There's something about Jazz

Things have been a bit busy lately.

So this seems completely unrelated but I used to play the alto sax for 8 years, starting that fateful day in 5th grade all the way until I graduated high school.
(I haven't even touched my alto sax since then I want to cry)

Jump forward to yesterday, I was looking for some background music to work to on youtube and I came across this gem:

Yup, it's a jazz interpretation of my favorite Rurouni Kenshin op song "1/2".
I was blown away. It was such an unexpected kind of interpretation, and yet it worked so well. SO. GOOD. I was listening to that all day as I worked on stuff.

And it brought me back to the good ol' days (not really) of my sax-playing years. I was in band, but I was also in jazz band for about a little over half that time, and so I love the feeling of small groups, lots of brass, smooth and kick-butt awesome. But when I think about it, I played in jazz band for a good several years, but I haven't listened to much jazz (I'm more of a mindless Jpop and endless anime song type of person). The only jazz fever I had consciously listened to was back in middle grade when I for some strange reason I can't remember went all over Chet Baker (I still have my cds back home).

Anyway. I can't really put a finger on it, but there's something about jazz that makes me feel all good and happy. Maybe it's simply nostalgia, maybe I just really love brass. If I had to admit, jazz isn't my favorite genre and I don't listen to it a lot even today (I love it, but I have other stuff up in that list I gotta prioritize). But every now and then, I like to pull myself out of my current 'everyday' and let myself roll around in vague memories and smooth brass.

There's no real beginning middle or end to this post. I just felt like rambling.


Anna Watches 3 TV Shows In One Night: A Summary

So for various reasons I watched an episode each of Orphan Black, Lost Girl, and Alias.

(Oh and I also watched a lot of Japan Channel and a bit of Food Network over the weekend and I loooooooved it)

It was quite an eye-opener. Sci-fi and hardcore action and supernatural are around, sure, but not the most popular when it comes to primetime dramas in Japan (exceptions include shows such as Kaibutsu-kun). Sci-fi elements are often limited to the everyday (ie. esp/psychic powers), and less about other worlds/aliens/outer space etc. Don't get me wrong, yohkai (domestic demons/spirits/etc) and stuff are popular, but the 'hardcore scifi' seems rare. Action scenes are also somewhat toned down or pretty much nonexistent. Probably because of budget and TV culture reasons.

What I'm trying to say is primetime drama culture is obviously different. And I've been forgetting that recently.
So yeah. Orphan Black, Lost Girl, and Alias. They all had interesting female leads and that was definitely a pleasant surprise. Never can have enough strong female leads. But what struck me was how 'broken' they had to be in order to be these kickbutt leading ladies. (same goes to many Japanese dramas too)
I know the dramas and conflicts and stories come from those dilemmas, but sometimes it was too much. It's exhausting in an emotional way, biting your nails and going "omfg what's gonna happen to herrrrrrrr". These action/scifi shows were very much like a movie.
Lost Girl was the easiest to watch because it was more lighthearted than the other two shows (at least with the episode I watched). As much as I love dark, gritty stories (bring on the angst!), I know I'm going to invest a lot in it and get emotionally worn out so I tend to stay away from it until I have the time to binge. I've been getting many recommendations for Orphan Black from my friends, so I'll probably plow through it soon.

On a completely unrelated note, my favorite 'North American' drama growing up was ER (long story), and as an adult it's been Criminal Minds (though I haven't seen past S4).


Teen Books

I spent a bit of time over the weekend at the middle-grade fiction and YA section of the bookstore, where I was mistaken for a 12 year old.
Other than that mildly embarrassing incident, it was really interesting to see what was, y'know, popular. In demand.

So today here's a bit of rambling about teen (YA) books.

I often think about (and promptly forget) how there isn't a real big 'teen fiction' market in Japan. Don't get me wrong, teens still read stuff in Japan. Just that a separate prose fiction market hasn't really developed, in my opinion.
I guess the abundance of manga for all ages (ie. older end of shonen/shojo manga are most applicable for teens) is a factor.
Another is the cheapness of paperbacks. Well, they have dust jackets and are called 'bunkobon'. They can range from the niche to paperback editions of popular hardcovers, classical lit to mass entertainment, and the cheapest one is about 5 dollars.
Then there's the 'light novels', which are character-driven, really really entertainment-focused novels that are almost like manga in prose. Those are really fun, but not necessarily for teens - it's probably "for teen and up".

So when I looked at the YA section the other day, it was really interesting to have in front of you all the 'teen stuff' laid out. It's nice to have a section dedicated to the teen market.
I gotta say, sometimes a good vampire, zombie, fallen angel, dead boyfriends, and all that jazz, aren't exactly a bad thing even if you're over the age of 17. Plus, the over-abundance of romance (and often vampires) doesn't negate the fact that a lot of the stories deal with so many things (identity, family relationships, social acceptance...) that are relevant to teens.

As much as I'd love to start reading my multiple YA novels (and one middle-grade book), I feel like I don't have the time... Plus, I'm on my 6th round of Liou (forever my favorite book), so I gotta prioritize that.
I've been in a Japanese kind of mood lately.


Comics and Categories

I'm a manga fanatic, but I also consider myself a reasonably invested North American superhero comic enthusiast.

It must have been some time in 200...3? 4? I went to a bookstore in North America during a family vacation (honestly forgot where we went), and came across some superhero comics. Marvel comics.
Jean-Paul Beaubier stole my heart and has a special seat there forever.
I clearly remember that when school started (this was in middle school), I brought my newly acquired Uncanny X-Men TPB and went "lookie here, friends, this is awesome!" and no one really understood me.

What is really intriguing about comics from North America is that there is a slight gap between the comic world and 'mass entertainment'.
It's such a nebulous and difficult thing to put down in words, but I feel North American comics are very... I don't know. Niche?

Japan has its extensive categorization system according to age and gender lines (shonen/boys, shojo/girls, ippan/seinen/general audience (male)...), and each category reflects a slightly different social reality. Of course there is stigma to breach those lines (especially the gender categories), but there is such a wide variety, and people acknowledge there are 'comics for girls' and 'comics for boys', despite how problematic those gender-bound concepts are. What I'm trying to get at is that, sure there are a bunch of problems (often sexist), but the public is aware and understanding of "comics as a mass entertainment medium for everyone".

In North America, I feel comics are more ambivalent. When I was first exposed to them, I was very surprised to find a gay character (Jean-Paul) in a major role in UXM, as well as how X-Men as a concept dealt with issues like discrimination and oppression. But still, the preconceived 'audience' is staunchly male (hence those weirdly sex-oriented female figures - which I learned was the 'male gaze' several years down the line), and comic-readers in general are considered, y'know, 'geeks'. Sure, superhero comic-based movies are doing fantastic and all that, but the original comics seem to be still a 'niche' thing.
I feel it is hard to categorize yourself as a 'casual reader of comics' in North America. Well, there's that with superhero comics, and then there's graphic novels, which is another interesting and very potent medium.

So after this long and rambly rant, I think what I wanted to say was that North American comics (and graphic novels) - mediums that are not solely reliant on words - is complex and nebulous and I wish there was an easier way for people like me to be exposed to them? Because really, aside from the big names like all the DC and Marvel, it's been hard for me to even find out what I want to read.

I am starting to confuse myself, and therefore I will stop.

((PS: This turned out rather a downer rant in retrospect. I know it's hard to find out what you want to read in the sea of Japanese comics as well, so I guess it's a matter of luck and knowing the language enough to be able to pick and choose and articulate your preferences.))