EXPeriencing Anime

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~Dusts off blog. Cringes at last post date. Begins.~

I love that nerd/geek culture is a mainstream identity nowadays. I have previously been guilty of the “you’re not really a nerd” thought. Seeing people lean into fringe cultures of nerdism irritated me. But then I realized that there’s room for everyone to love the weird pop culture things that speak to them, and I stopped judging quite so much. (With the exception of the Star Wars “fans” who drove Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran off of Instagram. Get out of my fandom.)

The internet makes it easier for everyone to access the things they like, and that was true for me, even during the dawn of social media and online publication spaces, circa 2005.

Before streaming was a thing and Netflix just mailed DVDs to your house, I was known to stay up late watching TV in my room. One of these late nights flipping channels and avoiding infomercials, I landed on some animated show on Adult Swim, or Cartoon Network for the late-night crowd. It looked interesting, so I stuck around. What I gleaned from a couple episodes was that the show was about wolves who turned into people? And the world was ending? I had to know more.

At the time, YouTube was a little baby startup. People could upload just about anything because studios hadn’t known to crack down on rights yet. That’s how I was able to find and watch the full series of the wolf/human/end-of-the-world anime called Wolf’s Rain in three-part chunks. YouTube was my push toward anime.

I wasn’t completely new to anime in 2005, however. Dragon Ball Z had been a thing as long as I can remember. I’d watched a little Pokemon here and there, but my heart was with Nickelodeon, so I didn’t have much exposure to Japanese animation – with two big exceptions. My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service were dubbed in English in the ’90s, and I have distinct memories of watching Kiki’s Delivery Service on repeat in my parents’ bedroom. But those were all for kids, right? The only cartoon adults could watch was The Simpsons.

It wasn’t until I saw Wolf’s Rain and the other anime airing on Adult Swim in the middle of the night that it clicked: animation isn’t just for kids, and there’s more out there than Fox and Nickelodeon. I’d seen enough shows about suburban families. I was ready for wolves who turned into people, and ninjas, and alchemists, and space cowboys.

It took me 16 years to discover anime, but I have spent the last 13 years leaning into that fandom. Watching Naruto in high school got a couple people to laugh at me. But I had a boyfriend (now my husband – imagine that) who introduced me to Fullmetal Alchemist and Bleach. And then those shows had merchandise at Hot Topic that I and other people could buy. It was still a little on the fringe, but they were making t-shirts and accessories that I could buy at the mall. What was there to be shamed by? Nothing.

Yes, Naruto is one of the most annoying characters in the history of anime. Yes, some of the long-winded anime have bad raps because of filler episode after filler episode. But the ones that have excellent narrative arcs and tons of character development – whether the main cast has five characters or 50 – are the ones to be on the lookout for. And with the prevalence of streaming today, you can watch all kinds of anime on Netflix and Hulu, new and old.

A friend recently recommended a couple anime for me to watch on Hulu (Tokyo Ghoul which is dark and violent but I’m into it, and My Hero Academia which is amazing), Terry and I started a Bleach rewatch, and I turned on the classic Yu Yu Hakusho as background noise that’s in heavy rotation. There are so many shows I know I should/could be watching across Netflix and Hulu and Amazon like The CrownOITNB, The Handmaid’s Tale… but honestly, most of the time I would just rather watch anime.

The internet can be a pretty grim place these days, but it can also be a haven for people to dive into the things they like, like Japanese animated TV shows.

My Favorite Anime

  1. Wolf’s Rain
  2. Fullmetal Alchemist (the original from 2003, not Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood)
  3. Bleach
  4. Naruto
  5. Cowboy Bebop

Steadily moving up the list: My Hero Academia

My Favorite Miyazaki Movies

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle
  2. Kiki’s Delivery Service
  3. Spirited Away
  4. Princess Mononoke
  5. Ponyo
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EXPeriencing ‘Stranger Things’

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I didn’t mean to be late to the Stranger Things party, but that’s just how things happened.

Terry and I were binge-watching Wayward Pines on Hulu when Stranger Things was released on Netflix. The first thing I noticed is both shows are tied to the Duffer Brothers. Terry and I were really enjoying Wayward Pines, so when we finished Season 2, we knew we’d move on to Stranger Things.

About that…

In Episode 2 of Season 2 of Wayward Pines, we just… weren’t really feeling it anymore. The plot took a turn, a character committed suicide, and we were just pretty sad and dissatisfied with the direction of Season 2. So, we stopped watching TV shows on streaming services for a solid month.

Not for lack of trying on my part.

I’d seen talk of Stranger Things on Twitter, and none of it was bad. Every single tweet about Stranger Things I saw was that it was amazing. I learned that the show opens with the four main boys playing D&D. “D&D, Terry! How could you not want to watch this?” He just raised his eyebrows at me.

Last week, I sat in my garage with the car running listening to Ari Shapiro’s NPR interview with the Duffer Brothers. The moment they said their concept for the show wasn’t storyboards or test footage, but ’70s and ’80s films cut together, including scenes from E.T. cut together with the score of John Carpenter’s The Thing (one of Terry’s favorite movies), I knew we had. to. watch. this. show.

Finally, last Monday, we started watching. On Friday night, we finished. As soon as the credits rolled on the last episode, my first thought was, Why is this only eight episodes???

The reason it’s only eight episodes is because it didn’t need any more in the first season. It told a perfectly arced story in less than eight hours: There’s something fishy going on in a government facility, a boy goes missing, a girl shows up, and everything goes upside down. The best part about Stranger Things is the strange alliance between adults, teenagers, and kids that works better than I’ve ever seen it work before, even better than Harry Potter. Set everything in 1983 in a small Indiana town with a synth-y soundtrack and Star Wars references, and you have me hooked.

Stranger Things is on Netflix and you should watch it right now.

Just keep the lights on.

And try not to have your heart stolen by Gaten Matarazzo.

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Because he is the absolute cutest. Via.

EXPeriencing the 2016 Tony Awards

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At 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, 49 people were shot dead and 53 were wounded at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Eighteen hours later, the 70th Annual Tony Awards were held at the Beacon Theater in New York City. On a day where the LGBTQ community—and the United States—was devastated by a sickening hate crime, it seemed only fitting that one of the most diverse and inclusive communities in show business should hold its award ceremony, the biggest night in Broadway.

And what a big night it was. For the first time in 70 years, Tonys for all four musical acting categories were awarded to people of color. Four black actors received Tonys for their leading roles on Broadway, two full companies of black actors took the stage, and several more companies with diverse casts performed. In the same year where #OscarsSoWhite was a trending hashtag for days and not a single person of color was nominated for a major acting role, the Tonys stands in stark contrast. Hollywood has no excuse for its whiteness, and the performances on Sunday illustrated that.

Beyond diversity and a strong sense of community and solidarity on Sunday—especially with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s heart-wrenching acceptance sonnet—the Tony Awards itself was an incredible show. I love James Corden. I have ever since I first saw him on Doctor Who when he became a pseudo-companion (shout-out to Stormaggedon). We all know he’s musically talented thanks to Carpool Karaoke, so it’s really no surprise his rendition of a lifetime of musicals to open the show was spot on.

Speaking of performances… let’s talk about Hamilton. Their Tonys-specific opening with James Corden was a great way to get “Alexander Hamilton” into the show without performing it outright. And then they performed my favorite all-company song, “The Battle of Yorktown.” I didn’t know they were performing that, so I was pumped to say the least when it started. Then, the show’s credits played out to the cast performing “The Schuyler Sisters”—in their gowns and tuxes with Tonys in hand. Of course Hamilton was going to win 11 awards. It was inevitable. To borrow the words of President Obama who introduced the performance, Hamilton has given America a civics lesson we can’t get enough of.

And while I am thrilled for Hamilton, I’m sad that School of Rock didn’t win any awards. It was very deserving of the four Tonys it was nominated for. I’ve been lucky enough to see a good number of Broadway shows in Chicago, London, and finally this year in New York. I saw Matilda and, on a whim, School of Rock. School of Rock was the most fun I’ve ever had at a theater. Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Avenue Q are two of the funniest musicals I’ve ever seen, but School of Rock was definitely the funnest. You can’t not have fun at a musical where you rock out for two hours to a show performed live by kids half your age that don’t make you feel useless in all you’ve done in your life. Seriously one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had.

On a day where we all so desperately needed to smile, to dance, to sing, and to feel loved, I’m so grateful for the Tonys. The show must go on, as they say, and I’ve never been more thankful to be a fan of musicals and theater. Despite all the bad of this weekend, I feel compelled to close out this post the same way Hamilton’s producer Jeffrey Seller did his acceptance speech for Best Musical: “Look around, look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

2016 Tony Awards - Show

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 12: Alex Brightman (C) and the cast of ‘School of Rock’ perform onstage during the 70th Annual Tony Awards at The Beacon Theatre on June 12, 2016, in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

EXPeriencing ‘Arrow’

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I probably never would have started watching Arrow without having become addicted to The Flash first. Considering The Flash is a spin-off of Arrow, and considering The Flash is so well-written and engrossing, it stands to reason that Arrow should be about as good, too, right?

I would say yes, but it’s a slower build up than The Flash. When Arrow started, I had no idea what it was about other than a billionaire playboy-turned-vigilante-who-isn’t-Batman. I didn’t know it would be about Oliver Queen having been marooned on an island for five years and coming back to Starling City an expert archer with a vendetta. I wasn’t expecting the many flashbacks to Oliver’s time on the island, but they came to be one of the best things about Season One. You obviously have to go through some pretty heavy stuff to come back ready to kill dozens of one-percenters, so I appreciated the slow burn of learning what happened on the island.

And of course there are Oliver’s partners in vigilantism, John Diggle and Felicity Smoak. Having met both of them and getting to know Felicity in The Flash, I was just plain happy every time they showed up on screen. Oliver, Dig, and Felicity make a good team, and even as the team grows in Season Two to add a few other bad-asses with semi-tragic-to-tragic backstories, the core group of three remains solid and intact.

Out of all that I like about Arrow, what I appreciate most are the twists and turns of the plot. Each season has 23 episodes, which is actually kind of a lot nowadays. The Walking Dead has about 16 episodes per season and all the Netflix original series–House of CardsOrange Is the New Black, Daredevil, Jessica Jones–run 13 episodes per season. Having been without cable for so long and not watching TV shows in a weekly format, I got used to shorter seasons as the norm.

That means since one season of Arrow is about the same length as two seasons of a Netflix show, there’s the capacity for it to get stale or ridiculous pretty quickly. Plot twists are necessary to keep interest up for 23 hours. Arrow rose to that challenge. While some of the dialogue writing is predictable, the plot twists never are. When all your characters are working in secrecy or have pasts they don’t want revealed, it provides a good vehicle for shocking new developments. That may make the show sound off-the-wall crazy, but all the plot twists make sense within the story. Nothing seems completely out of line, even when the twist blindsides you.

I’m glad I’ve started watching Arrow, but I’m really glad I started with The Flash first. I eased backward into Arrow’s characters and have been waiting in anticipation for The Flash’s characters to show up in Starling City (which they already have, of course). Terry and I finished Season Two of Arrow and started Season Three tonight. Barry Allen just called Oliver, and I’m looking forward to some more crossover action.

And more shirtless Stephen Amell. That’s never bad.

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Scars and all, baby. Via.

EXPeriencing ‘The Flash’: Season One

Cover photo via MoviePilot.

I typically think of myself as a Marvel Universe fan. I immersed myself in Marvel in the early 2000s when I saw X-Men and Spider-Man in theaters. They were fun, had intriguing characters, and everyone was full of powers that I craved as a teenager. (To the point that I was writing X-Men fanfic before bed…) While I do love Christopher Nolan’s Batman, I’ve never really cared for Superman and my knowledge of the rest of the DC Universe is zilch.

I was looking for a new show to binge on Netflix late in December, mostly because I knew Terry was sick of being drawn into Worst Cooks in America. After scrolling through every TV show available on Netflix, and having heard good things about The Flash, that’s what we turned on. The pilot was very good. It was entertaining, and I liked Barry, Cisco, Caitlin, Iris, and Joe’s characters. All were interesting and layered and well-acted. Despite Terry telling me decades’ worth of backstory about Barry Allen and all the various Flashes, Reverse-Flashes, and the Justice League, I know so little about DC and The Flash I was able to watch the show with an open mind and let this be my first interaction with a new superhero.

I enjoyed the show at first. But man, it grew on me fast. To the point where it may be one of the best shows I’ve seen in the past couple years, right up there with Daredevil and Jessica Jones. (I like superhero shows, okay?) I think the reason it grew on me so quickly is because the pacing was spot on. It starts with the particle reactor explosion that causes a freak storm turning Barry into “the Streak” (thankfully that name doesn’t stick), and turns many other people in Central City–mostly criminals, of course–into “metahumans.” But the first season isn’t just about Barry growing as The Flash and catching metahumans. It swiftly evolves into that and his renewed quest to discover who killed is mom 11 years ago and set his dad free from prison. Now that Barry is a “speedster” (the dumbest name for an ability ever, sorry), he’s noticed some similarities between his abilities and those of the mysterious Man in Yellow who killed Nora Allen.

These two plots–catching criminals and investigating Barry’s mom’s murder–tie together nicely as you get more and more hints into who dun’ it. The viewers know much sooner than Barry himself does. Along with the pacing, this definitely helped keep me intrigued. When is Barry going to figure it out?  When is he going to go back in time to try and stop it? Oh yeah, did I mention there’s time travel? There’s time travel. And it’s a good kind of time travel–the kind where one changed decision creates a new future, the kind that changes everything…

For instance, the finale. I won’t get into the finale, but ho. ly. shit. That was Walking Dead levels of emotions I felt at the end of The Flash. Time travel is no joke, my friends, and when a dead parent is involved, well, let’s just say it gets you right in the heart.

The one downside to The Flash and it being my first foray into DC TV shows is that I completely skipped Arrow. I’ve heard good things about Arrow, too, of course, but Terry was vehemently against watching the show. His point of reference for the Green Arrow is “a poncy, goateed Robin Hood who shoots arrows with punching bags on the end of them.” I don’t blame him, that does sound pretty lame. But, there is a lot of crossover with Arrow where references flew right over my head and I had very little knowledge of who this random new character was. Not to the point where I didn’t understand the plot, but I knew I would have appreciated what was going on far more if I knew what had happened on Arrow that week.

Possibly needless to say, and after that intense finale, Terry and I started watching Arrow this week to get caught up before watching Season Two of The Flash. I’m looking forward to learning more about the characters in Starling City, especially Resident Bad Ass Felicity Smoak. And when Barry Allen shows up on Arrow, as he inevitably will, I will be a happy camper.

EXPeriencing Fox’s Monday Lineup (And Saying Goodbye to ‘The Bachelor’)

Cover image via Know Your Meme.

I had every intention of bringing my laptop home from work this evening so I could live tweet the second half of The Bachelor and then write a blog post about what I thought of the show four weeks in.

That plan was derailed when I kept my TV on Fox after the second episode of The X-Files reboot to watch the premiere of Lucifer.

Before four weeks ago, I had only ever seen one episode ever of The Bachelor. It was the most recent season finale in which the Bachelor Chris proposed to one of the two girls he had been dating on the show, Whitney, in a barn. They are no longer together.

I watched this episode not because I was suddenly struck with the desire to watch The Bachelor 19 seasons in, but because my friend was hosting a cupcake-decorating party—cupcakes and wine provided. Duh I’m going to enjoy that social time instead of sitting home! While the finale of the show was ridiculous, partly because I had zero context, it was a fun time hanging out with friends and eating sugar.

So, when this season of The Bachelor began, I again joined my friends for wine, but this time I was going to get the full Bachelor story from the beginning.

What. A. Train wreck.

There are some much more established, much funnier blogs out there with episode recaps of The Bachelor so I won’t wade into that, but what I saw in the first episode truly blew my mind. Girls getting out of limos with unicorn masks on, breaking bread on the curb, crazies getting drunk and getting mad at the Bachelor for not making eye contact. What.

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Why is this a thing that happened? Via.

But I was hanging out with friends, we all made fun of the situations equally, and all-in-all, it was a pretty entertaining evening. I attempted to watch the second episode on my own the next week, but no dice. Watching it alone just made me irritable at the ridiculous situations. Week three, I joined my friends again and had a blast watching the weirdest, most outrageous show on television.

But, last week’s foray into The Bachelor may have been my last for a time, because Fox’s Monday lineup from 8-10 is much more my speed.

At 8: The X-Files reboot. Tonight was the second episode, and all aboard the Feel Train! I didn’t watch The X-Files much when I was a kid, mostly because I was too addicted to Nickelodeon to change the channel, but also because Goosebumps gave me all the nightmares I needed, thankyouverymuch. However, Terry watched all nine seasons with his brother and mom when they aired in the ’90s. Of course I was going to force him to watch the reboot with me. He’s experiencing some deeper nostalgia-driven feels than I am, but I can appreciate the 15-year-old relationship between Mulder and Scully and the continuation of their story. And aliens.

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Duh. Via.

Then, at 9: The series premiere of Lucifer. I heard about this show for the first time about 24 hours ago when watching the NFC Championship Game, but the previews played a song that fits right in with my favorite Pandora station, so I at least knew the show would have good style. Because it was premiering after The X-Files on the same channel, I figured, why turn to ABC when I could stay on Fox and watch a show with witty banter and a sexy British antihero? There’s no more quintessential antihero than the Devil himself, after all.

Lucifer was the right decision. A stellar soundtrack, good dialogue, and an intriguing plot of the Devil helping a detective solve a murder added up to a pretty solid pilot episode. The X-Files and Lucifer will be on again next Monday from 8-10, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be watching.

Sorry, Ben. No more roses for this girl.

(And with these ten extra words, I’m at 666 words. Boom.)

EXPeriencing Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ (Season 2)

Cover image via Hypable. Caution, contains some spoilery things.

I have previously noted my fangirl love of the Marvel cinematic universe, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m a big fan of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I was a little iffy about it when the first season premiered on ABC, so I didn’t watch it as it aired. I waited until it was on Netflix, which was both an excellent and poorly timed decision. It was an excellent decision because it reeled me in immediately and I was hooked from the first episode so I could watch them all in basically one sitting. (In fact, I liked it so much, my husband, Terry, bought me a S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy Alumni phone case for Christmas. It’s awesome.) It was poorly timed because by the time I was done binge-watching it, Season 2 was already several episodes in on ABC, and I couldn’t find the first episodes streaming online anywhere. Rather than steal/buy them, I waited.

Finally, a few weeks ago Season 2 went up on Netflix, and Terry and I got to bingeing. I really enjoyed Season 2. It plays off of the end of Season 1 and the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. well as Coulson and his team work to rebuild the organization. It also incorporates the smaller story arcs–particularly the character-driven ones–nicely: Fitz/Simmons, Skye and the search for her parents, Coulson and the fallout from the TAHITI project, new characters who have joined the team (like mercenary Lance Hunter, played by Nick Blood. I’m a fan.), etc. Together with the overarching enemy of Hydra, these story and character arcs really make the season.

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Hey, Nick. How are ya? (Source)

As Terry and I were getting to the last few episodes of the season, I realized one of my favorite things about the show, particularly Season 2, is how well-crafted the antagonist(s) are. I say “antagonist(s)” specifically because there’s not just one. Far from it. Yes, Hydra is the “main” enemy and will be until all its heads are cut off. But throughout the season, other enemies rise and fall, become allies, or go from ally to enemy. From Ward, to Skye’s father, to the “enhanced individuals,” to S.H.I.E.L.D. itself, Coulson and his team’s antagonists are ever-shifting–and that’s a good thing. If they were just going after Hydra for 22 episodes, it’d get kind of boring. With several different people and organizations squaring off against S.H.I.E.L.D., though, the show always stays interesting, and you never know what ride is in store for you each episode.

As my husband put it, it’s very much like The Walking Dead in that regard. The walkers are always there, and they’re always the overarching enemy (like Hydra). But there are other bands of people, individuals within the group, cannibalistic towns, and so much more that creates a threat to Rick and the group. You never know who to trust, and when you add the threat of zombies on top of it, it makes for an incredibly compelling show.

At this point, if you like the Marvel cinematic universe movies but you’re not watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., time to get with the program. In fact, if you’re not watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you’re likely going to start missing out on important details in the movies (for instance, if you didn’t know that S.H.I.E.L.D. had fallen when Age of Ultron came out, that was probably a bit of a shocker for you). So, if you like Captain America and Thor, all the action those movies provide, and a sprawling interconnected world, I would highly recommend you check out Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Also, let me remind you that this is a Joss and Jed Whedon show. Picture Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer with established superheroes and all the force of ABC/Disney behind it. There are strong female characters all over the place, great action scenes that almost always further the plot, and intricacies and mysteries that can only be etched out over 22 hours, rather than 2. So if you were feeling a little underwhelmed by Age of Ultron, I think Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will help you feel like your action can be smarter.

If I haven’t made it clear enough, I really like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. When Terry and I finished watching the last episode Thursday night, we both wanted more, and not just because the cliffhangers were intense. The show and characters really captivated us, and when the season ended, we didn’t want to let go yet. All weekend we’ve been lamenting that we finished the season and now we don’t have anything else to watch that even comes close to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. So in the meantime before Season 3 premieres, I guess we’ll just keep re-watching Daredevil, and I’m going to search for a gym that trains you to work out and fight like a spy…