Saturday, May 31, 2014

Time of the Lab Mice, vol. 4

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

Hatsuka Nezumi no Jikan, vol. 4, by Kei Toume (2007-8, Monthly Afternoon). Grade: B+

----- Spoilers -----

(Back cover.)

With their locations known, the escapees are taken back to the school, with Nagi and Mei in one car, Maki and Kiriko in the other. Mei wants to know why Nagi won't expose her attempt to poison him, and he replies in a way that indicates he's trying to keep Maki from doing something rash. At the school, Kiriko is locked up in a solitary cell, while Ryou is allowed to visit Mei and Maki in the main room. Nagi is shuffled off to the family home to face his older brother, Mayumi, and eventually his father and Yuuko.

(On the long drive back.)

It's now made clear that Yuuko is Mayumi's younger sister. In fact, her mother had died when she was young, and she was raised by the elder Narusawa to be a part of the school's drug testing system, too. She's introduced to Nagi for the first time, but there's no chemistry between them. Narusawa tells Nagi that the family's pharmaceuticals company is being approached by similar corporations from overseas, and they're going to have to come up with a plan to cloak the existence of the school. His idea is that Nagi will take over the presidency of the medical arm and act as the company's public face, while Mayumi continues to run the school, and tests the new drugs on the orphan kids, in secret. With Kiriko as a hostage, Narusawa expects Nagi to come on board quietly. Instead, Nagi is very blunt in what he thinks of the plan, and this makes the old man angry enough that he tells Yuuko to wheel him to his room.

(Narusawa explains his plan to Mayumi and Nagi.)

Mayumi and Nagi trade barbs, but when Nagi tries to leave the room, he passes out on the floor. He's taken to the hospital where he's diagnosed as having an inoperable brain tumor, and is given 6 more months to live. At the school, Mei is feeling very contrite and apologizes to Maki for what she's done. She's sure, though, that Nagi will be fine because he has Kiriko there to look out for him. She's also thinking that she doesn't want to take the memory eraser drugs anymore, because if she does, and Maki tries to escape again, she'll just end up making the same mistakes and betraying him again. She and Maki are released from quarantine and allowed to return to class. Maki and Ryou encounter the strange girl who tells them that, yes, there are other people that know about the true nature of the school, but who are happy to just stay here because this is the only life that they know.

(Nagi collapses.)

Nagi dreams of being in the forest with Mayumi when they were both kids, capturing stag beetles. Nagi wanted to go farther into the woods, but Mayumi balks, afraid of leaving the school grounds. Nagi wakes up to find his brother in the room with him. They talk about having memories of their mother, but it's just brief little snatches of a woman taking them to the school, or of her dying in a hospital bed. Nagi's pretty sure that the dreams don't mean anything, because none of that actually happened, while Mayumi is reacting as if Nagi had been the subject of eraser drugs as a child (which might actually have caused the tumor). Back at the house, Narusawa suffers a heart attack, and Yuuko gives him his pills. In the school, the kids visit Mei in the nurse's room, and realize that Yuuko is missing. Ryou takes the opportunity to grab a handful of medicines to use later in case they try to escape again; specifically stuff for their headaches.

(Nagi's dream, collecting stag beetles with his brother.)

When Mayumi gets home, he tries to talk to his father about Nagi's condition. The old man cuts him off, saying that Nagi will still take over the company and work for them while he's still alive. If Mayumi doesn't like this plan, too bad. He's free to leave and go do whatever he wants, now that Nagi is back. Suddenly, Narusawa suffers more chest pains and knocks his bottle of pills to the floor where they roll to stop in front of Mayumi's feet. Mayumi freezes, and both Yuuko and Narusawa yell at him to do something. Mayumi snaps out of his thoughts, and rushes forward with the pills, but its too late. Narusawa is dead.

(Mayumi's crisis.)

The next day, the students at the school want to know where all the teachers, staff and guards went. A few days later, the school is shut down for good. The students are allowed to choose whether to be transferred to other schools, or be absorbed into the pharma company. Yuuko decides to leave the family and return to university to further her medical education. She visits Nagi in the hospital, and tells him that it really didn't matter whether Mayumi had reacted in time or not - she'd already switched her father's medicine out for vitamin pills. Mayumi is going to take over the company (minus the orphan testing), while Nagi will be allowed to live out his days as he likes. Mei and Ryou have become a couple and are transferring to another school together. Kiriko meets up with Maki, and he tries to talk her into staying with him, but he knows that her place is beside Nagi. She then gets in a school car and rides off to wherever Nagi has gone. Maki himself wanted to return to his life in the city, and had gotten the part-time job Kiriko had been doing at the bar. One day, he's approached by Natsume, who is also out of the hospital after having slashed his wrists. Natsume has gotten all his memories back, and is starting to reconcile with his parents. He tells Maki that he's writing a short story about their time at the school, and gives the notebook to him to read, if he wants to. At the end of the day, Maki goes home to the empty apartment, feeling lonely. Then, his former boss from the liquor store, and Kiriko's friend from the bar drop by to give him a party.

(Natsume talks to Maki after the school closes.)

Comments: And thus the story ends. It's kind of anti-climatic, and we never learn what happens to the strange girl that had confronted Ryou. Over all, I like the characters and the plot line, but I'd have been a lot happier if Maki hadn't been so passive, or if Nagi would have found a way to thwart his father outright. But, still, it was a good story and things never dragged along the way. As I mentioned before, Hatsuka Nezumi no Jikan is about relationships, and trying to find one's place in the world. It's not an action thriller. Recommended if you like Kei Toume's other works.

The back of the volume advertises the start of Acony, which also ran in Afternoon.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Hatsuka Nezumi no Jikan, vol. 3

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

Hatsuka Nezumi no Jikan, vol. 3, by Kei Toume (2006-7, Monthly Afternoon). Grade: B+

----- Spoilers -----

No real big action scenes in this volume. Nagi takes Kiriko and Maki to his apartment, and now has to figure out what to do with the extra mouth to feed. Kiriko promises to take responsibility for Maki, and succeeds in getting him a part-time job at a liquor store as a delivery boy, saying that he's a friend from the "countryside". There were several people that were concerned at her sudden disappearance and Kiriko has to make the rounds of her friends to apologize for being out of contact for 3 months. At least one of the women, a customer at the bar she works at part-time, tells her that it's not good to be staying with Nagi, since the guy had seemed so disinterested in finding her. The friend offers to let Kiriko stay at her new apartment.

(Back cover)

Kiriko and Nagi are almost constantly at each other's throats every day, largely over issues like Nagi's living in a rundown apartment, and his tobacco habit, which she hates. So, she at least has to think about why she's staying with him, and not jumping at the possibility of moving out. Nagi, on the other hand, is caught between a rock and a hard place. He has to live a secret existence to avoid his father's tracking him down and dragging him back to the school/testing lab. This means living out of abandoned apartments, and making a living by cooking up a slightly-hallucinogenic street drug that he sells to university students. Either due to the fumes of the drug, or the side-effects of the medicines his father tested on him as a child, Nagi's health is deteriorating and he's suffering from occasional nosebleeds. He doesn't want Kiriko hanging around too much and noticing any of this stuff.

(Character guide from the inside cover flap.)

Maki slowly learns how to survive in the real-world, but takes to his delivery job pretty quickly. His immediate boss is the son of the owner of the liquor store. The owner is an old man, and the son does most of the work in running the shop. While he drives the truck, he asks Maki about the relationship between Kiriko and Nagi. Since he can't answer that, one day he asks Kiriko herself, and she can't answer either. During one delivery, Maki accidentally runs into Natsume at the home of a customer. Natsume doesn't recognize him right away, but he's been having random flashbacks to the school, indicating that Narusawa Pharmaceutical's memory eraser drugs still aren't 100% effective. Kiriko convinces Maki to keep his distance from Natsume to let their former friend live happily in his new home. However, that's really not happening. Natsume has always liked writing short stories, and his "mother" has been confiscating his notebooks, including the hidden ones, telling him he has to focus strictly on his studies. His "parents" are never home and a caretaker tends to him instead. Between the flashbacks, the lack of love and the loss of his notebooks, Natsume to getting close to a nervous breakdown.

(Maki checks out his new digs, while Nagi wonders what he's gotten himself into.)

Meanwhile, back at the school, Mei has been keeping her distance from Ryou. She refuses to talk and goes to the nurse's office for more medicine. At the same time, the principle, Mayumi, has been called to the hospital to meet his father again, the owner of Narusawa Pharma. After the latest meeting, Mayumi goes to the nurse's office to complain to Yuuko. Standing outside the door, Mei overhears their conversation. Mayumi is upset that his father is so obsessed over having Nagi come back to him. Mayumi has been looking, but not all that hard. There's been word around Shibuya and Shinjuku (shopping districts in Tokyo) of a street drug showing up called "Kiriko", so that's where he should be searching. Realizing that there's some connection between Kiriko, this "Nagi" and Maki, Mei runs away before the door opens.

(Kiriko tries to explain her feelings about Nagi to Maki.)

Mei tells Ryou to meet her at their secret clubhouse on the grounds outside of the school. She tells him that the reason she balked during the escape is that she's been upset at having her life disrupted ever since Maki met Kiriko. She wants Maki back so the three of them can return to their happy lives. Ryou realizes that Mei loves Maki, while he's in love with her. They return to their rooms, and the next morning are surprised to hear the PA calling them to the principle's office. There, the voice over the speaker next to the camera tells them that following the last breakout that the security cameras have been repositioned, and they know about the secret house in the woods, too. As the guy talks, Mei realizes that he's the one she heard in Yuuko's room. She asks to talk to him face to face, leaving Ryou in the lobby. Mei tells Mayumi that she can lead him to Nagi, in return for him letting her, Maki and Ryou live in happy, drugged peace.

A little later, Yuuko sees a note Mayumi had written on Mei's chart prescribing the issuance of a strange new pill. She confronts him about it and he tells her to keep her nose out of this matter. The relationship between them is unclear. While it looks like they live together and she cooks his meals for him, Yuuko always calls Mayumi "nee-san", or "older brother". While they're probably not directly related, they don't seem to be lovers, either. Mayumi says that Mei is going to be allowed outside, and Yuuko realizes that a trap is being set up for the girl to give the pill to Nagi in order to kill him. Mayumi has always been the stronger, more reliable son, constantly striving to do what his father expected of him. But, for some reason the senior Narusawa has always loved Nagi more. To resolve this situation, Mayumi has decided that if Nagi dies, his father will have to accept handing over the pharmaceuticals company, and the school, to him. Yuuko thinks that this is an unhealthy environment to stay in and asks Mayumi to run away with her.

(Yuuko confronts Mayumi over his issuing poison to a student.)

Mei suddenly shows up in front of the liquor store, and grabs Maki in a big hug. She begs him to return to the school with her. Maki is conflicted, and brings her to the apartment. He determines that there's only one school employee escorting her, and he's currently staying at a hotel waiting for her, and that Ryou is being treated as a hostage at the school. Mei talks to Kiriko for a while, as they wait for Nagi to come back home. Mainly it's about Mei's desire to have Maki back, and how Kiriko feels about Nagi. Specifically, what Kiriko would do if Nagi left and never came back. Towards the end of the conversation, Mei complains about the heat and asks Kiriko for another glass of ice tea.

(Natsume reacts at discovering that his notebook with his latest short story has been confiscated.)

In the school, Ryou is approached by a strange female student that asks him if he thinks that his group is the only one that has been trying to escape. She berates him for being naive, while not really talking that much about herself. At this point, it's unclear if she's a spy for Mayumi, or someone very similar to Kiriko. Back at the apartment, Nagi has returned home. One of his arguments with Kiriko had been over the fact that he refuses to ever see his father or the school again. As he's trying to decide what to do with Mei, he starts coughing and asks for water. Kiriko gives him her glass of tea and Mei watches him really closely as he gets ready to drink from it. He smells the poison first and throws the glass down. Mei is angry that her plan to kill Kiriko has been exposed (without Kiriko around, Nagi would be more willing to return to Mayumi), but Nagi immediately figures out what is going on and says that he'll go back after all.

Comments: Hatsuka no Nezumi is a simple story about relationships, so there's no real action or fight scenes. Things just unfold at a steady, regular pace. They are telegraphed a little too blatantly, though. I had been expecting Mei's betrayal since early in volume 2, and Natsume's plans for Nagi several chapters in advance. Even so, I do still want to keep reading. The series only runs 4 books, and I already bought the last volume. I recommend this title to fans of Kei Toume's other works.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Anpanman Gusto Banners

Gusto is a family restaurant similar to Embers in the U.S., but with less emphasis on pancakes. I've shown photos of their ad banners a few times in the past. They commonly have tie-ins with Anpanman. The closest location is 2 blocks from my apartment, on the way to Tenmonkan, so I walk by them all the time. The current campaign is "Natsu no genki 100 bai kyanpe-n" (100 times energetic summer campaign).

The Japanese in the above banner reads "kizzu kyanpe-n" (Kids Campaign). Note that "genki" can relate to someone having a smiling face, although being "low energy" means that you're "not genki". I assume that "genki 100 bai" (genki 100 times) is supposed to be "100% Smile".

(Kids dinner set, with all-you-can-drink soda bar.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Trash Day

Poor Lauren. She's seen better days.

This is actually a calendar put out by Early Times Whiskey.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


More "Learning Japanese from Signs"! Yay!
Or not.

The sign is announcing the location of a wheelchair ramp. It reads, "Suroopu wa kochira desu". "Slope" + marker + "here" + polite form of "exists"
"Slope here exists".

Or, "Here there be wheelchair ramps".

Monday, May 26, 2014

Night Work

The same night I took the previous full moon photos, I decided to walk up to Amu Plaza to see if they had any stage shows or events set up for the next day. In fact, they had a kind of beer garden, which they were calling a "highball garden". It was a roped-off area with chairs and tables, and a booth that you could get Suntory highballs from for $3.50 a glass, plus some snack foods. Unfortunately, the garden only ran for 1 week and I wasn't feeling like spending the money at the time. However, while I was there, I figured I'd try getting some images of the midnight construction going on for a new wing of the shopping mall next to the main train station.

An attempt at an artsy shot of the full moon through the construction site scaffolding.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Swallows, 2014

My little pocket camera has always had problems getting good photos of birds, and swallows tend to be more problematic because the only time they sit still long enough for me is when they're nesting, and the nests are usually in the shadows in the corner of a ceiling or roof or something. But, finding swallow nests has been easy because the Japanese consider them symbols of good luck, and permit the birds to put nests over their front doors. During the Spring, it's just a matter of listening for the loud chirping.

I really wanted to see how the new camera would work out, so I was looking forward to Spring and finding the first nests. Last year, I'd found two, one over a taxi stand at the south end of Tenmonkan, and the other in a covered parking garage a couple blocks from the Minami Kagoshima train station. At the beginning of May, I visited the taxi stand, but the old nest had been completely scraped off the wall and there was no indication that the family that had used it was going to put up a new one. A few days later, I traveled down to Minami Kagoshima, carrying the new camera, and again, the old nest had been completely ripped out with no new nests to replace it. Since I'd looked at the old nests just a couple weeks prior, the destruction of both of them had to have been recent. It was a pretty depressing event.

On May 20th, I was walking to the conversation school I teach at, and as I was getting close to City Hall, I heard loud chirping coming from inside an apartment building parking lot. The nest was about 20 feet from the entrance, at the corner of the ceiling. The birds were a bit messy, and the landlord had put newspapers on the ground to catch the droppings, and roped it off so cars wouldn't park under it. The chicks looked pretty old, maybe at least 4 weeks. I was about to take a photo with the pocket camera when a woman living in the building came up to talk with me. She really likes swallows, and was happy to have them there. After several minutes I had to beg off and continue on to work. The photos didn't come out that well, because it was already 6 PM at the time, and the sun was setting behind the building, the opposite side from the parking garage entrance, so there wasn't any direct light. I had to use the flash, which was too strong. Anyway, I planned on coming back with the other camera when the lighting was better.

I couldn't get out of the apartment on the 21st, so the 22nd was the first opportunity for trying again. The weather was great, and the sky very sunny. Naturally, when I got to the garage, the nest was destroyed and the entire family was gone. I don't know if the parents damaged the nest to force the chicks to leave, or if one of the renters in the apartment building was tired of not being able to use his parking space. But, these are the only photos of swallows I was able to take this year. Sigh.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Moon, Again

The weather in April had been extremely unpredictable, going from perfectly clear skies one night to heavy rain the next. This made taking pictures of the moon very frustrating. One night, the sky was overcast, but the moon was somewhat visible through the clouds. The thing is that the air was really humid, and I was thinking that if there was any chance of getting some kind of photo, I'd be better off climbing up Shiroyama, the big hill near the apartment, and see if there were any breaks in the clouds for a few seconds from the parking lot of the hotel at the top of the hill. Since it was after midnight, I was expecting a security guard to ask me what I was doing there at that time. And, sure enough, after about 10 minutes, one guy did come out to the lot, but when I greeted him, he kind of panicked and veered off to hide behind the nearby restaurant building.

The clouds never did fully break, but they thinned enough at one point that I tried taking photos anyway. The camera did a pretty good job of ignoring the mist, but it would have been better if I had a rock-solid tripod.

Then, around the 16th, the sky was bone-dry. Even better, I had the full moon, plus Mars in the sky. This time, I just went to the park next to the Kotsuki river and set up the tripod there.

The moon plus Mars. If you look closely at the lower left corner of the above photo, you can almost make out one more pinpoint of light.

This is the kind of photo I've been wanting to take with a camera for years.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Neko no Te

I like this one. The company's name is Neko no Te Kaeshimasu. "Neko no Te" is "cat's paw", and the phrase "neko no te kaeshimasu" is "to get a lending hand from a cat". Here, the cat helps by cutting up the vegetables for you.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kuusen Suibokuga Exhibit

The Kuusen (空仙) association has had several exhibits of sumi-e (suibokuga = 水墨画, India ink drawings) at the International Center in the past while I've been in Kagoshima, but I'm not sure why they exhibit so much. There's no URL for them, so I can't include a link to their website. Regardless, I do like several of the pieces on display, so I'll show them off here. Sumi-e (black ink pictures) and Suiboku-ga (India ink paintings) are basically the same thing, and "sumi" and "boku" are two different pronounciations of the same kanji. The exhibit is running this week on the 2nd floor of the International Volunteer Center (Kenmin Kaikan).

Some of the paintings look like student works, but the others are pretty well-done, in my opinion.

I like the cranes in this one.

Just to give you an idea of the size and scope of the exhibit space. I took these photos at 3 PM on Wednesday, when there weren't any other visitors.

Less like sumi-e and more like suiboku-ga.

(Moshimoshi, na-ni ("Hello, What is it?"))

I tried getting artsy with this one, contrasting the real flowers against the paintings. It didn't really work.