Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mar.-Apr. articles in the media

Here's the batch of articles to show up in the media from Mar. - Apr., regarding anime, manga and related stuff.

Japan Times

The online anime revolution has finally ignited in Japan

Japan expresses its love for Apple and Steve Jobs, in manga

New Gundam room at Grand Pacific Le Daiba

The collectables: Video Game Reviews

On the mechanics of anime illustration


Daily Yomiuri

Producer of 'Hanasaku' anime knows what fans want, makes it reality

Maintain integrity of anime content


Asahi

Tokyo cosplay fans invited to dress up in monthly contests

GyaO, Gree to create anime venture capital fund

'Wolf Children' wins Japan Academy Prize

Hatsune Miku art exhibition kicks off in Akihabara

Girl heroes help Tokyo Evangelion store fete White Day

U.S. cable channel Adult Swim to air 'Evangelion: 1.11'

100 Doraemon figures greet tourists in and around Hakone

Exhibition of Leiji Matsumoto's works to hit Tokyo International Anime Fair

Talking Heads' David Byrne, Ryuichi Sakamoto, UrumaDelvi create Zapuni charity anime

'Letter to Momo' director Okiura wins state award

Baltimore's Otakon to host Otakon Vegas in January 2014

Doraemon named the most popular character among children

Sales of 'Sengoku Basara' chocolate to support reconstruction in Ishinomaki

'Wolf Children' success in France sets example for anime movies

'DD Hokuto no Ken' comic-warrior series to premiere in April

Foreign anime fans discovering Ghibli Museum in a big way

JManga to shut down its services in May

French director Patrice Leconte speaks about his first animated film at TAF 2013

Akimi Yoshida's 'Umimachi Diary' wins Cartoon Grand Prize 2013

'Evangelion 3.0' set for Blu-ray/DVD release on April 24

Nanto city has something special to show visitors

Romance manga 'Glass Mask' to be adapted into gag anime in April

TAF 2013 attracts over 100,000

Manga prequel to 'Ghost in the Shell: Arise' anime starts in Young Magazine

Drive begins to save house featured in animated film 'Wolf Children'

Director holding open audition on YouTube for 'Tokyo Tribe' film

Director Hayao Miyazaki's childhood home gets new life as art gallery

Thunderbird 2 aircraft added to Sci-Fi Revoltech figurine series

Orders for limited edition 'JoJo' art book being accepted

Tezuka’s family blasts criticism on Astro Boy’s nuclear influence

Japan to get U.S. version of 'Cyborg 009' soon

India-produced 'Ninja Hattori' to premiere May 13 on Animax

'Akira' creator heads short film omnibus slated for July 20

Kobe museum holds exhibition focusing on 'Gundam' designer Kunio Okawara's work

Annecy filmfest to showcase Mizushiri's 'Futon'

'Dragon Ball' creator creates manga to raise environmental awareness

'Attack on Titan' exhibition held in manga artist Hajime Isayama's hometown

Chiba monorail line links up with 'Oreimo' anime series

Makoto Shinkai's 'Garden of Words' to hit cinemas on May 31

Hatsune Miku-themed navigation tablet to be released nationwide

Big Comic magazine accepting entries for new Comic Trophy award contest

Niigata city to open Manga Animation Museum in May

Tezuka's manga 'Garon' gets anime treatment

Seminar to train aspiring artists on drawing manga backgrounds

THE TEZUKA GENERATION (1): Happy endings transcend time

Shinkai's 'Garden of Words' to debut at Gold Coast festival

'Patlabor' robot series to get live-action adaptation in 2014

Publisher offers 'textbooks' for Ghibli anime

Latest 'Dragon Ball Z' film nabs 2 million viewers in 23 days

THE TEZUKA GENERATION (2): New techniques from the 'studio that never slept'

Milano Manga Festival to kick off May 3, featuring 600 works

Monday, April 29, 2013

iBoost




You know that tobacco marketing has gotten out of hand when someone comes out with a spin-off of the iPhone/iPad/iTouch series with an "iBoost" cigarette. Each pack even has its own on/off power switch.



Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pig Butt Manga Sign




The pig butt restaurant in Tenmonkan has decided to go the "manga character" route for its advertising.


(We've made delicious soba. Our starting point is "one bowl of buckwheat noodle soba".)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Moyashimon, vol. 12, Review

It's been a little over a year since volume 11 came out for my favorite manga about yeast and all things fermented. We were left with the question: "Who is Madoka Nishino and why does she hate sake?" Volume 12 is dedicated to that answer.

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

Moyashimon, vol. 12, by Masayuki Ishikawa, Grade: A+
The manga starts out a few days prior to the end of the Nodai Beauty-Ouster Pagent, when Kei was focused on the production of his new batch of sake. The yeast walk us through the early steps of the fermentation process, and describe the historical methods used during the Edo era. Finally, we're brought up the present, where Kei, Tadayasu, Mutou and Misato see Madoka Nishino working part-time at a konbini. She's approached by several members of various clubs trying to recruit her, but she surprises everyone by saying that she's already committed to joining Prof. Keizou Itsuki's fermentation research group. Tadayasu notices that she has a specific yeast variant riding with her, and asks why she's joining the sake group if she hates sake so much. Madoka whispers that she wants to meet him that evening, alone. Tada waits until 5 PM, and Madoka shows up to make her big announcement - she's decided that she's going to marry him to take advantage of his ability to see yeast (which Keizou had revealed to her). Tada tries to protest, but Madoka is very strong-willed and keeps calling him "darling". She talks him into visiting her house, and they take the train out towards the end of the line.


(Inside front cover, advertising the beer fest last year.)

Turns out that Madoka comes from a family of sake brewers, and the house is part of a centuries-old factory. But, most of the tanks are empty. Madoka takes Tada to one barrel where there's still a batch of active yeast. She asks for his opinion, and he answers that they don't look as energetic as normal. Her father shows up and Madoka introduces Tada to him as her future husband. The scene shifts to the university campus, where the group is surprised to see Tada walking in from the entrance gate with Madoka in tow. There's a bit of a confrontation between Kei and Madoka, as Kei tries to defend modern Japanese corporate branding practices as being beneficial to the industry as a whole, while Madoka accuses them of putting smaller factories out of business and misleading customers by putting big-name brewery labels on cheaper sake produced by no-name families. Eventually, she's asked what her goals are, and she says that she wants to be someone suited for entering society when she gets out of high school. She runs off, and Tada follows her.


(Madoka (left) asks Kei if he knows about the industry's practice of deliberately mislabeling sake from unknown producers using famous brand labels.)

Madoka goes to Aya's bar, where she and Tada just drink juice and talk to Aya. Some of the salarymen customers give her a hard time, and when she asks what it means to be an adult, they insult her more. Aya can't answer either, and when Madoka leaves the bar, she watches one of the "adults" leaning against a wall and puking his guts out. After various interludes over the New Year break, Madoka gets into a fight with Mutou and Misato, and Keizou berates his older students for disappointing his efforts to bring the girl into their lab. However, Tada sees this as an opportunity to help her. Kei, Hazuki, Madoka and Tada take the train out to her factory. Along the way, Nishino tells them that her father had pegged his main product on her when she was a child, calling it "Madoka". "Madoka" looked like it was about to become very popular, but the factory was undermined by the big sake companies, and her father had reacted by emptying all of the tanks into the drains. At the time, her grandfather had told her father to "act like an adult", which is why she's now trying to figure out what that means,. However, when she first brought Tada to the factory, her father had told her that she's too immature to decide on a husband at her age. He decided to reveal a secret - he's working on making another sake: "New Madoka", which he'll sell to one of the industry giants to be mislabeled as one of their existing sakes.


(Madoka's father)

Tada's decision now is to do what Madoka had asked of him at the time - help topple the tank of "New Madoka". The four of them get to the factory, and use a crane to do just that. Her father rushes in at the noise and is devastated at seeing his hopes flowing into the sewer. Madoka tells him that he needs to refocus, and that she wants to help him to make a new future for both of them. Her father ultimately accepts the situation and tells her that she's lucky - no one had come to his aid when he had had his crisis, but she's got her friends to support her. Madoka's surprised to hear someone say that Kei and Hazuki are her friends. Back on campus, Aya, Misato and Mutou are trying to find an answer to "what it means to be an adult", and are failing miserably. They're in university, but don't feel any more mature than when they were in high school. Misato thinks that university is the last stage where they can do whatever they want before having to enter the straitjacketed world of adults. Hasegawa, back from her trip to Hawaii, laughs at the thought of Misato grown up and in a business suit. However, one of the teachers hears them talking, and comments that even most adults don't feel "adult". The story culminates with the team visiting Madoka at her part-time job and saying that none of them can respond to her question about being an adult, but they're all willing to work together to find their own answers. She's free to ask any question she wants, so she starts by asking if Kei is a guy playing dress-up, and if Misato secretly likes Hasegawa. The group yells about the stink she's raising just as Kawahama arrives to say that he's back from Mexico.


(Image on the pages at the bottom of the book. I think it's a mochi shrine used at the beginning of the new year.)

The last few pages return to the yeasts' viewpoint, with some more discussion of different sake production and consumption methods.


(Regular cover, taken from Amazon.)

Many of the Moyashimon volumes have regular and special edition releases. This time, the special edition has different cover art (see above) and comes with the Moyashimon Fermentation Dictionary.




This is a 72-page booklet that pretty much covers every kind of food (alcohol, cheese, pickled vegetables, miso, soy sauce) mentioned in the series. Entries are accompanied by artwork from the manga, some of which is recycled from earlier chapters, and there's volume and page numbers if you want to see where in the story a particular food showed up. It's going to take me a while to go through the entire thing, but I'm pretty happy that I spent the extra $4 for it. Highly recommended.





Friday, April 26, 2013

DS Game Review: Shiren



I wanted an RPG that I could play occasionally when I needed a break. Best Denki had Fushigi no Dungeon: Fuurai no Shiren (Mysterious Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer) (Chun Soft, 1995/2006)  for 1,500 yen, with 500 yen off because the game manual was missing. I did a websearch first for product reviews, and it seemed to be a relatively popular game, although there's no real walkthrough for it on the game sites. Since I've been able to play most of the other games without once looking at the manuals, I figured that I wouldn't need one this time. That was a mistake. The game is in Japanese only, and it doesn't have the normal "Load, New, Options" title menu that other games have. Instead, you go straight into the main menu, which gives you someone else's game if you have a used copy. So, I'm struggling to figure out how to get a new game, and then how to play it any level at all.



Shiren is what's called a rogue-like (a term I'd never heard before), meaning that it's similar to an old text-dungeon game named Rogue, and follows a set pattern. Actually, I've played two rogue-likes before - Torneko and Chocobo's Dungeon 2. I was hoping for better game play this time around, but no. The number one thing I hated about Torneko is that so much revolves around luck. If you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, you die and lose all of your weapons and armor. Every time you enter the dungeon, you start out at level 1. If you make it out of the dungeon alive, you can put a limited number of items in storage for later use, which is nice if you are lucky enough to find a good sword and shield. But, as I say, if you die, that's it - goodbye equipment. And you're always leveling up. You are at dungeon level 1 and you're at level one. There's a limit to how many monsters you'll encounter, and if you try to hang around until a new monster attacks just to be able to level up, you'll starve to death. At least at the beginning, there aren't any stores and nothing to spend money on. The only way to get food is to either stop at the bar for a one-time-per-descent rice ball, or to enter the puzzle dungeon and hope you get rice balls as a prize.



There are two parts of the Shiren game - one is the main storyline, where you are one of many wanderers searching for the legendary Golden Condor bird. You travel through the dungeons to get from one village to the next. So far, I've never been able to get past level 3 of the first dungeon because the monsters suddenly get really strong and kill me off. The second part is the puzzle dungeon. Shiren has a lot of scrolls and magic wands that do things like reveal traps, switch your location with that of a monster, and turn monsters into meat. The puzzle dungeon in the first town consists of 50 different floors, and each one is a puzzle that must be solved with the weapons or scrolls provided. If you win, you get one item for that floor (usually just a rice ball). Entering the puzzle dungeon erases any equipment or money you may be carrying, though. So far, I've solved 25 of the floors, and the most useful thing I've managed to keep out of this is a large rice ball.

I got Shiren because Best Denki didn't have any true RPGs that I want. I'll be frank - I really dislike rogue-likes. Edit - 24 hours ago, I wrote "However, maybe if I keep this as the last game I buy for a while, I'll be less likely to waste my time playing games instead of doing something more productive." However. Just now I was killing a few minutes playing Shiren. I'd gotten a really strong weapon and shield, some nice scrolls and lots of food. I was just starting out on the highest dungeon floor I've been able to reach (6th floor, which shows how much of a pain it is to simply get good stuff by pure luck) when the game locked up. Everything completely frozen - no music, no movement, nothing. All I could do was reset the DS. And "poof" - no more weapons, shields, food or money. All gone, just like that. Only because of how rogue-like games are structured. So, no, I ain't playing this anymore, because I can never know when it's going to freeze and everything I'm carrying gets lost again. Sigh.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jizo




I've written about jizo before. There's one small shrine near my apartment at a street corner. Someone decided to dress up this statue with brighter spring colors. Its cupped hands hold a few 1 yen coins that passersby have donated to it. The cup at its feet can either be used as a flower vase, or to hold some sake.




Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Big Issue: Moomin Feature

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

The Big Issue is a bimonthly, 32-page magazine that is designed to help homeless people make money for themselves. The issues come out on the 1st and 15th of each month, and part of the 300 yen cover price goes to the homeless, who sell the magazines near train stations and various shopping areas around Japan. Recently, I was walking by one guy that had back issues set out on a street corner, and I figured that I'd help him out by getting the Moomin issue. I don't have an interest in the regular cover subjects like Leonard Dicaprio or Tom Cruise, but I will buy a copy that is anime-related.



The Moomin issue came out in 2010, and has 4 pages on the characters, their creator Tove Jansson, and an interview with Tove's niece, Sophia. The niece is the one maintaining Tove's legacy and protecting her aunt's intellectual property rights. One nice thing about this particular issue is that the sidebar on Sophia is written completely in English.

Other articles include food recipies, gossip columns, and music reviews.




Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Share a Coke and a Song


Coke has started up a new campaign where each bottle of regular or diet cola has a code number on the midriff label. When you go to the main website and enter the code, you get taken to the page for one specific year, which gives you 10 full songs that Sony has the rights to. If there's a particular tune that you like, you can buy it for download. According to one news source, the songs will remain online until about June. Naturally, a number of people in Japan have compiled all the codes in one place. Given that soda costs 147 yen ($1.50) in the convenience stores and vending machines, spending all that cash for 57 bottles to get every single code is kind of pricey (assuming that you could find all those codes in the first place). On top of that, you then have to pay per song from the Coke site if you want them on your MP3 player. I don't think it's worth it. On the other hand, you can go to the "full play list", which lets you sample 30 seconds of each tune for free - took me several days to go through all of them to see if there was anything I liked.



The songs are roughly split 50-50 between Japanese and non-Japanese artists. For western performers, the styles go from rock-n-roll in the 50's, through hard rock and disco, to hip-hop and light pop in the 2010's. The Japanese stuff is a mix of enka, J-pop, light rock and more enka. The below list is just stuff that caught my attention, or had received some level of air play on U.S. radio. Maybe only a 20th of it are songs that I actually like (Green Day, The Kinks, Steppenwolf, The Doors, Eurythmics, Billy Joel, The Ventures).


1957 Little Richard - Jennie, Jennie
1958 伊東ゆかり - Lolipop, Eddie Cochran - Summertime Blues
        Ritchie Valens - La Bamba
1959 Dark Ducks - Oh My Darling Clementine
        Bobby Darin - Mack the Knife
        上高田少年合唱団 - Boys Detective Team Theme Song
1960 Bobby Bland - Cry, Cry, Cry
        B.B. King - Partin' Time
1961 Bobby Bland - I Pity the Fool
        The Tokens - The Lion Sleeps Tonight
1962 Booker T - Green Onions
        Kingston Trio - Where Have the Flowers Gone
1963 Lesley Gore - It's My Party
        New Christy Minstrels - Green Green
        Bob Dylan - Blowin' in the Wind
        Peter, Paul and Mary - Blowin' in the Wind
1964 The Kinks - You Really Got Me
        The Ventures - Diamond Head
1965 Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone
        The Byrds - Tambourine Man
        Beach Boys - California Girls
1966 The Mamas and The Papas - California Dreamin
        Beach Boys - Good Vibrations
        Bob Dylan - Absolutely Sweet Marie
        The Monkees - I'm a Believer
        The Hollies - Bus Stop
1967 熊倉一雄 - ゲゲゲの鬼太郎
        The Monkees - Daydream Believer
1968 The Grass Roots - Midnight Confessions
        The Bee Gees - World
        Steppenwolf - Born to be Wild
1969 Cliff Richard - Early in the Morning
        Blood, Sweat and Tears - Spinning Wheel
        Dave Pell - Mah Na Mah Na
1970 Carpenters - We've Only Just Begun, Close to You
       Jackson 5 - I'll Be There
1971 Reynolds Hamilton, Joe Frank  - Don't Pull Your Love
        Carpenters - Rainy Days and Sundays,
        The Doors - Riders on the Storm, Love Her Madly
        James Taylor - You've Got a Friend
1972 Don McLean - American Pie
        Lindisfarne - Lady Eleanor
        Doobie Brothers - Listen to the Music
        Isaac Hayes - The Theme From Shaft
1973 Gladys Knight - Midnight Train to Georgia
        Carpenters - Top of the World; Yesterday Once More
        Roberta Flack - Killing Me Softly
        Spinners - Could it be I'm Falling in Love,
1974 サディスティック・ミカ・バンド - Please Time Machine
        Carpenters - Jambalaya
        ABBA - Waterloo
1975 The Ozark Mountain Daredevils - Jackie Blue
        Glen Campbell - Rhinestone Cowboy
        Orleans - Dance With Me
1976 Boston - More than a Feeling
        Gary Wright - Dream Weaver
        Pablo Cruise - Zero to Sixty in Five
1977 Fleetwood Mac - Dreams
        Steely Dan - Aja
        ABBA - Dancing Queen
        Pink Lady - UFO
        Al Stewart - Year of the Cat
1978 Godaigo - Monkey Magic
        Barry Manilow - Copacabana
        Andy Gibb - (Love Is) Thicker Than Water
        ABBA - Take a Chance on Me
        Billy Joel - 52nd Street
1979 The Doobie Brothers - What a Fool Believes
        Billy Joel - Honesty
        Donna Summer - Hot Stuff
1980 Nothing
1981 Journey - Don't Stop Believing
        Rick Springfield - Jesse's Girl
1982 Toto - Rosanna
        Journey - Open Arms
        The Gogo's - Vacation
1983 Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams
        Thompson Twins - Hold Me Now
        Donna Summer - She Works Hard for the Money
        Journey - Faithfully, Separate Ways
        Irene Cara - Flashdance
        Billy Joel - Uptown Girl
1984 Pointer Sisters - I'm So Excited
        Sheila E - The Glamorous Life
        Talk Talk - It's My Life
        Cyndi Lauper - Time After Time
        Huey Lewis and The News - If This is It
        Kenny Loggins - Footloose
1985 Simple Minds - Don't You Forget About Me
        Eurythmics - There Must Be an Angel
        A-Ha - Take on Me
1986 Survivor - Burning Heart
        Berlin - Take My Breath Away
        Kenny Loggins - Danger Zone
        Robert Palmer - Addicted to Love
        Bon Jovi - You Give Love a Bad Name
1987 Heart - Alone
        Whitney Houston - I Wanna Dance With Somebody
        Starship - Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now
        Bon Jovi - Living on a Prayer
        George Michael - Faith,
        Cutting Crew - I Just Died in Your Arms
        Los Lobos - La Bamba
1988 Rick Astley - Never Gonna Give You Up, Together Forever
        久保田利伸 - You Were Mine,  Missing
        Beach Boys - Kokomo
        INXS - Need You Tonight
        Bon Jovi - Bad Medicine
1989 Bangles - Eternal Flame
        Princess Princess - Diamonds
        Unicorn - Great Inconvenience
        Bon Jovi - Born to Be My Baby
1990 Princess Princess - Oh! Yeah
        MC Hammer - U Can't Touch This
1991 EMF - Unbelievable
        R.E.M. - Losing My Religion
        Whitney Houston - All the Man I Need
1992 Eric Clapton -Tears in Heaven
1993 Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You
        UB40 - Falling in Love
        Smashing Pumpkins - Today
1994 Nothing
1995 Des'ree - You Gotta Be
        岡本真夜 - Tomorrow
        TLC - Waterfalls
1996 Nothing
1997 Nothing
1998 Nothing
1999 Nothing
2000 Bon Jovi - It's My Life
        Whiteberry - Summer Festival
        Vertical Horizon - Everything You Want
        Aqua - Cartoon Heroes
2001 Nothing
2002 Vanessa Carlton - A Thousand Miles
        Avril Lavigne - Complicated
        Jimmy Eat World - The Middle
2003 Orange Range - Shanghai Love
        No Doubt - It's My Life
2004 Maroon 5 - This Love
        Asian Kung-Fu Generation - Rewrite
2005 The Killers - Mr. Brightside
2006 Fall Out Boy - This Ain't a Scene It's an Arms Race
2007 Nothing
2008 Nothing
2009 Unicorn - Waoh
2010 Nothing
2011 Nothing
2012 Nothing
2013 Green Day - Oh Love
        The Ting Tings - Hang It Up

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sanshiro^2, vol. 1 Review

I've always liked the artwork by Shota Kikuchi. The first of his manga that I encountered was Sanshiro^2. However, at the time I couldn't understand the dialog, and I couldn't find the first few volumes of the series to determine what the story was. Finally, when I was at Book Off, I located a used copy of a "special reprint" of volume 1, for 85 yen ($1 USD). Couldn't turn it down at that price.

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

Sanshiro^2 (1990), by Shota Kikuchi, Grade A (Mature audiences only) (284 pages)
Imagine that Arare, the robot girl from Doctor Slump, was cross-bred with young Gokuu from the original Dragonball, and then transplanted into the universe of Kotaro Makaritoru, while mixing in some of the situational comedy from Ranma 1/2. Then you'd be coming close to Sanshiro^2. The story starts out with Sanshiro Sugata, a young girl living in the mountains with her grandfather. She's insanely strong, and her best friends are the animals that live with them. One day, her grandfather tells her that he'd made a pact with a former martial arts rival to have their children in an arranged marriage. It's now time for her to travel to Tokyo, alone, to marry into the rival's dojo and help make it the strongest in Japan. Being a dutiful girl, she agrees, bids a tearful farewell to the wild boar and cow, and leaves the mountains. Meanwhile, Sanshiro Toyotomi, the only male child in the Toyotomi family, is happy to learn that his older sister, Hifumi, is going to be married off to someone in an arranged marriage. This means that he won't have to take over the dojo after all. Hifumi complains that she's allergic to martial arts - when she hears the word "kenpo", she breaks out in hives.



Along the way, Toyotomi crosses paths with Takashi Kari, a spoiled brat from the Kari dojo, and beats him up on the street. Takashi's grandfather comes to the Toyotomi dojo to settle the score, bringing along a monster professional fighter to act as a stand-in. Sanshiro Sugata (SS) arrives, and the family is surprised to learn that she's a girl (Sanshiro is a male name). Hifumi is relieved at not having to get married, and now it's Sanshiro Toyotomi's (ST) turn to complain about having his wife arranged for him. ST prepares to fight the professional ringer, and SS says that it's her job as future wife to fight alongside her future husband. The ringer laughs and breaks a wooden plank with his fist to demonstrate his powers. SS punches a tree in two, and wins the fight by default. Hifumi still ends up breaking into hives.


(A quick intro to 4 major characters - Nagao Nishioka, Sanshiro Toyotomi, Tsugio Nishioka and
Takashi Kari. "Nagao" = "Oldest Boy" and "Tsugio" = "Next Boy".)

Thus the stage is set for the rest of the jokes in the book. Sanshiro Sugata has no idea how modern life works, and misuses words all the time (confusing "iinazuke" - fiancee - with "tsuke mono" - vegetables pickled in vinegar or salt). She ends up going to school with Toyotomi, and running afoul of the richest girl in the class. While she doesn't understand how to do gymnastics, she's still strong enough to outdo everyone. It does help that she's extremely friendly and self-defacing. Just don't make her angry.



The manga originally ran in Shonen Champion, which has a slightly older audience than Jump or Sunday. So the jokes tend to be a lot more risque (including mentions of body parts, and occasional drawings of naked women). If this kind of humor offends you, or you are under 18, then don't read this series.



For me, the fun comes from the high quality of the artwork. Sanshiro Sugata is very cute. And, the fight sequences are very believable. Once you get past the disbelief of a girl being able to run with 60 pounds worth of metal plates in her shoes, Sugata becomes very scary. When mad.



There's no point to summarizing each chapter. Instead I'll just highlight one. In "Catch My Feelings", the school principal is being bullied by the baseball team of a rival school. Since Kinouji (the visual joke here is that a fly has landed on the school's nameboard, making it look like "Kintama-ji", or "Testacles Temple") doesn't have a team, he'll just have to accept the humiliation of a forfeit. Outside, Toyotomi is on the pitcher's mound, striking out the rest of the class. If he goes a full nine outs without a hit, the class will have to buy him ice cream. In desperation, the class asks Sugata to step up, and she smashes the ball out of the field and into the back of the head of the rival school's ace player. The principal races outside to beg Sugata to play on Kinouji's team, but there's just one problem - no one is able to catch her pitches. Toyotomi tries to, but it's a losing cause.



The last chapter of the book is worth mentioning, too. Toyotomi is finding himself playing second fiddle to his family and classmates, and he doesn't like it. Everyone has fallen for Sugata, and Toyotomi is feeling jealous. At one point, he gets a little too riled up and tells Sugata that he hates girls that are stronger than him. After he closes the door to his room, Sugata sets the snacks she'd brought for him on the floor, and then quietly leaves the house. Outside, she finds a stray cat that has been abandoned and they sit in a park in the rain. After a while, Hifumi asks Toyotomi where Sugata is, and he realizes that he may have gone too far. He goes outside with an umbrella and rides around the neighborhood asking if anyone has seen a "countrygirl with big round glasses". Eventually, he comes to a car that is blocking a narrow alley and kicks the bumper, demanding that the driver get out of the way. A huge yakuza gangster gets out, along with a number of his men. The gangster asks why the boy scuffed up his car, and Toyotomi yells out that he's trying to find a nice girl that is too kind to come home out of the rain. A little ways away, Sugata hears the yelling and she runs over to join Toyotomi. But, when she prepares to punch out the ganster, she remembers Toyotomi's words and tries to act more girl-like. The gangster suggests that the two of them go into the car for sex, and gets bit by the cat. The guy kicks the cat into the air, and Sugata can take no more - she smashes the gangster through a couple walls, and his minions all run after him in terror. Sugata then apologizes to Toyotomi that she was too violent again. The boy reaches down to pick up the stray and says, "don't you know? Everyone in my family loves cats." As they happily return home, Toyotomi silently adds "and I love girls with kind hearts".

Overall, this is a very funny, if sometimes raunchy series. The artwork is great, and the characters are immediately identifiable. There are cameos by various popular real-world figures, including Hulk Hogan, and some great fights (can't ignore the hockey-masked Nishioki Brothers, either). Highly recommended if you are over 18 and are not easily offended.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A.S.H. DS Review

A few weeks ago, when I mentioned buying Chrono Trigger, I'd said that there was a game shop in the basement of the Best Denki electronics store a 10-minute walk from my apartment, but that some of the used games had been moved up to the third floor of the building. Well, the basement shop - Wonder Goo (the Japanese pronunciation of "Wonder Goods") - had a much bigger selection of games than was on the third floor, so a few days back I returned to the shop to find out what else was available for the Gameboy DS. At first, I couldn't find the stairs down to the basement, and it took a while before I realized that Best Genki had set up some shelves of headphones in front of the stairwell. Finally, I saw the sign on one shelf saying that Wonder Goo had moved to the third floor. So I guess that at least half of the original stock that had been in the basement shop got dumped during the move, for both used and new games, plus the machines and accessories. Sigh.

Anyway, once I returned to the third floor, I wanted to get some kind of RPG, if the price was under 2,000 yen ($23 USD). I'd visited the Bic Camera store, located in the main train station building, that morning and all they had was new games in the 4,500 to 6,500 yen range. Saving only 30% on a used game that's more than 2 years old didn't appeal to me, which ruled out the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series. So, as I went through the Best Denki games, I was as interested in the title as in the price. Along the way I discovered two games priced at or under 300 yen. I can afford $3-$4 USD for something just for the artwork, and I can share it with other people later as an example of a particular genre.

Now, in the U.S, you can't necessarily judge a game on price. Some very good games are available used for cheap simply because the store has so many copies. Some very bad games are expensive only because there's one copy, or it's still a recent release. But in Japan, a cheap used game is cheap because the stores figure no one wants to buy it. Good used games that are 5 years old can still be 1,500 - 2,500 yen. So, I know not to expect much from a 300 yen game (remembering that Claymore, which is garbage, was 650 yen).



ASH: Archaic Sealed Heat. Mistwalker, 2007.
Hmm... A name derived from a meaningless acronym. Not a good sign. New game animation is good, but there's no opening credits beyond just the A.S.H. logo. 15 minutes into the introduction, I finally get the option to save the game. Annoying but not crippling. Dialog is in Japanese - game has never been ported to the U.S. Could be a good excuse to practice reading Japanese. Silly story. Even sillier premise - Young girl is about to become a princess of a small kingdom on her 17th birthday, when a firebreathing dragon swoops in and fries everyone but her. When she approaches different ash piles, they turn back into people that become supporting party members. In investigating additional blazes in the distance, the princess, Aisha, witnesses a fire control team from a different country imprisoning the dragon in a metal box. Later, though, the control team is attacked and the dragon escapes.



I could get to like this game except for one thing - it's a tactical RPG, and I don't like tactical RPGs. I like hack-n-slash RPGs, like Final Fantasy. I can handle puzzle RPGs like Zelda, because often the puzzles can be very challenging. But tactical RPGs are too stiff and linear for me. You start at point A on the war map and you're either trying to get to point B, or clearing all the monsters from the map. Finishing chapter 1 takes you automatically to chapter 2. You can replay the previous two chapters, but it can take half an hour to finish one run-through and you don't get that much experience for it. And this is where I start disliking the game - if a monster is too tough for the level, it will kill of one of your characters. You can replace the dead one with someone else from an infinite pool, but they start out a couple strength levels lower, pretty much guaranteeing that they'll also be killed off quickly, and there's no real option for building someone up before starting the next chapter. I got to chapter 4, lost my cleric 10 minutes into the battle, had a chance of exiting the map alive, picked up a weakling character that acted like a second, unsupported team, watched as the weakling got pummeled into the ground, and I got slapped with the "game over screen", turning the entire 30-minute exercise into a big waste of time. I then spent a couple hours replaying chapter 3 to build the party up 3 levels, and when I start chapter 4, the cleric gets killed again even faster. It's like the enemy levels up as you do. Since there's 31 chapters, and I'm having this much trouble on chapter 4, I don't see much point in playing all the way through.



I do like the graphics and animation in ASH, and I've pretty much figured out the game play, and weapons and magic systems. It's the whole tactics thing that bugs me. I guess I could keep completing certain chapters more than once. You get graded at the end of each chapter based on speed, the number of monsters killed, etc., with bonus experience for A grades (compared to C or B). I'm shelving this game, although I may come back to it later when I have nothing else to do. In the meantime, I don't really recommend it to anyone else.




Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mushibugyou




While at Maruzen bookstore in Tenmonkan to buy a greeting card, I saw this small booklet next to the cash register. It advertises the new TV anime for Mushibugyou, it's about 40 pages, or 2 chapters, and it's free. The artwork and story are by Hiroshi Fukuda, but it looks exactly like Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer.



The basic story in this booklet is that the main character has survived his first day in Edo, but the professional government warriors in the Mushibugyou department are trying to avoid him. The department head wants him to watch the "specialists" in action while fighting a giant magical ladybug. However, the main team fails to halt the bug and it barrels down on a trapped child. It's up to our hero to defeat something that the 4 specialists can't.


(Right, panel 2: The hero. Panel 3: the department head. Left: three of the professional specialists.)

If you liked Biscuit Hammer, then you may like Mushibugyuo, which has similar art and jokes.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Taimashin, vol. 6, review

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

Taimashin, Vol. 6, story by Hideyuki Kikuchi, art by Misaki Saitoh, Grade: A-
This marks the final volume of the current storyline. While I'm having trouble verifying it, I think there was a shift in publishers or magazines after this point. Anyway, I believe that the remaining books in the Taimanshin series are placed on a different set of shelves at the bookstore. Regardless, I've only seen up to volume 6 in the Comic Birz section at Book Off, and the present arc ends here.


(From left: Kisou, Kurusu and Ayakashi)

Things wrap up pretty quickly. There's lots of action and not much real exposition. Jingo Kisou uses a needle trap to defeat the arrow-shooting demon, but it switches to a gun at the last second and hits Jingo in the shoulder. The influx of demon blood forces Jingo back into demon form, but he's not in control of his actions now. Hayato Kurusu wakes up Mayu and Garada, but the hand of her demon sister is still attached to Mayu's leg and she can't run in her current condition. Instead, Garada has to carry her piggyback.  The two ram into Kyougo Ayakashi and Taima, who haven't yet noticed that they're also being pursued by a demon. Taima's hand is forced and he pulls out his "god needle" and uses it to blow the demon up. The party of four go back into the parking garage, but it's empty now except for a wavering force gate. Kyougo leads Mayu and Garada up to the surface, while Taima steps through the force gate. It takes Taima into an old stone tunnel under the Touka mansion, where he finds Kurusu just standing around. Seems that the tunnel leads to a massive underground clock works that is connected to the wind generators on the surface. Kurusu speculates that the wind generators weren't enough to turn the gears, which is why the Touka have been summoning the demons.



At the other end of the room is another force gate, this one in the shape of a skewed doorway. The two acupuncture masters step through the gate and find themselves in a big room that looks like a super-sized Japanese estate house. On the floor is a futon, with a large demon sleeping on it, and a second demon collapsed at the first one's feet. Taima guesses that Kisou fought the sleeping demon and lost. The sleeping demon wakes up - it has Grandmother Touka's face sticking out of its chest. Initially, Granny claims to be a victim entangled in the demon's body, but when Taima refuses to buy this story, she orders the demon to kill both humans. At the same time, demons start showing up all over Earth, causing chaos and death. Hayato has run out of U.S. Army technology, and Taima is forced to use the "god needle" a second time. Kisou has woken up in human form again, and he protests that using the "god needle" twice always results in the death of the practitioner. Taima strikes anyway, and Granny dies. Taima survives, but is now half-dead. He asks how Kurusu has gotten involved in this affair, and Hayato answers that a demon gate on Earth had been detected by spy satellites, and he was dispatched to investigate it. The force gate starts collapsing, but the group notices a hole in one wall of the room. Taima and Hayato walk into the room, which has a big mirror with black smoke flowing from the base. This is the true demon gate, and is Hayato's main objective.



Taima doesn't want to let  the U.S. Army get its hands on the mirror, so the two of them have to duel it out. Taima paralyzes one half of Hayato's body with a needle, so the soldier uses his own needle to create a blood spell that will entrap anything living. Unfortunately, he's standing with his back to the mirror and a demon reaches out to grab him and pull him through to the demon world. Hayato begs Taima to save him, and Taima shrugs off the blood spell to grab Hayato's arm and pull the guy back free (the blood spell apparently doesn't work on the dead). Meanwhile, up on the surface, Kyougo is using a special family needle technique of "aligned planets" to remove the demon hand clutching Mayu's leg. The technique works, the hand drops off, and the demon elements inside her body are ejected in the shapes of small worlds. Somehow, this also causes the gates around Earth to close and the invading demons to be expelled back to their own world. The gang is finally completely reunited on the surface and the story ends.

Overall, I like this story for the character designs. A lot of the background art is too dark and muddy to make out details, and the story itself is kind of silly. But, I don't hate it outright. According to the wiki entry, the first book had been released in the U.S. by ADV Manga, but they later lost the rights to the rest of the series. The author, Hideyuki Kikuchi, wrote the Vampire Hunter D novels, so if you like his work, you may want to check out Taimashin.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tamashin, vol. 5, review

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

Taimashin, Vol. 5, story by Hideyuki Kikuchi, art by Misaki Saitoh, Grade: A-
It's been quite a while since I last commented on Massatsu Nooto Taimashin Mashintaidouhen, or "that shojomanga from Comic Birz about the guys using acupuncture needles on demons". Well, when Book Off had its discount sale on 105 yen manga, I located copies of volumes 4, 5 and 6, and figured that now was a good time to pick them up. I wasn't really sure if I'd already reviewed vol. 4, but at about 95 cents US a copy, it wouldn't matter much if I got it again. I even read all the way through 4 and still couldn't remember if I'd written it up or not. Naturally, it was one I'd reviewed, but I think my Japanese has improved enough that I could understand the story much better this time around. And having just finished it again, I could figure out the story in vol. 5 that much better.


(Jingo Kisou and Mayu Touka)

We left our heroes, Taima, Jingo Kisou, Kyougo Ayakashi and Maki Togetsu, on the Touka estate. The Touka's have spent centuries associated with the demon world, and over the last few years the demons have been replacing the family members in order to walk on earth. An abandoned part of the estate, called "Fake Town" by Kurusu, is overrun by humans-turned-demon, and a few real demons. Taima and Jingo had been investigating the family's main home and dealing with the Touka matriarch, while Jingo had turned himself into a demon to study one of the demon's vital points. Maki had escaped the main house in the company of Mayu Touka (the last remaining family member not yet demonized) and the frog-like priest, Garama, only to be forced into Fake Town. Maki gets bitten in the neck by a human-turned-demon, but is saved by the U.S. Army-trained Hayato Kurusu. Kurusu heads deeper into the bowels of Fake Town to rescue Mayu and Garuma, leaving Maki alone in a safe camp protected by various high-tech forcefield generators and a stack of rocket-powered needle launchers. At the end, Kurusu is watching a group of humans-turned-demon (HtDs) roasting and eating a fellow HtD, while Maki is talking to a real demon that had dropped by to unload food-quality HtD body parts on a pair of newly-turned HtDs (the pair had been masquerading as Mayu and Garada, and were killed by Kurusu).


(Maki and Taima)

Vol. 5 starts out with Hayato speaking into a wrist recorder, documenting the behavior of the HtDs during their feeding frenzy. He gets a little too weirded out and bumps into a wall, attracting the pseudo-demons' attention. He dispatches them with a "shower of needles" and continues to the next bonfire visible in the underground parking garage. Back at the safe camp, the real demon decides to eat Maki. She's still weakened from the neck bite and simply tries to talk her way out of the situation by inviting demon-kind to their new home - America. The demon likes the idea, but he still plans to eat her first. Maki does manage to trigger an Army-made laser and the beam lances the demon through the head. It asks how humans know where the demon vital spots are, and Maki just acts coy. However, her next attack with a guided-rocket needle is less effective and the demon replies that true demons are able to move their vital spots around at will. Finally, it swallows her whole, but a second demon shows up and sticks the first one in the back with a needle - Jingo, as a demon, was able to hear Maki's voice from miles away and he arrived in time to make the first demon throw her back up. There's a big battle.

Maki wakes up, with Taima and Kyougo standing over her. As her boss applies needles to remove the remaining effects of the demon blood, Maki talks about how the second demon defeated the first and then disappeared. Kyougo notices the laser and asks if Kurusu was here. Maki says that he had been, but had left to find Mayu and Garada. Taima tells her to give him a full report on everything that had happened.


(Kurusu and Mizuki fight it out.)

Farther in the parking lot, Mayu and Garada have been tied up and propped against a crumbling wall. Mayu's older sister, Mizuki, walks up, saying that it's time for Mayu to be replaced by a real demon, and Garada turned into dinner. Before the conversation can go much further, Hayato arrives and shoots Mizuki with a needle rocket. One of the advantages of spraying out thousands of tiny needles is that you don't need to know where a vital spot is to hit it. Mizuki fires some of the needles back, but they're blocked by Hayato's high-tech suit jacket. Hayato tries to turn Mizuki back human, but the most crucial needle hit her wrong - a demon arm reaches out of her mouth, removes the needle and retreats back inside her body. Mizuki recovers, and collapses the floor under Kurusu, so he blows her in two with a wrist rocket. Her hand flies forward and locks itself on Mayu's ankle. Hayato can't remove the hand with his needles, and a new demon is about to approach. Jingo also arrives, in demon form, but the technique wears off at the wrong moment and he reverts to his human shape. The new demon sends out a "dummy" (something that looks roughly like a human that occasionally attracts human prey), then starts eating the dummy itself. Mayu gets so upset at the carnage that she grabs Kurusu's needle gun and shoots the demon in the head. This just makes it ask who is interrupting its meal. Jingo had been trying to get the other three to run to safety first, but it's too late now, so he uses a needle to put the two civilians to sleep then turns to face the new demon. The demon says that it's going to show them how true demons fight - it uses its blood to make an army of lesser demons that merge into a giant homunculus. The homunculus creates a massive bow and arrow and fires off a shot. The arrow zooms past Kurusu and Jingo to explode into the far wall of the parking lot. The flying debris alone threatens the unconscious humans. As the two fighters goad each other, the homunculus readies a second arrow. The volume ends with Jingo telling Hayato to watch how a real Japanese acupuncturist takes out enemies with a needle.

Overall, the artwork is just a bit better than in previous volumes, but the story is starting to pick up a lot. There's enough humor to offset the more gory parts, and I do like Misaki Saitoh's character designs. It's not perfect, but still recommended if you like light horror.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sekai no Hatedemo Mangakaki

Mari Yamazaki is best known for her manga Thermae Romae, which posits a time tunnel connecting a roman bath with a Japanese sento. A Roman architect looking for new ideas discovers the tunnel and finds himself in modern-day Japan, where he runs into the typical fish-out-of-water situations. However, Yamazaki is also something of a travel writer. Sekai no Hatedemo Mangakaki (Drawing Manga Even from the Ends of the Earth) (2009, Kiss Carnival) is a travelogue of sorts, with vol. 1 focusing primarily on her experiences in Cuba.

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

Sekai no Hatedemo Mangakaki, vol. 1, by Mari Yamazaki, Grade: B+
The story starts out with a middle-aged Mari packing up for another trip. Her husband complains about the disgusting condition of her suitcase, and she defends it saying that she knows no one will try to steal it, and she can easily tell when it's arrived at the baggage carousel when the other passengers back up to avoid touching it. In fact, she hates actually traveling, it's just the idea of travel that she likes. The manga then flashes back to when she was a child watching Kaoru Kanetaka's The World Around Us on TV. Mari fantasized about the places that Kanetaka visited, and wanted to grow up to be like her. At about that time, her mother, a concert violinist, had a performance scheduled in Hong Kong, and both Mari and her younger sister, Maya, were invited along. Reality was much uglier than the fantasy - the air was hot and humid, the streets crowded, bodies lying in the gutter, and taxi drivers following them around speaking an unrecognizable language and demanding they get in the car. One small boy approached Mari and she grabbed his hand thinking he wanted to be friends. Her mother yelled at her because the boy was just begging for money, then her mother discovers that her own watch has been stolen. Returning to the present, Mari repeats that she dislikes actual travel, but still loves the pure idea of it.




The main story revolves around her trip to Cuba. The rain, the heat, the attempts to drink the same cocktails that Hemingway liked, the living in a tiny house with 8 other people. One of the young boys living in the house keeps trying to pull karate moves on her and punching her in the stomach when she's not looking. Of course, when she finally returns to Japan, the mementos the family gives her brings her to tears.


(Splendor)

There's a side story drawn in more of Yamazaki's signature shojo style called Splendor, about a female art student. Nothing really great one way or another, just kind of a love story between university students in the same art class.

Summary: Sekai no Hatedemo Mangakaki is something of an autobiographical gag comic detailing Mari Yamazaki's travel experiences, drawn in a simplified art style. The characters are often cute, but still somewhat realistic-looking. There's little in the way of backgrounds, but the people wear highly-detailed patterned clothing. Mainly interesting if you like Yamazaki's other works, or if you plan on visiting Cuba some day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Capcom Shop




I first noticed the ad for the Capcom special shop when I was riding the street car a couple of weeks ago. However, the ad didn't have a map on it, and I didn't recognize the name "Takapla". Doing a websearch later didn't bring up any hits. It wasn't until April 6th, when I saw the same ad on the Takapla building while riding the street car again, that I discovered where it is. And, as can be seen from the large poster in the building's stairwell, the shop was only available in Kagoshima from March 20th to April 7th. So, it's gone now. Anyway, the idea was that Capcom wanted to sell its anime and video game-related products in a kind of traveling road show format.



Takapla is a department store, with lots of small shops selling clothing and local souvenir products. It's laid out a little odd in that you can take the escalators and elevators up to the 5th floor, but you have to walk the final flight to get to the 6th.



The stairwell posters describe several of the more popular games. Here we have Biohazard, Dino Crisis, and that lawyer game.



The display space has kind of a museum exhibit quality to it. The plasma screen runs ads for the games, and there are a couple full-sized displays of game characters. The footprints on the floor are full-scale reproductions from the Monster Hunter series.



The other side of the wall has a small shooting gallery game for kids. You shoot a rubber-tipped arrow at pictures of Monster Hunter monsters to win a small prize.





Naturally, the idea is to get you to spend money. The shop has coffee cups, song CDs, t-shirts, mousepads, patches, key chains and other stuff from Street Fighter, Basara, Monster Hunter, Biohazard  and other titles. It's all very expensive. A shoulder patch can run 2500 yen ($28 USD), while a simple stick pin is 500 yen. There were about 10 customers while I was there, and I doubt they spent more than 10,000 yen total.



I debated getting a small can of coffee with the Basara characters printed on it for 120 yen, but there wasn't a design I liked. I settled for grabbing 3 pieces of Tirol chocolate for 60 yen each ($2 USD total). Each piece is about 1" square, and the chocolate is typical Tirol. The interesting thing is that they're produced by Decocho, a company that specializes in custom-printed chocolate wrappers. If you wanted, you could have them make up a couple cases of chocolates with the bride and groom's faces on them for a wedding.