Her Master’s Voice: The World of Virtual Idols, Part I

Saturday, January 25th, 2020 | Posted by John MacMaster

’80s/’90s idol duo: Wink – “Kitto Atsui Kuchibiru ~Remain~”

The concept of ‘Virtual Idols’ that I’m looking to describe here is something of a slippery and multi-faceted notion — not unlike the culture that surrounds their real-life counterparts, to a large degree! The elements form a sort of loose meshwork of overlapping scenes, which often intersect and change as they progress.

So, am I basically attempting to define the indefinable here? Perhaps! There are certain recurring themes which connect a lot of it together, so I’ll keep those things in mind as I sketch out my ongoing exploration… and with any luck, that should be enough to make it all clear.

While there are theoretically no limits where we could go with this, it’s also something very much tied to one location — and yes, it’s exactly where you expect: the nation of Japan. But before we can fully understand this phenomenon of Japanese virtual idols, we first need to get acquainted with non-virtual idols, which form such a major part of pop music culture there. That can be a bit challenging in itself, actually! While not entirely different from pop idols in other parts of the world, the term ‘Idol’ has a much more specific usage and cultural history within Japan. There are various degrees of being an idol performer as well, as the context has evolved somewhat over time… which can be confusing for newcomers, or for those who follow just one aspect of overall fandom. I’ll try to make it clearer as I go, but suffice to say that being an idol definitely involves more than simply being a singer of pop music, in Japan!

First, let’s try to very briefly pin down a few of the most important qualities of an idol.

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Goth Chick News: Grab a Pen, Here Comes Your 2020 Reading List

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Coyote Rage-small Inspection Josh Malerman-small The Worst is Yet to Come-small

If you live somewhere that, like Chicago, has been experiencing temperatures incompatible with human life recently, then thinking about a lounge chair, a book and an umbrella drink wearing anything less than a Tauntaun skin is pretty darn appealing. And with perfect timing, here comes the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot hot off the press from the The Horror Writers Association (HWA), providing a categorized list of reading material.

Now all you need is the lounge chair, an umbrella drink and a space heater.


Named in honor of Dracula’s beloved Pappa, the Stokers are presented annually by the HWA for superior writing in eleven categories including traditional fiction of various lengths, poetry, screenplays and non-fiction. The HWA also presents a Lifetime Achievement Award to living individuals who have made a substantial and enduring contribution to the genre. Previous winners include Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Joyce Carol Oates, and Neil Gaiman.

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So… I Watched The Witcher

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

The Witcher Banner

Good morning, Readers!

As promised when I first blogged my thoughts about the then-upcoming now-released Netflix adaptation of The Witcher IP, I did, in fact watch it.  To prepare myself for the first season, I read The Last Wish, which I thought I ought to do before I watch the series, and enjoyed it enough to look forward to the rest. I’m going to run down to the bookshop in a bit to buy The Sword of Destiny, which I think is another collection of short stories set before the saga with Ciri. When I’m done with that, I’ll head back for the rest of the books. They’re pretty good. That’s neither here nor there, however.

I’m very pleased to say that the show followed the books quite closely, near as I’m able to tell, with only a few changes, all of which made sense for an adaptation; and also helped make Geralt appear less like a twit in some cases. That said, he still falls in love at the drop of a hat, and that will never not make me laugh at the ridiculousness of it.

The point is, I watched the show – more than once… because I was going to review it here. Yes. That’s totally why – and I have thoughts, people. Quelle suprise.

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Nothing’s Perfect… Not Even Star Wars

Sunday, December 29th, 2019 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

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I was chatting with one of my best friends after seeing The Rise of Skywalker, and as writers do inevitably, we critiqued it. She said something partway through the conversation that I think was meant half as a joke: “perfection is a myth created by the man to keep us line, Brandon.”

It’s rare to come across a story that’s close to perfect, and no Star Wars movie ever has been. I was reluctant to talk TROS here since online discussions of major fandoms are sometimes as vitriolic as anything else, especially when you want to resoundingly say, “That was awesome!” about a film while acknowledging the faults. But if the Resistance can face the First Order, I can face you, Internet. Because by Lucas, I agree with fellow columnist Bob Byrne that TROS was “an excellent ending to the epic cycle” that is Star Wars.

SPOILERS from here on out, folks. You’ve been warned.

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Tarantino’s Time Machine: Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Friday, December 27th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(1) Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood-small

The other day the nice man from UPS brought me something that I had been looking forward to receiving for quite a while: a Blu-ray of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, which I had pre-ordered months ago on the first day it became possible to do so. I had seen it three times in the theater and wanted to be able to watch it again with minimal delay. (It’s only the third movie I have ever seen that many times as a paying customer, the other two being Raging Bull and Magnolia.)

I have very contradictory feelings about Quentin Tarantino. He’s an acknowledged “major director” – one of the few we have left – whose excesses can make every film feel like a guilty pleasure. A technical master who too often displays the emotional maturity of a fourteen-year-old, at his best Tarantino can still be a dynamite filmmaker, and I enjoyed Once Upon a Time more than any movie I’ve seen in years. I think it’s Tarantino’s strongest work since Jackie Brown.

Set in Hollywood in 1969, the movie follows semi-washed up TV western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his buddy, stunt double, and factotum, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they try to keep Rick’s head above water in the wake of the cancellation of his series, Bounty Law. (At one point Rick and Cliff spend a short time in Italy making spaghetti westerns, and in true Tarantino fashion, we get to see posters and footage from these epics, along with pitch-perfect clips from fake episodes of Bounty Law, Lancer, and The F.B.I. The last two were real shows that Rick was doing guest shots on.) During the course of these efforts, this entertainment industry duo crosses paths with another group emblematic of 1969 LA, those ultimate devils of the 20th Century American imagination, the Manson Family.

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The Rise of Skywalker: A GREAT Ending to the Star Wars Saga

Monday, December 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

SW_RisePosterEDITEDI was ten years old in the summer of 1977, and my dad took me to Cinema East that summer to see Star Wars (A New Hope). Cinema East, then on Broad Street in Whitehall, but now long gone, had 70 MM screenings. I think it was the biggest screen in town.

Forty-two years and seven movies later this past Saturday, one day before my son turned twelve, I took him to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I have liked some of the series, and the ‘extra’ movies, and the animated shows. I didn’t like others. But I can value that generations have been able to share the Star Wars universe. That’s something powerful in our increasingly shallow culture.

I’m going to write a short, relatively spoiler-free post. I liked The Force Awakens, even though it seemed rather unoriginal. But after the second trilogy, which I didn’t care for, I was happy to enjoy a Star Wars movie again. And then came The Last Jedi. Had I not taken my son to see it, I probably would have either fallen asleep, or left before the end. It was a dull, plodding movie. And I feared the saga was going to limp to its final end.

But I’ve approached every Star Wars film with an open mind. I don’t have an agenda, or any strong feelings about it. I watched the first three movies, read a few books like Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.  But I wasn’t overly big into Star Wars. I was more interested in fantasy than science fiction. I’d rather read Michael Moorcock, Terry Brooks, or Terry Pratchett, than dig deeper into Star Wars.

And The Rise of Skywalker was an excellent ending to the epic cycle. I don’t think they could have done a whole lot better in putting the original movie series to bed. It’s a movie about hope, redemption, courage, perseverance, honor, and commitment. It’s cool in our Dark Knight era of superhero movies (a genre created for kids and totally taken over by adults who really need to lighten up and examine their lives a bit), to denigrate uplifting, feel-good stories.

Rise is a return to the values, themes and messages of the original trilogy. It brings closure to a story begun over four decades ago. And it does it in a way that lets the movie-goer walk out of the theater satisfied. Especially someone who has been watching Star Wars for decades.

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Corporate Dystopia, Androids, Cults, Science, and even Archaeology: Alien: The Roleplaying Game by Free League

Saturday, December 21st, 2019 | Posted by eeknight

Alien The Roleplaying Game banner-small

“You don’t beat this thing, Ripley. You can’t. All you can do is refuse to engage. You’ve got to wipe out every trace. Destroy any clue. Stop its infection from spreading. Make sure there’s no chance of the human race ever making contact with it again. Because the moment it makes contact, it’s won.”
―Marlow (from Alien: Isolation)

Sweden’s Fria Ligan has been running up the score in the tabletop role-playing game industry lately with titles like Tales From the Loop and Forbidden Lands. So when I heard they had finessed a license to an RPG set in the Alien universe, I ran down Grandmaster Games in Oak Park and told Charlie to get me EVERYTHING in my best Gary Oldman voice.

The only absolutely necessary items you need to enjoy the game is the Alien: The Roleplaying Game core rulebook, a couple handfulls of assorted six-sided dice, and an ordinary deck of cards. The game itself is simple to understand yet is role-play heavy enough that seasoned gamers will enjoy it. I’ll go a step beyond and say this would be an excellent game for introducing someone who has never played a tabletop roleplaying game to the hobby.

The world is familiar. There are tons of reference points to explain game mechanics like panic (“you know when Lambert just froze up in terror?”) or a character sustaining enough damage that they are broken (“like after Cpl. Hicks got the acid splashed on him…”). You just need six-sided dice of two colors (or two different sizes) and the usual paper and pencils. The mechanics are simple: take your skill at doing something and add the controlling attribute for that skill and roll a number of six sided dice equal to the total. If you get a six, congrats, you succeeded.

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Made For TV Movie-of-the-Week Flashback: Birds of Prey

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 | Posted by eeknight

Birds of Prey_1

Little did I know, when I was a pre-tween, that I was growing up in the Golden Age of TV movies. I was there for original showings of Trilogy of Terror, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, The Night Stalker and even Duel. Lucky me.

One that really made an impression on me at eight was 1973’s Birds of Prey. Like Duel it looked like it had a much bigger budget than it actually had. Story involves David Janssen playing a WW2 vet from the AVG in China who is now flying a civilian version of the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse “Loach” for a Salt Lake City radio station doing traffic. After a minimal amount of establishing his character and that of his fellow veteran police officer friend, he witnesses an armored car robbery and a hostage being taken.

The excitement is non-stop from then out, an elaborate chase, as he follows the murderous crooks and cleverly improvises ways to refuel and arm himself. There are hunter/hunted reversals, rescues, and even some dignified bonding with the hostage. Eight year old me was driven wild by the impressive flying and stunt work, including trips under highway overpasses and through factories and hangars by his handy little Loach. I think the pilots had fun making this movie, it seemed pretty clear they were doing crap they weren’t normally allowed to do for obvious safety reasons.

Even though I’d only seen it once, it stuck with me.

Imagine my surprise when I saw it flipping through Amazon Prime. I thought everyone had forgotten about this one, even though every time I came across David Janssen I remembered it.

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Play Host to Newborn Ghoulish Creatures in Alien: The Roleplaying Game by Free League Publishing

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Alien RPG-small

An official Alien role playing game is arriving in game stores next week, courtesy of Free League Publishing, the geniuses behind the brilliant Coriolis science fiction game, Mutant: Year Zero, and Forbidden Lands.

Any RPG that does justice to Ridley Scott’s science fiction horror masterpiece will have to have a dark and chilling aesthetic, and a cinematic play style. And for accuracy, probably a short (very short!) character life expectancy. Fortunately Alien: The Role Playing Game looks like it’s captured the look and feel of the franchise with real surety. Here’s Rachel Watts from her preview at PC Gamer last month.

Free League Publishing and 20th Century Fox have joined forces to create a tabletop RPG set in the harsh universe of the Alien films. It will drop players into the dark, merciless void of space, but this adaptation sounds far from empty.

Alien: The Roleplaying Game has two playable modes, cinematic and campaign. The cinematic option lets you play through a scenario similar to the events of the films in one session, and emphasises “high stakes and fast and brutal gameplay”, which doesn’t sound ominous at all. The campaign mode takes more of a Gloomhaven structure and lets players explore the Alien universe more freely over multiple game sessions.

The RPG comes in a chunky 392-page core rule book, which I think definitely leaves the definition of rulebook behind and goes straight into short novel territory. Free League Publishing have printed these rules in a hardback book and thrown in some cool illustrations… Alongside the core rule book, you’ll get a set of custom dice, a set of maps, and a GM Screen.

Can Free League Publishing get the all important feel of Alien right in an RPG? The rules follow their acclaimed Year Zero Engine, used in Tales from the Loop and Mutant: Year Zero, and they warn that “it’s unlikely your character will survive.” Sounds like they got the basics right to me.

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The Mandalorian: Star Wars goes Old Wild West

Monday, November 25th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Mandalorian_HimEDITEDI read my buddy William Patrick Maynard’s post on Guy Boothby’s The Curse of the Snake, and I decided to write a The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes essay on Boothby’s gentleman thief, Simon Carne. But then, I signed up for a one-week Disney+ free trial. And my son and I watched the first three episodes of The Mandalorian, and I knew that Boothby could wait.

I was ten years old when my dad took me to see the first Star Wars movie at the theater. So, I go back to the beginning. I like Star Wars, but I’m not a fanatic. I didn’t care for the second trilogy and I think it was more than ten years before I saw one (I forgot which). I liked Solo, but didn’t like The Last Jedi. I quite enjoyed Star Wars Rebels, but my son likes Star Wars Resistance way more than I do. I’m not predisposed for, or against, a Star Wars production. I judge each one on how much I enjoy watching it.

And right out of the gate, I like The Mandalorian more than a chunk of the movie franchise. Most of my knowledge of Mandalorians comes from Rebels. I don’t know that I ever pondered that Boba and Jango Fett were ones. I just knew they were bounty hunters.

Jon Favreau, who played a huge part in the success of the Marvel franchise, is the creator of this one, and I think he nailed it.

The imdb.com description is pretty accurate:

The travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.

I immediately picked up on the vibe of the lone gunslinger, wandering from town to town – in this case, as a bounty hunter on a job. We never see star Pedro Pascal’s face, as he never takes off his helmet. He only speaks the bare minimum, making him the stranger of few words.

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