The solstice and the the Fourth of July have passed and summer is definitely upon us, my friends. It’s hot, with cicadas (Brood X and Broods Otherwise), fireflies, fireworks, thunderstorms and humidity released upon my part of the world at least. And I have some suggestions for things you might like to do whether you are in lock down or cautiously emerging from our shared isolation.* Things are changing everywhere, even here at the Gutter with our new domainless format. And because of an eye thing I haven’t been reading much in the last year and a half. This time around I’m sharing not only comics, but also games and series that might suit your summer.
It turns out that summer 2021 is all about yakuza and other organized crime, cartoons, magic, romantic relationships, games that contain other games, adaptations and art. You can learn the latest refreshing recipes from The Way of the Househusband’s Immortal Dragon Tatsu, go for a swim on your new island populated with anthropomorphic animal friends, hire a chicken to run your real estate business, and, if you’re feeling fernweh, travel to distant lands in cartoons, games and a memoir by Vincent Price. And if some of you can or are going to new places, you can take many of these things along with you.
Adventure Time: Distant Lands (Cartoon Network, 2020–ongoing)
Ten years after Adventure Time debuted on the Cartoon Network and three years after the series finished, it’s back with Adventure Time: Distant Lands, an anthology of 4 self-contained Adventure Time stories. The first three, “BMO,” “Obsidian” and “Together Again,” have already aired. The fourth, “Wizard City,” is still incoming. If you already like Adventure Time, these stories are definitely worth your while. Adventure Time the series was about Finn the Human, Jake the Dog and their adventures with their friends and frenemies on a post-apocalyptic Earth, now called, Ooo. We wrote a lot about it here at the Gutter. In Distant Lands, we return to Ooo and find out some new things as the genderfluid robot BMO travels through space, Marceline the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum are summoned to fight a dragon (again), and Finn and Jake meet up once more in a metaphysical adventure. Adventure Time handles “prequels” and “sequels” well. Distant Lands is not just filling in “plot holes”–the creators have stories they want to share. The stories are good, the songs are algebraic and Adventure Time reminds us that even when things are really, really stupid we have to try. And that’s a thing I love about the show. I also don’t want to spoil anything, but I am pleased with adult Finn. And I was especially fond of the “Obsidian” episode. P Bub’s gonna P Bub even after she’s had time to consider her ways.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo, 2019)
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a video game that is mostly what you bring to it. It’s a lot like playing with action figures or dolls or Lego minifigures. New Horizons is the latest entry in the Animal Crossing series, but you don’t need to have played any of the other games. It’s a lot like playing with action figures, dolls or Lego minifigures. You create an avatar and sign up for Tom Nook’s deserted island Getaway Package deal. You find a place for your home. You make friends with villagers. Pay off your loans. You try to attract inter-island superstar K. K. Slider to play a concert on your island. The game’s story is quickly finished and provides a framework for whatever else you want to do with your life on your island. You can collect all the things, create a particular kind of island based on a theme like, say, “Stephen King,” or, in my case, create an island were The Wicker Man‘s Rowan M. is the new Lord Summerisle. (Summerisle’s Accelerated Mortality Platinum Plus Program is exclusive. You probably don’t qualify). During the pandemic, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has also let me visit friends I couldn’t and go places I couldn’t. You can still use it to take mini-vacations and visit friends you can’t visit in real life. Or you can take the game with you on the road, if you can travel now. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a relaxing game that relies on you to make whatever you want with it.
Drag Race Thailand, season 2 (Kantana / World of Wonder, 2019)
Drag Race Thailand season 2 was recommended to me by the Gutter’s own alex and I am so glad he did. It’s my new favorite drag competition tv show. Designer, stylist, and fashion/drag icon Art Arya and drag queen and waacking afficionado Pangina Heals co-host, providing a nice balance of personalities and personal style to the show. Drag Race Thailand has some of the things I like about Dragula without the raw liver-eating challenges or the heavy editing of the drag performances. Like Dragula, Drag Race Thailand has expansively creative drag and the competing queens have a variety of gender and performance identities. Drag Race Thailand shows the queens’ performances and sketches in their entirety or close to it. The challenges remind me of reality shows focused on making things, particularly Project Runway, in that the challenges are thoughtfully related to the episode’s theme and the queens are often making their costumes for that show. Early on at least, the challenges affect whether a queen stays or sashays away.
Drag Race Thailand is gentler, while still clever, and less driven by manufactured interpersonal drama than most reality tv including RuPaul’s Drag Race. Drag Race Thailand even makes being picked last a potential advantage. In one challenge, a queen who was not picked ended up working with Pangina Heals instead of working by herself or with a pair. It was both entertaining and an incentive to not be that bitch for the queens in general. When drama does rear its head on the runway, the queens don’t like it and really neither do I. Fortunately, the show is mostly fun performances and amazing looks and that’s what I am here for.
I Like What I Know: A Visual Autobiography (Doubleday & Company, 1959) by Vincent Price
In I Like What I Know, actor and horror icon Vincent Price writes about his life in art. Price writes about his early love of paintings and drawings he saw at the St. Louis Art Museum. And he talks about collecting his first piece of art—an etching by Rembrandt he paid off in installments as a boy. He travels to Europe and climbs a church as a young man. Faced with a decision of what to do with his life after writing on Albrecht Dürer in grad school in London, Price lectures on art history. And when he makes it as an actor after starring in the play Victoria Regina (1935) with Miss Helen Hayes, whom he unfailingly refers to as “Miss Helen Hayes,” Price continues collecting and visiting galleries in New York. He finally opens his own gallery in Los Angeles during World War II. I Like What I Know is a nice look at a side of Price often referred to as an interesting factoid–usually noting his work with Sears curating a catalog for Americans interested in buying interesting and affordable art–but rarely fleshed out. And a nice way to learn about art and artists who might be new to you. There are black and white images of pieces from Vincent and Mary Price’s own collection. And, yes, you hear the whole thing in his voice. It’s like a weird telepathic audiobook.
Gokushufudou: The Way of the Househusband (Viz Media, 2019-ongoing)
Gokushufudou: The Way of the Househusband is a manga about Tatsu, aka, The Immortal Dragon, a yakuza who retires from the world of crime to become a househusband supporting his wife, Miku, a high powered business woman. But Tatsu maintains his yakuza style, manner and way of talking about things, leading to entertaining juxtapositions and misunderstandings. The comic is episodic and doesn’t focus too much on how exactly Tatsu and Miku met and fell in love, instead giving us glimpses of a past where a bloody Tatsu is carried by Miku. And that’s fine with me.
The manga has recently been adapted into an anime series on Netflix. The series is faithful to the comic, but adds color, some limited motion and sound. The voice acting for both the Japanese version and the English language dub are excellent. I don’t usually go for English dubs but Jonah Scott does a great job voicing Tatsu. What the anime series adds that I love is the music. It brings horns reminiscent of composer Toshiaki Tsushima’s dramatic horn stings from Kinji Fukasaku’s series of brutal yakuza movies from 1973 and 1974, Battles Without Honor and Humanity / The Yakuza Papers.
And, if that’s not all, there is a live action series as well. It is less faithful to the comic and adds story arcs, but it is still enjoyable if you don’t mind broad comedy. It’s not easy portraying a cartoon character, but Hiroshi Tamaki is completely Tatsu. Note this teaser that follows both the manga and the anime very closely.
I like The Way of the Househusband in all its forms—manga, anime and live-action series, which is surprising because I almost always prefer my comic adaptations in animated form and I am generally not down with broad comedy.
The live-action series has an instagram for Tatsu you can follow here.
The Owl House (Disney, 2020-ongoing)
Created by Dana Terrace (Gravity Falls; Duck Tales), The Owl House is almost one of those shows where a kid travels to an alternate world and they learn they are destined for something and probably go to a special magic school and, man, people in our world really should have appreciated that kid more. Luz does go to another world instead of going to a summer camp meant to tamp down her weirdness. It’s just that she stays weird. She travels to the Boiling Isles, and the Isles are weird. And her teacher’s weird. And Luz discovers she’s not entirely cut out for magic academy—and that maybe magic academy, school uniforms and private boarding school are not entirely a good thing. Instead, she stays with the Owl Lady, Eda, a wanted criminal, a master of wild magic and purveyor of human goods she’s scavenged from Luz’ world and with Eda’s housemate, King of Demons, a tiny demon. Incidentally, Eda Clawthorne sounds a bit like Phyllis Diller in Mad Monster Party. Luz learns magic from Eda and gradually comes to appreciate her own weirdness.
There’s the Disney I do not usually like, but respect for its predictable quality. And there is the Disney that seems almost to pop out by accident before it’s sanded down and made a regular, predictable Disney product. The Owl House is on the Lilo & Stitch side of Disney. And for me that’s a good thing.
Yakuza 0 (Sega, 2017)
Yakuza 0 is a lot of games, but I cannot say it is all games for everyone. If, for example, you don’t like games with gore or with a video store that plays softcore videos and being able to avoid that store isn’t enough, then it’s not for you. Respect. And if you are someone who likes games that are Very Serious About Their Violence, well, this has dance battles, a chicken, meow-meow shoes, Osaka oba-sans who defeat you at every turn and a character who in all earnestness claims never to have killed someone even as he deals out traumatic head injury after traumatic head injury. And there are extensive sega racing minigames, bowling minigames, mahjong minigames, dance battles, karaoke battles, helping out non-player characters with their problems including, possibly, a reference to the Taxing Woman in Juzo Itami’s A Taxing Woman (1987) and A Taxing Woman’s Return (1988). I myself have been playing a lot of mahjong in game. There is offputting representation of a trans woman while at least not misgendering her in the English subtitles. But then the remastered version of Yakuza 3 has our protagonist, Kiryu, dispensing reasonable and Trans positive advice to a Trans woman. So there’s that.
The short version that dispenses with telling you about the important parts like the chicken is that Yakuza 0 is the prequel to the subsequent seventy million Yakuza games that generally follow the life and career of Tokyo-based gangster in trouble Kazuma Kiryu and his nemesis and best frenemy Goro Majima. Personally, I found Majima more fun to play and enjoyed his unlockable “Mad Dog of Shimano” style more than Kiryu’s probably more useful “Dragon of Dojima” fighting style.
Also, I’m pretty sure Goro Majima and Roscoe from Animal Crossing: New Horizons are the same. Or at least till Roscoe walked away from all that to water flowers and dance by the river on a distant island.
In short, Yakuza 0 has a lot to do and there is almost certainly something for most people to enjoy this summer even if there is not something for everyone in it.
*Are we not all nymphs emerging or hoping and dreading to emerge and fly with our clumsy wings?
Carol Borden would like to assure you that everything is fine on Summerisle.