Spoiler-Free Review: Tokyo Ghoul (Live-Action Film)

Tokyo Ghoul is one of my favorite manga & anime series. I came across the live-action film when I was shelf-reading a section at the library the other day, so of course I had to check it out (I didn’t even know it was already made into a live-action!)

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Dustin had watched the anime with me previously, so he and I hunkered down tonight on the couch with our dog Tegan to watch this new live-action film together.

While I am quite willing to suspend disbelief and ignore trivial inconsistencies for the enjoyment of a movie, there were a few scenes where I could tell my husband was thinking “Really? Realllyyy?”- such as when Kaneki was attacked in the shoulder but then started limping and flailing like his legs had turned to jelly. However, these moments didn’t detract from the film. When I sometimes feel that acting is over-the-top, I then remember that anime and manga are also often over-the-top.

Kaneki’s awkwardness and vulnerability is played up so much in the beginning as to be almost cringe-worthy, but as with the manga and anime, the payoff is worth it. It’s fun to see his growth. I love how they played with the design of his mask, particularly the teeth:

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The actors chosen were generally spot on with their characters. The scenes where ghouls are made to eat human food almost made me gag along with them- that is some solid acting. There were a couple of scenes where I actually gasped out loud in surprise or delight at the action or depravity on the screen.

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Fumika Shimizu as Touka. I really enjoyed her as Touka, but I just found out that soon after filming she announced that she is retiring from her entertainment career and devoting herself to the controversial religious organization/cult “Happy Science.”

The visual effects were fairly believable and definitely cool- lots of quinique and kagune action shots.

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Yô Ôizumi as Kureo Mado
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Masataka Kubota as Kaneki Ken

I hope a second film will come out of this, as some of my favorite characters weren’t included in the movie since their plots emerge a bit later in the series.

Yeah, Juzo and Shuu, i’m talking to you.

I’m really glad Uta had a couple of scenes, at least.

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Bando Minosuke as Uta- the dude reeks cool.

Overall, this film is a fun and action packed adaptation of the anime and manga. While the comparatively short length of the movie doesn’t give as much time to explore Kaneki’s inner turmoil and the complexities of the ghoul & human worlds, hopefully this isn’t the end of Tokyo Ghoul’s live-action career. I’ll be waiting for vol. 2!

Shocking Anime Memories & Rare Ghibli Musings- Anime is a format, not a genre!

One of the main goals of my ALC conference presentation There’s a Graphic Novel for Everyone (Yes, Even You)   was to reinforce the importance of recognizing comics, including manga, as a format and not a genre.

Similarly, anime is a format capable of telling any kind of story.

I’m heading out to Animethon tomorrow, and as such I’ve had several conversations with friends and coworkers recently about anime. One such friend was reminiscing with me today about favorites from childhood, and we discussed how sometimes anime surprised us with its content.

Anime: Building Solid Foundations For Childhood

And Beyond

When I was very young, before I even got into Sailor Moon or Pokemon, I was prone to watching and re-watching my favorite VHS tapes over and over and over again. I’d watch them so fervently that I could speak every word of dialogue along with the tape. One of my favorites was a particular version of Heidi which had  beautiful music and charming style. Another was a lively and unique version of Snow White. Yet another was a tape of the first 3 episodes of the action-packed extra-terrestrial fantasy cartoon, Thundercats.

Little did I know that in the might of these three VHS tapes, probably plucked from the bargain bins of convenience stores by my family, anime would begin to sink its hooks into my impressionable young mind!

By scouring the internet some years later on a hunch, I confirmed that my Heidi movie (which was dubbed in English) had ties to one of the most well known and celebrated anime studios both in Japan and internationally, Studio Ghibli. My Heidi was a condensed version of a full Japanese anime series created by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, the two founding directors of Studio Ghibli.

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This was back when Studio Ghibli was not yet established- Alps No Shoujo Heidi was released under Zuiyo Eizo which later became Nippon Animation. Nippon, I also learned with some digging, created the Grimms Fairy Tale Classics series, including my aforementioned favorite version of Snow White!

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Oh, and Thundercats? It was animated by a Japanese studio called Pacific Animation Corporation.

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Snyarf, Lion-O!

I Didn’t See That Coming (and Neither Did He)

I have a vivid memory from when I was quite young of sitting in the living-room with my Dad watching an anime that he randomly found while browsing tv channels. Two people are battling in some sort of combat ring, the sort of setting where a competition like martial arts would take place. The fighting is bloody and intense, and keeps amping up in its recklessness.

Suddenly one of the fighters takes the pointer and middle fingers of both of his hands and thrusts them into the temples of the competitor, making a calculated strike-and-pull. A close up is shown of the victim’s retinal arteries (?) being ripped open, and blood gushes out of both sides of his head.

Everything goes black. Now he can’t see and must continue the fight completely blind.

My Mom’s spidey sense must have tingled in worry about her pre-pubescent daughter because she walked into the room at the peak of the action, raised her eyebrows to the roof with a sidelong glance, and said something like:

“Doug, what in the hell are you two watching?!”

Dad was just as shocked as I was –

“Well, it’s a cartoon! I didn’t…”

We sat transfixed and watched the rest of the show. I have no idea what the name of it was, and to this day I can’t remember anything about it besides that scene, but this experience was my first big glimpse of anime’s capabilities beyond friendly magical girls and elemental monster battles, and certainly far beyond any western animation I’d ever laid eyes on.

Please Sir, I want Some More (Ghibli)

Outside of my heavily edited VHS version of Heidi, the first Ghibli movie I remember watching was Princess Mononoke. I was still quite young, and, once again, this was something my Dad stumbled upon while browsing channels. We both realized it was a bit more bloody than we were expecting (which is funny, because it’s to my knowledge the only Ghibli movie with that level of gory imagery- not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

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Dad… what is wrong with the boar, dad…?

Years later, Dad finally decided it was time to invest in a BluRay player and brought home a PS3, along with our first ever BluRay: a copy of Ghibli’s award winning Spirited Away. 

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While he seemed to have bought it mainly as a means of testing out the assuredly Beautifully Clear HD Quality Image and Unsurpassed Sound of a BluRay on his TV, I was immediately smitten with the intricate backdrops, the strange characters, and otherworldly happenings in the movie.

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I waited until the newness of the BluRay fever had died off a bit and asked if I could keep the film and add it to my small but growing anime collection. Dad acquiesced with a fake sigh and a “should have known you’d like this one, kiddo”.

Ghibli movies have continued to blow me away with their devotion to truly understanding and amusing children and childlike minds, their attention to even the minutest and most seemingly insignificant details, and insightful depictions of the true good and bad faces of humanity. Their works are often fantastical, sometimes sentimental, occasionally tragic (don’t watch Grave of the Fireflies without some tissues handy) but always beautiful.

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Kiki’s Delivery Service

Last year I had the opportunity to fulfill a long-held dream of visiting the Studio Ghibli museum in Mitaka with my husband while on our trip to Japan. It was an experience I’ll never forget and will hold in my heart forever.

 

Again for the People in the Back: Anime is a Format,

Not A Genre

In my early teens, when I first began working part-time, I began to purchase anime of my own accord. There was no rhyme or reason to what I bought- usually it was whatever overpriced “Volume 2, Part 1” randomness my local CD Plus had in stock. Some were wonderful, and some were underwhelming, but as I learned more and more about anime and manga, I fell more and more in love with both.

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Chibi Vampire Karin, one of the first anime I purchased with my meager grocery store earnings…

In time I began to understand the vastness of the possibilities of this uniquely Japanese format. To anyone who looks at an anime and immediately thinks “I’m not into that stuff”, I challenge you to do a little investigating online or talk to staff at your local library and see what’s out there that might be relevant to your interests.

Curiously, it seems that there aren’t many non-fiction anime produced from what I can tell- I’ve come across a few, but biographical and NF anime (and manga) seem to be rare. I’m not sure why that is, as it’s just as valid a format as any. If anyone has any insight on this I’d love a comment or DM!

Aside from an apparent dearth of non-fiction anime, here are just a few anime that pop into my head as some examples of the versatility of the format, but they are only a few drops in an ocean of worthwhile anime.

 

 

 

 

 

Spoiler-Free Review: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

(As posted on my Goodreads)

 

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I adore this novel! I stayed up later than I’d planned reading it in one sitting.

While the premise may sound dull to some readers at first glance, for me this book was the perfect combination of matter-of-fact humour, unique main character, and unsettlingly relatable interpersonal situations.

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Combined with the fact that the konbini in the story brought back poignant memories from my recent trip to Japan, it was a highly enjoyable read.

Sayaka Murata offers a fascinating and truthful look at the odd society we live in, the expectations and social mores that are blueprints enshrined in public consciousness.

I was really rooting for Furukura by the end, and what a satisfying ending it was.

Consuming vs. Creating

I wish I could find the exact quote; I read a book once, a good few years ago (I can’t even remember what book it was). I have no recollection what the book itself was even about, but I do remember this: the author quoted someone who said something like “if you aren’t actively creating, you’re just a consumer”. That simple, harsh truth really stuck with me.

Back then I realized that, for a variety of reasons at that particular moment in my life (okay… decade of my life) I was barely creating anything. I was solely consuming in all meanings of the word- consuming food, entertainment, and material goods mindlessly. I wasn’t using my creative mind in my job, in my hobbies, or in my day to day life. I was spending way too much time scrolling endless junk articles on my phone. I’d lost my teenage penchant for writing poems and playing with visual art.

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^Ignoring my friends for my phone? >.>

I don’t want to come off as preachy- technology is super useful, and we use our cell phones for so much more than distraction seeking. Plus, it’s fun and recharging to do mindless things once in a while, and I have abandoned the term “guilty pleasure” because if you love something, why should you feel guilty about enjoying it? Speaking of which, read this awesome blog post by @biblionyan on the topic of guilty pleasures!

But that’s the thing; this “guilty pleasure” pastime of scrolling and losing myself in click-bait wasn’t actually enjoyable for me. It was just a habitual, unfulfilling distraction I automatically turned to because it was easy and gave me a hit of dopamine.

I knew I wanted to spend more time creating again and really using my free time to learn new things and develop new skills, but for some reason this mindset just didn’t stick. I’d read an inspirational book, or watch a documentary, and feel motivated- for a couple of days. Then I’d fall back into the same stale routines.

Happily, I have now gotten to a place where I am creating and living so much more again. I am writing, drawing, painting, dancing, studying, traveling, and learning new skills like public speaking. I’m seeking out new opportunities rather than hiding from them. This has come about in the last two to three years. How did I get my creative spark back? Why hadn’t I been able to reignite it sooner?

My anxiety and depression were holding me back.

I unpacked about my struggles with anxiety and depression in a blog post recently, which you can read here. Long story short, after years of battling these issues, talking to counselors, and trying lots of methods unsuccessfully to manage, I finally tried medication prescribed by my doctor, and it helps me so much. Life is exciting and fun again. I feel like the old self I once knew and lost somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.

The passion for my job at the library, which I knew was lurking inside me, finally bloomed. I worked on building up my self-confidence from my lowest low. I started seeking out new opportunities instead of waiting to be asked. I began using my creativity more in work projects, and at home.

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Feeling lifted out of the muck, I sought out new hobbies: handbell choir, dance classes, sewing, yoga, cosplay, crafting, dabbling with ukulele, volunteering at the SPCA. I even helped out with some small roles in a local web-series created by-nerds-for-nerds. Speaking of which, my dorky fangirl self, who had been hiding in a sort of shame cave, fearing judgement of others, emerged proudly once again.

I started creating visual art again, something that I had largely abandoned in the height of my anxiety and depression. Before long it became a familiar habit. I get a regular urge to create art now, and when I get into my flow several hours can pass without my realizing.

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I’ve since started sharing my art in small local galleries & markets, and online. Sharing my art and creative projects with the world brings me joy.

I think that everyone has the capacity to be creative in their own way. Sometimes we get bogged down by a narrow idea of what “creativity” means, but we can be creative in so many different ways- at our jobs, around our homes, through the clothes and accessories we wear, or in our gardens, for example. Right now I am slowly but surely working on a goal of being more creative in the kitchen with baking and cooking.

Speaking of infusing creativity into our daily lives, recently I came across this extremely interesting Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee about the roots of joy.

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She presented her insights about some of the universal triggers of joy as discovered through studies of people all around the world- things like bright colours, soft shapes, fractal patterns, novelty, abundance, a feeling of light and air.

Two take-aways that stuck with me:

  1. Why,  if these playful, colourful, and creative expressions bring us joy and increase our happiness and productivity, do we design so many aspects of our homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and streets in uninspiring, predictable shapes, and shades of beige and grey?
  2. Why do we judge people who embrace colour and creativity in their own lives, in what they wear, how they decorate and so on, by labeling them as kooky, emotional, unprofessional, or “girly”?

I think we can learn so much from people who incorporate fun fearlessly into their lives (or rather, refuse to let go of it just because they are getting older). I’m fascinated by people like Iris Apfel, Yayoi Kusama and Elizabeth Sweetheart who present themselves however feels right to them, and don’t give a flying fluevog what society thinks of them for being different. Thanks to social media like Instagram, it’s easier than  ever to find unapologetically creative people and bold sartorial inspiration.

A potential struggle for being creative is the busy lives we lead- there were times when I thought “how will I possibly have time to finish this personal project”? But as with anything in life, you make time for what is important to you, what makes you happy and fulfills you. I work on art during my work breaks sometimes, and because I consider my art time important for my well-being, I will pass up invitations or events on occasion if I know I haven’t had time to paint in a while. I am lucky to work at a library where I have the option of using my creativity on a regular basis such as illustrating the Joke of the Day, making fun book displays, or drawing pictures to accompany my power-point slides!

Yes, I still check my phone, yes I still watch Netflix and play video games, but when I do I always aspire to be mindful and intentional with this use of my precious time, and avoid getting lost in zombie-like distraction. Time is the most important commodity we have, and in this often cruel and unfair world I’m privileged to be a healthy woman living in a safe country where I have the gift of free time to explore my creativity. I don’t want to squander that.

Freeing myself from depression and intense anxiety has enabled me to enjoy my life and creativity to the fullest. I am glad that the days of dragging my feet through life are behind me. After 10 years of waking up with sighs of fatigue and defeat, sighs of contentment are a welcome change. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I don’t know where to start, so I am dipping my toes into everything.

I wish I could share this wake-up call with the world (well, that’s what a blog is for, I guess) but I think that, first and foremost, it’s something that you need to truly want for yourself.

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Spoiler-Free Review/Squeefest: Black Butler- A Book of the Atlantic

I finally got around to watching the new Black Butler film, A Book of the Atlantic. It’s been a little while since I watched anything Black Butler, and this movie reminded me why I love the series so much. I’ve enjoyed all previous installments, and this one has all the bits I love about Kuroshitsuji: dark and mysterious plot, bloody and dramatic fight scenes with witty repartee, and understated but impactful sprinklings of humour and fanservice.

118369^ Hey look, it’s Inspector Gadget! I mean, Ronald Knox…

All aboard the Campania! The Campania is essentially the Titanic, but with 3 smokestacks instead of 4. It’s a luxury liner on which Ciel, Sebastian, and a smattering of other favorites, embark on yet another mystery- this time involving a secret society and medical mishaps involving reanimation of the dead! (Read: Zombies.)

Although Ciel leaves his loyal house-servants (minus Sebastian, of course) at the docks, many other fan-favorites make an appearance in the movie, including Elizabeth and her family, Grell Sutcliff, Ronald Knox, Undertaker, Snake, and a few other surprises.

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Snake always cracks me up (anyone who is familiar with the series will know why). I especially loved the character development of Elizabeth- let’s just say I’m much more fond of her now! Undertaker also really surprised and delighted with his newest development.

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The movie also gives viewers an intimate look into some unseen moments from the very beginnings of Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship, starting with the fateful deal that forms the basis of the entire series. As such, this movie is a treat for fans of Black Butler, but would also be enjoyable for people who have never seen previous episodes or spin-offs.

Highly recommended!

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Two Canadian Women Who Changed the Way I Spend & Save

My hubby and I went to Japan last year. It was the most amazing three weeks of my life, and I look back on it so fondly every single day. We spent a lot of money on the trip- a lot. It was our honeymoon, so we went all out.

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For the first time ever, after our trip to Japan, I had lingering credit card debt that I wasn’t able to pay off right away. Previously I would never carry a balance on my cards, always paying them off before interest could accrue, but in Japan it was easy to justify charging tons of purchases to my cards, or even using them to withdraw Japanese yen, since “heck, it’s not every day we’re in Ikebukuro!”

To be honest, I don’t regret relying on my cards on that trip and bringing some debt home with me. It was an unforgettable trip, filled with delicious food, shinkansen (bullet trains), museums, ryokan (traditional inns), theme cafes, onsen (hot springs), arcades, and shopping. I treasure every little souvenir and photo book from that trip.

What I did realize, though, was that, because of my regular spending habits, what should have been a relatively easy few thousand dollars to pay off became a hefty burden. Despite my efforts to get the balance down each month, paying huge chunks off with every paycheck, by the end of the month the balance had risen significantly again, mainly because of my regular habits of shopping online.

I can try to defend my online shopping in a lot of ways- we had recently moved, and so we had new rooms that were bare without furniture and other items. Our new place has garden beds, and I felt obligated to get some gardening supplies and try to maintain what the previous owners left behind. My artistic hobbies inspired me to try new mediums, so of course I needed those expensive markers and calligraphy nibs.

The truth is though, most of the time my shopping wasn’t driven by a need- I was browsing the deals on Amazon, chasing the high of new and shiny things. I’m a very privileged person, I am thankful to be able to say that I have all the material wealth I need. So why did I feel compelled to always buy more, more, more?

Disappointed in my apparent mess of a budget, I did what I always do- I turned to the library for answers. A few months ago I found this book called Worry Free Money by Shannon Lee Simmons.

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A lot of times in the past when I tried to read financial books, I lost interest partway through because a lot of the information didn’t apply to me, or wasn’t practical or realistic. Worry Free Money is the first financial book that I read from cover to cover. As soon as I was finished, I created my own financial plan following the simple guidelines in the book.

I can’t believe I had ever tried to make budgets in the past that allocated specific percentages for clothes, entertainment, food, and so on. Who spends like that?! What we spend our money on differs from month to month according to a lot of different factors, so it makes so much more sense to plan the way Simmons explains:

monthly income – fixed expenses – meaningful savings (RRSP, etc) – short-term savings = available spending money. Simple as that.

shannonleesimmons^Thanks, Shannon!

Yes, it’s so simple, but it was a game-changer for me in that it made budgeting approachable, set out an understandable plan I could actually stick to, and encouraged me to determine a set amount I wanted to save each month. I set up an RRSP and began actively contributing to my TFSA again (it had been gathering cobwebs for a while, largely ignored).

However, the problem remained that I had a compulsion to order things I didn’t need, mainly from Amazon. I wasn’t hitting my saving goals, and my credit card balance continued to fluctuate- despite having paid down the initial spending from Japan long ago, it was quickly replaced with a balance from my compulsive late night shopping binges.

Back to the library!

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I picked up The Year of Less, and was inspired by Cait’s decision to set a shopping ban for herself. Cait made a successful effort to stop seeking more material things and instead dedicate her money largely toward memorable and meaningful experiences like travel.

Ever since our trip to Japan, I’ve been dreaming of going back for another visit, but thinking it would be a long time before we could ever make an expensive vacation like that again. Cait’s book make me realize that travelling has been far more enriching for my life than the illusion of happiness provided by clicking “complete purchase” on a cart full of stuff.

cait^Thanks, Cait!

Thanks to these women, I now have a renewed focus on spending less and saving more. My willpower is bolstered by beautiful memories of Hyōgo, Kyoto, Gunma, Tokyo, Osaka, and imaginings of other places in Japan, and the world, that we have yet to visit. 20171015_232501

 

 

My SHINee Story: A Fangirl Falls Into a Kpop World

I am 100% a Shawol (SHINee World) fangirl. For anyone reading this who doesn’t know SHINee: SHINee is a korean pop group that debuted in 2008 and dazzled the world, shook up the kpop scene, and swiftly gained a reputation for being a group whose 5 members are genuinely multifaceted, kind, funny, and dedicated.

My love for SHINee came as somewhat of a surprise, as in my tween and teen years I sort of skipped the boyband phase alltogether (despite avidly fangirling over tons of other stuff). I guess by my mid-20’s I was ready for that kind of commitment, because I found SHINee and haven’t looked back.

It all started with this gif:

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I was browsing my old tumblr account one day, and somewhere mixed into the hundreds of book-related posts I usually scrolled, this gif boy introduced himself to me.

I wondered, Who is this impeccably styled, eye-patch donning, smirking man with the guyliner and flawless skin? 

His aesthetic was perfect, and his expression allured me. I had to know more!

I did some research and found out that this was none other than Kim Kibum, aka The Almighty Key, of SHINee.

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^ Key with his two flufferpups, Commedes and Garcons! ❤

I found the music video that the gif came from, a live performance of Odd Eye from the Odd album. The music, written by SHINee’s Jonghyun, was sensual, playful, and hypnotic.

I fell down the SHINee rabbit hole and I’ve never come back up for air. Two of my dear friends, who are huge TVXQ fans, were excited to welcome me to the world of Kpop, of which I knew next to nothing about.

When I found SHINee (and really, kpop in general) in 2015, SHINee had already been making music for 7 years, so I had a ton of quality content to catch up on! It was also cool that the members of SHINee were all around my age.

SHINeeOT5^ from the shineeusa unofficial fanclub blog

I came to respect and admire all of the boys in the group:

  • onew
    Onew, the oldest, the steadfast leader of the group who is always making puns and cheesy gags that really crack me up. He supports the members in any way he can
  • taemin
    Taemin
    , the youngest, the maknae, who alternates between shy sweet child and expertly dancing sex god, with seemingly no in-between. His face also lends itself well to various memes!
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    Jonghyun
    , born the same year as me, a talented vocalist whose emotions are so true and heartfelt they resonate not just in the lyrics he writes, but in his eyes, his voice, and his tears
  • minho
    Minho
    , whose sporty competitive side didn’t really resonate with me at first (as I know zero about sports) but once I saw his aegyo and the way he soaks up every moment he is performing for his fans, I really came to appreciate. My admiration for Minho was further bolstered when I watched him in the kdrama Hwarang! P.s. his abs are the real deal o.o
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    Key
    , the first to catch my eye, and the one who is especially influential to me- my bias, my muse, my inspiration. Stylish, extra, diva Key, who pampers his dogs, follows a strict skincare regimen, and teaches me that style and fashion are fun. He can pull off literally any style, and his bedroom eyes are no joke, folks. He dances energetically every single performance, and his singing voice is a sexy whine that impresses whether it’s rapping or hitting a seriously high note. His talents range from singing and rapping kpop, performing in musicals, acting (DRINKING SOLO WAS AMAZING, DIRORIIII), creating custom fashion lines, the list goes on.

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^Even my car has SHINee Shawol pride!

Since I fell hard and fast for SHINee, devouring their immense backlog of music videos, albums, concert footage, tv appearances, and varity shows, I freaked out when I heard that they would be coming to Canada as the starring guests for an expo called Hallyu North.

I felt a little conflicted-  If I went it would mean a hastily planned  flight to Toronto (where I hadn’t been before), plus expensive expo tickets on top of that. Should I, a woman in her mid 20s who was saving up for her wedding, spend a ton of money to go on a last-minute trip to see a kpop band I’d been following for only a year, however intensely?

After tons of reflection, rationalizing, justifying, and consulting with my awesome then-fiance-now-husband, I came to my answer- HELL YEAH!

I decided I wanted to support SHINee on their first visit to Canada as a group. I snatched up some tickets and began dreaming of the Expo, which hailed itself as being a sort of Korean culture, entertainment, and food fest. I memorized the fanchants of popular SHINee songs and pulled anything out of the closet that even slightly resembled the Pearl Aqua Green color our fandom is known for. I got all my ducks in a row and waited anxiously for the expo date, which landed on the weekend before my birthday in May 2016.

What I didn’t plan for was the unpredictable monster wildfire that surrounded my town and resulted in one of the largest evacuations and costliest disasters in Canadian history mere days before my flight to Toronto.

^definitely one of the most surreal days of my life…

The wildfire, which had its 2 year anniversary a few days ago, May 3rd, could definitely fill its own blog post, so I will keep it simple here. As my fiance and I were fleeing the fire with our dog, we didn’t realize the scope of the situation. Before long, though, we realized that we wouldn’t be returning to Fort McMurray any time soon (in fact it was about a month that we were away before the town re-opened for residents). Since my flight was supposed to leave from Fort McMurray International Airport (which was closed due to seemingly inevitable fiery doom) I felt a crush of disappointment that it was unlikely I would make it to Toronto.

That feeling of disappointment brought with it some guilt. How could I be sad about potentially missing a concert when my father’s condo just burned to the ground and he was stranded in the north with nothing but his cat? How could I feel sad about missing a concert when teachers just drove through walls of flame with terrified students in their cars? How could I feel sad about missing a concert when many people lost their pets, and two teenagers died in a car crash during the evacuation? I resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to see SHINee and reminded myself to be grateful that we got out of the fire safely.

By the time we were near Edmonton looking for a place to stay, it was apparent that we wouldn’t be able to return home anytime soon. So, I thought, if we are going to be wandering around looking for things to do and places to stay anyway, why not make the best of it and see if I could get the flight switched and go to Toronto after all?

I called Air Canada. When my call was finally answered and a man asked how he could help, everything came out in a frantic stream of babbling, blubbering in-coherency. It turns out that if you want good customer service, crying works really well!

So, we made it to Toronto. Feeling a bit guilty to be having a fun excursion given the circumstances, my fiance and I checked into our hotel in Chinatown and set about doing all the things we had originally planned- eating a delicious meal at Momofuku, browsing some local shops, and exploring Toronto.

^Thanks SHINee, for giving me an excuse to visit awesome Toronto for the first time!

I also took a few minutes to hastily write a letter to SHINee, which I would drop off at the expo entrance with all of the other fan gifts. I had planned to write them something a bit fancier than this sad looking note on hotel stationary, but hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do when she evacuates her town, yo.

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Finally it was time to head to the expo. We walked for over an hour to our destination, a huge expo building, and waited in the heat for several hours until we were let in with a clamour of hot, tired people (mostly girls). Unfortunately, the expo was a bit of a mess and became known afterward as a disaster. The “food fest’ turned out to be 2 food trucks with ridiculous lineups, one of which was shut down shortly after opening because they didn’t have a permit. I ate the only thing I could get my hands on- walnut wafer cookies (?) from a Korean grocery store stall. I met some other Shawol who were so kind and made me feel very welcomed, and we explored the expo together.

20160506_173821^Lynda, I took measures to protect your identity XD

The vendors were pretty scarce, several guests that had been announced did not arrive, and the concert, which was supposed to have a slew of warmup performances before SHINee, kept being pushed back as the organizers and volunteers struggled to get the hundreds of people into a coherent lineup according to the numbers on their bracelets.

20160506_172515^I mean, Hallyu North had this cute mascot, so they had that going for them? Even though he broke the #1 rule of being a mascot and began talking to me in a gruff, husky voice, but hey, whatevs.

However, none of this disorganization really mattered to me, and I was happy as a clam to be honest ( I was going to see SHINee!). It was only after talking to other Shawol after the fact that I  realized how truly poorly organized the event was. SHINee ended up having to come out later than scheduled, without the planned local acts before them, to a crowd of people who were sore and tired, in a venue that was clearly less than what they deserved, but they did not disappoint. It basically looks like they are dancing in a Highschool Gymnasium (these being the boys who sold out Tokyo Dome numerous times) but, you know what, they rocked it for us.

^Sorry that my videos are really low quality, but the boys are high quality sooooooo 😉

After the concert ended I joined the people outside who were dazed and shining like me. I chatted with a girl about how awesome SHINee was for a few minutes, and then we heard restrained screaming. We hurried over to see what the fuss was about, and it was the SHINee van leaving the arena. All of the Shawol respectfully stood on the sidewalk where we smiled and waved at the van with the tinted windows as it rolled past. From inside those darkened windows, a cell phone lit up pressed near the glass and waved back at us. I bet it was Key! It was exciting.

Later I talked with Shimmycocopuffsss (who was the MC for SHINee) during a live vid he was doing and asked him what he thought of the event. He said they asked him to be MC mere hours before the concert! He pulled it off professionally but man, SHINee deserved more preparation. Still, it was a memory I was happy to hold. I didn’t know if they would ever come back to Canada, but I hoped for it. My Shawol heart was filled, but still longed for a true concert experience with SHINee.

20160506_171900^Me & Shimmy

I wondered, would SHINee return after such a shoddy, if well intentioned, event?

The answer, again, was YES.

A more well-known company, KpopMe, posted an image on their social media hinting that a group would be coming to Canada. Shawol immediately recognized the V from the SHINee World V logo and we went absolutely wild.

It turned out that SHINee would be coming to both Toronto AND Vancouver as part of a North American tour in March 2017! I was at work when I read the official announcement, and I was afraid that when I drove home I would crash my car because I was so frazzled!

Even though we had just had our wedding recently and money was tight, I knew I had to go to this or I would regret it. This would be a proper concert! A real SHINee concert! Again I consulted my hubby and we agreed that, since I felt comfortable in Toronto, I would go alone this time so we could save a bit of money. (My dear hunbun puts up with my fangirling so well, but he doesn’t really care to join me for these kinds of things!)

I remember getting my tickets for this event like it was yesterday. I only got 2 hours of sleep because I was so anxious. I researched all of the different ways to get good seats from the tricksy Ticketmaster site. I set an alarm for over an hour before the tickets went on sale so I would be freaking READY. When the seats opened, I grabbed a decent one and felt so happy. Other Shawol told me that often better seats open soon before the concert, so I scoured the Ticketmaster site regularly and I did actually get an even better seat. I sold my old seat to a Shawol at a good discount, and she was totally happy.

And so, once again, I found myself in Toronto for SHINee (even though Vancouver is closer to where I live- the Toronto date was on the weekend so I wouldn’t have to miss much work.) I had a ton of fun exploring Toronto again, and doing a bit of a Scott Pilgrim tour.

I even visited my first Cat Cafe, where two Shawol noticed my SHINee shirt and we fangirled together! We all agreed that it was hard to function when you know you will be seeing SHINee in mere hours.

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I planned to meet up with a group of Shawol for a lunch at a Korean bbq place before the concert, but I got the time wrong and I was there 2 hours early… oh well, it was tasty!

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I visited a couple of nerd shops while I was out and about- when I saw two older white-haired ladies browsing manga animatedly together in a shop, I thought “Wow. Goals. Hope that will be me someday.”

Finally it was time to head to the concert venue, the Sony Center.

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^Thanks for the reminder, NOT THAT I NEEDED IT!!!

I got there with tons of time to spare, and the first few Shawol were beginning to trickle into the area. I decided to wait in the park across from the centre, and I saw a couple of girls milling about. I thought “they are probably Shawol” and approached a tad anxiously. They welcomed me into their group like they had known me forever, and we spent the afternoon grabbing fan swag, eating, and fangirling!

One lovely thing that happened: since the concert was sort of last-minute, a lot of people had trouble getting lightsticks. As any kpop fan will know, lightsticks and fanchants are an integral part of the kpop concert experience, and Shawol are proud to show off their Pearl Aqua Ocean to show their support for SHINee. I was fortunate enough to have ordered a lighstick on Ebay that arrived in plenty of time, as well as a special Key lightstick from a small group order, but many fans were resorting to aqua balloons and cheap glowsticks. Japanese Shawol found out about this and came to our rescue, sending hundreds of their lightsticks to us freely. Even now, thinking about this kind act makes me go all misty eyed. The Shawol community is beautiful.

Finally it was time- time to enter the concert venue. Everyone lined up in a big circle around the entire building, and the excitement was palpable. Shawol young and old were literally vibrating with excitement. When we were finally let in through the doors, we were welcomed by an aqua glow.

I left my new friends as it was time to find our seats. As I was approaching my area, a young woman said “Are you Shauna?” I was like “uh yeah!?”… Turns out it was the girl I sold my original ticket to! She thanked me for selling her the ticket at a lower price, and we wished each other to enjoy the show.

I found my seat about ten seats back from the stage and sat there, shaking. I shared some small talk with the girl next to me, and looked around in awe at the other Shawol playing with their lightsticks, readying themselves, and feeling just as on top of the world as me. SHINee songs played on the speakers, and a huge SHINee WORLD V display lit up the stage. Finally, the lights began to dim and we were transported into SHINee World.

After some fanciful intro videos, the stage went dark, and the boys began to perform Hitchhiking. The show proceeded in a blur of absolute joy. Some highlights:

  • The boys pressuring Taemin to speak english and he said “Next song is… Prism…”
  • The music cutting out during Prism when Taemin was singing, and Jonghyun saying “we need your voice! We need your voice.” to Shawol
  • Key throwing subtle shade at HallyuNorth with something like “It’s our first time in Canada… well, first concert”
  • Minho playing with the crowd, flashing his smiles, and shouting “Thank you for coming. Thank you for waiting. Thank you for SCREAMING!!!”
  • Increasing my love for the songs Ready or Not and Savior because they are SO JUMPIN’ LIVE THE ENERGY WAS CRAZY
  • Key’s solo dance during Juliette
  • Shawol fanchants were ON POINT- View, Sherlock, Lucifer and Everybody were perfect
  • Taemin’s Sayonara Hitori solo
  • Jonghyun and Onew duet
  • Key’s energetic dancing throughout
  • Performance of their new song 1 of 1
  • Whenever I knew Key’s solo parts were coming up I would raise my Key banner and Key lightstick extra high and jump up happily. It’s hard to say, but I really do think he saw me and I felt his gaze on me several times
  • Our beautiful Pearl Aqua Ocean, with much thanks to Japanese Shawol

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^Screenshot from a fancam: that’s me with my pink LilFreak banner! The no-photography policy was strictly enforced, so I decided to just let go and enjoy the show, but I am grateful to those who did take some photos to help us keep the memories alive.

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^Another shot of me from a fancam, basking in the glow of SHINee XD

Besides the video and talking portions of the concert, I was bouncing on the balls of my feet the entire concert. Finally, sadly, it ended, and the boys left the stage, Minho being the last to go, waving and smiling as usual. At the end I was exhausted and, like many others, sat there feeling a sort of high, not wanting it to be over. At the same time though, I felt incredibly lucky to have had the chance to see a real SHINee concert.

received_10158408983450261^I am but a speck in the SHINee World. I have this wonderful picture blown up on photo paper framed in my room and also at my work desk at the library ❤

I joined the zombie line of people shambling slowly away from the venue towards their hotels and cars. The hotel I was staying at was just a block or two away, and I followed a couple of girls inside. Nobody said a word as we climbed the stairs to our floors- we had left our hearts in the concert hall for the time being.

I look back so fondly on that day. It was a perfect day- good food, new friends, excitement, happiness, joy, music, energy, community. I felt closer to Shawol and SHINee than ever, and still do.

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^Confetti, streamers, ribbon, bracelets and a balloon from the concert

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^ Am I crazy? I don’t know, you tell me.

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^another happy moment ❤ Thank you Japan Shawol! On that note, my hubby and I went to Japan last year (BEST 3 WEEKS OF MY LIFE, AND DESERVES ITS OWN BLOG POST <3), and I took the opportunity to visit both the SMTown Tokyo (SHINee bar!) and Shin Okubo (Koreatown), seeking out SHINee everywhere I went.

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SHINee has made such an impact on the lives of so many, both in Korea and around the world. They gave me inspiration, laughter and entertainment during some hard times in my life, and I sincerely believe that each member enjoys being on stage and interacting with fans. However, SHINee has been in international headlines recently for a heartbreaking reason.

*The following may be distressing to some readers. If you are a Shawol you know what I mean. I want to express what it was like for me personally, as I feel it will be good for me to get it out in writing, but I know some people would rather not dwell on the details as it hurts too much. Feel free to stop reading here ❤ 

The kpop industry is crazy intense. The rigorous training, schedules, travel, promotion, exercise, dieting, and so on, are absolutely harsh.

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“Idols”, such as the members of SHINee, are expected to put on a happy face 24/7 and push their own personal issues under the rug for the better image of their company. Those who confront mental health face stigma, and so some idols put on a brave face while they may be facing inner turmoil.

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Jonghyun was refreshingly open and honest about his depression. He spoke about it in interviews, expressing how he was dealing with this pain and trying his best to get through it. Tragically, he could not. Dear, emotional Jonghyun, who had openly wept during concerts, who crooned his thoughts softly to listeners on Blue Night radio show, who always shared thoughtful reflections and deep sentiments to his fans, was not supported in his time of need. The world failed him.

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I believe in my heart that Jonghyun did have joyful times with SHINee and with his fans. You could see it in his eyes. But then there was another side of him that was hurting even more than he let on. That, too, you could see in his eyes.

On December 18 I woke up extremely early for some reason. I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up and felt compelled to sit at my computer. Incredulous voices filled my SHINee kakao group chats and social media. What on earth was going on?

People were saying things like:

“Jonghyun? It can’t be true?! I won’t believe that.”

“No, don’t listen to this, we don’t have the facts.”

“That site isn’t a valid source. It’s just a rumor.”

The rumor was that Jonghyun was dead. I was so shocked I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. But the articles kept appearing, the rumors kept flying. He was killed. It was a plot. It was a suicide. It was a cover-up. It was an accident. It was a terrible marketing ploy.

What the hell was happening?

I had to go to work, but it was still unclear what truly happened. I was dazed at work, going through the motions as best as I could. By the afternoon, rumors that he was still alive (barely) in the hospital were disproven, and it was confirmed that Jonghyun was dead. Soon after it was confirmed as a suicide.

His suicide letter revealed that he was tired of carrying on for others, that he wanted peace for himself, and that his doctor told him that his personality was to blame for his depression. He finished by asking “please tell me that I did well”.

A brutal numbness followed, and Shawol came together in their grief. We worried for the SHINee members, we mourned Jonghyun, we felt guilty for not knowing how deeply he was hurting. We’re still mourning, and some of us are having troubles with our own mental health aggravated by this tragedy. I’ve heard that some Shawol have taken their own lives after Jonghyun left us, and that saddens me immensely.

Some will say to Shawol “can’t you move on by now? You didn’t really know him.”

Yes, it’s true that we fans didn’t personally know Jonghyun in his intimate private life. However, we closely followed his journey as an artist, we were inspired by his creativity, passion and kindness, his bravery taking a stand for LGBTQ+ rights and mental health in a society that still views these things as taboo discussion. We took his remarks to heart, and we truly cared about him as we do all of the SHINee members. Jonghyun was a part of our everyday lives, and losing him truly hurt. Furthermore, Shawol are a community who bonded over a shared love of SHINee, and the relationships and connections we’ve formed with each-other are undeniably real too.

“Life is a series of encounters and farewells. I believe we grow in the process.

For now, it is very sad but we will meet again.

We can hope for that day to come soon, and we will be able to greet each other with much bigger welcome.”

— Jonghyun

I hope that all Shawol can find peace when the time is right for them. Some find solace in spirituality, or religion, or things they perceive to be signs from him. I don’t know if I can feel peace that way, but it’s different for everyone. Personally, I was numb for a long time, but I have come to accept reality. Sometimes it really stings suddenly, but this is how it is now.

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Once again the kindness of Shawol uplifts me. Many have reached out in various ways, beginning initiatives in Jonghyun’s name to raise money for mental health causes, creating projects to memorialize him, and supporting other Shawol who were so lost in devastation that they didn’t know how to carry on. Shawol is the first fandom that I ever really opened up to and actively participated in, and it feels like one big family looking out for eachother.

One very kind Shawol extended the offer to bring messages from international Shawol to Jonghyun’s memorial in Korea. Thanks to this thoughtful person, my message for him made it to Seoul.

“Jonghyun, I hope you are finding the peace this world could not give you. You did well, and your legacy will shine forever.”

– Shauna D

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Jonghyun left us with one last posthumous album, Poet | Artist. I try as much as I can to remember him as the smiling, happy, laughing man that I know existed on the other side of his dark despair.  SHINee is always 5. I hope that Key, Minho, Taemin and Onew know I support them fully whatever they decide to do in the future.

And Jonghyun, you did well.

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