Sunday, March 31, 2013

QED, vol. 31 review

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

Q.E.D. is not necessarily the kind of manga I would normally pick up. However, it caught my eye back when I was still using Manga Fox, and I'd read it when new chapters were scanned to see if the artwork had improved yet. I still don't like the art, since it looks too sketchy and incomplete. However, Book Off recently had a 20% discount on manga marked at 105 yen, and I was hoping to get the last couple volumes to see how the series ended. Turns out that #31 and #32 aren't where the end happens, but it was cheap so I bought them anyway.

Q.E.D., vol. 31, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B
The artwork still hasn't gotten much better, but the stories aren't that bad. Sou Touma is a young genius that graduated from MIT as a teenager before returning to Japan. He's a brilliant problem solver but has few social skills. Kana Mizuhara is the typical manga female - a martial artist tomboy whose father is an overworked detective on the Tokyo police force. Kana drags Sou into her father's cases, and he invariably solves them within a few minutes. The story then is generally told from Kana's viewpoint as she interviews the suspects and presents her theories to Sou before he makes the big denouement. Often, he'll offer a clue to the reader to let them solve the case before the end of the chapter. There's little point to my doing a big write-up of the entire case from beginning to end, and I won't spoil the endings for anyone reading the fan scanillations. Instead, I'll just do a short summary of each case.

There are two main cases in volume 31. First, Loki, an American friend of Touma's, comes to Japan to get Touma's help in clearing the name of a fellow MIT researcher. The researcher has developed a new type of highly efficient jet engine, but all his research notes have been stolen and no one else can replicate his results. The company that hired him is investigating him for fraud, while he claims that the company president is the one that had the notes stolen in order to take the patents for the engine himself.

Case 2 starts out with a pair of mountain climbers getting stranded on a peak in a heavy storm. One of the two dies of exhaustion, coupled with being engulfed in an avalanche, and his final words were overheard by a rescue volunteer - "kill Komada for me", to which the partner said "ok". Three years later, Komada is climbing with 3 friends and he stumbles off a cliff by himself. The volunteer's son says "so the curse came true", causing the police to investigate whether this was an accident or murder.

If you like solve-it-yourself detective stories, Q.E.D. isn't bad. Kana plays Watson to Touma's Holmes, and the bad guy almost always gets caught. Recommended.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Soda Melon Bar

Family Mart also has this Melon Cream Soda ice cream bar for about 100 yen. No idea what the characters are from. The ice cream bar has a vanilla center with a frozen "soda" outer shell. The soda part isn't all that strong, but the vanilla is tasty enough.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Skin Horse Print

About a month ago, GoComics had a drawing of five signed prints to celebrate getting 80,000 FB likes, including 2 prints from Nancy, and one each from Tank McNamara, Close to Home and Skin Horse (originally created as a tip-jar wallpaper, then repurposed for the 2012 San Diego Comics-Con). I put my name in, like I normally do for GoComics' contests, with absolutely no expectation of winning. So I was pretty stunned at finding out that mine was one of the 5 names selected. I emailed GC with my mailing address, then went back to the photo of the prints to see what they had. Looking closer, I suddenly noticed the one was from Skin Horse, so I rushed back to e-mail and asked if I could specifically request it. This time, I got a reply back thanking me for submitting my mailing information and that "yes, probably" I'd get the one I wanted.

I like Skin Horse. It's silly, but actually contains a fairly deep, long-running plot. Definitely recommended if you like X-Files parodies.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Claymore and Chrono Trigger Comments

I mentioned a few weeks back that I'd bought a Nintendo DS Lite when I was in the U.S. for Christmas, with the intent of taking advantage of the cheap used games at Book Off, and that it turned out that Book Off didn't actually have anything that I wanted. However, Best Denki, a consumer electronics store within a 10 minute walk from my apartment, has a game shop in the basement and apparently some of the used games were moved up to the third floor of the main store. There's about 200 games for the DS on one set of shelves, although they're not all that cheap and most of them are outside of my interest zone. In any case, I at least wanted to check what they had, which took about half an hour to scan all the titles. The next step of course was to make sure that the DS wasn't region coded for only U.S. games.

So, I returned home and did a quick net search for reviews on the cheapest game I found - Claymore, for 680 yen ($7.50 USD). The reviews were all uniformly bad, but I figured that I could at least get it for the artwork and if Japanese games don't run on my DS and I couldn't get a refund, then I wouldn't be out much. The next day, I ran back up to the store and grabbed a copy of Claymore, and on a hunch, I told the clerk that I was going to try playing a Japanese game on a U.S. machine. He immediately pulled the actual game from a shelf behind the counter (what I had was the empty clam shell) and told me to try checking it out first. Oddly enough, the opening credits didn't play on one half of the screen, making us think that it was indeed region coded. About a minute later, though, the Start Game screen came up and everything started working right. At that point, I was kind of committed to getting Claymore, but there were two other things I really wanted more - Korg DS-10+ (3500 yen) and Chrono Trigger DS (2500 yen). After racing back to the DS corner and taking the cases I wanted, the clerk pulled the 2 new chips from his stock and told me to check if those would play as well. He looked pretty relieved that there weren't any problems, and very happy that I was happy. I'd expect to get the same treatment in the Gamestop in the U.S, but with somewhat less dedication.

(Screenshot from the opening credits animation.)

Claymore is indeed as bad as the reviews say. It's a very low-grade sidescroller, with little variation in the backgrounds. The first 5 minutes of the game is tutorial, where the Organization's main handler tells you to defeat various yoma and wolves either within a forest or cave setting, while using certain techniques. When you finally do get to face a yoma of any real power, it just sits on top of you and wipes your character out in a few seconds. There aren't that many save points, and if you get killed, you have to start over again. The explanations only stay on the screen for a few seconds, so I never had enough time to find out what the missions were. While the graphics are great in the opening animation, and good during the conversation sections, the character designs for the sidescrolling game part are substandard. Movement is jerky and your sword doesn't strike what you're aiming at. After about 10 minutes, I put the game back in the box. The box art looks good, though.

(Image taken from wikipedia for review purposes only.)

Chrono Trigger, on the other hand, is great! I initially played it on the SNES around 1996 or '97, and had a great time trying to watch all of the different endings. Unfortunately, I had a break-in some time later and all my electronics got stolen, including my games. So, I wasn't able to easily go back and replay CT after that. Regardless, the sequel, Chrono Cross then came out, and I loved playing that as well (I especially love the music during one of the "crisis scenes". Brilliant stuff.) So, yeah, I have good memories of this title. And, that's all I needed to justify buying the DS port used. Interestingly, it came up in English automatically. I don't know if this is because of a language option in the setup menus that was selected by the last owner, or if the game auto-detects the machine it's on. Either way, having the dialog in English certainly made it easier to play quickly.

The main graphics are exactly the same as for the original SNES version. So, from a character design standpoint CT is visually on the same footing as Claymore. A little worse, actually, because Claymore's characters are 2-4 times bigger than CT's. However, the world of Chrono Trigger is huge! There's lots of different backgrounds, settings and combat effects. The music is well-written, and the DS port adds a number of cel-based cut scene animation sequences that the original game didn't have.  There's also 5 new optional quest dungeons and several new bosses. When you finish the game the first time, the art gallery is unlocked if you want to look at the sketchwork or listen to the music. And, you get New Game+, which lets you start over while keeping your experience and possessions. There are 13 different endings, depending on when you decide to tackle the principal boss (Lavos), and a counter showing how many times you've beat the game.

If you're not familiar with it, Chrono Trigger is a Japanese RPG that is kind of a cross between Zelda and Dragon Quest (Akira Toriyama, creator of Dragonball, did the character designs for both CT and Dragon Quest). You play Crono, a young boy living in a kind of 1400's steam punk universe. One day, you go to a local fair and run into the kingdom's tomboy princess - Marle - who has escaped the castle for a day on the town. Crono's friend, Lucca, has made a teleportation machine to demo at the fair, and Marle's pendant causes the teleporter to malfunction, throwing Marle 400 years into the past. It's now up to you and Lucca to retrieve the princess. Along the way, you discover that a giant parasite (Lavos) has buried itself inside the planet, and the time distortions it's creating force you to travel to 65 million years in the past, and to the end of time in the future. Certain actions you take can cause changes to the planet later on, making the game that much more fun. There are 5 different world maps, one for each era you can visit, and you can see how the planet evolves as you jump back and forth between them.


I should mention the DS support. Of the games I've played so far, only Zelda: Phantom Hourglass takes advantage of any of the DS's features at all well. Chrono Trigger uses the touch screen and that's about it. It's fine for selecting various menu items, such as Equipment or Change Party, but trying to control party movement with the stylus is pretty much a joke. I found it a lot easier to just use the x-y pad for movement.

(Crono and Marle in one of the closing credits cut scenes.)

So far, I've gotten 3 of the endings, and they're as good as I remember. Definitely recommended if you like older-style RPGs. The gameplay is real-time, but you can't run around the enemy to avoid their attacks. There is a little bit of puzzle solving ala Zelda, but the good part is that you get experience points for what you defeat. And, what makes CT better than DQ is that you don't have to waste a lot of time and energy finding high-level creatures for leveling up when you get around rank 60. The one part I didn't like was when I had to run up and down the same mountain 10 times in order to finish one specific side quest. Fortunately, completing that quest gives you access to a shop selling the most powerful healing in the game (megalixer - recovers all HP and MP for all party members), and when you finish the game a second time all the money you save on not buying weapons and armor can be directed to getting megalixers. This makes defeating Lavos a lot easier when you're set on watching the other game endings, and you only need to do this side quest once or twice to amass more megalixers than you'll ever really need. Again, CT is highly recommended if you like old-school RPGs.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Miku Man

A few days ago, I ran photos of the Miku - Sakura no Uta posters outside of a Family Mart. Well, a little later I decided to stop in to get some can coffee and I saw the Miku anman in the heater case next to the cash register and I figured that I really had to spend the 160 yen ($2 USD) to get photos for the blog. Anman are Chinese-style steamed buns with a Japanese red bean paste filling (anko). The anko in this miki-man isn't as thick and rich-tasting as regular anman, but there's maybe 50% more bean paste than normal, so it balances out.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Kirin Fire and DBZ

Sometimes, I really wonder why anyone would tie up with a Japanese can coffee product to advertise a movie or TV series. At least with KFC, they dedicate a page to the DBZ movie goods on their website. You go to FamilyMart and pick up a can of Kirin Fire Black, and there's a little Dragonball character you can plug into the headset jack of your cell phone. So, you think "maybe there's free downloadable wallpapers on the Kirin site, or something". You look at the little brochure page packaged with the figure - no URL. You go to the Kirin website, there's no mention of DBZ at all. You go to the Fire webpage, no mention of the DBZ campaign at all. Nothing. You go to the webpage for the movie itself, and there's no mention of KFC or Kirin Fire as sponsors. In fact, the only way I discovered anything for the Kirin Fire tie-in was to do a yahoo search on "kirin fire dragonball z", which picked up a hit from the movie's News page. The entire marketing thing seems so hit-and-miss here.

Twelve figures in all, only with Kirin Fire can coffee, 140 yen each. Son Gohan can be removed from the dragonball to reveal a plastic mini jack that you can plug into your cell phone to make it look like he's riding on it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Show-1 Faire

On March 4th, the Kagoshima International Volunteer center hosted a restaurant face-off, called Show-1. Various booths sold food on the grounds, and the one with the most customers won.

Quite a few booths had their own mascots.

And there was the prerequisite stage show for the kids. The two masked characters are food critics and the guy in the middle is a ramen shop owner that has just been told that his ramen is really bad. But, the owner vows to try harder and win the contest next time. Now, unless I'm mistaken, the actor on the left may actually be the same guy that played the Predator in the laser tag game at the San El building that I wrote about a few days ago, based on his Facebook page).

Dining tent.

This character may be based on the cranes that nest in Izumi during the winter.

From what I was told, the most popular booth was this one with the king, run by a group of high school students.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Satsuma Movie Poster

Now, this is just plain strange. I was at the Tenpara cinema complex in the Tenmonkan shopping district, and I saw this poster. The characters are local mascots that show up at Kagoshima events occasionally to put on stage shows.  The last time I saw them was at the International Volunteer Center in September. The guy in the masked black samurai outfit towards the center left of the poster is Hayato, a representative of the Satsuma prefectural region. Now, it looks like the cast are in their own feature movie...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kodansha Pretz

Meanwhile, the pretzel cracker product, Pretz, has teamed up with Kodansha Publishing to advertise 8 of Kodansha's manga titles. Each box has 2 packages of pretzel sticks for 120 yen. The flavor here is "super butter". The character on the left below is from Ahiru no Sora, and the one on the right is from Beck. There's nothing special in the boxes, just the character art on the back of the packaging.

Friday, March 22, 2013

One Piece/7-11

7-11 is selling new One Piece toys.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Amu Music

Back at Amu Plaza, in front of the main train station, a sax band was entertaining the shoppers.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mottenai/Green Fair

On Mar. 10th, there was kind of a mottenai fair (flea market) in Central Park. A number of the tables were selling organic products and hand-made crafts.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Moon over Sakurajima

Taken from the top floor of the Amu Plaza department store.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Laser Gun Battle

There's a group of people in Kagoshima, consisting partly of college students, that likes hosting cultural events every few weeks. The last time I attended one was about 6 months ago, for painting rocks to look like fish. On March 5, one of the women from the group put together a laser tag game in one of the community rooms on the 5th floor of the San-El building (same place that had the rock painting and kiri-e). The laser guns, helmets and balloon barriers were provided by 2 of the woman's friends. Apparently, they normally produce laser tag events for 1000 yen per person for 1 hour, but it was free this time.

The participants were mostly parents with small kids. We were divided up into 4 groups of 4 members each. The first and third rounds were team-vs-team battle royale matches. The second one was a 3-minute battle against the Predator, and the team with the most surviving members at the end of their round won.  I was kind of reckless, so I didn't make it to the end of any of the matches. The only other foreigner this time was a Czech physicist in Kagoshima to study Japanese.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Not sure what's going on here. This poster is in the window of an office on the second floor of a building on Tram Street (actually, a few doors away from the kimono fitting shop). The little girl character is from the anime "Heidi, Girl of the Alps", but it's promoting a tutoring service called "Try". The full cast of the TV anime is used on the company's website. The goat's face is cut out so that children can have their pictures taken with it, I guess. The button on the guy's jacket says roughly "Pro Tutor, Mr. Try".

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Kimono Fitting Sign

There's a kimono shop on Tram Street. They offer fitting classes. I just like the sign, but it looks better from a distance.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dydo Dragonball Z cider

A few weeks ago, one of the English newspapers made a big deal of announcing the new line of Dydo Dragonball Z cider cans. So, I knew that they were going to be coming out soon, but since I didn't notice them in the vending machine next to my one school it kind of slipped my mind. Finally, I remembered and decided to get a can the next time I went in. That's when I discovered that the reason I hadn't seen the new cans in the machine is that Dydo had removed the machine. Felt kind of strange that I'd missed something that obvious. Anyway, the next closest Dydo machine was across the street from Maruya Gardens in Tenmonkan, so I got this can there. 120 yen. The front advertises 7 different vitamins. The back advertises 6 can designs.  Out just in time to pick up sales from interest in the new DBZ movie.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

KFC - DBZ Movie

KFC is promoting the newest DBZ movie Kami to Kami (Battle of Gods), due out in theaters at the end of the month. They've got some toys with the kid's meals, and aluminum water bottles with the dragon balls on top.

I considered getting one of the water bottles, which is available for 990 yen with an order of one piece of chicken and a small fries. But when I got in the store and saw the bottle I decided against it. The dragon ball is too bulky, making it inconvenient to carry the bottle around in a backpack, and I don't need more stuff cluttering up the apartment. Plus, I could get almost double the food for two-third's the price by just buying a regular set meal. Still, it will appeal to kids trying to impress each other with who has the latest gimmicks for a few days.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

FamilyMart - Miku (Sakura no Uta)

FamilyMart is selling the latest goods from Vocaloid. This time, it's for Sakura no Uta (Sakura's Song).