My thoughts on Psycho-Pass season 1

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Netflix is pretty great. The convenience of having so much stuff available with just a few button presses of my remote can’t be overstated, especially when Real Life circumstances have left me with more free time than I know what to do with in the past few months. Their anime selection is pretty good too.

Take Psycho-Pass. Somehow it slipped under my radar, as things annoyingly all too often seem to do. With hindsight I can’t even explain why, because I soon discovered how it ticks so many boxes in terms of setting, writing and, well, pretty much everything.

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RPM Challenge 2015 submission

It’s that time of year again…four weeks shut away indoors, tied to my keyboard and frantically trying to get ten songs or 35 minutes of sound down to (digital) tape. There are no prizes or awards for this – Record Production Month is open to anyone with the time and tenacity, whether they’re professional musicians/songwriters or enthusiastic amateurs.

I just like the motivation to *do something*, and for some reason find working under a constraint like this to be helpful as well as limiting. For we OCD and perfectionist types, it does mean we don’t really have the option of retakes, extensive planning or laborious ironing-out of bum notes. It’s a bit rough, chaotic and making-it-up-as-you-go-along.

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Doing the Danse Macabre to Death Parade

Back when I saw Death Billiards for the first time, I thought it was a fantastic little oddity that had a lot of mileage in its premise and storytelling. Even so, the cynic in me was resigned to the fact that it didn’t have enough guns and tits to have broad popularity outside of the Anime Mirai project and be a serious contender for a full TV series; despite it ticking all the boxes for being one of those things that has me personally grinning like a loon for twenty-five minutes and wanting to write about it afterwards. I’ve come to realise my tastes are a little weird sometimes.

A wonderful place where you’ll never miss last orders

In this case however, the TV Gods were merciful and this quirky little thing was given a fighting chance and its role shifted to being that of a pilot for its TV incarnation, Death Parade. I never did get around to writing about Death Billiards, but after two episodes of its spin-off my opinion on it hasn’t changed: it’s bloody brilliant. I just hope that enough people share my admiration for it.

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Kanae Minato: Confessions

Comparisons between an adaptation of a written work and the original are always interesting, even if the piece of film or TV is inferior to the story that it’s based on. In rare instances the adaptation proves to be even more enjoyable than the book that inspired it (the only one that springs immediately to mind however is Satoshi Kon’s mind-bending animated film of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s novel Paprika) but it can still encourage you to view the source material in a slightly new light. It feels a bit awkward to me when I experience the adaptation first though, because there’s that nagging feeling that my appreciation of the original is being clouded somehow.

For instance: I picked up (and reviewed, if you’re interested) Tetsuya Nakashima’s schoolroom psycho-thriller Confessions long before the English translation of Kanae Minato’s novel. If you have seen the film and are familiar with the story right up to its shocking denouement, I still recommend the book: inevitably, there are certain plot points that were edited out to fit the flow of the movie, but the shift in emphasis means that the novel is still a refreshing and rewarding experience. You certainly won’t get *quite* the same feeling as you would from the film even if, say, you read it with a Boris album playing in the background or something.

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MONO: Rays of Darkness and The Last Dawn

Just when you start to wonder what one of your favourite bands is up to, their next offerings turn up like buses: long awaited, and arriving two at once.

It’s a real challenge for music artists who work the treadmill of recording and touring to keep their output fresh and varied, especially when their line-up remains unchanged throughout their career. MONO have apparently been grappling with that issue, and although they’ve broadened their horizons by contributing to a TV mini-series and collaborating with a couple of indie filmmakers since their last studio effort, the move to release not one but two albums at the same time is I think quite a turning-point.

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Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and the Murakami dilemma

If I were to write a ‘proper’ objective review of Murakami’s latest, it would probably begin and end with “this is just another Haruki Murakami novel.” Considering his strengths as a writer, this isn’t ‘just’ anything, but so many tropes and themes are being revisited here I don’t think it’s an unfair way of summing it up.

For your reference, this is the city of Nagoya, one of the settings of the story. Pretty, huh?

Murakami’s popularity isn’t wholly unjustified: although he has yet to win that Nobel Prize for literature, fans still queue outside bookshops as soon as each new work is published. Although I’d join them in saying I enjoyed Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, it hasn’t changed my mind over my opinion that he’s a writer who’s talented without being Nobel Prize-worthy. What’s worrying is that I’m not enjoying it in the same way that I used to.

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Terror in Resonance: the language of terror

I’ve started the task of learning the kanji, which at the time of writing stands at around 480…which isn’t as impressive as it sounds, given how many I have left to learn in total. My fascination with this writing system also encourages me to look up the meanings of stuff like people’s names and the titles of songs, movies and TV shows; not to mention nuances or double-meanings that are lost in translation when converted from kanji too (anyone who’s looked into authors like Nisioisin and Kinoko Nasu will understand this!). It’s quite fun and educational.

The title for Zankyou no Terror for instance uses the kanji characters 残 and 響, the の particle and ‘terror’ written in katakana, which is popularly translated into English as ‘Terror in Resonance’. I’m far from being a kanji expert at this point and I won’t pretend to be able to explain the nuts-and-bolts grammar of the particles yet either, but the ‘resonance’ of the title, which can also be read to mean ‘echo’ or ‘reverberation’ is interesting. And no, I’ve not reached the stage of learning these two particular characters! I had to look them up on Denshi Jisho first, which is by the way an excellent kanji resource.

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Japan 2014: Hiroshima and Miyajima

When trying to decide what to write about for my next blog post, I sort-of forced myself into talking about my experience of visiting the Hiroshima region. Today marks the annual anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city, but my feelings on that are difficult to sum up. Hiroshima is, for many people, a name from the news headlines; long before Sendai crept into the our consciousness as a name that continues to spark the nuclear debate, this otherwise ordinary industrial city has the unfortunate status of being the world’s first battlefield of a nuclear war.

I don’t want to go  into the politics and morality of what happened in August 1945; the complex ethical and historical arguments could spawn a whole series of posts on their own, and ought to be written by people better-informed than I am. What struck me more than anything when walking through the clean, friendly and sunny Hiroshima of 2014, which includes the iconic memorials such as the Eternal Flame and the A-Bomb Dome, was how it’s pretty much a normal Japanese city. That’s it.

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A tourist’s eye view of Sendai

When I decided to take on the task of writing about every significant place I visited in Japan last May, I felt the most important article of all would be the one about the one short day and night spent in Sendai. At the time of writing, news headlines are again warning of an earthquake and tsunami with maps placing Sendai and Fukushima worryingly close to the epicentre. Even now, the international image of Sendai is that of a dot on a map near an earthquake zone at best, or a tsunami-ravaged city at worst.

When in reality it looks like this

Although enormous amounts of damage were done to coastal areas of the Touhoku region in 2011 and it was off-limits to visitors for a time, things have changed and if I were to fail to point this out I’d be doing this wonderful city and its million or so inhabitants a disservice.

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The ‘Akuma no Uta’ that is Madoka Magica: Rebellion

*Note: I skipped the first two films due to personal laziness on the grounds of having seen the series twice, so I may have missed some important details. As of now I plan to watch all three of them.*

From a safe distance, out of the range of spoiler fallout, the fan reaction to the third Madoka movie was interesting to say the least. It certainly left me with mixed feelings over various aspects, but I think each viewer’s opinions about certain characters will influence their impression of the movie overall.

One thing that I think we can all agree on is that it looks and sounds fantastic. After following what Akiyuki Shinbo’s been up to over the years, it was interesting to see what he would do with a movie budget behind him: his TV work has a “making the most of limited time and cash” feel to it, but I’ve never seen a cinematic Shinbo project before.

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