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The 12 Days of Kurisumasu


On the 12th day of Kurisumasu…

Yesterday we featured a great external speaker for your smartphone, tablet laptop or other mobile device. But when you’re out in public, you can’t exactly have a speaker blaring out anime or Jpop or whatever; that would tend to make people rather upset at you. Which is when you pull out your trust pair of headphones or earbuds. And just like with speakers, I have been looking forever for a pair of earbuds that sounded great and fit my unusually small ears. I’ve tried a lot of ’em and have always ended up disappointed. Until now.

These RHA MA600i’s are extremely well constructed. The earpieces, headphone plug and control buttons are made of metal, and the cables are extremely durable but not too thick. I’ve been pretty rough on mine, wadding them up and shoving them into my jeans pockets or a backpack pouch or something similar, and they still work perfectly, no loose connections or frayed cables. They come with EIGHT sets of differently-sized earpieces, in all sizes from really tiny up to Xbox huge, and everywhere in between. I had no trouble at all picking a set of earpieces to fit my ears perfectly. But best of all the sound quality is incredible. They will work with any phone or tablet that uses a standard 3.5mm plug, and it comes with a microphone and control buttons so that you can use voice control/dictation, make/answer calls, change volume, play/pause/skip songs, etc.

On the 11th day of Kurisumasu…

Whenever I go to an anime con, I always bring my trusty laptop. First of all I am a geek, and for me to be separated from my precious is forbidden. Also, I do run this blog and podcast, so having a laptop is kinda handy for posting con reports and pictures/videos and whatnot, which believe it or not I do tend to do on occasion while at con. But most importantly I bring it to watch anime on, either by myself or with others (room party!) But its speakers are pretty pathetic…

And, like many people, I also have a smartphone, which I use pretty much anywhere where I can’t use my laptop for whatever reason. In particular I like to use it to listen to podcasts, audiobooks and sometimes even music while I’m working around the house, cleaning up, doing chores, working on various other projects, etc. But even though the iPhone 6 Plus’ speaker is pretty loud, it’s still not loud enough to cut through any moderately noisy noise, like water running in the sink, or traffic and garden tools while working on the yard, or the vacuum cleaner, etc.

What would be perfect for the above two situations is a portable external speaker. But I’ve been looking high and low and I so far haven’t found one that I didn’t hate for some reason or other. Either it was too big and bulky, or sounded like crap, or was glitchy and didn’t work correctly all the time. I thought I was doomed to a life of crappy audio.. until I found this Expower speaker.

First of all, it’s small, relatively lightweight and easy to carry. It even comes with a little carry bag. Second, it’s Bluetooth, which means i can use it with my phone without needing to hook up any cables; but it also has a standard 3.5mm audio jack, so I can use it with any other device that has a standard audio jack, like my laptop. And it also has one more trick up its sleeve – it has a built-in rechargable battery, which means you never have to fumble with AA or AAA batteries to power it, AND it can serve as a battery pack for your other devices, like your phone and tablet! But of course the most important quality in a speaker is the sound quality, and it does not disappoint. The bass is deep and rich but not overpowering, and everything sounds crisp and clean. This is definitely one of the best portable speakers I’ve heard, and it works really well, and is quite reasonably priced too!

On the 10th day of Kurisumasu…

Kindle Fire Tablet
Amazon Fire Tablet

$49.99 ad-supported version
$64.99 without ads

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote a post laying out some reasons why anime fans in particular should get excited about tablet computing. (The post was originally written right before the high-profile launch of the original iPad, so it mentions the iPad by name, but really it applies to any tablet device, whether it be iOS, Android, Windows or whatever.) And indeed, a tablet is an anime fan’s best friend, because it is absolutely unbeatable at letting you watch your favorite anime wherever you are, whenever you want, thanks to the abundance of high-quality streaming anime services out there.

But tablets aren’t cheap. I get that. Sure, they’ve come down alot in price, but still, for many people, especially those on a tight budget, even the cheapest Android tablet might be more than what they’re willing to spend.

Until now…

Recently Amazon has turned the tablet world on its ear by offering an astoundingly cheap yet still reasonably high quality and well built tablet, the Amazon Fire. Based on the Android OS, the Amazon Fire is able to run the thousands of Android apps out there, including all of the streaming apps of interest to us anime fans such as Crunchyroll, Hulu and friends. But Amazon, being a seller of all things including media, also has their own pretty respectable collection of streaming media as well. And now you can watch it all with the surprisingly inexpensive Fire Tablet. Of course, the Fire Tablet will also let you do all the other standard tablet-y things — browse the web, check and send email, and run any of the other 80 bazillion Android-compatible apps available out there.

It’s available in two versions: an ad-supported version, that will periodically display special offers on the lockscreen; aside from that, the tablet functions as normal, so as far as ads go, they are pretty non-intrusive. But if you want a completely ad-free version, you can get one if you pay $15 more, which is still a pretty sweet deal.

On the 9th day of Kurisumasu…

Part 1
Part 2

Every year I have participated in the [Reverse Thieves’]( [Anime Secret Santa]( project. This group blogging experiment pairs up bloggers who recommend anime for each other to watch and review, only it’s done [Secret Santa](, where you don’t know who your recommendation is coming from. Each year I’ve gotten really good picks that I have enjoyed watching and reviewing. This year was no exception. My Secret Santa seemed dialed-in to my exact wavelength and recommended several excellent looking shows that I had somehow passed over. Since I had recently been watching a string of [lighter fare]( I chose from one of the more action-oriented shows on the list, and so I picked *Psycho-Pass*. And I was not disappointed. *Psycho-Pass* tells the story of rookie cop Akane Tsunemori, fresh from the academy, and assigned to the Ministry of Welfare, Public Safety Bureau’s Criminal Investigation Department. In the future, technology has been developed that can instantly evaluate a person’s psychological makeup, assigning them a “Psycho-Pass,” an assessment of their mental state. When one’s Psycho-Pass becomes cloudy, their Crime Coefficient goes up, and they become latent criminals, and it is the job of the CID to deal with them, subduing and apprehending them, and eliminating those with exceptionally high crime coefficients. This is a fantastic action/detective show with excellent visuals that also delves into meaty topics such as state-sponsored surveillance, the nature of crime, good vs. evil, and psychology and mental health, but it never lets these more cerebral subjects get in the way of the flow of the action. You’ll have to [read my review](, or better yet, watch it yourself. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

On the 8th day of Kurisumasu…

Ramen is a wonderful food indeed. It’s cheap and relatively easy to prepare, and it is also shelf-stable and can keep in your pantry or closet or whatever for over 9,000 years, which is perfect for impoverished otaku such as myself. It is also the favorite food of a certain catgirl-turned-school-idol that we all know and love. But it can be kind of a pain to cook, I mean, you need a stove, a pot, etc. But fear not! The Japanese once again have come to the rescue with yet another ingenious microwave cooking gadget – the Microwavable Ramen Bowl! Simply put the ramen “brick” and seasonings in, along with any other desired ingredients (meats, vegetables, etc.), add water, stick it in the microwave and nuke it, and boom!, instant hot ramen that even a catgirl would approve of. Plus it can be used for making other water-based microwavable foods like instant macaroni & cheese!

On the 7th day of Kurisumasu…

Visual novels are finally starting to hit the mainstream non-Japanese otaku culture. Where once we only had a few lesser known titles, we are now starting to see a growing number of high-quality releases from more well-known studios, including even some of the more well-known A-list studios. This is a good thing, because experiencing a story through a visual novel is a unique experience – when your decisions can affect the characters’ choices, it gives you more of a connection with the characters and the story.

If My Heart Had Wings is a beautiful all-ages adventure game/visual novel from new developer MoeNovel, and tells the story of Aoi Minase, a boy who returns with shattered dreams to his wind-swept hometown of Kazegaura. There, atop a hill lined with windmills, he encounters a wheelchair-bound girl, Kotori Habane, and a beautiful, white glider soaring through the sky. Together, they decide to revive their school’s defunct Soaring Club in order to ride the “Morning Glory,” a phantom cloud carried on the wind that blows across Kazegaura. This is a tale of youth, a tale of boys and girls who loved the sky, featuring five heroines and stunning 720p graphics. It’s fully compatible with all versions of Windows, and will even run beautifully on Mac and Linux computers using emulation software.

This includes both the retail packaged edition of the game as well as key that will let you download the game through Steam.

On the 6th day of Kurisumasu…

One of the most unique aspects of Japan is the onsen, or traditional hot spring bath. Japan, being a country sitting on the volcanically-active Pacific Rim, has an abundance of volcanoes, which create lots of mineral-rich hot springs scattered throughout the land. If you ever visit, I highly recommend you try it at least once. Getting naked and bathing in public may seem a bit off-putting at first, but you’ll get used to it fairly quickly, and, trust me, after a hard day’s touring and sightseeing, getting into and soaking in a nice hot onsen is one of the most relaxing and tension-erasing experiences ever. And now you can enjoy a piece of this experience in the comfort of your own home bath, thanks to this set of 15 bath salts packets that recreate the mineral-rich hot springs of Kurokawa, Ryouma, Beppu, Towada Lake, and Nyuto onsen.

On the 5th day of Kurisumasu…

It has often been said that Japan is the only country in the world where one can enjoy the four seasons. Of course this is ludicrous — the seasons happen everywhere, no matter where on the globe you are — but it is a nice bit of philosophy and poetry. Perhaps the intention of whoever came up with the saying was to express the beauty of nature that you can enjoy in Japan, and in that respect, he or she is absolutely correct. Japan is a country filled with all sorts of beautiful vistas, at every time of year. Fortunately you don’t need to mortgage your house in order to enjoy them, thanks to this beautiful calendar. Every month you will get to enjoy a beautiful scene from Japan — the wintery white peak of Mount Fuji, the sparkling pink sakura blossoms of the spring, the brightly colored flowers and greenery of summer, and the fall bringing a crimson and golden splash of color to the forest trees — and fill that awkwardly blank space on your wall at the same time!

On the 4th day of Kurisumasu…

The world has embraced digital media like nobody’s business. (Think about it: when was the last time you went to a CD store? Do you still *have* a CD store in your local shopping center?) And the media companies have finally grudgingly admitted this. (At least where music is concerned. They’re still cluelessly feeling around their, umm, internal personal spaces when it comes to digital video.) And iTunes is definitely the 800 pound gorilla in the digital media marketplace. They have by far the largest catalog on the planet. Unless you’re looking for imports from the land of the rising sun. While the US iTunes store has started carrying more anime and Jpop music, and has definitely started carrying more anime TV series, their collection still pales in comparison to what’s available on the Japanese iTunes store. And Japanese companies have started releasing some cool anime tie-in mobile apps and games as well. Some of them thankfully get worldwide releases (and translations too!) But there are plenty of others that don’t.

So what is a digital music-loving otaku supposed to do if he/she wants to buy any of these goodies? In years past, you either had to have a Japanese credit card (highly unlikely) or you’d have to beg and plead with a Japanese friend (or find some random dude on the Internet, or worse, eBay) and buy a iTunes gift card from them.

Well guess what, you *do* have a friend in Japan that you can trust – JList! And of course they’d be happy to get you an iTunes gift card. With the ¥3000 iTunes Japan gift card purchased through J-List, you can buy quite a a lot of songs, apps, in-app purchases or whatever else you want.

The best part about buying an iTunes card from J-List is that you don’t have to wait for them to ship it to you. They’ll email you the redemption code straight from the back of the card. (And if you’re buying this as a gift for someone, I’m sure they’d be happy to mail the code directly to the recipient too.) This of course means there aren’t any shipping charges with this order either.

On the 3rd day of Kurisumasu… Fuku-bukuro, or “lucky bags,” are a (quite frankly brilliant) retail sales promotion device created by Japanese retailers to help bring in new customers and get rid of excess inventory at the end of the year — at the same time. Every year around New Years’, retailers all across the land of the rising sun take whatever inventory they happen to have excess of, stuff it into an attractive bag, and sell it at a significant discount off the total value of the items inside (according to Wikipedia, usually 50% or more.) Naturally this generates huge lines, as faithful patrons of any given store line up hours in advance to get their chance at grabbing a fuku-bukuro from their favorite store. Yeah, rather like an Apple product launch. They are so popular, in fact, that a certain notorious daily deals site here in good ol’ ‘Mehrica has adopted the fuku-bukuro tradition as well, although theirs is decidedly less upscale than the Japanese counterpart. Of course, being a purveyor of Japanese stuffs, our good friends at J-List and JBox have decided to do the fuku-bukuro thing too. Every year, for the past few years, they have put up various cool-sounding fuku-bukuro for fans of the various types/genres of products that they sell. This year they’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty and have produced eight, count ’em, EIGHT classes of fuku-bukuro. Whatever your taste, there’s a fuku-bukuro to cater to your desires. The best part of their fuku-bukuro, though, is that you can order them online, from the comfort of your own home/apartment/school/office/underground secret evil lair; there’s no need to go through with all that lining-up-hours-before-your-favorite-store-opens-standing-in-the-cold nonsense. If you’re a fan of Japan’s, *ahem*, unique and interesting adult-oriented products, then the Ultimate Japanese Adult Lucky Bag is for you, filled with a treasure trove of Japanese Adult Videos, toys and more, including six high-quality shrinkwrapped adult DVDs with top name stars, adult toys for both men and women, one pair of female panties, one bottle exotic Japanese “H” lotion, and an extra 2+ other items. Are you a lover of those awesome Japanese snacks? Then the new Snacks lucky bag will satisfy your appetite. Inside you’ll find 10 random Japanese snacks, sure to be yummy for the tummy. The Doki Doki Lucky Random Set is a great all-ages gift for any lover of all things Japan. In it you will find 7+ items, including one large plush toy, an electronic toy/home item, a useful traditional Japanese item, an all-ages visual novels in English, Sanrio Kawaii 2016 calendar and random items from our category including magazines. For the anime enthusiasts, out there, the Anime Toys gift box, available in a small and large (DX) version is the one for you, filled with all manner of anime-related toys. And if you’re a lover of all things *kawaii*, then Kawaii Lucky Bag is the one you want. And finally, if you’re a fan of, *ahem*, “that”, then the Hentai Otaku Lucky Bag and Hentai Deluxe Lucky Bag are the ones you want. You get one English-translated visual novel/eroge, one adult DVD, five English-translated hentai manga, and a Tenga male stress toy. The Deluxe bag kicks it up a notch by adding a second English-translated visual novel, a second adult DVD, increasing the number of English-translated hentai manga to 10, and adding a full-sized (Japanese trade paperback size) English-translated hentai manga. Whichever you choose, a fuku-bukuro represents a fun way to surprise someone (perhaps yourself) with a unique and random gift. One could say that “life is like a fuku-bukuro… you never know what you’re gonna get!”
On the 2nd day of Kurisumasu… If you’ve been following my Twitter feed, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve grown rather… *obsessed*… over a certain idol franchise and its mobile game. In fact, odds are you’re probably starting to get sick of it. Yeah, sorry about that. It’s just a lot of fun, and is a perfect game for me, since it can be played in short spurts; it’s not like an RPG where you can get wrapped up in the story and play for hours, nor is it like an MMORPG where you have to be online at the same time as your guildmates and instance raids can sometimes last for hours. In fact it’s literally saved my sanity; whenever I get stressed out about something at work or whatever, I pick it up and play a few songs, and that usually helps me de-stress. But, more than the game, I’ve fallen in love with the whole *Love Live!* franchise. The characters are cute and endearing, and the anime, far from being the vapid generic idol anime that I thought it was going to be, was actually down to earth and heartfelt, and actually manages to bring the feels too. Anyway, as you’d expect, Japan is cranking out a bevy of *Love Live!* related products, everything from music CDs and DVDs/Blu-rays (of course), to figures, to… ramen?!. But one product in particular caught my eye, because they are ABSOLUTELY FREAKING ADORABLE. These little Love Live! figures are meant to hang off your earbuds, and damn it all, they are just the cutest thing ever. They will fit almost any earbud cord, and come in a set of 10, which include the 9 μ’s members of course, plus a special secret bonus character. Unfortunately these aren’t yet available; they’re a preorder and are set to be released in mid-March, so you’ll have to do the whole “this coupon can be redeemed for…” thing if you’re giving them as a gift.
On the 1st day of Kurisumasu…
Star Wars Lightsaber Chopsticks!
Star Wars Lightsaber Chopsticks!
Luke Skywalker version (Blue)
Kylo Ren version (Red)
*Star Wars* fever has swept the globe, with the recent release of *Star Wars: The Force Awakens*. And unlike the disappointing first three entries into the series, this latest story, set after the events of *Star Wars: Return of the Jedi*, has been raking in some very positive reviews. The Japanese, in particular, are going crazy over *Star Wars*. (Not surprising, as they often go crazy over films and other elements of Western pop culture, just as we go crazy about elements of Japanese pop culture, e.g. anime.) And, just as they have done with other popular franchises, the Japanese have started to market a wide variety of cool *Star Wars* tie-in products. I’m sure we’ve all wished that we had Jedi or Sith powers at least once in our lives. I mean, think about it, you’d never have to get up to go the fridge to get a cold drink or a snack anymore; you could just have it levitate magically right to your couch or whatever. Unfortunately, us filthy normal humans have to eat the old-fashioned way. But why not eat in style with these lightsaber chopsticks? These extremely detailed replicas are crafted to look just like the lightsabers of Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren, featuring intricate hilts and a transparent “blade.” But rather than battling your enemies, they help you battle your hunger instead!


On the 12th day of Kurisumasu…
Now I’m sure everyone reading this is a fan of anime and/or manga (one would hope so, considering you’re at Otaku no Podcast after all), and that’s all fine and good. But sometimes we otaku are accused (and rightfully so) of not being able to see the forest but for the trees. Every once in a while, it’s good to step away from anime a little bit and take a look at Japan as a whole, seeing as how it’s the place that brings us anime in the first place. Japan is a place of great beauty — it is said that one can truly enjoy the four distinct seasons there — and there are some absolutely breathtaking scenic spots scattered all around the country. (In fact, you’ve probably seen more than a few of them in anime. The latest trend is for anime to take place in real locations, and this has given birth to the interesting new industry of anime tourism, which is turning out to be a big business.) Then of course there’s all the cultural elements — festivals, foods, shrines, etc. A great way to enjoy these vistas is with a calendar. Every month you get to enjoy a beautiful new picture of Japan, and at the same time fill in that awkwardly blank spot on your wall. Where can one obtain such a calendar, you might be asking? J-List, of course! As it turns out, alongside their huge selection of calendars devoted to anime and, ahem, appreciation of the female form, they also stock quite an assortment of calendars devoted to photography of some of Japan’s beautiful nature scenes; famous Japanese landmarks; arts and crafts, both traditional and modern; scenes from Japanese life; festivals; shrines; and oh so much more. Whatever your interest, there’s sure to be a calendar for you — and irresistibly cute cats too. *I know, the link above does include some (strictly speaking) non-Japan/nature/art related calendars. Unfortunately, this is the best I could manage using J-List’s search filters. Just ignore those other calendars, won’t you? (waves hands in front of your face) These aren’t the calendars you’re looking for, move along. 😉 )*
On the 11th day of Kurisumasu…
When approaching a potential new anime series to watch, I’ve learned to adopt an attitude that can best be summed up as “If your expectations are high, then all you’re likely to end up with is disappointment.” In other words, if you go into a show expecting perfection, you most likely will be disappointed; but if you go in with only mild expectations, or even none at all, then you may find that you actually stumbled onto something cool, or at least mildly entertaining. I suppose one could say that this attitude makes me too easy to please. But it has enabled me to watch a great many shows that I perhaps would have never considered otherwise, and I ended up liking a great many of them. Don’t get me wrong: if something is truly mind-numbingly bad, I won’t hesitate to drop it like a hot potato and extoll its horribleness to the Internets at large (hopefully in a humorous manner.) Now, my attitude was quite different back in the early days — I literally couldn’t afford to make a mistake, since DVDs still cost a pretty penny back then; however, today, thanks to the blessing of streaming anime, I can afford to take more chances. Take Arpeggio of Blue Steel (aka Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio, aka Ars Nova) for example. Its premise — that of sentient battleships (complete with moe avatars) invading our oceans — sounds pretty cringe-worthy, never mind that it’s a blatant rip-off of something else. If this were back in the DVD era, I would’ve run away without even giving it a second glance. But thanks to Crunchyroll, and having an unexpectedly work-free evening and needing to unwind, I gave it a chance, and — surprise — *I liked it.* No, it’s by no means perfect, nor is it a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but its 12-episode run was very enjoyable, with some awesome battles, and some cool characters that I ended up liking, especially the quirky ships’ mental models. (And, yes, moe too.) True, it was a bit heavy on the computer-generated animation, but overall it wasn’t a bad-looking show, and it had a decent soundtrack, including some really catchy OP and ED tunes. Unfortunately, having only a 12-episode run, this show still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. How did Gunzō’s crew come to be on the ship? (I doubt it’s as simple as him pulling up to the marine academy, sticking his head out the window, and saying “Yo! Check out my sweet ride! Wanna join my posse — erm, I mean, my crew?”) What happened to Gunzō’s father, and why did I-401’s programming mandate that it seek out Gunzō to the exclusion of all other concerns? What’s up with that weird helmet/mask/whatever it is that Sō Oribe always wears? (It can’t be as simple as “it’s for my allergies.”) But, most of all, who is the Fleet of Fog, where did they come from, and why did they come to Earth and start attacking us? Word on the street is that there are two movies in the works; hopefully they will answer some of these questions. But, back to the mental models. Yeah, I found them interesting, and not just because of the moe factor; I liked their different, often quirky personalities. The figure sculptors over at Phat Company have brought to life one of my favorites, Takao, in the form of this very detailed 1/8 scale figure.
On the 10th day of Kurisumasu…
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Anime Expo 2011 will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only was it the first year we were able to attend AX as members of the press (a situation we hope will continue for many years to come *crosses fingers and toes*) but it was also the year that I was introduced to the Vocaloid, thanks to the awesome Mikunopolis concert held on Saturday, July 2 at the Nokia Theater. (OK, I had actually heard of Vocaloid before then, but it was Mikunopolis that really sparked my interest in Vocaloids.) Yeah, I know what you’re gonna say. There is a vocal minority out there who will argue that Mikunopolis was actually kind of “meh.” They point to previous Vocaloid concerts, such as the awkwardly-named “Miku no Hi Kanshasai 39’s Giving Day” and note that, compared to those, Mikunopolis was not only shorter, but had a more limited setlist consisting of only the more mainstream/less indie Vocaloid songs. That may be true, I’ll grant you that. But that doesn’t make Mikunopolis any less awesome, at least in my eyes (and ears.) In fact, I would argue that, seeing as how their goal was to introduce Miku & friends to the greater public who may not necessarily know everything about them, that them limiting the setlist and picking the more well-known songs was a good move. Some of you may also be experiencing a sudden feeling of *deja-vu*, and perhaps asking yourself “Huh, didn’t he pick Mikunopolis before?” Well, first of all, congratulations on your memory, it’s a lot better than mine! Yes I did in fact pick Mikunopolis a few years ago. Unfortunately, at that time, no one had licensed Mikunopolis for distribution outside of Japan, which meant that you had to import it, and therefore pay somewhere over $9,000 for the privilege. Fortunately times have changed; in fact, two years ago, Aniplex announced that they had acquired the rights to Mikunopolis and would be distributing it starting that December. This means that you no longer have to deal with importing it, and therefore it will only cost you slightly over $8,000. (In all seriousness, this looks to be an excellent release, and in fact is a combo pack, including both the concert audio CD as well as the concert Blu-ray; if you bought those two separately you’d probably pay the same amount as the combo pack, if not more.)
On the 9th day of Kurisumasu…
One of the most exciting things to happen to fans of classic anime — and fans of *Sailor Moon* in particular – is the new Sailor Moon reboot series that came out this year, *Sailor Moon Crystal*. This retelling of the classic Sailor Moon story finally came out around the middle of this year (after a bit of a false start) and, by all accounts, they are doing a stellar job with it, keeping the storyline and spirit of the original, but with visuals and character designs upgraded for the new millennium. Naturally, with this new release, and all the buzz that it’s generating, companies are waking up and taking notice, and are coming out with some pretty cool Sailor Moon stuffs. (Merchandising! Merchandising!) Of course *Crystal* will be getting a home video release (it’s already starting to come out in Japan, and will be coming out here in the States at some point in the future); but the classic *Sailor Moon* — *all of it* — is being re-released, plus is available for streaming. But, there’s lots of other cool *Sailor Moon*-related merchandise coming out on the market too. From charms to plushies to Pullip dolls, T-shirts to tortilla chips (!!!), they’ve got it all. Whether you’re a new fan brought into the fold thanks to *Crystal*, or you’re an old-timer reminiscing fondly on classic *Sailor Moon*, there’s bound to be a product that tickles your fancy.
On the 8th day of Kurisumasu…
Robotics;notes (part 1, part 2)

I’ve spoken before of my tremendous love of Steins;gate, the anime based on a visual novel put out by 5pb/Nitroplus. Besides its engrossing sci-fi storyline (which seems tailor-made for a sci-fi/Star Trek fan such as myself) I adored the characters in Steins;gate, especially the two lead characters. Rintaro “Hououin Kyouma” Okabe, the self-proclaimed “mad scientist” and head of the Future Gadget Lab, reminds me a bit of myself at a younger age; like Okarin, I too ran around investigating imaginary conspiracies (and plotting world takeovers) along with a group of misfit school friends, mostly as a coping mechanism to escape from/avoid socially uncomfortable/awkward situations. However, it’s Steins;gate’s other lead character that I absolutely adore, the strong-willed and smart-as-a-whip Makise Kurisu. Not only is she a strong female lead who can dish out sarcastic jabs like the best of ’em, but she is a scientist at that! (Girl geeks rule!) That is something I really like to see. Anyway, *Steins;gate* the game is part of a series of three “Science Adventure” games, and the two other games in this series have also gotten anime adaptations. To be perfectly honest, the first in the series, *Chaos;head*, just didn’t wow me. It was “okay,” I just didn’t feel the same level of interaction with the story and the characters as Steins;gate. (I suppose I should rewatch it since it’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it.) The third game, *Robotics;notes* had its anime adaptation come out in 2012-2013, and, given my positive reaction to the *Steins;gate* anime, I was hopeful that *Robotics;notes* would also prove to be a story that I could really get into. And I was not disappointed. Robotics;notes tells the story of childhood friends Kaito Yashio and Akiho Senomiya, who are the only members left of the Tanegashima High School Robotics Club. Faced with the club’s disbanding by school officials due to lack of members and funds, the pair must struggle to find members, acquire funding and attract interest in the club, so that they can complete the club’s project to build a real version of Gunvarrel, a giant robot from a popular anime. But, unknownst to them, certain events are set into motion, tied to a mysterious event that occurred in their past, other players with hidden motives enter the scene, and dangerous conspiracies begin to show themselves that threaten the very lives of our intrepid heroes — and possibly humanity as a whole. Here too we have an awesome story that really resonated with me (giant robot being *the* genre of anime that brought me into the fandom) as well as some characters that I just fell in love with. Aki is your typical energetic “genki” girl, but she’s also fun, quirky and spontaneous. And not only is she an otaku, but she’s also a gearhead, often elbow deep in greasy robot parts. (I’ll say it again: *girl geeks rule!*) And Kai, the reluctant hero, starts out seemingly indifferent to the world, although we see that he does care for his childhood friend, since he becomes a member of the robotics club to help her out. But as things start to go pear-shaped, he has to suddenly face the fact that he’s had a huge responsibility thrust upon him, and he in essence has to man up and come to terms with what he believes in and wants to fight for — in kind of a Shinji Ikari vein, only way less wussy.. Along the way he discovers an inner strength and finds that he really cares about his friends, and the Robotics Club. FUNimation nabbed the license to distribute Robotics;notes here in the US, and they are streaming it from their own streaming service. But once again they’ve also shown that they are keeping the physical anime distribution model alive, by releasing Robotics;notes as an excellent DVD/Blu-ray combo set in two parts. And, just like with the Steins;gate dub, FUNimation really knocked it out of the park with the Robotics;notes dub. The dub cast clearly did their homework, and all of the characters are voiced beautifully.
On the 7th day of Kurisumasu…
Figma are those really cool, poseable action figures made by those cool folks over at Max Factory/Good Smile. These amazing figures capture the look of the anime character they depict perfectly (the level of detail in these figures is absolutely incredible) and they are extremely poseable, and often include accessories that the character uses (weapons, musical instruments, etc.) They’re great for displaying on your desk or bookshelf; you can display them individually, or better yet, pose multiple figma together in a sort of diorama, re-enacting your favorite scenes from the anime (or inventing your own scenes.) Some really enterprising and creative folks have even used figma to make some amazing stop-motion videos! A perfect example is this gorgeous Figma of the cool and mysterious Sinon, one of my favorite characters from the second season of Sword Art Online, which I am really enjoying. The level of detail in her hair and costume are incredible (scarf fluttering in the breeze FTW!) and she comes with a remarkably detailed rendition of her signature sniper rifle, the «PGM Ultima Ratio Hecate II».
On the 6th day of Kurisumasu…
Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop: The Complete Series (DVD, Blu-ray)

The anime industry has changed tremendously over the past few decades. Back in the day, when most of the world outside of Japan had never heard of this “anime” stuff, there was a dedicated group of fans who would meet up with each other (either randomly, at an anime club, or at one of the few anime cons back in those days) and swap videotapes of anime that they liked and/or wanted to see. These tapes were almost always of horrible quality (being 7th or 8th generation copies) and most certainly did not have any subtitles. And, since the Internet didn’t exist in an easily-accessible form back then, we couldn’t exactly go onto Google and look up a translation — or even a synopsis — of what we were watching. So we usually made it up as we watched, constructing weird storylines and humorously snarky/sarcastic dialogue for the characters on screen, often shouting out these ersatz lines while watching, MST3K-style. Good times, good times. Then, a few years later, the American home video industry finally woke up and took notice, and began distributing officially-licensed anime on home video. The problem was that only a few of the major titles were licensed. Also there was that whole issue of language. Some companies decided to just leave the original Japanese audio be, and added English subtitles on top of the video. Others decided to dub the audio into English using voice actors. Unfortunately you could only have one or the other, and the industry mostly chose dubs. And the dubs of that era were, in a word, awful. This also had the unfortunate side effect of sparking one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern history, the Great Dub Vs. Sub Wars. A few years later, DVD came on the scene, and fans across the planet rejoiced. Not only was the video quality hugely improved over videotapes, but DVDs also could contain multiple audio and subtitle tracks that could be turned on or off at will. So you could have both a dub AND a sub on any given DVD. Which basically took most of the wind out of the whole Dub vs. Sub debate’s sails. Now you could choose! (Also, dub quality had gotten significantly better by then, which helped tremendously.) Later, we got even better video quality, thanks to Blu-ray (and its ill-fated cousin, HD-DVD.) All of that changed though, when (reasonably) cheap, (reasonably) ubiquitous, (reasonably) easy to use Internet access became available to the masses. Now, thanks to companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Crackle and Crunchyroll, to name a few, we have access to anytime, anywhere, all-you-can-eat streaming anime goodness. This completely changed the way we consume anime. You used to have to really pick and choose which anime you wanted to follow, because the DVDs cost a pretty penny. Sometimes you got lucky and ended up with something that you really liked. (Of course, by this time you had to buy all 6 or whatever discs in the series, at $20-30 a pop, which is a fairly significant chunk of change.) But sometimes, an anime whose first few episodes seemed promising, ended up being a total disappointment, resulting in a lot of wasted time and money. It was the luck of the draw, really. All that has changed now that streaming has entered the picture. Now you can take your chances on something new, and if you end up not liking it after a few episodes, all that you’ve wasted is a small amount of time. It means we have the freedom to try something new every once in a while. Truly, streaming has proven to be a blessing to the anime community. Unfortunately this blessing also came with a curse. Now that we have cheap, ubiquitous streaming available, it seems that nobody wants to buy DVDs any more, and so physical distribution of anime has dropped off sharply. You used to be able to go to any number of brick-and-mortar stores and find shelves full of anime titles waiting to be picked clean. Now, not so much. (Of course, the closing of many video store chains, e.g. Tower Records, Blockbuster, Sam Goody/Suncoast, etc. didn’t help.) And, even worse, many of the companies that licensed anime and released it on DVD/Blu-ray have gone out of business. Where once there were dozens of companies, now we are left with just a handful. This also meant that a lot of really good, classic anime has, in effect, gone out of print. Fortunately, one of the few companies left, FUNimation, has ridden in on their white horse and appointed itself as the Savior of Lost Licenses. Every year, along with their new streaming acquisitions, they announce quite a few titles that they have rescued from licensing oblivion. One of the most recent series to receive the FUNimation treatment is a true classic, and one of my all-time favorites, *Cowboy Bebop*, which tells the story of Spike Spiegel, a former mafia hitman trying to escape his past, who partners up with retired cop Jet Black and enters the bounty hunter business. During their adventures they encounter a diverse cast of characters, each of whom has a story to tell, full of unresolved issues from their pasts, with the show regularly utilizing flashbacks to illustrate their backstories. This series’ cast and crew list reads like a vertiable who’s-who of anime legends, and its style, characters, story, voice acting, animation and soundtrack have garnered it high praise and commercial success, both in Japan as well as the rest of the world. Now, thanks to FUNimation, you can enjoy this classic in a newly remastered DVD and Blu-ray set. *See you space cowboy…*
On the 5th day of Kurisumasu…
Rice is one of the most important foods in the Japanese diet. Like grain and grain products (bread, cereal, etc.) are to Americans, rice is the staple food in the Japanese diet. Not only is it served as a side dish with pretty much every Japanese meal, it is also used as a main ingredient in quite a few Japanese dishes — sushi, gyudon (and other types of donburi,) onigiri, curry, mochi, and omurice, just to name a few. So, needless to say, if you want to be able to make Japanese food, you’re gonna need a rice cooker. Fortunately, being that we live in the modern age, there are many really good electric rice cookers out on the market. Some of the more advanced models even have so-called “fuzzy logic” that can calculate and make the minute adjustments in cooking time and temperature required to get that perfect pot of rice. But there are two problems with these. First, they can cost upwards of $100 to even $200. This probably isn’t a problem if you’re a fairly established household, but if money is tight, that can be a deal-breaker. The second problem is that they are usually pretty large, capable of making 10 or more cups of cooked rice. Unless you happen to be billeting the Japanese Imperial Army, you probably don’t need that much rice. They also take a while to cook your rice, and are kind of a pain to set up and use; both of these are problems if you are the impulsive sort and decide on the spur of the moment that you want to make a rice-based dish (or just didn’t get your act together to prepare dinner in time.) Fortunately, we live in the era of the microwave oven, which means that there are some pretty good microwave rice cookers out there. I happen to own this particular model and really love it. It’s small, lightweight, easy to store and easy to clean (it’s dishwasher safe). It’s small enough to fit in even the smallish microwave ovens you see in dorm rooms and offices. It makes up to 6 cups of cooked rice, so you have the option of making a bit more rice if needed (maybe you’re having friends over for dinner or something.) And it cooks rice in record time, usually around 10-15 minutes. Of course there are downsides too. It’ll take you a bit of experimentation to find the right water-to-rice ratio. Usually I add a tiny bit more water than what the manual suggests. Finally, microwaved rice doesn’t *quite* have the same taste and texture as rice cooker-cooked rice. It’s still pretty good, but if you’re used to rice cooker-cooked rice, it might take you a little bit to get used to microwaved rice. Even so, the convenience and fast cooking times of microwaved rice far outweigh these few negatives in my opinion.
On the 4th day of Kurisumasu…
Fuku-bukuro, or “lucky bags,” are a (quite frankly brilliant) retail sales promotion device created by Japanese retailers to help bring in new customers and get rid of excess inventory at the end of the year — at the same time. Every year around New Years’, retailers all across the land of the rising sun take whatever inventory they happen to have excess of, stuff it into an attractive bag, and sell it at a significant discount off the total value of the items inside (according to Wikipedia, usually 50% or more.) Naturally this generates huge lines, as faithful patrons of any given store line up hours in advance to get their chance at grabbing a fuku-bukuro from their favorite store. Yeah, rather like an Apple product launch. They are so popular, in fact, that a certain notorious daily deals site here in good ol’ ‘Mehrica has adopted the fuku-bukuro tradition as well, although theirs is decidedly less upscale than the Japanese counterpart. Of course, being a purveyor of Japanese stuffs, our good friends at J-List and JBox have decided to do the fuku-bukuro thing too. Every year, for the past few years, they have put up various cool-sounding fuku-bukuro for fans of the various types/genres of products that they sell. This year they’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty and have produced seven, count ’em, SEVEN classes of fuku-bukuro. Whatever your taste, there’s a fuku-bukuro to cater to your desires. The best part of their fuku-bukuro, though, is that you can order them online, from the comfort of your own home/apartment/school/office/underground secret evil lair; there’s no need to go through with all that lining-up-hours-before-your-favorite-store-opens-standing-in-the-cold nonsense. Are you a dyed-in-the-wool anime fan? (Since you’re reading this blog, one would hope so!) Then take a gander at the Lucky Anime Toy Set! This is a special limited edition anime & toy grab bag that’s a little special because in addition to several random toys and figures, each of these sets also contains a random large figure or set of smaller figures that were part of J-List’s own figure collection, on display in the J-List office for many years. You might get a set of moe figures or perhaps some rare random items. If you’re a fan of all things *kawaii*, then you’ll definitely want to check out the Japanese KAWAII Lucky Bag, stuffed chock full of cute Japanese things — winter items, key straps, plushies — that will surely have you squeeing with anticipation and delight. Not sure what you might like? Or maybe you are into so many fandoms that you can’t really decide? J-List’s got you covered too, with their Doki Doki Random Set, which includes a smattering of items all over the Japan cultural map, including *kawaii* stuffed animals, anime-realted toys, Japanese study items, and fashion related goods. Are you into, ahem, more naughty things? If so, the Ultimate Japanese Adult Lucky Bag containing adult-themed toys, videos and more, is right up your alley. Or perhaps you’re more in the mood for the Hentai Otaku Lucky Bag, which includes a great English-translated hentai game, as well as hentai manga, artbook and DVD, as well as an, ahem, “stress relief toy” (cough). And, as if that weren’t enough, they’ve kicked things up another notch with the Super Happy Hentai Funtime Lucky Bag, which includes even more English-translated hentai games, manga, DVDs and “stress toys.” Whichever one you choose, it should keep you, erm, occupied for quite some time. (Just don’t tell us. We don’t want to know. What happens in *(insert name of your home town)* stays in *(insert name of your home town.)*) Finally, perhaps there are some members of the fairer sex out there who, after seeing years and years worth of, ahem, naughty products for men, cried out, “Well what about us?!” Well J-List hears and obeys, and as a result this year we have the first-ever Ultimate Japanese Adult Lucky Bag for Women. This set, sure to be a crowd pleaser, includes AV videos, plus various “toys” (if you get my meaning) and various other “ecchi” items. Finally, equality of the sexes has arrived at J-List. Whichever you choose, a fuku-bukuro represents a fun way to surprise someone (perhaps yourself) with a unique and random gift. One could say that “life is like a fuku-bukuro… you never know what you’re gonna get!”
On the 3rd day of Kurisumasu…
The latest trend to capture the hearts and minds of the tech press is the digital set-top-box market. Pretty much every major tech company has got an entry in the field, and is hoping to take the lead in the Internet-delivered digital media arena. The latest company to enter the set-top battle arena is Amazon, who released their Fire TV earlier this year, to mostly positive reviews. Of course, the Amazon Fire TV is perfectly suited to watching Amazon’s own streaming video offerings, and if you’re an Amazon Prime member, it represents the best way of watching the large selection of free-to-stream video content included as part of your Prime membership. Also, if you purchase Amazon video content, you can easily watch that on your Fire TV too, since that is all stored in your Amazon account and is easily accessible from the Fire TV. But the cool thing is that the Fire TV is actually a full-fledged Android device, capable of installing many of the millions of apps available for that platform. These include streaming video apps from many other providers, such as Hulu, Netflix and Crackle. “Well what does that have to do with anime?” you might be asking. Good question! Well, for starters, Amazon’s collection of digital video (either free or for purchase) includes a fairly sizable collection of anime. Also, many of the third-party apps available on the Fire TV include apps from streaming providers that also offer a large library of anime titles as part of their collection. Finally, since the Fire TV is also an Android device, any streaming video provider who has an Android app can also be installed on the Fire TV, even if they don’t “officially” support the Fire TV – such as the Crunchyroll app. (We put together a video showing you how.) All this may sound good in theory to you, but the $99 price tag of the Fire TV may still give you pause. Fortunately, Amazon has got you covered too, with their recently-released Fire TV Stick. This slimmed-down media player (about the size of a largish USB memory stick) gives you most of the capabilities of the full-size Fire TV (there are only a few minor technical differences that won’t affect 99% of users) but at less than half the cost of the full-size Fire TV. Of course, it can do pretty much everything that its big brother can, including running the Crunchyroll app as described in our video above. The Fire TV Stick represents the most powerful and cost-effective means of getting good, high-quality streaming anime on your big screen, and is a definite “buy.”
On the 2nd day of Kurisumasu…
It is the distant future. Humanity has reached out toward the stars, sending massive colonization ships to various corners of the galaxy. But so far humans have encountered no extraterrestrial activity. Until now. You are Morten Lannis, a battle-tested space marine, stationed aboard the colony ship Goliath to provide security. But the minute you wake up from cryo-sleep, you know that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. With your team of soldiers, you patrol the ship, looking for survivors, all the while investigating just what the hell has gone wrong. And along the way you find trouble. Lots of it. There’s a lot to like about this game. The gameplay is turn-based so you have time to contemplate your situation and come up with the best strategy — or just go to the bathroom and not have to worry about coming back to your computer only to find all of your characters died while you were gone. Environment matters a great deal in the game; both you and your enemy have sight lines, meaning that you can use your surroundings (furniture, walls, obstacles) to your advantage. You have a large cast of characters that you can take with you on missions, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and special attacks, but as a whole their skills complement each others’ nicely. The graphics, although 2D, are still extremely detailed and very atmospheric. But it’s the soundtrack by game music artist Gavin harrison that really shines. It’s dark, brooding, atmospheric, and pulse-pounding, reminiscent of Vangelis’ soundtrack to *Blade Runner* as well as Daft Punk’s soundtrack to *Tron: Legacy*. Quite frankly, this is one of the best game soundtracks I’ve heard in quite a while. You can read more about the game and check out some videos and screenshots at the Halfway website, and the game is available at several digital storefronts, including GOG (Good Old Games), Steam and the Humble Store. However, if you purchase at GOG, you will get some pretty cool extras, including the awesome soundtrack in MP3 format.
On the 1st day of Kurisumasu…
Every year, most people dread the approach of the holiday season. I, on the other hand, actually look forward to the holidays. Like Charlie Brown, I’ve trained myself not to let the over-commercialization of the holiday bother me, and instead enjoy the holiday for what it is: a fun time to catch up with friends and family whom I haven’t seen in a while, eat awesome delicious food, check out really cool Christmas light displays, give (and receive) cool gifts (and maybe some not-so-cool ones too, but that’s part of the fun), reconnect with the spiritual side of my personality, and reflect on the past year, and plan for the year ahead. Of course I structure my life to minimize the holiday stress levels, most notably, I do as much holiday shopping as possible online; that helps tremendously. One other reason I look forward to the holidays, though, is decidedly non-traditional. Every year, those wild and crazy anibloggers, the Reverse Thieves, put together their Anime Secret Santa project. They gather together a bunch of anime bloggers (and podcasters) who want to participate and randomly group them in pairs. Participants then get sent the name of the person they’re paired with, and their job is to look through that participant’s list of anime that they’ve watched and suggest to them three anime that they might enjoy. The catch is that everyones’ identities are kept secret until the very end. The whole idea is to help get some inter-blog anime review participation going on, as well as broadening peoples’ horizons and getting them to maybe step out of their comfort zones and try something different. I’ve been fortunate enough to have participated every year since the Reverse Thieves began putting this together back in 2009, and every year I’ve enjoyed myself tremendously, and each year have found a really cool anime that maybe wasn’t exactly at the top of my “must watch this” list, but that I ended up enjoying a lot. One of these years I hope to involve some of my other staff members too. Take this past year’s entry, for example. If you’ve been hanging around this blog and podcast for any appreciable amount of time, I’m sure you’ve heard me rant and rave about one of my all-time favorite anime, Kanon. Listen to me prattle on about it, you’d think that Kanon and other Key-derived anime such as Clannad and Little Busters! had the lock on soul-wrenching, tear-jerking emotional rollercoaster anime. Perhaps this is the reason that my Secret Santa this year chose ef – a tale of memories — a title I honestly had not heard of before — as one of my Secret Santa choices. And I am really glad that they did. Like my beloved *Kanon*, it too is a wild, but ultimately satisfying, emotional rollercoaster ride that yanks at the heartstrings in a big way. And it too is based on a visual novel. You know that old adage “the book was better than the movie?” Well it is most definitely true in the anime world as well. Anime based on manga are almost always worse when compared to their manga counterparts. Sometimes this means that the anime itself is outright horrible. But, even in those cases where anime-based-on-manga are actually quite good, the anime still usually pale in comparison to their manga counterparts. That’s because in a manga, you just have more time and space to present your story. You’re not limited by 12- or 24-episode seasons, tight scheduling, budget restrictions and the like. The same is true for visual novels. Not only does a visual novel offer a larger canvas on which to paint your story, there’s just something about playing a visual novel that actually makes you feel like you are actually “in” the story, and really gives you an emotional connection to the story and the characters. I’ve definitely felt this as I played through both Kanon and Steins;gate, another anime based on a visual novel that I’ve raved about in the past. In the case of *ef*, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this game, since there wasn’t any English translation of it… or so I thought, until some random Google searching brought me to an article announcing that a translation was in the works… an article from (get this) our own website, no less. (Yeah, I know, my memory sucks.) Strangely enough, according to Wikipedia, the game was released between 2012-2013 by MangaGamer; however, J-List lists it as a preorder. Maybe it’s a re-release, or repackaging, or a retranslation, or a new “Special Edition” or something. Either way, it’s a Good Thing(tm). Anyway, enough jibba-jabba. Let’s talk about the games. There’s two of them. The first, *ef: the first tale*, tells the story of Hiro Hirono, who is not only a full-time student, but also a professional shoujo manga artist. On the night of Christmas Eve, he happened upon two women. The first, Yuuko Amamiya, was a mysterious lady who continued to wait for someone at the church. The other, Miyako Miyamura, was a girl who had her purse stolen and snatched Hiro’s bicycle to pursue the culprit. The first chapter covers Hiro’s unfolding relationships Miyaki and his childhood friend Kei, until the time comes for him to make a choice… And in the second game, ef: the latter tale*, the story shifts to focus on another character, In the second full-length game, the main character is Renji Asou, who has been unable to form close friendships all his life due to living abroad. He meets a mysterious girl who wears an eyepatch named Chihiro, and it’s the beginning of a very special relationship for both of them. In addition to her eyepatch, Chihiro has a terrible secret — anterograde amnesia, which causes her to forget everything that happened more than 13 hours ago. Can Renji overcome this barrier and find love with her? This is the limited edition dual release of both ef games, which include both games in full English-translated form, a special slipcase, a 120 page mini artbook with important information for fans of the game, and an Uncle Yuuko sticker (6×4″). This shrinkwrapped limited edition game is 100% DRM free. Please note that the adult images do have small mosaics and are not 100% uncensored. Both games have anime counterparts, although, since each is only 13 episodes long, the whole “book is better than the movie” rule definitely applies. (Also, word on the street is that the 2nd season of the anime, which covers the events of the second game, *ef: the latter tale*, is somewhat lackluster compared to the first season.) Still, it is an awesome story, and I will definitely be ordering this. And I certainly hope that this trend of companies bringing A-list (and even B-list) visual novels to an English speaking audience continues.


On the 12th day of Kurisumasu…
ef - a tale of memories
ef – A Tale of Memories Complete Collection (Blu-ray)ef – A Tale of Memories Complete Collection (Blu-ray)

ef – A Tale of Memories Complete Collection (DVD)ef – A Tale of Memories Complete Collection (DVD)

ef – A Tale of Memories Complete Collection (Blu-ray)
ef – A Tale of Memories Complete Collection (DVD)
Don’t say it, I know, Day 12 of 2013’s 12 Days of Kurisumasu is horribly, horribly late. No, I didn’t completely forget about it. The reason why it’s late is because I was late in finishing my [Anime Secret Santa]( review, and (yes you guessed it) today’s 12 Days pick is related. “What is this Anime Secret Santa you’re talking about?!” you say. [Go read the post](, I’m not going to repeat myself here. 😛 Suffice it to say that it is a really cool project organized every year by the [Reverse Thieves]( that gets anime bloggers together and to recommend anime for each other to review. We’ve [participated]( for the past few years and always have a blast. Anyhow, this year one of the anime that was recommended to me was *ef – a tale of memories*, which I honestly had never heard of before. And I have a feeling I know why my Secret Santa recommended it to me. I have spoken at length about my love of the two Key visual novel based anime, Kanon and Clannad. Give me half a chance and I’ll talk your ear off about the subject, extolling their virtues and emotional impact long into the night. Listening to me prattle on about it, you’d probably think that Key and/or KyoAni has the lock on tear-jerking, soul-wrenching emotionally-charged romance stories. Well as it turns out this is most definitely not the case. ef – a tale of memories is a 12-episode series animated by Shaft (they say that anime studio Shaft is a bad mutha – SHUT YO’ MOUTH!) and is based on the ef – A Fairy Tale of the Two. published by minori, which I honestly have never heard of before. (Then again I’m still a neophyte when it comes to visual novels.) It follows a cast of characters as they struggle through life and as their lives intertwine with each other. Hiro is an aspiring mangaka trying to juggle his work and school lives, and feels that his world is “missing a certain color.” Kei, his childhood friend, longs for Hiro’s affection but is unable to confront him with her feelings. Miyako, a cheerful, somewhat ditzy girl who Hiro (literally) runs into one evening, immediately becomes attached to Hiro, but underneath that cheerful exterior she is hiding some past sorrow. Kyosuke, a photographer and cameraman, seeks to capture true emotion in his work, but never feels like he has done this satisfactorily. Renji, a high school upperclassman, is faced with the decision of how he should go forward with his life; he has aspirations to become a novelist but is unsure of himself. Finally, there’s the quiet and mysterious Chihiro, who Renji encounters by chance one day; always cheerful if quiet, but who seems to be a different person every day. As the story progresses we see that these seemingly disconnected individuals’ stories do relate to each other. Anyhow, you’ll have to read my [review]( to find out what I thought (hint: I liked it. I mean, *really* liked it.) If, after having read my review, you have decided that it is the perfect gift for someone you know (or even for you yourself), or that you just want to check it out, well, good news, Amazon’s got a really nice box set in both DVD and Blu-ray at a decent price. (It’s also [streaming]( on Crunchyroll.)
On the 11th day of Kurisumasu… It’s the holidays once again, which means that Japanese New Years’ will soon be upon us, which means it’s once again time for stores all across the land of the rising sun to trot out their fuku-bukuro. These “lucky bags” are a popular gimmick for store owners to drum up new business, and get rid of some excess inventory at the same time. You don’t really know what’s inside them, you just know that the value of their contents is usually at least equal if not greater than the price the bag is sold for. These things are so wildly popular that oftentimes at the more popular stores, people start lining up hours before the stores open, waiting for their chance to grab a fuku-bukuro from their favorite store. (Rather like an Apple product launch.) Naturally, J-list also does the fuku-bukuro thing. Fortunately, since they’re an online retailer, you don’t have to bother with all that lining up hours in advance, standing out in the cold business, if you want to get your grubby little hands on one of their fuku-bukuro. We’ve featured some of their past fuku-bukuro as 12 Days of Kurisumasu picks. This year they’ve really outdone themselves; they have eight, count ’em, EIGHT fuku-bukuro variants! There’s a fuku-bukuro for everyone, no matter what particular brand of otakudom you subscribe to. If you’re into Japanese snacks and food, the J-List Best Seller Snack Pack is right up your alley. If you’re more into traditional Japanese food, the Japanese Bento & Traditional Item Set features a varied collection of bento boxes and bento accessories. Fans of anime toys (figures, etc.) will want to check out the DX Anime Toy Set. For those in the audience of the more, ahem, naughty persuasion, you have several choices: the Super Happy Hentai Lucky Bag (USA) (there’s an Engrish-y title if there ever was one) is perfect for fans of H-games; whereas the Adult/Sexy Set would be right for you if you’re more into the JAV scene; for you H-manga fans, there’s the H-Manga Otaku Lucky Bag (USA); and finally, if you just can’t make up your mind, the Ultimate Hentai Otaku Lucky Bag (USA) has a little bit of everything in it. Lastly, for the kiddies and/or those in the audience with more tame tastes, the age-appropriate Doki Doki Random Set features a selection of books, study, fashion, toy, traditional and home items, such as anime goods, fashion accessories, magazines, notebooks, traditional rice bowls, kawaii display items, Japan-only fude pens, gashapon-style toys and more. So why not throw caution to the winds and let the fates decide what you (or your gift’s recipient) are gonna get, and try a fuku-bukuro? One could say that life is like a fuku-bukuro… you never know what you’re gonna get!
On the 10th day of Kurisumasu…
Maid-sama! Complete CollectionMaid-sama! Complete Collection

Maid-sama! Complete Collection
One of the surprise hits to come out of the 2010 anime season, at least for me, was *Maid-sama!*, aka *Kaichou wa Maid-sama!*. It tells the story of Misaki Ayuzawa, the strict, by-the-book Student Council President at Seika High, once a boys-only school known for its rough-and-tumble delinquents, but has recently become a co-ed school. However, the female student population at Seika High is still relatively low, and many still fear its male population; so Misaki-chan takes it upon herself to whip the boys into line and improve Seika High’s image. But, beneath her straight-laced exterior, she hides a secret: she is working part-time at a local maid cafe, Maid Latte, to help make ends meet. Unfortunately, one day her secret is discovered by none other than Takumi Usui, a popular boy at Seika High. What follows is a hilariously funny romantic comedy. What really makes this show work is the characters, especially the leads Misaki and TAkumi, who have a fantastic chemistry and really play off of each other superbly. And despite a situation that could be easily exploited and turned risque, the show remains remarkably clean, without even a stray panty shot to detract from its enjoyability.
On the 9th day of Kurisumasu…
Gift Certificates!
Gift Certificates!
AmazonJlist/JboxRight Stuf
In the past, people have frowned upon the giving of gift certificates, seeing it as a cheap way of getting out of the responsibility of putting the time and thought into picking just the right gift for someone. Me? I see things differently. Gift certificates are the perfect gift, because it lets the gift recipient get exactly what he or she wants, without the pain and embarrassment of you having to try and guess exactly what said person wants and/or doesn’t already have, and/or possibly guessing wrong and picking something that he/she hates with a passion, or picking something they already have. (Asking them “so, do you already have *insert name of anime series*?” would kinda give it away) Thankfully, gift certificates are now easier than ever to get. They can be gotten in any dollar amount, and in some cases you can even customize the gift certificate by choosing a template design, writing a mesage, etc. And, in most cases, you can either choose to email the gift certificate directly to its recipient, or you can print it out yourself (perfect for including in a holiday card or whatnot). So why make your holidays any harder than they have to be, and why not get a gift certificate instead? As far as I’m concerned, anything that makes the holidays that much easier, I’m all for it.
On the 8th day of Kurisumasu… If you’ve been hanging around this blog and podcast for any appreciable length of time, you’ll know that I love food, Japanese food in particular (naturally.) In fact we’ve done a few videos on the subject. We’ve also written about food quite a bit, usually to comment on the food-related exploits of our podcasting brothers-in-arms, TJX — for example, their Okonomiyaki Experiment (which, by the way, was NOT the reason why we decided to start making our own food-related videos. Nope, nosiree!) Food and food-related gadgetry have been the subject of several past 12 Days picks as well. Today’s 12 Days pick is handy in that it allows you to make not one, but two quintessentially Japanese food creations. (Yep, folks, it’s a multitasker!) With this one tool, you can make two tasty Japanese treats, takoyaki and okonomiyaki. Takoyaki is a Japanese delicacy that you’ve no doubt seen in anime, because it’s a quite common food in Japan, sold as both “street food” as well as at festivals all across the country. What is it? you might be asking to yourself. Takoyaki is a round ball-like treat made of a wheat batter with a piece of octopus (the tako part of takoyaki) and sprinkled with various sauces and garnishes. Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Ewww! Gross!” But it actually is really really tasty. It’s not sticky and slimy like you’d think octopus would be. In fact it’s probably the most un-octopus-like taste you could imagine. You should really try it sometime. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese food best described as a sort of Japanese pancake (or perhaps omelette), with various other ingredients (meats, seafood, vegetables, cheese, etc.) mixed in. It may be difficult to type, but it’s pretty darn tasty. Like many other Japanese dishes, it is enjoyed throughout the country, and each region has its own variation on the dish. It’s sometimes cooked in front of you Benihana-style, and sometimes the restaurant leaves the cooking to you – each table has a grill on it, and you basically get a bowl full of mixed ingredients that you can grill to your liking. The most well known ones comes from Osaka (where it is said that okonomiyaki was invented) and Hiroshima. During our trip to Japan in 2004, we had the pleasure of enjoying some Hiroshima okonomiyaki during a break in our tour schedule. It was indeed mighty tasty. But okonomiyaki can really have anything you want on it (literally — *okonomiyaki* derives from the Japanese word *okonomi*, which means “what you like” or “what you want”) As such it makes a great vehicle for reusing whatever leftovers you happen to have lying about. Well, with this one humble cooking device, you can make both takoyaki and okonomiyaki! Mix yourself up a batch of takoyaki batter, oil up the pan, and pour in the batter into the little half-circular spheres. Cook for a few minutes and turn. (professional takoyaki makers use a special taokyaki pick to help make it easier to turn, but you can use chopsticks in a pinch) Sprinkle on some toppings (chopped long green onions, etc.), slather on some sauce, and boom, you’ve got yourself a tasty treat! But what if you’re more in the mood for okonomiyaki instead? Just flip the cooking surface over, and you’ve got yourself a large, heated non-stick surface perfect for grilling up some okonomiyaki! Just mix up a batch of okonomiyaki batter, shred up some cabbage (pro tip from the TJX guys: instead of chopping up a bunch of vegetables, just use coleslaw mix!), gather together your favorite toppings, or whatever you happen to have lying about (meats, cheese, more veggies, etc.), and fire up the cooker. Hit it with some sauce and mayonnaise, and you’re all done! But wait, there’s more! This cooker can be used for making other (non-Japanese) tasty treats as well. (See, what’d I tell you, this thing is truly a multitasker!) The takoyaki pan side (with the circular depressions in it) is perfect for making a delicious Danish dessert treat, Æbleskivers. And the large, flat griddle side can be used to make pancakes, bacon, sausage, burgers, etc.
On the 7th day of Kurisumasu…
Tablets!  Tablets galore!
Tablets galore!

iPad Air (10 inch Apple iOS): Prices starting at $499
16 GB (black, white); 32 GB (black, white); 64 GB (black, white); 128 GB (black, white)
iPad Mini with Retina display (7 inch Apple iOS): Prices starting at $399
16 GB (black, white); 32 GB (black, white); 64 GB (black, white); 128 GB (black, white)
iPad mini (7 inch Apple iOS): Prices starting at $299
16 GB (black, white)
Google Nexus 7 (7 inch Google Android): Prices starting at $199
16 GB, 32 GB

All of the above are also available with contract-free 4G LTE (cellular data) at additional cost.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote a post in which I opined that the then-soon-to-be-released iPad would become an otaku’s best friend. (In a later post which, for some odd reason, I can’t seem to find right now, I conceded that this also applied to any and all other tablet-like platforms.) And indeed, most of my predictions have come true. There are a plethora of apps that will let you watch anime on a tablet, either streamed online or as digital downloads that you either purchased or (ahem) otherwise acquired. (Not making a judgment call here; we’ll let your own moral compass guide you); and on the big, beautiful, high-resolution screens of today’s tablets, your anime has never looked better. Thanks to the wide variety of art/drawing apps, many artists are using tablets to create their works; and although I have yet to see an artist set up at Artists Alley wielding a tablet rather than markers and paper, I suspect that it won’t be long before we start seeing tablets being used in this capacity. Tablets are certainly becoming useful at-con companions; many anime cons are now making their schedules available through apps such as Guidebook or via PDF or web app, making browsing con schedules and finding events of interest a snap; and with their always-on internet connections, con schedules can be easily and quickly updated (and believe me, they are updated very often); of course, having an always-present internet connection on a tablet is handy for other things as well (streaming anime while you’re waiting for a panel to start, looking up things on Wikipedia, etc.) Finally, manga addicts need not feel left out either; more and more manga publishers are starting to move to digital distribution, and there are quite a few excellent manga-reading apps available now. (Of course tablets are incredibly useful for other, non-anime/manga/convention functions as well: reading and sending email, organizing your schedule, taking notes, reading books, doing web research, or just relaxing and playing games.) So now more than ever is a good time for an anime fan to own a tablet. Fortunately, there is a wide range of tablets to choose from, in every price range. (By the way, you may be tempted by advertisements and/or stores selling extremely cheap (like $100 or $50 or even less) tablets. **Avoid these like the plague.** They are, in a word, crappy. These are almost always cheap Chinese knockoffs that use very old, slow processors, extremely poor quality screens, and overall poor/flimsy build quality quality, and they don’t run any modern OS’s or apps at all.) Personally, I still prefer the iOS platform, because it has the best apps for watching anime complete with perfectly rendered subtitles, that are unavailable on other platforms, such as HD Player, VLC, and Air Video (old article; they now have released a new product, Air Video HD, which is even more awesome; a review will be coming soon) But if Android’s more your thing, there are still many great apps for it as well, including all the various streaming video providers (Crunchyroll, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, etc.); and there’s also the Meridian Player app for playing downloaded anime, which I’ve written about before; while not as polished as the iOS offerings (also it doesn’t do subtitles as well as, say VLC or HD Player) it is still quite functional. Apps for the various other functions I mentioned (manga reading, con schedule viewing, etc.) are available for both platforms. Do yourself (or your intended gift recipient) a favor, start off 2014 with a shiny new tablet. Trust me, you and/or your gift recipient will not be disappointed.
On the 6th day of Kurisumasu…
Akira 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)Akira 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

Buy Akira 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) at Amazon
Akira (note: Wikipedia link, spoiler alert) is one of those quintessential anime classics that any anime fan should be aware of. Its graphic depiction of a dark, gritty dystopian future was (and many say still is) revolutionary, widely praised not only by anime reviewers but also by many non-anime movie reviewers, and sealed its place as a landmark in Japanese animation; and it is responsible for drawing many a fan to the wonderful world of anime. Unfortunately, the years have not been too kind to it: when it was originally released back in the late 80s/early 90s, the film masters that were used were badly scratched up and otherwise suffered from neglect. Plus, this was back in the dark prehistoric days of anime dubbing, and the dub, while not truly horrid (you didn’t want to slit your throat with a rusty knife after listening to it), nevertheless left much to be desired. Fortunately, in 2001, Pioneer spent over $1 million digitally restoring the film, removing years of dust, dirt and scratches. They also created a new English translation and a significantly better dub. They packaged all this up and released *Akira* in an awesome Special Edition. Unfortunately, several years later, Pioneer/Geneon bit the dust. Thankfully Bandai picked up the license and re-released it; but pretty soon after, they folded as well. Fortunately, FUNimation, being the Saviour of Lost Licenses, rode in on their white horse and rescued this license, and have once again released *Akira* just in time for its 25th anniversary. This combo DVD/Blu-ray release is using the fully remastered version from the Pioneer 2001 Special Edition, and includes both the original Streamline Pictures dub (so you can see just how bad it was) as well as Pioneer’s 2001 retranslated and redubbed version. (Of course, English subtitles are also included. No need to start that old flame war again.) FUNimation rescanned and reencoded the film rather than using one of the earlier transfers, and for the Blu-ray, have decided to use the highest possible audio sampling rate, so it looks and sounds fantastic. They also include several extras as well: interviews with Katsuhiro Otomo (writer/director), a featurette on how the film was restored, a glossary of terms, and, most interesting of all, the original storyboards, cut to the film’s soundtrack. Whether you’re an old-school fan wanting to relive the glory days, or a relatively new fan wanting to experience a true classic of the genre, or you’re just looking for something really cool to watch, this box set is not to be missed.
On the 5th day of Kurisumasu… One of the most memorable moments of my life, at least in recent history, aside from our fantastic trip to Japan in 2004 (which I STILL haven’t edited the video from… yes, I’ll admit it, I’m a slacker) would have to be Anime Expo 2011. This is the first year that we were admitted to Anime Expo with full press credentials, and it was a real rush. The high point of the con for me (in fact, the high point of any anime con I’ve ever attended) would have to be the Mikunopolis concert, which introduced Hatsune Miku and friends to the American public. (OK, admittedly that’s hyperbole; alot of people already knew about Vocaloid before Mikunopolis hit LA, but it certainly introduced a hella lot more people to it.) Anyhoo, I’ve spoken of my love of Mikunopolis before; in fact, we’ve made the Mikunopolis concert videos and CDs a 12 Days of Kurisumasu pick in years past. However, there are those in the audience who would argue that Mikunopolis isn’t all that and a bag of chips. Their primary gripe seems to be (if I understand it correctly) that they only chose the more “mainstream” Vocaloid songs for the Mikunopolis setlist, and didn’t include enough of the more indie/doujin song producers’ works in the mix. They also felt that it was way too short. (I actually agree with that part.) Instead, these über-fans would have you take a gander at the Hatsune Miku concert with the rather tongue-twisty name of “Miku no Hi Kanshasai 39’s Giving Day.” This was in fact her very first solo performance (and, according to them, her best one yet.) Held on March 9th, 2010, at Tokyo’s Zepp Auditorium, the performance featured 38 songs, plus 4 for the guest spot and 2 for the encore, and ran for over two hours, compared to Mikunopolis’ 21 songs + 3 encores which ran for (roughly) 1.5 hours. Looking at the 39’s Giving Day concert’s setlist you’ll see a lot of the same songs that were played at Mikunopolis; but in many cases, the versions played at Mikunopolis were shortened. There were definitely more songs featured at the 39’s Giving Day concert as well (presumably these additional songs are by the more indie/doujin/etc. creators as mentioned earlier). Fortunately, our friends at J-List can get you the Blu-ray of the concert, in stunning 1080p HD. If you’re a true Hatsune Miku/Vocaloid fan, this disc should certainly be in your collection. *Note that the Blu-ray is __not__ region locked and is viewable on any Blu-ray player worldwide.*
On the 4th day of Kurisumasu…
Sony Playstation3Sony Playstation3

The Sony Playstation3
Do not attempt to adjust your monitor. Your eyes are not deceiving you. I really did say Playstation**3**. So why am I attempting to shill for an over 8 year old gaming system when the new hawtness, the PlayStation4 is now out? First of all, the Playstation 4 still costs, like, over $9,000. Okay, not really, but close enough, especially if you’re the starving student type such as myself. But even if you had the benjamins to drop on a PS4, good luck trying to find one. Word on the street is that they’re still in pretty short supply. And finally, there’s the games. Or, more precisely, the *lack* of games in the PS4’s case. I mean, c’mon, a game console’s raison d’être is to play games! (Duh!) So wouldn’t you want the best and the biggest games library for whatever console you end up buying? Well, in the case of the PS4, not very many titles are available now, and to be completely honest, the ones that are available now aren’t really that great. It takes at least a year or two from the time a console is released before the game developers really understand it and can take advantage of its graphical power, and we just aren’t there yet with the PS4. But the PS3 has an incredibly wide and diverse game library for it, and since it has been out for a while now, the developers really know how to squeeze the best performance out of its processors, so the games now look jaw-droppingly awesome. (And, not to worry, new games will still come out for the PS3 for quite a while to come.) OK, I know what you’re gonna say, “Why Sony? Why not Xbox or Nintendo?” At the risk of starting a console war, let me just say that there are certain types of games that an anime- and Japan-loving otaku would especially want to play. And while some of those titles exist on other platforms, the vast majority of them are PS3-only. Add to that the fact that almost all PS3 games are region-free, meaning that if a company decides not to release a certain title you’re looking for in your native country, you can import it from Japan and play it just fine. Finally, the PS3 has quite a few apps that let you legally stream high quality anime right to your screen, such as Crunchyroll, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and Neon Alley. And, of course, the PS3 is a damn fine DVD and Blu-ray player as well, so if you’re still one of those diehard holdouts that likes to consume their anime on physical media, well, you’ve got that covered too.
On the 3rd day of Kurisumasu… Yup, definitely an ignominious start to the 12 Days of Kurisumasu. Not only did I totally miss day 1, but now day 3 is horribly late! (Quick “inside baseball” factoid: I would gladly prepare these in advance (i.e. do tomorrow’s 12 Days update sometime tonight). WordPress has a great way where you can schedule a post to post in the future. However, as far as I can tell, there is no way to schedule a **page update** for the future.) Anyway, as you are doing your gift giving, you might want to give thought to buying efficient gifts. I mean, think about it, wouldn’t you rather receive a gift that can multitask, one that can do more than one thing? Well have I got a gift for you then — a 2014 anime or Japan-themed calendar! This one humble item (and there are quite a few varieties to choose from) not only helps you cover that annoying empty space on your wall, but it also lets you enjoy a beautiful thematically-related picture every month (or, every day in the case of a daily calendar). And it keeps you informed of the passage of time. That’s three, three, THREE gifts in one! Whether your thing happens to be Miyazaki, Little Busters, Attack on Titan, or you’re more into beautiful Japanese scenery, or, ahem, gravure models in skimpy outfits (come on guys, admit it) there’s a calendar for you!
On the 1st and 2nd days of Kurisumasu… Well, the 2013 edition of the 12 Days of Kurisumasu certainly have started on an ignominious note… I completely forgot to post Day 1! So in a valiant attempt to redeem myself, I bring you a twofer! Actually more than a twofer, as today’s (technically day 2’s) update contains not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE, count ’em, FIVE products. Enjoy! Long before I became a fan of anime, I was a fan of science fiction in all its forms (books, TV shows, and movies). My favorite sci-fi incarnation to this day is Star Trek, in all its various incarnations. (Yes, I actually liked Voyager and Enterprise. Most of them, anyway. And, by the way, that’s Trekker, NOT Trekkie. :-P) One of my favorite recurring themes in Star Trek is when our intrepid heroes travel back through time. Not surprising, as time travel, as a concept, has always fascinated me. Imagine the ability to go back in time and witness past events, or to go forward in time and see the future. One could right some of history’s terrible wrongs — or even just some of the mistakes you’ve made in your own life. But at what cost? So when I heard of the anime *Steins;gate* it got instantly put at the top of my “must watch” list. *Steins;gate* tells the story of Rintarou “Okabe” Okarin, aka Hohouin Kyouma, self-proclaimed “mad scientist” and all-around goofball. He, along with several of his friends, have formed the “Future Gadget Lab,” an organization ostensibly tasked with inventing all manner of strange (and largely unsuccessful) gadgets. But mostly they loaf around in their Akihabara headquarters, surfing the net, playing dating-sims, attending otaku events, going to maid cafes and in general goofing off. That is, until one day, when they inadvertently invent a gadget that somehow allows them to send messages backward in time. And that’s when trouble comes a-knockin’… Steins;gate has the perfect mix of comedy, action, suspense, drama (and yes, romance too), and as a fan of sci-fi and time travel, it hits all the right buttons. In particular FUNimation did an excellent job with the English dub, and put together an awesome box set in both DVD and Blu-ray. If you want to learn more, you can read my review. Or just watch the darn thing. Trust me, you will **not** be disappointed. One of the many things that attract me to Steins;gate is the female lead character, Makise Kurisu. Far from the typical “heroine in distress,” Kurisu is strong, sharp, and doesn’t take “no” for an answer; however she still has her sensitive side. Yeah, I know what you’re saying, “tsnudere,” and yes, that’s true. But there’s a lot more to hear than that. She is a science geek! With the fields of engineering, mathematics and science still largely being male-dominated, a strong female scientist-type character is refreshing and I think serves as a great role model. Steins;gate, as it turns out, is actually based on a visual novel, and when I found this out I naturally wanted to play it. However an English translation was unavailable. Until now. At this year’s Anime Expo, JAST USA announced that they have licensed Steins;gate the visual novel for a full English translation, and will be releasing it both in a download-only edition, as well as a special Limited Edition box set. (We actually spoke to JAST/J-List head honcho Peter Payne about this. I still have to edit this and release it to the podcast feed. FAIL.) Unfortunately it is not yet available, however they promise a release “this winter,” and from what I hear, it is very much near completion. And of course you can preorder it now. *El. Psy. Congroo.*


On the 12th day of Kurisumasu…

If you haven’t seen today’s update, the Reader’s Digest version is that this month has been.. rather hectic for me, thanks to a sudden job loss at quite possibly the worst time of the year for it (right smack dab in the middle of the holidays). So I’ve been running around like a chicken with its head cut off working odd jobs while trying to find new permanent (or even semi-permanent) work, and doing the usual holiday craziness to boot. Which explains why things have been even more disorganized than usual around here, with often-late 12 Days of Kurisumasu updates, lack of promised PMX 2012 coverage, and the like.

And so here we are on December 25, Kurisumasu itself has finally arrived. And I am totally burned out. Case in point, I’ve been sitting here in front of the computer for almost 2 hours and I still haven’t been able to decide what to feature as today’s 12 Days of Kurisumasu product. So I’m giving up, and will let Fate herself decide for you! And so I present to you today’s (and our final) 12 Days of Kurisumasu pick, the famous fuku-bukuro, or Japanese Lucky Bag.

In Japan, around New Years, it is customary for merchants to make and sell “grab bags” filled with random, unknown items (usually things that they sell), and sell them for a substantial discount from the actual combined sale price of the items inside. This is done as sort of a gimmick to attract customers to shop at that store, and it works: you’ll often see lines snaked around the corner and around the block of shoppers waiting to buy fuku-bukuro from their favorite shops. (Kind of like the release of a new Apple product) Think of it as a dramatically more upscale version of the infamous Woot Bag of Crap.

This year our friends at J-List are kicking things up a notch and selling not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but SIX, count ’em, SIX different fuku-bukuro variants. Whether you’re a fan of anime and/or toys, fashion, bento & traditional Japanese culture, Japanese snacks and foods, and yes, even, ahem “those” kinds of products, there’s a fuku-bukuro for you.

So why not surprise your gift recipient (or perhaps yourself) with a fuku-bukuro? Sure you don’t know what you’re gonna end up getting, but that’s part of the fun of it. One might even say that life is like a fuku-bukuro… you never know what you’re gonna get!

On the 11th day of Kurisumasu…
WD TV Live Streaming Media PlayerWD TV Live Streaming Media Player

Text-only links to today’s featured products: (in case the item photos don’t appear or their links aren’t working correctly):
WD TV Live Streaming Media Player

One of the greatest challenges facing the modern anime fan is how one goes about enjoying their downloaded anime content. Sure you could watch it on your computer, but who wants to sit in front of their computer all day? Also I don’t know about you, but my computer monitor and sound system pale in comparison to the one sitting out in my living room. Wouldn’t you rather watch it on your fancy home theater system? This used to be a lot harder than it sounds. Fortunately now the WD TV Live provides an extremely easy and inexpensive way to bring your media content onto the big screen. I’ve written about it before in fact.

Simply plug the WD TV Live into your home theater system and your network, and now you can stream all of your anime from your home computer and enjoy it on the big screen. It reads all of the major video file formats, including those MKV files that are in vogue these days. And, best of all, it will read and display those pesky subtitles, either in separate files (.SRT/.SSA/.ASS) or embedded in the MKV files themselves. And it reads all of the major subtitle formats. Unfortunately it isn’t 100% perfect. Most notably, advanced features of the SSA/ASS subtitle formats (multiple fonts, colors, text positions, etc.) aren’t supported. (The only way I’ve found to do these properly is either to use a PlayStation3 and stream using the excellent and free PS3 Media Server, or to hook your computer up to the TV and use something like XBMC.) But it still works remarkably well, and is by far the easiest of these solutions to set up and use.

On the 10th day of Kurisumasu…

Another 2012 anime I am really enjoying is Accel World. It tells the tale of unlikely hero Haruyuki “Haru” Arita, who is bullied by his peers and escapes his tortured existence by logging into the virtual reality Internet and playing VR games. One day he is recruited out of the blue by student council vice president (and total school hottie) “Kuroyukihime” into the cutthroat world of “Brain Burst,” an online fighting game that grants the player the ability to slow down the perception of time… but at a price. Little did I know that it is related to another of my favorite anime from this season that I’ve already written about, Sword Art Online: they are based on light novels penned by the same author, but are also set in the same universe.

The fine folks at Max Factory/Good Smile have graced us with this absolutely gorgeous rendition of Kuroyukihime in her online avatar form (my favorite). She is fully poseable as all figma are, and comes with multiple facial expressions, props and accessories, and absolutely gorgeous wings.

On the 9th day of Kurisumasu…

In the 2012 anime season, one of the shows that’s really capturing my interest is Sword Art Online. It tells the story of moody loner Kirito, who is forced to band up and assist other players of a Virtual Reality MMO as they find themselves literally stuck in the game thanks to the machinations of its diabolical lead programmer. In order to safely exit the game world, one must clear all its levels and defeat all its bosses. And if your character dies in-game… so does your real-life body. Interesting characters, a compelling storyline, tons of action and incredible artwork make this a very enjoyable show. If you’re a fan of SAO, this beautiful wall calendar would be just the thing. Enjoy a gorgeous SAO image every month of the year!

What? Sword Art Online not your thing? Well then you should check out J-List’s selection of other anime and Japan themed calendars — they’re all awesome!

On the 8th day of Kurisumasu…

Takoyaki is a Japanese delicacy that you’ve no doubt seen in anime, because it’s a quite common food in Japan, sold as both “street food” as well as at festivals all across the country.

What is it? you might be asking to yourself. Takoyaki is a round ball-like treat made of a wheat batter with a piece of octopus (the tako part of takoyaki) and sprinkled with various sauces and garnishes. Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Ewww! Gross!” But it actually is really really tasty. It’s not sticky and slimy like you’d think octopus would be. In fact it’s probably the most un-octopus-like taste you could imagine. You should really try it sometime.

The traditional cooking vessel for making takoyaki is a heavy cast-iron pan with half-spherical shapes you place on your stove. But of course the Japanese have come up with a much easier to use innovation, this electric takoyaki pan. Simply plug it in, mix up a batch of takoyaki batter, and fill the little half-spheres, turning them periodically (pro takoyaki makers use a special takoyaki pick, but you could use chopsticks in a pinch). Easy peasy and quite yummy.

And as an added bonus, the takoyaki pan is perfect for making another (non-Japanese) treat — Æbleskivers.

On the 7th day of Kurisumasu…
Catherine (PlayStation 3)Catherine (PlayStation 3)
Catherine (Xbox 360)Catherine (Xbox 360)

Text-only links to today’s featured products: (in case the item photos don’t appear or their links aren’t working correctly):
Catherine (PlayStation 3)
Catherine (Xbox 360)

Thanks no doubt to the popularity of anime, we have been blessed with an ever-increasing collection of Japanese video games that have been imported and localized for the US. This is a good thing. It’s even more refreshing when a company dares to port a game that would normally be considered too risque or unusual for US audiences. Sadly this is a far too rare occurrence. That’s why when I heard that Atlus would be bringing the game Catherine to our shores, I was elated, though also a little bit worried, since sometimes when companies do this, they end up taking the easy, less controversial road and alter the game to tone down or otherwise nerf the more controversial elements. But by all accounts Atlus has done well in this port, preserving the essence of the game and only toning down the difficulty somewhat (which is good, because Japanese games tend to be devilishly hard).

In the game you play the role of Vincent, who is contemplating marriage to his girlfriend Katherine, who has been pressuring him into it. One night while hanging out at his favorite bar, he meets what seems to be the perfect woman, Catherine. They really hit it off and start a relationship. That night Vincent begins having nightmares every single night, which he thinks may be related to a series of bizarre incidents in his neighborhood in which people die in their sleep with a look of anguish upon their faces. Strangely enough, all of the victims are young men. The rumor is that if a person dreams of falling, then they must wake up before they hit the ground or they will be unable to wake up at all and will die.

The gameplay is a bizarre mix of puzzle-platformer and a visual novel sort of game. During the daytime Vincent can talk and interact with his friends in person or over the phone, and the choices he makes will affect his character development; while at night, in his “nightmare world” he is forced to climb up giant staircases that are slowly collapsing underneath him and safely reach the top, all the while avoiding traps such as spikes and ice.

With a dark psychological storyline, intense and interesting characters, superb graphics and sound, and interesting gameplay, Catherine has received positive reviews and accolades from the industry. And it deserves them.

On the 6th day of Kurisumasu…

The world has embraced digital media like nobody’s business. (Think about it: when was the last time you went to a CD store? Do you still *have* a CD store in your local shopping center?) And the media companies have finally grudgingly admitted this. (At least where music is concerned. They’re still cluelessly feeling around their, umm, internal personal spaces when it comes to digital video.) And iTunes is definitely the 800 pound gorilla in the digital media marketplace. They have by far the largest catalog on the planet. Unless you’re looking for imports from the land of the rising sun. While the US iTunes store has started carrying more anime and Jpop music, and has definitely started carrying more anime TV series, their collection still pales in comparison to what’s available on the Japanese iTunes store. So what is a digital music-loving otaku supposed to do? In years past, you either had to have a Japanese credit card (highly unlikely) or you’d have to beg and plead with a Japanese friend (or find some random dude on the Internet, or worse, eBay) and buy a iTunes gift card from them.

Well guess what, you *do* have a friend in Japan that you can trust – JList! And of course they’d be happy to get you an iTunes gift card, in either ¥1500 or ¥3000 amounts. And with most songs costing ¥150 or ¥200, that buys you a lot of songs. (And apps too – the Japanese iTunes store also carries a lot of really cool otaku-worthy apps for your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad!)

The best part about buying an iTunes card from J-List is that you don’t have to wait for them to ship it to you. They’ll email you the redemption code straight from the back of the card. (And if you’re buying this as a gift for someone, I’m sure they’d be happy to mail the code directly to the recipient too.) This of course means there aren’t any shipping charges with this order either.

On the 5th day of Kurisumasu…
Uncharted: Drake’s FortuneUncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Uncharted 2: Among ThievesUncharted 2: Among Thieves
Uncharted 3: Drake’s DeceptionUncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Text-only links to today’s featured products: (in case the item photos don’t appear or their links aren’t working correctly):
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

OK, so technically this isn’t exactly anime-related, but most anime fans I know (myself included) also play quite a few video games, and almost certainly own a game console of some sort. And if that console happens to be a Sony PlayStation3, and they haven’t yet heard of the excellent UNCHARTED series of games, then this is definitely the gift for them! (Or for yourself, if you fall into this category) Admit it, we’ve all wanted to be the Big Action Hero, the larger than life Indiana Jones type figure who battles evil, discovers the hidden treasure and gets the girl, all without breaking a sweat. Of course, doing this in real life would involve a lot of back-breaking physical exertion, not to mention getting punched and shot at. Fortunately the developers at Naughty Dog Studios have given us a way to live out our action hero fantasies in the comfort of our own home, with the most excellent UNCHARTED series of games. You play the role of accidental adventure hero and “everyman” Nathan Drake, who, with his (shall we say) rather colorful pal Sully, go off on epic globe-spanning searches for ancient buried treasure. In the course of doing so they form alliances with other shady folk (who oftentimes end up stabbing them in the back), get into epic gunfights, save damsels in distress, and confront ancient unspeakable evil. The games (there are three of ’em) feature a perfect mix of exploration, puzzle solving and run-and-gun action, and are vey well paced. Voice acting is superb, the music and sound effects would give any Hollywood blockbuster a run for its money, and the graphics are simply eye-popping, and truly show off the power of the PlayStation3’s graphics engine. Unfortunately there are only 3 games in the series, although there are rumors of a sequel. I have mixed feelings about this: part of me wants them to stop where they are now, on a high note so to speak; but the other part of me wants more Uncharted games to play. There’s also rumors of a live-action movie, but I’d rather not talk about that. (Fortunately from what I’ve heard Uwe Boll is NOT involved in this. So it might actually have a slight chance of not sucking.)
On the 4th day of Kurisumasu…

One of the more endearing characters in the *Ghost in the Shell – Stand Alone Complex* anime are the Tachikomas. Their child-like curiosity and outlook on the world, and the (mis)adventures that this gets them into, lend the show a certain charm, and help balance out the show’s heavy action and weighty topics.

Now the excellent model makers at Revoltech have brought them to life (well, as much as possible with today’s technology anyhow) in this excellent PVC figure. With its 18 points of articulation you can pose it in almost any configuration; plus it has magnetized legs, so you can even stick it to most metallic objects (refrigerators, filing cabinets, computer cases, etc.) and show them climbing vertical surfaces just like they do in the anime.

On the 3rd day of Kurisumasu…
Steins;Gate Complete Series (Part 1)Steins;Gate Complete Series (Part 1)
Steins;Gate Complete Series (Part 2)Steins;Gate Complete Series (Part 2)

Text-only links to today’s featured products: (in case the item photos don’t appear or their links aren’t working correctly):
Steins;Gate Complete Series (Part 1)
Steins;Gate Complete Series (Part 2)

One of my favorite anime from the summer 2011 season is Steins;Gate. Funny, interesting and engaging characters, a great sci-fi inspired story, and gorgeous animation make it stand out in my mind.

It tells the tale of self-proclaimed “mad scientist” and general all-around goofball Rintaro Okabe, who is convinced that there is a secret international organization bent on world domination. One day he and his “Future Gadget Lab” team inadvertently create a gadget able to send messages to the past. The discovery and experimentation of this instrument become the catalyst of fundamental alterations to the present. Okabe is the only one aware of these changes because he possesses the “Reading Steiner,” the ability to retain the memories from previous experienced timelines. Oblivious of the consequences of their actions, Rintaro and his friends end up creating modifications of grievous proportions. He must then try to find a way to return as close as possible to the original timeline in order to save his precious lab partners.

FUNimation has licensed the show and has released it in a fantastic Blu-Ray/DVD combo set.

On the 2nd day of Kurisumasu…
Pray for Japan (DVD)Pray for Japan (DVD)
Pray for Japan (Blu-ray)Pray for Japan (Blu-ray)

Text-only links to today’s featured products: (in case the item photos don’t appear or their links aren’t working correctly):
Pray for Japan (DVD)
Pray for Japan (Blu-ray)

On March 11, 2011, Japan was hit with one of the worst natural disasters in recent history. The earthquake and tsunami devastated entire coastal communities of Japan, and caused innumerable losses in life and property, and the country is still reeling from its effects to this day.

This beautifully shot documentary shows the stories of the residents of one such community, that of Ishinomaki, in Miyagi prefecture, and their struggles as they attempt to pick up the pieces of their lives shattered in this disaster and move on. Don’t get me wrong, you will see and hear plenty of sorrow and destruction. But the strength, passion and perseverance of the Japanese people ultimately shine through, and the response both by fellow Japanese citizens as well as the international community is heartwarming and uplifting. This is definitely a film that everyone should see.

You’re probably thinking to yourself that this is kind of a weird holiday gift recommendation, and you’d probably be right. But I think that in a way it’s an appropriate one, because, after all, the holidays are all about celebrating the joys of life, friendship, family, and the spirit of giving, and it is important to help those less fortunate than us. All proceeds from the sale of this film benefit charity organizations that are still on the ground providing relief and support in the area.

On the 1st day of Kurisumasu…

The cell phone strap is one of those ubiquitous identifiers of otakudom. Anime fans in Japan often have little charms shaped in the image of their favorite anime characters hanging off their cell phones. Pretty much all Japanese phones, even cheaper models, prepaid phones, etc. are purposely built with a little stud where you can attach these cell phone straps. Unfortunately, most phones made outside of Japan, including smartphones such as Apple’s latest hawtness, the iPhone 5, lack such a mounting point, which until now meant that we had to resort to ugly and inelegant solutions involving drills and/or duct tape.

But we no longer need to result to such barbaric methods now, thanks to the fine folks at Poddities, makers of all sorts of cool and unique cell phone accessories. Their NETSUKE strap adapter simply screws in to the bottom of your iPhone 5, using screw holes already existing down there. Just remove the screws that came in your iPhone using the included screwdriver, and replace them with the ones provided in the NETSUKE kit. You now have a discreet yet functional location where you can mount most cell phone straps. The mounting hardware does not get in the way of using your iPhone’s Lightning connector, so you can still plug it in to sync with your computer. (Note that it may not work with some cases and/or docks however)


On the 12th day of Kurisumasu…

One of the most exciting anime films to come out in recent years — certainly the one that has generated the most buzz in the anime community — is REDLINE. Described by some as “Speed Racer on crack,” (somewhat inaccurately I might add – there’s way more to REDLINE than just an amped-up Speed Racer), REDLINE tells the story of futuristic racer “Sweet” JP and his desire to enter REDLINE, an intergalactic no-holds-barred race where anything goes — even eliminating your competition! (Think Deathrace, only way better.)

The film is truly a feast for the senses, with jaw-dropping animation (done by well-known studio Madhouse), a pulse-pounding soundtrack and excellent voice acting. And it is finally being released to the masses on DVD and Blu-ray. The Blu-ray in particular is absolutely, positively, knock-you-off-your-feet stunning.

Unfortunately this is a preorder, so if giving as a gift, you’ll have to do the whole “this card is redeemable for one copy of REDLINE” thing. Fortunately, it is scheduled to come out January 17, so the gift’s recipient (or you) doesn’t have to wait too long.

On the 11th day of Kurisumasu…

Yes, folks, it’s a K-ON! related pick. Got a problem with that? Then you can just suck it.

When Sega announced that they would be doing a K-ON! based rhythm game, they were widely derided by the internets, and were accused of merely wanting to cash in on K-ON!’s success, and that the game would just be a cheap rehashing of their Project Diva game. Well, this may have been true (the “them wanting to cash in on K-ON!’s popularity” part anyway), but the game itself is actually pretty decent, and isn’t just another Project Diva clone.

In the game, you get to control your favorite girl from HTT as you help her play through your favorite tunes from the show. If you’re on your A game and get all your notes and rhythm dead-on, you earn bonus points and can unlock all kinds of cool stuff. And if you screw up… well, your character won’t be too pleased with you. There are plenty of things you can unlock: powerups, backgrounds, outfits, hairstyles, and more. Here are some handy notes on how to play it.

Note: Because PSP games don’t have any region locking, this game will work on any PSP purchased anywhere in the world.

On the 10th day of Kurisumasu…

Warning: This one is somewhat NSFW.

There is a rumor whispered of surreptitiously in the deepest, darkest, seediest corners of the Internets, that once upon a time there was a, ahem, let’s call it a “shoulder massager” shall we, that featured none other than the lovable and kid-friendly Hello Kitty — and that it was an officially licensed product!

Well, it turns out that it wasn’t just a rumor, the Hello Kitty, ahem, shoulder massager is indeed real, and it has quite an interesting story behind it. In what is quite possibly the worst (certainly the strangest) branding deals of the millennium, the good folks at Sanrio have seen fit to put out a (OK let’s cut the crap here) vibrator with the likeness of Hello Kitty on it. And, yes, our good friends at J-List can get one for you. Natch.

Nothing much to say about it. It’s pink, it has Hello Kitty on it, it requires batteries (probably doesn’t come with one; if I had to guess I’d say it takes 1 AAA), and it, uhh, cough, vibrates. She even, uhh, comes (I can’t believe I just said that) in multiple colors – J-List has the black and purple in addition to the aforementioned pink.

This would make a great gag gift.

*finally breaks down and goes into Beavis and Butthead-style “huhuhuhu, yeah yeah” conniptions*

On the 9th day of Kurisumasu…

Straight from the mind of genre-defying anime filmmaker Shinichiro “Nabeshin” Watanabe, Samurai Champloo is one of those unforgettable classics that remains one of my favorites to this day. It did for the traditional “lone samurai” movie what The Princess Bride did for the traditional fairytale: mixed it up and turned it on its ear, all the while richly parodying itself and other genres. In the case of Champloo, it takes traditional Edo-era backdrops and mixes them up with modern elements including hip-hop, rap, gangsta, and Okinawan culture, along with a healthy dose of comedy, some action and drama, and quite a few other things, and wraps it all up in a gorgeously animated, immensely entertaining package, with excellent voice acting in both the original Japanese as well as the dub. And thanks to the good folks at FUNimation, who rescued this and many more series from the demise of Geneon, we can now enjoy it once again in a gorgeous DVD box set, as well as an awesome Blu-ray!

On the 8th day of Kurisumasu…

I’ve written about visual novels/dating sims on several occasions before. These types of games — equal parts visual novel, choose-your-own adventure, “sims” style simulation, and harem anime — are a mainstay of Japanese otaku culture, but are not as widely known/popular outside of Japan. Fortunately, this is starting to change, now that we have companies that are taking some of the more popular/better known titles and translating them. One such company is MangaGamer, and they will soon be releasing a new title of interest to those of you who’ve ever wanted to travel to Japan.

In “Go! Go! Nippon,” you play the role of an unnamed fan of anime and otaku culture who, after having made friends with some Japanese people over the Internet, finally decides to achieve his lifelong dream and visit Japan, making arrangements to stay with his Internet friends. Only, when he steps off the plane, he finds that (as can only happen in anime or visual novels) his “friends” — “Makoto” and “Akira” — are none other than a pair of cute young girls. And they’re sisters to boot! Not only that, their parents have left town on urgent business – leaving them all alone in the house!

Explore the wonders of Japanese culture as your new hosts take you on a “virtual” tour of Japan, learning about the culture and food and places while you find love with one of two different Japanese girls. The local culture has some surprises in store on your first night there, but you’ll soon head out on the town! Enjoy the date-like atmosphere as Makoto and Akira take you on a tour of all the most famous places in Tokyo and Kyoto. You’ll marvel at the beauty and history of Japanese culture, fill up on local delicacies, and even share some thrilling moments with the girls! The week you spend in Japan will certainly be memorable!

And, best of all, the game is presented in “bilingual” mode, with both English and Japanese text, great for those of you wanting to learn Japanese as well.

Most visual novels aren’t very demanding in terms of computer requirements, and this title is no exception. It will run on a Pentium III or greater, with at least 256 MB of memory and 400 MB hard drive space — so, basically, any computer made within the last 10 years or so should be just fine. It runs on Windows 95 or greater (including the latest 32- and 64-bit incarnations of Windows 7). Also, all MangaGamer/J-List titles are offered free of activation/DRM/other such nonsense.

Unfortunately this title isn’t yet available (it’s a pre-order), so if giving as a gift, you’ll have to do the whole “This card is redeemable for one copy of Go Go Nippon” thing.

On the 7th day of Kurisumasu…

Fate/zero, the latest installment in the Fate/stay night series, has garnered quite the fan base among the anibloggers. And for good reason. With a gripping and engaging storyline, gorgeous animation, excellent voice acting, and a completely reimagined cast of characters to keep things fresh and interesting, this prequel to the story laid out in Fate/stay night is a real thrill ride.

And once again, the good folks at Max Factory/Good Smile have risen to the occasion and have produced an absolutely outstanding Figma rendition of everybody’s favorite knight in shining armor, Saber. Only this time, she’s dressed in her suit (which I hear gets a certain blogger all weak in the knees).

Like all figma, she is well-jointed and is capable of an extremely wide range in motion, which, combined with the included figma stand, let you set up all sorts of dramatic poses. Alternate hair parts and facial expressions let you vary the mood as well. And, of course, she comes with both of her Noble Phantasms, including the cool new “invisible sword” variant of Excalibur.

On the 6th day of Kurisumasu…

Are you planning a trip to Japan? If so, first of all, I am insanely jealous, and I officially hate you. But that’s beside the point. Anyway, you’re gonna want to outfit yourself with some tools. Besides the usual stuff that you’d need to pack for an extended voyage, you’ll want a good Japanese phrase book, a guide book that tells you all the cool places you’ll want to visit, and a rail guide.

Japan’s public transportation network is legendary, and for good reason. You literally don’t need to drive in Japan. (You wouldn’t want to anyway — the roads are absolute insanity. Besides, they drive on the wrong side of the road!) You can literally get from just about anywhere to anywhere by navigating the maze of subways, light rail, trains, buses and various other modes of transportation (streetcars, etc.). For a public transportation junkie and a person who can’t drive, it was a dream come true. That is, until I tried to actually navigate the system…

Nowadays, it’s not as hard as it used to be: especially in the larger cities, most of the major rail lines and railway stops have signs and audible announcements posted in English. Even so, having a good rail guide is still a damn good idea. And, thanks to modern innovations such as smartphones and iPod touches, this is easier than ever. (No more fumbling around with large collections of maps and guides that weigh over 9,000 pounds)

One of the best guides I’ve found is GO!Tokyo. It is a comprehensive listing of all of the Tokyo-area subway and railway lines, both public and private. Included are maps of all major areas; train and station maps; station exit and transfer information; a search function; timetables listing the first and last trains of the day (VERY useful!); and lots of other useful information, including photos. Best of all, the majority of this information is built-in to the program and does not require an Internet connection, which means you don’t risk spending over $9,000 on data roaming charges.

The program is compatible with all iOS devices, including iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

On the 5th day of Kurisumasu…

Ask any anime fan about their first anime, and they’ll get this faraway misty look in their eyes as they wax eloquently about their love of (insert name of random anime title here). In my case, that series is ROBOTECH. (Don’t worry, I’ll try and keep the nostalgic ranbling to a minimum. Please put down those pitchforks.)

By now all of the anime purists in the audience have stalked off in disgust, because ROBOTECH isn’t a single anime series per se. Nor is it entirely Japanese in origin. Confused yet? Here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Back in the mid-80s, when anime was still relatively unknown, a brilliant but controversial pioneer in the early American anime industry took three Japanese anime series — completely unrelated to each other — and edited them, recording English dialogue and making extensive story changes to make all three series part of the same continuity. And thus ROBOTECH was born.

The story, spanning across three generations, follows an intrepid band of humans who are tasked with repairing and commanding an immensely powerful alien spaceship that mysteriously crash-landed on the planet. Of course things go south very quickly as the apparent owners of said spaceship finally come round to Earth, and they kind of want their spaceship back. Soon Earth is plunged into an interplanetary war against wave after wave of enemy invaders, and our hopelessly outnumbered heroes are forced to defend humanity at all costs.

I remember coming home from school one afternoon and idly flipping channels when I came across ROBOTECH, and I remember being instantly hooked. It was completely unlike anything I had ever seen before. Intense space battles! Cool transforming spaceships! Larger than life heroes (and villains)! Romance! (one of my friends at the time mockingly called it a “soap opera in space”) And – yes – death too. (The fact that every episode did not necessarily have a happy ending really made an impression on my young mind.) But most of all I remember being impressed with the package as a whole — the style of the animation, story, etc. And later — much later — when the subject came up in conversation one day, a friend at the time (yes Scott, I mean you) told me that I really oughtta check out this newfangled “anime” stuff. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Anyway, even after 26 years, I think the show still has legs to stand on. And it is certainly looking better than it ever has, thanks to modern digital restoration techniques. A&E Entertainment has put together this wonderful boxed set. Not only does it contain all 85 original episodes, it also contains tons of other extras. Whether you’re brand new to the anime universe, you’ve been a fan for a few years and know the more recent titles but not much older stuff, or you’re an old school fan wanting to relive the glory days, this is the perfect set for you.

On the 4th day of Kurisumasu…

Enjoy a gorgeous new thematically-related picture every month of the year while simultaneously covering that annoying empty spot on your wall and keeping yourself up to date and aware of the passage of time — all from one gift. How is this possible, you might ask? Why, with a shiny new 2012 calendar of course! It’s three, three, THREE gifts in one! With everything from Ghibli to GACKT, Pokemon to Pixiv, Nurai to Nyanpire, K-ON! to Kiki’s Delivery Service, and everything in between (including various scenes of nature in Japan, Japanese art, and of course gravure models in skimpy outfits) there’s a calendar to suit every fanboy or fangirl’s taste.

On the 3rd day of Kurisumasu…

The Japanese have elevated the science of microwave cookery to a whole new level. Makes sense when you think about it: with your typical Japanese residence being not that much bigger than a breadbox, you don’t exactly have room for a traditional western style range/cooktop; and so the Japanese have had to find smaller, more efficient means of cooking their food. Enter the microwave oven. Of course, you can’t just throw in (insert name of random food product), hit the cook button, and expect picture-perfect results. Sometimes you need a little extra help to get your microwaved food “just right.” Fortunately the Japanese have risen to the challenge and have created all sorts of gadgetry to help you cook various types of food. Here are but two examples.

The Easy Microwave Rice Cooker & Steamer with Shamoji is nice for several reasons: (1) It’s pretty small, which means that it’ll easily fit in even the smallest microwave (like what you’d find in a dorm); (2) because it’s so small, it makes just the right amount of rice for 1 or 2 people, so you don’t end up with over 9,000 pounds of leftover rice; (3) it can be used as a steamer; and (4) it even comes with an appropriately sized rice paddle thingie.

And if you, like me, have always wanted to try that Japanese delicacy taiyaki (because of a certain anime heroine perhaps?) but have always been stymied by the process of actually making the stuff, the Microwave Petit Taiyaki Maker might just be the thing. Simply mix up some taiyaki batter (which turns out to be based on pancake/waffle batter), pour it in the mold, pop it in the microwave, and you’re done! Uguu~!

On the 2nd day of Kurisumasu…

Fuku-Bukuro - Japanese New Year's Lucky Bag
Fuku-Bukuro – Japanese New Year’s Lucky Bag – Wacky Traditional Culture Set or Anime Toy Set

In Japan, there is a tradition around New Years for stores to sell “fuku-bukuro,” or “lucky bags” to their clients. You don’t know what they contain. The only thing you do know is that the value of the items contained in the bag is more than what they sell it for. Thus you can often get some decent deals, and for this reason these lucky grab bags are wildly popular – you often see huge lines of customers waiting for the chance to pick up a lucky bag from their favorite retailer. Think of it as a more upscale version of the infamous Woot Bag of Crap.

This year J-List is getting in on the fun, and is offering two “fuku-bukuro,” one geared towards anime fans and another for fans of Japanese culture in general.

On the 1st day of Kurisumasu…

CD DVD Blu-ray
Mikunopolis! – On CD, DVD and Blu-ray

The high point in my life this year, both as an individual as well as a member of Otaku no Podcast, would have to be this year’s Anime Expo. This is the first year that we were able to attend AX as members of the press, which is something we’ve been dreaming of for quite some time. And boy was it a rush!

Of course the con itself was, in a word, awesome. They really pulled out all the stops this year in terms of the guest roster, as well as the various concerts, screenings and other events they were able to pull together. And I would have to say that the best one of these, hands down, would have to be Mikunopolis, the US debut of the Vocaloid Hatsune Miku.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this. Unlike the majority of the world, I hadn’t yet caught Vocaloid fever. I knew a little about Vocaloid the software, and that some “voices” were released based on real peoples’ voices, with anime-ish character mascots behind them. And I’d heard that said mascots gave some sort of 3-D live performance in Japan recently. And I’d heard a few snatches of Vocaloid-created music. My reaction up until that point would have been categorized as “Oh, that’s nice.”

But the moment that the Mikunopolis band launched into the first number, I knew that I was about to witness something special. And indeed it was special. Miku was truly amazing — she can do things that a real performer could only dream of doing (dissolving into a column of light and instantly reappearing elsewhere, changing costumes in the blink of an eye, singing so fast that it made my head spin, etc.). But equally as amazing was the band itself. They were most definitely on their “A game” and they really rocked the house – especially amazing when you consider that their front (wo)man was a virtual-reality hologram. All of this combined together as a whole made for an exhiliaring and enjoyable evening.

There are quite a few naysayers out there. I think what a lot of these naysayers are getting hung up on is that they are thinking of Hatsune Miku & friends as replacements for human singers. After all, when you look at events such as Mikunopolis (which was AWESOME!!! by the way), us anime fans can’t help but draw parallels to those famous virtual idols of anime such as Eve from Megazone 23 and Sharon Apple from Macross Plus.

Well, I think people who are thinking like this are missing the point. The way I see it, the Vocaloid characters are, to put it bluntly, window dressing. The real win here is the Vocaloid software itself, which, when you think about it, is an amazing technological achievement. And it’s the final component in the amateur song creator’s toolbox. Think about it. We now have computers on our desks (and in our backpacks and book bags) that are powerful enough to allow us to create music. High quality microphones are inexpensive and easy to set up, and with technologies such as MIDI, it’s easier than ever to bring music into the digital realm. But even if you’ve never touched an instrument in your life, you can still create great-sounding music thanks to “loop” and musical instrument synthesis software such as GarageBand, Reason, Acid, etc. But the one thing that’s been missing is the human voice. Because, let’s face it, not all of us have the best voice out there. (And only Bob Dylan has the chops to pull off the whole “singing with a less than perfect voice” schtick.) So yeah, you might be able to create an awesome song, but you weren’t able to give it a voice. (It’s not like you could call up Hikaru Utada or something and ask her to record your song for you.) But now that Vocaloid is out there, your musical toolbox is complete. And there’s quite a selection of voices to choose from, one to suit every mood — Hatsune Miku, Kagamine Len and Rin, MEIKO, KAITO, etc., not to mention their APPEND versions, etc., and more planned for the future. In fact, Vocaloid has spearheaded a huge upsurge in doujin music. There are people taking Vocaloid and doing really awesome things with it.

Anyway, I’ve once again managed to go off on a tangent as I am wont to do. Back to the point. If you, like so many out there, missed this fantastic event, don’t worry! It’s now out on CD, DVD and Blu-ray! (Unfortunately they chose not to release these in the States. (I have absolutely no idea why. They are really missing out on a tremendous market here!) So you’ll have to import them from Japan. Fortunately our friends at CDjapan make this ridiculously easy.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: while the Blu-ray is region free, the DVD requires a Region 2 player. Fortunately these are pretty easy to obtain.)


On the 12th day of Kurisumasu…

Well, I just couldn’t make up my mind as to what to choose for today’s pick. So this is a two-fer!

If you’ve watched even a small amount of anime, you have no doubt seen sakura, or cherry blossoms. You know, those abundant pink petals gracefully floating in the breeze as our hero finally confesses his love to his longtime crush. No, real life isn’t quite that dramatic, but the sakura are still quite beautiful to look at. They only come out for a few short weeks in April, and when they do, Japanese all across the land pack up their bento and head out to the park for a sakura watching party. Now you don’t have to brave the elements to enjoy them, you can gaze at a lovely sakura picture every month of the new year, with scenes from Hokkaido to Shikoku and even a stop by in Gunma prefecture (home of J-List).

Ask any lay person to point to what they consider to be “Japanese art” and 9 times out of ten they’ll point to a Ukiyo-e. Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating wind” is a genre of Japanese art that started out in the 17th centuries as woodblock prints and later branched out into paintings. It was art for the commoner, because it was cheap and could be fairly easily mass-produced, and was wildly popular in the big cities such as Edo (ancient Tokyo). Typical ukiyo-e prints were of various scenes of city life, in particular scenes from the entertainment districts; celebrities of the day (actors, sumo wrestlers, etc.); and landscapes. Pictures of the upper class were forbidden, and very rarely appeared. Pictures depicting sex were also forbidden, but were wildly popular. (Yet another example of how porn is a driving factor in creating new media). In any case, the works are quite beautiful and quintessentially Japanese, and now you can enjoy a lovely uikyo-e style picture every month of the year.

On the 11th day of Kurisumasu…

The bento is probably one of the most recognizable bits of Japanese culture out there. No doubt you’ve seen countless anime scenes where characters are consuming these boxed lunches. The bento has been a part of Japanese culture since the late 1100s, when Japanese hungry for a quick snack or meal gnoshed on hoshi-ii, a concoction consisting of dried rice that can be eaten as is, or reconstituted into (more or less) regular cooked rice with the addition of hot water. This was typically stored and carried around in small bags. And thus was born the bento.

The traditional wooden box form of bento was developed in the late 1500s, and were consumed by Japanese at tea parties, during long travels, and at the theater, among other places. And when railroads became all the rage in the late nineteenth century, hungry travelers were able to buy the first ekibento, or train station bento, which are still sold to this day. Bento are also sold in many other places, including convenience stores (“konbini”) and, believe it or not, Japanese department stores. And bento, both store-bought as well as homemade, is still enjoyed by countless schoolchildren, office workers, and families on outings.

While the bento boxes you get at most retail locations are cheap generic plastic models, the ones you typically make at home can come in a wide variety of shapes and styles, often styled after a favorite anime or video game character. But some of the most beautiful bento boxes are the traditional wooden lacquer boxes. Also, not only are some of the bento boxes themselves extremely beautiful works of art, but often their contents (i.e. the food) are also made into their own art form.

On the 10th day of Kurisumasu…

The dating-sim game is a staple of otaku culture. Basically, it’s a more or less linear game where the choices you make (in conversation with various characters, in actions your character performs, etc.) determines the final outcome of the story, and who you “hook up” with in the end, etc. Think “anime meets choose-your-own adventure.” I’ve written about them before. While there are a few attempts at creating English-native dating sims, this field remains largely dominated by the Japanese. Until recently however, many of these titles have remained inaccessible to westerners. A few companies are now licensing the better titles and translating them for a western audience. Which is most fortunate, as there are many dating sims that have powerful storylines and gorgeous artwork that really deserve to be experienced firsthand.

In this game, you play the role of high school student Kotaro Makimura, who, at the start of summer vacation, is all set to confess his love to his longtime crush Kaho Serizawa. But then he suddenly wakes up the next day to find that the entire summer has passed in the blink of an eye and it is now September 1, the start of the new school year. He learns that Kaho did indeed become his girlfriend — but she died tragically in a car accident. Eventually our protagonist finds that he has the capability to jump backwards in time, and begins “day dropping” back to different days during the summer vacation. Does he accept the fate that Kaho is to die and tries to move on with life, or do you try and change Kaho’s fate? You decide…

Two things in particular set this title aside. One, it is an interactive DVD rather than a piece of computer software, meaning it can be played on anything that can play DVD’s (PCs, Macs, DVD players, Playstation 3’s, Xbox and Xbox 360, etc.). Second, there’s none of “that” in this title, which means it’s suitable for most ages (basically think “PG” here).

On the 9th day of Kurisumasu…

In Japan, when you have to sign for something (be it an official government document, employment contract, signing a piece of artwork you created, signing for a package, or whatever), you don’t whip out your pen and sign your signature like you do in the rest of the world. Instead, you pull out your hanko, or Japanese traditional name stamp. You’ve probably seen these used in anime.

Now you can have one of your very own. The stamp can display any 1-4 characters in either of the Japanese alphabets (hiragana, katakana, and kanji).

You could, of course, get a stamp with your name on it (foreign names are traditionally written using katakana), and if you live in Japan, your stamp can even be legally binding (assuming you register with your local city office). Of course you don’t have to use your name: you can make your stamp say anything you like. Is there a particular phrase or even kanji character that you like? There’s a stamp for that!

Just write down whatever you want your stamp to say in the “comments” field when placing your order, and the J-List staff will be glad to assist you. (If your name is unusual in spelling or pronunciation, they ask kindly that you provide a pronunciation guide.)

This would be particularly cool to have if you’re an artist who regularly makes appearances at Artists Alley – now you can add that extra touch of authenticity and “cool factor” to your artwork by affixing your stamp to it instead of a boring old signature.

On the 8th day of Kurisumasu…

Growing up in an extended Korean family, I was exposed to many interesting aspects of oriental culture. One in particular that stands out in my mind is a game my parents called “hatto.” My mom, grandfather, and their cronies would gather together several times a week, lay down an old army blanket, sit around it, and spend the rest of the evening (sometimes continuing long into the night) energetically throwing cards (and sometimes money) into the center of the blanket, often accompanied by bouts of loud shouting. I was particularly interested in the cards they were using: they were completely unlike any sort of playing card I’d seen before. They were small, hard, plastic, and had intricate designs of flowers, animals, and various other scenes of nature on them.

For years, I thought this game was a purely Korean invention. (Blame this more on ignorance than racial zealotry.) Then one day while watching Summer Wars, I saw the same cards being used in a Japanese game, Koi-Koi. Thanks to this chance encounter (and also Wikipedia), my eyes were opened. Turns out these cards, known as hanafuda (literally “flower cards”) were invented in Japan (by way of Portugal), but are used in different games (with different rules) in several regions, including Japan, Korea and Hawaii.

The rules aren’t that hard to learn and can be found online (in English, don’t worry). You can even play the game in your web browser. But it’s much more fun if you gather up a group of your own cronies and sit around the army blanket in real life. Of course you’ll need a set of hanafuda cards for that. Fortunately J-List has got you covered.

Interesting trivia: the first company to commercially produce hanafuda cards was formed in Kyoto in 1889. When the hanafuda business started losing momentum, they turned to a variety of other moneymaking ideas, including taxi cabs, love hotels, TV networks, and foodservice, until in 1974 they finally hit upon success in the emerging electronic game market. That company’s name? Nintendo.

On the 7th day of Kurisumasu…

The Kotatsu
and also optionally
The Kotatsu Futon

Winter has finally hit the country, even here in normally sun-drenched (and fire-prone) California. If you’re looking for a way to stay warm and toasty without having to spend over $9,000 on your heating bill, why not take a cue from the Japanese and try a kotatsu? Surely you’ve seen these used in your favorite anime: whenever a winter scene hits, your favorite anime characters would all sit around a low table covered with a futon and socialize or eat or study or sleep or whatever. This, my friends, is a kotatsu. Quite simply, it is a low table with an electric heater attached to its underside. Simply drape a kotatsu futon (or a blanket, quilt, etc.) over the table, and sit down with your legs sticking underneath it. The electric heater heats up the underside nicely while the futon (or blanket, or quilt, or whatever) serves as insulation, trapping the heat where it’s needed. It is a remarkably efficient way to keep warm without the expense and wastefulness of having to heat up the whole house. Kotatsu are especially well suited for families or groups of friends: sit around one and play games, watch anime, shoot the breeze, or maybe even make yourself some yummy nabemono.

On the 6th day of Kurisumasu…

“You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” Trite and overused though this phrase may be, it nevertheless rings true in so many parts of life — including anime. When I first heard of Kanon from a friend, I read its synopsis, and summarily dismissed it as weird and/or boring and/or the anime equivalent of a chick flick. I mean, c’mon, if it doesn’t have giant robots or explosions or epic sword fights or guns or pantsu, it must suck, right? Boy was I wrong! When I finally ran out of new things to watch, and in a fit of boredom put on Kanon, I was greeted by a wonderfully mysterious, intriguing, engrossing and thoroughly moving storyline; cute, quirky and otherwise interesting and engaging characters; incredibly gorgeous and fluid animation (some of Kyoto Animation’s finest work IMHO); and an equally as impressive soundtrack that melds perfectly with the story and animation. And I’m not the only one who thinks so highly of it – Kanon is universally praised all over the interwebs, and in my opinion, deserves each and every word of praise it’s garnered. Let this be a lesson to you, that every now and then, it’s good to step outside your comfort zone and try something new – you might just like it. And if you don’t — well, then at least you can write a really humorously scathing review of it for your blog.

On the 5th day of Kurisumasu…

Osamu Tezuka is a name that should be well familiar to any anime or manga fan worth his or her salt. Through his long and illustrious career at the forefront of Japanese manga and anime worlds, he has earned such well-deserved monikers as “the godfather of anime,” “the father of manga,” and “the Walt Disney of Japan,” and produced a veritable flood of titles, the most famous of which include Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Black Jack. In this, his first authorized biography, manga expert Helen McCarthy takes us through his life and works, and includes over 300 images, many of which have never been seen outside of Japan. Furthermore it also includes a 45 minute DVD documentary of the man himself, offering rare glimpses into the way he works. This beautifully put together book belongs in the collection of anyone who calls themselves a fan of anime or manga.

On the 4th day of Kurisumasu…

In the opening scene to one of my favorite anime, Read or Die, the White House gets destroyed by this old-school looking Japanese dude carrying a weird machine capable of generating powerful lightning attacks. Little did I know at the time, but this dude, along with the other “I-jin” villains, are based on actual historical figures — in the case of our mysterious lightning wielder, Gennai Hiraga, an Edo-era scientist who, among other things, built an “Erekiteru,” a sort of primitive electrostatic generator. With this unique kit, you too can make an erekiteru of your very own, just like Gennai Hiraga constructed back in the day, while learning cool scientific and historical facts along the way. The kit includes everything you need to build it, and instructions in English are also available. OK, you might not be able to blow up buildings or lay waste to entire squadrons of attack helicopters with it, but I still think it’s pretty cool. (Besides, now you can say to your parents/girlfriend/etc. that all this anime stuff can be educational too!)

On the 3rd day of Kurisumasu…

The Japanese have a keen and very unique sense of fashion. Every accessory or object that could conceivably be worn by a person, no matter how plain or typical, is fair game. Including headphones. Coincidentally enough, anime girls wearing headphones appears to be a rather popular meme. (Makes perfect sense. I’d wager there is a fairly large intersection in the Venn diagram depicting otakus vs. audio geeks. And yes, of course, I was very much aware of this when trying to come up with the kind of logo image I wanted for Otaku no Podcast.) Well now you can get both your anime geek and your audiophile geek on thanks to this beautiful and very unique artbook featuring beautifully drawn anime girls wearing a wide assortment of real-life headphones, earbuds, and various other audio gear. They even include full specifications! (On the gear, not the girls, you pervs. 😉 ) So there’s something in this for everyone, be they art fans, otaku, audio gearheads — or all of the above.

On the 2nd day of Kurisumasu…

In Japan, vending machines rule. There must be something like 50 vending machines for each Japanese citizen – you often see huge lines of them in train stations, on street corners, and in various other places. And they sell a truly awe-inspiring variety of goods. Oh sure, you can get your usual selection of soft drinks, juices, and the like. But there are also all manner of coffee/tea drinks, and you can even, believe it or not, buy beer in a vending machine! (Any hour is happy hour when you’re in Japan.) But that’s not all! Vending machines also sell a wide variety of things you’re not accustomed to seeing in vending machine – fresh eggs, rice, fishing supplies (including bait!), toilet paper, and even pantsu – of course fresh ones, but rumors persist that in various seedy corners of Japan, you might even be able to find, ahem, “pre-owned models”.

Anyway, the cool thing about Japanese vending machines (well, one of the many cool things about them) is that you can obtain both hot AND cold drinks – from the same machine! (And believe me, on a cold wintry day, you really grow to appreciate those piping hot coffee drinks.) When we went to Tokyo in 2004, I vividly remember our first encounter with one of these marvels of modern convenience. It was our first night in Tokyo, and we were tired and thirsty after that long dry airplane flight, when lo and behold, we saw one. (Hard to miss, really; again, like I said, there are like 50 per person.) I wasn’t in the mood to try anything new, so I figured a Coke would be a safe bet. (Lord knows why I wanted a cold drink – we went to Japan in January, during the cold season). And when I put in my yen and pressed the button, out popped a wonderfully ice cold can. However Beep wasn’t in a soda kind of mood, and looking at the available choices spied a selection for something called “royal milk tea.” Throwing caution to the wind she inserted her coins and pressed the button. Out popped a really hard to describe, yet delicious beverage – sort of like sweet tea combined with milk combined with something else. It was good regardless. But it also came out piping hot. From the same machine that, not two minutes earlier, produced an icy cold can of Coke-y goodness for me. Our minds were officially blown.

Anyway, the good news is that you don’t have to fly all the way to Japan to sample this delicacy. (And the bad news? You don’t have to fly all the way to Japan to sample this delicacy. Yes, I tried that trick with Beep. It didn’t work. Damn global commerce.) Now you can enjoy the deliciousness that is royal milk tea in the comfort of your own home, dorm, office, or secret underground command bunker, with this uber-convenient powdered Royal Milk Tea mix. Just drop 1 teaspoon’s worth in a cup of water (supposedly it tastes great either hot or iced!), stir, and boom! Instant Gratification. (If you like it on the extra milky side, why not try dropping it in a glass of milk instead of water? It could work…) The pouch is even resealable, so it’ll stay fresh, unlike some of those cheesy 80s OAVs you watched back in the day.

On the 1st day of Kurisumasu…

Yes, I’m still obsessed with K-ON.  You KNOW that there was bound to be a K-ON! related pick among the 12 days of Kurisumasu, so I figure (heh, pun) I might as well get it out of the way first…

Anyway, I won’t bore you with all the reasons why I like K-ON!, and why I think the people that are whining about it either don’t understand or just don’t Get It(TM) or are just idiots, plain and simple.  Let’s just say that K-ON is just lighthearted fun and very enjoyable, and leave it at that.  Of course, being a red-blooded male otaku geek, my favorite character of them all is Mio Akiyama (well, me and about 4,296,871,214,228 other otaku on this planet).  And of course, K-ON has spawned a great flood of associated goods, including some pretty awesome figures.  Unfortunately it seems as though my favorite of the bunch is no longer available, but this one on J-List is tied along with the school festival version as being my second favorite. Regardless of which one you end up getting, though, it’s still Mio, so everyone’s a winner. Moe Moe Kyun! ♥

Cdjapan Jazz_Fusion

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