Anime Blues 2017–Tips for “Going Native”

Welcome, all, again.  As I’ve mentioned previously, Memphis will host its homegrown anime con, Anime Blues, downtown at the Cook Convention Center over the weekend of 07-09 July.  2017 is the con’s 7th year, and it has grown quite substantially.  For detailed information and for pre-registration, which remains open through 12 June online, please visit the official site at: http://www.animeblues.com/.  Pre-registration is also available in person (cash only) at Animax in the Cloverleaf Shopping Center at 5144 Old Summer Road, Memphis.  [And a huge Thank you! to the folks at Animax, who were instrumental in founding Anime Blues and continue to organize/manage it.]  Tickets can also still be purchased through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/anime-blues-con-7-tickets-29797646563.

The bridge’s first off-ramp leads straight to the convention center.

Interested, but not sure about navigating Memphis traffic?  The Cook Convention Center is incredibly easy to find: it’s at the foot of the I-40 bridge into Memphis from Arkansas.  Otherwise, just find Poplar Avenue (it bisects the entire city on an east/west route) and follow it west until it ends at Front Street.  The convention center will be on your right.  (If you have to swim back, you drove too far!)  Parking is available on-site or at the Mud Island parking garage, just south (left) on Front Street from where Poplar ends.  (Other parking is available, but those are the two locations which I usually use.)  And, please, don’t leave anything of value where it’s visible in the car.  No security is perfect, and nothing can ruin an out-of-town excursion like having your car broken-into.

Now, then, looking for food?  Well, I certainly don’t recommend the catered stuff on-site!  Last year, I was supposed to be covering the con as press for 91.8 the Fan (http://918thefan.com/), an online site devoted to Asian music, anime, etc.  Instead, I ate one of the catered pizzas and missed the rest of the con due to food poisoning.  Now, I’m not saying that the pizza caused my food poisoning–but it was the first (and became the only) meal I had that day.  [You’ve been warned.]  So, hungry but don’t want to lose your parking space?  You have several choices within easy walking distance: Subway and KFC, just a few blocks east; Ferrarro’s (pizza), Westy’s (Southern), and Alcenia’s (soul food, serving breakfast and lunch), a few blocks north; and eighty3 (Southern) and Agave Maria (Mexican) just to the south.  As always, more is available if you look.  If you do trek off-site in search of food, try to travel in groups.  Personally, I’d also recommend toning down or covering up the cosplay.  It is an unfortunate truth of Memphis’ urban geography that the convention center is only two short blocks away from the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center, a monstrous brown building that houses both the county jail and its criminal courts.  In other words, exercise simple situational awareness.  Move in groups and take care of each other while outside, particularly when on foot.

Interior of Shang Hai restaurant

Hungry and don’t care about your parking spot?  OK, I’ll keep things simple, using Poplar for reference.  Go straight east on Poplar until it intersects Manassas, and try YUM’S (on the right).  They’re a great Chinese/American fast food joint!  As a regular customer, I recommend the whole (fried) wings or the steamed shrimp.  And they’ve got the best egg foo young gravy in town!  (Meaning they also have the best egg foo young.)  Not your thing?  Follow Manassas south from Poplar (right turn) until you hit Madison Avenue (and yet another Subway location), turn right, and look for Trolley Stop Market on your right just past the fenced-in parking lot.  Farm-fresh ingredients give their food rich flavor and real panache.  Or go another block south on Manassas, turn right onto Union Avenue, and at the first light you’ll find the legendary Sun Studio on your right.  They offer tours and sell memorabilia, but they also serve one of the best milkshakes in Memphis!  Still not you?  Then ignore Manassas completely and keep east on Poplar, cross the overpass, and look left when you reach Cleveland Street at the bottom of the hill–you’ll see Jack Pirtle’s Chicken in the Kroger parking lot.  But I’m not sending you for chicken–try their burger!  Then try their chili/cheese dog.  Then cry for all the years you’ve gone without.  Want traditional Asian, instead?  Just a couple of hundred feet further down Poplar, also on your left, is Shang Hai.  They serve traditional Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai food.  In fact, for an exquisite light treat, try their garlic shrimp.  (I’ve been in Memphis 20 years now.  This was one of the first restaurants I visited and remains one of my favorites, still run by the same family.)  For more familiar fare, there’s a Burger King on the left on Poplar just before you hit Cleveland, and a McDonald’s directly across Poplar from Shang Hai.  And know that Shang Hai, Subway, Trolley Street Market, and YUM’S all offer vegetarian/vegan-friendly menu choices.

Now, this last one is special–it’s my bar, Murphy’s (21 or older, folks!).  Go east on Poplar until you reach Avalon, turn right on Avalon and proceed to the first light, which will be Madison Avenue.  You’ll be looking straight across the road at Murphy’s (conveniently on your right).  Best bar food in Memphis!  Pizza, wings, and a burger so good that cows compete to be in it!  Just behave while you’re there.  Again, this is where I go to drink and unwind–act stupid here, and I just might be the grouchy local who coldcocks you.  So play nice, OK?

A cute (and modestly attired) Ladybug cosplayer at Anime Blues 2016

And there are my hints and advice for attending Anime Blues.  To review: pre-register; arrive early for more parking choices; hide your stuff (or take it with you); eat anything other than what’s catered; travel outside in groups; play nice and have fun!  That said, I hope to see you at the con!

 

 

 

 

 

Schooled by Eromanga Sensei!

Welcome, all, again.  Regular readers might be a little surprised to see Eromanga Sensei as the subject of this review, especially given the unkind dig I took at the series during my review of Sakura Quest (14 April).  But I’ll be the first one to admit being wrong about something, especially when I turn out to be this wrong!  And, yes, I really blew this one early on.  Good thing my son was familiar with the source material, because my two-episode rule would have done me no good this time.

So, what gives?  Well, as I so indelicately pointed out during my Sakura Quest review, Eromanga Sensei seems to start out as yet another story about two siblings getting the hots for each other.  A worn-out trope to be certain, but where did this even come from?  And why does it keep showing up?  What’s the big deal with the incest?  Oh, and just to quasi-legitimize things, we’re both told and shown in the very first episode that Masamune and Sagiri aren’t actually blood kindred.  No, their parents married and created a little hot-pot family that can just cook down however it wants.  Good thing, then, that the parents conveniently disappear, else we might have ended up with a show called Daddy Loves Loli!, or maybe even Crouching Cougar.  And didn’t The Brady Bunch already cover this “we’re not blood, so it’s good” thing–40 years ago?!  Anyway, that’s the baggage I carried into watching this series.

And for the first two episodes, I was right.  And since two episodes is my rule, I got ready to move on to other things, which I mentioned to my son.  To my surprise, he seemed disappointed.  He reads a lot of manga, and assured me that the story was on the verge of recovery by way of redirection; just try two more episodes, he urged.  Turns out that I didn’t even need to–episode 3 saw a major shift in focus.  But to explain that, let me address the actual plot: put simply, Masamune is a high school student who writes light novels, novels that he does not at first realize are illustrated by his recluse of a little sister, Sagiri.  And if his storytelling can be somewhat questionable, her artwork is undeniably erotic.

And that’s pretty much the opening premise.  Brother and sister living together (although she remains secluded in her room), but also working together, albeit in ignorance of the fact.  Other characters pass through, but nobody makes much of an impact until the arrival of Elf Yamada, an author both younger and much more successful than Masamune.  She is introduced in the latter half of episode 2, but by episode 3 she gains enough presence to completely redirect the story.  [This actually prompted a little discussion between me and another expat writer from Crunchyroll’s old Takeout newsletter, edsamac, who agreed that Elf’s presence revitalized the show.  In fact, he’s written quite a bit about this series on his own anime review blog: https://animananime.com/.]  Anyway, Elf shows up and we suddenly have a trio of characters interacting: Masamune now has competition for Sagiri’s artwork; Elf finds unexpectedly strong competition in storytelling; and Sagiri for the first time experiences competition for Masamune’s attention.  Things get much more interesting and, thankfully, a lot less icky.  The show’s still pretty out-there, but it becomes a lot more fun to watch.

Now, to be fair, the incestuous desires thing doesn’t necessitate that an anime is DOA.  While it is an overworked (and I dare say much over-appreciated) trope, it can really make a story pop in the right hands.  Interested in comedy?  Recently, My Sister Is Unusual plays for laughs when a little sister becomes possessed by the ghost of a girl who had a crush on the possessed girl’s older brother.  That series has so much that is just so wrong, but it’s always done with a nudge and a wink.  The slice-of-life comedy Listen to Me, Girls, I Am Your Father! takes a very delicate approach to showing the oldest sister’s crush on her college-age uncle.  Sure, it’s used to garner laughs, but never to the point of devaluing Sora’s feelings.  And who can forget the poignancy of the emotionally nuanced relationship between the Wakatsuki twins, Shusuke and Shuri, in the anime version of Myself; Yourself?  Even their own father assumes incest between them (and even seems a little jealous).  My point is that even this tired trope can legitimately contribute to a story’s progression if applied deftly and with an understanding that it has already saturated its medium.  So make it original or make it something else!

Shusuke & Shuri sneak back into town to see friends

Eromanga Sensei made it orginial–they rode that horse right up to the cliff’s edge, then sold the saddle and went hang gliding, instead.  It kind of reminds me of Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, with the way the story so suddenly changes tone and direction.  And, personally, I’m very grateful for the change!  What began with an opening episode even more painfully awkward to watch than that of Sakura Quest has developed into a fun, sassy romp of a show!  It’s pointless, overblown, exploitative. . .and exactly what this season’s schedule needed.  And, yes, I’ll see you there.

[Parental Note: blatant fan service, as well as some pretty tasteless allusions and references to incest, particularly in the first two episodes.  Again, things get a lot better beginning in episode 3.]

 

Musical Notes for 09 May, 2017

Welcome, all, again.  As regular readers might know, I am a passionate fan of both anime and music, and not afraid to spend just a little money when something I want becomes available.  So please let me share some good news:

To begin, Gillian Welch is releasing a vinyl pressing of her 2011 opus The Harrow & The Harvest through Acony Records, with scheduled availability in late July.  For more info about this release and upcoming tour dates, please follow this link: http://www.gillianwelch.com/news/050417/

Also, two artists whom I have championed here before are currently seeking support on PledgeMusic in hopes of bringing projects to fruition.  VV & The Void extended their campaign to fund their debut album The Upper Room, but time is drawing to a close.  Fans of electronica, goth, or related genres should really take a listen to the sample tracks!  This is some rich, enveloping sound that makes me wonder what Wagner might have wrought had he had access to today’s technology, while the spellbinding lyrics seem born straight from that sound.  Don’t cheat yourself–give this band a listen!  http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/vvandthevoid

And Fifi Rong is wrapping up another pledge drive, this time towards the release of two new singles.  But you’d better believe that she’s offering much more than that to those who support her!  You might remember that Fifi just months ago attended her first SXSW in Austin, Texas.  She says that she had a great time and met lots of wonderful, supportive people.  So why shouldn’t she meet you, now, over on her pledge page?  Fifi is EDM’s very own torch singer, something of a neon dream of vision and sound. . .oh, did I mention that I’m a fan?  Go give her a listen, and see what you think: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/fifirong-2singles

Don’t worry, folks, we’ll get to more anime next time.  But these are artists whom I admire and support, and I wanted to share their current projects with you just in case you might want to participate (in whatever fashion).  But if I’ve done nothing more than introduce you to some new music, then it was still well-worth a post!  That said, I encourage you to find what you love and support it.  (That is what inspired this site. . .)

 

 

Some Brief Notes on Hinako Note

Welcome, all, again.  Having last reviewed a futuristic fantasy, I decided to relax with some comical slice-of-life this time.  Hinako Note, which follows the efforts of high school first-year Hinako Sakuragi to develop her social skills, is a whimsical and warm show full of physical humor.  To be sure, there are plenty of quiet jokes and shaded (if not downright shady) dialogue to propel the storylines.  But it’s the physical humor, often bordering upon slapstick, that drives the show as a whole.  Meanwhile, what I initially found most interesting was the cast of characters–a collection of renamed favorites seemingly stolen straight from other shows, all epitomizing the concepts of moe and kawaii.  Oh, go ahead and watch an episode–you’ll see what I mean!  (I can wait. . .)

Well, did you see?  Did you notice Cocoa wearing the hair accessories she so obviously borrowed from Wakaba?  What about Konata?  Seriously, doesn’t Kuina–especially her facial expressions–remind you of Konata?  We’ve even got Ritsu standing in as (what else?) the landlady Chiaki.  Add Hana (now called Mayuki) floating fairy-like through the cafe, then pull in the obligatory tsundere and ridiculously overdeveloped youngster, and you’ve got “guilty pleasure” viewing gold!  When you get right down to it, this series seems to be only one or two characters shy of triggering mass cute-steria.  Now imagine what might happen if they dropped in Ren-chon from Non Non Biyori or Kanna from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.  I’m telling you, they just don’t make enough insulin. . .

That said, the story is a pretty simple one.  Hinako, a country girl who has a gentle way with animals (be they domesticated or wild), moves to Tokyo to begin her first year of high school.  She has great difficulty conversing with others, and chooses her high school based upon having seen its theater club perform.  Hinako hopes that joining the theater club will help her overcome her petrifying shyness.  She soon finds out, however, that the club is on hiatus while their advisor is gone.  But what she also discovers is that the other residents of her new home all attend her school and are all supportive of her ambition.  And while Chiaki was already in theater, Hinako’s enthusiasm draws in her other new friends, as well.  Cue the love!

Again, this show is pure whimsy, this season’s warm and welcoming feel-good piece.  Relaxing, pointless fluff (but that is the point!).  From Hinako’s former part-time job as a scarecrow to Kuina’s literally devouring literature, we witness a certain mundanely manic effort by the characters to create fulfilling lives for themselves.  And for the most part, I have faith in them succeeding.  I’m even pretty sure that Hinako will make progress against her awkward shyness; I just don’t know how many of her housemates or classmates will survive the process.