Monday, March 27, 2017
Yakult is a yogurt drink maker, and their Yakult Army consists of a bunch of middle-aged women that go from business to business carting small trays of little plastic Yakult bottles to stock the honor-system dispensers with their drinks. They've got the cutest little cars, don't they?
Usually, they ride around on simple tricycles.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)
Meka Tofu no Fukushuu, by Tori Miki, 2016, Grade: A
The Revenge of the Mecha Tofu.
When I finished reading the manga volume on Plinius, I got to wondering what else Tori Miki had been up to recently. I've reviewed his "Anywhere But Here," "Daihonya" and "Frozen Food Agent" books some years ago, but I hadn't seen anything else from him since then. So, I went to Amazon, which showed a couple recent books, then I went to Junkudo to look at them directly. But, except for Plinius, everything else was sold out. The computer system showed one copy of Meka Tofu on the miscellaneous adult men's shelves, but I couldn't find it there. Then I went to Junkudo's sister shop, Maruzen, a couple blocks away. Their computer also showed only the one copy, but no location code. I asked a salesclerk for help, and she had to call someone else because she had no idea where to look. The second clerk arrived a few minutes later, with the book. It's a bit expensive, at 1080 yen plus tax ($10 USD), but it's a large paperback and has 240 pages, so the price isn't that bad.
(Attack of the giant mecha tofu, against Tokyo. Again.)
Essentially, this is a collection of about 50 short stories and illustrated essays that have appeared in a variety of magazines (COM, TV Bros., SF Magazine, etc.) from 1991 to fairly recently. The book is broken up into the A Side and the B Side. A side is dedicated to gag and SF manga parodying other anime and manga, while B side is SF related. The title story has a villainous teddy bear attempting to destroy Tokyo again, this time inside a giant block of tofu, which is impervious to bullet and missile attacks, but not to being flash-frozen. Most of the stories are jokes, relying heavily on sight gags, slapstick, and Tori's trademark silly characters. Although, there are quite a few more serious essays, where he reminisces on meeting Hideo Azuma (one of his idols), starting out as a manga artist, and on the works of people like science fiction writer Sakyo Komatsu (Japan Sinks, and Bye Bye Jupiter). The essays occasionally use a handwritten font that is really hard to read, so I basically skimmed over those.
(The secret behind the Lake Isshi monster.)
The gag and SF manga are a lot of fun, though. There are representative samples from Anywhere But Here, and a full reprint of the commemorative story for Kuru Kuru Kurin (which I love) that ran for the 50th anniversary of Weekly Shonen Champion magazine. One SF-related tale follows the adventures of the Hayabusa satellite project out to an asteroid and back to Earth. There are two stories tied to the Fukushima reactor melt down in 2011, one which has a variant of Astroboy cleaning up the waste from the meltdown, then being vilified for having a nuclear core as a power source. The second is a more serious story, where there are two parallel worlds following the earthquake and tidal wave that wiped out the northeastern coast. In one, the reactor was halted before the meltdown and release of radioactive gas, and our world is in the other. The story follows two versions of the same character as he lives in both worlds, and accidentally crosses the boundary between them.
(Lupinus Kid, Pursuit to Orion.)
One of the chapters has Tori and some friends visiting mystery sites around Japan, and uncovering the truth behind their secrets. In the above pages, he talks about a volcanic lake in southern Kyuushu, near mount Kaimondake (which I climbed last year), and the sightings of Japan's version of the Loch Ness monster - Isshi. Then, in "Lupinus Kid", we have what starts out as a parody of the Roadrunner and Loony Toons cartoons, with a shootout between the hero, Lupinus Kid, and the villain, Wolf. However, after Wolf goes over the edge of the cliff and apparently dies in an explosion, life takes a turn for the worse for Kid as well. Years later, he returns to the town, and everyone is now drawn as hyper-realistic anthro animals. The artwork is fantastic on this. Eventually, Kid locates Wolf, who survived the explosion, but was horribly mangled and turned crazy, and things return more-or-less to normal.
(The Characters of Sakyo Komatsu.)
In the Sakyo Komatsu section, Tori talks about a magazine Sakyo published that included works from many of Japan's leading manga artists, such as Leiji Matsumoto and Monkey Punch. It's worth buying Revenge of the Mecha Tofu just for the history lesson in this chapter.
Summary: Tori is a great gag artist, and a good SF story teller. The manga in this book represents a lot of his life's work. It is a bit hit-or-miss, especially with some of the essays, but on the whole, it's worth the money. Highly recommended.
Friday, March 24, 2017
(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)
Design, vol. 1, by Daisuke Igarashi (2016, KC Afternoon), Grade: B+
Daisuki is a fairly well-known manga artist, although I only read book one of his Children of the Sea (translated into English by Viz in the U.S.) and nothing else after that. I was given a copy of Design, which started running in Afternoon magazine in 2015, so I figured I might as well read it. It's pretty good, but after the 250 pages, I'm still not sure what the plot is.
(Cubel, on assignment in a jungle against rebels.)
The story is fairly straightforward, though. A bioresearch company is in the process of splicing animal DNA into humans, creating what's called HAs (human animals). They are currently attempting to contract with the militaries of different countries to lease these HAs as guerrillas, assassins and shock troops. Within the company, we have two competing researchers - Victoria and Okuda.
(Cubel, An and Babe in Africa. Shoe doesn't fit.)
Okuda is the more relaxed of the two, and he spends his time at his estate, where he's created the frog girl, Cubel Chul (my choice of spellings, since the names are never given in romaji) and the two tiger hound girls, An and Babe. Victoria is much more attention seeking, and has developed a 5-member team with dolphin DNA. The dolphins are stronger and faster than Cubel, and they have a sonar sense that acts kind of like telepathy. But, they're more emotionally unstable.
(Cubel and An play-fighting.)
The dolphin team can speak fluent Japanese, but Cubel requires a throat amplifier because she doesn't have vocal cords, and An and Babe are more animal that human - they just growl and grunt. In the first book, both sets of teams are given missions to wipe out rebel and terrorist bases, which they do very easily. However, there is a social backlash against companies that do bioresearch, meaning that the HAs have to live in secret.
(Babe is out looking for an easy lunch.)
Unfortunately, Babe has always been more feral than not, and she's taken to stalking the streets of Tokyo and killing civilians. When she's about to attack more prey, one of the dolphinoids rushes in and attempts to stop her. Plus, we have the introduction of a wild card - Jasmine. She's a normal human currently working as a maid in Okuda's mansion, but she's unable to escape her past as someone referred to as Brains Splash Licks.
Summary: Overall, this book was a very fast read. I did skip over the parts where the main characters talk about gene splicing, but I read the rest of it fairly easily. The artwork is very clean, with simple, thin lines. The character designs are a bit stylistic and cartoony, but the individuals are each distinctive and I can tell them apart with little trouble. The backgrounds are good, as is the pacing. As mentioned above, I don't know what the plot is, and I have no idea where the story is heading. I'm not sure if I'll continue the series when book 2 comes out, but I'd be willing to keep giving it a try. Recommended if you like combat adventure.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Monday, March 20, 2017
Last week, Amuplaza had their first-ever Saigo-don event. The name is a pun on Saigo Takamori, the local hero known as the "last samurai", and "saikou", meaning "the best," and "don", meaning "food served in a bowl". The food booths were serving bento (box meals), ramen and donburi (bowls of rice with some kind of topping.)
I didn't go up to Amu Plaza during the week, and I had to work most of Saturday. So, my only option was to visit on Sunday, which kind of turned into a "small non-adventure."
There are two long walk events in Kagoshima. The first is the one from Terukuni shrine to Ijuin city, 20 km away (12 miles), in October. The other is a recreation of the Ryoma Sakamoto honeymoon walk in Kirishima, which was held last weekend. Ryoma and Saigo were two of the rebels that fought against the Shoganate in the 1860's, which led to the eradication of the Shogun-system and the return of power over the country to the Emperor. Prior to the main outbreak of hostilities, Ryoma was ambushed and injured. He retreated to Satsuma (the present-day Kagoshima) to consult with Saigo Takamori. Saigo recommended that he return north via back roads on the pretense that he and his new wife were on their honeymoon. Part of that route is commemorated in the current Honeymoon Walk.
Unfortunately, the Kirishima start point is at the north end of Kinko Bay, and it costs something like $10 to take the train one way, and the walk itself costs $20. It's about an hour by train to the closest station, and I'm not sure how far the start point is from the station. Plus, you have to register at the door 1 hour before the 8:30 start time. On top of that, the good route, which goes through the mountains, was on Saturday this year; the Sunday route just went through flower fields. And, the sky was heavily overcast. I really didn't feel like having to get up at 5:30-6 AM and then spend $40 just to walk through flowers that I couldn't take pictures of for 4 hours, on Sunday. So, I kept making excuses to myself for why I wasn't going to go, even though I had been wanting to for the past year. The bottom line was simply that I didn't want to spend the money.
Which brings me back to Saigo-don. It's basically just an advertising event promoting local restaurant and grocery store food, at elevated prices. I wanted to try a dish of some kind, but I didn't want to spend the money. And, especially not after blowing off an opportunity for a lot of exercise. On the other hand, I'm in the process of preparing my U.S. tax papers, and I needed a place to sit down and spread the papers out on a table to check the numbers, and I couldn't do that at Amu Plaza. Instead, I went to a regular family restaurant, bought a cup of coffee, and blew the afternoon that way.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Saturday, March 18, 2017
(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)
Plinus, vol. 4, by Mari Yamazaki and Tori Miki (Shinchou, 2015-2016) Grade: A
Mari Yamazaki debuted in 2001 with Yuumeijin, and she's best-known for her historical comedy romance Thermae Romae. She also drew a biographical manga on Steve Jobs in 2013. Tori Miki is a gag, and serious SF, artist who started Bara no Shin-sama in 1981, although he was drawing manga for Garo magazine in the 1970's, and he's best known for Anywhere But Here, and was the writer for the third Patlabor movie. I wrote about his Frozen Food Agent manga some years ago. After Thermae Romae ended, Mari (whose husband is Italian) teamed up with Tori to produce Plinius, a historical fiction manga based on the famed Roman historian and naturalist, Gaius Plinius Secundus, AKA: Pliny the Elder, with Mari doing the writing, and she and Tori doing the art.
(Pompei gets hit by an earthquake.)
Plinius lived from AD 23 to AD 79, and during that time had tried to research the past eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, with the expectation that it would erupt again (which it did in AD 79, catching Plinius in a pyroclastic flow). Although, in the manga, most of Plinius' claims that the volcano was dangerous are brushed off as nonsense because the mountain was dormant and covered in vegetation then. Plinius was also in written contact with Seneca the Younger (4 BC - AD 65), the philosopher and statesman who acted as Emperor Nero's (37 AD - 68 AD) tutor.
(Felix goes salvaging to get surgical tools for a doctor to let him do his job.)
I was given volume 4, and I haven't read the other books, but the story is pretty easy to follow, and it's more or less historically accurate. In this book, Plinius, his cat Giaus, a young female companion, the young Greek companion Euracles, and the older servant Felix, survive the collapse of half the buildings in Pompeii, and they stick around long enough to help recover some surgical tools for a doctor planning to rescue the survivors. The group goes to the inn they're staying at in the countryside, and its walls are still standing, although some of the plaster was knocked off to reveal an odd style of brick underneath. The group escapes farther afield as the rioting, and greed of the surviving merchants threatens the safety of the inn.
(Plinius searches a library for mentions of Vesuvius in history.)
Meanwhile, in Rome, Nero's adviser, Burrus, dies of poison, apparently applied secretly by some enemies acting through Burrus' doctor. Shortly after, Nero's first wife, Octavia, is beheaded by Roman soldiers and her head is sent to Rome, where Nero refuses to look at it, but its identity is confirmed by Poppaea, Nero's mistress. (Nero and Poppaea had banished Octavia to the island of Pandateria, and Nero signed her death warrant in 62; Burrus is suspected of having been poisoned, also in 62). Poppaea cements her relationship with Nero, but starts fooling around with Ofonius Tigellinus (Ofonius had been acquainted with Nero's mother, Agrippina, and he became prefect of the Roman imperial bodyguard 12 days after the death of Burrus.)
(Plinius has put on weight. "Come on, stupid mountain. Erupt already.")
Plinius goes to a library, where he locates older scrolls proving that Vesuvius had erupted several times in the past, and he keeps hoping the volcano will blow again just to prove him right. Additionally, Felix witnesses a confrontation in another town between two Jews. One is trying to gain converts to the newly introduced "savior," Jesus Christ, while the other threatens to kill the first guy if he ever returns to this town. Later, someone that looks like the second guy, but with a change of clothes, and named Levi, visits Poppaea and gives her a small stack of jewelry to buy Rome's favor towards the Jews. The maids discover under her bed a small clay statue of a bound female figure with needles stuck into it. Levi takes Poppaea to a witch, who says that someone is trying to curse her unborn child. The witch can't undo the curse, but he can make it so Poppaea can follow the curse back to whoever cast it. After Poppaea and Levi leave, some thugs enter the witch's house and kill him in his sleep. The book ends with Plinius meeting with a hairy barbarian named Lartius. Lartius is said to have spent 10 years traveling around the countries to the east of the Empire.
Summary: I'm not sure I'll ever get the other books in the series (#5 just came out recently), but reading vol. 4 is still pretty interesting. Mari is a stickler for historic detail and accuracy, and she's also a very good artist. I don't know how much Tori Miki contributed to the artwork this time because I can't detect his art style anywhere. Either way, the line work is very fine, very solid and very clean. It is fun to see the scientific research that Plinius executes, and I am learning more about Nero than I'd had before. Overall, recommended to anyone that likes historical fiction, but be aware that this series would be R-rated in the U.S. for some minor scenes with Poppaea in bed with Nero.
Friday, March 17, 2017
(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)
Ima, Soko ni aru senso (There is a war over there now) art by Yuuto Ina, writing by Taylor Taira and Yuuki Amaya, Big Comic Original (2014), Grade: B
I received a copy of Ima, Soko ni aru Senso, vol. 1, so I decided to read it just to find out what the story is. This manga runs in Big Comic Original, meaning that the target audience is adult salarymen. The Japanese is hard to follow and there's a lot of technical and financial terminology. There's very little on any of the three creators in English or Japanese. Baka Updates lists Taylor as "Terror Taira" but doesn't give him any other writing credits, and there's nothing on him in the Japanese wiki (or on the other two, either), although he does show up in the credits for one episode of Golgo 13 in 2014. Yuuki Amaya wrote Magatsukuni Fudoki, but Baka Updates just lists a stub for that one. Yuuto Inai is also listed as the artist for Kick no Oneesan and Kyoudai M1 Monogatari (only a stub article). Unfortunately, the Baka Updates page for Ima, Soko ni aru Senso is also just a stub. There's no officially-accepted English translation. Literally, it's "Now, in that place is a war." However, the Japanese title of Tom Clancy's "A Clear and Present Danger" is "Ima soko ni aru kiki" (Now in that place is a danger), so technically I could treat this as "A Clear and Present War."
(Say goodbye to the shadow bankers.)
Taro Mononobu is a big, muscular guy that works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He's meeting his wife and adult daughter in Shibuya for a quiet dinner, when he sees on the news that China's top four bankers have been assassinated. He runs out of the restaurant, to his daughter's disgust, to return to the Ministry, but the offices are empty of staff. It seems that he's the only one that thinks the killings are the prelude to a war that could destroy Japan, China and the U.S. Meanwhile, in China, Kenryuu Sho, the mayor of the apparently fictional city Tengai (Heaven Ocean) and Jinko Shin, head of national security, had been spying on the upper levels of the Chinese government on behalf of the four shadow bankers, when they'd pulled a coup, with Shin shooting the bankers with a machine pistol. Shin then approaches a Chinese CGI effects house where the artists have prepared a DVD of buildings blowing up for him. He takes the disk and leaves the office as a pair of "cleaners" go in after him and plant a bomb in the room to kill the witnesses (Shin states that the real thing doesn't compare to the CGI).
(And time to say goodbye to Honda and the CIA spy.)
Mononobu is joined by a new hire to the Ministry who is absolutely clueless as to what's going on, but insists of calling him "Mononobe" as a cute affectation, and following him around wherever he goes. Mononobu suspects that things are going to escalate, but the only one that can help him is Honda, a womanizer living in New York. He tries calling Honda, but the guy is in the middle of a conversation with a CIA agent in a restaurant. After the agent gets Honda to compromise himself, two other agents listening in on a bug enter the room and spray bullets all around before leaving, killing their partner as part of the plan. As Honda lies dying, he gives a voice command to his phone to save the last 30 minutes of the conversation and email it to his boss at Toyoda Corp. When Honda doesn't call him back, Mononobu visits Toyoda, and tries talking to Honda's boss (Mononobu calls him "sempai," implying that they'd gone to university together). The guy refuses to help Mononobu, but in the middle of the conversation he receives Honda's email, and drops Mononobu a few veiled hints, and Mononobu leaves.
(The CGI effects group does good fake explosions.)
This brings us up to the first half of the book. After this, everything else starts falling into place. A group of U.S. marines are tricked into participating in what they think is a simple war game, where they're dressed up in Chinese uniforms and plant flags at the top of the disputed Senkaku islands. The Japanese SDF sends a pair of jets to do recon of the area, and they're shot down by Chinese forces, which then start bombing the islands to remove the evidence of the Marine involvement. Mononobu's boss refuses to listen to his report, then goes to a meeting between the Japanese and Chinese foreign ministries only to be caught with his pants down when news of the invasion of the Senkakus gets broadcast. The Chinese ambassador uses this moment to confiscate a specific set of plans from the Japanese ambassador. The Japanese ministry group gets isolated in the meeting building, but they're confident that America will save them. Except that Mononobu's boss points out that this is similar to the Falkland Islands situation - America has its hands tied and can't move to help support Japan. While, in the U.S., a general is trying to convince the White House staff that trying to help Japan is going to bring on a nuclear missile strike that will wipe out the U.S. west coast. At least one of the staff is looking forward to this, saying you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
(The Japanese cabinet is stunned to see a Chinese flag on "their" islands.)
The book ends with Mononobu trying to force his office into releasing key secret information that it's hiding from him. His daughter is stuck in a suburb of Tokyo and it looks like anti-China riots are going to start breaking out around her, his wife is safe at home, and his weak-willed slacker son is working part-time at a konbini, and is about to be attacked by a small hate group intent on killing his Chinese co-worker.
Conclusion: Overall, this isn't a bad manga. The artwork is decent, the line art is clean and detailed, and the pacing is good. I just don't have a lot of interest in the story. On the other hand, the idea of a conflict between Japan and China isn't all that far-fetched anymore. Recommended if you like political dramas.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
"Arata Hachimangu (Arata Shrine)
Emperor Ojin, Empress Jingu and Tamayori-hime-no-mikoto were deified here.
The date of establishment is unknown. During the latter part of the Heian period, Arata manor, one of the manors of the Osumi-Sho-Hachiman Shrine (present day Kagoshima Jingu Shrine) was established and it is said that Arata Hachimangu was built as a branch of the Osumi-Sho-Hachiman Shrine. Today, the yearly orthodox shrine ritual, "Hama-kudari," is observed on the Sunday that lies closest to October 23rd. Subordinate gods, located at the cardinal points of the shrine, mark the boundary of Arata manor. When orthodox shrine rituals are held, people perform services at these points which is known as "going around the border." The ritual called Hatsuuma-Festival is also currently performed here.
This shrine is also believed to have the power to ward off poisonous Adder snakes. Therefore it is popular for people to take some sand from below the shrine as a lucky charm. People also pray to the gods here for good luck and for a safe delivery when giving birth.
A large camphor tree located in this precinct was designated as a protected plant by Kagoshima City on March 20, 1974."
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
There's a new Lupin III movie out now, apparently since Feb. 4th or so, but I hadn't noticed the poster at the Amu Plaza cineplex until just now. "Chikemuri no Ishikawa Goemon" - The Spray of Blood of Goemon Ishikawa. I like the character designs this time, and I'm hoping to be able to watch this one before it leaves the theaters.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Takapla, the department store in Tenmonkan, has another of its temporary shops up in the empty space on the 6th floor. A few weeks ago, it was for Chibi Maruko-chan. This time, from Mar. 10th to the 26th, it's for Boy Detective Conan (AKA: Case Closed). Very colorful, and many photo opportunities. There's a game that can be played for prizes, but it requires filling in some kind of puzzle sheet at 400 yen ($3.75 USD) a pop, so I didn't bother.
They were playing an ad for the latest movie on a TV in a corner, which I assume was one of the reasons for rolling out the goods shop like this. No one was watching it while I was there.
The goods shop had a wide range of over-priced stuff, from character bowls and dishes, to t-shirts, pillows and hanging scrolls.
Plus the obligatory boxes of Conan curry.
Sunday afternoon, there were about 10 people in the shop - 9 of them were middle aged women, and the other was the elementary school daughter of one of the women. I didn't buy anything because I'm not a big fan of the show.
Saturday, March 11, 2017
A few months ago, I was listening to a Japanese radio station, and one song came on that I'm pretty sure was by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was mostly instrumental, and the bass line just blew me away. I'd never considered them to be all that great as musicians, but I was willing to change my opinion after hearing that song. I tried finding it again on youtube, with no luck. However, I did end up watching a few videos with Flea doing solos, and, yes, I admit he's really good. On the other hand, I also think he's insane, and a bit hard on the eyes. Anyway, I asked for a Chili Peppers CD for Christmas, and I received their Greatest Hits collection.
This one came out in in 2003, although Amazon says that the original release date was 2000, and consists of 16 tracks. It includes the standards, like Under the Bridge, Give it Away, Californication, Scar Tissue, Otherside, Suck My Kiss and By the Way. When I first saw the Chili Peppers, it was in their MTV music video for Give It Away. The band's jumping around and spasming reminded me a lot of me when I was trying to act in some way but didn't know how to control my own muscles. That is, they looked like small children still learning how to dance. And that image of them never changed while each new song came out. Which is partly why I was surprised that they'd sounded so good on that one song a few months ago on the radio.
My first listen through the CD left me unimpressed. The songs are all radio standards, and none of them really stood out. But the second time, with the sound cranked up higher on my MP3 player, four songs struck me as being exceptional - Californication, Parallel Universe, Road Trippin' and Fortune Faded. It's really hard to pick out one element in Californication that makes the song, because all the pieces fit together so well, from the lyrics, to the vocals, to the bass line and the entire arrangement. In fact, my focus is the bass work, and it's so integral to the song that I can't separate it out from the other instruments. It's just a very good song. Parallel Universe strikes me as more of a synth song than a guitar/bass/keyboard arrangement, but there's no synth in it. Flea's bass work is just amazing. It's now one of my favorite songs to watch on youtube. And Road Trippin' and Fortune Faded have the most distinctive bass lines on the CD. Good stuff.