The Story of Japan (in Nine Minutes)

The video above tells the story of Japan in nine minutes, and it is glorious.

The video is glorious, I mean, though Japan’s history is also impressive. (That said, sensitive readers should be advised that the video has a few swearwords.) This nine-minute history of Japan combines tongue-in-cheek narration and humorous oversimplifications with manic, colorful editing. The end result is not only hilarious, but quite informative. Huh. Maybe this, not the history of Nintendo, is history’s greatest history lesson.

I have a strong interest in Japan, which is rivaled only by my lifelong interest in Great Britain. These island nations have a lot in common. Each was once the seat of an empire, and both have made incredible contributions to the arts.

Many of my favorite storytellers and creative people are Japanese: Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary filmmaker; Shigeru Miyamoto, who worked on many of the greatest video games ever made; Shūsaku Endō, the writer of such heartbreaking novels as Silence and The Samurai; and many more. For such a small country, Japan has made a vast cultural impact, giving us everything from anime to beckoning cat figurines.

Oh Japan, where would we be without you?

I would love to visit Japan someday. I would also love to see Great Britain. Of course, I want to return to Ecuador for a visit, and to visit Canada, and to take an epic road trip around the United States of America.

Man, I wish I were free to travel more. At least I have books and the Internet!

War and Peace and Robots

This animated short tells a beautiful story without any of its characters ever speaking a word. After watching it, I’m pretty speechless, too.

…All right. It’s time to talk about the video.

From the studio that brought you that Pixar-quality superhero animation comes another glorious animated short. This one stars Bastion, a war machine who realizes that war is kinda overrated. He joins the robots from The Iron Giant and Castle in the Sky as a machine that overrides its programming in order to love peace, appreciate nature, and stop blowing up everything it sees.

Iron Giant

The Iron Giant is an excellent movie.

I love the premise of a machine built for violence refusing to be violent. It’s sadly ironic when machines have more humanity than actual humans.

Castle in the Sky robot

Castle in the Sky is probably my favorite movie of all time.

It’s nice to know that when the robot apocalypse happens, some of the machines may not want to fight.

Incidentally, the animated short above is a promotional video for a game called Overwatch, which I’ll never play. I wish all promotional videos were so amazing.

441. TMTF’s Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction

Do you know what this blog needs? Hot guys. This blog needs more hot guys.

What? You think hot guys are an inappropriate subject for this blog? Oh, I disagree. I won’t discriminate against anyone for being totally smoking hot. I think this post is long overdue.

It’s a burning question: Who are the hottest guys in fiction? There are a lot of potential answers, so let’s warm up with a list of ten.

We’re turning up the heat, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Hot Guys in Fiction!

10. Calcifer (Howl’s Moving Castle)


This friendly fire demon is not only helpful and adorable, but also sounds exactly like Billy Crystal. (Wait, he’s actually voiced by Billy Crystal? Well.) Calcifer may not be the hottest guy on this list, but he’s certainly hot enough to fry eggs and bacon.

Cooking with Calcifer

That’s pretty hot, right?

9. Anger (Inside Out)

Anger (Inside Out)

This one is easy. I mean, the dude’s head is literally on fire.

Hot guy. No doubt about it. Great movie, too.

8. Mario (Super Mario Bros. series)

Fireball Mario

Mario isn’t always hot, but he occasionally throws fireballs. These whirling spheres of flame aren’t terribly large or threatening, except when they get out of hand. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.) When Mario cuts loose with the fireballs, things heat up pretty quickly.

Mario's Final Smash

Bowser is another hot character from the Super Mario Bros. series, but I chose Mario because this list has quite enough scaly fire-breathing monsters. Speaking of which….

7. Charizard (Pokémon)


Charizard is labeled a Fire-type Pokémon, and for good reason. His flaming tail is a life sign, like a pulse… but more likely to burn down buildings. Charizard also breathes fire.

Totally hot, man.

6. The Fury (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)

The Fury

This crazy cosmonaut hails from my favorite Metal Gear Solid game as a member of the Cobra Unit: a team of supervillains working for a rogue Soviet colonel. The Fury is a pyromaniac through and through, packing a flamethrower and a jet pack—which, I can only assume, were standard issue for Soviet cosmonauts prior to the sixties.

When the Fury finally gives up the ghost, it’s with delusions, explosions, and surreal shrieking heads of fire. So hot.

5. The Guys in the Seventh Circle of Hell (Dante’s Inferno)

Seventh Circle of Hell

The circles of Dante’s hell offer various horrors, from violent winds to ceaseless whippings. It’s the seventh circle that most closely resembles the classic image of hell as a fiery place, with a river of boiling blood and flakes of fire drifting to the ground. “Thus was descending the eternal heat, whereby the sand was set on fire, like tinder beneath the steel.”

You can bet the sinners in hell’s seventh circle are pretty hot.

4. Zuko (Avatar: The Last Airbender)


In the fantasy world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko is a firebender: a martial artist who redirects chi (spiritual energy) and unleashes it as fire. Firebending is awesome. It can be used to warm tea, heat bathwater, or do this:


Zuko is the show’s most dynamic firebender, learning from dragons and experimenting with advanced forms of his art. He never did learn to make a good cup of tea, but he’s still a really hot guy.

3. Hades (Disney’s Hercules)


At first glance, Hades looks like a shady uncle to Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Don’t be fooled. The smooth-talking god of the dead from Disney’s Hercules often loses his cool. (Pun intended. I’m still sorry.) When his temper flares (I’m so, so sorry), those flames rage out of control.

Yes, Hades is a hot guy… but he’s the master of the underworld, so what did you expect?

2. Smaug (The Hobbit)


Do I even need to explain this one? Smaug is a dragon. He breathes fire. Dragons breathe fire. Hot.

It would have been easy to fill this list with dragons, but I limited myself to one. I chose Smaug because, of all the dragons I considered, he hit the best blend of hotness and cultural significance. (Next time, Toothless. Next time.) Smaug is far from the only hot character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books; Sauron is represented by a fiery eye, and Denethor was pretty hot right at the end of his life.

1. The Human Torch (Marvel comics)

The Human Torch

I don’t really have anything to say about the Human Torch, except that he’s literally on fire, burning at impossibly high temperatures that would reduce ordinary men to greasy little piles of soot.

I can think of no hotter guy in fiction.

Who are your favorite hot guys or gals in fiction? Fire away in the comments!

423. I Have a Million Neighbors

Most of us have neighbors. We may be separated by a wall, street, or building—or cornfield, if you live in Indiana. However close our neighbors may be, there is nearly always a separation of some kind.

Then there’s the Internet, where all that separates me from millions of other people are a few clicks or keystrokes. Privacy can be an elusive privilege on the World Wide Web. Almost anyone can find you. Almost anyone can be your neighbor, and you can be a neighbor to almost anyone. We’re all neighbors on the Internet. Every time I open my web browser, I enter a space with a million neighbors.

So what?

There once lived a humble, gentle, and kindhearted man, who taught of the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself.

I speak, of course, of Mr. Rogers.

Mr. RogersDo you know who else knew how to be a good neighbor? Totoro. Totoro knew how to be a good neighbor. Heck, I wish I were neighbors with Totoro, and I’m definitely not the only one. I couldn’t ask for a better neighbor than this fuzzy forest spirit.


I can think of yet another good neighbor. There’s an old, old story of a traveler who was attacked by robbers and left half dead on the road. (You’ve probably heard this one.) A couple of people ignored the wounded man, but a stranger took pity on him, bandaged his wounds, and carried him to safety.

Good Samaritan

Art by Dan Burr.

That story of a good neighbor was told by Jesus Christ, the leading expert on loving people. According to Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is one of the most important rules in the universe.

We must love our neighbors. I mean, we can hardly disagree with Mr. Rogers, Totoro, and Jesus Christ, can we?

We’re all neighbors on the Internet, and we must love our neighbors, so what now? Well, this Friday is March 4, and if you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know what that means.

March 4 is Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day. This Friday marks the event’s fifth year—and, due to the end of TMTF later this year, the last one to be celebrated on this blog. (After TMTF concludes, I plan to celebrate the event every year on Facebook and Twitter.)

Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day is, well, a day for being nice to someone on the Internet. On March 4, or any time this week, go to someone’s personal profile, account, channel, blog, or webpage, and leave an uplifting comment. Send someone an encouraging message, note, tweet, or email. Find a person you appreciate—whether a content creator, friend, or total stranger—and be a good neighbor.

We’re all neighbors on the Internet. On Friday, March 4, let’s be good ones!

415. The Bests of 2015

I no longer review stuff on this blog, but I don’t mind taking a day to look back on the best media I experienced in 2015. I didn’t spend as much time reading, watching movies and television, or playing video games as I would have liked, but I did enjoy some notable works, and here are the best of the best. (For clarification, this list includes only media I experienced for the first time in 2015. I’m featuring neither old favorites I revisited nor new episodes of shows I’ve seen.)

After I’ve shared my favorites, feel free to share yours in the comments! What great films, books, television shows, or video games did you enjoy in 2015?

Here are mine.

Best Live Action Film: Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max

This film is a work of art, and also an action movie with spiky cars and fire-spewing electric guitars. Mad Max: Fury Road is an action film in the purest sense, with sparse dialogue and explosive momentum. The movie is basically a two-hour car chase through a dystopian wasteland, yet manages to convey (amid explosions) meaningful themes such as guilt, redemption, the empowerment of women, and the worth of human life. The film also gets bonus points for its oversaturated, brightly-colored scenery: a welcome change from the bleached, washed-out look of most dystopian movies. Fury Road is stupid, campy action elevated to an art form: a film with all the ferocious beauty and power of an erupting volcano.

Best Animated Film: Inside Out

Inside Out

Pixar films nearly always leave an emotional impression, so it’s only to be expected that a Pixar film about emotions makes a terrific impact. Inside Out nearly made me cry in the movie theater, and I’m not a person who cries. Pixar’s best movies have a simple premise, and this one is no exception: What if your emotions were tiny people inside your head? Inside Out tells two intertwining stories: the fantastical journey of a little girl’s emotions inside her mind, and the consequent struggles of that little girl to accept the changes in her life. This film warms the viewer’s heart, but only after it has finishing breaking it. Inside Out is a sad, joyful movie… which seems appropriate, as Sadness and Joy are two of its most important characters.

Best Fiction Book: The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King cover

The Once and Future King is a retelling of King Arthur’s life. Like Inside Out, this story is both happy and sad; unlike that film, this novel leans much more heavily toward sadness than happiness. The epic backdrop of the Arthurian legends is used here as a stage for the intimate stories of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Fragments of the old legends—the Round Table, the Grail Quest, Mordred’s betrayal—are woven neatly into two stories: the king who spends his life trying to do the right thing, and the knight whose loyalties are forever divided. Both men are great heroes, and both are doomed from the start. As it reinvents old stories for our cynical age, The Once and Future King is funny, sad, and well worth reading.

Best Nonfiction Book: All Groan Up

All Groan Up

Its title is a really bad pun, but this is not a bad book. (Seriously, though, that title causes me physical pain.) This memoir of a young man’s post-college panic, crises of faith, search for employment, and painful transition to adulthood is eerily similar to my own experiences. Paul Angone tells his story with openness, honesty, Jon Acuff-like humor, and way too many silly metaphors. In the end, despite its stylistic quirks, his story is well worth reading for all those college-age adults who feel lost, alone, ashamed, and hopeless. I wish I had read this book five years ago.

Best Console Video Game: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni No Kuni cover

This is probably the most beautiful game I have ever played. With visuals inspired (and some contributed) by the legendary Studio Ghibli, and music by noted composer Joe Hisaishi, this game looks and sounds amazing—and it plays beautifully. The game’s story of a little boy searching for his mother is touching and bittersweet… except for when it’s cute and hilarious, which it frequently is. The Final Fantasy-meets-Pokémon gameplay may be a bit deep for casual players, and the ending is unsatisfying, but these are nitpicks. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is magical. And it’s getting a sequel!

Best Handheld Video Game: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

“A true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved,” and Professor Hershel Layton is the truest of gentlemen. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a delightful collection of puzzles, strung together by the most intriguing Professor Layton story I’ve seen yet. The good Professor’s search for the diabolical relic known as the Miracle Mask is packed with interesting characters, charming visuals, good voice acting, and (of course) scores upon scores of puzzles to solve. This is a game for everyone, casual players and veteran gamers alike. In fact, the only people for whom I can’t recommend this game are those with no feeling, soul, or sense of humor.

Best Live Action Television Series: Marvel’s Daredevil

Marvel's Daredevil

I’ve already written two entire blog posts about the excellence of Marvel’s Daredevil, so I won’t add much here. I’ll just point out one more fun detail: a scene set in a Hispanic lady’s home contains a two-liter bottle of Inca Kola. (I grew up drinking Inca Kola in Ecuador.) That is serious attention to detail.

Daredevil (now with 100% more Inca Kola!)

Marvel’s Daredevil has a breakable hero, a fascinating villain, great writing, brilliant action scenes, a gripping (and grounded) story, and an artistically comic-booky visual style. This show is superb.

Best Animated Television Series: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun

This anime isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but there’s something compelling about its unromantic romance writer and his quirky entourage of artists. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is neither a romantic comedy nor a satire, but something in between. It never feels cynical or mean-spirited as it deconstructs rom-com clichés; the show’s self-aware humor is balanced by a heartwarming charm and innocence. As an added bonus, the show offers fascinating glimpses into the process of making manga (i.e. Japanese comics). It’s fairly short and available only in Japanese with English subtitles, but Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is delightful.

What are some of the best media you experienced in 2015? Let us know in the comments!

413. Reacting to Stuff on the Internet

The Internet is a weird, wonderful wilderness. (In fact, the www in web addresses stands for the phrase Weird, Wonderful Wilderness, not World Wide Web as widely believed.*) The Internet is packed with stuff. Some of it is good. Some is bad. A lot of it is cats.

Some of the stuff on the Internet demands strong reactions, whether positive or negative. Words alone are not always enough to convey these reactions. Some feelings are too deep for words.

This, you see, is why we have images, videos, and GIFs.

Yawning cat

I told you there are a lot of cats on the Internet.

(For my readers who aren’t Internet nerds: A GIF is a low-quality video file whose footage loops with no audio. GIFs are basically moving pictures.)

Today I’ll show you a few of my favorite reactions to stuff on the World Wide Web. Here we go.

Shock or Surprise

Reaction intensifies (GIF)

This flabbergasted-bordering-on-traumatized kitty comes from The GaMERCaT, a webcomic about games and cats. (Yep, more cats. Welcome to the Internet.)

Refusal or Disagreement

Nothing says “Nope” quite like the martians from Sesame Street. When a simple “No” won’t suffice, the martians’ “Nope nope nope nope nope” does the trick. This is educational television at its finest.

Sadness or Loneliness

Raining on the Tenth Doctor

There is only one thing sadder than a person standing alone at night in the rain, and it’s David Tennant standing alone at night in the rain.

Joy or Nostalgia

Even Studio Ghibli’s most emotionless character is overwhelmed by waves of emotion, which may have just been waves of water before some Internet person edited in the feels.

What are you go-to response to stuff on the Internet? Let us know in the comments!

*I made this up.

Out of Ideas

Creativity is hardThe struggle is real.

Errol Elumir is a geek, and formerly the owlish half of musical duo Debs & Errol. He draws a daily webcomic, My Neighbor Errol, chronicling his day-to-day life with his crabby daughters and ever-patient wife. The comic is written with self-aware humor and sprinkled with geeky references. (Yes, there’s quite a lot of My Neighbor Totoro, which is how it should be.) While the art is simple, relying on reused assets and plain backgrounds, I enjoy my daily dose of humor from the Elumir family.

Heck, Errol’s enthusiasm for Studio Ghibli’s mascot led me earlier this year to acquire a new neighbor of my own.

This is your fault, Mr. Elumir.

This is your fault, Mr. Elumir.

Blogging and web cartooning are different media, but they have a lot in common. For example, they update consistently, requiring a steady stream of ideas for new comics or blog posts. Like Errol, I sometimes run out of ideas.

However, every time I think I’ve finally exhausted my options, something new occurs to me. Necessity is called the mother of invention, but it’s more like an aunt. The mother of invention is desperation.

Errol pokes fun at himself for exploiting his daughters for comedy, but I think there’s quite a difference between exploiting something and merely saying of it, as I often say of things, “Heh, that’s pretty funny.” My Neighbor Errol is a funny webcomic, and gave me one more idea of something to write for this blog.

That said, now I’m out of ideas. Flipping heck.

385. Review Roundup: Death Game Edition

It has been a while since TMTF’s last Review Roundup. Why don’t we look at some stories about death games?

In these media, protagonists gamble their lives in dangerous games. Some of these are literal: formal competitions with rules. Some are figurative: risky ventures into crime. And one of these stories has nothing at all to do with death games. (I enjoy writing these reviews, but not enough to plan my media consumption around them!)

Let’s talk about The Hunger Games trilogy, Ant-ManThe Big LebowskiIs It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, and Whisper of the Heart.

The Hunger Games trilogy

The Hunger Games trilogyFor the first time in years, I picked up a popular Young Adult novel to find out what all the fuss is about. (My last investigation of a literary sensation led me to read Twilight, a mistake from which I never fully recovered.) The Hunger Games is a pop culture phenomenon, and I meant to find out why.

I dunno, guys. I wasn’t all that impressed. Maybe I’m just a grumpy snob, but the Hunger Games trilogy neither dazzled nor entertained me. The books aren’t bad, but I wouldn’t call them classics.

The Hunger Games books tell the tale of Katniss Everdeen, a pragmatic teen trapped in an impoverished district of Panem. The government of this dystopian country rules its outer districts by fear and humiliation, selecting two children from each district every year and forcing them all to fight to the death. This gruesome event, the Hunger Games, is televised throughout Panem as an amusement for the wealthy; for the poor, it’s a reminder of their powerlessness. Katniss is selected for the Hunger Games, and the books follow her rise and fall from gladiator to celebrity to revolutionary to whiny PTSD victim.

The Hunger Games books are lauded for their smart setup and gripping story. I’ll be the first to admit there is truth to these praises. Panem is an interesting setting. The concept of the Hunger Games is fascinating, providing a way for a corrupt government to placate the rich and subjugate the poor. The story has its twists and turns, and the first book is actually pretty engaging.

However, the characters are mostly dull and unlikable. Katniss, who narrates the story, lacks much personality besides a coldly analytical attitude and occasional flickers of affection. As the books wear on, Katniss is traumatized by her horrific experiences, becoming angsty and angry—a change in her personality, sure, but not for the better. More promising characters, such as foppish Effie Trinket and drunken Haymitch Abernathy, end up disappointing.

When it comes to tone and style, I get the impression the Hunger Games books aren’t sure what they want to be. They have a sort of gritty realism concerning poverty and war. I appreciate that. However, this gloomy approach is at odds with the books’ ludicrous sci-fi touches and predictable Young Adult nonsense. (Yes, there’s a love triangle, and it’s annoying.)

In the end, the Hunger Games books have just enough harsh realism to be depressing and just enough teen kitsch not to be taken seriously. They fall in a literary no man’s land, refusing to embrace either realism or sensationalism, and embodying the worst traits of both. I find it hard to recommend these books.


Ant-ManMoving on to something much more entertaining, Ant-Man is another big, dumb, spectacularly fun Marvel movie. Unlike the Hunger Games books, Ant-Man embraces its own goofiness in a way that’s a joy to see.

Ant-Man begins with Scott Lang feeling very small. This well-meaning ex-convict can’t keep a job or convince his ex-wife to let him spend time with their little girl. When Lang meets an old inventor named Hank Pym—he burgles Pym’s home, actually, but that’s not the point—Pym offers him “a shot at redemption,” meaning an opportunity to put on a high-tech suit, shrink to the size of an ant, and dive back into the life-or-death game of high-stakes burglary.

Look, if you’ve seen any recent Marvel movie, you know what to expect at this point. Ant-Man is full of quotable quips, flashy action scenes, and comic book lore, with a little sentimentality sprinkled here and there.

This time, however, there are two things to make the film stand out. First is an emphasis on father-daughter relationships. This motif isn’t developed as fully as a it could be, but it works. The second thing is that Ant-Man is basically a superhero heist movie, in the same way the first Captain America is a superhero war film and the second one is a superhero cold war thriller. Ant-Man isn’t about saving the world, but stealing stuff… to save the world, I guess.

It’s still a nice touch.

I really enjoyed Ant-Man. It nods at other movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe without depending on them, and I look forward to seeing Ant-Man in future films. Not bad for such a little guy.

The Big Lebowski

The Big LebowskiWith that, we move on from a small hero to a larger-than-life one in The Big Lebowski. Ironically, however, the film’s hero isn’t actually the Big Lebowski, but a slacker with the same name (I’ll call him the Lesser Lebowski) who loves bowling, booze, and tacking the word “man” to the end of nearly every sentence.

The Big Lebowski begins when thugs storm the home of Jeff Lebowski, a laid-back stoner known as “the Dude,”  and pee on his rug. It was a nice rug, man. It really tied the room together. The thugs threatened the Dude (and peed on his rug) under the impression he was “the Big Lebowski,” a millionaire with the same name. When the Dude takes his bowling buddies’ advice to seek compensation from the Big Lebowski for the rug, he becomes snared in a game of deception, violence, kidnapping, cursing, and postmodern art.

This movie is sort of a black comedy and sort of a noir crime film, but it’s mostly Jeff Bridges bowling, drinking, and wandering around Los Angeles. In the end, the film’s complex web of crime and deception unravels to reveal a whole lot of nothing, and I think that’s the point: there never was one.

This was quite an entertaining movie. It ain’t one for kids—it has bullets, boobs, and f-bombs beyond count—but for adults with a healthy sense of the absurd, The Big Lebowski is a treat.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a DungeonWell, is it?

The oddly-titled anime Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is the tale of Bell, a nice young man who longs to become an adventurer—to impress the ladies, of course. He lives in a medieval fantasy town whose existence revolves around the eponymous dungeon: a labyrinth teeming with monsters. Adventurers join familias—guilds sponsored by gods or goddesses—and venture into the dungeon in a dangerous game for treasure and glory. In quest to become a dungeon-conquering hero, Bell accepts the sponsorship of a down-on-her-luck goddess named Hestia. This unlikely pair must work together for Bell to have any chance of becoming a master adventurer and impressing the ladies… well, one in particular.

I won’t lie, guys. This anime is incredibly dumb. Remember what I said about Ant-Man embracing its goofiness? This show does the same, but with roughly ten thousand times as much enthusiasm.

I mean, the anime’s opening theme has a momentary scene of Bell and Hestia brushing their teeth. Look at this. Look at it.

Toothbrush dance (GIF)

This is basically the entire show: dumb as all heck, but endearing in its silliness, with some gratuitous cleavage for good measure.

The world of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? functions exactly like a video game (an MMORPG, to be precise) without actually being a video game. Its adventurers gain experience and level up—heck, they even have statistics (appearing as magical tattoos on their backs) reflecting their competency in various areas. Monsters respawn on a set timetable, and powerful creatures explicitly called bosses guard certain floors of the dungeon. The setting is instantly comprehensible to gamers, but at the cost of making absolutely no sense. Why do adventurers level up? What revives the monsters that respawn? What the heck is going on?!

(It is very faintly hinted that the gods and goddesses of ancient times created this video game-like world for their own enjoyment, but no real explanation is ever given.)

This is a show in which half the female characters have crushes on the hero, like Twilight in reverse, and most female adventurers wear stupid chain mail bikinis. I can’t defend or recommend this anime. It’s really, really dumb.

All the same, I kinda enjoyed it. Bell, who has a massive inferiority complex, is kind and friendly: a welcome change of pace from angsty or arrogant anime heroes. Hestia works odd jobs to support him, despite being, y’know, a goddess. The show seldom takes itself too seriously; the rare occasions it does are some of its weaker moments. For the most part, its good-natured goofiness made it fun to watch, if not intellectually rewarding.

Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the HeartAt last we arrive at a film that not even I can pretend fits the vague “death game” theme of this Review Roundup: Whisper of the Heart. Because of this movie, John Denver’s all-American classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads” will forever remind me of urban Japan.

Shizuku is a bookish Japanese teen, sharing a cramped apartment with her family. She notices one day that all of her library books were previously checked out by someone named Seiji, and wonders who he might be. Shizuku later ends up at an antique shop. Its owner encourages her to pursue her passion for writing stories, and also introduces her to his grandson: the mysterious Seiji. As Shizuku’s love of writing grows, so does another kind of love.

Studio Ghibli is magnificent. Whisper of the Heart was one of the few Studio Ghibli films I had never seen, and I’m glad I finally watched it.

I’ll be honest: Whisper of the Heart is no masterpiece. Nah, it’s merely a touching, charming, beautifully-animated coming-of-age story with a scene that nearly brought tears to my cynical eyes. By lofty Studio Ghibli standards, this is merely a decent film. By any other standards, Whisper of the Heart is wonderful.

I enjoyed the film probably more than most people because I identify with Shizuku’s desire to write stories. I was Shizuku once, in a manner of speaking: young, naïve, hopeful, insecure, eager to share my stories, and scared no one would want to read them—or worse, that they wouldn’t be worth reading.

Whisper of the Heart has its fair share of sentimentality: far more, in fact, than nearly any other Studio Ghibli film. The movie lacks the effortless grace and emotional punch of the studio’s finest works… but there is one scene, in which several musicians strike up their instruments for a joyful, impromptu performance of “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” that brought me closer to crying than any film in recent memory (except Inside Out, of course).

It may not be as popular as Studio Ghibli’s other movies, but Whisper of the Heart is absolutely worth watching, especially if you’re an aspiring writer, a Studio Ghibli fan, or a fan of romance.

What books, films, shows, or video games have you enjoyed lately? Let us know in the comments!

And Now, Some Relaxing Piano

If you’re a living human being—which, if you’re reading this, you probably are—I invite you to set aside five and a half minutes from your busy schedule whenever you can spare them. Then grab your hot beverage of choice, lean back in your chair, close your eyes, and listen to some relaxing piano.

The video above offers a soothing melody from Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky, my all-time favorite film, but it may not be to your taste. That’s perfectly fine. I invite you, in that case, to pull up whatever song relaxes you, and listen to that instead.

Peace, my friends.