I would read several pretty lackluster standalones from Bear, and then…

I read Queen of Angels. A lot of positive reviews consider this his best novel, and I definitely agree. It had two different plots going on at once. Half of the book focused on this old guy (that I remember picturing as Jerry Stiller for some reason) who was supposed to investigate a murder, which would eventually involve entering the accused’s consciousness, and the other half was about some other guy who had to help an A.I. attain sentience. It was an amazing mess, with themes focusing on mental health and what constituted as being sane in the first place. It iconically ends with an entire page of I’s spelling out a giant capital I. Hilariously enough, it’s actually part one (or even part two) of a four-book series, and I didn’t know that because it ended so loosely, like all of Bear’s other books. I have not read Queen of Angel’s sequels to this day.

Kevin J. Anderson and Stephen Baxter

I was mixed towards Greg Bear. Afterwards, I would try to read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and fail spectacularly. It was too large in scope for me to handle, and I have always wanted to re-attempt at reading it to completion someday. However, after having given up the ghost with Foundation at the time, Kevin J. Anderson and Stephen Baxter would help hook me on hard SF.

Anderson writes books closer to Star Wars in pacing and action, but with more hard SF scope and mind-bending concepts. His epic series, Saga of the Seven Suns, was the first long book series I was able to read to completion (yes, before Harry Potter), and I remember it being great. I also read the much more recent sequel trilogy, Saga of Shadows, but I don’t recall it being as good.

If Anderson was the weak attack that staggered me, Stephen Baxter was the heavy finishing blow. I only read two novels from him, but they were bangers. I forgot their names, but I definitely didn’t forget what they were about. In one, the main character is trying to find his missing ex (or something), and stumbles upon a secret cult of women who have lived underground for so long that they evolved into an entirely different species. The other one is supposed to have been that book’s sequel, even though it’s set about a million years in the future, and involves some guy who needs to fight aliens… of some kind. Baxter wrote a lot of wild stuff, but my library decided not to stock them. He would’ve become one of my favorites if I had more access to his bibliography.

Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton

Now I was getting into the good stuff! I recall Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton being real good at incorporating crazy ideas in ways that were relatively easy to comprehend thanks to their writing prowess. Their novels felt like narratives, and not history books. 

My library had a lot of stuff from Reynolds in particular, so I was more familiar with his works. He was definitely the more imaginative of the two authors discussed in this section. To list off a few examples, Reynolds’ novels include but are not limited to: a disease that fuses people with nearby machines, a mad scientist plan of reversing a planet’s rotation, someone getting cut into 150 individual pieces while still being alive (sort of like Law in One Piece), and some alien race’s simulation of an alternate 1950s where WWII never happened, which was also infested with mutant five-year-olds for some reason. 

Peter F. Hamilton is a guy who thinks big. He’s written a lot of books set in various eras of his fictional Commonwealth world. I mainly read the Void Trilogy. It was… complicated, but I remember it being about this guy who dreamt of a parallel dimension where some wizard boy is supposed to do… something. There was also some android girl being chased by an assassin, maybe? I always wanted to read his gigantic Night’s Dawn Trilogy. But since I have this blog, and that series is about 4,000 pages in total, I think I will not be able to fulfill that desire.

Kim Stanley Robinson

Things got iffy again with Kim Stanley Robinson. From a literary standpoint, his books are absolutely phenomenal (at least out of the ones I read). They are among the most realistic-feeling science fiction novels I’ve experienced. He’s most known for the Mars trilogy, which is an incredibly well-thought out epic showcasing mankind’s colonization of Mars. It felt so real it was like reading an actual history book from the future.

But given what I think about realism, Robinson’s books didn’t do it for me. They were so real, so human, so grounded in reality, that I couldn’t get emotionally invested. I just don’t like people very much, and the characters all felt like people. Also, the hypothetical politics regarding things like preserving the natural beauty of Mars, to a parallel of the United States declaring independence from Britain, felt so real that I hated them as much as regular politics. If you can get into this guy’s stuff, then you’re a lucky duck.

Ending on a Great Note

I read one or two books by several people for a while, all with varying degrees of success. The last hard SF media I’d consume would be the best of all of those previously discussed. It was written by Cixin Liu, a Chinese SF author. I know, controversial little China.

Yep, I’m talking about the Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy, better known by the individual novels: The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End. THIS was a thing! Remembrance of Earth’s Past is a simple first contact story, but with none of the tropes and all of the innovation. It begins when a Famicom-style adventure game is released, and is meant to test people on how to solve the titular Three-Body Problem. Those who solve it are roped into a secret first contact cover-up that ends up being publicly revealed anyway (I forgot exactly how). I will be spoiling the rest of the trilogy from here!

It starts off slow, but gets REAL crazy. In the second volume, the aliens have more-or-less announced their presence, and the government—in desperation—assigns five random people, offering all the resources that can be provided to stop the aliens. These people cannot actually communicate what they come up with, or else the aliens will know. Almost every single person comes up with something unethical, like destroying or brainwashing humanity along with the aliens. The one guy who spends most of his money on a summer home with his girlfriend (I think he actually bought the girlfriend too I.I.R.C.) comes up with the best solution. The basis for the solution is the Dark Forest theory, which I think deserves to be recognized as the best hard SF theory since Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. From what I recall, the Dark Forest states that all civilizations are hunters in a dark forest; they try to keep themselves hidden, and indiscriminately pick off any sign of life they see. In galactic terms, this means that aliens will not attempt first contact in the grandiose way you see in movies; no, they will fire a probe and end it stealthily. No peace, no war. The guy’s solution is a thing that will alert other aliens to Earth’s existence, which will scare off the current aliens, but doom mankind.

It’s cynical, and if you’ve read a lot of my blog, you’d know how I feel about cynicism. However, Liu does cynicism in a way that’s almost beautiful, and Death’s End shows it. It does start off confusing at first, because its main protagonist is a diplomat sent to the aliens during the events of The Three-Body Problem. All this time, he’s been schmoozing the aliens. But in the meantime, the aliens have pulled a 2112 and assumed control over humanity. A butt-ton of the human race gets killed off (by androids or something), and it’s at this point that the Dark Forest Flaregun thing is used. After a series of reality-bending events, we learn that the weapons that various alien civilizations have been using on each other have been slowly reducing the universe to nothing, one dimension at a time. Again, it’s cynical, but beautiful. This is hard SF at its finest. You should be able to see why I miss this genre so much. 

But… Do I Really Miss It?

I’ve been thinking of getting back into hard SF. But at the same time, I don’t know if I can. Since finishing Liu’s books, I have become fully immersed in the otaku world of manga and light novels, while also focusing on kids’ and teens’ literature in general. 

As an example, I already made an attempt to return to the genre as recently as 2019. I read the self-titled opener of Peter F. Hamilton’s newest series, Salvation, only a few months after it came out. I did not like it. It started out with your usual premise: aliens send spies to live among humans, yadda-yadda-yadda, and some ship crashes in Antarctica or something. I know that setup is a thing, but Salvation is 99% the backstories of the main characters with 1% alien intrigue, and only two of the characters’ stories are actually plot relevant I.I.R.C.! The reviews on GoodReads were smarter than usual, and they mostly checked out positive. As such, I blamed myself. I was dumbed down by otaku culture, and could no longer enjoy hard SF. I no doubt would have loved it if I had read it as a teen, but ironically, I didn’t love it as an adult.

The way I look at things from a writing perspective has changed. I attribute long bits of dialogue as infodumping, for example. I’ll criticize lack of action, too. Also, ever since reading stuff like Monogatari, I probably would attribute any themes explored in hard SF as pretentious bullcrap. But most importantly, I have realized that those books contained an excessive amount of… sex. People say ecchi is bad, but there’s entire markets here in the good ol’ US of A that revolve around sex. I hate confessing this, but, er… this is how I first learned about the process. It wasn’t like watching “that video” in health class, but it was pretty close. I recalled not being disgusted as much as confused.

But there is one glimmer of hope, that I probably shouldn’t bother hoping for, and that is the impossible union of hard SF scope with the youth and accessibility of children’s media. As far as I know, it has been attempted thrice. The first time is the famous Time Quintet, starting with the iconic A Wrinkle in Time. It’s kind of… something. While the application of hard science is good enough, it has some of the usual bullcrap. The main protagonist, Charles Wallace, is one of those “special-for-no-reason” characters, and good ol’ nakama power ends up winning the day. Other than that, there’s the usual ham-fisted commentaries against Communism that show that the author grew up during the Red Scare. I think the series has aged relatively poorly, overall.

However, the glimmer of hope shown once more in two obscure and modern series, the first of which is called Randoms. It was a trilogy that started off like a typical wish-fulfilment fantasy, but ends up going into Star Wars Episode I-levels of space politics. I was very interested, but a lot of very arbitrary and forced drama scenes would come up starting in the second book and make me really livid. I actually haven’t finished the series, but since book three is the shortest, I might just push myself for the sake of discussing it in more detail.

There was also hope in The Chronicle of the Dark Star Trilogy. I read this one to completion only a few months before starting this blog. It had scope, it had hard science, it had youth, it had ethical quandaries; this one was a winner! It handled the ideas of time travel and multiple universes in ways that made it easy for kids to grasp. It only had two problems, the first of which was that the main protagonist was just as special as Charles Wallace (the characters literally say stuff like “Wow, you’re the only human who can time travel without exploding!” and it never gets explained). I also did not like how the series resolved. In the final book, the plot basically becomes a Star Trek episode, where the characters find this weird thing, and endlessly discuss how weird the thing is. In the climax, it ends up being almost a clone of the climax of Wrinkle. And similar to that, the main character ham-fists those American values of “individuality is more important than survival of the whole race!”, and leaves no room for debate nor interpretation. And of course, everything ends happily for all those involved. This could’ve been something to raise ethical debates, but like in The Giver and Arc of a Scythe, it reinforces the same viewpoints that readers have grown to understand instead of making them question those viewpoints. I know of no other hard SF series for young’uns, and if there are any, tell me in the comments!

In conclusion, I—to this day—have no idea if I want to try hard SF ever again. It takes me all of my free time just to keep up with manga and light novels, even after I get more gung-ho with DNF’ing stuff. This is something that will haunt me to my dying day, that’s for sure. In any case, if you’ve made it here, you’re amazing! If you’d like, leave a comment on your sci-fi experiences and tell me if there’s anything in this ballpark you’d recommend.

I’m a Big Weeb, But I Don’t Like Anime

Anime has been a leading force in the influence of Japanese pop culture extending to the rest of the world. I’ve come across a lot of people who view the medium as their lifeblood. But me? I don’t get it. As someone who’s read Japanese comics, played Japanese videogames, listened to Japanese rock bands, and studied Japanese culture, I do not get anime at all. In this article, I’ll illustrate why.

Pick a Streaming Service and Pray

I feel like anime streaming has become a blessing and a curse. While it’s amazing that you can pay a negligible monthly rate to be able to watch hundreds of anime, some of which have simulcasting available, the actual execution is not the best.

The first reason is the anime industry itself. Anime is a quantity-over-quality world. And under the assumption that you are—in fact—sane, you will likely look at the lineup for the next anime season and look forward to one or two (or five on a great season) shows. Since the majority of the anime demographic is teenagers who have no jobs, let’s assume that you can only watch shows from one streaming service for your whole life. If this is the case, you’ll have to be lucky that your one streaming service will air that one show, because you’re not gonna watch the other 90% of crap.

It’s not a fun time. My worst luck was the Winter 2020 season. I was planning on watching five shows- a record for me- and ALL of them ended up on Funimation, while I had Crunchyroll. It wasn’t that big of a deal because I already read their source versions, and the adaptations were likely to be bunk anyway, but it was still sad to see that the one service I used didn’t get a single one of those shows. That’s what anime streaming is. If I know this community, only a small handful of shows get any traction, while thousands of other shows vanish into the ether. 

And the services themselves are debatable in quality. Crunchyroll is more-than-functionable (without bringing up the political upheaval they caused with a thirty second teaser trailer in 2018), while all I know about Funimation is the whole “Kick Vic” incident. I’ve even heard horror stories about how Netflix and Amazon explicitly disrespect anime culture. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that the former doesn’t stream shows until well after they air (well after they have been forgotten in the community), and the latter doesn’t even bother marketing them. A whole fandom died inside in spring (or was it summer?) of 2019, when the epic historical fiction manga, Vinland Saga, got its long awaited adaptation, from a great studio, and got licensed to Amazon. It could’ve been a cultural phenomenon, but no… it might as well have not existed, and Kimetsu no Yaiba blew up instead.

I have no idea why anime streamers are like this, versus manga publishers. Manga publishing has come a long way from when Viz and Tokyopop freakin’ mirrored the manga. I buy material from every major manga publisher in North America equally. They actually care about manga (and market them, too!), and have very high quality translations and whatnot. For argument’s sake, if Kodansha, Yen Press, and Seven Seas joined Viz in launching a subscription service of their whole catalogues, I’d subscribe to all of them in a heartbeat. The combined monthly rate would surely be less than the flat rates I pay, and I would actually use each of them all the time, as opposed to anime streamers, whom you’ll only have the time and sanity for a couple of shows per season.

Money Is VERY Much an Object

It’s no secret that anime is a BIT on the downgrade. Anime studios tend to have big budget issues, sometimes being forced to file for bankruptcy. Animators are notoriously underpaid at these jobs, to the point where being a straight-up salaryman is probably a better option. But money isn’t only affecting real people, it’s affecting the products.

For starters, the chances of an anime finishing are next to nil. A lot of anime, even successful ones with high incentives to continue, end without a follow-up, and my personal assumption is a lack of funding, even for successful ones. That’s just how in the red they are. Even when they do get new seasons, they tend to degrade in quality, like—most famously—One-Punch Man in its second season.

That lack of funding also makes anime artistically hideous. Most of them consist of flat textures and solid colors, with only one basic shader or highlight at a time (if you’re lucky, you’ll see a shader AND a highlight in the same shot). These studios take any semblance of artistic identity that their source material had and makes them all look exactly the same.

But what’s worse is the actual animation itself… or lack thereof. Most of the time, any given shot in an anime consists of just the mouth opening and closing at regular intervals. And sometimes, you’ll have a thirty+ second long shot of nothing moving at all. It’s also common to see flashbacks to something that happened earlier in the same episode. There are some moments of excellent animation, but they are exceedingly rare (although I heard that Mob Psycho 100’s second season is surprisingly consistent), and to me, not enough of a payoff. Also, pretty much every anime I’ve seen feels like they’re all directed by the same person.

A lot of people are used to these quirks, but I can’t stand it. And honestly, you can blame me for being a filthy normie on this one. I’ve grown up with Disney my whole life. Disney has an incredible eye for detail (at least when they actually TRY), and I’ve gained a habit of appreciating all of those details. Their characters emote and express themselves in ways that feel alive and give them substance. They have had multiple characters on-screen, all animated and emoting simultaneously. Thanks to my autistic logic, I’ve gained a habit of looking for those same details in animated mediums. And anime, naturally, completely lacks those details. Anime feels dead and empty without those subtle gestures of emotion. Even when something emotional happens, the eyes end up being the only things that animate. I don’t need these details in manga, since it’s a still-image medium and they have entirely different ways to convey moods than anime. But nope, when something’s animated, I need fluid animation and expressive faces or else I am not engaged. And for the record, I do know about Kyoto Animation, but all I’ve come across from them are sappy love stories that I have no interest in.

Feature Films are Great… Good Luck Seeing Them

Most of my complaints have been regarding TV anime; feature films are another story entirely. With less hours of content to produce, no deadline to produce it, and more money to produce it with, anime feature films are where all the talent in the industry has gone. Many anime enthusiasts know famous directors like Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli, and the more recent Makoto Shinkai, director of Your Name and Weathering With You

I’ve only seen a few anime movies: Spirited Away, Summer Wars, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya among others. They were all great (well, not so much Summer Wars because it was just a boring family drama disguised as The Matrix, but that’s an argument for another day), and they gave me a light of hope for the industry. I’d love to watch more movies and write about them.

The problem is that seeing them is a bit tricky. A lot of them are available on streaming, but not on anime streaming services. They’re all stretched thin across a lot of “normie” streaming services, from Netflix to HBOMax. As much as I complained about anime streaming before, these other apps are an entirely different rabbit hole. I’m not someone who likes Western shows, and it’s not worth paying for an amount of movies I can only count on my fingers. 

“Well, just buy them, you cheapo,” you say. I just looked on Amazon and GKids’, and one anime movie costs about $20 USD each. “That’s not so ba—” That’s for one movie. There are a lot of anime movies out there, and building a collection would easily inhibit my ability to cover the usual material I cover on this blog. As much as I want to see more anime movies, I’m not a movie guy, therefore anime movies are of low priority.

My one sole hope is in events like GKids’ Ghiblifest, or actual anime premieres themselves. I only need to pay $8 USD to watch them once, which is all I’d have time for anyway. But there’s still a drawback: the distribution. I was able to watch Kaguya in a theater that was a stone’s throw from my house. However, when Weathering With You came out, I was tempted to watch it because I was low on post material for January and I thought, “Eh… why not? I think the movie’ll be stupid, but I just don’t hate myself enough.” Regardless of whether or not I would’ve liked it, I was still butthurt that the closest theater for THAT was forty minutes away from my house, and since I would’ve seen the subbed version like a true weeb, I would’ve been up until midnight when I got back home! That’s a no-go for someone who had to be awake at five in the morning to be able to report to his full-time job that’s paying for his blogging career.

Man, if only there was a place to RENT movies. If I didn’t like it, I could just bring it back tomorrow, and no money will have been wasted. It could’ve been called “Movies That Are Expected to Make a Lot of Money in the Box Office” or something. Oh well, an idea so ridiculous couldn’t possibly exist!

Conclusion

Watching anime is tough. Really tough. Much tougher than reading manga. Anime is more affordable, but you get what you’re paying for: low-budget, cheaply made, overly-abundant crap. A haystack of BS that you need to scour in order to find the needle. Then when that anime season is over, you lather, rinse and repeat with the next season. To me, it’s a nightmare, and that’s why I bowed out of it. 

I must ask the following question, specifically to the veterans who’ve made anime their life, and have literal hundreds under their belt, to the point where they’ve self-taught themselves fluent Japanese just by watching them with subtitles: What is so appealing about anime? It can’t be just because it was the first medium you were exposed to, because I myself was actually converted from a TV junkie to a book junkie over the course of my life. I dunno, maybe it literally is just because of the aforementioned reason, or maybe I could stop speculating and just let you answer the question in the comments (I really want to know)!

Why It’s Okay for Disney to be Mainstream: A Rant

I’m not one to enjoy massively popular media, so you’d naturally think I’d despise the Walt Disney Company, at least in their current, mainstream-savvy form. Despite that, I ended up giving Frozen 2 and Onward overall positive scores, in complete disregard to how much I criticized them. Why is that? Get ready for a rant!

The main reason for my claim is that most of their movies- at least the good ones- have a lot more substance than most mainstream content. There are a lot of popular things I’ve consumed that basically go down a checklist of what people inherently love and don’t do anything remotely inventive. One manga example is Kimetsu no Yaiba, which barely gets the benefit of the doubt because the author ended it when it was at its peak (relatively speaking) instead of milking it.

Although their main demographic is children, Disney at least saw ahead and made sure that those same viewers would enjoy their movies in adulthood. This is something I learned five years ago, when I watched The Incredibles during a Movie Under the Stars event at Walt Disney World. As a kid, I had seen it so many times, I basically had the movie memorized. However, when I saw it at age nineteen that night, I saw it for the first time ever. As an adult, I was actually able to understand what makes it one of the best Pixar movies of all time, in ways that I couldn’t have comprehended as a kid. It was an amazing experience, and it stays across most core Disney movies (MOST of them; Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, you haven’t really aged well, narratively speaking…). 

One of the things that makes Disney movies enduring is that they have strong supporting characters besides the cliched main ones. I don’t really like Snow White or Ariel as much as some of my actual waifus, but the Seven Dwarves and Sebastian are timeless. There’s also characters like Olaf, the ultimate Disney husbando. And of course, there’s nothing like a good Disney villain. They have iconic personalities and exude intimidating auras thanks to their brilliant animators. The Evil Queen, Maleficent, Lady Trumain, Ursula… and also Hades and Yzma, who have gotten a billion times more popular in recent years; they are among the most memorable antagonists of all time (except Hans in Frozen). These days, most people are probably looking forward to them more than the good guys (who actually watched The Little Mermaid Live for any reason other than fangushing at Queen Latifa?).

And of course, there’s the MUSIC. Disney has had master songwriters that don’t get talked about too often, but they’re real geniuses, writing songs that people still sing to this day. I don’t think the ENTIRE Disney discography is perfect, but a lot of it—especially the newer stuff—is really, really good. The other important factor is that ever since they had the brilliant Howard Ashman work for them, the songs also contribute to plot progression in a very Broadway-esque manner. I still listen to songs from Frozen casually (PS: ‘Let It Go’ deserves all the praise it got, fight me), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). And just when you think they’ve run out of ideas, something like ‘Lost in the Woods’ from Frozen 2 comes up. I remember thinking, “Oh boy, a bad, melodramatic Krifstoff song shoehorned into an already shoehorned subplot”, at first. But when you hear that eighties guitar riff out of nowhere, it’s like, “What the crap?!” It’s safe to say that Disney would have not made it this far if they didn’t turbo-charge their films with amazing music! 

I also love the Walt Disney Company itself, more so than the movies. For starters, they are pretty much one of the few bastions of goodwill left in the world. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. Most other companies are too selfish and/or corrupt to even try to do better for the world, and others have pretty much given up on even trying. They don’t just make movies, they help animals and the earth through the Disney Conservation Fund, the use of environmentally friendly buses, and massive solar panel farms. To accomplish so much, they need a LOT of funding. These people don’t just need movie budgets, but they need to be able to manufacture merch of literally ALL kinds, as well as paying the millions who are working at several theme parks AND cruise ships. So, yeah, some of their movies might be riskless cash grabs, but they kinda need it once or twice in a while. If it weren’t for their vision, I would probably accuse them of pandering just as easily as any crappy hack writer.

And as much as I hate to say it, I must acknowledge the value of being able to relate to the main protagonists. They’re generic to a fault, but they definitely had an impact on cultures around the world. Their arcs (and the narratives of the movies in general) are not marred by any sort of cultural barrier, making them lovable to anyone. I also can’t deny that they have saved a lot of young’uns from torment, especially in the case of Frozen. They also handle wish fulfilment themes in ways that are genuinely good, at least recently. Most of the time, the tropes say, “You’re special for no reason now go be a wizard Harry.” Disney merely says “You’re you,” which is a lot better. In fact, as much as I said I loved good Disney villains, they seem to be moving towards complete abandonment of main antagonists in the favor of developing their protagonists, which I’m interested to see moving forward. But you know what, if you only love Disney movies because of the relatability aspect, then I feel genuinely sorry for you; you’re missing out on some really well thought-out, detail-oriented media.

And seriously, they are detail-oriented, in a way that transcends OCD. It’s made readily apparent if you go to Epcot and look at the architecture. Everything is authentic and accurate right down to the last brick. That same attention applies to their movies. If you watch the behind-the-scenes of some of this stuff, you’ll see them have board meetings over a three-second shot. It sounds excessive, but they need to do it because they know that those details make or break the whole picture, even if it’s stuff that no casual viewer would even think to look at.

So, in conclusion, I’m willing to bet that most people really do just enjoy Disney movies because of their eye-catching visuals, and the audience’s innate desire to see “themselves” in the narrative. But from a professional standpoint, they’re decent movies, with great soundtracks, from a team that’s constantly moving forward. While I still don’t entirely enjoy the wish fulfillment themes that they perpetuate, they at least have substance, and that’s something that makes them stand out from the rabble.

Making Metal Marketable: My Conflicting Feelings with BABYMETAL

I’m a big fan of J-Pop, and I’m a seriously big fan of metal. So, it stands to reason that I’d LOVE the kawaii metal group, BABYMETAAAAAAAAAAAAL! Heh-heh, you saw the title of this post; it’s not that simple, not even remotely. In fact, I only started listening to them over the course of Feb. 2020! Just keep in mind that no matter how critical I get, I don’t straight up dislike the group; otherwise they would’ve been on my Top Five Least Favorite Japanese Music Artists post.

So, what is BABYMETAL? Well, you probably should know, for they seem to be one of the few Japanese music artists that have become known even among those who don’t follow Japanese culture. Formed about a decade ago, they have grown incredibly popular, with performances all over the world. They even have a full bio for themselves and each of their studio albums on Apple Music. That’s how you know they’re a big deal! Their claim to fame is the unusual combination of cutesy idol J-pop and angtsy metal. 

With such a brilliant idea, BABYMETAL should’ve been right up my alley. But in execution, it’s nothing more than the same catchy beats of idol pop, but with an edgy paint job. They’re mainstream in disguise. “Well, you cur, you seem to like risky and eccentric groups,” you point out (Assuming that you’ve read my other music posts up to this point), “BABYMETAL is an incredibly brilliant and ballsy band. You’re having the same reaction as the old farts who hated Elvis Presley and the Beatles because it was different from the crap they grew up with. You’re no different.” 

BABYMETAL is ballsy? Actually, I think the exact opposite is true. My problem with them isn’t that they’re too eccentric for me. On the contrary, BABYMETAL is mainstream to the max. It sounds like an idea that couldn’t possibly fail; by combining catchy, “radio-friendly” tunes with metal’s angry vibes, they are able to appeal to both pop and metal fans at once. And that bothers me to no end. It’s kind of like how a lot of young adult novels are marketed as dark and brooding, but have the same romance tropes as a Disney movie. I suppose what I’m saying is that BABYMETAL is the YA novel of music.

“Well, hang on a second,” you argue once more, “you’re saying that the problem with BABYMETAL is that their songs are catchy, which is typical of most mainstream artists. But isn’t that, you know, THE POINT?!” You cross your arms in defiance. “If BABYMETAL tried to do stuff like- say- prog rock, then they wouldn’t be BABYMETAL. The POINT of BABYMETAL is to BE catchy, because that’s how idol music IS. Are you claiming that a rock or metal band cannot be a rock or metal band without taking some kind of creative risk?! You know, Rob Zombie- an ACTUAL rock artist- loves this band, and I’m willing to bet that he knows more about music than you, bub!” You’re probably correct for the most part. If BABYMETAL has succeeded at anything for me, it’s challenging the very definition of a “rock band”. Like you (or rather, my personification of you) mentioned earlier, they honestly are a challenge to the stuff I liked when I first got into music, such as Rush and Queen, with their continuously changing musical styles and experimental ideas. Despite how “open-minded” I claim to be when it comes to some of the weird music I like (including Queensryche and Genesis to boot), I ended up becoming alienated from mainstream music. It’s funny how the human mind works. However, at this juncture, I have no authority to objectively define “rock”, and honestly, with how much it’s changed since Presley, I doubt ANYONE has that authority. It’s pretty much a matter of subjective perspective at this point; it all depends on how me, you, or Zombie have come to understand “rock” based on our own different experiences.

In the end, though, I do like a guilty pleasure. I’ll admit that some of their songs are pretty darn succulent. Maybe, once in a while, I’ll put on a BABYMETAL song and rock out. But even then, I have to immediately follow-up with a REAL group, like BAND-MAID or Crossfaith. Maybe if they had the same manager as, say, Dempagumi.inc, they’re music would’ve been more varied and better. Heck, some Dempagumi songs, like Precious Summer, are already kawaii metal as it is.

But because I listen to too much music, I’m inevitably going to have to axe BABYMETAL from my life. They aren’t the worst thing ever, but to me, they are severely overrated. I honestly can’t recommend this group to anyone, especially dedicated metal fans. If you want a better version of the same general idea, try Passcode. Or, if you want a different unusual combination of styles that organically mesh together as if it was the most natural thing in the world, try Wagakki Band.

My Problem With the Anisong Industry: An Overwrought Analysis

PREFACE: Yes, I know that I’m complaining about not liking something, when two of those very somethings- nano and MYTH & ROID- are my 1st and 4th (respectively) favorite Japanese music artists of all time as of 12/31/2019. I’ll get to justifying that in the body of this post, so please be patient.


The original topic of this post was going to be: “Top Five Japanese Music Artists I Stopped Liking,” as my J-pop tastes have changed wildly over the course of the few years I’ve been seriously into the genre. However, I noticed a bit of a consistency in most of the people I’ve abandoned… that they’re all a specific type of singer called an “anisong” singer. Based on what I understand, these artists exist mainly to be commissioned to perform the OPs and EDs of any anime that might come into existence. Like with many, these people are the ones who got me into Japanese music as a whole, and yet… I’m not exactly sure they can survive on my playlist after I’ve expanded my horizons. 

If you’ve watched anime, you know of certain songs and artists. The word “anisong” immediately brings particular thoughts to mind: Guren no Yumiya by Linked Horizon, Re:Do by Konomi Suzuki, Sign by FLOW, Crossing Field by LiSA, Error by GARNiDELiA, Hacking to the Gate by Ito Kanako, and more. For years, watching illegal full YouTube uploads of these tracks (or the occasional official full music video) was my only gateway into Japanese music. I always wanted to listen to more of these, but due to the expensiveness of international buying, it was not easy when I didn’t have a job. Konomi Suzuki’s Life of Dash, and MYTH & ROID’s eye’s were all I could manage. But then… I got Apple Music. That was all it took to suck me into a rabbit hole, full of Japanese music artists who don’t do anime. I found BAND-MAID, Crossfaith, Memai Siren, Hysteric Panic, Mili, Queen Bee, and an unhealthy amount more. 

Not only that, but I could also listen to the full discographies of those anisong artists I mentioned before. But… it wasn’t exactly a fun experience. Konomi Suzuki’s 2019 album Shake Up!… I only liked three songs on it. Asaka’s debut album Heart Touch… I only remember two songs on it at all. As for Ito Kanako, the freaking Hacking to the Gate lady, I only like six other songs by her… across two whole studio albums. Compared to the other bands that have been growing on me like parasites, something felt empty about these, even in the best case scenario.

“Well, don’t listen to anything besides the hits, ya idiot,” you tell me. I’m sorry, but that’s not how I roll. For me to consider myself a devout fan of a music artist, I must go through at least 50% of their whole discography; all (or most of their) albums, cover-to-cover. When it comes to the “normie” bands that I’m a fan of, I always end up liking AT LEAST half of every track per album, and that’s just the worst case scenario. For example, I have all but two tracks of Crossfaith’s 2013 album, Apocalyze, in my favorite Crossfaith songs playlist, and that’s just that album alone. This is why I’ve been having a hard time juggling the different people I like, but them’s the brakes. I’ve been working on a Top Fifteen Favorite Music Artists of All Time post, and it’s not going to be ready for at least a year, because I have to catch up with a lot of bands in order to satisfy the condition of “at least 50% of their discography”. So, basically, because I can’t find myself liking more than “the hits” of the anisong artists, I can’t like them, period.

But I’m not going to throw shade. In all honesty, I don’t think it’s their fault. I don’t know what’s going on behind the curtain, but I can use my intuition to infer what my issues with them could be. One thing is that the artist- the pretty face you see- doesn’t necessarily songwrite (I know nano does, but like I said in the preface, we’ll get to that). It’s definitely something that can happen. One example is an article on Anime News Network I read back when Infinite Dendrogram’s anime was being produced. It said that a certain individual (forgot their name) was going to compose the OP for the show, but Aoi Yuuki was going to perform it. So, I’m not crazy, circumstances like this can happen; there’s proof on the Internet. This is definitely one explanation for why the quality of their stuff varies so wildly. 

Another reason that comes to mind is that the medium is too creatively restrictive. They generally need to conform to a catchy beat, with an intro, first verse, and first chorus able to last exactly ninety seconds, as well as lyrics to fit actual story themes of the show. That’s a lot of stipulation. I remember reading a couple of interviews from nano, and IIRC, she said something to the effect of the songs made for anime specifically- with Kemurikusa in particular- being among the hardest for her to compose (don’t quote me on that, though).

The final reason- more so a nitpick- is that they seem to put out waaaaay less music than otherwise. “Quality over quantity, motherfu-” Hang on, I gotta cut you off there! Yes, I get that the quality is what matters the most. But the “normie” bands I mentioned don’t just put out higher quantity releases, but higher QUALITY releases as well. It’s uncanny. For example, nano… man, I love her music to death, but eight years in the industry, and we only get three studio albums and a best-of album? BAND-MAID put out double that in six years; do the math. I don’t know how it works- it’s definitely on a case-by-case basis- but the general idea is that they can only put out new singles when they’re doing an anime OP. That’s not much, honestly.

Of course, of course, there are definitely some exceptions. Obviously, I love nano and MYTH & ROID. These two are definitely much more experimental, and I like their albums (well, album in the latter’s case) much more consistently, even beyond the hits. As a fan, it makes me sad that they’re working under the stipulations of anisong that I mentioned before, and it makes me wonder what their music would be if they were free to work their full creative juices. I’m also fond of UVERworld (at least their newer stuff)… but it’s very hit or miss. I actually abandoned them until I Decided (haha, pun because that’s one of their songs) to try out Unser (which ended up meeting expectations). Two more artists technically fall into the exceptions category, and that’s two of the Bang! Dream bands, Roselia and RAISE A SUILEN. They only count as anisong because their singles get integrated into the Bang! Dream anime, but those two bands at least put some extra oomph into their stuff (even if RAISE A SUILEN is basically Roselia but with Crossfaith’s instrumentation). On a final note, here’s praying that Morfonica doesn’t suck when their first single comes out.

Another thing that I’m probably going to get called out on is the rare time that one of my so-called “normie” bands actually, on one occasion, do an anime OP. I don’t get how this happens sometimes… but I have a couple of things to say about it. First off, the aforementioned stipulations can make someone put out something vastly different from their established style, like with the 2nd OP of My Hero Academia, Peace Sign by Kenshi Yonzeu; he sounded like some unremarkable mainstream J-rock boy, and not the more eccentric style of his usual stuff.

Honestly- and I’m saying this out of jealousy- those “normie” bands don’t get the honor often enough. Well, I say that I’m saying this out of jealousy, but I’m also saying this from a thematic perspective. Listening to some of these guys makes me imagine their songs in anime OPs, and some of them suit certain anime thematically more than the actual person who did it (like I said, the lyrics are supposed to suit it thematically, but it’s not exactly something that a non-Japanese-speaking person can pick up on). Hysteric Panic’s dirty thrashy sound, along with the guttural growl of their backing vocals would’ve been perfect for Dorohedoro. Memai Siren’s melancholy dreariness would’ve suited Re:ZERO. And yeah, even though the song that YURiKA did for Land of the Lustrous was good thematically, Mili would’ve done an infinitely better job at the same thing.

It also doesn’t help that the bands I like can get the short end of the stick. It’s funny that Mili is an example again, for they apparently did the OP of Goblin Slayer, of all things. I haven’t heard Rightfully yet, but however good it might be, it was definitely overshadowed by the controversy of the show; a complete waste of talent. To make matters worse… they also did the EDs of Gleipnir (which will likely be criticized for being too edgy and fanservice), as well as Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 (which is going to be criticized a LOT for obvious visual-themed reasons). And who in God’s name decided to hire Wagakki Band- of all people- to do the first OP of Twin Star Exorcists (which was also highly criticized due to Studio Pierrot being themselves), when the show, historically, isn’t set in a time where their musical style would be thematically relevant? Sure, once in a blue moon, there will be a great combination, such as- once again- Kenshi Yonezu, but instead performing the ED for Children of the Sea (which I might never get to SEA thanks to the coronavirus). I heard the song at least, and since I already read the manga, I know that Yonezu’s out-there musical style fits Children of the Sea PERFECTLY. I hope Mili does the Otherside Picnic OP… that would be really nice.

In conclusion, I don’t hate these anisong artists; after all, they made me who I am now. But after my horizons have been expanded, they are sorely lacking in the almost everything department. Sure, I still play Re:Do and Hacking to the Gate sometimes, but I can definitely live without those songs. Well, if I ended up expanding your horizons with this post, then you’re welcome. If you don’t agree with my post, then leave some feedback as to why (or maybe explaining how this music industry works). I’m all ears!