BHS Blogress Report: 2019, Week 8 – Back on the Horse

Week 8 – Back on the Horse
It took longer than I thought it would, but I’m finally making progress with Shattered Skies again. Chapter 43 is underway. It’s going to be a shorter one, sort of an interlude between big events, but I like how it’s coming out. I’m aiming to finish it by the end of the month if possible, but Tasakeru is my highest priority, followed by Episode 10 of Silent InvenTOYry. Episode 10 will be much, much less elaborate than the last one, but I’ve still got some special stuff planned for it. I have one more Semi-Short in line for mid-to-late March, and then I should be pretty well set until July, as far as SI goes. I’m also planning on finally finishing a certain other story that’s been on the back-burner for way too long… it’s one found on my AO3 page, which I won’t link to for obvious reasons, but many people have expressed an interest in seeing it continue over the years. A conclusion is long, long overdue.

What you’re seeing here is Hasbro launching an absolutely vicious joint attack on my wallet, my nostalgia, and my feels. An official Ecto-1 Transformer, jointly celebrating the 35th anniversaries of TF and Ghostbusters. Goddammit. Ten years ago, when Hasbro unceremoniously canceled Transformers Animated despite its huge success and the fandom’s adoration of it in favor of focusing on Revenge of the Fallen, I swore off Transformers altogether. What happened to Animated was criminal. I loved the franchise, but seeing one of its best entries cut down in its prime (sorry) so that they could squeeze a little more money out of Michael Bay’s juvenile, racist, incoherent trash fire… it still makes me angry today. But this… this is something I cannot resist, it’s not within my power. I’ve loved Ghostbusters since I was three, watching The Real Ghostbusters cartoon religiously and building my very first action figure collection out of its spectacular toyline. I love the concept, I love the style, I love the humor, I love the music, I love the characters, I love the firehouse…

… but I think more than anything else, I love the car. I’m not a car person, but to me, the Ecto-1 will forever be the coolest vehicle ever made. I used to dream about one day running my hand along the length of one of her glorious red fins… a dream that actually came true when I was eighteen, via a chance encounter in a museum on my senior class trip. To this day, if and when I make it big, I want to own her and ride in her at least once. I loved Transformers from an early age too, of course, but I never had the connection with them that I did with the Ghostbusters. More to the point, I never, ever imagined that some mad genius would ever combine the two. Well played, Hasbro, well played. Damn you.

– BHS

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BHS Blogress Report: 2019, Week 7 – The Belated Hugtto Review

Week 7 – The Belated Hugtto Review

[Sorry this is so late… various complications prevented me from finishing it up until now. Your regular Blogress Report will resume next week. – BHS]

It may come as a surprise to some of you, given how I very publicly and vocally stan the franchise in all of my online hangouts, but I don’t really go into Precure series expecting greatness.

Precure is at its heart a toy commercial. It exists to sell merchandise; I made my peace with that some time ago. When we’re lucky, the series can be funny, or heartwarming, or sad, or scary, or awesome, or even inspiring, but that’s not the norm and I’m okay with that.

There are things I point to as the reasons I love this franchise: the epic fight scenes, the character development, the consistently excellent art and costume design, the performances by a giant and ever-expanding cast of famous voices. But again, these are par for the course; most Precure series have great fight scenes, solid character writing, appealing designs, and famous voices.

What’s special, and very rare, is when a Precure series fires on all cylinders and makes the jump from being pleasant, harmless fluff into something greater. Heartcatch did it, bringing in a huge new wave of fans all over the world. Go Princess did it too, becoming almost as beloved… but sadly not as commercially successful as it should have been. Until this year, I held those two up in equal standing as my favorite Precure series. I was convinced—especially after Mahou Tsukai became massively popular despite being, in the most professional, objective terms, utter shit trash garbage—that they’d share the spot at the top of the list for at least another five years, maybe more. Good Precure series are always welcome, but they just don’t happen very often… that’s just a fact with annualized franchises like this. The quality dips up and down from year to year, averaging out at “pretty good”.

Hugtto is special. It’s very special. So special, in fact, that it did the near-impossible and surpassed Heartcatch and Go Princess to become my favorite Precure series ever.

Now, keep in mind, this is coming from someone who can only be called a fanatic for the series. I’ve finished all of them except for Yes! 5, Yes! 5 Gogo, and Mahou Tsukai. Many of them I’ve watched through more than once… but only Hugtto inspired me to watch the entire series three times from beginning to end while it was still airing. Only Hugtto had me spending entire days of my free time poring over its footage in VEGAS to make fan videos. Only Hugtto had an ensemble cast where I can truly say that there’s no weak link; I love all of them.

So let’s discuss my favorite character by a mile, Hana Nono, Cure Yell, Hugtto’s leader. I believe there’s a wrong way and a right way to write an eternal optimist. Mahou Tsukai did it the wrong way: their attempts to make Mirai’s primary character trait “being easily excited” fell flat for me, partly because she had basically one mood and almost never varied it. There was nothing for her to push back against, no challenge to cheerful disposition… on the rare occasions she got sad, it was a trivial matter to brush it off. It’s easy to be happy all the time if everything always goes your way.

Hana, by contrast, is the right way to do it, because she fails. She screws up, a lot. She has “Mechokku!” moment after “Mechokku!” moment, starting from the very first scene, when her attempt to change her hairstyle goes horribly wrong. Then she’s late for her first day of a new school, then a baseball hits her in the head, then she blows her introduction to her new class… No end of misfortunes. Hana does feel them and she does get frustrated, but she keeps getting back up, no matter what happens… because she believes in tomorrow.

Believing in tomorrow. It’s a core concept of the series. And in our world, which seems to grow more horrifying and dangerous by the day, the idea that one should not just not be afraid of tomorrow but celebrate it… that seems almost radical to me. I don’t know about the rest of you, but that’s a message I think everyone, not just kids, should take to heart. Goofy, accident-prone, excitable, magnificently dorky Hana emerged as one of the unlikeliest of inspirational figures for me in this past year. She meant something to me, dammit, and I tried as best I could to keep her message in my heart.

And given that message, it’s fitting that Hugtto has distinguished itself as by far the most progressive Precure series. I’m still sort of in awe; two secondary characters that started out as obnoxious and self-centered (in the case of Henri Wakamiya) and an unrepentantly sexist, bigoted, holier-than-thou lout (Masato Aisaki) ended up being some of the best-developed side characters this franchise has ever seen. I was so afraid that Henri’s penchant for crossdressing would be treated as a joke, but no. Not this show. Henri wears dresses, owns it, and refuses to apologize or change himself for anyone, and with the exception of Masato (at first, I’m getting there), there’s nary a word suggesting that he’s in the wrong for doing so. Hana even gets a line that made me cheer: “That’s okay! Boys can be princesses too!” Pretty much every time he appears, there’s some new, amazing step up: he forgives Masato for his abuse, helps him mend things with his little sister Emiru, and insists that he call him “Henri”. Next time, they’re seen together, it’s at summer festival. Next time, Henri expresses worry about his own future: “My body is changing. I’m growing taller. My voice is getting deeper…” It’s subtle, and I’m sure more than a few people overlooked it, but the language used makes it apparent: Henri is genderqueer. He’s snapped out of this funk in part thanks to Masato, who holds his hand before his next big skating event.

The signs here are all clear, but what comes next is amazing, something that no one thought Toei would ever do. Henri’s ankle is starting to go, and he’s planning on making his next exhibition his last, but a cruel twist of fate involves him in a car crash, ruining his leg and his future. In despair, he allies himself with the villains, wanting to “tear it all down”. The Cures cheer him on and pull him back from the brink… and Henri Wakamiya, gay, genderqueer, crossdressing Henri Wakamiya, becomes the first ever male Precure. It’s just for a few moments, but he transforms and helps save the day… before falling into the waiting arms of Masato, who rushes the rink to catch him with tears in his eyes.

It’s 2019. The stance that queer and trans people exist and should be represented in fiction shouldn’t be controversial, but it is. That’s where we are. Precure, in most respects, has played it safe, being a show aimed primarily at children. Lesbian subtext has been part of it from the beginning, but it’s always been just that: subtext. Other than that, well. There have been effeminate men and boys in Precure, sure, and Happiness Charge had a worrying one-shot character that was played up as an offensive stereotype, a mincing figure with feminine clothes, make-up, and a five-o’clock shadow. KKPCALM had Yukari and Akira, with whom the lesbian subtext was more blatant than it’s ever been, and it had Julio/Rio Kuroki, who gained Cure-like powers for a single episode. None of them have ever really been held up as shining examples of representation… but Henri and Masato didn’t just show up and change all that, they both overcame overwhelmingly negative first impressions to emerge as both progressive characters and fan favorites.

I’m rambling, of course, but Hugtto has been worth the ramble. I could go on for pages about all the things I love about it: the fact that every major character managed to be not just beloved but an indispensable part of the story. The fact that the plot took major risks, giving us what was unquestionably the darkest Precure series, but that it was also the most hopeful. The incredible vocal performances, including what I desperately hope will be a star-making role for Rie Hikisaka as Hana… which was all the more phenomenal for being her first leading role and one of her first roles period, to my knowledge. The crossovers, including the first one that Toei of all companies managed to keep absolutely secret. The abundance of goofy faces, which were spread liberally among the entire cast. The humor, the fight scenes, the art direction, the music—holy hell, the music, done with the aid of a full orchestra, no less!—everything was not just on point, but spectacular. In all my years of fandom, with all the many, many episodes and movies I’ve watched, I’ve never connected with a Precure series like I have with this one. It hit every important point on my emotional scale: it was funny, heartwarming, sad, scary, awesome, and yes, even inspiring.

The finale made me cry. I proudly admit it. Not just a few silent, dignified tears either. Full-on sobbing wreck, all three times I watched it. Any series that can manage an emotional response like that deserves a spot in my all-time favorites list. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, and maybe Hugtto was never intended to get such a reaction out of a 30+ American anime nerd… maybe it was just a big toy commercial and I shouldn’t get sentimental over it, but you know what? Whatever else it is, Hugtto is about becoming a better person. It’s got a theme of learning and growing from your mistakes, of offering kindness, forgiveness, and second chances even for the worst people. Of not just wishing for a better tomorrow, but creating it for yourself. Sappy and sentimental? Maybe, but as I get older, I seem to be growing more and more fond of works of fiction that say it simply, without irony and without qualifiers: be kind. Be better.

Hugtto Precure is over, but I think it’s here in my heart to stay. Every time I look at the little Hana figurine that I’ve had on my desk since Christmas, I try smile and look forward to the future. It’s what she’d do. Sappy? Sentimental? Maybe, but it works.

Hooray, hooray, everyone.

Hooray, hooray, me.

– BHS

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BHS Blogress Report: 2019, Week 6 – Never Again

Week 6 – Never Again

Six hours. Six hours I spent trying to put together the most elaborate joke I’ve ever done in two years of InvenTOYry episodes, and I still couldn’t get it to work the way I wanted. Never. Again.
 
That was part of an entire weekend spent editing almost nonstop. If I weren’t so tired, I might start to cry.
Anyway, the episode is done, go watch it. Multiple times. And donate, if you can.
Also, new Tasakeru chapter:

https://tasakeru.com/2019/01/31/bookiv-ch7/

So while I’d love to finally post that Hugtto review or my thoughts on getting hooked on Symphogear, that ain’t happening tonight. Next week. Next week I’ll be marginally more coherent.
– BHS

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BHS Blogress Report: 2019, Week 5 – Hooray, Hooray, Hugtto

Week 5 – Hooray, Hooray, Hugtto
Hugtto is over. Until a few minutes ago, this Report was going to consist of a detailed review of the series, a discussion of why it’s now pulled ahead of the mighty Heartcatch and Go Princess to become my favorite Precure series ever. Unfortunately, looking back at the three pages I’ve written so far, I can see myself going off on a number of tangents… as I’m wont to do when I write about stuff that I love. Suffice to say, I don’t think my review will be going up tonight. I want to be sure this thing is coherent before I post it. So instead, I’ll sum up before I link you to my tributes (yes, there are two, and possibly a third on the way): very little else in the past year consistently made me happier than Hugtto did. I fell hard for all of the characters, a first for the franchise. Hugtto made me laugh so hard I almost got sick, it made me squeal with delight and fist-pump the air, it impressed the hell out of me with its bold decisions and its progressive strides… and it made me cry. Multiple times. I hosted a live stream for my friends of the final episode yesterday night, after the subs went up… I had to watch the raw version to finish my video tribute, and that got me teary enough, but the second time, with the subs? I was friggin’ destroyed. I am damned lucky I decided against being on mic or camera for that stream, because the sight/sound of me turning into a sobbing wreck isn’t something I want to inflict on other people if I can help it. It was a near-perfect ending for a near-perfect series, and I’m satisfied. All I can hope is that Star Twinkle doesn’t suck, but it’s got a near-impossible bar to clear. Much as I intend to judge it on its own merits, at every stage, I’ll likely be comparing it to Hugtto, and that’s not fair to it. I’ll give STPC the best shot that I can, because lord knows I’d love it if we had two good years in a row, but… I don’t envy the cast and crew. Anyway. I’m immensely thankful for the time I’ve had with my dear Hana, Saaya, Homare, Lulu, Emiru, Harry, and Hugtan, and I hope these two tributes (one silly, one more serious) can express some of that thankfulness.
The other big finale this week was Steven Universe, of course. I covered the quadruple length special “Change Your Mind” over on Pillowfort, and… well. I have no idea where they could possibly go from here, but they promised an epic season finale and they delivered. Once again, the show affirmed its message loud and clear, and once again it proved why it’s the best Western cartoon currently running. There are other people who can and have analyzed its themes and its applicability better than I can, but I’ll just link you to this one from io9, it’s excellent. https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-powerful-transgender-narrative-in-steven-universe-1832084052 What I said to Zach Callison almost a year ago (!!!) at the con holds more true than ever: Steven Universe is a masterpiece.
The plan for tomorrow through Thursday is to try to get Chapter 7 of Twilight’s Dreaming out to hit my Patreon deadline. I still feel really bad about missing last month, even though there’s very little I could have done given my schedule… but I’m trying like hell to make up for it. I’d like to get Episode 9 of Silent InvenTOYry up by Saturday or Sunday at the latest; I should have all the footage I need now, I just need to do the grunt work, adding captions and editing it together. There are another two SI episodes in the pipe, including the one for Chogokin Titanus, which is releasing earlier than I thought… but when I have a little less pressure on me, I’d like to get back to work on Shattered Skies. The break has done me good, and I’m ready to dive back in. Wish me luck.
– BHS

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BHS Blogress Report: 2019, Week 4 – Undeserving

Week 4 – Undeserving
Ever have incredible, amazing news that you’re dying to tell people, but you can’t? That’s me this week. I’d love to spill my guts, but given the circumstances of said news, I feel like that would be asking for trouble. It’s something so huge and so incredibly improbable that it’s taken me several days just to process it, and I’m still struggling with the nagging worry that I don’t deserve something like this… which is horseshit, of course; this isn’t the first time my brain has tried to pull that trick on me. Anyway, please take for granted that the news is really, really good, and a couple months from now I’ll be able to dish out all the juicy details.
HUGTTO, HOLY CRAP. The penultimate episode aired yesterday, and any tiny worries I might have had about the series choking in the clutch were given a thorough beatdown. I’m saving my full thoughts for after the now-traditional coda/baton pass final episode airs next Sunday, but it’s gonna be a gushing review.
And on the subject of Hugtto:

BEST DORK’S FIGUARTS IS NEXT IN LINE. HELL YES. Release by summer, please and thank you, Bandai. :D

I’m slowly but surely getting back into my Shattered Skies groove. I probably won’t start work on Chapter 43 until the beginning of next month, at least, but I feel refreshed on the project and I’ve been having ideas for how to proceed with it.
Work continues on Silent InvenTOYry episode 09. I hit a few snags, but I think I have only one more on-camera bit to film before I can start filming. This bit needs to be shot outdoors, which… well, hence the snag. Nobody’s going to want to stand out in 24 degree weather running the camera, and I can’t shoot this one by myself. I’m still aiming to get it out before the end of the month, though.
The anime season has only started, but I think I already have a favorite comedy of the cour: Kaguya-sama: Love is War. It’s the story of the student council president and vice-president of a prestigious high school, the star students and awe of the student body, who are madly in love with each other… but not only will they not admit it, they’re obsessed with forcing the other one to confess first, because they’re both absurdly, hilariously narcissistic and nowhere near as smart as they think they are. So they have this ridiculous escalating campaign of mind-games against each other, and “the first one to confess loses!” Drake and I were in tears laughing at the first episode, so if it’s able to keep this up, it’s a knock for the best winter anime of 2019 in my book.
– BHS

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BHS Blogress Report: 2019, Week 3 – Change of Plans

Week 3 – Change of Plans
I hate to have to do this, but I’m canceling the Silent InvenTOYry Semi-Short episode that would have gone up at the end of the month. Looking at the next couple months’ worth of expenses, I think it’s for the best if I hold off purchasing the figure I had in mind, which was really nice but relatively low-priority on my wishlist, and instead save up for one of the Big Ones, something I’m dying to get my hands on. So you will get SISS Episode 5 at some point, it’ll just be covering a different item and releasing at a later date.
Speaking of SI, as you can see up there, work is progressing nicely on Episode 09. Filming is about 70% done; there’s an outdoor gag I still need to shoot and two more portions of the review to do, but assuming nothing needs to be reshot, I should be in good shape to post the episode within the week. One full day spent editing ought to be enough to get it out the door… I hope.
Looking at the listings for this anime season, I really thought it would be a dry spell after last season’s bevy of interesting shows. The first week’s worth has proven me wrong yet again, it looks like. First up in my watchlist is Dororo, based on an unfinished manga by the God of Manga himself, Osamu Tezuka. One of his darker works, it takes place in a particularly hellish depiction of the Sengoku era, opening with a power-hungry lord bargaining with forty-eight demons for his own personal glory. The demons take the… well, pretty much everything from his newborn infant son as the cost, leaving the baby with no eyes, no nose, no skin, no arms, and no legs… but somehow still alive. The lord’s attempt to quietly get rid of the poor thing doesn’t take, and he shows up sixteen years later as a badass demon hunter whose entire body, more or less, is prosthetics and hidden weapons. Killing one demon to save a cocky little thief named Dororo restores his skin… so, one gathers, the plot involves him tracking down the rest of the forty-eight to recover all the body parts he lost. I described the show to EvilNeko as “the weirdest example of Mega Manning ever”, and in fact the story was adapted in video game form for the PS2 fifteen years ago… Anyway, as far as great hooks for a series go, that’s way up there, I think. The fight animation is gorgeous, and I can’t wait to see what hidden gadgets our demon slayer will pull out of his artificial parts next.
The second is The Promised Neverland. All I’m willing to say about it is that it reminds me of Made in Abyss in terms of “seemingly cute and innocuous series has absolutely horrible things happening to small children underneath the surface”. Granted, in Neverland’s case, the darkness isn’t hiding very far under the surface, but the question of “What do we do now?” makes a pretty compelling reason to tune in, I think. So long as you can stomach the very real possibility of adorable kids meeting gruesome ends, I give this one an earnest recommendation.
I also need to give credit to my friend Ninty (go check out The Convergence, his magical girl crossover fanfic, which I’m beta reading! Leave comments and feedback, please!) for talking me into watching Symphogear, a magical girl franchise which I had heard of before but avoided due to some really bad info from the person who recommended it. I was led to believe it was “idol singers with light magical girl elements”, when in fact it’s the other way around: the show has a pretty impressive fusion of Nanoha and Madoka going in terms of the level of darkness (Madoka) and the magitech that the girls use to fight (Nanoha). And yes, they do sing while they’re fighting, and they do sing to activate their powers… but as jarring as that is at first, it fades into the background really quickly. The music is universally great, too, which helps! So you’ve got a girl named Hibiki (played by Madoka’s Aoi Yuuki, giving an awesomely hot-blooded performance) fighting off waves of horrible monsters called Noise by Bruce Lee-ing them to death, while her two (so far) teammates slice them up with swords and lots and lots of dakka… and they’re singing all the while. It’s a weird premise, but I swear the show makes it work. According to Ninty, the following seasons are even better… I can’t wait. No, before you ask, this does not mean that the Symphogears will be showing up in Shattered Skies… but a subtle indirect reference or two might make it in there at some point.
Speaking of Skies: after my brief hiatus, I’m slowly feeling the urge to get back to work on it. I really do need to finish my other projects first, but I have ideas percolating as to where to take the story next. More to come on this later.
– BHS

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BHS Blogress Report: 2019, Week 2 – Back to Work, You Bum!

Week 2 – Back to Work, You Bum!
I ended up taking most of the last week off from creative stuff. I felt a creative burnout coming on, and I wanted to do whatever I could to head it off at the pass. So I’m trying to take small steps to get back in my groove, doing a little bit of work on Silent InvenTOYry each day, in increasing increments of time. Easing back into my groove, in other words. I may try to do the same with writing, perhaps make a little progress on Uravity Falls while Shattered Skies cools its heels for a bit.
I really do need to get the Appendix and Chapter 3 of Viluy’s Database out sometime this year. Those entries have been sitting there in the to-do list for way too long. At least this season’s new anime doesn’t have anywhere near as many interesting shows as last season did… that’s a strange thing to be thankful for, but less time spent keeping up with anime every week means more time spent doing other stuff. The itinerary for January is to get SI out first, then Twilight’s Dreaming Chapter 7, then finish my Hugtto Precure tributes (yes, tributes, plural) in time for the last episode at the end of the month.
Also on the subject of scheduling: I’ve decided to change up my streaming schedule a bit, partly to give myself an extra day to work on other stuff. I’m now going to be streaming Mondays and Wednesdays from 6 PM EST to 8 PM EST. It’s a half hour less each week in total, but I feel it’s a net gain overall.
Lots to do, but I always get through it somehow.
– BHS

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BHS Blogress Report: 2019, Week 1 – Believing in Bunny Senpai

Week 1 – Believing in Bunny Senpai
Yeah, I’m calling this “2019, Week 1” even though 2019 hasn’t technically started yet. I mean, it’s better than calling it Week 53 of 2018, right?
It’s been semi-quiet today, for once. Holidays are always busy seasons for those of us in the petsitting business, but today was the first day in over a week that I haven’t had to get up and run out. Bless. I’m thinking tomorrow will probably be pretty low-energy too, since I suspect I might have caught a cold, but if I manage to work on anything, it’s probably going to be Silent InvenTOYry Episode 09, due out as early in January as possible. I’ve also got a Semi-Short episode in line for the end of the month and another full episode on track for early March, so you’ll be getting lots of SI goodness in the first part of the new year.
Speaking of project updates: since I put three Shattered Skies chapters up over the course of the past month, including one big event that I’ve been planning for an absurd length of time, I’m putting the story on temporary hiatus, for at least a week or two. After the rush to get Chapter 42 up and finished in time, I’m quite ready for a break where I can work on other things, including the Tasakeru chapter that I neglected for December. Fear not, as this is only until I can make up for all the lost time lately.
Special thanks are due to Neko / rinsweeb, who convinced me to try out one of this season’s anime, a series that I likely wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. That series is now one of my contenders for Anime of the Year; it basically grabbed hold of my heart in episode 3 and refused to let go. That series is Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny-Girl Senpai, based on a series of light novels by Hajime Kamoshida, author of The Pet Girl of Sakuraso and Just Because. Rascal is a hard sell based on the premise of its opening story arc, I admit: a teenage high school student named Sakuta Azusagawa sees the beautiful, famous actress and upperclassman Mai Sakurajima walk by him in a Playboy bunny girl outfit in the middle of a crowded library, but no one else seems to even notice her. Thus begins a relationship that’s probably one of the realest and most honest that I’ve ever seen in an anime; this is a power couple and watching them is a joy. For that matter, for a show that revolves around supernatural happenings with complicated quantum physics explanations, all the characters and their problems feel amazingly grounded in ways that you just don’t see often. Even better, Rascal seems to be a refutation to Japan’s horribly backwards attitude toward mental illness and seeking therapy. Having anime characters confronting their traumas through anything close to realistic psychotherapy, professional or not, is mind-blowing in ways I can’t explain without a multi-paragraph treatise on the cultural context, but having endured similar traumas to some of Rascal’s cast, it means the world to me. And dammit, when it comes to characters being able and willing to shoulder any humiliation gladly for the sake of those they love… I’m a sucker for that, and Rascal delivers in spades. I really can’t recommend this series enough; it’s miles deeper than it appears to be on the surface, and it feels both wildly unique and comfortingly familiar. Thanks again, Neko, for insisting that I try it. I owe you one, or several.
Anyway, that’s about it for the 2018 Blogress Report. May the next year be better, more peaceful, and more productive for all of us.
– BHS

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