Category Archives: Modern Visual Culture

Japan Trip Dec 2018

I’m not sure what to write about in regards to my recent trip to Japan. I did it mostly because of CG 6th in Nagoya Dome and Wake Up, Girls! Final Tour in Iwate, but I tried to use that JR Pass power for tourism purposes in the days between the two lives. It also occurred to me that I went to Japan way too many times this year, in a way that I have to date my trip by the month that it happened in, not not just by the Year or Quarter even.

I traveled quite a bit compared to my usual weekend jaunts, so I had some thinking time as I sat on the Shinkansen. They are marvelous aren’t they? I saw the Hayabusa and Komachi detach at Morioka and the nose cones of the two trains transform and cover up the latches. This kid behind me even went “Shinkalion da!” I was able to take an overnight train from Okayama to Tokyo. I finally got to see the Seto Inland Sea as I rode on a bus around Mihara. I had okonomiyaki in Hiroshima. And primarily, I was able to finally visit a Japanese car museum.

Of all the things Japan is known for in the world, I want to believe Japanese cars are the most renowned things. Before weirdness, sushi, ninjas or anime, there are these heavy machineries that made everyday life possible for 100s of millions of people across the world. It’s like when I was watching Jack Ryan I see how the rich terrorists drove Land Cruisers and the poor ones are in Tacomas. Joke aside, Toyota is the number one car company in the world, and that is saying something. Something that probably summarises the totality of the post-atom-bomb Japan, its economic recovery, and the role it plays in the world today.

So it was nice to go back in time and see the humble beginnings of these modern marvels. It’s almost like flaunting when the Toyota automotive technology museum in Nagoya proper featured all these textile manufacturing stuff for maybe a third of the place. After all, that’s how Toyota got started, making textile manufacturing hardware? I guess you can always visit their main campus for the full blown tour but I did not have the time. I spent a couple hours before the live in Nagoya looking at a giant metal press, or how relatively small a Prius’s battery is compared to the skate-style batteries in newer BEVs. There were a lot of neat little things if you are into cars, and even more if you aren’t, as the whole facility tends to target a more general and youthful audience.

I was more emotionally connected to the Mazda factory tour. You get an English language guided tour of the much smaller museum space in Hiroshima but also their primary assembly line. It totally reminded me my last car, which was also built in Hiroshima–the only place MX-5s are built, if not the only assembly line. The Mazda company takes up like a quarter of the city out there in Hiroshima, sprawling complexes of ports, warehouses, factories, schools, dorms, hospitals, gyms, you name it. It’s still the boonies, but it was something the locals prided themselves on. There are buses of school children at the tour as well.

It was pretty cool watching a MX-5 put together and I shed a single tear. Which was one more tear than I shed at CG 6th. I mean, it’s not that small, agile, fun-to-drive fandom it used to be, as this joke goes.

Cinderella Girls 6th Live was a visual spectacle. Having seen a couple lives inside the home of the Seibu Lions, Metlife Dome frankly, well, sucks, in comparison. Metlife Dome is a bad venue, despite the innovative (and ecologically neat) semi-open design, as if a UFO phased into the Japanese hillside. Nagoya Dome was much better. I really liked the acoustics, despite having to deal with outfield bucket seats. The full dome roof also made the visuals less weird, I guess.

There are a lot of things I could say about CG 6th, but I was glad to be able to see TriPri being powerful and how “AAAAAARu” Field chains into Nagareboshi Kiseki. I really enjoyed Treasure, and it’s fun seeing Kirarin Robo in the metaphorical flesh. And villain Acchan with a frying pan. There are also a lot of bellies there for some reason. I’m glad I was able to participate in a pretty good event and fulfill my dumb promise I made at AX.

I really should talk about WUG Iwate and Morioka separately, as the totality of that visit is kind of one thing all together. So I will do just that.

There were other minor objectives I had in mind on this trip. One of them is to stay at the “famous” Economy Backpacker Hotel New Koyo. Located in Minami-Senju, this place is not what I’d recommend you stay at unless you are okay with living in a run-down dorm, as it is what it is for 2900 JPY a night. I think the only real reason to stay there is that it is cheap and the staff speak English. There are similarly priced single-room hostels that don’t look completely like a dump, and maybe even closer to the station, for a bit more in rent. Cheap business hotels are maybe starting at 5000 JPY. OK, the real reason is I know all too many people who stayed there, so I wanted to see how things are like.

I also tried remotely working while in Japan. It only works somewhat–I really need to have a desk and a chair, as it is tough staying awake when you’re sitting on the bed the whole time. I do a lot of meetings so it necessitates me being awake during Japan’s sleeping hours. New Koyo isn’t really meant for that, and maybe I’ll try again at a proper hotel next time.

Another thing I had done on this trip is take an overnight bus. Japanese buses are kind of interesting, as now I have taken all the basic varieties from the mass transit version, the shuttle version, the tourist bus version, and now the overnight sleeper which comes with a bathroom. I splurged a bit and took a 3-in-a-row type bus which meant you had basically a premium econ plane seat to yourself. It’s sort of unusual to see this in the US, if ever. I took the bus mainly because it was the only way to get to Tokyo in time for my morning flight out, coming from Morioka.

Destination-wise, besides the automobile museums in Nagoya and Hiroshima, I dropped by Takehara as the one anime pilgrimage spot. The trip is complicated because flooding and typhoon earlier in the year took out the Kure line, meaning the only other way via JR Pass to Takehara is a bus from Mihara station. Alternatively I could have taken the direct bus from Hiroshima but that costs about a thousand yen one way. Mihara station itself is interesting, as a local Shinkansen stop, as it’s also built on top of a castle ruin. The bus drove along the coast to Mihara, so it had a scenic side effect despite making that side trip much longer.

In terms of events, I also attended Machico’s solo live on 12/1 in Yokohama, as well as a mini-album release event at HMV Shibuya for Komagata Yuri, in addition to the aforementioned live events. In retrospect I definitely could have packed on more, but it was already quite a lot.

A lot of the time this trip I was doing solo traveling, which was refreshing given my prior trip in September. On my last tourist trip to Japan, I was basically in a tour bus the whole time, living on a schedule dictated by the tour company. It was fun and eye-opening, but restrictive. This was more just whatever-I-want but the quality of the trip is as good as the homework that I did ahead of time. I guess if you could, why not do both?

PS. On my way out of Japan, I took a Monday 10am flight from Haneda to JFK. While waiting to board I spotted the famous video game developer Kojima Hideo, in line for first class. I can never be sure of these things but it did turn out to be him, confirmed by his tweets later in the week.


Okui Masami 25th & HAPPY END Live “Celebration”

Okui Masami is a major figure in the anisong industry, mainly because she was one of the backbone persons during the early King Record/Starchild days. She is directly the senpai of Mizuki Nana and she has kind of cemented things once she joined JAM Project. She also started her own record label and done various other things behind the scene over the years. Today she still produces, writes music and provide chorus and “lead tracks” for various anisong, outside of her solo and JAM Project work. Well, it would be better said that she has done a lot over the years, and nowadays she has largely moved onto doing JAM Project type stuff.

As I say this, even while as a member of JAM Project, she has a lot of solo activity. Or rather, as a fan of her since her pre-JAM days, her solo activities never really stopped cold, in my opinion. It definitely has slowed down, she’s taken breaks, but unlike many of the other old guys in JAM Project, she has a full original solo album out, which is quite rare. Well, I say old guys, but she turned 50 years old this year, so just about everybody in that group is getting up there.

A solo live is also quite rare for Okui Masami nowadays. She no longer tours, and most appearances are in festival style. This live is the first solo live she has had in two and a half years, or since 2016 March. Why not go, I thought.

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Nerd-Factual Accuracy in Fiction

Last season there was this anime called Cells at Work. It was a fun(?) story about how different cells in a human’s body can be personified into the usual anime characters and interact somewhat based on their perceived biological functions. Swallowing foreign substances and breaking them down become the equivalent of hacking at a monster with a knife, for example.

Cutting to the chase, I dropped the show because of its depiction of the digestive system as a volcanic pit of acids. There are no good bacterias the show, ever (at least at where I dropped the show half way through). And frankly that’s just not how it actually works. The way bacteria is depicted in Cells at Work suggests a particular view about the body that is a little too germaphobic for me. Plus, isn’t it just a really “derpy” way to detail, say, House? We are seeing some common human illnesses depicted in epic proportions. Maybe it’s kind of nice to see a message about cellular mutation happening dozens of times a day inside the body of an adult but, I don’t know if I dig this worldview. It puts too much emphasis on “us” versus “them”; when at the microscopic level, we’re all just a bunch of biochemical mechanisms. Mutations always will happen, and humans evolve because of it–it’s such a cartoony black & white take in Cells.

It’s a lot more offensive to my senses than, say, how in Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai’s (Senshun Butayarou (the series) henceforth) description of the thought experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat. Like, okay, you are 90% there but you miss the big fat quantum quality to it. It is the crux of countless FTL theory talk or why giant robots could be made as spoken by countless middle schoolers. I don’t really mind it that much, other than I wish mass media would at least get the science right. If the idea was observation affects the experiment, then that point was made, which is why I’d give Senshun Butayarou at least a passing grade.

For a high school romantic comedy revolving around supernatural mysteries, though, framing the inquiry with a thought experiment is a classy take. I always liked those X-Files episodes. The wiggle space of a different, unexplained phenomenon makes using a thought experiment to explain how the protagonists figure things out makes a lot of sense as long as they don’t rely on it too much. One could say Senshun Butayarou crossed that line, but maybe not far enough.

PS. Slowly unpacking new anime of Q42018, but I’m getting there. I left a lot of Q3 shows in the dust because of my trip to Taiwan and Hokkaido in late September. I’m not sure I’ve recovered from that yet (thus a 30+day gap on blogging). I only learned about “Thunder Thigh Takarada” the other day but I did not know canon fetishism baked into the design could spur this kind of outpouring. Gridman is coincidentally good, so maybe that contributes.


Release the Spyce Preview @ Otakon 2018

I was still working on my Otakuthon post before I went to Otakon, so uh, here’s the timely nugget first.

Otakon 2018 featured two premieres, High Score Girl and Release the Spyce. The latter seemed more feasible schedule-wise so I attended it. That said, I was a couple minutes late so I walked into the opening action set piece.

I wanted to write about it because this show is really up my alley. It’s a fun spy/ninja piece about a bunch of young women who gain superhuman powers after biting on special spice. Spice, as in stuff you put in food, not the drug from Dune. The main character is a 11th grader who stumbled upon the secret organization in her town, Tsukikage, after her 99.99% percentile perception powers let her spot some shadowy figures flying around rooftops one night.

The lead character, Momo, who is voiced by Anzai Yukari, is a “shopping street kid” type character who seemed to lost her father to something. I won’t go too much into it but a truck ton of foreshadowing was laid down during the 2-episode pilot. And yes, it is a 2-episode sort of thing, which is why they showed 2 episodes at the con I assume.

If you have been following the marketing of Spyce over in Japan, which I have in a very casual way, you would know they have had some live stages featuring the voice cast. The main gang of the story is the Tsukikage group of ninjas Momo becomes in association with, and they’re joined in pairs by master-student setups, where the girl each have to train a successor since once they get too old, the spice super power gimmick stops working. This is partly how Spyce features a really solid of current-day voice actresses. Only a handful has been credited online, but after seeing the full credit after ep2 I can say that this is a show that scores well on that front. Well, it’s a Pony Canyon thing I guess.

The other non-spoiler-ish info I can share about the plot, I guess, is that there is an enemy group opposing Tsukikage. And it seems they’re full of female voice overs, too. That seems like the initial main conflict for now.

There are a lot of pieces of the setting that tickled my fancy–the use of curry for example. There are a lot of spice-themed things in Release the Spyce. There are also some actual spy kind of things, like manipulative interpersonal skills and 007-esqe gadgets. There are some solid parkour animation here and there, and the action leans on movement more than clashing of weapons. The 2-part pilot even ended with a car chase. It’s also the feeling you get when you witness the two sides of a pun moving in slow collision in the form of a TV anime. It’s like when galaxies swallow each other up in the course of millennia, despite being an exciting astronomical event. Or maybe a super slow-mo video of a vehicle test crash. I like it when a pun takes on a life of its own I guess.

Momo and her shishou Yuki (CV: Numakura Manami) use a stick of cinnamon-like thing as their power trigger. One of the other girl uses a bay leaf I think. There are a total of 6 active ninjas in Tsukikage as far as episode 2, and each of the student-teacher pair use the same spice, for up to 3 different spices. The media-mix property is already getting a novelization and manga adaptation since earlier this year, so it’s probably written in there.

I’ll leave the big spoiler on twitter. Well, big on impact, very small on substance. Anyways, the series is slated to air in Japan in October. No word on international streaming yet, but I’m guessing whoever typically Pony Canyon works with being the good bet (HiDive?). The full credit roll of the two-part screening was translated into English, so I’m guessing that’s the case.


Random Thoughts, June 2018

Just some free wheeling thoughts.

  1. Eventing is expensive, but it is a good stress relief for me.
  2. Unfortunately eventing causes backlogs on my weekly viewing. I’m slowly breaking them down, but I really need to prioritize Hinamatsuri, so it’s up next. When I went to Japan last month and saw Rietion do her solo stuff, it was really good that I had been up to date on Hinamatsuril. It also had been good that I was fond of the show, and her character Anzu. It made the event just that much more better. But what was surprising was that Hinamatsuri wasn’t even the most crass anime this season. That title belongs to Golden Kamuy.
  3. Golden Kamuy is a western. I didn’t know I wanted a western as an anime until I started to watch this. It’s a great blend of cartoon humor (of the dick and poop variety) with good world building and a compelling overall story, but also these elements that are undeniably Western, such as a “white man” working with a “native woman” surviving outside of the civilization. It’s even got a murder hotel episode. It also makes me think of the Quintin Tarantino films that evoke this kind of a feel but going at it via “cool” rather than “soul.”
  4. Soul is what I’d use to describe Megalobox. It’s a bit of a regressive work thematically because it wants to have two dogs fight each other, no matter what. If salvation of our souls come down to this kind of depiction it is no surprise humanity can’t have nice things. At the same time it is a pretty somber homage to the whole Ashita no Joe concept, even not including the literal homages. The package overall felt like it has a lot of soul going for it, whatever that means, so I guess it is okay. I just slightly struggle with its science fiction roots.
  5. Maybe this is kind of like Hisomaso, where the story is very clearly about women in the JSDF (and in Japan generally) with what they do with their lives, but I cannot be bothered with it because of 1) fighter jet dragons, 2) fighter jet dragons, 3) this aesthetics + fighter jet dragons. So goes the level of discourse.
  6. Which is also to say, Shokugeki no Soma this season does a better justice of Hokkaido than Golden Kamuy arguably, and that’s a feat worth celebrating. In as much I want to give a SO to food celebrity Tony Bourdain and his passing, it is works like his, and this, that really brings out the soul of why people eat the way they do.
  7. Recently I’ve seen people refer to IP/cartoons/games with idol characters as idol things. I see why, but I feel people are not really using those terms to describe those things while understanding the differences between the two. It bothers me because the performance of people pretending to be fictional characters is different than the performance of people who are, as described best as, idols. An actor acting as an idol is going to do the same thing as real idols on stage, but they’re not the same. One goes home from a job, the other is in actual idol industry. More importantly, one is fiction, the other is reality. At best it is some kind of reality where fiction plays a role, and it deserves to be recognized differently than the other kind of reality that I’m referring to.
  8. This is also a funny way where fiction and reality blurs, and a lot of Westerners don’t seem to realize the difference–it is admittedly not the easiest difference to keep in mind, and part of it has to do with the way language evolves. This headline is one example of what I’m talking about, and it’s probably the most egregious mistake I’ve seen (partly because it’s just wrong, like if this was written by a JP site it would probably get corrected by industry). On twitter people casually use the term but that’s where it also happens.
  9. Otakon this year will coincide with a demonstration involving that Charlottesville white supremacist group in downtown DC, which will likely draw not just counter-protesters, but a lot of police. It’s reasonable to be aware and concerned about it, but it is unlikely to repeat the same tragedy last summer because, frankly, the police failed big time in Charlottesville. The DC police will unlikely repeat–it has protestors just about year-round.
  10. Otakon…I guess summer is here. Back to worrying about the party I will throw at AX and how I’m dying trying to break even! LOL. Are you going to AX? Please come to my party and have a good time. We are even trying to bring a new JP DJ to the lineup and I’m dying to announce him.