Thursday, July 31, 2014

JTB Travel Event

Towards the beginning of July, JTB (the Japan Travel Bureau) hosted a travel event aimed at families with children, promoting destinations like Guam. They had the prerequisite bouncing room, plus a stage and various advertising tables. No foamhead mascots that I saw, this time.

Clowns, though. They did have clowns making balloon animals and hats that were then given away as awards for various contests to the kids. The animals were very popular.

Maybe, too popular. The advertising tables kind of went ignored for a while...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Small Adventure #32

There's a strip park along the Kotsuki river, near the apartment. It's the one that hosts the flower and garden booths for a full month in May. I usually walk on the other side of the river when I travel to and from the main Chuo train station, but one night I decided to return by walking along the park.

As I'd gotten about a third of the way along the park, I heard some guy shouting, really loud and really angry. It took me a few seconds to find him - he was in the phonebooth one block ahead of me. This was unusual in and of itself because I almost never see anyone using public phones anymore. Everyone has smartphones.

But, here this guy was, an older office worker wearing a black business suit with white shirt and tie, maybe in his 50's or early 60's, just screaming into the phone at 9 at night. It was hard to tell if he was drunk, but he'd probably had at least a couple drinks. He was using Kagoshima dialect, and I had trouble figuring out most of what he was saying. He'd scream, hang up, then call again. He would pause long enough to let the other person talk, but whatever was being said just made him more incensed. I got the impression that what had happened was that he'd gone home only to find that his wife had locked him out of the apartment. He'd then resorted to using the public phone to find out why she'd kicked him out, and she wasn't interested in explaining herself.

By the time I reached the end of the park, the person on the other end of the line hung up on the guy and his only option was to wander around in the park, trying to figure out what to do next.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July, 2014, Coins

The next batch of the Prefecture 500 yen coins hit the banks in July. This time, we have Mie, Yamagata, and Ehime. If you can't tell from the scan, Ehime's picture is of a suspension bridge; for Mie it's a forest walkway; while Yamagata uses an image from a Jomon-era clay sculpture of a goddess.

The Japan Mint page lists the next coins as Saitama, Kagawa and Ishikawa. Unfortunately, the release schedule is unclear. The main page says that these are the coins for the end of this year, but the individual ordering pages indicate that they won't come out until July, 2015. So, at this point, I don't know which date is correct. I'll check again around November.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kitkat Chocolatory

Misstache has brought to my attention the first boutique store in Japan dedicated to Kitkat. It opened in January, 2014, in the Seibu department store, near the Ikebukuro train station on the Yamanote line in Tokyo.

The boutique brings many of the regional Kitkat flavors together in one place, such as Chili Pepper, Green Tea and Vanilla Cheesecake. Plus, you can get cups of ice cream with Kitkat pieces as garnishes.

This isn't a place that I'll be visiting any time soon (no plans to go to Tokyo), but who knows, maybe branch locations will open up in Kyushu some day.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

June-July articles in the media

Here's the batch of articles to show up in the media from June-July, regarding anime, manga and related stuff.

Japan Times

Doraemon hitting U.S. airwaves this summer

Happy Birthday, Sailor Moon!

Doraemon charms U.S. viewers in first remake for a foreign market

Omoide no Marnie (When Marnie Was There) Review

Meet the Japanese author behind Tom Cruise's new sci-fi smash

All You Need is Kill

'One Piece' manga exhibit to open in Seoul

Anime enjoys summer homes in Los Angeles

Japan's 'Moe' obsession: the purest form of love, or creepy fetishization of young girls?

Japan plans campaign to curb manga, anime copyright violations abroad

Daily Yomiuri

Pop culture contest invites anime, book recommendations

How to raise your own idol star

Doraemon makes debut in U.S. with a few tweaks

Kitaro road signs to debut in creator’s hometown

‘Sgt. Frog’ exhibition in Yokohama

Tezuka characters get Otomate makeover

Anpanman: A hero of the people

Anpanman History


Masami Kurumada exhibition planned for June 10-22 in Shibuya

Museums thrive on teaching culture of manga

New 'Sailor Moon Crystal' series to be simulcast on July 5

Online manga based on A-bomb survivor's account resonates with cyber generation

59 titles to compete at Hiroshima festival, but none from Japan

Momoiro Clover Z rock it out with legendary guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen

Ghibli's 'When Marnie Was There' depicts realistic Hokkaido world

Shizuoka exhibition devoted to four films of Makoto Shinkai

'Giovanni's Island' takes Jury Distinction award at Annecy

Production I.G announces Keiichi Hara's new feature "Miss Hokusai"

Exhibition honoring manga artist Tsuchida displays nearly 18,000

Newly edited edition of 'Psycho-Pass' series to premiere on July 10

Mizushiri's 'Futon' heralded at Animafest Zagreb

Kadokawa to open manga schools in Taiwan, Singapore

Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize winners honored at awards ceremony

Art exhibition devoted to Ghibli director Yonebayashi to open July 18

'Toy Story' director helps promote DVD release of The Wind Rises

Roppongi Hills to host 'Pokemon' film festival

17-year-old Narumi Hasegaki starts "Ririka Tonegawa's Lab Story" in Nakayoshi

Sour relations leads to 'One Piece' exhibit cancellation in South Korea museum

Manga on the life of missing adventurer Naomi Uemura

S. Korean court rules ‘One Piece’ show can go on after all

Latest 'Dragon Ball Z' film set for limited North American release

Jump SQ is putting out 2-part 'Rurouni Kenshin' spin-off

One Piece exhibition held in Seoul after all

Translations of 'Barefoot Gen' available in 21 languages and counting

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Kongo Bancho, vol. 4 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)
Kongo Bancho, vol. 4 (2008), by Nakaba Suzuki. Grade: A

The new group of enemy is a little dismayed at having the odds evened out, since they've been told that Kongo is too much for any one of them alone, so they decide to rebalance things by summoning all of the 1,000 students that they've recruited as followers so far. It takes about a minute for Iai, Gouriki and the other two to make mincemeat of them. So, the Ankei Go Rensou take a breather and tell the heroes to wait for the invitation to the one-on-one combat festival. Later that day, Oyanana arrives at the school and wonders about all of the bodies being packed into ambulances for shipping off to the hospitals. He's not happy at discovering all five Bancho in his homeroom, each of them claiming to have been "coincidentally" transferred to the same school in the same class on the same day. Most of the Bancho immediately attract a following from the other students, but they're not interested in the attention, although Nenbutsu does succeed in talking Oyanana into buying a full "Buddha gift pack" for $200 (marked down from $500). Unfortunately, Iai is vulnerable to nosebleeds when noticing how much skin the girls show when sitting next to him. Pretty soon, a messenger pigeon arrives for Hikyou, announcing the time and location of the new battle.

(The research facility/battle grounds.)

It's located in an abandoned research center in the caverns under Mount Fuji. Kongo tells the others that he's heard that it was used for developing a superwarrior following WWII. The center had a "there can be only one" tournament, and there had only been one person left alive at the end of the fighting (quite possibly his father). The center is set up as a series of battle stages, one stage per floor. When they get to the first stage, the Ankei Go Rensou greet them. After a bit of trash talk, Hikyou and Kabuki face off on a large circular platform. Kabuki unleashes a skeleton arm attack (the arms being stored in his backpack) that reduces the platform to rubble. Hikyou finds himself hanging from the edge of his bit of the platform, then says "It should be kicking in about now". Suddenly, Kabuki is suffering from severe stomach cramps. Hikyou mentions the guy's fondness for odongo (sticky rice paste balls), and Kabuki realizes that Hikyou (without his mask) has been the one that had arrived at the school earlier to offer him a platter of odongo (laced with laxatives). Unable to fight, Kabuki runs to the toilet, where he discovers that all of the toilet paper has mysteriously gone missing. Hikyou wins his round by default, while both his teammates and the enemy question whether his methods are really within the rules.

(Hikyou faces off against Kabuki.)

(Second page of Suzuki's preliminary Banchou character ideas.)

Both sides go to the next floor, which has a bunch of wooden poles stuck between the walls. Gouriki volunteers to take this round, because she likes the balance beams in PE in school. Kangoku joins her, balancing his steel prison box easily on the beam. He's been studying a particular form of yoga that lets him control his body to a fantastic extent. Gouriki fails to touch him, while he keeps on smashing into her back. Below them are spikes made of "Gregion" (a material stronger than steel). Kangoku knocks one of Gouriki's ball hammers free and it gets impaled on the spikes. Soon, the other hammer is smashed loose, and eventually, Gouriki herself falls down onto the spikes. But, true to her name of "insane strength", Gouriki flattens the spikes with her body, and walks over them to retrieve her ball hammers. She then attacks Kangoku in a frenzy. While she's unable to touch him, she ends up destroying the walls and accidentally causing the ceiling to collapse. Kangoku attempts to escape the level, but his prison box gets stuck on the debris on his current beam. The rest of his team refuses to help save him, so Gouriki, "the defender of justice" volunteers to get him free. Kangoku is in a panic and happily accepts her offer. Unfortunately, the punch that sends him outside of the collapsing room is so strong as to puncture the prison box and render Kangoku completely comatose. Gouriki escapes the room at the last second, prepares to continue the fight, and discovers that she's already won.

(Gouriki offers to save Kangoku from the falling ceiling.)

On the third floor, Nenbutsu falls into a trap - a cube made of bomb-proof glass, that forces him to face off against Nenchaku. The gloppy one exudes a mucus substance that solidifies rock hard. This battle is played for laughs, and Nenbutsu pretty soon is encased in solid mucus. However, by focusing his air attacks down to the size of pellet gun pellets, he escapes the mucus, punctures a hole in the cage, and blows all of the mucus off of Nenchaku, revealing him to be a very cute young boy (who Gouriki finds attractive) with a 3-meter long tongue. Nenchaku insults Nenbutsu for being bald, but the other guy says that he's keeping his hair inside his head through will power and it really hurts. This turns the battle into a contest of who has to withstand the most pain. Nenchaku draws a line in the mucus on the ground and says that the one that crosses it loses. They then trade insults, and Nenbutsu seems to be ready to leap forward to take a swing at the boy. At the last moment, he makes a stupid-looking face and Nenchaku bursts out in loose mucus, laughing in spite himself. He also took one step forward in reaction and realizes that he'd stepped over the line one split second before Nenbutsu smashes him in the face. Kongo and team head to the next stage without waiting for Nenbutsu to get out of the glass box.

(Nenchaku's real form, versus Nenbutsu.)

This time, the room is filled with what looks like corpses, but are actually puppets that had been used for the original super-man testing program. Iai and Douke take their places, and Douke's "mystery knife attack" is revealed to be a spinning CD blade that Iai easily defeats. After a bunch of fighting, Iai slices "Douke" to pieces and demands the "real Douke" to come out. Two very buxom girls stand up from the middle of the puppets, and announce themselves as the "Magician Twins". Iai gets massive nosebleeds just looking at them, and is reduced to cutting his own eyes with his katana to prevent himself from being distracted by their bouncing breasts. They continue the fight, then break so that the girls can give their backstory (they were born to a famous magician father, and wowed the magic world at the age of three. They practiced magic till their hands bled, but all they cared about was the praise from their father if they performed well. One day, one of the sisters lost her touch and their father abandoned them. They entered the underground, became criminals and eventually were accepted into the Japan Renewal program as Bancho. Iai sets his sword down, and tells the girls to attack him. He slaps them in the face and orders them to quit being so spoiled. Douke loves the "strong father figure treatment", and this is enough for them to fight seriously, as does Iai. Douke takes on a synchronous attack, where the two girls act precisely identically. One girl traps Iai's katana while the other comes in for the kill. Iai's body instinctively responds, pinning the blade with his fingers then twisting to cause the second girl to smash helplessly into the ground. He then shows his own blistered and callused hands to the girls. He claims victory for this round, adding that he looks forward to fighting them again. Behind him, both girls are crying in frustration. And so the volume ends.

(Iai, blinded, fights the "true" Douke Bancho.)

Comments: The series just gets better with each volume. This time, we have the first half of the first team fight. Nenbutsu turns out to be the comic relief of the group, while Iai is the glamor guy and Gouriki the pop idol. Kondo does little more than explain the purpose of the underground facilities beneath Mt. Fuji, and act like a figurehead. Highly recommended.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Kongo Bancho, vol. 3 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)
Kongo Bancho, vol. 3 (2008), by Nakaba Suzuki. Grade: A
Things get pretty serious fast, but there's still a lot of humor and silliness here, too. Kongo is about to get a little whooping revenge on Hikyou Bancho when a small boy, holding a pipe and wearing a mask, yells at him not to bully his big brother. Hikyou is convinced that the kid is going to die, and when Kongo approaches the boy, he's met with a flurry of pipe swings. But, all Kongo wants to do is remove the mask so Hikyou has to acknowledge who the kid is. Then, Shirobara (White Rose, the one betrayed by Hikyou in the last volume) sweeps in to grab the boy and use him as a hostage.

Shiro claims to know all about Hikyou now, such as the fact that he's running a kind of orphanage for 13 abandoned children, and that because he's a high school student unable to get enough part-time jobs, he preys on criminals to extort or steal money for supporting the kids. Shiro puts Hikyou in the same position Kongo had just been in - Kill himself and Kongo in return for the boy's life. Hikyou does this willingly, but in his own case, he's carrying a pouch of fake blood under his jacket and he tries to attack Shiro from behind. The other guy was expecting this, and dices up Hikyou's chest with his rapier before announcing that he'll go kill everyone in the orphange now. At this point, Kongo stands up, saying that it'll take more than a tiny knife to stop him, then uses Double Hammer on Shirobara (the camera cuts away before the impact so we don't know what condition Shiro is in now).

(Shirobara's last stand.)

Tsukimi is safe and has been playing with the other children. Kongo arrives to take her home, and Hikyou asks why Kongo saved him. Akira replies, "If you died, who'd take care of them?" Hikyou is shaken, then vows to still use all of his cowardly tricks to become the one to reunite Japan. Kongo says, "That's fair." Later, at the school, Hinako wants to thank Akira for saving her sister, but he just blows her off, saying that he has plans that afternoon. Since she'd worked the night before to make puddings as a "thank you" gift, she is miffed and decides to follow him. Kongo takes the bullet train to the countryside, then Hokkaido, Yokohama, another village in the mountains, and then back to Tokyo. Along the way, he picks up a wrapped parcel, a bag of white powder, and a small vial of liquid. Hinako suspects that he's buying and selling drugs, until the final stop at a farm, where Kongo fights a 20-foot tall "Grendel cow" and takes some of the milk. In Tokyo, he goes to a cooking school to use the "world's rarest and best ingredients" to learn how to make pudding himself. He's a lousy student-chef, and only manages to make enough pudding for one small cup. Hinako is upset that her own work is unnecessary now. However, on the way home Kongo encounters a starving puppy and ends up giving his day's efforts to the dog. Hinako is now happy to give the pudding she made to Kongo at lunch at school the next day.

(Tsukimi plays with chibi-Kondo.)

In the next chapter, a desperate pair of parents plead for Kongo to help them in dealing with their shut-in son. The teenage hikikomori has locked himself up in his room for 5 years, attacking his parents if they get too close, and spending all his time making plastic figurines and chatting on the computer. He refuses to let Akira in through the door, so Kongo simply punches his way in through the next wall. After the kid complains about how everyone is trying to control him, saying what schools he has to go to, what he has to study, and what company he's supposed to work at, Kongo tells him that he's being too self-centered. "You do what you can with what you've got." He drags the boy outside then creates a carving in the stone wall of the house with his bare hands. The result is so good that the boy breaks into tears - it's better than anything he could have made as an artist himself. In the end, the boy gets a job as a figurine designer at a small toy shop. The customers watching are amazed at his skill, but they're not sure why he's making a Kongo Bancho figure.

(Suzuki's first pass at possible Bancho characters. Notice that Kabuki and Bakunetsu are already part of the mix here.)

Hinako is late getting to the day center to pick up Tsukimi, and is shocked to see her sister playing with what looks like a 5-year-old version of Akira Kongo. Turns out that the child is named Rai, and his own mother is late getting him. The two girls decide to hang around a little longer, when there's a disturbance outside. Home Run is back and is beating people up with his bat out of anger at having been defeated before. HR tries to attack Rai, but the kid uses Double Hammer on him, convincing Hinako that Rai is related to Akira somehow. Rai's mother, Haruka Kodama, leader of the Red Scorpion female biker gang and Sasori (Scorpion) Bancho of Edogawa Ward, arrives and head butts Home Run into unconsciousness. Hinako thinks that she's a nice woman, but Sasori is only 1 year older, and seems to think that Rai is Akira's son. When Sasori sees Akira's photo on Hinako's phone, she demands a meet-up that night for a full-on brawl. Kondo arrives at the designated area, and Sasori tells him that she's waited a long time to get her revenge on him (she'd used her Sting attack on Rai to keep him safe at home before going out for the night). Akira claims to not know who she is, and Sasori just gets more resolute. They fight, and initially it looks relatively even. Then, Kongo pulls out Double Hammer and blasts her into the ground.

(Sasori (Scorpion) Bancho preparing to use her Sting attack.)

As Sasori lies in the dirt, her gang starts singing an Enka song (her theme song) and that gives her the energy to stand back up. Now, though, she's gone into Scorpion mode. She attacks Kondo's nerve points with single-finger Sting strikes, paralyzing him. She prepares to deliver the killing blow, but Akira manages to stand back up. She tells him that he can't do anything against her, except maybe a kiai (the shout in karate when doing a punch or kick). So, Kongo says, "Then - 'kiai'!" The shout breaks Sasori's hand, and Kondo finishes her off by swinging his arm up to clothesline her. Humiliated in defeat, Sasori demands that Kongo acknowledge his sins against her, and he still claims ignorance, so she throws a locket at him with a picture of Rai's father inside. They're the same person, right down to the tattoo on the side of the neck, right? Akira bares his neck - no tattoo. Sasori realizes that she's been fighting the wrong person, although Akira does know who the guy in the photo is - his older brother, Takeshi.

(Takeshi and Papa Kongo.)

Later, Sasori is bandaged up and preparing to take Rai with her to continue their quest. The story is that Takeshi had been sleeping with the previous leader of the Red Scorpions, but after his son, Rai, was born he'd skipped out. The former leader's health went bad and she died in the hospital, foisting Rai on Haruka. Blaming Takeshi for everything, but not knowing his name, Haruka took over the Red Scorpions and joined the Japan Revival program to become Sasori Bancho. As they're about to leave, Rai comments that he and Akira do look alike, but "there's no point in sweating the small stuff". This is something that Takeshi used to say all the time, and causes Akira to go into a flashback. One year earlier, Takeshi had summoned him to a mountain top to invite him to join in on the Japan Revival. Takeshi was already a member, and now has the Phoenix tattoo on his neck (all Banchos have a Phoenix plus a support tattoo. Sasori's was a scorpion, and Shirobara's was a rose. Takeshi's is a map of Japan.) Akira balks, and that's when a nearby "statue" stands up to reveal itself as their 20+-foot-tall father. The statue says that only the strong will be allowed into the new world of Japan and orders Takeshi to kill his brother. The guy uses Double Hammer to blow Akira off the mountain and into the sea. Back in the modern day, we see Takeshi in a TV control room watching various monitors. He comments on how he wasn't expecting his little brother to still be alive, but doesn't expect him to be much of a threat to the Revival project. Just to be on the safe side, he sends an order out.

From left clockwise: Kabuki, Kangoku, Nenchaku, Douke and Bakunetsu.)

A few days later, the five members of the Ankei Go Rensou (5 Dark Spear Party) descend on the school and interact with the students in their search for Akira. Kabuki Bancho (Kabuki, Katsushika Ward) turns the band club into heavy metal rockers; Douke Bancho (Clown Tricks, Arakawa Ward) disrupts a class for fun; Nenchaku Bancho (Adhesion/Grease, Taito Ward) takes over the swimmers cleaning the school's pool; and, Kangoku Bancho (Prison, Adachi Ward) just sits in a big metal crate in the middle of the sports field. It's Bakunetsu Bancho (Explosive Heat, Koutou Ward) who locates their prey first. He has his three minions, flamethrowers in heat resistant suits, attack in an attempt to finish things fast. However, Akira easily defeats them, and before Bakunetsu can do more than throw a couple fire punches, the rest of the team shows up to bicker over who has the right to go first. Akira tells them to make up their minds, so they attack together. Nenchaku binds Kongo's mouth with glue, and Douke gets in a knife cut using a magic trick. But, before things get really out of hand, Akira's newly formed support group steps in to help out - Iai, Nenbutsu, Gouriki and Hikyou. Kongo is at a loss for words because he didn't know he had a support group.

("No one starts a fight without letting us play, too.")

Comments: I like this series because it's so over the top, and has really good artwork. This volume is good because we learn more about Kongo's family, specifically his killer brother and monstrous father. Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Luminous Arc 2, review

The second game I picked up for $9 USD along with Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, was Luminous Arc 2. It's frustrating, because I like Japanese RPGs along the lines of Final Fantasy and .Hack, but those types of games just aren't showing up used here in Kagoshima for the Gameboy. Instead, all I can find cheap are the kinds I don't like - Dragon Quest and strategic role-playing games.

The Luminous Arc series are SRPs, and they all follow the same pattern. LA2 came out in 2008, from Imageepoch. You know right away, when the creator credits take a full minute to play out before you can get to the start screen, that you need to be patient with this game. The story is similar to that in LA1 - medieval-style society mistrusts witches, and has a religious organization set up to eradicate them. You play Roland, one of the younger knights in the organization. You, and the rest of your party, which is made up mostly of "good" witches, set out to stop the Master from leading the "bad" witches to world conquest (naturally, Master is revealed to be Roland's real father. He dies about mid-story and is replaced by a bigger, badder meanie.) Story-wise, it's pretty generic. The character interactions are good, as is the background art, anime clips, and music. The character designs are similar to that of the original game, but the still-frame artwork is very good, such as when you use a specific skill that causes one of the women to give you backup while wearing a white wedding dress.

(Traveling across the world map.)

It's the gameplay that suffers so badly. To me, the main flaw of SRPs is that they're mind-deadeningly repetitive. You get the same battlefields, the same enemies and the same set-ups all the time. "Move a character to point A, make an attack, get attacked back, move the next character to point B, make an attack, get attacked back, etc." And, if the designers decided to "starve" you prior to a big boss battle, your chances of winning through skill are very low. What I mean by "starving" is that you're given very few opportunities to level up by repeatedly fighting side battles (churning). LA1 wasn't as bad in this respect; you could always go back to any battle area and keep fighting until the amount of experience you'd get dropped too low to justify it. In LA2, all high-level battles are available ONCE. There are a couple sidequest fights that you can repeat, but they're so low-level as to be worthless.

(Battle screen.)

On the other hand, I did find kind of a work-around... In battles against weak enemies (where there's only 4 or 5 enemy at a time), you get 1 exp point for the attack, and maybe 10 exp if you kill the enemy (you need 100 exp. to go up one level). But casting support magic on yourself (healing, boosting speed, defense or attack, etc.) always gives 10 exp. And there are a few accessories that add a 15% or 30% bonus to exp. So, if you go into a really easy battle with one party member equipped with exp boosters, eliminate all but one of the enemy, and then just keep casting status buffs on yourself until you run out of magic points, that character will go up in level every few minutes. You can even equip accessories that restore 10% of your mp every turn. But, as I said, it's mind-deadeningly repetitive.

(Rina, from the opening credits anime clip.)

LA2 has 30 chapters, and eventually, I'd gotten to #15. It's a 2-part battle, which I also hate because you can't save the game between battles. If you lose in the second half, you have to replay the first half all over again to get to the second. The main story boss makes his first appearance here, and just wiped my party out with mass area-effect attacks. Normally, this would mean that the party is too low-level and that I should find some place to do some churning for a while. But, as mentioned above, that's not an obvious option in LA2 because you're being starved. The intention is that you have to keep repeating both battles until you find some approach that lets you kill the boss while leaving one party member still standing. What a massive waste of time. I eventually did manage to get past this point, and even finished the game 3 times in order to unlock some of the gallery artwork. The game is designed so you have to run through it at least 4, if not 6 times, to get ALL of the stills and clips...

Another complaint I have about LA2 is that it's very dialog-heavy. Going through the story takes forever. At least with LA1 the gameplay was less frustrating and a bit faster. The fastest I've heard of someone finishing the game is within 6 hours, but that's only if you fast-forward  over the regular conversations, and skip the intermission dialogs (which are required if you're going to unlock the associated character art). Figure closer to 12 hours per play-through just to get a few more images in the Clear Game gallery... So, no, I wouldn't really recommend LA2 to most gamers. It's fine if you like SRPs to start with, but not otherwise.

(Selecting the party prior to the battle. You eventually get 18 characters to pick from, including a few from LA1.)

I guess it says something that the U.S. Atlus website is also flawed. The "trivia section" has never been implemented, the link to the forums is broken, and to get the wallpapers you have to assemble them as jigsaw puzzles to "earn" them first. The jigsaw puzzle idea is cute, but I'd rather just download all 8 files in one big .zip and be done with it right away. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Amupla and one of the local radio stations hosted Splash, "Dance & Live Fes" on July 21st. I'd been at Amupla on the 20th after Ogionsa, just to see if there was anything happening as part of the mikoshi parade. A couple guys were working on the stage, but I couldn't tell if they were setting up for something or tearing down. They did do a sound check, but because it was close to 6 PM on a Sunday, and the advertising boards didn't have announcements for anything that night or the next day, I was left in the dark. Monday was a national holiday (Umi no Hi, or "Sea Day"), and I found myself back at Daiei for some shopping. I could hear music coming across the major throughstreet that runs between Daiei and Amupla, so I assumed that that is what the stage set up was for.

I swung by the stage, where Splash was in full swing. Basically, it's a dance audition that's open to the public. There are quite a few dance schools in the city, and I guess that these kids are are members of different schools. The first few groups on stage looked pretty young, maybe under 10 years old. The music they were dancing to was hard core hip hop, Lady Gaga, etc.. It's probably a good thing that no one understood the lyrics - they only cared about having a strong beat.

The later groups consisted of older teenagers. The one thing all of the groups shared in common was that none of them really knew what they were doing. Half the group was trying to follow the other half, and the more "intent" members were dancing like their lives depended on it independently of the rest. Mostly, the dances had a lot of jumping up and down, racing around the stage, and then freezing into set poses. No one group danced as a group.

At least one group felt that their costumes were 90% of the act, and actually went the"flash" route. They were eye-catching, if not in-sync. Overall, though, the event was popular. There were over 200 people watching, and lots of them had recorders out, as evidenced in the above photos.

Again, though, it's probably a good thing that no one understood the English lyrics...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


I mentioned in my year 6 wrap-up that I haven't heard from the people that had been organizing local events, like the Aira city view bus ride and the kiri-e classes, and I'd been wondering if they'd cut ties with me. Well, right after I ran that entry, one of those people sent me a facebook message inviting me to 2 events on the 20th - Bon in Ijuin and Karakasa.

I'd seen the facebook group planning Bon, and wasn't really sure I wanted to go to it. It's a live music event, but it looked like it would cost money. The fact that it's in Ijuin, which is an hour away by train, was another disincentive. When I realized that it would be at the same time as Ogionsa, I figured that I definitely would give it a pass.

On the other hand, I'd never heard of Karakasa before. I have mentioned that in the Shinto religion objects can take on energy from their human owners if they remain in contact with people for too long. This is featured heavily in Gegege no Kitaro, especially with dolls. "Kasa" is Japanese for "umbrella", and "Karakasa" could effectively translate to "unwanted umbrellas". The URL for the shrine webpage includes the words "kasayaki", or "burning umbrellas". To dispose of the bad energy built up in old umbrellas, they'd be purified in a bonfire. The event location was near the Meiji Restoration Museum on the Kotsuki river, a 10-minute walk from the apartment.

The sky looked kind of dark and brooding for most of the afternoon of the 20th, and the rain held off until the Ogionsa mikoshi parades had finished at 5:30. Within 15 minutes, a decent storm broke out, soaking everything. The rain was still coming down hard at 6, and since Karakasa was supposed to start at 7, I was thinking it might get canceled. But, the photos on the website were taken at night, and it wouldn't get dark until 8, so I just bided my time. By 7, the rain had stopped and the sky started clearing up. The ground was drying off by 7:45, so I headed out the door.

I got to the designated spot at the Restoration Museum, but it was deserted. No signs, no posters, nothing. As I wandered around to see if I'd missed something, a group of 4 Kagoshima residents showed up and complained that there was nothing there, too. So, I wasn't the only one expecting to find Karakasa in that spot.

After a while, I returned home and sent a facebook message asking if Karakasa was postponed due to the rain. My Kagoshima contact eventually replied back saying that the event had been relocated at the last minute to another place 1 mile farther down the river. Sigh, would have been nice to know that at the time...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ogionsa, Day 2

I couldn't get out of the apartment until about 4 PM on Sunday. Since the mikoshi parade had started at 10 AM or so and was scheduled to end at 5:30 PM, I was expecting that I'd missed a fair amount of the activities. And, I was right. Many of the mikoshi groups had either packed up for the day, or were resting prior to packing up. But there were a few groups from companies like Kagoshima bank, still on the street.

A few people dressed up as monks were handing out charms or something to the older members of the audience.

Not all of the groups were color-coded, but the ones that were, were very eye-catching.

At least one mikoshi group had a practice of raising young children up onto the shrine platform, either for good luck or as a kind of blessing.

The top of one of the big umbrella props, set aside for display.

It's not a matsuri without the tengu. Those geta are not easy to walk on.

The big umbrella props. Some of the men will carry them one-handed, or on their chin. Although I think one of the carriers was a woman, who had the umbrella standing on her shoulder for a while. Notice that the banner of one of the poles has gotten wrapped around the top of the street light. Eventually, the pole bearers got it unwrapped.

The main feature cart. This particular kind of shot was used on the Ogionsa advertising posters and I tried to replicate it. I'm pretty sure that these women were the two "princesses" that took the stage as part of Saturday's opening ceremonies. I can't tell if they're looking severe, dedicated, bored, or really angry at having their pictures taken for several hours on end.

A different cart with dignitaries, I guess.

The fascinating thing about Ogionsa, for me, is the variety of approaches the companies take with their parade groups.

My little pony.

One group had school kids carrying smaller children in palanquins. Again, there's a certain amount of boredom displayed on people's faces... The box in the foreground is for charity donations if people want to toss in some of their spare change.

Youtube link

The rest of the matsuri can be seen on the youtube video. At the end of the event, the one taiko group I could find played a short 4-minute set. When they finished, it started to rain. Initially, just a light drizzle. Things broke up fast at that point. A few blocks up, a different taiko group was at an intersection, putting their drums away, but I don't think they actually played the closing set. Anyway, I got into the Tenmonkan complex and as I reached the other side, the skies opened up for a major downpour, washing out everyone still on the streets. By the time I got home, I was soaked. Which brings me to Karakasa...