Friday, May 25, 2018

Madowanai Hoshi, vol. 3 review

(All rights belong to their owners. Image from Amazon used for review purposes only.)

Madowanai Hoshi, vol. 3, Masayuki Ishikawa. Grade: A
Recap: It's the future, and humans have trashed the Earth. People live in domes, and in Japan, they are divided into "Insiders" and "Outsiders." Insiders all have coveted jobs making anime that's broadcast in the domes during the day, while the outsiders man the outer domes and scavenge the mountains of trash outside for useful rejects. S-zawa works in one of the domes, and at some point had broadcast a "message of love" to space, which attracted the attention of a handful of beautiful women, who are in fact the human embodiments of the Moon, Earth and the other planets. From this point, the planets try to educate S-zawa and his co-worker Hazuki Oikawa on physics, history and the environment, pretty much to no avail. In the last volume, Hazuki insulted Earth, and caused the outer planet women to return to their obits in disgust.

This volume starts with the Kuiper Belt planetoids congratulating Pluto on her being recognized as a planet by the humans. She decides to thank everyone by putting a big heart on her surface, and as a greeting for when the New Horizons probe shows up. But then, the humans downgrade her, and Pluto ruins the heart in anger, and New Horizons arrives too late to capture the original design. This is followed by a short, jovial guy named Mimisansan getting fired from his job as an animator, because his bright, cheerful personality has been bothering the other workers. His counselor suggests that he get a job "outside," where he might fit in better. Mimi is quite happy to do this. (Note that Mimi is identified as the son of the distinguished Mimi family that owns Mimi Group Corp., one of the most powerful families in Japan.)

Back at the dome, S-zawa is sending letters into space again, to appease the other planets, and Hazuki spells him to try to send one or two letters herself. S-zawa turns on one of the anime channels, which offends Moon so much that she switches from bunnygirl form to mini-moon form to try to teach S-zawa and Oikawa about multiple dimensions, string theory and black holes. The two humans are unable to understand any of this, no matter how simplified Moon makes it. Eventually, the two humans return to their apartments in the inner dome for the night, and Oikawa decides to show S-zawa a secret gathering spot for outsiders hidden in the blind spots of the insider security camera network. The secret spot is effectively a large bar/restaurant that serves real beer and real food, not the artificial pastes they normally get in the insider cafeterias. As they talk, Mimisansan happens by, to Hazuki's horror, because none of the insiders are supposed to know the place exists. The thing is, S-zawa and Mimi had been classmates in 5th grade, and they recognize each other. Mimi talks loud, calling out S-zawa's name, causing the food server to ask S-zawa to leave. Seems that S-zawa has become famous on the news for having sent his love letters out to space, and his increased popularity with the insiders is a threat to the secret bar.

Mimi announces that he wants to keep drinking, and he invites the other two to join him in Hazuki's apartment for drinks, ignoring the woman's loud protests. They get to the apartment, and as Hazuki cleans the place up and changes clothes, Mimi starts talking about space-time. S-zawa comments that he sounds like Moon, and eventually asks who Mimi really is. Mimi uses his powers to warp space-time to transport them all back to the outer dome, and is revealed to be The Sun in human form ("Me-Me-Sun-Sun" was kind of a giveaway). Mars and Venus are elated to have Sun back, and even Earth recovers from her illness enough to get out of her medi-bed. The outer planets return to planet Earth, complaining about how inconvenient all this traveling is for them. Mimi wonders whether he should stick around, and S-Zawa yells that it's bad enough that all these strange characters are hanging around him, he doesn't need another one to confuse everything even more. He tells Mimi to return to his place in the center of the solar system, which Mimi is more than happy to do.

Hazuki apologizes to Earth for her previous behavior, and promises to try to do something to make Earth more healthy in the future. Unfortunately, Mimi's one suggestion was to do a time reset, returning the planet to a point where the pollution hadn't gotten so bad yet. Hazuki thinks this is a possible option, but it would mean killing off everyone alive now, and because humans are creatures of habit, they'd just pollute the planet all over again. Hazuki asks Earth for suggestions, just as Mimi flies off into space to return home. Earth falls sick as she tries to come up with an answer.

Summary: Lots and lots of science in this series, in with all the gags. I didn't try following the more involved discussions, in part because I already know some of this stuff in English. But, I do like the spin Ishizawa is putting on quantum mechanics and string theory. Fun, but deep. Recommended to anyone that knows the Earth is not flat (which is a very sexist thing to say, so please stop saying it).

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Pepe the Clown

I'm relatively shy. I don't like going up to people to ask for permission to take their photos, and in the case of performers I generally don't stick around after their performance to introduce myself (a lot of the performers tend to act really arrogant and stand-offish, too). So, for the first 4-5 years I was in Kagoshima, I'd take lots of event photos for the blog, but most of the musicians and jugglers I watched had no idea who I was. That changed somewhat about 3 years ago, when one of the other fans decided to talk to me. He's an older Japanese guy that is very outgoing and loves to dance right in front of the stage, and heckle the main singers. At one point, he decided that I was his friend, and he wanted to introduce me to his other friend, the lead singer of the SKA band Bon DX. From that point, Bon would wave "hi" to me, or talk a little, whenever I showed up at events he was playing at. Eventually, I'd get introduced to other singers, or I'd work up the courage to introduce myself, and then I'd tell them that I was putting their photos or video on Facebook or youtube. For the most part, these activities still remained fairly low-key.

Until the Kagoshima Music Fest the second weekend of May. I suddenly found myself talking to several musicians a lot more than I normally do, and some of them were actually coming up to me to talk between sets. I started thinking about working a little harder to become an "unofficial photographer of Kagoshima-based performers," and actively try to meet more people this way. This idea was given a bit more impetus when I got 100 likes on my KMF photos of Toshi the Wanderer, especially when one of the likes was by a Japanese stage magician. I like stage magic, and it would be nice to meet more magicians back, or off-, stage. I also thought I recognized this magician from his FB avatar photo, and that maybe I've seen him busking down at Dolphin Port.

So, I went to Dolphin Port during my break at the English school last Saturday. The above performer was setting up on the boardwalk, and I went up to him to ask if he'd been one of the people that liked Toshi the Wanderer's KMF photos. But, he turned out to be a different person from the magician I was expecting. He introduced himself as Pepe the Clown, and we talked for about 15 minutes. He's an incredibly nice guy, but fairly shy as well. Unfortunately, the weather was bad, and there were no tourists that day, so he decided to pack up all his gear and try again at a later day. I came back on Sunday, but the wind had shifted, blowing volcano ash from Sakurajima into Kagoshima, and we started getting drizzle in the afternoon. None of the buskers I've seen at Dolphin Port ever showed up that day.

Finally, I was at the Volunteer Center on Thursday, a stone's throw from Dolphin Port, and the weather was perfect. I swung by the Port, and discovered that Pepe was just starting up his routine. I realized then that I have seen him several times before at events in Tenmonkan, often teamed up with the juggler K@ito. There were a few tourists this time, but most of them were waiting to get into the restaurants for lunch, and didn't stay for the full routine. One German tourist did toss a few hundred yen ($2 USD) into Pepe's hat before continuing on his way, but I made a point of watching the entire act and then reintroducing myself when he was done. He said that this lack of crowds is normal during weekdays, but that he might do 4-5 more sets before the end of the day, and that he does get bigger audiences on the weekends. I hope that's true, because he is a hard worker and very dedicated to his art. I took a few photos and a sample video of his chair balancing act, otherwise I just watched and applauded to provide moral support. I had fun, and that's all that really matters (and, I did give him 500 yen when he passed the hat, too.)

Direct youtube link

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Keirin Truck

Keirin is the Japanese-style gambling system where you bet on professional bicycle racers, rather than horses. There had been a Keirin track in Kanagawa, a few kilometers from my apartment when I was working in Tokyo, but there's no track in Kagoshima, so seeing this truck here was a bit of a surprise (I was passing by on the street car at the time). It's parked in font of some "life activities" center.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pacific Rim promo display

I was up on the 6th floor of the Amu Plaza department store, in front of the Mitte Cineplex, and saw this display advertising the Pacific Rim movie.

I guess the idea is that there are pictures from the movie scattered around Amu Plaza, and if you find them all, you get entered into a drawing for Pacific Rim goods. Since the campaign started a few weeks before I learned about it, I'm not going to bother participating.

It'd be fun to actually own one, but I've never actually understood the appeal of giant robot anime.

But, I'd expect that these babies could make the commute to work in the morning a little more appealing. I do wonder what kind of mileage they get.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Super Soap

This was extremely disappointing. I was at the Aeon department store near the main train station to get paper towels, and I found this display using Dragon Ball Super to promote Kao brand detergents.

"From today, you too can be a cleaning fighter."

I will go into a corner and weep for the future of humanity now.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Bright Chalk Art Genuine

I get up to Streetcar Street, in the area of the Bright used clothing shop, maybe once every 2-3 weeks. When I'm there, I do consciously try to go by Bright to see if there's new chalk art next to the front door. I don't know how often it changes, I think I've seen new art 3-4 times in the last 6 months, but I may have missed a lot of it. Anyway, I'm guessing that this time we may have a tribute to Tupak Shakur, and that maybe the text reads "Genuine," but it's hard to tell with that scriptface.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Ajin, vol. 12 review

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

Ajin, vol. 12 (Good Afternoon, 2017), by Gamon Sakurai. Grade: A-.

To recap, we have Satou, the main bad guy, claiming that he wants to create Japan as a new country just for Ajin (demi-humans), and he has 4 people working specifically for him towards this goal - Tanaka, two coke heads, and a computer wizard with a limp. Satou betrayed Tanaka, who had tried to set up a parlay with a Japanese cabinet minister to declare a truce. That was a trap, and the cabinet minister had Tanaka tranq darted and hauled off in a car to be taken to prison for further torture and drug development experimentation. On the good guys' side, Tosaki, Kei, Kou and Izumi have finally committed themselves to the last battle, and have split up. Tosaki, the enforcer for the company that had been torturing Ajin, disappears on his own quest and is not seen in volume 12. Izumi, Tosaki's Ajin bodyguard, takes pity on Tanaka and vows to rescue him. Kou, one of the younger Ajin, accompanies Izumi. And Kei, the young brilliant Ajin strategist has his own plan, but stays in contact with the others via smartphone.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Prime Minster had been scheduled to give a talk at a military base, but it was interrupted by something that looked like Satou. The real Satou pretended to be a misunderstood cameraman, and had tricked the base commander into taking him into the most secure part of the compound for protection. The fake Satou turned out to be a black smoke ghost hiding in Satou's discarded skin. The fake threw out 3 satchels into the audience that had been waiting to hear the PM speak, causing everyone to panic and run. A pickup truck raced out to the field to rescue the PM, and the ghost managed to reach the truck and almost touch the PM before dissipating.

So, we have Satou in the basement of the base, his two cokeheads outside the barrier walls, and his computer guy hiding in a command room somewhere. The PM is being whisked to safety, while the cabinet minister and his guards are driving off to deliver Tanaka to some prison. Kou and Izumi are in pursuit of Tanaka, and Kei's whereabouts are unknown. Plus, there are three satchels with X's on them in tape on the ground near where the PM was supposed to have given his speech. The crowds are running off in panic, leaving a bunch of military personnel standing around acting confused. We're now caught up.

Most of the bystanders are running from the field, but there's one guy still standing near one of the satchels. He approaches it, and one of the soldiers yells at him to back off and leave the grounds. The guy ignores the orders, reaches the satchel, bends down and opens it to reveal a bunch of weapons. He pulls a pistol from the satchel and starts shooting at the soldiers. We get a flashback, where the two cokeheads are in the woods with several people just standing round. The computer guy is on the phone to them, saying that he'd set up an website and asked for anyone that wanted to help Satou in his "cause." While over 100 "normals" had left messages on the site, only 12 had shown up at the rendezvous site in the woods. These 12 are told to go to the military base the day of the PM's big speech, and wait for the right moment. When they see the satchels, they are to take the guns out and shoot any soldiers they encounter. The scene returns to the present, and that's what happens. The soldiers hesitate to fire on civilians, which is their mistake. When everything is over, all of the soldiers that had been on the field are dead, while "Satou's minions" only lost 3 of the original 12.

Kou and Izumi jump in a car and race off, but they quickly lose the cabinet minister's cars. Kou has Kei on the phone, and he makes some suggestions for where their prey may be heading. Kou is driving, and he picks up the trail again. He's on a side street, and can see the other cars a block over through the trees. Kou gets ahead of the others and tries to cut them off, but the next alley is too narrow for his car to fit through. Izumi jumps out and runs headlong into the street, where the lead car smashes into her. All three cars stop, and the guards and drivers get out to check the body. Izumi recovers fast enough to start shooting to kill the guards, while Kou comes up and darts whoever he can from behind. Soon, Izumi reaches Tanaka, but he's not willing to help them stop Satou. Izumi gives up and tells Kou they're leaving, but Tanaka recognizes the boy and decides to reveal a secret. Way, way back, when Kou had tried joining up with Satou, there had been a fireman Ajin that had been at the same meet-up. The fireman refused to play along with Satou, and had helped Kou escape. But, Tanaka had managed to catch the fireman, and Satou had had the guy sealed up in a 50 gallon drum. Tanaka now has a change of heart and tells Kou where to find his rescuer. Kou runs off, leaving Tanaka and Izumi with the Cabinet Minister, who is still unharmed. The two decide to leave the minister alone, but he tries to tranq them in the back, so Izumi spins around and puts two bullets in his right arm and blows off his trigger finger. He screams, as Izumi and Tanaka leave (Tanaka seems to be taking on the role of Izumi's bodyguard).

Kou goes to an abandoned love hotel, and manages to get the drop on the computer guy (he's running his operations from the staff room). The computer guy does have monitor cameras in the hallways, and motion detectors, so he has a bit of a warning that Kou is arriving. He opens a desk drawer, revealing a pistol and some handheld device. He grabs the handheld, which may be either a calculator or a cell phone, and pulls out the lithium-ion battery just about when Kou reaches the staff room and darts him. Kou finds three large drums in the basement, plus a welding rig. He uses the rig to open the first two drums, revealing two unconscious Ajin. He opens the third and finds the fireman. The guy had been in the drum for weeks, suffocating to death then recovering only to suffocate again. Kou yells at the guy to get a grip on himself, and the fireman snaps awake. Kou drags the guy out of the basement, promising the other two that he will come back for them later.

In the basement of the military base, Satou locates the weapons storeroom, and uses one of the soldier's fingers to get past the fingerprint scanner. Cnl. Kouma, one of the guys that could have teamed up with Tosaki in fighting Satou, tells his men that the reason the SAT forces had lost to Satou at the battle at the Forge Building was that they'd allowed themselves to be afraid of dying. But, the men here now have one job, and one job only - to blow Satou into so many little pieces that he can't regenerate before being subdued. They move out and try to engage the enemy. The problem is that Satou is former special forces, and he's been practicing with his ghost A LOT. The battle wages on for hours, with the building being heavily damaged. In the end, though, Satou wins. Kouma and every other soldier lie dead on the ground. Satou is impressed at how tired they'd made him during all of the fighting. Then he shoots himself in the head and fully recovers again.

The PM's bodyguards take the PM to Iruma, Saitama, north of Tokyo. Deep underground is a secure holding facility. The guards get the PM to the holding room with no problem. There are two bodyguards and a couple soldiers; the two guards stay with the PM, while the soldiers wait outside. They believe that the holding area is secret, and no one will ever be able to locate it. However, the job of the fake Satou black ghost was to put a tracking device in the PM's jacket pocket back when they were in the pickup truck. The PM finds the device just about when Satou's two cokeheads show up and eliminate the soldiers in the hallways. They state that they have no interest in trying to get to the PM, and they just stand around outside the security door, while the PM and his guards inside the room try to figure out what the game is.

Finally, Kei decides that it's time for him to act. He's outside the military compound, and he's blocked by a 20'-tall wall. He finds a bottle and breaks it, then goes through his plan in his mind. Unfortunately, the glass shards aren't big enough. So, if he bites off his fingers and throws them over the wall, his hand will automatically fully regenerate without decomposing those fingers first. Then, if he presses the stumps on his hand against the wall, the black smoke will turn the wall into material for rebuilding his fingers, creating finger holds for him to hold on to. Then, he just has to repeat the process on his other hand, until he reaches the top. It should take 5 rounds to reach the top, and if everything goes right, 5 minutes. Worst case, 10 minutes. Eventually, the camera shows a close up of 7 fingers in the grass inside the wall, and a lot of blood at the top of the wall where the barbwire is pressed down. Kei leaps down from the top of the wall, and uses his phone to tell someone that "he's in."

Summary: Great artwork this time, and a lot of fantastic action (not much story or plot, though). This volume is extremely violent, and there's a massive body count, with no seeming end to the battle. Kei and Satou are in the military base. The PM and the two cokeheads are somewhere in Saitama. Kou, the fireman and the computer guy are at the love hotel, and the computer guy probably set up the lithium-ion battery to explode to kill and reset him before Kou can escape. Tanaka and Izumi are loose somewhere, and Tosaki's a complete unknown. Highly recommended if you like action manga.