A Month of Japan – Grave of the Fireflies

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Animated Film Rec – Grave of the Fireflies

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What it’s all about: In the aftermath of a World War II bombing, two orphaned children struggle to survive in the Japanese countryside. To Seita and his four-year-old sister, the helplessness and indifference of their countrymen is even more painful than the enemy raids. Through desperation, hunger and grief, these children’s lives are as heartbreakingly fragile as their spirit and love is inspiring.

Why you should watch it: If you’re unconvinced of the horrors of war, not just on the battlefield but for the civilians caught in the midst, this movie will do it for you. It’s heartbreaking but never preachy, celebrating strength and endurance but also acknowledging that there are situations even those qualities can’t overcome. The siblings’ relationship is so authentic it’s impossible not to get caught up in their struggle to survive and to be there for each other. Warning: This is a total tearjerker, so watch prepared.

What war movie have you found most affecting? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime, or check out my pre-order offer:

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A Month of Japan – Hana and Alice

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Live Action Film Rec – Hana and Alice

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What it’s all about: Hana and Alice are inseparable friends until Miyamoto, a cute boy they spot at a train station, comes between them. Tricking Miyamoto into believing that he is suffering from amnesia, Hana claims that she is his girlfriend. A baffled Miyamoto struggles to regain his memories as he is drawn to the prettier Alice. When the bond deepens, the girls’ lifelong relationship begins to fray… propelling them apart.

Why you should watch it: Despite its kooky premise—yes, Hana does actually decide to convince the guy that he’s got amnesia and has simply forgotten that she’s his girlfriend, and Alice is roped into going along with the deception as it becomes increasingly complicated—which is handled deftly and makes for plenty of humor, this movie is filled with poignant moments and drama that’s wrenching without ever becoming melodrama. The two girls are sharply drawn, and we get to know not only their friendship but their family lives and dreams for the future, which are equally fraught. The plotline will keep you hooked, but it’s the character studies that will stick with you.

What’s the kookiest plotline you’ve ever seen in a movie? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime, or check out my pre-order offer:

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A Month of Japan – Cowboy Bebop

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

TV Rec – Cowboy Bebop

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What it’s all about: The Bebop crew is just trying to make a buck. This motley lot of intergalactic loners teams up to track down fugitives and turn them in for cold hard cash. Spike is a hero whose cool façade hides a dark and deadly past. The pilot Jet is a bruiser of a brute who can’t wait to collect the next bounty. Faye Valentine is a femme fatale prone to breaking hearts and separating fools from their money. Along for the ride are the brilliant, but weird, hacker Ed and a super-genius Welsh Corgi named Ein. On their own, any one of them is likely to get lost in the sprawl of space, but together, they’re they most entertaining gang of bounty hunters in the year 2071.

Why you should watch it: One of the best blends of science fiction and western I’ve ever seen—with a jazzy flare provided by Yoko Kanno’s fabulous soundtrack—this show and its characters have a lot more going on than the official description suggests. There are lots of laughs and lots of hijinks, to be sure. But as the story progresses, the relationships deepen and complicated pasts are revealed, details that seemed like throw-away gags early on turn out to have unexpected meaning, and you’ll find yourself more invested than you ever anticipated. A must for any sci fi fan.

What’s your favorite genre mash-up? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime, or check out my pre-order offer:

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A Month of Japan – The Friends

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Book Rec – The Friends by Kazumi Yumoto

thefriends

What it’s all about: Curious about death, three sixth-grade boys decide to spy on an old man waiting for him to die, but they end up becoming his friends.

Why you should read it: The premise may sound morbid, but this story manages to balance darkness and lightness, both poignant and sweet. The boys grapple not just with their ideas about death but also family dynamics, social hierarchies, growing up, and of course their evolving friendship with each other. Each is distinct and believable, and the way they come to connect with the old man feels authentic too. This is a quiet, thoughtful read, and its impact creeps up on you.

What’s your favorite book about a group of friends? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime, or check out my pre-order offer:

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Picturing A Mortal Song‘s Characters

As always when working on a book, with A Mortal Song I went looking for character “models” early on to give me a solid visual of the major characters. They may or may not be how you pictured them too, but here’s a quick look at four of them through my eyes. 🙂

Sora

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My model for Song‘s protagonist was originally a different actress, but then I saw Aoi Yu perform in the movie Hana and Alice—particularly this dance sequence—and I knew she was my Sora. I had the picture on the left above open on my computer most of the time I was drafting the book, and it’s part of the reason Sora ends up in a green shirt.

Keiji

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I knew right away that my Keiji was going to be Tatsuya Fujiwara, who I mainly knew from the movie Battle Royale. He spends most of that film looking pretty serious, but you can see he’s got a playful side too.

Chiyo

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My “magical girl” was the most difficult character to cast, because I had a clear picture of what she looked like in my head… but she’s a pretty unique figure inside and out, so finding a real life person who matched her was tough. I turned to the JapaneseStreets website for inspiration. The girl on the left has the right vibe and general look (though Chiyo would be younger), and her hair color is like the girl on the right (without the green streak).

Takeo

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And here is my stalwart warrior, represented by Takeshi Kaneshiro. With that intense gaze, he would have fit the role perfectly.

What do you think? Do my models fit the characters as you imagined them?

A Month of Japan – Okashi Connection

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Snack Subscription Box Review – Okashi Connection

okashibox

What you get: Okashi Connection offers three different box sizes, from $14 (5-7 items) for the cheapest to $33 (14-18 items) for the largest. Shipping is included. Each box includes only snack items (no toys or other special items). Their focus is offering a variety of snacks found only in Japan. The company is based on Japan and that’s where the boxes ship from.

Review of the box:
My Sumo box arrived in the very attractive packaging you can see above, which immediately made me excited to see what was inside.

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It was fully packed with tons of goodies and a handy guide that gave a brief description of what each snack was, in vivid color. And what a lot of snacks there were! Here’s the full spread:

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I jotted down my thoughts on each of the snacks as I tried them out and gave them a rating out of 3 (0 = nope, 1 = all right, 2 = quite good, 3 = OMG where can I get more of this?).

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Kinoko No Yama Big Size – I don’t know what the small size is like to compare, but these mushroom shaped biscuits had nicely smooth and rich milk chocolate, with the cookie stem adding a great bit of crunch and texture. 2.

Lemon Pocky – I love Pocky and I love sweet lemon flavoring, so you can imagine how these went over. 😉 The icing had a lovely, creamy, tangy flavor and there was lots of it (if I had any complaint, it’d be that I like a tad more cookie in the cookie-to-coating ratio). 3.

okashi1Shuwabo Grape – A long, chewy candy with a satisfying texture, but I’m not a big fan of grape flavoring, so didn’t love this. 1.

Shuwabo Change Cola – Similar to the Grape, but with a supposedly cola flavor and a sour streak down the middle. Sour isn’t my thing, and this was very sour, but that effect faded quickly into the sweetness of the rest of the candy, and otherwise the taste was quite enjoyable. It tasted more like orange and lemon to me than cola, but what do I know? 2.

Pikachu Gum – Mix and match gumballs in four different flavors (as well as another “flavor” for cleansing the palate before trying a new one) along with “recipes” for combining them. I found the flavors didn’t last very long, but I enjoyed most of them. The red had a nicely realistic apple flavor rather than the standard artificial type; the orange tasted like orange; the yellow was vaguely creamy and tangy, more vanilla to me than the yogurt it was labeled as, and the blue was a strong cola flavor. I only tried one of the gray ones and it was kind of horrifying, so I skipped that step afterward. 2.

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Juu-C Colorful Ramune – These little discs were satisfyingly crunchy and only a little powdery. They had a fruit-gum-like taste, a bit tart but mostly sweet, and a fizzy impression like soda. Would eat again! 2.

Pine-Ame Gummies – The texture on these gummy rings was softer than I prefer in gummy candies and the pineapple taste was pretty thin, only faintly tangy, mostly just sweet. So overall kind of bland. This was the only snack in the bunch I didn’t finish. 0.

Pachi Pachi Panic – The texture of this pop-rock-like candy was a little off-putting to me (the bits stuck to my teeth as I chewed) and the crackling sensation was unsettling, but the strawberry and cream flavoring was so enjoyable I kept eating anyway. 2.

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DIY molded gummies kit – I found it hard to follow the instructions on the package, so I messed it up a bit, but I was still impressed by the smooth, not too hard or too soft texture of the gummies I created. The flavor was sweet but not too sugary, very tasty. 2.

Peroty Hello Kitty Choco Pops – The milk chocolate was enjoyable creamy, but I didn’t really taste the strawberry in the strawberry one. The banana one had a light artificial banana flavor that worked well with the chocolate. 2.

Puchi Busse Tasty Vanilla Cakes – The soft pastry in these layered “cakes” was a little artificial in texture, as with most prepackaged treats like this, but it had a great mix of sweet flavors. 2.

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Pop Zack – These crunchy biscuits had a bit of a chocolate flavor along with a very buttery butterscotch flavor that I wasn’t expecting but loved. 3.

Pototto Plus – With this interesting approach to potato chips, the oil is packaged separately and you shake it into the package right before eating. It definitely gave the chips a fresher, less processed taste. However, all I could taste was the olive oil and salt, none of the supposed herbs, and I like a more prominent flavor in my chips. 1.

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Saku-Saku Panda – These cookies had a good balance of chocolate with biscuit, plus they were very cute! The chocolate was nicely creamy. 2.

Alfort Mini Chocolate Blonde Milk – Another nice balance of cookie and topping. The “blonde” chocolate wasn’t my favorite (I’m more of a dark gal) but I did enjoy how creamy and sweet it was. 2.

Overall thoughts: Lots of different snacks, most of which I wasn’t familiar with, and almost all of them I enjoyed. I do wish there’d been a little more of the salty snacks to balance out the sweet ones.

Overall rating: 28/45, 62%

Note: I received this box free in exchange for my honest review.

Join me next week for more recs! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime, or check out my pre-order offer:

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A Month of Japan – Princess Mononoke

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Animated Film Rec – Princess Mononoke

mononoke

What it’s all about: Inflicted with a deadly curse, a young warrior named Ashitaka sets out for the forests of the west in search of the cure that will save his life. Once there, he becomes inextricably entangled in a bitter battle that matches Lady Eboshi and a proud clan of humans against the forest’s animal gods… who are led by the brave Princess Mononoke, a young woman raised by wolves.

Why you should watch it: I love pretty much all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and this one makes my top ten fave films of all time. The story is fast-paced but also thoughtful, the characters complex and engaging, and the animation is beautiful. Also the music! The soundtrack is just lovely. I appreciate that the environmental themes are clear without being heavy-handed, that there are plenty of powerful women characters, as always in Miyazaki’s work, and that there is no tidy ending, but more a message of potential and hope.

If you’re a Miyazaki fan, which of his movies is your fave? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime, or check out my pre-order offer:

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A Month of Japan – Battle Royale

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Live Action Film Rec – Battle Royale

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What it’s all about: In the near future, the economy has collapsed, unemployment has soared and juvenile crime has exploded. Fearful of their nation’s youth, the Japanese government passes The BR Law: Each year, a 9th grade class is sent to a remote island where they will be locked into exploding neck collars, given a random weapon, and forced to hunt and kill each other until there is only one survivor left.

Why you should watch it: A lot of people have compared this movie (and book—there’s a book as well) to The Hunger Games because of the similarity in the basic premise: the government forcing teens to kill each other in a sort of game until there’s only one survivor. Something I think Battle Royale does better: it doesn’t pull its punches. Sympathetic characters end up killing other characters not by accident or in immediate self-defense but because they have to make hard choices to survive or they (understandably) melt down during tense situations that arise. Other characters who haven’t trained to be killers nonetheless find they’re willing to embrace that role. There are many shocking moments and many heart-wrenching moments, and it’s a film that will stick with you long after you’ve watched it.

*Note: Graphic violence, not suitable for particularly young or sensitive viewers.

If you’re familiar with both this movie and The Hunger Games, which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime, or check out my pre-order offer:

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A Month of Japan – Princess Tutu

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

TV Rec – Princess Tutu

princesstutuWhat it’s all about: In a fairy tale come to life, the clumsy, sweet, and gentle Ahiru (Japanese for “duck”) seems like an unlikely protagonist. In reality, Ahiru is just as magical as the talking cats and crocodiles that inhabit her town—for Ahiru really is a duck! Transformed by the mysterious Drosselmeyer into a human girl, Ahiru soon learns the reason for her existence. Using her magical egg-shaped pendant, Ahiru can transform into Princess Tutu—a beautiful and talented ballet dancer whose dances relieve people of the turmoil in their hearts. With her newfound ability, Ahiru accepts the challenge of collecting the lost shards of her prince’s heart, for long ago he had shattered it in order to seal an evil raven away for all eternity.

Princess Tutu is a tale of heroes and their struggle against fate. Their beliefs, their feelings, and ultimately their actions will determine whether this fairy tale can reach its “happily ever after.” (from MyAnimeList)

Why you should watch it: Princess Tutu has so many of my favorite story elements. It takes popular tropes from fairy tales and magical girl cliches, and twists them in unexpected ways. It features vibrant characters who reveal more and more layers, and grow and change, across the entire series. It shows morality as something full of shades of gray rather than black and white. And it has a wonderful meta-fictional approach: stories within stories and a puppet-master orchestrating events from afar, who may not be as untouchable as he thinks. Not to mention the unique integration of ballet and classical music into the story. This isn’t just one of my favorite anime TV shows—it’s one of my favorite TV shows period!

What’s your favorite twisted fairy tale? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime, or check out my pre-order offer:

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A Month of Japan – Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. Monday to Friday for the next four weeks, I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Let’s kick things off!

Book Rec – Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi

moribito

What it’s all about: Balsa was a wanderer and warrior for hire. Then she rescued a boy flung into a raging river—and at that moment, her destiny changed. Now Balsa must protect the boy—the Prince Chagum—on his quest to deliver the great egg of the water spirit to its source in the sea. As they travel across the land of Yogo and discover the truth about the spirit, they find themselves hunted by two deadly enemies: the egg-eating monster Rarunga . . . and the prince’s own father.

Why you should read it: Balsa is a great protagonist, a tough and skilled fighter but also compassionate. I loved the interplay between her and the prince (who grows a lot over the course of the story and really comes into his own), her mentor, and her friend/almost-romantic interest. The story’s mystery is unraveled at a good pace, with twists I didn’t see coming, and I appreciated that one of the key figures in finding the answer isn’t a fighter but a scholar. The action sequences are exciting and the questions of history and morality thought-provoking. Plus, if you can get your hands on a print version, it has an absolutely lovely interior design including two-page illustrations for each section! An all-around excellent fantasy novel. 🙂

Who are your favorite fantasy heroines? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime, or check out my pre-order offer:

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