satsuki no juusannichi
Sekai no Iseki

As everyone should be aware by now, Japan's having a really rough year. Earthquakes, tsunamis, meltdown and associated concerns about the country's other reactors -- Japan is just brimming with bad news. So it's nice to have something positive out of the northeast for a change.

This is Hiraizumi, an historic site in Iwate, the northern neighbor of disaster-struck Miyagi Prefecture. Last week, this area with its beautiful gardens and temple was shortlisted for consideration as a World Heritage site. Odds are good that it will make it onto the list this time. Hiraizumi's biggest attraction is the Chusonji Temple, built by the Tendai Buddhist sect. Its famed Golden Hall took no damage from the earthquakes, and is considered one of the finest examples of religious architecture in the country.

One historical site in the area was specifically excluded, however. The 12th-century ruins of the Oshu Fujiwara family, ancient lords of the Tohoku region, are not to be included under the world heritage designation. This was enforced as a condition for registering the site.

So if you're ever in the north of Japan, stop and have a look. The region needs all the revenue it can get, so this will be a boon for tourism up there.

While it's not the most common practice in the industry, nothing says that a sequel has to be anything like the original game in the series. Still, drastic changes in formula or setting are rare, especially in the RPG sector. Which is why I'm curious as to why Sega has chosen this route for Seventh Dragon 2020, sequel to the DS dungeon-crawler Seventh Dragon.

The basic premise seems to be the same, in that dragons have invaded a land and seeded it with beautiful but toxic frowaro blooms that are meant to eradicate competing (human) life-forms, but there have been some radical changes in the setting. Seventh Dragon took place in a straight-up fantasy world, but the sequel... Well, if you haven't gotten a science-fiction vibe off the screens and art, then I don't know what you all are thinking. In fact, this game is set in Tokyo. Yes, Tokyo as in Japan. The 2020 in the title is the date that the game is set in. This series just went from high fantasy to near-future apocalyptic science fiction.

Some things haven't changed so much, though. Like the first game, 2020 allows the player to assemble a team however he or she chooses. Storywise, the player belongs to an organization called Murakumo, which is made up of humans with special abilities (i.e. mutants). Only people with special powers have any chance against the invasive ecology of the dragons. Right now, we only have names for five classes of combatant: Samurai, Trickster, Destroyer, Psychic, and Hacker. More on this as we get details.

The lady on the left, Natsume, is the leader of Murakumo. She's dedicated her life to nurturing the talent necessary for liberating Tokyo from its draconic possession. Her partner, Ayafumi, may not have any powers himself, but his research into dragons has given him many ideas that may prove useful to would-be dragonslayers.

Seventh Dragon 2020 is due out sometime this fall, for the Playstation Portable.

Source: Famitsu Online
4/25 ~ 5/1 4/18 ~ 4/24 Up / Down Title Publisher Platform
1 * New Arrival! Final Promise Story Imageepoch
2 * New Arrival! Patapon 3 SCE
4 2 Last seen at 4 Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 Professional Square Enix
5 1 New Arrival! Pokémon Typing DS Nintendo
6 3 Last seen at 1 2nd Super Robot Wars Z - Destruction Chapter Bandai-Namco
18 18 Last seen at 13 Monster Hunter Portable 3rd Capcom
21 17 Last seen at 10 Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection Square Enix
22 24 Last seen at 21 Pokémon Black/White Nintendo
23 9 Last seen at 5 Persona 2 Innocent Sin Atlus
Off-list 13 New Arrival! Monster Hunter Frontier Online Forward 1 Premium Package Capcom

To be honest, I never got around to finishing Neptunia, so I have no idea how it ended. Presumably the evil Arfoire was defeated in such a way as to leave it open to a sequel. If her evil had been eradicated from Gamindustri once and for all, where'd these four come from?

Now presenting the four villains of Neptunia Mk. II, the Shitennou (yes, the famous foursome get referenced yet again in a J-RPG). The first one, the pink-haired Magick-the-Hard, is the tutelary goddess of Arfoire, brought into existence by the prayers of the guilty-hearted. The dark Judge-the-Hard is a grim reaper spawned from the despair of game developers whose products go unbought. The Gundam-ish Brave-the-Hard was born from the tears of children who were too poor to buy games. Finally, the rotund Trick-the-Hard embodies the frustration of players who have had to resort to cheat devices in order to beat games that were too difficult.

On the side of good, a new Maker joins the cast, and her name is 5pb. I'm not sure how they plan on pronouncing that. As far as I know, not a single game by this company has ever left Japan. Its primary product is adventure / visual novel titles, though it did also put out the RPG Item Getter.

And since we're talking about characters, I might as well revisit these girls:

First, we have Nepgear, little sister to the console goddess Neptune. Her divine form is known simply as Purple Sister.

Next is Uni, the Black Sister and younger sibling to the goddess of Lastation.

The goddess of Luwii apparently has two little White Sisters, Rom and Ram.

And then there are these three. They've been consigned to the graveyards of Gamindustri. It's quite likely they represent defunct game systems, but it hasn't been revealed yet which ones they are.

That's all we know for now. There's been no mention of a Green Sister just yet, but it's possible she's out there too.

Source: Dengeki Online

In Japanese vocabulary, there is a certain approach to things called gikun. This is when one assigns pronunciations to kanji that aren't accurate to that symbol, either to create a new word or to add an extra nuance to a symbol. For example, in this trailer for Nora and the Engraving Studio, the symbol koku (to cut fine, to engrave) is pronounced toki, which means "time." While that is a possible meaning for the symbol koku, it's a meaning that comes almost always in conjunction with the actual symbol for time. By doing this, Atlus is playing with the meaning of the symbols in a way that cannot be accurately expressed in English or any other alphabetic language. In any case, I'm going to recommend that the name of the game that we use on this site be changed to Nora and the Time Studio as being more accurate. Watch the video clip now, please.

We talked a bit about this game's story last time, but here's a better look at it in action. To be honest, if I didn't know better I'd say this was the fourth installment of the Atelier DS series. It has much the same vibe going on. The battles even resemble the ones from Atelier Annie or Lina, and the entire item synthesis setup looks really familiar as well.

Yup, definitely a day-one purchase for me.

Source: Dengeki Online

Here's another video for your viewing enjoyment. This one's for the game Nendoroid Generations, which probably will never leave Japan for the same reasons as the Super Robot Wars series -- there's just too much licensing involved. It takes almost a minute just to get through all the company logos in this video. Skip ahead to about the 0:55 mark to see some more of the game in action.

For more collectible goodness, take a gander at this Nendoroid version of Meruru. This collectible strap was announced on the official Atelier Meruru blog earlier this week. While there haven't been any Atelier heroines announced for Nendoroid Generations (and most likely won't be), most of Gust's industrious young ladies have appeared as figurines from the Good Smile Company in the past. Now I'm imagining an atelier packed with a dozen young alchemists... It would be as cute as it would be volatile, I'm sure.

Source: Famitsu Online

The more I look into the mobile phone markets, the more one publisher pops up: Kemco. Though this company doesn't seem to have produced anything on a major games system in half a decade, Kemco has become a major publisher of independently produced RPGs on the various cell phone networks of Japan. One of my current titles, Innocent Saga, is one of them. Nyx was nice enough to add it to our site coverage for me, so even though it's three years old by this point, we have some new screenshots to share:

That's not the news, though. Kemco's a busy publisher, and they've got plenty out there. The following screen shots are from another such game, this one for the iPhone.

While Innocent Saga is post-apocalyptic sci-fi, Ayakashigatari (picture above) is heavy on the oriental weirdness. This game follows the exploits of one Tobimaru, a professional Taimashi (exorcist). Players are able to pull together a team of their very own, in a style similar to certain Dragon Quest titles. Job classes include the staples (swordsman, thief, cleric, etc.) as well as some more exotic choices, like onmyouji (Shinto-Taoist sorceror). Facing the player's handpicked heroes will be all the weirdest monsters the developers could dredge from the depths of Japanese folklore. And there are some really weird critters in there.

Source: Famitsu Online
Title Publisher Release Date Platform
Doki-Doki Suikoden Irem Software 5.12.11
Disgaea 2 (PSP the Best) Nippon Ichi 5.12.11
Gungir Atlus 5.19.11
Elminage Original Starfish 5.19.11
Queen's Blade Spiral Chaos (PSP the Best) Bandai-Namco 5.19.11
Atelier Totori Gust 5.26.11
Pandora's Tower Nintendo 5.26.11
Red Stone DS Game On 5.26.11
Source: Dengeki Online
Apples and Oranges

Everywhere you go in Japan do you see cardboard boxes labeled mikan (mandarin oranges)? I'm going to answer my own question and guess no. So why then is that such a cliché thing to put in video games/anime?



They can sometimes be seen where fresh produce is sold, outside of the big, sterile supermarkets. And Japan has a lot of open-air markets and groceries, even in the big cities. There are two within walking distance of my apartment. They may not be too common, but these things become cliché for a reason, y'know.

Thanks for the letter!

You know, at the start of the week I was afraid that the Japanese news spigots wouldn't be fully turned on in time, after the usual Golden Week lull. How wrong I was, thankfully.

And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,

Your man in Japan,

Gaijin Monogatari

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