Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pepsi NEX and Pokemon

I've written before about how Pepsi is doing so poorly for sales in Japan compared to Coke. So, it's led to PepsiCo's doing a lot more product tie-ins, some of which give off a certain whiff of desperation. The most recent one is for Pokemon. There are a total of 24 different cell phone straps this time (compare this with most of the other toys I've mentioned recently, which generally only have 6 variations). Even though the local grocery store sells Pepsi NEX for 88 yen (Coke for 120 yen), I'm not inclined to drop $25 USD to get the full set. Don't know of any Japanese consumer that will.

Actually, I'm satisfied with just this one, the most colorful of those in the cooler case at the time. Enbuoo (N-Boar).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tully's Stamp and Coffee campaign

One of the coffee chains here is Tully's, franchised from the company of the same name based in Seattle. When I worked in Akihabara, I liked dropping by the Tully's in the UDX building a block away from my office. They're similar to Starbuck's, but with better coffee. Same high prices, too. Unfortunately, at some point quality of the the Akihabara shop's ice coffee nosedived and I stopped going there a little over a year ago. In Kagoshima, there's a shop in Tenmonkan, right next door to Doutor. Again, the drinks and snacks are similar to each other, but Tully's is actually 20 yen cheaper for a small hot coffee (300 yen compared to 320 yen at Doutor. Still, that's $3.60 USD for an 8 ounce cup, no refills.)

Tully's has tied up with Itoen Foods to sell their canned coffees at convenience stores. Recently, they've also packaged small toy stamps with the cans to pair up with the goodies they sell at their regular stores. There are 6 stamp designs total, two each with the same body - a yellow teddy bear, a white coffee mug, and a black golf bag (I've seen the little beanie baby-style bears, and the cups are a given; I didn't see anything about the golf bag, though). I got the yellow teddy bear, with the "sitting bear" stamp, because it's probably something I can give to one of my students.

As for the quality of the coffee within the can - it's a darker roast flavor, with artficial creamer and sweetener. Not as bad as most of the cheaper can coffees, but not worth the extra 10 yen at the stores. Most can coffee is intended to sit on the shelves for months, so it's going to be pretty foul. Starbucks is just as expensive and equally bad. Essentially $1.50 to $2 for a 6 ounce serving. Better off waiting until you get home and make your own drip pot if you're drinking coffee for the flavor.


Dates for Nov. 30 and Dec. 1:

Birthdays (7):
Allan Sherman, 11/30/1924
Jonathan Swift, 11/30/1667
Fujio F. (Doraemon) Fujiko, 12/1/1933
Better Midler, 12/1/1945
Richard Pryor, 12/1/1940
Dick Shawn, 12/1/1923
Rex ("Nero Wolf") Stout, 12/1/1886

Died (1:)
Alister Crowley, 12/1/1947

Monday, November 28, 2011

Panson Works World Music set

Design firm PansonWorks has teamed up with Calpis Soda to present a line of 6 cell phone straps called World Musicians. It consists of Bach on drums, Beethoven on cymbals, Mozart on sax, Brahms on trumpet, Shubert on flute and Rentarou Taki on clarinet. 98 yen at grocery stores, 130 yen in conbini.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Commentary: Manga Town

(All rights reserved by their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

As I've mentioned before, there are two publication formats when it comes to manga - the "phonebooks" and the glossy cover magazine style. Because of the differences in thickness, convenience stores usually display them differently, with the magazines going into upright racks, and the phonebooks laying flat on table-like shelves. In a way, this makes it easier to see all of the magazine-types at one time because they're closer together, but it also makes it harder to identify individual titles because they overlap each other, So, when I went to Kinokuniya last time, I decided to just grab as many of the magazines as I could and take the ones I haven't already reviewed to get them out of the way. However, when I realized that there were still 6 or so that I hadn't read before, I got kind of depressed. I spent at least 15 minutes looking over the phonebooks trying to pick ones that had good freebies and a Christmas theme. There weren't any that fit the requirement, so I ended up buying 3 magazines anyway.

(Crayon Shin-chan. His mother rips her pants after eating too much junk food, and tries to decide how to lose weight.)

The first of the three is Manga Town. This is one of the magazines that I don't really care for, in that it's largely a collection of yon-koma (4-panel) strips, with no serialized stories. In and of itself, yon-koma is fine in small doses, but having 200 pages of short strips one after the other is just too much for me. On top of which, most of the artwork is either childish or amateurish. The only strip with name recognition is Crayon Shin-chan. Originally, Crayon ran in Weekly Manga Action, but with the death of creator Yoshito Usui (he fell from a mountain cliff while hiking on Sept. 11, 2009), the title was resumed by his staff members in Manga Town (same publisher) starting in 2010.

(Haken Senshi Noriko - Dispatch Soldier Noriko. In the right strip, Noriko's captain asks her partner if the partner is on patrol alone. She answers that no, she's with Noriko. The joke finishes with "the sewers have their dangers, too". In the left strip, a thief gets nabbed by Noriko and thinks that she's unable to take him down so he just runs away. In the last panel, he's completely exhausted, and pleads to have her let him go.)

The new version of Crayon feels kind of derivative, and is joined by "Shin-Men", a parody of Power Rangers-style action teams where the team is made up of 5 versions of Shin-chan. Kind of too much of a good things.

I don't recognize most of the other titles. One, though, "Shonen Ashibe", was turned into a short-lived TV anime back in the 90's when I first came to Japan. The main characteristic of Ashibe is that he always carries a live arctic seal under his arm.

(Shonen Ashibe. The teacher arrives to the classroom to find one of the students trying to bully money from a classmate. She takes the boy home to complain about him, and the mother yells at him to not extort from those in his own class.)

Summary: Unless you're able to read Japanese, and enjoy the short 4-panel gag format, Manga Town is completely ignorable. 320 yen, 220 pages. Monthly.


Birthdays for the Week:
L. Sprague de Camp, 11/27/1907
C.S. Lewis, 11/29/1898
Allan Sherman, 11/30/1924
Jonathan Swift, 11/30/1667
Fujio F. (Doraemon) Fujiko, 12/1/1933

Died this Week:
John Carradine, 11/27/1988
Ada Lovelace, 11/27/1852
Godfrey Cambridge, 11/29/1976
George Harrison, 11/29/2001
Robert ("Avilion") Holdstock, 11/29/2009
Bill (voice of Bullwinkle) Scott, 11/29/1985
Carl Stalling, 11/29/1972
Alister Crowley, 12/1/1947
Dezi ("I Love Lucy") Arnaz, 12/2/1986
Marquis de Sade, 12/2/1814

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pacman and Afternoon Lemon Tea

Kirin's 午後の紅茶 (Afternoon Tea, Lemon flavor) is being packaged with a line of 4 or 5 Pacman cell phone straps. Nothing on the Kirin website mentioning the campaign, of course. The straps are all pretty much the same design, just different colors for the ghosts, and different arrangements between the ghost and the yellow dots. However, in an interesting twist, each strap is designed to be clipped on to the next one, allowing you to make a chain as long as you like. 130 yen per bottle of tea at the conbini.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Coffee Land Rover

Georgia had been packaging Jaguar Land Rovers with their can coffee. The only real drawback to the design is that the glossy all-black surface washes out in the photo, removing the curves and lines that make the vehicle itself look pretty cool. This is another one of those 1"-long "pull back and let go spring-loaded toys".

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Review: Acony, vol. 1

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

Acony isn't all that well documented in English, but at least the first few chapters have been scanilated on Manga Fox. Fortunately, artist Kei Toume has a pretty good write-up on wikipedia. Kei should be recognizable to western fans as the creator of Lament of the Lamb and Kurogane. Her art style is characterized by a thin, almost wavering line, and very cynical facial expressions. Her background scenes are highly detailed, and her characters are fairly dynamic. Acony is kind of a slice-of-life sitcom, so there's not a lot of action or any fighting at all. Most of the humor comes from a combination of dialog and the physical poses of the characters as they interact. Since you can read volume 1 on Manga Fox, I'm not going to get into too much of a story summary here.

Acony, by Kei Toume, Grade: A
13-year-old Motomi Utsuki has been shipped off by his mother to stay in a boarding house with his grandfather. His mother, Shizue, is described as a sort of headhunter for researchers, and spends a lot of time traveling to other countries, leaving Motomi more or less on his own. When he gets to the apartment building, he encounters various weirdnesses, such as an invisible landlord (he's a 100-year-old poltergeist), and a black-clad girl that plays with scissors and mice. His grandfather, a designer of box art for plastic model kits, doesn't help the boy's understanding of the situation much, just replying "it is what you see". As the weeks go by, Motomi slowly starts to fit in, but never quite completely

("Welcome to the neighborhood. Here's a gift.")

The girl is Acony Lanchester. She looks to be 13, but in fact she'd died in a laboratory explosion 10 years previously and was mysteriously reanimated. Her father is an American who writes gothic horror under a Japanese pen name. Her mother is Yuri Shikajima, a Japanese woman who had been born in the boarding house, but had traveled to the U.S. to attend a university in Massachusetts where she met and married Lanchester. After the explosion Yuri hasn't been seen since. While Acony looks to be a young girl with a lot of free time on her hands (for befriending the bats Chiru and Iru, and messing around with insects), she is in fact 23 and has been home-schooled by her father to qualify for entry into College de Sorbonne.

(Grandpa, Motomi, and Shizue)

There are two other occupants of the building that Motomi has seen so far: Misono and Satou. Misono is Lanchester's editor. During the day she's beautiful and lively. At night, she drinks and plays mahjong until dawn and then just looks like a mess. As for Satou, all we know as of the end of volume 1 is that there are 16 of him.


Acony is what we would have gotten if Charles Addams had created Wednesday as an only-child living with a single parent. The dark humor is great, and Acony is obviously at ease with her companions after death. On the other hand, she's starting to notice that after 10 years, her hair and fingernails are very slowly starting to grow again, which may be leading to complications in the future. My only comment is that the scar over her left eye is inconsistent, going over to the side of her face in some panels, and being almost invisible in others.

(Lanchester and Misono)

The characters are all oddballs in one way or another. Even the one "normal" school girl that comes to visit Motomi with two classmates turns out to be a war buff, recognizing the Soviet T-35 that Motomi's grandfather is drawing for his current work assignment. She leaves happily with a signed drawing from the artist. In volume 1, the first few pages are in glossy color, and act as little portraits of the girl, her father, and a doll that decides to own her. It's a fun story, if you like dark humor, and is a pretty easy read in Japanese. Definitely recommended.

Note: I don't really know the spelling for Acony's last name, since it's only given in katakana. The Manga Fox translation also gives it as "Lanchester". I'm going with this since it matches Elsa Lanchester, the actress who played the "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) (she's also Miss Marbles in Murder by Death).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Which one did you see - White or Black?

Naoki Urasawa's manga, Billy Bat is actually a fascinating story if you know the background. Set just prior to the Kennedy assassination, it ties together the 1949 death of Japan National Railway company president Sadanori Shimoyama, the events leading up to JFK's 1963 assassination, and the fictionalized version of Walt Disney who has stolen the character of a Japanese-American's comicbook (which in turn was unconsciously taken from a character drawn by a Japanese artist just after WW II and supposedly shown up in Jump magazine (the problem being that Weekly Shonen Jump started in 1968. Sunday and Magazine were the earliest successful boys magazines and they both started in 1959). Part of the story revolves around the fictionalized Disneyland, which in real life opened in California in 1955 (one of the characters states that because she's black the one in Florida won't let her in, but Disney World didn't open until 1971). Obviously, not all of the Billy Bat story is based on solid fact, but there's enough reality woven in through everything else to make for a compelling read.

Urasawa, as I've written before, has this tendency to make his intrigue stories twisted enough that it's better to wait for a large number of books to come out and then read them back-to-back several times. This is because he lays down so much ground work at the beginning that the rest of the story unfolds very slowly at the start, but it all ties back together again later when you've forgotten about all of it. Reading the story again, there's the "oh, THAT'S what that was about" feeling that justifies the wait.

Another thing that Urasawa likes to do is include contemporary pop-culture references. One of the sideline characters is a kamishibai artist that becomes the manga artist who draws the first "Billy Bat" strip in Tokyo. This guy, Zofuu Karama, wants to rival Tezuka, and he uses the original copy of "Shin Takarajima" as his incentive, claiming Osamu to be a "rival". Zofuu could be based on Shichima Sakai, the kamishibai artist that gave Tezuka his break in getting Shin Takara-jima published as a rental book.

(Advertising banner at a bookstore, for volume 6.)

Billy Bat jumps around in time and space, from Edo-era Iga province to post-War Tokyo, "modern" LA to Dallas at the time of the shooting. There are real players, such as Lee Harvey Oswald and the Jesuit priest Francis Xavier added to the mix. So, again, it takes time and patience to figure out what all the connecting threads are. I think it's worth it at the end.

(Xavier Park memorial - Anjiro on the left, Xavier in the middle.)

Actually, I consider the Francis Xavier plot thread to be interesting as well. I've written before about the memorials to him here in Kagoshima, His initial landing point when he first visited Japan was just a mile north from Dolphin Port. The Xavier Church is across the street from another memorial set in Xavier Park, just 6 blocks from my apartment (I walk past it whenever I go to Tenmonkan, or to the International Exchange Center). The public records here don't say anything about ninjas accompanying his trip, though. (Xavier's first disciple, Anjiro or Yajiro, actually was from Satsuma, now present-day Kagoshima. Yajiro had killed someone and escaped Japan to avoid sentencing. He went to Goa, where Xavier found him and picked him to be a guide back to Japan.) One other deviation from history is that Xavier is recorded as having died in China, while the manga puts him in Iga prefecture in Japan.

Notable events for the next few days:

Steven Brust, 11/23/1955
Boris Karloff, 11/23/1887
Harpo Marx, 11/23/1888
Forrest J Ackerman, 11/24/1916
Poul Anderson, 11/25/1926
L. Sprague de Camp, 11/27/1907

Roald ("The Gremlins") Dalh, 11/23/1990
Freddy Mercury, 11/24/1991

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lipton One Piece Cookie Mascot

Lipton's Tea and One Piece have teamed up for a Milk Tea Cookie Mascot cell phone strap campaign. 12 strap designs, each looking like a frosted cookie with one of the main One Piece characters on top. I found this one in the Coco conbini, for 130 yen a bottle. Of the designs, only Brook looked all that good, and I liked the fact that he was relaxing with what's probably a hot cafe latte, while being packaged with a bottle of cold tea. Oh, the irony. Interestingly, too, the campaign actually does have a supporting website. Cool.

On the plus side, the straps really do look like cookies, and I get hungry every time I look at them.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Police lights extensions

What do you do if your cars tend to be smaller than those in other countries? Put your police lights on extenders.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Commentary: Weekly Morning

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

I've had a long-running love-hate relationship with Weekly Morning. On the one hand, it has some really dumb, or really badly drawn manga that I dislike looking at. Currently, this includes Cooking Papa (a story where every chapter contains a problem that can only be solved by introducing a new recipe) and Kami no Shizuku (where characters are transported into wild flights of fancy on the mere sip of an over-priced wine). On the other hand, Morning also serializes Chi's Sweet Home (a cute story from the point of view of a stray kitten), and Billy Bat (about a bat). Past manga includes What's Michael, Devil Lady, Gon and perhaps the greatest of them all - Vagabond.

What's Michael and Gon were both great gag strips featuring animals, with pro-level artwork and dead-on comic timing. Chii's Sweet Home isn't nearly at the same level, but the Japanese used is easy to follow, making it good learning practice. I love Naoki Urasawa's Yawara and Pineapple Army, so I'm interested to see what he does with Billy Bat. However, his intrigue/suspense stories tend to wander so far around the map that I prefer to wait until several of the collected volumes have come out and read them start to finish several times. As for Vagabond, this is just pure magical genius, both in the art and the storytelling. Unfortunately, it looks like Inoue fell ill back around the beginning of the year and the series has been on hiatus since then. Book Off has used copies of the last volume, #33, and the story runs up to about where the chapters on Manga Fox end. A year ago last Fall, NHK ran a 1-hour special on Inoue, hyping the fact that Vagabond was nearing its final climax, so I'm betting that if/when he recovers and starts drawing again, sales of Morning are going to explode, as will those for the last book, #34.

(Uchu Kyoudai)

Morning is aimed at an adult male audience, with an emphasis on food (Cooking Papa), drink (Kami no Shizuku), sports (soccer - Giant Killing, baseball - Gurazeni, boxing - Rise Shoulder), 4-panel gags, slice of life (A Lion from the North), yakuza stories, and Edo-era dramas (Hyouge Mono). The artwork is all over the place, with titles that look gorgeous (Kami no Shizuku) and those that are just raw scribbles. A large bulk of them are wish fulfillment (Giant Killing, which pretends that Japan has a world-class soccer team; Silent Service, which pretends that Japan has naval officers that can outmaneuver all other countries, finished; We Are Beatles, which pretends that Japanese musicians are as good at doing rock as the Beatles were; and Uchu Kyoudai, which pretends that Japan has a serious space program). I should mention that Axe artist Shigeyuki Fukumitsu also has a story in Morning. Ignoring all that, I used to buy it religiously just for Vagabond. Now, I just sample the Billy Bat chapters.

Weekly Morning is 320 yen for about 450 pages. The cover art is usually based on one of the on-going titles. No freebies, but there are drawings for prizes described at the back of the magazine. Odds are that most western fans would get it for We Are Beatles and Billy Bat.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy Sympathies!

A long time ago, back in the 80's, there was a publisher of intellectual materials that had a catalog that would be mailed out to customers that had on one page a list of famous writers and classical musicians that had been born or died in that month. I no longer remember the name of the publisher, and I was never on their mailing list, I just saw the catalog occasionally at a friend's house. But every so often I think about it, and the names of the people that I consider interesting that would show up in each issue.

I'm just starting to put together a list of names that I want to have included in my database, so it's still woefully incomplete. The emphasis so far is on early film comedians with some actors, and more modern musicians thrown in. If you can think of names to add (I really want more scientists like Pascal and Volte, and classical artists like Rembrandt, plus, of course, any manga artists), feel free to put them in a comment. If I like them, I'll gladly use them.

I'm not going to print the names every day. Maybe once a week, or at the beginning of the month. Depends on how much work this turns out to be. Anyway...

Happy Birthday to:
Monty Python's Terry Gilliam, born 11/22/1940
Harpo Marx, born 11/23/1888
Boris Karloff, born 11/23/1887

Sympathies to:
Carl Stalling (music director for most Loony Toons), died 11/29/1972
Bill Scott (voice for Bullwinkle), died 11/29/1985
Godfrey Cambridge, died 11/29/1976
Leonard Barr (look him up), died 11/22/1980

Belated Happy Birthday to:
Bram Stoker, born 11/8/1847
Daws Butler (voice actor), born 11/16/1916

Belated Symaphies to:
Dwight Frye (Dracula's Renfield), died 11/7/1943
Jack Palance, died 11/10/2006
James Coburn, died 11/18/2002

Friday, November 18, 2011

Umi ga Suki

Got whale? Drinking on the first floor, singing on the second.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: Murder Princess, vol. 2

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

Murder Princess, vol. 2, by Sekihiko Inui, Grade: D.

Things get complicated for our Princess Alita and the bounty hunter, body-switch Ferith. First, Alita has to come to terms with the fact that her older brother, the esteemed knight Kaito, has become a man-slayer. This is soon followed by reports that headless bodies are showing up around town, and when Alita tries following Ferith outside late at night, she witnesses the Death God Dominikov (one of Ferith's two companions) kill someone that had attempted to kill her. Dominikov explains that he's been demon hunting, lopping the heads of off humans that are doing evil deeds, before they can turn into monsters. The reason there have been a growing number of possible monster cases is that "history has been messed with" - that is, when Alita fell from the cliff she should probably have died, rather than landing on Ferith. This is a bit more than Alita can cope with, and she goes to a church to pray for guidance, making her an easy target for mad scientist Akamashi and his two robot girls - Ana and Yuna. Ana had overheard the situation regarding Alita's and Ferith's bodyswap, and Alita is used as a hostage to lure Ferith to Akamashi's lab. His goal is the same "key" Kaito had demanded in volume 1 - a small carved stone.

(Back cover. Dark Knight and Cecelia.)

Ferith arrives at the lab and says that she'd thought it was candy and she'd eaten it. Ana attacks her to cut the stone out, but the battle is interrupted when the Dark Knight, and Cecilia the magic user intervene to steal both Akamashi's stone and to kill him. Ferith fights the Dark Knight, destroying his helmet and revealing him to be Kaito, in mid-transition to becoming a demon. Cecilia warps out with Kaito, promising to fight the two enraged robots at a later time.

(Inside front cover, re-rendered in American style.)

Alita takes in Ana and Yuna in the castle, and the gang gets filled in on the existence of a magic spring that requires 4 carved stones to unlock its powers. The stones have been divided up among the rulers of the four neighboring countries, and Akamashi and Cecilia had been working more or less together to collect them, until the witch turned on the scientist and killed him. That evening, Alita asks why Ferith became a bounty hunter, and the currently-acting princess says that she'd grown up in a small village which had been attacked and destroyed by some soldiers. She was taken in by a renegade knight that had escaped his battalion, but his former comrades caught up to him and killed him. She learned to fight and tried to become stronger to get revenge on the "Black Eagle" brigade. From there, she met up with her partners Dominikov and Peat, and they became world-class hunters. The group then decides to set out for the spring and to stop Cecilia.

(Inside back cover.)

However, Cecilia brings the fight to the castle, invading with a bunch of demons, plus Kaito. The group engages, with Ana and Yuna deciding to attack the witch. But things get a bit screwed-up storywise and I have to assume that some pages are missing from the volume. While fighting Dominikov, Cecilia says that her real goal is to just turn back the pages of history and restore the dark ages of the past. Ferith engages Kaito, and when she gets knocked down, Alita sneaks up and stabs Kaito in the back of the neck. Kaito recalls all of the fighting he'd done, which had tainted him and turned him into a monster. As he dies, Alita states that life will go on and the people of the country will move past the temptation towards evil. Suddenly the story jumps forward. Ferith is in the castle with Dominikov and Peat, saying that it's time for her to move on and be a bounty hunter again. There's absolutely no word on what happened to Cecilia, Ana or Yuna, leaving me to guess that they'd killed each other. There's also no mention of the two stones that Cecilia had gathered. Ferith makes a comment about taking her "key" and looking for the spring, but she gets talked into staying at the castle and ruling over the country instead. A final closing comment states that in the future, when the people of the country hear "Alita" being called the Murder Princess, they would just laugh the remark off.

(Frontispiece, with Ferith in bounty hunter form.)

Summary: The volume starts out good, with fighting, intrigue and strange plot twists. But it completely falls apart at the end and the final resolution makes no sense at all. Either Inui was rushed, or several pages were cut from the last chapter. Read this one for the artwork, but be prepared to be disappointed if you care about plot holes.

(Ferith as the Princess Alita, Murder Princess.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wendy 8081

I walked past this sign enough times that I finally decided to take a shot of it. They sell t-shirts and knick knacks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Take lantern

I was in my twenties when personal computers started hitting the market in the U.S., and becoming (well not really) "affordable". My first usable toy was the Commodore 64. While it did have graphics capability, it only had 64 K of RAM, so the games available were pretty limited. By contrast, I'd worked part-time as a tech in the Physics lab at the university and they had a DEC PDP-11 minicomputer, with games on mag tape. One of the games was the original text adventure ADVENT. During my breaks, I used to play ADVENT just to see if I could break my record of fewest rounds to finish. Later, similar games came out, specifically HAUNT and DUNGEON, but they were buggy and I always got stuck somewhere, unable to finish. Eventually, the Infocom company started up and brought DUNGEON to the market under the name Zork I. At this point, I was hooked on text adventure games and I made a point of buying up everything Infocom put out. Unfortunately, their software quality went downhill with each new product and some of the games would simply crash in the middle. I never did finish the Hitchhiker's game because of that. And of course, home computers got better, the C-64 became obsolete and the asteroid hit earth, killing off all the dinosaurs.

Over the years, I'd be reminded of ADVENT, and once in a while I'd surf the net to find a Flash port of the game. But, in the last few days I've gotten more antsy and started digging harder.

I found a port of the original DUNGEON, but the thief never showed up, so I gave up and tried Zork I. There's no save function, but with the walkthrough, I was able to finish it off in a couple of hours. Now I need to decide if I want to play Zork II all the way through, given how much I really NEED that save function...

If you want to flip through the various text adventure games, check out the archives

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sakura-jima lava-covered shrine gate

In 1914, the mountain on Sakura-jima island erupted. The subsequent ball of fire from the cone lasted for days and was the subject of many local artists, including Seiki Kuroda. Apparently the majority of the islanders had been alerted and moved to safety in advance because the water in the wells had started to boil, similar to what had happened prior to the 1779 eruption. However, over 600 houses were buried under the magma, which then filled up the part of the bay on the east side to the point where it created a land bridge to the rest of Kyushu.

(Map of different lava flows throughout history. The 1914 lava flow is shown in purple.)

The island has since been repopulated, and there are a few thousand people that put up with the ash clouds to live there. Industries include growing daikon and mikan (Japanese radishes and oranges), fishing and ceramics. Most of the houses are at the north side, which is better protected from the winds coming up from the ocean. There are a couple small parks or scenic view areas around the island. The one shown above is dedicated to the lava flow in the area.

This photo was also taken from the south side, but the overcast weather helped hide the crater on this side.

While most of the lava flow is now hidden under the buildings that have been built over it, during excavation work for putting in a junior high school, the torii (gate) of the main temple shrine had been uncovered, buried under 3 meters (over 9 feet) of lava and ash. The village chief ordered the excavation to be halted with the gate still buried, and the school was built around it. It's part of what appears to be a small side alley, but it's blocked off to traffic. The street running in front of the school is on the same level as the ground around the gate, meaning that the entire valley had been filled up with ash to at least the same depth.

While I was there, several tour buses of school kids, and taxis with tourists stopped to allow some sightseeing. There's nothing else in the area, so once they get a look at the gate, everyone immediately gets back into the vehicles and leaves.

From the marker sign:

"Buried shrine gate speaks of the fury of the eruption
Buried in Ash
-- a torii buried in ash from the 1914 eruption --

From three days before, the people knew it was coming. Water in wells all over the island started boiling, shoals of dead fish floated ashore, and the earth shook intermittently.

According to records, the same omens were observed before the An'ei eruption of 1779.

On January 12, 1914 Akamizu-jo on West Sakurajima blew dark smoke at 10:05 am. Ten minutes later, the top of Nabe peak blew off with a terrific explosion.

Thick, black smoke rose 7,000 meters into the sky and covered the whole island. The roar was incessant and cinders fell continuously. The next day lava started spouting. Three billion ton red wave crossed the strait and permanently welded Sakurajima onto Osumi Peninsula.

Here in Kurokami 687 houses were buried in hot ash. Only the top beam of this three meter high torii to Haragosha Shrine can be seen now. Village chief, Nozoe, stopped excavation work to show the fury of the eruption to later generations. It is now designated as a prefectural cultural property."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Commentary: Morning Tsu

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

Morning Tsu (2) is a recent spin off from Weekly Morning, having come out irregularly since 2006, and supposedly on a monthly schedule from 2008. It has a rougher feel than Weekly Morning, probably because some of the stories are actually winners of past reader submission contests. There is a lot of similarity between the two publications, in that some of the 4-panel gag strips are by the same artists (or ones parodying each other), and the art styles are all over the place. Having said that, Morning 2 is slightly more expensive for a lower page count (400 yen for 400 pages, compared to 320 yen for 450 pages for Morning), and doesn't have any big-name manga or artists to point to right now, since as of this issue, the creator of Saint Young Men is taking a maternity break. On the other hand, there are several titles that have some promise from some fairly experienced people.

(Morning 2 is one of the only magazines with wrap-around cover art.)

Probably the one artist of any note, is Peko Watanabe with Niko Tama. This issue features the first chapter of Daisuke Nishijima's Subete ga chotto zutsu yasashii sekai. It has a very experimental feel to it, and is about a child ghost in a ghost world. According to his profile, Daisuke has a couple of books and comics to his name. Another one that shows promise is Hayami Rasenjin's Cannons and Stamps, which features a young man in a WW II-like battlefield but with cute furry animal pets. The artwork is very clean, but the character designs are classic "cute kid" style. Finally, there's Fantasium, by Ami Sugimoto, about a kid that has promising stage magician skills. Because I used to do stage magic, I'm usually unimpressed with manga or comics that try to show tricks that don't work that way (i.e. - Magic Kaito and Detective Boy Conan), but the artwork and presentation in Fantasium isn't that bad. I'd have to follow more of the series to say anything about whether some of the secrets behind the tricks are being revealed, but in this episode they're not.

(Cannons and Stamps)

Morning 2 doesn't have anything that I want to read consistently, but there is a "jewel in the rough" quality about the magazine that makes it appealing. Worth sampling over time.

(Niko Tama)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Small Adventure #22

There's a growing, but still very small, dissatisfaction with certain problems in Japan. Primarily, it's with nuclear power, brought to a head by the continually-growing crisis at Fukushima following the Mar. 11 quake. Even the newspapers are finally disclosing some of the stories, including the fact that the big electrical power company - TEPCO - had suppressed maintenance work on the safety features that had led to the explosion. Additionally, TEPCO had inserted employees at government-led meetings to ask pro-nuke questions, and had them attend political rallies and buying tickets for meet-the-politician campaigns (the agency is barred from contributing to political campaigns directly) as a form of contributing to the campaigns indirectly. The details are slowing making their way to the public, and a tiny handful of the public is getting unhappy with it.

One of the results is that a few people, like university professors, are hosting blogs to complain about the situation more vocally, and setting up gatherings where they can meet and talk in person. Recently, we were invited to one such gathering, where the focus was anti-war, and the highlight was a showing of the Iraq war-related film Route Irish. As for the gathering itself - the discussion was limited to the acting in the film, and even though it was in English with Japanese subtitles, the editing of the film was so tight that I got lost in the middle. It's a great anti-Iraq war propaganda piece, but the story is confusing and I found the ending weak.

Anyway, what interested me was the apartment building that the event was held in. My building is very new and very modern. There are some sliding doors, but they're made of solid wood, and the design as a whole is western, if extremely compact. In contrast, this other place was in an older neighborhood just west of the Tenmonkan shopping complex, mixed in with some offices and the Honganji temple building. The first floor is just an open parking area, with the water pipes running along the ceiling. The pipes were all thick with rust, and I kept looking for dripping leaks (Japanese developers still insist on using iron and plain steel, which turns to rust in a matter of just a few years in the salt air here). The room had the older tatami mat floors, and paper screen sliding doors. The living room doubled as the bed room, with the one futon rolled up and stored in the side closet. The main sliding door was pulled out and leaned against the wall to make room for the kotatsu table and projector. In all, there was just enough space to hold the 8 people that attended. Outside, the hall was plain concrete covered with a cheap whitewash. The apartment doors were big, heavy iron reinforced things that made the hallway look like a maximum security prison.

The most interesting part, though, was the room numbering. The apartment was in the 800's, so we expected to find it on the 8th floor. But it was just a 7 story building and the apartments on the top floor all started with "700". Instead, when we went to the 4th floor, and we found the 800's apartments there.

This is like with hotels in America that don't have a 13th floor because "13" is an unlucky number. In Japan, the word for 4 is "shi", which is also the word for "death". Because many Japanese renters would prefer to not have an address like "death-00", the landlord decided to renumber the rooms instead. The elevator still ran from 1 to 7, but the numbers on the doors went 1, 2, 3, 8, 5, 6, 7. I guess this aversion to "shi" extends to anti-war activists, too.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Leaping Lizards

Feel free to make up your own caption. This guy was moving so fast that I only had time to take the one shot, from across the street, through traffic, and behind the signal pole.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Murder Princess, vol. 1

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

The 2 volume Murder Princess manga was released in the U.S. by Broccoli Books, while the 6 episode anime came out through Funimation. The original manga appeared in Dengeki Daioh from 2005 to 2007. Artist Sekihiko Inui has also written Ratman, Comic Party and Gensou Shuugi (Fantasism). Because this book is available in the U.S., I'm not going to do a full review/summary of it.

(Pete and Dominikov.)

I found copies of both volumes of Murder Princess in Book Off for 100 yen each. Initially I didn't recognize it, but the name in big letters in English kept catching my eye, and the cover art was just interesting enough to justify getting it in the hopes of finding a couple of good pages to scan, The artwork is very clean, but on the verge of being static. Instead of battles, we get combat poses. That's fine for advancing the story, but there's a lack of the necessary tension and build-up for making exciting fights. The character designs are all unique and there's no chance of confusing who's who. The background art is also crisp and detailed.

(Inside front cover. The fake title is "Hell Doctor Akamashi, vol. 1". From left: Yuna, Akamashi, Ana.)

The story is fairly generic, though - Mad scientist develops two small girl robots for overthrowing the king, and as the princess runs for help, she smashes into a world-famous bounty hunter and they end up switching bodies. From here, we have the violent "fish out of water" fighter trying to keep the kingdom together. Ultimately, the villains switch from the evil but incompetent scientist, to the much more cruel and competent traitorous older brother.

(Inside back cover.)

Murder Princess isn't great literature, but it is an easy read, if you just want some fast mind candy to snack on. If you want the full story, you can probably get it used in English at Half-Price Books.
Grade: B+