Saturday, April 21, 2018

Attack on Titan, vol. 25 review


(All rights belong to their owners. Image from Amazon.co.jp used for review purposes only.)

Attack on Titan, vol. 25, Hajime Isayama. Grade: B

Reiner is frozen in fear as the implications of Eren's presence here start dawning on him. Outside, Villy Tiber narrates a stage play for the gathered conquered leaders, initially repeating the old tale that King Fritz had been responsible for the ancient War of the Titans, until the Marle and Tiber factions joined forces to defeat the titans and banish Fritz to Paradis island. But, it's now time for the real truth to come out. Villy claims that because he has the powers of the Warhammer Titan, he has received visions. In these visions, Fritz the First was the true hero that saved everyone by luring the titans to Paradis, and using them to wall himself off from the outside world. He named the three rings of walls after the daughters of the original Ymir goddess (Maria, Rose and Sheena). It's the evil enemy of mankind, Eren Yeager, that killed Fritz and destroyed their era of peace. Villy wants to rally the people the Marle conquered to invade Paradis and defeat Eren. (In the middle of this, we get a flashback of Villy and Magot agreeing to this revision of history to justify the invasion.) During Villy's speech, Reiner cracks, begging Eren for understanding. Eren nods, heals his self-inflicted wounds, and turns into a titan as Reiner attempts to save Falco from being crushed in the enclosed basement.

Magot, at his station surveying the crowds for enemy, receives word that Peek and Porco have disappeared. They'd been approached by a Marle guard asking them to follow him, and it was a trap - they fell down a hole in the floor of one building, with Peek breaking her leg and Porco injuring his arm. They heal themselves. Peek hadn't trusted the soldier, and felt that she'd seen him before (it was Jan in disguise), so she got someone to tail them. The tail locates Peek at the bottom of the hole, and she and Porco are rescued. At this point, Eren bursts from his hiding place up through the stage under Villy, and kills and eats the guy. However, the true holder of the Warhammer power turns out to be his younger sister, and she turns titan and fights Toothy. Warhammer has the ability to create any kind of weapon it wants, from a crossbow to a big squisher hammer. To do this, though, its operator, the female Tiber, has to hide underground and encase herself in a defensive crystal. Eren almost gets to kill her, but the Porco and Peek titans (Jaws, and Armored Carrier) show up and rescue her. Eren summons the Survey crew, who had managed to hide in Eldia and prepared specifically for this moment sometime during the last 4 years. The survey crew go from building to building, securing the neighborhood and killing off all the Eldian and Marle soldiers.

Mikasa dislikes the number of dead children and civilians, and tries to get Eren to stop the carnage with the death of the Tiber girl. However, Warhammer is still going strong, and the tide turns against Eren, as Jeek shows up in Simian titan form. Reiner is missing, and Falco's condition is unknown. In all this, the status of the members of the younger titan-wannabe-squad are as follows: Falco - unknown; Wood - trampled when the audience panicked and bolted at the appearance of Toothy (dying); Sophie - crushed under a chunk of building (dead); Colt - last seen trying to get medical help for Wood (distracted); Gabby - she grabs a rifle and vows to kill the devil Eren (Magot was probably killed in a blast that took out his building). Simian orders Peek and Jaws to wipe out the invaders, while Jan and company are told to all come out of this alive.

Summary: Things escalated fast. All the wordy bits seem to be out of the way, and now we're getting to the big fight scenes. Both sides have loved ones they're trying to protect, so there's probably going to be a lot of disappointment somewhere in here. Still not my most favorite title, but recommended if you like the series.

Friday, April 20, 2018

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 8 review


(All rights belong to their owners.
Image from amazon.co.jp for review purposes only.)

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 8 (SquareEnix, 2017-18), by Rensuke Oshikiri. Grade: B+.
Every so often, I will get to wondering when the next volume of a specific manga will come out, and I'll do a name search on amazon.co.jp to see if something will pop up with a near-future release date. That's what I'd done for High Score Girl just recently, and there were no hints that vol. 8 was planned yet. A few days later, I'm at Junkudo bookstore, and there's number 8 already on the shelves. I wasn't expecting that, and I bought a copy right away.

There's really not so much of a story this time, though. The first part has Haruo facing criticism from his classmates, his mother, and Hina's older sister, Moemi, for his inability to choose between Hina Ohno and Koharu Hitaka for a girlfriend. All Haruo really wants is to play video game against strong opponents, and right now, Hina's the only one that can play at his level, but she's fickle and attacks him when he tries to get close to her, and Koharu is the only one that has expressed strong feelings for him. Later, Haruo is outside, looking for a game center to visit when he's kidnapped and driven to the Ohno estate. Hina's aged chauffeur has decided that Hina deserves a break from her studies, and wants the boy to spend the day with her playing fighting games in 2-player mode. Between the two of them, they easily clear the final stage bosses before going on to the next game. In the end, Haruo apologizes for her having seen him kiss Koharu, and Hina seems somewhat appeased. Haruo is allowed to return home.

But, soon after, Hina stops by Koharu's shop, and sits out in the cold wind in front of a Street Fighter machine as Koharu minds the family's shop. After an hour or two, Koharu's mother returns, allowing Koharu to accompany Hina to a game center. Hina pretty much never speaks for any reason, so Koharu finds herself compelled to talk for the two of them. She professes her attraction towards Haruo, and how she's willing to fight for him. The two girls start out with a strength test game (pulling a handle like you're doing arm curls). Koharu gets 79 kg, while Hina marks in with 176 kg. They sit down in front of the Street Fighter II consoles, and both girls accidentally end up missing selecting Ryu. Instead, Koharu plays Akuma, and Hina takes Zangief. Koharu works herself up into a frenzy by repeating that she is "a demon." In the first round, Hina simply defends, losing on points when the time runs out. Koharu starts out the second round trying to second-guess Hina's strategy, and she gets so wound up that she misses a beat in her attacks, and in that moment Hina gets in a low kick followed by a pile driver for the K.O. Koharu realizes suddenly that this is not a match between Zangief and Akuma, but between herself and Hina. Koharu is still shaken at the start of round 3, and Hina easily destroys her defense for another K.O., winning 2 rounds to 1. Koharu has to accept that Hina is the better player, and has the stronger claim to Haruo.

The rest of the book has Moemi convincing Haruo to try taking a driver's test to get his license. Just about everyone else he talks to thinks this is a bad idea, especially when he keeps trying to use racing games for image training. But, Moemi promises to give him her scooter if he passes, adding that this will give him greater freedom in taking Hina to game arcades farther away in Tokyo (Haruo and Hina are in the Kanagawa area, 30 minutes from Shibuya and Shinjuku by train). Haruo concentrates on studying for the test, while trying to keep his game training from making him check the wrong answers. In the end, he does pass, and Moemi gives him her scooter as promised. He immediately goes to the Ohno estate, where he finds Hina in back, working in the garden. When he brags about being able to take them together to the arcades, she takes a step forward, turns sad and stops walking. Haruo gets confused and the chapter ends.

The last couple pages are a joke about Moemi sleeping over at Haruo's house, and how Haruo's mother makes really weird snoring sounds that end up invoking a demon and a poltergeist that fight each other.

Summary: The artwork's about the same as ever, but Rensuke is getting more consistent in his character designs from panel to panel. The story is evolving from a simple nostalgia piece about a boy growing up with games in the 90's, to a kind of unbalanced love triangle. Games are still central to everything, but there's not so much anticipation over new releases, in part due to how many games were coming out at that time. Recommended to anyone that likes the series.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Goemon's Spray of Blood DVD comments


(All rights belong to their owners. Image here from amazon.co.jp for review purposes only.)

Sigh. Sometimes, the backstory is 20 times longer than whatever it is I want to write about. Anyway, in March, 2017, I posted a blog entry about seeing a poster advertising a new Lupin III movie, saying that this was the one film I actually wanted to see in the theaters. However, a couple days later when I finally had a chance to go see it, it was no longer playing. Entitled, "Chikemuri no Ishikawa Goemon" (The Spray of Blood of Goemon Ishikawa), it looked closer to the original Monkey Punch designs than anything else I've seen recently.

So, a couple weeks later I get a postcard in the mail saying that my Tsutaya rental shop membership was about to expire, but if I brought the card in I'd only have to pay 300 yen ($3 USD) to renew for another year, which would also let me get the first rental free. I walk the 2 miles to the nearest shop, and they have Spray on their shelves already. I grab a handful of movies I want to watch, including Spray, renew my membership, and return to the apartment to binge watch everything.

"The Spray of Blood of Goemon Ishikawa" is amazing. It's billed as "hard-fisted action," and it definitely is that. The artwork is fantastic, the animation is fluid, and the voice acting is almost indistinguishable from the first TV season. The problem is that it's only 30 minutes long, and is just the first half of a two-parter. Meaning that if you saw it in the theaters when it came out, it would have to be paired with another, longer film, or you'd feel really cheated (especially when regular movie tickets are $20 apiece). In the story, Jigen, Lupin and Fujiko target a casino run by an old mafia boss. The boss supports a large gang of highly trained thugs, who are getting fed up with the old man's favorite bodyguard, Goemon. Meanwhile, a massive blond-haired guy on a farm (he looks like something out of Heidi of the Alps) gets a call contracting him to assassinate Lupin. Zenigata gets word that Lupin will be at the casino.

One night, while the casino is packed, Lupin and Jigen infiltrate the place and make their way to the vaults. It looks like they may pull off this heist, until the blond guy (puffing on cigars and riding a massive motorcycle like a cowboy) shows up and starts demolishing the building with a pair of thick, short-handled cleavers. Things end with the gang killing the boss in a coup, blaming Goemon for failing his task of protecting him from the assassin. Goemon is ostracized. He also goes up against the blond, who destroys his katana, smashes him against a wall, and thoroughly demolishes his self-esteem. Lupin, Jigen and Fujiko escape, terrified of the blond. The monster gets surrounded by the police and allows himself to be arrested and locked in a cell. Lupin does a check on the monster, and it seems he's a former soldier that was badly burned in a fire, then rebuilt. His teeth are great big platinum plates. Part 1 ends at an impasse.

Fast forward one year. I've been busy with all the things I've been busy with, and haven't gone back to Tsutaya since then. I get another postcard in the mail, asking me to renew my membership again, and offering another free DVD rental in return. I debate the necessity of having a rental card, and eventually decide, "why not." I return to Tsutaya, locate part 2 of Spray, and go back to the apartment. That night, I pop the DVD in the laptop, and finish watching it. Again, this half is 30 minutes long, and is virtually flawless. Bloody, bloody, bloody, like a Sam Peckinpah flick, and simply amazing. In fact, it's the first DVD in a long time where I watched it again the following day. A little later, I get ready to type up this blog entry, and I'm convinced that I did record my impressions of part one for the blog, but I can't find the original source file anywhere. Either I didn't do the write-up, or I did and lost the file before posting it to the net.

Part 2 starts out with Goemon recovering from his shock at his loss, rebuilding his katana without a handle guard (called the "tsuba"). He then goes out to a rock tower standing in the ocean some distance from shore, and just stands there in "ready to draw the blade" stance, as Fujiko, Jigen and Lupin watch from a safe distance. A gigantic shark leaps from the waves, and cuts a long, deep gash in Goemon's back, but the samurai doesn't react. Fujiko is stunned, and Jigen replies that their friend is suffering from mental trauma and is trying to recondition himself to clear his head out. Fujiko thinks men are stupid and leaves (and is not seen for the rest of the film). Next, Goemon surrounds himself with bonfires, and then stands under a waterfall (a large tree floating down the river goes over the falls and slams into Goemon, nearly killing him). Lastly, he stands in the middle of a castle courtyard and passes out on the third day. Lupin and Jigen give up on him, try hitch hiking home, and are discovered by Zenigata, who arrests them. Turns out, though, the assassin broke out of jail, recovered his cleavers, and left a trail of bodies behind him as he stole a police bike and drove away. Zenigata had managed to locate the guy and shot out the tire of the bike, causing him to fall down a cliff. The monster simply stood back up, grinned maniacally at Zenigata and walked off.

The monster blocks Zenigata's car with a rock fall, and tries to cut his way through the car to get at Lupin. Zenigata shoots at the guy, but he blocks the bullets with one cleaver, and flicks them back, where they hit Zenigata in the leg with the force of a gunshot. Lupin and Jigen escape to a nearby shrine, and are nearly killed by the monster (Lupin gets a wooden stake through his arm). Meanwhile, Goemon staggers up a road, and runs into the mobsters from his last job. They decide to kill him after roughing him up a bit first. As he's laying on the ground, lightning runs through his body to his brain, and he suddenly visualizes how the gangsters are going to attack him. He stands up and gets into his "waiting" pose. The killers are pleased that he's trying to fight back, and they spring on him. There now ensues a blizzard of attacks, and body parts flying all over the place as Goemon kills or disables over twenty people in a few seconds. He gets the new boss to surrender, then makes his way to the shrine.

Goemon intercepts the monster, who initially just tells him to not interfere. Goemon goes into his stance, and the monster attacks. He cuts up Goemon's shoulder, but the samurai puts a deep gash in the back of his left thumb. Goemon gets another electric flash, and in the next attack has a massive slab of upper arm sliced off, while managing to lop off the monster's right arm. Things go a bit farther, and the monster's head goes flying. In fact, the blond guy has just envisioned his own death and scrambles back out of fear. He concedes that Goemon's attack is perfect, tells Lupin that he's cancelling the contract on him, and then pulls out a cigar before leaving. Zenigata limps up and tries to rearrest Lupin and Jigen, but Goemon confronts Zenigata. Zeni tells him to get out of the way, and the samurai growls, "if you're going to kill me, go ahead". Zenigata pulls the trigger, and the last thing we see is Goemon unleashing his katana before the screen goes black. The closing credits include stills of both the main heroes and the lead mobsters, while the ED song is Rob Laufer's "Satori."

Summary: Yeah, lovin' it. Not for the squeamish, though. The parts where the tree trunk goes over the falls and crushes Goemon, and the cleaver slices through his upper arm, had me cringing in sympathy. Both DVDs were marked as part of the 50th anniversary of the release of Monkey Punch's original manga. There seems to be a related DVD pair for Jigen, Daisuke Jigen's Gravestone. I'm going to have to get that next. Highly recommended to those that aren't offended by realistic-looking cartoon gore.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Latte Light Capsule Ball Figure




One of my students is currently working part-time at a restaurant, where one of her tasks is making latte art. I figured that I'd get one of these night light key chains from the capsule ball dispensers for her. $2 each, and about 1" tall. Not bad for the price.



5 patterns in the series.




Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Caricature Update




Some time ago, I ran a blog entry about a guy doing caricatures on the top floor of Amu Plaza (intended to show the artwork to Greg Cravens, who has some experience with this type of work). The guy had two more paintings for display, and I decided to add them here. He does good work, but I'm not sure I want him to do me.


Monday, April 16, 2018

KTS Spring TV Shows Fest




KTS TV had another of its live broadcasts at Amu Plaza to promote its new Spring season show line-up this weekend. Last Thursday, I'd checked Amu Plaza's online event schedule, so I knew this was coming up, but I had to work most of Saturday, and we'd had heavy rain all day, so I didn't bother walking the mile from the school to Amu Plaza to try to get photos for the blog. The weather was much better on Sunday, but the schedule just showed some rock-paper-scissors games, some manzai, and a couple bits with the TV personalities advertising the new shows.



There really wasn't much I had any interest in, so I got to Amu Plaza at 2 PM, took a few photos for the blog, then hung out at Seattle's Best Coffee to read the latest volume of Attack on Titan. Above, we have the ever-popular KTS "stupid bird" mascot.



There were a couple photo-op sets for people to take selfies with the KTS logo.



The booth tables were limited to promos for the new shows. No food this time.



Two of the station's on-air personalities challenged the audience to jan-ken-pon (rock-paper-scissors), for prizes of candy and advertising gimmicks. I got lucky with the above shot - the actual jan-ken went really fast, and the kid lost. Here, though, the photo makes it look like the announcer had already given himself away and the kid should have been able to easily win.



The manzai duo. Manzai is a Japanese type of stand-up comedy that often includes slapstick. These two guys just joked with each other. The audience ate it up, but I had difficulty following the dialog.



Not a really eventful weekend. I'm waiting for the Amu Plaza beer fest on the weekend of the 28th, and Dai Hanya at Dolphin Port the same weekend.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Yamakataya Culture Class Demo Apr. 14, 2018




I've mentioned this one before. The Yamakataya department store in Tenmonkan offers "culture classes," such as for hula dancing, Go, guitar, taisho harp and Japanese calligraphy. And then, every 3 months or so, the store has the students put on demonstrations in the nearby open space for what they've been studying.



This time, the demo ran from 11:30 AM to 4 PM on Saturday. Unfortunately, I couldn't get out of the apartment until 1:15, and I had English classes from 2-5 PM. I was only able to catch 2 groups of one of the hula classes. (The schedule showed that other groups included a few guitar players, more hula dancers, and some traditional Japanese theater. So, I wasn't missing too much.) In past events, I've enjoyed taping the taisho harp and Italian classical singing groups.



Otherwise, the weather was bad again, with heavy rain all day. So, I didn't bother trying to get to Amu Plaza during my mid-afternoon break. I just hung out at a nearby coffee shop and waited until my evening class started.