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Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: Reflections

I’ve been a big fan of Mobile Suit Gundam since I was a teenager. Well, at least a fan of the original film trilogy, which I had bought when one gratuitously overpriced anime DVD every few months was all that my allowance could afford. For the longest time, though, those three films and Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (thanks to its Adult Swim timeslot) were all I’d seen. Zeta always loomed over my fandom, with its revered status in the fandom as the “serious one”, taunting me as if I could never call myself a true fan until I’d seen Tomino’s masterpiece.

Now in my thirties, nearly half my life stands as the distance between myself and those teenage years as a Gundam fan. And finally, I can say that I’ve watched the Zeta Gundam, with my own jaded adult eyes. And while I still think I prefer the original, I’ve collected some thoughts along the way:

Familiar Friends

The most thrilling parts of Zeta for me, initially, were the parts that already held some familiarity from the original series. Of course, we encounter Lt Quatro (Char’s new persona) and Bright Noah early in the series.

Bright’s ever-stoic presence provides continuity, but Char’s presence was more interesting. In the original story, he spends much of his time subtly undermining the leaders of Zeon while establishing himself as Amuro’s chief rival. In this series, though, he’s an ally of good, joining the Anti-Earth forces in their battle against the corrupt and powerful Titans. Here, Char is not so much an extremist, but a somewhat wizened and war-weary soul. Amuro, by contrast, is totally done with warfighting and piloting Mobile Suits. He shines during a few moments, but mostly lives as a recluse, under constant surveillance by the Earth Federation. As a hero, Amuro was always kind of apolitical, and that’s true here, too. He does what he can to help his friends currently fighting against the Titans, but does not seem all that concerned with the way the world has shaped around him since the Federation’s victory in the original series. I have to say, watching as an adult, I really liked Amuro’s role in Zeta Gundam. It felt relatable, as an adult who has also settled into a place in the world that is perhaps a bit less full of romantic heroism than I once dreamed it would be. In the end, I really did think that Amuro was a nice surrogate for Zeta’s adult audience.

There are other cameos were nice – but really amounted to little more than fan service. And while it was nice that Zeta allowed us to see where most of the MSG characters ended up after the One Year War, nearly all stayed somewhere in the backdrop, aside from Char. So, what about the new stuff?

Kamille, the AEUG, and the Titans

As a direct sequel to Mobile Suit Gundam, I admit I found Zeta to be a bit confusing. Over 5 years after the end of the One Year War, so much has changed. At first glance, there’snot much about Z that seems to lead directly from MSG, and that took some getting used to. Who are the AEUG? Who are the Titans? How are they different than the Federation? Why are the Titans using Zeon-like Mobile Suits while the AEUG are using, uh… Federation AND Zeon type suits? There are answers to all these questions, but in many cases, they are answers that you will not find if you just rely on the show’s own storytelling. The picture eventually become clear to me, but for a while, it was just tough to keep track of it all.

As far as Kamille goes, contrary to a lot of people’s reactions, I liked him quite a bit. I felt like he was similar to the OG Amuro, but with a little bit more of a cynical edge. Sure, his motivations for joining the AEUG aren’t very good, but he passes the authenticity test as a “moody teen”. His interactions and emotional arcs with his crewmates never feel fully developed and I feel like a lot of interesting stuff was left on the cutting room floor – but honestly, I would say the same thing about the original series. All of this is disappointing, but forgivable.

The titan villains are where I found the show generally to be far weaker than the original. Jerid is a far, far cry from Char. His cyber newtype girlfriends who Kamille kills one after another are not very interesting. For most of the action, it seemed like the show was unable to commit to a villain, and instead felt a lot more serialized than I would have expected, i.e., “new week, new villain”. The original worked this way too, but I feel like each stop villain had a lot more personality than the ones in Zeta – with a more distinct personality and more discernable mobile suit.

Things improve dramatically, I thought, when the remnants of Zeon show up. These villains have some personality, and the way our “heroes” come to grips one-by-one with the fact that their fight has led them to a morally grey alliance with the heirs to Zeon is easily one of the more interesting plotlines. The show also leaves off, surprisingly, with the story just getting good.

In Conclusion

Zeta Gundam was an interesting watch for me, so many years later in life from when I originally encountered the series. Was it an improvement on the original? In some ways, sure… in other ways, perhaps I felt like it’d been surpassed by later OVA’s which have taken Tomino’s themes and best ideas and spun them into works that are a little bit more even and consistent. But that’s OK! In the end, Zeta Gundam was easily compelling enough to set the stage for an entire Univeral Century’s worth of sequels, OVA’s, and tie-ins.

Now I’ve just got to get around to ZZ Gundam…

Learning Japanese: 9 Month Update

What I did, and didn’t do, in the last 6 months of learning Japanese during COVID-19.

When I last updated in April, I was still struggling to learn Hiragana, getting increasingly frustrated with Pimsleur, and wondering where I should take my Japanese study next. It was just the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns, and who could have expected that we’d still be hunkering down, living mostly monastic-style lives divided neatly between work, chores, reading/studying, light entertainment at home, the occasional fancy meal, and bed?

No, I have not had much of a social live these last 6 months. But I’ve also stayed safe, and healthy, and managed to get into some pretty decent routines with my studying and some other aspects of life that I’ll get into later…

To start, I’ve been taking it slow. At first, no more than an hour per day. In April or May, I did start meeting with an italki tutor, Matsui, and together, we worked through the first 5 lessons of Minna No Nihongo, the book series pictured above. It’s quite a bit different than Genki, which I’d failed to guide myself through in the past – feels more serious and deeper, yet also slower. Gradually, I’ve managed to get the fundamental grammatical structures ingrained in my mind. Some examples of such:

はです。。。(じゃありません)、は。。。の。。。です、ですか。。。ですか。。。、から。。。まで。。。、します、しました、しません、しませんでした。

If I’m being honest, the grammar comes easier than the vocabulary. Since the same patterns show up again and again, it’s easy to remember them lesson after lesson. What’s harder is remember than in lesson 2 you learned how to say “cafeteria” in lesson 2 (しよくどう)when I am never going to say that word again. If someone knew of a good way to internalize vocabulary without having to resort to endless flashcard drills and SRS, I would love to hear about it.

And then, nothing…

Despite my every intention, my studying came to a halt in mid-June. Why? Without getting too personal, let’s just say a new family addition arrived quite unexpectedly early and has demanded almost all of my attention since 🙂

For awhile, I just stopped. Not just Japanese, but everything – playing music, maintaining my Mandarin, etc. But, life goes on, and I’ve always known that learning languages, like any major undertaking, is a marathon, not a sprint. Everyone’s life is different, and some people have more time to study than others. From June until the end of July, I did nothing except for work on getting acclimated to my new role in life. Then I took a step back, and reconsidered – was learning Japanese something I still wanted? At this point, quitting would be so easy. I considered it some more, and thought I was ready to let Japanese go. Then, one day, I was watching one of the Showa Godzilla films that are now gloriously part of the Criterion Network, baby on lap. Unexpectedly, I realized that I was hearing things I knew – not full sentences, but words, and grammatical patterns. Ah, so it was working… I thought to myself. How great it would be if I could understand more. And that’s when I decided I wanted to continue.

I’ve been guiding myself since, just making a little bit of a time – I would say, a half hour, on most days, to work through Minna no Nihongo solo, often resorting to just copying the textbook and workbook component in full before spending a session or two dedicated to the listening portion. Before the end of the year, I hope to report that I’ve made it to lesson ten. And when I feel comfortable enough, I may start back up with Matsui, if he’s still out there. But for now, I’m just doing what I can, working through the material as my own life allows. I am progressing, at a pace that feels comfortable for me, and without neglecting other aspects of my life. And that feels good.

Learning Japanese: Month 3 Recap

In the past two months, I’ve struggled to find a method that really works for me. But two weeks into isolation, I’ve at least learned how to write the Hiragana from memory, and feel my sense of commitment renewed.

In my first month learning Japanese, I blogged extensively about my successes and frustrations using the Pimsleur app. I decided to abandon the app and its subscription fully after completing the first set of courses, once I was sure that it would never deliver the more holistic approach to learning a language that I crave: particularly, a solid literary component.

Upon quitting Pimsleur, I floundered. I tried Genki, but to no avail. I struggled to pick up and retain the vocabulary of even lesson one, because of one simple reason: I lacked a strong foundation of understanding Hiragana and Katakana. Genki doesn’t teach you Hiragana or Katakana, it just expects you to memorize it. I downloaded SRS apps designed for this very purpose, but it was to no avail. Even after sinking hours into these kinds of applications, I found myself able to recognize kana only in familiar contexts, but at a loss when it came to writing them out.

I need a tutor to teach it to me, I thought. Well, maybe. I headed back to Preply, where I currently have a great experience with a Mandarin tutor from Taiwan. I messaged with a few tutors, and many of them said the same thing, something along the lines of: “I’d be happy to meet with you, it’d be best if you learned the Hiragana first, though.”

It dawned on me. As a student of Japanese who is not at all content with only learning the spoken language and would like to spend at least an equal amount of time on the written forms, I was never going to be able to start learning Japanese until I learned Hiragana and Katakana. In retrospect, it seems so simple, but I was having trouble getting it through my own thick skull.

COVID-19 happened, and in either smart business planning or sheer luck, Udemy ran a sale. I said, “What the hell!” and bought this course for $10. While I was there, I bought a Pixel art course for $10 as well. What else am I supposed to do during the pandemic?

So… the Udemy Hiragana course is painstakingly slow. The teacher spends about 10 minutes per lesson going through each row of Hiragana, showing you how each of the individual Hiragana are pronounced, and then writing them out for you a couple of times. After the instructor completes a row, there are usually a five minute quiz where you must write out words the instructor speaks and then pronounce words she writes on the whiteboard.

Sounds excruciating to spend 10-20 minutes on just one row of Hiragana, but you know what? I paid for it, so I watched it all, following along with my own notebook, and taking the optional step of writing out the entirety of the Hiragana I had learned so far after each lesson… as it turns out, one week later, I can happily say that I know my Hiragana (just got to get better at those pesky voiced sound and p-sound alterations). Keeping them in my memory isn’t a problem, and doesn’t require an app, as it literally only takes like a minute or so to write them all down.

So, wow, I think I’ve accomplished setting that foundation, now I think I’ll go and book that Preply tutor 🙂

Learning Japanese: Month 1 Recap

Hey! I’ve already been studying Japanese for 1 month! Wow!

In some ways, it feels much longer than that. In other ways, it feels like I’ve just begun. I feel I’ve learned a good amount, and I’m relatively satisfied with the progress I’ve made. I feel like the Pimsleur lessons have given me a good backpocket phrase book, and a feel for the language and its most obvious snags. But this occasion is as good as any to take a step back, reflect, and re-evaluate.

Am I Enjoying Learning Japanese?

This seems to be the most important thing. And the answer is “Yes”, though quite a few times I’ve fallen into the trap of feeling like I needed to push myself, to make what started as a fun hobby into work. I’ve tempered myself and my expectations. The internet is full of great advice about how to learn Japanese – what apps to use, what textbooks are best, how to order and prioritize your study… I would love to have unlimited time to do it all, yet as my study expanded from 30 minutes per day to something like 45, 60, or even 90, I found myself getting anxious about other things in my life I was neglecting. With such a modest amount of time on my hands, I’ve had to remind myself what I would like to learn (my mind keeps going back to one of my favorite articles from Chinese the Hard Way: https://www.chinesethehardway.com/article/train-what-you-want-to-learn/).

Is 30 minutes per day of Pimsleur lessons – maybe with a few games snuck in during breaks – going to train me on what I want to learn? That brings me to my next point:

Why am I Doing This?

In my first post, I mentioned how my longstanding interest in Japanese culture influenced my decision to start learning Japanese. I wanted to go a little bit deeper, to understand a little bit more clearly the country and culture that had reached me so often throughout life.

If I knew I were going to be traveling to Japan with a month or so, an audio-only experience like Pimsleur would be the very best bet. But… I’m not. One of my favorite things to do is read – in English, in Chinese, and hopefully one day in Japanese.

Enter Genki

As so many have recommended, I’ve gotten myself a copy of Genki I, and started moving through it slowly – hour sessions a few times per week. I’m still on Lesson 1. I’m learning the vocabulary, listening to the recordings, writing down what I’ve read and copying the examples. I’m speaking them aloud and making my own recordings. I enjoy the holistic approach very much, and the 15 hours I spent with Pimsleur has payed off – the listening portion has not been a challenge thus far.

Oh, and speaking of Pimsleur – I will keep my subscription, as long as I continue to get something out of it. I just no longer plan to use it as my main mode of study, since I prefer the holistic approach. And, by the way Pimsleur does accommodate reading – but it’s a smaller component of a larger, audio-focused course. Pimsleur courses are most effective when used daily – I’ve heard that 20-some times now. Hopefully, they are still somewhat effective when used every-other day. Or, who knows, maybe when temps get above freezing I’ll be willing to go for more Pimsleur walks!

Going Forward

I’ll probably stop blogging for a bit now – maybe do this biweekly, or even monthly, instead of weekly. Next time I blog, I hope to be able to say that I know Hiragana and Katakana… we’ll see!

Learning Japanese: Week 3 Recap – This Week Drove Me To Drink (Figuratively)

I struggled a lot this week. Actually, I felt a lot of things. Anxiety, futility, the increasingly unavoidable thought that maybe I should abandon my current course of study and switch things up completely – get a tutor, start working through Genki, etc.

This happened somewhere around Pimsleur lesson 20. I’d already been failing to internalized some the previous lessons’ vocabulary thanks to an especially busy and distracted week, and the problems seemed to be compounding. In one instance, a single troubling phrase seemed be giving me trouble:

Pimsleur Guy (We’ll call him “Mr. P”): “Tell the woman ‘He would like to drink water'”

Me: “Uh, “Mizu wa nomimas”

Speaker: “Mizu o nomitagatte ir u n desu ga.

Me: Huh?

Speaker: “Mizu”

Me: “Mizu o nomi-wat??”

Mr. P: “Now say ‘two bottles of beer’.”

Me: “Wait, what was that just now-“

First off – what? In the lessons, we’d gone over a couple ways to say “to drink”, the tried and true nomimas and the trickier nomitaidesu. I’d never learned to discern to the two, but now pimsleur was throwing nomitagatte iru n in my face, and just blowing it off like it was no big deal. What was this new form of “to drink”, this third form ever so daftly plucked open the increasingly flimsy understanding of the first and second form? Why do I keep using the wrong articles? Am I expected to be able to actually speak this whole sentence?

I began to suspect that my whole understanding of Japanese garnered over the last ten hours was just a house of cards just waiting for this very sort gentle breeze to send it flying to the ground. I got mad at Pimsleur (“something is wrong with this methodology”) and then mad at myself (“I’ve just been doing it all wrong, I’ve been too lazy about how I take these lessons”). I had genuinely insane thoughts: maybe I’ll do lessons 1-20 again, laying in bed, with my eyes shut, over 10 hours of perfect concentration”.

Thankfully, I got over myself, and then got over my problem. I went into the Skills and Practice phrasebooks, and looked up the words that had been giving me a problem. I didn’t learn everything I needed, but I gained a level of comfort with the phrases that were showing up in lessons. Next time I heard nomitagatte iru n desu ga it triggered me less, I still didn’t understand why it was different than the others, but I no longer felt upset about it.

Ultimately, I went further – I decided to ask a Japanese person who had messaged me earlier on Tandem. I messaged with them in English for awhile, and then explained that while my Japanese wasn’t good enough to be a good language partner, I had a few questions. They gave me the downlow on my to drink dilemma. Here I quote them exactly:

Nomimas – “I drink ..”

Nomitaidesu – “I want to drink ..”

Nomitagatte imasu – “Someone wants to drink ..”

So, there we go. I still have no idea what iru n meant, but as Pimsleur tends to, it moved on to new material, only occasionally diving back into Nomitagatte territory. I feel a tepid level of comfort and security that I can proceed as is, existential crisis deferred.

Hiragana and Katakan

I didn’t do as much of this as I wanted, but I did catch up on the Reading lessons and have made them a daily part of my study. Slowly, the hiragana are sinking in. All I can say is, at this point, I still do wish that the reading lessons corresponded more with the speaking lessons, but I have heard that this problem is less pronounced later in the course – especially in the Level 2 course. I also downloaded Hiragana Hero – it’s fun! Good way to practice your recognition, I only wish that in included a few words instead of just individual hiragana.

Oh, and…

We did go see Weathering with You. It was a nice, atmospheric movie with a very consistently and effectively conveyed tone. There were certain plot points near the end that I didn’t love – but on the whole the animation, the story, and the music were all very nice! A worthy follow-up to the solid Your Name, and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on and off all week.

Learning Japanese: Week 2 Recap – Hiragana Begins

The Pimsleur grind continues in week 2 of my Japanese studies, but I almost made a fatal mistake: I almost didn’t realize that I’m supposed to be studying Hiragana.

Phase 1: The Grind Continues

So far, so good on the Pimsleur approach. As I continued to make my way through lessons this week, I found that in general things seemed to be getting harder. The brief honeymoon period I felt last week, where I confidently could say that I understood everything in a lesson, is long gone. Now, I rely on Pimsleur’s repetition to keep me going. Gradually, the new words and concepts seem to sink in – thought it takes a few lessons. I am still baffled, for instance, why sometimes “I want to eat dinner” is:

Watashi wa ban-gohan o tabemasu.

And other times it’s:

Watashi wa ban-gohan o tabe-tai desu.

And there are other forms of the tabe-speak that I would recognize, but not distinguish. Right now I’m just rolling with it, hoping that the concepts become clearer over time.

This was a very busy week, and I’m amazed that I was actually able to go on without breaking the chain – I studied at least 30 minutes every day, though this came with some compromises. Given a busier than usual work schedule, I had no choice but to multitask my study or abandon it for the day.

Also given that schedule, I did not play the games in the app nearly enough. This lack of review hurt my comprehension, though the games that Pimsleur come with are optional (OG Pimsleur courses were, IIRC, audio only). But this was almost fatal, as I didn’t realize until Lesson 15 that “Reading” practice began to appear in the app starting with Lesson 11. And so we begin Phase 2: Hiragana.

Understanding the Hiragana

Pimsleur apply’s the same method to learning Hiragana that is does to learning the spoken language. That is to say, it introduces a very small number of phonetic symbols first, then begins (somewhat gently) drilling you on a mix of words you know and do not know. Many of the Hiragana examples do not follow the same vocabulary from the spoken lessons, but some do. For example, the first two symbols you learn are “は ha” and “い i”, and then together, “はい hai” or a word similar to “yes” in English.

I’m taking it slow, but learning to read another phonetic alphabet is exciting, and the lightbulb moment of seeing a word and realizing once you sound it out and that it’s a word you know is really cool – something I never experienced with learning Mandarin.

Next Steps

Thanks to today’s discovery, I’m still several lessons backlogged on reading practice. So I have some makeup work to do, then I’ll continue on with the Pimsleur audio lessons and make sure that I don’t skip the supplementary practice. In the meantime, guess it’s time I find a good Hiragana/Katakana/Kanji keyboard. I already use two keyboards for English and Chinese (which toggles between Simplified and Traditional character sets), so hopefully adding yet another doesn’t cause too much confusion!

But first, a little treat. Tonight my wife and I are going to see “Weathering With You” in theaters. I really enjoyed the previous movie from this studio, “Your Name”, so I’m excited to see this one. This is the first Japanese language content I’ll have watched since I began this language learning process, so I hope to pick up a few words. Hey, I’ve known one way to ask about the weather since day 1! ii o-tenki desu ne?

Learning Japanese: Week 1 Recap

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Note: This is not an advertisement for Pimsleur, there’s just no better image to summarize my first full week of learning Japanese.

So far… It feels like I’ve already been at this a long time! And yet, I really, really haven’t. I’m tempted to demonstrate some mark of progress, some superficial accomplishment, something for the gram as the kids say, and yet I will refrain from this. The purpose of this blog is not to craft some gilded image of my own progress or lack thereof. Rather, I’m hoping to just keep an honest record for myself and any others who may be interested. As my method to learning Japanese develops over the subsequent weeks, I hope that others will benefit from my successes and failures.

What’s Going Well

I’ve made it through 9 of these courses, so I guess that puts me nearly through 6% of the program.  The initial goal was to not break the chain, to get myself into the habit of doing Pimsleur every single day, being able to make that daily 30 minute commitment. I’ve found that I’m often willing to exceed that commitment. If I don’t feel confident with a lesson, I will spend extra time reviewing – thankfully, the app version I’m subscribed to has a lot of different review tools, such as games, quizzes, and flashcards, so listening to the entirety of the episode again is not required. I’ve picked up a few useful words and phrases: at this point, I can introduce myself, ask for directions, comment on the weather, order drinks, say thanks/no thanks.  It’s a start!

Lessons Learned

I am thinking that maybe I should not do Pimsleur at the gym, or driving, or while doing dishes, or while cooking… Theoretically, and maybe based on the marketing, you can do all of this, but should you? Tepidly, I say “no”. I am finding that the best way to do the Pimsluer  courses is to sit somewhere quiet, shut your eyes, and take it all in. It is when I’m fully focused on responding to the recordings that I am at my best.

Also, the people in the recordings talk fast – they enunciate clearly, but they stick to regular talking speed – this is different from (non-Pimsleur) methods I tried when I was learning Mandarin, where the initial voice recordings were painfully slow and the language always felt truncated. I think this is for the best. As I’ve said in the previous entry, my listening comprehension has always lagged far beyond my literacy in Mandarin, and while I attribute that partly to my own bad habits in those initial years of study, the lack of good listening materials available even one decade ago also deserves blame.

Anyway, because of this (and I don’t know if this is advised or not), I’ve decided that it’s OK to pause the recording to give myself time to think and formulate a response. This is helpful, and makes it feel like I have more input and engagement with Pimsleur, even when the lesson is going over my head. At the very least, the moments when I can’t keep up with the content feel more engaging, and less like I’m being trampled.

Other Observations

Articles are a weakness thus far, but I think I’m slowly picking up (or at least telling myself that). In Japanese, articles seem to often come at the end of nouns or before verbs, and thus far Pimsleur hasn’t spent an abundance of time explaining why certain words use one article while others might use another. But, for now, I’m trusting the system, and for the most part, the usage becomes more clear as the course guides to other examples (doko desu ka? [“where is?”] and doko de? [“where at?”] serving as my most recent distinction conquest). That said, it’s not all bad. The spoken language at least seems to have more in common with English than Chinese, probably due to Japanese just being a more adaptable language overall: I sighed with relief at “hoteru” (“hotel”), resutoran (“restaurant”), and biiru (“beer”).

Going Forward

The one thing on my mind right now is Hiragana and Katakana. At first, I thought I would have to explore that outside Pimsleur, but apparently (at least) Hiragana is covered in Lesson 30. I do not know if I will wait that long to dive in. At some point, I still do intend to move onto book learning, perhaps making Pimsleur a lesser component of my study – but not at least for a few more weeks. The Genki textbooks seem to be the most recommended, but I have to admit that I have not really thought too much about it yet.  I wonder if I could find someone reasonably qualified to guide me through it on Hellotalk?

This week studying Japanese has made me feel joy and excitement, but at times it has also made me feel overwhelmed, and anxious.At times I’ve felt tempted to break from my strategy and plunge into a wider world of learning, but patience and commitment to doing the foundational work upfront is key at this point. You have to learn to walk before you can run, and right now I am still building the habit, trying to maintain a level of engagement that feels productive but also healthy and respectful to life’s other commitments. As I have often heard, language acquisition is marathon, not a sprint.

Learning Japanese

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The year is 2020, and I have decided to star learning Japanese. It’s early goings so far, but I’ve also decided to blog occasionally about the experience, something I have never done (and regret never doing) in the 10+ years I have spent learning Chinese over the previous decade.

Why Japanese?

As I approach fatherhood, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own childhood, and trying to remember what it was like. When I think back to my early teens, my mind immediately goes to my favorite types of days – rainy, dreary, cold Chicago weekends sitting bundled up on a futon in the den, the faint buzz of a cathode ray tube television humming beneath one of any number of JRPG soundtracks emitting from the screen; or late nights in a dark living room, half asleep, as dubs from Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory and Serial Experiments: Lain played on Adult Swim and TechTV. These were mesmerizing downloads for a young and impressionable mind.

I left these things behind after high school, but I’ve never forgot about them, and now passed the age of 30 I have found that I still have great nostalgia for the same types of things that I liked as an early teen. And yet when I look back at these imports which so thoroughly populated my life as a young teenager, I find myself wishing that I knew more about the country that produced them, and its culture and people. I wish I could appreciate these works more fully, but not only that, I want to understand the source more deeply.

Here in the United States, Japanese games and anime are as popular as ever, especially for kids. But we still maintain a certain arrogance in our interactions with the outside world, enjoying the content contributions that other cultures make to our lives while  rarely attempt to participate ourselves, instead always being content to aloofly sit atop the food pyramid of international commerce as the least bilingual nation in the world. I would like to set a different kind of example, for myself and others (my future family included), that rejections the notion that language learning and cultural exchange is either superfluous or will be in the future thanks to technology. In fact, as we watch relationships break down across the globe and all peoples becoming more insular, I have to wonder if our neglect of deep cultural exchange has had something to do with that…

I have studied Chinese for over 10 years, and have almost developed a sort of allegiance to it. Studying a language is a lifelong commitment (a marathon, not a sprint). Truly, I could likely spend the rest of my life only studying Chinese, but I feel it is time to let myself explore a little more…

Path Forward 

I am starting slow, and trying to keep in mind some lessons learned from my experiences with Chinese. Pimsleur’s gentle monthly subscription plan seems as good as any in terms of a starting position – when I began studying Chinese, I neglected to actually listen to the language for the first several months of class (tapes were generally locked up in the dingy campus “Language Laboratory”), and as a result of those bad habits it my Chinese listening has always lagged considerably behind my literacy. I will not make the same mistake with Japanese. I will spend the early days doing nothing but listening, getting a good feel of the language and the types of words and phrases and sentence structures that can be used to express one’s self. Later, I will look to begin the written scripts, perhaps by guiding myself through a textbook, perhaps by finding a tutor. Since I already know the meaning of the Kanji thanks to my Chinese study, I hope that learning Japanese will go a little bit more smoothly for me. Later on, I may look at Chinese materials designed to teach Japanese, since I am uniquely positioned to do that.

In the coming days/weeks/months, I will update my progress here, recounting major things I’ve learned or other anecdotes from along the way. So far, as I said earlier, it’s still early goings. Just two lessons in, I’ve felt humbled by my inability to retain even half of what I’ve learned so far, and I’m experiencing what my wife (who has now been studying Chinese for 6 months) has felt early and often in her own study. But I have also felt excited again, in a way that only language learning has ever managed to excite me.

Ja matane!

 

 

Playing Shin Megami Tensei: IV

I’ve long been a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided to give the mainline games of the series a try. I picked up IV on the 3DS first, finished it, and moved promptly on to the first game (on iOS) and Nocturne for PS2. Ah, Nocturne. Finally, I’m playing the game that will allow me, once and for all, to shed my “casualness”.

protagonist-shin-megami-tensei-iv
Shin Megami Tensei IV 
was a fascinating, but flawed, experience. The game has a dark post-apocalyptic atmosphere, with creepy synthesizer music and a misanthropic plot. You take the role of a Samuri from a vaguely Christian Kingdom who, along with a few companions, descends upon the remnants of a demon-infested Tokyo through hidden tunnels (Tokyo being destroyed is a main theme that seems to occur in most mainline SMT games). Along the way, you encounter various demons who you can fight, bribe for money, or coerce into joining your ranks.

The mechanics work, and there’s always an element of strategy and luck to every battle. You don’t have to grind levels in SMT IV, but you do have to pay attention to every fight. Just spamming the “attack” button will get you to the game over screen very quickly.

While SMT IV is a ton of fun, it is a bit lacking in plot and character development. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that your companions aren’t really real people as much as they are paragons of certain ideologies. One of your companions is a privileged richboy who hates demons and represents the “law” side of the spectrum. Another of your companions comes from the poorer classes, and thinks Tokyo’s chaotic landscape isn’t so bad. Often, you’ll have to settle disputes between the two, moving the plot along in a specific direction that culminates (predictably) in a showdown between your party and the ultimate good or evil.

That may not be the most original concept, but SMT IV sure is nuanced about it. Whether you choose to align with angels or demons, the game is quick to remind you that your choice might not necessarily be the right one. At one point in the game, you’re cast into a hell of your own doing, a realm made up of the culmination of your own choices (and, trust me, it’s bad no matter who you choose to side with). There’s also a neutral path you can walk, which is probably the most rewarding but also the trickiest to obtain, though somehow I managed it on my first try (without even using a guide).

As it stands, SMT IV is a flawed gem. It’s not the godsend to JRPGs that Persona 3 was, but in an era where most JRPG games are of the cutesy kiddie variety, it stands alone, boasting a mature narrative and very little BS.

Thoughts on Nocturne will be posted in a few weeks.

One Feeling At A Time – Björk’s Vulnicura

Bjork-Vulnicura1

I wasn’t even halfway done listening to Vulnicura before I decided it was the best Björk album in several years. Now that I’ve listened to it a few more times, I have to reconsider: it might be the best Björk album there has ever been.

Björk’s music has always been interesting and, at the very least, ambitious. As she’s developed as an artist, Björk has gained a reputation for creating albums that are highly dense and experimental, and even as I listen to Vulnicura I feel like I’m experiencing a modern Classical piece – a sort of marriage between, say, Tori Amos and Phillip Glass. But over the last few years, Björk has also earned a reputation for creating music that is more abstract than personal; too dense, and leaving many unable to connect.

It doesn’t get more personal for Björk than Vulnicura. Crafted from the embers of her failing relationship with her longterm partner, Vulnicura is something like Björk’s Blood on the Tracks: Sentimental and nostalgic, visceral and misanthropic, and expressing all manners of reflection knowable to those who’ve loved and lost.  It doesn’t get further from Biophilia than this.

The Habitual Introvert

The musings of a habitual introvert, "starving" artist and aspiring polyglot.

Folded Word

Exploring the world, one voice at a time.

powerprogmetal

It all started with Symphony X

Hopped on Pop

Pop culture and entertainment...for nerds!

Casey Tingle

A Writer at a Loss for Words

The Habitual Introvert

The musings of a habitual introvert, "starving" artist and aspiring polyglot.

Folded Word

Exploring the world, one voice at a time.

powerprogmetal

It all started with Symphony X

Hopped on Pop

Pop culture and entertainment...for nerds!

Casey Tingle

A Writer at a Loss for Words