Saturday, December 10, 2016

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 5 review

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

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 5 (SquareEnix, 2015-16), by Rensuke Oshikiri. Grade: B+
The next day, Miyao breaks a girl's heart by saying that he doesn't want to go out with her. Haruo asks him for advice, but it turns out that Haruo is the kind of guy that doesn't know what his own feelings are. He had no idea that Koharu liked him, although Miyao had witnessed the interaction between the two girls at the game center, and he'd seen something like this building up. Meanwhile, the chauffeur takes Hina home after school, and we finally get to meet her older sister, Makoto. Makoto refuses to take over the family's responsibilities, and has run off to university to become a professional slacker. She's the reason why Ms. Gouda is riding Hina so hard to carry on the family's inheritance.

(Hina splash page.)

Speaking of which, Gouda goes to Haruo's house to tell him to keep away from Hina. The boy arrives home to find his mother entertaining the woman over tea and snacks. The weather turns bad, and mom runs outside to rescue the laundry from the rain. While she's gone, Gouda calls Haruo trash, who is dragging down Hina's grades and distracting her from her studies. Mom returns to the room, indicating that she's heard everything. While she's very lax about how she raises her son, buying him games and letting him slack off as he likes, she's fiercely protective of him, and refuses to let anyone claim that she's raised a bad kid. She shows Gouda to the door, gives her a cheap plastic umbrella, and tells her to not catch a cold on her way back to the estate. Mom then asks to help him with his studies, and attacks him when she sees his grades.

(Mom returns from bringing the laundry in out of the rain, and defends her son against Gouda.)

Back at the estate, Gouda confronts the chauffeur over her having found a game console in the car, and announces that she has the power to get him fired. Later, the driver takes Hina to Haruo's house for one last play date. The driver tells the boy that this is his last day as Hina's chauffeur, and before his replacement can take over, he's giving Haruo the chance to have a day together with the girl. They have a great time at the game centers, and spend the evening at a local festival, shooting pop guns and eating cotton candy. In the end, they each go their separate ways.

(When Hina met Haruo.)

Hina flashes back to 1991. Her class took a battery of tests, and Hina got perfect scores on everything. She hoped her tutor would be impressed with the results. Instead, Gouda acted disgusted, and claimed that of course she should have gotten perfect scores - the tests were too easy for someone at the Ohno family's level. Gouda doubled up the girl's homework on the piano, koto, ikebana (flower arranging), violin, horseback riding and karate lessons. Finally, in desperation, Hina ran away, and found herself in a game center for the first time. She watched some boys playing Street Fighter, and everyone kept on laughing at how pathetic the Zangief character was. Hina imagined seeing him crying, and she felt a bond between them. She then amazed everyone in the center by beating them all with Zangief on her first try. That's when Haruo arrived, and came close to making Zangief cry again while playing Guile. That's why she beat up Haruo so badly at their first meeting, causing both of them to be ejected from the arcade. Then it's 1995 again, and Hina cries as the old chauffeur drives her home.

(When Felicia meets Koharu.)

Time passes, and Koharu plays The Night Warriors against another player at the arcade, and her opponent uses Felicia to defeat her. Koharu retreats to eat lunch next to the center's announcements board. A goth-loli girl approaches her, and says that she's the one that played Felicia. If Koharu wants to get better as a player, she should go to a specific game center after hours, and enter through the back door. Koharu reluctantly does this, and finds herself being introduced to the world of underground professional players (Felicia's father owns the shop). Everyone has nicknames (like Futago Tamagawa Felicia), while Koharu just gives her own full name. Felicia offers a few suggestions that aren't much improvement. Months go by, as Koharu memorizes special attack tables, and Haruo spends more time watching TV with his mother. Mom likes the attention, but she knows that her son would rather be playing with Hina. Finally, Haruo comes to a realization. While the current raft of games are more of the slaughter genre, what initially attracted him to the first wave of games (like Zelda and Street Fighter) was that the heroes all had something that they fought to protect. Then, at the end of summer vacation, Koharu sees a note to her on the notice board. Haruo has set the date for their rematch. The day arrives, and Felicia accompanies Koharu to the game center. There will be three rounds, on  Shin Samu, King of Fighters 95, and Hunter. The two kids both have flashbacks to happier days, then sit down at the first machine to face off in versus mode.

Summary: Young love gone off track, and unsure of how to recover. Highly recommended if you like old video games.

Friday, December 9, 2016

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 4 review

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

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 4 (SquareEnix, 2016), by Rensuke Oshikiri. Grade: B+.
It's June, 1995. The Sega Saturn and Playstation consoles have just come out, with games that rival the quality of the arcade machines. Haruo is in his first year of high school, but spends most of his evenings playing the new games. He's got a part-time job now, at a factory for hand-making convenience store bento lunches, and he uses the money to buy a new Saturn. He and his friend, Miyao, got into the same school, but Koharu and Hina were both accepted elsewhere. Koharu drops by his house, is spotted by "mom" and yanked inside. The two kids talk, and it turns out that Haruo has been spending very little time in the arcades now, while that's where Koharu has been every day. They go out to an arcade, and Koharu very easily beats him on Street Fighter (and most of the other games in the center), but rather than being impressed, the boy gets depressed and retreats to his bed. Along the way, he sees Hina on a shopping trip and hides to avoid being seen. Then, he realizes that he needs a game reset, and vows to start playing game center games from scratch to recapture the joy he felt with them at the beginning, in order to play against Hina again.

(Haruo spots Hina and her driver, and hides from them. He retreats to his bed in a funk, as Guile warns him that time is running out of his current game.)

Later, Doi, Miyao and Haruo go to a game center, where Doi keeps fantasizing over being able to date Hina. Koharu shows up, and keeps beating Haruo at the various games, until Harou runs away in tears. A few seconds later, Koharu accidentally tries putting a coin in the change maker at the same time Hina does, and the two girls end up playing against each other on Virtua Cop. Koharu does all the talking, and Hina doesn't react much at all. Until Koharu asks if Hina likes Haruo, to which the rich girl responds by shooting all of the targets on the screen in half a second. Miyao has been eavesdropping on the conversation, and he's relieved that a cat fight doesn't break out. But, Hina walks away in a funk. The reason for her depression is that her private tutor, Ms. Gouda, is really angry with her taking breaks from her studies, and is getting more and more overbearing. At home, Gouda tells her that the family is cutting off all money to her, so she can't spend anything on games, and that further, her own life is not her own - her parents are going to arrange a husband for her when she comes of age. That's why she needs to excel in her studies now (piano, judo, history, language, etc.) to make herself the perfect bride. That night, lying in bed and remembering Koharu's question about how she feels about Haruo, Hina cries herself to sleep.

(Hina's response to Koharu's question of "do you like Haruo?" is to rapidly clear the stage in Virtua Cop.)

The next day, the chauffeur shows up at Haruo's house, frantic. It seems that Hina has run away from home, and none of the household staff can find her in her normal haunts. Haruo tries visiting a few of their regular game centers, with no success. Eventually, Guile and the other Street Fighter characters lead him to a tiny shop in a back alley, where Hina is just beating her 70th challenger. Hina refuses to return home, so Haruo calls his mother for advice. Mom tells him to spend the night in a business hotel, and she'll arrange to have money delivered to the hotel by the the following morning. In part, she's hoping for "chemistry" between the two kids. However, Haruo is too young and clueless, and Hina is too conflicted. On the other hand, Haruo has his New Famicom console in his bag, plus some games, and the TV in the room has aux. jacks in back. They play video games until Haruo falls asleep. Hina tucks him in, and goes to sleep herself. The next morning, Haruo leaves for his job, promising to come back at lunch to pick her up and take her back home. He finishes work, and as they're walking past a Puri Kura machine (Print Club), Hina indicates that she wants their photo taken together. Haruo decides to make faces in front of the camera, so Hina headbutts him,

(Koharu tells Haruo that she loves him. When the boy tries to respond, she hits him with the bag containing the Playstation console, and tells him to shut up and listen.)

Later, Koharu is at the game center, racking up the high scores on the machines when Haruo drops by. They end up competing to see who is the better player, with Koharu giving up and going home by herself, while the city puts on a fireworks display that none of them ends up watching. The next day, Koharu drops by Haruo's house with her new Playstation console and a copy of Tekken. Haruo loves the way the PS controller mimics the arcade machine controls. Haruo plays the games, and Koharu contents herself with sitting back and watching him play. She looks at his desk, and her initial wonder at seeing his study materials turns to dismay on spotting the Puri Kura photos of him and Hina together. She announces that she's going to leave now, and "mom" berates her son for making a girl cry. Haruo ends up walking Koharu the short distance to her house. Along the way, Koharu stops and declares that she really likes him. And, she's willing to face him in an arcade rematch. If Haruo wins, she'll leave him alone. If she wins, he has to take her on a date. Haruo goes into a panic and has no idea how to react.

Summary: The love triangle has finally taken form. Hina and Haruo are starting to realize that they're more than just game center partners, while Koharu works up the courage to tell the boy that she really likes him a lot. At the same time, though, Hina's tutor, Gouda, is tightening the screws on her student and is in the process of turning her into a caged bird with no freedom and a future that she absolutely hates. High Score Girl Continue is highly recommended to game fans.

Sidenote: These chapters originally ran in Monthly Big Gangan in 2013.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Amu Plaza Christmas Market, Dec. 5th

I didn't have to work on Monday, so I took the opportunity to go up to Amu Plaza to check out the Christmas Market. Again, the MC had walked away from her table to advertise one of the food booths, and I grabbed the line up sheet to see what the music schedule was. None of the names looked interesting, but the next act was going to go on stage in a few minutes, and I hung around for it. Turns out it was one of the singers from the Songbirds of Gospel, with the Songbirds conductor on keyboards. The singer started out with a light jazz version of a Christmas song, and it was pretty clear that she didn't understand the English lyrics (she pronounced the words wrong). I left after a few minutes to go back home.

And, just to explain why I'm not taking more pictures of the Market live music than I am... Back at the beginning of November, when I had the kidney stone, I had an endoscopy that identified a polyp in my intestine. The doctor strongly urged me to have it removed as quickly as possible. So, I scheduled the surgery for last Tuesday. The operation went by quickly and uneventfully. But, I had to stay in the hospital overnight for observation. Because I wasn't going to be able to eat anything for 30+ hours, I had to be prepped with an IV needle. But, the nurse couldn't locate a vein in the back of my forearm and eventually chose to insert the needle in the vein in the back of my left hand. That made sleeping difficult, coupled with the fact that I was in a common room with 3 people that snored really badly - I got 3 hours of sleep, total. I was released from the hospital Wednesday morning, and spent the rest of the day napping. The downside of the operation is that I can't drink alcohol or do strenuous exercise for 1 week. On top of this, I have English lessons at the school at 3 PM, 6 and 7 PM several days in a row, and I really don't want to risk running up to Amu Plaza from the other side of downtown, just to get a few photos before returning to the school (not for the next week, anyway). I won't be able get to Amu Plaza and just relax until Sunday.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Movie Ad Boards

A couple new advertising boards for new movies in Amu Plaza now. First for the Magical Girl Puri Kyura anime.

And, for Yokai Watch. This one, you can kneel inside to have your photo taken.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Dec. 3 and 4

Amu Plaza Christmas Market, Dec. 3

I got up to Amu Plaza, and the main train station on Dec. 3rd at 7 PM, after my classes ended for the day at the English school. The Christmas Market live music was continuing with a band called The Acoustics. They were ok, but they played soft pops and covers of American Christmas pop music where people still own the copyrights, so there was no point in recording them (plus the camera battery died after taking about 10 photos). After that, I went back home to get dinner and to work on the blog.

JA Matsuri, Dec. 4

I've been getting a little more walking exercise lately, and on Thursday, when I got out of my lessons at the school, I took a detour down to Dolphin Port to look at some small sharks that have been hanging out near the aquarium. A group of workmen nearby were putting up the tent top parts of some display tables, so I knew there was going to be an event there on the weekend. On Saturday, I swung by again after my lessons ended, but all the tents were already closed up for the night. So, Sunday I made a point of going down to Dolphin Port around 3:30 PM to get some pictures for the blog.

The weather wasn't very good, with sporadic drizzle throughout the day. The event was the Japan Agriculture's attempt to promote itself, and local produce. Shown above is their tie-in with the Anpan-man TV anime series.

The main focus was on the food shops selling udon, soba and ramen with black Kagoshima pork, and beef.

I'd eaten just before leaving the apartment, so I was disinclined to stand in line for an hour to spend too much money on a small bowl of food.

There were maybe 150-200 people, despite the weather, and they did have a live stage.

Unfortunately, the band seemed to be composed solely of amateurs. The horn section was unsure of what song they were playing, and the singer forgot the words halfway through. They started up the opening theme for the Sazae-san TV anime series, which got the children and older adults waving their arms, but there was no point in recording them. After a few minutes, I left and headed up to Amu Plaza.

Amu Plaza Christmas Market, Dec. 4

I arrived just as the Kinpou Gongen taiko group was starting the last song of their set. I took a quick photo then recorded the song. Afterward, when the MC was announcing the remaining acts for the day, I realized that she was reading off a sheet of paper at her table. There was no schedule posted anywhere, but the table had a small stack of about 5 sheets that seemed to be printed copies of the line-up listings. No one stopped me from taking one, and I was happy to see that Bon DX had two shows for 7 and 8 PM. I returned home to eat an early dinner. While I was there, I checked my e-mail, and discovered that Bon had sent me a Facebook message saying that he and his band were going to be playing that night.

I got back up to Amu Plaza just before 7, and had enough time to say "hi". The band seemed to be on a tight schedule, and I never had a chance to ask for a photo with them at the end of the night. Sigh.

Anyway, the music was good, and I was able to record 5 songs, most of which Bon normally plays all the time, anyway. The new one was a Ska cover of John Lennon's "So this is Christmas." They played it twice, at the beginning of each set, and I kept missing the sax solo opening of the song, which was my bad.

Bon did ask me to post the photos and video I'd shot to the net, so I did that at the end of the night. On Monday, I realized that I got the date wrong when I made the title cards for the videos, using "2014" instead of "2016". Sigh. So I re-edited and re-rendered two of the videos on Monday, which wasted a couple hours, and I ended up not being able to use the newer versions anyway because youtube doesn't let you overwrite the files (generally, you have to delete the old version and upload the new one, which causes problems if you've already posted links to the old one on Facebook)..

Bon tends to change the line up of his band occasionally. The sax player and drummer are the same as usual, but the bass and keyboard players were different this time, and his main support singer, Nonki, was replaced by someone that was introduced as being a reggae singer.

Bon DX will be playing again on Christmas night, and I'm hoping to catch him then, too.

There's a shop that sells Christmas-themed balloons, and the top balloon of the stack is moon-shaped and has pictures of ornaments on it. But from this angle, I suddenly realized that it looks like some kind of an alien.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lupin III Pachinko Brochure

I was walking through Tenmonkan a while back, and in the display rack with the tourist maps, I found an advertising brochure for the latest Lupin III pachinko machine.

It's only interesting if you play pachinko, because most of the pages are for what happens if you hit certain bonus combination triggers (which I can't do, because I don't play pachinko).

But, I still like it for the flat cel-style character artwork.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 3 review

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

High Score Girl Continue, vol. 3 (SquareEnix, 2015-16), by Rensuke Oshikiri. Grade: B+.
Koharu gets a Super Famicom machine and a copy of Mortal Combat, and she fantasizes about having Haruo visit her house to play against her in her room. But, all the boy does is ask her for the game so he can play by himself at home. Koharu is crushed, while Haruo is trying to deal with Hina's ignoring him at the game center. Some days later, the class takes the bullet train to Kyoto for a school trip. Haruo has his PC Engine and a handful of games stuffed in his carry bag. Unfortunately, one of the chaperones, the kung-fu styled Numata, suffers motion sickness and asks Haruo to get some cans of cider for him from a vending machine when they stop at the next station. Koharu follows the boy to the platform, and when he drops the cans down the stairs, the two of them find themselves stranded as the train pulls out from the station. Haruo discovers that the town here has arcade machines he hasn't seen before, or hasn't seen in a long time, and he spends the next few hours burning through the money Numata gave him, playing games. Koharu wants to think of this as a date, but the boy is still clueless. Eventually they take an express bus and catch up with the others at the inn the class is spending the night at. Haruo tries to get the other boys to play against him on the PC Engine, but one of the other teachers catches them and confiscates the machine.

(Haruo fantasizes about spending the entire class trip playing games in the inn.)

The next day, everyone has a few hours to spend as they like, and Haruo and Hina both travel to Osaka to participate in a Super Street Fighter II X tournament. The grand prize is a trophy and a watermelon-shaped shower set (wash cloth, soaps and shampoo). The two of them work their way up the ranks. At last, it's Haruo versus Hina battling for first place. Haruo wins, then is horrified to discover that an earlier loser had smashed the console in anger at losing, and had damaged several of the buttons. Hina had been playing on a crippled machine and had never told anyone about it. This wasn't a fair fight, and Haruo feels cheated in his victory. He tries to get Hina to explain why she's ignoring him, and they get into a tussle while going back to the train station. Haruo gets his face punched in. He stops when he sees that Hina is still wearing the necklace he'd given her in volume 1. Everyone who participated in the tournament got Street Fighter t-shirts, and Haruo lets Hina have the watermelon shower set (he keeps the trophy). The class takes the bullet train back to Tokyo, and Koharu feels jealous that Haruo had so much fun without her.

(Haruo gets his trophy, but is disappointed in Hina's lack of spirit afterward.)

The chauffeur discovers that Hina has gone to another game arcade, and Haruo talks the old man into letting his charge stay with him for the day, while the old man leaves to play pachinko. The two kids play games and eat ramen, on Haruo's money, but Hina's heart really isn't in it. In part, it's because they're getting to the end of the year, and Hina is slated to go to one of the best high schools in the country. Haruo hates to study, so she knows that they're not going to be together next year. Later, when the chauffeur drives her home, Hina smiles at the memories of her with Haruo. Meanwhile, "mom" is pleasantly surprised to discover that Haruo has fallen asleep at his desk, with his workbooks and notebook open in front of him.

(Hina plays video games on her own, and Haruo really tries to study for the first time in his life.)

Time goes by, and Haruo is so focused on his studies that he's stopped going to the game centers, to Miyao's and Koharu's consternation. Mom is quietly rooting for her boy to get good grades, but even Hina wants him back at the arcade to play against. Eventually, the chauffeur talks Haruo into spending another day at a game center with Hina, and when he takes them back home, Hina grips Haruo's hand as they sit together in the back of the limo. The school year wraps up and everyone takes their high school entrance exams. When it's all over, Hina is accepted into Jouran High School, and Haruo isn't.

Summary: Koharu is falling more in love with Haruo, while the boy finds himself pulled closer to Hina. To stay with Hina, Haruo vows to knuckle down and get accepted to one of the most elite high schools in the country. And fails. But he tried, and that's all his video game heroes, including Guile, can ask from him. That doesn't ease the pain much, though. Highly recommended if you don't mind the character designs.