Loblaw Versus the Yakuza


Who fights in slacks? This guy!

No, I am not feuding with the organized crime families of Japan (or anywhere else, for that matter). My battle is with the long-running Yakuza video game series. There are 7 games that exist so far (Yakuza 1-6, plus a prequel called Yakuza 0), with Yakuza 7 coming out next year. And I am going to play them all. Hundreds of hours playing strange Japanese video games, for no reason other than amusement. I use my time well. (For the record, I am pretending that hearing all of the Japanese dialogue while reading the english subtitles counts as some kind of language immersion.)

How this nonsense quest got started

I didn’t think I was going to like Yakuza Zero when I picked it up. Fighting games are far too complicated and precise for my button-mashing inclinations, and fighting is the heart of the Yakuza combat system. But I was riding high on the bliss that another weird Japanese video game (Persona 5) brought to my life, so I gambled and bought Yakuza Zero from a secondhand store.

And I did indeed suck at the combat. Mash mash MASH! That’s my secret technique. I barely managed to develop a minimum level of skill to make it through the fights. But everything outside of the fighting was delightfully confusing and strange.

I do not understand Japan and that is OK.

The cultural differences between my Canadian frame of reference and the digital simulation of Japanese life are baffling. I have no idea what parts are true to reality and what bits are just video game nonsense. Do actual Yakuza members fight while wearing suits? I don’t know! Do men and women go to host/hostess clubs to pay someone to chat and flirt with them? It appears so!

The whole series is a melodramatic gangster story, full of crime and violence, set in the seamy red light district of Kamurocho. Kamurocho is a ficionalized version of an area of Tokyo called Kabukichō, and it is a faithful enough recreation that I think I could find my way around it (were I ever to overcome my embarrassment at finding myself in a red light district in a foreign country)

The actual district

And in between the overwrought dramatic moments of criminal misdeeds (betrayal! double betrayal! TRIPLE DOUBLE CROSS BETRAYAL!!) there are a wealth of ridiculous distractions to pursue: Golf, batting cages, slot car racing,singing Karaoke, managing a hostess club, eating at restaurants, trying and failing to learn mahjong/shogi/a half-dozen other games I’ve never played.  I’ve chased a man’s toupee through the streets as the wind mischievously blows it away, while he hides in an alley because he’s famous and hiding his baldness from his fans.

Delightfully Inconsistent

During the fights, Kiryu-San can use special power attacks that are incredibly violent, like stabbing his opponent with a hunting knife, then driving his knee into the butt of the knife to drive it deeper into the poor sucker’s gut. I see you flinching and looking worried that I may like violence too much. Do not worry! As soon as the fight is over, you’ll see your hero Kiryu standing and lecturing the opponent who is slightly winded but otherwise unharmed. That knife wound was symbolic, I guess. As was the damage from powerbombing the guy directly onto his head.

kiryu heart
Kiryu-San posing for a romantic photo shoot.

And did I mention the dating simulator? Yes, in the middle of living his life of danger and intrigue, the main character Kazuma Kiryu still takes time to go bowling with one of his potential girlfriends. And your reward for successfully wooing a lady is that she will look at you longingly and maybe hold your hand. Surprisingly chaste for a game set in the red light district.


So long story short, I am going to wade through all 8 games. I will avoid the main plot quests for as long as I can. I will sing, and date, and race cars, and run a successful business, and solve the countless minor problems of the good people of Kamurocho (and Sotenbori and wherever the new game is set). And I’ll probably blog about it along the way.




5 best Christmas songs (and the very worst one)

This is my blog and I’ll do what I want. If I want to do a listicle, I will do a listicle. Maybe I’ve already talked about these songs on a previous post. I DON’T CARE.  So I’m going to give you my top 5 Christmas songs with an explanation of why they are great. And I’ll cap it off with a condemnation of the world’s worst Christmas song.

First a note about my feelings about Christmas. I grew up in a mess of a household. Every holiday was a festival of anxiety and stress, and Christmas was the 2nd biggest mess of the year (gonna put my birthday as #1 mess, but they were all vibrant colours in the Feel-Bad rainbow).


The point is that sincere Christmas songs don’t match up with my personal experience.  They feel forced and unnatural. But the shamelessly artificial songs delight me.

Christmas song #5: “Mary’s Boy Child” By Boney M.

The heavy-handed religion of this song would normally get it barred from my house. But lucky for Boney M, hearing this song reminds me of their best song “Rasputin”. I am willing to allow the excessive Jesus-ness of this song in recognition of Russia’s greatest love machine. In fact, I’m not even going to link to the Christmas song. Watch this lip-sync version of Rasputin instead. They even gave the lead singer a beard. AWESOME. Ohhhhh those Russians.

Christmas song #4: “Home for the Holidays” By Perry Como

I could write a poorly researched and shakily premised essay on America’s post-war culture, but I won’t do that here. You are welcome. The short version is that every country had to manufacture a new normal for themselves, after WWII obliterated the old normal. New myths, rigid cultural norms and roles, and songs that tapped into the longing for a return to “the good ol’ days”. But none of that indulgent speculation is why I like this song. It reminds me of playing Fallout 3, wandering around alone in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and that makes me happy. Festive!


Christmas song #3: “Santa bring my baby back to me” By Elvis Presley

This song is ridiculous, and that makes it delightful. And it moves me to do a variety of odd dances to it, jerky and arrhythmic motions that alarm the pets and worry the family.

Christmas song #2: “Wonderful Christmastime” By Paul McCartney

Possibly the best example of a shamelessly insincere Christmas song. Critics and Serious Music Fans hate it. I love it. If we’re going to pretend to have a good time, why not go over the top?

Christmas song #1: “Last Christmas” By Wham!

WHAM! I love a holiday song that completely ignores everyone else and focuses on your own romantic heartbreak. So self-centered. My only regret is that I did not see the video when it was first released decades ago. What a cinematic epic! A chalet! A long walk to a ski hill, but no skiing! George Michael making sexy eyes at a lady across the table! This is the spirit of Christmas.

And now the very worst Christmas song ever:

“Do they know its Christmas?” by Band Aid

I know this was for charity. It did a lot of good. Raised a lot of money and awareness. But JESUS CHRIST is this the ultimate festive spiritkiller or what? What a piece of maudlin, preachy, and unpleasant music. Each artist oversings their part, trying to shove as much emotion as they can into their bit. They could have written a fun holiday song and donated the proceeds, but nooooo, Bob Geldof wanted to give you the gift of despair for Christmas. I accept that this criticism will be included in the case against me when I stand at the gates of heaven, in the unlikely event that all that godly nonsense is true.


If 20 of you post a comment saying you need to see it, I will record a terrible video called “Bob Geldof asks Bono to do Band Aid”. I will play both roles. I will use the world’s worst Irish accent. I may even have pathetic costumes. It will be epic.


Gut Check!

hippy dippy baloney

I normally dismiss talk of things like intuition and sixth sense as a bunch of hippy dippy baloney, because I am a soreheaded old crank. And the supernatural versions of these ideas are indeed nonsense, according to me, and I am of course the expert in everything everywhere.

But I have come to understand what people mean when they talk about ‘going with your gut’. It’s not a magical predictive organ that gives you insight into the future. If it was, my hefty belly would have me rich and foolishly powerful already.

The gut feeling is the immediate response your mind has to new idea presented to it. It’s a synthesis of various bits of datum and experience, objective facts and subjective feelings, boiled down into a single response. Normally, we build a rational framework after the fact to justify that gut response. The framework isn’t necessarily the reason for you gut response: no no, it is usually just the overly complicated excuse you give yourself.

So I have been working on listening to my gut when it speaks up. It’s a challenge. My anxiety loves to play dress up and masquerade as my gut, as do my longstanding insecurities. And you must be eternally vigilant for the biological overrides. Being sad because you’re tired can lead to false gut responses, and don’t even get me started about the lies your sex drive tells you. I’m amazed we humans ever make rational decisions.

But after filtering all of that out, there’s valuable information to be had by checking in with the old gut. Gut responses are especially useful in situations where there’s no simple answer and too many unknown variables to be certain of anything, like art and politics. You can’t know for sure that your character arc is heading down the wrong path, but your gut may have some advice on the subject. It’s like a low-level spider sense that warns you that something isn’t right or that it may turn out badly.

An untested idea is a useless idea, so I am putting in an effort to keep track of my gut responses and then compare them to the actual results of whatever my gut spoke up about. It may be at the end that my gut is no better than random guessing. On the other hand, even if it isn’t more accurate, my gut feelings can give me a course of action when all choices look equally baffling. A method of short-circuiting analysis paralysis is a nice tool to have in the tool box.