Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Monday, March 20, 2017
Last week, Amuplaza had their first-ever Saigo-don event. The name is a pun on Saigo Takamori, the local hero known as the "last samurai", and "saikou", meaning "the best," and "don", meaning "food served in a bowl". The food booths were serving bento (box meals), ramen and donburi (bowls of rice with some kind of topping.)
I didn't go up to Amu Plaza during the week, and I had to work most of Saturday. So, my only option was to visit on Sunday, which kind of turned into a "small non-adventure."
There are two long walk events in Kagoshima. The first is the one from Terukuni shrine to Ijuin city, 20 km away (12 miles), in October. The other is a recreation of the Ryoma Sakamoto honeymoon walk in Kirishima, which was held last weekend. Ryoma and Saigo were two of the rebels that fought against the Shoganate in the 1860's, which led to the eradication of the Shogun-system and the return of power over the country to the Emperor. Prior to the main outbreak of hostilities, Ryoma was ambushed and injured. He retreated to Satsuma (the present-day Kagoshima) to consult with Saigo Takamori. Saigo recommended that he return north via back roads on the pretense that he and his new wife were on their honeymoon. Part of that route is commemorated in the current Honeymoon Walk.
Unfortunately, the Kirishima start point is at the north end of Kinko Bay, and it costs something like $10 to take the train one way, and the walk itself costs $20. It's about an hour by train to the closest station, and I'm not sure how far the start point is from the station. Plus, you have to register at the door 1 hour before the 8:30 start time. On top of that, the good route, which goes through the mountains, was on Saturday this year; the Sunday route just went through flower fields. And, the sky was heavily overcast. I really didn't feel like having to get up at 5:30-6 AM and then spend $40 just to walk through flowers that I couldn't take pictures of for 4 hours, on Sunday. So, I kept making excuses to myself for why I wasn't going to go, even though I had been wanting to for the past year. The bottom line was simply that I didn't want to spend the money.
Which brings me back to Saigo-don. It's basically just an advertising event promoting local restaurant and grocery store food, at elevated prices. I wanted to try a dish of some kind, but I didn't want to spend the money. And, especially not after blowing off an opportunity for a lot of exercise. On the other hand, I'm in the process of preparing my U.S. tax papers, and I needed a place to sit down and spread the papers out on a table to check the numbers, and I couldn't do that at Amu Plaza. Instead, I went to a regular family restaurant, bought a cup of coffee, and blew the afternoon that way.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Saturday, March 18, 2017
(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)
Plinus, vol. 4, by Mari Yamazaki and Tori Miki (Shinchou, 2015-2016) Grade: A
Mari Yamazaki debuted in 2001 with Yuumeijin, and she's best-known for her historical comedy romance Thermae Romae. She also drew a biographical manga on Steve Jobs in 2013. Tori Miki is a gag, and serious SF, artist who started Bara no Shin-sama in 1981, although he was drawing manga for Garo magazine in the 1970's, and he's best known for Anywhere But Here, and was the writer for the third Patlabor movie. I wrote about his Frozen Food Agent manga some years ago. After Thermae Romae ended, Mari (whose husband is Italian) teamed up with Tori to produce Plinius, a historical fiction manga based on the famed Roman historian and naturalist, Gaius Plinius Secundus, AKA: Pliny the Elder, with Mari doing the writing, and she and Tori doing the art.
(Pompei gets hit by an earthquake.)
Plinius lived from AD 23 to AD 79, and during that time had tried to research the past eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, with the expectation that it would erupt again (which it did in AD 79, catching Plinius in a pyroclastic flow). Although, in the manga, most of Plinius' claims that the volcano was dangerous are brushed off as nonsense because the mountain was dormant and covered in vegetation then. Plinius was also in written contact with Seneca the Younger (4 BC - AD 65), the philosopher and statesman who acted as Emperor Nero's (37 AD - 68 AD) tutor.
(Felix goes salvaging to get surgical tools for a doctor to let him do his job.)
I was given volume 4, and I haven't read the other books, but the story is pretty easy to follow, and it's more or less historically accurate. In this book, Plinius, his cat Giaus, a young female companion, the young Greek companion Euracles, and the older servant Felix, survive the collapse of half the buildings in Pompeii, and they stick around long enough to help recover some surgical tools for a doctor planning to rescue the survivors. The group goes to the inn they're staying at in the countryside, and its walls are still standing, although some of the plaster was knocked off to reveal an odd style of brick underneath. The group escapes farther afield as the rioting, and greed of the surviving merchants threatens the safety of the inn.
(Plinius searches a library for mentions of Vesuvius in history.)
Meanwhile, in Rome, Nero's adviser, Burrus, dies of poison, apparently applied secretly by some enemies acting through Burrus' doctor. Shortly after, Nero's first wife, Octavia, is beheaded by Roman soldiers and her head is sent to Rome, where Nero refuses to look at it, but its identity is confirmed by Poppaea, Nero's mistress. (Nero and Poppaea had banished Octavia to the island of Pandateria, and Nero signed her death warrant in 62; Burrus is suspected of having been poisoned, also in 62). Poppaea cements her relationship with Nero, but starts fooling around with Ofonius Tigellinus (Ofonius had been acquainted with Nero's mother, Agrippina, and he became prefect of the Roman imperial bodyguard 12 days after the death of Burrus.)
(Plinius has put on weight. "Come on, stupid mountain. Erupt already.")
Plinius goes to a library, where he locates older scrolls proving that Vesuvius had erupted several times in the past, and he keeps hoping the volcano will blow again just to prove him right. Additionally, Felix witnesses a confrontation in another town between two Jews. One is trying to gain converts to the newly introduced "savior," Jesus Christ, while the other threatens to kill the first guy if he ever returns to this town. Later, someone that looks like the second guy, but with a change of clothes, and named Levi, visits Poppaea and gives her a small stack of jewelry to buy Rome's favor towards the Jews. The maids discover under her bed a small clay statue of a bound female figure with needles stuck into it. Levi takes Poppaea to a witch, who says that someone is trying to curse her unborn child. The witch can't undo the curse, but he can make it so Poppaea can follow the curse back to whoever cast it. After Poppaea and Levi leave, some thugs enter the witch's house and kill him in his sleep. The book ends with Plinius meeting with a hairy barbarian named Lartius. Lartius is said to have spent 10 years traveling around the countries to the east of the Empire.
Summary: I'm not sure I'll ever get the other books in the series (#5 just came out recently), but reading vol. 4 is still pretty interesting. Mari is a stickler for historic detail and accuracy, and she's also a very good artist. I don't know how much Tori Miki contributed to the artwork this time because I can't detect his art style anywhere. Either way, the line work is very fine, very solid and very clean. It is fun to see the scientific research that Plinius executes, and I am learning more about Nero than I'd had before. Overall, recommended to anyone that likes historical fiction, but be aware that this series would be R-rated in the U.S. for some minor scenes with Poppaea in bed with Nero.
Friday, March 17, 2017
(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)
Ima, Soko ni aru senso (There is a war over there now) art by Yuuto Ina, writing by Taylor Taira and Yuuki Amaya, Big Comic Original (2014), Grade: B
I received a copy of Ima, Soko ni aru Senso, vol. 1, so I decided to read it just to find out what the story is. This manga runs in Big Comic Original, meaning that the target audience is adult salarymen. The Japanese is hard to follow and there's a lot of technical and financial terminology. There's very little on any of the three creators in English or Japanese. Baka Updates lists Taylor as "Terror Taira" but doesn't give him any other writing credits, and there's nothing on him in the Japanese wiki (or on the other two, either), although he does show up in the credits for one episode of Golgo 13 in 2014. Yuuki Amaya wrote Magatsukuni Fudoki, but Baka Updates just lists a stub for that one. Yuuto Inai is also listed as the artist for Kick no Oneesan and Kyoudai M1 Monogatari (only a stub article). Unfortunately, the Baka Updates page for Ima, Soko ni aru Senso is also just a stub. There's no officially-accepted English translation. Literally, it's "Now, in that place is a war." However, the Japanese title of Tom Clancy's "A Clear and Present Danger" is "Ima soko ni aru kiki" (Now in that place is a danger), so technically I could treat this as "A Clear and Present War."
(Say goodbye to the shadow bankers.)
Taro Mononobu is a big, muscular guy that works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He's meeting his wife and adult daughter in Shibuya for a quiet dinner, when he sees on the news that China's top four bankers have been assassinated. He runs out of the restaurant, to his daughter's disgust, to return to the Ministry, but the offices are empty of staff. It seems that he's the only one that thinks the killings are the prelude to a war that could destroy Japan, China and the U.S. Meanwhile, in China, Kenryuu Sho, the mayor of the apparently fictional city Tengai (Heaven Ocean) and Jinko Shin, head of national security, had been spying on the upper levels of the Chinese government on behalf of the four shadow bankers, when they'd pulled a coup, with Shin shooting the bankers with a machine pistol. Shin then approaches a Chinese CGI effects house where the artists have prepared a DVD of buildings blowing up for him. He takes the disk and leaves the office as a pair of "cleaners" go in after him and plant a bomb in the room to kill the witnesses (Shin states that the real thing doesn't compare to the CGI).
(And time to say goodbye to Honda and the CIA spy.)
Mononobu is joined by a new hire to the Ministry who is absolutely clueless as to what's going on, but insists of calling him "Mononobe" as a cute affectation, and following him around wherever he goes. Mononobu suspects that things are going to escalate, but the only one that can help him is Honda, a womanizer living in New York. He tries calling Honda, but the guy is in the middle of a conversation with a CIA agent in a restaurant. After the agent gets Honda to compromise himself, two other agents listening in on a bug enter the room and spray bullets all around before leaving, killing their partner as part of the plan. As Honda lies dying, he gives a voice command to his phone to save the last 30 minutes of the conversation and email it to his boss at Toyoda Corp. When Honda doesn't call him back, Mononobu visits Toyoda, and tries talking to Honda's boss (Mononobu calls him "sempai," implying that they'd gone to university together). The guy refuses to help Mononobu, but in the middle of the conversation he receives Honda's email, and drops Mononobu a few veiled hints, and Mononobu leaves.
(The CGI effects group does good fake explosions.)
This brings us up to the first half of the book. After this, everything else starts falling into place. A group of U.S. marines are tricked into participating in what they think is a simple war game, where they're dressed up in Chinese uniforms and plant flags at the top of the disputed Senkaku islands. The Japanese SDF sends a pair of jets to do recon of the area, and they're shot down by Chinese forces, which then start bombing the islands to remove the evidence of the Marine involvement. Mononobu's boss refuses to listen to his report, then goes to a meeting between the Japanese and Chinese foreign ministries only to be caught with his pants down when news of the invasion of the Senkakus gets broadcast. The Chinese ambassador uses this moment to confiscate a specific set of plans from the Japanese ambassador. The Japanese ministry group gets isolated in the meeting building, but they're confident that America will save them. Except that Mononobu's boss points out that this is similar to the Falkland Islands situation - America has its hands tied and can't move to help support Japan. While, in the U.S., a general is trying to convince the White House staff that trying to help Japan is going to bring on a nuclear missile strike that will wipe out the U.S. west coast. At least one of the staff is looking forward to this, saying you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
(The Japanese cabinet is stunned to see a Chinese flag on "their" islands.)
The book ends with Mononobu trying to force his office into releasing key secret information that it's hiding from him. His daughter is stuck in a suburb of Tokyo and it looks like anti-China riots are going to start breaking out around her, his wife is safe at home, and his weak-willed slacker son is working part-time at a konbini, and is about to be attacked by a small hate group intent on killing his Chinese co-worker.
Conclusion: Overall, this isn't a bad manga. The artwork is decent, the line art is clean and detailed, and the pacing is good. I just don't have a lot of interest in the story. On the other hand, the idea of a conflict between Japan and China isn't all that far-fetched anymore. Recommended if you like political dramas.