Why don’t you listen to Maximum the Hormone?

When I first got into music in middle school and high school, I didn’t ease myself in with classic rock and pop punk like my peers. I swan dove into the deep end with empty lungs and sank like a fucking stone to the grimy experimental bottom. I was into prog rock, slam, black metal, hardcore, and all kinds of nerdy, out-there stuff. For a time I was super into three bands in particular: Unexpect, Pin Up Went Down, and Diablo Swing Orchestra, all of whom I kept seeing referred to as “Avant-garde metal”. Wanting more, I literally just googled “List of avant-garde metal bands” and read until one caught my eye. That one was the ridiculously named Maximum the Hormone.

Putting that into YouTube (which was and still is how I discover a lot of music) got me the music video for “Bikini, Sports, Ponchin”, which at the time was the weirdest shit I had ever seen in my entire life.

Musically, its an odd beast. Its main riff is this kind of abstract, repetitive, dissonant, tapped or maybe hybrid picked nightmare of a guitar part, with layered screams and falsettos for vocals. As the song goes on there’s also a chunky death metal riff with slap bass and a bouncy hard rock chorus. And as I would find out later, this is one of their more sonically cohesive songs.

The video has occasional shots of the band performing but is mostly a stuttering collage of CG anatomical models and photographs of real people, vomiting their organs while in various states of undress. Its blatantly but bizarrely sexual in a way I’d never really encountered at the time. Suffice it to say they made an impact. I dove deep into their catalogue. They quickly became, and remain, one of my all time favorite bands.

But they’re not yours, right? I always feel like MtH gets the shit stick as far as recognition of their originality, and recognition in general, go. Thus I humbly request that you allow me to educate you on why they don’t get the respect the deserve, and why they deserve it.

The vast majority of discussion I see in western heavy music circles around Maximum the Hormone is framed by calling them either “The Japanese Slipknot” or “The Japanese System of a Down”. Those are reasonable comparisons but they do MTH a disservice by implying that they’re a copycat band. Maximum the Hormone come from a fundamentally different place musically and lyrically than either of those bands.

SOAD are overtly political and musically have always been a metal band. Their sound has not changed much over the years, always incorporating elements of progressive rock but firmly rooted in metal. Angsty teens Slipknot have always been a metal band too, although they’re coming at it from a more industrial/death metal kind of angle. Of course, the whole nu-metal scene is a huge part of what they’re both doing as well (moreso Slipknot in my opinion but I’m not here to split hairs and argue genres.)

Maximum the Hormone started life as a hardcore punk band, or at least deeply, inextriably influenced by punk. Japan has a huge and hugely influential punk scene (check out this article I wrote for Yatta-Tachi if you’re interested in learning more) and you can hear that influence in songs like Lost Crap Your Life from MtH’s first album ASA Crew. It was not until later that they became more aligned with nu-metal, but they have always retained elements of that punk rock/hardcore sound. To compare them to American bands is to ignore their uniquely Japanese origin.

Their Japanese-ness is another thing that tends to get them dismissed from serious discussion. As bands like Slipknot for example experimented less and less with their sound over time, Maximum the Hormone began to incorporate more and more disparate genres. They masterfully blend funk, J-pop, ska, deathcore, 80’s power balladry, rap, and more into their punk fundamentals. The smoothness with which they transition between multiple genres within one song is unbelievable, and something I aspire to in my own songwriting. But it often gets a “lol Japan, you so crazy” reaction from critics and nothing more. No serious discuss or appreciation. The fact that they are known in America mostly for doing an OP/ED for the Death Note anime (and an Air Master ED, but who gives a fuck about Air Master?) probably doesn’t help this. Death Note was quite popular when it was on Adult Swim, especially with the crowd in the much-reviled mid-2000’s emo thing that was going on. This made them even easier to dismiss out of hand.

Finally, if you get past all these barriers and actually dive into their music, you’ll find that their lyrics, when they make sense at all, are rarely about misery or politics. Instead, a lot of ’em are about fuckin’. Sometimes about aberrant or violent sex. The chorus of their song “Chu Chu Lovely Munimuni Muramura Purinpurin Boron Nurururerorero” consists entirely of Japanese onomatopoeia for various sexual acts. The rest of the lyrics, well, you can read them in the comments on the linked video, but you may not want to. I’m willing to give them all the benefit of the doubt that the illegal sex acts they sometimes sing about are, like all the murder in death metal lyrics, fiction. And the potential for lost nuance is high in translations sourced from a youtube comment, so there could be an element of criticism that doesn’t come across.

Sex is dope though so I don’t blame them for thinking about it. But in our weirdly prudish, decapitations-on-tv-are-fine-but-no-dicks-or-titties society, all this sexual content shuts the door on them for many people.

I wish it wouldn’t though! They’re worth your time for all kinds of reasons. Let me give you some examples. Unfortunately its become tough to find MtH content on YouTube that aren’t “lol Japan weird” reaction videos, so hopefully you have Spotify for some of these:

-Few bands can smash cut between genres like this and still, by some miracle, have it all sound like the same song. MtH’s newest song, “Korekara no men katakotteri no hanashi o shiyou” hits their usual rap metal and hardcore touchstones but also has the spazzy grind parts that they’ve been using more often lately, and funky disco breaks.

-Or “A.L.I.E.N”, which builds from noisy, widdly-diddly grindcore towards what should be a huge breakdown but undercuts all that tension by swapping the heavy riffs for a pop-rock singalong about the evils of illegal downloading, complete with dancing children.

-Find me another song that starts out as a nu metal song but turns into glammy Rick Springfield ass 80’s rock where the whole bands shouts the word VAGINA over and over. This one is called My Girl.

-Where other bands’ members may have signature guitar models or sponsored by energy drinks, beer, or clothing companies, Maximum the Hormone’s guitarist Ryo is sponsored by Tenga, makers of male masturbation toys. That’s hilarious, but also pretty innovative from a marketing and money-making perspective.

-MtH’s drummer Nao recently had her first child. She announced her pregnancy on the eve of a handful of festival dates. Instead of cancelling the dates, she just played them pregnant. That’s pretty badass. It’s worth mentioning that avant-garde metal as genre seems to be a haven for women in the metal scene. All three of the bands I mentioned at the top of the article are fronted by women. If you’re looking for women in the metal scene, look at the really experimental stuff.

-If you’re interested in finding out what specific bands infuenced Maximum the Hormone, here’s a translated interview with vocalist Daisuke where he mentions several well known and not so well know punk bands. The translator keeps calling them “japcore” bands which sounds pretty racist and probably isn’t what Japanese people would actually call them, but hopefully you can look past that long enough to read about some cool bands.

And here’s a blog that’s translating Maximum the Hormone lyrics into English, if you’re curious what they’re yelling about.

Also Ryo and Nao are brother and sister and I think that’s really good and cute. I like seeing families get along. And since I’ve mentioned every other member specifically at this point, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about their bassist, known as Ue-chan. He manages to use slapping in bassically all of their songs without it feeling show-offy or unecessary. He’s a critical part of their sound and a super underrated player. Find some live videos and watch him rip. Kind of interesting related note, he’s the only member of the band that never has lead vocal parts. The band having 3 potential lead vocalists (screams, male singing, and female singing) is pretty unique and adds a lot of possible textures and layers to their sound.

Anyway, check ’em out if you like punk, metal, and weird shit. They’re one of the most interesting bands going. Many of their older music videos haven been taken off YouTube for whatever reason, but you can find them all here, and it’s as good a place to start as any.

Thanks for reading!

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How to Ease Your Big Burly, Hairy, Glistening, Beer Swillin’, Iron Pumpin’ DUDE Self Into the Wonderful World of Shojo and Josei Manga

I read this really good article on Anime Feminist a while back. One among the many points it makes is that there’s no reason manga nominally aimed at girls can’t also appeal to guys. Or more like, it’s not that girls’ manga will never appeal to guys, but rather guys don’t let themselves see the appeal of girl’s manga.

And even if they can see the appeal, it often takes a while for them to admit it, which was certainly the case for me. But it turns out I’m actually a sucker for it, and I saw the error of my ways and embraced my girliness. Maybe you’re not though. Maybe you’re just a curious reader who wants to cautiously expand their horizons, but is intimidated by the thought of bucking gender norms and diving headlong into a pile of flower n’ sparkle screentone.

Lucky for you, shojo and josei manga aren’t all just fluttering heaerts and doe-eyed glances from across the classroom. There’s there’s action, there’s fantasy, there’s horror, there’s smut. Good lord is there ever smut. But the sparkly romance stuff is my favorite, and getting you, dear dudely reader, to read that girliest of manga is my endgame here. So how should you trick ease yourself into the world of shojo and josei manga? Try starting with a genre you like.

Action

BANANA FISH by Akimi Yoshida –

In the jungles of Vietnam, an American soldier shoots at his own troops, screaming about “banana fish”. A decade later, that soldier is now severely mentally handicapped and cared for by his younger brother Ash, the leader of a New York street gang and an absolutely incredible shot. One night Ash encounters a wounded man, who gives him a mysterious vial, an address in California, and the words “banana fish” before dying. With the help of Eiji, a Japanese reporter who’s in New York making a documentary about gangs, Ash begins to unravel the mystery of Banana Fish and discovers a conspiracy involving politicians, the mob, and child sex slaves. Also he and Eiji are super gay together, which is definitely a major selling point.

Banana Fish is a wild, gun-slinging adventure that has all the hallmarks of a great action movie. Mafiosos, mercenaries, drugs, guns, and uhhhhh stock manipulation. Many of its character designs are based on actors. And like any great crime movie or TV series, by the end the plot has developed into a complicated torrent of murder, betrayal, brainwashing, and romance.

There’s no explicit on-page sex, and Ash and Eiji’s relationship is relatively understated for such a well-loved BL classic, but there’s no getting around that it’s gay. If you can’t tolerate any gay stuff, then you have bigger problems than just not being in Banana Fish’s target demographic. That said, it’s not unusual for straight dudebros to not be drawn to BL.

And yet in it’s original American run in Pulp Magazine, Banana Fish was marketed as seinen, which is proof of its crossover appeal. Viz released the first 7 of 19 volumes in flipped editions starting in the late 90s. They later went back and rereleased all 19 volumes unflipped. The flipped versions aren’t too hard to find, but the unflipped ones are, and prices skyrocket when you get past volume 7. Hope isn’t completely lost though. Japan is getting new editions to coincide with the upcoming anime, and there’s a chance, however small, that Viz could get them too.

See also: SUKEBAN DEKA by Shinji Wada (never licensed in English, but an anime adaption is available from ADV Films, and a live-action adaptation was released by Magnolia Pictures. Both are out of print but not terribly difficult to track down).

Fantasy

FRAU FAUST by Kore Yamazaki –

A teen boy named Marion meets Johanna Faust, the doctor of legend, who’s on a quest to find the scattered limbs of her demon servant Mephistopheles (who she might be fucking? There’s definitely some sexual tension) so she can restore him to his full power and resolve whatever deal has bound them together. This one’s from the author of The Ancient Magus Bride, and it has the same level of ultra-detailed worldbuilding and distinctive character. Mood-wise however its quite a bit different from the beautifully somber AMB. Frau Faust is mysterious and sort of seductive, but Yamazaki does both equally well. Four of its five volumes have been released in English by Kodansha.

See also: YONA OF THE DAWN by Mizuho Kusanagi (currently available from Viz)

Sports

CHIHAYAFURU by Yuki Suetsugu –

Chihaya Ayase is constantly living in her beautiful fashion model sister’s shadow. It doesn’t help that she’s kind of an odd duck compared to her normie family. Chihaya is super in to karuta, a game that’s sort of like full-contact memory with a classical literature theme. As a kid Chihaya was inspired to take karuta up by a transfer student, Arata Wataya. Arata eventually moved away, and now in high school Chihaya is trying to put a karuta club together so she can go to competitions and hopefully meet him again.

Chihayafuru’s primary focus is its interpersonal relationships and how the characters grow through playing karuta, but it also goes out of its way to make a game that seems like it could be dull as shit exciting. Characters literally dive to slap the cards away from each other. Suetsugu goes into great detail about the potential for mind games as part of your play strategy. And apparently she was succesful, because interest in competitive karuta actually rose as a direct result of Chihayafuru’s popularity. Chihayafuru won the second Manga Taisho award and the 35th Kodansha Manga Award in the shojo category, and it’s easy to see why once you read it. It’s legally available in English as a digital-only release from Kodansha, where 11 of the so far 38 volumes have been released.

See also: ATTACK NO. 1 by Chikako Urano (never licensed in English), AIM FOR THE ACE! by Sumika Yamamoto (also never licensed in English. Sadly, shojo/josei sports manga has never really taken off over here).

Horror

TOMIE by Junji Ito –

That’s right, everyone’s favorite gateway author to horror manga is actually a shojo mangaka. Ito’s tales of a supernaturally alluring woman who could never stay dead for long initially ran in Monthly Halloween, a shojo horror anthology. Like a lot of Ito’s stuff, some Tomie stories can be kind of goofy and darkly funny, but most are legitimately chilling, or just fuckin gross. The art improves over the course of the comic’s run, eventually becoming the stuff of legend that it is now, but Ito’s skills as a storyteller have always been top shelf. Every Tomie story is available in a single hardcover omnibus from Viz.

See also: REIKO THE ZOMBIE SHOP by Rei Mikamoto (partially released by Dark Horse, now out of print), HELTER SKELTER by Kyoko Okazaki (available from Vertical)

Isekai with Mechs

Unusually specific, I know, but it seems like there are a lot of these. Really I only know these two, but that’s more than I can think of for shonen/seinen ones, which is what mech series and isekai series stereotypically are. Anyway:

MAGIC KNIGHT RAYEARTH by Clamp –

Three middle school girls, Hikaru (the tomboy), Umi (the angry one) and Fuu (the glasses one) get transported to the world of Cephiro, where they’re told by the Mage Master Clef that they are destined to become a trio of color-coded warriors called Magic Knights, save a princess, and restore balance to the world. They meet a fluffy mascot creature named Mokone and receive magical weapons. Hey wait. Color-coding? Mascot character? This sounds like a magical girl thing. And that’s because it kind of is that too, except their henshins are giant fucking robots.

Rayearth is very much a product of it’s time. As iconic as Clamp’s character designs are, they definitely look dated as all hell these days. But the action scenes still hold up, the characterization is nuanced, and the plot eventually reveals itself to be more than just a kids-on-a-quest story. Dark Horse released the entire manga in two big fat omnibus volumes. Check it out.

See also: THE VISION OF ESCAFLOWNE by Shoji Kawamori (this one is kind of cheating, because it was originally conceived as an anime and the only manga version released in English was a weird big titty shonen version from Tokyopop. But the anime is very shojo and available from Funimation)

Smut

MIDNIGHT SECRETARY by Tomu Ohmi –

Kaya Satozuka is the perfect secretary. She works quickly, she never makes mistakes, and she doesn’t pry into her boss’s business. Which is good, because her boss, Kyouhei Touma, has a lot of…questionable business engagements. The dude is a serious playboy, constantly boning different women in his office, and he has an ego and attitude to match. Kaya doesn’t take his shit, but she also doesn’t think its really her business what he does.

But when Kaya starts to wonder if he’s doing anything illegal to the girls, she sneaks into his office and learns that they’re not fucking: Kyouhei is a vampire, and he’s feeding on their blood. Kyouhei is not happy he’s been found out, but he values her work, and so he blackmails Kaya into staying on as his secretary. With little choice, she accepts, but the longer they work together, the more interested they become in each other. And when an emergency forces Kyouhei to suck Kaya’s blood, that interest develops into an obsession.

There’s a lot to like about the magnificently trashy Midnight Secretary, and honestly there’s not much to not like. They get right down to business with the boning. You see a titty in the first chapter, and not long after the banging starts in earnest. Midnight Secretary wastes no time showing you what its all about. You will need a tolerance for a little bit of kink. There are definite BDSM vibes, which is not unusual for vampire stuff. And things can get a little bloody, but it never approaches guro levels or anything.

But there’s more to it than just smutty vampire fap fuel. The visuals are probably an acquired taste, but I dig it. Everyone dresses so fucking natty, and not a single look fails to smolder. It’s real nice to look at. The characters are a lot of fun too. Kyouhei is a smarmy playboy without being a complete piece of shit, which is a delicate balance to strike. Kaya doesn’t let her boss push her around (although she’d like it if he pushed her down heyooooo), which is refreshing in a genre where the main woman is often a doormat. And the rapey-ness that is unfortunately pretty common in stories like this is largely absent. Midnight Secretary is top-tier guilty pleasure shit, not that I feel an ounce of guilt liking it. It’s pretty short at 7 volumes long, and has been released in its entirety by Viz. Buy it and revel in the trash with me.

See also: HAPPY MARRIAGE!? by Maki Enjoji (available from Viz)

The Good Shit

And now we’ve arrived at the endgame. You’ve eased yourself in, dipped a toe in the water. You’re ready to cast aside your fragile masculinity and read the kind of shit people think of when they think shojo manga – pure romance aimed straight at your maiden heart. I’m gonna keep these recommendations shorter, because I have a lot, but I’m begging you to check them all out.

PRINCESS JELLYFISH by Akiko Higashimura – An awkward girl who lives with a bunch of man-shunning otaku and is obsessed with jellyfish meets a crossdressing boy from a political family. Together they take on the fashion world and turn each other’s lives inside out and upside down. One of the best comics ever, period. Read it.

HOUSE OF THE SUN by Taamo – This Kodansha Award winner follows Mao Motomiya, a quiet high school girl who feels unwelcome in her own home after her father remarries. Her childhood friend Hiro offers to let her stay at his house, where he lives alone after the death of his parents and the fracturing of what’s left of his family. Together they try to piece their lives back together. The art is really cute. Kodansha USA has released the whole thing in English digitally.

ORANGE by Ichigo Takano – I really wanted to do a sci-fi section, but Orange was the only sci-fi shojo manga I’ve read. It’s about a girl who gets a letter from herself 10 years in the future, telling her that the hot new transfer student will take his own life before the end of the school year if she doesn’t follow the instructions in the letter. The sci-fi elements takes a backseat to the romance and tough themes. Seven Seas put this one out in two big fat omnibus volumes, plus a single volume sequel called Orange:Future.

If you’re looking for more sci fi shojo, check out the works of Moto Hagio. She’s not exclusively a sci-fi writer but she’s done a lot of it and she’s a a legend. I just haven’t read any of her shit.

HONEY SO SWEET by Amu Meguro – A delinquent with a heart of gold confesses to a short, cute, nervous girl who helped him after he got his ass kicked one day. He’s kind of scary so she blurts out her intimidated acceptance, but she quickly learns what he’s really like and they spend 8 volumes being really fucking adorable together. This one’s not deep or harrowing, it’s just cute. The art’s cute, the characters are cute, the romance is cute. It’s so saccharine it could send you into diabetic shock at fifty paces. Available from Viz.

KISS ME AT THE STROKE OF MIDNIGHT by Rin Mikimoto – Hinana, a (supposedly) stuffy and proper honor student, is actually celebrity-crazy and dreams of fairy tale romance. When her school is used as the set for a drama and the students get to be extras, she has an encounter with the star, Kaede, and she gets her whirlwind secret fairy tale romance, more or less. Incredibly funny and surprisingly horny and perverted. 5 volumes so far are available from Kodansha USA.

LOVE SO LIFE by Kaede Kochi – Shiharu Nakamura is a high school student who works at a day care. Akane and Aoi Matsunaga, a pair of earth-shatteringly adorable twins, go there. Their uncle Seiji is their guardian since the twins’ father went AWOL after his wife’s death. When Seiji, picks the twins up one day, he finds out just how attached they are to Shiharu, and offers to pay her double if she agrees to be their personal babysitter. She accepts, and quickly becomes like another member of the family. The twins are the reason you read this manga. They’re fuckin’ deadly cute. You’re stuck with Japanese imports for this one if you want to read it legally. There’s also a sequel called Life So Happy, which is set a few years later and focuses on the twins as fifth graders.

LOVE*COM by Aya Nakahara – Risa Koizumi is 5′ 8”, much taller than the average Japanese girl. Atsushi Otani is 5′ 1”, much shorter than the average Japanese boy. They bicker frequently but when they both end up crushing on someone an “appropriate” height for them, they decide to put aside their differences and help each other get a date. They fail spectacularly and their crushes end up dating each other. Risa and Otani end up becoming good friends though, and eventually more than that. Love*Com is hilarious with incredibly expressive art. Viz has released all 17 volumes of the manga in print (some of which may be out of print) and digital, as well as the live-action movie on DVD. There was also an excellent 24 episode anime, released by Discotek in the US.

THE FULL-TIME WIFE ESCAPIST by Tsunami Umino – Twentysomething Mikuri Moriyama is fired from her temp job and, looking for work, begins housekeeping for Hiramasa Tsuzaki, an acquaintance of her father. Hiramasa is almost forty, awkward and reserved, and has never dated. When her parents decide to move out to the country, Mikuri enters into a contractual marriage with Hiramasa, which is beneficial to both of them financially. An awkward, business-like love story ensues. Nearly every chapter has a long aside about the state of Japan’s economy or what its like to work l in Japan. It sounds weird as hell but it works amazingly. There’s nothing else like it. Kodansha USA has released it digitally and I highly recommend it.

TRAMPS LIKE US by Yayoi Ogawa – Sumire Iwaya has hit a rough patch. Her fiance left her for his mistress. She got demoted at work. And there’s this injured homeless (but hot!) guy lying in the trash outside her apartment. Taking pity on him, she lets him stay at her place for a bit. As they get to know each other, she semi-jokingly says she wants to make him her pet, and to her surprise he agrees. She names him Momo and struggles both to keep him a secret from her friends and keep a lid on the brewing sexual tension between them. A stone cold josei classic. Just really well written with great characters. Tokyopop released it in its entirety, but it’s long out of print.

WAITING FOR SPRING by Anashin – I almost put this one in the Sports section, but the sport in question (basketball) isn’t really the focus. Waiting for Spring follows Mizuki, a quiet girl who desperate to make friends in her new high school. She’s not having much luck, but when the four stars of the boys’ basketball team start coming to the cafe she works at, her luck turns around a little bit. But she also has to deal with jealousy from the girls in her class, and with her developing feelings for one of the the boys. Has a very reverse harem-y vibe, if that’s what your’re looking for. Kodansha USA is releasing this in print and digital. Six volumes are available so far.

DESCENDING STORIES by Haruko Kumota – A multi-generational story about rakugo performers. It’s nuanced to a degree that I won’t be able to capture in this short summary. It follow two young boys, then young men, then old men and their offspring, and their relationship with each other, the world, and the art of rakugo. It’s quite gay, to the point that I almost made a BL section for it but I don’t have any other BL reccs. It’s a masterpiece, and I can’t recommend it enough. Kodansha USA has published 7 of its 10 volumes in print and digital. It also has a 24 episode anime, equally masterful, that you can watch on Crunchyroll.

Now go read something.

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I just learned recently that Angry Orchard makes a pear cider and it’s very good. I bought a 24 bottle party pack with a bunch of different kinds in it (all for myself of course) and there were a couple pears in there and they’re tasty. Try it.

Is there any good hentai? Part 1

The “part 1” is ominous but I’ll break up the hentai discussion with other topics, don’t worry.

CONTENT WARNING: This is part of a series of posts about porn. There aren’t any screenshots but even so is article is probably not safe for work, and depending on your life experience, some of it may be upsetting. If you’re familiar with hentai, then you probably know what kind of stuff I may end up talking about, but in this post in particular I discuss rape, pedophilia, and transphobia.

I won’t lie to you, friends: I find hentai utterly fucking fascinating. That doesn’t necessarily mean arousing (although I won’t lie to you about that either). I’ve always been an anthropologically minded guy, especially regarding subcultures I’m involved in. It’s hentai’s place in the larger anime fandom, and in the minds of the general population, that I find fascinating.

Think about it for a moment. As far as pornography goes, the viewing of live-action porn is considered, if not acceptable exactly, at least expected. But in the course of human history, live-action porn is quite new. On the other hand, people have been drawing lewd doodles on the walls of caves and tombs, on canvases and frescoes, carving them from stone, for millennia. The desire to see sexually explicit material is as natural an impulse as the desire to actually have sex, so why should the medium by which you view that material matter? Is cranking down alone in the dark to cartoons really any weirder or sadder than cranking down alone in the dark to videos of strangers actually getting to bone while you’re stuck wistfully fiddling your meat?

The average person would probably say yes, yes it is. Part of this reaction, I’m sure, comes from hentai’s Japanese-ness. It’s from a foreign country, it’s something “else”, it’s alien. There’s a whole tangent about Orientalism available there that’s way outside the scope of this blog, but suffice it to say your typical normie of a certain age probably doesn’t think twice about “regular” porn but thinks hentai is gross because lol Japan so weird.

What I always found kind of surprising though was that anime fans have similar reactions. Hentai, despite being manufactured under the same circumstances, with the same methods, and often by the same people as your “regular” anime, is put in this ghetto by anime fans. It’s seen as shameful to watch it, despite “regular” anime often having tons of sexual content. Many fans choose to pretty much pretend hentai doesn’t exist. Even the word hentai, in it’s typical English application, serves to keep it separate from “regular” anime and manga. Hentai isn’t just a genre, it’s entirely its own thing.

Some may (validly) argue that even if you ignore the sexually explicit visuals, hentai still tends to be much more disturbing content-wise than mainstream anime, and that’s why it should be kept separated – so people don’t get the wrong idea about “regular” stuff. Rape/sexual violence, just regular old violence, rampant misogyny, pedophilia, sex with monsters or demons, and incest are all pretty common to hentai. So to prevent mom and dad from thinking that’s what anime is, we call hentai hentai. It’s not real anime.

But going back to live-action material, many of the most talked about, critically acclaimed films of recent years, and of all time, have bizarre or reprehensible content. The Shape of Water jumps to mind for bringing monster fucking to the masses. Call Me By Your Name, while relatively chaste visually, is about an underage boy having a sexual relationship with an adult. Saló is undeniably influential, and is an absolute nightmare of nihilistic violence, scatology, and sex crimes against teenagers. Some of Lars Von Trier’s movies are incredibly explicit, featuring genital mutilation and unsimulated sex acts, not to mention his trademark misogyny. But here’s the thing: whatever they think of the quality of these movies, nobody really questions whether they are real movies. We don’t have a separate word for them or anything. So why do we do that with hentai anime and manga?

Before anyone gets at me about this, obviously intent matters. The films I just mentioned probably weren’t created primarily to arouse. They were created to tell a story, or for sociopolitical commentary, or for any number of good reasons beyond just being horny for gross shit. Most hentai, of course, is created primarily to arouse. Or is it? The point of this massive preamble that could easily be a blog post on it’s own is not to normalize the kind of revolting shit that hentai so frequently peddles. It’s to make you consider your preconceptions about the literary value of erotica as I try to answer the following question:

Is there actually any good hentai? By good, I don’t mean whether it’s bonerific or has high production values. I mean, is there any cartoon pornography out there that has something to offer beyond it’s sexual content? Is there any hentai that can be consumed for reasons beyond slapping your beef? That ought to be consumed alongside and treated the same as “real” anime and manga?

To get to the bottom of this I picked several works of anime and manga erotica that are some combination of culturally impactful, well-regarded by fans, and/or just notorious for whatever reason, and plowed through them under the assumption that they deserved the critical eye I was training on them. I don’t have the time or intestinal fortitude to write up all of them at once, so I’m breaking it up into an as of yet undecided number of parts. In this first part, we’re going to talk about 2 anime OVA series, one of which was later cut into a movie. First up:

Bible Black

Every era of anime fandom has one. That hentai series that achieves such a memetic notoriety that even non-otaku types know about it. In the 2000’s, right as the internet age was becoming what we now know it to be, That Hentai was Bible Black, a series of six OVAs. Every hormonal fourteen-year-old sneaking a peek at internet porn on the home computer stumbled upon Bible Black. Whispered tales of its fuckedness spread across message boards and high school cafeterias.

They sacrifice some chick to Satan right at the beginning, man. Like that’s how it opens! And then the school nurse starts groping this other chick! Like, they’re lesbians, bro! Yeah, and then the school nurse grows a dick!”

Wait what?”

But not just any dick, dude! A dick of improbable size! But she still has a pussy!” Or at least that’s how it went in my freshman study hall.

Every That Hentai has something that makes it unique enough to draw the public eye even amid the aberrant or impossible sexuality that animation permits. For Bible Black, that’s futanari, aka the girls with crazy dicks I just brought up. Futanari likely has it’s roots in the fetishization of trans or intersex people, but it’s completely different from typical trans porn. Futa girls usually have impossibly large penises, sometimes also have vaginas, and sometimes can extend and retract their penises at will. In the 2000’s trans porn was of course a known quantity in America, but futanari had yet to really catch on. The combination of the internet increasing it’s reach, plus the Satanic angle, pushed Bible Black into the public consciousness, and the girls with huge cocks cemented it’s notoriety. Or something. Probably. I don’t really feel like doing the research to be sure for this one.

So is it any good? Short answer: no. Long answer: Hell no. Bible Black is fucking terrible. There are brief moments of inspired direction in the opening sacrifice scene, and the Satanic angle is sort of unique among hentai, although certainly not in the greater horror/erotica genre. But the director apparently used up all his ammunition in the first few minutes. The series is visually lifeless, the story is incoherent, and the character designs are aggressively ugly. Every character wears a constant grimace, as if they’re eternally catching whiffs of a portapotty on a hot day. And while most hentai is going to be offensive to somebody, I imagine Bible Black would be particularly offensive to trans people, given that the main villain is a woman with a penis whose reason for living seems to be to rape young cis women. Not a great look if you ask me.

Bible Black has exactly two potential points of interest. One, it’s based on an eroge that is part of a group of games from the same creator that are all named after King Crimson songs. So that’s a kinda fun tidbit. Two, its English dub is so fucking hysterically bad. Most of the women have thick, fake eastern European accents for some reason, the script is terrible, the delivery is mindblowingly bizarre. My favorite line was “Oooohh, you woonderfle BEYITCH!”

Moral of the story, I cannot recommend Bible Black. It is capital B Bad. The fact that it’s a cultural artifact to the point that many non-anime fans have heard of it doesn’t make it worth watching, even as a curiosity. If you absolutely must see it, grab a beer and watch the dub until the school nurse’s big, throbbing reveal. You’ll have seen everything you need to to understand its place in history.

Not off to a good start, are we? Next up:

Kite

Kite is a pair of OVAs directed by Yasuomi Umetsu and later spliced together into a movie. According to an interview with Umetsu that can be found on the movie’s home video release, Kite was originally not supposed to be pornographic. Umetsu conceived it as a regular old movie, but could only get a studio to buy in on the condition that he add graphic sex scenes. So he did.

Now Yasuomi Umetsu is a very horny man, and even if Kite were a regular ass movie, I’m sure there would have at least been a few boobs in it. But the fact that he really wanted to make a neo-noir action movie is apparent, especially if you watch the edited version. See, here in America Kite had a somewhat troubled release. It was initially released in 2000 in a 45-minute long version, which retained all the violence and some of the nudity but was not pornographic. It feels like a real action movie! Unfortunately the sex scenes bridge the gap between some of the plot points. Without them, the 45 minute version can actually be a little confusing. It doesn’t help that Kite is told non-linearly through flashbacks anyway.

So in 2002 a “Director’s Cut” edition that was just barely feature length was released. Those extra 15 minutes came, of course, in the form of graphic sex scenes. But this edition wasn’t uncut exactly, because it was missing twelve seconds of footage. It wasn’t until 2008 that a completely unedited version was released in America, and it was this version that I watched for this article.

Kite is the story of Sawa, an orphaned teenage assassin (19 to be exact, if the back of the DVD case is to be believed). She is being sexually abused by the man she works for, a corrupt cop named Akai. Akai, it turns out, is also the man who murdered her parents. After meeting Oburi, a boy about her age and another one of Akai’s killers for hire, Sawa and Oburi concoct a plan to escape their life of crime. But even the best laid plans can fail.

Kite’s plot is not really all that complicated, but it does have a lot of shifting alliances and other moving parts, and is told out of order, so its arguably the densest hentai ever, story-wise. And it is a surprisingly compelling, often disturbing noir type of story. Coupled with an ambiguous, Sopranos-ass ending, it manages to achieve a borderline hoity toity, artsy fartsy vibe. It’s visual design is also great, with distinctive character designs and cool use of color. The movie takes place in a very drab world, and the only bright splashes are the blood and 90’s fashion.

Honestly if it weren’t for the fact that all the sex scenes are really rape scenes, I could recommend Kite almost unequivocally. It has more in common with Tarantino movies or maybe something like The Departed than it does most hentai. And even when it’s doing the hentai thing and blatantly showing cartoon penetration, it’s still not exceptionally graphic, at least not in the lurid, fisheye lens from behind and below zoomed in on frothing crotches way that a lot of hentai is. But, and this is a big but, it may not be depicting it in outrageous detail, but it is still depicting a young woman’s rape at the hands of a police officer who is also sort of a pseudo-father figure to her. There’s a lot of fucked up power dynamics going on, and the fact that it’s porn and obviously supposed to titillate makes these scenes a hell of a hurdle to jump if you’re trying to enjoy it just as a movie.

To make matters worse, there are those infamous 12 seconds. Sawa is purportedly an adult in the main timeline of the film. But those 12 seconds are all flashback. It’s not entirely clear, but it seems like a flashback to VERY shortly after Akai killed Sawa’s parents. I think it’s supposed to be the first time Akai rapes Sawa, and Sawa is clearly a child. I’d put her around 13 years old. It’s extra fucked, and makes it difficult to recommend the movie even to people who may otherwise be open to the idea that porn could have redeeming artistic and literary qualities.

All that said though, Kite is absolutely worth a look if you can stomach it. It’s a solid dark action/drama with a unique visual style. The porn is the least important part of the whole thing (although still kind of necessary). I recommend watching the Director’s Cut version. It’s the closest thing we have to “good” hentai.


I wrote this over a long period of time. I’m a very horny man, but I’m not such a deviant that I can watch and write about trashy rape cartoons constantly. As a result, I don’t know everything I drank while writing it. I’ve been on a gin kick lately, so that was probably a lot of it. I picked up a bottle of Drumshambo Gunpowder Irish Gin recently. Pricey compared to fuckin Beefeater or whatever but it’s absolutely worth it.

At the moment of posting this though, I’m drinking a Mountain Dew Kickstart. Blueberry Pomegranate flavored. It’s tasty.

That dude who said Japanese hip hop doesn’t have meter or rhyme was right…sort of.

Before i explain this absurd claim, I have to explain the little bit of Twitter “drama” that spurred me to write this.

Scans of a manga about a high school girl getting drawn into the world of freestyle rap have recently been making the rounds on Twitter lately. In response to a number of people saying they hoped it could get translated someday, someone named Extra Feety Umami quote-tweeted manga twitter personality Minovsky (Follow him, he posts the good content) and said that, based on their experience trying to translate rap for a manga, it would be nearly impossible to translate well because Japanese rap has no rhyme or meter.

rhyming and meter don't exist in japanese

So my gut reaction, and probably yours, was to think “what the shit? That’s not true at all!” or something similar. Feety’s notifs got blown to hell by people calling him an idiot and saying that of COURSE Japanese rap has meter and rhyme. I almost got in on the dogpile, but then decided not to because that’s a dick move but also because I started thinking Feety was onto something.

Then Nick Rowe (Also a poster of great content, follow him too) discovered that post and went on a tear. I offered my thoughts and ended up regretting it. Maybe I didn’t communicate as effectively as I could have. Maybe my thoughts weren’t fully formed enough. Maybe Nick was just too far down the warpath to see what I was getting at. Either way having a Twitter person I respect own me online in front of God and everyone got me thinking hard about linguistics, poetic tradition, music, and translation, and I decided I had to write something about it to make myself feel smart.

Feety ultimately came to the wrong conclusion, or maybe just worded their conclusion poorly, but I think they was coming from a place of linguistic expertise. Just not rap expertise. He was almost right but not quite. Here’s why:

English poems are often described in terms of their meter – the number and organization of stressed and unstressed syllables in a particular line. Western poetic tradition has many different codified poetic forms that use particular meters. Shakespeare for example was well known for using Iambic Pentameter. Poetic meter is not to be confused with musical meter, which is related but not the same. Musical meter is just what time signature your song is in – how many beats per measure (worth noting here that “measure” and “bar” are interchangeable in music terms, which could be causing more confusion here).

We have meter in western poetic tradition because it’s baked into the way we talk. Words in English naturally have stressed and unstressed syllables, and putting the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble will make you sound like a lunatic.

That’s why when you read the lyrics of a rap song, even without a beat playing, you can still have a pretty clear idea of what the flow is supposed to be. For example, if you rap the lyric “my name is Bill, and I’m here to say/I suck a dozen large brown eggs every day” out loud, I can almost guarantee you read it in one of two rhythms:

1)

rap rhythm example 1

or 2)

rap rhythm example 2

As you can see, there incredibly similar. And maybe you read it slightly differently still, but I bet the bulk of it would be the same if you wrote it out.

That’s because music has stressed and unstressed syllables too, in a manner of speaking. Downbeats and offbeats. Our brains want the way we stress syllables in normal speech to line up with the downbeat when our words are put into a lyrical context. Which is why, allowing for some syncopation and rhythmic looseness, the most heavily stressed syllables (my NAME is BILL and I’m HERE to SAY, I suck a DOZen large BROWN eggs EVery DAY) outline the 1 2 3 4 count of a typical rap beat.

Japanese doesn’t have anywhere near as much emphasis baked into normal speech. It’s a very “flat” sounding language. Which is why in Japanese poetic tradition lines are described in terms of on, a term that basically just means syllables (specifically refers to the hiragana used to represent particular sounds in Japanese speech), with stress unaccounted for because there really is none. Japanese poetic tradition also tends to place far less emphasis on rhyming.

Now, we can all agree that hip hop is poetry. We can also agree that there probably wouldn’t be Japanese rap without American rap. American rap is informed by, among other things, the rules of English pronunciation and western poetic tradition. Japanese rap is informed by American rap, so Japanese rappers purposefully stress syllables where they might not in normal speech so that there’s a more American rap-like flow. They also rhyme, because American rappers rhyme, despite Japanese poetic tradition not being that concerned with rhyming.

So basically, Japanese rap absolutely has meter and absolutely has rhyme. So Feety was 100% wrong, right? Well….remember, this whole argument was about translation in the first place. As I demonstrated earlier, when you read written English, the meter makes itself apparent, but that doesn’t happen when you read written Japanese. You can use slashes to indicate line breaks, but the flow the author imagined is still probably going to be hard to parse. Japanese rap has meter but *Japanese* doesn’t.

So to translate Japanese rap into English phrases that both maintain the meaning of the lyrics and actually sounds like rapped lines is going to be INCREDIBLY FUCKING HARD. Which is what I think Feety was getting at, and they just worded it like an idiot. It’s certainly not impossible to translate though.

But he was entirely wrong about the no rhymes part. Just fuckin the wrongest.

[header pic from wikipedia]


I was stone cold sober when I wrote this post, partly because I wanted to sound smart, but mostly because I wrote in at 9am while waiting for my turn in the barber’s chair and I’m not that much of a fucking heathen to be drinking bright and early and in public.

The Rolling Girls isn’t just a travelogue – It’s a punk rock tour diary

The Rolling Girls was a lot of things, but “well-liked” isn’t one of them. The much-hyped-at-the-time 2015 series, with its colorful trailers and power-pop soundtrack, was Wit Studio’s first original anime series and looked like it could be their Next Big Thing. But it wasn’t. It looked pretty and the characters were adorable but the premise was confusing, story was scattered and it didn’t deliver on the action packed promise of the first two episodes. It had some moments of unfuckwithable brilliance, like episode 8’s concert involving a guitar vs. shamisen shred-off and rocket powered Buddhas, but to most it was underwhelming, and was frequently accused of aping TRIGGER’s visual style.

All that said, I liked it a lot. It spoke to me for reasons I couldn’t really articulate at the time, and it crops up in my idle thoughts from time to time, especially while listening to pop punk. And then it hit me like an elbow in the pit. More than one review I’ve read referred to The Rolling Girls as a “travelogue”. But it’s not just a travelogue, it’s a weirdo visual metaphor for a punk band’s tour diary. I play drums in a hardcore/punk kind of band, and my experiences in that scene are important to me to a degree that I don’t know if I could ever do justice with words. The meandering plot of The Rolling Girls hit a bunch of beats that resonated with me so much because I’ve had similar experiences in music. I swear this will all tie together, so bear with me here. There will be mild spoilers.

My band is called Deranged Youth (If you’re interested, you can listen here. (Recommended for fans of Propagandhi, Thought Industry, Fantomas, Eyehategod, and Dragonforce.) We started early in high school, and nearly 10 years later we still have the same name, same lineup, and same lack of fans. We just kind of fell together when our singer discovered 80’s hardcore and decided to start a band, roping in the only people he knew who could play instruments. We bonded over a mutual love of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack and expanded each other’s musical horizons (somewhere I still have a mix CD that our singer made that had a bunch of Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Black Flag on it, which dramatically altered the course of my life). We argued a lot, and still do. We supported each other through difficult times (struggling through music school, awful breakups, battles with suicidal depression) and through good times (getting dream jobs, marriage, children). We’ve traveled around a bit, witnessed some amazing things in different scenes, made a ton of friends, worked our asses off for a few diehard fans, and carved out our little niche in the world. My band mates are some of the most important people in my life. I wouldn’t be the same without them and without the decade I’ve spent so far in punk rock.

So that’s the plot summary of Bill’s Life, the new original anime from Shit Studio. Now here’s the plot summary of The Rolling Girls:

Nozomi Moritomo is a teenager who idolizes Masami Utoku, a girl from her town and Nozomi’s childhood friend. Masami has a superhero alter ego called Maccha Green, one of many “Bests” in Japan, people with superpowers that lead and defend the city-states that the nation fractured into as a result of The Great Tokyo War (something that goes mostly unexplained, which I’m sure frustrated many). Nozomi herself is what’s called a “Rest”, as in she lacks superpowers and is basically just a rando. When Masami gets incapacitated and hospitalized in a fight, Nozomi takes it upon herself to complete a list of tasks, quests and favors that Masami, in her current state, can’t. She sets out on a cross-country journey and falls in with other girls – Yukina, who get’s lost easily, Ai, who is very tall and refuses to wear a real shirt, and Chiaya, who turns into an octopus. They roam across Japan, exploring each unique city-state, bonding over their shared loved of the band Momiage Hammers, fighting, making friends, learning about themselves, becoming better, stronger people, but most of all they do a lot of good things for others. Usually episodes end up being more about the people they meet than about the girls themselves.

It’s exactly the same as being in a band on tour, right? Right? You see it, yeah?

Okay, fine, it’s a bit of a reach to say it’s actually intended as an abstract visual representation of a tour diary but it hit me in the same feels that road tripping with my band hits. Nozomi semi-accidentally falls in with her crew of weirdos who share some of her goals and interests (her bandmates). They follow Maccha Green’s list (their tour itinerary) and travel to the different city-states, which are often themed and can vary considerably from one to the next (music scenes often vary wildly from one to the next despite proximity and can be overwhelmingly one kind of music, i.e. Madball clones in Boston). They meet a ton of new people, making friends and enemies. Some of those poeple are really important! (Sometimes you get to play with actually famous bands! Sometimes recording industry people show up. And yes, there is a character that could be viewed as a sketchy record exec type guy.)

They often get fed and housed by strangers, who quickly become friends (this is how a lot of bands save money touring). And they do good things for others, but a lot of times they’re just a catalyst for others to do good things for themselves. They make a bunch of memories and take a lot of pictures, not always realizing what the events they took part in meant to the people who live there, who live the life they were just dipping their toes in.

When you’re in a band, playing shows in unfamiliar cities with people you’ve never met, and then leaving, in can be easy to miss just how much each show means to people. You’re rarely the focus, but you are part of the whole. And that whole can be something incredible and meaningful. Fundraisers for charities. Break up shows. Reunion shows. When you’re playing outside your hometown, some local stalwarts’ final show may not mean to you what it means to the kid up front, screaming every word, who saw this band at his first ever show, when he snuck into a biker bar at 15 with his brother’s ID, but it is meaningful and incredible. Maybe not rocket Buddha incredible, but important nonetheless, and without your band it wouldn’t be the same. You’re not the focus, but you’re a catalyst. Punk rock can give a voice to the marginalized. It’s a home to the weirdos and rejects, a place where anyone can find acceptance (Chiaya actually being an alien octopus thing, but still being accepted by her friends, is tenuously this). Punk shows are pure catharsis set to power chords and d-beats. Any one show can mean the world to any one person there, and by being in a band and contributing to the scene you help make that happen.

The things the titular Girls who Roll experience on their journey stuck with me because they reminded me so forcefully of the emotions I felt, events I’ve witnessed, and the real, tangible Good Things I’ve seen punk rock do for people at shows. Their journey lines up so well with out of state shows to my eyes that I had to go digging around to find out if any of the anime’s creators had a history of being musicians. I couldn’t find anything concrete, but this interview with series director Kotomi Deai and animation director Hiroshi Shimizu by Otaku News offers a couple tidbits about their, the producer, and the writer’s music interests but nothing concrete.

The soundtrack is perhaps the only thing that really supports my interpretation of The Rolling Girls. As mentioned in that article, there’s a lot of Blue Hearts covers. The Blue Hearts were/are a Japanese punk rock/power pop band from the 80s and 90s. They were EXTREMELY popular in their day. They sound like the Ramones if the Romones were good. And the OP, ED, and several insert songs from The Rolling Girls are Blue Hearts covers sung by the main characters’ voice actresses. Most critics viewed this as just a curiosity. But to me it is of critical importance.

The Blue Hearts’ lyrics are, on the whole, painfully optimistic. In that interview, Deai says, “Lots of people in Japan grew up listening to the Blue Hearts and being encouraged by them when they were younger including the producers and the writer of Rolling Girls and because the whole concept of The Rolling Girls is to support and encourage people that fitted right in with that idea. So we got the voice actors to cover the songs.” In the show, the songs are used at emotional peaks, as if to encourage the characters themselves, and the lyrics of the chosen songs often relate to the themes or events of the episode. Music director Masaru Yokoyama uses punk rock in the same way many use punk rock in the real world – to inspire and uplift.

It’s also worth mentioning that the OP is a god damn music video, with the girls playing instruments and singing a Blue Hearts song. There are even scenes of them traveling around WITH GUITAR CASES ON THEIR BACKS, which does not actually happen in the show. OPs, as you know, are generally designed to give you an idea of what the show is about. Proof positive, bitch.


Today I mixed some Fireball with Berry Limeade flavored Hawaiian Punch. Shit was gross. Sorry God, it won’t happen again. I chased it with a mango Mike’s Hard, but now my guts are roiling serpents from all the sweet shit. So while I’m trying to tame this heartburn and indigestion so I can go to sleep, I’m going to do something a little different for this end segment. The following is a list of bands that are either local to me or that my band has played with that I think you should pay attention to. They’ll mostly be punk bands, some metal, some more digestible stuff. I’ll also put down a couple charities and causes spearheaded by punks that are relevant.

Hold Ups/Secret Spirit – https://holdups.bandcamp.com/album/living-ep  /   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUA7kaisRMM – These guys are basically the same band. 3/4ths of Hold Ups are in Secret Spirit and they sound very similar.  Hold Ups are one of my favorite bands of all time. Secret Spirit will be soon.

Crystal Methodist – https://crystalmethodist.bandcamp.com/ – One of the best hardcore/powerviolence bands in NH. Good dudes just getting back on the horse after a car accident nearly killed their drummer.

Goolagoon – https://goolagoonhc.bandcamp.com/album/split-with-acxdc – hardcore with some jokey surf parts. This band frustrates me because I played with them when their guitarist was their singer and they were called Red Tape. Now that they’re a memey Spongebob band they’re suddenly playing Maryland Death Fest. But they are good, and good on them for getting that far that quickly. I’m jsut jealous.

Badfellows – https://badfellows.bandcamp.com/ – Kinda alt-country/folk-punk/alt-rocky stuff. Great, chill, kinda sad populated by wonderful people who do a TON for the NH scene.

The Long Year – https://www.facebook.com/thelongyear/?ref=br_rs – Straight up easycore in the vein of ADTR. I played with these guys at what I think was like their fourth ever show, and I thought they were fun so I went absolutely apeshit, doing flips in what little pit there was, stagediving onto a single person, that kind of thing. It made their night. When you’re just starting out you get a lot of dead eyed stares, so someone acting appreciative, even if it’s in a really hammy way, can be meaningful. It’s the little things.

Keep Flying – https://keepflying.bandcamp.com/ – “It’s pop punk with a horn section. It’s NOT ska, idiot.” Honestly, my one experience playing with this band was negative. They were assholes and spent most of their time offstage dumping on bands they’d played with, but then didn’t have the guts to talk shit into the mics. But they are really good. You’ll like their music, I promise.

Crowfeeder – https://crowfeeder.bandcamp.com/ – Awesome, amazing, incredible sludge metal duo. Great dudes who have a done a good deal of charitable stuff with their music and aren’t afraid to use their platform to talk about issues they feel strongly about.

Oh The Humaity!  – https://ohthehumanitymass.bandcamp.com/album/tired-ears – Techy pop punk a la A Wilhelm Scream. One time my band was walking down the street near a thrift store that used to do shows and these guys came out asking the other bands unloading if anyone had a PA. I guess the venue’s had shat the bed. We said we did, ran home to get it, and basically saved the show. They remembered that, and tell that story when we play together. It’s cute and I like them a lot.

Giant in the Lighthouse – https://giantinthelighthouse.bandcamp.com/ – Indie pop/alt-rock. Haven’t played with this pair yet (and probably won’t, my band is far too weird and heavy) but I saw them play with Secret Spirit and fell for them right away.

Sonic Pulse – https://sonicpulse.bandcamp.com/ – Pizza thrash/power metal/prog thrash. So fucking much fun. They’re a joy and a pleasure to play with every time. They had a messy couple of years but their lineup seems pretty settled now and they’re only getting bigger.

Injury – https://injuryskaterock.bandcamp.com/album/darker-things-to-do – Skate fucking punk. My band owes these guys a lot. From the early days they were one of the only bands to actually want to play with us after the first time.

Punk Aid – https://www.facebook.com/punkaid/ – An annual charity compilation album. This year it’s for victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Lowell MA Transitional Living Shelter – https://www.facebook.com/LowellShelter/ – A shelter staffed partially by people involved in the Lowell punk scene.

Punk Rock Mental Health and Recovery – https://www.facebook.com/PunkRockMentalHealthandRecovery/ – A mental health community that hosts talks and provides some services. Founded by members of the New England punk scene.

 

Anyway, punk rock means a lot to me. I’m gonna get real dweeby and emotional here, but it’s affected the course of my life, ultimately for the better. It’s clearly had an impact on people in other countries like Japan too. It puts me in touch with people and areas of life that I’d never have seen without it. It inspires me every day. I hope that you can find, in literally anything, not just punk, even a sliver of the joy that music has brought me. I hope you can come to appreciate it the way I have. I hope that one day you’ll also come to appreciate the underrated gem that is Rolling Girls. But let’s not kid ourselves. A more realistic request would be to just be more mindful and try to care about others and yourself more. Support and encourage people. Be good. For others. For yourself. Even if you’re destined to be a mob.

Review: Frau Faust vol. 1 – In which I really, really try to not compare it to The Ancient Magus’ Bride

Frau Faust is the other manga that’s being published in English by Kore Yamazaki, the author of New York Times best-selling graphic novel series The Ancient Magus’ Bride, which you’ve probably already read (and if you haven’t, you need to). Frau Faust is technically a josei manga, but it doesn’t (yet?) feel like the majority of josei that gets published in English. Not that there’s much English josei to choose from in the first place, but what there is tends to be either steamy and glamourous or about working women, speaking VERY broadly (manga often seems to be marketed to stereotypes, but that’s a whole different article that I’m not equipped to tackle). But there’s so much more to josei manga than that. With the increasing convenience of ebooks and the critical acclaim showered on stuff like Princess Jellyfish and Descending Stories, publishers seem to be willing to take chances on josei. And if you’re looking for guaranteed sales, what better josei manga to take a chance on than one that kinda feels like Fullmetal Alchemist more than anything else?

Our story opens up with Johanna Faust, the “real” Dr. Faust of legend, riding into an unnamed town in search of…something. She believes it’s in the town church, but some kind of ward is preventing her from entering. In town, Johanna performs some magical misdirection to save a boy from getting arrested. The boy, Marion, is an aspiring scholar and was stealing books that used to be his. His father’s business failed, and tax collectors took anything they thought might be valuable to cover the debts, including books. Johanna essentially blackmails Marion into opening the church door for her on the night of a new moon by threatening to tell his mom he was stealing, but she sweetens the deal by offering to teach him for the few days that remain until then. He accepts, and becomes quite attached to her during his lessons. All the while, Johanna is being tailed by a mysterious man in a hood.

On the night of the new moon, everything becomes clear. Kinda. Johanna has a dream about what I assume is a past interaction with the demon Mephistopheles, in which she acts very chummy and physical with him. Like holding his hand and resting her head in his lap physical. She wakes up, and she and Marion go to the church. There, in a basement crypt, she finds what she has been looking for: one of Mephisto’s limbs. You see at some point the demon had his powers sealed, and he was drawn, quartered and scattered to the corners of the earth. Johanna is trying to make him whole again, so she can BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF HIM.

20170924_230546
Oh baby. Hit me next.

 

But in that dark basement, the mysterious hood guy lies in wait. It turns out he’s an inquisitor, charged with protecting the parts of Mephisto. He’s after Johanna because she’s already recovered a few of Meph’s bits. Enough that he can manifest and warp her and Marion out of the basement, but not before the inquisitor severely wounds Johanna, in the process revealing to us the readers that she is immortal. After making their escape, Marion, attached as he is, demands that Johanna allows him to travel with her, and she reluctantly agrees. Intro over, the meat of the story can begin.

If that seems like a lot of intro to you, you’re not alone. That’s all just the first chapter, which is over 40 pages long and throws an unholy shitload of story threads at you. Johanna is immortal, and despite looking maybe 25 at a stretch she’s easily 5 times that old, she had a contract with a demon, she might have had the hots for that demon, she’s trying to reassemble him to kick his ass, she’s being hunted by the church detectives, and she now has a kid half her age who probably has the hots for her following her around.

But we’re not done! Over the next two chapters (we only get 3, plus a fun but unrelated one-shot) we learn that [VAGUE, MILD SPOILERS] Johanna has a daughter who’s actually an automaton who’s ACTUALLY an adorable little homonculus inside a human-sized mechanical doll, that Johanna has performed some ethically questionable experiments on an entire fucking town, that she might be aging backwards or at least shrinking or something, and that SHE MAY BE DEAD. [END SPOILERS]

wat.

It seems like kind of a mess right now, to be honest. I trust Yamazaki-sensei can pull it all together but there is a ton going on. It’s tough not to compare it to The Ancient Magus’ Bride in this regard, which started with a simple premise and built masterfully from there, adding characters and expending the world as necessary. Frau Faust prefers to start by spreading itself way out, planting the seeds for about a dozen ideas, and will hopefully narrow it’s focus as it goes. I  prefer the first method though. It makes for a more engaging first volume and makes me more likely to read subsequent ones.

Which isn’t to say this wasn’t engaging or that I’m planning to drop it. Johanna is an intriguing character, all confident bluster and cool, deadly intellect. She has a kind of sexy librarian thing going on, which along with all the mysterious happenings surrounding her bolsters her sinister appeal. All that masks a tangle of guilt, regret and anger that is linked inextricably to her past with Mephisto. There is a ton of emotional ground that could be covered in future volumes.

As good as the characters are though, there’s one thing that feels like its missing, and here’s where comparisons to AMB become nearly unavoidable: the world-building is lacking. In AMB, the world is a character. With its rural lanes, busy London streets, and alternate faerie dimensions, and all the intersections of human and inhuman, ancient magic and present-day tech that implies, it’s as multifaceted as any real person. It uses modern England as a way to ultimately ground itself even as it spirals off into a beautiful, bizarre, dangerous unknown. Frau Faust just uses 1800’s Germany, I think, more or less. Sure, some people can do magic, but as of right now it could be any old countryside that Johanna and Marion are traveling through.

Even a fairly mundane setting could be elevated by incredible art, of which Yamazaki is capable. But the backrounds especially aren’t quite up to snuff. Yamazaki’s style tends to favor hyper-detailed character art, often forgoing backgrounds entirely for pages at a time, saving them instead for beautiful scene-setting spreads. In Frau Faust, those detailed character designs, attention to body language and fantastic close-ups remain, but the full page spreads are almost entirely absent.

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Frau Faust vol. 1’s biggest, most detailed spread.
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One of several like this in The Ancient Magus’ Bride vol. 1. The difference in detail level is noticeable.

 

It might seem like I’m dumping on it, but here’s the thing: Frau Faust is real good. It’s an enjoyable read, and it scratches a different itch than Ancient Magus’ Bride. AMB is about a young woman who has had a lot of bad things happen to her learning that her life has worth and meaning, her adventures in magic helping her to see outside the hell inside her head. Frau Faust is about an older woman who has done a lot of bad things looking to put her past to rest, and seems willing to wallow in the dark if it’ll mean closure. AMB is mostly hopeful, with ripples of darkness lapping at the edges of the story. Frau Faust is waist deep in that darkness and wading further in.  It’s a mystery more than an adventure, despite the globetrotting nature of Johanna’s quest. And in a vacuum, it’s a strong start to a manga that could go to some sexy, sinister places.

But it’s real fuckin’ hard to criticize it as if it were in a vacuum. The Ancient Magus’ Bride exists, and the similarities are hard to ignore. Both take place in the “real” world, with magic lurking at the fringes. Both involve a romance between human and non-human characters. Both also have pairings with a significant age gap. These are superficial similarities, sure, but The Ancient Magus’ Bride just does them better. It’s a stone cold masterpiece, and Frau Faust isn’t yet. But I think it will get there. Remember, AMB has had 7 volumes to build its world, and Frau Faust has only had one.

Bottom line, you should read Frau Faust. It’s a good comic, and I trust it will only get better. Plus, buying it might convince manga publishers that the wonderful, varied world of josei manga is worth their time.

Anyway, thanks for reading my review of The Ancient Magus’ Bride.

 


 

I went to a wedding last night. The bride is one of my best friends, and I was/am very happy for her and was pumped to party. In the hours leading up to the wedding, I ate only a couple slices of microwave bacon and a bowl of ramen because I figured there’d be a cash bar and I’m not exactly filthy rich, so I wanted the most bang for my buck. Then I forgot to bring cash anyway, so I was shit out of luck. Or so I thought. But it was a motherfucking open bar, baby! I love weddings, and not just because they give me an excuse to drink. They’re just fun and good. They bring people together. It’s incredibly difficult to not be happy at a wedding.

I was happy the entire time. I really did enjoy myself. But there was some weird shit. The big one was that NOBODY WAS FUCKING TIPPING THE BARTENDERS. Me included, because I didn’t have cash, as stated above. But straight up nobody was. I felt so bad for them. Just crushing guilt the entire night. So I had to keep drinking to stave it off. I would approach the bar when it was crowded in hopes that they wouldn’t notice I wasn’t tipping. But they noticed because the tip jar was empty the whole time. Oops. I sucked down two rum and cokes and a glass of wine before the food even showed up, so I was pretty drunk.

Which was good, because I spent the next two hours getting mercilessly hit on by one of the bridesmaids who apparently had a thing for me when we first met 7 years ago in freshman year of college. She said she was so forward with me back then, but I had no fucking clue. Oooops. I had no trouble figuring it out this time, but she was easily twice as drunk as I was and I was not gonna take advantage of that. So I left slightly frustrated, the Grinch’s pants having shrunk two sizes that day.

Then on the ride home I had to ask my friend who was driving to pull off so I could barf. He waited for me for like 20 minutes while I paced around in a gas station parking lot, trying to gain mastery over my GI tract. What a guy.

Moral of the story is, I drank too much, clumsily flirted, danced, and had a fantastic time. But as a result I felt like shit this morning, and I have to work tomorrow, so no drinking for me today. This has been a rare sober post from the Anime Liteweight.

 

DIY and Die: CROAK! It’s indie! It’s horror! It’s good!

croak
krōk/
noun
noun:
  1. 1.
    a deep hoarse sound made by a frog or a crow.
    • a deep hoarse sound resembling that of a frog or crow, especially one made by a person.
verb
  1. 1.
    (of a frog or crow) make a characteristic deep hoarse sound.
  2. 2.
    informal
    DIE.

What a perfect name.
I’m aware that this is supposed to be a weeaboo blog but I’m breaking with tradition because I feel a compulsion to spread the gospel of Alterna Comics. Like most of my article titles, this one is a little misleading, because Alterna isn’t some dodgy basement zine. They’re a real-ass comics publisher, and fairly small though they are, they’re getting creator-owned comics (a rarity in the western biz) out to the world. They’re also based in my home state of NH, and while they’ve got quite a variety of comics available they seem to have a thing for horror. All appealing to me. They also do a lot of marketing on Twitter, which is how CROAK and I crossed paths. All I needed to know was that it existed for me to be interested. But let’s backtrack a bit. I’m gonna tell you my life story.

I’ve been into comics and animation since I was a kid. Calvin and Hobbes and Pokemon are largely to blame. I’ve also been into horror since I was a kid. It started with watching the Sci Fi Channel late at night when I was supposed to be asleep and evolved into an interest in the bizarre and transgressive. These interests stayed with me through high school and into college, where I was introduced to anime. Naturally, anime got me into manga, and SURPRISE! I had actually been reading manga for years, never thinking of it as something “different”. Junji Ito and Kazuo Umezu had filled a horror comics niche for me for that western comics couldn’t (or so I thought. I know now that there’s plenty out there, but they mostly don’t do it for me).

Along comes CROAK. It’s not really the sort of fucked up fare I usually go for but its indie-ness and Alterna’s location had me interested enough to track it down. It apparently sold out at warp speed, but I eventually got my hands on the first 2 of 3 issues. So here’s the rundown:

The plot (courtesy of writer Cory Sousa) is pretty standard fare. Three friends, two guys and a girl, go into the woods to camp. They’ve got a camera with them. One of the douchier dudes starts telling a spooooooky story about a swamp, and someone dying. The other two don’t buy it, because there’s no swamp in these woods. Then the fourth friend who was there all along scares the girl. This is where things go to hell. Fourth friend was supposed to just jump out and scare her, but instead he chases her through the woods and grabs her. So she clobbers him with a rock and knocks him the fuck out into next Fuckday. As the gang is panicking, wondering what to do about their half-murdered friend, he disappears, apparently being dragged by something. They give chase, only to realize they’ve all stumbled into…a swamp!. There really was one in these woods! It’s also full of these birdfrog lookin’, plague mask-ass creatures. It’s they who dragged half-dead boy off into the woods, and there’s a lot of running and screaming as they drag off the other two dudes. By the end of #2, only the girl is left unscathed.

It’s nothing really innovative but it’s executed well. The dialogue is believable, the characters are believable (and in the case of the douchey storyteller guy, enjoyably hateable) and Sousa’s sense of when to hide info and when to cash in on all the tension he’s built is perfect. Lots of horror creators hide the scary creature until the very end, giving you tiny little glimpses until finally, at the climactic reveal, it’s not actually that creepy and is more than a little disappointing (Insidious, I’m looking at you). Sousa lets you look the creature(s) in the eyes early on though, and boy are they freaky looking, thanks to artist Francesco Iaquinta. The initially somewhat cliche-seeming use of the camera is actually what makes showing the creature that early work. Instead of being a premature nut-busting, seeing the monster through the camera creates a little bit of emotional and chronological distance between the monster and the characters. It let’s them, and the reader, go, “nah it’s not real, it’s not there.” It functions as both payoff and tension escalation.

The art is the high point of the comic for me. The story takes place entirely in dark woods, and colorist Chris O’Halloran makes incredible use of about 3 different shades of purple and not much else. There’s excellent use of lighting, especially in the campfire scenes, where the strangely cold firelight plays across faces. When storyteller guy makes a punchable face, the eerie light makes it EMINENTLY punchable. Iaquinta has a knack for facial expressions in general. Everyone looks sort of permanently disgusted and afraid, suitable for a comic in which people who probably can’t stand each other are getting killed by shit-piss terrifying plaguedoctor frogmen. There ‘s also lots of little details to take in, like the shadows in the background of one panel that make it look like asshole story guy has devil horns.

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Picture taken in substandard lighting. Middle panel. Hopefully you can kinda see what I’m talking about.

Honestly my main issue with CROAK is the presentation. I really admire what Alterna is doing with their newsprint line from a ethical/moral/theoretical standpoint. I assume printing on the same kind of paper The Inquirer uses is part of what lets them sell their comics for $1.50. I’ve always had an issue with the seemingly bad cost:content ratio of floppy comics, so I dig that price point. I also have to admit that, since it was newspaper strips that got me into cartoons in the first place, newsprint feels nostalgic to the touch. Just touching the book is dope.

Unfortunately the newsprint makes all the art look kinda smeary and blurry. I think glossy pages and the crisper lines and color definition that comes with them would have worked better. The art style is pretty loose and smudgy as it is, with the difference between two shades of blue often seeming to replace line art. This works, because it’s hard to see in the dark, but it shouldn’t be this hard.

That”s a relatively minor complaint overall, though. If you like horror, especially of the classic ghost story, found footage, or creepypasta kinds, you’ll find something to enjoy here. It borrows bits here and there from a variety of influences, assembles them competently into something fairly fresh, and presents it all with fantastic art. If this sounds even a little intriguing to you, do yourself, and indie comics, a favor and buy the shit out of CROAK. Only good can come of supporting small publishers and creator-owned comics. Plus it’s just a good book.

Cover picture taken from http://www.alternacomics.com. The other one taken by me. Since I mentioned all the other contributors by name, I feel like I should say that lettering was done by Dezi Sienty. I could read it, so they get an A+ from me. I wish I had more to say about that.


 

I know I said I was going to try to lay off the drinking, and I sorta did. I drank a lot less than normal at least, but I couldn’t resist a sip of Midnight Moon strawberry moonshine. It goes down easy straight, but I mixed it with mango juice and got some dangerously chuggable shit. Good thing I only had one glass.

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