A Month of Japan – Serial Experiments Lain

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 – Serial Experiments Lain

lain

What it’s all about: Lain Iwakura, an awkward and introverted fourteen-year-old, is one of the many girls from her school to receive a disturbing email from her classmate Chisa Yomoda—the very same Chisa who recently committed suicide. Lain has neither the desire nor the experience to handle even basic technology; yet, when the technophobe opens the email, it leads her straight into the Wired, a virtual world of communication networks similar to what we know as the internet. Lain’s life is turned upside down as she begins to encounter cryptic mysteries one after another. Strange men called the Men in Black begin to appear wherever she goes, asking her questions and somehow knowing more about her than even she herself knows. With the boundaries between reality and cyberspace rapidly blurring, Lain is plunged into more surreal and bizarre events where identity, consciousness, and perception are concepts that take on new meanings. (from MyAnimeList)

Why you should watch it: This is another reality-bending story, capturing the absorbing and sometimes addictive nature of the internet in advance of our modern-day world where everyone is wired in (metaphorically speaking). Haunting, poignant, and frightening at turns, you may not always understand what’s going on, but the emotions the story stirs up are no less real for that. And the soundtrack is lovely.

What’s your fave tech-centric story? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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A Month of Japan – Out

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 – Out by Natsuo Kirino

out

What it’s all about: This mesmerizing novel tells the story of a brutal murder in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works the night shift making boxed lunches strangles her abusive husband and then seeks the help of her coworkers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. The coolly intelligent Masako emerges as the plot’s ringleader, but quickly discovers that this killing is merely the beginning, as it leads to a terrifying foray into the violent underbelly of Japanese society.

Why you should read it: This book is absolutely gripping, difficult to put down from the moment the story gets going. The extreme situation the characters find themselves in is both horrifying and understandable, and the varied reactions of the four main characters ring true. Masako is smart and tough, able to make the best of a bad situation, but not without her vulnerabilities. And I loved seeing the focus on women supporting each other and working together, though of course there’s plenty of conflict between them too. If you enjoy thrillers, you’ve got to read this one.

Content warning: Graphic violence

What’s your most-loved story about women making their own fates? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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The Music of A Mortal Song

All of my books have an unofficial soundtrack, because I’m always connecting songs I hear to the stories in my head, and listening to them helps inspire me throughout the various stages of the writing process. You can listen to my unofficial soundtrack for A Mortal Song here on my website. I wanted to share a little about how certain songs fit into the story for me.

Note: Vague spoilers if you haven’t yet read the book.

“Evolution” by Ayumi Hamasaki has always been Song‘s theme song, as it were. I used to picture it playing over an anime TV-show style opening featuring the characters and scenes from the book. It’s got a high energy vibe that suits that story’s action, and many of the lyrics fit Sora’s emotional journey (translation from PrimeNova):

“With your own two eyes
please decide the worth of this place.
Do it with your own standards.”

“We’ve arrived on this kind of world.
Somehow I’m very happy
somehow it hurts a lot.”

“Magic” by Ben Folds Five is the love theme from Keiji’s point of view, because to him Sora is magic. It was always playing in my head during the night scene where Sora dances apart from the kami:

“saw you last night
dance by the light of the moon
stars in your eyes
free from the life that you knew”

“You Picked Me” by A Fine Frenzy is the love theme from Sora’s point of view. After feeling she is—and must be—second to Chiyo in everyone’s eyes, having someone see her as powerful and desirable helps her recognize the value in herself and accept the feelings for him she doesn’t totally understand. And it’s seeing his willingness to put her first that allows her to accept his accidental betrayal.

“Like an apple on a tree
Hiding out behind the leaves
I was difficult to reach
But you picked me”

“You got me,
Searched the sand
And climbed the tree
And brought me back down”

Finally, “Hello Another Way” by The Brilliant Green makes a perfect ending theme. It looks both backward to connections formed and forward to a hopeful future, acknowledging the uncertainty of what lies ahead but appreciating being in this spot all the same (translation from AnimeLyrics):

Sing to the beautiful summer which had just blossomed from the phantom darkness.”

I reach out a hand to my dream.
Though it’s still far away, I want to believe
That someday it will surely come true.

For it’s because of you that I’ve managed to come this far.
I’m so glad we’ve met.

A Month of Japan – WOWBOX

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 – WOWBOX

wowbox

What you get: WOWBOX is unique in that they offer four different types of boxes depending on your snacking preferences, three of those in two different sizes. The cheapest box is $15 a month and the most expensive $35, and all come with free shipping to most countries worldwide. The available boxes include “New & Limited” (the latest and most exclusive Japanese treats), “Fun & Tasty” (a mix of playful, odd, and classic treats), “Kawaii & Beauty” (with a theoretical consideration to a healthy diet), and “Dagashi” (classic small candies and snacks). All of these are curated and shipped directly from Japan.

Review of the box:
I requested a large “Fun & Tasty” box because it sounded likely to be a little different from the others I was trying, while still having treats I’d enjoy. The packaging and insert were a little plain (the insert included nutritional information, which the other boxes hadn’t)…

wowboxopen wowboxinsert

…but of course it’s the snacks inside that matter most, and this looked like a great lot!
wowboxfullAs before, 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?).

wowsnack1Amijaga German Potato – These hearty potato chips had a satisfyingly crunchy texture, a light salt and definite bacon flavor, and weren’t too heavy despite their thickness. I liked them a lot! 3.

Corn Potage – A fluffier chip, I found these to be lightly crunchy with a taste exactly like fresh, almost creamily sweet corn. So good! 3.

wowsnack2Pie No Mi Kiitigo no Cream Cheese Pie – The bite-sized hexagonal pastries had a fluffy exterior, but I found them quite dry and they didn’t have much filling to offset the dryness or provide the promised raspberry cream cheese flavor. I probably would have liked them more with about twice as much filling. 1.

Papaya Lemon Choco – These candies came in individually wrapped squares. Each was made of white chocolate with a pleasantly light, authentic-tasting papaya flavor mixed in, and a marshmallow center that added extra dimension and a pleasing chewy texture. Unique but very enjoyable. Yum! 3.

Umai Bo (Chocolate) – This long, puffy, hollow wafer with chocolate coating was a nice mix of sweet and salty, but a little on the bland side. 2.

wowsnack3Garibori Ramen Spicy Garlic – A snacking ramen (no cooking necessary), these noodles had great crunch and texture, but the salty garlic flavor was so strong it was overpowering, and I couldn’t taste any other spices. I would have liked it better with a milder flavor. 1.

Ultra Hlyarinko Ice Gum – I expected this gum to have a minty flavor, but it was actually sweet and mildly fruity, yet still with a bit of chill to it. It’s bubble gum and good for that purpose—I could blow quite a large bubble before it popped—but the flavor was almost gone after just five minutes. 2.

Donguri Gum (Apple) – Artificial apple flavor isn’t my favorite, but this sweet treat wasn’t actively unpleasant either. After a few minutes the hard candy exterior gave way to a very sweet gum interior with not much other flavor. 1.

Awa Cola Ramune – A clear cola taste and very fizzy on the tongue, cola lovers should enjoy this! I’m not a big fan of cola flavor, but I still appreciated the authenticity. 2.

wowsnack4Petit Sour Cream Onion Sen – These wafers were light but with enough substance not to be too airy, and had an enjoyable creamy taste with a little onion spice mixed in. Some pieces were more flavorful than others—the ones with the stronger flavor I loved. 2.

Hunwari Baum Orange Chocola – This treat was basically a slice of cake with a nice dense texture and a light chocolate taste that blended well with the sweet orange icing. I loved this! 3.

Gaburi Chew Strawberry Yogurt – This candy had a great chewy texture, but the strawberry and yogurt flavors were very artificial and kind of powdery tasting. 1.

wowsnack5Doki Doki Puchitto Honey Lemon – Satisfyingly chewy candies with a great balance of sour and sweet and lots of tang. Mmmm. 3.

Mitsuya Fruits Cider Gummy Mango – These gummies were a bit on the tough side, but the excellent mango flavoring was distinct without being overpowering, a little sweet and a little tangy. 2.

wowsnack6a wowsnack6b
Nyoki Nyoki Kororon (DIY)
– The booklet offered a handy link to a video that explained how to make this DIY kit. The candy that resulted had a bit of an odd texture, crunchy coating over soft, gel-like cream, but I quite enjoyed the blending of the orange, melon, and grape flavors with the sweet creamy base. If you leave them a little while, they get crunchy all the way through. Very sweet. 2.

Purutto Jelly Orange – This was kind of like drinking soft jello: the texture was a little lumpy, which wasn’t super pleasant but not totally off-putting either. I enjoyed the mild natural-ish orange flavor. 2.

Golden Saku Saku Panda – These biscuits had a lovely blend of caramel, vanilla, and chocolate, which combined perfectly while allowing you to taste all three. Great balance of icing to cookie, too! I finished the package wishing I had more. 3.

Overall thoughts: This was my favorite selection of snacks, with lots of please both my sweet tooth and my salty/savory tooth, and several treats I’d be eager to eat again.

Overall snack rating: 36/51, 71%

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:

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A Month of Japan – Perfect Blue

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 – Perfect Blue

perfectblue

What it’s all about: Mima Kirigoe is a squeaky-clean Japanese pop singer who decides to leave the music industry and try her hand at acting. Finding her way in her new field proves to be difficult as she is forced to take humiliating work in perverse low-budget films. Mima is stalked by an obsessed fan, irate at her decision to abandon her successful music career. A series of bloody murders follow Mima as she descends into a delusional and hallucinatory mental state, while a mysterious internet blog claiming to be written by the real Mima reports personal information to a leering public eye. Mima is pushed further into a psychological black hole as the film weaves a fractured and bizarre setting. Perfect Blue explores the voyeuristic modern-day obsessions with celebrity, identity and mental instability.

Why you should watch it: This is an intense, gripping psychological thriller that does its work so effectively that viewers will find themselves doubting their perceptions alongside the main character. The movie manages to make you feel nearly as disoriented as Mima must, and that’s impressive. Mima is a resilient but understandably unsteady heroine whose struggle to climb out of the box her career has put her in really resonates. The villain is unexpected and the finale satisfying.

Content warning: Violence, including sexual assault

What’s the twistiest psychological thriller you’ve ever seen? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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A Month of Japan – Summer Time Machine Blues

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 – Summer Time Machine Blues

summertime

What it’s all about: When a group of friends in a college science-fiction club accidentally break their air conditioner’s remote control in the midst of a horrible heat wave, and then a time machine appears out of nowhere in their club room, they decide to go back in time to retrieve the still-functioning remote of the past. But as they hop back and forth in time, their mission becomes decidedly more complicated.

Why you should watch it: This light-hearted comedy offers lots of laughs while also stretching your brain as you try to guess how all the clues connect. It’s one of those time travel stories where every interference that the characters make in their past has technically already happened, but not always in ways or for reasons you’d guess the first time through. The actors completely commit to their roles and bring great charm to the silly premise. A perfect way to pass a summer afternoon!

What’s your favorite time travel story? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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A Month of Japan – Silver Spoon

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 – Silver Spoon

silverspoon

What it’s all about: The only reason why Yugo Hachiken decided to attend the Oezo Agricultural High School (a.k.a Ezono) was simply because the school had a dormitory. Entering Ezono was a way for Yugo to run away from the stifling academic pressures in the city, however, it didn’t take long for him to realize that life is not that simple. Yugo is soon forced to face more hurdles in his new environment surrounded by all the farm animals and the magnificent Mother Nature. He also begins feeling a different kind of pressure as he deals with his classmates who, unlike him, all have a clear view of what they want for their futures. Even so, as Yugo overcomes one challenge after another at Ezono and deepens his bonds with his classmates, he begins to grow stronger both physically and mentally. This is a coming-of-age story filled with sweat, tears, and literally a lot of dirt!

Why you should watch it: Yugo is a hugely sympathetic protagonist and his classmates at Ezono are a colorful, varied, and entertaining crew. Although this series still has visual gags and over-the-top moments, in general it feels more down-to-earth and real than the average anime show, which suits its subject matter of a boy trying to figure out who he really is and what he really wants out of life perfectly. Every character has hopes and dreams, and their struggles are gradually revealed over the course of the two seasons with a beautiful balance of drama and humor. My only complaint is that the anime appears to be finished, even though there’s more story in the manga it’s adapted from!

What’s your fish-out-of-water story? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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A Month of Japan – Death Note

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 – Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

deathnote

What it’s all about: Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects – and he’s bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. With L hot on his heels, will Light lose sight of his noble goal…or his life?

Light tests the boundaries of the Death Note’s powers as L and the police begin to close in. Luckily Light’s father is the head of the Japanese National Police Agency and leaves vital information about the case lying around the house. With access to his father’s files, Light can keep one step ahead of the authorities. But who is the strange man following him, and how can Light guard against enemies whose names he doesn’t know?

Why you should read it: For some reason I have a lot of trouble getting into manga. It’s like it’s not wordy enough to appeal to the bookish part of my brain but not visual enough to appeal to the cinematic part. The Death Note series is one of the very few that hooked me and kept me engaged all the way through to the end. I think it helps that the series is relatively light on action—it’s more about the characters trying to outsmart and strategically outmaneuver each other, with lots of intense dialogue and thoughtful moments and intellectual standoffs. The two main characters are supposed to be brilliant, and they manage to convincingly behave that way. There are lots of twists where I wasn’t sure how the story could continue and then one or the other pulled out some unexpected new trick. The moral questions raised—primarily about the sanctity of life and who should be allowed to make decisions about who “deserves” to live or die—give the series additional depth. If you love following super-smart but not always likeable characters like Sherlock and House, you’ll probably enjoy this. 🙂

What’s your favorite manga series? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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The Setting of A Mortal Song

I wouldn’t have felt right writing in depth about a country I’d never visited, so I made two trips to Japan during the writing and revising of A Mortal Song: in April 2011, not long after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami (we’d already booked tickets and accommodations, and it was touch and go for a few weeks whether we’d make use of them or not), and in July 2013, which was also technically my son’s first trip overseas, although he was barely a bump in my belly then. 😉 You can read about those trips and see some photos by following the links, and here are some of the key settings:

Mt. Fuji, Sora’s home:song-mt-fuji

Tokyo’s residential streets:    song-tokyo-houses

Nagoya’s train station:
song-nagoya-station

Tokyo’s Imperial Palace:
song-imperial-gate

Ise’s Shrine:
song-ise-courtyard

To see more of the settings that made their way into Song, check out my Behind the Scenes page. And the digital booklet offered as part of my pre-order gift pack will contain even more photos and lots of commentary!

A Month of Japan: Snakku

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 – Snakku

snakkubox

What you get: Unlike most of the Japanese subscription boxes, Snakku focuses on traditional treats like mochi and senbei by local snack-makers rather than big name, mass market brands. They offer a tasting box (within the US) to sample but only have a subscription for their one primary size of box, which is $39 (shipping free in the US and more to select other countries) and contains around 1kg of snacks. It ships from the US, but the owner was born in Japan and travels there regularly.

Review of the box:
I was very impressed by the packaging of the Snakku box, which was attractive and fitting with the traditional theme.

snakkuopensnakkuinsertThe box opened to reveal a pretty card and a very sharply designed guide to the snacks, including an explanation of the monthly theme, which was sakura (cherry blossom) season, as well as lots of snacks!

snakkuallAs before, 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?).

snakku1b snakku1a
Morihan Roll Crepe (pink = cream and cherry blossom, green = chocolate and green tea) – Both types of crepe had a delicate texture that I really enjoyed. I loved the flowery flavor of the pink ones, but the tea flavor was a little heavier than I liked with the green. Overall a 2.

Sakura Senbei – According to the guide, these crisp wafers were made with sakura, cooking sake, dried squid, and wheat. They were a little on the hard side and saltier than I’d expected, but did have a little of that flowery taste I enjoyed in the crepes, which as quite pleasant once I got used to the texture and saltiness. I could taste a little fishiness from the squid too! 2.

snakku2b snakku2a
Kobe Sakura Cream Sandwich – These biscuit sandwiches were nicely sweet, with a subtle cherry blossom flavor I really enjoyed and a good balance of the cookies with the cream filling. 2.

Vegetable Yasai Boro (Spinach and Pumpkin) – Both sets of these little cracker balls were enjoyable crisp and sweet, almost melting in my mouth as I chewed them, but they had a bit of an odd, almost seaweed-y flavor and I didn’t really taste any pumpkin or spinach in them. 1.

snakku3a snakku3b
Bourbon Green Tea Cookies – These cookies were like mini Oreos, if Oreos had green tea flavor in the icing. The cookie to filling ration was perfect and the chocolate in the cookies balanced out the green tea flavor (which I often find too bitter) nicely. I loved these! 3.

Baka Uke Sesame Cracker – Crunchy crackers with a good weight to them and a tasty, savory sesame flavor. 2.

Niigata Salt Senbei – These crackers had a nice crispy texture and a good amount of salt, but they were kind of plain tasting. 1.

snakku4
Sake KitKat – I was a little apprehensive about trying these because I’m not usually a fan of the taste of alcohol, but while I could taste the sake, the coating was sweet enough to make it an enjoyable tang rather than annoyingly sour. Tasty with the usual KitKat crunch. 2.

Sakura Mochi – According to the guide, these fluffy mochi were hand made. Filled with sakura red bean paste, they had a lovely delicate flower flavor without being too sweet and a smooth texture. Yum! 3.

Kusagai Peach Gummy – These round gummies had a definite peach taste and a smooth chewy texture. I wasn’t sure how much I liked the flavor at first, but it grew on me and left an aftertaste very realistic to real peach. 2.

Overall thoughts: While I appreciated the snacks being so different from the other boxes I tried, the quantity of the snacks (there were both fewer types and they were smaller packages than other boxes) combined with this being the highest priced box even before shipping to Canada would make me hesitate to subscribe.

Overall snack rating: 20/30, 67%

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:

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