Look at all those twos! Did this year continue to burn as it did at the start of the year? Starting the tally a bit late in February, how did it go, future Adam?
Future Adam here! It was a pretty cool year, but not without its difficulties. The fall and winter proved challenging, and more challenges are on the horizon in 2023, but I’m really pleased by the media I encountered this year: all the books, video games, podcasts, videos, and movies really helped me out this year.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
My journey to avoid playing the Dark Souls trilogy continues with me picking up Sekiro, after hearing about a friend’s journey with the game on PC.
This game is pretty unforgiving, and that’s saying much for a game in this genre. FromSoftware games are no joke with difficulty: You have to learn patterns, master evasion, and know when to end your own attacks so as not to get punished for your greed. The game also doesn’t have stats, so you can’t over-level like you could in other games to simply brute force your way through combat. You have to engage with the battle system or you won’t get anywhere.
This is easily the most aggressive of FromSoftware’s games: You are constantly on the offensive: parrying attacks, counterattacking, luring, kiting, and managing stealth all to save your lord and release him from his curse. The real turning point for me was the fight atop the castle with Genichiro Ashina. If you were spamming your way up until now, you’re in for a very frustrating fight. You have to read his telegraphs, perfecting your timing to build his posture so you can land a critical strike when he staggers. This was the fight that I struggled with most (second only to Owl Father, a notoriously dangerous foe in all of FromSoftware’s history), but it was also the fight that taught me the most about the game. If you can get through this fight, then you can understand what the game is about. Easily one of my favorite fighting systems in a game ever!
The Broken Earth Trilogy
I was recommended this book by my wife, who was reading it with a few friends as part of an informal book club. The first book had a mighty waitlist at my library – 8 plus weeks – so I put in the request last year in December. Come January, to my surprise, it became available.
The book has interesting bits of third and second-person writing. While some people were taken out of the experience with that constant “you” from the narrator, I didn’t find it all that distracting. The first book does this amazing job of setting up parallel narratives, playing with time and perspective to tell a wild story of the world ending. Book two continues, less fantastically so, the journey of the main character. The last book plays with time again, giving us flashbacks to ancient times and lost civilizations, and resolves the conflict that had been building up in the previous two books.
The last book gave me mixed feelings: I didn’t feel as connected and couldn’t really understand relationships that the author kept telling me were a certain way. A bit too much of telling and not enough showing. For example, one character is walking through a wasteland with a new tribe. The author keeps telling us that this character feels connected to them, they are her new family, and the loss of the people on this hellish trek hurts her heart, but we never see her interact with anyone beyond the two or three named characters in the tribe. The final conflict left me wanting as well, but it did introduce some really cool concepts into the world. Overall, I’d say book one was easily the best. If you dig it, check out books two and three. It definitely brings a fresh perspective and unique world for you to explore, so no time is wasted reading these books.
Just when I thought I was going to take a break from FromSoft games, Elden Ring debuted. I was reluctant to immediately jump into an incredibly challenging (and potentially frustrating/draining) experience, so I told myself I would hold off. At the insistence of my wife to get in on the ground floor, I took the plunge and spent the money.
This game, I can easily say, is one of my favorite games ever. There was not a single moment where I was bored or uninterested in what was going on in the world. The exploration feels very organic: You found a creepy statue that sends out this odd smoke trail? Follow it, and you’ve found a forgotten crypt, ripe for the pillaging! Stuck on a hard boss? Leave and explore somewhere else! Gone are the walls of Sekiro and other Soulsborne games; you can literally go anywhere, do anything, and progress however you damn well please.
That being said, I consistently revisited this game throughout the entirety of the year, tinkering with different builds, finding new strategies for rushing to higher levels, memorizing shortcuts, and genuinely forgetting where things were that prompted me to just sit back and explore again, surprised at the treasures that awaited me. I can’t put my finger on what drew me back, but it was just a load of fun. I made gag characters, like Princess Sleigha, who will eventually wield a lightsaber and fisticuffs to beat the ever-loving snot out of her opponents. I also made a Gideon the Ninth, complete with Zweihander colossal sword, Rapier, and Spike Ceastus I can use for parrying. Who is Gideon, you may ask? Well…
The Locked Tomb Series (Gideon the Ninth, Harrow the Ninth)
I got this recommended by one of my high school friends on Facebook, and his description of “lesbian necromancers in a haunted house” was so intriguing how could I not look into it?
I didn’t have time to sneak in the final book of the series, Nona the Ninth, due to long queues for digital copies at my library, but the first two were a very pleasant surprise. In contrast to the Broken Earth Trilogy, this trilogy isn’t afraid to be corny, over the top, and devastating all at the same time.
This is a book series where, for the first time I can remember, I was actively excited about reading more and looking forward to future chapters. For recapturing that feeling, I tip my hat to this series.
Gideon focuses on a mystery in a huge mansion, which I loved, with elements of a murder mystery sprinkled in. Harrow took a completely different route, still centered on a baffling mystery, but focusing more on galactic warfare. It’s a wild series that centers on necromancers who have built an empire in space, led by their God, who has been alive for thousands of years, and is someone they can meet, talk to, and have an open dialogue with. There are so many great concepts being played with here, and Tasmyn Muir is one hell of a writer: Sharp wit, great world-building, and rich details. I highly recommend this series, maybe even a bit more than the Broken Earth trilogy!
Over the summer, the wife and I visited France and Belgium on a fact-finding mission (to justify the expense of our holiday). One thing I really enjoyed was the copious amount of outside seating available just about everywhere in the cities. We visited Montpellier, Lyon, Anesse, and Paris. I learned a lot about French coffee culture: Less intense than the culture in Japan, a bit more focused on espresso, and how most cafes aren’t too picky or particular about the beans, roast, and how they are prepared. I also learned that if you can’t get a café au lait, the café creme is a comparable and tasty alternative, most places give you a small metal container of hot milk that you can add to taste for your coffee.
I also visited Les Deux Magots, a famous Parisian haunt for authors such as Ernest Hemingway (I ordered the Hemingway breakfast while there!) and Jean-Paul Sartre, just to name a few. Our friend really wanted to visit it, so we accompanied her to grab a drink and breakfast together. I’m glad we did; our waiter was very personable and funny, the food was tasty, and the coffee was… coffee! I bought some coffee to bring home to taste it more carefully, as well as a deck of playing cards; I’m a sucker for buying playing cards!
Gen Z YouTubers
Generations are bullshit, so I should really describe them as young adult YouTubers, but the amount of young people bringing thoughtful insights to the platform is genuinely encouraging. I love the diversity of voices, styles, and talent that young creators are bringing to the platform. I get exhausted with YouTube as a business, but when I see some of the stuff people are putting out there, it makes me feel a bit better. YouTube as a company is still trash and needs to get its act together, however.
Ro Ramdin: Ro has been making content for a while, and I listened to her a lot last year, but this year she really took off for me. Her wit is often rapid-fire: She has a grasp on what is funny and absurdist and weaves that throughout her videos. I’d say her videos come in two phases: The joke analysis, and the personal realities. In the joke analysis, she spends a bit of time lampooning and riffing on the topic while introducing salient points and important information regarding the topic, including her thesis. The personal realities are more narrative-driven explorations of how the topic affects her personally: It removes the veneer of jokes and satire and gives the viewer a more humanistic and vulnerable sharing of Ro’s thoughts and feelings. I love the interplay between sections like this: It helps break up the formula as she weaves between them (sometimes multiple times) in the video so they still feel fresh and engaging, especially in those long 40+ minute videos.
RECOMMENDATION: Why not get your feet wet with a compact 12-minute examination of the downfall of cryptocurrencies? If this speaks to you, you can venture forth into deeper waters.
Münecat: This woman is a musician who makes thoughtful and well-researched deep dives into different social issues and topics and ends each video with an original song she has created. It reminds me a lot of a social science, NSFW version of Bill Nye the Science Guy from back in the day. It’s charming, and she’s very clearly a sharp person. Her depth of research and the way she organizes all that research into digestible explanations and videos is done really well.
RECOMMENDATION: Why not try this video on climate change from last year? Her upload schedule is slower than the others (but not the slowest), mainly because she probably spends so much time on research and editing. Still a great way to spend a bit of your day!
Mia Cole: This woman’s videos are a lot like a fever dream: Leaning heavily into absurdity and chaos, with breaks of lucidity to bring a straight-forward denouement of sorts to spell out what she’s been hinting at with all of her internet references, rapid edits, and mile-a-minute pacing. Her content is definitely not for everyone. There are times where I’m not sure I’m getting the most out of it that I could, but those videos where it comes together, it comes together quite nicely!
RECOMMENDATION: Why not start with a collaboration video, in which she talks with other popular Leftist YouTubers about the (often-times) absolute shit show that is making content online.
Frank Laundry: I first saw this guy back when the dissection of the Manosphere was big on Leftist YouTube, when he put out his Cult of Fresh and Fit video. I enjoyed his style – nice editing, interesting segments, and a good variety of scenes while keeping things coherent. What really blew my socks off was his feature film-length video on walkable cities in America. I’m a sucker for city planning videos, and this one was playing 4D chess with history, economics, and social movements, with a sprinkle of city planning. An absolute treat!
He’s probably made the fewest videos of all the creators, so his library would be the easiest to get caught up on. The time and attention he dedicates to his videos really shows, and they are definitely worth the wait!
RECOMMENDATION: Why not go with that behemoth city planning video! Yes, it’s huge. But! You can easily break it up into multiple watch sessions. It’s definitely worthy of your time.
I’m not going to lie: I’m a bit burned out on most Marvel properties. I went into quite a few movies this year expecting cool stuff that might challenge me or mix things up, but walked away feeling a bit lukewarm.
The new Black Panther, however, felt like something new and refreshing. The main theme was grief: How do we overcome grief to let our lives continue? How do we mourn? How do we respond to existential threats to our very existence? To what extent do we allow history to shape our views? What’s the relationship for us, personally, between technology and spirituality? There were so many themes, so many looks at how we deal with internal struggle (manifest as an external struggle, too!) that I found it all very engaging.
I loved Namor, his backstory, and the shape of his culture. How they handled that blew me away and I loved it. The CG in this movie looked very crisp as well, a stark improvement over the rough visuals in the second half of the first Black Panther. And of course, the music was incredible: The whoops you hear as cues for the Dora Milaje always gives me goosebumps because you know it’s about to get real.
There were a few things I thought could improve: All the stuff with Ross didn’t feel very… necessary? I don’t think it added anything to the movie, rather, it seemed to be horned in there to add to the extended universe. I get the feeling that a certain character who appeared in these scenes was there to set some stuff up for an upcoming movie, The Thunderbolts. I was also a bit confused about how Namor’s people can survive certain injuries but not others; that confused me a bit.
But overall, this movie made me feel things. It made me think, reflect, and recognize deliberate choices in cinematography, character motivation, and symbolism. A+!
And there we have it! Some of the things I found particularly enjoyable in 2022.
What about you all? What were you into for 2022? Give me your recommendations for what I may have missed in the comments below!