Aside

Book Club

I’ve been making a lot of noise lately about wanting to start a book club in my area, and today was the day I finally got off my butt and started doing something about it. I have posted to a few sites and am now in the process of selecting some books that I want to recommend to the group.

I am very much aware of how unlikely this will be successful due to the language barrier, location, and the general busy schedules that adults have. I am still hopeful though that this will work out. It’ll be fine! I think!

Today was another black hole sort of day because I’m still recovering from how tired I was yesterday. I have work for the next two days as well so I’m going to be exhausted when the weekend rolls around. Thinking about this book club has got me excited about stuff, but it is also using up all of my energy just thinking about it.

Anyway, this is another plea for forgiveness for these short Aside entries. I suspected that this first week back to work would kick my ass and unfortunately that looks what’s happening, argh.

Aside

Exhausted

Just got back from my first day back at work after nearly a month away, and man I am tired.

I can’t think very well right now, let alone write. I first typed “right” just now, that’s how tired I am. I am the kind of exhausted that you read about in Greek epics.

These came yesterday though:

So, THAT’S cool.

Aside

Gurgle

Today was a pretty bad day. A contract for a class I was set to start teaching from next Monday got delayed into sometime in mid- to late-February, and even that’s still up in the air because they’re not sure if there will be enough students to fill the classes. I have been trying to get more info on this client and a definitive answer on their status since early December, and for it all to fall apart after so much waiting and anxiety was pretty much the worst.

Sorry everyone. Today I was supposed to use my last free day before Tokyo classes started up again to write something upbeat and light, but wasted my whole day in a black hole of depression. That’s already bad enough, but tomorrow morning I’ll be on the rush hour train going to Shinjuku.

I just want to curl up and sleep forever.

Thoughts on Rin-ne Vol. 1

I kind of feel like I was cheating with this volume since I’ve seen all the first and second seasons of the anime. I already knew everything that was going to happen, and anyway the first volume of a manga series like this is just the usual introductions to the characters and universe. In all honesty I could have skipped this since it was all covered in the anime anyway, and there isn’t really much to say about it since there aren’t too many differences between the two.

One thing that makes me cackle though is how rude Rinne is to Sakura, at least in these first few episodes. He never quite gets to Ranma levels of assholery, but he calls her おまえ and isn’t impressed when she clings to him. I won’t say I’m disappointed that he eventually (spoiler) falls for her, since smitten Rinne is also pretty cute, but these early episodes when he is just baffled by her is kind of great.

This was also true when I was watching the anime, but I LOOOOOOVE Sakura. I love that she’s not the annoying shrew that Akane and Kagome were in Ranma ½ and Inuyasha, respectively. I love how she is this strong, self-determined, curious character without having to fight with everyone to prove it. She just is, and it’s great. I love her.

Similarly to how I felt about the anime, I’m not in love with the whole “Rinne is poor, that’s the joke!” that a lot of the series is premised on. It’s one thing for poverty to be a central issue for why he is a shinigami, and to explain the situation when it’s found out that he lives in an abandoned school building and lives off the offerings left to the school’s weather box, but it’s sometimes uncomfortable for “jokes” like Sakura being cut off partway through saying “Rokudo is poor.”

And finally, Rokumon is too cute for words.

Look at this cute patoot.

That is all.

Bloggin’

My personal wager to myself to see how long I could keep up daily blog posts has gone better than any previous attempt… which might not be saying much since my current streak is only just over two weeks long. Of course, I started this round when I was in the middle of a nearly one-month break from work, so the real test will begin once I start commuting to Shinjuku again from Tuesday.

I’ve flip-flopped on whether I should give myself weekends off, since it’s hard to find time to myself with my husband at home. I feel like since we don’t have that much time together during the week, it’d be selfish of me to be tapping away at this blog instead of giving him my full attention. But I’ve been making do so far with the spare moments. Not to mention, scheduling posts to go up in the future, like I’m doing for this one! I guess we’ll see if I can keep this output going even after work begins in earnest.

I’m pleased with how I have relatively few Asides, even though I caught a cold this past week and have been under the weather. Again, I may need to rely on them more as my workload gears up for spring, but I feel like I’ve got a good momentum going of posting a good 300-500 words minimum per day. Future goals will be to bump that up to 1,000/day and work on series and features, but I’m satisfied for now with how things are going.

I would, ideally, like to start writing more reviews. I’ve only got one “full” review up (Slow Bullets), and started cheating with Reviews Done Quick and Thoughts On. I am also pretty unsatisfied with the Slow Bullets review, if only because I had such lukewarm feelings about the subject and am so unfamiliar with the genre. It’s hard for me to write about things I love, but paradoxically I don’t really do enough to step out of my comfort zone so the only things I consume are things I’m predestined to love.

I also still spend far too much of my time oversharing on Twitter. It’s handy in many ways because I can belch out my first draft thoughts there and then compile them in WordPress later, but also I just need to get out of my head, and Twitter is sort of the worst for that. The end of my (too) long winter vacation should hopefully give me the kick in the pants I need to take part in the real world a bit more…

Anyway, thanks for following along for the past two weeks, let’s see how much longer this can last!

Thoughts on March Comes In Like a Lion S2

Folks, my roaring headache seems to be here to stay, and on top of that I have to get ready for work tonight, so unfortunately today’s gonna have to be a quickie too.

I’m only a few episodes into S2 of March Comes In Like a Lion, and just like my feelings from the first season, I think this is just okay. I still love the animation, premise, location, and all of the side characters.

I still have far too many problems with the protagonist, Rei Kiriyama. Huge tracts of the show are spent inside of his head, listening to him drone on about either his feelings or a scene that played out just before. The former is fine, if done sparingly and eloquently, which it isn’t. The latter is the sort of thing that makes me want to tear all of the hair out of my head, because believe it or not this show is really good at landing those big tearjerker scenes, but then screwing up the landing by having Rei belch on about it.

Off the top of my head, there were two scenes that really stood out to me as being stunning, but were then ruined by Rei talking way too much. This might be getting a bit spoilery, so I’ll hide them behind the cut.

Continue reading

Sick Day Pt. 2

I’ve still got a headache that could split the world in half. Today was my last full day of vacation before I go back to work tomorrow evening, and I suppose my body couldn’t pass up on making me spend my precious free time moaning and curled up in bed.

I did manage to finally get through the most recent issue of The Language Teacher. Within it was this doozy under the heading Young Learners. It starts off with the evergreen discussion of how to keep language-learning materials fresh, engaging, and practical for young learners. There’s the usual perfunctory mentioning of how Japan will be implementing new English-language curriculum for the 2020 Olympics, and how we as educators need to be thinking of ways to make English classes meaningful and engaging.

After laying down that groundwork, the author abruptly tells you the answer is… gems. Like, jewelry.

Yeah.

Gems as the primary focus of a content-task-based EYL textbook may appear to be wildly inappropriate. After all, aren’t gems mainly of interest to adults, as either consumers or producers and retailers? Will children really be interested in learning about emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and so on? Can Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT), as defined by Mike Long (2015), be realized when such delimited content is employed? Will this facilitate the acquisition of 21st-century skills? The answer is yes, for the following reasons:

  • Gems and their respective stories are glittery and should be of interest to most young learners.

Okay, there are more points after that, but none of the rest are any good either. If you’re like me you’re already thinking oh no. There are no other recommendations for topics, it’s just “How can we get parents to buy gems for their kids and think that’ll get them to learn English?” The author says that there are “any number” of potential ESL activities centered around these gems, and outlines on especially weird and frankly boring example:

The teacher employs “elaborated input—plenty of complete and partial repetition, segmentation…and intensive listening practice” (Long, 2015, p. 261) without resorting to explicit teaching of grammatical structures. During the presentation stage of the lesson it is, of course, preferable that the teacher focus on the receptive skills. The information imparted may be conveyed as follows, rendered here in the linguistic equivalent of time-lapse photography: “A ruby…a ruby over a sapphire…there’s a round sapphire…there’s a round sapphire under an oval ruby….” When the students have had sufficient exposure to the input, they are paired and divided by a partition. One student receives a small card that is nearly identical to the chart displayed by the teacher, the only difference being that the arrangement of the gems in strips A and B has been altered. The other student receives a packet of fake gemstones. The student with the “gems” must arrange them according to the input from the student with the card.

Despite this frankly embarrassing contrived reskin of a bog standard activity (wasn’t the point to get away from stagnant and overused ESL materials?), the author salivates over this chance to turn gems into some kind of international megahit, somehow?

Many publishers may be reluctant to invest in a book or series of books with such an unorthodox theme, but the company that decides to seize the day is likely to be greatly rewarded. First, learners and their parents will eventually tire of books that are monothematic, just as Japanese tourists now seek out more exotic destinations than Hawaii and California for their vacations. Second, though the primary market would be elementary, middle, and language schools in Japan, a secondary, and perhaps sizable, market could readily be exploited overseas, if distribution channels can be arranged. The textbook, at least, would contain very little Japanese, which could easily be replaced with, for instance, Chinese, Korean, Thai, French, Spanish, etc. Third, if the initial book proves successful, a series could easily be created, with upper-level books focusing on tasks involving the selling of different gems and their stories.

The article conclusion is just outright fantasizing the marketing of gems to kids (“Yes, you read that correctly, kinetic jewelry!”) in some kind of bizarro, frankly desperate bid of 80s toy manufacturer advertising:

Gems and gemology may become even more attractive to children as the stones, mounted and worn as jewelry, move from the static to the dynamic. Yes, you read that correctly, kinetic jewelry! MIT’s Media Lab’s Project Kino is doing just that. Hsin-Liu Kao et al. (2017) introduce their readers to the aesthetic and practical world of “shape-changing jewelry.” What begins the day as a brooch securing a scarf to a dress might end the day as a necklace!

All that glitters can be told in learner-appropriate language, attractively packaged in a cognitively-appropriate box, and perhaps, someday soon, gift-wrapped with a Project Kino doodad that changes color and position based on the recipient’s emotional state at the time.

I was reading this journal in the bathtub (you know, as you do) but had to hastily towel off and come tweet about this monstrosity straight away. Exploiting kids and parents under the guise of education is nothing new, but man oh man, I haven’t seen a stinker this bad in a while.

I can say with confidence that reading this did not improve my condition very much at all. English teachers are weird, man.

Aside

Sick day

I was hoping to get more reviews done today, or at least a longer blog entry. Unfortunately, my husband took the day off of work because of a cold, and I’m also not at a hundred percent. I have been reading manga again though, so hopefully I can get something up about that soon? I’ve also decided that I’m going to start logging manga towards my Goodreads goal of 50 books in 2018. It’s kind of cheating but it should count if I’m reading in Japanese, dammit.

First volume of Rin-ne, plus new cloth book cover underneath.

First volume of Rin-ne, plus new cloth book cover underneath.

I bought the first 25 volumes of Rin-ne used in one big bundle. My goal is to make my way through it at least one chapter per day. Ideally I’d like to make it one volume a day since manga goes by so much more quickly than a regular book, but we’ll see.

I also have the full set of Drifting Classroom (漂流教室) on the way. It looks like 2018 is the year I finally throw pretense to the wind and embrace the secret otaku dork I have always been.

Head is throbbing, so gonna go lie down. See you all back here tomorrow.

Windy

Today was a pretty dark day. It started off pretty well: I woke up before my husband left for work, we had breakfast together, I made coffee. I did most of my chores before lunch. I thought things were going really well.

It was right around mid-morning that I had my downward spiral. I remembered that work hadn’t e-mailed me yet about two contracts that I’m waiting on. I was offered both contracts in early December, and both would start in mid- and late January. I accepted both, and kept my schedule clear for them, and waited to get more information. I was told that they’d send more info before winter break started, but never got back to me. They asked me to wait until after winter break finished, and when I still didn’t hear back, they asked me to wait until after the three-day weekend (Coming of Age Day). It is now the evening of the 9th and I still haven’t heard anything back from them.

One contract is a renewal for a client that I taught last year. That was a trial run over the summer, only three months, and they sat on the idea of renewing for a full six-month course for ages. I am waiting on them to confirm that they really are going to go through with it, and the first lesson is tentatively scheduled for Jan 22nd, less than two weeks away. The other contract is a total unknown: I still don’t even know the name of the client or what level they’re at, only that they’d like to start at the end of January. That second client at least did confirm that they are going through with the course, though they have yet to send me the calendar, materials, or paperwork.

I’ve been on “vacation” since Dec 22 and will start my daytime work again from next Tuesday, Jan 16. That’s almost an entire month without classes, which means almost an entire month without pay. I do contract work, which means I don’t get paid for the time when I’m not explicitly teaching. My paycheck for next month was already going to be very thin because of all this time off, which I should note I did not request but which simply did not have any scheduled classes. On top of all that stress, now I have to worry about whether those two contracts I was promised for January will really come through.

I guess I don’t really need them. I still have my daytime work in Shinjuku three days a week until early May, and my Friday evening class until the end of February. And besides, it’s not as if they’ve fallen through, at least not yet. I was very good about saving money last year so I’ve got a nice cache just in case. But it’s frustrating to think that in that entire month when I wasn’t working, I could have looked for other work, I could have fought and winning for PL students, I could have (SHOULD have, some would say) been putting my eggs in as many baskets as possible to avoid this very scenario from playing out.

But I didn’t, because I wanted to enjoy my month off. I didn’t want to think about work, or go through the soul-grinding process of hunting for students. I just wanted a month to learn how to cook, to blog more, to read more, to do some walking, to listen to more enka on YouTube. I was doing pretty well, I thought.

Then I remembered, oh yeah. I’m a fucking mess.

I made plans to make dinner tonight, which meant I had to go out grocery shopping. I decided to stop by the community center too, though I don’t really know what I was looking for. I tweeted that I was going to look for book clubs, even though I knew there’s no way in hell there’d be an English book club at my local Japanese community center. I tell people that I’d like to start one, but who the hell would even join?

This afternoon was a combination of fruitless thrashing and cold drifting. I wafted to a book store and spent too long looking at book covers, even though I don’t own that many physical books to cover up anyway. I walked past the local temple and thought about taking pictures of it with my phone, then gave up and kept walking without even stopping. Something about spending the last month relatively happy, when I should have been looking for more ways to sell my labor, flipped a switch in me. All the anxiety that I’d been trying to put off has come flooding back, with interest. I can’t sit still, but I also can’t think of what else I should be doing, but also if I don’t move I may drown.

Today was a windy Tuesday with no rain. I have two and a half days before my first class of the year.

Anime Reviews Done Quick #2

More shows that I watched in 2017 and have thoughts about:


Made in Abyss

I will always remember Made in Abyss as being the series that got a very angry self-described “elitist” fan in my Twitter mentions because I made the mistake of saying it’s one of my favorite shows that I watched in fall 2017 show when it is actually, technically, a summer 2017 show. Oh, anime fans.

The show itself is pretty solid, with a great world and cool lore. The Abyss is an enormous cavern that stretches endlessly down, and is full of monsters, magic, and old relics from past civilizations. I did find myself cooling on the show after about the midway point, when Rico was temporarily sidelined and the POV switched over to Reg, a dismally boring robot-sworn-to-protect-the-girl-no-matter-what. (I guess at least he doesn’t go through the usual existential “What does it mean to be human?” crisis that every other robot show has.)

The first season ended on a cliffhanger and I liked it enough to want to stick around to see what happens in the next, though maybe not in such a rush that I’ll bother with the manga.


Land of the Lustrous

Before the first episode, I was bracing hard for this show to suck. It’s got CG animation, there are lots of leggy pre-teens dressed in what look like school uniforms, it had this whole vibe of being a harem show. But it wasn’t! Actually it was pretty great! Also, I need to start having higher standards than “It wasn’t as gross or harem-y as I expected”!

Land of the Lustrous is about jewel people fighting off attacks from the moon people who come in on giant Buddha-like arrays to shoot bits of their body off to take back to the moon as decoration. Got it? Good. There’s a lot of great big action scenes that actually work well with the CG style, and there’s a lot of great moments of reflection mixed with gag humor for relief. Protagonist Phos’ transformation from lighthearted kid to no-nonsense warrior was heartbreaking to watch, and the show ends on a cliffhanger promising even darker events on the horizon.

My only quibbles are with the two grimdark characters Cinnabar and Bort who drag down every scene they’re in. I’m not really sold on the Phos/Cinnabar relationship either to be honest, considering how little they actually interact and how Cinnabar is just really hard to like. I’ll watch Season 2 but it’s not a high priority.


The Disastrous Life of Saiki Kusuo

One of the worst things about 2017 was watching Gintama slide further down the crapper with its awful serious story and completely abandonment of the gags that made it so famous in the first place. On the other hand, thanks to the vacuum, Saiki Kusuo’s quick (and I mean QUICK) gags can stand out that much more.

Saiki Kusuo’s art is half-assed and junk, its characters literally tropes that the main character dully rattles off. The gags sometimes don’t even really land that well, but they go by so lightning quick that you are too surprised to realize that what you’re laughing at doesn’t even make much sense. It’s not a good show, unless you are like me and have an appetite for gag anime. If you are though, man… I’ve never seen a show this fast without flying totally off the rails into incomprehensible gibberish. It’s tight, it’s fast, the jokes rain down so fast and never let up. There often isn’t even much time for setups, it just whisks you away to the next joke the instant one lands.

Unlike Gintama’s raunchy comedy with heavy use of mosaics and winking knowledge about what goes on in Kabukicho, Saiki’s is a bit safer and conventional, and more about the weird people you meet in high school. It is all very fast, very strange, and, if you’re into gag shows, a pretty good stand-in for Gintama… at least, until they get their act back together and start making gags again, dammit.


March Comes in Like a Lion

I want to like this show. It’s about a depressed high schooler turned pro shogi player. There’s a duality to the show: one side is when he’s by himself, alone with his thoughts and memories, vulnerable, and ever brooding. The other side is when the Kawamoto sisters or Harunobu appears, and the temperature of the show immediately warms up.

I should like this show more than I do. It’s got all the right ingredients! But I just can’t. Rei spends wayyy too much time talking to himself about everything. There are so many great atmospheric scenes of him looking out over the bay, for example, but instead of just letting the sweeping art (which is great, by the way, amazing animation) do the work, we have to have Rei’s endless inner monologues over it. There is far too much “show, but let’s also tell just to really hammer it home” going on. Too many brooding moments or character interactions that don’t really need commentary are almost always weakened by Rei talking over it. Ugh.

I’m only partway through the first season, and I don’t know if I have it in me to keep pushing on to Season 2. Shinji Ikari you ain’t, kid.


Welcome to the Ballroom

This is basically every sports anime ever. You’ve seen one, right? Okay, then you’ve seen Welcome to the Ballroom.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. It’s every sports anime ever, but with the twist of it being ballroom dancing, which require partners instead of teams. So instead of building teamwork and camaraderie, it’s… uncomfortable, sometimes creepy metaphors of dancing partners being like married couples. There’s a lot of blushing-and-turning-away and making wayyy too big a deal out of who’s partnering with whom. It also doesn’t help that the dance teacher is a grade-A asshole who does stuff like rip the dress off the main girl character and shout at her to use her sex appeal to win the judges over. (SHE IS A THIRD-YEAR JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT, WTF.)

The art and animation are stunning, especially when they’re dancing. Everything else is okay, I guess? But MAN. This show gets very squicky at points, so uh, hmm. Watch with caution.


And that’s a wrap! I watched more shows in 2017, and could probably write about all the shows I gave up on. But I’ll probably put that on the back burner for now and try to shoot for stuff I’ve been watching in 2018.