We're well into the dog days of summer here in the Land of the Rising Sun. The mercury's up, the will to do anything is way down. Even the schools take time off this time of year, which is amazing considering the quasi-masochistic study culture over here. And of course, where there is heat, there are also refreshments. Every summer, stores across Japan stock bizarre, seasonal beverages to tempt dry throats. Some are definitely more worthwhile than others.
Let's start with the domestic stuff, shall we? Of all the prefectures of Japan, Hokkaido and Okinawa tend to have the largest number of original soda flavors. Sometimes I think it's just for bragging rights. The can is full of a halfway decent Okinawan cola. Not the best I've ever had. The three other sodas hail from Sapporo, and are respectively pear, kiwi, and cherry-peach flavored. The pear-flavored soda was probably the best of the three.
Other favored drinks come from overseas. The first two here are Korean, and feature the popular girl group Kara on the label. They use a base of tea and fruit vinegar, blueberry or pomegranate, and are actually quite good (if tart). Schweppes and Orangina are European imports that have been on shelves all summer. The Orangina makes for a good fallback drink.
There's a particular category of drinks called saidaa in Japan that are generally light fruit sodas. Fanta, for all that it was invented in Germany, has been a classic example of this for decades. It has about a hundred different varieties, but the current flavor on the shelves is apple. In the local hundred-yen store, a whole selection of saidaa is available. From left to right, we have mango, watermelon, passion fruit, orange, and peach.
The Japanese like collectible editions as well. Pepsi and Sunrise, Inc. have come together to provide Gundams for every can. Of course, there's also the seasonal Pepsi special flavor as well. These are hit-or-miss, usually miss. This year's is no exception: Salty Watermelon Pepsi. I had one bottle and I made sure I had a picture of me drinking it.
For the past few years, strange cars have been sighted across Japan. Their owners, being possessed of too much money and not enough to do with it, get special paintjobs featuring their favorite anime characters. I can think of a dozen examples just in Kumamoto alone, including at least two taxi cabs that have Sengoku Musou 3 character art running down their sides. For the month of August, Luida's Bar in downtown Roppongi has such a car on exhibit.
It's a 2011 model Nissan Serena, the top class of family minivan in this country. This weekend and the next, visitors may fill out a questionnaire for the chance to take this baby out for a test drive. It kind of makes me wish I actually had a legal driver's license in this country....
Love it or hate it, Japanese anime has a certain way with the female form. This has spawned myriad bizarre tropes and forms of fanservice. That said, Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere by ASCII Media Works manages to take it to a level not regularly seen in the role-playing genre.
Seriously, I'm embarrassed to even look at this.
Horizon is ultimately based on a light novel series by Minoru Kawakami. I would try and relate the premise to you all, but after twice attempting to make sense of the plot précis, I gave up. The thing was giving me headaches.
One of the few things that I definitely know about this game and its setting is that it makes full use of the gakuenmono or "school days" genre. Like many tie-in games in this genre, Horizon appears to be tactical in nature. What is less easy to explain is why the battle sprites all appear to be blocky paper cut-out dolls. This is in addition to the usual character events that are a fixture of visual novel games.
And here is the main cast. Not included are the examples of the costume system, which consisted of the same overly buxom girl twelve times over. My back aches in sympathy in any case.
Yes, this is definitely a game for the seekers of fanservice. It even includes a memory card game where the player has to match halves of décolletage taken from various female cast members. It's arriving on the PSP next February, but even if I owned that system I wouldn't be picking it up. Too boobtastic.
If there's one good thing about the game above, it's that it makes this next game seem tame in comparison. Which is funny, since Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster's Seal is a direct sequel to a To Heart spinoff, and thus is no stranger to fanservice-y moments.
These characters aren't so bad, though two of the others shown in last week's Famitsu Weekly are pretty light in the costume department. Also, we don't have a screenshot of the game's Sherpa penguin mascot, Peggy, just yet. Same as its predecessor, Dungeon Travelers 2 is a dedicated dungeon crawler. Story details and/or justifications are pretty scarse, but the protagonist (that would be the token male up there) is the bearer of the Librum, a powerful tome that can trap monsters, hence the title of the game. The book itself was created by holy maiden Vittoria ages in the past in order to defeat the servants of the Demon God. He'll probably be making an appearance at some point. All the young ladies seem to have some connection to the Library, be it as students, librarians, guards, or automated cleaning staff.
Dungeon Travelers 2 is supposed to come out sometime this winter on the PSP.
Our first video of the day is for Unchained Blades: Exxiv. It's mostly combat and animated sequences, with a bit of plot foreshadowing thrown in. As the first game in the series is already bound for foreign shores, it seems likely that this one will be leaving Japan as well. So consider this a taste of what's to come.
This other video is for Students of Round - The Eternal Legend. This is a PSP port of a game we've seen before on Japandemonium. The game's development studio, Experience, is using this video to promote not only their latest port, but also something more cryptic — a recently announced Vita title known only as the DRPG Project. Presumably it's related to their other game in some way.
As reported a few weeks back, Renya Kagurasaka of Kami-sama no Unmei Kakumei Paradox has a singular dilemma. He's been randomly selected as the newest deity of the cosmos. Entrusted unto him is the power to grant wishes and make dreams come true, often in the face of any Divine Plan that may or may not exist.
My first thought here is that the folks at Nippon Ichi are trying something new in the design department. These screenshots don't quite match the style of any other game of theirs that I have played, though it's nice to see a return to a predominantly 2D sprite environment. The article on Famitsu's homepage even makes a point of showing off the spritework.
As a deity, Renya has his own gang of angels to help him out. We met four of them last time. There are three more to add below, but amazingly enough two of them are actually male. There might actually be more to the character interaction in this game than just the typical harem comedy. Maybe. I'm not holding my breath any. In keeping with the pseudo-biblical name scheme, their names appear to be Neluel, Rekiyel, and Galcyon. Their surnames are all standard Japanese, though.
The female voice actors are all also part of the cast of Love Live: School Idol Project, an anime series about a group of teenagers living the dream à la AKB-48. This means that there are at least four angel characters left to announce. It also does not bode well for my ability to tolerate the voice acting in this game.
Finally, Kami-Para has a home and a release date. It's set to arrive on the PS3 on December 20, 2012.
I haven't written in to Japandemonium in a long time! Oops. How are things going in Japan? The newspaper here only lists the weather for Tokyo and not other cities in Japan. It says it's hot. Is it hot in your area too? I'll be going to Toyama Prefecture in a few weeks to teach English. I've heard it's hot there too.
My part of Japan has been sticking to the mid- to high-80s and occasionally a 90 or 91, though the heat index often kicks it a bit higher. As most of my family are living in Oklahoma or Texas, I am not allowed to make any complaints about the heat. I leave that to the locals. Toyama, even though it's farther north, seems to be stuck in the low 90s with a much higher heat index. But it only has about half the humidity that Kumamoto is getting.
Basically, expect August in Japan to be hot, prepare accordingly, and enjoy yourself. If it gets too hot, plan a trip into the mountains.
Okay, now for the gaming questions. I finally decided to get a 3DS the other day. I got one in the U.S. so it is my understanding that it will only play U.S. games. *grumble* Why, Nintendo, why? *grumble* I'm considering getting a Japanese 3DS too so I can play games in Japanese ('cause it's such a fun way to practice and learn the language!) Which leads me to my question: what rpgs do you recommend for the 3DS in Japanese? I'm hoping to find something that will be at least somewhat understandable at my language level. I can read hiragana, katakana, and a few hundred kanji, but I find listening to voiceovers easier to understand. For example, there's no way I would have understood Tales of Xillia if it was text only but with the voiceovers and the option to manually advance the text I actually had a reasonable idea of what was going on for the little bit I got to play. Any suggestions would be great!
I can't speak with a lot of certainty when it comes to 3DS games. I bought mine last year as a replacement handheld for my phat little original-model DS, which has proven far sturdier than anyone could imagine. I certainly didn't expect it to last this long. In any case, I only own one 3DS title, so I can't make firm suggestions. That said, Dragon Quest Heroes 3 would probably be the easiest thing to read and play on there. Still, a 3DS is not cheap. If you want less cost and more variety, I'd suggest bringing a GBA or SP with you to take advantage of some really inexpensive games with moderate ranges of Japanese difficulty.
Thanks for writing in!
He Died As He Lived - A Total Load
Well, gosh. I sent you a letter months ago that was lost in the ether of the internets. Guess I'll have to send a new one long afterward.
I remember that one. It was lost in the Great Server SNAFU of 2012.
There was an interview I read with Roberto Benigni where he barely reacted to how confusing it was for non-Italian audiences to hear him dubbed in that bizarre Pinocchio movie he made, instead of his very distinct and recognizable natural voice. Apparently in Italy it's just accepted that you won't see the lips of the actors match what they're saying, so for him it wasn't an issue. Is the situation in Japan comparable?
Do you mean for foreign dubbed stuff or domestic dubbed stuff? Foreign stuff gets dubbed all the time, but the actors often use these traditional sorts of stage voices that sound ridiculously hammy and forced. For domestic animation, there's a trick to it. Apparently there's something in the way the Japanese language is metered that makes it easy to fake lip-synching in animated sequences.
The nuclear issue has apparently riled a whole lot of people around Japan. Thing is, though, without those plants the country really doesn't generate enough power, isn't that right? Have there been blackouts you've heard about?
A rumor I heard, which I'm repeating without bothering to verify (see? I'm so sly!) is that video games are actually illegal to rent in Japan, or were back in the NES days at least. I don't think you've ever spoken on the issue, though I could be wrong.
Apparently a group called the Association of Copyright for Computer Software brought some major lawsuits to bear in the 80s that caused a halt to all video game rentals in Japan. I've certainly never seen a place that rented game software or hardware of any kind. The same group has tried to take out second-hand games sales at various points in the last twenty years, but with far less success.
Kotaku, of all places, has a detailed and accurate account of the rise and fall of rental gaming in Japan.
Recent events in my own life have made me wonder what a typical death is accompanied by in Japan. Cremation is the most popular means of dealing with the body, right? What do the services typically consist of?
Cremation is the only means of dealing with the body in this country. There just isn't enough space for Western-style cemetaries. The only bury-in-the-ground cemetaries that I know of are now considered historical sites connected to the early foreign communities in Nagasaki. Also, since Shinto doesn't have much to do with life after death (cf. the myth of Izanami and Izanagi for some reasons why), Buddhism stepped in centuries ago to fill a theological niche in the cultural ecology. Typically, there is a big ceremony at the funeral parlor, where friends and relatives step up to console the bereaved in front of the casket. Post-cremation, relatives will sit around the box of ashes and pick out the remaining bones with a pair of long chopsticks. They pass these relics chopstick to chopstick around the table, finally placing them in the funeral urn. (This is, by the way, why one never passes food chopstick to chopstick in Japan.) The urn may be kept in a personal shrine at the family's house for years, especially if it holds the remains of grandparents. Eventually it may be placed in the family gravestone, which is a small monument kept in one of Japan's incredibly small and crowded Buddhist cemetaries. Ancient and powerful families of Japan may have their own private spaces on a mountainside with personal shrines for important family members. In Kumamoto, the Hosokawa family (formerly the daimyo of Higo and now the occasional governors of Kumamoto) has several ancestors so honored in a small park on Mt. Tatsuda in the middle of town.
During O-Bon (this week), many families will make a special visit to the family gravestone to clean it and honor their ancestors.
What is Japanese Olympic coverage like?
It's very focused on any event where Japan is strong, but recently the news has been good at showing all of the competitors, and not just the Japanese, at an event. Also, there are channels here that are specifically for showing the Olympic events as they happen. All in all, it's much better coverage than what NBC has been doing, from what I can see.
Your dental visit made me wonder: would it be just as cheap to go in for a routine physical, say? Does the medical system have any problems you've seen? (Naturally, as I've dealt with American medical systems, any issues probably wouldn't phase me).
For a routine physical? I'd probably have to pay twenty bucks. For an official physical, of the sort that can be used in compliance with certain certifications, I'd have to pay a good deal more for various bureaucratic reasons. I've never had to get one of those, thankfully.
Many of the issues I've had or seen with the Japanese system have been with the people side of things. The Japanese tend to be very authority-conscious while at the same time very wary to ever admit to an error, and this makes for a bad combination at times. It's still uncommon to ask for a second opinion over here. Doctors will make mistakes from time to time, but have a hard time admitting it, and that sense of infallibility in authority makes it hard to gainsay them even when it's necessary to do so. Younger doctors seem to have a better time admitting when they're not sure about a diagnosis, but old doctors will often stick to their guns no matter what the results actually are.
The worst story I ever read about this was several years ago. Back around the turn of the century, this woman had come in with a pain in her chest. X-rays had shown something, and a biopsy was done. The senior doctor made the diagnosis of tuberculosis, and for the next seven years the woman continued with TB treatments, until she died of lung cancer. The senior doctor had retired years before, and his replacement had never checked the woman's file again, trusting in the authority of his senior. After the woman's death, her file was examined. As it turned out, the senior doctor had made a diagnosis before the biopsy had come back, and no one had checked to see that it confirmed his decision. If they had, they'd have seen that the lump in the woman's lung was actually stage 1 lung cancer. But no one looked because they all trusted in the doctor's knowledge and authority. He never looked because he'd made his assessment and never second-guessed himself. The patient never got a second opinion, even as her condition worsened, because she believed that the doctors knew best, so the option never crossed her mind. It was sort of a perfect storm of authority, ignorance, and pride. Also, this was not the sort of thing someone should read while waiting in the doctor's office and sick with mononucleosis, but...
To balance out the frequent unusual items you find in groceries: what kinds of food haven't you seen in a long time that the Japanese just don't seem to desire?
I can find a lot of things from back home, just not frequently. If I want Dr. Pepper or goldfish crackers, I'm going to have to look hard. If I want to have some real cheddar cheese, I'm going to have to pay a pretty penny. Of all the foods from home that I could want, Skittles and pepperoni pizza tend to be the hardest to come by. Never could figure out why, though.
I think that'll do for this go-round. Hopefully Wheels didn't submit a long letter to make the Culture Corner garishly large.
I gave him an extra week, but still no letter. I'm going to have to start nagging him.