Friday, December 26, 2008

2008: The Year in Review

Next month Chorus, Isolate, Confirm will be four years old. They grow up so fast, don't they? When my blog's birthday is coming near, I like to recap the year's events and reminisce. Let's make like a mirror and reflect.

In January I explained why Kojima Yoshio is funny (or was funny...he hasn't been on TV much lately), asked the question "What's the deal with Stef?" and experienced iPod trouble.

In February I attacked the Delight Factory, saw The Police and recommended the music of Jerry Schroeder.

In March I BLEW THE LID OFF the Nomigawa boat graveyard and did my fourth annual Big Walk.

In April I saw a funny TV commercial, drank with Fiance's co-workers in the park and (accurately) predicted that Perfume was on a fast track to super stardom. Sure enough, they'll be one of this year's headlining acts on the New Year's Eve Kôhaku Uta Gassen music competition.

May was a busy month indeed. The highlight, however, would have to be my un-anesthetized vivisection of the Interchange ESL textbook and its ghastly illustrations.

Speaking of ghastly, June saw Debbie Schlussel, Cal Thomas, random stabbings AND blue Pepsi! The horror!

In July I pounded a big drum. I encouraged high school girls everywhere to enjoy the benefits of underwear. And I made the Japanese language just a little brighter with my own made-up words.

In August I turned 30 and there was much rejoicing. Then I used my Maximilian whirling blades of robotic death on an issue of Tokyo Notice Board.

In September I jumped on the Sarah-Palin-Is-Rubbish bandwagon. Then I built a bandwagon of my own: the Facebreaker-Is-Rubbish bandwagon.

October saw my attention divided between political intrigue and a most inconsiderate man whose failed suicide attempt killed a lot of people other than himself.

In November I was the curmudgeony old man who shook his cane at young good-for-nothing whippersnappers on the Yamanote Line. I also did a fairly timely video game review (Bleach: Soul Carnival) and a not-so-timely one (Life Force).

And this month Tokyo Tower turned 50 and I experienced a Christmas miracle!

Heartfelt thanks go out to all my regular readers. I encourage you all to write comments on my posts. Doing so will likely push me to update CIC more often.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Mission

Ever since I first moved to Japan five and a half years ago, I've had this unfulfilled obsession with taking a decent photo of Mt. Fuji. I live close enough to the mountain to see it on a very clear day, but not close enough to take a respectable shot of it. I had today off but Fiance's employer, in a blatant attempt to make the baby Jesus cry, forced her to work on Christmas Day. The weather was clear and not too cold, so I decided I would put some real effort into satisfying my photographic ambition.

In the days leading up to my winter vacation, I had been consulting Google Earth to find a train-accessible vantage point from which to photograph my target. My research suggested that I'd find a clear line of sight from the cemetery behind Kômyôji, a temple near Kôzu Station on the JR Tôkaidô Line. The cemetary straddled either side of a walking path going up the side of a big hill called Mikanyama, which was the highest point in the immediate area.

I trusted Google Earth's guidance and boarded an Odakyû Line express train for Odawara. Odawara is not actually on the way to Kôzu; from there one has to double-back and ride two stops in the opposite direction on the JR Tôkaidô Line. But I wanted to go there to get some photos of Odawara Castle, just in case my Mt. Fuji mission ended up a failure (in which case I'd simply have written in this post that my mission was only to take photos of Odawara Castle...MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!).

But here's something I didn't notice during my Google Earth research: Between Shin Matsuda and Odawara, the Odakyû Line turns sharply and heads south for several minutes. During this stretch of track, the land to the west of the train is relatively flat and Mt. Fuji is plainly visible through the windows. I managed to get this shot during that window of opportunity:

Not bad, if you don't mind the power lines. Unfortunately, however, I do mind the power lines. So, unsatisfied with the photo I'd just taken, I continued the mission as planned. I got off the train at Odawara and walked to the castle, where I took these:

On the way back to the train station, I passed a little boy with his father. The boy pointed at the castle behind me and yelled, "Odawara-jo da! Yaaaay!" and then started to do a kind of Cossack dance as he walked. As he danced, he sang a song that went like this:

Odawara, Odawara, Odawara-jo!

I made the short trip from Odawara to Kôzu, my shutter finger twitching with the anticipation of my very own Most Dangerous Game. Mt. Fuji would be mine! I checked the way to my chosen vantage point on a map posted outside the station. Apparently I didn't check thoroughly enough because I then proceeded to get lost in the surrounding neighborhood for about twenty minutes. At long last, I found Kômyôji and the path leading up the hill. Just a fraction of the way up the hill, on the path between the two graveyards, I looked west and saw what would have been a perfect view of Mt. Fuji.

It would have been perfect, if not for the all clouds that had sprung up around the mountain peak during my visit to Odawara. The sky above me was flawless and blue, yet the sky around Mt. Fuji was hidden by clouds that didn't seem to be moving at all (despite the ridiculous winds I was experiencing on the hill). I waited there for thirty minutes, but the view looked like this the entire time:


All I wanted for Christmas was a photo of Mt. Fuji, and the one decent photo I got was marred by the presence of electrical wires. But if you think I'm above cheating to call this mission a success, you are mistaken, my friend. PhotoShop, don't fail me now.

Oh lord, mercy! It's a Christmas miracle! It's more beautiful than the Paramount Pictures logo! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

And that is the story of how I took a perfect photo of Mt. Fuji with no power lines, telephone poles, buildings or clouds obscuring the view. It's a long story. Maybe, for the sake of brevity, I'll omit the part about PhotoShop.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fifty Years of Tokyo Tower

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Tokyo Tower, the tallest man-made structure in Japan. Though foreigners' first impressions of the tower often involve the words "Eiffel" and "rip-off," a person residing in any part of Japan today would likely pick Tokyo Tower as Tokyo's most emblematic landmark. In celebration of this big, red jumble of TV antennae, Chorus, Isolate, Confirm presents: FUN FACTS ABOUT TOKYO TOWER!

FACT! The 333-meter tower's ribbon cutting fell on December 23, 1958 (Showa Year 33). Whether this numeric alliteration was intentional or not is unclear. It had been determined that, for a single tower to serve the TV broadcasting needs of the entire Tokyo area, that tower would have to be at least 380 meters tall. Out of concern over high winds shaking the tower, however, the height of the final design was scaled down.

FACT! A public survey was conducted to collect suggestions for the tower's name. There were a total of 86,260 respondents. Among those, Japan Tower, Peace Tower, Showa Tower, Prince Tower and Space Tower were popular suggestions. For some reason the name Tokyo Tower was selected even though only 223 respondents (0.26%) had so voted.

FACT! The tower's original nighttime lighting scheme consisted entirely of incandescent light bulbs lining the tower's four corners from top to bottom. In 1989 those bulbs were replaced with 176 floodlights surrounding the tower's base. The colors used in this lighting scheme are periodically changed in complement with the season.

FACT! A five-story building called Foot Town lies nestled between the tower's "feet." Foot Town houses an aquarium, a wax museum, a Guinness World Records museum, an optical illusion gallery and a convenience store.

FACT! It costs ¥820 to ride the elevator to the Main Observatory (at a height of 150 meters). To continue from there to the Special Observatory (250 meters), it costs an additional ¥600.

FACT! Being the emblematic structure that it is, Tokyo Tower has been destroyed in various Japanese monster movies, including Mothra (1961), Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, (1964) Gamera (1965), Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) and Godzilla vs. Mothra vs. Mecha-Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Games of Yore: Life Force

Feeling the need to further rationalize my tendency to write about what ever the hell I please, I am starting a new games-related feature on Chorus, Isolate, Confirm. However much hullabaloo there may be over the latest title for this console or that, it's sometimes important for a gamer to reflect on his heritage. Hence, Games of Yore.

The games I write about in this column must meet only two requirements. They must have been released at least ten years ago, and they must have some significance to me. That's it. I like to keep the rules simple. Now, then...ARE YOU READY FOR YORE?

Game: Life Force (Konami; 1988)
Console: NES
Genre: Scrolling shooter

One Christmas morning, my friend Peter got an NES from Santa Claus. He graciously called me that same day to invite me over to play, as my household had not yet graduated from the Atari 2600 School of Hard Knocks. Over the phone, he told me that he had three games: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Life Force. I had never heard of Life Force, and asked him what it was. His response, as best I can remember:

"I'm playing it right now. It's pretty cool. I'm in a space fighter flying through something that looks like intestines, blowing up these things that look like giant polyps."

Repulsive as it sounded, I had to know what this bizarre marriage of outer space action and medical drama was all about, so I headed straight over to his house to investigate.

Life Force (also known as Salamander in Japan) turned out to be, for lack of a better analogy, like a drastic re-write of Fantastic Voyage in which the protagonists had no vested interest whatsoever in preserving the life of the organism into which they'd been injected. (Or, if you're not into books, imagine a remake of Innerspace in which Dennis Quaid's sole purpose is the destruction of Martin Short.)

As the game's instruction manual explains, a rather large alien called Zelos has become over-zealous in his eating habits. He has basically eaten everything in the universe, including Easter Island and ancient Egypt, and now must be destroyed from the inside. The 80s kid in me hears that plot description and can't help but yell, "TOTALLY AWESOME, DUDE!"

And it was awesome. But I have to say, a lot of stuff about Life Force didn't make a whole lot of sense. For example, why is the very first boss a huge, flying brain with arms and an eyeball? And why is Stage Five full of all that King Tut crap? And why is Stage Six infested with leaping moai heads that spit donuts?

In retrospect, however, my young mind didn't dwell for very long on such technicalities. I was too busy marveling at how radical it was to play a cooperative two-player game with my best friend, and not have to keep dropping quarters into it. I was too busy improving my Vic Viper space fighter with enough SPEED, MISSILE, LASER and OPTION upgrades to make it an unstoppable storm of flying firepower. I was too busy swearing at the hundreds of dirty tricks the game pulled, specifically for the purpose of killing me. Especially those damn solar flares in Stage Three.

Life Force's winning combination of giant brains, challenging gameplay and memorable music (a cornerstone of Konami's scrolling shooters) quickly endeared the game to my younger sister and I. We teamed up to plow through all six stages while singing impromptu lyrics to the game's soundtrack. We fought over who would pick up which power-ups. We were Konami kids, once and for all time.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Palin? "Nailing?"

In this clip from Fox "News," reporter Carl Cameron BLOWS THE LID OFF!!! the dark, sticky underbelly of the McCain-Palin campaign. Bill O'Reilly halfheartedly defends his polar bear-killing sweetheart, but it's clear he's rearranging deck chairs on the already sunken Titanic. Among the amazing deficits in Sarah Palin's expertise:

She couldn't identify the countries that constitute North America.

She thought that Africa was a country, and South Africa just a region within that country.

She threw tantrums, despite being an adult (at least in the physical sense).

Lady, there are only three countries in North America. At least take a wild're bound to get at least one of them right!

(Huh huh huh..."nailing.")

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bleach: Soul Carnival

Earlier this year I complained about the PSP's conspicuous lack of quality fighting games. Developers are skipping out on what I perceive as an obvious opportunity to bring "versus fighting" and side-scolling brawler titles to Sony's tough, little machine. As if in response to my woes, this autumn saw the release of Marvelous Entertainment's Ikkitousen: Eloquent Fist (a somewhat prurient, sprite-based Final Fight clone), and the subject of this quasi-review, Bleach: Soul Carnival.

Because of my past disappointments with Bleach games on the PSP, I was initially attracted to Soul Carnival because of what it appeared not to be: Another chapter in the overly simplified Heat the Soul fighting series. But, as it turns out, Sony's Soul Carnival deserves all the credit in the world just for being what it is: Fun (if occasionally mindless) platform/beat-em-up action framed by a comfortable amount of character management, item synthesis and a mercifully small amount of dialog.

This game embraces Bleach's relatively large cast of supporting characters by introducing them as playable and/or support units (like an improved, deeper version of the card system in the Bleach DS series). The player can then use the character of his choice, flanked by any combination of assistants, to rampage through levels and cut down all the resident thugs.

Said rampaging is made fun via smooth, fast controls and character graphics that aren't quite sprites, yet aren't quite cel-shaded 3D models. In fact, I literally haven't been able to figure out how the character graphics are rendered yet...but I have a feeling it's something akin to the free-rotational sprite system used in Sega Sammy's The Rumble Fish. What ever it is, it looks nice, if you don't mind the munchkinized "chibi" design that's been forced on all the characters.

My only major gripe with the game is its clumsy, poorly-designed menu interface, which becomes an obstacle when you're trying to equip your playable characters with accessories and support buddies. Years of gaming experience tell me that I should be able to switch characters in the menu by pressing the shoulder buttons. Alas, obvious as it may seem, no such function exists. Ignoring that, however, Bleach: Soul Carnival is just what the PSP's sparse fighting library needed.

Below is a YouTube video I found with some decent footage from early in the game. Skip the first minute to get straight to the fun part.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Well Done, America

The US has been broken for eight years. Step 1 of its repair: Complete.

I spent this morning following the election coverage online, cheering in my chair for every republican defeat. I feel like I can finally take a long-overdue timeout from being frustrated. Let's hope the reduction of stress doesn't harm my ability to blog in any way.

Warm congratulations to Mr. Obama, and to everyone who helped him become President-elect.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Piss Me Off: Halloween on the Yamanote Line


You're giving the rest of us foreigners a bad name by making the already unpleasant experience of a home-rush train ride even worse with your obnoxious presence.

Stop it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama 3; McCain 0

Did you watch the third presidential debate? What the hell is wrong with John McCain? I think he needs an ambulance.

He might have had a chance in the debate if he had spent more time answering the questions being asked of him. Instead he verbally wandered around like Hansel and/or Gretel, making goofy allusions to Nancy Reagan, JFK, Herbert Hoover, the Great Depression and some mythical plumber named Joe (who somehow makes $250,000 a year). His eyes swam as if he was receiving a hidden opiate drip. And he made the face pictured above.

I can't help but think McCain doesn't really want to be president. He wants to take a nap. Let's get this election over with so he can retire with his last shred of dignity intact.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Right-Wing Rats Jumping Ship

It's all the rage to distance yourself from John McCain these days. Everyone's doing it. Even the people you most expect to find defending the hapless geezer -- including the "big Bills," O'Reilly and Kristol -- have seen the bootlessness of their own positions, and are now lining up to have a shot at the Dunk a POW tank. Whether its down to his economic ineptitude, his laughable VP pick or his inability to raise his arms over his head, everyone finds something to dislike in John McCain.

And so can you.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Manager of Burning Mangakisa Cut Fire Alarm

A development in the story of one man's failed attempt to say "goodbye, cruel world," about which I blogged one week ago:

Some blame now apparently rests on the shoulders of the elderly mangakisa employee who, upon hearing the fire warning, assumed it was a false alarm and turned off the system.

I don't want this to take away from my thesis about Japan's tendency toward ultimately inconvenient suicide methods (nor from the fact that Ogawa Kazuhiro put dozens of people in needless danger with his own attempt to escape his life), but it seems only fair of me to give appropriately thorough coverage of the story's development.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Man Kills 15 Instead of Self

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If Japan is going to continue to be the world leader in annual suicides, then people have to stop being so careless about how they off themselves. Early Tuesday morning, a man started a fire in Osaka with the intention of killing himself. Instead, he survived and the fire killed fifteen other people.

[the story]

Ogawa Kazuhiro allegedly became "tired of life" and set fire to a newspaper in his private room at a mangakisa called Cats. Then, as his room filled with smoke, he claims he became frightened and fled the scene. Meanwhile, fifteen people Mr. Ogawa had probably never met before (and who were probably sleeping), died from carbon monoxide poisoning and burns.

English news articles vary in their description of the business where this crime took place, with labels ranging from "video rental shop" to "adult video theater." From the description I saw on the TV news here this evening, Cats is (or was, until its fiery baptism) a relatively typical Japanese comic/video/relaxation center. These mangakisa are routinely used as hotels by businessmen, as they tend to offer cheap overnight rates and often have private rooms with comfy reclining chairs. They also tend to be needlessly labyrinthine, and allow their guests to smoke, making for some real grand fire hazards.

I patronized a mangakisa several times during my first six months in Japan, when I had no internet connection at home. But I never tried the private room type, so when I went, I had to breathe the secondhand smoke of everyone around my while I checked my email and read the news. I guess I should count my blessings; at least I didn't die there.

Mr. Ogawa has been arrested on charges of arson and manslaughter.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Facebreaker = Hopebreaker

Do you remember Ready 2 Rumble Boxing? It was a fun, cartoony Midway title that struck a decent balance between simplicity and depth. I remember playing it and thinking, This game is cool but I REALLY wish it had a Create-A-Character mode.

(I pretty much wish every game had such a mode, but some games seem to beg for it a little harder than others.)

With that in mind, I was psyched about the recent EA Sports boxing title, Facebreaker. It appeared to be everything I had hoped for: A stylized party game with a sense of humor, some celebrity appearances and the ability to create new characters (and even load a player's photo into the game to make a creation that was truly one's own).

But then Facebreaker came out and received some poor reviews. In fact, it did pretty badly overall. Critics cited an overly simplistic fighting system and ridiculous AI difficulty that make the game a lot less fun than it could have been. Disappointment became by new middle name, as a game I'd been anticipating revealed itself as a game that everyone hated.

And it wasn't the first time. Other games that have let me down over the course of history include:

  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PS2) - because it traded the badass Snake for the annoying Raiden as protagonist for a large portion of the game
  • Red Faction (PS2) - because being able to destroy the game's environments sounded a lot more fun than it turned out to be
  • Soulcalibur Legends (Wii) - because it generally felt like it was rushed through production just for the sake of extending the franchise's presence to the Wii
  • Tenchu: Shinobi Taizen (PSP) - because shouldn't ninjas be able to see more than just a few meters ahead of themselves?

Obviously, oodles of crappy games are released every year. It's a fact of the industry. But when a game that should so closely match my personal criteria for greatness turns out to be garbage, it's hard not to be disappointed.

Friday, September 05, 2008

There Is Hope For Chris Matthews

Once in a while, MSNBC's Chris Matthews makes a good point about something. Here he is at the RNC, making a point about Sarah Palin as he takes on a pair of her ditziest cheerleaders.


Note the contention by Republican Representative Adam Putnam (the red-headed stepchild on the right) that scrutiny of Sarah Palin is unfair in comparison to previous scrutiny of Hillary Clinton. The way I see it, he's effectively saying that all women who run for office are the same, and should all be held to the same burden of proof regardless of their credentials. Except this conversation isn't about all women. It's about Sarah Palin.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

World to McCain: "You've Got to be Joking"

I've been trying to resist the temptation to do any more political blogging for a while. But when strange stuff like this happens, I just can't stop myself.

Blogger friend Rick at Bent Corner has been doing a fine job of keeping up with the unbroken stream of weirdness that has ensued following John McCain's vice president selection, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. It feels like some new, damning chunk of bizarre news about this lady comes out every few hours. To summarize:

  • Her political career consists of six years as Village Elder of Wasilla, AK (population 5500), followed by a couple years as governor.
  • She appears to have lied about her fifth (and, god willing, final) pregnancy for the purpose of hiding the pregnancy of her teenage daughter.
  • She wants all those polar bears dead.
  • She has a very limited, spectatorial understanding of the Iraq War.
  • She's a bit confused regarding the origins of the Pledge of Allegiance (and I'm willing to bet that she's unaware of what kind of salute the writer of the Pledge of Allegiance had in mind when he wrote it...but I digress).

  • She did not possess a passport until 2007.
  • Apparently, being a baby factory runs in the family.

A few hand-wringing republicans are still intent on using Palin's inexperience as some kind of crooked crowbar for attacking Obama's résumé, but even they have to admit that Obama isn't asking this badly for ridicule. How can someone with four (to five) kids possibly be McCain's VP? Her time will be divided between parenthood and the changing of the president's adult diapers, with no time left over for VP-ing.

In this video from MSNBC, Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan take a sledgehammer to Palin's credentials before it's even announced that she's been picked by McCain.

With such a unanimously adverse reaction to his VP pick, I can't help but wonder if McCain won't try to take it back before November. You know, pull a CREM maneuver and say, "Couldn't you guys tell I was only joking?" On the other hand, maybe it doesn't matter. The damage to his campaign is done.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Portrait of a Badass: Maximilian

Character: Maximilian
Actor: N/A
Film: The Black Hole (1979)
Badass Moment: VS Alex Durant

At the end of the 1970s, Star Wars had the science fiction world in an inescapable Dianoga stranglehold. Any and all challengers to George Lucas's throne would be thrown into the Sarlac Pit and slowly digested over a thousand years. Those who would attempt to stand on the shoulders of AT-ATs and capitalize on Star Wars mania with their own knock-off product would find themselves under a mighty, metal foot in quick order.

Conditions were perfect for an underdog.

Along came The Black Hole, Disney's space opera counter-attack. (We'll treat it as such for the purpose of this essay, even though its conceptualization pre-dated the release of Star Wars by two years.) This movie had guts. It blazed dark, new, PG-rated trails for a studio whose edgiest movie to date had been The Apple Dumpling Gang. More importantly, it stood in the face of Star Wars's iron-fisted oppression and said, "Oh yeah?"

Even though The Empire Strikes Back effectively responded with, "Yeah and so's your mama," while using The Force to crush The Black Hole's throat, The Black Hole stands out as an important science fiction film (and I'm not just saying that because it's the Walt Disney Company's most expensive box office failure ever, although that's always been a plus in my mind, too).

Contributing significantly to The Black Hole's dark tone was a silent, bucket-headed robot called Maximilian. This metal "mystery monster," as he is called by another robot in the film, floats around scaring the beezus out of everyone with his glowing red eye, his reluctance to speak and let's not forget his arm-mounted retractable food processor blades of death.

Glowing eye
Blades of death
What else do I have to say?
We didn't start the fire.

Speaking of fire (spoiler alert), some of the infernal imagery at the end of film seems to suggest that Maximilian's trip through the black hole lands him in charge of Hell itself. Talk about going over the top! The filmmakers couldn't have made this robot more badass if they showed him riding a Harley Davidson into an erupting volcano while killing John Wayne with a shuriken between the eyes from five hundred meters away.

Of course, I'm glossing over the fact fact that, despite boasting some relatively edgy themes and a particularly badass robot, The Black Hole is a really silly movie. It's full of sketchy science. It's packed with stiff-legged extras pretending really hard that they're androids. It even has a scene where a robot with a British accent laments the death of a robot with a southern accent. It's not exactly a masterpiece...but then again, neither is Star Wars in many ways.

Maximilian, you are a badass who could kick the crap out of Threepio any day. We salute you.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

When There's Nothing to Write About, I Make Fun of Other Writers

It's come to my attention that, despite being in the midst of a two-week summer vacation with very little to do, I haven't updated this blog since before Soul Calibur IV came out. (Hmmmm....Soul Calibur IV. I wonder if that has anything to do with it.) As happy as I am to be on summer vacation, however, something is missing. You see, as a blogger, I cannot be truly happy unless I'm making fun of someone who can't defend himself. If you recall, one of my most celebrated conquests was that of Japan newbie Erica Belling, a young Australian who came to Tokyo and allegedly had Japan all figured out within six to eight days of her arrival. I dissected her overly excited Tokyo Notice Board essay with a zweihander battle axe, leaving no paragraph un-cleft.

Her destruction was delicious.

Fondly remembering that day of reckoning, I began to show signs of "writer ridicule withdrawal syndrome" (WRWS) and found myself reaching for the latest issue of TNB to quench my proverbial bloodlust. Walk with me through its pages, won't you? A-destroying we shall go.

First I open to an essay entitled "Span in Japanese!" (yes, with an exclamation point) by someone who calls himself Harvey. Span? What does that mean? My curiosity is piqued. Little do I know, I'm in for trouble:

I've got another item for the "you know you've been in Japan too long list". [sic] You know you've been in Japan too long when you start getting tons of Japanese language spam (meiwaku mail in Japanese) in your email box!

Oh, spam? Not span? OK, my curiosity is now un-piqued. And Harvey goes the extra distance to annoy me by putting his sentence-ending punctuation outside his quotation marks. Worst part is, this dumb slob is probably an English teacher. I scan quickly through this five-paragraph essay and see that four of the five paragraphs contain at least one exclamation point each, in addition to the one in the title. This Harvey is one emphatic son of a bitch.

Skeptical that Harvey will be able to tell me anything I don't already know about....anything, I flip to another page and find an essay by Michael Curley called "To Bow or not to Bow, that is the Question." The seemingly arbitrary capitalization is not mine; it's printed like that. Once again, paragraph one does to my interest what penicillin does to an ear infection. First, he repeats the title (just in case you've blacked out since reading it):

To bow or not to bow, that is the question. This is how the honourable William Shakespeare would undoubtably have modified his most famous "to be or not to be" quotation from Hamlet, had he ever had the good fortune to visit Japan.

Thank god you explained the title like that, Michael. But I disagree. If the "honourable William Shakespeare" (what is he, a judge?) had indeed written anything about Japan, I'm pretty sure he would have come up with something more clever than just a rehash of his most famous line. On to paragraph two, if you dare:

The Japanese tradition of respectful bowing is a source of never ending and unfathomable fascination to me, and I feel sure that "the bard" himself would have been equally intrigued.

Continuation of this nonsensical Shakespeare theme notwithstanding, Mr. Curley is right about one thing: I, for one, cannot fathom his fascination with bowing. Six completely uninteresting paragraphs later, the author delivers his killing blow:

These are the questions, but alas, dear reader, I have no answers. Would Shakespeare have faired any better?

That depends. Do you mean, would Shakespeare have faired any better at understanding Japanese bowing tradition? Or, would Shakespeare have faired any better at writing this essay? Because I think you know my answer to the latter. I can't take any more of Michael Curley, so I jump backward a few pages and find Mathew Chromecki's opus magnum entitled "Right so, what am I doing here?" God, it hurts just to think about what might be contained in this essay. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I go in for a closer look.

Ever feel like you've wandering [sic] through your life with no real sense of direction?

Sometimes, yeah. But at times like those, I do the world a favor by NOT WRITING ABOUT IT, DUMBASS. I want to offer a more constructive analysis of this essay but I just can't. It's depressing and clichéd. At one point, Mathew writes:

Weekdays, work work work. Weekend, Roppongi or Shibuya or Shinjuku or some other busy place. Somehow, you always end up going to Roppongi, claiming you hate it but you go anyways.

Stop, Mathew, before you get stomped on. Somehow the fact that this moron is telling me what I do is the most offensive aspect of this foray into life-threatening stupidity. And he's dead wrong because my dislike of Roppongi results in me NOT going there. Why don't I like Roppongi? Because it's full of people like Mathew Chromecki.

I have to stop. Writing this blog post has been an exercise in rage-fueled self-destruction, and has probably shortened my life by about five years.

Tokyo Notice Board, I blame you.

ADDENDUM (April 12, 2009): It's a conspiracy!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Contributions to the Japanese Language

Foreigners living in Japan make invaluable cultural contributions all the time. From Hungarian sumo wrestlers to ceaseless TV appearances by Marty Friedman to David Aldwinckle's belabored efforts to popularize frivolous litigation, creative gaijin bring welcome variety to what has historically been a very uniform nation. As a relatively long-term resident, therefore, it's natural for me to examine my own cultural footprint and determine whether it's worth the price of the shoe that left it.

One of the most fascinating ways in which foreign residents of any country can affect their host is through the host's language. About three years ago I met an American teacher in Tokyo who had taken to prefixing Japanese adjectives with ero- (a Japanese-English loan word meaning "erotic" or "eroticism"). This teacher used ero- to amplify the subsequent adjective, the same way native Japanese speakers use chô- (super) or metcha- (seriously). So really good food is not just oishii (delicious), but ero-oishii (sexy-delicious).

Over the years, I've coined a few of my own Japanese words, all of which are a source of pride (not to mention newfound linguistic convenience) for me. Here are some examples:

クソい (kusoi) - This is an i-stem adjective built on the noun kuso, which is slang for excrement. Just as English has taken "shit" and morphed it into an adjective as "shitty," I felt Japanese should afford speakers the same privilege with its expletives. Usage would go something like this:

Asa no kibun wa yokatta kedo, ima wa nanka kusoi.
(I felt good this morning, but now I feel kinda shitty.)

邪魔邪魔しい (jamajamashii) - As you can see from the cumbersome kanji characters required to write it, "jamajamashii" is a word better suited to spoken Japanese than written Japanese. This shii-stem adjective is built out of a doubling of the noun jama, which means "obstruction" or "something in the way." It's similar to the (real) word bakabakashii ("foolish") which is similarly built, doubling the noun baka ("idiot") and adding an adjective suffix. I have to admit, this word was not born out of necessity so much as my own personal amusement. It's usually sufficient to say that something is jama and leave it at that, but I found myself muttering the made-up word jamajamashii when pushing through a crowd of slow-moving shoppers one Sunday in Kichijôji.

クレージく (kurêjiku) - Unfortunately, 99 percent of all loan words from English are treated like nouns in Japanese, regardless of their original part of speech. For example, the English adjective "crazy" is appropriated by Japanese as kurêjî, but its adverb form becomes the unwieldy kurêjî ni. Well, no more. Since kurêjî has the i ending characteristic of so many Japanese adjectives, I'm going to treat it like a Japanese adjective. As such, changing the last i to the syllable ku should make it an adverb, "crazily." By the way, if you found this paragraph interesting, you must be kurêjî.

ティッ者 (tissha) - This is a contraction of the loan word tisshu (tissue) and sha, which means "one who..." or "...person." Together, they describe a person handing out little packages of tissues stuffed with ad fliers; the "Tissue Person." Tissue distribution is a preferred method of advertising for a wide range of Japanese businesses, including loan brokers, English conversation schools, adult video shops, host(-ess) clubs and cell phone service providers. Usually the tissue distributor is described as tisshukubari-san, but I find tissha far more convenient.

モーニング息子 (morning musuko) - You may have heard of Morning Musume, the Japanese pop group composed of an annually-updated gaggle of giggly junior high school girls. The musume in their name means "daughter" or "little girl." Remove musume and substitute musuko (which means "son," but is also slang for "penis"), and you've got a handy Japanese word for nocturnal penile tumescence. Fiancee told me that she'd never heard this word used before (hence my willingness to take credit for coining it), but that she immediately understood its meaning.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

PSP Equals Monster Hunter

When I ride the train and see someone playing a PSP or DS, I get very nosy. It's in my nature to crane my neck and try to see which game the person is playing, out of sheer curiosity. I guess part of me believes that there's insight about one's personality that can be gleaned from observing what portable games they play on their daily commute.

What I've observed, however, is confounding: Every single person I've observed playing PSP on the train in the past six months has been playing Monster Hunter. This is not just a blogger's exaggeration. Since January 2008, every time I peeked at another person's PSP on the train, that person was playing one of the three Monster Hunter games currently available for Sony's handheld game system. I guess whoever said Japan was homogeneous was onto something.

If you've been reading Chorus, Isolate, Confirm for long enough, you know that I went through a couple of Monster Hunter phases myself. First I got hooked on Monster Hunter Portable in the spring of 2006. Then I worked my PS2 to death playing Monster Hunter 2 a couple months later. After that I found myself hamatta on Monster Hunter Portable 2nd in the spring of 2007.

Currently the series's popularity is kept afloat by the release of Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G, which I'm sure is delightful. I can't say for certain, however, as I have purposely steered clear of the franchise for almost a year now. Why? Because it's a huge, dinosaur-shaped black hole from which nothing -- especially not time and money -- can escape.

Consider the wink-nudge moneymaking relationship between Capcom, who develops and publishes the series, and strategy guide publishers like Dengeki and Famitsuu, who capitalize bigtime on the complexity of games like Monster Hunter. If you're Famitsuu and you get the chance to publish a guide the size of a desktop atlas (and price it accordingly), you leap at that chance like a Velociprey with 'roid rage. Combine that with Capcom's repeated re-release of what is basically the same game with very few changes made each time, and you've got yourself a perfect storm of hand-over-fist profit.

That laughing sound you just heard was Capcom and Famitsuu, on their way to the bank together.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Open Letter to the Girl I Saw Yesterday

Dear High School Girl,

You don't know me, but I now know a little more about you than you should probably allow any stranger to know. I was walking near Ô-gâdo in west Shinjuku just after 5:00 PM, and you were walking about five paces in front of me. A rare gust of wind came along at such an altitude as to lift your skirt for the briefest of moments.

But it wasn't exactly the "briefest" of moments, was it? Because you weren't wearing any briefs.

Believe me when I say that, by walking through central Tokyo in your school uniform minus your skivvies, you put yourself in danger. And, considering the prospect of being arrested for seeing you in such a state, you are also putting grown men around you in danger (to say nothing of your contribution to the already unhealthy level of sexual repression that dominates Japan).

If you really must engage in such dangerous behavior, might I suggest that you wait until you're a legal adult? Our present day society has laws regarding you and your "going commando" in public, and age is definitely a factor. If you want to wander around Tokyo with no panties on after your 18th birthday, then more power to you.

I'll stand behind you 100%.


Jesse Jace
Chorus, Isolate, Confirm

Thursday, July 03, 2008

With Supporters Like These: Part III

McCain backer's firm pleaded guilty to funding Columbian terrorists

Not only has Chiquita funded terrorist groups, they've funded terrorist groups that oppose each other. Talk about buttering one's banana (republic) on both sides.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Let's Learn Japanese: Mai Buumu

Mai buumu ("my boom") is a corrupt English phrase used by Japanese people to express something that one has started doing a lot recently, usually for recreation. If you have been spending an uncharacteristic amount of time at karaoke as of late, then you can say, "Saikin (recently), karaoke wa mai buumu desu." The only trouble with this phrase is that Japanese people often misuse the English word "my" to mean "one's own," which leads to all sorts of noun-pronoun disagreement:


Kare wa, mai kaa ga arimasu.

He has a "my car" (He has his own car).

As a result of this misunderstanding of the word "my," my students sometimes ask me strange questions like, "What is your 'my boom?'"

These days, my "my boom" is Taiko no Tatsujin, Namco's festive drum rhythm game. I've been banging the taiko on a casual basis since I moved to Japan, but this spring saw a marked increase in my efforts to become a tatsujin (master). I have been playing the arcade version of the game at various locations on a weekly basis for the past few months, enjoying its therapeutic effects on my mind and body. Pounding a big drum feels good, it turns out.

Two weeks ago I arrived early for a work shift in Gakugeidaigaku (try saying that five times fast...or just one time fast) and decided to kill some time by going to the arcade and playing my favorite Tatsujin song: the Difficult setting of "Super Mario Bros. Medley." I got through the whole thing without any mistakes -- in the industry, we call this a "full combo" -- and was told to enter my name, which I did most proudly.

Today I found myself with time to kill in the same neighborhood, so I decided to play the same song again. (There are only a few songs I can play on Difficult Mode without embarrassing myself...others include the "Mojipittan Medley" and "Polyrhythm" by Perfume.) I had to smile when I saw that my score from two weeks prior was still in the #1 spot for that song. Either I'm really good at that song, or I'm the only person who ever plays it at that particular arcade. Either premise is readily believable.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cal Thomas: Terrorizer

Every once in a while I get really sick of people trying to convince me that I'm in grave peril. Generally my worries in life are limited to issues such as the condition of my laptop, the possible inaccuracy of the weather forecast and the remote prospect of my apartment being destroyed by an earthquake. These are real, understandable apprehensions with basis in fact. But, once in a while, along comes some Cassandra who thinks I should also be worried about something really outlandish. Let me introduce you to one such fellow.

Creepy-looking conservative columnist Cal Thomas is trying his damnedest to make you spend every waking minute in fear of terrorism. He wants you to live in terror. He's a...I can't think of the word for this kind of person, but it's something like "terrorizer."

So, terrorizer Cal Thomas wrote last week that the US is under imminent danger of a terror attack (are you terrorized yet?). Every paragraph of his pessimistic little sermon entered my brain like a massive injection of some drug whose main side effect is uncontrollable eye-rolling. The subsequent headache I suffered might have been caused by said eye-rolling, or just by the inane content of the column. Probably both. Among the key points of Thomas's doomsday prophesy:

  • "Enemy combatants" (redundant, I know) will, upon being released from Guantanamo Bay by "liberal judges" (exaggeration, I know), kill us all
  • 9/11 OMG CHANGED EVERYTHING (cliché, I know) and is still sufficient justification for the US government to hold your grandmother prisoner indefinitely without charge
  • The US's "War on Terror" (stupid, I know) is happening solely because of "their" hatred for "us," but not ours for them
  • Be afraid, be very afraid (movie trailer language, I know)

Maybe the most disturbing thing about this article is something Thomas didn't intend to scare us with: At the end of the column, he says

The next attack... will come in a shopping mall, or a school, or on Wall Street, or possibly all three. It will occur simultaneously in many places and probably kill more than the nearly 3,000 who died in 2001.

You can start fretting about your lunch plans at Panda Express if you want, but I'm more concerned about something else: Just how does Cal Thomas know so much about how the next terror attack on the US will happen? By failing to cite his source, isn't he obstructing justice and protecting those who would carry out this most heinous food court/lunchroom/stock exchange onslaught? When will Cal Thomas publicly admit his links to terrorizers?

It used to be that only Cal Thomas's appearance frightened me. In most photos, he looks like an embalmed cadaver, or at least an elderly man wearing make-up. But the truth is far more sinister.

This summer...Cal Thomas IS....Terrorizer.

Rated PG-13 for jingoist rhetoric, blatant fear-mongering and brief nudity.

Scary as he sounds, we can't let grumpy, old biddies like Cal Thomas have any impact on our daily lives. Try as he and his ilk may to convince you to cancel your shopping trip, home-school your kids and stay the hell off Wall Street, it's incumbent upon us all to ignore those mouthy Chicken Littles. For on the day that the fear of terrorism affects your actions and habits, the terrorizers have already won.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

June Twenty-Fifth

June 25th is a special day for me. It's the anniversary of my arrival in Tokyo, now five years ago. And next year, it will be the date of my wedding to Fiancee (who will thensforth be called "Wife"). It's almost as if June 25th were the junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

With Supporters Like These: Part II

Is it just me, or does this guy look like Donald Rumsfeld?

With Supporters Like These: Part I

Fascinating stuff from Tran Trong Duyet, who was in charge of the prison where McCain claims to have been tortured. Duyet says no torture took place, AND that he'd vote for McCain if he were elligible to do so.

No torture? How about "enhanced interrogation?" Did any of that happen? This story demonstrates one of two things, take your pick:

1) McCain is a liar. Defend him at your own peril.


2) Liars support McCain. Defend him at your own peril.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Did You Ever Notice

...that someone speaks the line "We're here" in every episode of Lost?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New! Toilet Bowl Pepsi

We trade one disaster for another.

This week in 2007, Pepsi unleashed its Japan-only Ice Cucumber flavor on the populace. It looked like mouthwash and tasted like toothpaste. This year the gimmick is Pepsi Blue Hawaii, a carbonated drink which looks like Windex and tastes like a melted snow cone.

According to the label, the too-sweet-for-humanity flavor of this soft drink is achieved via the synergy of pineapple and lemon. But after drinking it, the only synergy happening in my body seems to be that of tooth decay and diabetes. My breath is attracting ants.

I bought this at the same convenience store where I found the Ice Cucumber Pepsi last summer. And, same as last year, I'm pretty sure the only people buying the stuff are bloggers who want to make fun of it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Today, disgruntled 25-year-old Kato Tomohiro went to Akihabara and started stabbing people at random.

There is a stereotype that Japanese people are interminably polite, but when they lose their minds, they often do so in a decidedly inconsiderate manner. Consider the common occurrence of people jumping in front of the JR Chuo Line, thereby delaying thousands of commuters. Or the woman who threw herself off the roof of Parco in Ikebukuro last fall ("last fall," indeed), striking a pedestrian in the process and putting him in a fatal coma. Or the Saitama woman who, in 2006, decided a the last second not to throw herself in front of an oncoming train, but rather to push a nearby stranger onto the tracks in her place. I can't find an English-language news link to that last example, so you're just going to have to take my word that it happened.

I don't know what it is about life in Japan that causes these unexpected explosions of violence, but the fact that today's attack happened in Akihabara -- not to mention past incidents of otaku gone bad -- suggests a link between the otaku lifestyle and dangerous mental instability. If you know anyone who could be described as otaku, do the world a service: Grab this person by the collar, slap them across the face and tell them, "Snap out of it!" Then congratulate yourself for saving the lives of countless innocents.

Monday, June 02, 2008

My Blog is Better Than Debbie Schlussel's

Chorus, Isolate, Confirm does not pretend to be an important blog. It does not presume to be ground-breaking, nor does it view itself as a "top blog" in any category. But it's better than at least one political blog I can name:

Her name sounds like a German pastry, but somewhere along the way, this woman has given up sweetness and decided to focus on just being flaky. Conservative blogger Debbie Schlussel regales her audience (?) with hateful tirades against Muslims and a vindictive, unending dislike of Sex and the City. She plays at being a movie critic, cramming her reviews with unrelated political commentary and rating films with "Marxes" or "Reagans."

She is a loser.

Appropriately for someone who has nothing nice to say about anything, Debbie Schlussel looks and sounds like a Michigan soccer mom who's been ingesting lead for the past 40 years. Observe:

I know being a blogger normally entails a lot of trash-talk, but come on, Debbie Schlussel. What did Sex and the City ever do to you?

Friday, May 30, 2008

My Kind of RPG

If there's one thing for which I respect Japanese game publishers to no end, it's that they've got guts. You don't give a game a title that takes longer to say than it does to write unless you're reasonably sure the game will live up to its epic moniker. And in the case of Banpresto's Mugen no Frontier: Super Robot Taisen - OG Saga, the title leaves some awfully big shoes to be filled (WARNING: the above link leads to Banpresto's very noisy Mugen no Frontier website).

Released yesterday in Japan, this game is a spin-off of Super Robot Taisen, a franchise that, in all honesty, didn't interest me in the slightest until they decided to cram it full of sexy android women. The game (whose long, tall title translates as Endless Frontier: Super Robot Wars - OG Saga) makes use of the button-tapping RPG battle system used in Namco x Capcom, a cross-brand fan service orgy unleashed by Mugen no Frontier developer Monolith Soft on PS2 owners in 2005. The result is unmistakably an RPG, but with a reduced dependence on clunky menu navigation during battles. And while the game's simplistic, top-down map wandering is also a hallmark of a boring genre, its in-battle sprite animations are good enough to make a lot of fighting games jealous.

Square Enix could win back my respect if they would put this much artistic flair into one of their Final Fantasy re-re-re-releases. Punishing enemies in Mugen no Frontier becomes a joyful occasion as you chain together one well-timed attack after another, and then hand the assault off to your teammate, occasionally unleashing an aesthetically pleasing super move.

As for the OG in the title, I apparently haven't played long enough to reach the "original gangstas" part of the story yet, but give me some time. I've only had the game in my possession for a day.

Mugen no Frontier: Super Robot Taisen - OG Saga has been rated B for boobs. That bounce. During battle. Here's the promo video, to prove it:

Don't Be So Idiomatic

In 2005 and 2006 I put quite a bit of energy into slamming former White House press secretary Scottie-Scott McClellan. I saw him as a mushy marshmallow of a man whose career hinged on his ability to repeat whatever lies he was fed. And in regard to McClellan's capacity as the president's mouthpiece, I think that was an accurate assessment, "marshmallow" and all. Now, more than two years after his resignation from that post, McClellan has once again exploded onto the political scene with What Happened, his "oh no you di-int" account of the Bush Administration's misbehavior.

I'm not sure how interesting a book whose thesis is "Get this, the Iraq War is built on lies!" could possibly be, but I'm ready to read this book and let Scott McClellan redeem himself in full for all the times I cussed at his image on TV and drew goofy facial hair on his image in the newspaper.

Not everyone is as supportive, however, of McClellan's attempt to turn over a new leaf. Former White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy had this colorful comment about McClellan:

"Here's a guy who rode the president's coattails to the world stage and now is [urinating] on his political grave, all the way to the bank."

Now ignore, for a moment, the fact that the press secretary's job is to stand on the "world stage" in lieu of the president. Ignore the fact that riding the president's coattails is an inevitable side-effect of lying on his behalf. And ignore the fact that "deputy press secretary" sounds like a made-up title you'd bestow on a little girl on Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Ignore all that and take a good look at Duffy's maelstrom of idioms. You've got coattails, a stage, a grave and a bank, all in the same sentence! How exactly does one [urinate] to the bank, anyway? If you're [micturating] on a grave (even if it's a political grave), while simultaneously going to the bank, doesn't that make it pretty tough to hit your target?

Maybe I've misunderstood. Maybe McClellan is laughing so hard all the way to the bank, that he's started [whizzing] involuntarily. That happens sometimes, even to grown men.

I hope Trent Duffy writes a book, too. And I hope the whole book reads like that quote.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Where Aesthetics Go To Die

One of the ESL textbook series my employers force me to use is called Interchange. It's a cruddy hodge-podge of ill-conceived lessons put together by Jack C. Richards (a man who, in his own words, "is an internationally-recognized authority on English-language acquisition" and, in my own words, "needs a beating"). You may remember an earlier post in which I attacked Jack C. Richards, his slipshod attempts at language education and his arbitrary use of commas. And here's the icing on that health hazard of a cake:

The Interchange books contain some of the worst illustrations I've ever seen. It's as if the publishers went out of their way to find artists whose very raison d'être was to create the ugliest, most nauseating images possible. This image on the right is meant to be a suggestion of what clothing might look like in the future. If this prediction is accurate, they might as well follow this illustration up with a picture of a man strangling himself with his own necktie, as that would be a suggestion of what I would look like in such a future. What exactly happens in the future that causes everyone to start wearing those yellow gloves? Will dish-pan hands surpass cancer and heart disease as the prime killer of Americans? Is the gigantic hat evidence of ever-increasing Mexican influence on our fashion?

Maybe it seems I'm picking a nit here. But it's hard to think so when you're faced with these horrendous examples of first-degree ugliness on a daily basis. What started as amusement gradually morphs into resentment as you increasingly get the feeling that the two hapless dancers (who, at first glance, appear to have been drawn by someone who has never actually seen dancing, but may have read about it once in a book called Dancing: The Devil's Hobby) are actually mocking you.

My only recourse is to let my students in on the joke. Once in a while, I'll say, "Turn to page 78....look at this guy!" in order to lighten the mood of a lesson. Most of the time, however, it's a great enough challenge not to hurl my teacher's edition through a window.

I've got a hundred of these little scans, but I'll restrain myself and just share a few more choice images with you:



Yes and yes.

She's gonna barf!

Indeed. What is your excuse, Mr. Illustrator? And don't give me any garbage about "artistic license." You and I both know that would just be a euphemism for "everything I create makes people want to gouge their own eyes out."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The PSP Needs a Better Fighting Library

Bleach: Heat the Soul 5 for PSP was released today in Japan. It's a shallow 3D fighting game, similar in many ways to Bleach: Heat the Soul 4. And Bleach: Heat the Soul 3.

Why the hell are there so few quality one-on-one fighting titles for the PSP? Ports of Guilty Gear and Tekken have been welcome gestures so far, but the handheld has been out for two and a half years already. Where are the other franchises? I can name about a hundred fighting games I'd like to play on the PSP, but can't because they don't exist.

Marvel vs Capcom 2. Kinnikuman Muscle Gran Prix. Melty Blood. Arcana Heart. The Rumble Fish. Soul Calibur. Rival Schools. Street Fighter III. Any King of Fighters game after 1999.

Whether it's because of legal impossibility or just a misguided assumption that there's no demand for such ports, Sony leaves its fighting fanbase in the dark with idle thumbs and a whole lot of wishing for something good. Instead, we get title after title of ultra-simplified fighting games based on the same manga series.

I started playing the Bleach fighting series, not because I like the manga (in fact, I don't), but because the PSP's library of fighting games is so sparse, I'm increasingly willing to play any old fighting title they throw at me (and because Naruto suffers from a tragic lack of sexy females, a cornerstone of the genre).

Bleach: Heat the Soul 5 came with a free sports towel, but that isn't going to be enough to make me feel good about buying this title unless the gameplay gets better in a hurry.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Kiru Your TV: Aura no Izumi

Just because I stop making Kiru Your TV posts after the first one doesn't mean I stop being sick of Japanese TV. Whether it's a show where people over-react to the taste of okonomiyaki, or a show where people get teary-eyed over goofy dramatizations of real-life medical miracles, Fiancee usually has to crank up the volume in order to hear the show over the sound of my grinding teeth. But if there's one genre of TV show that really annoys me to no end, it's that of "spiritual advice."

TV psychics, baby.

As a representative title for this genre, I'll use TV Asahi's Aura no Izumi (Aura Fountain). This is a show where, basically speaking, a celebrity guest is brought on to speak about his or her insecurities so that a pair of counselors can read the guest's "aura." Manning the emotional baggage claim are spiritual adviser Ehara Hiroyuki (a hefty, effeminate dude in a kimono) and elderly singer/cross-dresser Miwa Akihiro (an old man with bright yellow hair, dressed as a woman). If it sounds a bit strange, then I've described it correctly. Here's what Mr. Miwa looks like:

I've got no problems with a guy who's more comfortable in women's clothes, but somebody was playing a cruel joke on this guy when they convinced him to buy that mane of dandelion fury at the wig shop.

Anyway, after a bit of discussion between the guest and hosts, Ehara produces something called a "Spiritual Message." It's pretty much a flowery haiku, accompanied by maudlin music, designed to make the celebrity guest feel good about himself. And it often prompts the guest to cry tears of ultimate redemption. Meanwhile, viewers like me are crying tears of ultimate exasperation.

Another annoying thing about this show is the condescending, grandmotherly tone in which both hosts speak to the guests. And that is amplified by the guests' tendency to react with fake (but polite) awe and respect. They usually say things like "Heeeeeh, naruhodo! ("Oooooh, I seeee!") in order to properly convey the idea that, yes, Ehara and Miwa really are geniuses who really do have all the answers and really can solve your every problem in life.

You might recall that, in my previous Kiru Your TV about SMAPxSMAP, I complained that the show's main purpose was to entertain the cast rather than the audience. The same troublesome dynamic is at work here in Aura no Izumi, leading me to believe that Japanese TV is suffering from a crippling dependency on celebrity personalities. There has to be a happy medium between that and watching a dozen unlikeable nobodies running obstacle courses and getting diarrhea on a deserted island.

Aura no Izumi airs every Saturday night on TV Asahi at the unlikely time of 7:57. Don't ever watch it.

Friday, May 02, 2008

John McCain and the White Supremacists

It's not just a clever band name.

If you thought there was something fishy about John McCain's "reluctance" to recognize Martin Luther King Day as a legitimate national holiday back in 1983, you'll want to fill up on this intrigue:

McCain has paid $184,000 for the advisorial services a white supremacist named Richard Quinn. Quinn, who made the news less than a decade ago as editor-in-chief of the controversial Confederate periodical Southern Partisan, has written articles in which he describes Martin Luther King Day as "vitriolic and profane," Nelson Mandela as a terrorist (so, thank god Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas, right?) and David Duke as a "maverick."

I've heard "maverick" used to describe another politician who's in the news a lot these days, but I just can't remember who that politician is.

Compare McCain's $184,000 for Quinn to Obama's $22,500 for Reverend Wright, then tell me why we've heard so much news about Wright, yet so little about Quinn. This disproportion of coverage is just one more facet of a tragic, ongoing failure by the mainstream media to sensibly prioritize the information they choose to present to the woefully misinformed American voting public.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

I'm in Ur Grand, Theftin' Ur Autoz

It's Golden Week vacation time in Tokyo, and if I fail to leave the house to enjoy the weather, it's probably because I'm playing Grand Theft Auto IV. Happily, the Asian PAL version of the game (which is compatible with the Japanese NTSC Xbox 360, unedited for content and completely in English) was released in select Japanese retail chains just a day after the stateside release.

As a long-time opponent of legislation as a substitute for parenting, let me just say this: Mommas, don't let your babies play GTA4. At least, not if you wouldn't let them watch Scarface or The Sopranos. I've already run into youngsters in the multiplayer mode who sound about 11 years old. I can accept that some parents have viewed the game's content and made the informed decision to let their pre-teens play, but I cannot accept that such cases are the majority. So all you lazy parents, take notice. Your little kid is playing an adult game. He's bugging the hell out of all us grown-ups. And your refusal to take responsibility is creating undo publicity for some self-serving fool.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mario Kart Wii Makes You Curse

When I was 16, MK stood for Mortal Kombat. Those days are gone.

Mario Kart Wii is an excellent example of Nintendo's recent success in the "social gaming" market. It's an easy-to-learn party title, playable by up to four people at a time via split-screen and accessible to gamers of pretty much any age.

If only I could play it without cursing.

What new players would interpret as accessibility, more skilled players might recognize as Mario Kart Wii's excessive desire to achieve parity; the game does its best to help the guy in last position...and dump retribution on the guy in first. You can imagine the frustration this causes. You're in the lead, trashing the competition, ready to win, when suddenly, you get struck by lightning, rear-ended by a heat-seaking turtle shell and flattened by someone who just picked up the "mega mushroom." Try not to swear at a time like that!

Because of this, Fiancee and I have been known to yell obscenities during this "fun" game. Fiancee has even shown an aptitude for making up her own expletive phrases. Among her finest creations:

"Oh my shit!"

"Shitty pants!"

And my personal favorite to date:

"Shit kebab!"

Parents, if you don't want your kids talking like this (when they're 30), don't ever let them play video games.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Let's Learn Japanese: Ichioshi

Girls dressed as robotic prom queen impostors.

Vocals that have been pitch-enhanced so much, they no longer sound human.

Dance moves that look like they were choreographed by a rogue computer that hates humans.

These are all hallmarks of the Japanese electro-pop scene as we know it today. And if the unstoppable colossus that is the J-pop marketing machine has its way, we'll all start listening to Perfume.

Ichioshi is the marriage of the words ichi ("one," or in this case, "top") and oshi ("pushing," in the sense of "selling"). Today I went to the Village Vanguard book/record/gift store in Shimokitazawa and was assailed from all sides by posters, magazines and CDs emblazoned with pictures of the electro-pop trio Perfume. Their new CD, Game, is apparently Village Vanguard's ichioshi. They seem to be willing to do just about anything to get you to buy the CD.

Well, anything short of lowering the price from a ridiculous ¥3000.

Despite efforts to break into the mainstream, Perfume remain classified as an idol group: A bunch of allegedly cute girls whose success depends every bit as heavily on their ability to steal the hearts of otaku nerds as on their ability to sing. Actually, that's too generous; their ability to steal the hearts of otaku nerds is far more important than anything their singing...hence, the aforementioned pitch-enhanced vocals and dance moves cute enough to give you diabetes.

They also, however, owe much of their success to their producer Nakata Yasutaka (best known for his affiliation with Capsule, another robo-pop act). For while you might cringe at Perfume's dippy lyrics and choreography, you may very well find your foot tapping involuntarily to their expertly-produced beats.

Here is the video clip for the first single from Game, "Baby Cruising Love." The audio doesn't start until about 35 seconds into the video.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Delayed Hanami Photos

As promised, here are some photos from our March 30 picnic at Hikarigaoka Park. It was my first time to visit this park, and I imagine it would have been a great setting for hanami if the weather hadn't been so bad on that day.

The two photos below are of a group of very noisy elderly folks who were dancing up a storm just a few picnic sheets away from us. I have reason to believe that the guy banging the gong and wearing a kerchief on his head in the second photo was the ringleader.

Dick Commercial Found!

Vigilant CIC reader Sluggo has found a link to the "I am a dick" commercial I described in my earlier post. Click here and select the 15-second version with the button at the lower-left of the viewer. And remember, the Japanese text on the screen at the end of the commercial reads, "Dick."

John McCain, You Poop Mouth

The more people hear about this story, the less likely we will be to elect a president with a dangerous lack of anger management ability. If John McCain hurls a C-bomb at his wife when she giggles at his understandably thinning hair (get a sense of humor about it quick, ain't getting any younger), what kind of ill-advised bombs would he hurl as president?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Commercial: "I Am A Dick"

I can't make up stuff this funny. The rest of the cherry blossom photos will have to wait because I just saw a TV commercial so ridiculous that my fingers have immediately begun blogging about it involuntarily. First, a little back story.

There is this Japanese loan company called Dick. Dick (the most logical spelling of its name, since it is spelled ディック -- Dikku -- in katakana) started out with the name Ike (アイク -- Aiku), until one day, without warning, they started airing this TV ad announcing that their new name would be Dick. Fiancee (then Girlfriend) and I immediately recognized this as one of the worst name changes possible and laughed about it for a long time.

More recently, Dick started a campaign with the English catchphrase "I am a hero." The ads feature images of individuals whose lives have been made exciting and fun by borrowing money at ludicrous interest rates and a Japanese sub-slogan which translates roughly as "Because you are the main character." When I saw these ads, I thought this new catchphrase was a step in the right direction. Anything's better than relying on the strength of your company's name alone, when your company's name happens to be Dick.

Unfortunately, the commercial I saw tonight is a giant leap in the wrong direction. We see some footage of a young business man looking intrepid and financially confident. A male voice-over says, "Boku wa..." and there is an English translation of his voice-over on the screen. Next we see a similarly empowered-looking female on the screen, and a female voice says, "Atashi wa..." with the accomanying English translation.

Now, had I translated "Boku wa" and "Atashi wa" to English, I'd have come up with "I am." Makes sense, considering Dick's previous "I am a hero" campaign. But the English on the screen when these people speak says, "I am a..."with the article "a" included on the end.

You can see where this is going. After a couple repeats of the voice-over and English translation "I am a..." the commercial ends and we are shown the name of the company in big katakana letters: Dick.

"I am a Dick."

I don't have a video of this commercial, but some other observant Japan blogger is bound to pick up on this and post the commercial on YouTube. I'll keep a watchful eye out for it.