Monday, December 5, 2016

Dec. 3 and 4

Amu Plaza Christmas Market, Dec. 3

I got up to Amu Plaza, and the main train station on Dec. 3rd at 7 PM, after my classes ended for the day at the English school. The Christmas Market live music was continuing with a band called The Acoustics. They were ok, but they played soft pops and covers of American Christmas pop music where people still own the copyrights, so there was no point in recording them (plus the camera battery died after taking about 10 photos). After that, I went back home to get dinner and to work on the blog.

JA Matsuri, Dec. 4

I've been getting a little more walking exercise lately, and on Thursday, when I got out of my lessons at the school, I took a detour down to Dolphin Port to look at some small sharks that have been hanging out near the aquarium. A group of workmen nearby were putting up the tent top parts of some display tables, so I knew there was going to be an event there on the weekend. On Saturday, I swung by again after my lessons ended, but all the tents were already closed up for the night. So, Sunday I made a point of going down to Dolphin Port around 3:30 PM to get some pictures for the blog.

The weather wasn't very good, with sporadic drizzle throughout the day. The event was the Japan Agriculture's attempt to promote itself, and local produce. Shown above is their tie-in with the Anpan-man TV anime series.

The main focus was on the food shops selling udon, soba and ramen with black Kagoshima pork, and beef.

I'd eaten just before leaving the apartment, so I was disinclined to stand in line for an hour to spend too much money on a small bowl of food.

There were maybe 150-200 people, despite the weather, and they did have a live stage.

Unfortunately, the band seemed to be composed solely of amateurs. The horn section was unsure of what song they were playing, and the singer forgot the words halfway through. They started up the opening theme for the Sazae-san TV anime series, which got the children and older adults waving their arms, but there was no point in recording them. After a few minutes, I left and headed up to Amu Plaza.

Amu Plaza Christmas Market, Dec. 4

I arrived just as the Kinpou Gongen taiko group was starting the last song of their set. I took a quick photo then recorded the song. Afterward, when the MC was announcing the remaining acts for the day, I realized that she was reading off a sheet of paper at her table. There was no schedule posted anywhere, but the table had a small stack of about 5 sheets that seemed to be printed copies of the line-up listings. No one stopped me from taking one, and I was happy to see that Bon DX had two shows for 7 and 8 PM. I returned home to eat an early dinner. While I was there, I checked my e-mail, and discovered that Bon had sent me a Facebook message saying that he and his band were going to be playing that night.

I got back up to Amu Plaza just before 7, and had enough time to say "hi". The band seemed to be on a tight schedule, and I never had a chance to ask for a photo with them at the end of the night. Sigh.

Anyway, the music was good, and I was able to record 5 songs, most of which Bon normally plays all the time, anyway. The new one was a Ska cover of John Lennon's "So this is Christmas." They played it twice, at the beginning of each set, and I kept missing the sax solo opening of the song, which was my bad.

Bon did ask me to post the photos and video I'd shot to the net, so I did that at the end of the night. On Monday, I realized that I got the date wrong when I made the title cards for the videos, using "2014" instead of "2016". Sigh. So I re-edited and re-rendered two of the videos on Monday, which wasted a couple hours, and I ended up not being able to use the newer versions anyway because youtube doesn't let you overwrite the files (generally, you have to delete the old version and upload the new one, which causes problems if you've already posted links to the old one on Facebook)..

Bon tends to change the line up of his band occasionally. The sax player and drummer are the same as usual, but the bass and keyboard players were different this time, and his main support singer, Nonki, was replaced by someone that was introduced as being a reggae singer.

Bon DX will be playing again on Christmas night, and I'm hoping to catch him then, too.

There's a shop that sells Christmas-themed balloons, and the top balloon of the stack is moon-shaped and has pictures of ornaments on it. But from this angle, I suddenly realized that it looks like some kind of an alien.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lupin III Pachinko Brochure

I was walking through Tenmonkan a while back, and in the display rack with the tourist maps, I found an advertising brochure for the latest Lupin III pachinko machine.

It's only interesting if you play pachinko, because most of the pages are for what happens if you hit certain bonus combination triggers (which I can't do, because I don't play pachinko).

But, I still like it for the flat cel-style character artwork.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 3 review

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

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 3 (SquareEnix, 2015-16), by Rensuke Oshikiri. Grade: B+.
Koharu gets a Super Famicom machine and a copy of Mortal Combat, and she fantasizes about having Haruo visit her house to play against her in her room. But, all the boy does is ask her for the game so he can play by himself at home. Koharu is crushed, while Haruo is trying to deal with Hina's ignoring him at the game center. Some days later, the class takes the bullet train to Kyoto for a school trip. Haruo has his PC Engine and a handful of games stuffed in his carry bag. Unfortunately, one of the chaperones, the kung-fu styled Numata, suffers motion sickness and asks Haruo to get some cans of cider for him from a vending machine when they stop at the next station. Koharu follows the boy to the platform, and when he drops the cans down the stairs, the two of them find themselves stranded as the train pulls out from the station. Haruo discovers that the town here has arcade machines he hasn't seen before, or hasn't seen in a long time, and he spends the next few hours burning through the money Numata gave him, playing games. Koharu wants to think of this as a date, but the boy is still clueless. Eventually they take an express bus and catch up with the others at the inn the class is spending the night at. Haruo tries to get the other boys to play against him on the PC Engine, but one of the other teachers catches them and confiscates the machine.

(Haruo fantasizes about spending the entire class trip playing games in the inn.)

The next day, everyone has a few hours to spend as they like, and Haruo and Hina both travel to Osaka to participate in a Super Street Fighter II X tournament. The grand prize is a trophy and a watermelon-shaped shower set (wash cloth, soaps and shampoo). The two of them work their way up the ranks. At last, it's Haruo versus Hina battling for first place. Haruo wins, then is horrified to discover that an earlier loser had smashed the console in anger at losing, and had damaged several of the buttons. Hina had been playing on a crippled machine and had never told anyone about it. This wasn't a fair fight, and Haruo feels cheated in his victory. He tries to get Hina to explain why she's ignoring him, and they get into a tussle while going back to the train station. Haruo gets his face punched in. He stops when he sees that Hina is still wearing the necklace he'd given her in volume 1. Everyone who participated in the tournament got Street Fighter t-shirts, and Haruo lets Hina have the watermelon shower set (he keeps the trophy). The class takes the bullet train back to Tokyo, and Koharu feels jealous that Haruo had so much fun without her.

(Haruo gets his trophy, but is disappointed in Hina's lack of spirit afterward.)

The chauffeur discovers that Hina has gone to another game arcade, and Haruo talks the old man into letting his charge stay with him for the day, while the old man leaves to play pachinko. The two kids play games and eat ramen, on Haruo's money, but Hina's heart really isn't in it. In part, it's because they're getting to the end of the year, and Hina is slated to go to one of the best high schools in the country. Haruo hates to study, so she knows that they're not going to be together next year. Later, when the chauffeur drives her home, Hina smiles at the memories of her with Haruo. Meanwhile, "mom" is pleasantly surprised to discover that Haruo has fallen asleep at his desk, with his workbooks and notebook open in front of him.

(Hina plays video games on her own, and Haruo really tries to study for the first time in his life.)

Time goes by, and Haruo is so focused on his studies that he's stopped going to the game centers, to Miyao's and Koharu's consternation. Mom is quietly rooting for her boy to get good grades, but even Hina wants him back at the arcade to play against. Eventually, the chauffeur talks Haruo into spending another day at a game center with Hina, and when he takes them back home, Hina grips Haruo's hand as they sit together in the back of the limo. The school year wraps up and everyone takes their high school entrance exams. When it's all over, Hina is accepted into Jouran High School, and Haruo isn't.

Summary: Koharu is falling more in love with Haruo, while the boy finds himself pulled closer to Hina. To stay with Hina, Haruo vows to knuckle down and get accepted to one of the most elite high schools in the country. And fails. But he tried, and that's all his video game heroes, including Guile, can ask from him. That doesn't ease the pain much, though. Highly recommended if you don't mind the character designs.

Friday, December 2, 2016

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 2 review

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

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 2 (SquareEnix, 2015-16), by Rensuke Oshikiri. Grade: B+.
I wasn't quite expecting to read volume 2 in the series, but someone I know who likes the books gave me #2 and #3, and so here we are. In essence, High Score Girl Continue can be viewed on two levels. Superficially, we have a series of 26-page chapters that are effectively stand-alone gag stories. Our main character, Haruo Yaguchi, is an arcade game fanatic who is bad at school, but one of the best players in the Tokyo game centers. He sees the world in terms of Guile, from Street Fighter. Guile is his favorite character in the SF franchise because he's the only one with such a limited set of signature moves, which Haruo identifies with. Each of the chapters then has Haruo going through the day, either at school, at home, or in the game arcades, running into odd situations and having to resolve them in his own way. On a deeper level, though, we have a love triangle, between Haruo, the rich girl Hina Ohno, and a new character that gets introduced in this volume. There's no real point in summarizing the gags in each chapter, so instead I'll recap the highlights of the love triangle aspect.

(Koharu struggles to overcome her cold to save Haruo from himself as he plays Street Fighter during a snow storm.)

It's 1992, when Clinton was elected President of the U.S., and Street Fighter II Turbo was released to the arcades. Haruo is in his second year of middle school, and he struggles to avoid getting caught in the game centers by the teachers patrolling them. One of his fellow students is a transfer student named Koharu Hitaka. Koharu's father runs a small shop, and he's decided to install a few arcade machines outside the store to attract students in the area. Koharu herself has no interests in anything other than her school studies, but she finds herself attracted to Haruo's carefree approach to life. She starts tagging after him, and he introduces her to the world of arcade games, starting with Street Fighter, and continuing on to Mortal Combat, and everything else on the game shelves (Haruo has a PC Engine at home, and he carries a PC Engine GT handheld machine with him when he goes outside (actually, he also has a Famicom, Super Famicom, and a Gameboy in his closet)). If he's not playing games, he's sitting outside the game stores waiting to buy the next console game to come out.

(Harou discovers Hina next to him in a game center.)

At one point, Haruo gets into a fight with another boy playing against him on Street Fighter in the game center, and Koharu stomps out in a huff. The next day, she comes down with a cold and is stuck at home in bed during a nasty winter storm. Her parents tell her that the strange boy is outside playing one of their game machines in the snow. After several hours, Koharu goes out to save him with a cup of hot tea, and discovers that he's not there to win her over - he just wants to play games at the closest shop to his house. From here, Koharu tries to get more of Haruo's attention by reading the game magazines he gives her, and buying games to have him come over to her house to play with her, but the two of them have incompatible tastes in games. Instead, when Haruo does play machines that he likes, Koharu just stands behind him to watch him play. The main factor is that Haruo is everything she isn't (careless, thoughtless, and a total slacker), and she envies that about him. When Koharu loiters in front of Haruo's home, the boy's mother spots her and drags her inside to spend time with her son. We don't get her name (Haruo calls her "mom"), but she's kind of a pervert, and is intent on getting her son to date girls at an early age. What she doesn't realize is that Haruo is still hung up on Hina Ohno, who is still studying in the U.S.

Or, rather, Hina WAS in the U.S. She returns to Japan, and is greeted by her personal tutor, and her chauffeur. (We never see her parents, and it isn't until a later volume that we meet her older sister.) Haruo has been practicing all this time to have a rematch with Hina on Street Fighter, but when they do finally run into each other at the game center, she gives him the cold shoulder. Haruo is crushed, and vows revenge. But, he's still young and doesn't understand what's going on between them. When her driver takes her back home, Hina looks silently at the necklace Haruo had given her in volume 1. (She does everything silently, because she never speaks.)

While there are a couple other students that spend time talking to Haruo (a gap-toothed girl, Onizuka, (or something like that; the kanji is demon + hill) and a self-absorbed boy named Doi, who is in lust with Hina), his closest friend is a casual game player named Miyao. When Haruo is in a game center at night, he's usually accompanied by Miyao, who will give him advice that the other boy generally ignores.

Summary: A game fanatic slowly surrounds himself with girls that also like games, and like him, but he himself fails to recognize the attraction. This is a nostalgic story for anyone that grew up in the 90's and misses the heyday era of the arcade centers. Recommended to anyone that likes the older game consoles, and wants to see what the outskirts of Tokyo looked like before the economic bubble burst in the mid-90's.

As a sidenote: The chapters in this volume originally ran in Monthly Big Gangan magazine in 2012.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Yamakataya Nutcracker Sweet Ad

Yamakataya's latest cosmetics ad. I fail to see the appeal.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fish Bike

Ok, I was up at Streetcar Street, walking towards the main train station. I strolled past this bike, and then just stopped.

I can not imagine, under any conditions, why an unwrapped piece of raw fish would be sitting on an unanchored plate on the back carrier of a bike with no shocks, in the middle of a public area where no one eats outside while walking.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Christmas Tree, Nov. 6

Completely different tree ornament at Amu Plaza this year. Apparently people were tired of green.

It's interesting to see this put together, from an engineering viewpoint. But, it's NOT a Christmas tree.