WUG 4th Tokyo & Shinso Ongaku Ensoukai #4

I yolo’d to see the Million Live concert at Nakano Sunplaza last weekend, but while in Japan (for ~28 hours) I also caught two other shows, so I just want to talk about them a bit. It’s going to be mostly on the Shinso Ongaku Ensoukai and a little on WUG 4th final stop @ Zepp Tokyo. WUG is kind of a known thing at this point, so I want to focus more on the less known thing.

But let’s start with the WUGchans. During the earlier session May’n dropped by and did One in a Billion, which was nice, but I was still on my way from Haneda Airport at around that time. Maybe I was in the immigration line? Anyway, I had a good gap of time waiting for the early show to finish so I made my way to the Unicorn, while enjoy crowd viewing of Ultra Japan. I guess Porter Robinson was there Sunday? I’ve not been to Odaiba since years ago, so this was nice.

Zepp Tokyo is the right kind of venue for WUG, but tickets were sold out really hard for it unlike their other stops, so there was a sizable markup to see them. Anyway, their set list for the show says all you need to know. It’s arguably their most definitive one. It was my first time hearing the second solo medley live, so that was neat. At the end of the night session Mayuc pretty proudly declared that this is WUG, and it sure was…

The setlist for the night show is on Aniuta, while the afternoon setlist is here. Have to say, it’s quite the gap since Osaka for WUG 2nd, the last time I attended a WUG solo live.

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Animelo Summer Live 2017

Today is September 12, as I write this, and I have finally fully physically recovered from my Anisama trip. And that is not counting some lingering bronchitis-type symptoms that could take up to 2 months to clear up. Sup, I am getting old, is what.

To be fair, going to Japan for 3-4 days and concert it up in the humidity and heat does take a lot out of you. I think the kids who run and mosh with their crazy jumps at the outdoor stage are something. This is not an activity that I can recommend middle-aged Americans who are not in their best physical shapes to do; namely, try not to go all out at idols and spent 6 hours going out some more at various anison and seiyuu singers. Not even counting the in-between time, which invariably means you’ll be walking around a bit, even if lounging back.

That said, Anisama is the Comiket of Japanese eventing, and it’s worse in terms of stamina in a way. My conviction grows stronger now on my second trip that this is both a festival and a trial. This time around the lineup is way more powerful than last year, and they pulled some items off my bucket list, such as You & Me duet between Motsu and Yukarin, and seeing the SOS-dan get back together. I don’t even think I had that latter act on my list because I did not expected it to be possible.

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In Defense of Poor Taste

Isekai Shokudo is the story of the Resturaunt in Another World. I enjoy it a lot but the truth is, the restaurant is a Japanese establishment serving non-traditional (but by all means traditional by popular Japanese culture) Japanese cuisine. By Japanese cuisine I mean it in the “General Tso’s Chicken is American cooking” kind of way–may it be panko-battered fried prawn or a crepe stuffed with fruit–the style of cooking served by Nekoya’s chef is undoubtedly Japanese.

For better or worse, the dishes served in Isekai Shokudo is perfect for foreign tongues. I imagine most westerners will be fine with what’s served at Nekoya up to uh, the natto pasta?

Elves likes natto pasta?

Only Japanese people like natto. I mean this sincerely. It isn’t to say foreigners can’t appreciate its deep and earthy flavors or its unique mouthfeel, but there is a reason why we think sushi and ramen when we think Japanese cooking, and not, say, natto senbei. Or even Japanese-Italian cuisine FWIW.

I had some really good natto senbei on my trip to Oarai earlier this year and while it has an initial smell and taste that triggers a fight-or-flight response, the rest of the experience was surprisingly rewarding and full of umami. But gosh the barrier of entry is pretty high. I’ve had also normal natto, and chopped up natto. I would be lying to say I’m a fan, but I can eat it. But I’m not too far from this guy when considering odd foods. Like, for most Americans (whose tastes I probably have the best grasp), natto is probably as difficult to get into as a magical door that opens once per week in random fantasy locations.

As a culturally foreign guy who loves to eat I find Japanese cooking pretty much both the least exciting and most expert kind of cuisine and philosophy. In a land where good eats is everywhere, sometimes you feel everyone is more or less making iterative improvements on known winners rather than really making something bold, where porting local cooking to faraway towns to tease local tongues count as adventurous. To me selling natto to anyone outside of China, Korean and Japan, maybe, seems way more of an adventure than any Japanese endeavor.

So it is just a better question to ask: What kind of a fantasy is Isekai Shokudo? Is it a fantasy where people can unite over a good meal where needs of the body, mind and spirit are met? A fantasy that a Japanese-equivalent of a diner can suit the taste of its Tolkien-esqe cast? That Japanese cooking alone can achieve this? It’s not a hole I want to dig because I don’t believe it leads to anywhere nice, but I might have to anyway.

I mean, how many degrees removed is Isekai Shokudo from, uh, this? You can shift races and shift cultures, but in the end it’s the same foreign nonsense, same wishfully positive reactions, over the same mundane Japanese food. It is not a rejection of that, yeah, I sure can use a nice pudding ala mode right now, but this is not the healing foodie paradise that a person tainted with multiple cultural perspectives can really enjoy. At least, I can enjoy it until we run into NATTO OVER PASTA EEEEW. It’s not cultural imperialism, it’s just a flight of fancy too much for me, a wake up call, so to speak.


Some Thoughts on Magireco, HatchiNine, Msute & Milishita

I have some kind of a mid-season anime thing going but I also want to capture these tender sprouting opinions, fresh off the grill. Not to mention on some level, what’s the difference these days…

Theater Days I opined a good amount already here, so just to update, I’m definitely getting used to Kaori and Tsumugi. I guess they fit well, after all, as engineered, but what helps the most is seeing other fans going at it. Kaori particularly is the kind of idealistic being that engenders a quick reaction.

The first competitive event has come and gone. During the event period, I went to Otakon and was ranking in Million Live vanilla as well, so I only managed tier 2. Got my 3* PST Shiho and I was just happy that I managed a FC on Shooting Star MM, so I can clear all the checkboxes and make a neat screenshot.

How was it? As someone who expected fierce, greemas-like competition I got somewhat part of that in Theater Days, which should surprise no one who knows Million Live Producers. If anything I thought T3-5 were too casual, but my non-greemas producers did not fare that well either. Is this how Deresute is today?

All in all I think if I had the extra 3-4 hours in the ranking period I could have gotten T1 without any issues, but life just didn’t let me have them. So yeah, to me Theater Days ranking event was about the right amount of hard, which is not that hard, but hard enough to be a real challenge. I might not try for tier 1 again though (Matsuri rewards excepted).

Hachigatsu no Cinderella Nine, or Hachi9 as I spell it, is basically the Princess Nine or Taishou Yakyuu Musume of mobile games. I got turned on to it when I noticed Takagi Miyu was guesting on an episode of the mobile game’s radio show, hosted by one of the five Walkure girls whose name I can never remember (Nishida Nozomi). I checked out the visuals, the concept, and eventually the game itself. I was sold very hard, let’s just say. In short, Hachii is my aesthetics. It’s got that good mix of shoujo manga x sports manga x actual baseball thing. It’s snappy. It’s a game focused on character development, and not so much managing a roster or doing any rhythm game nonsense. Imagine if Oofuri was not about middle school boys holding hands? A-1 did a couple animated bits for it. The voice cast, asides from the aforementioned two, includes the full HRR cast and some more of those baseball nerds in association.

The game ultimately is what sold me. At the same time I did not spend much time in it, the game isn’t really primed hard for competition or is that community that hardcore. In a nutshell, the game is a pile of mini-game type things, each playing towards a type of statistics or currency that you accumulate as you go through what the game offers you. During events, typically what you do is trade stamina for a chance at a RNG against an opponent team, whichever team with higher score, boosts and other abilities included (including weather conditions and what not, and spot checking your roster against theirs, to keep it concise), usually wins each given game. Winning a game gets you prizes, which you can use invariably to either roll the gacha, or upgrade your players. Upgrading players is a complex thing in Hachi9. There’s straight up levels. There’s your player’s mood/condition. There are plus and minus traits you can upgrade or remove. You can awaken cards. You can level up skills and there are like a dozen of those for each given player, and skills benefit your team differently for each position your player happens to be playing.

The mini-games outside of actual matches are basically Msute-ish, because that’s also made by Akatsuki, the same developer as Hachi9. Basically a bulk of the game is story modes that you can unlock as your coaching rank goes up. During each story mode, your goal is to do the best possible (at the end of each story mode run you will get a letter grade) in order to reap the most rewards, as more rewards allows you to unlock/upgrade your characters more. Each run of the story mode is broken into chapters. Each chapter is a series of commu interspersed with a training game (think FGO-style card picking but with a deck you build with 9 players instead of 3, rarity included). Each round of card picking reflects 1 week out of the full time period, which usually runs for 9 months or so (9 * 4 worth of moves). As you pick cards you increase your 3 base stats (str dex end I guess?). Those are consumed in order to unlock traits at the end of each story mode run. While you pick cards, each round, some players are eligible for leveling up, and the more powerful you pick for a particular suit (red orange green purple) the more they level up. Each time a player levels up, you get into this second minigame that lets you try for these colored orbs which also is prereq to improve your team’s chances at the tournament at the end of the story mode, and as material for unlocking traits. The better you do in both of these minigames, the better you will be rewarded at the end. Some weeks you don’t train, but you play games instead, so those are just  your typical vs computer matches.

That’s a very high level description of the main minigame mechanisms. I also glossed over a ton of details, and probably have some inaccuracies since I am still quite new at that game. Awakened cards go up in rarity, which is cool, but this also means actual SSRs are a little bit devalued. Melding a copy of a card (or something appropriate by the same player) also unlocks stuff, so dupes are welcomed. By the way, players call you director (kantoku) in Hachi9, which I thought was the final straw that broke my “THIS IS SUCH MY GAME” back.

This brings us to IDOLM@STER: SideM – LIVE ON STAGE. It’s made by Akatsuki, and so far most people are familiar with its bond-based minigame/stage otoge combination by now. It’s definitely much more casual if you came from Deresute, but I personally think this is more what IDOLM@STER is about. It was not a pure otoge, and somehow it has become more and more so, out of laziness or limitation, whatever. But we can do better. The bigger question is can the market appreciate it?

I’m not going to play Msute seriously, but I did the “reset marathon” thing and start with a SSR Tsubasa. It’s a good way to learn about SideM, so I am just doing that. Funny enough all these other mobage is just taking my time away from this one. I can say just by messing with it for a couple days, I have more than doubled my SideM idol knowledge, LOL.

On that note, the system in Msute feels right at home coming from Hachi9, and it comes down to enjoying the mini games and the stuff available as story and character development. The gameplay is not hard but I’m no otoge player so it works for me.

Lastly, a bit about Magireco, or the Madoka mobage. The full name is Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story: Magia Record. So Magireco. It’s basically the same game as Fate Grand Order, but shelled with widefaces. What’s different is that it’s an improved version of FGO all around. It also has one of the best gacha animation I’ve seen, where when you draw a magical girl you get her transformation sequence. Too bad the draw rates are terrible like FGO.

Shamelessly so, the main “Mashu” character is Mocho, so I’m playing it. Shamelessly because Aniplex put Trysail in this game front and center. In this game you play the role of a fledgling QB and guide your group of magical girls to…something. Well, it’s Madoka. The graphics and visuals reflects all that we have known and come to appreciate about the franchise regarding magical girls.

I guess the last note to make on Magireco is that the developer has built a check in the app to see if the app has been installed from the play store, which makes sideloading tricky. Nothing you can’t get around. I personally had some issues but was able do continue playing after cloning the app. Maybe I’ll fix it in Japan or something.


Your Name, Shinkai’s Portfolio

This is really a defense of the movie, from who I don’t know, people who hate blockbusters? But reading it reminds me that I’ve been following this Shinkai Makoto guy since his groundbreaking movie about SMS, mainly because Tenmon’s soundtrack up to Beyond the Clouds were sublime. (By the way he’s writing music for Tsuredure Children this season.) Shinkai’s movies were actually no different than how they are today, from little clips like his NHK-funded cat anime, or the movie about showing your feet while eating chocolate and drinking beer beneath a raining Tokyo sky? I’m just saying.

To me, as a fan of his works, Shinkai has peaked at 5cm. The reasons are twofold. First of all, as I mentioned, many of his works, and certainly all of his major works, are iteratives of the same ideas as expressed in the narrative. Sometimes the themes are even the same. Your Name, especially now that I’ve slowly and watched it at home (thanks Amazon Japan) for the…5th time? Is like someone took 5cm and made it into a crowd pleaser, necessarily by making the work acceptable to a wider audience. This means it’s not a 3-vignette series of films, but a full films in three clear acts. It means spelling things out–by acting it via the characters and other means that are less usual in his films. It means a clear and satisfactory end for all tha shippers. It also mean the experience is now about being carry forward by attention-grabbing edits and lense flares, jokes about sex or romance, plus that whole comet thing. It’s not so much about what makes 5cm such a poignant work–Your Name was a bit diluted, if you will.

The second reason is just that, by fleshing out his ideas, and pivoting around a mainstream-sensible notion of star-crossing, time-spanning, body-swapping hook-and-sinker, Your Name is Shinkai’s most challenging movie to date. It is like trying to execute on the perfect chocolate ice cream. Or maybe in this case it’s more like Stracciatella gelato where you have to keep Shinkai’s distinctive and signature visual cues and awesome display of art and still produce a very solid and familiar, tasty and digestible familiarity. However as a director of that, his flaws are now showing, where as they were previously less obvious in his more experimental works.

There are a lot of incremental improvements between Your Name and his prior works, so the Sakugablog post I linked up there is a good sampler of that. And it’s true, without experimentation of these new techniques people are not going to get better at doing it. That alone makes Your Name a curiously welcome item, and I don’t get why anyone would hate its success, however unwarranted it may be. I think it’s just something you deal with–commercial success is not at all related to how well the craft it is, although craft itself may be a prereq or a limiter. It’s true for Hollywood, it’s true for the rest of the world; if anything too many bad movies make too much money.

But the point I want to make, which I chose the word “peaked” deliberately, is that I don’t think he can make another movie that will resonate with me as much as 5cm. He has spent much of his adult life creating art around these core set of concepts and I think he has still some tricks up in his sleeves, plus room to improve, as an animation creator. But as an artist with a message I don’t think he came louder and less of a diluted message than those three short stories. Which is to say, maybe it’s time Shinkai go make that new movie that he ought to make next, and not the same thing?

I think you can easily counter-argue and say that Your Name is Shinkai’s best film yet because it required him to be a more well-rounded creator, relying on more people in his team to lift the overall movie, to address his earlier inadequacies, and make something that isn’t especially weak in any one area. Unfortunately, those are not the things that made me a fan of his films.

PS. I’ve been reading the Chinese SF trilogy from Liu Cixin, The Three Body Problem, and it is quite a read. Like Shinkai, Liu also professes that he is a fan of the stuff that he is now contributing to. And it shows; both of their works are works as two people who are huge fans of their respective medium and genre. In Liu’s case he literally name dropped Asimov and Legend of Galactic Heroes in the first book. It’s funny, because when I read that reference I thought back not only to my recent viewing experience, but that the last time I saw Shinkai at a con panel he mentioned that he was slowly working through the same OVAs.