Sunday, October 27, 2019

Life Post: Reverse Culture Shock and Happy Halloween!

A lot has happened in the four months since I last posted one of these updates.

I passed my second anniversary of living in Japan. Just the other day it hit me for the first time how long I've been there. It hadn't quite felt real until that moment. Sometimes I still seem to forget that I'm living in Japan. The fact that my life here has become normal to me adds to that. I just forget what country I am a lot of the time, and then it'll suddenly hit me all over again.

In August, I visited the U.S. for the first time since I left in 2017. It was kind of strange yet not strange at all. I don't really know how to describe it. In many ways, coming back to Japan felt more comforting and like a return to the familiar than being in the U.S. did. In the States, the TSA was super pushy, and that was my overall feelings about being there: People were more aggressive. And I didn't like it.

Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of reasons I liked being in the U.S. It's just easier there for me because everyone's speaking my native language, I understand the culture on a deeper level, and whatnot. Still, I feel like the U.S.'s bad points all stood out more than anything, including how just straight up unsafe I feel there compared to in Japan.

I'm going back again for Christmas in December. Maybe I'll have even more thoughts about it then.

Because Halloween is a few days, we've been celebrating recently at work. We always have two Halloween parties: one for adult students and one of kid students. For privacy reasons, I won't be going into detail about either party here, but the kids' party was just today, so I'm a little tired from that. I helped with games, which was probably easier than helping with the craft, so I can't complain. The kids were also all adorable in their costumes.

I dressed up as a bat. All I did was cut some wings out of fabric and safety pin them to a black jacket. I also made some ears out of black wire that I bobby pinned into my hair. It didn't look the best, but it was the first time I've really made my own costume, so I guess it was a decent enough attempt.

This week is actually Halloween week at work, so we're "dressing up" all week, though I'm really only wearing a cat ear headband at work. It's fun though. I also put some fun Halloween nail stickers (colorful ghosts) on for the kids' party, and I don't really want to take them off.

I hope everyone reading this who celebrates Halloween has a nice holiday! I'll try to write another update soon. If I did this more often, maybe I could actually get into what day-to-day life is like for me in Japan... We'll see.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Book Review: Blood Debt by Nancy Straight

Published: July 15th, 2012
Publisher: self-published
Read from January 28 to February 5, 2018
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Her whole life, it had just been the two of them. Before her mother’s last breath, she gave Camille the information she had craved her entire life: the identity of her father. Daring to contact him, Camille was welcomed by an entire family she never knew existed. But nothing comes without a price, as she discovers when her family claims a legendary heritage tracing back to a centaur touched by Zeus.
As she learns the secrets of her Centaur bloodline, she is drawn into a forbidden love with Drake. Her life may be the blood debt required to pay for her mother’s transgressions. The same person who once held her mother captive, and forced her into decades of hiding, now controls Camille. Her only chance is to seek a piece of her mother’s past that will win her freedom and the life she desperately wants.


I was intrigued by this book because it's about centaurs. Books with centaurs front and center aren't common, at least that I've seen, and I had no idea what to expect. As far as I can tell, very little to none of the centaur lore in this book is from actual myth, as the centaurs in the book are nothing like what you think of when you think of centaurs. In fact, pretty quickly on, I figured it would be easier to just call the beings in the books something else because they aren't mythological centaurs in any sense of the word.

Just don't go into this book expecting to read about centaurs. They're beings entirely of the author's creation.

The writing in the book felt off to me. The main character Camille's emotions change frequently. She meets her father for the first time at the beginning of the book, and she very quickly fluctuates back-and-forth between thinking something is suspicious to being entirely at ease with her new family. It didn't make sense and left me unsure how I was supposed to feel about them as a reader.

There were also moments where the tense would suddenly change from past to present, which was disorienting.

The backstory of the centaurs should have been a lot more interesting than it was. We're told repeatedly that the centaurs are matriarchal. The head female of any given group is supposed to be in charge, but over and over again throughout the book, we see the men controlling everything while they're wives do absolutely nothing. It completely contradicted the matriarchal part of their culture and made it seem like they were lying about who actually controls their society. Something that could have been interesting if done well, but that, instead, felt like it was an idea that wasn't followed through on properly, which left the world building feeling shallow.

Part of Camille's backstory is that she grew up around murder and a lot of other crime, but that didn't feel genuine either. Nothing about her characterization or what happens to her throughout the book hints that she faced anything traumatic in her past.

There were a lot of other small things that irked me. Camille's blood apparently "calls" to Drake, which makes him struggle not to touch her. That felt very Twilight.

The sentence, "She's got the complexion of a Mayan goddess," was also in the book, and it's used to describe a white girl. I shouldn't have to elaborate on everything wrong with that sentence.

Overall, most of my problems with the book came down to shallow development of both the world and the characters. It was hard to be invested in the story when I was told things that were never actually shown. This book felt like it had potential that wasn't fleshed out enough.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Movie Talk: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

With The Rise of Skywalker just around the corner, it's about time that I get my thoughts on The Last Jedi posted. I re-watched it recently, which was the first time I'd actually done so since watching it in theaters.

I wanted to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything, but I was surprised how well I remembered everything despite having only seen it once more than a year before. Maybe it's a sign of how saturated I am with Star Wars stuff all the time, but everything in the movie felt fresh in my mind.

The first time around, I very much felt how long the movie was, and this time, since I'd seen it before, that feeling was worse. I paused the movie several times to get up and move around because I couldn't focus and was just zoning out staring at the screen. To be fair, I do this a lot when rewatching things, but at a certain point, watching The Last Jedi did almost begin to feel like a chore.

That's my biggest problem with the movie. I don't hate it. I definitely want to emphasize that. It is, overall, a perfectly fine movie, but it didn't keep me on the edge of my seat in suspense. By the time I got to the climax, I was kind of exhausted by everything that had come before, and I felt like I should have been feeling more than I was.

The first time around, I didn't consider that Rose and Finn's mission is not only unsuccessful but actually makes the situation worse for the Resistance. Their plan actually leads to more deaths on their own side. That should have been something that left me reeling emotionally, but I didn't even connect the dots that Finn and Rose themselves were responsible for that huge setback until I was rewatching the film. The characters themselves are obviously disappointed by their failure, but not even they directly acknowledge that more people have died as a direct consequence of their actions. That could have provided some amazing moments for their characters, but instead, it wasn't utilized at all.

The entire storyline with Finn and Rose feels more like filler (inside a movie of all things) than anything else. The fact that the mission fails really adds to that filler feeling, and the fact that it doesn't seem to have much impact on them as characters makes it worse. They either should have gone further with the emotional pain at the end or had the characters do something more worthwhile with their time.

Another aspect of the movie that I was thinking about more this time around was Hux. He's quite popular with the fandom for some reason, but his over dramatic approach to everything got on my nerves. There's a lot of, "You shouldn't romanticize the villains," discourse within the Star Wars fandom that I don't want to get into here (because I could go on about it for quite a while), but disregarding that part of it, I just don't get what's appealing about him. The only real opinion I have of Hux is that he's petulant and annoying.

There's a moment when Luke tells Rey, "Just like me, they're the last of the Jedi religion." The line stood out to me because I can't remember the Jedi being referred to as a religion within the movies before. I know it's discussed that way within fandom (and also within the Expanded Universe I believe), but I can't recall a character using the word 'religion' within the movies. It struck me as an interesting word choice. (This could also just be a blind spot of mine. Me not remembering it doesn't mean it's not there. It's been ages since I've watched many of the movies.)

Leia using the Force to make it back to the ship was amazing, and I love seeing that Leia has power with the Force. The second time around, though, I wondered why she was so disheartened when the rocks were blocking their way out of the cave at the end of the movie. After her earlier stunt, you'd think she'd at least try to move the rocks using the Force. Of course, I know  they wanted to give Rey her big moment here, but I wouldn't have been against Leia and Rey moving the rocks together either.

One of my least favorite parts of the movie is when Kylo and Rey are speaking to each other and Kylo doesn't have a shirt on. Rey even makes a comment about him putting something on, and he just stares at her as if he didn't hear her. The whole moment stuck me as very fan service-y in the worst possible way. There's no reason for him to be shirtless here, and Rey's comment that goes ignored just draws even more attention to the ridiculousness of it. I think it's supposed to be funny, but it just made me cringe.

I like that Luke confesses to considering killing Kylo for a moment. It adds a great dimension to his character, but he still didn't do it in the end. I love how it shows that Luke is a flawed human while remaining someone who ultimately chose to the right thing.

Rey becoming convinced that she can save Kylo had me groaning in the movie theater the first time I saw the movie. Since the movie came out (and I've read a million and one thought pieces about it), I've analyzed my feelings on it to death, and I'm not as against the story decision as I once was. That's mostly because she fails in the end, and I think the story is much more realistic that way. I like that the movie portrays the idea that you can't just save everyone, at least not with the ease Rey was apparently expecting. (Going back to Finn and Rose's plan failing, I think Rey's own failure was a good example of a similar situation where the consequences of the failure felt like they held the right amount of weight.)

Right now, I can't say where Kylo will be at the end of the next movie, but even if he does "come back to the light", I don't want it to be something that's as easy as Rey saying, "There's light in you," and Kylo just coming around. That wouldn't have worked. (But part of me is still worried that they'll try to redeem Kylo and that it'll feel as flimsy as this.)

Yoda showing up and burning the Jedi texts when Luke hesitates was another decision that, much like the use of the word 'religion', I found very interesting. After the word, 'religion' was used earlier, I couldn't help but think about real world religions and the idea of burning holy texts. The fact that Star Wars had Yoda actually burn the texts and say that they weren't needed when burning the Bible, the Quran, or other real world holy texts is considered offensive... I just wouldn't have expected them to do it. It's hard not to think about Yoda's words without thinking about them in a real world context as well.

It's no secret that I both expected and wanted Rey to be Luke's daughter. By the time we got to the, "Your parents were nobody," part of the movie, though, I'd already seen it coming. At first, I was a little annoyed, but after participating in and seeing so much discussion about it for the past year, I don't hate the decision. While part of me will always wish Rey was a Skywalker, I also completely understand the decision to make her a "nobody".

One thing that came out of nowhere the first time I watched the movie was Rose kissing Finn. I hadn't expected it. Nothing that had happened between them felt romantic to me. (I do, quite honestly, think there was more romantic tension between Poe and Finn in the first movie than there was between Finn and Rose in the second.) As someone who loves fictional friendships, I do wish Finn and Rose had stayed just friends instead of adding what felt like a largely forced kiss. I guess they really wanted some kind of romance since it didn't seem to be coming from anywhere else? But then, why weren't there more hints towards it earlier in the movie?

As far as shipping goes, I'm pretty open to just about any combination of the younger main characters winding up together. (Within the good guys, that is. I don't want any Reylo.) My lackluster reaction to the kiss doesn't mean that I'm against Finn and Rose being together. That's fine with me. I'd just like some more development if they're actually going that route.

What I care about far more than shipping at this point is an awesome friendship between Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose. I can't believe how late in this movie we had Poe and Rey even meeting each other for the first time, and Rey still hasn't actually met Rose. If there are no romantic couples by the end of the next movie, I'll be fine with that, but I will be very disappointed if the four of them don't have a good, solid friendship with each other.

The fact that absolutely no one answers the Resistance's distress call makes me wonder how things will play out in the next movie. The Resistance is almost microscopic at this point, and it's clear the First Order still has quite a bit of power. This definitely feels like a David and Goliath scenario. It seems like at least part of the next movie is going to involve rounding up more help. We see the potential at the end of this movie with the little boy and his Resistance ring.

All of that is exactly what you'd want from the second movie in a trilogy, and I also recognize that many of my problems with this movie are almost certainly because of its position as the second in the series. A lot of what I've criticized it for are things often said about the second movie, book, etc. in a trilogy, so for that, I don't want to be too harsh on it.

In light of that, I'll end by mentioning what was probably my favorite scene in the movie: the stand off between Luke and Kylo. Luke telling Kylo that he can't be saved is a huge contrast to Rey's belief that he could be earlier in the movie. Of course, at this point, Rey's likely doubting he can be saved too. I think it's Luke's words that have me leaning towards the belief that Kylo won't be "saved" in the third movie. (And if he is ultimately "saved", I don't imagine it as a happy, feel good type of thing.)

Oh, and I can't end this post without an acknowledgement for Carrie Fisher. No matter how many times I see the dedication for her at the end of Last Jedi, I'm sure it will hurt my heart.