Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Konjaku Monogatari, vol. 1

Shigeru Mizuki is best known for his Gegege no Kitaro series.  However, he's a very prolific writer, and even now, at age 90, he's still turning out new manga.  I recently found myself in possession of a collection he had drawn back in the early 1990's, and I'd like to mention it here.

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

Konjaku Monogatari, vol. 1, by Shigeru Mizuki, Grade A  (590 yen, 274 pages.)
The Konjaku Monogatarishi (今昔物語) (Anthology of Tales from the Past) was originally a collection of over 1000 short stories collected in the Heian period (794-1185).  According to the wiki entry, the stories came largely from India and China, as well as Japan.  The modern-day publishing company, Chuko Bunko has a line called Manga Nihon no Koten (Japanese Classics Manga), spanning a good 55 volumes.  And part of this line is Shigeru's Konjaku Monogatari, which is a 2-book collection of roughly 23 stories from the original anthology.  In other words, this book is the first half of 23 illustrated stories based on tales written up over 1000 years ago.

In a way, the Konjaku bears a strong resemblance to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.  Both are ribald, risque sets of stories that often feature country bumpkins and the aristocracy getting into strange situations that generally include sex at some point.  The difference being that Chaucer lived 300 years after the Heian period ended.  The backgrounds are incredibly well-detailed, and the settings (mountain temples, remote villages, big cities) look properly exotic and authentic.  The male characters, and most of the older women are typical Shigeru caricatures, while the younger women are portrayed as being very beautiful. If you're familiar with his other monster stories, then you know what to expect here.

There's little point to summarizing all 11 stories, so I'll just recap a select few.

Iretsutta Damashi (The Entered and Bound Spirit). A demon dispatched by Enma, the gatekeeper god of the underworld, has been sent out to collect and bring back the soul of a young peasant woman.  It's a long walk, and the demon collapses in front of the farm house, where the girl's parents have set out offerings of food and drink to the gods as a plea to help their daughter recover from her long illness.  After consuming the offering, the demon harvests the girl's soul, but is willing to repay the family's goodness by taking someone else's soul in her place.  The girl points out a neighbor, who the demon immediately kills, and he lets the girl's soul go to return to her body on its own.  However, back in the underworld, Enma quickly spots the subterfuge and demands that the demon bring back the correct soul.  Unfortunately, there's a problem - the neighbor's parents had cremated their daughter's body the same day as it was found, so the second spirit has no place to return to.  Enma suggests that since the first girl's body is still intact that the neighbor's spirit be put in that.  The first girl's body comes to life, but it has the second girl's memories of what happened in the underworld, and she wants to be with her own parents, while the first set of peasant parents desperately wish for their "daughter" to stay with them.  The result finally is that the girl ends up with 2 sets of parents.  The narrator then warns readers to not cremate their dead family members so quickly.

Reiki (Departed Spirit Demon, actually, I'm guessing at the pronunciation of the kanji. It may be "Tama Oni" or "Tamaki".) A local feudal lord is concerned that his wife, Kisaki, has been behaving strangely lately, and he summons a Shinto priest to visit the keep for help.  The priest performs an exorcism, forcing out a fox spirit that had possessed one of Kisaki's handmaids.  Then, by accident, the priest sees Kisaki herself and attempts to seduce her.  She calls for help and the priest is imprisoned before being exiled to a remote mountain top.  Obsessed, he decides to starve himself to death in order to turn into a demon (oni).  He succeeds, and returns to the feudal lord's keep, but this time, not only doesn't Kisaki cry out, she welcomes the demon into her bed.  But, the demon had announced his intentions on his way into the compound, and the lord summons a whole army of priests to chant prayers for a second exorcism.  Reassured that the ritual worked, the lord finally visits Kisaki after the long absence, and the demon is still there in her room with her.  She decides to have sex with the demon right in front of her husband, and he collapses in shock.  The narrator concludes that Kisaki followed her lover and later turned into a mononoke (vengeful spirit).

-- Caution Sexual Content --

Kabura Otoko (Turnip Man). This is the cover story, and is one of the more questionable ones in terms of western morals.  A bureaucrat riding from the capital (Kyoto, at that time) to the eastern lands gets a little too horny and decides to take the edge off.  As he's passing by a farm, he digs up a turnip, cuts a hole in the space between the two main roots, and does his business with it.  Afterward, he throws the used turnip back into the garden and continues on his way.  Later, the farmer, his wife and daughter go out to the field and start harvesting the vegetables.  The daughter spies the one that's been uprooted, licks it, and decides to eat the entire thing.  At the end of the day, she starts feeling ill and crawls into bed.  Some weeks go by and she still hasn't recovered.  Her parents notice that her belly is starting to bulge and they accuse her of being pregnant, demanding to know who the guy is.  The daughter pleads innocence, and says that all of this started happening after she ate the turnip.  Neither parent is willing to accept that pregnancy is caused by turnips, but no matter who else they talk to, there's no one who has seen the girl in the presence of a man.  Time goes by and she gives birth to a normal-looking baby boy.  Some weeks after, the same bureaucrat rides back towards the capital, this time with a vassal walking in front, leading the horse.  The bureaucrat remembers the farm that he is passing, and tells the vassal what he had done the year before. The farmer's wife and daughter overhear him from the road and they rush out to demand that he verify his story.  He tries to pretend to be joking, but when confronted with the child, has to admit that due to the likeness that maybe he's the father.  He ends up getting married to the daughter, and the narrator warns the readers from eating strange foods left out lying around.

Summary: Konjaku Monogatarishi is one of the oldest collections of Japanese, Chinese and Indian folktales, and as such are a part of Japan's literary culture.  The stories generally fall into three groups: ones about sex, ones about priests, and ones about common peasants.  Mizuki's interpretation of 11 of these stories has been published by a classic literature publisher and been made available much like the Canterbury Tales in the west.  If you're interested in Japanese folktales, this collection is highly recommended.  If you're easily offended by anything relating to sex and body parts, it's better that you give this book a pass.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thoughts 01

One of the things about having a broken foot is that while everything else feels fine, I just can't move around freely like I'd want to.  Right after the accident, I wasn't thinking all that clearly, and I felt fairly sluggish.  I attribute this reaction to my body's trying to recover from the sheer impact from my hands in through to my chest.  I did have sonograms taken right after the accident, so there was no detectable internal damage, but I assume time was needed to get back to normal, anyway.

So now, here I am, stuck in the apartment simply because I can't walk freely, and there's a limit to how far I can go on crutches.  Taxis cost 600 yen for the first kilometer ($7.20 USD for the first 0.6 miles), the nearest bus stop is 4 blocks away, and the nearest street car stop is 6 blocks away. If I had a car in the U.S., I'd be fine, because it's my left foot.  But, it's $300 USD to get a license in Japan, and gas is close to $7/gallon, ignoring parking fees and insurance.  It'd be easier to rent a car when I need one, but right now, I'm just going to sit here and kvetch.

Japanese TV programs don't really interest me, beyond a few limited anime shows.  During the day, it's largely soaps, talk shows and police dramas; and at night, it's game, variety, pop idol and cooking shows.  Even in Tokyo, there were only something like 5 broadcast channels and about 5 cable stations.  Not sure what it is in Kagoshima.  The really good programming is on broadcast satellite and that's too expensive for me.  So, I haven't bothered getting a TV yet.  It may be worth buying a handheld portable set anyway, if the price is low enough.

Kagoshima doesn't have much in the way of AM radio (2 stations with really weak signals) and only 5 FM stations.  Usually, 3 of the FM stations have really weak signals that fade out during the day, the 4th is a shopping channel that occasionally plays pop music, and the 5th is NHK.

NHK is the Japanese equivalent of America's PBS, focusing on educational programming.  One big difference is that the TV half gets its funding by sending "collectors" door to door for mandatory "contributions". If you have a TV, it's assumed that you occasionally tune in to NHK and therefore must pay a few hundred dollars a year as a viewing fee.  The collectors are really good at hounding people until they get their money.  Which is one reason for not having a TV.  As for radio, there's no fee, but most of the programming is aimed at elderly adults.  During the day, its enka (Japanese version of torch songs), variety shows, pop star interviews and some western classical.  In the evening, it's classical, and Japanese and western pop.  The worst part is when they do "radio dramas", which is used as a promotional vehicle for idol talents like AKB-48.  The radio dramas are absolute dreck.

I don't have patience to watch youtube videos all the time, and even if there's a song I really like, I get bored with it halfway through.  I'd love to get a game system, but new games are 8000 yen ($96 USD) and used are rarely less than 3000 yen.

Which brings me back to sitting at the laptop and kvetching.  I am getting some piecework and a couple of teaching classes every few days, so that breaks up the monotony a little, but I really wish I could sightsee again.  Reading is fine in small blocks, but I don't like sitting in one place like this anymore.

One bit of good news is that the doctor wants me to put more weight on my left foot, walking around without crutches as much.  I'm assuming that his plan is to stimulate bone growth by having the ends rubbing against each other. The increased irritation may trigger a defense response in the bone.  It's "good news" in that as long as I keep my weight on my heel, I actually can hobble around without the crutches and the foot doesn't hurt  But, I won't know if this is really a good or bad thing until the next x-rays in a week.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Commentary: Miracle Jump

I've only recently started noticing Miracle Jump, so I was thinking it's another one of those magazines that started within the last 6 months.  However, while searching for the wiki entry, I came across the ANN story stating that Monthly Young Jump had gone on hiatus in August, 2010, and was to be rebranded as Miracle Jump starting in January, 2011, on a bi-weekly basis.  Turns out that I've somehow missed both the Weekly and Monthly versions of Young Jump up to now.  At least I don't have to worry about one of the two anymore.

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

Miracle Jump, 480 pages, 450 yen.  Bi-Weekly (this issue is dated 5-20-2012, but actually was out on the 10th).
According to the ANN article, MJ was being repurposed as a seinen (young men's) magazine focusing on SF and fantasy.  About 1 year later, it seems to have branched out a bit to include fight stories.  The one title that shows up the most in the search results on MJ is Tiger & Bunny, which I've commented on elsewhere, because it shows up in Newtype Ace as well.

The artwork for the most part is above average, with a few stories being drawn really well, although several aren't all that great.  The main comment is that at least 5 of the stories are one-shots.  This is unusual, since most magazines focus on long-running series to build up the fan base for each of it's artists.  Because the target audience is young men (college age), the stories tend to be violent, with lots of reader service (although no overt sex). In the U.S., it'd get a PG-17 rating for "adult subject matter".  There aren't any freebies, but there is a fold out poster, with a full-page illustration of "Jeanne" on one side, and a pair of calendar posters for Zetman and Nyaruko-san on the other.

(Ex-Vita, with our android-human traffic cop women.)

You can get a list of the ongoing titles from the Manga Baka Updates page, so I'll just limit my comments to those titles that catch my eye.

(Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, with Naruko in full Elder God mode.)

Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, writing by Manta Aisora, art by Kei Okazaki
Based on a light novel series by Manta, this is a manga adaptation of a Lovecraft-inspired gag horror story.  Nyaruko is one of the Elder Gods, disguised as a silver-haired girl during the day.  She takes up with a school boy after saving him from a demon, and things go downhill for him from there.  Artwork's not bad, and the premise is amusing.

Tiger & Bunny:
Guys in powered suits run around and make fools of themselves.  Overly-styled character designs, above average artwork, silly story.

(Aruma undercover in a sexdroid dance club.)

Ex-Vita, by Shinya Komi
One of the most highly-detailed, best-drawn manga in MJ right now, Ex-Vita is a futuristic police drama, that's just up to chapter 3.  Look for this one to be fan scanilated soon.  Minami and Aruma are partners working traffic control in 2050 AD Tokyo.  Aruma is a prototype android with a 4-year lifespan.  In this chapter, the two are directing traffic around a murder scene, where the mutilated body of a man is found to have the business card for an android sex show called Sorciere Show Club.  One of the detectives on the case sends Aruma undercover to pose as an erotic dancer in the club, and the group discovers that someone has been rewiring androids to allow them to kill humans.  In this specific case, in order to protect the ongoing business of the club.  It's kind of like A.D. Police/Bubblegum Crisis meets Blade Runner.

(Dangan Tenshi Fanlub)

Dangan Tenshi Fanclub, story by Murata Yusuke, art by Wanpanman
This is the latest of Murata's one-shots, however, given some of the artwork showing up on a French fan site, it may become serialized.  The artwork is pretty good, although the character designs are a bit cartoony.  The story is silly, but in a good way.  A male school student is enlisted by his classmates to investigate a girl in their school that is believed to be a super-suited demon fighter.  The investigation goes pretty easily, and it turns out that the girl wanted to be popular, and a weird magical creature granted that wish by giving her the powersuit and heavy weapons.  Then, a demon shows up and beats the girl to a pulp until her fan club finally rallies around her.  Except that she also demonstrates an extreme domineering side.


Of the entire magazine, I'd say that Ex-Vita is the only title that I have any continuing interest in.  In part, it's because it's kind of a throwback to 80's style SF, with androids manufactured to fulfill their owners wishes, then developing their own sense of self-preservation and rebelling against the "use-'em-up-and-throw-'em-away" culture.  Plus, the exotic dancers look really good.

Summary: Miracle Jump is Monthly Young Jump repurposed as an experimental SF and fantasy publication, with an unusually high number of one-shot stories.  If you like power-suited heroes and pretty soul-eating demons, this is the magazine for you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Professor Munakata, vol. 3

Recently I've been encountering the name Yukinobu Hoshino with some regularity.  One of the first cases was a couple of months ago when I picked up a copy of Big Comic, and read his interpretation of James P. Hogan's Inherit the Stars.  Since I'd already reviewed Big Comic, I didn't bother doing a write-up of it again. Later, I stumbled across 2001 Nights on Manga Fox, and seriously considered doing a short review of that, except that I just couldn't get into the series long enough to really research it.  2001 Nights is available translated in the U.S., so you can buy it and check it out for yourself, if you want.  If you're not familiar with Hoshino, then one place to start out is Helen McCarthy's commentary on her British Museum exhibit on him.  He does have a strong SF background, but he likes to write in other genres as well.  Which brings me to the next book.

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

Case Records of Professor Munakata (Munakata Kyouju Ikouroku), vol. 3, by Yukinobu Hoshino, Grade A.
I received a copy of volume 3, and started reading this series in the middle.  It's pretty easy to pick up and start following along, since the stories don't really build on each other.  The title character, Munakata, is a wandering professor of Japanese folklore, and he spends most of his time visiting different parts of the country to research the origins of various myths.  He's a big man, bald, usually wearing an overcoat, vest and bowler and walking with a cane.  He's strong, but not a particularly good fighter.  In a number of panels, he reminds me of John Cleese. Most of his real skill comes from remembering various stories and being able to connect seemingly unrelated elements to form a larger tapestry.  Since some of the tales include various fantastic creatures, he embodies parts of Ryoko Yakushiji and Master Keaton.  The artwork is very solid, and the backgrounds are extremely detailed.  There's lots of history, not just Japanese but also European and American, and drawings of various museum artifacts.  As long as you can accept things like instantaneous travel or jealous gods in an otherwise straightforward whodunit murder mystery, then it's a pretty riveting book.

In the first story, Sayo Hime no Gawa (Princess Sayo's River) a group of protesters are attempting to shut down a construction project putting up a dam across a river. The leader, a young woman with health problems, claims that the dam will kill the river.  Driving back home with her friend at the end of the day, they encounter Munakata walking alongside the road in the rain.  He's looking for the source of a specific folk tale regarding a Princess that had been eaten by a river snake demon.  They stop at one point and trek farther up the hill, where they see the mayor, the owner of the construction company, and some other business bigwigs playing golf together.  The next day, the woman suffers a dizzy spell, has a vision of being eaten by the river snake, and has to go to the hospital, leaving her friend and the professor to hike around until they find a giant boulder that had fallen hundreds of years earlier and blocked off the source of a different river. Munakata claims that the event surrounding this boulder was actually the origin of the Princess Sayo folk tale. The woman arrives at the boulder just in time for a big mudslide. She uses her cell phone to warn all of the protesters away from the dam. Then, because of the runoff from the golf course, the clear cutting of the forest, and the recent heavy rains, the mudslide turns into a flood, claiming the woman and all of the bigwigs celebrating the completion of the dam farther downstream.  The story ends with the woman's funeral.

Suisei Ou - Ragou no Hen (Comet Emperor - The Ragou Text), starts out with records of the appearances of Halley's Comet through the ages, and then picks up with Takeshi, a school boy, meeting up with Imibe, Munakata's rival in folklore studies.  Imibe and Munakata are both after stories about Susanoo, the legendary brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu.  Over time, the stories about the two tended to change, with Susanoo being degraded to a lesser character.  Takeshi's father was an explorer who had witnessed the most recent Halley's Comet appearance, and his notes are central to tracking down a related Shinto figure called Ragou.  In celestial terms, Ameterasu is linked to the sun, Susanoo to the moon, and Ragou to comets.  One unusual feature of Ragou's shrine is that it has a three-sided torii gate, and there is only one known example of this in Japan, on the west coast.  However, Munakata has found a statue dedicated to Ragou on the east coast.  Eventually, the group discovers that an ancient tribe of Japanese had built another three-sided torii in a cave under a well at the west coast, and it triggers with the appearance of Halley's comet.  According to Takeshi's father's notes, one entrance to the gate gives immortality, one gives death and the other transports.  Takeshi's mother and grandfather follow the boy to the well and it's revealed that the grandfather has been on a quest for immortality and had forced Takeshi's father through one of the gates to see which one it was - killing him.  Up until now, the boy and his mother had thought that the explorer had simply abandoned them.  As the grandfather tries to push Munakata through a second gate, Imibe, who's been hiding in the shadows, accidentally breaks through part of the well wall, letting an underground river flood the cave.  Munakata grabs Takeshi and the two of them enter the transport gate, taking them all the way over to a second cave with another three-sided torii, next to the Ragou statue in eastern Japan.  Imibe and Takeshi's mother are saved, but the grandfather and his bodyguards are presumed dead.

In Goou no Hourai (Arrival of the Cow God), Munakata and an assistant are traveling by bus to a remote village in order to investigate the legends of a cow-based shinto god, when a steer bolts across the road and is struck by the bus.  The vehicle isn't running now (and the steer is dead) so the passengers have to get out and walk 2 kilometers to the next town.  The assistant gets sick from seeing the corpse, and the sudden appearance of a wandering pilgrim causes her to pass out.  Munakata has to carry the woman on his back, and he and the pilgrim stop at a dairy farm to rest.  However, the two brothers running the farm are having a falling out, with the younger, meaner one accusing the older of letting 4 of his cattle escape. The younger one leaves and the older brother invites the three visitors inside.  Munakata notices a small shrine at the roof of the building that asks for the blessing of the Cow God, and he recounts the legend of the god who had visited two brothers in two different towns.  The one brother refused to welcome the god, while the other had set out a feast for him.  Some years later, the god returned with fellow warriors and laid waste to the village of the mean brother.  Munakata suspects that the story has something to do with a plague and human sacrifice.  The next day, he and the pilgrim explore the area and find a field with the remains of the original temple dedicated to the god.  Suddenly, three bulls show up in the field and attack, causing the two men to fall into a ravine, where they discover a huge bull skull with the horns still attached - the origin of the cow god story.  Above them, the bulls collapse.  A little later, the police arrive with a veterinarian, and the two brothers.  The younger brother recognizes his missing cattle, and the vet says that they have mad cow disease - the entire stock had come from Hong Kong, and hadn't been immunized. All 50 head are going to have to be culled, devastating the meaner younger brother, and completing the parallels of the legend.  Munakata comments that the skull of the "cow god" resembles that of a species of gigantic cattle that had been common in Europe thousands of years ago, but had been exterminated by humans. He wonders how one of those cattle could have made its way to Japan.

Uriko Hime Satsujin Jiken (The Princess Uriko Murder Case). A police detective is taking testimony from Munakata.  The professor is at an archeology dig in a forest searching for clues to Princess Uriko, and he'd noticed a large flock of crows making noise in a tree.  When he investigated, he found the corpse of a woman stuck in the upper branches and reported it to the police. The detective makes the link to a disappearance 2 years earlier of a woman named Sakiko, the step-sister of Noriko, the woman in the tree.  The two step sisters had been engaged to the same man, but Sakiko had supposedly committed suicide at a dam, leaving one shoe behind, so now the fiance is the main suspect.  However, Munakata relates the story of Princess Uriko, a young woman that had been engaged to marry a prince. Before the wedding, a fox spirit kidnapped Uriko, took her clothes and tied her to a branch at the top of a tree.  The fox disguised itself as the princess, but when the procession traveled down the road to the wedding site, someone spotted Uriko in the tree and the fox was unmasked, cut up into 3 parts and its eyes poked out.  This is eerily similar to what happened to Noriko, in that the crows had eaten her eyes.  Munakata also relates the story of Cinderella, where prior to the Brothers Grimm version, the step sisters had cut off their own toes to get their feet to fit into the glass slipper, and while on their way to the castle, were attacked by crows and their eyes plucked out.  Munakata speculates that what had happened was that Noriko was jealous of Sakiko's being in love with the same man as her, killed her step sister and then dismembered the body. The parts had been disposed of (with the shoe being found at the dam), but Noriko had gotten nervous and had driven alone to the top of the hill over the forest to look down at where she'd thrown a different part.  Supposedly, the angry spirits of Sakiko and Uriko caused her to slip and fall to her death in the trees below.  At the professor's suggestion, the detective has his men scour the forest, and they find a shoulder bag, with a mummified foot inside still wearing an old shoe.

Shuten Douji Ibun (The Strange Tale of the Drunk Child, or The Strange Tale of Shuten Douji). Munakata is out hiking the hills north of Kyoto looking for an old shrine that can help him confirm the story of Shuten Douji.  He meets an old priest and the two of them continue walking, exchanging details of the stories as they know them.  Several hundred years ago, the Mikado of the time wanted to defeat a group of oni, so he sent out his finest warriors.  One of the demons turned itself into a handsome young man with a penchant for drinking sake, hence getting the nickname "Shuten Douji".  The warriors failed to find the oni's castle, but did locate an underground passage that led to a big chamber filled with scorched bones.  The professor speculates that there'd been a plague at the time, and the story was related to the burning of the bodies of the deceased.  As they keep going, the priest demonstrates an agility in bounding up boulders that belies his age of 108.  They reach a shrine at the top of one peak, where a stone carving of a monster face with horns is confirmed as being one of the rarer images of an oni. Discarded bits of iron in a circle nearby might be from swords that had been stuck in the ground as part of a related folk legend.  The priest guides Munakata into realizing that the oni legend is actually an allegory regarding Oda Nobunaga's victorious surprise attack against the Imagawa clan at the battle of Okehazama, just outside Kyoto.  (The bit about burned bodies may really regard the torching of an entire village during the war.) Suddenly, the priest transforms into one of Nobunaga's generals, and Munakata finds himself surrounded by mounted samurai that rush past him.  When the vision fades, the priest has vanished and the professor finds himself completely alone on the mountain.

Summary: The Case Records of Professor Munakata features a professor of Japanese folk lore who travels Japan (and even goes to Britain in a different volume) in search for the facts hidden beneath various legends and myths.  The artwork is solid and the stories are filled with the history and culture of Japan, from the Jomon and Yayoi periods.  If you can accept the fantastic elements, such as teleportation and vengeful ghosts, this this is a great series. Recommended.

As a side note, in Shuten Douji Ibun, Abe no Seimei makes a cameo appearance as the ancient priest that had originally set up protections against the oni army.  Seimei is featured in one of the Konjaku Monogatari stories illustrated by Shigeru Mizuki (which I'll review next week).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Area 51 chapter

I'm going to get a little ahead of myself here, but what the heck.

I've got another 4 magazine commentaries coming up, and one of them is for Monthly Comic Bunch.  And, one of the titles in that issue really caught my eye - Area 51.  There's almost no information on it in English, and I liked it enough to scanilate that chapter.  Hopefully, more people will read this one and its popularity in the west will pick up.  I think it's funny.  I put it both on and Nihongo Hunter.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Solar Eclipse

As most of you know, there was a solar eclipse Monday morning.  Japanese astronomy publishers had been anticipating this event for months, with solar viewing glasses going on sale back in Feb.  Last week, I hobbled to a bookstore to grab a pair, and they were almost sold out.  I grabbed one package that had a really nice guide map, 3 pairs of glasses and a pinhole card for 1000 yen ($12 USD).  The guide map showed that the eclipse would run the full length of Japan, with Kagoshima perfectly centered in the middle of the route.  The peak of the eclipse would be at 7:22 AM.  The map also has a mention of the Venus transit across the Sun in June.

In keeping with the rest of my luck, it was clouded over Monday morning with occasional rain.  Next eclipse over Japan won't be for another 20 years.

There was the full lunar eclipse back in December, when it rained then, too.

On top of all of this, the Japan Times had a story about JAXA's first commercial satellite launch from Tanegashima last Friday night (1:30 AM).  Tanegashima is an island about 100 miles south of Kagoshima used as a JAXA launch site.  It's close enough for the rocket trail to be seen, though it would be low on the horizon for me.  It's really hard to get launch information in Japan, so I was excited about actually having a fixed time for this one.  Of course, the sky was cloudy and with my broken foot I couldn't get out of the city to get a clear view down the coastline.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

April-May edition of the "related articles in the media"

Here's the batch of articles to show up in the media from April to May, regarding anime, manga and related stuff.

Japan Times

Yearly anime fairs a must for die-hard fans

'Momo e no Tegami (A Letter to Momo)'

Gundam center opens on Tokyo waterfront

Movie Review: 'Thermae Romae'

Otomo's genga will make you remember

Daily Yomiuri

Nakano Broadway: Next generation otaku mecca

New voice in the world of 'anison'

Anime: A bridge to the Middle East?

Otaku shopping complexes may save local cities

Elements of Japanese culture, lifestyle spread by anime

Manga makes a splash among French comic fans

'Akira' creator committed to manga after March 11


Charity anime 'blossom' premieres at TAF

Trailer for new 'Rurouni Kenshin' film targets global audience

AKB48 subgroup to sing theme song for 'Crayon Shin-chan' film

English website for delayed 'Mass Effect' anime launched

Nagai wins Art Encouragement Prize

Cast of 'Muv-Luv' anime revealed

'Lupin III Master File' Blu-ray, DVD hit stores in March

'Ultraman' goes back to its origin

Latest 'Evangelion' film gets Facebook page

Sunday mornings are for story-telling on TV Tokyo

Warner Bros. to recognize best short films

Schoolgirl sailor-style uniforms on decline

Bandai will introduce plastic model of 'Xabungle' robot

Toyota collaborates on anime series

Gold Coast Film Festival to feature 'Bleach Special Event'

Urasawa invited as guest of honor at Japan Expo in Paris

Playing cards featuring scenes from 'Spirited Away' available online

Akihabara's maid cafes tickle fancy of foreign visitors

Chinese talent recognized at Tokyo awards event

Top animators team up to create new opening for 'Japacon TV'

Gundam robot goes into action in Tokyo's Odaiba

'A Letter to Momo' wins big at NY Int'l Childrens' filmfest

Kodansha to publish manga monthly in China

14 Japanese films to be showcased at Annecy festival

'Pretty Rhythm' fashion show sets Guinness World Record

JAL to offer e-comic service on international flights

'Ninja Scroll' to be released on Blu-ray in May

Tottori to host manga summit in November

Maid cafe waitresses show off their scientific know-how

U.S. film company acquires rights to 'Lone Wolf and Cub'

Hello Kitty debuts as radio DJ

Starship Troopers: Invasion' to hit theaters in July

'Moyashimon Returns' to air on Fuji TV in July

South Korean Indie-AniFest now touring Japan

Six Japanese works nominated at Animafest Zagreb

Urasawa's '20th Century Boys' nominated at 2012 Eisner Awards

Sword exhibition brings 'Evangelion' to life

Taiwanese manga artist Ya Shen wins big at 5th Morning International Comic Competition

Bandai opens 'Gundam'-inspired fashion stores

Evangelion finds unusual partner in Rody franchise

'Historie' wins manga grand prize

'Fairy Tail' takes top award at Paris grand prix

Katsuhiro Otomo to appear at Comic-Con in July

Kyoto to host manga and anime fair in September

1st volume of Ninomiya's '87Clockers' published in four languages

School group plans to open 4-year 'Manga Tech'

X Japan wins big at metal's Golden Gods Awards

France's Prix Mangawa Japanese manga awards honor 'Beelzebub,' 'Shion no Ou'

‘Space Battleship Yamato’ remake hits theaters

Araki JoJo Exhibition scheduled for Sendai, Tokyo

Cute anime girls come to the rescue of rural districts

Dragon Quest to release multiplayer online game

Momoiro Clover Z, Makoto Shinkai, many others announced as guests at Japan Expo

4th J-Pop Summit Festival scheduled for August in San Francisco

Tottori to celebrate its manga heritage in Akihabara

Japan Media Arts Festival to visit Hong Kong in January

Bandai opens Hong Kong online store

Crunchyroll streams anime in Latin America

Fuji TV to stream content on YouTube

Hello Kitty souvenir shop opens in Odaiba


Dates for 5/21 to 5/28:

Birthdays (15):
Raymond Burr, 5/21/1917
Al Franken, 5/21/1951
Arthur Conan Doyle, 5/22/1859
Georges (Herge) Remi, 5/22/1907
James Blish, 5/23/1921
Tommy Chong, 5/24/1938
Frank Oz, 5/25/1944
Raymond Smullyan, 5/25/1919
James Arness, 5/26/1923
Kazuhiko (Monkey Punch) Katou, 5/26/1937
Jack Kevorkian, 5/26/1928
Harlan Ellison, 5/27/1934
Christopher Lee, 5/27/1922
Vincent Price, 5/27/1911
Wendy O. Williams, 5/28/1949

Died (8):
Robert Asprin, 5/22/2008
Martin Gardner, 5/22/2010
George Jessel, 5/23/1981
Moms Mabley, 5/23/1975
Dick (Rowan and Martin) Martin, 5/24/2008
Charles Nelson Reilly, 5/25/2007
Niccolo Paganini, 5/27/1840
Phil Hartman, 5/28/1998

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Moyashimon, vol. 11

It's been a little over a year since the release of Moyashimon vol. 10, and I haven't really talked about this series during that time.  I did, a few weeks ago, run some pages of the Evening issue that mentioned the Ishikawa manga exhibit, but that's about it. For those of you unfamiliar with this series, I recommend that you check out my Moyashimon database.  Suffice it to say here that it's about a Japanese teenager who can see yeast and bacteria, and his adventures at the agricultural university, NouDai, that he starts attending.  With this volume, he and his friend, Kei, are nearing the end of their first year in college.

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

Moyashimon, vol. 11, by Masayuki Ishikawa.  Grade: A
At the end of volume 10, our heroes were split up, with one group in New Orleans and the rest back at home on campus in Japan.  Maria, the French wine grower, has returned back to her vineyard, while the lead NouDai researcher, Haruka Hasegawa, has flown to Hawai'i for some year-end parties, and Japanese-Mexican Takuma Kawahama has teamed up with his two younger brothers to drive back to their family home in Mexico.  This leaves our main character, Tadayasu Sawaki, goth-loli crossdresser Kei Yuuki, scheming 2nd-year Kaoru Misato and professor Keizo Itsuki - who all fly back to Japan in time for winter break.

Back on campus, alcoholic Aoi Mutou gets into a spat with Kei, while waiting for germophobe Hazuki Oikawa to show up with snacks for a party.  Kei's primary gripe is that since Itsuki's research staff has shrunk, and Mutou's always drunk, they're behind schedule on producing their own nihonshu (Japanese sake).  Before the spat can get out of hand, a group of university seniors show up to summon Mutou to a hearing.  Because she's been drinking so heavily lately, Aoi's taken to sleeping under the bushes, which during the winter is a bad thing.  Since she's the current reigning Miss NouDai, it's giving the school a bad image.  Mutou gets tricked by Misato into stepping down, so the council announces a new Miss NouDai contest to be held over the next 3 days, limited to 5 contestants, plus Mutou.  Word goes out immediately, and every male student currently on break rushes back to campus to participate in the voting.  The rules are simple - one student, one ballot.  If there are enough ballots for a particular nominee, she qualifies for the top 5 challenger's positions.

(From left: Nishino, Kei, Oikawa, Kosaka and Nakayama)

The rest of the volume is then divided between the contest, and the moyashi (yeast) that talk about yeast stuff.  Misato sees the pageant as a way to make a fast buck by running bets on who the winner will be, forcing Sawaki to join him in backing Kei on the ballots.  The other 4 challengers are Oikawa, Kosaka (a research student studying the government's self-sufficiency program), Nakayama (a husbandry student that dislikes Mutou) and Madoka Nishino (a high school student working part-time on campus).

(Kei at a shrine preparing to make nihonshu with his backer's help.)

Kei decides to participate only if his backers (who don't know his secret identity) will help him produce nihonshu for his class project.  Oikawa likes dressing up, as well as the attention, so she quickly accepts the nomination.  Nakayama is the most attractive woman in farm studies and animal raising, and her classmates quickly rally around her.  Kosaka had a run-in with Mutou in volume 9 and is willing to try knocking her off her pedestal, if possible.  This just leaves the unknown Nishino, who is being backed by Professor Itsuki.

(Aya, helping run Mutou's campaign.)

Mutou, feeling insulted, sulks in a street gutter, until her best friend, Aya Hiroka volunteers to be her "second".  In the first round of the competition, Aya immediately begins the assault by questioning Nishino's presence on the stage.  Itsuki steps up, saying the the girl, while still in high school, will be entering NouDai this winter and is part-timing on campus as kind of an intern. Plus, there was nothing in the rules that said that candidates had to be university students, just that they had to be popular.  Aya turns next on Kei, announcing that there's only one Kei Yuuki enrolled at the school, and the records show that Kei is male.  Misato rushes to the microphone to spin a story about Yuuki being twins, and that his "sister", Hotaru, had gotten into Noudai by using Kei's identity.  Mutou, who's been drinking again, yells out that the next stage of the contest will be swimsuits.  Nishino and Kei both decide to drop out of the running right there.

(Haruka is less than happy.)

Itsuki talks Nishino into at least wearing a high school one piece suit, while Misato calls Haruka in Hawai'i claiming that she has to rush back because Itsuki has fallen ill.  The next day, Oikawa and Kosaka happily parade around in modified bikinis, while Nakayama wears a cow-patterned two piece plus cow bell choker.  Nishino walks on stage but refuses to take her windbreaker off.  Finally, when Yuuki's name is called, an evil black cloud walks on stage - Haruka dressed up as Kei in a goth-loli suit.  This is where things go out of control.  Someone in the audience calls out "Catherine", and both Kosaka and Nakayama panic.  Turns out that Nakayama has been caring for a pregnant cow named Catherine, which has decided to give birth now, but there's complications.  Meanwhile, Kosaka's parents have arrived on campus to watch their beloved daughter and are calling out her name - Katherine, which she absolutely abhors. And, the crowd has been drinking and they don't like Nishino's attitude and start heckling her.  Kosaka makes up with her parents, but quits the race. Nakayama rushes to save Catherine. Hasagawa reveals that she's disguised herself as Kei and is disqualified.  And Nishino announces that she hates anything to do with nihonshu, starting a riot.  Mutou falls over herself to greet Hasegawa, and that just leaves Oikawa on stage to win by default.

(Fake back page ad for volume 12.)

At the front gate, Kei intercepts Nishino and asks why she hates nihonshu. The girl refuses to answer and exits the campus.  When things settle down, Misato and Mutou are in the doghouse with Hasegawa.  Mutou for being irresponsible, and Misato for dragging her from Hawai'i under false pretenses.

(Misato is also less than happy.)

Misato is now a crippled mess - after Hasegawa finished whipping him, all of the classmates that lost out of the bet beat him up further.  Aya suggests one way for Misato to apologize - he's dressed up as Santa and lowered from Hasegawa's mansion roof by a rope by Itsuki, Sawaki, and Mutou.  One half of the rope breaks and Hasegawa is forced to let him into the room to keep him from falling to his death.  She yells at him for a while for being an idiot, so he gives her Mutou's ballot, followed by his own - both have her name written on them.  He tries exiting through the window again, but Itsuki and the others have already gone home.  Hasegawa relents, and sees a falling star.  Earth is just entering a meteor swarm and some of the streaks can be seen from Japan.  She and Misato watch from her window.  While, half-way around the planet, Kawahama and his two brothers have driven out to a mountain range where they drink beer and watch the fireworks in the sky.


(The experimental nihonshu factory in Itsuki's lab.)

The second part of the story is the moyashi stuff.  The yeast characters start out by confronting influenza viruses, and discussing the history of the polio vaccine, from Europe to Japan.  They also focus heavily on the production process for nihonshu.  In the omake section at the end of the book, the yeasts tell the readers that Evening magazine had included postcards last Fall for voting on who should be the next Miss NouDai, and Oikawa won with 1000 people voting, total.  They imply that there had been 6 different storylines written, to cover whoever won, but the unused ones have been burned so no one can tell whether it's a lie or not.  One of the yeasts lets drop that the mysterious Nishino will be introduced more fully in the next storyline.

(The old way of making Nihonshu.)

Now, about nihonshu.  In Japanese, the word "sake" can apply to rice wine, or to any alcoholic beverage in general.  Because there are at least 3 major kinds of sake in Japan, there has to be a way to refer to rice wine specifically.  There's "ume-shu", also known as plum wine.  "Shochu", the distilled alcohol first made on the island of Kyushu, with a sweet potato base.  And "nihonshu" - "Japanese sake", AKA - rice wine.  So, what most westerners know as "sake", is called "nihonshu" in Japan.

(Bottom edge image - Prof. Itsuki's glasses.)

Summary: We get to see the combat that is the "Miss NouDai" pageant, and learn how nihonshu is produced.  There's lots of great artwork, silly gags, and wonderful backgrounds.  Highly recommended.

Monday, May 14, 2012


I've taken a certain amount of pride in writing up a blog entry a day since coming to Japan almost 4 years ago.  And there have been almost 1400 entries since then.  However, since coming to Kagoshima, I've been kind of hitting a road block.  Most of the anime and manga-related events (and stuff worth taking photos of) are in either Osaka or Tokyo.  I've gotten to all (or very close to it) of the interesting places in Kagoshima I know of that are reachable by foot, and until I get more work, I don't want to drop money on paying for bus or train fare.  Ideally, I want a new bike, but until my foot heals, I can't travel anywhere, anyway.  There is one person I know who occasionally reads manga and passes them on to me to look at, so I'll review those occasionally, plus what little else makes its way to Manga Fox.  Sometimes, she picks up manga magazines for me, and I'll comment on those as well.

But, the point is that I'm running out of stuff to write about on a daily basis and I've completely used up my backlog of photos and comments I'd written up before the accident. So I'm going to go on an irregular schedule, depending on what opportunities come up.  Suffice it to say that I'm still here and still looking for things to document, I just won't be as prolific until I can start walking around on my own again.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Commentary: Monthly Shonen Sirius

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

Monthly Shonen Sirius, 600 yen, 790 pages.
This is the fourth of the four magazines that I grabbed at random just to get them out of the way.  As seen from the cover, this is the one that Princess Ressurection runs in.  The wiki entry states that Sirius started in 2005, and that's its aimed at older male teens.  There really aren't any other titles likely to be recognizable to most western fans.  Genres include fantasy, school life, magic users and fighting.

The feature story is Naqua-den (The Story of Naqua).  Naqua is the spider goddess from Princess Resurrection, and she's getting her own spin-off here.  In the first chapter, a high school boy named Taro demonstrates some supernatural powers (like leaping from a roof) on his way to school, and is spotted by Naqua.  She calls him "Taromaru" and tries to recover his memories, but he just keeps trying to run away from her.  Exact same art as in Princess, and same roundabout storytelling.

Later on, we also get the latest Princess Resurrection story (the heroes get trapped in a pyramid and have to demonstrate that their conscience is lighter than a feather.  This is one of those stories that I will follow despite the low-level of the artwork and character designs.  I like Lillianne's straightforward nature and way with a chainsaw.

(Madoromi the Witch)

As for everything else, well, like with many of the magazines it's a mixed bag.  Some of the artwork is very good, but most of the stories aren't immediately compelling.  Some of the more notable ones are:

Madoromi no Onna Mahotsukai (Madoromi the Witch)
Witch wars between rivaling sisters.  A young girl is out wandering in the wild, easily wasting monsters with her magic.  She picks up an inept student-wannabe, then gets bested in a magic battle with one of her "sisters".  Before the rival can deliver the finishing blow, the student tries to protect the witch with her body.  The rival prepares to kill them both.  Decent artwork, silly gags, nasty fights.  Based on the Maoyuu Maou Yuusha novel series written by Touno Mamare.

Yozakura Quartet
I saw the TV anime for this manga last year.  It wasn't bad, but a little too superficial.  It's essentially a ghost story at the border between the human and yokai worlds, with both sides crossing the border and getting into trouble.  Decent artwork, slow-moving story.

(The Stratocracy of Altair)

Shoukoku no Altair (The Stratocracy of Altair)
One of the unusual features of Sirius is that several of the stories are prefaced by a "History of" page, describing the story so far, plus certain main characters.  Altair is one of these.  Weird character designs, kind of sub-par artwork.  A medieval-period fantasy about a kingdom facing an approaching war, and the "pasha" trying to avert it.

Kataribe List
This one is on Manga Fox.  The artwork is light and airy, and the characters are attractive.  Kind of childish in execution, though.  List is a young girl that carries certain antiques.  It's more of a fantasy tale than anything else, and the main character walks around in a pikachu outfit, holding a talking umbrella.

Sacred Seven
There's a TV anime for this title as well.  Basically a Power Rangers/Ultraman ripoff.  Decent artwork.  The story in this chapter is just the two main characters walking around and talking.

(Celestial Clothes)

Celestial Clothes
A young shinto priest gets involved in a war between humans and the gods.  Heavier, rougher line work, and a strong Norse feel to the backgrounds and clothing designs.  Some reader service.

Kind of a Gunslinger Girls, with young children wearing weapon prosthetics and working for the Australian government to cut down on crime.  Decent artwork and character designs, very wicked weapons (the monomolecular wire that one girl has attached to her fingertips is very nasty).

No freebies. However, like many magazines, there are drawings for prizes (artwork, cameras or a PS3) if you send in the survey card.

Sirius is aimed at a college-level male audience, so there are a few erotic scenes and some implied sex. It's somewhere between a PG-17 and R rating.  Be forewarned.


Dates for 5/14 to 5/21:

Birthdays (8):
David Byrne, 5/14/1952
George Lucas, 5/14/1944
George (SF editor) Scithers, 5/14/1929
Dennis Hopper, 5/17/1936
Fred Saberhagen, 5/18/1930
Joey Ramone, 5/19/1951
Raymond Burr, 5/21/1917
Al Franken, 5/21/1951

Died (8):
H. Rider Haggard, 5/14/1925
Sammy Davis Jr., 5/16/1990
Andy Kaufman, 5/16/1984
Frank Gorshin, 5/17/2005
Harmon Killebrew, 5/17/2011
Daws Butler, 5/18/1988
James M. ("Crown of Stars") Tiptree Jr., 5/19/1987
Gilda Radner, 5/20/1989

Saturday, May 12, 2012

On Hold

It's kind of felt like my luck's been against me for a while now.

First, and most trivially, was the Kagoshima Stamp Rally quest last Fall, which required me to visit 9 different sites around the prefecture to get stamps on a stamp card and then mail it in. The prizes were a $400 travel voucher, and a handful of gift certificates for local products.  I started collecting the stamps in August but couldn't get the last of them until October. The deadline was the end of November, with the drawing in the middle of December.  Only the top two winners would be notified by phone, the others by mail.  There's no indication that the results were posted on the Kagoshima City website.  It wasn't until mid-January that I discovered that the awards ceremony had come and gone, and that the woman that had driven me to half of the places for the stamps, had won a $50 lacquer tray (she entered the contest only because of my offer of a free English lesson if she gave me the ride).

At the end of September, I sent in the application for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which was held on the first Sunday in December.  I spent 3-4 hours a day studying for it for the better part of three months, and the results weren't mailed out until Feb. Naturally I failed the test.

Also in September, I started taking conversational Japanese lessons at the international center in the Kenmin Kaikan building.  10 lessons, 2.5 hours every Wednesday for 1500 yen ($20).  About halfway through, the teacher started talking about everyone (the 6 of us still in the class) writing a speech to give to the class at the end of the course (middle of December).  The speech should be developed as if it were to be presented in the big Kagoshima Speech Contest to be held in the middle of January.  So, this took additional time from studying for the JLPT, and I figured that if I was doing this much work, that I might as well enter the contest for real.  The preliminary round was Sat. Jan. 14, and I spent close to 40 hours just rehearsing and memorizing the speech. I failed to make it past the prelim round.

Also in Feb.-March, the private students that I was teaching at the International Exchange Center went their separate ways.  2 to new jobs in Tokyo, 1 to a new full-time job in Kagoshima, 1 that decided to switch to reading instead of speaking practice, and 1 that has always had an erratic schedule and just decided to stop practicing with me for a while.

Then there was the application for the AEA (assistant English teacher for the Kagoshima school district).  I spent a couple days preparing the board game for the interview test, held in Feb.  Got the results in the mail in March - rejected but put on a back-up reserve list.

A couple of weeks after the AEA rejection, I get hit by a car (last Sunday in March) and get a bone in my foot broken.  The driver's insurance company will pay for the medical bills, but the eyewitness reports go against me and there's no way (right now) that I can ask for damages from the driver. 

Two weeks after that, the people from the AEA program call me and say that one of their other teachers has dropped out and they want me to start teaching for them in May.  However, the requirement is that I be healthy, and some of the schools I'd be going to are a 20-minute walk from the nearest train station.  I have to turn them down.  (In the same way, not being able to get to the International Exchange Center because of the broken foot means that I wouldn't have been able to keep my private students anyway, either.)

Finally, and this is the biggie, my foot isn't healing fast.  The x-rays after 4 weeks have shown no progress.  The next x-ray will be at the 7 week point.  Then I get to see if my luck has changed at all.  Stupid luck.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Java Rant

I've been a PC software programmer since my first job as an engineer back in 1984.  At the time, PC's ran MS-DOS, the only real available language was Basic, and I wrote business applications in the now-defunct database languages of dBase and Clipper.  When Borland's Turbo Pascal came out I immediately got a copy and read the manual from cover to cover.  It was very easy to use, extremely fast, and beat the pants off of anything Microsoft put out.  Which is why Bill Gates worked so hard to put the company out of business and establish Visual C as the dominant product on the market.  Visual C was a dog - horrible to write with and taking up to 15 minutes to compile a simple "Hello World" program.  At this point, though, I moved to Japan and started working as a technical writer, so programming took a back seat for several years.  However, I became a business major, and was able to get Adobe Flash at student prices, and I focused on making my own animations in Javascript.  I liked JS, but it was a very sloppy language, and really hard to debug if the code was not extremely-well documented.

At the end of the 1990's, I got a job as a customer trainer for a company that used a Fortran-based language for writing test programs, and they were just switching over to a new system built on Visual C++.  So, I was back to learning a Microsoft product, which was, mercifully faster, at any rate.  To support writing test programs, I also picked up Visual Basic Script (VBScript) and Perl.  VBS was ok for writing simple personal projects, but doesn't support reading binary files, which I really needed for my Japanino projects, and Perl doesn't draw graphics.  A couple of years ago my laptop crashed and I lost my copy of Flash, and it's now too prohibitively expensive to buy at MSRP.  This means that since I'm back in Japan and writing code for myself, I didn't have an easy way to make animation anymore.

So, last Fall, I bought a copy of the Head First Java book, and downloaded Java from the Sun website.  The nice thing about Java is that it's free, and it's designed for handling web-based media like images, videos and sound.  The bad thing is that a lot of the money made on supporting Java as a language comes from training classes so the documentation is really hard to navigate and the online examples are painfully trivial.

Head First is 700+ pages and took about 4 days to read cover to cover. I'd thought that once I had enough background I'd be able to start copying the examples from the book and make my own test game just to get a better handle on the principles.  That's when I found that following the guidance in the book and writing code directly in notepad makes GUI layout almost impossible.  So, I downloaded Netbeans, and learned that the examples in the Head First book don't translate to Netbeans.

Further, the more I tried to learn how to simply draw one image over another, the more frustrated I got with the online documentation. There's no simple search function, and the table of contents doesn't take me directly to the list of classes needed to do what I want.  I haven't used the Sun Microsystems official documentation since I started using Netbeans. Instead, I've chosen only to reference example code written by people on the net.  And this is where I hit another stumbling point - most of the other examples are also painfully trivial and not intended to be used as a part of a Netbeans project.  This means that the examples don't work for me unless I drastically rewrite them and completely change the syntax; and finding the correct syntax is what I was looking at the examples for to begin with. But, I've been lucky. In some cases I've been able to stumble across examples written by real programmers that do what I want to do. In most other cases, I've had to wade through the syntax-sensitive help within Netbeans to track down the classes I need for certain specific tasks.  It's still too time-consuming, though.

What prompted this rant is that I wanted to write a simple applet for handling the birth and death dates that I post occasionally on Mondays. Initially I started out by putting them in an Excel spreadsheet, but that was going to get hard to work with for finding dates within a specific range, or determining if someone was already in the database, especially if I got much over the 80 people I'd already entered. (I didn't want to resort to Microsoft Access, because I think it looks ugly.)  I'd thought that the Java applet would take no more than 2-3 hours. Then I got tripped up on some "string array index out-of-bounds" errors, and that took several hours to resolve and figure out how to implement the error handling code.  What really killed me was that I wanted to sort objects alphabetically, and ALL of the examples I found, including those on the Java site, were for sorting simple strings or numbers. And the documentation specifically states that the the built-in routines WON'T work for objects.  It took another hour to find a practical working real-world example. What I thought would be 2-3 hours took 10 hours to finish.

Another thing I'm still coming to grips with is exception handling.  When a Netbeans app is running, the standard error window is practically minimized. If an exception is thrown, I can't see it happening, and then I waste time trying to figure out why the program is still running but there's no output being displayed.  Try-throw-catch blocks are usually only for one or two specific exceptions, and any others that do get thrown don't get caught inside the app.  So, I'm just now figuring out which exceptions are the most common and how to trap them to keep them from messing up the behavior of the rest of the program.  (Specifically, ill-formed strings used for file saving/reading, and formatting for dates.)  I want the program to display the ill-formed string and let me correct it, instead of crashing because "01/12/2011" was mis-entered as "01/122011".  Naturally, the ideal would be to validate the strings at data entry, and I can't find examples for date validation online.  Sigh.

There are tons of Java applets on the net now, so I have to assume that other people have gotten past the stage I'm at, and actually do think of Java as a decent programming language, and Netbeans as a useful development environment. I'm close to halfway in my Kagoshima-based adventure game, so I'm not going to give up on Java.  But, it just unnecessarily takes too much of my time trying to get stuff to work right.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Short Review: Sayonara, Zetsubo-Sensei, vol. 27

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

Sayonara, Zetsubo Sensei, vol 27. By Kouji Kumeta.

(The record jacket reads "Zetsubo Record")

(Inside front cover. Looks like one of the fight scenes from "Kill Bill".)

(Inside back cover.)

In this chapter, the characters talk about the need for fixing things (such as the bent antenna on top of Tokyo Tower), and the difficulty of knowing when to do it.  Some of the students pick up their rooms after one earthquake, only to have to do it again after the next.  Others hope that the earthquakes will shake everything back into their original places again so they don't have to clean up themselves.

Nami Hito rearranges her room so that everything is already in place on the floor.

(Final papercraft page for the Zetsubo funeral set.)

One of the first pages of this volume has the characters talking about when the manga is going to end, with Nozomu replying that it may be pretty soon.  As far as I can tell, it finally did end towards the end of last year (although the wiki page doesn't confirm this), but there are enough outstanding chapters to fill up one more volume.  #28 isn't on the shelves yet, but that should happen pretty soon, if ever.  The end of this manga fills me with despair!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Billy House Christmas

At the beginning of March, the Kinokuniya bookstore had set up a display of miniature doll house and ornament kits from a company called Japan Dollhouse Club Billy Company.  The majority of the building kits were for what they called the "Showa line" (the Showa era was named after the Showa Emperor, from 1925-1989).  The buildings look like they date from the 40's or 50's. The ornaments range from cute animals playing, to western-style holiday displays, like the one for Halloween.  Prices for the building kits are 4000 to 6000 yen ($48 to $70 USD), and the ornaments are 1800 yen. Given the lack of Christmas displays in my apartment last winter, I decided to get the Christmas ornament kit, just to try it out, since the kits were only available at the bookstore until March 14.

The first step was to translate the 12" by 18" sheet of instructions.  Some of the kanji characters were nonstandard-looking, leading my Japanese expert to think that Billy is either a Korean company (they're based in Osaka), or at least is using a Korean character set.  Once I got that out of the way, the rest was just a simple matter of following the instructions...

(Status of the kit by night 2.)

All you get are the raw materials - a plain block of wood, some paper, a couple packets of different kinds of resins, a small bottle of stain, 5 holly leaves, some beads and wire, and the finished gingerbread man. I started out right away on the stuff that didn't need the resins and stain - the base (putting the fancy red paper on the wood block), the tree (chopping up the stiffener cardboard that comes with the kit to make a cone, then gluing a length of artificial tree branching around it, plus the larger beads and white wire (painted with a red permanent marker, cut and twisted to make the candy canes)), the Christmas card (xerox paper glued over cardboard), and the cake tray (foam board cut and covered with silver paper plus the gold lace around the edge).  That took a couple of hours.

The next night, the house: This started out as more of the stiffener cardboard, with the main body getting stained, and 4 shorter twisted pieces of wire to make the icing at the edges of the house. One of the resins is actually a kind of molding clay that Billy's calls "whip".  This stuff has a short shelf-life, and every package is dated with a "use-by" date.  It squeezes out of the package like dried toothpaste and doesn't stick to anything.  I had to dip a toothpick in water and moisten the whip in order to make it "paintable".  Then added the smaller beads for the decorations on top.  While I had the stuff out, I diluted the stain in water and painted part of a sponge strip on one side, and put down whip on the other side, then rolled it up to make the beginning of the cake.  The instructions said to wait until it dried, so that's what I did.  This step took another 1-2 hours.

(Resins for the bowler hat and plate on the left; the snowman, cup, heart and diamond for the house on the right.  The two pieces of wire at the bottom are the handles for the snowman and cup.)

Night three: The idea is to dilute the stain with water, but there's nothing saying by how much.  Then adding the whip to make the chocolate frosting for the top of the cake.  But, the sponge is just too porous, and the mixture never really stopped soaking into the thing.  Eventually, I had to call it quits, and just sprinkled some baby powder on top to look like powdered sugar.  As that was drying, I tried tackling the cup.  This calls for the second resin, which starts out looking like a white rubber eraser.  You chop up the eraser for each thing you're going to make (the cup, the snowman teapot body, head and spout, and the heart and diamond for the house). By dropping it in near-boiling water, you soften it up so it becomes malleable.  It hardens pretty quickly, so it needs to go back into the water a lot.  Naturally, during this the water is cooling down so the resin doesn't soften as much each time.  It doesn't really want to lose it's original shape, so the head of the snowman was still a bit blocky when I got done, which worked out ok when it came time for putting on the hat.  The handles are two stiff pieces of black-insulated wire.  The noses are the ends of toothpicks painted with the red marker, and the eyes and mouths are black marker.  This was followed by the third resin - little black plastic beads.  This stuff also goes into hot water to soften, but it's a lot more malleable.  Eventually, too, it starts sticking to everything, and it holds fingerprints really well.  This went to making the bowler hat and rim, the saucer for the cup, and the two buttons for the snowman.  Enough for this night - time: 3 hours.

Fourth night:  Assembling the cup and pot.  After 24 hours, the resins had set up nice and hard, so I glued on the hat, nose and handle for the snowman; and the plate, nose and handle for the cup. Somehow, I managed to lose the buttons, so I had to use the marker again for that.  The cake had hardened as well, so I glued on the holly leaves and red beads for the berries, the small card (part of the instructions cut out and glued to the cardboard) and the candle (another toothpick tip).  Looking at the cake, I noticed that it didn't look like the photo.  This is when I realized that the instructions were wrong (or at least, misleading).  Along with the stain on one side of the sponge, I was supposed to have put down a thick layer of whip on top of the dried stain to make white frosting filling.  Of course, at this point it was too late to unwrap the thing, so I just painted diluted whip over the yellow parts of the sponge and hoped for the best. About 2 hours for these steps.

Day 5: Time to put it all together.  Glued the big card and tree to the block, followed by the cup.  Glued the cake to the tray, and the tray to the block. Added three more holly leaves plus the remaining small beads.  Then the house and lastly the snowman.  This was maybe another hour. Despite the difficulties, the final product looks pretty good.  I don't know if I ever want to do something like this again, but it definitely was a learning experience for the process of making these kinds of kits.  Definitely lots of playtime for the money, and now I have all of the holiday cheer I can stand for next December.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Torus project

I've had this idea in the back of my mind to make a kind of geometric torus out of paper for a while, and a few days ago I sat down to try to figure out how to draw the pattern on a flat sheet of paper first.  I figured that my notebook of graph paper would be good for this, until I discovered that the metric ruler I have doesn't match up with the spacing on the paper.  That is, the Japanese graph paper that uses a metric system for paper dimensions, isn't itself metric.  But, the fold lines for the figure would be too much of a pain to draw out on construction paper, so I just kind of winged it with the graph paper anyway.  Pretty quickly, I realized I messed up with the corner angle.  So, this is as close to a 2-part circular ring as I got.  It's actually a handle used for carrying 3 other handles.  Maybe this is why architects make models of their buildings before actually pouring out the concrete foundation.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Aomori Sticker

During the Kagoshima in Kagoshima travel event at the main train station, one of the advertising booths was for Aomori, in northern Japan, and included a sticker of their mascot characters.  I've only now gotten around to scanning it.

The shell creature to the left is Hotaten. Then Haneton, Nebutan and Aputan.  Hotate is a scallop. Nebuta Matsuri is a big float festival held in August.  And, according to the official English website, Aomori is one of Japan's biggest producers of apples.  I'm having trouble tracking the reference for "Hane", but "ton" is often used in reference to pigs or pork.  On the other hand, that may be a cow, and Aomori is big on raising cattle in the hills.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Commentary: Jump SQ

Jump SQ is another of the Jump titles from Shueisha, but it is also one of the more popular.  Aimed at a slightly older male audience, existing stories include Claymore, Blue Exorcist and To-Love-ru, which are all well-known in the west.  They're also all licensed by Viz, and Viz's lawyers have been cracking down on sites like Manga Fox to stop fan scanilating (with limited results).  This means that it's getting harder to follow the SQ stories if you don't buy the Viz books (if you're in the U.S.)  I don't begrudge Viz their money for U.S. sales.  It's just that, 1 - they're very slow on releases, so generally what comes out in Japan won't make it to the U.S. until years later.  2 - They don't publish full series (Golgo 13 was only something like 15 out 200+ volumes).  3 - They cut artwork or rewrite entire dialog to "localize" (i.e. - make more "hip") for the U.S. market.  Cover art rarely resembles the Japanese originals.  4 - And, finally, they cost 2-3 times the Japanese cover price.  They're basically shooting themselves in the foot with their practices, and western readers are put off because of it.  I know that I won't buy anything with a Viz imprint.

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

Jump SQ, monthly.  550 yen, 890 pages.
According to the wiki entry, SQ started in 2007 as a replacement for Monthly Shonen Jump. The "SQ" in the name supposedly has 3 meanings - "public square", "algebraic square" (supplementing Weekly Shonen Jump) and "Supreme Quality".  As mentioned above, it skews to a more mature audience, with scenes of fondling, lots of reader service shots, and the occasional erotic posing.  Nothing really graphic in this issue, but it would rate at least a PG-17 in the U.S.

(Kakko Kawaii Sengen. The chapter title translates to "I Met Richard Gere".)

The artwork ranges wildly from the very bad to the very good.  Genres are pretty limited to fantasy, action and sports (baseball, tennis, soccer).  The better titles are all ones that are already familiar to western readers:

Prince of Tennis
Ao no Exorcist
Gate-7 (Clamp)
Rosario and Vampire

The lesser-known titles still have appeal at one level or another, and over time may also catch on with western readers.

Kakko Kawaii Sengen
This is a very strangely-drawn gag manga, where the character's facial features are too small for the rest of their heads. The artist was on the Jump-Bang TV show last year (when I was still able to watch it), and the manga seems to be selling pretty well.

Binbougami ga!
A penniless goddess is pitted against similar supernatural entities.  The artwork is very crisp and clean, but the gags are mostly silly.  (Manga Fox has some of the scanned chapters.)

Chiisai Hiroba (Small Wide Space)
Starting up in this issue, the artwork is quirky and the story hasn't had time to develop yet.  But it seems promising. (Note that "hiroba" is often used to refer to an open area, such as a park or playground).  A successful businessman recalls how he'd gotten his start from a webpage that sells "success" (for love, life and business).  At the end, though, the pressure gets too much and when he finally returns to the website, it can't provide the one thing he needs - peace.

Tegami Bachi
I watched the anime last year.  Initially I was attracted by the artwork and character designs.  But the idea of magical battling postal carriers just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.  Still, it is popular in Japan.

Gokigen Steady
I couldn't figure out the story just from one chapter.  Basically, a kung-fu girl fights two weightlifting weirdos.  When the weirdos are defeated, their bodies slowly turn to dust.  The character designs are very similar to Gin-tama.  The heroine is kind of interesting, but the jokes are strictly toilet humor.

(Binbougami ga!)

Parman Junetsuteki na Hibi
This is one of the few titles I'm immediately drawn to.  The reason is that it's by Fujio A Fujiko, one half of the Doraeman team.  He's doing a kind of autobiographical illustrated article.  Since FAF is the last remaining member of Tezuka's Tokiwa-Sou crew, it's interesting to see what he has to say.

(Gokigen Steady)

Time Between Witch and Me
School-girl witches have battles against each other.  The character designs are a bit rough, but the action is interesting.

Papa iu Koto wo Kikinasai
I encountered this title in SD&Go. This time, the story is more gag-oriented, following a small group of people living in one neighborhood.  Kind of slice-of-life.  The artwork is good, but I don't care for the story.

(Chisaii Hiroba)

Fashion designer creates cosplay outfits.  Good artwork, unusual premise.


There is one freebie this time - a Prince of Tennis TCG card, but the art is boring.  According to the wiki entry, D.Gray-man also runs in SQ, but it was missing from this issue.


Dates for 5/7 to 5/13:

Birthdays (13):
Robert ("Welcome Back Kotter") Hegyes, 5/7/1951
David Hume, 5/7/1711
Gene ("There are Doors") Wolfe, 5/7/1931
Bob Clampett, 5/8/1913
Jean "Mobius" Giraud, 5/8/1938
Don Rickles, 5/8/1926
Foster Brooks, 5/11/1912
Richard Feynman, 5/11/1918
Phil Silvers, 5/11/1911
Doodles Weaver, 5/11/1911
Tom (The Tomorrow Show) Snyder, 5/12/1936
Arthur Sullivan, 5/13/1842
Roger Zelazny, 5/13/1937

Died (7):
Robert Heinlein, 5/8/1988
Theodore Sturgeon, 5/8/1985
Alan King, 5/9/2004
Shel Silverstein, 5/9/1999
Frank Frazetta, 5/10/2010
Lester del Rey, 5/10/1993
Douglas Adams, 5/11/2001