Favourite Things 2016: Pokemon Sun & Moon

The first time I got to play Pokemon was on a plane from Sydney to Manila, where my parents bought me a GameBoy and Pokemon Red, probably as a way to keep me busy on the flight and during out the whole trip. Since then, I’ve played through almost every generation of Pokemon games (with the exception of Ruby/Sapphire and not finishing White 2). While playing through the games was always fun, as I grew older I started wanting more from the games.

I always felt that the first few generations of the game were intentionally simple and bare because of the hardware limitations. But as we progressed to the DS and the 3DS, I’d felt that the games had started to become stale and too formulaic. 8 gyms, an Elite Four, a evil organisation, some rivals/friends. While you could argue that simplicity is necessary as they are still children’s games at heart, Pixar and Ghibli movies showed a sophistication to their stories while still engaging children (and adults).

Finally, with Pokemon Sun & Moon, GameFreak have come through with that. While the core of catching, training and battling Pokemon is still there, they’ve made just enough changes to make it seem new and exciting. Instead of an ideological evil organisation, we have Team Skull made up of the disaffected and disenfranchised youth who fail to live up to the high expectations of society. We have questions about conservation, family and friendship vs rivalry, all tied into a story that hits with more emotional weight than any Pokemon game ever had the right to.

Digging into the mechanics of the actual game is a mixed bag. While some convenience mechanics have been added, like HMs being replaced with ride-able Pokemon, background EV training and Bottlecaps to max out IVs, they’ve also left out a lot of other features we’d taken for granted in past generations, such as the DexNav or the PSS, which has been replaced with a tedious Festival Plaza. The Battle Tree makes up the bulk of the post-game content (apart from capturing UBs/Legendaries), but it does feel a little lacking.

But I’m ultimately willing to overlook all those issues, because the game was just so fun to play.

Favourite Things 2016: Bacon Ice Cream

Note: Not literal bacon flavoured ice cream. ūüôĀ

Yoshiyuki Okuyama might be the most popular fashion photographer in Japan right now and he’s easily one of my favourites. Known for using film cameras, especially the cheap disposable ones, to shoot vibrant photos almost exploding with colour. It also helps that he’s able to shoot some of the best models in Japan right now, like Nana Komatsu. Bacon Ice Cream is a collection of photographs that he put together for an exhibition last year (which you can see here), and also put into a catalog to accompany it.

I often think that photography should be default black and white, and that if you’re going to shoot colour, there has to be a point to using it. It’s a bit of an older way of thinking (and one that is probably backward to the way most people think about photography now), but I think that Okuyama almost always uses colour for a purpose. There’s also no real “theme” to the collection, his photos range from flowers to fashion shoots to stuff splattered on roads. Often there are no people in his photos, and when they are, they’re usually obscured or out of focus or barely there. Yet when taken all together, his photos shout a kind of exuberance and fun to life that only the best photographers can imbue.

Favourite Things 2016: Barnacle Island

Photography has often been about the extra-ordinary, especially with today’s social media. We photograph events that don’t come around often such as super-moon or a birthday, or we construct and pose photos to show off something particular, like a good look or a flattering angle. But when we’re bombarded by these kinds of photos, it distorts reality and social media becomes just a highlight reel.

Lately I’ve been favoring a quieter kind of photography, one that doesn’t really need to shout how exceptional or beautiful it is, one that doesn’t always need to capture decisive moments, and all of this was started because of Patrick Tsai’s photographs. In the past, he has made deeply personal blogs and photo projects that I have been addicted to. His blog, Talking Barnacles, where he chronicled the uncertainty of his life in a post 3/11 Tokyo, is still something I go back to every now and then. He embraces a kind of honesty in both his writing and his photographs that is something to be admired (and it gets him in trouble sometimes).

His latest blog,¬†Barnacle Island, of him moving to a small island in Tokyo’s inland sea, was cut short and was turned into a photobook. While it doesn’t have the same refreshingly honest writing that his blogs had (because it did get him in trouble), the photos are just as amazing as always. He fills the book with seemingly ordinary and mundane moments of life on the island, such as kids in his classroom or neighbours walking around the street or his partner washing the dog, but in his style, all these moments add up and become precious and intimate. They’re like all the little idiosyncrasies of daily life that you remember in the future. Life isn’t made up of the exceptional, its made up of the mundane moments, and Patrick Tsai understands that.

Favourites 2016: Kpop

Here’s my list of favourite Kpop releases of 2016 (or those that I can remember)! Most of these are just the singles, because MVs just make things that much better. Note that I tend to have a strong preference toward established groups (there’s only one rookie group on this list, and most are 3+ years old), and I also tend toward the Big 3. So in no particular order, here’s the list:

  • SHINee – 1 of 1
    There was actually a point in time where I didn’t like SHINee.¬†While¬†Lucifer was catchy,¬†Hello just really wasn’t my thing.¬†Since then though, SHINee have put out great songs one after another (with only maybe a misstep in¬†Why So Serious), and that has carried through to the¬†1 of 1 album.¬†A throwback to a kind of 90s boy band sound, it could’ve fallen into simple parody, but SHINee are just earnest in it that you can’t help but love it.¬†Honourable mentions to the third track off the album, Feel Good, which is probably one of my favourite deep cuts of the year and probably better than¬†1 of 1.
  • Red Velvet – Russian Roulette
    I’ve always preferred Red Velvet’s “Velvet” side (the more mature, R&B inspired tracks) rather than their poppy “Red”. And that isn’t to say the Red isn’t bad, Dumb Dumb is still a hell of a thing and Ice Cream Cake is still a bop, but¬†Russian Roulette does something a bit different for me. And it’s not so much that the song is better. Maybe it’s how much fun the Loony Toon-esque violence in the MV, or how it always looks like someone cracked a joke just before the cameras turned on and they’re struggling to not laugh, but there’s just something infectiously fun about Russian Roulette.
  • Tiffany – I Just Wanna Dance
    I think that each of the SNSD solo releases this year has shown off each of the girls’ character. Hyoyeon had very beat driven tracks made for dancing, Taeyeon had uplifting soft rock and house songs, Jessica’s songs were light, innocent Disney Princess affairs, while Tiffany showed off her maturity. I always thought that Tiffany growing up in LA would’ve listened to the same early 2000s R&B tracks that I did, and that we’d have a similar taste in music. And she proved that with this 80s throwback, indulging¬†in synths with a very pastel MV.
  • Luna – Free Somebody
    How someone as daggy as Luna puts out a song as cool as this is so weird to me. But it’s been a good year for Luna, the forgotten one of f(x) stepping forward releasing her own solo and collaborating with Amber for some solid EDM tracks this year. Free Somebody was probably the best of the SM solo singles in 2016, and I hope some of it rubs off on the next f(x) release.
  • Wonder Girls – Why So Lonely
    After undertaking what is probably the most dramatic reinvention in Kpop, I think I’m starting to like the new Wonder Girls more than the old.¬†While only putting out a single with two b-sides this year, each song on that release should be on the list. To The Beautiful¬†You¬†isn’t just my favourite track on this release, it might very well be my favourite song of the year. It’s just sublime. Sweet & Easy is also really catchy and¬†Why So Lonely is fun to bop to.
  • MAMAMOO –¬†D√©calcomanie
    A bit of a late addition to the list, not just because the song came out later in the year.¬†Apart from the controversy over its MV, I never really heard much about MAMAMOO or this song (The MV normalised dating violence¬†and caused enough outrage that they re-cut and reuploaded the MV to take the scene out. Too bad they didn’t cut out that awkward jazz bit in the middle). But their performances on the end of year Gayos¬†impressed me enough to put the song onto this list. I think MAMAMOO are filling in that strong, loud and proud girl group niche that has been missing since Brown Eyed Girls and 2NE1 disappeared.
  • CNBLUE – You’re So Fine
    Every time I hear a CNBLUE song, I think that I should try and listen to more CNBLUE. And it never happens. Anyway, this is their latest song that made think that. It’s really just a nice, jazzy pop song that is really easy to listen to. They’re kind of like the Korean Maroon 5, putting out songs that are just nice, but you’re not really sure if they’re good. But it’s on this list anyway, so who knows.
  • SISTAR – I Like That
    I’ve always been confused by SISTAR. While they are really talented and seem like really really nice people, it’s always seemed like they put way more emphasis on their sexiness than…well…anything else. Which isn’t bad, but its get a bit repetitive when you do it over and over again. Anyway, I Like That is a bit more like Give It To Me, which was probably my favourite SISTAR track, but it might be replaced now.
  • BLACKPINK – Whistle
    I think I was always going to like BLACKPINK. The few glimpses¬†we had of the girls before their debut were all enough to keep me interested. While many people think that they’ve come to replace 2NE1 within the YG ranks, I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison nor do I think its really a bad thing (2NE1 were always going to be a hard sell after BOM’s scandal). Of their songs, I think WHISTLE is the most interesting. It’s not as loud as Boombayah, or radio friendly as Playing With Fire, but its quirky with its production and its general “sparseness”¬†make BLACKPINK seem like the most sophisticated of debut groups with a sound different to much of Kpop (except for I guess…2NE1). Also the MV is gorgeous.
  • BIG BANG – Fxxk It
    MADE era Big Bang isn’t my favourite thing.¬†I didn’t really like most the tracks they released in 2015 (BAE BAE and SOBER were probably my favourites), and their visuals and fashion just weren’t really doing it for me. I was thinking that maybe BIG BANG are moving away from what I like in music (or maybe they just stopped caring). Fxxk It is pretty good though, mainly because that chorus is just so damn catchy.

Honourable Mentions:

  • TWICE – TT
    Nowadays, I don’t usually pay attention to new groups until they’re a few years in. I just don’t have the time or the heart left to get invested into groups for them fade away. I also don’t watch that much K-shows, so TWICE slipped under the radar for awhile. If OOH-AHH¬†had come out in 2016, that song would probably been the list, but for the most part I found Cheer Up and TT good, but not great. With that said, the production value on TT is amazing and its choreography is one of my favourites of the year for how TV friendly it is. But I just really don’t like that chorus, as much as I try.
  • Jessica – Would You Love Me The Same
    I think these kinds of songs suit Jessica’s voice more than FLY or WONDERLAND. I feel like there’s a good song somewhere in this, but the production just¬†kind of gets in the way.
  • Taeyeon – Why
    Taeyeon’s had a pretty good year as a soloist with WHY and a bunch of SM Station releases. I think she’s in a happy place right now, being able to just sing and perform while not bothering with the usual trappings of idol life (such a variety shows, talk shows, music shows, etc). All her songs this year have been pretty good, but they’re just not really my thing, which is more my fault than hers. I linked the dance version of the MV because who expected this song to have choreography (and a pretty good one too).
  • Taemin – Press Your Number
    There are parts of this song I really like and then there are parts that I’m not sure I like, so it just fell short of the list. Also wow Taemin can dance.

Anyway, I’m fairly sure there’s somethings I missed on this list, but I honestly am having trouble remembering everything that came out last year.