Lyn Jensen's Blog: Manga, Music, and Politics

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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Monday, August 25, 2014

When George Michael Was in Wham!

Remember when George was half of Wham! and Andrew Ridgeley was the other half? Here's my never-before-published review of one of their music video collections. I never quite understood why publications seldom reviewed long-form music videos back in the eighties.  Maybe the video manufacturers didn't curry favor with the press, or something.

You're not supposed to take Wham! as contributors to a great art form--their music is meant to be light entertainment.  (The name is Wham! because another group was Wham.)  Their long-form VHS cassette, Wham! The Video (CBS Fox) presents an almost complete collection of their clips.  Unfortunately one of their best, "Young Guns," is missing while "Last Christmas," doesn't truly belong here (it's for the holidays, yeah) but it's included anyway.

What these individual clips demonstrate is that the duo's early punk-like raps remain their best works.  They're fairly well conceptualized and edited, exuding youthful energy.  The later videos and songs (with a few exceptions) lack the proper blend of musical and visual artistry.  George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley apparently don't conceive their own videos, so they're at the mercy of their directors--who many not have an artistic eye for matching visuals with the music.  Best of the more recent songs is "Club Tropicana," and it gets an appropriate setting, with the Wham! boys and their back-up singers, Shirlee and Pepsi, eyeing each other at a posh tropical resort.  By contrast, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Everything She Wants" are great songs but the videos are very poorly crafted.  Couldn't somebody have come up with anything better?

Wham! routinely gets slammed for appealing to young girls, (So what's wrong with that?)  This package shows there's more to their best work than just good looks.  Even with flaws, here's the kind of fun you can unwind with at the end of a long working day.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Review: Adam Ant, Strip (1983)

All the writing I did about Adam Ant--only a small portion of it was ever published in the eighties. My review of his 1983 album Strip never was, so I'm posting it here for my fellow Ant people.

What Adam Ant needs right now is an album with three potential hits the size of "Goody Two Shoes."  This isn't that album, and it may be a sign he's more interested in videos, films and touring than putting new material on vinyl right now.

Adam simply sounds like he's been listening to Prince too much--maybe his record company pressured him to make an album for the Prince crowd?  The sound here isn't beat-oriented Ant music for Sex people, it's more like disco/MOR-oriented synth-pop even without any synthesizers being credited.  Not long ago, this guy had a line in a song about, "Your body should be yours, and sharing it sublime."  Now he's delivered an entire album about "get down, get off" and girls in sports cars.

The only two tracks worth singling out are the ones Phil Collins produced, where something that remotely sounds like rock or New Wave comes through.  One is "Strip," a decent hit and decently risqué song.  The other is "Puss in Boots" which owes its catchy style more to Collins' drumming than anything else. 

Otherwise forget about enjoying Adam's vocals or lyrics--his great voice is done no favors by the arrangements, and the lyrics aren't worth fighting though the retro-disco beat to pick out. The remainder of songs are all imitation Prince--even including an ode to Prince's much-favored T&A support act, Vanity.  "Montreal" is about sexual excess but it's nothing "Lady Marmalade" and La Belle didn't do better last decade (so 1974).  "Playboy" at least handles humorously what the rest of the album takes far too seriously.

Overall Strip isn't very sexy and not much of a musical tribute to anything but trash.  Out of ten songs, at least seven come off as slapped-together filler vainly attempting to cash in on Prince's sexy success--like Adam Ant needs to imitate any other musical artist's turf.  Prince did a song about "Sister," so "Navel to Neck" could be about keeping it in the family, too.  "Amazon" could have been a good Adam Ant song--but as performed here, it's just another pathetic attempt to cash in on something like what Prince might do.

It makes me wonder what kind of compromises between artist and record company were made so the company would have product to push until the artist gets around to pleasing his fans.  The come-hither cover photo sets up classic romance for a female audience--but the songs appear aimed at macho male Playboy readers.  Rock fans won't like this record, and neither will the dance-pop crowd.  They'll stick with the real Prince, not an imitation. 

Saddest is that we Ant people must wait at least another year before we may finally get the blockbuster three-hit album that we know Adam Ant's capable of.  We'll wait but the momentum that "Goody Two Shoes" built is going to go away, and less serious fans will move on to rival romantic pop heroes.

Monday, June 30, 2014

SuBLime Manga: Ten Years a Yaoi Fangirl

June 30, 2004 was the first time I heard of yaoi.  For ten years now I’ve watched the fortunes of various publishers, creators, and fans take oft-broken routes, some having major impact and others just fading away--but I continue to feel fortunate that so many of us have contributed in so many ways to make and keep yaoi successful in America. 
VIZ only entered the yaoi market a couple of years ago through its SuBLime imprint, but editor Jennifer LeBlanc continues to provide us with new (or revived) work and she’s kept several series running for an extended period.  Here are some reviews of her squeal-worthy wares:

Starting With a Kiss by Youka Nitta
Perhaps the biggest catch for SuBLime is that some of Youka Nitta’s manga is once again available in the USA. Starting With a Kiss runs at least two volumes, with a fairly serious (if far-fetched) story involving generations of Japanese gangsters. (Are you into The Sopranos--but Japanese and gay?) SuBLime also has revived Embracing Love, a multi-volume story about a far-fetched romance between two of Tokyo’s hottest actors, formerly introduced to American audiences by the now-defunct Be Beautiful. SuBLime is packaging Love by combining two volumes into one (three vols. in place of the original five) and also offering a digital version.

Awkward Silence by Hinako Takanaga
As another of yaoi’s most popular artists, Hinako Takanaga has given us Little Butterfly, The Tyrant Falls in Love, You Will Drown in Love, Challengers, and that's just a portion of her work--some may still be unavailable in the US. Awkward Silence runs at least four volumes and takes a twist on formula teen romance.  Will the shy sensitive artist win and keep the heart of the school’s star baseball pitcher?  What if they’re both guys?  It’s the kind of yaoi I personally like best—a romantic sugary-sweet relationship that just might really happen.

Honey Darling by Norikazu Akira
Here’s another sugary-sweet romance that could almost really happen—and since it’s a single volume, there’s no need to spend dollars and suspend one’s sense over a lengthy series.  You love yaoi and cats?  Here’s your story.  Young man needs a vet for his sick kitten, and the vet needs someone like a wife—in more ways than one.  The artist is the sister of another yaoi star, Homerun Ken.   

His Favorite by Suzuki Tanaka
This manga is perhaps best enjoyed by fans of Menkui, a previous Tanaka series that BLU published in this country. It’s another schoolboy romance, but it’s more about laughs, and it’s rated for teens, so it’s not about eye-popping sex.  (Darn!  Right?)  I’ve even seen it categorized with mainstream manga, instead of being aimed specifically at the yaoi audience.  The story revolves around the geeky guys in a school’s comics club (they’re all flops with chicks) but one becomes the "favorite" of the school stud, who’ll have nothing to do with the jealous girls who fawn all over him.  Turns out the characters’ relationships are very complicated, enough to stretch over at least six volumes.

See www.sublimemanga.com for more.  LeBlanc divides her line between print and e-versions—she’s revived the long-languishing Dog Style as an e-book series, for example.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Laugh Factory Feature Online

Random Lengths has posted my feature about the Laugh Factory in Long Beach online:
http://www.randomlengthsnews.com/summertime-laughs/

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reality TV Reviews/Recaps

Here's the site for my reality TV coverage! See www.realitytvfans.com for my reviews/recaps of The Voice, American Idol, The Amazing Race and Hell's Kitchen.

Friday, May 2, 2014

HEY, HOLLYWOOD! GET YOUR HOT MANGA PROPERTIES!


Manga Reviews With Hollywood in Mind

By Lyn Jensen

Cross-marketing a manga series with film/TV is commonplace in Japan. In that country manga is often part of an extensive media franchise that also includes anime—animated films or TV or both—and sometimes even live-action productions. Here in America Hollywood has a long history of turning our comic-book franchises into movies and TV shows (Batman, Superman, Spiderman, The Green Hornet, Captain America, the list goes on and on). With one or two exceptions, however, Hollywood continues to ignore Japanese—and American--manga as source material.

How long before Hollywood figures out manga provides a whole new universe of licensing opportunities? The hundreds of thousands of fans that continue to attend comic cons (and gamer cons and sci-fi cons) every year should demonstrate there’s an audience—to say nothing of how Hollywood’s always looking for the latest youth-culture trend.   

After reading manga for nearly ten years, I keep imagining several series (some Japanese, some American) with potential for success on America’s big and small screens. (Animation’s a separate conversation, so we’re limiting our suggestions to possible live-action productions.) Any film directors and/or TV producers looking for your next scripted project, call your agent about the following licenses: 

Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, published in the US by Tokyo Pop

Every film season demands a never-ending supply of fresh new romantic comedy.  Svetlana Chmakova’s English-language manga Dramacon remains one of the most innovative romantic comedies found in any medium in recent memory. Lovers meet up, break up, and make up amid the drama of a comics convention—cosplayers, artists’ alleys, portfolio reviews, J-Pop music, and references to tentacle-sex hentai anime.

The logline:  A pretty young would-be manga creator meets a handsome and mysterious cosplayer who hides many secrets behind his dark glasses. A boorish boyfriend, well-intentioned sister, comics-crazed fans, flirty cosplayers in skimpy costumes, and a superstar manga mentor provide support and sub-plots. As demanded for a successful romantic comedy, it perfectly balances laughs with more serious coming-of-age drama.

A script adapted from the first volume could be shot on a very low budget, too. Just use any small-time comic con for background shooting, and cast some fresh up-and-coming talent. Chmakova’s entire series runs three volumes—the latter two deteriorate in quality but can be held in reserve should there be demand for a sequel. It’d be great as a summertime PG-13 theatrical movie—or for TV or Web or direct-to-DVD markets.

Fake by Sanami Matoh, published by Tokyo Pop

One of the more twisted corners of my mind can see Fake taking on new life as a very, very gay Barney Miller crossed with a very, very gay Starsky and Hutch. When Tokyo Pop published Fake about a decade ago, it introduced the yaoi genre to America. Japanese manga artist Sanami Matoh gave us her unique take—by turns farcical, thrilling and very, very sexy—on all those gay jokes about the buddy-cop formula. It’s easy to find enough ideas for several seasons on some edgy cable network. There’s already enough fanfic (from PG-rated to XXX) about police partners-in-more-ways-than-one Dee Laytner, Ryo McLean and the rest of the romance-minded squad at New York’s 27th Precinct (yes, same fictitious precinct as Law and Order).

King of RPGs by Jason Thompson, published by Del Rey

If The Brass Teapot could make it to the big screen, King of RPGs should, too, and it’s much funnier. Longtime manga expert Jason Thompson has turned the world of Role Play Games (RPGs) into a hilarious two-volume English-language manga series. Make a movie, and grab an audience of geeks, gamers, and anybody who laughed through The Hangover or Bridesmaids.

The logline:  two very passionate young role-play gamers square off, each convinced he’s the campus king of RPGs. Pop psychology, video gaming, comic book fans, Renaissance re-enactors, knucklehead cops, and terror alerts get mixed in. Even though the story’s a farce (and a great one), the characters are multi-dimensional challenges for up-and-coming young comedy stars. The token girl gamer isn’t a pin-up girl, she’s one of the guys, and the policewoman antagonist could be a career move for any number of Hollywood’s young character actresses. There are a few places where the plot could be tidier, but that’s what screenwriters are for.

Banana Fish by Akimi Yoshida, published by VIZ

Government and criminal elements are out to take over the world with a dangerous mind-control drug codenamed Banana Fish—and only one person can stop them: teen super-gangsta Ash Lynx, who’s burdened with a shocking past as a boy prostitute hired out to government men. A Japanese teen, Eiji Okumura, is caught in the complicated web and only he can change Ash’s fate—whether it be death or a new life together back in Japan. Which it will be, however, is beyond either’s control.

That’s the epic and very convoluted plot of Akimi Yoshida’s phenomenal 19-volume Banana Fish, When first published in the eighties, it provided young Japanese audiences with an unflattering and twisted critique of Reagan-era America: secret CIA experiments, wounded Vietnam vets, warring youth gangs, ruthless drug cartels, child prostitutes, government corruption, state-sponsored terrorism, and a possible romance between young men. Parts of the story become unbelievably far-fetched and illogical, especially the tragic final act, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed in a screen adaptation. (Without giving too much away, it’s not the unsatisfying ending that’s the problem, it’s how it’s arrived at.)

If post-9/11 America can welcome 24 into our living rooms, we ought to be able to handle Banana Fish. This is more than a movie, it’s an entire TV season--at least a six-to-eight-part miniseries and possibly a whole 24-style series.  

Saiyuki (manga and media franchise by Kazuya Minekura, published by Tokyo Pop)

Four superheroes embark on a long, dangerous, and extreme mission across the Wild, Wild West. One’s a pistol-packing Buddhist priest. One’s a scorned half-breed who fights like a demon and parties like a rock star. One’s the mighty young Monkey God straight out of the Asian zodiac. One’s that mild-mannered math-teaching serial killer who’s already seen his share of movie makeovers. From China in the East to India in the West, in some far-off forgotten time, they team up to battle gods and demons over the fate of the universe.

Saiyuki is a classic Buddhist epic of gods, demons, martial arts, swords and sorcery. The source has long been familiar to a certain geek streak outside Asia (it inspired parts of Star Wars, for example) but it’s never been faithfully dramatized for mass-market American pop culture. Kazuya Minekura’s in-yer-face manga interpretation, however, may change that.  She twists and turns it into an extreme sci-fi Gen-Next mash-up, with characters freely mixing cross-cultural anachronisms while mad-scientist antagonists run computer data and conduct experiments like demonic Dr. Framkensteins.

Superheroes are trending right now, and so are convoluted seasons-long sci-fi/fantasy/thriller TV series. Think 24, Revolution, Grimm, and Once Upon a Time but start with a demon-possessed Far East. Go heavy on the special effects. Throw in some Star Trek and Star Wars flavoring, add some Conan and some Kung Fu, and cast some appealing young action-hero actors (a blond Genjo Sanzo, an emerald-eyed Cho Hakkai, you get the idea). We could soon see Son Goku the Monkey God become as iconic a character to American audiences as Dr. Spock.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: Parkers' Lighthouse, Long Beach

Random Lengths posted my Arts/Cusine/Entertainment story about Parkers' Lighthouse in Long Beach online.  It can be considered a restaurant review or a business feature:
http://www.randomlengthsnews.com/dine-with-a-queen-in-long-beach/

Since links have a way of going down, here's the text:

Dine With a Queen in Long Beach

By Lyn Jensen

Beachfront dining is an everyday sport here in the South Bay, and 2014 has brought a remarkably summery winter and spring, even by California standards. That means we can enjoy Long Beach’s waterfront before tourist season hits. If you’re visiting the city harbor and looking to get away from chain restaurant menus, you’ll find Parkers’ Lighthouse offers a variety of unique dining experiences.

Having recently added Queensview Steakhouse on its top floor, Parkers’ Lighthouse now offers two restaurants in a single location. The building itself is one of Long Beach’s landmarks, with architecture that slightly resembles San Diego’s world-famous Hotel Coronado. It’s the place across the channel from the Queen Mary, dominating the Shoreline Village complex against a backdrop of the Long Beach downtown skyline.

According to the restaurant’s general manager Michael Cole, “Parkers’ Lighthouse opened in 1983 as part of the concept of Shoreline Village, as an anchor tenant. It’s become an icon in the city, and was most recently renovated in 2011, when the Queensview Steakhouse opened.”

Despite the building’s design, Cole says he doesn’t think it was intentionally built to resemble the Hotel Coronado.

Describing the variety of dining choices, Cole explains, “We’re two restaurants. Parker’s serves primarily seafood. The first and second level are served by the main kitchen. On the third floor we originally had the Seafood Gallery, with another kitchen, and it was more casual. That was 1983 to 2011. Then we looked at the third floor, with its panoramic view of the Queen Mary and downtown. We were not using that room to its full potential. We looked at the competition for steakhouses and there were not too many. So we developed a steakhouse on the third floor, which opened in 2011.”

Cole adds that Queensview is meant to be a more formal dining experience, “similar to Fleming’s or Ruth Chris.” Since the upgrade, he’s seen more visitors from Palos Verdes, San Pedro, Orange County, and Seal Beach.

Both restaurants attract locals, tourists, and conventions, Cole says. He adds the Parkers’ Lighthouse atmosphere is “casual but neat,” and seats 160, plus patio seating. They “get a lot of boaters” from the neighboring marina, and there’s no strict dress code.

A visit to Parkers’ Lighthouse finds every table on all floors offering spectacular oceanfront views. The establishment’s also known for its mesquite grilled fresh seafood and its award-winning wine list. At the seafood restaurant, the specialty is fresh fish grilled on mesquite hardwood. Biggest seller is the Chilean sea bass. The kitchen makes its own French fries.

To get to the third-floor steakhouse, walk the red carpet from the lobby and take the elevator. Here the signature dish is prime Porterhouse for two, cost $95. However, portions are large. One rib eye steak, one big baked potato, and one order of asparagus might be enough for two people, so order accordingly. Touches include bread served with multiple flavored butters, while orange slices in water glasses provide a change from the standard lemon or lime.

Cole says that although Parkers’ Lighthouse is part of a corporation, they’re not part of a chain in the usual sense. The parent company is Select Restaurants based in Cleveland. Parkers’ Lighthouse is the company’s only restaurant in southern California. The others are all in the eastern US. All are unique, all are under different management.

Easter and Mother’s Day are fast approaching, and Parkers’ annually offers special brunches for both holidays. Cole says, “We serve a brunch buffet and our regular dinner menu on these special occasions and the buffets are available at Parkers’ Lighthouse and on the third-floor Queensview.” He adds that, on these holidays, reservations are recommended but not necessary.

You needn’t wait for a holiday to have brunch while watching the waterfront, however. Every Sunday the Queensview offers a three-to-four-course plated brunch, with a “make your own Bloody Mary” bar. Food and the view aren’t only reasons to spend an evening or Sunday at Parkers’ or Queensview, either. Upstairs at the steakhouse, a piano lounge and live music are on the bill Tuesday-Sunday.

Downstairs there’s a jazz band on Friday nights. Cole also notes the Shoreline Village setting attracts visitors as a destination, “We have a lot to do. Being on the waterfront, shops and stores, people make a day of it.”

A visit to Parkers’ Lighthouse and Shoreline Village is about more than just finding a place to eat, so plan your time accordingly. The surroundings are almost like a miniature amusement park, with souvenir shops, boutiques, snack bars, the Rain Dance (selling Native American crafts), a waterfront promenade, and even boat rides and a stagehouse. Parking isn’t free, so remember to get your parking ticket validated as you dine and shop.

Parkers’ Lighthouse is open seven days a week, M-F, lunch 11-3, and dinner 5-10. Sat. 11-3:30, Sunday 4-10. The Queensview Steakhouse is open five nights, Tues-Sat. 5-10, plus Sunday for brunch, 10-2:30. The lounge is open 11-10 Sunday-Thursday and 11-11 Friday-Saturday. Happy Hour happens five nights per week, M-F, 3-5 on the patio and 3-7 in the lounge.