Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Green Collection

A couple weeks ago, some environmental group was out in Tenmonkan, trying to collect money to keep the city green, handing out small packets of tissue and flower seeds. The mascot here is wearing a box labelled "Green Money Collection." I have no space for a garden, so I gave the seeds to someone else.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Feb. 2 Moon

This is a bit late, but on Feb. 2nd, we had brilliantly clear skies, and a bright sliver moon. I ran into the apartment to get my big camera to practice taking shots. Unfortunately, it refused to focus right, and had a lot of trouble getting the light levels correct, even though I had the aperture dialed down to the lowest level. I spent close to half an hour fighting with the camera, and constantly had to get out of the middle of the street to let traffic go by (I live in a residential area, and the main traffic are drivers trying to bypass the streetlights on the main streets the next block over). This was the only shot that came out half-decently.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Georgia DB Figure

I wrote a little while ago about the vending machines that occasionally dispense Dragonball Super figures, and how I wasn't going to bother getting one because it may take 6-10 tries just to get one figure, at 100 yen per can of coffee, and that I don't really like Georgia can coffee that much. Well, a few nights later, I had to make a last minute run to the supermarket to get some groceries, and it was near-freezing. I decided that I'd hit the vending machine across the street for a can of hot coffee to keep warm on the 10 minute walk, and that would be the last time I'd get can coffee for a while. Naturally, that's when I finally succeeded in getting a can with the gold plastic cap.

I got Kamesennin, who's not exactly my favorite character. He's about 1" tall, so this line of figures aren't very big, given the total price needed to get one.

I guess these are part of the desktop accessories line, since the little brochure that came with the can shows Kamesennin holding a key. The hole in the back of the cap is supposed to be useful for holding an inkan (the official stamp Japanese people use when putting their signature on official documents). I showed Kamesennin to a few housewives, and they said they couldn't imagine using the cap to hold their stamps this way.

Still, he's very detailed. I like the heating patches on his back.

"Go ahead. Make my day."

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Q.E.D. iff volume 6 review

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

Q.E.D. iff, vol. 6, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Turf war, with Wataru taking a bullet to the chest and dying.)

Chikyuu ni Ochitekita to itteiru Otoko (The Man Who Fell to Earth, Magajin R, June, 2016)
This story has essentially two interwoven narratives, so it's a bit wordy to explain. In the first part, starting in 1986, Risa Morita is a young Japanese woman who is hanging out in the U.S. with a guy named Dominique, against her mother's wishes. One year later, Dominique and Risa have moved into the same house in the suburbs, with him openly cheating on her, and Risa unsuccessfully demanding that her mother wire her money that she claims she'll repay one day. Outside, two gang members are shooting at someone off-camera farther down the street. Risa claims that she's just watching a police drama on TV with the sound turned way up. 10 years later, she's still trying to get money from her mother. She's broken up with Dominique and is raising her son, Wataru, on her own from a single-wide trailer home. Wataru is visited by two friends, Sai Lo and Simon Ryu, both of whom have brand new bikes and a wad of $100 bills from working for Simon's older drug-dealing brother. Wataru agrees to join a street gang in order to help raise money for his mother. 4 years later, the boss of Wataru's gang decides to do a hostile takeover of a rival gang's house, killing the guards, the rival's wife and young son. The rival attempts to get the drop on him, hiding inside a cabinet, but the boss grabs Wataru and uses him as a human shield before shooting the rival, and the guy's remaining young daughter. The rival ended up shooting Wataru in the chest, so the boss tells his subordinates to leave him bleeding in the yard, and he'll shoot anyone that tries to help the boy. They leave as the sounds of police sirens draw near. Lying in the grass, Wataru looks up at the stars in the night sky and pleads for them to save him, because he doesn't want to die alone like this.

The second thread starts with the Mystery Club - Queen, Holmes and Mordor - sitting in their new clubroom in their new university, bemoaning the dearth of murder mysteries to solve. So far, all they've had have been requests to find missing pets. Mordor volunteers a new case - he's met a real-life space alien living in his grandmother's house. The other two are tired of alien talk, but their friend insists the "visitor" is real. They go to his grandmother's house to investigate. The old woman had made a fortune running her own company, while raising three children by herself. But now, she's alone in the house because her sons and their families are too busy with their own lives to do anything about her. Suddenly, though, a blond haired guy showed up at her house and is acting as her caregiver, and now the rest of the family suspect him of trying to grift the old woman out of her wealth. The Mystery Club meets the young man, who calls himself Simon, and claims to be an alien. After talking with him for a few minutes, the group gets bogged down in scientific jargon and they run away. Queen realizes that there's only one person that can help them.

At Touma's house, the Mystery Club ask the boy for help, but he turns them down. As they get ready to leave, Holmes blurts out that the "Simon" guy really is weird, talking about the Casimir effect and wormholes. Touma spins around and asks to meet this alien. Simon agrees to meet at a coffee shop, and Touma grills him on what star he'd come from, how he'd used a wormhole to warp to Earth, how the Casimir effect works to allow the wormhole warp, how this effectively acts as time travel to the past of a parallel universe and that he's unable to ever return back to his own home timeline. Touma tries to poke holes in the theory, and Simon deftly presents a believable explanation at every step. At the same time, Mordor's family decides to steal samples of Simon's hair from a brush he'd used in the bathroom, and they send it off to a DNA testing company. A few days later, they get the results back stating that the hair is a close enough match to their grandmother's as to have come from a second generation relative. The only way that could have happened is if the woman's missing daughter, Risa, had a son. The family continues with its research, and it looks like Simon is indeed Risa's son, Wataru, except that the U.S. police files say that Wataru died in a drug-related gun battle four years ago, and that Risa committed suicide shortly thereafter.

(Touma and Simon talk one-way time travel through wormholes.)

However, one of the family members suggests the possibility that Simon may have stolen hair samples from the corpse and planted them on the brush for the family to find. That leaves the family back at square one, so they play detective, with one of the men following Simon to a department store, while the rest of the family pull together to clean the old woman's house and fix up a large gathering dinner - the entire group, consisting of the old woman's sons, their wives and children, are desperate to do whatever is necessary to prevent this interloper from stealing their inheritance, even if that means being together as a family again. Simon goes to the men's clothing department, and enters a dressing room, while his tail talks on the phone to the rest of the family. After a while, the tail gets suspicious and peeks into the dressing room, but it's empty. A few minutes later, Simon is back in the house, but all the doors and windows were locked to keep him out, and Simon doesn't have a key. Looking at the stunned people sitting at the dining table, Simon says that his work here is done and it's time for him to return to outer space. He kisses the old woman goodbye and leaves the house. Mordor walks with him to the train station, and Simon tells him that his star too far away for anyone on Earth to see it. Then, Simon is gone. Back at Touma's house, the Mystery Club demand answers, and Touma reluctantly agrees to give them, as long as the information never gets out to anyone else.

Questions: Is Simon really an alien? How can he teleport? How can he be a genetic match for Wataru, if he doesn't look Japanese, and Wataru is dead? Even if he is related to Wataru, how can he know more about black hole physics than Touma does? The drug lord that Wataru worked for had been caught and given the death sentence; does that tie into anything anywhere?

Science: Discussions of wormholes, and how the Casimir effect can be used to allow one-way time travel.

--- Spoilers ---

Any American reader would probably have guessed at the Witness Protection Program. The fact the drug lord that shot up the rival's house and abandoned Wataru to die had been convicted of 4 murders means that Wataru had lived long enough to testify against him in court. So, the government faked his and Risa's death certificates, gave them plastic surgery and new identities, and shipped them off to their new home. Which just so happened to have been Oxford, where Wataru (now "Simon") has been majoring in astrophysics. Being Risa's son, he'd heard her talking to her mother on the phone enough to know that there had been a spare key hidden under a flower pot in front of the house, which everyone else had forgotten about. As for the trick with the dressing room, Simon had put a suit jacket on a hanger right behind the curtain, then stood in the other corner, out of sight. When the tail tried entering the dressing room from one side of the doorway, he'd pushed the curtain aside and the jacket hit him in the face. During this distraction, Simon slipped out of the room unnoticed through the other side of the curtain. The big question that remains is why Simon took such a risk of blowing his cover by visiting his old family in the first place. The answer is that he originally was filled with rage at the way his grandmother had abandoned him and his mother, and he'd wanted revenge. But, as he was standing over the old woman in her bedroom the first night, she was crying in her sleep, saying that she didn't want to die all alone. That's when he had a change of heart and pretended to have come from an alternative universe to care for her, and was willing to return to Oxford after the rest of the family started paying attention to her again.

(Det. Igusa investigates the death of the TV producer, Egota.)

Kyuuten (Sudden Change, Magajin R, Jan., 2017)
It's Tokyo City, 9 P.M. Police detective Igusa is investigating the death of one Wataru Egota (same "Wataru" pronunciation as in the previous chapter, but using a different kanji). Egota had fallen from the roof of an office building and landed on his back on the roof of a truck that had been parked in the lot below. Egota was the producer of a popular TV police drama series called, "Nangoku Keiji" (Southern Countries Detective). Igusa is familiar with the show, in which the lead detective likes swinging his handcuffs around like nunchucks, and is secretly in love with the female lead "Madonna" character ("Madonna" is being used here in the Japanese sense of "a beautiful woman"). Egota's TV show had been renewed for another season, and he and his crew were in the building to plan out the new episodes. Igusa notices that Egota is holding a fragment of rock in his right hand, and he and the officer on the scene go up to the roof and confirm that the fragment matches a chip from the ledge of the roof. One flight down, the nearest window is sitting open. The officer had talked to the building's watchman and had learned that there had been a notice on the door leading to the roof warning people that the door gets locked from the inside after 8 PM, and to not go out on the roof before then. But, someone had removed the notice from the door and tossed it into the corner of the hallway. Additionally, Egusa's jacket pocket contains a typed letter telling him to meet someone named Yori Nogawa on the roof at 8 P.M. Igusa deduces that at 8, Egota had gone up to the roof and waited for Yori. But, this is in the middle of winter and when he got too cold, he tried going back inside and discovered the door was locked. Egusa then noticed the open window one floor down, tried to lower himself over the edge of the roof, and plummeted to his death when the part of the ledge he was holding on to broke off.

Inside the building, waiting to be questioned are: Taiga Onda, Anna Tsurumi, Kyousuke Tanizawa, Tsumugi Shakujii, Kazuya Kameshima, and some girl working part-time delivering can coffee to the offices in the building. Onda is the scriptwriter for the TV show, Tsurumi is the actress playing the Madonna character, Tanizawa is the starring actor, Shakujii is a newbie actress playing supporting roles, and Kameshima is the props guy. The girl delivering coffee is Touma's friend, Kana. After getting everyone's statements, Igusa says that this was probably an accident, but there's something bothering him about it. After an hour or so, everyone is allowed to go home. The next day, Kana is upset about having been detained and she tells Touma everything that happened. He's unimpressed by the case, and isn't surprised by Igusa's confusion. The real question is why Egota hadn't simply shouted for help through the open window to the TV staff on that floor in the building, or used his cell phone to call for help. Kana tells Touma to solve the case and he refuses. So, she runs off on her own, and he ends up chasing after her after all. On the roof of the building at the scene, Kana and Touma encounter Igusa, and he recognizes her from the night before. Touma presents what he's guessed and Igusa shares what he knows, adding that the note telling Igusa to go to the roof was signed by a hostess at a bar some distance away and that the woman, Yori, denied writing it or giving it to Egota. Besides, she was working that night and has an alibi. Asked why Egota hadn't tried calling her around 8 P.M., Yori answered that her parents are really strict about her choice of friends and regularly check her phone's address book for weird names, so she never gives her number out to her customers.

(Igusa confronts the suspects. Bottom right hand panel, from left to right: Tanizawa, Onda, Anna, Shakujii and Kameshima.)

Looking at the scene, Touma also points out that the rock fragment had been in the wrong hand. It had broken off from the ledge closer to the corner of the roof, to Egota's left, but the fragment itself was in the guy's right hand. If Egota was reaching for the window with his right hand while holding the ledge with his left, the fragment would have been clutched in the other hand. The case is now looking less like an accident, and everyone's testimony is starting to become more important. On that night, Egota and the scriptwriter, Onda, had called a full staff meeting. Tanizawa had purposefully arrived late because he'd known there was going to be a fight over the two actresses and he wanted to avoid it. When he reached the building, Onda was already in the lobby smoking a cigarette. Everyone else had arrived on time. The conflict was over Egota's and Onda's choices for the actress to play the Madonna role. Egota wanted to keep the current woman, Anna, while Onda didn't like her acting and wanted to dump her in favor of the the new girl, Shakujii, who unfortunately doesn't have much experience as an actress yet. During the meeting, Anna confronted Onda about his not thinking her acting was very good, which created a very uncomfortable atmosphere, and Egota called for a break. Most of the other staff escaped the room, and Onda went to the lobby to smoke. Egota discovered the note in his jacket and went to the roof. Anna went to the prop room, and practiced swinging the show's handcuffs around the way the lead character does in the show. At that point, Shakujii and Kameshima happened up and saw her playing around with the props. Kameshima commented that swinging the handcuffs like that is a very simple trick, so Anna challenged Shakujii to try doing the same thing, swinging the cuffs in a circle and snapping them down in one movement to cuff Anna's wrist to a water pipe running along the wall. Shakujii tried, and hit herself in the face before stumbling forward and awkwardly handcuffing Anna to the water pipe. That's when Kameshima discovered that his key for the cuffs, which is on his car keychain, was not in his suit pockets. He sent Shakujii down to the parking lot to look around his car, as he ran to his desk to check his briefcase. The keys were found under the car, where they'd fallen as he was grabbing his gear to enter the office earlier. Finally, Kana had arrived on the top floor to deliver her coffee, and heard someone call "stop it." She walked down the hallway and found Anna handcuffed to the pipe. Kana had also seen a suspicious car in the parking lot, and when she tried getting closer to talk to the driver, it tore off out of the lot.

This leaves the current situation: Egota died from a fall from the roof. He didn't try calling for help first, and he hadn't seen the sign on the door saying that it autolocks. Tanizawa had mainly stayed around the lobby, talking to Ando. Ando had left the meeting to go to the lobby, and supposedly he'd been there at the time Egota fell. Anna was handcuffed in the prop room. Kana had arrived on the top floor approximately when Egota fell, and can confirm Anna was still handcuffed then. Kameshima had been in his office before going to the parking lot to check on Shakujii. And, Shakujii, the new girl, had been going through the gear in Kameshima's car (he'd given her a keyfob to electronically unlock the car) and eventually she found the keys under the car. The last piece of the puzzle was Yori's tie to all this. She was working at the bar as a hostess. She likes dressing up in fancy clothes and heavy makeup, but when she goes home she watches variety shows on TV and has to answer to her parents about her whereabouts. She'd met Egota when he was producing one of her favorite shows and he'd stopped at the bar one night for drinks. They'd been secretly seeing each other since then.

Questions: Was Egota's death accidental or premeditated? If someone killed him, who was it, why and how?

Science: Nothing.

--- Spoilers ---

Touma tells the detective, Igusa, just enough to get the guy to call all the suspects together, and he attempts to relate what had actually happened at the scene. Igusa does relatively well at first, saying that the night watchman had gone his rounds that evening, starting from the roof, then going down one floor at a time, locking up the stairwell doors and checking that all the offices were locked on each floor before going down to the next one and repeating the process. After that, Igusa gets bogged down and Touma takes over. The motive revolved around Yori. The hostess still lived at home with her parents, she liked variety TV shows, and she didn't wear really elaborate nail art on her fingernails. Conclusion? She's still in high school and therefore is under aged. The suspicious guys in the car in the parking lot that Kana spotted? Papparazi trying to sniff out a scandal to write about in their rag paper. The result? Anna was afraid that a story about their producer dating an underage girl would have caused their show to be canceled. So, she chipped out the fragment of the ledge and put it in her purse. The day of the meeting, she stole Kameshima's keys and threw them under his car. Just before the meeting, she put the note in Egota's jacket pocket and tore the warning notice off the roof top door. She staged the confrontation with Endo during the meeting to clear the room and to get Egota to find the note and go to the roof. In the prop room, she waited for Kameshima and Shakujii to get close and then started swinging the handcuffs around, manipulating Kameshima into talking Shakujii into showing off. The new girl was expectedly clumsy, and didn't realize that Anna was wearing a large bracelet under her sweater sleeve. After Kameshima and Shakujii ran out to find the key to the cuffs, Anna pulled her hand out of the bracelet and walked over to the window, opened it, and called to Egota to come over and climb down one floor and enter the building through that window. Egota objected, but Anna claimed that because the watchman had locked the stairwell doors, there was no way to get to the roof to open the roof top door for him, and it's cold enough that he's going to freeze to death if he stays up there all night. Egota climbed over the top railing, lowered himself to the window, and as he was about to come inside, Anna gave him the rock fragment to hold, then pushed him hard in the chest. He shouted "stop it," which is what Kana heard as she was getting out of the elevator. At the same time, Anna heard the elevator chime as it reached the top floor, and she raced back to the prop room and recuffed herself to the pipe before Kana found her. As she's led away by the police, Anna asks Ondo if he still dislikes her acting, and he just smiles and turns away.

Summary: Two pretty solid stories this time. I like the first one for the physics explanations of the advantages and disadvantages of using wormholes for warp travel, and the second one for the plot. I had a second explanation for how the suspect could have pulled their trick, but I hadn't gotten the motive down. Overall, not bad. Recommended if you like the series.

Friday, February 24, 2017

C.M.B. volume 34 review

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

C.M.B., vol. 34, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B

(Shinra, Tatsuki and the writer encounter the chasm in the cave, but no plane.)

Disappeared Flight (Monthly Shonen Magazine, Aug. 2016)
It's the 1920's, right after the end of WW I. The company Unkai Unyu (Sea of Clouds Transport) has started up as a small prop airplane parcel transport service, between Tokyo and Dalian, China, using British De Havilland Airbuses. After talking to one of the engineers, one of the pilots takes off on a delivery trip, but some time later the wings detach from the plane and it crashes. The company sends out its staff to the wooded hills where the plane was last seen, and they work with the local police to search the trees. They find a cave, where all the gear and parcels are stacked up neatly in front of the cave mouth. In a nearby shrine, they discover the neatly wrapped body of the pilot, but the plane itself is never found. Some of the villagers claim that they had located the wreckage a few days earlier, put the parcels in front of the cave, and wrapped the plane body in sheets and put it inside the cave. But, a search of the cave turns up empty.

Jump to now. An earthquake causes a boulder to drop from a hill and land on a small building at the same shrine, finally revealing the cave entrance again. A freelance writer, Youichi Kagami, visits the site, is repelled by the current priest, Ryoupaku Kaizan, and heads to Tokyo to ask Shinra for help. Youichi's grandfather was the engineer at Unkai. When he died, Youichi went through his papers and found maps and bits of metal left over from his searches of the crash site. The company had given up on looking for the plane, but the old man persisted for years afterward. Youichi wants Shinra to use the CMB rings to force the priest to talk. So, Shinra, the writer and Tatsuki fly down to the village, where the priest remains unhelpful. The trio investigate the cave on their own, along the way passing by a villager working at a small kiln to process charcoal. In the cave, the main path is blocked by a deep chasm. The group takes a side branch that leads out to a waterfall at the side of the hill. Finding nothing useful in the cave, they start asking around in the village, and locate an old woman that had been a little girl at the time of the accident. She recounts what she remembers of the events, which makes the priest angry that they're bothering people, so he gives his version of the story: His father was the priest at the time, and his father, the Unkai workers and the police all banded together to find the plane. The Unkai engineers were determined to rescue their pilot, and after getting the body, they went back home. The disappearance of the plane was put down as sabotage and theft because of growing tensions between Japan and China leading up to the second Japan-Sino war of the 1930's. After giving his testimony, the priest tells them to leave.

Questions: Why is Ryoupaku Kaizan so hostile to outsiders? Why did the plane crash? Why were the body, packages and plane treated so well by the villagers, going so far as to store the wrapped plane in the cave? What happened to the plane?

Science and History: A discussion of the early start of aviation in Japan in the 20's, optics and aerodynamics.
Payment: None mentioned.

--- Spoilers ---

The trio return to the cave, with Shinra holding a bag of white sand. The boy throws the sand on the "chasm" and it appears to float in mid-air. Actually, the priest had the one worker cover the main cave path with charcoal powder, which absorbs light and made it look like a big hole in the ground. At the end of the dust path is the airplane, with its wings lying next to it on the ground. Shinra points out the twisted metal at the top of the plane, and the writer realizes that the plane crashed because of "flutter." That is, the wings started vibrating during the flight, and the resonance caused them to rip off. What really happened after that was that the company management paid Kaizan's father to hide the plane in the cave to prevent word from getting out that the plane's design was flawed, which would have cost the company a lot of money to fix. They also floated the story of sabotage to explain the crash. Kaizan shows up in the cave and asks what gave him away. Shinra answers that the old man had said that the engineers only wanted to find the pilot's body, but if you really knew engineers, their sole goal was to find the plane to see why it had crashed. Kaizan responds with "how boring." But he does concede that Youichi's father was an amazing man, never giving up his quest for answers.

(Denny the doctor talks to Mariana, and asks if she knows that everyone else calls her a witch.)

Mariana's Illusion (Monthly Shonen Magazine, Oct. 2016)
It's 1946, Ecuador. The Ecuadoran native girl, Mariana, is in love with a Japanese immigrant named Morio Kanbe. But, Morio has heard that Japan has won the big war, and he wants to return home to help the country rebuild. Mariana is crushed at the prospect of being left behind. Jump to 2014. Mariana is an old woman with a reputation as a witch, living in a small village in the mountains that she helped build. Her reputation is due to her upbringing as a shaman, and her knowledge of medicinal plants. Some people from another town visit her to ask for help falling asleep and getting rid of a tooth cavity, and she just tells them to go back home and talk to their doctors. An old man living in the village, Denny Jeremy Falcon, is the local doctor, and he ribs her about being called a witch by everyone. At about this time, a German tourist is in the village, searching for "Mariana's treasure." He's climbed to the top of the watch tower on Mariana's house, and he's spotted looking in the nooks and crannies of the belfry. Suddenly, he appears horrified by something, takes a step backwards, and falls down the tower to his death. Mariana is unfazed.

Jump to the present. Shun Kanbe, Morio's grandson, is checking up at Morio's house, where all he finds is a small wood carving on a table and a note saying "I've gone to Ecuador to meet the witch." Shun is kind of an idiot, and a typical insular Japanese kid. But, he's a regular at Tatsuki's family's public baths, and he has her help him talk to Shinra to identify the carving. The boy says it's a Pachamama statue, originally treated as a fertility goddess by the Inca. It's carved from the wood of the Lignum vitae, (AKA: Tree of Life), which is very hard; the wood is often used for gears and pulley shafts. Shun can't understand what his grandfather would be doing with this carving. The old man is 85, and is notoriously spineless. He was fired from his job, his wife divorced him, and he's been living alone in front of a TV ever since. All Shun wants is for Morio to return home so the rest of the family will stop worrying about him. Against his wishes, he's dragged with Shinra and Tatsuki to Quito as part of the search party.

As Shun keeps whining, Shinra locates an old friend of Morio's (nameless) who is now running a Japanese restaurant in Quito. The friend says that Morio used to be the most amazing man he'd ever met. At the time, various countries in South America had been asking for assistance in setting up companies and providing labor for growing coffee, and the friend and Morio had been financed by the government to come to Ecuador at the same time. But, WW II broke out, the Japanese government abandoned them, and the local government didn't trust the Japanese ex-pats anymore. There was a crackdown on Japanese language radio programs and newspapers, and very few people that knew what was going on in the outside world were Japanese speakers. Eventually, there were reports that the war had ended and that Japan had lost. But, with no way to verify this, the ex-pats broke into two factions - "The Japan Won" and "The Japan Lost" groups. Morio was one of the Japan Winners, and he was one of the most vicious of the bullies that would attack anyone from the Japan Losters group. But then, one day, the friend saw Morio on the streets, and the guy looked completely devastated. He simply said "Japan really lost" and then wandered away. Finally, Morio disappeared on his way back to Japan.

(Morio wakes up in Denny's office, where Denny welcomes him back. Shinra tries to explain to Shun and Denny the concept of expanding one's awareness.)

Part 2. (Monthly Shonen Magazine, Nov. 2016)
Shun is having trouble reconciling any of this with his image of his grandfather. Shinra follows the clues to Mariana's village, where he locates Denny. The doctor tells him that the old witch had died a little while ago, and he shows them her grave. Morio had been at the village a few days before, but Denny doesn't know where he went after seeing the grave. The trio learns about Mariana's treasure, which includes a clue. Mariana's house is divided into 4 small buildings that are interconnected with covered walkways, and there's a small drawbridge at the entrance, although, the draw ropes and pulleys are missing. There's a chapel in one building, with poles stuck in the walls to act like steps up to the belfry. The poles are kind of treacherous and there's no hand railing. In the belfry, Shinra and Tatsuki look around the town, but they don't see anything that could have scared the German tourist to his death two years earlier. In any event, the clue is that the treasure is near the chapel room. And Mariana had often said that anyone who wanted to was free to try to find it.

Later, the trio have lunch with Denny at the village restaurant. He tells them that he and Mariana had been children together in a village along the Amazon. He was planning on going to school to become a physician, and that Mariana's mother was training her in the use of botanical medicines as a shaman. They separated as they got older, and Denny looked down on her as an unschooled heathen. Later, they reunited near this village, where Mariana was already in love with Morio. But, Morio wanted to return to Japan, firm in his belief that Japan had won the War. Mariana accepted this, on the condition that he let her weave some magic on him to "see the truth." After that, Morio was a shell of his former self, having been destroyed by the witch. Denny says that he never understood what powers she'd had at her disposal. Back in Quito, the Japanese restaurant owner confirms the parts of Denny's story that he has personal knowledge of.

Questions: What happened to Morio that one day? Why did he come back to Ecuador? What is the meaning of the Pachamama? Where is Morio now? What and where is Mariana's treasure?

Natural history: The history of second and third generation Japanese living in South America, and how they had to overcome malaria and the abandonment by both the Japanese and local governments up through WW II. Plus, a little information on the Lignum vitae wood.
Payment: The Pachamama carving.

--- Spoilers ---

Mariana and Denny had worked together to convince Morio that his beliefs were wrong, with Mariana giving him a powdered hallucinogen, and then having Morio wake up in Denny's hospital, where the doctor said "you've been in a coma for 1 year. Welcome back. By the way, Japan lost." This is what crushed Morio's soul. He gave up then, and returned to Japan. Mariana used her income as a shaman to support the construction of the town over the following years, ensuring that the buildings mirrored her house layout - the church=her chapel room; the restaurant=her dining room; the inn=her bedroom. The clue was in her wording of "expanding one's awareness." If you expanded her house layout to the town, the treasure would be behind the church. That's what the German tourist realized, and he was so surprised that he lost his footing at the top of the watch tower and fell. When Mariana died, Denny lowered the drawbridge in front of her house, and took the ropes off to show there was no one living there anymore. He also carved one of the pulleys into the Pachamama figure and mailed it to Morio along with a note telling him to return to the village.

The path at the back of the church leads to a little glen where Morio and Mariana had used to spend all their time together, so the "treasure" was Mariana herself. When Morio realized that, he dug his own grave next to hers, and had Denny give him an injection for assisted-suicide. Denny filled the dirt back over the grave. He insists that he doesn't know where the spirits of the love couple are now, but they're not of this world anymore. Shun is offended, but unable to press charges, while Shinra speculates that Mariana had cast her spell over Denny, too. The story ends with a young Morio telling his friends that all he wants to do is make enough money to buy his own castle with a drawbridge, as a young woman watches him from within the brush.

(Namie sees a ghost.)

Old House (Monthly Shonen Magazine, Dec. 2016)
Ushi Tose is a salaryman that gave up his job to go live in the countryside to start up a career as a baker. He'd talked to an old woman, Ukiko Tsuruga, and she'd offered to let him live in an old house she owns, for free. The place had been damaged in an earthquake, and she can't afford to have it rebuilt to rent out. Instead, Tose can stay there as long as he likes, and fix the place up if he wants to. He visits the ruined house with his girlfriend, Namie Saga, and that's when the weirdness starts. Tsuruga's son is living on a neighboring property, carving up the rose bushes with a chainsaw and tossing out perfectly good persimmons. In their new house, Namie discovers a ghost in the rafters. They try to talk to craftsmen in town to get them to provide estimates on the repairs, and every single one of them refuses to work with them. Tose goes to a neighboring town for an independent contractor. This guy is willing to help, but he's scared off by a creature in a mask that makes a neck-cutting motion. Tose and Namie chase the creature, but it seems to teleport away from them by magic, and it escapes by motor boat from the bottom of a cliff.

Tose is convinced that his dream is on the rocks, but he commiserates himself by making dinner on a grill with camping gear he'd brought with him. The smell reaches Shinra, who is nearby, researching local sea creatures. He and Tatsuki talk to the two new renters, and they're amazed by how good Tose's bread is. That night, there's rain, but nothing's leaking into the house. Looking in the rafters, Tose discovers that all the leaks have been patched with fresh thatch. This just confirms the presence of ghosts. Namie confronts Tsuruga, and the old woman breaks down in tears at the claims the house is haunted. Then, Shinra shows up with a lawyer, and a contract to rent the house for 5,000 yen ($50) a month. The old woman starts to object, then relents.

Questions: What is haunting the old house and why? Why does Shinra insist on having a contract drawn up charging Tose rent, when the guy is already living there for free? Why won't the local craftsmen help Tose out?

Natural history: Just a little bit of discussion of human nature.
Payment: Dinner and fresh-baked bread.

--- Spoilers ---

Turns out that Tsuruga, the old woman giving out the use of her land for free, along with her son and daughter-in-law, is a con artist. She lets young couples live in run-down houses on her property, and waits until they sink enough of their own money into the repairs before evicting them. Since there's no paper contract, the victims have no legal recourse. The local craftsmen have been burned by this as well, and they refuse to accept loan money for repair work this time. However, they are secretly on the side of Tose and his girlfriend. One worker had been in the rafters of the house when Namie saw him and thought he was a ghost. He'd been patching up the holes in the roof. He and his friends had all put on the same creature mask and clothing, and positioned themselves along the trail on the hill to make it look like they were teleporting - one guy would duck in the bushes, and the next one would pop up on the other side of a chasm or at the bottom of the cliff. Now that Shinra has Tose renting on a well-worded contract for real cheap, Tsuruga can't evict him without just cause, Tose can create his bakery, and the workers are willing to help him with the rest of the building repairs.

(Pachamama carving.)

Summary: Some pretty good storytelling this time, and a very pointed jab at the idea of "fake news" (the belief that Japan had won the war and the denial of any facts contradicting this belief). Good art, and some decent mysteries. There is a bit of frontal nudity at the beginning of Mariana's Illusion, so be aware of that if it's something that offends you. Recommended if you like the series. Note, though, that the front cover is misleading. Mariana never gets found in a pond like that in the book.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Art Fest vol. 1

Mediafire is still screwed up, but there seems to be a workaround. I'd uploaded a bunch of photos on Monday, including the 13 here below. Of these 13, 3 were being treated as bad links. As of right now, those three are still messed up. However, I uploaded another 20 files last night, and all of those transferred just fine. So, I'm thinking that the messed up ones probably won't be resolved no matter how long I wait. On the other hand, if I simply re-upload the bad ones, Mediafire just identifies the new files as copies and repeats the bad links with them. Instead, if I edit the pictures just a bit (by trimming one edge by a couple pixels) and changing the file names, Mediafire treats them as all new files, and they're now transferring just fine, without screwing up the links, and I can delete the bad files to get rid of them. Sigh.

There was an art fest on Sunday. There have been similar events at Terukuni shrine in the past, but this was the first one in Central Park. Basically, it was just a one-day collection of artists trying to find buyers.

Some of the artists continued working on their art during the fest, such as the woman off camera to the right of the shot, who was painting a guy in a rabbit outfit.

Along with the guy acting as her model.

There was also a live stage, featuring the local mascots Hayato-kun, and his fox god opponent. This time, they added two female singers, and Dusking (a play on Duskin, a cleaning equipment rental company, although they also own Mister Donut.)

As usual, Decadentisme was there with her goth stylings.

I like this one - a tiger fighting a dragon, with yokai cheering in the stands. There's lots of detailed stuff in the background.

This booth was promoting itself for illustrations and fashion art.

This guy was painting on-site, dribbling paint on the canvas with a stick, then finger painting with it.

There was one musician in the park doing folk songs. He wasn't all that good, but he did have a small, dedicated audience.

Another booth had fantasy art.

And, there was a booth for the guy that takes pictures of cats around Kagoshima. He has a book out, and had an exhibit of his work in Tenmonkan a year ago.

I didn't buy anything this time - no place to keep it. I only spent half an hour looking around, then went home to do more work on the computer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ramen Oh, Feb. 17, 2017

KTS TV sponsored another ramen contest at Dolphin Port over the weekend. 700 yen ($6 USD) got you one ticket. On Friday, it also got me a bag of beef stew mix and a breath mint (which were missing on Saturday). The idea being to use the ticket for a bowl of ramen. The staff exchange the ticket for a medallion. After eating, you put the medallion in a box at the judging table for the company you think had the best ramen.

This time, there were only 18 restaurants represented, and the one I went to last time was missing. I learned about the event from one of my students on Friday, and I swung by to take a few photos for the blog after my class at 4 PM. There weren't that many people at that time, and I figured that I might as well get a bowl of something while I was there. They did have an event stage but nothing was scheduled until 5 PM, and that was just the Southern Cross idol group singing and dancing.

The ramen I selected was an Indian-style curry soup that was pretty good.

Then on Saturday, I had a 1-hour break at 6 PM. The stage event was an interview with a couple members of the Kagoshima FC soccer team, but it was pretty lame ("How do you feel about this season, what ramen do you like to eat," etc.) While I was in the area, I opted to try a different ramen suggested by another student - the truffle ramen, which featured slices of pork prepared 3 different ways. The weather had gotten a lot colder since the day before, and the serving staff put plastic wrap over the bowl to keep the heat in until I could get to the tables to start eating. There were a lot more people on the second night, and not that much space at the tables. The ramen was good, but not overly special.

(Kagoshima United FC.)

Still, it was a decent way to kill a little time. I didn't go back on Sunday though because I was busy with translation work online.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rilakkuma at Rest

The toy store, Drops, puts out different stuffed animals on their sign to attract customers on Streetcar Street. This time, we have Rilakkuma out taking it easy (it's a play on the words "relax" and "kuma = bear"). So, relaxed bear.

Just chillin' on a chilly day.

Monday, February 20, 2017


Au is a smartphone company, and Mineo is their current brand phone, for 1,310 yen a month without tax (about $12). The text say "Creating the new "normal" for smart phones." The photo is a play on words, with the woman dressed as "Maine-oh," or My neh King. I wonder if their ideas of kings extends to their concepts of smart phones...

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Labyrinth Poster

There's a new escape game that came to Kagoshima in mid-Feb. - "Escape from Labyrinth." I'm thinking that Monster Strike is the name of one of the companies that put this game together. Anyway, the kanji right above the game name is Jikuu Oojo (Space-Time Princess). The timing of this is funny because the American comic strip, Brewster Rocket ran a gag series on escape games the same week that I saw this poster. Anyway, I didn't try it, because it's expensive, and I would have a lot of trouble understanding the Japanese clues without outside help. The artwork is very manga-esque, though.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 7 review

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

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 7 (SquareEnix, 2015-16), by Rensuke Oshikiri. Grade: B+.
And, we're back. These chapters actually ran in 2016, rather than being the older reprints of the earlier volumes. When we last saw our heroes - Yaguchi the slacker gamer, Hina the over-worked rich girl, and Koharu the bookworm smitten with Yaguchi - Yaguchi was still mooning over Hina, Hina had established a certain level of freedom from her tutor, and Koharu had suffered a humiliating loss against Yaguchi in her cage match to win a date with him. It's now 1996 and all three kids are first years in different high schools. Yaguchi's friend, Miyao, is attempting to get him emotionally involved in his own life, but Yaguchi really has no interest in anything beyond playing video games. Miyao guides them to the convenience store that Koharu's parents own, and Koharu initially shows contempt towards Yaguchi, but allows herself to be talked into going to his house with them. Guile tries to block them, but Koharu just blows past him and into the viper's pit. Turns out that Hina and her older sister, Moemi, are in his room playing word games with his mother, which is what Guile was trying to warn Yaguchi about. This leads to an awkward couple of hours as no one talks to each other, and Miyao and Moemi crack under the pressure and run screaming from the room. Hina and Koharu play a duel Street Fighter game against each other and Hina wins easily. Everyone leaves, and Hina and Yaguchi's mother blame him for all the troubles they had.

(Guile is no match against Koharu.)

The next day, Yaguchi is at a game center, when the Mizunokuchi gang (the ones that are training Koharu) show up and kick him out of the arcade. Stewing, Yaguchi takes the train into Shibuya, where he finds himself surrounded by Shibuya Girls (high school students with excessively heavy make-up and bad attitudes) and various street punks. He goes into an arcade, where three boys are unable to defeat the final boss, General, in Kaiser Knuckle. They browbeat him into taking over the game in the expectation that he's going to be easily defeated as well, and when he wins they enlist him in their gamer group. To fit in, Yaguchi starts hanging out in Shibuya, wearing a black stocking cap and a skull t-shirt. This causes his mother and Miyao to get concerned about him, and word gets back to Hina about Yaguchi's sudden weird behavior. Moemi decides to visit Shibuya herself for the first time, and after a day of harassing the boy, comes back to the Ohno estate wearing a black t-shirt of her own, getting the tutor to chase her around the house, yelling all the time. Afterward, the tutor lays the law down about Hina not being allowed to go into Shibuya herself. So of course, the next day, that's what she does.


The Mizunokuchi gang shows up in Shibuya to drive the Shibuya gang out of their own turf. This results in a 10-on-10 duel on one of the machines. One of the Shibuya gang girl hangers-on starts flirting with Yaguchi just to mess with him, and Koharu gets so angry that she faces all ten of the Shibuya players, and beats everyone by herself. She uses this victory over Yaguchi to get him into spending the day with her, but just as friends. She makes a point of saying that while he's paying for the both of them, this isn't an official "date".

(Koharu wins, then tells the hanger-on to leave her boyfriend alone.)

They go to an amusement park, and play games in an arcade. Night falls, and Koharu refuses to go home. They're stuck at a train station, as Yaguchi notes that they've missed the last train for the night. It's raining hard, and the boy suggests calling their parents to let them know where they are, and possibly have someone come get them in a car, but Koharu would rather go to a love hotel and cuddle. Yaguchi instead gets her to go to Guest (a parody of Gusto, a family restaurant). She'd bought an umbrella that was intentionally too small for 2 people, and panics when she sees that Yaguchi is holding the umbrella over her so that his shoulder is getting soaked - she doesn't want him to come down with a cold again.

("Hold me.")

At the restaurant, the two talk for a bit, and Koharu gets around to saying that Yaguchi has been really horrible to her. She's been having dreams of him holding her, and she's tired of them just being dreams. When they leave the restaurant, the rain has stopped and the sun is coming up. Koharu suddenly throws her arms around the boy, crying, and pleading with him to hold her just this once. Yaguchi is trying to figure out what to do when he sees Hina standing a little ways to the side, watching them.

Summary: The main focus of High Score Girl is the series of video games that came out in the 90's at the game centers. We not only get to see each of the games, and some samplings of characters, but also what the arcades and small towns around Tokyo looked like at the time. So to that extent this is a nostalgia manga. Woven over this, though, is a story of young love and the trials of the boy stuck in the middle of a triangle he didn't know was forming. The writing and pacing is very good, and it's highly recommended if you like arcade games and don't mind the chunky-face character designs.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Area 51, vol. 14 review

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

Area 51, vol. 14, by Masato Hisa. Grade: A
Whoo boy. I finally get this volume in my hands, and it takes maybe two hours to finish it. But now, it pretty much looks like the series is going to end in volume 15 this Summer. Sigh. I was afraid of that.

(Amaterasu the Nue arrives to stop the fighting.)

H58) Go to Stop That War
McCoy has exhausted her strength, and as she leans against a tree, she bids the giant super chimera, Amaterasu, to go finish the war. At the moment, the full Japanese and Egyptian armies are arrayed in the middle of Area 51, facing each other, waiting for the order to fight. Anubis is overjoyed with how his plan is working out, while Zeus and the other gods stand and watch, ready to punish the first side to take action. Meanwhile, Son Gokuu is being harassed at his bar by some guards, when Amaterasu arrives and scoops him up. She asks him to do something about the fires raging across the city, and he happily obliges, jumping down to the street and first rescuing Kishirou and the monster children the kappa is protecting. Kishirou the kappa runs over to a fire hydrant and opens it, magically directing the water up into the air, where Gokuu catches it in his teapot head (the replacement he's been using since his original head was used to create the chimera). He punches holes in the teapot and sprays the city with the water, quenching the flames.

Amaterasu arrives at the battle field, and is unhappy at being told that her general, Tsukuyomi, had almost gotten the Japanese gods and monsters banished from Area 51. She flattens him into the street, then cajoles Anubis into taking off his protective space suit. The jackal still bears the burn scars from when he was swallowed while unsuccessfully trying to save his beloved goddess from the First Snake. He also has a message burned into his left shoulder where Ra had touched him before dying in their last encounter. Amaterasu and Ra are both sun gods, and all sun gods are familiar with each other's techniques. She shoots a beam of light at Anubis, and his shadow hits the wall behind him, with a burning message in Egyptian visible within the darkness. Sekhmet reads the handwriting - "The one who killed me is Anubis."

(The death of Anubis.)

H59) Draw the "Iwato"
Anubis admits to the murder, turns into a giant, and attacks Amaterasu anyway, saying that he is doing this for Egypt. Sekhmet refuses to have anything to do with the Jackal anymore and orders her troops to retreat without another word to Amaterasu or the 10 gods. Anubis attempts to pummel his hated enemy in the face, but she replies that this is nothing compared to how hard McCoy hit her. Eventually, Anubis is no longer able to maintain his huge form, and his body becomes brittle and breaks apart. Ultimately, he dies. Amaterasu tells Tsukuyomi that the same thing is going to happen to her, and she wants him to take over from her in caring for the Japanese monsters. She gets Zeus to not hold anyone on the Japanese side responsible for the death and destruction so far, and apologizes for the suffering people have had to go through because of her decisions (i.e. - McCoy being killed by the doppelganger and turned into a sheath for Kusanagi.) She apologizes to Gokuu, too, but he's happy with his new head, because he can now make tea with it. Then, before she can fall over and damage more buildings, she turns herself to stone with her medusa tail, and one of the other Japanese gods blows her body to harmless little bits.

In the end, Zeus visits McCoy in her office, and warns her that because she contains Kusanagi, and the sword is capable of destroying the 10 gods, and Area 51 with them, her movements are probably going to be restricted until they can decide what to do with her. There are more than a few people that want her banished or imprisoned. She changes the topic and comments that she's heard that Zeus has had to play "politician" and asks him if he feels lonely (i.e. - without his brother, Hades, by his side). He replies that he does now, then leaves.

(Baba rescues Keiron from the assassin.)

H60) Reward will be given after their "Winning Run" - Honeymoon
This is a short side story. Keiron, McCoy's centaur doctor, has fallen in love with an old crone named Turbo Baba (baba = old woman). Turbo had been struck by the chimera's medusa beam and her leg was turned to stone. Keiron is treating her, and he has succeeded in healing her leg, but the old woman has lost the will to run anymore. He asks McCoy for help. Soon after, Keiron starts receiving phone calls where a spooky voice on the other end says that it's getting closer and closer to him. McCoy had told Turbo about an assassin that had been sent after the doctor, and when the next call comes in saying that the creature is just outside the office, Turbo panics, grabs Keiron and runs out to the streets. Turns out that Baba's problem was that she'd fallen in love with Keiron, and hadn't known how to tell him.

(The creature from the meteor destroys the TV news helicopter before turning its attention on the rest of Earth.)

H61) I can be a Superman!
Another side story. Kishirou is feeling useless. He really wants to be able to help McCoy with her personal problems, but he lacks the strength. He'd rescued a genie (Lamp no Mashin) back in volume 11, and he wants to use his second wish to become stronger. Lamp is able to grant this wish, but he warns the kappa that this kind of wish would come back to haunt him. Later, Kishirou finishes his errand (locating a lost pet lion ant - an ant the size of a small dog with a lion head - and returning it to its owner) and he comes back to the office to sleep on the couch. Then, an alien comes to the office and asks McCoy to help him. The night before, a meteor smashed into the ocean nearby, and the American Navy has been trying to find it. The alien claims that the meteor is really a monster that has destroyed his, and a couple other planets, and he wants McCoy to buy a large water pearl from him for $38,000 as payment for defeating the thing before it destroys Earth (McCoy tells him to go away). While, in the next room, Kishirou's dream is interrupted by a ghost that gives him a magic rod that will turn him into a giant that can defeat the threat. Kishirou wakes up, holding the rod in his hand. He races out to the docks, only to discover that the ghost was a victim of the monster, now holding a grudge, and that the rod doesn't do anything. The alien ends up defeating the monster, and is revealed to be another ghost, which dissipates after completing his mission. The story wraps up with Kishirou using his second wish to get the money to buy the water pearl as a gift for McCoy.

(McCoy doesn't like doppelgangers. Shizune is unable to argue with her.)

H62) I also Liked You, Major
McCoy is at the Four Legged Clinic, getting her routine treatments from Keiron to help keep her body together. The centaur says that the latest surgery is the last one he can do for her, and that she's probably going to fall apart soon. She replies that until she destroys the doppelganger that killed her and stole her baby, she can't afford to die. She leaves the clinic, and is stalked by Shizune, the kappa that had tried to kill Prince Charming before. Shizune manages to stab McCoy with a kappa death needle, but loses the papers she's holding before running away. One of McCoy's friends (the spider woman, Sonya) finds her in an alley and gets her back to the clinic. McCoy recovers enough to grab Pike and have him shoot her with a yokai bullet that rips the needle out. Kishirou arrives at the clinic, and identifies the needle as having belonged to his friend, Kirimaru, and that the attacker was Kirimaru's younger sister. McCoy recovers, and looks at the papers she'd grabbed from Shizune. They are the notes Kirimaru had compiled when he was trying to get closer to her. In with the papers is a second needle, the needle of life. McCoy gets Kishirou to track down Shizune. When the female kappa is brought to the clinic, she's infuriated that her brother's killer is still alive, then horrified at seeing all the bullet and sword scars all over McCoy's body. Shizune collapses into a chair and meekly answers McCoy's questions. Apparently, while Kirimaru was following her, he'd encountered someone "that looks exactly like McCoy, but isn't". Additionally, the notes place this "McCoy" somewhere that the real one had never been to before. McCoy takes Shizune out to the edge of the city, while telling Kishirou to stay in the office to wait for her to get back.

McCoy drives to the Nikola no Ori (Prison of Nikola), and tells Shizune that in fact, Area 51 is the prison and this tower here is where all the guards live, along with the original god that created this place. The "guards" are angels, and the tower is off-limits to all other residents of the Area. Which is why it's kind of hard to believe that the doppelganger would be inside. Everyone else knows about this place, except that Kirimaru had been a newcomer and was unaware of the rules when he saw "McCoy" there. Eventually, Major Felix drives up and orders McCoy to back off NOW. Even though Pike is a possessed object (having become sentient after being owned for 99 years), McCoy doesn't think that he could hurt an angel, but Felix doesn't want to take the chance. However, she asks him why a doppelganger would be allowed in the tower, and he says that some years ago, there had been a zombie invasion that killed off 20% of the population (that's when he'd lost an eye). The angels used the doppelganger's ability to control its blood to develop a weapon to use against the zombies. The invasion was repulsed, but just in case there was a second attempt, the angels decided to keep the doppelganger there as "thanks" for its assistance.

McCoy asks if Felix had been in the tower at some point, and he says yes, once. He'd been a regular grunt in the army, but he was killed in battle. He was saved by the angels, and he's now one of them, as a half-breed. She then asks if anyone else, angel or otherwise, knows that the doppelganger has her face right now. He says "no," and McCoy kills him with a bullet from Pike. She then tells Shizune that the reason she's there is to spread the word that McCoy has murdered an angel, with the intent of forcing the doppelganger out of Nikola's Cage. Shizune is shocked that McCoy would risk her life like this.

Summary: Great art, great art, great art. Love the story, love everything about Area 51. Highly, highly recommended.