Welcome again to We Have Always Lived in the Kraken, a pop culture blog transmitted directly to you from the belly of the beast. Normally here in the Notes we’d show you this week’s posting schedule, preceded by a little Seafood for Thought. But we’re doing things a little differently this month. For it is July, and in July, the Kraken slumbers:
Know this, then: for the length of the Kraken’s Cyclopean somnolence, the blog will be at a reduced and loose level of output. Things may appear or disappear, corridors may change places, and you might walk around a corner only to find yourself back where you began. ‘Ware the crossways, and heed the megrims and spectres of bygone eras which may wander to and fro, dispensing troublesome advice. This is no less dangerous a time for being quieter and slow.
And yet in all this strangeness there is much to discuss, because it is still summer. Summer movies, summer novels, discounted video games (yes, even in this great monster we still have access to Steam sales), comics… Whether you’re at a vacation or a convention, working or relaxing, sweltering in the heat or shivering in the frozen ocean depths, the joy and majesty and absurdity of pop culture will continue. And we’ll keep talking about it, in between the low rumbling snores of the monster where we’ve always lived.
Josh Kyu Saiewitz
From the depths of the Kraken, here is what we are bringing you this month:
- First, there’s the final episode in our Westeros Edition series, an Outro where David, Kyu, Sam, and special guest Matt Morris discuss Game of Thrones Season Six as a whole, and what hope to see in Season Seven.
- Then join David, Kyu, and Sam in the regular edition, Episode 012, Takashi Miike’s Pixar Film, as they talk about what current film directors they’d like to see tackle a new genre. Plus, Sam nominates It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as his pick for the greatest show currently on television, and there’s just time for a quick Lightning Round of pop culture queries.
Never fear, fans of anime and/or Trash, Sam has all the answers to the questions you never, ever asked:
- Sam presents his Preview of the next anime summer season. Want to know what’s worth watching and which shows to avoid in fear of joining an FBI watchlist? Don’t miss this post.
- With Hulu’s recent decision to pull their anime content, Sam declares that The Mainstreaming of Anime Has Failed. React accordingly.
Amy has one article ready this month, but it’s a doozy, and sadly never far from relevant: in Atomika vs. Gun Culture, she’ll take a deep dive into the history of guns in cinema, and how that has informed American gun culture.
Also announcing a new column from guest author Matt Morris called Hidden Levels. In this feature, Matt will introduce you to video games that were overlooked, starting with Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure.
Finally, July is convention season, and you can expect some sort of coverage of both Anime Expo and the San Diego Comic-Con. More on this as it develops.
Looking for other content? Our archives are filled with excellence, and now is also a good time to catch up on Baturdays, which returns in August.
Catch of the Week:
Each and every week the residents here in the Kraken will offer one recommendation for the week that we think you all would enjoy. It might be a movie. It might be a book. Who knows? This is your… Catch of the Week. And keep checking back every week in July for more recommendations.
- I’m moving to Austin, TX later this year, so in honor of that, this week I’m recommending Richard Linklater’s early film, Slacker. A bizarre, narrative-less film that wanders around Austin from one over-educated, under-employed weirdo to another, it’s still absolutely compelling, if for no other reason than as the time capsule of what Austinites are trying to preserve or reclaim when they exhort visitors and residents to “Keep Austin Weird.”
- This week, I recommend the anime Haikyu!! and it’s multiple sequels. They’re a good gateway into the world of modern sports anime, with distinct character designs, engaging action scenes, and a strong sense of narrative control. (The show maintains focus on the core teams and manages the inevitable expansion of characters with more grace than, say, Kuroko no Basket.)
- This week I recommend The Heart of Thomas. If you want to understand the Japanese artistic tradition of BL (homoerotic fiction written entirely by and for straight females), it’s absolutely fascinating to go back to its source. A lot of the ideas in Heart of Thomas (the more “masculine” lead brooding and dealing with a dark trauma which provides much of the motivation of the secondary lead, how borderline non-consent is treated by both the characters and the work) are present (or being responded to) in almost all BL works to follow.
- For the last week in July, I recommend this video of Sir Ian McKellen reading a speech from Unlimited Blade Works. A large part of the joy of watching it is unpacking all the layers: We’re seeing a respected, trained actor trying to give gravitas to English lines written by a Japanese author (Kinoko Nasu) which were made famous by several anime adaptations, and exist as a meme known within the anime fandom as a template for dramatic speeches.
The best way to get out of the summer heat? Stay inside and play video games. So all month I’ll be recommending some of my all-time favorites.
- First up: Metroid Prime. Originally for the GameCube, this 3D update of Nintendo’s phenomenal and influential action/platforming Metroid series could have gone very, very wrong–could have gone Bubsy, in fact. Instead what we got was a hauntingly lonely, perfectly polished first person experience exploring a vast alien world filled with puzzles and an array of species (which could be analyzed and cataloged along the way). Aside from being a virtually flawless game of great depth and beauty, Prime is great and will endure because it so completely captured the feeling of being left to your own devices on an uncharted planet.
- Next, the PS2 masterpiece Okami. Developed by now-defunct Clover Studio, this gorgeous RPG platformer about a wolf spirit traveling throughout Japan, encountering folklore and rejuvenating the land while trying to defeat an evil 8-headed demon is truly sui generis. An innovative magic system based on drawing symbols to summon elements and change the environment was only the most unusual part of an extremely fun and well-polished set of mechanics. The story is filled with memorable characters, and the game features a massive open world filled with things to collect, people to help, and tasks to complete. Most importantly, the game is an absolute beauty to behold, with cel-shaded animation inspired by woodcuts, watercolors and other Japanese art, creating a deeply involving, awe-inspiring fantasy world for the wolf Amaterasu and her friends to explore. Whether you pick up the original or one of its several remastered editions, Okami is not to be missed.
- Another GCN favorite, the horror masterpiece Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. While not a perfect game by any means, it still remains one of the creepiest and most ambitious horror video games ever made. An engrossing mystery spanning thousands of years and a dozen protagonists, ED:SR tells a story of magic, madness and the passage of time straight out of H.P. Lovecraft. Excellent voice-acting and an innovative “sanity” system are highlights, with the latter going “meta”–as your character grows more and more insane, the game starts pretending to delete save files and mute your TV. It’s a sometimes silly (and occasionally tedious) game, but it can also be shocking, unnerving, eerie, and even poignant. Thematically, it’s a strong (and dark) argument that evil endures, and that those who do good rarely live to see the effects their lives have on the future. This game will only get rarer as time goes on, and no sequel or remake seems like it will ever appear, so seek out a copy when you can to enjoy this unique and highly entertaining game.
- One more classic video game recommendation to close out the month, the original PSX platformer Spyro the Dragon. Along with the Crash Bandicoot series, as well as more obscure titles like Medievil, the Spyro games were an important reason why the PSX era was a golden age for 3D platformers. All three Insomniac-developed Spyro titles are great fun, but the original holds a special place in my heart for its originality, beauty, and remarkable atmosphere. Well-polished controls and gameplay guide your experience as the titular young dragon (who can breathe fire and glide but not yet fly) rescuing his fellow dragons, who have been stolen and turned into frozen statues across a series of fantasy landscapes. What makes the game so great is the way that impeccable sound design, great music, and gorgeous backdrops combine to give you the sense that you’re the only person like you around. It’s a lonely but comfortable feeling, and as Spyro runs around collecting gems, chasing down wizards, and barbecuing sheep, it’s hard not to get immersed in the experience. One of the things games do at their best is provide these secondary worlds, digital spaces in which players move and exist and accomplish goals. Sometimes it’s nice to get away from reality for a while, and what better self could you inhabit than a dragon? Today’s kids may only know the series from Skylanders or the other knock-off games, but it’s worth playing the original trilogy wherever you can find it.
- As a big fan of JRPG and niche games, I have always been a huge fan of the company NIS, and their commitment to releasing some of the most eclectic games in the genre. Of course there is Disgaea, but the studio’s release of games such as Danganronpa, Phantom Brave, and the very fun The Guided Fate Paradox has really shown the studio’s depth. Now NIS has released Grand Kingdom, a tactical game full of depth and fun. So if you love the tactical RPG genre, check it out, and give NIS money to keep making niche games!
- I could suggest something super outside the box, but instead I am just going for it: play Pokemon Go. Not because it is anything special as a game (it really isn’t), but because as a social experience it is amazing. It gets you walking and exploring the places you live, and can introduce you to a lot of new people who share similar interests. How long this will last is hard to tell, but take advantage of it while you can and join in on the fun. But, you know, be safe, and don’t do stupid things like trespass or play while driving. I assure you, you will have another chance to catch a Jolteon. Wait, no, don’t run away, Snorlax! Come back here!
- I am going to continue to keep things simple, so watch Mr. Robot. Last year’s break out phenomenon is back, and off to a great start. Rami Malek is a revelation in this show, and he is ready to take the mantle of best male performance on television. Plus, Mr. Robot is finally the show that figured out how to use Christian Slater correctly. The rest of the ensemble is also quite good, and this show is shot and edited in a very unique way. Most of all, though, it’s one of the few shows that is able to create a unique viewing experience that makes watching week-to-week worthwhile because you can be a part of the cultural conversation. So get to watching, and don’t worry if you don’t understand what is going on. That is half the fun!
- Sometimes shows sneak up on you, and that is exactly what happened with my final recommendation for July, Steven Universe. This show starts off a little slow, but once creator Rebecca Sugar finds her groove, it becomes a masterful show that hits all the feels. Plus, it’s a musical! Right now there are new episodes airing every day, so use this time to get caught up and join in the fun.
That’s it for this month. Come back next week when the Kraken awakens from his slumber and join us on an epic quest to find enough sugar for his coffee.