Thursday, June 30, 2016

Paper Bird

This story kind of belongs in the Small Adventures category. I was walking along the main street on my way to Amu Plaza, when a girl and her mother went past me the other direction. As they approached me, there was this flicker of something, like paper falling onto the sidewalk. The girl didn't react like she'd dropped anything, and I figured I'd wait until I got to it before saying something, because maybe it was just trash that had nothing to do with them. When I reached it, I discovered that it was a small sheet of origami paper - blue on one side, white on the other. Nearby was a second sheet, but yellow and white. Knowing the Japanese, the fact the paper had landed on the ground meant that it would be more work than it was worth to claim it, if I mentioned it to the woman and her daughter. But now, I'm holding this sheet of origami paper, and it's up to me to decide whether to throw it back on the ground, or wad it up and toss it in the trash when I got to Amu Plaza.

Then I thought, well, it's folding paper, so I should fold it. The result was a small blue bird that I placed on a sign in front of a bar closer to the main post office. Let the people there decide if it's worth keeping or throwing away.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Fish Face

There's a sushi restaurant near the main train station that I'd walked past a few times, but I'd never noticed the lantern before. I can't afford to eat sushi out that often, so I may never actually go inside the restaurant, but the lantern was definitely worth taking a picture of.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Momoiro Clover Tea Room

I've seen these bottle label designs before. They're identified as a "Momoiro Clover Z collaboration" and are really nothing more than illustrations of the MCZ pop idol singers on the front of the Royal Milk Tea bottles. Compared to the earlier manga tie-ins, like with Nodame Cantibile and Fairy Tail, these labels are pretty boring. Basically, it's just the girls as maids in a "tea room".

I'd considered buying a bottle just to take a picture for the blog, but once I realized I could get away with using my camera in the grocery store and snap the entire display case, I figured I was better off saving my money. Not sure why anyone would buy these bottles, other than to have a flat-colored illustration of a pop-singer staring at you while you drink pre-packaged tea.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Final Fantasy - The 4 Heroes of Light review

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

Final Fantasy - The 4 Heroes of Light, by Square Enix (2010)
This is one of the most recent games I've gotten used (most of them had come out between 2006 and 2008). I was checking out Book Off for stuff to put in my collection, and I kind of wanted to get the remaining Final Fantasy tactics games for the DS and 3DS, just to get that out of the way. Usually, games like Tactics A2 don't stay on the shelves that long, and I figured I'd grab what I could find when I could, which would reduce the chances to buying duplicate games later by mistake. I went through the Final Fantasy wiki page to see what had been released for the DS to make up a check-off chart, and discovered that The 4 Heroes of Light was also part of the series. I'd seen it before, but the cover didn't have "Final Fantasy" written in big screaming letters. Book Off had both Tactics A2 and Heroes of Light for 950 yen ($9 USD) each, so I got them at the same time. I'm tired of tactical RPGs, so I don't know when I'll get to A2.

(Opening screen. Each area in the picture book represents one of the chapters I've completed. They start out monochrome and are colored in as you go through the game.)

The Four Heroes of Light is a real, honest to goodness role-playing game, in the original FF vein, which surprised me. The character designs are childish and super-deformed, which is a strike against it, but the point of the game is to run around the world, solving story-line puzzles and beating up on monsters, and that's all I ask of an RPG. The plot is a bit complicated: you alternate controlling each of the 4 warriors - Aire, Yunita, Brandt and Jusqua - through the first couple chapters as you try to find out why the entire village of Horne has been turned to stone. (Aire is the princess of that city.) A lot of the fighting at this stage is solo, or in partnership with an NPC that disappears at the end of the chapter. Eventually, all four heroes unite, and from that point they make up the entire party. That is, you only get 4 party members and you can't choose to have a smaller group. There are 6-7 cities to visit on the map, and several dungeons that you have to work through. Initially, the only way to get around is by walking, and the only way to get past mountains or rivers is to go through connecting caves. Towards the end, you pick up a dragon that can fly anywhere on the map, and a whale (which is really one half of one of the towns) that takes you to the island that has the last story boss. The story ends when the party confronts the main enemy behind the series of curses and kidnappings that have be-felled the world.

(Party screen, plus part of one of the towns. The guy in the brown hat and coat under the Inn sign is the Wanderer, who lets you save your game. The brown thing to the right is his dog. The red-eyed, black faced thing in the middle is the party leader. Each of the crowns equipped by the party members are shown below and to the left of their faces on the party screen.)

As mentioned above, the character designs are silly - super-deformed big heads. But, the map is extensive, the background artwork is good, and the fighting system is interesting. I don't know about the music or voice acting because I played the game with the sound turned down. What little of the music I had listened to seemed fairly repetitive.

The game system will take a bit to explain. All four "heroes" are generic, in that they can be any of the 27 job classes. They have different sets of stats (strength, defense, speed, intellect), making them more prone to working better as a mage or fighter, but that's up to you. The job classes are based on "crowns." You start out as a simple wanderer, with no headgear. As you defeat the storyline bosses, or master certain mini-games, you unlock one or two of the crowns at a time. These include hats for black and white mages, a fur cap for a beastmaster, a hood for a seamstress, etc. Each crown can be upgraded 3 levels by using gems that you receive as monster drops. Each level gives you a spell or technique unique to that job, such as being able to apply white magic to the entire party, boosting the strength of attack spells, or capturing enemies to use for attacking other enemies. These spells and techniques consume AP (ability points) to use (see below).

(World maps. The greenish thing in the water on the beach in the lower screen is Cestus, the whale.)

The main activity is fighting monsters, either on the world surface, or in the dungeons. Monsters drop gems (diamonds, sapphires, rubies), items and equipment. Chests hold items and equipment (and sometimes money). You can buy items, spells and equipment in the shops, and sell stuff for cash. Each town has a "wireless shop" where you can link up with friends that also have the game for playing battles. You get 5 points for each battle (single and multi-player play), and these battle points can be traded in at the wireless shop for special gear, and one item that gives you another crown. Items consist of healing potions, AP replenishment (ethers), torches (for unlit dungeons), buffs and status remedies. Equipment is made up of weapons, armor, shields and accessories. Many of the weapons and armor are designed to match certain job classes, like daggers for thieves and ninja, and harps for musicians. As for the spells, you have healing scrolls for white mages, and attack magic for black mages. (Any class can use any of the weapons, items or scrolls, but the AP costs for the scrolls are higher if you're not a mage.) And, if you really need money, you can play a mini-game where you get to be a merchant and sell whatever you've found in the dungeons at a mark-up.

(Battle screen. The options here are, from top left: Fight, Defend, Item, Release Monster, Capture Monster, and Attack without Killing the Monster. The bottom three actions are specific to the beastmaster job class. The orange circles represent AP, both for how much each character has, and how much is needed to take a particular action.)

Fighting is turn-based, the order depending on each character or monster's speed stat. You can have up to 6 scrolls in your action menu, as well as attacking with a weapon, defending or choosing to use an item. Everything (attacking, casting, using an item) costs AP, and you only have a max of 5 AP at any given time. Defending boosts your AP if you need it. Attacking, using an item, and casting low-level spells use one AP each, while using something like Curega is 4 AP. You regain one AP at the beginning of each round. I found that the best party mix up to the final boss was two Beastmasters, and a White and a Black Mage. When I got to the end, I had to switch to 2 White Mages (to alternate casting "heal party"), an elementalist (to reduce elemental damage to the party) and a Black Mage to do the actual fighting. Just about everything else in the game, the other job classes, all of the remedy potions, and most of the weapons and spells, were ignorable.

Now, for the gems. You can upgrade each of the weapons, magic staves, armor and shields to level +9, which generally adds +1 to attack or defense per level. And, as mentioned above, you can upgrade the crowns, per character, to +3. You do this by obtaining gems in battle. For the crowns, when you select them from the regular set-up menu, you can choose to "add gems". This gives you an assembly screen telling you how many of each gem are needed for that level and that crown. And, there's one upgrade shop in one town that upgrades the weapons and armor for you. As you may be able to guess, this uses a LOT of gems, which can mean having to do a lot of churning. However, the merchant job class provides two skills if you upgrade to level +1 - Finder and Keeper (in the English version). These skills let you search for gems during the fight. If you equip the merchant crown on three of your party members (keeping the fourth to fight monsters and do healing), you can get at least 6 gems per battle, plus up to 4 gems dropped by the monsters themselves. The exception is diamonds, which are dropped by the bosses. Now, when your party gets wiped out, you don't lose the game. Instead, you regenerate at your last save location (you can only save by talking to a character named The Wanderer in the various towns or just before boss battles) with all your experience and items intact. However, you lose half of one of the 8 groups of gems, at random. So, if the game picks emeralds, and you've got 48 of those, poof - 24 of them are gone if you get pawned by a boss. Which did happen frequently enough that I just took to turning the DS off then back on to avoid the loss.

(Crown selection screen. The last four crowns are at the bottom of the 100-floor towers, and I'm not going to bother with those.)

Overall, Heroes of Light is a fun game, but it tends to be frustrating, too, and there's no real point in collecting all 27 crowns. You can keep playing after you beat the story boss, because there are 4 optional 100-floor towers that unlock near the end of the game. Each tower has one of the remaining 4 crowns at floor 100. But, those aren't particularly good job classes, and the towers are boring (the goal is simply to rush through the floors to get to the mini-bosses on every 10th floor). Which leads me to the next point.

When you start the game, you get very little exp. I'd gotten to about level 15, where I needed 1000 points to go to the next level, but the monsters were only worth 12 to 15 exp. each. Then I discovered the Grow Egg in the wireless shop for 1,000 battle points (I had amassed 3,000 BP by then). The Grow Egg gives you double exp., and I started leveling up much faster then. But... I discovered that the monsters were leveling up at the same time. Enemies that had been worth 12 exp when I was at level 15, eventually ballooned up to 1,000 exp. each, and I was skyrocketing up to level 99 long before I was ready to face the last storyline boss. At level 91, I decided to discard the Grow Egg just to keep from maxing out at level 99 too fast. But, by that point, the storyline bosses had gotten much stronger, too. This made the last couple battles very drawn-out. Usually, if you get killed by a boss in an RPG, it just means that you have to level up a bit more. But here, the boss is leveling too, so the only option is to scavenge more gems and then upgrade all of your equipment up to +9. Even then, the last boss was almost unbeatable. (I hated the fact that it kept casting cure on itself at about the same rate I was putting damage on it.) And, it turns out the 100-floor tower bosses are just as strong as the last story boss. I've given up on getting the last 4 crowns and I'm putting the game away now.

(Upgrading one of the crowns - the Salve Maker, which is used for boosting the effects of recovery items in battle.)

Summary: FF - 4 Heroes of Light is one of the better RPGs for the DS or 3DS that I've found used, and it does have a lot of innovative game elements. I like the Beastmaster job class, and being able to fly around the map on a dragon. It's a good-looking game, and the story propels the action without getting too talky. There are no cut scenes, and the music gets repetitive after a while. It's not a perfect game, but I do recommend it if you like RPGs (there's nothing about it that screams "Final Fantasy" though.)

Apr.-June articles in the media

Here's the batch of articles to show up in the media from Apr.-June, regarding anime, manga and related stuff.

Japan Times

Anime biz sings the praises of shows

West-inspired anime chief propels Polygon Pictures to success

'Phoenix': Osamu Tezuka's epoch-spanning manga masterpiece

Drawing on the past of Osamu Tezuka

Daily Yomiuri

Dedicated to Okazaki review

National manga museum seen opening by '20

My Brother's Husband review

'GeGeGe' monsters haunt manhole covers near Mizuki's home

Faraway tatami room review

Love's just like the feeling after the rain review

Plaster boys' ever-changing expressions

Manga featuring modern literature giants attracting young women

Radiant review

Manholes get 'GeGeGe no Kitaro' covers

Princess Maison review

Government to create manga facility

Saitama soaring review

Aoi Honoo review

Kingdom review

A parallel world of literature greats

In admiration of Tomorrow's Joe review

Hanagami Sharaku review

'Golden Kamuy' wins Manga Taisho award

Kimagure Concept review

Awesome Con kicks off in U.S.

Joker Game radio program

Fushigi no Kuni no Bird review

Tokyo Ghoul review


Dragon Quest museum coming to Shibuya this summer

French manga buff that turned a teen passion into a career

'Monkey King,' 'Cafard,' 2 others up for anime awards

Veteran manga artist Urasawa releases 2nd music album

Anime portrays calamity of firefighters in rescue missions

Osamu Tezuka's heroines take center stage at Hyogo museum

Final 'Sinbad' trilogy film coming May 14

Studio Ghibli retrospective now showing in Niigata museum

Michael Pitt lands villain role in 'Ghost in the Shell' film

'A Long Way North' wins top prize at Tokyo anime festival

Japanese shorts secure 8 slots at France's famed Annecy festival

Dwango releases free drawing software long used by Ghibli

AnimeJapan 2016 attracts record visitors over 3 days

Anti-war anime attracts more than 300,000 viewers online

Satoru Noda's 'Golden Kamuy' takes Cartoon Grand Prize 2016

Makoto Shinkai's body-switching fantasy to open

5th Kyoto festival on manga, anime scheduled for Sept. 17-18

Chofu's ghoulish manhole covers honor memory of artist Mizuki

Manga works on an ukiyo-e artist, 5-year-old girl share top honors for Tezuka Award

'One Piece' official store gets new home in Tokyo's Shibuya

Special trailer for 'KanColle' feature film available online

Taxi with Chihayafuru artwork in Otsu

Fishing anime 'Tsuritama' lures wave of fans to Enoshima island

Bigger, brighter International Tokyo Toy Show coming in June

Ninja tools from manga artist's collection on exhibit in Hyogo

Akita manga museum boosts manuscript items to 77,000

Toshima Ward maps for tourists highlight manga, anime sites

Latest 'Conan' flick pulls in a record 5 billion yen at box office

Cosplayers from 30 countries & regions to make biggest ever WCS

Top directors Hosoda and Iwai to take center stage at TIFF

'Attack on Titan' heroes team up with Kumamon to help Kyushu

'Yowamushi Pedal' season 3 to premiere in January

Singers Irino, Hayami cast in anime adaption of 'A Silent Voice'

Anime short on environment shows beauty of Ainu language

A bumper crop of films on show at anime festival in Hiroshima

Yokohama gets set for third annual 'Pikachu Outbreak'

Manga express train set to bring summer fun to Tohoku region

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Ajin, vol. 6 review

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

Ajin, vol. 6 (Good Afternoon, 2014-15), by Gamon Sakurai. Grade: B+.
Satoh is slowly working his way up the assassination list, eliminating Takami, from Nakatomi Medical Sciences Manufacturing. People around Japan are talking about him now, but no one has any ideas for how to stop him. At what looks like a remote, abandoned school, Tosaki and his men put Kei and Kou through boot camp. Kei is unhappy at this mistreatment, but Kou is fine with it. Then they go to meet Ogura, who ignores Kou and asks Kei to bring out his ghost. Kei does this, and it immediately starts attacking Kou. Ogura and Kei talk for a few minutes, then the ghost goes for Ogura. Izumi enters the room and her ghost blocks Kei's, and both ghosts disappear. Ogura tells her to not interfere, because "IBM's" fade out after 5 minutes, anyway. Kei speaks up, saying that he's been able to manifest up to 5 ghosts for 30 minutes at a time. Ogura is shocked, and is now really interested in the boy.

("You what the what now?")

Tosaki lays out his plan. The idea is to use two remaining Ajin Research Association members, Keiichi Kai and Naomi Ri, as bait, while making the Forge skyscraper building the battle zone. Kei immediately starts sketching out attack and defense points and routes, stunning Tosaki. Initially, the training is bumpy. The guards don't trust Kei, Kou can't manifest a ghost on command, Kou becomes infatuated with Izumi, Kei learns how to uses weapons almost instantly while Kou just fumbles around with them, etc. Ogura provides his own form of teaching by explaining everything he knows about Ajin and ghosts from research in the U.S. IBM's (or, Invisible Black Matter, as he calls it) is a kind of particulate matter that comes from space somewhere. If a ghost is torn apart, the particles recognize each other and pull themselves back together right away. But, if two ghosts come into contact, the particles can't tell which ghost they came from and just dissipate. As for overcoming Kou's inability to manifest a ghost, the best way is for him to just keep killing himself over and over, until the ghost appears to make him stop. Kou is afraid that if he does die, he may not wake up again. Kei doesn't have this problem, and Kou envies him for it. Kou asks Kei for the easiest, most painless way to die, and the other boy suggests hanging by a rope from a tree limb, and wishes him good luck.

("You don't need to change. Just keep doing what you're doing.")

Kei is feeling like an outsider, and tries asking a question to one of the guards (Manabe), but the guy gets jittery and keeps his hand on the tranq gun, so Kei walks away. That night, as Kei pours over his notes next to a campfire in the middle of the woods, the lead guard, the bald one named Hirasawa, comes out to ask if the boy had a question. Kei says, "no, it was nothing I couldn't figure out on my own." Hirasawa looks at him, then asks, "You lonely?" Kei gets uppity, and claims that he doesn't need anyone, he likes being on his own with no one to get in his way. Hirasawa replies, "that's good," then adds that in the classroom, Kou needs to be a hero and gain all of the attention, while Kei is simply "the creepy one in the corner."

However, this isn't a school, and Kei is a fantastic learner and strategist. There's no reason for him to change that. Kei says that this is nothing he doesn't know, so Hirasawa prepares to leave. But, Kei starts talking about his father. He was a surgeon, and every year he'd get letters from patients he'd saved. Then, one time he got a patient who couldn't find an organ donor. To save the patient, his father located an organ on the black market, but this crime was exposed and he lost everything - family, job, all of it. Kei isn't going to let that happen to him because he's not stupid. Hirasawa walks off, saying, "Do what you have to. Me, I'm following the plan." The next day, though, Manabe looks over Kei's plans, and praises how solid they are. Kei feels a little better about himself.


Youko Tainaka is a high school girl who has it rough. Her father had been killed in an accident, and her mother married a good-for-nothing punk. Her step-father demands $200 to go out drinking. Youko refuses, but her mother gives him the money. Youko complains, and her mother tells her to butt out. Youko works part-time at a convenience store and is planning on moving out of the apartment as soon as she has $10,000 saved up. Additionally, one of her classmates, a presumed boyfriend, asks if she'd be willing to move in with him and his family and she happily says "yes." She works herself sick, putting all of her earnings into the bank. Unfortunately, when she comes home one night, she finds that her step-father had taken her bank book and cleared out her account to spend it on another woman. Stunned, she goes to her boyfriend's family's apartment and sees him in the arms of another girl. She goes back home and attempts to commit suicide by slitting her wrists, but her step-father finds her and attempts to assault her. She stabs him in the shoulder with the scissors, so he drowns her by holding her head under water.

When Youko recovers, her mother and step-father are in another room, arguing, with the guy saying that they can sell her for the money. She grabs her clothes and escapes out to the streets. She starts working as a hooker, saving up enough money to stay in a tiny room by herself. Her only companion is a faceless black ghost. But, over time, she gets sick and collapses in a street somewhere. She comes to in a hospital bed, with Tosaki waiting to interrogate her. He introduces himself as an Ajin finder, and asks if she wants to hear about her mother. Youko is dying, and wants to be left alone. However, it turns out that there was a phone call to the authorities that was recorded. While Youko had been unconscious in the bathroom, her scissors wound healed on its own, so her stepfather announced that he was going to hand her into the authorities for the reward money. When her mother tried to stop him, the guy punched her in the face, saying that he can do anything he wants with "his child." His wife saw red, remembering when her daughter had said that all she'd needed was to stay with her mother. The woman grabs a knife and buries it in the guy's back, replying that Youko is HER girl. But, the guy pulls the knife out and stabs her in the chest and they both die. Her mother's last words were "I'm sorry."

In the hospital, Youko says that this is nice, but a little too late. She dies, and Tosaki thinks that she wasn't an Ajin after all. Then she resets and is fully healed again (until an Ajin dies, they suffer through whatever is happening to their bodies. When they do die, they recover a few minutes later.) Tosaki gives her an offer - become a test subject like Tanaka, or become his personal bodyguard and do everything in her power to keep him alive. She takes the second option. Tosaki then tells her to pick a new name, because the old Youko Tainaka is gone now. She takes her real father's surname, and her mother's maiden name to become Izumi Shimomura. As they leave her mother's grave, Tosaki says that he's working on the "Nakamura Incident" and he has no idea where all those talon marks came from. She asks him if he believes in ghosts.

(Kai can't leave well enough alone, as Takeshi watches.)

We get another side story. Takeshi Kotobuki is a 17-year-old in prison. He'd broken out somehow, then came back a few days later, and has been in solitary confinement ever since. The warden and his advisers decide to let him return to the regular shared cells, but they can't figure out how he'd escaped. The shared cell includes some thugs led by a big guy in a bandana, plus Kai. Kai was arrested for aiding in Kei Nagai's escape, and has been in minimum confinement since then. Bandana threatens Takeshi to learn how to escape, himself. Takeshi refuses to answer, so Bandana starts bullying him, getting progressively more violent. Kai steps in to stop Bandana, so he and his two partners beat up Kei 3 on 1 (Takeshi telling Kai to butt out). That night, Bandana breaks Takeshi's arm and prepares to kill him, when Kai attacks again.

Takeshi flashes back to when he'd escaped. He'd gone to the Labor Ministry along with a number of other Ajin when Satoh sent out his rallying cry. But, he'd hadn't wanted to get involved, so he turned himself back in to the prison. (A few feet from him at the time was Kou.) Returning to the present, Takeshi uses his ghost to protect Kai, and to knock out the attackers. Bandana and friends are put in solitary, and Takeshi approaches Kai out in the yard, both of them in heavy bandages. He gives the other boy a cigarette, and asks how he feels about Kei having abandoned him. Kai answers that that doesn't bother him, but if his friend asked for his help, he'd do everything in his power to provide it. Takeshi shows his ghost, and promises to use it, once, to get Kai out of prison if it comes down to that. Kai says, "Understood." (Note that Takeshi's winged ghost is probably the same one shown in front of the Ministry building in volume 3.)

Summary: Lots of useful information on Ajin and ghosts (IBM) now, plus backstory on Izumi, and an update on Kai's status. Looks like Kei is starting to get more serious about fighting alongside Tosaki's men against Satoh, too. Too bad that Kou and Kei still don't like each other... Recommended.

Note: If you look at the back cover, you can see Izumi's ghost trying to make a cat's cradle. Part of Ogura's training was for Izumi to manifest two ghosts at the same time. This she can do, but they don't follow her orders when she ignores one to focus on the other. That is, she can make one ghost do a cat's cradle, but the other one just stands there, and vice versa. This is where Kei is special, because none of his ghosts listen to him.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Ajin, vol. 5 review

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

Ajin, vol. 5 (Good Afternoon, 2014), by Gamon Sakurai. Grade: B+.
Kei has left a TV, food and water in the truck for Kou, who grimly watches the news reports on the attack on the Grant building. Kei just kills time with his "adopted" grandparents. After the explosion, Satoh's supporters flying in a drone carrying a duffel bag. In the bag are a pump shotgun and a brace of speed loaders. The police have fire hoses turned on to spray the building with water to disrupt Satoh's link to his ghost, and Tosaki orders in Japan's Special Assault Team (SAT) to take Satoh down by shooting him and just not stopping to let him recover. Initially this plan seems to be working, except that two of Satoh's new recruits, Gen and Takahashi, are on the roof of a building and they start sniping the SAT members. A couple other SAT snipers try taking out Takahashi (he has the rifle; Gen is acting as spotter for him), but Tanaka and his ghost track them down and eliminate them as threats (one sniper uses a flare to trigger the building's sprinklers, which confuses the ghost, but Tanaka shoots the guy in the back). (We also get confirmation that people can see the ghosts if they are under great stress.) (And, it seems that Takahashi is a cokehead.)

(SAT is here.)

Eventually, Satoh's ghost starts acting like a bulletproof vest, protecting its partner long enough for him to stand up and start fighting back. Satoh is ruthless, using his death-defying powers as a weapon as he shoots himself through the chest to splatter someone behind him with gore to blind him long enough to take him out. When the smoke clears, all 50 SAT members are down, and Satoh simply walks past the remaining cops, telling them "good jobs, guys." A TV news helicopter has been covering the battle, but the drone clips the tail rotor and it smashes into a nearby skyscraper. The scene changes to the hospital, where Eriko is walking the halls. She overhears two nurses talking about the battle, and saying that they're worried about the sister of that horrible Ajin, Kei Nagai.

One of the TV stations runs an interview with the author of a book on Ajin. The guy has been studying Ajin for years, and claims that all Ajin are evil simply because they don't die. Normal humans die, and therefore they bond together and show love to each other. Ajin don't have this bond, and therefore have no hearts. So, that's why they should be feared. In the countryside, Kei is helping the old woman pick weeds from the garden, and he sees two of the older village men staring at him. He assumes that they've recognized him from the news coverage. The men get together with a couple of other villagers to discuss what to do. Kei joins them in their meeting house and continues to claim that he's the old couple's grandson from Tokyo. He brings out a bottle of sake to share with them, but is shot in the back by a paranoid villager named Kita. Kei recovers, proving Kita right, but the boy runs behind one of the other men and uses him as a shield long enough to get out the door. Kei gets to the house to grab a change of clothes and some gear, and is closely followed by the lynch mob. They threaten the old woman, while the old man intercepts Kei crawling out the back window, and offers to drive him to safety. The guy knew that Kei wasn't his grandson, but accepted him anyway. He says he'll take the boy to a good orphanage or something, and Kei panics and grabs the steering wheel to plow the truck into a tree. The guy is saved by his airbag.

(Tanaka and his ghost eliminate two of the SAT snipers.)

After seeing the attack on the Grant building on the portable TV, Kou tries climbing out of the semi trailer, but when he finally gets up to the doors, he finds he can't open them from inside. Then Kei shows up and says he'll help fight Satoh. As the two go through the woods to avoid the villagers, Kei gets a call on the cellphone the old couple had given them. Kita has kidnapped the old woman and has been beating her to get information on Kei's whereabouts. Kita throws the phone on the ground, with the signal still connected, and Kei can hear what's going on at that end. Kita had been getting money from Grant Pharma, but with the attack that's been cut off. He wants to sell Kei for the reward. The boy, pauses, grimaces at the inconvenience, then tells Kou that he'll be right back - he's forgotten something. At the cabin, Kita is railing at the woman when he hears a noise outside. He goes to investigate, there's a gunshot, and the old woman assumes that whatever has happened, Kita deserved it. A few minutes later, Kei returns to Kou, saying that he needed to change clothes. He opens up the carry bag to pull out some styrofoam floats and some rope. The two boys tie themselves together, hold on to the floats, and then jump off a cliff into a raging river below.

(Kita tries calling Kei on the phone. Kei heads back to the cabin.)

Some time later, Kei and Kou are walking and they get tired. Kou goes into a bar, befriends a few salarymen and gets them drunk enough to need to take taxis home. He pockets the keys to one guy's car, promising to drive it to the guy's house, then attempts to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. Kei grabs him around the throat and Kou asks if he's trying to kill him. They take a rest break at a diner, and Kou actually calls Kei by name, which is a beginner's mistake. The woman working the register is watching the TV and thinks that she recognizes Kei, but the two boys disappear before she can call the police. Kou drives to the abandoned construction site where he'd first met Satoh, in the hopes of rescuing the firefighter from the drum he'd been sealed in, but all the drums have been removed from the building. He and Kei argue over how to fight Satoh, and Kei keeps saying that it's pretty hopeless right now. They need to find other Ajin that can help them. Then, Kei gets a call on his own cellphone from Tosaki. Kei starts laughing, that this may be their best choice.

(Showdown over the coma victim.)

Satoh goes on again to announce a hit list. There are 11 people that have bounties on their heads for any Ajin that wants to claim them. They're all part of the Grant Pharma ruling bloc, with Tosaki second on the list. The first hit is on Ishimaru, from Nisei Corporation. The second is Sakurai. The remaining ruling bloc members panic, and their lead researcher, Kishi, runs away to hide in a remote cabin with his wife. Soon after, the police report that Kishi and his wife have both been killed. (Ishimaru was apparently found by Satoh's ghost, but there's no information on who got to the others.) At this time, Kei and Kou are heading to Tosaki's suspected location, but find themselves stuck at a police checkpoint.

Soon, Tosaki gets a phone call telling him to turn on the TV. The lead story is a police chase after a car suspected to contain Kei Nagai. Tosaki realizes that the road they're on leads to the hospital his fiance is in. He orders a handful of his thugs to join him and they race to the hospital, too. There, Tosaki finds Kei standing at the head of his fiance's bed. The boy says that he can't control his ghost - if anyone attacks him, it may materialize and hurt everyone in the room by accident. Tosaki goes into a rage at this threat to his beloved, and refuses to trust the Ajin on any count. Then, Kou falls through the false ceiling tiles and almost triggers a blood bath. Kei panics and tells everyone to stop, that all they want is to join forces to beat Satoh. Later, Tosaki's group comes out of the hospital and they tell the cops that this was a case of mistaken identity. The suspect wasn't Kei. Inside Tosaki's car, Kei sees the time and date on the dashboard system and he realizes that the school summer break is finally over (it's Sept. 3rd now.)

Summary: Lots of action, and proof that Kei isn't as cold and heartless as everyone else keeps claiming. The artwork is getting better, too. Recommended.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Toyota Car Show

The open space in front of Lotteria had a Toyota car show one weekend.

I was amused by the paint work on the Sienta, so I took a couple pictures of it.

And, I've never understood this part of the Prius campaign ad. Are they saying that Prius can't live up to the hype? Or that they're lying about the claims they make, just like Mitsubishi did...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tully's Rope

I was sitting the Tully's coffee shop (similar to Starbuck's) on the second floor, looking at the window. It took me a number of minutes to realize what I was looking at, and decide that I needed to get a photo of it.

The sign says "Evacuation rope". I'm not so sure that little anchor is going to take all of my weight if I need to leave in a rush...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cheech and Chong pillows

You know, you're just walking down the street. You see a plain casual, upmarket clothing store. And then you see this...

And you know that you're not in Kansas anymore.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Godzilla Dydo Figure

Dydo can coffee had a tie-in with Toho Studios to produce a line of 5 Godzilla desktop figures. Mini-ra holds rubber bands, King Gidora holds MP3 player earbuds, Mecha Godzilla is a smartphone stand, and Caterpillar Mothra is a business card stand. The packaging is printed with sprocket holes along the edges to represent movie film.

Because these figures were sold along with the can coffee (130 yen), I was able to pick the one I wanted from the cooler case. I got Godzilla. He stands about 1" tall, and is maybe 2" tail to nose.

The paint job is pretty good, and G looks sullenly happy. The desktop versions of various figures seems to be catching on as a genre. I don't know if this is a good or a bad thing.

They're so cute when they're small.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dance Fest

Another hectic week. I'm in the middle of a translation clean-up project that will run until the beginning of July, and I've got my regular teaching work on top of this. I was busy all Friday and Saturday, so I couldn't get up to Amu Plaza to see if anything was being scheduled for the rest of the weekend. I knew that nothing was going on in Tenmonkan, and Berg Plaza only seemed to have another of their craft shows. The weather was bad Saturday, but by evening the sky was clearing off, and the near-full moon was really bright and clear.

So, naturally, when I was getting ready to wake up Sunday morning, I was a bit miffed that we were in the middle of a full-blown major thunderstorm. I still needed to finish off the current set of files for the translation clean-up, so I focused on that during the early afternoon. There was a music event at Wicky's House, in Tenmonkan, a fund raiser for the earthquake victims in Kumamoto, that I wanted to go to. That was set to run from 2 to 5 PM, and Bon DX was going to be attending. But, with the heavy rain, and the proofreading work, I figured that I'd have to try going the next time something like that is held.

(Hikaru Band)

I needed to do some food shopping, so when I got done working at 4 PM, I checked the weather - the rain had stopped. I headed out for Amu Plaza first, to see if anything was going on there. And, yes, there was. A bunch of companies were sponsoring a one-day dance festival. I missed all of the dancing earlier in the day, which wasn't a big loss because I'm not a jazz dancing fan, and they keep using copyrighted music that gets blocked on youtube. The Hikaru Band was just finishing up their set. They were ok, but the mix was wrong, and the female singer sounded painfully shrill. I didn't bother trying to record them.

I just took a few photos and went into the department store to do a little shopping. Then, I came back out to see what the next act was like. I also looked around the event space to check out what they had. Half of the booths were for arts and crafts, and the other half had over-priced food. I did kind of want to get some grilled chicken from a place that calls itself Miracle Chicken, but they apparently just weren't attracting customers and had packed up and left before I could make up my mind to spend money. Also at the event was the Japan Self-Defense Forces reps, with "Mamoru-kun" (Mr. Protection), the foamhead mascot above.

(Cool Beats)

The next group was the Cool Beats. They did a good rock/jazz/pop set that was too short, at only 15 minutes. I managed to record their second song, then I went to the west side of the train station because I'd been told that there was a second stage. Unfortunately, the other stage had a solo folk singer that was spending all his time talking about himself, so I gave up and returned to the main stage. Cool Beats had finished their set then, and the dance groups were getting ready to compete again. Instead of sticking around I went to Tenmonkan to finish off my shopping. I wanted to get the next volumes of Q.E.D. and C.M.B., but they haven't made it to Kagoshima yet. Both books came out on the 17th in Tokyo, so I'm expecting I'll be able to get them on Monday.

The weather never really got good during the day, and it was very humid. After completing my shopping, I was happy to return home and get into the air conditioning. Not one of the most exciting weekends. But, I'm not going to turn down work projects if they mean being able to bring in a little more money.

Direct youtube link

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Ajin, vol. 4 Review

Edit: I originally wrote this entry up without having read volumes 1-3 first. Two years later, I've finally gotten around to starting from the beginning, and now I have to correct my mistakes

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

Ajin, vol. 4, by Gamon Sakurai. Grade: B. (Good Afternoon, 2013-14)

(New cast list. Kou is the kid at the top extreme left, and the guy that warns him to not trust Satoh is at the top extreme right. The one with the cane is the computer whiz, while beard and spiky hair survive the shootings to become Satoh's main henchmen. Glasses and bowl cut get killed or otherwise disposed of by Tanaka.)

A group of newbies are gathered at a construction site to meet a mysterious older guy named Satoh. One of the guys (he identifies himself as simply "a firefighter") advises one of the kids in the group to duck out, but the kid, Kou Nakano, wants to stick around. Inside, Satoh tells the group that his plan is to create a homeland for the Ajin, while wiping out the humans in a major bloodbath. Nakano's partner wants out, and Nakano follows suit. Satoh seems to be willing to let them go, but Kou sees someone hiding in an air vent with a dart gun. He kicks his partner in the back of the leg, causing the dart to miss its target. Tanaka crawls out with a regular gun and starts blasting away, hitting several of the group, including Satoh. Kou and the firefighter run to the end of the hallway, and find themselves trapped several stories up with no fire escape. Satoh heals from the gunshot and hands two of the three remaining members spear guns, ordering them to capture the runaways. The third member is a guy with a bad leg, who becomes the group's computer whiz. Kou is pushed out the door, while the firefighter gets speared, roped and stuffed in a drum. Being an Ajin, he doesn't die.

(Kou and the other guy try to outrun Satoh's new assistants.)

Kou recovers from the fall and returns to his apartment, where his landlady sees the blood on his shirt and insists on calling an ambulance. In the apartment are agents being directed via radio by Tosaki. Tosaki's men come close to capturing Kou, but the ambulance shows up and takes him to a hospital that he can easily escape from. Kou hops a train. He watches as a kind of black blood floats down from the sky and helps his body heal.

(Kou tries to escape Tosaki's men.)

Outside the window, he sees a similar rain in the mountains in the distance. He tracks this second rain into the woods and encounters Kei. Unfortunately, Kei is with a black faceless one, referred to as a "black ghost," and the ghost attacks Kou immediately. Kou heals, and Kei decides that he doesn't need this interference. He'd stumbled onto an old couple that is senile enough to believe that he is a grandson that's come back from Tokyo. They don't watch TV news so they don't recognize him as a wanted man. It's a sweet gig that Kei doesn't want compromised. Kei attacks Kou and they battle until Kei finally succeeds in drowning Kou in a river. One of the things Kei has learned is that while an Ajin can't permanently die, it does take differing amounts of time to regenerate from various forms of "death." When Kou awakens, he finds himself trapped inside the back of a crashed truck. Kei locks the truck's doors and returns to the cabin for dinner. For some reason, black ghosts can't penetrate metal, so Kou isn't going to escape on his own.

(Kou's losing battle against the more experienced Kei.)

Back at Grant Pharma, Tosaki is under attack by other company members that want him ousted for his failures. It doesn't help that the news media is hounding the company and demanding answers regarding Kei's escape. Another guy enters the room, identified as Sokabe. Sokabe is Tosaki's junior, but in a position to replace Tosaki if necessary. Sokabe gives Tosaki an ultimatum to get information on Kei within 48 hours, so he goes to the basement of the building and confronts Ogura. He cuts off two of the researchers fingers, but the guy won't talk unless he's given a pack of Mild Seven FKs. While smoking a cigarette, Ogura says that what they'd found so far is that ghosts can be used as weapons, with their fangs and talons, but there's a limit to how often they can be summoned per day, and after about 5 minutes they dissipate again. But, the reason Satoh didn't use his ghost that much was that it was raining, which interferes with the link between the Ajin and his ghost. Additionally, ghosts don't always do what the Ajin orders - you can't treat them like remote-controlled toys. Tosaki returns to the room to give his report, but the others still want him fired. Satoh has streamed another video online from saying that the new world order will begin at 3 PM. Sokabe stands up for Tosaki in the room, but a few minutes later he visits the Diet Cabinet member, and says that Tosaki knows too much about their operations and can't be trusted anymore. The boss orders Tosaki silenced, while Izumi's black ghost eavesdrops nearby.

(Sokabe, top, with Izumi's black ghost. Tosaki and Izumi, bottom.)

The police and army cordon off the neighborhood around Grant Pharma to guard against Satoh's attack. Inside the corporate HQ, the company president complains about how much money they're losing because all the workers have gone home early. At an airport, probably Haneda, Satoh is going through security. A little girl notices a shopping bag moving across the ceiling, but her mother tells her to be quiet and to go through the security gate.

(Satoh and his ghost on their way through the airport to complete Satoh's first step in wiping out the humans.)

The shopping bag is carried by Satoh's invisible black ghost, who gives him the bag in the lounge area. Satoh boards the plane and it takes off. In the air, he goes into a lavatory and pulls out a cordless circular saw and nail gun. He cuts through the wall, gets to the cockpit, kills both the pilot and copilot with the nail gun, and nails the door back shut. Then, right at 3 PM, he crashes the plane into Grant Pharma's HQ building, killing the company president. When he crawls out of the wreckage, and as his body repairs itself, he comments on having had one major thrill ride.

Comments: The character designs are kind of rough, and the faces often change from panel to panel. The background art is good, though, as is the action sequences. Post 9-11, it's really not a great idea to have terrorists crashing planes into buildings, so I did cringe at that part. The story still feels a bit derivative, and I keep remembering similar scenes in Alive - The Final Evolution. But, still, it's recommended if you liked Alive.

Notes: At one point, Tanaka notices a ghost standing and talking to itself and asks what's going on. Satoh replies that Kei's ghost seemed to be autonomous and have a will of its own. He finds this fascinating, and has been experimenting with his own ghost to see what it can really do. And, Satoh uses Microsoft flight simulator to learn enough about flying jumbo jets to be dangerous.