Musings

James of the Year Awards 2023!

It's time to look back on my year, in faux-awards show form! I'm often the type to forget a bit of the first half of the year, but that can't be helped. This is a rapid-fire recap and not an expansive document of everything that happened in media or culture this year. I'll be talking about things I did this year, as well as things released this year when it's relevant. We're free-wheeling most of this one, but at least this awards show isn't filled with commercials!

Video Game of the Year!

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (2000, N64)

Surprise! I didn't play a lot of 2023's games, but even among the ones I did, my experience with Majora's Mask stands tall above them all. Years ago now, I made a personal project to play as many 3D Zelda games as I could, having never finished any of them. Obviously, this is working out extremely slowly. It took me about as long to get to Majora's Mask today as gamers actually had to wait between Ocarina and Majora's at the time. My bad. The Switch release on NSO Expansion Pack was a convenient way to dive in. I even have the N64 controller for Switch. This was mostly a waste of money, but helped create a sense of authenticity for me.

Truthfully, I was very intimidated by this game. Would I miss something magical, profound, that others had seen? Would I get stuck or frustrated with the time travel mechanic? Would years of hype sink the experience if I felt a tinge of disappointment? Thankfully, none of those things happened. Not only is Majora's Mask a fun game, It lived up to the reputation it's been given from die-hard fans. The mood and atmosphere are thick, only aided by the artwork and graphics of the Nintendo 64 version. Puzzles were creative and inventive, with dungeons being a true challenge for me. Quests often demanded attention and thoughtfulness that mix for a sense of immersion. A beautiful story about forgiveness, moving on, and making peace even when it seems pointless is a shiny purple bow on a wonderful gift of a game.

Put simply, what you've heard about Majora's Mask is true. But experiencing it for yourself, having your boots in the twisted world of Termina, is something I must recommend to anyone who hasn't tried it. As Clock Tower's vibe shifted from anxiety and fear to a comfortable home to land in after a dungeon, I couldn't help but think I will be playing this game again in the future.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Super Mario Bros. Wonder (2023, Switch)
  • Super Mario Bros. Wonder was like an epiphany for many. Like, oh yeah, these games are really fun. Darn right, they are! Even a shorter game should be commended for every single level being fun, creative, and wonderfully crafted with a sense of fantasy. Mario never left, and probably never will leave, but to 2D Mario I say, welcome back!

  • Bomb Rush Cyberfunk (2023, Switch)
  • This was an awesome game. Jet Set Radio changed my life, and I bought my beloved Xbox just to play Future in 2015. I really only had two issues with Bomb Rush. One, is the story. I loved what they were going for, getting cerebral was promising and very cool, but I think it all got a little confused at the end with whatever it was trying to say. Secondly, it was maybe too much like Jet Set Radio Future. I know that was part of the point and all, but even after 8 years between me playing JSRF and Bomb Rush, it still felt like I had already played it, in many respects. Don't get me wrong, it is different and newer mechanically, but when you're in the zone it starts to blend together.

  • K-ON! Ho-kago Live!! (2010, PSP)
  • You didn't play your PSP this year? I just really liked this game, and I'm running out of actual nominees. Getting into K-On this year was a hoot, but seeing The Girls in PSP graphics was just too good to not try out. Sure enough, the game captures the sweet essence of the show, and even has special mixes for the songs that emphasize each character's instrument. I played this way more than I should have.

  • Pok√©mon Trading Card Game 2: The Invasion of Team GR!
  • To say I love this game isn't enough. A perfect intersection of two great hobbies, Pokemon Card GB 2 is filled with cute characters, funny moments, and tons of decks to explore and cards to find. While this sequel never came outside Japan, if you like any kind of card battling, the fan translation is a must-play.

Best Replay Of The Year

Devil May Cry (2001, PlayStation 2) The Legendary God Game. Devil May Cry.

I believe a masterpiece can have some flaws. A masterpiece is simply that, the work of masters. Yes, Devil May Cry would go on to be an amazing franchise with dramatic upgrades in design and control in sequels. This game has some rough boss design and cheese strategies. But I would not hesitate for a second to tell you the original game, as it was released in 2001, is a masterpiece. Years of rapid iteration from the Resident Evil series and the powerful vision of Hideki Kamiya combined to make a one-of-a-kind game whose influence is still felt today. This game was released only three years after Ocarina of Time introduced Z-Targeting to the world, but in one fast cut of a blade, Devil May Cry practically created a genre and redefined what a third-person action game could be. How they managed to fit in an engrossing story about a young man who's lost a family, and the ramifications of a father's war against the demon realm should be studied in school. Devil May Cry is also neck deep in gothic architecture and gorgeous, cinematic from scenes top to bottom. A complete package from creepy beginning to Space Harrier ending. The intro gives me chills every time. This game fucking rocks.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection Vol. 1/Vol. 2 (2023, Switch)
  • What took so long for this?! The answer is a genuine care and attention to detail to make sure each Battle Network game was as complete as possible. Even Capcom has a sentiment that this is peak Mega Man that needs to be cared for with special treatment. Gosh bless, I agree. For this arm of the franchise, EXE was a hot-selling game series, a hit TV anime, and awesome manga by Hitoshi Ariga. The only reason this doesn't get my best replay is because all six of these games live in my mind rent-free forever. To me, they simply never left. This is definitely my top official re-release of the year though, if I micro-categorize. Every game in the series has all versions, artwork, music, and tons of exclusive content from Japanese releases. Battle Network's core design stands the test of time as an amazing reinvention of what Mega Man is, and what Mega Man means to fans around the world. Legacy Collection makes it easier than ever to be part of the fervor.

  • Jak 2 (2003, PS2)
  • How can a game be so good when at least 50% of it is that part? You know, the ugh! levels. Jak 2 has a ton of those, holding hands with random difficulty spikes that make for a bumpy road of a game. I still die at least once fighting the Krimson Guard. But dammit, I didn't care as a preteen, and I don't care now. This game is way more than the sum of its parts. I replayed The Precursor Legacy as well this year, but I have a deep fondness for Jak 2 that simply isn't matched by the original or Jak 3. A lot of that is weird personal circumstances, but nostalgia remains.

    Jak still controls like a dream, with a sense of momentum and weight that only Naughty Dog's amazing animation can provide. The addition of guns and driving only enhanced what was great core gameplay in Jak 1. Okay, it's mostly the guns, but you get used to the driving. Or give up and hoverboard everywhere, which is what I like to do. Jak 2 has a thoroughly engrossing story with dramatic twists and turns, and tight action pacing that lead up to an epic showdown. I still get a chill when the Metal Head leader screams "THE BOY IS YOU, JAK!"

    I'm not sure if Jak and Daxter will ever make a comeback. Honestly, it doesn't need one. It's a great trilogy, and my PS2 Slim's disc drive is still working. I wouldn't call Jak 2 a timeless game, but it is absolutely one of the games of its time.

Biggest Video Game Apology Of The Year

Baldur's Gate 3 (2023, PC/Steam)

I'm sorry, okay? Very unique specific circumstances prevented me from really getting into this game. After eleven hours, I already can't take any more. For one, after my experience with the Mass Effect Trilogy, I wonder now if any game with companions to babysit has simply been ruined for me forever. It doesn't even matter if they're well written anymore (they are, as far as I got into the game), I just have trust issues now. When gaming media picked up on how "sexy" the game was, that was also a huge turn off for me. Again, something about these "companion" games and the response they seem to get make me hike a brow.

Secondly, I am pretty familiar with 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. I played in a campaign with my dear friends for...uh, a while. Over a year perhaps. It's hard to count. But my adventures as a Dragonborn Ranger who converted to Druidic ways after an out-of-body experience is the kind of thing you don't forget after you get into tabletop. Spells and character growth don't come across as exciting to me in Baldur's Gate 3 because I've seen this before. I like D&D, I was actually really excited, about a hundred years ago when they announced BG3 would use 5E rules basically as written, almost like a simulator. When I played Baldur's Gate 1 EE, my unfamiliarity with AD&D rules was paaaain. But, this excitement ended up working against me here.

Lastly, huge technical issues. I think the game crashed on my PC about once an hour. I'm not kidding. It looked and ran okay (eventually), but between all the crashing playing co-op with my friend, that eleven hours of playtime on my Steam account is really more like seven and a half of actual progress. This annoys me about almost any PC game. I'm perfectly fine and handy with computers, but for fuck's sake!

So, to Baldur's Gate 3, I do apologize. I'm just not into you. There's nothing wrong with you, and it's not even your fault, but I need that disk space back now.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Gundam Evolution (2022, PC)
  • I thought the idea of a Gundam hero-shooter (that is what they call these right?) was a novel and amusing idea, despite the fact I don't like literally any of these games that came after Team Fortress 2. For whatever reason, seeing my beloved Gundam franchise in a generic battle-pass game just really pissed me off. That's not fair to the game, and Gundam is maybe the most commercialized Japanese franchise out there, so a game like this is not sacrilege. So, to Gundam Evolution, I do apologize. I won't really miss you though.

  • Sonic Frontiers (2022, Switch)
  • I know I'm not doing the game a favor by playing the worst version of it. I think it's running better than on launch day after some updates! Regardless though, I've had an ongoing battle with this game since last year to try and like it. I had it pre-ordered. I was so excited. Sadly, no matter how many times I pick it up, I think it mostly sucks. I finally got off the first island this time, but I can't see myself getting out of the second. This game might have an article of its own in the future, cause there's a lot to say. Sorry, Sonic. I promise I still love you. Don't leave me!

Worst Layoffs

Microsoft

Give it up for Microsoft everyone! The game industry lost an estimated 7,000 jobs this year, which is a sure sign of a very healthy industry. I am very certain capitalism is working out. I actually had to look up who lost jobs and how many because I couldn't remember them all. Epic Games, Bungine, CD Projekt, Amazon, it goes on and on this year. "Great year for games", indeed. But one company jumped out at me the most, for over 10,000 company-wide layoffs in 2023. Fucking Microsoft.

Am I seriously expected to believe that fucking, god damn, MICROSOFT can't keep the lights on without ruining people's livelihoods? Are they broke? How? At this point, I fail to see the purpose of being a big "successful" company, or being a part of one. You seem to get nothing for it at any scale. No job security, and apparently the company is so fucking broke they have to fire a shitload of people. I refuse to believe that firing 10,000 employees in one year is anything other than total nonsense. Profits are up though!

It seems that the ultimate goal of a business (or perhaps the capitalist mindset business) is to be as close to a scam as humanly possible. The closer you can get to producing something for nothing, the better your margins are. It's not good enough to be a successful business that sells a product or service, you must find a way to collect rent forever while you do absolutely nothing. If you have to do something, you better find a way to do it with the absolute bare minimum staff and resources. I am told this supposedly breeds innovation and competition. At this stage, I have a feeling things are going to get worse still, but this year has to be some kind of zenith for our hellworld. The war against generative AI bullshit isn't working out as well as I'd hope.

I am not looking forward to more job losses in 2024. My heart goes out to everyone who's been suddenly displaced this year. Godspeed as you find new, steady employment.

Dishonorable Mention: Hasbro

As I work on this very article, Hasbro, after a massive wave of firings, is looking to hire an AI touchup artist. Cool. I love that! Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast have been on a lot of people's shitlist outside the scope of just one year, but wow. Way to get one more gut punch in for the holidays. Even if generative AI made good artwork (it doesn't), you still need to 100% fuck off with this shit. People don't want this. Who's going to look at a Magic card and go "Wow, a computer made this!"? Nobody. Only idiots and fools in on the grift are impressed with image generation. It's environment eating, job-stealing garbage, and calling it "art" is an insult to anyone who ever made anything.

Best Non-Video Game

The Pokemon Trading Card Game

This was a big year for the Pokemon TCG, as the Scarlet & Violet era began with the introduction of scary-good cards in the SV Base Set, like Gardevoir ex and Miraidon ex. It ended with an earth-shattering set, Paradox Rift, with too many impactful cards to count. I didn't even get close in my article earlier this year.

Regional events were full of exciting moments, like that guy who got Gyarados VMAX to Grand Finals. What. A whole variety of decks are performing well. As I type this, "Sablezard" just took one of the biggest wins single-prize Lost Box has had thus far. Snorlax Stall took Poland by storm, striking fear in the hearts of players as everyone questioned if we need to actually tech cards for this.

If none of that makes any sense to you, just know that right now the Pokemon TCG is in a cool and accessible place. As we get deeper into the Scarlet & Violet era and more Sword & Shield cards rotate out, I'm sure 2024 will be full of surprises. Hopefully, it will feature a good Grass type attacker, eventually.

Shifting gears from games to other media...

Anime Of The Year

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006, Kyoto Animation)

This is a really hard pick. I managed to watch a decent amount of anime this year (compared to usual, anyway), but Haruhi was one of the first things that came to mind when I think of best. Yes, I somehow managed to avoid seeing it all these years. Haruhi, briefly , is about a bored young girl seeking connections and experiences as she struggles with growing up. It's also about a zillion other things, like aliens, deities, time loops, getting what you wish for, etc etc.

What sets Haruhi apart from its countless imitators and influence is that the series has a remarkable respect for continuity and character. Kyon has to be one of the best leads I've seen in an anime. He's funny, down to Earth, and honest. He's also desperately trying to be detached from Haruhi and the wacky adventures of the SOS Brigade. That bites him in the ass in Disappearance, which I found to be quite the film.

I'm probably the last person on planet Earth who could be surprised by Haruhi, but what a pleasant surprise it was. It's no wonder this series lives on in the hearts of anyone who watched it years and years ago. Can anyone help me learn that dance? I'm about 15 years behind!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Cowboy Bebop (1998, Sunrise)
  • If I had finished watching this in time, it would have been the anime of the year without question. I'm a little over halfway through it right now, forget the year, this is the anime of all time. Yes, another classic I've managed to dodge with laser precision Cowboy Bebop is even better than I've always heard. Holy fuck. When an anime cooks this hard, it makes other ones look pedestrian by comparison. Cowboy Bebop is a masterclass in storytelling, and you won't be bored for a single second. God damn.

  • Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury (2022, Sunrise)

    The grip Miorine and Suletta will forever have on me, and the the thrilling conclusion of the anime in 2023 would justify an award. I've watched this series twice already. I do love it, but I find that some parts are a little rougher than others when it comes to pacing and story. But damn, it really doesn't matter when you get to that ending. Women WILL get together.

  • K-ON! (2009, Kyoto Animation)
  • I don't think I was mature enough for a slice-of-life anime when K-On came out. I'm dead serious about that. My friend had the first season on DVD, and I remember it feeling like episodes just dragged on and on without anything happening. Now, I smile whenever I see Mugi. Have I matured, or am I a broken spirit who must be comforted by drawings of girls having fun? I feel equally happy either way when I watch K-On. As simple a comedy as they come, K-On is sugary sweet, and I'd watch it a second time right now.

  • Azumanga Daioh (2002, J.C Staff)
  • Pretty much everything I just said about K-On goes for Azumanga Daioh as well. I guess this was the year I caught up on the cutest and funniest anime that I'd never seen! Azumanga's cast is just relentlessly entertaining no matter what the situation is, and at this point the show's early digi-paint look is a nostalgic evocation of times long passed. I just wish I had seen this one sooner. I even ended up buying The Omnibus for the manga because I just could not get enough of these girls. Sakaki is just like me fr, btw.

Women Will Get Together Of The Year

I'm In Love With The Villainess (2023, Platinum Vision)

Is all yuri this good? Have I been missing out on this my entire life? I'm In Love With The Villainess delivers strongly on exactly what you think it would; an amusing romance between a preppy noble blonde and the gay transfer student who just isekai'd in. It's got romance standards at full power, but it's also so much more. You'll be invested deeply in Rae and Claire's relationship and taken aback by honest conversations about LGBT ideas and queer struggles. You'll also giggle when, of course, there's a gender-reversal maid cafe! Villainess manages to do it all and bring a whole waterfall of emotions and character relationships while not being so deathly serious as to spoil all the fun. If you wrote this off because the premise seemed silly or shallow, I ask you to reconsider.

Manga Of The Year

Land of The Lustrous (2012, Haruko Ichikawa)

There wasn't much debating over this one. Nothing I read this year made me feel so afraid, alone, and uneasy. A reader can draw a lot from Lustrous's mysterious world and the poor trials of our hero, Phos. The plight of the gems in their horrifying war with the Lunarians will make your stomach turn faster than you can turn the page. How many times can you be broken in a cold, harsh world and still put yourself back together? How will that fundamentally change you? Can you ever be the same after a traumatic experience? I feel these are the dark, upsetting questions at the center of the manga. You may get something else out of it, or relate to some scenes more than others. To detail it all right now wouldn't be fair to anyone new to the series, like myself. I'm not caught up on official English releases yet, and haven't seen the anime. Still, there's no doubt in my mind, I will continue reading and being invested.

Poor Phos.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Chainsaw Man Part 2 (2022, Tatsuki Fujimoto)
  • I could mention Chainsaw Man every year, as long as it's still going. Part 2 is cooking harder than ever before, and not a chapter has gone by this year I was excited about it. I trust in the vision. I will be there no matter what.

  • Fabricant 100 (2022, Daisuke Enoshima)
  • A personal favorite of mine that was gone too early, Fabricant's stunning artwork and dark story drew me in instantly. Many Shonen Jump readers are used to seeing promising favorites leave before their time, but this was the hardest pill to swallow for me. It ended on a good note, but I wanted to see so many more enemy Fabricants and characters. I hope Daisuke Enoshima gets to work on a second serialization soon.

Best Manga Debut

Mama Yuyu (2023, Yoshihiko Hayashi)

Of all of this year's new debuts from Shonen Jump (we'll get to that one in a second), MamaYuyu is confidently standing tallest. MamaYuyu's characters are filled with a sense of drive and purpose that results in those awesome "YEAHHHH!" moments you want to see in an action series. Corleo has been a great main character, and an already fun cast is growing larger and more intimate with each other by the week.

It's not just an impassioned story that keeps MamaYuyu so good. Powerful creative paneling and STUFF LIKE THIS bring MamaYuyu into a higher tier of great comic work. I will cry physical tears if this one has to go. Good luck, heroes and demons!

Honorable Mentions

  • Kagurabachi (2023, Takeru Hokazono)
  • I want to do a separate article about Kagurabachi when a little more time has passed. Needless to say, the shonen manga culture had a field day with this series before it even started. Positioned as the most traditional and action packed new series from Shonen Jump's NEXTWAVE initiative, Kagurabachi has delivered on bloody swordfighting action and raw coolness. When your main character wears a black coat and wields a beautiful sword, you're starting at a high enough point for me.

  • Green Green Greens (2023, Kento Terasaka)
  • This one is just too early to call right now, but female lead Nadeshiko Oga would get a "haters in manga award" if I had one. Beginning with a crushingly realistic depiction of a young man without goals or aims in life, Green Green Greens is on a promising start to explore youth, friendship, competition, and all that stuff.

  • Blooming Love (2023, Daichi Kawada)
  • Love is in the air! It's labeled as a romantic comedy, but there's a whole lot more sweet, earnest romance than gags. It's very good for it though. This is one of my favorites to look forward to on the MangaPlus app, along with Kindergarten Wars.

Comic Of The Year

Animal Man (1988, Grant Morrison, DC Comics)

What happens when an unassuming superhero is driven to very edge of his own existence and sanity, only to fall off the cliff of reality? If you've never read this, I urge you to go in as blind as humanly (or animal-ly) possible. Animal Man is a psychedelic rollercoaster that had me deeply enthralled from the very beginning. I read all 26 issues in one sitting. That's how good this is. There's so much more going on than meta themes though, I would honestly describe it as a horror comic. Protagonist Buddy Barker is slowly but surely spun into a nightmare far, far beyond his understanding. Maybe you've heard of the famous "Coyote Gospel" story (pictured here), but that's only the beginning of what goes down in Animal Man. Give this a try. If you're turned off by that late 80's artwork and costume, please power through those doubts. You won't regret it.

Honorable Mentions

  • Fantastic Four (2022, Ryan North)
  • I actually wrote about this one already! But again, it was definitely the most fun I've had with monthly floppies this year. Not that I've been reading too many lately, but FF is just so damned good. If you're ready to read about the best family in comics, dive in.

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1984, Mirage Studios)
  • I've talked about this one in detail not once, but twice! It's not impossible I'll do a third. Reading Ninja Turtles today, it still holds the spirit of independence and originality it must have had when it debuted. The Turtles are just great comics characters from day one. Between TMNT, Gamera films (look forward to reading about those!), and the pet turtle Ton-chan in K-On, I could call this the year of the Turtle.

Movie Of The Year

Godzilla Minus One (2023, Toho, Dir. Takashi Yamazaki)

After it was revealed that Across the Spiderverse was made under abusive working conditions, I'm striking it from the conversation. But I might have anyway, because GODZILLA'S BACK, BABY!!! SKREEEOOONK!!!

Minus One has set the world abuzz, and rightfully so. Screenings have been added at many theaters, as a weekend release turned into a full December extravaganza. The film is well deserving of this extended play, and has already established itself in a beloved tier of Godzilla canon. But whether you're familiar with that canon or not, Minus One has an amazing story (as all great monster movies should!) and a gripping cast that fear for every minute. Visual effects are excellent, but the movie is so well put together and paced that you won't really be thinking about separate elements for very long. It's the complete package and instant classic.

I would love to see a Minus Two, but it seems Toho is onto something with putting out an absolute banger every 5-6 years (Minus One follows 2016's Shin Godzilla). The future is bright for the Big G, and I couldn't be happier about that.

Gayest Post Of The Year

Got Some Hungover People At The House This Morning (@BigKidDinner)

The raw amount of homoeroticism, romance, and sexuality in the QRTs make this the gayest post of the year. It's not too perplexing, but it sure is funny. Cooking is often seen as an act of love or affection. The unspoken romance between those who feed and those who need feeding is woven into the fabric of our culture. We appreciate all meals given to us from an early age. What are we to do though, when "I love you." and "Thank you so much." doesn't feel like enough? Sometimes, we want more than words. Our appreciation changes into action, often emerging as some kind of submission, service, or commitment. Many have offered suggestions of deep kisses, wedding rings, or uh, "returning to the bedroom" as forms of gratitude. For anyone who's ever wanted to show how they feel to the homies (gender neutral), the response to this post must be, at least, amusing.

How sweet! I think. Those eggs and burgers do look good as hell. God damn.

Honorable Mention:

  • YOU!

I don't want any oomfies or readers to feel they were snubbed of this prestigious award. Many of you are dutifully gay, queer, and so much more all year in your own special way. Whether you're a silent soldier in love with the most obscure character, or too busy being in the polycule group chat. For the ace and aromantic of us, you too, receive an honorable mention for gayest post of the year. We can all be celebrated and uplifted in queerness. Now, who wants a burger?!

Final Thoughts, And Thanks

Wow, that was a lot of words! I touched on much more than I planned originally, but the scope of this grew in tandem with a smile. It's no wonder some outlets put out those "Listicles" all the time! I want to thank anyone who took a look through any section of this and had their own smile.

Creating Emotion Engine, primitive as it is, has ended up as one of my biggest joys this year. It turns out that having your own online space that you control and design is as good as everyone said it was! I have fun making and building EE, even if it has zero readers. It just turned out to be a neat hobby and a way for me to express myself. That's how the Internet is supposed to be, if you ask me!

See you next year! Be safe, and stay strong.

- James