Earlier this month I finally finished my regular diversionary anime series, Dragon Quest - Legend of Abel, and was in the market for a new series to watch. After a bit of browsing through Geo-Geo, I settled on the recent remake of Ge-ge-ge no Kitarou, mainly because I like youkai stories. Japanese monsters have long been fascinating for me, to the frequent amusement and/or annoyance of my girlfriend. The random bogeymen of the Japanese cultural subconscious just tend to be so... weird. How can one not find them interesting?
The West was introduced to youkai through the writings of that archetypal gaijin, Lafcadio Hearn, and several of the creatures he wrote about in the book Kwaidan have made their way into the occasional Western fantasy novel. Unfortunately, some of the mistakes he made have survived as well. For example, here are the first few lines of his short story "The Mujina of the Akasaka Road."
On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka,-- which
means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do not know why it is called the Slope of the
Province of Kii. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide,
with high green banks rising up to some place of gardens; -- and on the other side of the
road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace. Before the era of street-lamps
and jinrikishas (rickshaws), this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians
would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after
All because of a Mujina that used to walk there.
At no point in this story does the narrator actually say what a mujina is. Instead, he drops the name in and then proceeds to tell the story of the Nopperabou, or Egg-Faced Woman. This faceless apparition is often mentioned in Japanese folklore, either as an entity in its own right or as a prank performed by meddling tanuki or mujina shapeshifters. So, just what is a mujina?
This is mujina. Originally it was one of several symbols used to name medium-sized fuzzy animals in Japan, usually raccoon-dogs, badgers, or civets. When the Japanese kanji system was reorganized and streamlined in the early 20th century, the scholars in charge discovered that they had more kanji for medium-sized fuzzy animals than there were medium-sized fuzzy animals to be named. The symbol mujina, rather than getting axed, was instead reduced to being the name of the symbol component (radical) seen above. It's been further simplified since then, but the name remains the same.
As much as I admire Hearn for his writing, I have to wonder why he wrote that story the way he did. Was it because he didn't have all the details straight at the time? Or was it lazy writing on his part that kept him from describing what a mujina really was supposed to be? In one of his other works (I can't remember the title for certain, but I believe it was Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan), he wrote about a judgment made by a district official here in Kumamoto, where Hearn lived for three years. In the judgment, it was ruled that mujina and tanuki both referred to the same animal -- the Japanese raccoon-dog. I remember reading Hearn's account of this ruling some time after I'd read Kwaidan and being puzzled, because there had been nothing said in "The Mujina of the Akasaka Road" to imply that an animal of any sort had been involved.
And that's your random Japanese literature and folklore lesson for the year!
It's time to return to Boobieland! A.k.a. Queen's Gate Spiral Chaos, Boobieland is full of always cute, usually buxom, and sometimes ridiculously proportioned young ladies. The dominant form of combat seems to involve copious amounts of bodice-ripping. In fact, combatants seem to go out of their way to eliminate their opponents' garments in the pursuit of a "Perfect K.O." like so:
But all is not well in Boobieland. The Queen's Gate is open, and all sorts of odd and nubile young strangers have been seen lurking about. Here are a few who have been recently identified.
Hailing from the distant dimension known as Ichiban Ushiro Dai-Mao comes Constan Magic Academy Student Council President Ayako Hattori. Apparently she's descended from a long line of ninja schoolgirls. On the right we have Ekaterina "Katja" Kurae from The Qwaser of Stigmata, an odd little world where elemental superpowers are apparently fueled by breast milk. Katja is never seen without her battle doll Anastasia or her energy supplier (and BDSM playmate) Hana.
This is a good week for indie games reporting in Japan, it seems. Indie developer 2CCP has just released a demo for its new action RPG Ken to Mahou to Yumeutsutsu Shojo (Sword, Sorcery, and Daydreaming Girl, final title pending). Unfortunately, I can't get it to work on my computer just yet due to a minor DLL error. I can tell you all what 2CCP has decided is the biggest selling point of this particular title: heroine customization. On the game's website, I could only find one straight gameplay screen, but I've found lots of art and design work for the main character. See?
The default design is the pink-haired girl. There's also a gameplay video on the site, but it serves mainly to showcase a certain aspect of the in-game physics engine...
In fairness, I suppose I should also show the one actual gameplay-related screenshot currently available, creator commentary and all:
I hope I can get my computer to play the demo for this eventually, if only to see if it's actually any good.
The following is a little video posted on my usual doujin/indie game site for a game called Promise by Alchemy Blue. This would be the second game this developer has made, following a title called Sword Seeker in 2007. The video is very combat-centric, though I think it works better without the little notes and explanations scrolling across the screen.
The game's website only gives the basic frame of the story, which is very much in the JRPG style. We have a world run on spirit energy, an Empire beginning to break the peace, a mysterious organization at work, and a hero who starts the game as an assistant in a baked goods shop. Sounds fairly normal so far. It's supposed to be available in the summer of 2012, so if I remember it by then I might check it out. Until then, I'll just settle for showing you all screenshots from the game.
While browsing through the video game section of the downtown Tsutaya, I came across a title I'd never heard of before. An XBox 360 title, at that, due out next month. The title is Entaku no Seito, or Students of Round. I'm so tempted to track down Team Muramasa's HQ to make them add the words "the" and "Table" to their English name so that it makes sense.
It's the Holy Year 868. One century earlier, Arda's Knights of the Round Table went up against the Dark Lord Oll Orma in his castle at Dreigol. They lost, massively. Now darkness has its grip on the land and the sea, man has turned upon man, and vicious beasts roam freely. The souls of the vanquished Knights, unwilling to meet their fate quietly, have been reborn into this world. Though they have little memory of their past lives, still they feel the geas to take on the Dark Lord once more.
Anyway, SoR was released last April as a PC title, so next month's release is a port. The following screens were taken mostly from the PC version, but a few are from the 360. Can you tell the difference?
Wandering samurai Shiren has shown up on a lot of different consoles over the years. In his latest adventure, Shiren the Wanderer & the Secret Arena, the series' staple rogue-like gameplay gets crossed with a bit of monster-collecting madness. To survive, Shiren must recruit creatures from the very dungeons into whose depths he is diving, raising the beasties and eventually promoting them to more powerful types. The monster-collecting aspect gets thicker when one looks at the multi-player interaction. One can upload a team of five monsters and direct them against another player's team in a Shiren-style combat arena. The player is given 100 turns to beat the enemy team, or else forfeit the match.
For now, The Secret Arena is available only for DoCoMo phones, but that'll probably change sometime soon.
I was just curious what that orange drink is that I always see the kids
drink in anime. Generally it's when the adults will be drinking beer or
wine, and all the kids always have the same orange drink in every anime
ever made ever, slight hyperbole. Is there a default orange drink like
that in real Japan?
Well, there's Qoo, the standard flavor of which is orange. Fanta Orange is also popular. To be honest, it's just a popular flavor and a safe choice to make when showing kids parties. It's like fruit punch in America.
Thanks for the letter!
Finally, I get to ask questions for once!
So as my first letter to you, I figured I'd just ask some simple burning
questions I have about the Japanese gaming market!
Yay! Time for some turnabout.
1. How in the heck did Unlimited Saga sell so well in Japan (over 400,000
copies)? I like the game myself, but it required a lot of work (hours of
tutorial videos on youtube!) just to get to the point where I knew enough to
enjoy the game. Did it sell that well based on the reputation of the
series, or are there a lot of Japanese fans of the game?
I too must assume it had to do with immediate name recognition selling copies before word of the actual gameplay got out. I do know that by the time I got a PS2 in 2005 (about two and a half years after its release), the secondhand price of Unlimited Saga had dropped to under three dollars, making it the cheapest RPG for that console at the time. And short-term resale price shifts are often a good way of gauging popularity over here.
2. I have to ask, did any fans react with anger the way many did in the US
over the fierce linearity of Final Fantasy XIII?
Um, largely yes. From what I recall of the message boards, there was a lot of commentary about the game's linearity, but a more accepting attitude towards the story and writing. Don't quote me on this though, as I wasn't paying too much attention at the time. I do know that the game was selling secondhand for about 50% its original price within two months of its release, and not long after that it dropped to about $15 when a majority of the game owners in Japan sold their copies back. Compare this to Atelier Rorona, which was selling at 80% of its original price almost a year after release.
3. My copy of SaGa 3 came with both Square-Enix points, and Nintendo club
points, that is not fair! (ok this isn't a question)
Man, I only got Nintendo points! And no idea what to do with them!
4. Finally, keeping with the theme here, will we ever the see the awesome
wonderswan version of SaGa 1 on any other platform? Was it even popular?
It was popular enough that it was later ported to various cell phone networks. In all honesty, I would rather see an awesome Racjin remake of Makaitoshi SaGa than a port of the WSC version. Most of all, I want remakes of the other two Romancing SaGa titles, though.
Thanks for the letter! Just read the Q&A column, and it's interesting that we got the Chrono Trigger remake topic idea at the same time. Please note that the next letter of mine you'll see was written last weekend before I found out it was just a coincidence. Later!