I'd written this post months ago, but for some reason never got around to sharing it. Now it looks like it's my last newsletter, at least in this format, and for the time being. But before I forget again, I'd like to share these notes.
Well, I’m a student once again! Recently, my friend and I discussed whether, in the anime of our lives, grad school is the next arc in the canon (think, The Chuunin Exams) or if it’s part of what takes place during the time skip (like before Shippuden, when Naruto leaves the Hidden Leaf to train with Jiraiya). Our conclusion was that we can only decide in retrospect, which had me thinking about my last few years.
For example, I’d break up my time abroad into two seasons of a Tokyo arc. In the first season, I struggled with starting a new life in a new city, making friends and discovering my interests along the way. The second I spent through the pandemic, witnessing episodes of both solidarity and state violence around the world that challenged me to reconsider who I wanted to be. As for this year I’ve just spent between moving home and starting school? A whole season of fillers, featuring cameos from beloved characters from seasons past as the manga came up with enough new material (see: the Boruto time travel arc).
It’s a fun little exercise to consider, but maybe only because of the relative instability. I can’t imagine I would have liked to admit that I’m current living filler episodes if I didn’t know what was coming next…
I bought a new Pixel 6a the other day, partially as retail therapy, partially because I was anxious that with all my passwords and two-factor authenticators linked to my old phone, I’d have no way of recovering my digital life if it suddenly crapped out. For those of you who have been following, while my Luddite phase did not last, I’m still paranoid that technology will someday collapse around us, so I’m somehow worse off than I started.
I’ve been asked before why I don’t get an iPhone and I realized I have niche enough reasons that I thought I should share. First, my favorite kanji study app/Japanese-English dictionary is only on the Play Store. Second, for some reason to this day, iPhone doesn’t have Japanese handwriting input (and the apps that do use it don’t read handwriting particularly well), so my options for looking up kanji are limited. Third, while screen reading on Android allows you to select particular sections of text on an app or page (say, a tweet full of kanji I can’t pronounce), screen reading on the iPhone will narrate literally everything onscreen.
In other words, my choice of phone is pretty much decided by how well it can help me continue learning Japanese, but I have to say, the iPhone 13 Pro (I use one for work) feels pretty damn good in my hands, and it’d be nice to react to everyone’s texts – maybe I’ll know enough kanji one day to make the switch.
What I’m Enjoying
I’ve accumulated a long list since I haven’t been sharing, so bear with me as I try to be as succinct as possible (edit: it’s not succinct at all):
Odd Taxi: This comedy thriller about a Tokyo cab driver’s entanglement with the police and yakuza is told in a world of anthropomorphic animals. Its strong cast and tight story had me wondering whether using animals helps unearth depth we otherwise couldn’t reach, until the show approached that question itself!
Uncle From Another World: This show makes watching someone whose entire worldview hasn’t updated since 2000 navigate our world today seem like loads of fun, especially because in real life, it would (and does, for many people stuck even further back) include some pretty awful humor. I thought we’d spend more time watching Takafumi’s uncle eke out a living in the new world of now as a YouTuber, but instead we’re watching as he subverts every isekai trope so hard he comes full circle, which I guess is a feat in itself.
Lycoris Recoil: I’m enjoying the buddy cop dynamic between the two teenage girl assassins-turned-bodyguard leads, but I love the fact that their boss and mentor is a bespectacled Black man who runs his café/their base of operations wearing a kimono. Now wasn’t that easy, everyone in media?
Porco Rosso: To be honest, I was never interested in this movie as a kid because, well, the main character’s a pig, but I think I would have had trouble understanding it anyway – my interest only ignited a few years ago because a friend happened to share a frame where the subtitle said, “I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.” That’s too badass to ignore!
Kiki’s Delivery Service: Another movie I didn’t think too much about as a kid, probably because I thought it was too cute for manly little me. But watching this and Porco Rosso made me realize the frequency of young girl leads and their older sister-like mentors across Miyazaki’s films. There’s got to be a class or lecture on that, right?
Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (S4): This show used to be about an underdog, but now that the hero is decidedly the strongest in his team, I feel like it’s coming down from its peak. One of my favorite scenes of all time was Bell’s first fight against Asterius – will we see anything like that this season?
Full Metal Alchemist Mobile: I didn’t know this even existed until I was randomly browsing the App Store, but it might be the best quality I’ve ever seen from a gacha game, from the crisp battle animations to its story mode, which is just the series split up into playable chapters. Apparently, there are enough characters to warrant a gacha game, but after getting the sixth copy of Yoki, of all people, I thought I’d give it a rest.
Xenoblade Saga 2: Playing this felt a lot like watching an anime (and not just because my sister was doing most of the playing while I watched). While the story was sometimes difficult to wrap our heads around (so M and J want to destroy the world…why?), I enjoyed watching the heroes grow together, and the emotional payoff of their journey.
彼岸花が咲くしま, The Island Where Spider Lilies Bloom, Kotomi Li (Akutagawa Prize): This is my new favorite book in Japanese! I’ve mentioned another collection of Li’s works before, and her emphasis on the experiences of queer Taiwanese women living in Japan. This time, she also tackles the legacy of imperialism that surrounds these experiences more explicitly, a breadth maybe afforded by the book’s fictional setting, an island set somewhere between Japan, Taiwan, and China. I would love to see such a work translated, or turned into some kind of visual experience.
背高泡立草, Canadian Goldenrod, Makoto Furukawa: Several generations of family history converge at Miho and her older siblings’ childhood home in a small island off of Kyushu, where (despite her millennial daughter Nami’s protests) the family gathers once a year to clear out the overgrowth around the old building. But throughout their busy day, I felt hints of anxiety that as they age, these trips will become more difficult for Miho and her siblings, until they simply can’t make them anymore. As my friends and I watch our parents grow, many of them far away from where they once called home, I wonder how we might approach this history that could be lost?
Elite Capture, Olufemi Taiwo: There’s a lot of good stuff in this book about how radical ideas about change are co-opted and transformed within the structures of power where they form. I think one of my favorite takeaways is that speech is a form of action, i.e., not necessarily a direct link to one’s privately held beliefs, based on a shared context (a “common ground”), and is thus influenced by the powers at play and incentives towards survival. Hence the Emperor who has no clothes, who can go about his day butt-naked because it’s in the best interest of his subjects to praise his new fit.
Internet for the People: The Fight for Our Digital Future, Ben Tarnoff: Another book with lots of great ideas, and since this is already so long, I thought I’d share a couple sentences that stuck with me: “For such efforts [i.e., abolishing the “online mall” and creating people- not profit-centered online spaces] to be successful, they must blur the line between technology’s creators and its users, and eventually aspire to make the two categories indistinguishable. Expertise would not longer be defined in an exclusively technical sense: some people are experts in programming, others in design, still others in their daily lives.” I’d like to practice such an approach to creativity in whatever work I do in school and beyond.