Friday, June 23, 2017

Beauty and the Beast Jewelry UFO edition

Remember the post two days ago for The Kiss line of Beauty and the Beast rings? You can get plastic ones from the UFO Catcher machines for a lot cheaper.

Although, given how badly the arms are sprung on these machines, it may cost you as much as the more expensive The Kiss line to win one.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Free - Timeless Medley

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

As a TV anime, Free! ran from 2012-13, with other releases since then. Timeless Medley is a two-parter, with the first part having come out in April, and this second one scheduled for July. The next movie, Take Your Marks, will hit screens towards the end of the year. If you're not familiar with the story, it's about a group of school friends that set up a swim club in high school.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Beauty and the Cheap Kiss

Disney's live-action version of Beauty and the Beast is playing in Japan right now, and the jewelry manufacturer "The Kiss" has come out with a line of branded Beauty and the Beast necklaces and rings in the $100-$200 range, being sold through the Amu Plaza department store.

I wonder if Disney Studios knows about this. And if they do, why would they sign off on this one?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Gin Tama Live action

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

I liked the Gin Tama manga somewhat, the anime was ok. Don't really like the cast choice for the live action movie. Looks like a nice try, though. Couldn't find a brochure for it.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Anti-Free Fire

This one's weird. I was walking along the street when I happened past a police box. In front was an announcement display case, and in with the Wanted posters was a poster from the 2016 British movie "Free Fire" (which is showing in Kagoshima right now). What's so odd about it is that the text in Japanese is talking about a 110 (the Japanese version of 911) hotline for reporting anyone that has a handgun. Handgun ownership is illegal in Japan, and only the police are allowed to carry revolvers. So, a British movie about an out of control gunfight in a warehouse has been appropriated by the government to get you to turn in your friends if they have a gun...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Eureka Seven - Hi-Evolution

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

Eureka Seven started as an anime in 2005, and was adapted to manga in 2005, as well as a light novel in the same year. There was one anime movie in 2009. And now, we get Hi-Evolution, which will be a three-parter, with releases spread out over 2017, 2018 and 2019.

I liked the first manga ok, but haven't bothered with the rest of the franchise since then.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Tokubetsu no Egoist, vol. 2

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

Tokubetsu no Egoist, vol. 2, by Michiharu Kusunoki, Grade: B+
Jin, the famous novelist that claimed that someone was attacking him psychically, turns out to actually be an energy vampire. Because he's excellent with words, his pattern is to tell his victim what they really want to hear, then to suddenly slam them with the things they fear most (for the TV chef who keeps trying to bed handsome men, Jin complements her recipes and her figure, then comes back with things like "You actually believe that, you untalented cow?") He then basks in his victim's raw hatred of him, draining their life force out as if he was sucking on their blood. Reiko is his first target, and he follows her up with the hostess club owner, the chef, and the editor, all the while getting more alive and more obnoxious.

(Jin's having a good night. The chef? Not so much.)

Meanwhile, Kaneki is constantly one step behind. While Tooru can't use psychic powers himself to track Reiko, he does combine simple logic with blind luck to locate Jin's favorite jazz bar (Jin's online profile listed him as an avid jazzophile). Oddly, the old fortune teller had come to jazz bar Bird at the same time, but the shop owner has a fixed "sanctuary policy" in effect and no one is allowed to interfere in the business of any of the other patrons. After Jin leaves Bird, the teller instructs Reiko to breathe deeply to help her recover. Tooru and Mari enter Bird just as Reiko chases after Jin and follows him as he confronts each victim on his list. Rather than siccing Tooru on Jin, the fortune teller decides to relate her own story. When she was younger, she had been a very powerful esper in her own right. Eventually, though, she and Jin had become lovers and she discovered that having sex is one of those worldly things that rob you of your esper powers. Additionally, Jin discovered how to drain espers, and she was one of his first targets. There's no real way to stop him, except to fight him on his own turf. Jin is now driving Reiko's Land Rover, and Tooru has her Porsche. They cross paths on the Tokyo expressways a couple times, and finally Jin focuses on his "ghost writer," who he's known was Tooru all this time.

(Jin likes living dangerously.)

Jin and Tooru go toe to toe, and Jin winds up to make his first pitch, complementing Kaneki on having been so brilliant with his debut novel, "Tokubetsu no Egoist," and his ghost writing work, but Kaneki butts in with a slam of his own and drains the novelist of energy so fast and so hard that Reiko has to jump in to stop him, demanding that they call an ambulance. Jin nearly dies of a heart attack, but he complements Tooru on being a better vampire than him, fully knowing that the only reason Kaneki had won was because Mari, the true esper, had been standing behind him, backing him up.

A few days later, Ryouichi Harada, 55, former editor of Weekly Ace Magazine, visits Jin in the hospital, where it turns out that Jin has been dictating his next book from his bed, and his typist is Tooru Kaneki. Harada is trying to find someone, and Jin tells him to contact Kaneki, since the editor has one of the yellowed business cards of his own. Harada and Kaneki get together, and we're told that back in '95, Harada had been the editor at Ace, a bottom-feeding scandal rag that targeted movie stars and pro baseball players. Touru had worked there for a couple of years as a writer. One of their features had been on a scandal involving a scam artist and a young idol singer named Mayumi Segawa. Tooru claims to be busy with Jin's book, but currently Reiko is overseas and Mari has been out of touch because she misses Reiko. Without them, Tooru doesn't want to get involved with any new weirdness. He visits jazz coffee shop Bird and runs into the fortune teller, who makes him realize that the one Mari is waiting for is really Kaneki himself. So, the two of them meet with Harada in his studio, where he has a vast collection of Ace issues, manga, and bromide glossy photos. He's still an idol otaku, and had been a big fan of Mayumi's. He'd been shocked when he'd learned that the scammer, Keigo Hirasawa, had been arrested in Hawai'i with a call girl named Mayumi, and he was hoping that it was just a name mix-up. But, the real Mayumi disappeared after that and is now rumored to be dead. Harada thinks she's still alive, and he wants Kaneki to track her down.

(Reiko prevents Tooru from accidentally killing Jin.)

Tooru and Mari start following leads out to Mayumi's childhood home, but the yard is now a parking lot. Harada calls in, and says that Hirasawa is from west Shinjuku, so they return to Tokyo. Shinjuku is covered in office buildings now, and Mari gets thirsty, asking to stop at a coffee shop nearby. In the shop, Seven, Mari notices that the old woman working the counter kind of resembles Mayumi, but the ages are all wrong. Mayumi would be 45 now, and the old woman is well into her 60's. Then the woman's husband arrives from his walk, and he's about what they'd expect Hirasawa to look like. They leave, and Kaneki comes back the next day with Harada in tow, and the former editor confirms that this must be the couple he's seeking after. They go outside, and Harada explains his actual motives. Mayumi had been a member of a pop idol trio at age 14, and Harada had indeed been a big fan. He'd gotten a job at a young men's manga magazine as a photographer because he wanted to take bromide shots of young pop stars. When Mayumi turned 19, she started posing for nude photos in adult magazines. At age 24, she encountered Hirasawa when he was 55 and he became her sugar daddy. Someone blew the whistle on him, and he ran to Hawai'i, where he was eventually caught, arrested, and then imprisoned on fraud charges. Unfortunately, while Ace magazine broke the story of the arrest, some of the details involving Mayumi in the case were later found to be wrong by other magazines and Harada lost his job at Ace.

During this period, Mari has become close friends with Hirasawa and Mayumi, accompanying the old man on his daily exercise walks and spending time in the shop with them. Harada now wants Tooru to interview the couple to get their side of the story so that he can get his job back at Ace. Tooru hates this idea, but is told that if he doesn't do it, Harada will get someone else to write the article, someone that may be more hostile to them. Kaneki gives in. However, he's still working for Jin as a typist. Jin is finally out of the hospital, and he runs into Mari, who notices that there's something wrong with his right wrist, and she takes it, possibly helping to heal a very old disability. Jin is starting to become a normal human again, and he comments that the Mayumi story may be Harada's last chance to return to Ace. Then he leaves. Kaneki writes up everything he knows about the old couple, and gives the manuscript to the old woman at the shop. She confirms that she really is the former pop star. However, she was the one that had called the cops on Hirasawa, with his blessing. When she was younger, her parents were having trouble raising the money to keep their house. She'd started singing, and then posing for nudie magazines all as a way to make money to help her parents. When she met Hirasawa, he'd decided to play robin hood for her, defrauding companies to the tune of 1 billion yen (back in the 90's, this would have been around $10 million USD). The bulk of the money was redistributed to other people, and some to her. But, when she tried to get the money to her parents, she'd found that they'd both been killed in a car accident a few days earlier. Up to that point, Hirasawa was like a kindly uncle to her, and they'd never had sex together. They agreed for him to look like he was running away and for her to call the cops on him. She had plastic surgery to look 20 years older, and she waited for him to get out of jail. After, they got married, and opened the coffee shop.

Both of them are willing to let Kaneki's story run in Ace, which Harada is more than eager to do. But, Tooru has a really BAD feeling about this, and he confronts Harada over it. The other guy is now working at Ace again as an editor, and he desperately wants this story as his comeback prize. He and Tooru are outside near a park, arguing, and suddenly, Harada grabs his chest and falls to the ground, pleading for an ambulance. Nearby, Mari is watching from a crossover bridge. Tooru tells the editor that he's fine, he just needs to take a few deep breaths. But, there's no guarantee as to what may happen "next time." Harada eventually agrees to not run the story after all.

(Looks like Mari is causing Harada's heart attack.)

The next yellow business card comes from Shouko Kashima, 45. She and Tooru had both been winners of the same "best young writer" awards, along with 2 other men. The other two guys never wrote anything again, but Shouko went on to break a couple big investigation reports and is now much more successful than Tooru is. The two of them had slept together for a short time, but she was something of a gold digger, and she'd dropped him in favor of someone more powerful they'd met at a bar. Those two had gotten married, had a child, and then gotten divorced. Right now, she's looking for someone, and having no success. She gives up and calls Kaneki for help. They meet, and she tells him that she's trying to find the mythical real estate developer Juukichi Oomura. He'd been a big operator during the "bubble" era in the 80's, then disappeared without a trace. Kaneki takes the case, and figures that if someone was a developer, they'd do land deals in Ginza, and if anything happened in Ginza, the coffee shop owner at Bird would be the one to talk to. So, he goes to Bird, where the fortune teller is waiting for him. The owner and the teller state that Oomura had made all his money in west Shinjuku, so Tooru goes there and talks to Hirasawa at cafe Seven. Funny enough, Hirasawa had grown up with Oomura and they used to play together as kids. Back then, the Yodabashi water purification plant had been located in west Shinjuku. But that had been torn down in the mid-60's and replaced with office buildings. Right now, Tooru's focus seems to be on neighborhood 6 in west Shinjuku (nishi Shinjuku 6 choume) and Aoume highway. Tooru and Mari meet up with Shouko and he gives his report (no immediate progress). Shouko looks increasingly unhappy, and Kaneki is somewhat relieved to realize that the older woman is staring at Mari. The girl returns home, and Shouko prevents Tooru from leaving too, demanding that they go drinking together. As always, she's a truculent drunk, and eggs him into taking her up to her hotel room. But, she passes out before she can try seducing him, and he tucks her into bed and runs away. The next morning, she meets with an older guy that was on an errand for locating old books for her, and he tries to talk his way into her room, so she comes up with an excuse, dashes to the reception desk to drop off the books, and runs to the lobby just in time to encounter Jin.

Jin just likes hanging around the hotel now because this is where Mari passes by in the morning, and he's taken to watching her recently. Shouko is less than pleased at seeing the girl again. Jin talks about John Lennon's song "Mother," Lennon had been singing about a form of love that Mari has, but that both he and Shouku will never experience. That day, Tooru visits a house in Meguro and introduces himself as an acquaintance of Hirasawa's before asking to talk to the person inside. The chapter ends with Kaneki meeting with Shouko again the following day to give a report update.

Summary: Sometimes, your greatest enemies become your best friends. Kaneki continues to act as a person locator for those past associates that want to cash in on his yellowed business cards. Nostalgia about Tokyo's checkered past ensues. It's a fun read if you're willing to be patient. Recommended.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Craft Boss Coffee Latte

I saw this one in the vending machines when I was out walking around one day, and I needed something to drink. It's pricy, 140 yen ($1.30 USD) for 6 ounces, and the bottle is just cheap plastic with a fancy-looking label wrapped around it. For being a "Craft" coffee product, it's very disappointing. Everything "screams" bottom of the barrel. And it doesn't taste like anything. The flavor is just sweetened artificial creamer. Not recommended.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

King of Prism movie advertising

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

Yes, I like checking out the local movie theaters to see what they're advertising each week. This time, though, I found a LOT of brochures pushing movies based on anime or manga. So, here's what we have this time, starting with King of Prism.

I'd never heard of "Pretty Rhythm" before, but I guess it started as an arcade game, and was adapted to anime in 2011 and 2012. The idea is that you have a world with "prism stars," skaters, that perform in "prism shows," which are a combination of singing, dancing, fashion and ice skating. The current movie follows Shin, a boy who wants to become a prism star.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

June 2nd Moon

The skies have been as erratic as ever, but generally cloudy at night. However, the air was clean on the 2nd, and I had the little pocket camera with me, so I decided to see what it could do on the Program setting. Not too bad.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Windows Live Movie Maker

I've been making videos for my blog for 8 years. I think I have over 160 videos on youtube now. I've been using Windows Live Movie Maker all this time, and I've never liked it. The crossover fade function never worked right, and there's no way to strip the video from part of the file to replace it with a still photo while the audio track keeps playing (i.e. - A-B roll). That is, if I want to give a presentation and display a slide during a voice-over, MM can't do it. So, yeah, I've wanted to use some other package for the last 8 years, but I'd never actually gotten around to trying anything else. I don't quite trust freeware off the net, and I didn't want to spend money on a commercial program.

Well, my old laptop went wonky and I had to switch to a newer machine that didn't yet have the service packs loaded on it. Then, when I had some free time, I checked whether this new laptop had Movie Maker, and I discovered it didn't. Then, I learned that Microsoft had stopped supporting MM for Win 7 a few years ago, so it's not on their update server anymore. That left me with no option but to get something else. I still don't trust internet freeware, so I went to Bic Camera and looked at what they had. There were three titles, all with three price levels - entry level for editing wedding videos; mid-level with more effects and support for other video formats; and high-end, which mainly means having extra third-party audio editing software bundled in.

Based strictly on price, and the screen shots on the box, I went with Vegas Movie Studio 14 Platinum from Magix, for 7,500 yen ($70 USD). The only difference between Platinum and Suite is that Suite includes Acid Music Studio and Sound Forge Studio 10. I trust Acid Studio, and I can get that off the net for free. I haven't really had much of a chance to do anything with Vegas yet. In fact, the only reason I started using it at all was that I'd wanted to play some of my latest videos from the Kagoshima Music Fest on my new Zenpad, and they were too large. Vegas is a fairly complex package, with lots of features, and all the menu items are in Japanese. Magix is actually a German company and their English website is pretty poorly laid out. The only way to get to the support page for accessing the English user manual PDF is to click on the Buy Now button. Sigh.

Anyway, I figured out what I wanted relatively quickly. The process:
Start Vegas with a new project.
Drag and Drop the desired raw video file into the directory window.
Wait until Vegas stops prepping the file (10-20 seconds for a 10-minute video).
Drag the desired video file from the directory window to the timeline.
Wait another 20-30 seconds for Vegas to build up the preview.
Click on Project Settings and change the video format to 640x480, 29.5 frames/second.
Click on File, Make Movie.
On the first screen, select Save to Hard Drive.
On the second screen, change the format from .wmv to .mp4, specify the output file name and directory, and click Ok.

You can see the preview mode play as the movie is built up, which is fun, and it's significantly faster than Live Movie Maker, but in a large part that's because I want a smaller file (a 10 minute video is 1-2 gigabytes in HD format, and 130 meg for the video size I selected). What really matters to me right now is that the smaller files run on the zenpad with no problems, although the color blocks are being pixelated, and the new videos don't look anywhere near as good as the demo movies that come with the zenpad. I need to find out why the demos look so much better. But, at the moment, I'm kind of back to where I had been with Live Movie Maker for doing video editing, which is an improvement from not being able to do editing at all.

Vegas does have A-B Roll capabilities (being able to run two synched videos side-by-side and choosing which one to view with a common audio track), plus title, credits, and special effects options. I don't need most of that for what I do, right now, but it's nice to know that it's there. Now, I just have to wait until the next music event to get something I want to record and edit.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Mascot Parade June 10

Over the weekend, the space in front of Lotteria was used to host a stationery products fair. I was cutting through the area on my way to the school and I ran into a parade of foamhead mascots that were getting ready to tour the rest of the shopping complex. The fair didn't have anything interesting enough to take pictures of, but I did want to snap a couple of the mascots here, because they were ones I haven't seen before.

Not really sure who the horse is supposed to represent. I've seen the tiger in back before, and that's for some chain store. The thing in the background with the white face and red ears is the mascot for the Red Cross blood drive center.

This guy was kind of questionable.

One of the women accompanying the parade was handing out stickers for Obiko-chan. (An obi s the cloth that wraps around the waist and acts as a belt when you're wearing a kimono. The character is advertising for a city that makes kimono.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017


(My new toy.)

I've resisted the urge to buy a smartphone so far because I can't justify the expense, and being tied into a 2-year phone contract. However, I've been itching to get a tablet computer for some time. It's the kind of thing that would be useful in my work as an English teacher, for displaying in the free talk lessons the photos and videos I've taken, and as a spell-checker look-up. I finally decided to commit to one, and after looking at all the reviews, I settled on the Asus Zenpad 8. After tax, and with a 64 gigabyte Micro SD card, the total package came to about 30,000 yen ($290 USD).

It's taking some time to get used to it. There's already a couple of things I don't like (not being able to create directories from my laptop when tethered through the USB cable, and not being able to easily find the icon for bringing up the WiFi connections list when I go to a place with WiFi access). But, those are relatively minor. I'm still struggling to get things working the way I want (figuring out what to name the links for the HTML pages I'm writing for the dictionary files I want to use). I had been having problems playing Windows .wmv videos - Android doesn't support .wmvs right out of the box, and the apps I downloaded off Google play kept freezing the video portion, or stuttering on the audio. I finally discovered that the problem is that I'd created the .wmvs in large screen, hi def format, and the file sizes were just too big. Resaving them in a smaller 640 x 480 format works much better. But now, I'm having issues with the zenpad automatically changing the screen brightness on me all the time.

Otherwise, I am having fun with it, and I'd like to believe that it will get easier as I get more practice on it.

Yes. I'd like to believe that.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tokubetsu no Egoist, vol. 1

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

Tokubetsu no Egoist, vol. 1, by Michiharu Kusunoki, Grade: B+
Kusunoki started drawing manga professionally with Aitsu to Lullaby in 1981 ('81-'89, Weekly Shonen Magajin), and is probably best known for his street racing manga, Wangan Midnight ('93-'08, Young Magazine). Several of his titles feature street punks and fast cars. With Tokubetsu no Egoist ('15- , Big Comic Original), the story turns more to low-key psychic battles, with people occasionally driving around in Porsches and Land Rovers. The character designs are reworked from his previous titles, making Egoist pretty recognizable if you've seen his other works. Egoist is on hiatus right now, though, as Kusunoki reports having medical problems.

(Kaneki meets the old fortune teller after 23 years. She's sleeping.)

There's pretty much nothing on Egoist on the net in English at the moment, and nothing on wikipedia. The full title, "Tokubetsu no Egoist" can be translated as "The Special Self-Centered Person." It comes from the title of the break-out novel written by the protagonist, freelance writer Tooru Kaneki. When he was younger, and just out of university, he'd encountered a street fortune teller (just referred to as "Old Woman") who told him to get a cell phone, and have 100 business cards printed up with his name and phone number. He was to then hand the cards out to people that he'd meet, telling them that if they ever needed his help, to contact him. 23 years later, on his 45th birthday, he meets the woman again, and she takes the last remaining yellowed card from him, saying that his job now is to wait for people to contact him, and put them in touch with the one with actual psychic powers that is the really special one. Kaneki's only real ability, other than as a writer, is that he can see people's auras, and he'd given the business cards to those that had the stronger auras around them.

(Kaneki, Reiko and Mari meet Jin, the famous writer.)

In the first volume, Kaneki is bemoaning the fact that he's celebrating his 45th birthday alone. He meets an old lover, Reiko, who had dated him when she was 18, and she's now a stock manager and wildly wealthy (she's the one that owns both a Porsche and a Land Rover, and has a penthouse floor at the top of an exclusive condo in the heart of Tokyo). Looking at her, Kaneki starts wondering just what exactly it was that he'd been doing with his life all this time. Soon, he gets a call from the agent for the famous novelist, Jin Kitamura. Kaneki and Reiko visit him, and he looks like a wreck. Back when he was still an unknown, Kaneki's editor had offered him work ghosting on one of Jin's novels. The two had met at that time, but Jin hadn't known who his ghost writer was. Jin claims that he's the victim of a psychic attack and that the attacker must be one of 5 people on a list he's made. 4 are individuals Kaneki doesn't know, and the fifth is "that ghost writer." Reluctantly, Kaneki takes the job against his own best interests. Reiko puts him in contact with a powerful psychic that she'd accidentally bumped into with her car, the 16-year-old high school girl, Mari Misaki.

(Kaneki and Mari try to track down Reiko, who's currently at Bird, with Jin.)

Things build up slowly, with both Mari and Kaneki mentioning that they'd been born in small countryside villages (as had Jin), and that their powers may be rooted in that. The two of them meet the others on Jin's list (a hostess bar owner, the hostess of a cooking show and owner of a food research kitchen, an illustrator and a book editor). They all act friendly at the start, but turn viciously hostile when Jin's name is mentioned. At the end of the volume, Reiko meets up with Jin and they go out for a night drive, before the writer invites her to his favorite jazz coffee shop - Bird - in Ginza. Kaneki and Mari get alarmed that Reiko has disappeared on them from her apartment and Kaneki is forced to learn to drive the Porsche on his own. Mari keeps telling him to "look within, from behind his stomach" to try to determine where Reiko might be right now. On the last page, Reiko is looking like she's in distress for some reason.

(Jin tells Reiko that she's in the way.)

Summary: Egoist builds up slowly. It's not an action story per se, in that while there is some racing around in cars, it's just a carefree pastime and not part of a desperate chase sequence, and there's no real combat ever. Things are more cerebral, with a lot of clever dialogue throughout. The artwork is good, with light, thin lines and a fair amount of background detail. I've got the first three books, so I am going to read them all, but it is time-consuming since the story is so text heavy. Recommended.

I should mention that imagined and remembered sex features kind of heavily in this story. There's some female upper nudity, but nothing overly graphic. One of the key elements is that someone with psychic powers loses them if they get too "worldly". That is, having sex, drinking, smoking, all contribute to one's psychic abilities getting weaker. It's one of the reasons Kaneki is abstaining from sex now.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Famicom Remix Best Choice comments

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

After finishing Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the 3DS, I was kind of feeling burned out on games again, but still having a bit of an interest in getting one of the remaining Zelda titles just for the puzzle solving element. Book Off didn't have anything used that I didn't have, so I started focusing on some other activities, But then I found myself at the Bic Camera electronics store, and I noticed a copy of Famicom Remix: Best Choice. It listed both the original Zelda, and Zelda II for the old Famicom system (in the U.S., this was the NES). It had a new price of 3500 yen ($34 USD), which was a lot more than I wanted to pay. A couple days later, I got paid and I had a little unexpected free time, and I ended up buying it anyway.

(Donkey Kong stage select screen.)

According to the wiki entry, the very first Remix game was a pet project of Koichi Hayashida, who was working in Nintendo's Tokyo Entertainment Analysis and Development group. He claimed that he wasn't able to play most of the original Famicom games as a child, and he wanted to do them at work. But as an adult, he didn't have time to play the full games. Instead, he took the stage maps, skins and character artwork and ported them, bugs and all, to the Wii U in 2013. The second game. Remix 2, came out in 2014. Both games were packaged together as the NES Remix Pack in North America in 2014. Best Choice (AKA Ultimate NES Remix) came out for the 3DS in 2014 as well.

(The only Donkey Kong stage that is actually played as Donkey Kong (i.e. - go from the bottom to the top and rescue the girl).)

So much for the history lesson. All of the Remix editions consist of bits of stages from anywhere between 12 and 20 of Nintendo's really old Famicom titles, combined with specific "goals" and really tight timers. (I.e. - jump over 1 barrel in Donkey Kong; then, jump over 2 barrels; finally, jump over 3 barrels. That's it.) In Best Choice, we get Balloon Fight, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong, Jr., Kid Icarus, 6 variations on Mario and Mario Brothers, Excite Bike, Metroid, Punch-Out and Kirby. You start out with Remix Stage 1, which has one challenge based on Super Mario Bros. - defeat 15 enemies within 60 seconds. You get 3 stars for finishing in 25 seconds, and rainbow stars if you finish in 19 seconds. This unlocks the first three regular Super Mario Bros. stages (23 total), Excite Bike, Donkey Kong and Dr. Mario. From this point on, everything revolves around picking a game and playing each of the available stages in an attempt to get as many stars as you can. Simply playing the highest available stage, even if you lose, unlocks the next higher one in the series. That is, playing Stage 3 of Mario Bros. will unlock Stage 4.

(Zelda stage select screen.)

In general, you unlock something new every 5 stars, which may be just a Remix Stage, or another one of the games. I unlocked Zelda I at 90 stars, and Zelda II at 200. If you use a continue to finish a stage, you get 1 star maximum. Finishing the stage within the top time limit gives you 2 stars. Coming in faster will net you 3 stars, and being insanely good at the stage gives you rainbow stars. Obviously, to unlock all the extras as fast as possible, you want 3 stars per stage, but that can mean playing the same stage 20-30 times in a row, and I'm not that dedicated. In practice, the rainbow stars are just a "feel good" status symbol you can brag about; in theory, though, getting all 762 stars unlocks Bonus Stage 27, and having rainbows on ALL stages unlocks Bonus Stage 28. Again, I'm not that dedicated.

(Zelda dungeon entrance for challenge 3 out of 5. The goal for this challenge - simply find where the entrance is and go inside.)

Ok. Well, I admit that when I first saw this game in the store, I got kind of excited at the idea of playing the original Zelda, and Donkey Kong, on a Famicom emulator for the 3DS. I miss the older, more primitive graphics for the Super Famicom games, and I kind of wanted to play Donkey Kong again after all these years. So, I was pretty disappointed at finding out that "remix" is a lot like "sampling" in hip hop jargon. That is, you take bits and pieces of what had been a good thing, and mash it up into something similar, but less original. I did learn something about myself along the way, though - I really hate Mario-style games. Hopping from platform to platform, elevator to pyramid - I can't stand losing a life due to a small mistake in timing because of the way the game controls are designed (often intentionally), and having to restart the stage all over from the beginning. Kid Icarus (Hikari shinwa Parutena no Ken, "Parutena's Sword of the Light Myth," in Japanese), Kirby, Punch-Out and Excite Bike just drove me up the wall. But, but I especially can not stand Mario and Doctor Mario. I did tough the game out to get to 240 stars to unlock Metroid, which I've never played, and I went up to 270 stars just to get the next available Zelda II Remix Stage (which turns out to simply be playing Toad from a different game, and throwing rocks at 3 octoroids to defeat them within 20 seconds). There's one more Remix Stage, from the Remix 2 game, for Zelda II at 310 stars, but I'm running out of stages that I can clear on my own, and I'd probably need 20-25 stages to get the remaining 37 stars I'd need.

(Zelda II stage select screen.)

I've been able to clear all of Zelda I, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong, Jr. (granted, Jr. only has 7 stages). And all but one stage for Metroid and Zelda II. On a couple of stages for Zelda I and II, I was never able to get more than 2 stars. I like parts of Zelda I and II, and Donkey Kong, and I was surprised that I enjoyed parts of Metroid (it's a scroller that combines elements of Mario and Zelda, but with more shooting of aliens). All the other games? Not so much.

(Link fighting Horsehead from Zelda II.)

Summary: The Remix games feel like kind of a rip-off, in that you're really not playing any of the original games. You've got the same artwork and stage layout from those games, but in general you're not given a full, complete stage from any of them (one of the Donkey Kong stages was an exception, in that the goal was to get Mario to the top of the first stage screen to defeat Kong). I did like the first few stages of Zelda, because they succeeded in capturing the essence of the game, but that was about it. I've put the game away for a while. I may break it back out to try to get up to 310 stars for the one Zelda II Remix stage, but I'm in no hurry. I've got other things I want to do with my time right now. Maybe some day. Famicom Remix Best Choice is recommended to anyone that likes Mario, and can find it used, really cheap.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Like a brick

When you have a band shell in the middle of an open park in a city known for gale-force winds during a typhoon, how do you keep it from blowing away?

With 200-pound blocks of concrete.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hairy Tree

"Can you shave my back?"

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

South Park Keychain

Who would have thought that capsule ball dispensers in Japan would have South Park keychains?

5 in the set, 200 yen each. Maybe 1.5" tall, but really well-made.

This one is Butters Stotch.

Oh no! I didn't get Kenny!