Larks & Recs: Shōgun and Stardew Valley

Lord Toranga looks on in Shogun on FX

I heard recently that it would take 350 years to watch everything available on streaming services, so I guess it’s some consolation to know that a decent portion of that is dreck. We want to focus on the opposite here, offering recommendations of things that are worth your time. This week, Clay Dockery recommends Shōgun and Robin Moon is getting into the recently released Stardew 1.6 update.


Clay: Now that the Oscars have finally passed, I have needed to find something to fill the time that I had been dedicating to that experiment. The options seemed pretty lean until the buzz around Hulu’s new version of Shōgun started to get too big to ignore. The 10 episode series is based on the 1975 novel by James Clavell and is a reimagining of the 1980 miniseries. Despite having no interest in the show before sitting down to watch it, the great acting, setting, and world-building immediately pulled me in.

The show is designed to be one part historical-fiction, one part Game of Thrones. There is certainly a tremendous amount of blood and nudity, but the actual story at the heart of the series is the most interesting part. The major throughline, and the main plot of the original series, is about John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), an English sea captain (and possible pirate), who lands in Japan in 1600 and has to learn the ways of the nation. All of that is in the Hulu version, and Blackthorne is still probably the character with the most screen-time, but this version shifts the primary focus onto the Japanese characters, and this leads the show in some interesting directions.

Blackthorne looks on in Shogun on FX

From the modern and Western perspective of most of the viewers, this story of historical Japan (given a lot of creative license of course) creates a sense of wonder and otherworldliness that sets it apart from other historical epics. To watch Shōgun is to read subtitles while trying to understand the complexity of a culture that has its own deep and entrenched history. We know what Lord Toranga (Hiroyuki Sanada) wants, which is to become the ultimate ruler, but we don’t know what to expect from him. And the show through the first five episodes has refused to make things easy. The viewer has to learn to understand and respect Toranga through grasping the subtleties of Sanada’s performance.

This may have been best shown in the last episode to air so far “Broken to the Fist.” Toranga is having a conference with Blackthorne and Mariko (Anna Sawai). At first we focus on his complete annoyance at their “relationship troubles,” but then an earthquake hits. Toranga is pulled underground and the others have to scramble frantically to pull him out, but he somehow loses his swords in the process. The show has mentioned how important swords are, but it has never explicitly spelled out what happens if someone like Toranga doesn’t have them, even for a moment. But the viewer can tell that this is a life or death moment just from the look on Sanada’s face. Blackthorne realizes this too and saves the day, but the most memorable thing in an episode full of wildness was that 20 seconds of panic from Toranga.

Sawaii and Jarvis also have great chemistry in their scenes as the jaded would-be lovers. Mariko is assigned to Blackthorne as a translator and they wind up spending a huge amount of time together, which leads them to bask in the wonders of the Japanese countryside in various ways. Jarvis’s Blackthorne is constantly barking and basking and preening while Sawaii plays Mariko at a low simmer, which makes the scenes with the two have a odd, but appealing, sizzle.

The breakout character, and the funniest, though, is Kashigi Yabushige (Tadanobu Asano). Yabushige is the Littlefinger-esque wildcard, ordering executions, trying to play both sides in the coming war against each other, and getting into sexual exploits for the fun of it too. There is a lot of humor and unexpected levity for a show with such a serious setting, and Yabushige is like the audience surrogate in a lot of that as well.

Shōgun still has five episodes left in its limited run and, despite already knowing the story, I am really excited to see where things go from here.

Stardew Valley 1.6 Update

Robin: A few days ago, the single-handed creator of Stardew Valley, Eric Barone (@ConcernedApe), released the highly anticipated 1.6 update. First of all, I think it’s impressive enough that only one guy has made the extremely successful and popular farming game, and has been continually improving and updating it since its 2016 release. This new update is a big one, introducing some major game-changers (if you’ll pardon the pun) such as a new farm type, a wider choice of pets, a new festival, and much more.

Now, I’m not gonna spoil too much about the update, plus I’m still early on in exploring all the new aspects of the game myself. But so far, I’m enjoying it! I’ve just started the new Meadowlands farm as a co-op with my partner, which looks aesthetically beautiful. There’s a few more waterfalls dotted about the town as well as the farm, and even little details like that make the world feel so much richer. I’ve caught a River Jelly and a Sea Jelly, which are new fishable items that I have yet to discover the purpose of, but they look intriguing.

A few days into Spring, the Bookseller arrived in town; I don’t have anywhere near enough gold to buy any of the books just yet, but this is a feature I’m particularly excited about. The different books give you improved abilities, such as The Way of Wind allowing you to move quicker (I’m the kind of player who loves to move as fast as is mechanically possible, so this immediately caught my attention). The hot-air balloon next to the Bookseller has certainly piqued my interest as well, so I’m looking forward to finding out more about that. Another new kind of reward is Mayor Lewis’ ticket machine; you can collect tickets by completing billboard requests, and can then enter them into the machine in his house to receive a prize. I’ve only gotten one so far, but you can see ahead to upcoming prizes, a couple of which are new items.

I’m certain this is only the tip of the 1.6 iceberg, as I know the announcement from a while ago mentioned new lines of dialogue, new outfits for villagers, and new secrets (another of my favourite parts of the game). This is only what I’ve seen so far, and even that is enough to get me hyped! I can see myself getting carried away with playing it for hours on end. If you haven’t already, do check out the update!

A figure next to a boat by the water in Stardew Valley

Written by TV Obsessive

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