The End of August and the End of Summer: Covid Thoughts 2020

It’s literally the end of summer 2020 folks and I’m full of random thoughts right now. Though I did get to savor some Popeyes last Saturday with the Wife while enjoying the FA Community Shield win against Liverpool, it was overshadowed by the death of actor / hero / legend Chadwick Boseman the Friday before. I was literally just checking the BBC on my phone late Friday night after hearing rumblings of it on social media, and I was utterly stunned. Him of all people, who had so much going for him, had to die now?

The fact that Chadwick did so much in the last few years while battling colon cancer is a testament to his perseverance and character. I mean, look at what he’s accomplished as the Black Panther. He is literally the face of a new pop culture renaissance with the African diaspora at the forefront and to lose him at a time like this, when the world needs heroes now more than ever, is just soul-shattering.

If you’re ever in need of finding a good tribute to Chadwick and his amazing legacy, I’d recommend Black Panther and Creed director Ryan Coogler’s touching words about the man, and how Chad of all people had the utmost faith in what he was doing as T’Challa. It’s an amazing read that illustrates their bond and shared vision of Black Panther and what the film meant to audiences the world over.

And if it isn’t the death of Chad that’s wrecked me, then it’s the horrors brewing in Kenosha, Wisconsin that make me bury my head in my hands. Not only was another unarmed African-american male shot by police, but the man’s now paralyzed from the waist down (and was handcuffed to his bed at one point). Furthermore, there was a shit-for-brains vigilante from my home state who thought he could fuck with people while thinking he was a hero and now he’s been charged with five felonies and a misdemeanor. It’s just a mountain of horrors here in America and no amount of mental gymnastics can absolve how Conservative America continues to exacerbate these tensions that now define the nation. I mean, if masking up is divided by politics, then I guess protests against police brutality and unwarranted use of deadly force is too.

I think that’s all I have to say right now as August 2020 comes to a close. I’ll be back to muse on other things in the next few months with some happier posts I hope. Until then, be safe, and be excellent to each other.

Mikel Arteta and Another Arsenal Autopsy: 2019 – 2020

Where the hell do I begin here? I mean, really follks…where? After the board booted out Unai Emery, it was time for a massive change in direction because, quite frankly, we were fed up with everything. The toxic atmosphere, the mixed messages and, more importantly, the insipid and cowardly brand of football that came to define everything that was wrong with Emeryball. After a few games with Freddie Ljunberg at the helm, KSE decided to take a gamble on a person that, I believed, would be a more proper replacement for Uncle Arsene, and that person was former Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta. After 3 years with Pep Guardiola’s coaching staff at Man Citeh, Mikel was ready for the next step in his career and came in to take the managerial reins at Arsenal in December of 2019.

What followed was a refocus on the fans, the rise of the ‘non-negotiables’ and a huge reversal of fortunes for players like Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi. Right from the get-go, Mikel’s aim was to re-energize everyone who was onboard the Arsenal train, from the cooks to the backroom staff, and from the academy players to the first team starters. It was about winning your one-on-ones and overall positional flexibility, and less about imploding from the back because Unai hand-gestured it to be so. Right from that first interview with Mikel, you knew that he wanted a sea change, and all in all, it looks as though the Arsenal ship is heading in the right direction.

But that’s not without its issues however. I’m still wary about KSE Holdings and how much backing they’ll provide for Arteta’s vision for the squad, but this year’s Cup triumph should give him more leverage on that front. Furthermore, I’m also wondering whether or not Raul & Vinai will be heavy-handed with their input on player recruitment because frankly, Mikel’s the one in the trenches and he should be the one to have final say. It’s obviously a different era from Wenger’s tenure, and with Arteta’s autonomy at the minimum, I do worry that KSE and Co. will find some stupid way to muck it all up again come next season.

In addition to those aforementioned concerns, the Arsenal board have a way of pairing great news with terrible decisions. With the lot of us still riding high from winning the FA Cup, the board has just announced that they’ll make 55 staff redundant because of the financial impact from the coronavirus pandemic. That’s TERRIBLE, and a total kibosh to the feel-good atmosphere that we’ve finally earned after a torrid season. I mean just think about it: the club is owned by a fucking billionaire, we’re the only Premier League club to have take a significant pay-cut to our wages (which includes Arteta), and said pay-cut was taken on with the impetus that it would….I dunno, SAVE JOBS??? What the fuck KSE? Those people will LOSE THEIR JOBS IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC!!! WHAT-THE-ACTUAL-FUCK!?

…..deep breaths….deep breaths…

There’s just so much to talk about here, and like many other Gooners on the interwebs, we sometimes dive deep into the negatives. On the subject of the team, it’s pretty clear that we’ll probably have to let go of a few players if we’re ever going to scrap the funds to keep Aubameyang (is that where the 55 come in you heartless fucks?). I can definitely see Kolasinac, Chambers, Torreira, Elneny, Mavropanos and possibly Sokratis go, but whether or not that happens is up to the powers that be. Remember that these are the same powers-that-be that have given error-prone David Luiz a new contract (yeesh). The sure-fire bet for me to leave however is Matteo Guendouzi, because whatever goodwill he built-up during Emery’s reign has all but vanished under Arteta, and it just goes to show you that in order to rise up in football, you sometimes need to grow-the-fuck-up.

Ozil is a huge question mark for me, and if the rumors regarding his hesitancy to take the pay-cut are true, then it doesn’t bode well for him. Arteta has been vocal about his praise for our number 10, but given the silent drama swirling around his omission from recent games, I’m loathe to admit that much of his misfortune may all be down to him. I love Mesut Ozil, but if Mikel of all people is willing to drop him, then something is definitely not right in this house.

If there are positives to be had about this season, it’s related to our Young Guns. Players like Saka and Tierney have lit-up the fanbase like mad, and their wild contributions this season will stay fresh in all our minds. Martinelli’s Premier League goal against Chelsea will live long in my memory and I’m glad we secured both him and Saka for long-term deals. Furthermore, Willock (our most capped player this season), Nelson and Nketiah all got great minutes and FA Cup Winners Medals to boot. The question now is whether they’ll need more loan moves for development or not. And who can forget Ainsley Maitland-Niles? Just weeks prior to his inclusion in the FA Cup semis, we all thought he was going to go, and then he proved us all wrong and wrecked everyone at left wingback. To be honest, I hope he stays and continues to prove his mettle to the manager. With 100 caps and an FA Cup Winners Medal, he can definitely go places with us here at Arsenal.

Mustafi and Xhaka have done wonders for themselves in the latter half of this season despite the former’s harrowing injury. The same goes with Dani Ceballos, though I’m not sure if he’s got the physicality that we need in the middle of the park. Pepe looks like he’s getting used to life in the U.K. though I hope he doesn’t lose steam too quickly given his price tag and all. Lacazette is a little rusty for me, and though some are keen to say that he’ll be sold eventually, I’d much rather keep him as a foil for our MVP, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He has been our shining star despite our deficiencies and to come away with a finish like THAT to win the FA Cup just goes to show how vital he is to this team. Whatever you do Arteta, please do your utmost to keep Auba!

And who can forget Emi Martinez and the massive shift he pulled after Leno was banjaxed against Brighton? He marched right in and bossed it so well for us that I think he should really REALLY be in contention for the No.1 spot. The saves, the clean sheets and the leadership he demonstrated show me that he’s ready for anything, and given his tearful interview after the Final, you’ll know that he’ll give it his all. He’s been in and out of Arsenal with many a loan spell for 10 years, so maybe it’s high time we give him a chance.

And despite all of this feel-good fresh air finally wafting around the Emirates, the issues with Stan Kroenke still stand. Let me be clear and say this: my jubilation from the FA Cup is now kiboshed. Kaput. Dead. Team-wise we have so much to sort out with regards to signings, injuries, tactics, possession, midfield creativity and physicality, but we have to worry about all of that while Arsenal pulls a Scrooge McDuck in the middle of a pandemic. Words escape me right now, so I’d rather have Arseblog round it all out with this:

I can’t tell anyone else what to think, but if your position is to defend a billionaire’s decision to lay off staff at this time, right now, with everything that’s going on, and to piss on the celebrations we were all enjoying after the FA Cup win, then all I can do is ask you to please have a think about it. If you’re still on the side of that kind of man, there’s not much I can do about it.

Arsenal Football Club is a business to them, but it’s something more than that to me, and to all of you, I’m sure. It’s a precious institution, something which has been part of our lives for years and which represents something more to us that a small piece of a rich man’s sporting franchise collection. We need to think about how we protect that and its reputation which, however you want to dress it up, has taken a hammering since that statement was released. All the business justifications aside, the optics of this are absolutely dreadful, it makes me sad and upset to have to sit here and write about it this morning because what Stan has done makes Arsenal look bad. He might not care, but I do.

Maybe I’m a fool. Maybe I’m some kind of idealist, or ‘lefty’, but my first reaction is to think about Arsenal, to think about the football club, and to think about the people who might lose their jobs, and not what’s best for Stan and Josh Kroenke. All over the world there are businesses run by ordinary people who are doing everything they can for their staff, making huge sacrifices to ensure that the people they employ are protected, and it’s a crying shame Arsenal are not one of them.

That’s your lot from yours truly everyone. Stay safe, be excellent to each other, COYG and don’t be a stingy fucking billionaire like Enos Stanley Kroenke. God help us all.

Finally, All of Midnight Diner is on Netflix!!

Yes yes and yes. You all know how much I love Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories Seasons 1 & 2 but we now have ALL the original seasons prior to the show’s move to Netflix. That’s three seasons worth of joy, drama and good eating with a proper introduction to the many patrons that frequent the Master’s storied meshiya. No more rewatches on crappy streams for me folks ‘cuz it’s all here in HD glory, ad-free! That’s a triple win if you ask me.

For those of you that are still new to Midnight Diner or are mildly curious, I’d highly recommend you start with these three seasons first before going into Tokyo Stories 1 and 2 since it provides more backstory on the many ‘regulars’ that you’ll find on the latter. For instance, have you ever wanted to know more about Marilyn, the show’s finger-lovin’ dancer who eats the same damn thing every time? Still hung up on the Master’s history with the mysterious lady who loves Nikujaga from the last episode of Tokyo Stories: Season 2? How are the Ochazuke Sisters like when they’re not eating Ochazuke? And who the hell is Erect Oki, and what’s his deal with potato salad? If you watched Tokyo Stories first like I did, then I’m sure you wondered why everyone’s so chummy with each other and now, you’ll see why. Furthermore, by watching it all in this order, you’ll be viewing it in the order of its original run when it first aired in 2009. Trust me on this folks. If you still haven’t seen Midnight Diner, there’s no better time than now to watch it here on Netflix.

Lastly, without spoiling too much, I wanna mention how much of a joy it is to see it all here during a time of duress. If you ever wanted something cozy yet engaging to watch while the rest of America is still arguing over face masks, then look no further. Not only does Midnight Diner’s first three seasons lay the groundwork for its eventual rise to greatness in Tokyo Stories, but you’ll get a glimpse as to how much the show had to fudge around to get its formula right. I find Tokyo Stories to be a much more smoother affair that eases you into things, whereas the previous seasons are rougher, edgier, and will plop you in the middle of a crisis. Moreover, while Tokyo Stories has more optimism in its proceedings , these three seasons focus more on the nocturnal pains of overwork, failure, and the drudgery of a broken heart. These themes reach their peak with the third season, which is filled with stories that give our cast no recourse, solace or closure. Overall I find that Tokyo Stories is a bit more warmer in sentiment than the first three seasons, yet they still provide good viewing for anyone seeking a glimpse into the hard luck lifestyle of Tokyo. And for a guy like me who’s itching to look away from the world of Covid-19, Shinya Shokudo’s a godsend.

Midnight Diner’s first three seasons aren’t without its flaws however. In addition to that aforementioned search for the perfect formula, the show has issues dealing with the seedier elements of its nightlife themes. We’ve got some real bastards here on Shinya Shokudo, with a few that are horribly misogynistic (a real issue that’s endemic in both Japan and Asia at large). Infidelity, exploitation and solicitation also rears its ugly head every so often, especially when it comes to an episode that focuses on Ikumi, a woman who’s secretly paying out her parents’ debts as a sex worker. It’s a great episode that shows how she needs no saving whatsoever, but it’s still punctuated by the fact that she had to make some hard choices for the sake of her family’s survival. Despite the excellent themes present in this particular episode, I do wish Shinya Shokudo could be a bit more forthcoming and critical about how patriarchy, destitution, sexism and abuse tear into the lives of its female characters instead of just showing us how they rise above it. That’s easy catharsis for sure, but a more critical lens can make that catharsis resonate even more, and would make for better character growth for all those involved.

In summary, Midnight Diner is a portrait of the downtrodden scouring the night for solace in a cold and unforgiving city. But for all the time spent mired in their friendships, failures and food-filled nostalgia, there are no solutions to be found here. For better or worse, Midnight Diner’s first three seasons are still slice-of-life dramas, and the exploitation, despair and heartache that each character faces is only mildly abated thanks to the skill of the Master. I sometimes wonder why I continue to watch this show, knowing that Shinya Shokudo refuses to tackle the ills of the world head-on, but maybe that’s the point. Life is shit sometimes, but maybe, just maybe, somebody will finally have their day and not look back. Maybe one of them will find a way out. Maybe that girl will finally leave that asshole for good. Maybe that old guy will stop cheating on his wife. Maybe those old folks will make up. Maybe those two young people will finally fall in love, and maybe she and him will get together despite their circumstances. Maybe we’ll all make it somehow and can leave the deeper examinations for another day.

Because in the end, that’s all any of us would want.

I Love My Sega Saturn

Let me just start out by saying that I’m a very fortunate person. Thanks to my job, I’m able to work from home for 4 days a week, which is a big help since I mostly commute via the Metro. 2020 hasn’t been easy for anyone here in the States, and that’s unfortunately compounded by the fact that the U.S. is managing the coronavirus in the worst way possible. It’s bad enough to hear that Black Lives Matter supporters have to risk their health to protest against injustice during a viral outbreak, but it’s doubly worse to hear how this crisis magnifies the inequality inherent in American health outcomes. Amidst all this suffering, violence, death and stupidity from Trump and his cabal of anti-science cultists, the fact that I can still do what I do with my hospital job makes me very very lucky indeed.

Despite these fortunate circumstances, these last few months have taken a toll on me and I found myself searching for a new distraction. I was motivated to protest in late May / early June but was talked out of it by my family for fear of getting gassed and beaten (though I still support the movement and urge others to do the same). And given the growing number of Covid cases rising in Red states, I don’t think I’ll be taking any trips anytime soon. Moreover, since March, my outdoor life has been reduced to one day onsite for work and weekend grocery runs, which isn’t easy in the slightest. Though the current living conditions aren’t ideal, they’re not terrible either. Being a homebody isn’t rocket science and I actually enjoy staying indoors quite a bit. I could watch movies, play games or listen to T-Square, but for some reason, I wanted something else. Earlier in the year, I’ve been buying a few jazz fusion CDs from CDJapan, but I’m finally satiated on that and was looking for my next fix . What the hell would that be during a pandemic?

As it turned out, it happened to be this:

Left field, ain’t it?

Yep, I got myself a Japanese Sega Saturn.

It really was a left field purchase for me, but I’m totally loving this console. The last time I had my hands on a Saturn controller was once in the late nineties when a friend of mine had it with Die Hard Arcade. By the time I started game collecting in 2009, I already knew it was a massive retro item, but I was way more interested in the PC Engine and Neo Geo. The Saturn also had pricey shmups and that was a big turnoff for me back in the day, while the PC Engine’s shmups were fairly affordable for 2009 standards (which is totally the reverse now). So, what was it that fueled my newfound interest in the Saturn?

Well, it was all thanks to a YouTuber.

When I wasn’t worried about work, the rise in virus cases, injured protesters, food, zoom meetings or supplies (Wife has been the MVP when it comes to face masks and other survival purchases), I watched a shit-ton of YouTube. In some cases, I’d run into channels that got me worried about things all over again, but in most cases, the Wife & I would flock to Asian food vloggers like the Tabieats duo or Mikey Chen from Strictly Dumpling. I’m not sure why, but watching food reviews made us feel better and offered us a sense of normalcy in these very abnormal times.

But when I wasn’t watching Mikey Chen or Tabieats, I veered into retro gaming channels, and that’s where I bumped into Sega Lord X. A Virginia native, Sega Lord creates gaming content centered on all things Sega. At first I didn’t know what to make of it because we’ve all seen it before: another YouTuber making vids about the Genesis and its many gems. However, his true passion is about the Sega arcade experience and, most importantly, his love for the Sega Saturn. Though he does make content related to other gaming properties and systems (his SNES Top 10 is very good by the way), the Saturn is by far his favorite console and the majority of his videos focus on how amazing this 5th generation titan was at the time, despite its failure to shine here in the States.

Sega Lord X’s channel is full of informative takes on a host of Sega I.P.s, but what pushed me to say “Fuck it, let’s get the Saturn!” was when he highlighted how affordable Sega’s internally developed Saturn library was on eBay. Finally, there was a YouTuber who didn’t bombard you with games that would cost a fucking testicle. Moreover, this wasn’t some asshole that made a channel to show off his collection and tease you with “you’ll never play this fucking game, so watch me talk about it”. This was a guy who had enough sense to tell it to you straight with no bullshit. Now, you may ask, “Well what about The House of the Dead, Guardian Heroes, and Panzer Dragoon Saga?” To that I say, “Fuck no.” Those are games with North American releases that will eat your wallet when you could just emulate them. Instead, Sega Lord X pointed to Sega Rally Championship, Virtua Fighter 2 and many other games that were affordable, made by Sega, readily available to import and can be played perfectly without reading Japanese. Hell if you wanted to buy The House of the Dead, go the import route and forget the U.S. release entirely.

My first four games for the Sega Saturn, all developed in-house by Sega. No pricey fucking shmups here fellas.

Furthermore, I realized that, in general, the Saturn’s Japan releases were no joke. These are some serious gems that have never EVER made its way to North America, and that’s made the collecting scene for this console almost as insane as the PC Engine’s . This is especially the case for its massive library of shmups, many of which are excellent arcade ports that look and play perfectly. Given that some of them are in the triple digits on eBay, Sega Lord mentioned that it’s best just to stick with the affordable ones and emulate the rest. There’s also other ways to work around this via reproduction discs and psuedo saturn memory cards for gaming with an actual Saturn, but I’m seriously not there yet. Hell, I’m not even convinced that buying three digit retro games are even worth it for 2020. My time in the PC Engine scene has taught me that there are just some things in life that aren’t worth buying, and a $200 video game that will bullet-hell me to death on the first level is not fucking worth it.

So yeah, I’m enjoying this neat little slice of gaming. Furthermore, it’s gotten me interested in a genre that I don’t play enough of, and that’s racing. Seriously. Sega Rally is one of the best games on the Saturn, and that shit goes for under $10 on eBay. It might not be arcade perfect, but it’s got a fantastic presentation, challenging races and a soundtrack from the Gods. Christmas Nights was another surprise for me, and that prompted me to get the original Nights not long after (which I haven’t touched yet). However, my first big favorite has to go to Fighters Megamix. I’ve wanted to play this game since I saw it in Tips & Tricks magazine in the late 90s and man, that game does not disappoint! It controls well, has a ton of characters, provides colorful graphics and is full of righteous music. Virtua Fighter 2 is also fantastic but the game’s A.I. is brutal. I’m a huge fan of Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution on the PS2 and to me, that game and VF2 are like night and day. This is compounded by the fact that there’s no sidestep in VF2 (though there is one for Fighters Megamix). VF2 kicks my ass routinely and I find myself cussing every time I play it.

However, the best game I’ve played so far on the Saturn is Panzer Dragoon. Man is that game epic! I’ve finished it 4 times now, and, as of July 4th, my last playthrough on Normal awarded me with the rank of Dragoon. I love this game to bits and it’s a rail shooter that’s so imaginative that it hurts. I also have its sequel Zwei, but I’m gonna leave that for later. For now, I’m gonna do my best to get the most out of the first game because there is simply nothing like it on any 5th generation console. The gameplay, art design, sound and music are all 10 out of 10 for me and it’s made me rethink my entire list of all-time favorite games. Seriously folks, Panzer Dragoon is that good. So good in fact that it fills me with regret that I didn’t play it sooner during the Saturn’s heyday in 1995.

My second round of games purchased for my Saturn after disinfecting them. C’mon guys, we’re still in a pandemic here okay?

All in all, I’m pretty fortunate that I can still obtain a new hobby at a time like this. With many a reopening plan quashed for some states, I’m a bit worried that we’ll be in this pandemic for the long haul. And don’t get me started on the validity of face masks folks, because if you can afford them, then you should wear them. Hell even wrapping a cloth around your mouth will do wonders for you and others. And the fact that Black Lives Matter protesters, who go into crowded, open spaces to voice their concerns, are following health guidelines better than asshats who feel “threatened” when they’re asked to mask-up in a Costco or Trader Joe’s is fucking mind-boggling. The logic is sound and it’s proven to help in situations like this, but to hear that there are still individuals who question the validity of face masks just goes to show you how far things have fallen. Hearing another sanctimonious jagoff spray invective about science, minorities or the trials that every person goes through just makes me want to curl up into a ball and play on my Saturn even more.

Whatever you’re all going through right now, I hope you’re all well, employed and safe. This pandemic’s revealed a lot about what’s wrong with the nation, and if there’s any good that can come out of it, then I hope it’s the kind of good that requires us all to re-think what America should mean to everyone living in it. Maybe we’ll finally kick Trump to the curb come November. Maybe we’ll come out stronger and more kind to one another. Maybe we’ll re-think policing, privilege or even healthcare for that matter. Maybe grocery workers or delivery drivers won’t have to be screwed over constantly while we make shitty gestures about their ‘heroism’ when all it does is assuage us from the guilt of putting them in harm’s way in the first place. Maybe dining out will get back to normal, or maybe even Chads and Beckys in D.C. will finally figure out a fucking indoor hobby that doesn’t involve a 5pm bike ride without a goddamn mask. Whatever the case may be, I’m there for it. In the meantime, you’ll find me at home, mulling it all over in my brain with my Wife, my work, and the newest addition to my gaming life: the Sega Saturn.

And before I forget, here are some videos from Sega Lord X that’ll help you pass the time. Be thankful, be anti-racist, and be safe everyone.

One of Sega Lord’s earlier videos where he goes over the First 10 Games you should get for the Saturn, many of which are affordable and won’t break your balls. He also has videos about Your First 10 Games for both the Genesis and the Master System.
Here Sega Lord X recalls the gaming landscape of 1995 and how the Saturn’s triple release of Virtua Cop, Virtua Fighter 2 & Sega Rally Championship were instrumental in the console’s Holiday fortunes as it went toe-to-toe with the Sony Playstation.
By far his most popular video on YouTube. The Saturn was a total failure in North America and Sega Lord X dives into his personal view as to why it bombed so badly. A must watch.
Part 2 of his Rare & Expensive Saturn Games series. You can watch Part 1 here, but I highly recommend Part 2 since it not only goes over rare games that are gems on the system, but it ends with a down-to-earth commentary about the stupidity of retro game collecting in 2020.
A fantastic video about one of the most underrated fighting games on the Sega Saturn: Fighters Megamix. Featuring both Virtua Fighter & Fighting Vipers characters, it really is the crossover you didn’t know you needed. Highly recommended!

Make Policing Care Again

I’ve been silent here for a while on this blog as I soak in all the horror that comes from modern ‘policing’ here in the U.S. Here’s a little video from John Oliver that explains why we need to fucking change how the popo run this nation and how we need to stop killing black people. It ends now, and it must end with us. I’m sick to death of seeing people fall victim to state-sponsored violence. I’m sick of hearing folks make excuses for police brutality. I’m sick to shit of Trump, and I’m sick of his out-of-touch horseshit. Please please please, for the love of God, let’s take an hour to stop thinking about anime, tokusatsu and other bullshit and just think about someone else. Think about the one African american friend that you have in your life, and think about the things he or she goes through that you never, ever have to go through. Let’s be there for them, as they’ve been for us. Let’s not waste this moment, and let’s do our best to make this nation more than just missiles and broken promises.

Naika Reviews “Prince of Darkness”

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It just might be my new favorite John Carpenter film and honestly, I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s another excuse for me to write a review, but Prince of Darkness is another J.C. gem that I never knew existed.  I got the Scream Factory Blu Ray a few years ago and fell in love with it on my first watch, and I’m worried that it’ll replace the likes of The Thing or They Live.  Given that most of us are stuck inside, how ’bout we stroll through my subconscious to see why P.O.D. is a flick that you’ll be dying see.

As I think back about P.O.D., one of the best aspects of the film is that it’s really a ‘no-filler’ kind of horror film.  John Carpenter’s a master at making a good movie with a 90 minute run time, and Prince of Darkness is no different.  There’s no wishy-washy subplots, horny teens or distractions here folks.  It’s just a slew of grad students researching a strange artifact underneath an abandoned church.  Details and exposition are unraveled at an even pace and no scene is wasted, but that also means that you, the viewer, have to really pay attention once shit hits the fan (and it does here).  For example, revelations about the artifact aren’t explained with long, drawn out sequences but through carefully placed pockets of dialogue, so, again, pay special attention here.  It’s meat-and-potatoes filmmaking from Mr. Carpenter, and for horror, that’s where it’s at.

Another great thing about Prince of Darkness is the appearance of some of John Carpenter’s regulars, including Donald Pleasance as the Priest.  We all know him from Halloween and Escape from New York, but here he becomes our guide into hell as he bellows out the dark history of the ‘artifact’, a cylinder of swirling green fluid that’s more than meets the eye.  J.C. regular Peter Jason makes an appearance here as a wise ass, while Dennis Dun and the late Victor Wong (both from Big Trouble in Little China) play key roles here as they help investigate the origins of the artifact.  I love Dennis and Victor to death, and it’s always great to see Asian-Americans shine in good 80s roles since they were a rarity in Hollywood.  J.C. really knows how to treat his regulars well, and it shows here (especially when some of them fucking die).

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However, the best thing about Prince of Darkness is how well the horror builds up.  No jump scares or cheap tricks here folks ‘cuz the name of the game here is tension tension tension.  Think of it like an ant infestation: it’s only a few at first hovering over some spilled sugar, but little by little, they all start piling up in such a way that it all becomes a skin-crawling ocean of insect hell.  That’s more or less what happens to our group of grad students as they encounter strange events around the church that escalate ever so slightly.  And with that perfect 90 minute run time, it’s only a matter of time before shit gets real and the end of the world is nigh.  What’s a poor grad student to do?  If it were me, I’d probably say: “I’m only here to publish before I fuck off to the private sector, guys.  I didn’t sign up for this shit!”

So yeah, that’s about as much as I’ll say about Prince of Darkness.  For those of you that know what I’m talking about, I hope we’re in agreement that this is another underrated classic from J.C.  To the rest that haven’t had the chance to see this yet, I say watch it as soon as you can.  Prince of Darkness is well-paced and well-acted, and when shit gets real, it gets crazy.  Furthermore, it’s not everyday that you see grad students take center stage in a horror film.  And it’s a hodge-podge of doctoral candidates too fellas, from physicists and biochemists to comp sci and theology geeks.  P.O.D. is, in a nutshell, California academics versus the lava lamp from Trump’s colon and, before I forget, there’s a wild cameo from horror rocker Alice Cooper too.  Prince of Darkness is a lot of fun folks, and if you’re looking for horror that’ll distract you from the kind you see from White House press briefings, then this is the movie for you.  Stay home everyone, and stay safe!

Naika Reviews “Saint Seiya” (Seasons 1 – 4) on Netflix

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Seeing Saint Seiya on Netflix was unreal for me because I NEVER thought I’d be able to watch it legally here in the States.  Forget the Knights of the Zodiac dub or whatever shitty torrent you had in the past.  Netflix now has it streaming with crystal clear visuals, decent subs and the original Japanese audio.  That means no Flock of Seagulls here folks.  Instead, we get Make-Up on the intro, singing PEGASUS FANTASY without interruption!  As an 80s anime geek who only saw the show in Thailand back in the day, my dream of seeing the Sanctuary Arc in its entirety has come true, and I can safely say that I’m now part of the Saint Seiya faithful.  Now, without further ado, let’s dive into why, I think, Saint Seiya deserves your time.

Masami Kurumada’s original manga was a feature on Shonen Jump back in the 80s, and it epitomized the formula of hot-blooded youths fighting to save the world with special powers.  The anime carries that theme forward with fantastic world-building as we’re introduced to the ancient Greek order called Sanctuary and its role in maintaining world peace by training youths to become ‘Saints’, warriors of immense power who fight for the Greek goddess Athena.  This world-building is expanded even further with the concept of ‘Cosmo’, a retrofitted form of Chi used by the Saints.  Likening one’s Cosmo to a galaxy, a Saint’s mastery is correlated by his or her ability to burn and explode it like a big bang, which unleashes a devastating attack.  Seeing these techniques is a big reason why this show enjoys such a huge following because each Saint possesses a signature move that does epic damage in the most epic way possible.

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However, Saint Seiya’s most notable feature involves the 88 cloths.  With varying degrees of rank (with Bronze being the most common, followed by Silver and then Gold), cloths are mystical armors based on constellations that give a seasoned Saint immense power and defense.  The great joy I get from this show is that in every episode, we’re treated to seeing how our heroes find new ways to defeat enemy Saints with interesting new cloths and powers.  Also, the designs for these cloths are fantastic, and it really shows you how driven 80s cartoons were at shelling out new concepts to grab viewers.  This is especially the case when you consider constellations that feature no distinct animal motifs.  For example, there’s a cloth for the scales of Libra.  Really.  How the hell can you make something amazing out of something as innocuous as that, right?  Featuring amazing designs and powers, the cloths themselves are, without a doubt, the biggest attraction I have to this franchise.

However, I think the thing that makes Saint Seiya such a fun watch is just how conceptually wild the show is.  We basically have 5 orphaned, Japanese youths trying to prove themselves in a bloody, mystical world that’s so western (in the Ray Harryhausen sort of way) that it’s mind-blowing.  Remember, they’re Asian kids, fighting with the powers of Greek Mythology.  For the 80s, that’s fucking wild!  The show even alludes to this ‘disconnect’ a few times (Cassios’ arrogance to Seiya for starters), which corresponds to Japan’s economic rise.  Furthermore, Saint Seiya’s main characters are teens that act like adults in the coolest way possible.  They’re ripped as fuck, bleed in gallons, fold their arms like gumshoes and look at sunsets like they’ve survived 4 tours of armed conflict.  They sacrifice themselves for each other, stare down Saints who are older and stronger than them, and they show more vulnerability and introspection than a populist during a pandemic.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chuckled under my breath when I see Ikki, Shiryu or Shun do something bat-shit / selfless / adult-like and then get reminded that they’re all under 16.  That’s hilariously fucked up!

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But it’s that kind of bat-shit storytelling that makes us all fans of Saint Seiya, and this show is paced so well that you hardly get tired during a 4 season speed-run.  And might I add that the majority of the show features great animation for an 80s Toei production, and it improves immensely as the seasons progress.  This onslaught of color, fighting, blood and special effects culminates into the most well animated season of the Sanctuary Arc, and that’s during the Golden Saints saga (Season 4, which is 35 episodes!).  It’s here that each of the 5 main characters make a name for themselves as they do the impossible by fighting Saints that outrank them in every way.  Nothing is smooth sailing for our heroes, but that’s why we watch anime like this, right?

With Seasons 5 and 6 now available, there’s no better time to binge on some classic anime than now.  With so much happening here in North America due to COVID-19, the kid in you now has the best excuse to stay indoors (if you’re able to).  But don’t skip these first 4 seasons folks.  Saint Seiya is what it is because of them, and if you give it a chance, you’ll see why this show is so beloved in Latin America, Europe and the rest of Asia.  You’ll see Andromeda Shun’s gentle heroism, Cygnus Hyoga’s cold valor, Phoenix Ikki’s loner attitude, the insufferable Pegasus Seiya and the kung-fu might of the show’s best character, Dragon Shiryu.  This is no Power Ranger rip-off or a Sailor Moon retread peeps, this is Saint Seiya, one of the many giants that put anime on the map for millennials the world over.  As an American, this is your chance to watch anime history, retold in all its streaming glory.

Naika Reviews T-Square’s TRUTH (1987)

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I don’t think anyone can be a T-Square fan until you’ve listened to their landmark album from 1987, Truth.  It’s one of those albums that, in all honesty, every J-Fusion fan should own.  Full stop.  Avoiding it is like saying you’re a Bruce Lee fan without seeing Enter the Dragon, a film which shows Bruce at the peak of his fitness and power.  Though the band would still maintain its use of the aging lyricon, Truth showcased T-Square at the height of its fame at a time when Japan was literally on top of the world.  Full of raw power and deft musicianship, Truth is a timeless tapestry of urban fusion that demands nothing less than your full attention.

For starters, Truth is all about drive, and Grand Prix, its first track, is short and straight to the point.  Like drivers gearing up on the grid before the start of a race, Grand Prix is there to give you a taste of what’s to come before you start the circuit.  With all the fun, pulse and verve that this first track has, it’s no surprise that T-Square is synonymous with Formula 1 racing.

Celebration and Beat in Beat are tracks that I find more jolly than I do exciting.  The latter has lots of interesting percussion while the former has a bit more drive thanks to Andoh’s guitar work, so it still feels like racing to some degree.  Celebration is a lot like a neon-light dance party that fits right into a college-themed OVA, while Beat in Beat feels a bit more esoteric to me, making it the track that I listen to the least.  Nevertheless, Beat in Beat is still worth hearing and helps to diversify Truth’s lineup of hits without dragging things down.

Giant Side Steps might fall into the ‘least listened to’ category as well, but there’s an odd charm to it.  It’s kind of jolly like Beat in Beat, but with a lot more lyricon written into it.  It’s not unlike the tropical thrills of Takarajima, but it has a distinct lack of the slap bass that made the latter so enjoyable.  Still, it’s a pleasant little number, and, like Beat in Beat, it gives the album some great variety.  And it’s a Takeshi Itoh number, so that can’t all be bad, right?

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This leads me to the track that, in all honesty, made me a fan for life: Unexpected Lover.  Dramatic yet hard-boiled, it’s a literal love letter to the city that never sleeps.  With fantastic sax work from Itoh-san, Unexpected Lover exudes a cinematic air that’s heightened immensely by the cool grace of Hirotaka Izumi’s piano.  It is, without a doubt, my favorite track on Truth, and it only gets better if you go and watch their live rendition of this in 1988 New York.  Unexpected Lover encapsulates everything that I love about T-Square, where steely-eyed musicianship meets the neon lights of a modern noir.  Who could say no to that?

Breeze and You is an awesome track that, I think, doesn’t get the love that it deserves.  It’s the track that, I think, has the most variety in it, where it’s funky yet classy, and cool yet playful.  Not sure if that makes any sense, but with all the hits this album has, I’ve always felt that this kinda gets overlooked by fans, especially when it comes to those lovable Masato Honda fanboys.  The one thing I will say is that it’s been been re-recorded masterfully in T-Square’s Yume no Uta collection for T-Square Plays The Square, so if you get a chance, give it a listen.  Otherwise, don’t skip this one peeps.

And if it Truth wasn’t classy enough, it’s time I drop a few words about one of T-Square’s most stirring tracks ever: Twilight in Upper West.  The Bernie Sanders in me wouldn’t give two shits about the Upper West Side, but damn folks, this song is serious stuff.  This is the kind of music that you dance to in weddings on a rooftop in Manhattan.  Izumi and Itoh are at their best here, combining elegance and power into a song that’s all about love and longing in the big city.  As far as T-Square goes, it can’t get any better than this.

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But alas, I have one more song to talk about because we can’t finish this review without talking about the title track, Truth.  It is, without a doubt, the band’s most beloved song in Japan, where it was used as the nation’s F-1 theme for years.  The song is so massive that T-Square simply can’t hold a live show without having it on the set list.  I mean, omitting this would be anathema.  Really!  Though it’s evolved tremendously since 1987, Truth’s original version is everything that symbolized the band during the decade of excess.  The righteous guitar work, those hard beats, the straight-to-the-point bass line and the classy ‘lift’ of Izumi’s keyboards are all funneled into a tornado of 80s awesomeness that’s topped off with that motherfucking lyricon.  It might be Andoh’s writing that gave life to this, but it’s Takeshi Itoh that rocks it like a hurricane with 2 solos that can’t be missed.  Truth is the epitome of heart-pounding fusion and it is, without a doubt, the most epic track on this album.

So there you have it, MY two cents on T-Square’s Truth.  Rest assured that the party hasn’t ended with these guys and that both Andoh and Itoh continue to make music as T-Square to this day.  However, their status as one of Japan’s premier fusion outfits wouldn’t be what it is without the success of this album.  Even Masato Honda himself wasn’t spared as he put his own stamp on the hit song with Truth 1991, a single where the band replaced the EWI with a soprano sax (amazing, right?).  Hell, I don’t think anyone in Japan can think about T-Square without thinking about Truth or it’s title track.  Whenever you type search words like ‘TSquare’ or ‘Truth’, out come dozens and dozens of copy plays, bar covers and collaborative jams from Japan, which makes me wonder if T-Square helped to popularize the EWI for the domestic market.  Furthermore, you’ll be treated to a ton of live performances of Truth recorded over the years by the gang themselves.  So whether you’re a T-Square fan like myself or a casual who’s just realizing how massive j-fusion’s influence was over anime and gaming, you owe it to yourself to listen to Truth in all its 80s glory.  Happy listening everyone!!