Over the last few weeks, I got over my Crary-induced Luddite phase and discovered a cautious new interest in wearable technology. If it's in my best interest to stay connected to the digital world, I wonder how I can make that dependency as unobtrusive as possible – maybe smaller devices are key? Although, it's evident from my few days of experimenting with a new Samsung watch that the proliferation and development of wearables is motivated by gaining access to even more of our data. I guess that should have been obvious from the beginning, but I was disappointed by the generic selection of apps available. In the interest of stretching our imagination a little bit further, I'm learning some Android development so that I can make some apps myself.
Maybe The Real New Game+ Was The Friends We Made
After the excitement over the Kingdom Hearts 4 reveal last month, I (briefly) considered playing through the rest of the franchise. While I don't think the earlier games in the franchise aged so poorly, I probably don't have the patience to play them anymore. Besides, if I need a refresher, a summary by any given fan on YouTube will do a better job explaining lore than the games themselves.
That said, I've been thinking about Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories lately, and how it has one of the best endgame experiences I've ever played – maybe good enough that I can be convinced to play it again! Chain of Memories, the bridge between KH1 and 2, was actually the first game in the franchise I tried, so naturally its plot didn't make much sense to me. I remember getting stuck battling a particularly annoying boss (Larxene, iykyk) and abandoning the game altogether. It was interesting enough that I did end up buying the mainline entries not long after, but I didn't pick it up again until a few years later.
In those days, I had to wait for my parents to let me buy new games, so I must have been making my way through the backlog between birthdays and holidays. By then I'd finished KH1, so I had more context to follow along. But that was also why I felt pretty bummed playing through it again, as its plot boils down to watching our hero Sora lose all memories of his past and loved ones as you lead him higher up Castle Oblivion. Though this second time around, I managed to beat the game, only to discover a new title screen, featuring a portrait of Sora's dear friend-turned-adversary Riku and the subtitle Reverse/Rebirth. Imagine my surprise! I vaguely remember running to my sister exclaiming that I'd unlocked a secret ending.
In fact it's not a secret at all, but a playable epilogue in which you guide Riku as he overcomes his inner darkness while escaping Castle Oblivion, where Sora is now trapped (thanks to you). Gameplay is a streamlined version of Sora's journey, with the most significant change being Riku's more vicious moveset, the receiving end of which you've faced as Sora since KH1. In other words, you get to play as the (reformed) villain – a pretty neat way to keep things interesting if you ask me!
The novelty doesn't last for long – wailing on the same enemies will get old no matter how cool it looks – but neither does the epilogue, which in a couple hours of gameplay delivers just enough of director Nomura's heavy-handed symbolism and wordplay to give the journey its emotional payoff. I still remember the content satisfaction after watching the game's very last cutscene (which was incredibly high quality for a GBA game) – even rewatching it now, I can't help but grin a little.
If this sounds a lot like nostalgia speaking, you're probably right. At least part of the impact of Reverse/Rebirth came from the fact that I had no idea to expect it, and back then, I didn't even have a phone, never mind a newsfeed on every screen sharing everything possibly related to a search I made one time. You can bet that if Chain of Memories came out today, so would a dozen clickbait articles explaining how to "unlock" Riku in rushed paragraphs poorly formatted between Google Ads.
But maybe I'm being too cynical – if I knew it was coming, maybe the reward of eventually playing Riku would have motivated me to try and finish the game sooner? On that note, what is the best postgame content you've ever played? How would that experience have changed if you knew (or didn't know) about it ahead of time?
What I'm Enjoying
NANA: It is a damn shame that Ai Yazawa never got to finish writing this series, but given how intensely it feels like a product of its time – from Nana K.'s fashion, to Nana O. and her band's music, to the rampant appropriation as well as a few awful jokes – at this point, it's probably best left as is. Nevertheless, its depictions of vulnerability and the fluid, ill-defined boundaries of "love" reminded me once again how rarely we ever get to see beyond a narrow range of our emotions onscreen.
Ranking of Kings/王様ランキング: I think this is the first time I've seen an anime series feature a main character with a disability, and only the second time I've seen sign language animated at all since A Silent Voice. Animator Hiromi Yoshida tweeted about drawing key animations of signing for Episode 2. She wrote, "Acting out a manga I love in my own language was an incredibly fun experience. It might have been the first time ever that I was glad to be hard of hearing." I had a lot of fun watching Prince Bojji grow with the love and support of his family and friends (except Domas, fuck Domas). I'd like to spend more time looking for stories by or about individuals who have disabilities, too.
Farewell, My Dear Cramer/さよなら、私のククラマー: It's interesting to see anime archetypes subverted or adapted to new settings, as we see in the Warabi Seinan girls soccer team. A source of frustration among the athletes is the pressure to bring the spotlight back to women's soccer. But despite their obvious talent, the girls aren't even given the space to practice by their own school, which always sides with the larger boys team. How does a brash young prodigy (like sports anime protagonists tend to be) overcome these obstacles? It's a class of problems which you rarely see, in a genre also dominated by stories about men!
Netsugen/熱源, by Soichi Kawagoe: I first learned about Netsugen (lit., "the source of warmth") last year at a seminar about Bronisław Piotr Piłsudski, a Polish ethnographer and revolutionary who befriended Ainu in Sakhalin after being exiled for participating in an assassination plot against the Russian Tsar. The book, based on the real lives of Piłsudski, Karafuto Ainu activist Yasunosuke Yamabe, and many others, takes place over the course of nearly a century, from the years before the Meiji Restoration to Japan's surrender at the end of the Second World War. It was the longest book I'd ever read in Japanese, and I hope that it's translated into English soon, too.
MVs of the Week
In this week's episode of Kaguya-sama, what had once seemed like a running gag about a character's complete lack of rhythm became the focus of a half-episode long rap redemption arc and an ED that took 10(!!) months to make according to @Vercreek, the animation director of the video.
And for a second video I have to include Kendrick Lamar's The Heart Part 5. I had seen some headlines about its use of deepfakes and didn't think too much at the time, but actually watching it is both fascinating as a work of art and a little scary given the implications of what's to come (and already here). Be careful where you share your face!