Top Tracks from The Pillows That weren’t in FLCL that I’d love to hear in either FLCL Sequel

With the sneak premiere of FLCL: Alternative, and the more official premiere of FLCL: Progressive, it’s clear that Japanese band The Pillows will be dipping back into their extensive backlog of music to serve for both sequels’ background tracks. That said, here’s some of their jams I’d like to hear make an appearance in either show that didn’t make the cut in the original, either due to lack of appreciation, or because they weren’t made yet:

Climbing the Roof – 1995

Released in the album Living Field, Fool on the Planet came out six years after the band was formed, but five years before their international notoriety through the original FLCL—in interesting sweet spot in that now at their fourth album, the band has definitely experienced a fair amount of fame by this point, but nothing on the scale that they’re currently at. Fool on the Planet is an interesting track in that it starts off slowly—almost breezily—only to have that all tumbling into all-out rock by around the 2-minute mark. Something the band doesn’t shy away from in later tracks in their career, either.

Beautiful Picture – 2002

Beautiful Picture was released in the B-side collection Another Morning, Another Pillows, and exhudes a certain amount of confidence that you’d expect from something released shortly after the success of FLCL. Beginning with a quick-tempo tambourine and melodic guitar, Beautiful Picture maintains the vibe from something you’d expect from their FLCL-era tracks, while bringing something all its own. Its use of bass and occasional lulls are equal parts thoughtful and effective, creating a feeling of isolation without getting grimdark about it.

White Summer And Green Bicycle, Red Hair With Black Guitar – 2002

If you haven’t listened to any of The Pillows’ slower tracks, you absolutely need to do yourself a favor and correct that immediately. White Summer’s long title evokes a certain “take your time” vibe that appropriately oozes throughout the song itself. It’s melancholic without being overly depressing, rhythmic without being pop levels of bouncy, and creates this image of a time long past that while you can never recreate perfectly, is nice to remember every now and then.

Girlfriend (Love Letter version) – 1995
The Pillows’ original track Girlfriend was breezy enough and was definitely something you’d expect to play during a cute dating montage, perfectly balancing that knowing cheesiness factor that comes with infatuation. But for the version recorded for the romance movie Love Letter, The Pillows take things in a much more dramatic direction. Of course, the feelings of love remain throughout the track, but they’re met with hesitation—a more reluctant love that’s been hurt before and is simply trying to make a relationship worthwhile rather than simply in-the-moment.

Energiya – 2011

By this era in The Pillows history, I won’t shy away from saying the band’s gotten into something of a rut. More often than not, tracks are repetitive not only within a single song, but across an entire album. Even with those gripes in mind, though, Trial is one of my favorite recent tracks of theirs. With a generous guitar riff that’s repeated throughout the track, it also isn’t afraid to slow things down a bit. And while it sounds a bit uncomfortably interchangeable with Minority Whisper and Trial, which are tracks that appear on the same album, they’re all equally good tracks.

Sweet Baggy Days – 2007

It’s the end of the day, you’ve gotten a ton of stuff done for once, and you’re ready to head back home to chill the hell out. That’s the feel Sweet Baggy Days gives off, and while it falls into the same problems as other more modern The Pillows tracks in its redundancy, it does so in a manner that’s very satisfying to the ears. Even later into the track when it betrays its own vibe by upping its tempo, it’s still something I can listen to comfortably.

The Scar Whispers, Nobody Is In Paradise – 2003

Like White Summer And Green Bicycle, Red Hair With Black Guitar before it, The Scar Whispers is oddly thoughtful about just how chill it wants to be. With a guitar that’s almost lullaby-like in nature, the entire track is such a satisfying slow jam that just makes me wish The Pillows made more slow tracks like this over their more mainstream rock hits that have become more processed and soulless with each passing single and album.

Monochrome Lovers – 1994

Released back in The Pillows’ wannabe Beatles phase, Monochrome Lovers is still a notable track on its own. It’s incredibly quick-paced and breezy, with an almost samba-like break in-between that takes you off guard, but still maintains the track’s good vibes that you don’t care.

Honorable Mention: Thank You, My Twilight – 2002

Technically, this track has already been in the opening scene in FLCL: Progressive, but that doesn’t take away from how much this song kicks. Had I made this list just a day earlier, Thank You, My Twilight would be at the top of my list, no questions asked. It maintains the unique vibe from that era of The Pillows that’s equal parts stuck in FLCL nostalgia, but also its own thing entirely. It’s surprisingly slow tempo paired with its opening techno bleep-bloops that permeate throughout the track is just so iconic, especially when the music begins to swell into finale mode when you’re just so utterly engulfed by it and have no other choice but to bob your head in appreciation.

Stranger Things 2 lacks that 80s drab, and this bothers me

It’s not exactly the hottest take to say that Stranger Things season 1 is a spectacular show. The season so perfectly emulates an ‘80s movie to the point that you could believe that it’s something actually made during the 1980s. From its mix of child-centric adventure and sci-fi, to its casting of perfectly misfitty characters, the first season of Stranger Things, while very story-centered, also took the time to nail every nook and cranny of minor details, helping boost its ‘80s aesthetic from a simple gimmick to a strong, functional facet of the show itself.

That’s not true for the second season.

Even ignoring the wholly disliked episode 7, Stranger Things 2 while likeable enough is a general mess. Its cast is too widely dispersed from each other to make any forward progress in its more immediate plot points, new characters are introduced to little effect, and most importantly of all: the ‘80s aesthetic that made  the first season so enjoyable has all but faded (er… “been polished severely”?).

Yes, all the likeable misfits are back, with their long-range walkie-talkies and lack of parental supervision among rooms with wood-paneled walls and cube TVs, but there still remains something a bit off: the lighting. A major factor that added to Stranger Things’ first season was how it treated lighting as a major tool to mold their perfectly dated world. Even on sunny days, scenes were washed over in this intentionally grimy manner that served as the series’ own world-building. Not only did lighting play a crucial role to better play up the series’ horror aspect, but it made the more tame dialogue-heavy scenes that much more convincing—your eye being slowly drawn towards the uncomfortable excess of drab-colored rugs among other dated room décor.

With Stranger Things 2, the cast and setting are still appropriately 80s, but the noticeably bright lighting is enough to take you out of scenes entirely. It’s the same kind of distracting that comes from having a particularly bad actor on scene, or a musical score that just doesn’t jive with the scene it’s in. You think it’s minor until you see just how much the work suffers when it’s poorly done. Stranger Things season 1 transcended ‘80s homage to actually feel like something made from that time. Meanwhile, Stranger Things 2 felt more like a modern-day movie playing dressup with outfits and sets from a time long past. It’s the Sandlot 2 of Netflix shows. And I don’t think anyone wants to be that.

Correlation Between Modern Manga Writing and Short-Episode-Count Anime

Anime adaptations of manga are nothing new. Checking upcoming anime every season, there’s always an interest in discussing what manga is deserving of an adaptation. That said, while interests in different subgenres continue to crop up among modern anime, episode counts are continuing to drop. Long gone are the days when 50-100+ episode anime was the norm. Now more than ever, anime episode count is dwindling, and it’s been affecting manga-ka in an unexpected way, having them take different approaches when it comes to writing their stories in hopes of nabbing that sought-after anime adaptation.

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What’s Simple and What Isn’t: “Resurrection” and “Believe” Reviews

When trailers for Resurrection and Believe started to crop up, I started to get excited about American television again. It feels like it’s been forever since an American show wasn’t about a) comicbook superheroes or b) antiheroes—both of which have long overstayed their welcome. From their trailers, both series seemed to cover some kind of fantastical phenomenon without coming off as too comicbook-y. And if at least one of them was solid, then I’d be a happy camper.

resurrection dmncapThe good and bad thing about Resurrection is that you can get the gist of what the entire first episode covered from the trailers alone. People that have been dead for years are suddenly showing back up completely unharmed as if nothing ever happened and no one knows why. It’s a simple enough concept that’s shrouded in enough mystery to keep viewers wanting more.

What I especially liked about the first episode was that it took its sweet time with the story without coming off as too meandering. You’re introduced to Agent Bellamy, who escorts a lost (almost comically all-American-looking) boy, Jacob, back to the small town of Arcadia. During Bellamy’s time in Arcadia, he slowly takes in his surroundings as well as pieces together the inhabitants and their relation to the lost boy. Everything comes off as free-flowing as you the viewer explore and take in the town through Bellamy’s eyes, and yet a story and plot development seems to form so naturally regardless (or perhaps “due to”).

Definitely something I’ll be looking forward to keeping up with this season.

believe dmncap…Compare, on the other hand, Believe—supernatural drama about an escaped convict having to take care of a young girl with superhuman abilities as they’re on the run from a mysterious organization. Maybe if I remembered that JJ Abrams had a hand in this series going into it, I wouldn’t be so disgusted with the goings-on of its episode one. Then again, I feel like any amount of disgust had to be had regardless.

Unlike Resurrection, Believe practically hits the ground running and continually bashes the viewer over the head with plot in the form of overly blatant exposition from its characters. Every character seems to wear their heart on their sleeve if only for the sake of moving the plot forward. How do you demonstrate the main character is untrusting and hates kids? I guess having him outright say that he’s untrusting and hates kids is sufficient enough.

The overall writing throughout the episode was just so painfully straightforward when it came to “developing” its characters. Either that or it was ridiculously inconsistent. One of the first scenes has the token female eye-candy antagonist (who by the way, will no doubt end up having a one-one-one fight with the token female eye-candy protagonist) snap the necks of two innocents only to later show how inept and just plain unprofessional she is in her line of work when she asks for a day off for her mother’s birthday. You would think something like that would be played for a laugh, but the fact that it’s being used as an honest-to-goodness point to build off her character is just… no.

And in terms of world-developing, things just move too fast for comfort. Normally, something would slowly introduce you to a concept and build on it as it progresses: “When you start from the beginning, it acclimates you to the bullshit, so that once it gets to the really crazy bullshit, you’re like ‘eh, makes sense I guess.’” Not true in this case. With Believe, so much over-the-top nonsense happens involving the plot and it’s just too much to take in, not to mention accept. Why would a secret organization be willing to free a convicted killer, but be against using guns because “they’re the good guys?” How come said convict can hold his own in a fight against someone that seems to be who I can only assume is a mercenary? Maybe if it were a comic or animated series, I’d be more accepting of some of these points, but as it stands, it’s a tough pill to swallow.

Second to the writing is the actors. Even in the case that a show’s writing is awful, a well-cast actor can save what’s left of it with their performance. In the lead role as the little girl with supernatural powers is actress Johnny Sequoyah, who sadly suffers from child-actor syndrome. Absolutely every one of her lines is delivered with a sense of precociousness that is just unfitting for the character and takes me out of the moment every time. It doesn’t help that for some reason, as precocious as she is, the script mixes in some moments where she puts herself in danger in the stupidest way possible (seriously, they’ll buy you a new stuffed animal after they escape from the gunman).

Lastly, since I couldn’t find any place to naturally transition to the subject, I just wanted to bring up the casting in the series. Normally, this is something you would pay absolutely no mind to, so the fact that I feel the need to even bring it up must mean something’s up with it. In total, the first episode of Believe had three women in it: the main kid, Jamie Chung in a protagonist role, and Trieste Kelly Dunn in an antagonist role. All three of them fall into the same category of having a petite body and cute face, which I just find odd. Give the child actor a couple years, and I feel like all three of them would be auditioning for the same role. This is nothing against the actresses themselves (even if Jamie Chung has one of the worst IMDB entries I’ve seen), but rather the casting decision. Usually a point is made when similar people are cast in certain roles, but in this case, it feels like it was done more on a whim than anything else.

If anything, JJ Abrams is a master at making shows that come off as “smart” for a stupid audience, and keeping said audience viewing on a weekly basis through sensationalized nonsense in his narratives. In that sense, maybe Believe will find a big audience. Just don’t count me as part of it. I’ll be on board the Resurrection-train, where things may be simple, but at least they’re better put-together.

Extended Tweets: Adventures in Making Informed Amazon Purchases Involving Old Nickelodeon Series

The Japanese version of this post would have been called “Crisis! The Missing 12 Episodes” which, oddly enough, is shorter than the actual title of this post.

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Initial Thoughts: Community Season 4; One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

dmncap00015Community is one of those shows that aired right around the time I was starting to give up on modern sitcoms. In an era where the laugh-track has overstayed its welcome, it felt as if sitcoms were settling for a safe middleground, treading on jokes and character archetypes that have been repeated time after time without giving any kind of unique spin, or at the least any sign of aiming for more than what the genre has become known for. Enter Community—a show that has essentially reached popularity by capitalizing on and mainstreaming the whole concept of “meta.” From the get-go, Community’s ragtag cast of characters were not only sitcom-status quirky, but were created with a certain amount of talent and grace that not only set them into an archetype (be it “jock,” “over-achiever,” etc.) but simultaneously broke said archetype, showing that their characters (and sitcom characters in general, really) can and should be developed to the point that they cannot be described with mere trope terminology.

And for the first three seasons of the series, that’s how things were.

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TV Block Progress Report: Toonami (2012)

It’s so weird to think that earlier this year, the twitterverse exploded on April Fools’ Day when Cartoon Network decided to bring back their Toonami block for a night… and what a night it was. Now ten weeks into the official re-birth of the ol’ action cartoon block and I must say that I’m enjoying the direction The Absolution’s being steered to.

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TV Block Progress Report: The ’90s Are All That

I’ll admit it. I probably stopped watching this block for a couple months by this point.

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So I watched Toonami last night

As an April Fools of sorts, last night’s [adult swim] block on Cartoon Network was replaced with a Toonami block as hosted by the last good iteration of TOM.

So what can I say about bringing back a block chock full of action anime sprinkled with bits of new game reviews and voice work for TOM from the Steve Blum himself? Just that last night will be remembered by many as the night that many ’90s kids watched actual cable programming for the first time in years. Even if this was just a stunt pulled by the guys at Cartoon Network, you could tell that there was a good amount of time and effort put into things, from the choice of episodes to air, to the general mix of all things old and new from the programming block.

I’m sure I’ll be repeating myself from my ’90s Are All That post, but whatever. In a time when DVR and boxed sets of every show under the sun is commonplace, it’s made the general concept of plopping yourself on the couch in front of the TV to watch “whatever” rather outdated. Enter Toonami–the programming block that was ahead of its time. Unlike [adult swim] which has become a mishmash of random animated shows with crude humor awkwardly mixed in with teen-centric action anime, Toonami kept its focus on the action cartoons. From this focal point, Toonami expanded outward, with a robotic host on board his spaceship The Absolution, with female companion SARA at his side. The entire world of Toonami was just so immersive and was just as essential a part of the programming block as the shows themselves.

Today when you’re skimming through titles online, or even scrolling through sub-menus on your DVR, you might be presented with recommendations of other shows based on your search history. But at the end of the day, it’s ultimately your decision to decide to click on whatever item was recommended to you. While the same could be said about choosing to watch whatever comes next in a programming block, you have slightly less control in that the following program will play regardless of whether you like it or even if you even know of its existence. When watching Toonami last night, I was bombarded by its lineup, some I knew and some I didn’t. I was able to bask in the familiarity of the shows I grew up with, while also being put in a good enough mood by the block itself to be willing to take a chance on the shows I was previously too young to care about. Being dropped in an episode in what was clearly the middle of a story arc had me trying to figure out the basics of the world in order to better appreciate the action scenes that flashed before me on screen. It’s a feeling that most people are rarely able to experience nowadays since we’ve been given a more active option in picking and choosing exactly what we want to watch, whether it be through streaming or direct purchasing of series.

It’s these exact feelings presented through such an immersive programming block experience that made Toonami what it was. And whether or not the stunt pulled last night was for kicks or for a serious testing of the waters in terms of viewer interest may still be up in the air, I sure hope that it’s the latter. I’ve lived in a time where the sun rose in a world without Toonami for far too long.

Initial Thoughts: The ’90s Are All That

If you were to tell me ten years ago, that Nickelodeon made a programming block solely for their ‘90s hits, I would slap you in the face for trying to make me believe such lies. Well the day has finally come. I have just watched Nickelodeon’s first airing of their programming block appropriately called “The ‘90s Are All That,” and I must say… aw cheah.

Ever since Nick’s failed attempt at bringing some of their better known titles to DVD under the title of the Rewind Collection, my main complaint about Nick’s handling of their older titles wasn’t just acknowledging them, but acknowledging them as well as hyping them up properly. Let’s be honest. Who actually heard of the Nick Rewind DVD line? Or Nick’s half-assed attempt at Nicktoons Season sets via amazon exclusive “burn on-demand” DVDs? What Nickelodeon needed was to hype up their older series in this newfangled time when everyone knows everything about something through the crapton of news being spewed out through our various warring social networking sites… and that’s just what happened.

At the start of the month, my twitter feed had a forum-buddy of mine mention the ‘90s Nick block, linking to a commercial for the block on YouTube, and subsequently leading to their facebook page. It’s this crazy-stupid way the internet works—one site repeating what several other sites already repeated—that word begins to spread and how many other Classic Nick fans got word of the news, marking July 22 at midnight Eastern, 9PM Pacific, on the TeenNick channel as the returning time of their good ol’ memories.

Promos for the block continue to show that their marketing campaign is taking a disgustingly yet understandably large amount of hype to the internet, trying to get the word out via hashtags (#90sAllThat, #thingsclarissadidntexplain) as well as linking to their facebook and main website. Their tumblr and official promos also seem to be geared to internet-type humor, with things like pie-charts and screencaps followed by captions in that oh so familiar Impact Font. For years people have been voicing their disappointment with Nickelodeon on their treatment of their older shows via the internet, and it finally looks like they’ve started to pay attention.

So far, the programming block is two hours long (short, but respectable) and contains in this order: All That, Kenan & Kel, Clarissa Explains it All, and Doug. While that’s good for a start, checking through future airings, it looks like those are the only titles we’ll be seeing for a while. However, it has been suggested that future airings will rely on fan opinion, and trailers for the programming block already contain footage from a plethora of other ‘90s Nick shows. The extreme (and ultimately desired) goal would be for the TeenNick channel (consisting of endless blocks of Ned’s Declassified, from what Comcast schedules say) to turn into what everyone expected the Noggin and Nicktoons channel to be prior to their extreme overhaul, consisting of nothing but ‘90s Nick shows 24/7 (:drools:). A more believable short-term goal would be to get something along the lines of an alternating schedule going for “The ‘90s Are All That.” Hell, even Toonami in its prime didn’t consist of solely Dragon Ball Z all week (well, there was the one time, but that was more like fan outcry resulting in the most homogenous thing possible). They could perhaps get something along the lines of a theme going, with Nicktoons and live action shows alternating to every other day, or even just get each day to have a good grab-bag of shows.

Regardless of what they do, it does seem like “The ‘90s Are All That” has taken a good first steps into the world, bringing in enough material to whet everyone’s appetites and leave them craving for more.

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