Thursday, March 31, 2011

Photos backlog 5

Update:
I'm currently relocated outside of Tokyo, waiting for the earthquakes to settle down. I'm far enough out of the zone to not feel them anymore, but there was one reported on TV yesterday in Chiba (the prefecture next to Tokyo which includes Narita airport) that caused some minor structural damage to certain buildings and streets. However, the Japan Times and Daily Yomiuri papers don't mention it at all on their online sites. I think that the papers are getting tired of reporting all of the quakes that keep rattling the northeast coast line. Of course, there's also the Fukushima reactor crisis that does get a lot of media coverage. There's some radiation making its way to Tokyo. I don't consider it to be all that dangerous right now, but many of the residents seem to be at least getting nervous over it. And finally there's the rolling blackouts, which are disrupting business operations and commuter travel. The big complaint is that Tokyo Electric is the one deciding when and where to cut power, and when they change their minds at the last minute, it leaves everyone else in the lurch. There have been calls for the government to make the decisions to coordinate everything, but given the their poor track record for responding to the crisis so far, I'm not sure that would be an improvement. But, bottom line is that I'm ok right now, for those of you that have read down this far.

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Toei Studios, along with their well-known production facilities, also has theaters for showing their films. One such theater is in Hibiya, close to Ginza, in Tokyo. There's a small Godzilla statue in the park in front of the building.




It's hard to get good photos of food, especially if you're at a table under low-lighting conditions and you don't want to use a flash and call attention to yourself. The result can turn out rather unappetizingly. This as a kind of hamburg steak pasta dish at the Gundam cafe in Akihabara . Note the garnish at the front of the dish, designed to look like the Gundam helmet adornment, and the Gundam shield carrot to the left. The food itself was good. The price was about 1400 yen ($17 USD), and included an ice coffee.





When I was walking to the Mitaka Film fest a few weeks ago, I passed by this advertisement on the window of a hair stylist school, promoting the 2010 Hair Design Contest, held back in December. Interesting concept.




Hanging banner ad on the train for Big Comic Original.

Izumi

Izumi is a small city on the island of Kyushu, along the western coast as you're heading south toward Kagoshima. At some point after Kumamoto City, the Shinkansen starts stopping at every station, and Izumi is one of those stops. The only real reason for coming here was that the hotel was relatively cheap.



Originally, there was a private train line, called the Orange Line, that ran along the same route as the shinkansen. The old building is still being used as a waiting area for the Orange train, but it's really rundown and rusted out. You can barely see the new building in the background.



The primary draw for tourists is the fact that Izumi is a stopping place for Japanese cranes between January and February. The crane motif shows up everywhere throughout the town. One of the attractions is the "crane resting place" about 3 kilometers from the station. I didn't get there simply because I wasn't in the city all that long. That and I was here in the middle of March.





The front of the main entrance to the shinkansen station. It's my contention that the crane was the inspiration for the design.



The top of the building entrance, with the "crane head" ornament.



The road running straight out from the train station crosses over a small river before passing by a pachinko parlor and neighboring western-style drug store. Because the drugstore was one of the few places to get certain supplies, I ended up crossing over the bridge several times. At one point, I was able to see this guy. Unfortunately, he was camera shy, and even from about 100 feet away, he didn't like being stared at and quickly flew off shortly after this shot.




Steam locomotive in front of the station.




Artwork in front of a second hotel in front of the station. At first I'd thought it was made up of PVC tubing, but later I concluded that it's bamboo and other pieces of wood.




The downtown region of Izumi is just as rundown as the old train station, and many of the shops are shuttered, although some of them may only be open during the tourist season. But right in the middle of the other buildings in a small Buddhist shrine with stairs leading up the small hill to the actual temple building. This statue is part of the entrance arrangement.




This guy was in front of a car shop that had a velociraptor as its logo. I was glad to see that it was still on its leash.




This guy is "guri buu". "Buu" is the Japanese word for "oink", and "guri" is probably an abbreviation of "green". He seems to be on Japan Rail promotional ads all along this region down into Kagoshima, so it's not just something local.




Finally, we have what happens when people practice archery in the street and don't notice the oncoming steamrollers... Actually, a number of very prominent samurai families used to live about 6 kilometers from the station just past the current downtown area. The buildings are still there and have been designated historical spots. I'll post the photos of that next time. This manhole cover is dedicated to those samurai. Who wouldn't know a steamroller if it hit them...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Photos backlog 4



When I first got my current camera, I was just looking for things to shoot as a way to test the photo quality and the menu settings. This is a staircase at the side of a monitoring station for the dam on the Tamagawa. I've never seen workers in these monitoring stations, and they look largely unattended.




Dorama is one of the many stores that sell books, this one in Shimo-Kitazawa. The use of "moe" (cute and sexy) manga-style characters for advertisement and promotional purposes has become wide-spread in recent years.







This restaurant is next to the Odakyu train line, close to Kyodo station. The door artwork is certainly eye-catching, but I'm not sure of the message being conveyed to the customers...

Review: Gantz

Gantz, by Hiroya Oku. Grade: B
I'd like to comment on Gantz while I have the chance here. I've seen the manga in the bookstores, and recently a dedicated phone book-sized magazine came out collecting roughly the first 1000 pages. Plus there's the live-action movie - I'd read the reviews (which were positive for the actors, but negative for the writing and storyline). I had a few spare minutes in front of the computer and there was nothing new on Spectrum Nexus so I finally decided to start at the beginning and see how things were laid out.



I'll say up front that the artwork is good for this one, although some of the characters look too similar and are hard to tell apart, making it confusing to follow the story at times. It doesn't help that around volume 26 the main character gets cloned and they always wear the same outfits. Having said that, this is a graphic series that shows lots of gore and some sex. It's not for minors, or for anyone easily offended.

Gantz is still running in Weekly Young Jump. The story initially follows Kei and Masaru, two high school students that start out standing on a train platform. Kei is an absolute jerk - self-absorbed and selfish. A homeless drunk falls onto the tracks and Masaru leaps down to help him, calling to Kei to get involved. Turns out that Masaru and Kei used to play together as kids, and Masaru had actually looked up to Kei for his ability to constantly survive hard situations. The drunk is saved but the two students get hit by a train and are killed. They're transported to a secret apartment somewhere in Tokyo by a large black sphere. The sphere is called "Gantz", and it issues a combat suit and weapons to a number of people that were also killed at roughly the same time. The task is to kill specific aliens within a fixed time period. The aliens are worth points. Failure to complete the task in the allotted time costs you all of the points you currently have. Leaving the designated combat zone causes a bomb planted in your brain to explode and you are corpsed permanently. If you're still breathing at the end of the task, no matter how damaged you are, you're returned to the apartment intact. Complete the assignment and you can return to "normal" life until Gantz calls you again at a random time later. Interestingly, you can take your suit and weapons with you if you like - just make sure you remember to suit up before you're summoned again.


(Kei, the main protagonist, is the one in the center.)

Get 100 points and you can select from Gantz's "specials menu", which includes having your memories erased and being able to escape the game; getting a stronger weapon; or being able to resurrect one person from your memories. While most people don't survive their first battle, of those that do most want out. A few, though choose to remain and to power up. A very rare few try to recover corpsed friends. And this is where we get into the drawbacks of this manga. First, there's always newly dead entering the game that demand to know what's going on or refusing to take the dangers seriously. Most of the people in the story are unlikeable jerks so there's little loss if they're killed off, and some resentment if they survive for some reason. Conversely - while the battles are invisible to people still alive, the weapons and fighting can kill bystanders and destroy buildings. Which makes the second half of the series less credible (BIG SPOILER HERE). Turns out that Gantz is mass-produced and there's one in every major city around the world. Meaning that the warriors that have survived to 100 points many times finally get to meet each other when the game changes. And this comes as a big shock to our heroes. Except that if the aliens are really as strong as they're said to be, the buildings being destroyed all over the place should have been a dead giveaway long in advance that New York and Moscow have their own Gantz systems. My complaint is that when the warriors from around the world do start working together, there's just too many of them to be believable. That plus the fact that the best ones are all from Japan. Not likely, but to be expected given the wish-fulfillment element at work here.

I did read all 330+ chapters all the way through, but I found myself skipping over much of the later battles because the artwork is kind of confusing. It is an interesting story concept, which is perfect for a video game. And if you like sex and violence, this is the title for you. Otherwise, there's always "My Little Pony"...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Photos backlog 3

It's coffee time again.


The Hard, The Creamy and the...
I'll let you make up your own joke here


Roots is trying a new "trade friendly" approach with shiny aluminum bottles printed with images of the animals from the countries where the beans come from. Interesting idea, but the result is kind of ugly.


America has just not embraced "coffee" as a flavor, like Japan has, settling for just vanilla, mint, strawberry, chocolate, etc. Here we have coffee-mint drops. The coffee flavor is very strong, reminiscent of the burnt stuff you get at cheap diners in the States, plus there's the peppermint flavor lurking in the background. Again, an interesting idea but the two flavors don't really work well together.

Lego Educational Center



You find the strangest things when you're not looking for them. Back about a month ago, I was heading over to Tokyo Noudai (the Tokyo Agricultural University) in Setagaya. Noudai is the basis for the school in Moyashimon, although the Setagaya campus has nothing to do with the building layout in the manga. It's not really easy to get to for me. The main route is to take the Odakyu line over to Chitose-Funabashi station (next station to Kyodo) and then walk east about 15 minutes towards Setagaya Douri.



And there, 3 blocks from the station is the Lego Education Center. They didn't have this kind of thing when I was a kid. ;-( Here's the link for the Setagaya location.





Monday, March 28, 2011

Boxxing



Motorcycle parking can be hard to find. Especially long-term, and protected from the elements. Welcome to the world of bike lockers, made by "Paaku Oh" (Park King).





In Noborito, close to the Fujio F Fujiko museum, they had a major flood one day, and one of the sailboats from the harbor in Yokohama was washed inland. The building owners couldn't afford to have it removed, so it's still there today.



The suit of armor in the window came from a separate incident involving European knights that had misplaced their maps during a raid on the Shire of Farvingham, in 1759.





Also in Noborito, there was a small boxing gym along the main drag. I'm wondering if the owners ever considered whether the windows would be opened when they commissioned the sign maker to put the sign up.

Photos backlog 2


Yeah, I know that it's a little late, but Japan's never really been big on following western traditions all that closely. Back during December, there was one building at the end of the train station platform that had its lights set up. It was one of the few that had any lights up at all.


Nothing says "Christmas" like having Minnie and Mickey figures set up on your roof.


Time for the next Dragonball promotion. Boss Coffee had these pull-back windup cars for various characters from various story arcs. One car per can of coffee, at the regular price of 120 yen per can. I forget the exact number but I think there were 12 different characters. That's not a big egg yolk on Bulma's car to the left - that's one of the dragon balls. All of the characters are supposed to be riding on top of clouds.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Irish Lassi

In an 8 ounce glass, pour 3 parts pre-mixed mango lassi and one part Bailey's Irish Cream. Stir well and chill. Serves one admirably.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Photos backlog 1

One of the "problems" of living in Tokyo is that it's actually pretty easy to find things to take pictures of, and after a while you can have 40-50 pictures a week just of random stuff. Couple that with all of the events, gallery and museum exhibits, and festivals and eventually you'll have a really large collection to sort through. Over the last couple of months, I've run into exactly this kind of problem. However, because of the quake I haven't been wandering Tokyo, and it's now time to do the write-ups for the backlogged photos. Unfortunately, I just put them into one folder on mediafire and I don't have them named for easy sorting. So, I'll just post a few at a time and make comments as needed.


The live-action movie based on the "Gantz" manga came out a couple of months ago. I found this billboard advertising the release of the latest volume of the manga in Shimo-Kitazawa.


Hanging ad on the train advertising Big Comic.


Poster for "Harems 2", a pachinko machine at the Ban Ban parlor. The poster says that the machine has just arrived in the parlor for play.


Rolling truck ad for Aquarion. I'm pretty sure that this is the the artwork for the most recent TV anime series, but the text at the bottom of the truck says that the new pachinko machine is coming out on Feb. 4. The driver seemed to have no interest in letting people actually see the ad - he would race along the streets in Akihabara, slowing down just enough to make the turns. He even pushed his way through the pedestrians in the crosswalk to avoid staying in one place. I guess the lesson to be learned here is that if you're going to use rolling ads to promote your products, don't pay your drivers based on mileage.

If you want me, just whistle

Well, the threat of radiation reaching Tokyo seems to be getting a lot more western press. Just to let everyone know, I'm out of the main danger region. Unfortunately the greater threat that is "automatic updates to Windows" had succeeded in doing weird things to this computer (it's an older unit still running Win XP) such that I could not access web mail from yahoo. If you've sent me an email recently, this is why I haven't replied. But, it looks like the problem finally fixed itself this evening, about 36 hours later.

Anyway, I'm getting closer to going back and posting more regularly again. In the meantime, here's a photo for you. It's Amano, a sake shop in the Mitaka area, west of Shinjuku. Stupid tree.



Bunny, have you read Moyashimon 10 yet?

Monday, March 14, 2011

I'm still here.

March 18 update: Nothing new to report. Still ok. Still keeping quiet.

Ok, not to panic anyone, but it looks like I may be keeping a low profile for at least a week. Everything's ok, and I'll try to keep the blog updated, but the activity here may drop off a bit until the blackouts and everything settles out. If you need me, I'll still be reachable at riemann96 at yahoo dot com or through my facebook page.

I also put some backlogged blog entries on the Nihon-go Hunter blog, for those of you following the Moyashimon and Geobreeders summaries.

Norufin

Update:
Planned power outage for our area yesterday didn't happen. Next one scheduled for 10 minutes from now for 4 hours, so trying to type fast to get out of apartment before elevator turned off. Number of small quakes has gone down, but people still think that the chances for another big one are at 50%-70% till the end of the week. People are going into panic mode and snapping up supplies. Yesterday was the first time I've ever seen a store's shelves standing empty - Jason's looked gutted, with over half of their stock gone. Train service has been scaled back to save power, and I'm not sure when they'll be running out to my area to let me get into Shinjuku, then on to Akihabara for work. The office is starting to talk about opening again tonight, but I wouldn't be able to get back home afterward because of the trains so stuck between a rock and a hard place. Otherwise still doing ok.

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The Kawasaki district bus system includes Noborito. And as such, the advertising promoting their buses also makes its way the 15-20 kilometers up river along the Tamagawa to the bus circle outside Noborito train station. I'd like to introduce to you the Kawasaki bus company mascot - Norufin. ("Noru" comes from the verb "to ride".) Nothing in Japan can't be made cuter through the use of manga mascots.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Garo 282

Earthquake update:
STILL getting aftershocks/mild quakes. Last one was 15 minutes ago. Mild, but lasted about 30 seconds. Again, no physical damage in the area from the big one on Friday. However, the damage to the nuclear power plant up the coast is resulting in planned power outages in the Tokyo area. One announced plan was for Tokyo to be divided up into 5 areas, and power to be cut for each one 3 hours at a stretch. But, it looks like the plan has been revised and I don't know what the new plan is. Also unsure if this means the trains will stop running during that time (since they're electric-powered, and none of the street crossing signals would work otherwise). My office was planning to have online lessons again today, but canceled them because of the uncertainty of the train schedules for the instructors.

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Garo #282, Feb., '88. Cover by Shinbo's Studio Inc.. 218 pages.
I know I said that I wasn't going to keep looking at Garo. But, one of my favorite artists is in this issue - Tori Miki. He's not that well-known in the U.S, but he has been translated into English commercially. Fantagraphics printed one volume of "Anywhere But Here", and he also did the script writing for the third Patlabor movie. Plus, I've run the translations of his "Frozen Food Agent" and "Kurukuru Kurin" on Nihon-go Hunter.

Notice that Garo now has the motto "Eccentric Comics", and that there's a decided shojo feel to this issue as well. Finally, none of the artists from the '60s or early '70s are here any more.


人体倶楽部 (Human Body Club)


By Nobuo Itagaki (イタガキノブオ). 14 pages.
A gag strip about a robot and a cat-caterpillar teaching human anatomy, as a parody of an educational TV show.

Nobuo doesn't have a lot of info available on him on the net. His cat-catepillar character does show up on some Japanese pages. And there's a story on Sankaku Complex (caution, Sankaku has adult content some people may find objectionable) regarding Nobou's arrest for groping a high school girl in Feb., 2009.


悲願蕈 (Higan Hana)


By Gen Azuma (東元). 15 pages.
The story is told from the point of view of a young boy. His mother runs a bar, and she's shacked up with a bartender boyfriend. As a result, she's hired a young woman named Chiko to babysit the boy. For a while things seem to be going ok, except that at some point Chiko apparently encounters the same bartender, and it's implied that the reason she stops working as a babysitter is that she's killed the bartender.

There's nothing on Gen in English. You can visit his Japanese website, though.


落日は雲の奥 (The Setting Sun is Behind the Clouds) #2


By Yuuko Tsuno (津野裕子). 21 pages.
A girl visiting her grandfather loses the diamond from her ring. She encounters a young man living in the same house, and they talk for a while. A day or two later they go their separate ways. Some time after that, the girl receives a present from the young man - a replacement diamond for her ring. A separate part of the chapter set 6 months later describes a woman that is being abused by her boyfriend, but she says it's her own fault. It may be the same woman from the first part of the chapter, but the hair designs are different on both people.

Yuuko Tsuno has had some success following her initial debut with "Refrigerator" in Garo, in 1986, according to Lambiek. Apparently "Swing Shell" has been commercially translated into English.


李三老 (Risan Rou)


By Ken Takeda (武田謙). 3 pages.
Very high-quality illustrations of old Asian men.

No information on Ken in English or Japanese.


みんないろいろあるわよね (There's Lots of Kinds, Right?)


By Haruko Ohshiba (大黄莱 春子). 15 pages.
A woman dropping by a boyfriend's place is annoyed to see that he left his adult magazines out where she can see them. Then she discovers that one of the nude models pictured is a close friend of hers. The two women get together at a coffee shop and eventually the conversation turns to the photos. The friend says that she didn't really like posing for them, but her boyfriend insisted. She's happy that the photos turned out well, though.

No information on this name. "Haruko" is a woman's first name, though.


コンタとポンタの物語 (Konta and Ponta's Story)


By Kiyoshi Gotou (後藤清). 12 pages.
This is the last chapter of a story regarding a fox, a raccoon, and an old tree. The raccoon, Ponta, approaches the tree one day and asks it what's happened to his friend, the fox, Konta. The tree swears Ponta to secrecy, then says that Konta loved music so much that one day he went to a house and stole a guitar. He took the guitar to the tree and begged it to turn him into a human. This wasn't something the tree could do, but Konta was then struck by lightning, and became a human male as a result. He then learned how to play the guitar and started performing the coffee house circuit, which is where he still is today.

No information on Kiyoshi in English or Japanese.


柔の道 (Weak Road) #5


By Jirou Ishikawa (石川次郎). 13 pages.
Just some random gags about a martial arts dojo.

The only information coming up on Jirou is for someone working under this name as a magazine editorial director.


コーシンの4P (Koushin's 4 Panels)


By Tarou Koushin (高信太郎). 4 pages.
4-panel gags featuring fat ninja and samurai. Similar to Yuu Takita's earlier Garo strips.

I'm not finding anything on Tarou in English. However, he's very well-documented in the Japanese wiki as a manga artist, an entertainment critic and a TV talent. Real name Nobuo Takahashi (1944-), he debuted in 1972 with 怪人二重面相 (Mysterious 2 Face), published by Seirindou. His primary focus is on gag manga.


犬も歩けば (If a Dog Also Walks) #6


By Inuhiko Yomota (四方田犬彦). 2 pages.
Illustrated article "from N.Y."Inuhiko (whose first name includes the character for "dog"), is very well-documented on the English wiki. He's an author, translator and film historian. Born Gouki Yomota, 1953. He's currently on the faculty of Meiji University.


天上の精神にお約束、して (A Promise to Heaven)


By Michio Matsumoto (松本充代). 15 pages.
A young man proposes to a fickle young girl. He never removes his sunglasses, so she can't trust him. Eventually he gives up on her, and she realizes that she's made a mistake and regrets her error.

Michio (1962-) has just a short entry in the Japanese wiki. He debuted in Garo in 1982, and has a few titles to his credit.


社員旅行は二泊三日 (The Employee's Trip is 3 Days and 2 Nights)


By Shungiku Uchida (内田春菊). 16 pages.
A bunch of company employees stand around and speculate on when someone else is coming back from their vacation trip.

Shungiku (1959-) looks like one of the more versatile women in the business during this period. She's an artist, novelist, actress and singer. You can see pictures of her on the Yahoo talent page.


冬の旅人 (Winter Traveler)


By Yoshikazu Ebisu (蛭子能収). 8 pages.
Gag series that starts out with a guy suffering from a leg cramp late one night. The shock of seeing his landlady hanging herself cures the cramp. Additionally, he no longer has to pay rent. Later, he goes out to the seaside and slips off the cliff edge.

Yoshikazu (1947-) has shown up on TV off and on in the past, but I haven't seen him for a while. I consider him to be something of a goofball. But, he did have a showing in Paris, and he's listed on Yahoo's talent page.


死んだ男 (Dead Man) #2


By Jeitarou Sugisaku (杉作J太郎). 7 pages.
Gag horror. Guy in a hospital dies. Scene changes to 2 oni (demons) out collecting souls by shooting them with arrows and putting them into carts. After a hard day of harvesting, the oni relax with a cigarette.

There's not much on J-taro (1961-) in English, outside of mentions as a Japanese horror director and actor. The Japanese wiki lists him as a manga artist, writer, actor and musician.


狂った肛門 (Messed Up Butt)


By Masayuki Izumi (泉昌之). 10 pages.
Manga artist goes through a rough day, then sits down to draw a comic strip. Suddenly, his anus starts rolling itself up like a sock, and pulls him into himself.

According to Japan Pulse Izumi Masayuki is a manga duo, consisting of Haruki Izumi and Masayuki Kasumi. They were commissioned by Yamasa Shouyu to create an advertising campaign called "Soy Sauce Magician", which started in August, 2010.


仮面ライダーあそこがBLACK (Kamen Rider over there is BLACK)


By Jun Miura (みうらじゅん). 8 pages.
Starts out with some information on Michael Tomimoka (1961-), who used to host on MTV Japan, and had given an MTV award to Weird Al Yankovick in the 1980's; has done some acting as well. Then the article turns into a joke manga story about a frog with a worm in its navel.

No real information on Jun (1958-) in English. The Japanese wiki lists him as a manga artist and illustrator.


路上観察物件の逆襲 (Construction Sign Counterattack)


By Miki Tori (とりみき). 10 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
Miki is out walking with his camera, looking for construction signs. There are a lot of different variants on the "construction worker bowing and apologizing for the inconvenience", which has attracted his attention. What he wants to know is where they come from, and what they do when they go back to wherever they came from at the end. Suddenly, one of the signs comes alive and starts to give him answers, except that a worker soon comes up to them, grabs the sign, throws it into a truck and drives off.

Ok, this is the one manga I wanted to get to. Not one of Tori Miki's best works, but it is representative of his earlier style.


天然 (Spontaneity) #27


By Takashi Nemoto (根本敬). 20 pages.
Old people mess around, interact with dogs and have old people sex.

Takashi (1958-) debuted in Garo in 1981, according to his official site. He specializes in "alternative manga".