Monday, March 31, 2014

At Last, the 1948 Show DVD Comments

I received two DVDs for Christmas last year. One of them was a 2-DVD set of At Last the 1948 Show. And the other wasn't.



I first learned about Monty Python's Flying Circus about the time I graduated from high school in '75 or '76, when I saw "And Now for Something Completely Different" showing as a double feature with "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in an art house movie theater in St. Paul, Minn. For me, it was a major shock to learn that the entire production was basically sketch comedy put on by only 4-5 people in multiple roles. It wasn't the kind of thing you saw on American broadcast TV back then. From that point on, I would scour the music stores looking for comedy albums, where I found the "Contractual Obligation Album". Plus, Monty Python was also starting to run on PBS. A short time later, when I was going to tech school, I found one album by I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, on which I recognized the voice of John Cleese. Over the years, I've collected recordings of The Goon Show, and watched The Goodies and Marty, starring Marty Feldman.

But, during all of this, I didn't know about two anchoring BBC shows that kind of linked everything together, until now. I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again was a BBC radio show that first started broadcasting in 1964, and consisted of cast members from the Cambridge University Footlights revue, Cambridge Circus - Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, Graeme Garden, David Hatch, Jo Kendall, Bill Oddie and Humphry Barclay. David Frost, host of That Was The Week That Was wanted to produce 2 comedy shows for BBC TV. The first was "At Last the 1948 Show" (ALT1948S), and the other wasn't. In fact, the one that wasn't was Do Not Adjust Your Set (DNAYS).

ALT1948S was a sketch comedy series that ran from '67 to '68, and featured John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and Marty Fieldman, all as actors as well as writers. Apparently most of the archival film footage was destroyed, but at least 5 episodes remain (I think at least 5 episodes remain, there's 5 episodes on the 2-DVD set I watched). Supporting cast included the Lovely Aimi MacDonald, and had several cameo appearances by Eric Idle.



DNAYS was also a sketch comedy series, but one originally aimed more towards a children's audience, featuring Denise Coffey, David Jansen, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. The music was provided by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, which included Neil Innes on piano, guitar and lead vocals. At the end of the series' run there were animated bits by American artist Terry Gilliam. This show ran from '67 to '69.

On a side note, Harvey Kurtzman, cartoonist for Mad magazine, went on to create Help! (1960-65). Two of the people working on Help! were Terry Gilliam, who made gag strips using photographs, and John Cleese, the guy in Terry's gag photos.

The next step then was to have a sketch comedy series where the sketches didn't really need punchlines to finish them off before switching to the next sketch, which would be accomplished by having little animated bits inbetween. Hence, we get Monty Python, with Graham Chapman and John Cleese coming in from ALT1948S, and they already knew Eric Idle because of his cameos there, plus Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle from DNAYS. Also from DNAYS were Terry Gilliam for the animated bits, and Neil Innes (Bonzo Dog) for the music and additional acting roles.

Additionally, from the above list of shows we have The Goodies, which combined Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie, Graeme Green and Jo Kendall (from ALT1948S and I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again). Marty Feldman had a short-lived show, Marty (The Marty Feldman Show in the U.S.), with writing from John Cleese, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam. (Feldman may be best known in the U.S. for his role as Igor in Young Frankenstein).

Now, on to the 2-DVD set.
There are five episodes, in B&W, with lots of scratches and occasional jumping around of the film. Cleese generally comes off as creepy, while the others fare better. A number of the sketches have been reworked and recycled for Monty Python, including one with London Bobbys cross-dressing as showgirls to raid a night club. The Lovely Aimi MacDonald primarily appears as a ditzy blonde who heads the charity "Donate to make the Lovely Aimi MacDonald a Rich Lady". Many of the sketches are still funny today, although a few aren't politically correct anymore. It's also interesting to hear the music of The Avengers and Perry Mason used at the beginning of 2 of the sketches (one is a spy thriller parody where John Cleese sends his secretary Feldman to burn down Moscow with just a couple cans of kerosene and a Greek passport with "Greece" crossed out and "Russia" written in with a pen. Feldman has to provide his own matches.) The DVD jacket says that there are guest appearances by Jo Kendall and Bill Oddie, but I didn't notice either of them, myself.

Another sketch I like has Chapman and Feldman as rival American gangsters, with Feldman holding a machinegun at Chapman.

Feldman: Quit stalling, Diamond. When did Prussia first acquire the hegemony of the north Germanic Confederation?
Chapman: 1866!
Feldman: Correct. What is the angle of the plane of movement of the two outer [garbled] of the 4 main satellites of Uranus with the elliptic?
Chapman: 82 degrees!
Feldman: Correct! What is the square root of 7,974?
Chapman: 89.3!
Feldman: Correct! Alright, Diamond, I don't wanna do this, but I'm gonna kill ya!
Chapman: Why!?
Feldman: You know too much.
[Machinegun fire]

The second CD has interviews by Tim Brooke-Taylor and Terry Jones. It's fun watching the interviews, but they didn't really add a lot to my understanding of what the show was like back when it was being made.

If you like Monty Python and British sketch comedy, both ALT1948S and DNAYS (both from Tango Entertainment) are must sees. If you don't like Monty Python or British comedy, and you kept reading all the way down to here, I don't know what to say to you.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Radiant Historia Review

One of the PS2 games that I have strong memories of is Radiata Stories (2005), a Japanese RPG where the 200+ characters all have their own personalities and activity patterns, from students going to and from magic school, to thieves populating an all-night bar, from clerics in a church, to mercenaries in a for-hire company. It wasn't the best RPG I've played (that may arguably be Chrono Cross), but I definitely believe that giving the characters individual lifestyle patterns is a good thing. I've been hoping to find another game that has the same concept, but that hasn't happened so far. However, a few weeks ago I was looking in the $10 bin at Bic Camera and I found Radiant Historia (2010). The name sounded close enough to Stories that I bought it right there.


(Title screen.)

Radiant Historia is really nothing like Radiata Stories, although they share some of the same development team members. It is unique (as far as I can tell), though, in that you can travel back and forth through time to try making different decisions to see what the various outcomes are. You play Stocke, an intelligence officer in the army of the country of Alistel, in the war against the larger nation of Granorg. Heiss, Stocke's superior, assigns him two subordinates, Reine and Marco, and sends the trio out to meet a spy coming in from Granorg. On the way to the exit gates, Stocke is intercepted by his friend, the unit leader Rosch. Rosch doesn't trust Heiss and asks Stocke to choose between following orders and joining Rosch's unit, thus marking the "Beginning of Everything." Stocke takes Marco and Reine to the pick-up point, where they're ambushed by Granorg archers and all three of them are killed.


(Stocke, exploring the Alistel capital city.)

Or so it seems. Stocke finds himself outside of time in a place filled with stairways and doors, occupied by two kids. This is Historia. They give him the White Book, which lets Stocke return to Historia at will, and revisit key node points in the past. Returning to The Beginning of Everything creates an alternate timeline, where Stocke can thwart the ambush and further the story. Jumping between the standard and alternate timelines allows you to fix various problems that ultimately allows Alistel and Granorg to resolve their war, and for humans and non-human beastpeople to live together in peace. Historia combines the reliving of events from Groundhog Day with the puzzle solving of Legend of Zelda and the hack-and-slash of Final Fantasy.


(Party status screen.)

This is one of those massive games that is impossible to complete without a walkthrough. It's fun, and definitely worth playing, but having so many nodes to jump between (30+) for finding solutions to the puzzles makes it very time-consuming. There are 236 node points in total, but you can only revisit certain ones via the White Book. Many of the decision points have "bad answers" that take you to deadend nodes where everyone dies. Fortunately, this just means that you pop back to Historia and have to return to that decision point to pick the better choice. There are at least 20 sidequests that you aren't required to complete for reaching the end of the main story, but they give you power ups and extra attacks, and unlock up to 10 animations that play before the final game credits.


(Battle menu screen.)

The first time I beat the final boss, I'd unlocked 216 nodes and had 8 of the 10 ending animations. I missed completing two of the more important sidequests, and I'd avoided choosing most of the "bad endings" at the main decision points. Before putting the game away for good, I tried going back and switching to a few of the bad endings to see how long it would take to walk through them. After about 2 hours, I'd completed another 13 nodes, including one needed for reaching one of the ending clips. The next day, I figured I might as well finish off all 236 nodes and get all of the endings. This took me another 2-3 hours because I was having trouble following the walkthrough. It was worth the effort though, because with all of the nodes completed, I got one more ending sequence not mentioned in either of the walkthroughs on GameFaqs.


(Battle order display/change screen.)

The game is very talky, and there's no animations for the characters when they have dialog - it's just a static still of the character. But those stills are really well-drawn. Most of the characters look either extremely handsome or extremely beautiful. The combat sequences are generally good, but there is so much fighting that everything starts to look the same after a while. The special attacks don't have the glorious sequences of something like Final Fantasy, but they're not all that bad. Generally, I didn't need to resort to them, though. One thing I do find interesting is the combat timing system. During a fight, you can see the order of the next 10 rounds and you can choose to change that order, even to allow the enemy to go first. If you want, you can chain 10 attacks in a row for some spectacular damage to the enemy at the risk of them getting in a surprise instant kill or putting one of your characters to sleep first. It's this ability to make long attack chains that lets you defeat even the strongest bosses in 1-2 minutes, if you're at a high enough level and have the right members in your party (3 of 6 people max.) In fact, my party was so high-powered (levels 64 to 74) that I polished off the final bosses with virtually no effort at all. Finishing the last side quests and fighting the last bosses again was just as easy.

I do like Radiant Historia, and I'm surprised that it was available used at such a low price. Also that there are only two walkthroughs on GameFaqs for it. I highly recommend it to anyone that likes Japanese RPGs.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hanami




Cherry blossom season is upon us in Kagoshima again. This winter was colder and rainier than normal, so most people here expected the blossoms to open late. But, the days turned warm fast and there's a good chance that the season will be much shorter because of it. I took these photos on Tuesday when the weather turned good. This is next to the Kotsuki river, a couple blocks from the main train station, along Tram Street.



There aren't that many cherry trees in Kagoshima, so the options for where to go hanami viewing are pretty limited. Even so, and even given that this was in the middle of a weekday, there weren't anywhere near the number of people out under the trees as you'd see in Tokyo.





Traditional hanami activities include eating, singing, and lots of drinking, involving largely coworkers. Most hanami parties are company affairs. Today, it's apparently friends and couples.





My other camera can't get this kind of shot, so yeah, I'm going to have to take the CoolPix outside more often now.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Camera


One of the more questionable actions the Japanese government has taken recently to lower the national debt is to mandate that sales tax will rise 3% in April. It seems to be a universal tax, affecting necessities like rent, food and payments of certain kinds of contract work for part-timers. A number of "experts" are already predicting a dramatic reduction in consumer purchases, which will further damage what little gains have been made in getting the economy to recover, and that of course is going to translate into a loss of tax revenue as total national sales drops off. A number of people I know in Kagoshima have been rushing to make big purchases this month, such as to upgrade old furniture or complete house repairs to avoid the new tax.



It wasn't really my intention to buy a new camera right now. I'm not taking enough photos to justify it, and a 3% bump on a $500 purchase is only $15. So, I was planning on putting it off until later when I had more money set aside. But, I was sort of talked into it, and I ended up getting this Nikon Coolpix P600 last Sunday. The main selling point was its reported ability to take good shots of the moon, the x50 zoom, and the anti-shake feature. Of course, the last few days have been rainy, so there haven't been many opportunities to go outside and use it. More specifically, the moon hasn't been up when the weather was good.




My current pocket camera has a lot of problems taking good photos of flowers. I think the Nikon is doing a much better job of that. But, there's this feeling that some of the color is still being washed out and that I have to tweak it in GIMP, plus I may have to do more with manual focusing. I'll keep the pocket camera for daily walking around, and take out the Nikon when I have a specific event or festival I want to cover for the blog.



I decided to do a bit of post editing on this image. I think this resembles the kind of work that shows up in some home and garden magazines, or shower curtains.



Thursday, March 27, 2014

Appleseed Landmate Guges robot suit


Dai-Nihon Giken and Sagawa Electronics worked together to make a life-size, functioning version of the Appleseed Landmate Guges battle suit. English story taken from the Asahi Shimbun. My apartment needs one.

Youtube video

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tall Geta




People do wear geta here in Japan, sometimes. It's rare, but it does happen. But in all the time I've been here, I've never seen tall geta outside of manga. Then, one rainy Saturday, I encountered this gentleman walking through Tenmonkan.



The reason for using tall geta is that it's designed for mud. I guess I've never realized just how much of a problem mud is here in Kagoshima.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hot Ginger Ale




You gotta figure that at some marketing meeting, the Japanese execs at Canada Dry figured that the only way to boost sales for their ginger ale was to get people to drink it at times other than just Summer. But, who wants to drink something cold in the middle of the Winter? The solution? Make a version to be served hot. The problem? Nobody wants to drink hot ginger ale, so they skipped worrying about not being to find anyone for the focus groups and just shoved the stuff into the vending machines. On first sip, it's like drinking hot carbonated cough syrup. Then, either as it starts to cool down, is exposed to air, or your taste buds get accustomed to it, the flavor changes and turns more bitter and sour. By the time I got to the bottom of the can, I pretty much promised myself that I'd never drink something like this again. (Side note, no, it doesn't taste anything like ginger ale.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Pocari Sweat Ad




I can never be sure if this is Kat von D or not. If it is, the air brush artist really had his job cut out for him.



Sunday, March 23, 2014

Kitaro DVD Review, vol. 22

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

Gegege no Kitaro Magazine DVD Series, volume 22


(Mizuki Collection.)

Features Present:
Where's Yamada (some background shots)
Kitaro Goods (Glossy photos of various Kitaro yokai)
History of Gegege no Kitaro, #21
Mizuki Collection (Pictures of Kitaro goods that ran in Shonen Magajin)

Features Missing:
Fold-out posters
Interviews or special video sections
Featured supporting youkai page



(Original Art page for Hideigami.)

TV Episodes:
#42: Hitokuijima (Human-Eating Island, 10/20/68)
#43: Hiderigami (Drought God, 10/27/68)
#44: Geta Gassen (Wooden Sandal Wars, 11/03/68)
#45: Nopperabou (Faceless, 11/10/68)


(Original Art page for Nodzuchi.)

New Yokai Pages:
Hitokuijima (Human-Eating Island)
Hiderigami (Drought God)
Nodzuchi (Earthworm)
Sakabashira (Upsidedown Pillar)
Maruge (Hairball)
Nopperabou (Faceless)

Hitokuijima: Literally, this translates as "Human eater" plus "island". In one sketch from the manga, it's actually a VERY tall monster standing in the middle of the ocean, with just its head sticking out of the water. He seems to be specific to the Kitaro series.

Hiderigami: This is a recognized god from Japanese folklore that can cause droughts. It comes from China, and in one Japanese woodblock print is drawn as having one arm and one eye. In the TV episode, he has one eye but both arms.

Nodzuchi: Another yokai from folklore, but the only information I can find easily on it is the Japanese wiki. It's essentially a gigantic earthworm. In the TV episode, it's sleeping in a huge rock cocoon and is awoken when Hiderigama breathes fire on it. Then it tries to inhale anything that moves because it's hungry.

Sakabashira: "Saka" is "upsidedown" and "bashira" is a pillar, such as what you find in wooden buildings as a central support. Not much on it in English. The main information I can find is in the Japanese wiki entry. One woodblock print seems to show it as an inverted tree. In the TV episode, it started out as a regular support pillar in a shrine building, then turned into a yokai over 100 years.

Maruge: Another Kitaro-specific yokai. This is, simply, a ball made of hair, with eyes, arms and legs.

Nopperabou: This is a class of monsters that don't have faces. The most famous story is of a farmer coming home late at night and finding a woman crying next to a river. She turns around and she has no face. The farmer runs in horror to a nearby home and when he tells his story to the guy in the house, the guy turns around and he too doesn't have a face. In this TV episode, Nopperabou is a yokai that steals the faces of its victims and wears them on its inverted-egg-like head. He's in Tokyo to add to his collection.


(Original Art page for Sakabashira.)

Original Art Pages:
Hiderigami
Nodzuchi
Sakabashira


(Back cover: Where's Yamada and the Glossy Photo Kitaro Goods.)

One side note. In Japan, the large glossy photos are called "bromides".

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Madoka Majica Shop




From March 21st to April 4th, the Takapla building in Tenmonkan is hosting a Madoka Majica Shop on the 6th floor. T-shirts, anime pencil drawings, toys and food tie-ins. A bit overpriced for what you get, but if you're a fan, then you get to show the love now.







Say "Hi" to my little friend.



Friday, March 21, 2014

Go Comics Contest #5


I mentioned a few weeks ago that I've been pretty lucky at winning stuff from GoComics. I also said at the time that one particular package apparently had gotten lost in the mail. Well, it finally arrived after all. 3 months late is better than never. I expect this was a problem with the U.S. postal side of the equation, since I've gotten other packages pretty quickly.


(I like the nice note the GoComics people put in the package.)

This one is a 12-month calendar from the Regular Show, which I'd never heard of before, and a 365-day calendar from Non Sequitur. I really wanted the NS calendar, because it is one of my favorite strips. The nice part is that the publisher added trivia, gags, mazes and sudoku puzzles to the back of each page, and I like doing sudoku puzzles.

Wiley does great bears.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Doc Rat Caption Contest




I've talked about Doc Rat before, and I'm going to do it again. The strip had started out as a daily gag comic revolving around Ben Rat, a general practitioner operating a clinic in an Australian anthropomorphic world. More recently, it's been taking on more serious topics, such as miscarriages, predation and the conflicts that arise when predators and prey try to coexist. Jenner himself is a doctor who draws on the side, so the glimpses at the foibles of the patients ring pretty true.



Jenner runs a caption contest, where he draws a single-panel cartoon about every 3 months and invites his readers to submit the punchlines. The winner gets their caption used in the final picture and receives the original artwork. This is the second time I've won, and I really like this one.

Read Doc Rat!
Buy Doc Rat Books!
Taste the Rat!
Be the Rat!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Go Tournament




There's a Go (Japanese board game) club close to the apartment. A poster on their window advertises an upcoming tournament for kids, manga-style.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Wine Fest




On the weekend of March 15-16, Kagoshima held a wine tasting festival in the open area in front of the Lotteria in Tenmonkan. 500 yen ($5 USD) got you tickets for 2 glasses of wine from the booths. I would have gotten a ticket if I didn't have to teach English on Saturday, and Sunday I decided to stay home and work, instead. So, I can't comment on the quality of the wines being offered.



There was kind of big news for Kagoshima that Saturday - the oceanliner "Queen Elizabeth" had made port here for the first time, with 2,000 passengers. One of the people I know was acting as interpreter at one of the "QE" information kiosks set up in Tenmonkan to support the new visitors. Some of the tourists decided to participate in the wine fest.



A stage in one corner provided live music entertainment. Here, we have some cool jazz.



Some of the booths went very upscale. I think I'll try the wines the next time the fest is held.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ongaku Totteoki




On March 8th, Kagoshima had an Ongaku Totteoki (The Best Music) event in Tenmonkan, with 4-5 event stages within a couple blocks of each other. I caught a little of it on my way to and from the English school that afternoon. I wouldn't say the music was "the best", but it was nice being able to listen to some of it. The crowds were light and not responding well to the singers trying to incite them into singing with them. In general, the Japanese make for very passive audiences.



This seems to have been the 2nd annual event. I hope that next year they make 3 changes. 1) Move the stages farther apart so that the more rambunctious bands don't drown out the quieter ones. 2) Put up bigger sandwich boards to advertise the act playing at the time. 3) Either make this a 2-day event, or have it run past 5:30 PM.



Looking at the photos here, I realize that it probably would have helped to have shot video of the music. Unfortunately, I only had a couple minutes going to and from work, so I didn't have time to listen to whole songs.