2012: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12.
2011: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12.
2010: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 11, Day 12.
Fuku Bukuro – Lucky Bags
Anime Toys Set
Fashion Set (Sizes M-L)
Bento & Traditional Set
Best Seller Snack Pack
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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)
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.
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.
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*
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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~!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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!)
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.
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! ♥