The Beast Player

Fantasy fans: you need to read The Beast Player.

I picked up Nahoko Uehashi’s The Beast Player because I am visiting Japan again soon and enjoying reading a bunch of Japanese literature before I go. This book blew me away unexpectedly. I came across it in the Teen room at the library where I work, and it’s an excellent read for young readers and adults alike.

Elin’s family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the creatures mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath, she manages to send her daughter to safety.

Alone and far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can communicate with both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great power, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no escaping the terrible battles to come?

(From the book jacket)

The Beast Player is an epic fantasy, a standalone story, and a philosophical musing on the futility of war. It features an inquisitive protagonist, a badass mom, a kindly father figure, and many more admirable- and not so admirable- characters, as well as some interesting creatures.

The pacing is perfect and just enough detail is given by translator Cathy Hirano to pull you into the world without becoming tedious. Even the most fantastical elements in this story are fleshed out in a thoughtful and believable way, and the actions and reactions of the characters also feel refreshingly realistic. 

Elin is a clever, independent, and interesting young woman, and a keen observer of the natural world. Her story doesn’t follow many of the expected tropes one often sees- there’s no predictable romance here, just a tight and interweaving story full of adventure.

Japanese Candy Wrapper Journal Video Tour

I love Japanese candy and snacks- they are often packaged very creatively and cutely, and feature all kinds of unique textures and flavours. For a while I had a subscription to a Japanese snack box (best birthday present ever) which gave me the chance to try out all kinds of different stuff. I love the cool packaging of these treats so much that I thought it was a shame to toss out the wrappers, and so I decided to start a Candy & Snack Journal. I’ve since added more and more as I’ve gotten candy as gifts, at shops, and on my trip to Japan in 2017.

When I first started this blog I made a post with a quick peek of my journal, but I decided it would be fun to make a video going through each page. I’ve enjoyed looking back at the candies and snacks I’ve tried, and hope that some others will enjoy the video too!

 

 

 

Rilakkuma and Kaoru on Netflix!

It’s out! And I just binge-watched the whole thing!

I was waiting and waiting for this from the moment I saw the trailer: Rilakkuma and Kaoru, an adorable Netflix original made using stop-motion animation!

Rilakkuma is by far my absolute favorite cute character to emerge from Japan. Rilakkuma (the brown bear) is a character from SanX. He made his debut in 2003, and is a lazy bear with the most endearing face I’ve ever seen. Just seeing Rilakkuma, or his friends Korilakkuma and Kiroitoiri, gives me a really warm, happy feeling that is instantaneous and all consuming.

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I don’t know quite what it is that makes Rilakkuma so squee-inducing. Perhaps it’s his black eyes— perfectly round and peering into my soul— or the placement of his ears, or the way he creases when he moves. Everything about him is proportioned and outfitted to positively scream “CUTE”. Japan has cute down to a science. I have my own Rilakkuma and friends at home, I just couldn’t resist them.

I enjoyed Rilakkuma and Kaoru very much— at first glance it might look like a simple children’s show, but it’s got a lot more depth than one might expect. Kaoru is an office worker in Tokyo who comes home one day dreaming about getting a pet cat, only to find Rilakkuma has randomly appeared in her apartment, with Korilakkuma (the white bear) following shortly after. Kaoru, and her pet bird Kiroitori, quickly become accustomed to having these two strange bears around, and they build a friendship.

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Kaoru struggles with questions that any young woman might- why am I so indecisive? What is my worth in this life? What am I meant to do? Am I being held back? Will I decide what I want in life? Rilakkuma and friends are there as a comforting presence and help Kaoru learn lessons throughout the show. They are also very funny, ridiculously cute, and genuinely heartwarming.

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This is the kind of show that I will probably watch again someday, and put on an episode now and then to have as a comforting background while I go about my day— the stop-motion animation is lovely in its details, and the overall feel of the show is very calming, relaxing, uplifting and cosy.

That said, it often went places I totally wasn’t expecting, and certainly wasn’t boring. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that not even aliens or ghosts are immune to the charms of Rilakkuma!

 

 

Mini Review: Maquia- When the Promised Flower Blooms

If you fall in love, you will become truly alone.

This is the sentiment that forms the undercurrent of Maquia, a standalone high-fantasy story centered around the lorph- also known by humans as the “clan of the separated” because their near-immortality has caused them to live isolated lives and become the stuff of legends.

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Maquia is a woman of the lorph. When a power-hungry kingdom raids her village, she is torn away from her kind and finds herself rescuing a human infant despite her deep knowledge of the heartbreak that will inevitably ensue.

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Maquia is a rollicking story of adventure, with heaps of drama, spoonfuls of humour, and touches of romance. It’s also quite emotional- if you are a crier, be prepared to cry. By the end of it my husband looked at me and said “I feel like they’re trying their damnedest to make me cry”.

One aspect of the story that I really like is the Hibiol- the lorph are weavers and have a unique language of the cloth which they use to record history and share messages amongst themselves.

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The film carries along at a good pace. It is interesting to see Maquia’s adopted son Ariel and the other humans in the story growing up steadily around the ever-youthful lorph characters. The way the characters developed and the decisions they made surprised me in some instances.

Another engaging aspect is the existence of the Renato- huge dragon creatures capable of flight that the kingdom of Mezarte have enslaved to do their bidding, but which are slowly but surely dying off from a mysterious “Red Eye disease”.

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A word of caution- if, like me, you prefer sub over dub, stick with the Blu-Ray for this one. Sub and dub options are usually included on both the DVD release and Blu-Ray for most anime nowadays, but this is an exception- I borrowed the DVD from the library and then realized that it only had an English dub, so we had to watch it with English voice acting. The BluRay, I found out, does have both a sub or dub option.

Overall I really enjoyed this film and would totally watch it again someday. I think that, since it’s an engaging standalone film with a PG rating, it would be a good movie to introduce someone to anime, to share with your family, or to enjoy on a date. Or, just cosy up and enjoy it on your own!

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Japan Memories: Videos!

Last October was the 1 year anniversary of our 2017 trip to Japan, and I revisited all of the memories in a series of daily blog posts featuring my photographs and journal writings (check them out if you’d like, starting with day 1 here!)

I miss Japan very much- it’s like a reverse homesickness where I have a special place in my heart that aches to visit this far away place again. I am still thinking about Japan every day, and I convinced Dustin that we need to go back sooner rather than later- so we are going to spend Christmas in Tokyo this year!

When we went in 2017 we traveled around from Tokyo using a JR pass to get to Gunma, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kinosaki. We saw so many gorgeous places and ate so much amazing food. It was a fantastic trip.

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This Christmas we are planning to spend the whole time in Tokyo so that we aren’t moving from place to place so much (resettling into new inns and hotels, moving our luggage around) and we can just explore at leisure from our home base in Ikebukuro. There are so many spots in Tokyo that we have only barely explored, or not at all. I can’t wait. I even have 2 tattoo appointments penciled in with a studio in Shibuya!

Wish us luck! I’m saving all of my pennies… (well, figuratively- they don’t make pennies anymore in Canada…)


 

I finally made some videos with clips from our 2017 trips around Japan 🙂

These are just mashups of videos taken from my cell phone, my camera, and probably a little bit of Dustin’s cell and camera too. Some parts are a bit shaky but I kept them in because they were still cool memories. A few of these seem to be things that I didn’t even realize I was filming at the time… each video has a whole bunch of quick clips featuring some of the cool and beautiful things we saw in Japan.

Video 1: Tokyo- Ikebukuro, Ikebukuro street festival, Shinjuku, Shinjuku park, Shibuya, Shin Okubo, Harajuku, Ueno, Nagano Broadway, etc.

Video 2: Gunma- Takaragawa Osenkaku onsen ryokan (family run hot spring inn)

Video 3: Kyoto, Osaka- Higashiyama, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Universal Studios Japan, Harry Potter World, Kyoto Station, etc.

Video 4: Kinosaki- Mikunia onsen ryokan and ryokan town (hot springs town), autumn street festival, kaiseki meals, etc.

 

 

Mini Review: I’m Sakamoto, You Know?

For the last couple weeks I’ve been watching this anime in bits and pieces on my lunch breaks at the library:

 

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Haven’t you heard? I’m Sakamoto, or alternately I’m Sakamoto, You Know?

While I picked the Sakamoto anime up on a whim and haven’t yet read the manga, I thoroughly enjoyed this series and recommend it for anyone who wants a lighthearted and humorous romp.

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That said, a lot of the humor may be lost on people who aren’t already familiar with anime tropes- much of the hilarity comes from the ridiculous setups, recognizable character models, and punny wordplay, all of which generally poke fun at often overused or exaggerated scenarios.

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Sakamoto himself is the star of the show, of course, and he is a character that is impossible not to like- some students love him, some want to be him (or beat him), but he is completely on another level- aloof and magically skilled at never being uncool. At the same time, he’s also kind and chivalrous.You can’t rustle his feathers, no matter how hard you try. The best part, though, is the variety of inventive and ridiculous ways he manages to circumvent every attempt to thwart him or take him off guard.

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The show takes itself just serious enough to get you invested in the characters a bit, but it’s extremely fun to simply go along for the ride and see how many times suspension of disbelief can be crushed, or how many times the fourth wall can be broken by a side-character’s casual observance.

I recommend Sakamoto for you, your Mom, your dog, your boss, and every childhood friend you no longer communicate with.

Try Sakamoto today!

Japan Memories Day 22: A Day of Sighing, Awkward Taxi Situation, and Last Fun at Narita

This is the final day of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.

So, day 22, here we go!

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 22, October 22nd, 2017

Today is a day of sighing. A few sighs of contentment (one last soak together in the big tub, tenpura and shaved ice at the airport), but mostly it’s sighs of sadness to be leaving Japan. I am looking forward to seeing my friends, my dogs, and Dad of course, but this is the only time I’ve never felt the weird ache of homesickness while travelling- just pure enjoyment. I may have had a few more quiet tears as well…  T.T

We packed and prepped until checkout time, when Sawanoya summoned a cab for us. I gave them some candies and one of my paintings. Our taxi driver was flustered trying to fit our luggage into his tiny car in the pouring rain, and we didn’t know what we could do to help, but he finally managed eventually. Although we thanked them repeatedly and expected them to go back inside, the staff of Sawanoya all stood outside the entrance of the ryokan in the pouring rain, bowing to us until our taxi was out of sight. Such a lovely family, and a welcoming ryokan. 

We took the Skyliner from Ueno station to the airport and ate some delicious aforementioned food, bought sweets for the long plane rides ahead, used up the rest of our coins in the gashapon machines, and bought a few last-minute gifts and souvenirs.

And well, here we are. Narita airport is the most fun and interesting airport I’ve ever been to, but it’s still an airport… meaning we have to face the fact that we are leaving. 

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We are on our first plane now. We’ve had delays already due to the extreme wind and rain, so it looks like we will miss our connection in Vancouver? Oh well, we’ve finished our trip so I don’t really care at this point. I joked that I’d love if the typhoon stranded us here… of course, we’d have to go home eventually, but I have to say, Japan has been the trip of my life and I definitely, definitely want to go back again someday! ❤ 

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