Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tetsujin 28-go for Docomo

I've written about Docomo's ad campaign using Tetsujin 28-go (Gigantor) for promoting their cell phone line before. But, there's been a resurgence in the advertising, with posters showing up in Shinjuku station, as well as on the JR trains, and the booth that reappears in Akihabara station every so often. So I figured that I might as well write another blog entry on it.

The booth had a TV playing an ad that I haven't seen being broadcast yet, so I probably just missed it.

(At another train station, I saw, for the first time, this ad promoting the original manga. It was at the opposite side of the train platform, and the camera wouldn't focus on it right., But, after 40 years, the story still retains some popularity.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gakken Aurorarium Kit

Withdrawal is a ugly thing. It makes people crazy and drives them to extremes you normally only seen on bad reality TV shows, Fear Factor, and anything by Lorne Michaels after Chevy Chase left SNL.

I've been waiting for the new 8-bit microcontroller kit to come out from Gakken, but expecting us to go 4 months between kits is inhumane. Even though I just bought and completed the vacuum tube radio kit last month, I couldn't force myself to wait for #27. It didn't help that Gakken hadn't gotten around to officially finalizing the release date, leaving it just at "sometime in April". And I know that I said the Aurorarium didn't look like it was worth the money, but it's the cheapest, smallest kit that I still don't own, and I've got enough shelf space to store it in.

So, what the heck. I ran out to the neighboring Noborito bookstore and plopped down the 2200 yen ($24 USD) for it. Image my reaction when just now, as I'm typing up this review, I visited the Gakken site to see if they've updated the release date for the microcontroller kit, and I discovered that it's been pushed back to some unspecified time in May. Sigh. They're doing this just to mess with me.

Anyway. The Aurorarium is an attempt to imitate the northern lights, hence "aurora-rium". The kit consists of a pre-assembled base plate - with the motor, power switch, and circuit board already built - two small plastic "chips", the fogged plastic cone sheet, the plastic cone tip, the reflecting tray, and two thin mylar disks. Assembly takes no more than 5-10 minutes, and most of that is for making sure that the cone is taped together right. You can choose whether to put the chips in place or not. There are four sawtooth-like teeth on the bottom of the reflector dish, and as the dish turns, the teeth press against the raised chips, causing the dish to tilt and change the angle of the reflected light a bit. Putting in one chip will make the disk tilt 4 times per rotation, and 2 chips makes it tilt 8 times. Of course, there's no tilting if you don't use either chip. Assembly consists of mounting the LED projector arm in the base, putting in the desired chips, making the cone using double-sided tape, putting the reflecting dish on the base, putting the plastic tip on the cone, and then putting the cone in place. The kit also requires 4 AA batteries (not included).

You can mod the kit a couple of ways. First, take one of the mylar disks and draw lightly on it on one side using a pen on a soft surface. It doesn't take much to affect the surface on the other side. Then put the disk in the reflecting tray, put the cone on, and push the switch. A second mod is to put a little water in the tray. A third is to put plastic crystals in the tray. You can also choose to leave the cone off, which lets the light reach the ceiling and walls. (Naturally, you can also put in a 6V adapter jack.)

There are three small LEDs in the projector head - one each red, blue and green. As the disk rotates (it is really geared down and takes 2-3 minutes to turn once), the LEDs fade in and out, going from red, to blue to green to yellow to white, etc. The actual pattern for the fades is based on the switch. Pushing it once gives it a red-dominated pattern; twice includes purple and yellow colors; 3 times is primarily blue, purple and white; 4 is mostly purple/white; and pushing the button 5 times turns the kit off.

As with all of the other unnumbered mook kits, the mook for the Aurorarium concentrates solely on the properties of light, with an explanation of how prisms and rainbows work; a suggestion to put a flashlight in a liter soda bottle to see a prism effect; photos of auroras; photos of strange effects from the sun, including the green flash and sun dogs; and some pictures of sea life and fireflies that can make their own light. It's a thin mook, at only 18 pages, but the pictures are nice. Not a lot of suggestions for mods, though. After using up the 2 mylar sheets, you can try using reflective wrapping paper, or aluminum foil.

(The mylar disk really doesn't look brown like this. It's silver and highly reflective, which is why it looks so weird here in the photo. The little black arm and cylinder over the base unit is the projector arm and head. The projector head contains the three (red, blue and green) LEDs, which are aimed down at the mylar sheet.)

One thing I need to clear up - the aurorarium is not actually part of the Otona no Kagaku (adult science) series. Instead, it's part of Kagaku no Tamago (science egg), which are build-it-yourself kits for kids. But, it's generally included in with the adult kits at bookstores like Kinokuniya. This kit originally came out in 2008, so I'm a little late in reviewing it, comparatively.

Basically, this is a high-tech lava lamp, but without the endlessly changing shapes. The motor is kind of noisy, which can be a distraction. If you leave it on, it'll turn off by itself after 10 minutes. At $24 USD in Japan, it's probably not worth buying at the expected import prices of $40-$50. You can easily make your own aurorarium with some colored Christmas light strings and a geared-down 1.5V motor connected to a CD. But, the Gakken kit will probably look better on your bookshelf.

Monday, March 29, 2010

JR's 77 station stamp rally

Japan Rail is one of the companies operating trains in Japan. They're broken up into several regions, such as JR west (including Osaka) and JR east (including Tokyo). Two of the major lines in Tokyo are the Yamanote and the Sobu. The Yamanote is the one that runs in a loop about 7-8 miles north-south and 4-6 miles east-west. The Sobu runs east-west, through Shinjuku on the east side out to Nakano; and Akihabara on the east out to Chiba.


JR East decided to create a "77 Station" stamp series, representing the 77 stations on all of the various lines in Tokyo, not just the Sobu and Yamanote (but these are the two more important lines for my purposes). I'd first noticed this thing in Akihabara, where a table had been set up with one stamp and ink pad, plus the map poster, located just outside the gates on the Yodobashi Camera side of the station. A few days later, the table was gone, about the time I was planning on getting a stamp, and I'd figured that I'd missed my chance.


But, the next week it was back out in front of the gates again. So I decided that during my next rest day from work I'd try getting the stamps for each station on the Sobu line from Shinjuku to Akihabara. Primarily, this choice was based on the fact that I've got a monthly train ticket for getting to the office, and every stop along that path is free for me. Naturally I started by getting the Akihabara stamp first because that was the one closest to me when I checked out the poster.


Friday, around noon, I got into Shinjuku. JR Shinjuku is huge, taking up several square blocks, and there's no sign advertising the stamp rally anywhere. After spending 15 minutes walking around in front of the banks of ticket machines at each of the exits, I was about to give up when the thought occurred that maybe the stamp table was inside one of the reservations offices. As luck would have it, I found the stamp on the first try, near the Odakyu line entrance.


From there, it was an easy matter of going into the station proper and taking the Sobu line one stop to Yoyogi. Again, I had trouble finding the table, even though Yoyogi is a much smaller station. This time though, I had the brilliant idea of pulling out my notebook and showing it to a station employee, asking "does this station have this kind of stamp?" The answer was, yes, but it's at the other exit 50 meters away. Once at that exit, it still took me a couple of minutes to find the table. Then I headed back into the station and caught the next train to Sendagaya.


A couple of comments. First, the reason for JR East doing this rally is to get money from you. They do this by putting the stamp tables outside of the ticket gates, so you have to keep buying tickets each time. On average, the stations are about 1 kilometer apart, and it's 130 yen (about $1.45 USD) per stop. At 77 stops, that's a minimum of $100, not accounting for all of the backtracking you have to do to get to the other lines branching off in opposite directions. Two, at least on the Sobu, the timing is just about perfect - you have time to leave the station, find the table, and go back to the platform with about 1 or 2 minutes to spare before the next train. But, even train hopping like this, it can take 10-15 minutes to go from one station to the next. It took over 2 hours to get from Shinjuku to Ochanomizu and back (normally an 18 minute ride on the Chuu-ou train each way), and that's including taking the Chuu-ou on the return.


I've written about stamp rallies before (most notably for the Heroes of Tokiwa Sou, and the Kamiigusa Gundam events). Stamps are almost everywhere and for almost everything. They're mainly aimed at kids, but adults collect them too. If you want to participate, the two big tips are to first always carry a blank, unlined pad with you, and to second bring your own bottle of refill ink. Most of the stamp tables I hit had dried-out ink pads, and at two of them the covers of the ink pads were missing. I'm not a real collector, so I settled for faded stamps on lined paper (sorry about that, chief).


I did encounter one couple also collecting the stamps, but they seemed to be going the opposite direction from me because I only saw them the one time. There was also a mother accompanying a couple of children at a different stamp table. If the station had a reservation office, the table would be inside it. If there was more than one exit, it'd be at the one with the most traffic. If there was no reservation office, I'd generally have to hunt for it. Asking a station person helped speed things up a lot. At one station, the table was being used by two old women that had been out shopping all day, to hold their bags while they shuffled their purchases around. Otherwise, most people were too busy to pay any attention to them.


Just doing the 9-station stretch from Shinjuku to Ochanomizu tired me out. I decided to put off going to Kanda (one station south from Akihabara on the Yamanote line) until my way home from work Saturday evening, just so I could quit and go do something else. The thought occurred at the back of my mind that I could try walking around the Yamanote loop and hitting each of those stations as a form of pilgrimage, but that would take an entire day. Maybe some time when I've got nothing else to do. Anyway, even with train hopping, I don't think any one person could get all 77 stamps in one day. But, if you wanted to try you could get a one-day rail pass to try to bring the cost down. Just make sure that you prep yourself with enough blank pads, black refill ink (or you could bring your own 3"x3" pad) and enough food and drink to consume along the way (stopping for snacks could cause you to miss a train, which would throw off your entire schedule). Now, about those adult diapers...




Sunday, March 28, 2010

Garo #30

Feb., 1967, issue #30. 202 pages, cover by Sanpei Shirato. Now we're getting into the issues that I still on hand after the laptop died. I still have to rescan them and re-type the summaries, but at least I don't have to pay for them again...

カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #26

By Sanpei Shirato (白土三平), 103 pages.
The fire in Edo rages out of control, and many people die, both from the conflagration and the resulting lack of food and shelter afterwards. Ryounoshin wakes up to find his wounds being treated by Kamui. He and Ikkaku are confused, and the ninja answers that he's just looking out for the underdogs. If the village's lord had been slain, it would have been bad for the people. Meanwhile, at the main castle, the Lord's only concern is whether his pet turtle had been injured. He calms down when a retainer presents the pet safe and sound. Saesa tracks Kamui down to the cabin in the woods and is relieved to finally meet him again, since she'd last seen him blown to little pieces. Kamui shows off the trick he'd used, burying himself under someone else's body that he'd dressed up to look like him. She refuses to let him go again, and Kamui replies that he still hates her. She doesn't believe that, and he asks if she could kill him, adding that he'd have no problem killing her. He follows this up by knocking her unconscious and throwing her into the moat around the castle. Red Eye is in a boat nearby and fishes her out of the water, wondering if Kamui was being serious about this.

Back at the village, a heavy rainstorm causes a huge boulder to land in the middle of the plain where Shousuke had wanted to start forming the rice fields. He decides that the only option is to blow it to pieces, but naturally the magistrate won't authorize the release of explosives to the peasants. Shousuke tries getting a foreign merchant to deliver the materials necessary for making dynamite himself, but Guntaro tells Yokome to interfere. The foreign merchant just barely crawls back to the village to say that the head vagrant had ambushed him before expiring.

At about this time, one of the vagrants finds one of the lord's other pet turtles and turns it into soup. The magistrate discovers that one of the pets is missing and orders a search for the culprit. The vagrant is found and beheaded, which strikes the magistrate's on-staff ronin as a bit harsh. The body is returned to the village as a warning to everyone else, raising tensions further.

Ukon Mikunazuki, the pegleg samurai, is sinking lower, stealing food from children and getting into more pointless fights. He happens on a dojo and installs himself as the primary sensei. When a spear-user arrives to challenge the dojo's champion, Ukon asks to be allowed to finish eating his bowl of rice. The other guy refuses and lunges, and Ukon blinds him with his chopsticks. Later, the guy's little brother, a shuriken user, arrives to get revenge, and Ukon takes him out with a makeshift bow and arrow. Ukon decides to go back on the road, and as he's relieving himself along a bridge, is attacked by a brother and sister team. With no other choice, he trips the girl, who falls into the puddle, and throws the boy in the river. The kid yells for help since he can't swim, but when Ukon fishes him out the boy states that he's going to get strong enough to kill Ukon. So the guy throws him back into the water and says, "in that case, save yourself under your own power".

Kamui visits his sister, Nana, who's very much pregnant now. She tells him that Shousuke is trying to make his own explosives, and the ninja can't believe that he'd try something so dangerous. Kamui blows up the boulder himself, and as the rest of the villagers rush to the noise, Nana delivers her baby on her own. Earlier, Ryounoshin had witnessed a peasant family delivering a baby girl, and drowning it right away because they couldn't afford to raise it. Nana's family is afraid that the baby is the result of the earlier gang rape, but she knows it's Shousuke's. Her family is somewhat relieved to see that it's a boy.

幻想のカラクリ (Trick of the Illusion) #23
Koshi Ueno (上野昂志). 2-page article.

作品集 (Creation Collection) #8

6 pages of Katsumata Susumu (勝又進)-styled madness.

日本忍法伝 (Japan Ninja Arts Legend) #16

(Subtitled: 改新への序曲 (Prelude to Reformation)) Mamoru Sasaki & Satsuko Okamoto (佐々木 守 & 岡本 颯子). 6 pages.

逃亡者 (Runaway)

A pair of gangsters track down a traitor that had run off with the boss's girl. They'll let the traitor live if the girl returns with them, but she doesn't want to go. The traitor orders her to kill, and in the resulting ray gun battle, the two gangsters die and the girl takes a blast full on, revealing her to be a robot. She stops working, and the runaway cries, carrying her limp body into the sunset.
24 To (渡二十四) is obviously a pen name, but I'm not pulling up any hits on him/her. 12 pages.

見知らぬ星で (At the Unknown Star)

A pair of aliens discover a long-nosed dream sucker alien. The dream sucker is ill, and the other two plumb its memories to find out why. Turns out that it had gone to Earth, and gorged itself on the dreams of various people, including Akira Ogawa, Shigeru Mizuki and Kuniko Tsurita. They give it an energy drink as medicine, and end up killing it. While, on Earth, the appearance of an alien results in books being written, people going on talk shows, and the Japanese army trying to use American rockets to enter the space race. The rockets drop the Army in the middle of Vietnam while the war is still going on. The two aliens wish they could have discovered the location of such a stupid planet, but they can't so they go traveling off somewhere else. By Maki Sasaki (佐々木まき), author of "A Common Story". 12 pages.

大空と雑草の詩 (Poem of heaven and weeds) #9

I was going to do a joke about wanting to make the pain stop and then noticing that it has stopped, but that's too much work. What's important here is that "Poem" ends with this chapter. I am curious to know if Akira Ogawa (おがわあきら) continues to draw manga after this, but as of issue 37 he hasn't resurfaced. Anyway, the girl goes into a funk after being rejected, then realizes that only she can solve her own problems. She gives up the fast life to return to school. The hero has strange dreams, then notices that the majority of the people he's met are driven by the desire for money. He decides that he will break this chain. End of series. 15 pages.

アンチ (Anti)

Kuniko Tsurita (つりた くにこ) gives us this 12 page short about a young film maker out in the mountains, who stumbles across a climber who's fallen and needs help getting back up on the trail. Later, the film maker shows his movie to some other film students, but only one remains awake through it. At the end, the one asks what trick the film maker used to create such a realistic-looking scene of someone falling to their death. This is the first of the two featured stories on Nihon-go Hunter.

喧嘩 (Brawl)

Shouhei Kusunoki (楠勝平) just keeps bringing it on. In Brawl, a young man sets out to work as a fish hawker. He sits down to talk to a colleague who at some point starts sulking for some reason. Unable to get the guy to explain the problem, the hero loses his temper and they start brawling to the delight of bystanders. During this time, the sidebar caption says "He really doesn't want to fight". When the brawl goes on long enough, the townspeople break it up, and he returns home. His wife asks what happened to him, and instead of simply answering, he snaps at her and starts another quarrel. At the end, the baby is bawling, the wife is upset and the hero is really confused. The sidebar narration continues - "He didn't want to fight, but he did anyway". 12 pages. This is the second of the two featured stories on Nihon-go Hunter.

恐るべきライバル (The Terrible Rival)

A jealous man creates a monster to impress a woman he likes. He feeds the woman's current boyfriend to the monster, and is surprised that this doesn't make her like him more. She approaches another guy and says she'll go out with him if he gets revenge for her on the monster creator. But, the monster eats this guy, too. The jealous man realizes that he'll never be able to get the girl and orders the monster to eat her. But, it eats its creator, and develops a crush on the girl. By Shigeru Mizuki (水木しげる), 8 pages.

死者の招き (Corpse Invitation)

A hiker out in the woods tries to find a room for the night, but the cabin he stops at is full. Then, one of the customers disappears and the hiker gets his room. During the night, the hiker has very depressing dreams and is about to hang himself in his sleep when the caretaker wakes him up and saves him. The hiker notices another door in the room and opens it up to discover the missing customer, hanging by his neck, dead. The hiker leaves immediately, and the cabin thinks that it had gotten so close to getting someone else to accept its invitation to the land of the dead. Shigeru Mizuki (水木しげる). 8 pages.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Misc photos 6

Time for more random photos. The first one's kind of a cliche. When you live in a concrete jungle, photos of reflections off the glass buildings become more common than shots of the homeless. But, every so often, you just have to cave in to the urge to take one more.

People just toss bikes away all the time. But, it's rare to see them accepted in front of a shop as works of art.

I find the staircases of tall buildings to be interesting in their consistent geometry. The question is whether I can capture that sensation with the camera. This one is the back of Sofbank, in Akihabara.

I happened to walk by this truck just outside the Akihabara train station when the decal of Norakuro caught my eye.

Over a recent weekend, Sega had a promo for their Phantasy Star game in the UDX building. Lots of people waiting to get inside when I passed by on my break. But, when I got out of work at 5 PM on Saturday, it was already done with, so I missed whatever stage event they had going on.

Software Industrial has a couple of offices around Akihabara. This one is always shuttered up when I walk by, near the FujiSoft building across the street from Yodobashi Camera.

Friday, March 26, 2010

BK Foods in Japan

Burger King's line of flavored chips apparently has been available in the U.S. for a while, but I haven't seen them here in Japan until a few days ago when a couple boxes of them were stacked in the local Jason's store to be dumped at about 90 cents a bag. (Yes, Jason's is the place where failed products go to be unloaded before their sell-by date). I picked up the Ketchup and Fries flavor because 1) it was cheap; and 2) that's the one they had there.

I did a search of the net to see if there's a mention of these showing up in Japan before, and discovered two things. First, Japan is not listed from the main index page as one of the countries that's part of the BK international group. And two, BK doesn't mention these chips on either the U.S. or Japan websites. Guess that says a lot about how much they stand behind these products. Anyway, the comments from snack food review sites seem to be largely positive. Personally, I think the chips don't taste like fries, the texture's weird, and the "ketchup" flavor is too sweet and artificially "tomato-y". I don't like them, and certainly wouldn't buy them at full price. (Not that I'm going to buy any more of them at the dump price, either.)

From the back of the bag---

"Of course we're talking about America’s favorite burger: the flame-broiled, made-to-order WHOPPER. Accept no imitations. Because no matter which of the 221,184 different ways you choose to customize it, you can bet you’re getting it your way. That’s what makes a WHOPPER a WHOPPER. Anything less is a massive disappointment."

Right, you're talking about the burger, because the fries are definitely less...

"What's better than ketchup and fries? How about a mystical merge of ketchup, fries and snack chips? You heard us. Only from BK. A flavor that pairs the yin flavor of your favorite BK side with the yang crunch of a chip. Keep on chippin' on."

"a mystical merge"? Didn't anyone proof this copy before releasing it?

I'm lovin' it.


Also pictured above is a bag of chips from the video game Monster Hunter 3. MH3 has been out for a while now, and there've been snack items advertising it before. I decided to pick this one up along with Nodoma Cantabile just to take a photo of it. What I like about this one is that it builds on the video game's concept of mixing items together to create potions. Here, the chips are packaged along with a small packet of radioactive cheese powder (which is glued to the outside back of the bag). You pour the cheese in with the chips, shake the bag, and viola - cheese-flavored Doritos.


This package caught my eye when I was getting the above chips. It's can coffee from UCC. The text is advertising the fact that along with the Black brand, UCC was coming out with the new "the Clear" label. As always, labeling in English on Japanese food products means nothing. "Black" can be either sweetened or unsweetened. For this particular can on the left, there's no sugar and no creamer. The Clear, on the other hand, is basically "Black" plus cream. Meaning it's not actually "clear". It's also unsweetened. Both cans are kind of bitter with none of the notes or more subtle flavors that mark good brewed coffee. Good mainly for trying to wake up in the morning. The idea of this type of packaging was a "buy one get the other free" campaign. Fortunately, at Jason's, it was marked off 40%, so I could have gotten 4 cans for a little more than the full price of one if I'd wanted to.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Anime related photos, March 2010

Might as well combine photos into one entry again. First up, Gundam Unicorn. There was an event advertising the DVD release of the new Gundam UC series. It included booth bunnies in uniform, models of the various robots, the DVD playing on the TV, and the chance to pose with your favorite characters. In the tunnel next to the Akihabara Yodobashi Camera.

Speaking of advertising, the pillars inside the Akihabara train station have large flat panel screens on all 4 sides, with rotating ads for the shops in the area, as well as for certain TV anime series. These two are for the new DVD release of P.S. Three-san.

And back in the Tokyo Anime Center, we have the poster boards for various recent movies, including Doraemon, Crayon Shin-chan, and Detective Conan. The TAC is the best place for finding several of these boards all in the same place at the same time.