Thursday, December 31, 2009

Keirin Grand Prix 2009

Happy Year of the Tiger

People have been able to bet on the outcome of cycling races in Japan since 1948. It's called "keirin", and it was first recognized as an Olympic sport in 2000 in Sydney. There are racing velodromes all over Japan, with the closest one to me being maybe 2 miles away (I can get there on my bike in 15 minutes if I take the "long way") in Chofu.

(Cover of the upcoming year race calendar.)

As mentioned in the wiki entry, there are different grades of races, from FII, FI, GI, GII GIII to GP. GP, or Grand Prix, is a 3-day competition held at the end of December. This year's GP was in the Chofu velodrome. I didn't realize how important that is in the scheme of things until I got home after the race.

The wiki also states that there are several ways to start the race, and the number of laps is based on the course length. I arrived around 1:30 PM, and race 6 had just ended. There were 10 races for the day. This is how things went. I visited the keirin museum first, and saw the various trophies and uniforms from past races and riders. Then, I went to the outdoor refreshments area at the back of the stadium and had a nice bowl of oden (it was a pleasant, clear December day, with temps around 50 degrees, and the hot oden soup complemented being outside) and a glass of beer. By this point, it was close to 2 PM and the betting for race 7 had ended.

People were gathering around the outside of the track, and I went over just in time to see race 7 itself end. Betting opened up for race 8, so I went over to the windows, and filled out a pencil card (like the kind used for exams in school, where you black in the circles with the pencil) to wager on the recommended winning line up of racers 1, 7 and 9. I handed in the card at the window along with 1000 yen ($11 USD), and received my ticket. I then found a place at the track where I could see the finish line and had a second beer. Betting closed for race 8 at about 2:20. People came out onto the track, starting with some fat guys on bikes checking the course, then the camera crew, more fat guys on bikes, the pace setter, finally the racers with their bikes, and the gong banger.

(Get yer souvenir bath towels here!)

There's a special silver box that the back tire of the bike fits into which locks the bike and holds it upright for the rider. The racers are all in a line, and the pace setter is about 30 feet ahead of them. Everyone got on their bikes, the starter fired the gun, and the bikes left the lock boxes. This was a five lap race, and the pace setter got up to 25 kpm. With each lap, the counter board counted down. With 1 lap to go, the gong banger started hitting the bell, slowly first, then getting really fast as the racers reached the finish line. At the same time, the pace setter got out of the way and the racers then sprinted the final lap to determine the winner. It was an incredibly fast race, and the cyclists probably did get up to 70 kpm at the end. Afterwards, there were 2 warm down laps and everyone disappeared into the locker rooms at the opposite side of the track. Next, the announcer and race bunnies came out, and the winner returned to get up on the podium. There were the standard "what did you think of the race" and "any thoughts for the finals tomorrow" questions, then the winner threw three plastic balls into the crowd - catching one would get you a t-shirt. I didn't win any money, or a t-shirt. Sigh.

(Oden stand.)

Since the next race wouldn't be for another 30 minutes and I had other things to do, I left after that. But, it was fun. This was day 2 of the grand prix. Admission is 50 yen (55 cents USD; 100 or 500 yen for seats in the stands). The track wasn't very crowded, and the stands were mostly empty. I expect that the real excitement was on Dec. 30 (the final day).

(Inside the museum.)

I'm hoping to go to one of the FI or FII races during the upcoming year to get a better appreciation of what's going on. The 2010 Grand Prix will be in Tachikawa, maybe 15 miles away, which is easily reachable. I can get there in 45 minutes on my bike.

Tachikawa in 2010!

The rest of the album is here.

(In the museum - previous year's advertising poster.)

The brochure artwork, and event advertising was provided by Osamu Ishiwata, whose current manga is "Odds", a keirin-based sports story. Volume 1 is now out.

(Broadcasting truck. NHK is like PBS in the U.S.)

(The screen from the fence area.)

(Lining up for the race. 9 Racers. The audience can get very abusive, so the link fence is required to protect the racers from thrown objects and angry fans. The stadium seating is visible in the background. Those seats are only at that end of the track. The opposite end has the big screen, and the opposite middle has the box seats. So, the track's really not laid out well to allow for taking good photos during the race. Then again, the race is broadcast on NHK, so you can tape it off TV if you want.)

(The pace setter.)

(The gong.)

(They're off.)

(Camera kept focusing on the fence instead of on the racers.)

(The winner approaches the fans after the race. Look at those legs.)

(The post-race interview.)

(Advertising for the track, "Keirin Town".)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The History of Manga, Part 13

As can be seen through this blog thread series, illustrations tended to originally focus on adults, with screen paintings, illustrations for "Tales of Genji" and the "manga"-style ukiyo-e woodblock prints. When we get to the second half of the 1800's, manga as "caricature" and social and political commentary is very specifically targeted towards adults in the magazines and newspapers. The first few attempts to create manga for children failed. It's not until 1908 and the start of Shojo no Tomo magazinethat we start seeing artwork aimed at children taking form and being successful. Takei Takeo, Takehisa Yumeji, Katsudi Matsumoto and Suihou Tagawa then laid the ground for manga as entertainment for children in the 20's and 30's.

Tezuka first appears in 1946, and makes a splash with his "Shin Takarajima" in 1947. From here, he establishes himself as a children's cartoonist in Shojo no Tomo, Shonen Kurabu and Manga Shonen. The Tokiwa Manor Gang follow, with Shotaro Ishinomori's "Angel, Second Class" appearing in Manga Shonen in 1952. The constant influx of artists through the 50's in children's magazines now cements the public impression that "manga is for kids". During the early 1960's there was a pressure building up for the release of a new kind of publication that would allow for "realistic" stories aimed more towards adults. That is, while Tezuka had broken new ground by writing story-driven comics, the ground only covered a limited age range. In 1964, Katsuichi Nagai decides to rebel against "manga is only for kids" by adopting the phrase "gekiga" to represent "graphic novels as serious art", and launching his own magazine, named Garo. (Manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi is credited with coining gekiga in 1957. Tatsumi's own latest work to appear in the U.S. is his 800+ page autobiography "A Drifting Life", which hit the shelves back around April, 2009.)

One reason for mentioning Garo in this thread is that the western press has been picking up on the U.S. releases of several translated titles from Garo, such as Susumu Katsumata's "Red Snow". Many anime fans may be familiar with the first serialized strip to run in Garo - Sanpei Shirato's "Kamui". Garo can probably be described as the predecessor to western hard-core graphics magazines like Art Spiegelman's RAW (1980-1991). According to one source, the gekiga movement then worked to influence Tezuka, who afterwards drew a number of more adult titles, leading up to "MW" (1976-78), while also creating the copycat magazine COM. Garo reached its peak in the 70's, then went into a slow death through the 80's and 90's. It was bought out by a game company, which tried to revive it, but the magazine finally folded around 2002.

Just as in the U.S., where cartoons started out aimed at adults, then got relegated to "childish", then recovered under "animation for adults" via "Fritz the Cat", "Heavy Metal" and "Metalocalypse", the same occurred for "manga". There are hundreds of titles aimed at adults now, with themes ranging from cooking, golf, pachinko, mahjong and politics, but they're all included under the category of comics or manga. The only time I see gekiga pop up now is when someone wants to talk about why Garo was different from other contemporary magazines.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva

If you play the Nintendo DS, there's a good chance that you're already familiar with the "Professor Layton" puzzle game series. If not, then it's a set of video brainteaser games connected by a loose storyline. You have to solve a certain number of puzzles to proceed to the next part of the story.

While there have been some manga based on the games, it's only now that an anime movie has been released - "Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva". It's directed by Masakazu Kubo, best known for his work on the Pokemon movies, and has an all-star Japanese voice cast. The Tokyo Anime Center's latest exhibit features artwork from the movie, plus some of the games and plush toys. The exhibit runs until Jan. 17, 2010.

(Stand in front of the projector screen and have your picture taken by your friends!)

Monday, December 28, 2009

The History of Manga, Part 12

(Shonen Club cover, from the Authentic Account exhibit book. Used for review purposes only.)

Kenichi Katou (1896-1975) was a pivotal player in the mid- to recent-history of manga. Born in Aomori prefecture on May 28, 1896, as well as being a kendo master, he joined the Kodansha publishing company in 1921. Initially, he worked as the editor-in-chief on the 少年倶楽部 (Shonen Kurabu, renamed to 少年クラブ (Shonen Club) in 1946) magazine. While there, he worked with famous names like the historical novelist Eiji Yoshikawa, as well as introducing new artists like Suihou Tagawa, creator of "Norakuro, Private Second Class" (1931), and Keizou Shimada, creator of 冒険ダン吉 ("Boken Dankichi", 1933) to the public. In 1936, he launched the new publication "Kodansha no Ehon" (Kodansha Picture Book).

(Manga Shonen and Shonen Club covers. From the Authentic Account exhibit book. Used for review purposes only.)

("The Wonderful Journey", by Tezuka. From the Authentic Account exhibit book. Used for review purposes only.)

("Angel, Second Class", by Ishinomori. From the Authentic Account exhibit book. Used for review purposes only.)

In 1947, Kenichi decided to strike out on his own, creating his "漫画少年" (Manga Shonen) magazine. It was here that he had the biggest impact on manga history, publishing Tezuka's "Jungle Taitei" and "The Wonderful Journey", and helping promote the "Tokiwa Manor Gang". Shotaro Ishimori's "Second Class Angel" appeared in Manga Shonen in 1952. He also printed Machiko Hasegawa's "Sazae-san". However, Manga Shonen ended its run in 1955 and Kenichi returned to Kodansha.

(Yakyu Shonen covers. From the Authentic Account exhibit book. Used for review purposes only.)

(Shonen Magajin cover. From the Authentic Account exhibit book. Used for review purposes only.)

He became the section chief at Kodansha, then eventually a board member. One of the titles started at this time was Yakyu Shonen (Baseball Boys). And, he also launched this one, obscure, magazine in 1959, called Weekly Shonen Magajin (Weekly Shonen Magazine), which celebrated its 50th anniversary in March, 2009. He died on June 30, 1975, at age 79.

(Kodansha Ehon cover. From the Authentic Account exhibit book. Used for review purposes only.)

(Medal you received for joining the Manga Shonen fan club. From the Authentic Account exhibit book. Used for review purposes only.)

Short bio (Japanese only).
Additional info (Japanese only).
"An Authentic Account: Manga Shonen" exhibit book.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

More anime-related pictures, 2

The weekend of Dec. 19-20, the space in the tunnel next to Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara was used to promote the new release of the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen DVD.

The same Saturday, the Belle Salle building down the street on Chuu-ou Dori hosted the sales of a number of video games. Most prominent was the walking gun mount set up in front of the building.

And, over in Shinjuku, the pillars in the basement of the JR station were used to promote the release of the new Final Fantasy XIII game.