It’s that time of the year again! It’s that time when we look back on the recently passed calendar year, at our pathetic and meaningless despair and misery that surely defined it, as the black hole of time has steadily sucked up what remains of our youth, hopes, dreams, and spirit, and we ask ourselves questions like How do I feel about myself? and What the fuck am I doing with my life? Or perhaps most importantly of all we ask: What were my favourite videogames of 2015?!
But first let’s talk about David Bowie. There is a lot to say! I missed the announcement of his new album, and only found out about it literally by accident, Friday morning, the day of its release, at like 4:30 am after I went to bed, because something compelled me to get up again and check something else on my laptop and then I happened to see the black star icon on Bowie’s facebook page, and clicked it to figure out what that was about. So I forewent my actual obligations later that morning and walked out to the store to buy the CD. I’ve only listened to it a couple times now and haven’t really had a chance to form an opinion about the songs, but I did watch his two new music videos and they’ve been lingering on my mind. I think the first one was technically released in 2015 (so it’s definitely relevant); let’s talk about the “Blackstar” music video. It’s amazing.
The music video features Bowie, standing in front of the door to an eerily lit dusty attic with shirtless corpse-like people oscillating bizarrely to the music. Bowie is wearing a cloth wrapped around his eyes, with 2 little black buttons attached to it in place of his eyes, his thinning grey hair spiked up crazily like David Lynch or someone. He bears his teeth and starts waving his arms like he’s doing an angry hula. It’s beautiful.
There’s a moment during this dance where Bowie pulls an expression that’s stuck in my mind, that conveys so much about to me, about David Bowie. You see, it’s easy to forget considering Bowie’s popularity and the assimilation of Ziggy Stardust into the popular culture, that he’s far from ordinary. Since the 60s when he wore long hair and a full dress, to the 70s when he wore a big red mullet and an eyepatch, to the 80s when he wore heavy makeup and a boxy robot-clown costume, he’s always been the freak. Dismissed then by much of the real mainstream or even denounced as some kind of deviant, Bowie was never deterred; he was always exactly who he wanted to be, and therein lies his lasting appeal to generations of alienated youth. His personae belong to no specific time or place. He’s always a true one-of-a-kind. And that goes double for this latest persona (Bowie wears the same get-up in the second “Lazarus” video as well as in the CD artwork).
Bowie is old now. He can’t rock the full red mullet anymore. He knows this. But he hasn’t settled down, and started ‘acting his age’. Instead he’s crafted a new persona that incorporates and embraces his age, but that’s as weird as anything he’s ever done. In this one moment, when Bowie makes the most ridiculous facial expression… he almost laughs. It is a moment of self-recognition, of the humour of the video, yet there’s something else. He is so goddamn into it; there’s something like a glee, at all the too-conservative-minded viewers he’s again turning off, a glee at once more being the alien. The freak. It’s wonderful.
So anyways videogames. Not meaning to disappoint anyone who read through that whole David Bowie essay waiting for me to talk about videogames, but I didn’t actually play many videogames this past year. The only 2015 release I completed in the first four months of the year was Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. It wasn’t a very big or hugely remarkable game, but it was darn fun. Then after that I spent a hellish six and a half months straight at sea, with only one videogame, Majora’s Mask 3D, which I did not have enough free time to complete.
When I got back I dabbled in some old gamecube games I’d picked up, before dedicating a substantial amount of time to Metal Gear Solid V. I got burned out on that game, and then left both videogames and – for the first time – the hellscape of Canada behind for a month to hang out in Tokyo. Since I got back at Christmas I’ve been playing Bayonetta 2, Splatoon, and Earthbound Beginnings.
Despite my initial misgivings about Bayonetta 2, it quickly won me over with its ridiculous humour and spectacle, so clearly a product of the same factory that made The Wonderful 101, my favourite game of the last couple years. But then, as the game went on, this comparison only began to highlight what’s wrong with Bayonetta 2, and half way through the game now, I’ve sort of stopped playing already. It started to become dull to play, and the story rambling and very sparse in humour since the big introductory cutscene. Wonderful 101’s gameplay is so much more innovative and enjoyable, it’s presentation so much more funny and spectacular, it’s even a lot more visually exciting and impressive, in my opinion. It’s a wonder that Bayonetta 2’s not the older game. But anyways that’s a 2014 release so enough about that.
Splatoon is really excellent. It has that Animal Crossing appeal of logging in every day, even if just to see what clothes are available in the shop that day, and then since the maps and modes on offer are constantly different, you inevitably end up playing a few matches. It’s a wickedly enjoyable online game too. The only downside is the lack of real local multiplayer options, and off-tv play.
The Earthbound series has taken up a special kind of importance for me as of late. I only played Earthbound for the first time a couple years ago on the Wii U, and I remember it fondly. With the localization of Mother 1 this past year, as Earthbound Beginnings, I’m very hopeful Mother 3 will also finally see a western release shortly. In Japan the series is crazily popular. In early December I happened upon some kind of Mother 2 event that was ongoing or had recently gone on in a store in Shimokitazawa, where I took part in a ‘stamp rally’ which entailed scouring the store for the various character stamp stations, and stamping a piece of paper, apparently for the sake of having a piece of paper with Mother 2 character stamps on it. I also bought the Mother 2 soundtrack there, and resisted the urge to buy pricy Mr. Saturn year planners, or the generic whiffle bats they were also selling for some reason. And then I also bought a ton of Mother 2 capsule machine cell phone charm figures… Anyways, all this has inspired me to give Earthbound Beginnings a chance, and even though it’s kind of a watered down, less well-designed version of Eartbound, it’s still charming and oddly compelling, I’m still into it, and still playing it.
Oh yeah and I played Undertale. That was also an excellent, charming, and funny game. I feel like it kind of peaked at the skeleton dating part though, and as I’m not a fan of multiple endings in general, even if it really, really makes sense in this game, there’s still no way I’m gonna replay it anytime soon. But it’s good though. Maybe it’s my game of the year. I guess. Tentatively. I also got Yo-kai Watch for Christmas I haven’t started yet, and I still sort of want to get Yoshi’s Wooly World and Rodea the Sky Soldier maybe.
So enough of videogames. It’s time for my non-video-game awards! Which are extra fatuous because I haven’t listened to any 2015 music albums or read any 2015 books, so basically the only thing I can think to give ‘awards’ to are movies. And I’ve only seen three 2015 movies. The best of which is Tag. So Tag wins my movie of the year then I guess.
Actually, Tag is really fantastic, and probably my favourite movie since 2013. My favourite filmmaker, and generally my idol since the last few years, Sion Sono, made a whopping 6 films this year, all of which look great. Tag is the only one I’ve found with English subtitles so far (though Love and Peace is coming to blu-ray in the UK soon from Third Window Films). And it’s a fantastic entertainment. From the jaw-droppingly hilarious opening scene (which almost seems designed to one-up Suicide Club’s infamous opening, and succeeds), to the Strange Circus-level heights of insanity reached in the final scenes, this movie is pure Sion Sono, and even though it probably makes the least sense of any of his films at the end, it accrues no ill will for it because a movie this entertaining can only be fun to try and ‘figure out’. Great movie. It's on Youtube. Check it out.
As a relatively big collector of blu-rays, they’re probably the one thing I am qualified to make a best of 2015 list for, so as one last ‘award’ I’ll include my top blu-ray release of 2015. At the beginning of the year, one of the coolest UK-based home video companies, Arrow Video, started bringing lots of interesting stuff out in the US as well, including spaghetti westerns, important cult movies like The Stuff, and never-previously-available Japanese yakuza films. However, one of their first dual region announcements, and definitely the most important release they have ever or will ever do, is The Happiness of the Katakuris. I love everything about this release, from the flawless picture quality to the wealth of extras, to the packaging and cover art, which has to be the most awesome cover art in my collection.
I watched The Happiness of the Katakuris again this New Years. I maintain, even after four viewings, that it’s the most entertaining movie ever made. But more than ever this time around, beyond the ridiculousness and humour of the film the actual, genuine message of it really hit home; both on the importance of family, and the grandfather’s message at the end, that “No one should die in a way that saddens anyone. People should laugh at funerals, "He did well to live this long!" How you die is all down to how you live.”
Okay. So I wrote the first half of this post two days ago. Including all the David Bowie stuff. It was the day after his new album came out (it came out on Bowie’s birthday), and, I now realise, the day before he died. I meant to be humourous by spending the first half of a "best games of 2015" post ranting about David Bowie. I have no idea how it reads now. I lost a hero of mine today. But in the spirit of the Katakuris I’ll try not to be sad about it. Apparently, Bowie knew he was going to die soon, and meant Blackstar as a parting gift to the world. And look at how much fun he had with it. I'm almost tempted write another dissertation on his 2nd music video for “Lazarus”, but suffice it to say, when I saw it, it appeared to me to be a man dancing on his deathbed.
Bowie, you lived an amazing life. Fuck yeah!