Saturday, February 28, 2015

C.M.B. volume 28 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

C.M.B., vol. 28, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B
Three stories this time. The first two are puff pieces, while the third is a return to a bloody war-torn region. The third story is relatively graphic and isn't recommended for the squeamish.

Note that I'm giving spoilers for all three chapters. You have been warned.

(Shougo remembers seeing the Kijimuna kill and eat a bad man.)

Kijimuna- (Kijimuna)
Shougo Oonaka is an auditor and CPA. His current job is to report on accounting irregularities at a company that appears to be run by the mob. He balks at fudging the books, so the company boss threatens him with violence and to shut down the small auditing agency he works for. After the unsuccessful meeting, he decides to return to Okinawa for Obon Yasumi (the summer Bon vacation period in August when most people return to their family homes for a week). His parents had gone to Tokyo, then gotten divorced when he was about 3. He was sent to Okinawa to live with a relative until he got old enough to move back to Tokyo to get a job. While he was in Okinawa, he saw a monster, called the Kijimuna. Generally, kijimuna are small, red woodland sprites that live in trees and cause mischief. Shougo's version, though, was a big gray straw creature that lived in a hut. He'd seen it kill someone then eat them, and ever since it shows up occasionally to make his life miserable, such as with his current work. He goes into the forest to try to locate his kijimuna, and instead encounters Shinra, who is attempting to capture a rare nokogirikuwagata (stag beetle). Shougo shows the boy which tree to use, and where to put old bananas to attract the insect. That night, Shougo's old friends have a dinner party, and Shinra hears enough of the conversation to help the guy out.

--- Spoilers ---

Shougo was very young when he lived near the forest, and his memory of the events at that time is very jumbled. He'd seen a black and white picture of a kijimuna in a book, and it kind of resembled a man that had been living in a hut in the woods. The guy had stolen money from his office in Tokyo and run from the law to live off the grid. One day, Shougo got bit by a pit viper and the man had killed the snake before carrying him into a hospital. The man later died from food poisoning, probably brought on by eating something tainted in the forest. The combined images of killing the snake, the picture in the book of monsters, the guy from Tokyo and the remote hut all worked together to create Shougo's kijimuna. The vacation comes to an end, and Shougo prepares to return to work and fudge the books in order to protect his company. But, his path is blocked by the kijimuna, which refuses to let him into the client's building. He gives up, visits his main office and tells his boss about the problems with the client. His boss thanks him for the information and reveals that this particular client is about to be raided by the police, and he would have been caught up in the investigation if he hadn't come forward now. Shougo thanks his kijimuna for saving him.

Natural science: We get the story about the Okinawan kijimuna, and pictures of pit vipers and stag beetles.
Payment: Shinra gets a stag beetle and a free dinner.

(Uchida trying to sell his katana collection to Shinra before being unmasked.)

Akiya (Vacant House)
Shinra is at the house of Kou Uchida, inspecting Uchida's collection of katanas. The older man selling the collection tells Shinra he has no one to share it with, and wants to use the money to go on a vacation trip. As the boy notices something unusual about one specific sword, the sound of sirens outside attracts their attention. A construction crew was preparing to tear down a nearby abandoned house when some of the workers went inside to do a final check before starting work. They found the body of an old man, and called the police. The neighbors standing around gawking immediately start spreading rumors and sharing gossip about the homeless guy that had been sleeping in the place lately. Kou recognizes the dead man, and remembers tall tales they used to tell each other over games of shogi in the old building. Finally, he breaks down and tells the police that he knows the body, and that his name was Kijima. Shinra seems shocked at this. Then, Kou says that he's going to need the money to take care of Kijima's funeral costs, so he really needs to sell the collection now. The boy thinks for a while, so Tatsuki prods him into helping out. Shinra finally replies that he can't do this by himself, he's going to need some specialists.

--- Spoilers ---

A few days later, Shinra and Tatsuki return in the company of two guys in suits. The abandoned building has been quickly cleared away and is now an empty lot. Before he can start, Shinra asks for ID, because some of the swords are registered historical items. Kou hands over a driver's license, and the boy says, "This is a fake". He then proceeds to tear Kou apart. The old man has no idea what is in the collection, having packed real katana together with toys, cheap replicas and outright fakes. In fact, the body that was found was Kou Ichida's, and the person inhabiting the house here is Kijima. What had happened was that Kou had died of a heart attack, and Kijima had found him dead on the floor of this house. Kijima dragged Kou to the place he'd been sleeping at and then changed buildings. None of the neighbors even noticed. Kijima acknowledges the situation and then turns to the two guys in suits, assumes that they are police, and volunteers to turn himself in. The suits are surprised and quickly answer back that they're lawyers. Shinra explains that one of the "swords" was used in the Edo period as a kind of wallet for people that didn't have pockets. The scabbard holds a sliding box with a hollow space just large enough to store some coins (see the back cover below). When Shinra had been looking at the collection the first time, he found a piece of paper in the scabbard that turned out to be Kou's will, bequeathing everything to his friend, and had been put in the sword on the assumption that Kijima would find it in case Kou died first. The two lawyers are there to finalize the will and transfer Kou's belongings to Kijima. In the end, Shinra gets to keep the scabbard wallet as payment. Tatsuki is puzzled over why none of the neighbors recognized Kou's body. Shinra points to the mass of masked and faceless people marching around them on the street and asks why that would be so unusual.

Natural science: The only real history or craft is the description of the Edo-era scabbard wallet.
Payment: The scabbard wallet.

(Dr. Emiko shows the cave painting to Shinra and Tatsuki. The boy immediately realizes what the crystals in the pot represent.)

Horide- (Holiday)
The fictional Commonwealth of Janga is in the middle of a genocide war conducted by the military of the neighboring fictional country of Saadan (this is probably a reference to Sudan and Darfur). Saadanian forces sweep in and massacre women and children, laughing as the "coward" civilians try to run and hide from machine gun fire. Switch to a refugee camp. NPO doctor Emiko Shintani has been tasked to take Shinra and Tatsuki to a nearby cave within the sandstone rock spires. In the cave is an ancient wall painting that had been discovered by Jil Simon, Assistant Director of Janga Foreign Affairs. Emiko tells them that Jil wants to identify the painting as a cultural treasure, which might lead to the end of the fighting. Shinra looks at the details, which include a silvery rock that neither melts nor breaks when pounded, and concludes that Jil is playing a more dangerous game. He and Tatsuki go to New York and meet up with Jil at the U.N. They talk in his car to avoid wiretaps.

The problem is that a military leader, Elme, seized power in a coup in Saadan and has ordered the attacks against the Jangans. The only way to counter him is to get a U.N.-ordered cease fire against Saadan, but to do this requires a unanimous "yes" vote by the five permanent members of the Security Council - England, the U.S., France, Russia and China. Since most of those countries disagree with each other on principle, there's no way of getting the "yes" vote in less than a year. Jil is seeking the vote by Christmas, three weeks away. He offers a couple pieces of metal in a small pouch to get Shinra's backing, and the boy agrees. Shinra then tells Tatsuki what Jil is trying to do. The cave painting shows that the Jangans had discovered a vein of platinum thousands of years ago. While that rare metal is valuable today and used in a wide variety of modern machines, at the time it was considered too hard to work and was discarded as worthless in favor of gold. Jil wants to manipulate each country into aiding Janga. First, he offers the cave painting to France, which may want it for the Louvre. This attracts the attentions of America and England, who figure out that Janga had platinum and they want to negotiate the mineral rights. China may side with Janga because while they have trade contracts with Saadan, Elme is reneging on them or demanding larger bribes. They could switch to support Janga just because it's good business. This leaves Russia, which will probably vote no regardless of every other argument.

--- Spoilers ---

(Shinra shows off his trick for getting the Saadans to think they're on a different floor.)

Jil and Shinra set up a trap for the Saadan foreign envoy, John Musebe. Musebe and his men know that if Jil succeeds in getting this ceasefire that Elme will put them in front of a firing squad. This means that they have to stop the Janga foreign envoy, and they plan on doing this by kidnapping or killing his assistant - Shinra. The boy goes into a hotel and apparently enters a room on one of the higher floors. The men following him look down the stairwell and count the flights of stairs up to determine which floor he's on. They take the elevator to what they think is the correct floor and burst into the room with guns drawn, only to find themselves face to face with the Russian envoy and his army of bodyguards. At first, it looks like Russia has just entered into a war with Saadan, but Musebe plants a bomb in Jil's car for revenge and puts the Jangan into the hospital in a coma for 5 days. It now seems that all of his plans have fallen through because Russia is still voting against everyone else. However, Shinra draws up a script that Jil is to read to the U.N. from his wheelchair. He gives an impassioned speech about the value of the lives being lost every day in the genocide campaign and the crowd cheers when he's done. Then, in Janda, the fighting ends and the survivors emerge from their shelters to celebrate a "happy holiday".

Natural history: Shinra gives a detailed description of how the U.S. security council permanent members (don't) work together in making ceasefire decisions. And, there's a bit of history on how platinum went from being considered worthless "white gold" to being identified as a precious metal.
Payment: Shinra receives a small pouch with a couple pieces of raw platinum ore.

(Back cover showing the scabbard wallet.)

Comments: Motohiro is reusing ideas again, this time the bit about how children's recollections get corrupted over time. I like the information on kijimuna, but the unraveling of Shougo's memories is dragged out too long. I started losing interest by the time the original hut dweller was finally identified. And, he's used the "someone else taking over the dead guy's house" trick before, too, although having the intruder as a good guy was a nice touch. And I was interested in learning about the use of scabbard wallets, which I'd never heard of before. The Holiday story was ok, although it always bugs me when the Japanese hero succeeds in negotiating a peace agreement in what's supposed to be a true-life situation, because this is just pure wish fulfillment. It's nice that Shinra got the fighting to stop, but in the face of the Japanese hostage situation with ISIL, this story rings false. Overall, though, I recommend this volume to anyone that likes this series.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Q.E.D. volume 50 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Q.E.D., vol. 50, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B
I'm torn over this volume. On the one hand, I want to like the inclusion of science again in the first story. On the other, the main characters are supposed to be Americans, and it's more like Motohiro took a Japanese family and had them hold up signs saying "We're Americans". The main premise behind the motive for the crime is just not believable if the culprit was supposed to have grown up in the U.S. And he STILL can not draw feet...

(Discussing using CCDs to measure dark matter.)

Kansoku (Observation)
Sally Brice was a young student at MIT at the same time Sou attended. He encountered her while she was hiding in a construction pipe on campus (and had gotten stuck) trying to avoid her fellow researchers. She's to experimental physics what Sou is to logic. That is, she's a genius. And Diem Clau wanted to tap into that genius in his attempts to use a germanium substrate in his sensors for detecting dark matter. The experiment failed because Diem's basic work had a lot of flaws. One year later, Sally encountered Sou at a park and thanked him for helping her out of that jam, and asked him to stand by her in the future if she needs it. Jump to the present. Sally now heads her own company producing helium cooling systems for major science projects. She's got the contract for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Cern, and someone sabotages it. The monitors show a shadowy image of the suspect, but when the security guards sweep the tunnels where one of the release valves was tampered with, no one's there. Looks like the suspect is a ghost. Next, the system for one of the telescopes on Mauna Kea is targeted by someone that leaves a small tray of radium near the scope's CCD, with the name "Sally" written on it. The radium introduced noise to the images captured by the CCD. Sally invites Sou to Hawai'i to help her out, and Kana drags herself along in order to get free lobster dinners. That night, Sally's parents, Nora and Leonard, fly into Hawai'i unannounced and meet her at the hotel. Both of them are highly successful, powerful politicians. Leonard is thrilled that Sally's company is running into trouble because he's a doting helicopter parent that wants his daughter where he can protect her. Nora is more practical, and gives Sally a necklace, saying that she's proud her daughter is following her own path.

(Trying to find neutrinos at Kamiokande.)

After the meal, Sally is a wreck. Her self-confidence has been shattered and she talks about closing down the company and returning home. Kana won't hear about it and pushes Sou to figure out what's going on. Sally's company's third major customer is the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Sou lays a trap for the villain, but questions remain: Who is sabotaging Sally's customers? How is he or she getting into areas with extremely high security? Why is he/she doing this? What's the next target, exactly and how does Sou know where to look? Does Sally keep her company or not?

The science revolves around the need for very low temperatures at both Cern, Keck and Baikonur, plus superficial discussions of the search for evidence of dark matter. There's also a brief mention of the super pure water neutrino detector at Kamiokande, in Japan.

(A young boy that likes reading adventure books while hiding in a timber shed at a construction site witnesses a murder.)

Dashuttsu (Escape)
Kana receives a letter in the mail telling her to follow the included instructions for making an escape game. The packet also has 200,000 yen ($2,000 USD) to cover expenses and salaries for any necessary part-time assistants. The game is set up in an abandoned warehouse, and is to consist of a series of puzzles and clues, with a 1,000,000 yen prize for the winner. On the day of the event, Sou and Kana man the registration table by themselves. The author of the game never shows up. Pretty soon, the entrants arrive - the psychic Akimi Maguro, former police detective Yasuji Saba, health food wholesaler Gousuke Tachi, part-time worker Misunoriyuki Iwashi and manga artist Akihiko Sanma. Kana follows the instructions, and takes the group through three puzzles. The first is to open a chest that contains a lion's head ring (owned by a former government official), the second leads to a dummy that is hanging by a noose around its neck, and the third to a child's adventure book. It becomes pretty clear quickly that the ring belonged to someone that had supposedly committed suicide in a storage shed on a construction site. But, there was a witness (a young boy that had been reading that adventure book and had taken the ring afterward) who saw the killer string up the victim, lock the shed from the inside and then escape. Maybe the current escape game is to get revenge on the killer, but the stakes are high - Kana and Sou are locked in with everyone else in the building, and a bomb has been taped to the only exit. None of the contestants can solve the clues, so Sou finds himself having to join in as a participant.

(The part-timer discovers that there's no way out of the game once it's started. The wholesaler finds out that there's no cell phone service, either.)

Questions: Who was the original killer and who was the witness? Why wait 16 years to catch the killer? What was the trick both people used to escape the shed? Is there a connection between each of the contestants? If not, why did they show up to enter the game? Does Sou solve the puzzle before the bomb goes off and everyone dies?

No science this time. And the trick is a variant of one used twice already in previous stories.

Comments: As I mentioned above, Sally's behavior, and that of her parents, just isn't something you'd see in the U.S. Her father, Leonard, is much more of the typical Japanese doting father. And the motive just falls apart. But, I like the artwork for Cern, Keck and Kamiokande. On the other hand, the escape game is kind of fun, although the clues are sort of forced. I'm not sure many people will figure them out on their own. And it's never really made clear why the killer murdered the victim 16 years earlier. Still, it's an easy read. Recommended if you like the series.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dramatic Communication

I mentioned recently the Japanese tendency to repurpose "communication" to mean something other than "the exchange of information between multiple parties". Here, we have Apamanshop, a real estate agency specializing in apartments and "mansions" (mansions are just upscale long-lease apartments along the lines of a downscaled condominium in the U.S.) I'm not really sure what an apartment finder service considers "dramatic communication", but there it is. Note that Apamanshop is partnered with the FC Barcelona soccer team.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Birds 150225

I've been wanting to go back outside and try taking more bird photos again, but the weather hasn't been cooperating. I finally gave in and went down to Reimeikan again, but this time I went a little earlier than normal, arriving at noon. There were a few birds hopping around, but not many. And other people kept coming in and strolling the paths, chasing the birds out. I stuck around for an hour and a half, and took roughly 100 photos, but most of them didn't turn out. A number of them were very grainy this time, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it was the angle of the sunlight to the camera combined with the overcast sky. At some point, the sun will come out when I'm awake, and I'll visit the Kotsuki river instead to see what's there this time of year.

The park behind the history museum has a reconstruction of an old Japanese-style thatch-roof house. Very rarely, one of the birds will land on the roof, but they don't stay there long.

This guy refused to stay still, flitting from a sign to a boulder to the ground to a different boulder, etc. None of the shots really came out well.

Except for the shot of his butt.

I finally gave up and prepared to head out of the park. As I was passing the little pond in the middle, I decided to try shooting water bugs. At the time, I hadn't realized that this one wasn't actually just "one bug".

This was probably the best photo of the day.

I got to the end of the park, where the tree branches are all bare. I could hear a lot of birds singing, but I couldn't see them. As I was looking up, I thought that the branches looked interesting, so I took a couple "art shots".

There were a few birds directly above me, but the lighting was all wrong to get any sense of color. So, I went for the silhouette effect instead.

The one at the center of the shot has a kind of ruff at the back of its neck that makes me think it's a kingfisher or woodpecker or something. Wish the weather was better to bring out the plumage.

One last shot as I headed out the door.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Kick Ass

When you really want Kick Ass hair, go to a Kick Ass salon.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lum Decal

On Sunday, Jan. 12, as I was walking from the Kagoshima Global Day music event in towards Terukuni Jinja to see if I could see anyone in kimono for Coming of Age Day, I happened upon this car sitting at the traffic light, waiting for the car ahead of him to make a right turn. I rushed to get my little camera out of its pouch, but only managed to get one photo before the guy drove off. It was that kind of day.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lunar New Year 2015 in Kagoshima

Kagoshima celebrated the Chinese new year over the weekend of Feb. 22 with a 2-day event in the open space in front of the Lotteria in Tenmonkan. I've been told it was sponsored by a tourism agency.

I was walking back from the conversation school at 3:00 on Saturday when I passed by the set up. The event itself wasn't scheduled to start until 3:30. The above booth is for a new Don Quixote (usually pronounced "donkey") store that is going to be opening up in Tenmonkan on Street Car Street pretty soon (if it isn't open already). The table displayed some of the goods from Donkey, and I'm pretty sure the clothes on the rack were available for rental for 500 yen.

At the time, the local girl idol group Seven Colors was in the middle of rehearsals.

Other shops included Shirahama shochu, and a few tables selling tea, soup and skewers of grilled beef. I had one skewer for 500 yen and it was REALLY good.

After the idol group finished, a taiko group set up and started playing. I  was recording it, and the camera battery died after 30 seconds. So I gave up, went home and plugged in the recharger before turning around and going back to the school for the next set of lessons at 5:30.

I brought the big camera with me. I think the difference in photo quality is kind of noticeable.
There were quite a few mascots this time.

If you look closely, you may find one of the mascots dressed as a gray-skinned alien.

Entrance to the event area. You can see one of the local mikoshi (portable shrines) just inside to the left.

A better view of the mikoshi.

Seven Colors were in the middle of their set. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time before my next lesson started, so I just grabbed a few shots and kept walking. My lessons finished at 7 PM, and by then the event was done for the day.

I returned on Sunday at a little after 2:15. One of the people assisting the mascots insisted on taking my photo with them.

Here we have Yoko. She was pretty good, but I didn't have a good angle for doing a recording. I'm told she's a local cover singer. I tried looking for her in a google search, but very few results came up.

The Shirahama shochu booth. I decided to get some kumquat cider for 1000 yen, and a glass of sakura shochu on the rocks for 300 yen. The sakura shochu was very good and I could feel the kick afterwards.

I like the manga-style advertising poster. The text reads "Your hometown is always new".

The battery in the little camera was fully charged, so I did record some video. Unfortunately, when Seven Colors were back up on stage, the audience space was pretty crowded. I positioned myself to the right of the stage, which turned out to be where one of the more exuberant older guys decided to do his interpretation of dancing and kept getting in front of my camera. Sigh.

Direct youtube link