Emma’s Cool Stuff 2021

In the interest of trying to get more content on this blog (and just getting myself writing again), I’m taking the easiest ideas and I’m running with them. “What if I just wrote about things I liked this year?” I asked myself. No need for any revolutionary ideas right now.

Since we already talked about some of our favorite games on our year-end podcast – good episode, you should give it a listen – I’m using this space to feature stuff outside of games that I really liked this year. Just cool stuff that I feel like writing about.

So, without any further ado, let’s do it.


Yume from SSSS.Dynazenon pokes Yomogi in the side in the bus

SSSS.Gridman was one of my favorite anime from 2018. I’m not usually a big Studio Trigger fan if I’m being honest. Their works’ signature bombast and spectacle is fun in small doses (really loved seeing Promare in theaters), but it can overstay its welcome in their full TV series.

However, while Gridman had those transcendent moments of action that they’re known for, those giant robot fights were surrounded by a quiet, calm, verging on awkward atmosphere. Unafraid of silences, unafraid of stumbling conversation, unafraid of introspection. It’s a style that could put people off, for sure, but it’s the kind of show I love. The only knocks against Gridman in my book were a camera that could sometimes turn leering and some shallow characters (a natural result as it soon revealed itself to be a complete character study of just one of the cast members).

SSSS.Dynazenon fixed both those problems, which means it was my perfect show. Any lingering fanservice focused on the adult members of the cast rather than the girls in their teens – the swimsuit episode was so much less creepy, thank god. It was also decidedly an ensemble piece with five main cast members each getting their own time to shine. It even got me invested in a main romance, which is a relatively rare phenomenon for me outside the rare romantic comedy.

While it does feel less “finished” than its sister series, that’s likely because it was made with the knowledge that a movie would follow it. I don’t mind that open-endedness though. It resolves the emotional arcs, it fills my heart with painful joy, that’s all you need for an ending.

Which, of course, doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to seeing where it goes from here! Here’s hoping it comes to theaters here, and that I actually feel comfortable entering a theater at that point.

Also, while Kai Ikarashi’s contributions on the series are always welcome, give that man his own show.

Natsume’s Book of Friends

The cover art of chapter 91 in Natsume's Book of Friends, featuring Natsume, Tanuma, and Nyanko-sensei against the moon

I read a lot of manga this year (my goal was at least one manga volume a week, and I think I managed it pretty well), but out of all the series I read, Natsume was my biggest project. In the winter, I started volume 6, and I worked my way up to volume 26, which just came out this month. I hadn’t quite read enough to add it to my manga recommendation blog last year, so I’m remedying that now.

Natsume’s Book of Friends follows the titular Takashi Natsume, a teenage boy with the ability to see yokai. There’s an overarching plot about the also titular Book of Friends, a book of yokai names Natsume’s late grandmother put together which bound yokai to her will. Natsume decides to return those names and release those yokai, and many of the stories begin with a yokai returning for their name.

But mostly it’s about Natsume healing from a hard childhood, learning how to make friends, and discovering more about the yokai world, exorcists, his grandmother. It’s about a withdrawn, hurt, guarded teenage boy learning how to become a friend, a family member, and a responsible adult.

Also, there’s Nyanko-sensei.

A round living cat piggybank-like thing looks at a spool of yarn

I find reading Natsume to be a very meditative experience. Most chapters are their own little standalone story where Natsume deals with a yokai situation. This is sometimes scary, often sad, sometimes heartwarming, often bittersweet. And, while Natsume himself changes slowly, seeing him become more open and confident over the course of the 26 volumes feels gratifying.

Especially in this year, it’s just nice to read a series that feels kind.

Sonny Boy

The three main characters of Sonny Boy, each in their own color, overlapping on the cover of the soundtrack

I liked this show plenty – there are certain sequences that will live in my mind forever – but what I actually want to highlight is the OST. The music gives those aforementioned sequences their power. Unfortunately there’s no official way to listen to the full soundtrack in the U.S., streaming-wise. I’m actually importing the CD for myself, as a holiday present.

All these songs evoke a strange sense of nostalgia in me. Not for anything specific. Just a time in my life that maybe never even existed. The mixture of instrumentals and vocals work together to create a full picture. It’s the perfect work playlist, but it also just makes me want to stop and close my eyes, just for a moment, to soak it all in.

Unofficially, you can find the full playlist on YouTube, and there’s at least one song with an official release on the site. I’ve also shared the full music video for the ending theme above. The acoustic version that plays at the end of the show haunts me softly, like a benign ghost.


Nicolas Cage in a screenshot from the movie Pig

Nicolas Cage always rises to the level of the movie he’s in. Pig is a high level film, so Cage gives a high level performance.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a weird film. It features an underground fighting ring for restaurant service workers. Nobody ever really comments about the increasingly poor state of Cage’s appearance. I haven’t seen John Wick, but I’ve seen this movie draw a lot of comparisons – just about a truffle-hunting pig instead of a dog.

Still, there’s a confidence to it. Through all its wildest turns, Pig never balks. It presents everything with self-assurance and without a hint of embarrassment. Of course there’s basically a food mafia. Of course we defeat the final boss through cooking a meal. The movie accepts it, and so the viewer accepts it too.

While Cage is the star, Alex Wolff also gives a strong performance, alongside the rest of the actors. Everyone seems to really buy in, and that’s what a movie like this needs. It’s a great film debut for director Michael Sarnoski, and I’ll be looking forward to what he does next.

What We Do in the Shadows

Nandor from what we do in the shadows celebrates his gambling victory in an episode of the show

I’ve yet to see a lot of the year’s biggest TV shows. Squid Game is on the list, but I’ll probably never get around to Succession. But I did make time to return to everyone’s favorite New York vampires.

I watched the original movie of What We Do In The Shadows for this first time this year. It’s a decently fun time, but it’s amazing how much better the TV series has become. The very concept of ancient creatures living together in the city in modern times is ripe for so many obvious storylines, but WWDITS thrives in the less obvious ideas.

There was nothing quite as iconic as Jackie Daytona and the epic highs and lows of high school volleyball this season, but the casino episode and the lifestyle fitness cult episode came close. Nandor never should have discovered what the Big Bang actually was, the poor guy.

It’s not a perfect show – every comedy will always have a few jokes that splat – but it’s always a fun time. Even if baby Colin Robinson will haunt my dreams forever.

Rebuild of Evangelion

Rei from Evangelion in her skin tight plugsuit lays meditatively in the grass of the outdoors

I can’t recommend Evangelion – especially the rebuilds – to someone who isn’t at least slightly initiated into anime already. This is not because of its dense “themes” or “lore” or because it is “complicated.” Eva’s lore is mostly aesthetic that dresses up a strong emotional core rather than anything too meaningful in itself. No, similarly to SSSS.Gridman, it’s because of its fanservice.

The rebuilds are especially egregious, to the point that butts are omnipresent, sometimes literally framing a scene in a way that detracts and distracts from what’s happening. So I’m always going to be putting a little asterisk next to these films for “bafflingly leering camera.”

And yet…

I watched the original series and End of Evangelion last year, split from each other by about six months. Then I watched one rebuild a week through the month of August, until I finally reached Thrice Upon a Time on September 2nd. I cried at the end of 2.0, through parts of 3.0, and pretty much from start to finish in 3.0+1.0. I’m not sure I could explain why. Was it the fact that all these characters were finally allowed to grow up? Was it that, the creator, Anno, had finally realized that he had grown up? Or, maybe, I realized that I had grown up?

“Go outside” is such a simple way of telling weirdos on the internet to stop being weird, but it’s not a complete piece of advice. Just going outside won’t fix anything. But Evangelion says it so kindly in this third, final ending. “Let’s go outside,” this movie says. “Let’s make something grow there.”

Shinji from Evangelion sits in front of a sketched background of the sky

That’s it! I limited myself to things that came out in 2021 for the main post, but here’s a few honorable mentions, some from 2021 and some not.

  • Anime: Sk8, The Heike Story, Back Arrow, Backflip!, ODDTAXI
  • Manga: PPPPPP, Land of the Lustrous, Look Back, House of Five Leaves, Our Not-So-Lonely Travel Guide
  • Music: Soushi Sakiyama, Neo TWEWY OST, PVRIS
  • Movies: Divines, Shoplifters, The Nice Guys, Annihilation, Colossal
  • TV Shows: Arcane, Lodge 49
  • Books (nothing I read came out in 2021): Ninth House, We Ride Upon Sticks, Shades of Magic

Also, if you’d like to indulge my niche hobby of ranking anime OPs and EDs, you can check out my thread on Twitter. Please appreciate my weird obsession.

Thanks for 2021! Also, screw you 2021! Let’s make a better 2022, if we can. We can, right? Probably. Either way, we’ll keep the podcast going strong. If you enjoyed us at all this year, please leave us a rating or a review on the podcast platform of your choice – we’d really appreciate it. Or tell us what you enjoyed this year in the comments.

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