Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lupin-Roots Season 2 Figures

The second season version of the Lupin III characters came out with Roots coffee at the same time as the first season, but with a different flavor of the coffee.  So, when I finally got around to collecting them, most of the Cocos conbinis had stopped carrying them, and the kiosk at the International Exchange Center had also sold out.  I would have liked to get the Zenigata because it's the most elaborate of the set (see the above photo), and Goemon simply because I like the character).  So, I have to settle for the four below.  Note that Lupin is not kissing his own shoe.  The design is for him to be kissing the coffee. One thing I like about this set is that it's built around the can of coffee itself, which is kind of rare (although some cars have magnets for circling around the can, and the one SL train used the can as the body of the train).

Friday, June 29, 2012


Back in the 80's, I studied animation and animation history, in the hopes of getting a foothold making my own films.  I was on a big Tex Avery kick, as well as collecting all the International Animation Festival tapes as they came out.  At one point, these two collided, resulting in the production of a Tex Avery Tribute festival.  There wasn't anywhere near the expected participation for the fest, with something like only 4 films being submitted.  The best, and the only one I remember, was Lazar, by Gavrilo Gnatovich.  Absolutely brilliant work by an independent animator.  Fast forward to today, and I decide to yet again try to track down Lazar and Gavrilo on the net.  The difference being, that today, I succeed.


Pre-Hysterical Daze

I remember LH and DD, too.  Must have seen them on Nick in '00.

Longhair and Doubledome - Good Wheel Hunting

Longhair and Doubledome - Where There's Smoke, There's Bob

Way. Too. Cool.

I hope he does more.  If you want to see more, visit Horrendous Fiasco.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Review: Manga Jung

It's often been said that the Japanese are more attracted to pictures, and Americans to words.  If you compare English and Japanese versions of the same webpage, this distinction becomes fairly blatant (but not always). This may be one reason why illustrated classics and biographies never really caught on in the U.S., whereas they're a big industry in Japan.  Kodansha Publishing has it's Plus Alpha line of books, and in 1997 they released "Manga Jung". (Reprinted in 2003.)

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

Shinsoushinrigaku Nyuumon (Deep Psychology Digest), by Osamu Ishida, Grade A, 227 pages, 580 yen.
Ishida isn't coming up much on a google search. The only other manga credit for him is a book on Newton.  In either case, Ishida is a good, solid artist and he does a good job in portraying an overview of Jung's personal and public life.  Unlike with many western illustrated books, the characters actually look like their photos.  I can't comment on the accuracy of the personal details, or on Jung's views of psychotherapy, but the manga doesn't really go into serious depth on the science side.

(Jung with his first patient.)

The story starts with a dream where Carl Jung, as a child, is confronted by sexual images centering around his mother. It then switches to his consultation of a woman suppressing memories of having killed her child with a man born after she'd married someone else. This is followed by his recognition that an old woman in an asylum is suffering from schizophrenia.  From here, there's a flashback to when he first met, and then later married Emma Rauschenbach, and then when the two of them went to Vienna for Carl's first meeting with Sigmund Freud.  This section continues up to when Jung and Freud had their falling out in 1913, as well as his affair with Toni Wolff.

(Jung and Freud. Jung discusses what he claims was a psychic event, and Freud dismisses it.  The break between them occurred because Freud strictly believed neurosis stemmed from repressed sexual thoughts, while Jung believed that more was going on within the subconscious than just sex.)

In the next sections, Carl starts noticing that certain symptoms (such as seeing a tail coming from the sun) and dreams have been recurring in different cultures over the centuries, leading to his belief in archetypes and a collective subconsciousness.  He visits an Indian tribe in the western U.S, takes a trip to Africa, and begins studying eastern beliefs, including mandelas and the I Ching.  This is followed by a chapter revolving around the dreams of one patient, Heinrich, and the discussion of the analysis of each one with Toni, as Jung concludes that Heinrich was suffering from a mother complex but is now cured and living happily with his wife and 3 children.  There's a short encounter with Hitler's Nazis that only lasts a couple of pages, and is followed by Jung's collapse in the snow while hiking in the hills one winter at age 69.

(African trip.)

The scene picks up with Jung in a coma in a hospital, fighting complications from having broken his leg.  He dreams of flying to an asteroid, where people in white tunics welcome him. But, the doctor arrives right behind him and talks him into returning to those waiting for him on earth.  He then recovers from the coma.  He's seen next in his office writing in a notebook, when he is visited by Toni.  She's getting on in age and her leg trembles when it's cold.  The fact that she chain smokes cigarettes and Jung always has his pipe with him doesn't help her health any. Then, in March, 1953, on the eve of the 40th anniversary since her father had died, Toni passes away in her sleep.  Jung is unable to travel due to his health and Emma attends the funeral in his place.   Later, at a party, Jung is introduced to Laurens van der Post, and they talk about their own times spent in Africa.  In 1955, Jung is walking outside with Emma, talking about his success professionally, when he casually thanks her for all the help she's given him.  She begs off, returns to the house, and is soon found by their nurse, dead in her bed.  It's only now that Jung says that he wanted her to stay with him.  From here, he continues building his own house, goes on TV, and generally becomes a household name.  Finally, on June 6, 1961, on his deathbed, Jung says "the preparations for my life are complete".  As he dies, Van der Post, in Africa, claims to see Jung saying goodbye to him.  (Van der Post was one of the sources of "close associate" biographical writings on Jung, but at least some of it has been discounted.)  The last 6 pages is a chronology for Carl Jung.

(Final farewell.)

Summary: Japanese illustrated biographies on famous people tend to be much better drawn, more detailed and better received.  They may not always be 100% accurate, due to cultural biases, or literary license, but they're usually an improvement over what shows up in the west.  I doubt anyone is going to find a copy of this specific book, but I recommend that you check out similar illustrated manga biographies if you have the opportunity.  In the meantime, read about Jung in English, either on wikipedia, or at the library.  "He's a shmott guy".

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kagoshima Jazz Station

On June 24th, Kagoshima had a small Jazz festival at the plaza in front of the Chou train station.  It ran all day, but there were heavy showers off and on, so the audience stayed fairly small.  When I dropped by, there was a hip-hop jazz fusion group playing.  The group itself consisted of the two singers and the keyboard player.  The other four were a back-up band that kept playing when the singers' set ended.  The song wasn't bad, but I didn't feel like recording it with the camera.  The idea of jazz hip-hop could be promising, but I always feel that Japanese rappers kind of miss the point.  They rap as just another music style, with lyrics that simply don't work right for it.  When I hear Japanese hip-hop, I always change the channel.

Actually, I've seen ads for Jazz in Kagoshima for the last few months.  The performances were spread out a few weeks apart.  The first performance was a couple months ago, and had the really big names lined up, but it was maybe $40 for tickets.  I didn't see anyone listed in the second set that I was interested in, and the final performance was the free show on the 24th.

(At least they were enjoying themselves.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Small Adventures #29

When I went to the International Exchange Center to attend the Friday lunchtime English lecture a few weeks ago, one of the other guys that drops by occasionally was there.  He's an electronics tech from Georgia, so we got to talking about electronics, and how it would be really nice to have a place like Akihabara down here in Kagoshima.  He mentioned that there is a components shop just off Tram Street, near where I'd gotten hit, but he didn't remember the name of the shop.  So, a few days later, when I was getting some exercise, I decided to go to that intersection.  All I could find there was a place called "My Shyodo".  The first floor had lighting fixtures, hard drives, and iPad headphones.  The second floor carried shortwave radios, and the third had audio components and systems.  Over the following few days, I'd be back at that intersection, and no matter where I looked, that's all that I could find.

Eventually, I needed to get an audio cable with RCA jacks at one end and a mini-stereo jack at the other, plus a pair of laptop stereo speakers to plug the cable into.  My Shyodo had both, but when I got home, I discovered that the audio cable from the speakers wasn't detachable.  So now, I had the cables with the male jack trying to connect to the male jack of the speakers.  Back I go to My Shoyo and they don't have a male-male adapter.  Figuring that the best place to get something like this is an audio shop, I go up to the third floor and really look around for the first time. The place is amazing, with thousand-dollar vacuum tube amps and receivers, and one entire glass case dedicated to phonograph needles.  Very upscale.  But, no adapter.

I go to the shop owner and tell him what I want.  He says to follow him, and we take the elevator back to the first floor, walk out the back door, through the covered parking lot, and up an outdoor staircase to a different shop on the second floor in a different building.  And here, are rows and rows of parts.  The main focus is on home wiring, so lots of fans, circuit breakers, light switches and security cameras.  But, one row has cabinets of resistors, caps, CMOS, and other stuff (I couldn't get close to check it all, because the employees were rewiring a light fixture over that section).  Now I can get there from the street, but without knowing what to look for, I'd been walking past this place for over a year.  The next time I have a few free hours for tinkering, I'm going to get a soldering iron, a solder sucker, some wire, a couple 50 K-ohm pots, and some switches.

It's not as well-stocked as any of the places in Akihabara, but it's better than nothing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lupin Roots TV 1 Lupin

I went back to the International Exchange Center, and stopped at the kiosk where they have Roots coffee at 30 yen off.  I was planning on getting the second set of Roots-Lupin figures, but all they had was a couple leftover from the first season, including the one of Lupin I was still missing.  As I was looking over the 2 spares sitting on the top of the case, the owner told me to take both of them, because the coffee itself had already been sold.  To be nice, I bought a more upscale can of coffee and a pack of taffy candy.  I broke even on what it would have cost if I'd paid for the original Lupin and spare Zenigata outright.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Commentary: Monthly Gessan

I mentioned a long time ago that the four main "weekly shonen" magazines once had both weekly and monthly versions of each title. Part of the concept of the monthly versions was to provide a stage for the newer artists in their stables, resulting a cruder look, and a lack of any real sales pull.  Eventually, Jump and Sunday dropped the monthly editions, retweaked the concept, and released them under new names, but aimed at largely the same market - older male teens and younger adults. 

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

The monthly version of Shonen Sunday is now called Gessan (Get the Sun).  550 yen, 724 pages.
Started in 2009, Gessan is celebrating its 3rd year anniversary with this issue, although the only obvious displays are the back cover and a few special pages at the front and back.  The artwork hovers close to "average".  That is, many of the titles have decent character designs and backgrounds, but there's little that stands out as REALLY good or REALLY bad.  However, on the whole I still think that most of the artists here are just starting out. Genres include sports (baseball, kendo), fantasy, Edo-era drama and fighting.

(Full cast on the back cover.)

I've long liked Mitsuru Adachi, starting with Touch, and then going up through Katsu and H2.  For me, he's best when sticking to baseball manga.  He had Q&A (the ghost of a boy's older brother helps the younger one cope with bullies in school) running through Gessan up to a few months ago, but I didn't follow it that closely.  In this issue, Adachi is starting up a new baseball manga, called Mix.  So far, the plot hasn't been spelled out.  Three kids, 2 brothers and a younger sister, are starting a new school year at a junior high that has a weak baseball program.  A few kids try out for the team, but they get assigned positions that don't match their real skills.  The team's ace pitcher appears to be the son of a rich family, so the coach makes sure that there's no competition for him.  The starting mystery is how the two brothers, who were born on the same day, claim to not be twins.


Looking at the wiki listing, there haven't been any manga that have really gotten popular with western fans.  The titles that I consider mentioning are:


Ayashiya, by Mutsumi Banno.
Only on chapter 4, this seems to be a demon-hunting series. A girl and her brother have to deal with a demon that has possessed the brother.  The girl spends her time with a secret society of demon hunters, while the brother tries to defeat demons that eat humans.  The artwork is very strong, and the character designs are fun.  Lots of slapstick humor in with the more serious elements.


Chirori, by Aiko Koyama.
No real information on this title.  Looks to be set at a seaside bed and breakfast run by a middle-aged woman with a younger girl helping.  In this chapter, the owner and the girl are sitting at a table overlooking the sea, drinking coffee and having a general conversation.  The owner decides that they need cookies (biscuits) to go with the coffee, and the two of them start baking up a batch.  However, the scent of the cookies attracts a gaggle of women guests, who descend on the dining room and threaten to eat up all the cookies.  Very light, airy line work and simple, feminine character designs.


Asagiro, by Minoru Hiramatsu.
Very violent, graphic samurai drama set in the Edo-era.

Aoi Honoo, by Kazuhiko Shimamoto.
Very overblown "drama" of a struggling manga artist.  The main character, Honoo, agonizes over every little detail of the manga production process, and will take 3 "action-packed" panels to race for the phone in the anticipation of a call from his editor.  This may explain why he's so unsuccessful.  Good, solid artwork, silly character designs, dumb story.

Lonely Alien (Hitoribocchi no Chikyuu Shinryaku), by Maiko Ogawa
School boy makes friends with a girl living in an abandoned train car. Solid artwork, although the backgrounds are drawn in a thinner line with lots of white space.  Standard manga school kid character designs.  Simple story featuring the regular school dramas.  Some silly visual gags.

Imoto Sensei Nagisa (Subtitled: Hot for My Samurai Teacher), by Kenichi Muraeda.
School kids studying kendo under a female instructor.  Solid artwork; clean, airy character designs.  Good action sequences, without too many long conversations between swings.

Bullet Armors, by Moritya.
Futuristic mecha combat.  Thick, muddy linework, silly mecha designs.  Aimed at kids.

(Mix clear file.)

The freebies this time are a pair of clear files, for Mix and Waltz.

(Waltz clear file.)

Over all, Gessan doesn't have a lot to offer to western fans, outside of Mix, Mutsumi Banno and Chirori.  However, I'd say that if you like any of Adachi's other works, you'll want to follow Mix.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chicken brick

I was walking (hobbling) through Kagoshima, near the Tenmonkan shopping center, when I saw this painted rock on the ground next to a parking lot.  No idea if someone is protesting the presence of unpainted rocks, or paying tribute to a former pet chicken.

Friday, June 22, 2012


You can kind of guess what you're looking at.  These were taken on June 18, and are scans of black and white printouts.  So, they're kind of low quality.  The break isn't very clear here, but in the CT scan it's easier to tell that the bone ends are just barely starting to fuse together.  After three months, my healing rate seems to be much slower than expected.

(Closer look at the break detail.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kitaro Collection, vol. 1

And we're back with another Mizuki book.  At this point, I'm tempted to create a Mizuki Database, to go along with the Akira Toriyama, Geobreeders and Moyashimon Databases.  However, I don't quite have enough material to work with yet.  On the other hand, it may be time to discuss a bit of history.

(Shigeru, early photo.)

Taken from the wiki entry, Shigeru Mizuki was born on the west coast of Japan, in Sakaiminato, on Mar. 8, 1922 (the cover flap of this book says "1924").  The second of three sons, he grew up listening to ghost stories from a local woman he nicknamed "Nononba" ("ba" meaning old woman).  In 1942, he was drafted into the Imperial Army and stationed on New Britain Island in Papua New Guinea.  He lost his left arm in an explosion during an air raid, and was captured and held as a POW.  After the war, he worked until 1956 as a movie theater operator, as well as making kamishibai illustrations.  He debuted in 1957 as a professional manga artist with Rocketman, and followed this with Hakaba Kitaro in 1959. Hakaba was originally a fairly gruesome kamishibai story, and the Kitaro character was rather unlikable, but it did make for a really good ghost story for adults.  Garo Magazine started in 1964, and Shigeru had a story in issue 1 (Furou Fushi no Jutsu). He ran various Hakaba stories in Garo until 1968, as well as some gag pieces. Then he took a break and came back in 1970 with Man Who Seized the Star (about members of the Shinsengumi). In 1966, Shigeru redesigned the characters and brought out Kitaro simultaneously in Shonen Magazine as Gegege no Kitaro. It's this version that was first animated in 1968 on Fuji TV by Toei Studios, and this is the one that most people think of when they hear the name "Kitaro".  I did a comparison of the first volumes of Hakaba and Gegege back in 2010. At age 90, he's still working, with the autobiographical Gegege no Kakeibo, running in Big Comic.

The publishing company Chikuma Bunko (now Chikuma Shobo) released a line of books focusing on Shigeru's works on youkai, including Nezumi Otoko's Adventures, Youkai Stories, Let's Go to Illusion World and then 2 volumes of Kitaro stories. Volume 1 of the Kitaro stories was actually the 4th book released in the collection, which is why the cover has the number "4" on it.

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

Gegege no Kitaro, by Shigeru Mizuki, Grade B+
This little 343-page book contains 13 stories, plus a 5-page afterward by actress Eriko Watanabe (in the Japanese wiki, she's listed as having been involved in "Gegege no Ge" in some way, but she's not included in any of the wiki anime cast lists).

These stories are all pure Kitaro. In general, they start out with someone getting into trouble with youkai (ghosts or monsters), and someone else sending a letter via youkai post to Kitaro to ask for help.  There then follows some mystery solving and a battle, with Kitaro often apparently losing before resurfacing to gain victory.  Most of the youkai are Shigeru's own inventions, but some, like "sara-kozou" (plate boy, or kappa) and "Noppera Bou" (No Face) are reworkings of traditional folklore.  The artwork is very consistent throughout, with detailed backgrounds and cartoony characters.  The stories do have a tendency to wander aimlessly a little too often, with the endings unrelated to the beginning (which is why I downgraded the rating above). And, Shigeru occasionally recycles his stories with slight twist endings. There's also a moral to a number of the stories, such as "don't act spoiled" or "if the sign says 'keep out', then KEEP OUT".  Don't get me wrong, though, these are great stories, and there's nothing like them in western media.

(Yokai Castle.)

Of the 13, there's only one I've seen before - the ever popular "Obake Nighter", where a young boy finds Kitaro's "never miss" baseball bat and refuses to return it, so the boy's team is forced to play a night game against a squad of unbeatable monsters with their souls on the line.

(Kitaro sets Otoko Nezumi up on a blind date with Neko Musume.)

The stories are:
地獄流し (Hell Cruise): A pair of yakuza break into Kitaro's house and find themselves stranded in hell.

だるま (Daruma): A daruma-like monster tries to set up an office, disrupting the landlord's regular tenants.

妖怪城 (Youkai Castle): Nezumi Otoko accidentally unseals a Youkai Castle and children start disappearing.

おばけナイター (Obake Nighter): Human kids versus monsters baseball game.

見上げ入道 (Miage Priest): Misbehaving children get abducted and stuck in a classroom run by the monster Miage.

猫娘とねずみ男 (Cat Girl and Mouse Guy): Nezumi Otoku bilks ill people, and Neko Musume is asked to help punish him.

さら小僧 (Plate Boy): A jazz band tries making a kappa's song part of their regular set and are kidnapped and locked up in a cage because kappas don't like to share.

天邪鬼 (Ama no Jaku): A mean old man takes up partnership with a mean old demon named Ama no Jaku.

おりたたみ入道 (Folding Paper Priest): A fox spirit looking like Nezumi Otoko steals children's New Years gift money.

悪魔ベリアル (Evil Berial): A Portuguese demon that came to Japan 100 years ago punishes the youkai that sealed his powers. Kotaro has to save the youkai and defeat the demon.

のっぺらぼう (No-Face): A stranger in a graveyard steals Nezumi Otoko's face.

おべべ沼の妖怪 (The Obebe Swamp Monster): A were-otter plays tricks on nearby villagers, but befriends Nezumi Otoko.

(Monster Judgment. Almost every youkai from this book shows up in this scene, plus a few from other stories. In panel 2, from right: Momonjijii, Sara Kozou, Miage Priest, Ama no Jaku,, unnamed, unnamed.  In panel 3; from right: Sand-Throwing Woman and Kitaro's father - Old Man Eyeball. Panel 4: Dai Enma.)

妖怪大裁判 (The Big Monster Judgement)
Ok, this last story is 60 pages, and is much more convoluted.  Initially, Nezumi Otoko visits a TV station that is having difficulty coming up with new show ideas.  He pitches the possibility of having Kitaro come on camera, and manages to walk away with 500,000 yen (close to $1,000 USD at that exchange rate) for the scam. A weird youkai named Momonjijii (100-100 old man) shows up and demonstrates the ability to shoot needle-like nose hairs (thus killing a tree) and suggests a way for Nezumi to make even more money.  He takes half of the TV stake and forges a letter to all of the youkai that have a grudge against Kitaro to invite them to a party "Kitaro's" hosting.  Momonjijii then sends another forged letter to the TV station telling them to bring their cameras to a certain hidden spot.  The crew captures the youkai group dancing and the show is a big hit on TV.  This enrages the disgruntled youkai, and they go to Dai Enma (Great Gate Keeper God) to file a complaint.  Enma orders Kitaro arrested and to stand trial.  Of course, Momonjijii and Nezumi rig the evidence and Kitaro is sent to prison for 500 years.  Once there, he easily escapes and teams up with his father and friends.  Meanwhile, Momonjijii takes the rest of Nezumi's TV stake money and throws him out on his ear.  Kitaro finds Nezumi, and the rat divulges Momon's tricks - the spear-like nose hairs, and snot bubble gases that make the victim hallucinate the presence of 100 Momons.  Thus prepared, Kitaro easily defeats Momonjijii and forces him to confess in front of Enma.  Momonjijii is sentenced to 3 years in prison, and Nezumi to 1 year.  Kitaro walks off into the sunset and considers giving himself a party.

Summary: This collection of Kitaro stories spans the range of the "Gegege" series, And offers a good selection of unique monsters and spirits.  It's by no means definitive, but if you want an introduction to Mizuki's most famous creation, this is as good a place to start as any.  Recommended.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pepsi Uchuu Kyodai

While Coke occasionally has freebies that are packaged with single bottles of products at the conbini, Pepsi has an almost on-going series of campaigns.  This one is a tie-in with the recent live-action movie for Uchuu Kyodai (Space Brothers).  There's nothing on the Pepsi page advertising the film or the cell phone straps right now, so it's back to word-of-mouth and expected walk-in traffic at selected conbini chains.  Typical Pepsi.

There are a total of 12 figures, which consist of 1-each for Serika, Kenji and Mom and Dad.  There's two versions of the dog, and 3 each of the two brothers.  I find all of them to very fairly ugly.  This one for Serika stands about 1" tall.  Packaged with 500 ml bottles of Pepsi NEX, 147 yen at FamilyMart.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cerebus and High Society

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

It was around 1980 when I first discovered the Cerebus the Aardvark comic.  I was a member of the Minnesota SF group, Minn-Stf, at the time, and I wanted to show everyone this new comic.  However, it was already up to about issue 15 or 16 and most of the earliest issues were already off the shelves.  I literally hit every comic book shop in Minnesota to collect the full set.  It was worth the effort.  I loved the humor, the twisted parodies of Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonia, and the idea of a 3'-tall "herd of gray teddy bears" pummeling people.  I was able to ensnare enough other readers of the comic to generate interest in doing a fan-based radio show of the first few issues as part of the Shockwave Radio Theater group (with Dave Sim's approval).  I continued buying the comics for a couple of years, but eventually the cover prices went up, and my shelf space went down, so I guess I stopped somewhere around issue 100.  Dave was also taking the story in directions that I no longer really cared about, so that factored pretty heavily in my decision to quit the title before the Flight arc started.

But, it's been over 30 years since I last read it, and when the CARE package from back home was being prepared following the car accident, I asked for the first couple of collected volumes to have something to read.  (Thanks for the CARE package!)  Cerebus and High Society are about 560 and 515 pages respectively, and used, in the $12 apiece range.  Which is a good deal since they represent the first 52 issues.  Man, I never realized just how much work must have gone into making them.  The artwork is often incredibly detailed (although the character designs are erratic and often downright wrong), and the cameo characters are hilarious.  It does take a long time for the story to coalesce from straight Conan parody and contemporary social satire, but with the start of High Society, Dave starts exploring more of the dynamics of his universe, and does a fantastic job of describing how king-making works, with the rise and rapid fall of empires.  I fondly remember the Regency Elf, and she's just as much fun this time around, too.

One of the best parts of early Cerebus was the inclusion of real-life people, from Groucho and Chico Marx, to Rodney Dangerfield.  Part of the challenge is to catch the joke names (like, "Fort Palin" and "Fort Cleese"), or figure out who a new character is before the giveaway joke is introduced.  I wonder how many younger readers today would know who Elrod of Melvinbone or Adam Weisshaupt are based on.

I noticed as I'd gotten about halfway through High Society that I was finally understanding some of the cultural descriptions better.  Originally, I was completely lost when it came to the wars being fought, and the machinations involved in raising money.  This time, though, the majority of what Sim wrote was actually making sense.  I guess, beyond simply being older and having more experience to draw on, it helped having all 500 pages of the story in one place and reading it cover to cover over two days.  Although, I kept finding myself reading too fast and not spending enough time looking at the pictures.  I'll wait a few days and then go back and focus just on the artwork again.  Now, I need to ask for another CARE package and the next couple of volumes.  Amazing just how many pages of Cerebus there were before Dave finally ended it at issue 300.

Highly recommended.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Hogan's Curse

With the passing of Richard Dawson this month, the Hogan's Heroes Curse has claimed one of the last three remaining members of the cast.  Because of this curse, all but 2 of the major characters on the show have died to date.

Bob Crane - Col. Robert E. Hogan, murdered in 1978
Werner Klemperer - Col. Wilhelm Klink, cancer in 2000
John Banner - Sgt. Hans Schultz, abdominal hemorrhage, 1973
Robert Clary - Corporal Louis LeBeau, ---
Rchard Dawson - Corporal Peter Newkirk, cancer, 2012
Ivan Dixon - Sgt. Ivan Kinchloe, kidney failure, 2008
Larry Hovis - Sgt. Andrew Carter, cancer, 2003
Kenneth Washington - Sgt. Richard Baker, ---
Sigrid Valdis - Fraulein Hilda, cancer, 2007
Leon Askin, General Albert Hans Burkhalter, natural causes, 2005
Howard Caine, Major Wolfgang Hochstetter, heart attack, 1993

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Commentary: Monthly Comic @Bunch

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

Monthly Comic @Bunch (Banchi), 680 pages, 650 yen
According to the wiki entry, Nobuhiko Horie, former editor-in-chief at Weekly Shonen Jump co-founded a manga editing company called Coamix, in 2000, with Shinchosha as a business partner.  Coamix then produced their first magazine, Weekly Comic Bunch, in 2001.  Shinchosha ended Comic Bunch in 2010 and redesigned it as Monthly Comics @Bunch in Jan., 2011.  Coamix also started up the supposedly independent anthology magazine Zenon in Oct., 2010.

Past titles from Comic Bunch include Angel Heart and Brave Story.  The current incarnation continues the seinen theme, with its college-aged male market, by focusing on the military, family life, video game, police drama and SF genres.  There are a fair number of well-drawn stories, with good solid character designs and interesting plots.  In contrast, there is one deliberately crudely drawn toilet humor series as well.  Most of the titles are ongoing series, with a couple that have just recently started up, plus the requisite yon-koma gag strips, and 1 one-shot this time.

Stories that may be familiar to western fans:


Stories worth mentioning:

Gunka no Baltzar, (cover) an up and coming military officer in an 1800's European-like universe finds himself reassigned as an adviser to a backward neighboring country with little outside support.  In this issue, Baltzar ends up siding with the lone female officer being picked on by everyone else, while also introducing bicycles to the cavalry unit.  Good artwork, semi-realistic character designs, predictable soap opera scenarios.

Umi no Nioi (Smell of the Sea), this is a one-shot by Tomoko Mitani. A girl opens up a bottle that contains a ship and finds herself on the bridge inside.  She tells the crew that the person who built the ship, her grandfather, has died and she's going to fulfill his last wish by breaking the bottle and setting the ship free on the open sea.  Decent artwork, simplistic character designs, interesting premise.

Kuraudo, (Cloud) by Junichi Noujou.  A young man, who is a master hacker, breaks into Tokyo's central computer system in his quest to make "a kingdom above the clouds", bringing him into direct conflict with the police and the central transportation ministry. It's kind of like the mindgames played in Death Note.  Junichi has at least 25 titles to his name.  The ones I've seen the most are based on shogi players.  He has a very strong, distinctive character style that makes everyone look constipated.

Mukai Usagi Dou Nikki (Facing Rabbits Building Diary), by Hisa Takano.  There's nothing in English for either the title, or the artist.  It's a new story, only on chapter 2, so it's understandable that there's little documentation yet, but there's only one other entry for Hisa in Japanese and that's bringing up an error on the publisher's page.  This is another "consultant living in a big house with lots of books solves weird psychic events".  The guy's name doesn't seem to be given in this chapter, but he works with a young woman named Chiyo, and a talking 2-tailed cat.  They're visited by a flying goldfish that seems to have become allergic to water.  The goldfish asks for their help in returning it to the young girl raising it.  When the mystery is resolved, the office is visited by paramilitary police.

Nangoku Tomusouya, (Not sure how to translate this.) By Ume (Takahiro Ozawa and Asako Seo). There's nothing in English on this title, and little in Japanese.  The artwork is very good, although I'm not sure about the story.  It's up to chapter 11. Ume has AOZORA Finder Rock licensed in the U.S.  In this chapter, a TV director gets into a fight with his daughter over whether he can stay to watch her perform a traditional dance with what appears to be a male miko.

Ouroboros, up to volume 13 already. The caretaker for two orphans gets killed, and the boys vow revenge on the murderers and the police that botched the investigation.  15 years later, one is a detective and the other is a yakuza leader, helping each other out behind the scenes.  Very good artwork, but kind of overly cartoony character designs.

Area 51, by Masato Hisa. Thick, heavy line style that looks like woodblock prints.  Nothing in English about this story, but this one chapter looks like a horror comedy.  Some robbers try to hit a maid cafe, only to discover that the "maids" are part of a flesh-eating monster using the cafe to raise money.  Funny story. I translated it and put it on Nihongo Hunter

Saigo no Resutoran (Last Restaurant), by Michihiko Touei. Another title with nothing in English.  Marginal artwork and erratic character designs, but a possibly interesting premise.  In this chapter, the ghost of Salvador Dali shows up in the restaurant and won't leave until he eats a specific dish that's flavored just right.  Otherwise, just another cooking manga.

Wood Stock, by Yukai Asada.  A 21-year-old guy lacking self-confidence but in love with music makes up a fake band and uploads cover songs to his blog.  Hyper-realistic character designs, and good poses of bands playing on stage.

Tsumi to Batsu (Crime and Punishment), by Man Gatarou. This is the deliberately ugly story, by the guy that makes a living drawing ugly people and toilet gags (I think I last saw him in AX magazine).  A fair amount of both male and female frontal nudity.


One of the key elements of @Bunch is that every story is followed by a "My Page" omake, or comments section from the artist.

There is some nudity in this issue, and one or two brief sex scenes.  Probably worth an R rating in the U.S.

No freebies.  There are quite a few titles in this volume, and some of them look promising.  I'd be interested in following Tomoko Mitani's works more, plus Mukai Usagi Dou Nikki, Nangoku Tomusouya and Area 51.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mario 3D Land keychain

The bottled tea maker Itoen has a tie-in with Super Mario 3D Land.  6 of the "Original Mascot" series with their barley teas, and the same set of six with a different keychain attachment for their mineral barley teas.  The first set has a yellow star, and the second has a brown leaf.  Fortunately, the website has pictures of all the characters.  With 500 ml bottles of barley tea, 147 yen at Family Mart.  Stands about 1.5" tall

I don't really care for the Mario games, so I just got the one keychain of Mario for the blog photo.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Small Adventures #28

I decided to take a taxi to the International Center to visit the Friday Lunchtime English lesson group. It had been close to 3 months since I was last there, and I wanted to check back in with everyone.  My expectation was that at the end of the meeting, I'd be asked to join someone for lunch and I could then bum a ride back home afterward.  However, the group was pretty small this time and things didn't turn out the way I'd thought.  So, when it was all over, I hobbled back out on my crutches to the front of the building to stand at the bus stop and try to flag down a taxi.  A few minutes go by and I spot a cab approaching me.  I wave and it pulls over to let me in.  I load the crutches and my backpack into the back seat and tell the driver to go to the Hiranocho Royal Host (Royal Host is a family restaurant like Embers, located 2 blocks from my apartment).  I always get the Japanese pronunciation of "Royal" messed up and it usually takes several tries for the driver to understand what I mean.  This time, the driver acted a bit impatient and turned to face me to find out what I was saying.  Suddenly, his jaw drops and his eyes go wide.  "Nihonjin to omotta" - "I thought you were a Japanese!"  He added that with the crutches and a bag I was carrying, he thought I was someone suffering from high blood pressure.  He got really friendly after that and talked excitedly during the drive, spending half his time apologizing for the embarrassing error.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: Onward to Our Honorable Deaths

While it may look like I'm on a Shigeru Mizuki kick right now, it's just appearances.  One of the people I know that likes reading manga has been picking up different titles from Book-Off, and she'd found a few by Shigeru that she wanted to check out further.

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

Gyokuse yo! Souin (Do Honorable Death! Everyone) has been translated into English as Onward Towards Our Honorable Deaths by Drawn and Quarterly, so there's not much point in describing the story in a lot of depth.  Mizuki had served in the Japanese military as an infantryman on a South Seas island during WW II, and had one arm blown off in an explosion, prior to being captured as a POW by the Americans.  He uses his experiences here to relate the story of a squad on New Britain Island towards the end of the war.  Generally, the character designs are typical Mizuki cartoon caricatures placed on top of near-photographic backgrounds.  However, when he wants to show the gritty realities of war, he will switch to hyper-realistic images of corpses and mountains of bleached bones.  This is not a book for the weak of stomach.

Life in the Japanese military prior to the 1960's (when it got restructured along more western lines) was short and brutish.  Officers routinely beat their men to instill a sense of fatalism that made "banzai charges" (suicide attacks) easier to implement.  As the war turned against them, the Japanese generals spread rumors that prisoners would be subject to harsh torture and that it would be better to commit seppuku than be captured.  Indeed, the soldiers in this story are told that if they don't die in battle while trying to hold the island for at least one more day, that Command would have the survivors executed as traitors.  Most western readers are familiar with "kamikaze pilots" who would crash their planes into U.S. warships.  But, there were also "human torpedoes" - one-man mini subs with just enough air and fuel to get to the target before exploding.  There's a memorial to the men sentenced to pilot those torpedoes located a short ferry ride from where I used to work in Tokuyama.  The brutality described in here of the officers against the enlisted men is not exaggerated.

(Keiyama's final moments.)

The story in Onward mostly follows one man - Maruyama - from when he is sent to the island, up to when it finally falls into Allied hands.  Right from the beginning, men fall prey to malaria and the alligators living in the rivers.  Rations are limited, and the undercooked rice causes food-poisoning-related diseases.  The enlisted men resort to digging up and hording mountain potatoes, papaya and bananas.  As the aerial attacks increase, more men die from strafing runs and bombings.

(They also die from their own ignorance.)

Occasionally, one of the men will begin to hallucinate as the malaria fever worsens, and either try running towards the enemy unarmed, or shoot at their own comrades by mistake.  When things look really grim, as food and ammo run out, the commanding officer demands that everyone die in a banzai attack, no survivors.  Fortunately for Maruyama and a handful of others, one of the other officers thinks that guerrilla tactics would be smarter in the long run and he orders the enlisted guys to run and hide during the confusion, so that it's primarily the officers that get wiped out in the attack.  The story unfolds further until the obvious final conclusion.

(Death of an officer in a bansai charge.)

As mentioned above, this is not a book for the squeamish.  And it's not for those that prefer to romanticize the glories of combat.  But, if you want a realistic telling of the grounds-eye view of a WW II battle as told by the losing side, this is an amazing book.  Highly recommended.  Buy the D&Q edition, and help support quality English translated manga.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Coca Olympics

Coke is gearing up for it's next big ad, AKA: the London Olympics.
The conbini in Japan are now carrying small Coke bottles (147 yen) packaged with 1" safety-pin backed buttons featuring stylized flags of some of the participating countries.  The buttons are wrapped up so that you can't tell which one you're going to get in advance.  So, which one did I get? USA. Not much point in taking a photo of it...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Lupin III Roots Coffee Figures

Roots Coffee does love themselves some Lupin.  New figure series out.  There's a discount kiosk shop that has the can coffee for 105 yen apiece (normally it's 143 yen).  The little pamphlet below advertises a special Fujiko character if you mail in 6 proof of purchase seals and 3000 yen ($36 USD).  The figure above comes with 4 separate pieces to assemble, and looks very cool for the price.

Fujiko was the simplest figure, in that she came fully assembled. Zenigata was just the top and bottom halves.  The tallest figures are about 3".