Friday, August 30, 2019

Sarah McBride's heartbreaking memoir: Tomorrow Will Be Different (Book Review)

Sarah McBride
I was only aware of Sarah McBride in a cursory way before reading her memoir, "Tomorrow Will Be Different." I knew she was a strong advocate for transgender issues but that was about all. I simply had no idea just how intense, dynamic, loving, and devastating her young adulthood has been, just how many years she has lived in such a short amount of time. I also had no idea that this book, while certainly about many issues of importance to the transgender community, wasn't really a book about transitioning at all. Whatever it is about, you need to read this book. I don't say that lightly. I've never cried more when reading a book than I did during this one.

Note: As is my policy when reviewing memoirs and similarly personal accounts of a person's life, I will not do a traditional review with a numeric score nor a standard critique of the content as I would for fiction. How could I, or any one else, judge another person's life story? I want to honor the author's lived reality and so my review is only intended to highlight how I responded to their story. On to the review.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Breath of Flowers volume 1 - an original French (?) language "manga" (Manga-inspired Comic Review)

Caly
Breath of Flowers vol. 1 - 8/10

Whelp, that score really surprised me. I guess I really liked Breath of Flowers volume 1 (Tokyopop). It's not without its problems, but the truth is, it was cute and gave me lots of feels as I was reading it, and I think it's well deserving of that score. It did set itself apart a bit from the crowd.

Breath of Flowers is by Caly. I have no idea who this is, but reading the publishing page in the volume, it appears that this volume was first published in France. Given that it is not set in Japan or the US (from various context cues throughout) and that there are many western names, I imagine that it actually takes place in France as well. So my guess is that this is an Original French Language Manga (OFLM - a play on OELM, an older term for manga-style comics by American creators).

And the use of that term, "manga," is the first problem we need to address. Tokyopop clearly lists this as a manga, and even has an advertisement on a back page for other international "manga" creators. But can a comic, created by someone outside the Japanese publishing (or self-publishing) market, and who is not Japanese, be considered manga?

Monday, August 26, 2019

Missed It Monday - I Hear The Sunspot - a really beautiful romance and a look at my implicit bias (Manga Review)

Missed It Monday is the ongoing series where I review anime and manga that I missed when they first came out in search of great series to keep reading.

Yuki Fumino
I Hear the Sunspot - 8.5/10

I went out on a limb and picked up "I Hear the Sunspot" (One Peace Books) due to its critical praise. I don't normally read yaoi manga but I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn't disappointed. "I Hear the Sunspot" is a simple, beautifully told and drawn, romance between two young men. I was really struck by how much I enjoyed it.

So I want to talk briefly about implicit bias. Implicit bias is the collection of experiences one has had to date and the way those experiences then unconsciously impact how a person views new experiences. Implicit bias can have positive or negative effects. For example on the positive side, if you've had lots of great experiences with eating cake, you're likely to look at each new cake (as of yet uneaten) and assume it's delicious. On the negative side, we see implicit bias rear its ugly head when we talk about racism in the US.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Shortcake Cake volume 5 - a bit more romance on the horizon (Manga Review)

Suu Morishita
Shortcake Cake volume 5 - 7.5/10

We're really starting to get somewhere with Shortcake Cake volume 5. I still think of it as a really good second-tier quality shoujo series, but I think this volume was a step in the right direction.

Ten lives in a high-school boarding house with a couple other guys and girls. Both Riku and Chiaki are in love with Ten. We pick up volume 5 with Ten realizing she has feelings for Riku. However Riku had already been turned down earlier by her and Chiaki and Riku are uncertain how to reconcile their friendship with each other while also being rivals.

After a trip, Ten makes a slight move to let Riku know that she's thinking of him. It's subtle, but he seems to pick up on the message. At the same time, Chiaki is jealous as he notices that Ten is beginning to focus on Riku. Chiaki makes his move too. Without spoiling what he does, let's just say that although his action is pretty minor, he still doesn't get consent first which isn't good and continues to be a problem in manga.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Yuri Life - actual gosh darn adults in love! (Manga Review)

Kurukuruhime
Yuri Life - 7/10

I really struggled with giving a rating to Yuri Life. It is a collection of unrelated very short comedy yuri stories about adult women in love. In some ways, it was pure fluff. In other ways it was really affecting to me. In the end, it made me feel lots of warm squishy feels so I think I liked it.

First and foremost, I am always excited to read yuri about adult women. I'm all for high-school girls in love, don't get me wrong. But as an adult, I definitely have a different set of feelings and emotions when I read about adult women in love with each other. So anything that adds to that canon is likely to be a good thing.

The stories in Yuri Life are all comedic in nature, nothing too heavy (with one pretty strange but interesting exception). It almost has the feel of a 4-koma, with each page being a joke with a punchline. Within each story, there is some flow between the pages but each page also stands on its own. Not my normal taste, as I like more narrative stories, but pretty well done none-the-less.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Missed It Monday - Wotakoi: Love is Hard For Otaku (Anime Review)

Missed It Monday is the ongoing series where I review anime and manga I missed when they first came out to see if there are great series out there that I need to add to my life.

Love is hard for otaku
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku - 6.5/10

Wotakoi: Love Is Hard For Otaku does an admirable job filling a much needed gap in my manga/anime habits: series focused on actual, honest to goodness, adults! Let's be honest. I'm 39. I can't only (notice I said "only") read about high-school girls in love with each other. Right? So I'm always on the lookout for great josei manga or adult-focused anime series.

Wotakoi isn't great, but it also isn't very problematic either. It does it's job and was pleasant enough to have been worth watching once, and since all the characters are adults, and those adults are kind to each other, it made it a good enough fit.

Momose is a young woman starting her first day at a new company. She's also a relentless fujoshi otaku and has either ruined every relationship she's been in because of it, or had to hide it in order to appear "normal." On her first day, she bumps into a middle-school friend, Nifuji, who is already working at the company and is also a gaming otaku. Comforted by his presence, they rekindle their friendship.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Love Lives Here - an important memoir of a transgender ally (Book Review)

Amanda Jette Knox
"Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family" is the memoir of Amanda Jette Knox, the mother and wife of a transgender daughter and spouse. She has been active in the advocacy community for years and is an exceptional ally in so many ways. I was overjoyed when she finally published her memoir and eagerly devoured it. As with my reviews of other memoirs and personal stories, I will not do a critical review of the story because who am I to judge someone's real life. Instead, this review is just some thoughts to help you decide if this is a book that you too should read.

In brief, Amanda Jette Knox grew up with some severe mental health and substance abuse challenges despite a supportive family. Her journey to adulthood alone would make a highly compelling memoir and was an exceptional part of this one. As a 16-year-old she met her current spouse, who at the time was still presenting as male.

They built their life together, she working on completing high-school correspondence courses, her spouse working up through the IT industry. From houses to kids, they were building an ideal life. But her spouse was always chronically sad, grumpy, and frustrated.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ao Haru Ride volume 6: kisses and confusion (Manga Review)

Io Sakisaka
Ao Haru Ride volume 6: 7.5/10

Ao Haru Ride Volume 6 (Shojo Beat/Viz) picks up with the school festival. Futaba knows she has to tell Kou about her feelings, but out of nowhere, another girl shows up! (OH NO!) Narumi is a figure from Kou's past, the years where Kou was away, a time Futaba knows nothing about.

Kou seems concerned with Narumi but also a bit indifferent towards her. Futaba goes to watch a show where the cute guy who has a crush on her is playing bass! Kou leaves Narumi's side to stand by Futaba at the show. As Futaba and Kou are trying to talk to each other over the noise, their heads turn towards each other...and...and...

Maybe they kiss? What does it mean? Who the hell knows, because they never actually talk to each other when it matters. (LOL)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Missed It Monday - Takane & Hana Volume 1 (Manga Review)

Yuki Shiwasu
Missed It Monday - a series where I review manga and anime I missed when they were new in the effort to find more great series to read.

Takane & Hana volume 1 - 6.5/10

Takane & Hana Volume 1 (Shojo Beat/Viz) is the story of a 16-year-old young lady, Hana, who pretends to be her older sister and attends an arranged marriage meeting with a 26-year-old heir to a large corporate conglomerate, Takane. Hana's father works for Takane's grandfather's company so keeping those two happy is important. But right off the bat, Takane knows Hana isn't the older sister, and displays his characteristic rudeness. Hana does what she does best and immediately puts him in his place. She thinks things are over, but now Takane is intrigued.

Takane & Hana is filled with all the classic plot and tropes of this type of story (common girl and rich corporate heir, totally different personalities, but find each other interesting anyway). However, what separates it so far, and perhaps overcomes the ickiness of a 10 year age gap with an adult man interested in a high school girl, is how rotten (but never actually mean or misogynistic) Takane's personality is, and how sassy and brash and bold Hana's personality is. What will sell you on this, if it does, is their personalities. Because the plot is so old in the genre, and there are definitely problematic elements. But if you feel like wading through that (acknowledging its problems while also looking for something of value) then you might really like the lead characters.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Untangling Cocoon Entwined Volume 1 (Manga Review)

Volume 1
Cocoon Entwined volume 1 - 5.5/10

Gross. Yup, that's the word for the setup in Cocoon Entwined volume 1 (Yen Press).

Cocoon Entwined might best be described as a "class S" yuri manga. It is set at an elite all girls boarding school (with some commuter students). What makes this boarding school different is that the high school students make the uniforms for the middle school students who are about to become first years.

Innocuous enough. However, the fabric for the uniforms is made from the hair of the third year students. Yes, their hair. They grow it out for years until it is nearly down to their feet, then have a cutting off ceremony (pretty much against their will - problematic), and then it is turned into fabric to make the uniforms of the younger girls.

Putting aside the socially constructed "ick" factor of clothing made from human hair, I was determined to investigate what the historical and practical possibility was of hair and clothing in order to overcome my own bias. Turns out, there is almost no use of human hair for practical clothing throughout history. There are some head-dresses, jewelry, and a few other ceremonial things, but as every-day wear, none.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami (Book Review)

Haruki Murakami
Dance Dance Dance - 7.5/10

I am a huge fan of Haruki Murakami's books. "Dance Dance Dance," originally published in English in 1994 is the eighth book of his I've read. It also might be the most fun of his books. It had the chance to maybe be one of his best, but the ending let it down.

Unbeknownst to me when I picked it up used a few years back, it is the sequel to "A Wild Sheep Chase" which I liked very much, and which thankfully, was a bit different too than his other works. His brilliant novel, "The Wind-up Bird Chronicle," has a similar structure to his novels "Kafka on the Shore" and "1Q84" amongst others with multiple interweaving stories and timelines. While some hints of that exist in both "A Wild Sheep Chase" and "Dance Dance Dance," both are focused on one protagonist throughout and tell a fairly linear story (at least as linear as Murakami is going to get!).

"Dance Dance Dance" picks up with our unnamed protagonist back from his sheep chase, back in Tokyo, no longer working with his long-time business partner, and instead picking up freelance journalism doing puff pieces for random magazines. It's a living, it makes good money, he doesn't mind it, someone has to do it. But he is being called, years later, back to the rundown old Dolphin Hotel in Sapporo from "A Wild Sheep Chase". He is being called by Kiki, only he hadn't yet learned her name, the girl with the ears from the prior novel.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Missed it Monday - Waiting for Spring volume 1 ends with a tease (Manga Review)

Anashin
Missed It Monday is a feature where I review manga or anime I didn't get to when they first came out. It's my attempt to see what quality might be out there that I missed.

Waiting for Spring vol.1 - 6.5/10

Waiting for Spring volume 1 (Kodansha Comics) was first published in English in 2017. I've had it on my list to check out since then, but I just didn't know if it would be any good and I wasn't hearing about it anywhere. This week, I finally bought a copy and, you know what, it wasn't bad. It was slightly different, and then...and THEN...I either have trans stuff on the brain or there was definitely a trans-baiting cliff hanger at the end of this volume. But more on that to come.

Waiting for Spring starts to look like it might almost be a reverse harem shoujo story. Mitsuki ends up befriending the four most popular boys in school. They are all on the basketball team and they are every girl's fantasy, apparently. From the beginning though, it appears that it is Asakura who will win Mitsuki's heart.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sound Workshop Series 34 EQ rack project - FINISHED!!!!!!

EQ Rack Project
Sound Workshop Series 34 EQ rack project
In a former life, I was a full-time record producer/recording engineer. When one of the main studios I worked out of closed, I got 8 channel strips from their Sound Workshop Series 34 console, a good 80s-ish workhorse console. My gole was to take the EQ modules out of the strips and rack them up as a single 8 channel EQ outboard unit.

Several years ago I racked up just the 8 mic preamps from those strips into an outboard chassis. All it required was a dual rail 16 volt power supply with phantom, a chassis, and some connectors. The outputs are unbalanced, but I have A/D converters that switch from +4 to -10 so I just use the converters on -10db making it a really simple project. Here's a pic: