Short story anthology “Each and Every Phantom” available for purchase on Amazon in both e-book and paperback.
Even in this dark, Reed could feel the approach and descent of night. The cold always found a way inside, and as it made itself comfortable, Reed nursed his angers. His wrath against his father, that leathery ulcer of human discontent. His sister who did not support him, even when he protected her. This house, this village, and everything which dared to exist.
He clutched at the metal star in his hand and curled upon it—the center of his world. For the first time, he wondered who might have kept it before his mother. It was an old piece of iron, so she was unlikely the first. Perhaps she found it on the side of the road, or received it as payment for services rendered. Perhaps it was a gift from family. Reed knew little of his mother’s family, only that she too, had once had a sister of her own. He hoped there was love between them, greater than the love he knew. He wished his mother was there with him.
Reed pinched at the rise of warm salt in his eyes.
He did not want to be hateful. His mother would not have wanted that of him.
Still, the night clawed forward and Reed saw no release from the gray room, even after the lamplights of the home went out. He would be cold and alone tonight. He tapped his teeth with shaking fingers.
Then the shanty returned. It was in his head all the day long, and suddenly was not. The cadence of it was faint and distant, but absolute and real.
The beast had come again upon the waters.
As she’d predicted, a large figure lifted itself up from a chasm in the chocolate landscape. It had an arched back, a blood-red bonky nose, wild green hair and skin white as the moon. Shadows retreated down the narrow lengths of its body.
“Aw man, I hate clowns,” Cadence shivered. “Why can’t they ever be pandas or something? Maybe next time,” still, she was a brave balloon girl, so she drew upon the power of her REM balloon sword. If she struck it enough times, she could cure this nightmare.
Tumble took an involuntary step back and swallowed through a hard throat. His chest felt heavy and mixed up, like he’d loosed a tornado of marbles inside. Breathing came in difficult waves. Breathing was not supposed to be difficult.
When finally the clown nightmare pulled itself entirely to the surface, it stood at an amazing height and girth, like a bulldozer. Red and yellow pinstripe overalls covered its body and made its Mickey Mouse shoes seem extra bright and puffy.
The clown bonked its nose with closed eyes. It seemed innocent. Then it smiled, baring a wreath of blackened fangs and eyes that flashed open to veins of red and cold white.
Tumble stepped back a little further and docked an arrow. Kerflooey moved in with the others, head down, his boxing gloves crackling with electric-blue REM.
With a wet crack of its neck, the nightmare charged. Too-long arms dragged along the ground as it lumbered forward, a circus titan from the belly of hell. Its laugh was a demented *hick-hickaw*.
“The Stardust Mirror”
In the kitchen where his mother was usually found slicing bread or baking something sweet, a giant of a man was busy going back-and-forth instead. He was the tallest and broadest creature Tennyson had ever seen outside of the zoo, with everything about him suggesting he might be a distant relative to the rhinoceros. Despite his size, this man, who Tennyson assumed to be the aforementioned Braum, was deft and moved with agility throughout the kitchen, stirring spiced eggs with dexterous fingers, preparing the crust of a cobbler, and flipping strips of sizzling meat on the stove.
“It smells lovely, Braum,” Old Missus Freyja said and retrieved a cane from against a bookshelf in the dining area. Had that cane always been there?
Braum, for all his physical bravado, seemed to blush at this. “You flatter Braum, but he accepts. It will be done soon, we are hoping. Who is this?”
“That’s Tennyson,” Old Missus Freyja leaned in further, if it were even possible with the shape of her back. “I’m introducing him to the family.” She said as if she were passing along a secret.
“Well, Braum hopes we do not spook him. But yes, yes, now we are busy,” Braum attended to a snap of meat which sat on the oven, cooking in burning oil. “We shall talk more later? When Braum is ah, ah, not so busy, ya?” He ran one blocky hand over his blond beard and pink lips. “Lily I think would make for a better introduction, maybe? She is out teaching the chickens how to fly.”
To this, Tennyson’s brow screwed to a point. He looked out the window. “We don’t have chickens,” a pause. “And chickens can’t fly.”
“Ah, but they can,” Braum raised a defiant finger. “You just need to help them believe in themselves.”
**As the title implies, this post speaks towards suicide—how we consume it in media, how it functions culturally, how it affects personal experience. If this is a sensitive topic for you, be mindful of continuing.**
High school was the first time suicide directly impacted my life. A minor friend of a few years had convinced himself he was unworthy of living and killed himself in his middling teenage years—dead before he started. I was not overly familiar with his life, and only tangential in the scope of his social circles, but he was the widely beloved class comic. Witty without effort, smart in how he spun situations to create entertainment for others. Common class-clown things that highly depressed people are often good at. It was one of those things that is obvious in hindsight.
Despite him not being one of my closest relationships, that loss still pried open the gates to a world that, up to then, my naivety had kept in a fantastical land. Intellectually, I understood suicide was a thing that could happen. I had simply never imagined it happening to him.
Suddenly, no one was safe.
Suicide would not have any intimate brushes with my life again until much later, in the tail-end of my college years. This time, it would be a little more personal. This time it was family.
Almost family, anyways. Thank God that darkness was made to retreat, though not without years of heavy battle against some inner demons and leagues of external intervention. It was a wildly complicated ordeal, and I will not unpack it here, because ultimately it’s not what I want to talk about. I only bring up these two circumstances because they served to re-appropriate the emotional energy in my heart and made the topic of suicide one I hold up in both personal and professional interest. I spent years studying the psychology of killing oneself and interacting with people who had tried or wanted to or planned on executing that final act.
Suicide, for all its macabre implications, is important to me. And that’s why I appreciate when I see an honest, realistic portrayal of it in the media I consume. Suicide has a history of being a gimmick, a basic inciting incident or historical cornerstone in a character’s background, but is rarely made the focus of a narrative—probably out of the risk of it tonally disrupting an otherwise happy story.
But that’s what I want to talk about with this article. I write about anime for Geeks Under Grace. I’ve been reviewing anime here since before we had an “anime team,” and I’ve been aching to write an article of this nature for over a year. What eventually made me decide now was the time came after my exposure to the film A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi), which blew up in 2017, following the international commercial success of Your Name (Kimi no Na Wa). This article is not strictly about A Silent Voice, neither the anime, nor manga versions (both of which have my meteoric recommendation), but I will be drawing on pieces of it, as well as several other anime, to reach my conclusion.
Before we go any further though, I wanted to touch upon suicide as it relates to Japan, the land where anime is traditionally forged. Japan has a long history of suicide, even if the kind we see now is different from the days of old. It’s no secret ancient Japan helped “popularize” the concept of seppuku, or the “honorable death.” You are a samurai who failed to protect his benefactor? Rend open your belly. You had inappropriate sexual relations with somebody outside your family’s favor? It is your duty to atone for the dishonor you have brought upon them, and this means willingly (often publicly) bringing about the end.
And you see, that honor… it never really went away. You can see the echoes of it in contemporary Japanese society. The nuances may be different, but the underlying spirit of the problem remains the same: if you cannot be the steadfast rock your family needs, or find success in a cutthroat professional climate, or contribute to the greater whole of Japan as a nation…well, you can always just kill yourself. Under a magnifying glass, if you break down the various economic and social factors that permeate every angle of Japanese culture, you’ll notice it’s a country almost designed to encourage self-destruction. The tides of difficulty that press against every youth and adult are so staggeringly insane that they’d almost be hilarious if they weren’t real, and the result is that Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the entire world.
As such it’s encouraging when I see an anime that takes a no-nonsense approach to the subject, because suicide and the mental elements that surround it are something Japan obviously needs to address with more frequency and greater efforts (something their government is finally taking strides to accomplish). Historically, it’s not as if anime development studios (and any prerequisite creators) have been completely adverse to showcasing suicide in their creations; it just seems to be coming into greater prominence now than years past. Suicide has shown up in many series: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Welcome to the NHK, Orange, and even Naruto, to name a few.
But more often, if a character is killing themselves, it’s not out of an innate desire to end their own lives. I want to make this distinction. Dying as a mode of martyrdom, sacrificial protection, or ignorant abuse of one’s own health are not the same things, and should not be confused with what we are talking about. This is intentional self-obliteration, because you’ve found yourself in a situation where you simply don’t want to live anymore.
I recently watched an anime called Made in Abyss, which had one of the most realistic conflicts orbiting suicide I’ve seen inside or outside of the medium. It was a short, gripping scene—one I cannot talk about without spoilers, so if MiA is on your radar, skip down to the bold sentence below and continue reading from there.
I’ll keep this pretty complex scenario as simple as possible. Nanachi is a young girl who has been through a lot. She was enslaved for use in human experimentation by a sadistic madman alongside her best friend, Mitty. Mitty got the far worse brunt of aforementioned experimentation, and now cannot die, despite being in a constant state of suffering. She cannot even die when Nanachi tries to kill her. In so doing, Nanachi only torments her friend more, even after escaping the clutches of the monster who made them this way. Then come the protagonists of the series, who are in a bind. Our lead girl, Riko, is on the cusp of venomous death, but Nanachi can save her, and does. Recovery takes a long time, during which Nanachi becomes friend with our other protag, Reg. Nanachi learns Reg possesses a means of killing Mitty. If Mitty dies, Nanachi can finally be free of the overwhelming emotional burden placed upon needing to take care of her, and all the suffering she has inadvertently caused.
But if Mitty was gone, Nanachi would also have no more reason to live. Reg picks up on this and, when approached about whether or not he’d be willing to kill Mitty, says, “Okay. But you’re not allowed to die after she’s gone.”
Nanachi pauses. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure to take care of Riko and make sure she’s all better, too.”
“Even after that!” Reg bites down on the moisture in his eyes. “Even after that. You need to promise.”
“Oh,” Nanachi contemplates the pool of water at her feet, a sad ache reflecting in her eyes. She resigns. “That’s so cruel… fine. I promise.”
And Reg destroys Mitty in one of the saddest death scenes in recent memory, fulfilling his part of the deal. Nanachi then joins their party afterwards because, well, she has nothing else.
I loved this interaction. My writing of it now cannot convey the heartbreaking rawness of the scene, but the subtle context of Nanachi wanting to die was never explicitly mentioned or given heavy foreshadowing. It was implied through small phrases and gestures leading to this moment, which Reg, being emotionally alert, was able to notice and act against. The audience is trusted to be intelligent enough to understand that Nanachi was planning to kill herself before this confrontation. And Reg—sweet, broken Reg—called her bluff in a gambit to save her life. Being as young as he is, Reg doesn’t have a good solution, so he basically resorts to blackmail. It is an honest, if brutal means of protecting one of his only friends.
Let’s take a moment to talk about Misa from Death Note. Spoilers for this, as well. There’s a bold line for you, too.
Misa Amane is an immensely tragic character. She is gifted in all the wrong types of intelligence, and none of the ones that save her from abuse and harm at the hands of our favorite sociopathic pile-o-trash, Light Yagami. Misa is practically designed to be emotionally manipulated into supporting whatever vague, justice-centric whim passes through the miasma of sludge that is Light’s ego, falling intensely in love with the mass-murderer because, as she perceives it, he dealt justice against the man who killed her family. Misa’s entire existence rotates around supporting Light.
So, when Light is eventually caught out by the investigation agents and brought to an untimely demise (or not soon enough, depending who you ask), Misa’s world goes with him. While we never see her commit suicide, the last image we have of Misa is one of her standing alone on the edge of a tall building. With all we know of Misa, it’s not hard to pick up on the implication that she jumped, forfeiting her life, as Light was no longer in it.
Misa was bright, popular, enthusiastic, and showed kindness to others. The number one complaint fans have against her character is how easily she was manhandled by Light’s nefarious charm. Like, we know she’s smart, so why is she so oblivious to the awful personality of the man she loves? That’s not realistic at all…
I’m obviously being sarcastic. The most tragic part of Misa’s narrative is that she is a loose manifestation of thousands of people who, at any given moment, are betrayed by their better judgment into trusting people who are not worthy of trust. Misa, for all of her dimensions, was ultimately a simple character. She wanted to love, and be loved in return. She wanted to be useful to somebody, even at the cost of herself, because self-sacrifice is further evidence of how much you love someone. She would forego her happiness in favor of Light’s happiness. And, because of the precarious situation she was in, once Light was no more, she had nothing to fall back on. There was nobody else who would be prepared to save her.
Misa is tragic, because she could have been saved if people had known the whole story. She is a superb example of why we should reserve judgment against others. It’s difficult to ever truly know somebody or the struggles they endure, so it’s imperative we be kind to one another. It’s easy to hate Light, because in this example we were allowed inside his mind. We had first-hand evidence he was rotten. If we were on the outside, among his peers—among Misa—it’s likely he would have duped us, too.
There are honestly so many examples I want to explore, but instead, let’s circle back to the beginning.A Silent Voice.
A Silent Voice tackles many heavy subjects. In the roster along suicide, there’s depression, social anxiety, bullying, and living with disabilities, to name the big ones. It’s not really spoilers to say that both of the protagonists, Shoya and Shoko, face suicidal ideation at some point in their respective lives, and for entirely different reasons. Unlike the last two examples, I’m not going to dive into this one, because the idiosyncrasies and emotional buildup are what make the movie memorable, and I cannot adequately communicate those things with words. But A Silent Voicedoes something remarkable, which is not often seen in this industry. It takes realistic characters, in a real setting, with real hopes, goals, and motivations, places them against real problems, and doesn’t water it down for the sake of the audience. But more than any of that, it doesn’t cast these struggles in a blunt light. They are not hideously dramatic or tragic. They are commonplace issues, dealt with by commonplace people, and we see the power of unity as friends and family support each other through the little ways the world falls apart every day.
I don’t want to deviate too hard from the subject, or feel like I’m bashing you over the head with what I think you should watch, but I cannot stress enough the merits of seeing this film. And, if you liked that, I recommend you read the manga, too. The latter further fleshes out the characters and narrative that the movie, while great, did not have the screen-time to capture.
I guess what I really wanted to do with this article was say thanks. It’s a wide, open letter to every creator who had the skill, courage, and insight to brave the trenches of suicide in narrative. It’s not an easy thing to do, even from a technical vantage. It’s a story that can be easily cheesed without setting the proper tones and expectations for the audience. Yet, it’s one of the heaviest and most needed stories of our modern day.
I’m not expecting any isolated anime, book, video game, or movie to be enough to “save” somebody who struggles with suicidal ideation. But if it can reach them and help them realize they aren’t alone in their struggle, that’s a worthy thing to ask of “entertainment.” Maybe if they see a story in which depression is toppled and anxiety is overcome, they could even find it in themselves to seek help.
If this is you, please understand you are stronger and more important than you believe. Please, if you have an authority figure or religious leader you can trust, reach out to them. If not, the 24-hour suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255, and talkspace.com has an affordable, online therapy match-making program, which I have on good knowledge to be worth its weight.
You have my prayers. I believe in you.
Thanks for reading, and God bless.
(This article first ran in geeksundergrace.com, in April of 2018.)
I recently lost my job. Considering I spent eight months working to get it, and lost it in two for reasons outside of my power, I did not take to this development especially well. A lot was riding on that position. By it, I’d intended to pay off what remains of my embarrassingly large credit card debt and, since it was a remote job, transition seamlessly into a move I’m planning for July, wherein I’ll be driving vertically across the entire United States.
Yet, though this blow was pretty demoralizing, I must admit it didn’t hit quite as hard as many other tough life events to date. It helped that I still had a part-time overnight job, so I wasn’t completely sunk in terms of income, but more importantly, I had recently, finally, articulated something resembling a life ambition. I don’t like calling it a dream. Dreams are flights of fantasy, and subject to be discarded without much permanence. But it was as if a dozen small, unconnected ideas that had been germinating separately for years had at long last collapsed together into a coherent, meaningful project.
I immediately crystallized the idea in words, then plans, then bullet points and timelines. It felt good, finally having some semblance of a direction, after what felt like years of trying to figure that out.
But I still had to get a new job, and deal with episodes of depression along the way. Working at the gym was an easy side-gig for a little extra money, but it would not be able to carry rent, let alone all of my other payments or paying off my credit cards.
I’m going to talk about this debt openly for the first time. Its continued existence and growth both is and is not my fault, and I’ll be the first to admit, much of this could have been avoided if I hadn’t been so naive. I like trusting people, but that is rarely left unabused by strangers. For the sake of brevity, I’ll keep things short, as I’m not going to occupy this post with five years of misgivings. There was the problem of falling for a scam when I was trying to buy my corgi (who was her own separate issue. Good life decision, bad financial one), which cost me about $300. If that was the extent of it, it would hardly be an issue, but a couple years later I fell for the same goddamn scheme, but lost $1,450. Those? Those are on me. Those are the consequence of an ignorance which I have since tempered.
What isn’t my fault is the rest of the list. I had to pay a couple months of rent for a roommate, only partially recovered, and only after interest had accumulated. I was promised $2,000 schooling reimbursement after a year of work by a behavioral health job who went back on their word because I was in the wrong position (despite my having the packet from orientation that said it applied to my job as well). The student loan help program that I was reluctant to accept, but was eventually convinced to join because of trusted sources, ended up costing me $5,500. That smelled of a scam, but I don’t remember the details of how it was sold to me. All I know is that the company responsible has been caught out and shut down, and I was only one in a long line of people who were duped. None of this is even to mention my continued, egregiously-priced student loans that I am continuing to pay off.
The above are a list of financial setbacks, because they are the most tangible to discuss, but the last several years have seen what feels like no shortage of complications. Nearly every attempt at self-improvement, or actively trying to better a life circumstance, has been met with a negative consequence of equal or greater weight. And if they were isolated incidents, perhaps my emotional state would be more stable and resilient in the face of each, but as I am now I feel like every new transgression against my forward momentum, real or perceived, is a critical loss or personal failure. It’s a toxic mentality that is hard to shake.
Yet, as I said before, I’m feeling particularly scrappy right now. I’m still going to move across the country. To Texas, specifically, because when you see as many -50 degree winters as I have, you’d hate winter, too. Winter is godless, but that’s another topic. If things go poorly on the job search in Texas, oh well. I’ll be homeless in Texas before I spend another year enduring the all-consuming, death-freeze of the North.
Speaking of the job search, I did get another job after losing the one mentioned in beginning. It’s not glamorous, nor fun, but it works, and allows for overtime. Right now I’m putting in about 60-65 hours a week, not counting my continued dedication to physical fitness and writing. Between work and those two things, I do almost nothing else right now. Someday, I will resurrect my other passions and hobbies, but that day will come once I’ve learned more about myself and better understand where I’m going. I’ve never had career ambitions, and only ever fabricated some to shut up the people around me. I don’t know what I want to do. Hell, I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that high school and university did an awful job of helping me learn what could be done. In the past 6 months alone, I’ve learned the names of maybe 300+ jobs that I could not have told you what they were called before, or that they even existed. I feel like I only ever had a knowledge of 1% of my options, and those options all required college. I wish I could tell my younger self that, lo, this is an illusion, but hindsight is a bitch and such.
That said, I don’t mind working, and I will do everything I can or need to do in order to realize something more for myself. I’ve worked in security, housekeeping, hospitality, fast food cooking, fast food driving, grocery stores, movie theaters, mental wards, those awful people who try to sell you useless shit in CostCo, a cushy desk job (which was honestly one of the worst), in-home mental health assistance, among about half a dozen other things. I’ve worked overnights on and off for what totals about 7 years. I am no stranger to 18 hour work shifts. I am currently working 60-65 hours a week just to make ends-meet and relieve debt. That’s not counting the time I dedicate to my ongoing physical fitness or writing, which together qualify as another job, minus the income. I must think of them as jobs, otherwise they will be abandoned, and I can’t afford to do that.
Again, I’m feeling unusually scrappy right now. A scrappy, little night owl, who in spite of some less than fortunate tides of life, now feels more determined than ever to strangle my fears and doubts and shortcomings to death through hard work and the audacity to believe, for the first time, that I could make something good.
So, here’s the plan. I’ll leave out the bullet points and timelines, as those are soft numbers and fragile like most human plans are. These aren’t necessarily in order, but there will be some overlap between a few of them:
1. I’m going to establish at least 4 streams of income. I hate talking about money, and have almost no entrepreneurial spirit whatsoever, but I’ve recently come to realize the magic of passive income. I have no intentions to ever stop actively working in some form, but if I can do something that allows me to work on things I at least vaguely enjoy without the stress of making my rent for that month, I’ll call it a win.
2. I’m going to pay off my credit card debt. If all goes the way I want (which it won’t, but at least my expectations are grounded), this will be entirely, or mostly paid off by July when I make my move. If I get it down to sub-$1,000, I won’t sweat that too much. That’ll mean I killed almost 90% of it in a few months, which will be a great feeling.
3. I’m going to network with and learn from other freelancers and entrepreneurs. While their goals are likely very different from mine, these types possess an untapped wealth of resources and knowledge that I have until now been both ignorant of, and ignored. Even if I don’t aspire to become them, I find it hard to believe I won’t learn something useful from their means of doing things.
4. I’m going to establish a distinct brand and work for myself. I know, this is the hot, Millennial thing to do right now. I hate the word “brand” on an almost gut-level. But the changes of this already reflect in my website and the environment around me. Both aesthetically and philosophically, I am striving to make everything I do have intention. So far, it seems to be working.
5. I’m going to get a book traditionally published and present it to Christina Grimmie’s grave. This is a bit of a dead horse at this point, especially to the uninitiated, so I won’t go any further than to say it would be the fulfillment of the greatest promise I’ve made in my life. Considering that my steadfastness to my promises is one of the only things I’ve always liked about myself, I’m not about to let that slip.
6. I’m going to cultivate a community of like-minded individuals who believe in character-centric, emotionally intelligent storytelling, and create a publishing company that showcases those merits in our works.
7. And ultimately, I’m going to create a not-for-profit that unites the geek community to raise funds for awareness and treatment of emotional and mental wellness. Kind of like Patrick Rothfuss’s Worldbuilders, except for depression, anxiety, etc. I was thinking of calling it, or the publishing company, the “Dark Blue Owls.” We’ll see.
Again, it’s a soft plan, and I fully expect things to go awry no less than a thousand times between here and the end goal, but I’m going to do everything I can to stick to it.
And if I chance upon joy, love, family, or a place to call home between now and then, I don’t think I’d have any complaints.
Here we are, back from the dead, and I come with an announcement.
My first foray into the kaleidoscopic, harrowing territory of self-publication is just beyond the horizon. This February, my short story anthology, “Each and Every Phantom,” will be finding a home in Amazon’s in-house publishing service. The exact date is yet to be announced, but will be posted here as soon as it’s confirmed.
Loren Stump (@acrylix91 on Instagram) did me the honor of designing the cover, which is beautiful and everything I could have wanted.
Updates and details to come as we approach release.
The proceeding is a complete list of works I’ve had published across the internet, in descending order from newest to oldest. The first half includes all of my publications with Geeks Under Grace, where I’ve been a content creator since mid-2014 and department editor since early 2018. The second half includes all publications to my personal writing blog, including my serialization of “Anarchy” which ran through 2015. Aside from “Anarchy,” “Iscariot,” and a few short stories in the early days of the blog, none of my prose writing has been formally published.
Nearly eight months of godless agony later, I’ve finally completed a project I’ve been gearing up to do for years. This is the first in a five-part series to be released daily, in which I unpack my favorite instrumental songs in the history of, well, ever. Narrowing this list down was obviously difficult. There were four “waves” needed to thin out the contestants from my library of thousands, and once we got below one-hundred it was like pulling teeth.
Yet, I stayed true to my original goal of fifty, for my own sake, and not compromise that number. I wanted to know for myself what I believed were my favorites among the gallery of songs I so dearly love. This following list is the conclusion of those struggles. They are not in order. Simply getting a pool of them was hard enough. I do wish to leave with my sanity.
Many are favored because of their execution and style, while others, because of a particular attachment or association they have with my personal life. With each entry will be a short blurb, explaining why it belongs. Click the name of the song to open a link for listening. And for a disclaimer: if I couldn’t understand what language they were singing in, I considered the vocals as their own independent instruments, and thus things like Gregorian chants do not disqualify songs from being “instrumentals.”
#1 – “The Beginning” by Factor Eight
As much as I’d like to not start with an eight-minute song, let’s open with a splash of happiness and victory. It’s nearly impossible to listen to “The Beginning” and not feel hope pervade every atom of your body. Nothing about this song is complicated, and for the best. We are introduced by way of orchestral strings, dancing on melting snow. Sunlight comes in as an angelic piano comes baring its gifts. The drums dive in with a stomping cadence, bringing with it the claps of soldiers who have come home. That’s a good way of thinking about “The Beginning.” It is a rebuilding song, a restarting song. Post-destruction and pain. This is the spiritual anthem for recovery and renewal, having survived the long night and sown the way for good things to come in the morning. It’s men and women seeing their families again. It’s a child leaving a hospital from whence hope was momentarily fleeting. It’s not only survival, it’s ascension in spite of whatever wreckage or tragedy lay behind.
#2 – “Unravel” by TK from Ling Toshite Sigure
While I can and have listened to the instrumental versions for hours (there’s plenty to choose from, such as the sexy piano cover I linked above), the soul of this track’s appeal comes from the original version. Unravel is the opening to season 1 of a popular anime called Tokyo Ghoul. It is famous for having some of the most immediately recognizable opening notes in anime, so much so that my brother, who has not watched the series and only heard the song once, was able to tell me it was the Tokyo Ghoul theme after only a couple seconds, long after hearing it his one time.
I am trying to make a point of not discussing lyrics in any of these posts, but for Unravel, I’m making an exception. I believe one of the largest parts of the song’s appeal is that it was specifically written and composed to capture the mentality of the series protagonist, Ken Kaneki, and it does so perfectly. In any of the song’s iterations, both sentimental and intense, the music synergizes with the feeling you get while watching Kaneki develop as a character. Matched by deeply introspective and existential lyrics, Unravel succeeds in being a catch-all of cerebral, contemplative, violent, haunting, and heartbreaking all at once.
#3 – “Requiem For a Dream” by Lux Aeterna
This song was the catalyst by which my campaign for instrumental music was founded, when I was a fledgling high-schooler just discovering the wonder of high-speed internet. It wasn’t until I heard “Requiem for a Dream” that I ever sought out more music of its kind, and the deviations which naturally followed. My imagination shifted under the weight of these new strains of music, epic battles waging, worlds taking shape. My music library has never been the same.
#4 – “Rylynn” by Andy McKee
I think this may be the only song on my entire list which is exclusively composed of acoustic guitar. Rylynn earns its place among my top 50 not only for its stature as a song itself, but for the ties it holds to my personal life. Specifically, this was the theme I associated to my longest-standing crush and unrequited romantic interest, spanning almost three years during my college career. In my mind, this was her song, and while I don’t much listen to the song anymore, I can’t deny it is a sonic masterpiece, and she is still uniquely tied to the dream-like strums contained within.
#5 – “Dream Big” by Mark Petrie
If the phrase “crushing amounts of joy” makes any sense, I’d like to employ it now. This song is immediately and intrinsically filled with hope and overcoming, and for me, is inevitably associated with my favorite series, Naruto. Now, this song isn’t from Naruto, but it reminds me of one pivotal moment in the story: when our scrappy little hero is finally accepted by the people of the village after his harrowing battle against Pain. This song is how that series makes me feel, which is why, despite any arguments against Naruto’s quality which might arise (and being the fan I am, I’m more aware than most regarding its shortcomings) the series means so much to me. No amount of argumentation could divorce that narrative from the feeling “Dream Big” provides. This song is like walking into a pole, but a pole made of buoyancy and tranquility and victory. It makes you stop and be thankful to simply exist.
#6 – “I Could Have Done More” by John Williams
John Williams is so masterful in so many ways. There’s an almost trans-existential ache behind this one. One heart speaking directly to another, confiding about little demons hidden for years on end. It’s somebody telling a best friend they want to die. You can feel it, behind the strings. How that harping violin files down your ribs into chains? Your sternum into a lock?
I mean, it IS a song about the Holocaust.
#7 – “Blumenkranz” by Hiroyuki Sawano
(Get used to seeing the name Hiroyuki Sawano. He shows up a lot on this list.)
Beautiful evil. This is a theme which both perfectly captures the villainess of its series, and transcends her. When I hear “Blumenkranz,” I can only imagine a fallen angel, glorious and lithe and bathed in colors. But even while shining for all to see, that angel maintains an essence of absolute cruelty. “Blumenkranz” is the modest seductress, the scheming man with the world’s best smile. It is power, proud and terrible. Honestly, most of this is credited to the choir, which really sells the song on merit of its divine, alien sound.
#8 – “One-Winged Angel” by Nobuo Uematsu (The Black Mages Version)
If the spirit of menace could have its own soundtrack…
This song is one of the most well-known video game tracks ever made, and inspires both terror and awe in many a veteran player. It is the theme to Final Fantasy VII’s nightmare pretty-boy villain, Sephiroth. When those staccato strings and slamming drums break in, you need to prepare for the worst. And after about a minute, this childish foreshadowing settles into the ashes, throwing wide the gates for a sound pulled from the belly of hell itself, full of darkness insurmountable and infinite.
#9 – “Spring’s Melody” by Masaru Yokoyama
“She is the journey with no destination.”
There’s a wonderful anime of world-class caliber called Your Lie In April, which plays your heartstrings like a violin (ha). Whenever this song begins, you want to soar. It rounds out the narrative beats perfectly, breathing life into the tone of the story and the animation. This track might be simple, but from the first note it jars me back into that same zeitgeist of joy and sadness I experienced through every poetic second of YLiA.
#10 – “Seigi Shikkou” by Makoto Miyazaki and various others
From the anime “One Punch Man,” this song is, for lack of a more appropriate phrase, heroic as hell. Now, unlike many entries on this list, my love of Seigi Shikkou exists independently of the source material (which I am infamously known to dislike among my social circles). I am enamored by this kickass, pulse-pounding song for two particular reasons (outside the obvious one of it being a mega-dope song in its own right). First, it works wonders at breaking through mental barriers, and as such it is commonly played every time I go to the gym. Few things cast my inhibitions to the curb as violently as when those strings break into the song hook, like a superhero taking flight. Second, I keep the track on hand during the writing of my current and most ambitious story ever. It is the end game—how I want the conclusion of this story to feel when people read it. All of my work and creative labors are aiming to inevitably land upon the feeling Seigi Shikkou generates. It is impressively, almost impossibly cool.