Shelter in Place: Day 39

This is the update for Tuesday, April 21, 2020.

I haven’t written anything creative in I don’t know how long—a week? Longer? I don’t feel like there’s much to look forward to right now. With so many people, including the governor of the state of Georgia, being shortsighted and foolish about this pandemic, it seems like shelter in place will never end. Not having an idea of when it might end makes it hard to be positive. I can’t make plans. I don’t know when I’ll see my friends and family again.

I went to the store this morning because I had a prescription ready. I covered up as much as possible, including wearing a hat and tucking my pant legs into my socks, and of course I wore a mask and gloves. While I was there I looked for a few things that we didn’t get in our curbside pickup order on Saturday and that Sean wasn’t able to find in the store when he checked that same evening. I snagged some toilet paper and paper towels (which I had been really worried about), some frozen fish and veggies, a couple frozen dinners because I figured I could make them fit in the freezer (and I did, with effort), some more dinner sausage, lunch meat, cheese sticks, Slim Jims, various Knorr noodles, two boxes of au gratin potatoes, and soy-flavored ramen.

The only thing I really wanted and couldn’t find was Knorr Alfredo noodles. I got a bunch of imitation crab, so I hope I can find Alfredo noodles online or something. Maybe the crab would be okay with garlic shells? I dunno.

I miss sushi. I’m going to look into whether any sushi restaurants are doing takeout. Maybe we can have some on Friday. That would be something to look forward to.

Today I had planned to do a video chat with a coworker and friend at lunch, but I wasn’t feeling up to it, so I rescheduled with her and spent my break watching Haikyuu!! instead, starting season 3. Seasons 1 and 2 had kind of accelerated pacing; character arcs I would have expected more time to be spent on were done very rapidly, with some even wedged in as retcons/flashbacks. It wasn’t bad, per se, but I like it when the story spends a little more time on things like that. Season 3, on the other hand, is all about a single 5-set volleyball match, the final prefectural match before nationals. They stretched things out so much that an entire episode was spent just on the opening ceremony. It’s quite a contrast to the first two seasons, but I enjoyed it. I enjoy the show in general; all the characters are really fun. I finished season 3 after work and look forward to checking out the OVA and what’s out so far of season 4 soon.

I’m at a point with a lot of my work where I have to wait on other people, which can be hard for me. I also had a lot of trouble focusing for much of the workday, I think because of anxiety over going to the store/the situation in general. I had to drink some sweet tea in the early afternoon to get myself back on track. Fortunately, it seemed to work. My brain got unstuck and I was able to make good progress on a project that involves a lot of problem-solving style thinking. By the end of the workday I was actually feeling pretty good.

After work I made frozen fish, creamy garlic shells, and Italian-style veggies (Sean did not care for that mix of veggies) and we watched Haikyuu!! and an episode of NCIS.

I went to bed feeling pretty decent.

CHF Recovery: Day 45

  • Got up at 5:50, for some reason
  • (The reason was lower abdominal pain, solved by going to the bathroom. Ah, weight loss surgery)
  • Had protein shake and morning meds
  • Poked around online until around 8:30
  • Snuggled with Sean for awhile, as he was not feeling well
  • Took a shower at around 10, then got dressed
  • Started the laundry
  • Spent a bit more time online
  • Put darks in dryer and whites in washer
  • Went to my doctor’s office to get some paperwork
  • Picked up a protein bistro box and chai latte on my way home
  • Got home at around 12:30
  • Cleaned up all the paperwork in my office:
    • Sorted medical stuff into three different file folders
    • Sorted receipts and memories into baggies
    • Sorted retirement stuff into a pile that I don’t know what to do with
  • Finally started eating my lunch at around 1
  • Took the darks out of the dryer and sorted them in the laundry basket (usually I do this on the bed but Sean was in there sleeping)
  • Put the whites in the dryer and the couch cover and blanket in the washer
  • Continued reading online and talking with people
  • Sean got up and I snuggled him a little; he was feeling better
  • Made the bed and put the laundry on it
  • Sorted and folded the laundry and put it away

I am tired.

  • Read a work-in-progress fanfic for someone (but did not actually proof it this time)
  • Put the couch cover back on the couch
  • Watched the four currently available episodes of the fifth season of Natsume Yuujinchou with Sean (they were so good!)
  • Cooked dinner, a HelloFresh meal of Honey and Orange Chicken Jambalaya

Have I talked about HelloFresh here? Ah, yes, I see I mentioned it a few times, first on Day 1. Well. Basically it is a grocery service where they send you recipes and ingredients for meals. When I first started it my heart hadn’t failed yet and I did manage to do pretty well for awhile. But I started slipping, and then we had three guests in a row (Ally, Kathryn, and Celena), and I put HelloFresh on “pause” for several weeks. Then the heart failure happened. I ended up unable to cook nearly two weeks of meals and had to throw the food away, so I put it on pause again. This past Saturday was my first week back, and I hadn’t cooked a single one of the three meals until today. Another box arrives tomorrow.

I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to do this or not, especially when I start back at work. But staying low sodium while eating out is ridiculously hard. I want to at least try to cook meals at home.

Anyway, tonight’s meal wasn’t too strenuous (there were only two vegetables to dice, the chicken went in the oven, and then everything else just went in a pot on the stove), and it was delicious.

I have a leftover orange half that I might eat tomorrow.

  • Ate dinner at my desk while reading stuff online
  • Got back to working on one of my fanfics
  • Went to bed around 10pm

Fun with pretend government offices from 19th century Japan

Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi title imageSean and I recently went back to Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi, a show I started watching via fansubs in 2006 but never got around to finishing. Now the whole series is on Crunchyroll.

The fansubs always translated the name of the agency the Arashi worked for as the “Occidental Investigation Office,” so I was surprised to see it called the “Office of Barbarian Knowledge Enforcement” in the official translation.

Transliterating what they’re saying, you get “Bansha Aratamesho”. I put this phrase into hiragana, ばんしゃあらためしょ, and googled it. The official page for the series came up, as did the official kanji for the name: 蛮社改所. Obviously, since this group was made up for the show, this term doesn’t appear in dictionaries. Here’s how it breaks down:

蛮: ban, “barbarian”

社: sha, “association, society, etc. (or the counter for those things)”

改: this kanji can be part of a verb meaning “to inspect”, which I’m guessing is the intended meaning here.

所: this is just weird; alone and pronounced sho, it only appears in dictionaries as the counter for places.

Searching the phrase in compounds yields better results. According to this page, 蛮社 is short for 蛮学社中, bangakushachuu, which refers to the Western learning done by samurai attendants. Meanwhile, I found the compound 改所 along with a different starting phrase. 貫目改所, or かんめいあらためしょ, refers to an office under the Edo shogunate that tracked the weight of shipments moving along highways, according to this page. Since 貫目 means “weight”, you can infer the meaning of 改所 to be something like “inspection office”.

Based on this, I’d say 蛮社改所 could be translated as “Western Learning Oversight Office.” I can see where the translators got “Office of Barbarian Knowledge Enforcement,” though, given that there’s no distinction between “barbarian” and “Western learning” in this time period.

(Fun side note: Here is an article about 蛮社の獄, or “Jailed for Western Learning,” that mentions Takano Chouei, who happens to be one of the many historical figures featured in Ayakashi Ayashi.)

The main cast of Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi
Abi, Yukiwa, Atl, Yukiatsu, Saizou, Ogasawara, and Edogen


I’m in a share-y mood, so I’m going to go all stream-of-consciousness like I used to back in the halcyon days of this blog. No real topic, no defined start and end, no “point”. Just what I’m thinking.

The post title, if you’re interested, just means something like “A ramble, for the first time in awhile.”

I wrote this morning on Facebook that I wished I was better at humor. I’m extremely serious, and I tend to react badly when someone throws a discussion off-topic in a humorous way. Basically, I don’t understand and can’t really put up with trolls. This is why I never read forums. I also hate practical jokes. I love laughing, and I enjoy funny things very much, but I hate it when serious discussions are derailed for a laugh (or even to make a point, because I often have trouble figuring out what point is being made). I’d like people to just respond respectfully and openly rather than being what I interpret as summarily dismissive.

Other people don’t seem to have this problem, though, so I can’t help but feel deficient.

Abrupt topic shift! I started using the WaniKani beta yesterday. WaniKani is a kanji learning system that incorporates SRS and fun. I’ve really enjoyed it so far, and I hope I can stick it out. Other than watching lots of anime, I haven’t really been doing much with my Japanese study lately, so I’m really wanting to get back on track (or on a track in general).

Speaking of anime, I’m finding myself infinitely perplexed by anime genres. Polar Bear’s Cafe, which I adore, is apparently shoujo. I’m not sure what genre I would put it in if I had to choose, but when I think shoujo I think Sailor Moon, so obviously there’s a disconnect somewhere. I’m also confounded by the shounen genre, as evidenced by this post and comments. Either Japan is cool with young kids watching really violent and sexual stuff, or there are subgenres I’m unaware of…or something. I guess knowing what genre something is doesn’t really matter in terms of enjoying it, but I would like to find a good way to identify anime that I have a high chance of enjoying, and to know what to expect from it. The best I’ve come up with so far is that I generally like “sports” anime, where characters work towards a goal and compete with each other, and “slice of life” anime, especially high school. I generally dislike “harem” anime, where one male character is surrounded by a bunch of girls drawn in an oversexed way. But anime isn’t always labeled this way, especially on Crunchyroll; their “slice of life” genre includes surreal comedies, for example. I usually have to read a show’s description and watch the first episode before I know if I’ll enjoy it. Unfortunately for me, I watched School Days all the way through without knowing what I was in for, and that was just traumatic.

I recently watched the first season of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion on Crunchyroll. (Season 2 isn’t available.) The show isn’t what I would normally go for. It is intensely tragic. But somehow, it felt like it was what I needed to see at that moment. It was a reminder that we can become blinded by our own goals and ambitions, and of how much our pasts can define us if we let them. As you might imagine, I identified most strongly with Suzaku (voiced by my beloved Sakurai Takahiro). But there’s no way I could argue that Suzaku always did the right thing or made the right choices. You can’t say that for anyone in the show. That’s what makes it so compelling and real and, again, tragic. As the audience, you can see how everyone’s decisions come together to impact the entire country, and you wish so-and-so knew such-and-such or hadn’t made a certain decision. None of the decisions themselves feel fated, like there was nothing else the characters could have done. Instead, it’s kind of like in a video game where the choices you make build up to determine your character’s “alignment”. But as things progress, the options diminish, and the ones that could right a character’s path become more and more dangerous.

The story reminds me a bit of Song of Ice and Fire. No one has the full picture but the audience, who is left simply watching as horror after horror unfolds. Unlike Song of Ice and Fire, though, I feel like there is an actual purpose behind the story in Code Geass. Song of Ice and Fire just feels like a laundry list of bad things happening.

Health-wise, I’m doing okay. I feel like I spend most of my day either trying to figure out what to eat or actually eating something. It’s pretty annoying. I have found a new, delicious Atkins bar, the Peanut Butter Granola. It is awesome and I’m very happy to add it to my arsenal. In terms of real food, I’ve found my George Foreman electric grill to be invaluable in easily cooking chicken, burgers, and tilapia, and I’m still relying on yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese snacks to supplement my protein. I also eat a lot of peas. I’ve added other vegetables and fruits to my diet, in moderation. My biggest problem is carbs; I eat too many potatoes and noodles and too much bread, and I haven’t been as careful about choosing wheat over white. Sweets aren’t really an issue for me anymore, as I rarely find them all that delicious, though I do wish I did, sometimes.

Personal training is also okay. The worst part about it is having to deal with another person, but that is kind of the point. They’re there to motivate me and to give me something new to do. So I endure.

Actually, I am feeling better about personal training right now than I was when I wrote the previous paragraph, because in the intervening time I went to a personal training session, and while I was utterly depressed going in, I actually feel fairly good after having worked out. So there’s that.

I’ve been depressed off and on for awhile now. I feel immense pressure, mostly from myself, to do something, but I can’t seem to figure out what, exactly. I’ve been trying various things without success. I’ve also been running away from various things. I want to feel in control, to have a plan. It’s killing me not to.

I’ve also had a lot of time to think these past few months…perhaps too much time. I spent a long while trapped in misery, thinking of all the pain in the world and in my own personal circles that I am powerless to do anything about. It took an incident of extreme thoughtlessness on my part–an event in which I tried to help, but had no resources to do so, and ended up adding to other people’s burdens–that helped me realize I could prioritize, and that sometimes I have to say no. I’m happy to say that I have at least pulled myself out of that murky hellhole of guilt. I seem to keep finding other things to worry about, but I don’t think I will fall into that same chasm again.

I have, however, been increasingly down on myself lately, and I’m even finding myself resentful of others where I don’t want to be resentful. I’m projecting my own confusion and helplessness on them, judging them for the things I self-judge, and it’s not fair to them or to myself. Intellectually I realize that I am partially crippled by circumstance, and while I can’t use that as an excuse per se, I can at least be more understanding of myself and allow myself to make mistakes and learn from them rather than simply hating myself and spinning my wheels in frustration. But it’s so very hard not to blame myself for everything.

I’ve even found myself thinking despairingly, “I’m so fat,” when that is hardly true. It was always my old internal mantra, and I guess it just naturally comes out when I despise myself. I’ve been trying to remind myself that no, actually, I’m not fat, but that’s hard, too. My inner voice argues back, What about all that flab?

Further, when I think about all the things I want and can’t have–children, frequent world travel, a piano, even just eating out–all I can think is that it’s my own fault, that I should have done something differently, or I should be doing something differently now. I don’t know what, though. It makes me miserable.

I’m tempted to round out this post with an uplifting “I’ll just have to do my best!” paragraph, like usual. But I promised not to have a point or a real ending. So I won’t. I’m not really feeling that emotion right now, anyway.

Instead, I’ll just mention that I’ve been watching Glass Mask again, and I am so jealous of the heroine, Maya. Her life is hell, but she knows what she wants to do and she’s willing to fight for it. I wish I had that kind of commitment to something. Something profitable, that is. Of course I have that commitment in spades when it comes to my husband and family.

Maya gives up her family to pursue her dream. I don’t think I could do that. I think that sort of sacrifice is easier when you’re young; you want to escape and find something new. I felt that way in my early 20s. I don’t feel like that now, or at least not in the same way. I still want adventure, I still want passion, I still want to learn and explore. But I can’t abandon my family.

It’s hard to explain what I mean by that. I don’t mean I wouldn’t move to another city or country, for example. I just mean that I could no longer make that decision on my own, without considering other people’s needs. My life isn’t just about me.

Oh hey, I have another topic. It’s kind of weird, and I’m actually kind of afraid to talk about it. It’s men.

For much of my life, the story heroes I identified with most were men. I wished I could be like Anne of Green Gables, but I knew I never could (she was slender with slim fingers; I was shaped more like her friend Diana, of whom Anne was jealous but I was not). I also liked Pippi Longstocking. But for the most part, I always felt like being a girl was too complicated, and it would just be easier if I was a boy. (I know; the grass is always greener.) I don’t believe I am gender-queer or anything, just that I didn’t know what to make of myself, and I was trying to figure out what role I played in life. As a child I pretended to be boys plenty of times: Simon of The Chipmunks, Donatello of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I didn’t want to be one of the Chipettes; they weren’t in all the stories and when they were they were often annoying. I didn’t want to be April O’Neil, because while she was cool in some ways, she wasn’t one of the core group, really. She wasn’t a ninja. She wasn’t a turtle. I certainly didn’t want to be Venus de Milo, the token female turtle, named not after an artist but after a work of art. Even as a kid that offended me. (I did pretend to be Smurfette when I was very young, but I didn’t particularly like it, because she was everyone’s love interest, and that seemed weird.)

It always seemed like there was a group of cool, interesting guys, and then one girl who was put in to have a girl there. I wanted to be one of the interesting people. And, to be frank, I didn’t usually find the shows with lots of girls in them, or centered around girls, to be all that interesting. I didn’t care about hair and makeup and clothes. I wanted to see adventure stories.

One exception was Clarissa Explains It All; I adored that show and wanted to be Clarissa with all my might. She was very much like me; she programmed on her computer (though she did far more advanced things, like building video games in which she threw things at her little brother) and she wore the clothes she felt like wearing, which in retrospect were “cool”, but I felt like they expressed her personality rather than following trends. She also liked Star Wars, which to me was the epitome of awesome (in the hoary pre-prequel days).

As I got older I started wishing I was a boy not as much because there were few cool stories about girls, but because I started watching USA and Lifetime movies and seeing how often women were victimized by men. I thought if I was a man, I would have less to fear. It occurred to me only this morning that I spent a great deal of my life being afraid of men. To be honest, I’m still afraid of them. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to protect myself–maybe more than the average woman? I don’t know. It always felt like even saying the wrong thing could result in violence against me. There are things I still fear to do or say.

Intellectually (I like to evaluate things intellectually, apparently!) I realize that this is sexism on my part. The actual percentage of men who would respond to an offense violently is small, at least here in the US. I do all my male friends a disservice by thinking this way, though I can at least say I don’t think any of them would be violent. I just have this creeping fear inside. Seeing some of the online comments against women, all the legislation aimed at women recently, and all the violence against women around the world only makes me more paranoid. I don’t like living with this fear, but it’s been a part of me for so long I’m not sure how to get rid of it.

I hate when the strong hurt the weak. I have always hated it. As a kid I couldn’t stand seeing it on TV, even in cartoons. I still don’t like it; I won’t watch shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. And I hate how casually people threaten violence against one another, especially online. I hate…hate.

Non-sequiturs to escape the previous topic:

Nichijou‘s first opening theme song, “Hyadain no Kakakata Kataomoi-C”, is awesome.

What is up with SKET Dance adding five million female characters with ever-increasing busts?

Natsuyuki Rendezvous is a weird-ass show.

I need to find a new place to explore.

Chobani’s plain Greek yogurt is the best.

Otome Youkai Zakuro

Otome Youkai Zakuro

This week I watched the 13-episode series Otome Yokai Zakuro, or “Demon Girl Zakuro”, on Crunchyroll. It’s based on an ongoing manga series about a half-spirit girl named Zakuro, her half-spirit and full spirit friends, and the human imperial army officers who team up with them to form the Ministry of Spirit Affairs. The story takes place in 19th century Japan shortly after the Meiji Restoration, during a time of unrest and change due to westernization. In this slightly-altered history, humans and spirits live side-by-side, but westernization efforts are marginalizing the spirits, causing conflicts to arise. And of course, there are evil spirits, too. Zakuro’s team takes requests from various parties, then attempts to nail down the problems that are occurring and resolve them.

One thing I noticed right away was that the male lead, Agemaki Kei, was voiced by Sakurai Takahiro, who also voiced my beloved Shibuya Yuuri from Kyou Kara Maou. He plays a similar character here, so his voice is pretty much the same as Yuuri’s. It was really nice to hear it again. At the end of the series, he even has a very Yuuri-esque line about people coming to understand one another. ^^

I found the setting extremely interesting. While the spirits live in a traditional-style Japanese house, and many people on the street still wear traditional garb, there were also plenty of people wearing western-style clothes, and the army officers’ uniforms were of course western-style. The characters took trains, new to Japan, to reach distant clients. Much talk was made of the “new calendar”. (Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873.) Overall, there was kind of a Victorian-meets-traditional-Japan vibe.

I loved seeing Zakuro and her friends’ reactions to things like cookies and milk. While the others were generally cheerful and open-minded, Zakuro often complained about cultural items and practices she dubbed バテレン–bateren, a word referring to Portuguese Jesuits or simply to Christianity itself. (The Crunchyroll translator subtitled it as “Jesuit”.)

The artwork was quite pretty, and the animation was very smooth. The story didn’t shy away from some particularly nasty concepts, such as a spirit that liked to eat women and children. There was some stylized violence, but not fountains of gore.

Pacing was Zakuro‘s weak point. I didn’t realize going in how short the series was, and as various concepts were introduced I imagined it would take many episodes to resolve them all. The series climax seemed to come out of nowhere, and the resolution seemed to drag while still somehow feeling hasty. With all the threads the story had woven together, we needed more time with the Ministry of Spirit Affairs to see their bonds grow, more time seeing Onodaka leading from the shadows before it became obvious who he was, more time to spin out Zakuro’s story so it didn’t feel like we had to choke down an entire buffet line of exposition during the series climax.

I did like the denouement…even the two-second, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it car passing by to answer the question of what happened after the fire. It all left me with a good feeling. (Except Zakuro’s persistent tsundere tendencies. Honey, at some point you’ve got to just roll with it.)

I also liked the flashback scenes with Zakuro’s mother, in no small part because they featured Morikawa Toshiyuki, who played Conrad in Kyou Kara Maou. He changed his voice for this part, but I still recognized him right away. Love.

I usually get a little annoyed with anime that feature twins, and I expected that to be the case here, especially when Bonbori and Houzuki told Ganryuu he should be in a relationship with both of them. But somehow they didn’t irritate me as much as I expected they would. (Maybe they would have if the series had been longer.)

I absolutely adored Susukihotaru’s relationship with Riken. I know, it’s extremely cliche: the proper lady and her strong and silent man. Shut up. It was sweet.

Agemaki and Zakuro’s relationship was great, too. I think it needed a little more time to truly flesh out before it got to “I love you”, but there were some extremely impactful moments, especially when Agemaki was captured and Zakuro found the candy ticket, and when Agemaki asked Zakuro, of all people, to come with him to deflect some of his father’s gregarious attention. If the series could have been longer, I would have liked to have seen more done with the Agemaki-Zakuro-Hanadate love triangle, and with Agemaki trying to make himself worthy of Zakuro. I’d also like to have seen more of why Agemaki fell in love with Zakuro. I think it partly has to do with how her abrasive personality paradoxically made him more comfortable being around spirits, and partly with her beauty and battle prowess, but I’m sure there’s more to it, and I would have liked to have seen that explored.

Ultimately, seeing this series has simply made me want to read the manga! I’d love to see how this story was originally told, and what other stories the author has come up with. The characters are interesting, the story is fun and complex, and the setting is fascinating.

And now, some spoileriffic screencaps:

Agemaki looking flabbergasted
“You’re the worst!” …not really the desired reaction, here.

Zakuro and Agemaki about to kiss
THIS is the desired reaction.

Agemaki sprays milk EVERYWHERE
Aaaaaand here’s the aftermath.

Seriously, Hunter x Hunter?


Hisoka gets "turned on"I don’t even want to tell you the context of this image.

I mean, I guess people exist who become sexually aroused by fighting strong opponents (who are twelve years old), but do we really want to be normalizing that behavior? (What do you know, I managed to tell you the context.)

More importantly, who is the target audience? Hunter x Hunterfeels like a cute kids’ show with a tad too much emphasis on fighting for the most part, but then you get stuff like this. What are kids supposed to learn? That it is cool to have some older guy obsessed with you to the point of wanting to get off on hurting you? Or are adults supposed to learn a more sinister lesson?

Aw, look at the cutesy way Gon and Killua imitate Hisoka in the “Hunterpedia” portion of the episode! There’s nothing disturbing about this at all. :P

Gon and Killua do their own schwing

My new anime love: Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope坂道のアポロン (Kids on the Slope) is a story about jazz-loving high school students in Kyushu in the 1960s. I’ve been watching it on Crunchyroll. The series is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who you may remember from the fabulous Cowboy Bebop, and the music is by Yoko Kanno, whose amazing music is everywhere–Bebop, Macross Plus and Frontier, and Escaflowne, just to name a few. (There’s even an iPhone alarm clock app from UNIQLO featuring original Yoko Kanno music now.) The art is nice and the animation flows well, and of course the voice acting is top-notch.

The show’s got plenty of the pieces I look for: an interesting setting, believable characters with pasts that are revealed as the story unfolds, a purpose bringing the characters together. I love that it’s not set in Tokyo. I love that it’s the past, and that it feels so well-researched. I love that everything is infused with jazz music. I love all the “love” relationships that at first seem so simple and then get more and more complex, just as real relationships do.

And I love that this is a show that is unafraid to go there. In the fourth episode, our heroes are playing their first live concert, and they’re really getting into it, when all of a sudden a surly drunk American soldier starts yelling at them to “stop playing that [expletive] music and play white jazz”.

Of course that would happen. It was completely realistic. And the characters’ reactions are just as realistic. Sentaro, the drummer, who is half white, half Japanese, is extremely sensitive to this sort of issue. He yells something like “Fuck that segregationist shit!” and storms off the stage. Another character, Jun, calmly rallies the piano player, Kaoru, and the two of them perform a soft jazz tune, which placates the drunkard.

I feel sort of bad for being so surprised at the scene. I’m just not used to seeing racism so blatantly portrayed in anime–especially with Japan as the setting. In an imagined setting, you can more safely explore this sort of theme without implicitly accusing a culture of bigotry. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Japan is by and large a homogenous country, and racism does exist there, as you can see in the story of what happened to a guy today on a train in Nagoya. Having racism as a story element is an extremely brave thing to do because it’s going to make people uncomfortable (as it should). You could argue that having the racist be a white American absolves the Japanese characters, but he’s just the loudest example of racism. You see plenty of quiet, cruel racism towards Sentaro from his own family members in flashbacks. I think putting in the soldier, having him be blatantly racist, makes the other racism more obvious, and makes Sentaro even more relatable.

It’s rare for me to have such a strong reaction to a show after only having seen four episodes. It took me a long time to process how I felt about that last episode in particular. I love that this is a show that takes the time to do character development well, but doesn’t actually waste any story time. Plenty of stuff happens; time seems to pass quickly. But at the same time I feel like I’m slowly untangling a glorious mess of thread and seeing how it all ties together. This is not shut-my-brain-off entertainment; this is the kind of engagement that comes from true storytelling. And I love it.

Gintama and the denial of one’s own atrocities

I recently started watching Gintama on Crunchyroll. It’s a very funny show about a guy named Gintoki who lives by his own odd code of honor while performing odd jobs to get by. He seems lazy and unreliable, but he’s always true to himself and his friends. The show is filled with references to other anime like Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Prince of Tennis, and probably many more I don’t recognize. Overall I have really been enjoying it.

However, as the story continues further into the overarching premise, I’m more and more aware of the obvious allegory. While at first I simply thought of it as an interesting intellectual exercise, it’s become more troubling to me in light of recent events.

In a nutshell, the plot of Gintama is this: in the Edo period, when Japan was known as the nation of samurai and Tokyo was still called Edo, aliens came to Earth and subjugated the people. The opening narration mentions that the aliens forced Japan to “open their country” and also that they cowed the government through a show of superior force (they fired a huge beam weapon and at least partially destroyed a castle). Subsequently a “no sword” law was enforced, and all the former samurai were forced to find other ways to support themselves, often unsuccessfully. Now the aliens live among the people of Edo, blatantly oppressing them, hiding behind diplomatic immunity.

The parallels with Japanese history are pretty obvious, if you omit certain inconvenient facts. The “opening” of the country recalls Commodore Perry’s black ships, which frightened Japan into agreeing to trade freely with other nations for the first time. The show of force and sword ban bring to mind Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the subsequent signing of the US-mandated constitution forbidding Japan to engage in warlike activities, including the formation of an army. And the aliens’ oppression of the Edo people calls to mind the Occupation.

What there aren’t parallels for, at least not yet, are the atrocities Japan itself committed in its history. The closest thing are the wars the Edo people fought for over ten years trying to cast the aliens out…but in the context of Gintama, this war is honorable, as the warriors are the victims, not the aggressors. The Anti-Foreigner group that Gin’s war buddy Katsura runs, which depending on your perspective can be called a terrorist group or a group of freedom fighters, seems like something more out of modern Middle Eastern history than Japan’s.

Through all of this, Edo is painted as the victim. And yet the similarities to Japan’s history are too striking to be coincidence.

At first, I thought there wasn’t really much harm in this. It’s an anime. It’s for fun. It’s an interesting story. I’m still not sure the author is trying to make a political statement with his premise. But I do wonder if this premise doesn’t indicate something about Japanese culture, about people’s perceptions about their country and history.

The mayor of Nagoya recently stated that he’s not sure that the rape of Nanjing actually happened. From the Japan Times:

Speaking Monday to a group of Chinese Communist Party members from Nanjing, Kawamura said he was skeptical about whether the Imperial Japanese Army actually raped and slaughtered thousands of Nanjing residents during the war.


“I don’t have any intentions of retracting my comments or apologizing,” Kawamura told reporters Wednesday.


Disputes over the Nanjing Massacre are a constant source of friction in Sino-Japanese relations, and Kawamura’s comments are merely another example of the skewed perceptions held by Japan’s politicans.

This made me wonder if the premise of Gintama doesn’t imply a sort of culture of denial, a general feeling that Japan is a blameless victim.

This sort of thing doesn’t just happen in Japan. Recently, a Japanese translator I follow on Twitter posted a picture from the American History museum in Washington, DC. It was a board on which visitors could stick up Post-It notes with their thoughts about the US’s use of internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Among the varied opinions, I spotted this one and others like it:

Well…they did attack PEARL HARBOR.

In this case, rather than deny the atrocities happened, people are trying to justify them, but it comes down to the same thing: people seeing what “they” did as horribly wrong, but what “we” did as right and proper. Anything can be acceptable if you assume righteousness is on your side: war, rape, torture, profiteering, prejudice, ignorance, silence.

Everyone wants to believe they are doing the right thing. It can hurt to take a step back and evaluate whether or not that’s really true.

Do we have anything to gain from entertainment that perpetuates our feeling of self-righteousness? Wouldn’t it be better to improve ourselves?

Edit March 22: Tofugu has an interesting post about Japanese textbooks that goes along well with this topic.

Kyou Kara Maou OST 3

I’m a big fan of the music of Kyou Kara Maou. Youichirou Yoshikawa expertly weaves together Baroque, pop, acoustic, keyboards like something out of The Princess Bride, and swelling orchestral movie soundtrack styles for an eclectic blend worthy of the cultural mishmash that is the universe of Shin Makoku, Dai Shimaron, et al.

The actual name of the third soundtrack is 今日からマ王! ユーリ陛下・生誕記念!? 想い出のアルバム, which means “Kyou Kara Maou! King Yuuri’s Birth Commemoration?! Memory Album”. I’m guessing the “birth commemoration” thing is a reference to Yuuri’s coming-of-age ceremony, which occurs early on in season 3.

The album came out in July of last year(!), but due to the odd name, which is a far cry from the easily comprehensible “Kyou Kara Maou OST2 + D“, I didn’t realize it was a soundtrack until a couple weeks ago. Perhaps this is why the album is also referred to online as 「今日からマ王! 第3シリーズ」O.S.T.&メモリアル・ダイアローグ, or “Kyou Kara Maou Third Series OST and Memorial Dialogue”.

Regardless, I was very excited when I realized what this album was, I ordered it immediately, and I’ve spent the past couple of weeks listening to it over and over. Like the other KKM OSTs, it’s got some great pieces, with a few disappointing and surprising omissions. Here’s the rundown.

1.      閃光~魔王のテーマ3 – “Flash ~ Maou Theme 3”

This is the spooky new Maou theme that made me wonder if Yuuri was going to turn evil. It first appeared in episode 81 and was used to great effect in episode 99, when Saralegui uses Yuuri against Dai Shimaron for the first time. Though the piece initially seemed to foreshadow a moral fall, Yuuri’s purity was ultimately incorruptible, and it was Geneus and Saralegui who ended up bringing forth Soushu-like energy in the end. This theme faded out as the series progressed and Yuuri matured; it stands as a testament to what can happen if Yuuri lets his emotions rule his powers.

2.     切願~ジェネウスのテーマ – “Supplication ~ Geneus’ Theme”

This theme truly serves its purpose of representing the tragic character of Geneus. It’s sad, wistful, filled with longing, quiet, despairing. It’s the theme of a man who’s been cowed, a man who acts out the wishes of another, a man with an impotent will. There’s calm but sorrowful chanting, sad strings, and then the echo of Shinou’s theme to represent Geneus’ true desire–the very thing he can’t have.

3.     神謀~サラレギーのテーマ – “Divine Strategy ~ Saralegui’s Theme”

There are two three themes used for Saralegui, both involving Asian-style string-plucking music. (I should probably know what instrument that is, but I don’t. Some kind of lute, perhaps?) This is the more evil of the three. While I’m glad to have this creeping, calculating, overconfident theme, I wish I could also listen to the piece used at the end of episode 84 or 85, when we first see Saralegui. That version is more gentle, and I think it represents the part of Saralegui’s soul that is drawn to Yuuri. When the episode first came out, I made a .wav file from my fansub so I could listen to it. The piece can actually be heard in track 26 on this album, but Yuuri’s talking over it…I wish I had a raw version, without talking or episode sound effects. The third Saralegui theme can be heard in track 25, with Saralegui talking over it. It’s kind of between the other two; not sinister but not gentle, it’s more of a general theme.

4.     神剣 – “Divine Sword”

We first hear this piece when Shori uses the Divine Sword in episode 105(?), and it comes out again in episode 111, when Alazon appears at Blood Pledge Castle and Beryes reveals his true shinzoku appearance. It’s strikingly different from most other background music in the series, powerful, with strong, eerie organ, the low tolling of a bell, cymbal and gong crashing, and chants that seem swept along by the sheer might of the shinzoku. It’s the music of the “gods”.

5.     雄飛 – “Embarking”

When I first heard this piece, in the OVA, I was irritated. The main melody is pretty much a rip of “Fireworks” from the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix OST. However, as time has passed and I’ve listened to both pieces, I’m starting to like this one a little better. Where “Fireworks” is pretty repetitive (other than a weird guitar solo that wasn’t used in the movie), “Embarking” has interesting variations and eventually goes into a different theme. It’s kind of like Yoshikawa heard “Fireworks” and said, “I bet I could do that better!”

6.     夢現~アラゾンのテーマ – “Sleepwalking ~ Alazon’s Theme”

We first hear this piece in Saralegui’s dream/flashback about his mother. It’s a very pretty, slow and dreamy piano solo. I think it represents the more innocent time of joy and love in Alazon’s life, before the Divine Sword was stolen. If back then she was “sleepwalking”, the theft snapped her awake and hardened her resolve.

7.     襲来 – “Attack”

This is the new, oft-used fighting music. It’s similar to the old standards 戦闘 (“Battle”) and 厳峻 (not sure how to translate that one!) from OST 1–lots of drums and strings all over the place, with horns heralding the encounter.

8.     反撃 – “Counterattack”

More battle music! This slower piece is used a lot with the White Ravens and includes plenty of strings and horns. Sharp bursts call to mind running and ducking behind trees, and then the slow, charging strings and horns hail the coming onslaught. The horns do something similar to what they do in 襲来, but slower and in a diminished 7th (I’m pretty sure, anyway…I’d need to check it on a piano).

9.     試練 – “Ordeal”

This piece was used when Shinou flew up to help Yuuri at the end of episode 115 and beginning of episode 116. The low, rumbling intro and  triumphant horns call to mind a warring army, a crisis, and then a regal figure appearing to bring new hope.

10.     勇姿 – “Hero”

This piece was used for Alford and for episode previews. It’s a little more simply heroic than most of the series music–there’s no gray area, no emotional crisis, just a hero doing his thing. I like it though; it’s soaring and passionate.

11.     風の子守歌 – “Lullaby of the Wind”

This is the song Greta’s mother sang to her in the magical flashback in episode 93, which shares its name with this piece. Since this song is only used in one standalone episode, I was surprised to see it included on an album. It’s okay, but I would have rather had the Latin-inspired instrumental piece from episode 89, 花嫁はアニシナ!? (“The Bride is Anissina?!”).

12.     希望 – “Hope”

This is the quiet, gentle piece that serves the same purpose for season 3 as 追憶 (“Reminiscence”) did in the first season: it gives you warm fuzzies. It’s pretty and soothing. It’s used for episode denouement and for quiet times at the palace.

13.     架橋 – “Bridge”

This is actually a variation on 邂逅 (“Chance Meeting”) from OST 2. The tempo’s the same, and the left-hand piano is identical, but the piano right hand is an octave higher doing a pretty little theme that would probably act as a good harmony to the original piece. The strings come in later, swelling to support the right hand piano theme. It’s a nice variation, but I think I prefer the original.

14.     宿運 – “Destiny”

This is the spooky piece that’s always associated with Murata/Daikenja and Shinou. It’s often played in the Shinou Temple. The theme is actually a slow, more haunting variation on 畏敬~眞王のテーマ~ (“Reverence ~Shinou’s Theme~”) from OST 2.

15.     帰還~ジェネウスのテーマ2 – “Return ~ Geneus’ Theme 2”

This is a vocal version of the music played in episode 116, when Yuuri saves Geneus’ soul and all the dark power is transformed into beautiful energy snowflakes. I do enjoy the vocal, but I prefer the instrumental and really wish it had been included on the album. It can be heard in track 25, with Saralegui talking over it.

The next eleven tracks are the individual voice actors performing lines from throughout the show–or, in Conrad’s case, paraphrasing, since much of Conrad’s character development didn’t occur in easily-recognizable dialogue.

16.     ユーリのメモリー for コンラッド – “Yuuri’s Memory for Conrad”

17.     コンラッドのメモリー – “Conrad’s Memory”

18.     ギュンターのメモリー – “Gunter’s Memory”

19.     ヴォルフラムのメモリー – “Wolfram’s Memory”

20.     ユーリのメモリー for ヴォルフラム – Yuuri’s Memory for Wolfram”

21.     グウェンダルのメモリー – “Gwendal’s Memory”

22.     村田のメモリー – “Murata’s Memory”

23.     ユーリのメモリー for 村田 – “Yuuri’s Memory for Murata”

24.     勝利のメモリー – “Shori’s Memory”

25.     サラレギーのメモリー – “Saralegui’s Memory”

26.     ユーリのメモリー for サラレギー – Yuuri’s Memory for Saralegui”

27.     大切なもの(TVsize) – “The Important Thing (TV Version)”

This is the light pop song played in episodes 92 and 117. It’s kind of cheesy, but nice.

One piece I was very sorry to discover was not included at all, not even as background music for a memory, was the Latin-influenced instrumental from episode 89, 花嫁はアニシナ!? (“The Bride is Anissina?!”). The piece is played when Gwendal drags Anissina away from the castle and everyone (even the audience) thinks they’re eloping. It isn’t used anywhere else in the series. It’s just lovely, and I’d like to listen to it on repeat. There were also several pieces used as background music in the Memory tracks that I’d like to have clean.

In all, though, I’m pretty pleased with this album. It’s great to have so much more of the music I love, and the memory tracks provide good Japanese listening practice. Maybe in a future post I’ll break down what’s said in each of the tracks.

Fun with phrases

In Japanese, you can string phrase upon phrase upon phrase, and then at the very end have everything you just said modify a noun. For example, here’s a line from Detective Conan:

watashi wa jishu wo susumetai no…goshujin wo kousatsu shita Yuuko-san, anata ni ne

[I] [(topic particle)] [surrender (n.)] [(object-identifying postposition)] [advise*] … [husband] [(object-identifying postposition)] [strangled] [Yuuko] [you] [to]

This has the dramatic effect of hiding the true subject of everything you’re saying until the very last moment. It’s often used in Detective Conan to make the unveiling of the murderer a surprise.

Unfortunately it’s difficult to do this in English. Here’s the most literal translation I could think of:

I’d advise surrender…husband-strangling Yuuko, to you.

Of course, no one talks like that. So maybe:

I’d advise surrender to the one who strangled her husband…you, Yuuko.

* Susumetai has an ending, –tai, that indicates the desire to do something. I could have translated it as “like to advise”, but for the sake of simplicity I did not.

Kajika and Lee-Leng

If it wasn’t obvious these two are meant for each other before, it is now, with this lovely image from Hanasakeru Seishounen‘s new ending animation. Click to embiggen.

Kajika and Lee-Leng
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A conversation with Saotome Alto

Random Macross Frontier character: Alto, you need to stop leading those girls on.

Alto: What do you mean?

RMFC: You know; Sheryl and Ranka.

Alto: Yes, I know them.

RMFC: No. You know.

Alto: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

RMFC: It’s not fair to them, Alto. You’re being a jerk.

Alto: No, seriously. What?

RMFC: This clueless act is endearing…really. But you’ve played a woman in kabuki; you should know better, Princess.

Alto: Don’t call me Princess!

RMFC: I’ve figured it out. Because you identify with women, you don’t want to hurt them. So you put off making a decision. But don’t you realize that by doing that, you’re hurting both of them? At least if you pick one, the one you pick won’t be hurt.

Alto: If you don’t start making sense, I’m going to have to give up on this conversation.

RMFC: Pick one. Who are you going to kiss? Sheryl, or Ranka?

Alto (embarrassed): I’ve already kissed both of them.

RMFC: Okay, fine; ignore my clever OP song reference. Which one are you going to date?

Alto: I don’t understand.

RMFC: Most people in our society are monogamous, Alto.

Alto: That’s a big word. But I don’t see what it has to do with me.

RMFC: So you’re saying you’re a bigamist?

Alto: Oooh, another big word.


Alto: Look, this has been fascinating, but I’d like to go fly my Valkyrie now. See you.

Kyou Kara Maou 90

Plenty of spoilers in this post. You’ve been warned.

We’re well into the sword-stealing plot now. Yuuri and his retainers (minus Gwendal, Gunter, and Murata) are in Caloria for a celebration for the defeat of Soushu. They run into Alford, who has a unique sword in his possession along with the holy sword. Janus (I’ll just go with that spelling for now) shows up with a huge monster and demands they hand those swords and Morgif over…or he’ll start destroying Caloria!

Yuuri makes what to him is an easy choice: hand over the swords. He makes this decision not only for himself, but for Al, who reluctantly agrees. After the swords are taken–just like that!–the monster and Janus disappear; they had simply been an illusion.

"That enemy of ours sure knows how to trick us. " By "us" he probably means "Yuuri"


“It couldn’t be helped,” Al says. “You didn’t make the wrong choice, Yuuri.”

But I’m not sure if I agree with that sentiment!

You can always argue that hindsight is 20/20, and it really does seem like the most noble thing to do to try and save the people of Caloria. But you have to remember that this isn’t just a matter of giving up their personal swords. The three swords the White Ravens wanted aren’t just any swords. Al’s has holy power, Morgif obviously has demon power, and the third, rusty sword has some as-yet-unexplained effect on people with maryoku (and probably other powers). You have to weigh the dangers. Is it more dangerous to let a monster rampage a city-state, or to let an amoral group have three ridiculously powerful magical items?

To be fair, the person who should have spoken up–Flynn–did not. I can’t imagine Conrad or Josak recommending against saving people, even though Josak seemed to have the whole deal figured out from the beginning. Wolfram’s the logical one to do it, but Yuuri rarely listens to Wolfram’s advice even if he had said something. The person who speaks for Caloria should have protested on behalf of her people. That she didn’t either means she didn’t understand the enormity of the situation, or she’s still “following” Yuuri, even though he told her he doesn’t want to be followed.

Come to think of it, I’m not sure if Flynn has ever gone against what Yuuri said since the box incident.

It would be hard for a leader to argue for the possible destruction of her country and deaths of some of her people. But I feel that if she’d looked at the situation objectively, she would see that this decision could have repercussions not just in Caloria, but across the entire world.

Someone should have been there to point that out. But no one was. Murata was either back at Shinou’s temple or on Earth. Gwendal was at the castle. And no one else stepped up.

I guess what’s strange to me about this is that everyone just did what Yuuri said without protesting much at all. In the past, they’d challenge him, make sure he was looking at all sides of the issue. He’d usually go ahead and make the exact same decision, but at least I felt comfortable that he knew what he was doing. Not so in this episode.

Another thing that seemed to be curiously lacking was the strategy behind the scenes. Typically when Yuuri makes decisions with big consequences, his retainers have a plan to bail him out. Maybe this plan exists and it’ll be revealed in the next episode. I sure didn’t see a hint of it in this one. “Let’s go get our swords back” isn’t much of a strategy.

Here’s hoping there’s a purpose to all this. I’ve been feeling somewhat weird about the general conceits of the show all throughout the third season. It seems to me like Yuuri’s standard decision-making is being demonstrated time and time again to be flawed. I don’t know if that’s on purpose, and if Yuuri is going to grow, or what.

On the one hand, I don’t want Yuuri to lose his drive to protect. But on the other, I wish he would temper that with a little more common sense. Now that he’s been in this world awhile, he can start making judgments based on his knowledge of its rules, rather than Earth’s. It should get to a point where he can start thinking of the consequences, instead of having them pointed out to him by someone else.

* * *

Random shot of Sara from the end of the episode! What can I say, I like him.

Hey look, it's Sara