Thursday, December 31, 2009

RPG worlds I'd most like to explore

Like Cole, I also couldn't muster a Christmas-themed list, but thought this bit of escapism would be a fitting winter list at least.

Happy New Year!

5. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (Atlus, 2004)

Megami Tensei is a long running series of games in Japan and Nocturne was the first North American release under the title. I came across this game completely by accident when my old roommate, who was a manager at EB, brought home new games almost weekly. The concept of Nocturne might be described as Pokémon in Pandemonium. You play as a high school student who accidentally interrupts a cult leader who is using the power of an ancient scripture to bring about “The Conception”— namely, the destruction and rebirth of Tokyo in his own image. In the progress, your character becomes a demi-fiend with the ability to recruit the various demons he meets while wandering around this occult-apocalyptic Tokyo, and looking for a “reason” to align himself with.

The biggest appeal of the game is undoubtedly in the demon summoning and fusion system, since the game is mad packed with all 150+ essential demonites to fortify your hex zone. That said the environment of Nocturne is an appropriately devilish combination of fascinating and infuriating. You spend most of the game exploring actual locations in Tokyo, and during my brief trip there in 2007, I visited most of the places that I’d become familiar with in the game — Shibuya, Asakusa, Ginza, Ikebukuro, and Shinjuku. I half-expected the statue of Hachiko outside Shibuya Station to morph into some kind of Cerberus and start mauling commuting salary-men…

The cell-shaded graphics and muted colours create a very surreal and otherworldly atmosphere in all the game’s locations. Admittedly, frustration kicks in when you find yourself lost and low on mp in the most tedious optional dungeon of all time— the Labyrinth of Amala.

While Kazuma Kaneko’s demon design is the obvious lynchpin of the game’s appeal, the demon infested Ex-Tokyo is a truly unique stomping ground.

Skeleton on motorcycle? Fuck yes.

Devil's parlor.

Asakusa — the old temple district of Tokyo.

Shibuya — teen hangout and demon mall.

4. Vagrant Story (Square, 2000)

Ivalice from FF Tactics, FFXII, and Vagrant Story was always one of my favourite of Square’s game worlds. While Vagrant Story is an incredibly awesome and challenging game, one of its biggest stars is the ruined city of Leá Monde. Designer Yasumi Matsuno modeled elements of Vagrant Story’s game environment off of Saint-Émilion, an ancient commune in the Aquitane region of France. The stonewalls, wine cellars, crypts and Romanesque churches are thrilling to explore, and the game’s sepia palate helps to create that weathered-parchment sense of high adventure.

Street in Saint-Émilion.

View of the village.

Leá Monde in Vagrant Story.

3. Secret of Mana (Square, 1993)

If you had a friend handy, Secret of Mana was one of the most fun games on the SNES. The reason this is on the list is for a very specific section of the game, which I savor every time I play. Few things are as fun as running around in the Upper Lands forest through the pink trees of spring time, and wailing mercilessly on cute pink cottontails with a spear that “balloons” them. Seriously, I could do it for hours.

There’s something very appealing about the cute, pastel innocence of SOM. From the monster design to the mushroom land of Matango, it’s just fun. This is what makes the game stand out against the gravitas of games like FFVI (although there are cute bunnies to murder there as well…) the cheerful colours and soft edges of the monsters that you have to hack down in order to save the world. SOM is like an Easter basket where all the marshmallow peeps have battleaxes.

Pleasure overload.

2. Chrono Cross (Square, 2000)

Chrono Cross gave me the context for shades of blue I’d only ever seen written down— cerulean, azure. Last spring in Cuba with my girlfriend, I had to hold back from saying, “Wow! The water is just like Opassa Beach in Chrono Cross!” I’ve always found the lush archipelago of El Nido a great antidote for the winter blahs. To be honest, the game itself isn’t fantastic. In a massive cast of characters, only a handful of them stand out. The achingly beautiful musical score of Chrono Cross helps to define an otherworldly tropical paradise to explore, but the battle theme is extremely annoying. The game is full of contrasts, but the environment and the main themes are so beautiful that it stands on them alone.

While enduring a Nova Scotian winter, with grey mounds of antagonistic slush covering every street and sidewalk, sailing a skiff through a cerulean sea looks so many kinds of awesome.

Opassa Beach. Lay down your weary bones. Hopefully you won't fall into an alternate dimension...

Arni Village.

Divine Dragon Falls.

1. Wild ARMs (Media.Vision, 1997)

Soundtrack cover art. Notice the golem buried in the cliff face?

There’s something about that way that the original Wild ARMs perfectly blended conventional RPG fantasy with the sun-drenched mesas and red rock buttes of the Wild West. None of the five sequels were able to replicate that original concept without seeming the tiniest bit contrived— more Gunsmoke and less… je ne sais quoi.

The world of Filgaia brought to life the dusty trails of old westerns and filled them with golems, demons, and the titular “ancient relic machine(s).” This was a treasured game from my early teens, and although it is quite graphically dated, the concept art has left a lasting impression. The combination of Japanese and Western motif is a fairly natural one, considering Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa: the masterless ronin easily becomes the wandering gunslinger. Wild ARMs’ music as well is a natural element of the scenery, and like any good game, the environment is defined as much by the music as the images. Composed by Michiko Naruke in the style of Ennio Morricone, the music in Wild ARMs is among the best in any game. The opening theme is flat out one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

I still get a huge amount of pleasure from the earth tones and whistling that saturate this ancient savannah.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Memorable Christmas Gifts

People may tell you - foolish, ridiculous people - that Christmas is all about love and peace and goodwill to men. But I say it's all about getting stuff. Things you can desire, unwrap, and own. So here is a list of some memorable Christmas gifts in cinema.

I'm not including the gift of life, or the gift of getting a second chance, so you wont be seeing It's a Wonderful Life or one of the 900 adaptations of A Christmas Carol here. Instead it should be a more tangible present like the bell from The Polar Express, or the turtledoves from Home Alone 2 for example. Also, I've not bothered with Christmas specials or made-for-TV movies.

5. Turboman Action Figure (Jingle All the Way, 1996)
You want the real meaning of Christmas? Look no further than a movie all about one father's vicious pursuit of a popular toy so he may win his son's love. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a busy dad who has forgotten to buy a toy for his son, Anakin Skywalker, and now must do anything and everything imaginable to acquire the sold out action figure.

I know this movie is far from great. The last thing we needed was Arnold to put down his guns and pick up a shopping cart to battle angry moms at the mall, and face off against a postal worker played by Sinbad. However, it is a guilty pleasure for me because of a handful of funny scenes. Arnold may be doing a lame family film, but he still manages to kick a flaming wise-man head out a window and punch a reindeer in the face.

The film makes the list because it is all about the quest for one gift and reminds us of real life shopping mayhem over stupid toys. I'm looking at you, Cabbage Patch Kids. And you, Furby. And especially you, Tickle Me Elmo, you miserable excuse for a muppet.

4. Christmas Bonus (National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, 1989)
This movie is definitely a holiday classic. Who would have thought that 90 minutes of everything going wrong could be so enjoyable and hilarious to watch. When Clark Griswold's dreams of having a perfect old fashioned family Christmas are shattered at every turn, the only thing keeping him sane is the hope of finally receiving his Christmas bonus check. Whether it be annoying family, aggravating decorations, a ruined dinner, or animals destroying his home, Clark can keep a smile on his face because of that bonus on the horizon.

So it comes as no surprise that when he finds out there is no bonus, the man snaps and unleashes a spectacular tirade of insults that go down in comedy history. In the end it all works out for the Griswold family, but it was the gift of a Christmas bonus that kept one man's sanity together ... then destroyed it ... and then saved it again!

3. Sled (Citizen Kane, 1941)
Many people consider this to be the greatest movie ever made. I would disagree. But it is hands down the most memorable sled in Hollywood. Way to go, Orson. Given to a young Charles Kane for Christmas, the sled would eventually become the answer to his mysterious last words. I know I'm spoiling the secret here, but you've had 70 years to find out for yourself. Guess what else? The planet of the apes was actually earth.

Anyway, it's a memorable Christmas gift because it starts and finishes one of the most famous movies ever made. It represents Kane's childhood and innocence, and supports the idea that no matter how old you get you'll still long for the simpler days of screwing around in the snow with a new toy.

2. Gizmo (Gremlins, 1984)
You're in Chinatown. You find an unidentifiable creature in a box in a creepy store. What do you do? You buy/steal it and give it to your son as a present, of course. Sure, he's already got a dog for a pet, but nothing says I love you like a strange animal that may carry exotic diseases, and comes with a mess of warnings.

Billy Peltzer's mogwai turns out to be much more involved than your average pet. One spilled glass of water and a plate of food later, you have murderous mutants running all over the place. Everyone dreams of having a pet as a kid, but we hardly ever worry about a pet that might give birth to goblins that hide around the house and attack your mom. In any case, Gizmo is an unforgettable Christmas present. Seriously, what is more memorable than a gift that nearly ends up destroying a whole town?

1. Red Rider BB Gun (A Christmas Story, 1983)
I don't think this entry should come as a surprise to anyone. I'm not saying this is the best Christmas movie ever made, but it feels like watching a genuine Christmas experience. I think anyone can relate to Ralphie's longing for a specific gift and waiting with anxiety and excitement for Christmas morning.

Also the gift Ralphie can't stop thinking about is a dangerous weapon and all the adults around him are constantly reminding him of that fact. Again, everyone can recall a time in their childhood when they wanted to go up on the roof or get their hands on some fireworks. Children are naturally attracted to danger, because danger = fun.

Ralphie's BB gun is number one because it's the gift that reminds us of our Christmas memories; good or bad. The highs and lows leading up to Christmas, the yearning for the perfect toy, and the grim reality that you just may shoot your eye out.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Weird Christmas Holiday Traditions

We North American Christians have a lot of very well-founded Christmas traditions. Drinking egg nog, decorating the Christmas tree, singing carols. There are some people around the world that might look at a tradition that involves dragging a perfectly good coniferous tree into a house, and then lighting it up, a bit odd.

With Christmas quite literally just around the corner, I wanted to take this time to talk about some of the most fascinating and weird Christmas traditions that I've found, from around the globe. Some might shock you, others horrify you. Well... I've warned you.

5. Misa de Aguinaldo - Venezuela

In Venezuela there are all kinds of different, and interesting traditions. For one thing, it's customary for the Magi to bring gifts to the children, and not Santa Claus. It kind of makes sense since the Three Kings brought gifts to Jesus and all that jazz. For the most part, however, things seem very aligned with our own traditions. They attend a mass at night on Christmas Eve, known to them as Nochebuena de Navidad, which they follow up with a big family dinner.

Between the days of of December 16th to December 24th, however, a very odd custom takes place. It is called Misa de Aguinaldo, which literally translates to Early Morning Mass. The custom is to go to church in the wee hours of the morning. The trick is, however... you have to roller skate to get there.

That's right. Officials in the city block off the streets until 8 am from any sort of pedestrian or motor traffic so that observers of this wild and wacky custom can throw on the older 4-wheelers and catch up with the Christ.

To make things more funny than weird, denizens of Caracas (mostly children) are also known to tie strings to their toes at night before they sleep. They then dangle the strings out of their windows, into the street below, and roller skaters passing by tug on them to wake them up so they can make it to church on time.

4. The Christmas Pickle - Germany/Spain/USA

So here's the deal. In Germany the last decoration to go on the tree is the Christmas pickle. No, it's not a real pickle. It is a glass-blown ornament that, not shockingly, resembles a pickle. This ornament is hidden somewhere on the Christmas tree and due to its green colour is incredibly hard to spot. The idea is that the first child to find the pickle, on Christmas morn, gets an extra gift from St. Nicholas.

You're thinking, “It's a little weird, but I wouldn't put it on this list.” Are you a practiced list-maker? Did you graduate from the School of Five, Arts and Letters – Mega-Writer University? No, and that's why you're not writing this list, and I am. What makes this story so interesting is that it appears to be a complete and utter fabrication.

Stories of the Christmas Pickle tradition in Germany are well-known to people all over the world. The thing is Germany won't take ownership of it. The Western half of the country blame the East, saying that old stories of people in the East decorating their trees in pickles after the war, because they couldn't afford anything else, help to perpetuate the myth. The East-Germans aren't biting though, and claim that even that tale is a lie.

There are even two popular stories of how this weird Christmas tradition came to be, but not in Germany at all. The first is a tale of a soldier during the American Civil War that was captured and kept prisoner because of his Bavarian descent. Dying of starvation, he asked one of his captors for a pickle. The captor taking pity on the man found him one, and the prisoner survived because the act gave him the strength to live.

Another goes back to Medieval times, where two Spanish brothers were traveling the countryside. Needing a place to sleep, the two boys found their way to an inn, where an evil inn-keeper packed the two boys in pickle barrels. St. Nicholas, who happened upon the inn on Christmas Eve, found the boys and used his magical staff to free them (not a word of lie).

The latter of the stories is actually considered the canon folklore for one town in Michigan. Berrien Springs, MI considers itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World, and Christmas Pickle customs are carried out every Christmas.

No one really knows for sure who “owns” the Christmas Pickle, which is almost always attributed to the Germans that don't even want the myth. There is speculation it was started by a glass-blowing company from Germany that specializes in Christmas Pickle ornaments, but whatever the case may be, it is still one weird Christmas tradition.

3. Broom Stealing Witches - Norway

The Norwegian Christmas, for all appearances, seems very close to what we would enjoy here in Canada, the UK, or in the US. There's feasting and beer drinking, church services and merry-making. The whole nine yards. Its roots, however, are a complete 180 from today's meaning.

The holiday started as Jul (pronounced Yule – its all coming together, isn't it?) which was a Viking holiday celebrated on the longest day of the winter, a dark time for Medieval culture, hence all the celebrations around this time to help take people's minds off of their hardships. Norway, however, was a very non-religious country. The whole pretense of Jul was simply at drinking holiday. It was literally all about getting silly drunk. Eventually King Haakon the First, who ruled Norway during the Christinization of many pagan religions (10th Century or so), changed the day to December 25th, and the reason for the season to Jesus Christ's birth.

Many of their Jul traditions were adapted and merged with Christian beliefs and customs. Some examples are Julebukk – whom are basically carolers, and their version of Santa Claus – Julenisse, a Norwegian forest elf that brings gifts to good children.

Everything pretty much screams a traditional Christmas in Norway, but one weird custom caught my eye. After Christmas Eve mass many Norwegians have a nice big feast with all of their family and friends. There's Julial – Norwegian Christmas beer. Lots of prepared meat, vegetables and sweets. One thing you won't find in a Norwegians house on Christmas Eve? A broom or a brush.

Norwegians hide all of their brooms and brushes on Christmas Eve. Why? Folklore says that witches and evil spirits will rise from their graves and hidden hovels on the night of Jul. They then steal the brooms and brushes in order to ride through the sky, causing havoc throughout the night.

It's a weird crossbreed of what we'd imagine a Halloween story. The Norwegians, however, had their Christmas built upon Jul, that old Viking tradition of drinking. To the Vikings, the dead would be heavily on their minds, especially in the dark days of winter, and so a tradition of placing candles on graves, during Jul, persists to today. A graveyard is a pretty creepy place, especially in blackest night. A story of evil creatures rising from the darkness doesn't seem so far off, if you think about it.

2. Caganer - Andorra/Spain/Italy/Portugal

This one spans several areas throughout Southeastern Europe, and boy is it a doozy. In the principality of Catalonia, it was customary to have as decoration for Christmas a large model of the city of Bethlehem in one's home. This spread from Catalonia, a principality of Spain, into neighbouring countries and principalities, such as Andorra, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

This won't seem too foreign to us Westerners at all. I know that many people in my neck of the woods have small to large models built depicting Jesus' birth – Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, Magi and all. One figurine that would be missing from our display, however, would be the Caganer.

Literally translating to “the pooper” in traditional Catalan language, it is a small figurine that would be tucked away from the manger scene, almost hidden in the back, which depicts a man defecating on the ground.

Can't imagine why that would be significant to Jesus' birth? Well, all kinds of reasons get thrown around from how it represents that God could come to any person, at any time, regardless of his or her readiness. Or how all men and women, even the very human Jesus, would have to deal with the woes of having to poop. There are even some Naturalism tales of how its about fertilizing mother Earth.

Just about any Catalan historian you come across will tell you this is all just some folk trying to come up with a reason behind finding this statue in the manger scene that isn't silly or lewd. The truth is... it's just funny. It's placed in the scene as a joke, and is often hidden away because anyone that would be pooping outside wouldn't want to be caught, and also so children can search the model of Bethlehem and see if they can find the Caganer.

Sometimes just having some fun during the holidays is enough reason for a weird tradition.

1. Mari Lwyd - Wales/USA/Canada

The culture of Wales is very distinct and interesting. That's one of the reasons it belongs to the UK. Although not technically its own country, the history and lore of Wales makes it a very separate world from that of the rest of the UK, much like Northern Ireland, England and Scotland have their own very different traditions.

The odd custom I'm about to describe doesn't technically fall on Christmas, but during the Christmas holidays. It is called Calennig, the Welsh New Year.

Calennig, at its roots, is just basically a big New Year celebration, which involves parades of lanterns in the streets, drinking and feasting; your basic New Year's sort of event. One really weird tradition that takes place curing Calennig is Mari Lwyd.

Mari Lwyd translates to “grey mare” in English, which comes from the fact that the Mari Lwyd party travel the streets of Wales carrying a pole, which has at its top the head of a dead mare. The skull is often decorated with glass in its eye sockets and a trick jaw, which can be used to make it appear that the horse itself is singing songs with the Mari Lwyd party.

If that weren't odd enough, when the Mari Lwyd party reaches a pub, or home that they intend to stop in at, they will stand at the door singing introductory songs. Once they're done with that, pwnco begins. The idea of pwnco is that the Mari Lwyd party will then begin to insult the people inside the pub in rhyme. Those inside the pub must then insult the Mari Lwyd party equally, and as well in full rhyme. This will go on until either the Mari Lwyd party is bested, or the individuals in the pub. When pwnco is over, the Mari Lwyd party then sing a song of entrance and join in the reveling for a time, before they continue their march.

Not entirely the same, but very close to Mari Lwyd is what's known as a Mummer, or Mummer's Play. A tradition that started in England, with wrenboys, a mummer is a group of people that dress up in costume and perform plays in the streets. This tradition can be seen not only in England, but in Pennsylvania, US. where Mummer Parades take place during Christmas time every year.

This tradition is seen in Canada, as well, in the province of Newfoundland, and is very different from the Mummer's Play of England or parade of Pennsylvania. A two-hundred year old tradition, a mummer run or janney, occurs during Christmas as well as on a Newfoundland holiday known as Twelfth Day (January 6th). People dress in costumes and go door-to-door to neighbours and pubs, where the people inside have to figure out who the costumed visitor is. Often insults and rhyme and thrown back and forth between the mummers and those whom they visit, and in the end there are drinks and food, before the mummers move on their merry way.

Although very different from our own traditions, you have to admit, some of these ideas seem awfully fun. I'd love Mari Lwyd to make its way to Canada, so that I could horribly insult a person and their friends and family, before coming in for something to eat and a drink. The Mummer Run sounds more my style, though.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Most Spectacular Moustaches

The moustache. Is there any better symbol of maleness? For better or for worse (you decide), in today's society it simply isn't acceptable for men to walk around with their penises in full display. In fact, it's been this way for quite some time. (Shocking, I know). So men have had to come up with another way to show how manly they are without scarring bystanders for life. They came up with that solution in the moustache.

It takes a certain kind of man to grow a moustache. One could argue that full beards or combinations like goatees are just as manly but I just can't agree. While I'm a guy who is very rarely clean-shaven I've always known better than to dare to sport a moustache. On those infrequent occasions that I do shave, I always leave my upper lip for the very end just so I can observe myself in moustache form for a few moments. It always makes for quite the hilarious sight. No, I've come to realize that I am just not man enough to pull off the 'stache. I'll just have to get by on my stellar record of street fighting and seducing women.

Selecting the ultimate examples of moustaches was no easy task; greats such as Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Ned Flanders, legions of porn stars from the seventies, um...Joseph Stalin and...others didn't make the cut. Truly, the road to moustache greatness is paved with the bones of those who dared to dream and fell short.

5. Tom Selleck

There are certainly moustaches out there with longer tenures than that of Selleck's but I would argue very few as powerful. Born of Slovakian immigrants, he staked a claim to manliness early on in life playing university basketball for a team called the TROJANS. Later, as a member of the California National Guard, he played a part in the quelling of the Watts Riots in 1965, a messy, violent affair that lasted six days, saw thirty-four deaths and nearly four thousand arrests. It would be the worst riot in California history until the riots of 1992 spurred by the Rodney King verdict. This conflict resulted in fifty-three deaths and thousands of arrests and injuries. And why was this riot more devastating than the Watts Riots? The answer is simple: Tom Selleck and his moustache weren't there to stop it.

As an actor, Selleck's moustache proved him to be so overwhelmingly macho that in 1980, despite a track record of truly shitty movies in the seventies, he was the first choice to play pulp hero Indiana Jones. Thankfully, his commitment to the tv show Magnum, P.I. kept him from accepting the role. Indy would go on to be a different sort of manly character which was really for the best and as Magnum, Selleck and his moustache would go on to fame taking another route. In movies throughout the eighties he would portray such manly characters as cops, baseball players and cowboys.

In the nineties, as a prominent member of the NRA, Selleck got into a fistfight with woman-man Rosie O'Donnell and narrowly escaped being devoured. Just like always, it wasn't guns that pulled him through, it was his moustache.

4. Hercule Poirot
Certainly a vast departure from that typical image of a manly moustache, the soup-strainer of the plucky little Belgian nonetheless has its own statement to make. Poirot represents a more cerebral sort of moustached man, employing his "little grey cells" to understand "the psychology" and solve mysteries, bringing murderers to justice.

Sadly I don't know if there has ever been an actor who could fully demonstrate the awesomeness of Poirot's moustache but as David Suchet was pretty much born to play the role, he wins by default. Actually, regarding the 1974 film version of Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie herself said she was mostly pleased with it except that she felt actor Albert Finney's moustache didn't quite measure up.

No one could ever accuse Hercule Poirot of being overly modest as he would often boast of his skills and expect his reputation to precede him wherever in the world he traveled but at least in the case of his moustache's own magnificence, he can hardly be faulted. He simply knew that his was one of the top in existence so he saw no need to be modest about it. He would often reference his moustache's perfection as well as constantly tend to it so that it always appeared flawless.

Poirot was always running up against retired Britsh military officers and members of Scotland Yard. These men were almost always tall and broad-shouldered and sporting manly moustaches. But it was the penguin-like Poirot who came out on top in the end and having the superior 'stache gave him the edge.

3. Hulk Hogan

Throughout the history of professional wrestling, there have been many who have come and gone. And of those many, there were many still who had to rely on flashy costumes, masks and tattoos to make themselves stand out. All Hulk Hogan needed was his moustache.

I ask you - could you even imagine him without it? Surely, without it, he could never have fought Rocky himself (against Vince MacMahon's wishes no less), hosted Saturday Night Live, caused a sensation known as "Hulkamania" and body slammed all 520 pounds of Andre the Giant to the mat.

Even when he underwent an image change as the villainous "Hollywood Hogan" in the NWO, he retained his moustache. Sampson had his long hair, Hogan has his handlebar 'stache. Only a manly man equipped with such a moustache could have come up with the genius macho practice of ripping his own shirt asunder. The fact is, Hogan's macho and manly achievements are almost too numerous to mention here so I will simply point out that the one remaining constant throughout it all was his moustache. No way that's a coincidence.

2. Super Mario
The greatest video game hero of all time by far. OF COURSE he has a moustache! How else could he have pulled it off? To date he has appeared in over two hundred games and he's working his mighty moustache in every single one.

I have absolutely no friggin' clue how Shigeru Miyomato came up with the idea that the main character in a game he was making in the early eighties should have been a short, roundish Italian plumber. But apparently it had something to do with wanting to portray him as an ordinary working-man type and someone remarked he looked more like a plumber than a carpenter (the original profession suggested for him). After that, I guess the rest wrote itself: a plumber could be in the sewers, because of limited graphical capabilities at the time, it was decided to give him a moustache to avoid having to animate a mouth. Just as he was given a cap so they wouldn't have to deal with hair. Logically, this character should be Italian and called Mario (named after the owner of Nintendo's American warehouse). It makes so much sense!!

Anyway, Mario is one of the most popular and recognizable characters on the planet and his moustache is an integral part of him. I'm sure that when they decided to add his brother, Luigi, it was inconceivable to consider not also giving that jumping Italian plumber a moustache as well. And their activities, while often bizarre and fantastical to say the least, still usually come down to a simple, manly formula - braving extreme dangers to rescue some broad. From jumping barrels thrown by an ape to hurling fireballs at deranged turtles to somehow flying through the sky using a racoon tail, Mario did it all while wearing his trusty moustache.

1. Lanny McDonald
Should we really be surprised that the ultimate moustache belongs to a hockey player? I mean, really. McDonald's moustache is so epic and overwhelming that lesser moustaches actually burst into flame in his presence. The man once went out in the rain and was then able to fill a well for a parched African village using the water collected in his moustache. He's been known to offer shelter under it to those caught in thunder storms. If lighting hits McDonald's 'stache, it is immediately converted into cold fusion (this is the rumoured source of the power for his wrist shot).

After a career as prolific goal-scorer for the Medicine Hat Tigers in junior, McDonald was drafted fourth overall by the Leafs in 1973 and didn't disappoint once he reached the big league. After scoring 14 and 17 goals in his first two seasons respectively, he exploded for a four-season run of at least 37 goals, scoring over 43 in three of them, playing as Darryl Sittler's right winger. In 79/80 he was on his way to another forty goal season when he was traded to the god-awful Colorado Rockies. (I'll talk some more another time on this baffling trade and why it happened.)

He was a point-a-game player for the parts of three seasons he was in Colorado and that's really saying something considering just how terrible they were. He landed in Calgary during the 81/82 season, on his way to yet another forty goal campaign. He would play out the rest of his career as a Flame, becoming one of the most popular players in franchise history, retiring in storybook fashion scoring his 500th goal in his final season and captaining the Flames to their first, and to date only, Stanley Cup in 1989.

In 82/83, his first full season with the Flames, his moustache kicked into overdrive. That year he finished second in the league in goal scoring behind Wayne Gretzky with an amazing 66 goals. It also made for one of the more interesting statistical seasons in NHL history in that he only had 32 assists. Scoring seasons where a player has more goals than assists, especially when it's a significant number of goals, are rare. Seasons where a player scores more than twice as many goals as assists are almost unheard of. With 98 total points he set the record as the player to score the most goals without reaching the 100 point mark.

A two-time second team All Star, 500 career goal scorer, Stanley Cup champion and Hockey Hall of Fame member, McDonald is the most famous moustache in Canadian history. And although it has declined a bit with age, no longer the brilliant red it was in its prime, I'll dare to declare it as the most spectacular moustache in the entire world.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

P.S. Top 5 J-Songs

As a companion to Shane's post—since I really liked the idea—these are my top five individual songs from Japanese bands. I first heard most of them while watching anime, except for the L'arc~en~Ciel song which I heard in an HMV in Shibuya when the record came out.

The only rules: no composers, and no long descriptions.

I'm sure Cole will agree with a lot of these, and I hope the Fairy Fore song brings back memories of watching Final Fantasy Unlimited at his old apartment, not entirely sure why we were doing so (perhaps just to hear what "Soil Charge Triad" would be used next, or what would become of the purse-eating, dubiously clairvoyant Fungo).

5. Zetsoubou Billy - Maximum the Hormone

Great chorus. Just ignore the screaming/pseudo-rapping. Love the bridge at 3:08 and the female vocals.

4. My Heart Draws a Dream - L'Arc~en~Ciel

Beautiful piano towards the end. Ethereal.

3. Vivid - Fairy Fore

If sugar was music. Picture dancing chocobos.

2. Bran-New Lovesong - The Pillows

Hard to pick a single song from the FLCL soundtrack. This one stands out for me. It's like watching an orange sunset from a bridge in a small town.

1. A Town in Blue - Asian Kung-Fu Generation

Amazing guitar. Closes off my all-time favourite anime Tekkonkinkreet.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Shane Recommends Five Artists/Groups from Japan

Before I get into Christmas mode, I figured I would tackle a list I'd been meaning to do for some time. Be gone, Procrastination! I've always enjoyed a wide range of music, but it's only in the last several years that I began listening to a lot of artists from Japan. I've tried to pick artists from various genres, and while I can't expect everyone to like them as much as I do, I think each are entertaining in unique ways.

These are in no particular order. Brace yourself for my eclectic tastes and a barrage of links.

5. Monkey Majik (Pop-rock/Hybrid-Band)
Woah, hold on, Shane. You said this was a list of Japanese bands and suddenly I'm looking at some white dudes. You can't fool me.

No, no, I can't. Monkey Majik is made up of two Canadian brothers (Maynard and Blaise) who teamed up with two Japanese musicians (tax and DICK). Since 50% of the band -and lyrics - are Japanese, and I can't find their albums in Canada to save my life, they fit the list. Their songs are catchy and fun, and occasionally use traditional Japanese instruments; a good example of this would be the song 'Change'. Their first hit single was 'Fly' and several albums later the band is enjoying a growing popularity and have even become goodwill ambassadors of Japanese-Canadian relations.

FUN FACT! DICK became Monkey Majik's bassist after the other three members invited him to a bar and forced him to drink until he agreed to join. Sounds like something a Canadian would do.

4. M-Flo (J-Hip-hop/Space Rap?)
I'll never really understand why I love this group so much. You'd think not understanding the lyrics would hinder the experience of rap, but when it's mixed with utter madness, everything just works out. The group is made up of MC Verbal , DJ Taku, and ... some other person (usually a female singer). Every song I know by them is a collaboration with another artist or group, and that adds to the fun. Listening to M-Flo opens you up to a whole world of music; it's how I came to know Monkey Majik for example.

The group seems to have some strange obsession with space as can be seen in their album names: Planet Shining, Beat Space Nine, Astromantic, and Cosmicolor. Even the 'm' of M-Flo stands for 'meteorite'. Their lyrics are always scattered with English words that never seem to make a whole lot of sense. With crazy lyrics and an over-the-top style they are somehow the best/worst/best rappers I've ever heard. Just watch any, ANY of their videos to get a sampling of the absurd randomness they deliver. The first video I saw was this one (they certainly beat Lady Gaga to the punch for dancing in nonsensical outfits), but I recommend 'Dopamine' as their Madness-Opus.

EXTRA POINTS goes to the person who spots all the diamond encrusted items in 'Summer Time Love'. Jewel encrusted fishing rod? Yes, a thousand times, yes.

3. Tomoyasu Hotei (Rock/Samurai)
Everyone knows this guy, even if you think you don't. He's the reason this movie entrance was so memorable. And he composed the score for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The guy is an amazing guitarist with a solid 20 year career of rocking people's balls clean off. While not the most astounding singer, he writes some frigging amazing songs. I own two of his albums, my favorite being Doberman. All I can say is check this guy out. As a taste, watch this performance of 'Great Escape' from his "Rock the Future Tour".

SAMURAI? Well he did star in and write the music for a movie called Samurai Fiction. He also has an album called Electric Samurai. And he loves swords.

2. Fantastic Plastic Machine (Shibuya-kei/House)
FPM is not a band, but instead the stage name of Tomoyuki Tanaka. He's kind of like the Japanese Fat Boy Slim but in my opinion, much better. His music covers a lot of genres and styles, yet still feels connected. Many of his songs have jazz, bossa nova, and lounge music influences, especially in his album Luxury. The music is relaxing and soothing; not just your usual repetitive electronic buzzing. Take a listen to 'City Lights'

DID YOU KNOW? In the past Tanaka has been a fashion magazine editor, a radio show host, and part of a rock band called "Margarine Strikes Back". Is there anything he can't do?

1. Shugo Tokumaru (Indie Folk/ Pop)
I listened to Shugo's album Exit on a whim, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable albums I've ever heard. The effort that went into putting Exit together is quite astounding. Not only did he write all the songs, but this guy played about 50 different instruments on the album, including sampling sounds from household objects, and then recorded and mixed it all together on his laptop. You want to talk about a motherfucking labour of love.

His music reminds me of many other things such as the soundtrack to Amelie, and the Beatles. Turns out The Beatles were a major inspiration for the album. My two favorite songs are Button and Parachute.

The music is cheery and energetic, and somehow sorrowful, as if he may actually be singing about the saddest things imaginable. Even if you can't understand the lyrics to a song, singing is just another instrument in the composition of a song, and all that matters is how it complements the rest. Shugo Tokumaru's music is a true demonstration of music being the international language.