Thursday, April 30, 2015

Jump Papercraft - Law


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

A few days ago, I had some time to kill between lessons at the conversation school, so I swung by a konbini to get some can coffee for a snack. I glanced over the latest issue of Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, and discovered that there was a paper craft project this time. (Note that this was issue 22-23. Next week is the Golden Week holiday, so there's no issue then.) Normally, the manga magazines are sealed to prevent people from standing around and reading them for free, which is why I missed the last two paper crafts. This issue was 260 yen ($2.40 USD)



The project is Trafalgar Law, which is part of the "Dessaroza georama". Since back issues of weekly magazines are hard to come by, I doubt I'm going to be able to make the earlier figures or building-scapes.



This magazine also has a "where's Waldo"-style fold-out poster featuring just about every character there's ever been.



On the reverse side, the editors mapped the major characters to each of the prefectures. Kagoshima got a reworking of local legend Takamori Saigo.



There's also a sheet of "Jump hero" stickers.


(The papercraft page.)


(And reverse side.)



Actually, there's one more project - a fold-up stand for holding your smartphone when you're not carrying it.



You can pick which of the two designs you want to look at.



Finished projects. The holder took all of 5 minutes, including the time needed to punch it out of the page. Law required maybe 15, 20 minutes, mainly because of how the tabs in his hat interlace to be more or less circular. Those were a bit finicky.






The edges of Law's back weren't completely lined up for the photo. That was a simple thing to fix.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Coke Life




What you think of when you see Coca Cola with a green label?

What's your first reaction? For me, it's to see if this is a short-term campaign to introduce a new flavor. The second is to check if it's diet. At first, I thought they'd come out with green tea cola. But, no. Then I checked the label to see if it's low-calorie, or zero calorie. Again, nothing specifically identifying what's different from regular Coke. In very small print, there's a mention that it has 19 calories, and in the ingredient list there's some kind of artificial sweetener.

It's like the Coke company is ashamed of having a low-calorie product and/or is afraid that someone will figure out that they're not using real sugar. Regardless, the drink itself tastes metallic and strangely oversweet. Not recommended.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bourbon Street Plaque




The Bourbon Street bar in Tenmonkan has changed its sign from the gray alien to a gray version of blue people.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dai Hanya, 2015


Day 1

(Waiting to go on stage in front of Lotteria)

Dai Hanya is a major dance festival held in Kagoshima in the spring. This was the 9th annual event, which fell on April 25th and 26th. There are about 10 stages located around the city, but many of them were only used for 2-4 hours, and some for only one of the 2 days. There weren't many people at the stages in or near Tenmonkan on either day, and for Saturday the only group I caught at the first stage wasn't that good. So, I headed for the open space in front of the Lotteria. The groups there were really good, but they were backlit by the afternoon sun, and the camera recorded them too dark. I only taped the first team, but stuck around to watch 2 others.


(Flea market at Dolphin Port, with the volcano in the background.)

There were 100 teams, with over 2,000 dancers total, mainly from all parts of Kyushu, but 1 or 2 teams were from other cities farther north. Each team performed on both days, and may have danced at least twice at different stages (I don't know about that for sure, though, because there was no schedule listing who would be where at what time).


(One of the dance teams, in idol formation.)

I didn't have to work the first half of the afternoon that Saturday, so after checking the areas around Tenmonkan, which were almost deserted, or were shutting down for the day, I went down to Dolphin Port. That's where the main stage was, as well as a huge flea market event. I made a swing over to Tenmonkan Park, then up to Chuo train station before returning home to change shirts before heading in to work.


(Over at Tenmonkan Park, they were taking down the stage and loading up the Yasakoi truck.)

Direct youtube link - Day 1 sampler



Day 2

(Waiting and watching, at Dolphin Port.)

Sunday was better, but because some of the stages had overlapping times, I couldn't get to all of them. I completely missed the dances at parts of Tenmonkan and in front of the main train station just because they only lasted 2 hours and I had to prioritize my time. However, I caught some great teams at Dolphin Port again.


(Sakurajima has been spitting out ash a lot more often lately. Fortunately, the wind was blowing away from the city this time.)


(One of the scheduled half-time events was the Guree-buu promotion of Kagoshima City. I didn't stick around for this.)



The sun was brutal, and I could feel myself getting burned, so after a while I headed back to Tenmonkan. There was a wave of other teams going the way I'd just left, and I asked one group if they'd pose for me. Happily, they said yes.



The next stop was Central Park, just a couple blocks west of Tenmonkan. I passed by the Lotteria, but again the lighting was bad so I didn't try shooting video this time. There were several good teams at the Park, so I recorded them until my memory cards filled up. After that, I went home to process the videos, which took the better part of both Sunday and Monday.



I had a great time on Sunday, but things just went by too quickly. I'm feeling a big letdown now as I'm writing this up. I really hope that I can do this again next year and enjoy it a bit more.

Direct youtube link - Day 2 sampler, Part 1


Direct youtube link - Day 2 sampler, Part 2


Direct youtube link - Day 2 sampler, Part 3





Sunday also had a special stage show by the local idol group Seven Colors. I decided to record all 4 dances/songs, which I then had to group into 2 videos because of youtube's 15-minute time restriction. One of the songs was a cover of something by Momoiro Clover, and 2 were original to Seven Colors. I don't remember about the 4th one, but that was another cover.

As I was getting ready to go to bed Monday night, I got an email saying that the video Seven Colors Part 1 was being blocked because it contained copyrighted material. I guess that King Records owns the rights to one of the songs that Seven Colors sang at the end of the video, and because of that the entire file was being muted. You'd be able to see the video but there'd be no sound at all. I ended up spending another hour editing the video and re-uploading it. It wouldn't have taken so long except that Microsoft's Movie Maker screwed up and forced me to recreate the thumbnail versions of all the raw files, even though Movie Maker still had them on disk. Sigh. Anyway, you'll be able to watch Part 1 when youtube finishes processing it again, assuming that there's not another block on it...

Direct youtube link - Day 2, Seven Colors, Part 1

Direct youtube link - Day 2, Seven Colors, Part 2

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ergo Baby




Tired of old-style, hard to operate babies? Check out the new ergo babies!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Conan Movie Board




Also showing at Amupla is the latest Famous Boy Detective Conan movie. This display is in the basement next to the food court. This is about 6 feet tall and completely ignored by the foot traffic. Interestingly, I came back a couple days later, and the picture with the sunflowers was gone and had been replaced with a note saying that the Mysterious Thief Kidd had stolen it.



The supporting boards have so much detail on the movie, there's no particular reason to actually watch it.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Beef

A little while ago, I was talking to some Japanese about an aged beef restaurant they'd gone to. Apparently this is something of a rarity here, and we got into a discussion of the various cuts of meat. This isn't something I'm really all that familiar with, so I couldn't say much about it. A few days later, I was walking past a butcher shop in Tenmonkan and I saw this display in the window, so I decided to take a picture and run it here. When you have the time, check out the wiki entry. Compared to America (12 cuts) and Japan (10 cuts according to the picture), Korea is supposed to have 120 different cuts.



肩ロースの塊肉 - Chuck
肩の塊肉 - Brisket
骨付きリブロース - Rib
骨付きカルビ - Plate
サーロイン - Short Loin
ヒレ - Tenderloin
イチボラム - Sirloin / Top Sirloin / Bottom Sirloin
カイノミ - Flank
ササミ - Flank
ウチモモ - Round
外モモ - Round
トモ三角 - Shank
シンシン - Shank

Thursday, April 23, 2015

DBZ F




New Dragon Ball Z movie coming out. Looks to be a remake of the original Freeza story. Tickets available at Lawson.



Spend lots of money at Lawson and enter a contest to possibly win a 3DS game or a Gokuu figurine.



At the cineplex in Amupla, an advertising board for the new movie, supported by Royal Home.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Uranai Fair




Last Saturday, Tenmonkan hosted a "Fortune Reading Street". There were about 6-8 booths with a variety of different kinds of fortune readers, including the traditional palm readers and tarot cards.



Here we have a "color reader". The color sheets you pick will reveal all. (I did find it amusing that the sign in English on the back of the booth said "color leading".



And there was a small play space for the kiddies while the adults threw their money away. The palm readers that normally set their little tables up along the walkway were not happy at having this new competition. It's not something they foresaw coming.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Luann Tracker

I've mentioned before that I like a lot of different comics. The ones I read on GoComics include Hubris, Endtown, Lay Lines, Non Sequitur and Wide Open. I'd been reading Luann off and on over the years, and started following it more actively about 6 months ago. Back in March, GoComics interviewed the artist, Greg Evans, as part of the events marking Luann's 30th anniversary. In the interview, Greg mentioned checking the comments each day in order to gauge reader responses on the strips (he only glances at the first few comments because he finds some of them "disturbing").

Anyway, one of the things I've done in the past is write short programming scripts (using Visual Basic Scripting) for obtaining the HTML source code for a given GoComics page, then parsing it to either get the URL for that day's comic, or saving the comments on the strip to a searchable text file. (I've used most of this code for helping out Aaron Neathery and his Endtown webcomic). And, as part of my "science"-related blog on Wordpress, I've written scripts that interact with Excel for creating and saving charts to a file. So, it was a simple matter of taking my existing code and massaging it to automate the process of collecting the number of comments and unique commenters for the last 30 years' worth of strips, and picking the top 3 most (and least) popular strips for each year, and for the last 4 months.



(April tracking.)

The most time-consuming part was creating the new blog site on Wordpress to host the graphs, and deciding how to format the statistics to make them readable. I then posted a test comment on GoComics for the Monday strip. Within 24 hours, I got 70 visitors to the blog (most from the U.S., but one or two from Germany, Canada, Ireland and Singapore) PLUS, I got mentioned on the GoComics Facebook page. That part kind of surprised me, because I wasn't sure how they'd react to my cross-posting the top Luann strips on my blog. No reaction from Greg yet, but that's ok. I'm doing this just because I can, and it amuses me. The entire tracking process is almost 100% automatic - I just have to run one batch file, and a few seconds later upload the generated graph and blog text to Wordpress. So, running the tracker weekly, or even daily, is pretty painless. And it is interesting to see what the top Luann strips are for a given time period.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Learning Japanese from the signs


It's been a long time since I've done this. If you want to learn real Japanese and you're just starting out, one good resource is to practice reading signs. I found this one in the Kenmin Volunteer Center across the street from the Reimeikan History Museum.




本日は、大ホール、中ホールの便用がない為エスカレータを停止しています。警備

honjitsu wa, daiho-ru, chuuhou ho-ru no benyou ga nai tame esukare-ta wo teishi shiteimase. keibi

honjitsu = today.
wa = topic marker
dai ho-ru = the big hall
chuu ho-ru = medium-sized hall
no = possessive
benyou = service + use
ga = subject marker
nai = no/none/not
tame = for this reason
esukare-ta = escalator
wo = direct object marker
teishi = suspend
shite imasu = is in the state of being
keibi = security

today . topic . big hall, middle hall . of . in use . subject . not . because . escalator . direct object . suspend . is being . security

Native English translation: Because the Main and Auxiliary Halls are not in use today, the escalators have been turned off.
- Signed, the Security Office.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

School Mural




The elementary school near Tenmonkan was in the process of repainting another section of their wall.





Saturday, April 18, 2015

Contact review


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

Contact was written for the Gameboy DS by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Marvelous Entertainment in Japan, and Altus in the U.S., in 2006. According to the wiki entry, the game was intended to be a non-fantasy RPG that would use the touch screen in non-obvious ways, take advantage of the sound design offered only by video games, and make the Gameboy's features work specifically to advance the story. The fonts were inspired by the Apple IIe, and the two screens had contrasting graphics, with the upper screen looking 8-bit, and the lower screen being pre-rendered.


(The Professor in his lab, along with his cat.)

The basic story is that the Professor has been flying around in his saucer, and he gets into an accident that causes him to lose a bunch of energy crystals. You act as an operator controlling Terry, an Earthling that is tasked with recovering the crystals. Terry then shuttles back and forth between the ship (designed to look like an old sailing ship) and various locations identified as having one or more crystals. He finds weapons along the way, fights various animals, creatures and other enemies, picks up objects used for solving later tasks, finds recipes for cooking up other healing items, gets extra changes of clothes, and takes occasional breaks to play with the cat on the ship. At the beginning, it is easy to be defeated in battle, but if this happens the Professor just messes with his computer and causes Terry to wake up fully recovered back on the ship. I think there's a fair amount of similarity with the old King's Quest game that came out for the PC in 1998 from Sierra.


(Terry battling an octopus. First one to go to 0 HP loses.)

Also according to the wiki entry, Contact had abysmal sales, with only 8,000 copies sold in the first week in Japan and 26,000 for the year in 2006. Altus, the company that carried it in the U.S., speculated that part of the problem was that customers were more interested in the release of Mother 3, which came out at about the same time. I'm not sure that that's all that relevant. In my opinion, Contact was an attempt to be "retro 80's" at a time when the market was looking at "bigger, better, faster" games with the impending release of the Playstation 3 console in Nov., 2006. Just about everything in Contact screams "primitive", from the limited sprite animation and fonts, to the game play itself. Battles are automated; all the player does is move Terry close to the enemy, press the "A" button, and wait a minute or two for the swinging to stop. Terry and the enemy trade blows until one or the other dies. Most of the game just consists of running around the field looking for things to attack or pick up, although I admit that I've only bothered trying to get the first crystal. My biggest complaint so far is that when you enter the ship to save the game, you have to crawl into the bed to sleep, and it takes at least a full minute for Terry to wake back up so you can keep playing. The game is already slow and dragged out enough, making me sit and watch someone sleeping every time I save doesn't help matters.


(Terry in his room on the ship. Climbing into the bathtub causes him to heal back to full HP. The closet lets him change uniforms. The bed is the save point, and the blue globe at the far right is how you set coordinates for the ship to visit new locations.)

I bought Contact as one of the batch of 6 games because it was cheap and I just wanted to see what it was like. At 250 yen ($2.20 USD), it's not a complete waste of money, but it's not something I want to play that much. I never did care for King's Quest, and there are other things I want to do with my time. Still, Contact is not an absolutely horrid game. I may go back to it at some point to play with the cat some more. I can understand, though, why it didn't sell well in the first year of its release in Japan. It's just "too 80's".

Friday, April 17, 2015

Phantasy Star 0 review


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

According to the wiki article, Phantasy Star 0 (2008, Sonic Team/Sega) was an attempt to expand on the Phantasy Star Online RPG franchise by introducing a stand-alone game for the Gameboy DS. The "0" was appended to the name to indicate a restart and to appeal to younger players. The character designs were by Toshiyuki Kubooka, artist on the Lunar game series and the Giant Robo TV anime. The basic idea is to emulate an MMORPG experience on a DS. If you have friends with their own copies of the game, you can get a real-time multi-player game going, but if you're just playing by yourself it doesn't quite work out so well. However, it seems that if you have a wireless connection to a gaming console, you could connect through that to play online missions.


(In the city with Miki.)

Unlike other RPGs, you're not portraying a fixed character within the game. Whatever you come up with during the character creation phase, and what you name him or her, becomes the hero. For the sake of convenience, I named my character Miki, so that's what I use here. During the creation phase, you pick one of 4 or so types, which equate roughly to sword fighter, magic user, gun fighter, or mecha, then tailor the character's appearance, clothing, and movement patterns as you like. You can actually have up to three different characters stored in the save slots, and use the "Party Trunk" to share whatever treasures, weapons or money you find between them, although you're only playing one character at a time within the game. I didn't try doing this, but it might be a useful way to power up all three characters at the beginning, when you're able to find multiple copies of items by replaying earlier quests when it's easier to get certain things.

Once you have the character built, it's time to enter the city. This section is pretty limited. The "city" consists of a couple visitable areas and a handful of NPCs to interact with. There's a weapons/armor shop, an item shop, and a customizing place for performing certain minor, very expensive upgrades to the weapons. Under the manhole in the street is a secret shop that turns materials into weapons, a second shop that lets you trade in "photon drops" for weapons or items, and a vending machine. The items you get from the materials you find aren't very useful and the shop probably exists just to make it harder to collect every kind of item in the game. Photon Drops are one kind of item you can find in the field, and some of the things you can buy with them include Scape Dolls (very useful because they act as auto-resurrects) and stat upgrades (increase strength or guard by 1 point for 5 photon drops). These aren't all that great because you can only upgrade your stats for a total of 100 points regardless of how you allocate them.


(Teleporter window, where you can either visit one of the fields, or take on a quest.)

There are two other windows in the city. One lets you visit the fields to go fighting and to take on quests, and the other is the "Trunk Room". You can store your unused items and money in your trunk, or put them in the shared Player Trunk for your other characters to access for separate games. The Trunk Room also has your game stats screen, and reaching certain milestones (number of enemies killed, number of items found, etc.) gives you certain items as rewards. So, that's a good thing. Oh, and about the underground vending machine - you have to enter passwords to get certain rare items. The passwords were only printed in various gaming magazines, so you either had to buy copies of those magazines to get the codes one at a time, or locate them online at a cheats site. The weapon I like to use the most, which looks a lot like a shoulder mounted garbage can, is the strongest thing available so far for my character type (Human) and came from one of the passwords. Since that weapon uses money for ammo, I only broke it out for the big boss battles.

Story: The world is made up of humans, mecha, androids and one or two other types (although the game uses different names for these categories). Your hero was probably present at a rebellion of androids 200 years ago, and you're getting recognized by a few NPCs after you arrive at the city and start working as a Hunter. Hunters receive quests to go out to various fields via a teleporter, and then they do a lot of fighting. There are 8 different fields, which get unlocked as you progress through the story. The maps for each field are generated randomly, but they always end with the exact same boss. You can choose to visit a field on your own or as part of a quest. The only difference between the two is that quests give you a small amount of reward money when you finish them, and are accompanied by a lot of talking by the NPCs to set up the reason for doing it. Otherwise, it's kind of irrelevant. The later quests just have you going back and fighting the same bosses over and over again. You can revisit a quest as often as you like, if you want to churn for a while to level your party up (if you're doing a single-player game, you can have 3 out of 4 total NPCs in your party with you). As you go through the story, eventually you find that the android rebellion hadn't been completely wiped out, and you have to find a teleporter to the moon to finally wrap things up once and for all.


(One of the "androids", speaking as part of the quest set-up.)

This is a very ambitious game, and that's a large part of why it's so frustrating. The designs and artwork for the buildings, landscape and outside environment of the fields are beautiful. But you don't really interact with any of it. Instead, you follow fixed paths on the map, fight enemies in the wider areas of the paths, and then open trunks or chests to get the rewards after the battle. There are traps that spring when you walk too close, and some gates on the paths that need key cards found in other areas. So, there's a bit of an RPG feel to the game, but as I mention above, there's only 8 fields (7 regular fields plus the Eternal Tower) and just 7 fixed bosses at the ends of each one. So, you're really just repeating the same battles over and over again in the hopes of eventually leveling up, and not doing any real exploring of the surrounding landscape.

The bosses are hard the first time you encounter them, and it's a challenge to get strong enough to beat them. This part is also frustrating. The user interface system has LOTS of overlapping controls that are hard to learn even if you have the user manual in English (mine's in Japanese, and I finally was forced to read the entire thing to find out what I was missing). I still don't know how to give treasure to the NPCs. My impression is that they take whatever you find at the end of a fight, and what's left over is what you get. There's no direct way to boost a specific weapon and gift it to an NPC, like you could in Dot Hack (PhS0 reminds me a lot of Dot Hack, which I liked better). Most of the weapons and armor I find that I can't use myself just get sold to the shops for money for upgrading my own weapons, buying healing supplies, or feeding to the trash can gun. Experience is handed out 100% to the character that delivers the final blow that defeats the enemy, and then 80% to the rest of the party. There doesn't seem to be a way of viewing the NPC stats, so I have no idea what levels they're currently at. All I know is that they've stopped dying against easy monsters, and their weapons changed shape at one point, so either they're buying things on their own, or finding them in the field along with me, and they're not upgrading the weapons enough.

This is an "expensive" game, in that you go through a lot of money. The shops charge a lot for weapons and healing, and if you want to do an upgrade on a weapon (add an affect to the attack such as stun or freeze, add 5% or 10% damage to one enemy type (human or robot)) it can be anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 gp. The garbage can gun uses money to boost the damage delivered at about the same rate as what you find per battle. So, while the garbage can gun is nice to finish the fights faster by using the stronger weapon, there's no income for doing the fights (outside of what you make by selling spare items). Which brings me to the Mag.

The Mag is a little machine that rides above your shoulder, giving you certain bonuses during the fights. The specific bonuses depend on what you feed it during the breaks. Feeding it spears and lances ups it's damage bonus by 1 point per level; wands increase the Mind stat (for magic); guns boost physical defense; etc. As the Mag goes up in level, it requires more expensive gear to make the next jump. Give it enough lances to go up one level, and your strength stat goes up by 1. Give it enough wands to go up a level, Mind bumps up by 1. The Mag has a cap at level 100, so you have to decide whether you want something that is balanced at 25 points per the four stats, or 100 points for only strength or only defense. Regardless, you're feeding hundreds of thousands of gp into the Mag to max out these bonuses, money which could have been spent elsewhere. (Although, the shop almost never has as good a weapon as what you find in the fields, so you wouldn't have spent the extra income at the weapons shop, at the least.)

More frustration: The vending machine has 4-5 special Mag "hearts" that you can only use if your Mag is level 60 or higher, and then all they do is make the Mag look different. I REALLY wish the hearts acted as power-ups... Beating the main boss gives you a "star" game, meaning you can keep playing and the game unlocks a couple extra quests, the Hard level and the Eternal Tower. Initially, you only get access to the Normal quests. When you beat the main boss, you get the Hard quests, which are the exact same ones as the Normal quests, but the monsters are harder and worth more experience. At first, I was getting so bored with fighting the same monsters and the same bosses all the time that I'd thought I'd quit playing the game after trying one of the Hard quests. But, I had gotten enough exp. that I slogged it out until I got to level 59. Now, the game really is boring, and since the Mag is maxed out at level 100 and the vending machine "hearts" don't power up the Mag any further, I'm putting the game away.

The Eternal Tower only FEELS like an eternity... Man, I don't know why the designers added this thing. There are 100 floors, and each one is made up of an alcove, 4 battle rooms, and the stairs up to the next floor. That's 400 battle rooms, none of which can be skipped (if you turn the game off, you have to start over from floor 1). Every tenth floor is a variation on the same boss monster, then you get a teleporter back to the city. You can teleport out, sell your treasures and save your money to the Trunk, then teleport back to where you left off, but you can't turn the game off without having to restart the tower, and the monsters don't provide enough experience to level up more than once per 10 floors. So, you're churning like mad but not really benefiting from it after a while.


(In one of the fields, with the battle map, fighting an enemy. The weird glowing blue thing to the right above Miki's shoulder is the Mag.)

Comments: The music is good, the artwork is good, the hand-painted cel animation cut scenes are great, and the menuing system looks good. Which is why it's so frustrating - I really want to like this game, but the bosses are too difficult when you first meet them, it's always the same basic 7 bosses for all of the regular quests, and there's no way (I know of) to directly improve the NPCs' weapons and armor. I'm delivering 100-250 hits per shot, and the NPCs are still down around 10-30 hits each. Their only real purpose in the game, that I can see, is to act as a distraction for the bosses while Miki sits safely at a distance and snipes away. (Assuming that Miki is actually hitting the boss; the game's auto-tracking functions for the weapons often lose the target and the attack goes harmlessly out into space instead of hitting anything). If you like Japanese RPGs, then you may like Phantasy Star 0. But, get it cheap. This was one of the six games I bought all at one time, and I got it for 105 yen ($1 USD). I think that's a fair price for something like this.