When I visited Japan several years ago I had a strange encounter. I saw a mysterious creature, a yokai.
It was during a walking tour. My sister and I were climbing up a long set of stairs toward a temple gate. Ahead of us we noticed some Japanese girls taking photos and exclaiming excitedly. What was this about? We climbed faster. In the bushes just off to the side, less than three feet away, we glimpsed a Japanese tanuki.
I feel so unproductive, unaccomplished, and very overwhelmed, but in a good way. The distractions are getting to me. (Curse you Korean manhwa.)
The Donut Making Game
I started a new job at a bakery last October, and about two months ago became an actual baker. That was my goal since last summer, after I took off to California and spent June and July figuring out what I wanted with my life. So, I’m pretty proud of getting a job as a baker, even if that means I’m the bottom of the totem – the donut fryer.
OK, let’s begin. Game start.
First, you make the french-style cruller
Then comes the regular cake donuts
And then the old fashioned (and if you finish up fast enough you get a break.)
Around 5:30 am you start on the raised donuts.
What kind? We’re talking bars, rings, fritters, persians, and bismarks. They come glazed, sugared, or frosted – with maple, chocolate, or white buttercream -also bavarian-cream-filled, jelly-filled, or german-chocolate-on-top.
You need to one type of each donut as fast as you can, and then extra maple bars, because everyone loves those maple bars.
The tricky part about this game? The customers, you can never quite guess what the customer will snatch up, or how quickly donuts will disappear off the shelf. (We’re out of maple bars! Already?)
Fry some. Frost some. Glaze some.
This is happening in real time.
Is it intimidating? Yes, but I had an idea how to conquer it. Instead of getting overwhelmed, I treated it like a game. I made myself a strategy guide – one for weekdays and one for weekends (Friday/Saturday/Sunday). Every day I get a little better, a little faster. The bavarian-cream-filled don’t look as pathetic as they used to. The chocolate rings aren’t swimming in chocolate.
I play the donut making game every morning. My shifts start at 3:30 am, and it’s pretty non-stop until about 7:30.
The last two months, I’ve also been living on bakers hours, about 5 hours ahead of everyone. (Or if you want to think about it this way, I’m living in Brazil’s time zone, instead of the mountain time zone.)
On my days off I still wake up around 4 am. What exactly do I do with myself?
Ah, Nodame Cantabile, an anime from 2007 that I first found on-line in 2011 and finally imported the DVD collection from Australia in February 2016. Now I legally own it and can watch it whenever I want. (I also own two of the Japanese DVDs.) This is one of my all-time favorites. As soon as I got it I had to test it out to make sure it worked. (Thank you cheap DVD player for becoming region free.)
I can report, that it is still a fantastic series. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in a quirky- romantic-music anime, except its hard to get a copy and it’s no longer streaming anywhere. Such a shame.
The story follows two college music students, uptight and proud, Shinichi Chiaki and the goofy, yet talented, Megumi Noda, aka Nodame. They happen to be neighbors, attend the same school, both as piano majors, and make a surprising connection playing a Mozart sonato for two pianos. The music is a highlight, so many great classical pieces, and the main characters are amusing, especially how they influence each other over the coarse of the show. There are some dated parts, the show is nearly ten years old, and some annoying characters, but most of that is confined to one or two episodes.
24 episodes on DVD available in English if you import it from Australia. There is a Korean drama version of the story available on hulu called Tomorrow’s Cantabile.
A more recent anime that I’ve fallen hard for is called Erased. It’s a winter 2016 season show, a sci-fi thriller about twenty-nine year old Satoru, who has a unique ability. He calls it Revival, a phenomena where he repeats about 5 minutes, or so, in time. In that short space of time he has the opportunity to prevent something terrible from happening – such as a truck running over a grade schooler, or a someone kidnapping a young child.
Everything changes when his mother is killed, and suddenly he’s framed for the murder.
Luckily, Revival kicks in. However, he ends up back in 1988 when he was ten years old. He has a chance to relive his grade-school life, and try to prevent a terrible series of abductions that is somehow related to his mother’s murder. Poor Satoru has it rough, and I can’t wait to see how the series plays out. The manga it’s based on is finishing up this March, so I suspect the anime will have a complete and proper ending.
It will have a total of 12 episodes, find it on Hulu or Crunchyroll, Funimation. Visit their website.
I recently discovered some manhwa available for free. There’s an app, or you can go to Webtoons.com, which features both amateur and professional comics. The company started in Korea, before going international, and I’ve been reading the popular Korean manhwa. Well, devouring them is more like it.
Nobelesse by Jeho Son, and Kwangsu Lee
There is an anime version on crunchyroll. It’s a short but decent introduction to the characters and the world.
But what about the story? Nobelesse is about a vampire attending high school in South Korea. He is the nobelesse, the most noble of noble vampires.
This is all action, with a bit of comedy. It features ridiculously overpowered vampires, modified humans and innocent teens who have no idea who their new classmate really is. This is fluff, action fluff: enemies become allies, buildings explode, powers collide, one of the characters is named Frankenstein, but (gasp) it actually works with his backstory. The main character Rai says very little, and drinks a lot of tea and eats ramen all the time, but he’s not so bad. My favorite chapters are the ones where Rai walks into a room of people who have never met him before, and they all gasp because of how utterly gorgeous he is. Their reactions are hilarious. Read chapter 201. I love it.
Winter Woods is a contemporary fantasy with a bit of romance. This one is more focused on character drama than action.
Winter was created hundreds of years ago by an Alchemist, and doesn’t have emotions, or a heart that works properly. He doesn’t know how to be human. The experiment begins when he is dropped off with a young woman named Jane and begins living with her and experiencing the world.
Slowly we meet the occupants of Jane’s apartment building. One man named Zoe is not who he seems, but someone who kills people for a living. Zoe also has a surprising connection to Winter – he was created by the same Alchemist, and suffers from the same lack of heart. However, Zoe once rescued a blind girl from prostitution. Their “love” stands in stark contrast to the “love” blooming between Winter and Jane.
The story unfolds piece by piece, some chapters devoted to Winter, and some to the other characters, like the blind girl.
There is not an excess of words in this story (except one which features Jane’s story. She’s a struggling unpublished writer.) It’s stunning how the blind girl is drawn, and how the comic shows visually how she perceives the world as only sound. Everyone here struggles. Winter tries to to understand things like kissing and grapples with emotions like sadness and despair, and the scientists meanwhile continue to observe. As a reader, we’re kind of like those scientists peering into the intimate lives of these broken, yet resilient humans.
How can I even explain this one? It’s a video-game fantasy, but it’s set in a secondary world and the characters don’t even know they live in a video-game world. No, that’s no good.
Tower of God is a character driven story about a young boy named Bam who just wants to be reunited with the girl he cares most about. Rachel visited him when he was all alone in darkness, when he knew nothing. She taught him how to speak and about the world. Then she left to climb the tower.
In order to find her, Bam must climb the Tower, but he was not chosen. He is an Irregular, talented and strong, and there are powerful people who want to use him for their own means. Will he be a pawn in their game? What awaits poor young Bam in the Tower? Friendship? Hope? Or betrayal and despair?
The story follows Bam’s journey floor by floor up the Tower. The art is rough in the beginning, but improves. The world is vaguely familiar with its video game elements: ranks are given to certain people, they have a “pocket”, weapons can be put away inside the pocket, and each floor has tests and games in order to get to the next one. Each floor is like a separate world, a different dimension with different creatures and rules.
The characters make the story vibrant. They are flawed, complex people. Each with their own desires and struggles. A fake Princess seeks revenge, a girl wants to see the stars at the top of the tower, a giant bipedal crocodile wants to hunt “turtles”. (Did I mention the other races? There are more than just humans in this world. There are lizard-girls and bunny-eared creatures and bunny-girls, horned people, bee-people and whatever alien-like creation the creators want to draw. Gender can also be a bit confusing, but that might be due to poor artwork designs in some of the early chapters. Don’t let that stop you.)
This story is utterly compelling. Addictive. The readers are passionate, and that excitement and energy is very contagious.
What I find most refreshing about the manhwa? They’re missing a lot of the Japanese cliches and tropes that fill so many light-novels and manga.
Some words of caution if you’re interested in these. The translations are sometimes iffy, and the art in the beginning of the really long running series is rough, but that does improve. They are not short series either. Chapters take me about 6 minutes to read, and there are hundreds available right now. Thank god.
If I find other good ones, maybe I’ll let you know. Such dangerous distractions. I should have put a disclaimer somewhere.*
* Warning: the above anime and manhwa may distract you from doing anything productive, such as dishes, other housework, like ironing or putting away laundry, writing, eating a proper lunch, or going outside.