As longtime readers know, this is the time of year when we urge everyone — whether you’re gamers, otaku or not — to head on over to the Amazon wishlist of Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children and purchase a game, toy, or other item that will be sent directly to the hospital to benefit its young patients and their families. (If you spend $25 or more, you’ll even get free shipping.) The medical center is part of the network served by the Child’s Play charity.
But in addition to that, I’d like to make a different kind of plea this year.
You may know that this blog started off under the auspices of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, now the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Each year during the holidays, the Star-Bulletin ran the Good Neighbor Fund to benefit the Community Clearinghouse and needy Hawaii families, along with printing a list of monetary donations the fund receives — practices that continue today under the Star-Advertiser. The amount of each individual donation varies from $100 or more to, well, far less than that.
Some years ago, a person I once had the acquaintance of was perusing said list and came to the latter part of it.
“Five dollars?!” this person chortled with incredulity. “Gee, now isn’t that SO generous? And it’s being printed in the paper??”
The remark annoyed me. Words — admittedly caustic ones — hovered on my tongue. Unfortunately, I was concentrating far more on something else at the time and so I was unable to form the retort that really should have been said, and the time for saying it passed.
Have you seen those bright green slips of paper next to the cash register at many grocery stores, part of the annual Check-Out Hunger Campaign to benefit the Hawaii Foodbank? The smallest amount they ask to help is a little under $3 — and from that tiny amount, the food bank promises to feed a child breakfast for a week. What’s considered to be the most important meal of the day, for an entire week! For less than $3! For many of us who are always on the run or in a rush, a cup of coffee alone already costs far more than that per DAY!
Not only that, every dollar raised through the campaign goes directly to the food bank.
When you’re handing over $7 for that chili or Portuguese sausage or cinnamon bread or ice cream, or spending $15 for that deluxe wrapping paper or greeting cards from a catalog, or shelling out $20 for that magazine subscription, think about it: Just how much of that money is actually going to the organization you’re supporting? A dollar? Maybe two or three? Perhaps five, if you’re lucky?
In fact, many donations aren’t a whole lot by themselves. Yogurt lids to help the fight against breast cancer? Worth 10 cents each. Box Tops for Education? Also just 10 cents for each box top or label. Those donation boxes you might see in stores, collecting money for various charitable endeavors? They’re filled with pennies, nickels, dimes.
But when hundreds or thousands of people decide to take the time to do their small part, those resources, so seemingly insignificant, add up to a great deal more.
This is one of the biggest cliches in the book, but I say it nevertheless: Never underestimate what the smallest donation can do — not just in itself, but also added up over time. Don’t ever think that your $1 is too little or too useless to be of any help.
That is why, in these days of special need, with the economy still wobbly and so many more people needing a bit of aid, it’s important to look at what we have and be grateful that we have so much — and then, despite the overall tightening of spending, open those wallets just a tad and give the $1, $2, or whatever little extra we can give. Not only on this Giving Tuesday, but throughout the holiday season and, hopefully, throughout the year.
And I hope that person, especially in these hard times, has come to value just how much good $5 can do.
As a fan of anime, manga and related merchandise, I’ve imported my fair share of Japanese goods from various retailers including Amazon Japan and CD Japan. And I’ve had to deal with the hassles of such (I’m looking at you, sky-high shipping fees for one CD single).
But at least they were readily available (relatively) from reputable sellers. Now, it seems that’s about to change for quite a few series. I received this email from CD Japan just a few hours ago:
Unfortunately, Avex Pictures, the publisher of popular anime titles such as “Yuri!!! on Ice” and “Osomatsu-san” and others is restricting exports of Blu-ray, DVD, and CD titles.
This restriction has been applied to all online shops within Japan, including CDJapan.
In accordance to the restriction, majority of titles published by Avex Pictures will become unavailable for shipment outside of Japan as of the following time.
Restriction begins to apply at:
6:00PM (Japan Time UTC+9) on February 15, 2017
After the above indicated time, it will no longer be available for any order to be shipped outside of Japan.
To clarify which items will be restricted, the following indication will be displayed right on the product page.
ATTENTION!!! This product will no longer be available for any order to be shipped outside of Japan starting at 6:00PM (Japan Time UTC+9) on February 15, 2017
However, all existing orders as well as all orders placed BEFORE the above indicated time will be shipped normally.
The issue’s being discussed in a thread over at Fandom Post. According to that thread, Amazon Japan seems to have already blocked future orders, but CDJ is being more lenient as evidenced by their email. It certainly seems like a strange move on Avex’s part — or on ANY company’s part, I think — to ban exports, but maybe there’s some hope if the restriction means the company might be trying to move into North America or other places. Even if that were the case, I think it’s well known that releases in different countries often include different things, whether they be extra features in DVDs/BDs, extra songs, special artwork, etc., and getting those extras is really the whole reason we collectors import stuff in the first place.
So if you’re a fan of anything related to Avex — which is a large corporation and does have a hand in a lot of series and artists — and you regularly import Japanese discs, you might want to get an order in at CDJ before the time listed above. Japan is 19 hours ahead of Hawaii time, so 6 p.m. Feb. 15 in Tokyo will be 11 p.m. Feb. 14 here (that’s today!), if my time conversion math is correct.
My main purchases related to Avex are their Super Eurobeat CD series, which I’m not certain is part of the ban, and “Initial D.” Oh, and Ayumi Hamasaki, but it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten any of her albums. I also sometimes get the odd CD single for opening/ending themes to anime that I may not be a diehard fan of but whose songs I happen to hear and like. The prospect of no longer being able to easily get any more of these from a retailer I’ve come to trust and regard highly over the years is disappointing. Of course, as others have pointed out, the secondhand market is still an option, but that requires jumping through a lot more hoops and you won’t be guaranteed to get things like limited editions and first pressings in sealed condition, if at all. But at least so far, the restriction is only on discs and not books or collectible merchandise, so if you’re not a big music buyer (which I happen to be, sigh), you might not have to worry an awful lot — yet.
So you know that we here at Otaku Ohana love our video games. And gamers don’t often have the greatest reputation — you know the stereotypes, which I won’t deign to repeat here. You also know we love our charity gaming events — see our past coverage of Child’s Play Charity, which helps children’s hospitals worldwide.
But the idea of using video games as a fundraiser has been around for years, and lately it’s been getting more mainstream recognition. A subgenre of this is the speedrunning category, in which gamers finish games as fast as they can — exploiting things like glitches and technical aspects of games to complete them in mere minutes to several hours instead of the, say, 80 hours we mere mortals probably spent. (Yeah, that was me with Final Fantasy III/VI. But only because I was trying my darnedest to get Economizers for everyone so they could all cast spells for a measly 1 magic point! Anyway, I digress.)
Admittedly, I’d never heard of speedrunning until just a few years ago when I stumbled across a particular video game marathon for charity. Seeing the insane skills and the vast knowledge that the gamers had to employ to effortlessly whip through these games like Simon Belmont through Dracula, the same games that I loved and sweated and cursed over and spent wayyyyy too much of my life — that got me COMPLETELY hooked. And the fact that this was being done to benefit a worthy cause was a big, big bonus.
It’s only in the past few months that I became aware of various other video game marathon charity events, both speedrunning and otherwise, and I’d like to spread the word about them by sharing them here. These broadcast live online, usually via Twitch, and they’re listed here in generally chronological order. (Please note that the months listed are only an estimate based on when they occurred last year and that they may change.) Check them out and, if you can, please donate to their cause! Remember, even a dollar is a big help. Even if you’re not able to donate, you can help by talking about them on social media and raising awareness about them and the causes they support.
With most of these events, your money goes directly to the chosen charity and is tax-deductible. But be sure to check with the charity for information for tax purposes.
Hi everyone, Jason here. Tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. and I both attended “Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses” at the Blaisdell Concert Hall Friday night, and we each had our own takeaways from the show. Most of the music commentary will be handled by Wilma, while the extracurriculars will be handled by me (written in chunks of italic type).
Video game fans in Hawaii, particularly fans of the Legend of Zelda series, were treated Friday night to the Symphony of the Goddesses — the first large-scale, multimedia game concert held in the isles. Joining forces with Jason Michael Paul Productions, who has produced other video game concerts in the U.S. such as “Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy” and its subsequent “More Friends” concert, were the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra and the Oahu Choral Society.
Cosplaying was encouraged at the concert, and quite a few people took advantage of that, although it was mostly different versions of the game series’s main characters, Link and Zelda. There was also a Groose from Skyward Sword running around, as well as a Ravio from A Link Between Worlds, among the few exceptions. Navi the fairy from the Ocarina of Time also made an appearance, holding a speech bubble with her well-known phrase, “Hey! Listen!”
Several people wore the title mask from the game Majora’s Mask. Many others simply wore Zelda-related shirts — dozens roamed around with tops emblazoned with the game’s logo, the all-important Triforce, the equally important heart meter, the iconic 8-bit sword from the original game for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and much more. It was great to see such a wide array on display.
For me, that diversity came in stark contrast to the official merchandise table — one T-shirt design, an official concert poster, a book of Zelda series sheet music and copies of the Hyrule Historia art book and Link Between Worlds for the Nintendo 3DS were all that were being offered. All of those seemed to be selling well — heck, the books sold out — but still, c’mon, people, we want to throw MORE money at you. Give us some CDs or a nice glossy program or something. Please?
Before the concert began, a slideshow was projected on a large screen above the orchestra, showing trivia questions on the various Zelda games interspersed with various scenic shots. There weren’t many questions; the entire thing scrolled by in about five minutes or so before repeating. We took our seats about 10 minutes before the concert was scheduled to begin and saw the trivia go through maybe 1.5 cycles.
When the lights dimmed and conductor Amy Andersson took her place in front of the orchestra, someone — I don’t know if this was official or not, but my guess is not, considering the surprised reactions on some of the symphony members’ faces — started off the evening by yelling out the phrase that has become a hallmark and one of the running jokes of the series: “Hey! Listen!”
I don’t think it was, either. Which brings me to my “I guess I’m one of those crotchety old people now, because I’m about to go off on young people these days” rant: There were quite a few people who treated the show like one of the side events of an anime convention rather than something with the gravitas of a symphony orchestra concert.
Now, granted, I’ve seen this sort of thing happen before — Wilma and I attended the “Dear Friends” concert in Los Angeles in 2004 — so I was willing to concede that, yes, not everyone’s going to dress up in their nicest attire. A good chunk of the audience probably hasn’t seen the symphony perform since elementary school field trip days. But still, that comment, the random CHEE-HOOOOOOting here and there, the whispered snark by the people in balcony row L, around the high 20-low 30s seats — yes, I’m specifically calling you guys out, particularly the guy who was whispering something about Harvest Moon at the beginning of the “Great Fairy’s Fountain” intermezzo — ugh. Just because you paid $48 and up doesn’t give you the right to turn it into a personal Mystery Science Theater 3000-esque snarkfest and dampen the experience for those around you who came to listen to and appreciate the music.
And don’t even get me started on some of the people I noticed in front of me secretly recording parts of the concert on their phones …
(I must say that thankfully, the concertgoers in my area quietly enjoyed the show, clapping and hooting only when appropriate.)
The symphony began with an overture encompassing a medley of tunes from the Zelda series, choreographed to video shown on the screen that was made up of gameplay clips starting with the beloved original Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System and going all the way through to A Link Between Worlds for the Nintendo 3DS.
Afterward, Remy Zane, a DJ with KORL 97.1 (and who, incidentally, is also one of our friends!), came out onstage to welcome the audience and give a short explanation of what we would be hearing. There were audible laughs and groans at the mention of Tingle (another inside joke; if you play Ocarina of Time you’ll understand). Remy came out on stage at various points during the concert to briefly introduce the pieces.
The first interlude was a rendition of the Gerudo Valley theme from Ocarina of Time. That theme is one of my favorite songs in the entire series, and this version gave much more energy to the original Spanish-inspired, softly passionate tune, especially when the camera trained on first violinist and symphony concertmaster Ignace Jang, who played with such intensity that you couldn’t help but get fired up. (A roving camera occasionally broadcast stage happenings on the screen, including various orchestra members, the chorus, the conductor, and Remy’s short spiels.)
In contrast, the next interlude — a medley of various boss battle themes — was mediocre. Boss themes are usually heart-pounding pieces of music, and with good reason, but the arrangement of these tunes was uninspired and didn’t really match the excitement of the onscreen video.
Throughout the concert, stage lighting added another level of emotion to the music and videos, more subtle than not, except when the lighting turned a fiery red to match, for example, the lava-based stage of the giant dinosaur boss King Dodongo from Ocarina of Time. Another more-subtle-than-not addition was the Oahu Choral Society. I’ve watched two video game concerts now and I’ve always felt a little sorry for the choral performers. Their singing was complementary rather than in the forefront, and I’m sure it was always meant to be that way. The chorus was also pretty hidden all the way back in the stage (people in the back rows probably had a better view of the chorus; we were sitting much nearer to the stage and could just barely see the tops of their heads), and if the camera hadn’t shown them on screen from time to time, you probably would not have realized that they were adding their voices to the instruments. I would love to know what exactly they WERE singing, as none of the Zelda music has lyrics.
I was up in the balcony, and yes, I could see the chorus. There were some points when their involvement was a bit more subtle than others, and the only way I could tell they were singing then was when I could see them raising their songbooks and turning the pages. It was a nice addition, although I’ve often wondered what they think whenever they’re called upon to sing selections from various video game soundtracks: “‘Something something something something SEPHIROTH?’ What did I get myself INTO here?”
The next two interludes were pretty straightforward though still eminently enjoyable suites of music from Majora’s Mask and A Link Between Worlds. Then came a Prelude, telling the story of the creation of the land of Hyrule, which involves the three goddesses — Din, Nayru and Farore — alluded to in the concert’s title. The video for this segment was taken directly from the Ocarina of Time and I assume that the Prelude was simply an orchestration of the accompanying music in the game (it’s been a long time since I played the game and I can’t remember how the music went). Then came a couple of movements with tunes from Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker. Again, it was all very much straightforward, nothing outstanding, but solidly performed.
I would, however, take issue with Remy’s comment about Wind Waker, in which he said that it is one of Nintendo’s biggest hits in the series. I may be in a minority here, but I did not enjoy Wind Waker very much, and I thought I remember reading that it didn’t do too well. The art style was completely different from anything in the series up till that point, and while that did give me pause, the main thing I disliked about the game was the near-endless sailing you had to do to travel to other places. The long, monotonous expanses of water broke up the action and bored me half to death. Even when you later unlocked warp portals, they often weren’t close enough to the area you really wanted to go to, forcing you to do yet more sailing. Exploring was also tedious, and the controls of the ship were sometimes difficult to handle. But, well, hey; if it was a commercial success for Nintendo (enough that they decided to do an HD remake for the Wii U, even), then power to them, but all I know is that it’s not a game I’d rate very highly among the series.
For my part, I thought Wind Waker was OK. Better than Twilight Princess, for sure, which lost me on that cursed mandatory fishing minigame(Wii version) and Link’s transformation into a wolf, which seemingly lasted foreeeeeeeever and bored me to a point where I didn’t feel like waiting for him to be transformed back into a human (Gamecube version). And for the record, the Otaku Ohana Anonymous Director of Forced Social Interaction now likes Toon Link more than Standard Canon Link because “he looks cute.” So there’s that.
After a 15-minute intermission, we returned to an intermezzo of the soothing Great Fairy Fountain theme (minus the rather frightening, echoing cackles of the Great Fairy herself, thankfully) before moving on to a suite from Twilight Princess.
But as much as the video game world has gone forward in terms of graphics and sound, the theme of the night, really, was nostalgia. And the last movement — “Time of Falling Rain” from A Link to the Past — before the Finale showed this well. As Remy mentioned during one of his times onstage, “Falling Rain” is one of the most popular pieces from the series overall and the performance garnered a lot of applause. Heck, Link to the Past and its semi-sequel A Link Between Worlds are two of the series’ most beloved titles.
“Falling Rain,” like the rest of the performance, was accompanied by scenes from the game. But because this was a Super Nintendo game, that meant going back to the two-dimensional, sprite-based world of Hyrule. As Link to the Past is one of my favorite games in the series, I didn’t mind — and in fact I got a HUGE nostalgic kick out of it all, especially when the orchestra moved into the Dark World theme, a subtly menacing bit of music that gained some lightheartedness in this arrangement.
The orchestra, chorus, conductor and producer Jason Michael Paul — who came out on stage after the Finale — got standing ovations, naturally. And just as naturally, there was more to come after the Finale. First came new music and exclusive clips from Majora’s Mask 3D, a remake of the original Nintendo 64 game that’s due out in North America in mid-Februrary for the Nintendo 3DS. And lastly came a brief medley of Wind Waker music and scenes from its rerelease on the Wii U.
The concert overall was what I expected. My main big disappointment is that the original Zelda overworld theme didn’t get the singular performance that I felt it should have been given. It’s hands-down the most recognizable piece in the whole series, and while it was woven into other movements, I feel it should have gotten its own standalone orchestration.
Now, the main theme may very well have been covered in other seasons — apparently, the Symphony of the Goddesses has had different “seasons” with playlist changes; the one we heard at the Blaisdell was the “Master Quest season.” But if it has, then I wish it would be included as a staple bonus in all later seasons. I was waiting on pins and needles for that song, and it sadly never came.
Another disappointment is that more Zelda games from the handheld consoles weren’t represented. For example, Link’s Awakening, originally for the Game Boy, was an excellent addition to the series with a great storyline, interesting new gameplay elements and an exquisitely beautiful theme in “The Ballad of the Wind Fish,” and I would have loved to hear that song orchestrated. Granted, famed Zelda series composer Koji Kondo was not the composer for most of the handheld games and so I’m sure there were licensing or other rights issues, but there are still good pieces of music and if it were possible to incorporate more, I’d love to hear them.
Also a letdown was the fact that there were no printed programs. While I, like Jason mentioned above, would have immediately bought a commemorative glossy book, I was more disappointed that there was no regular concert program. Yes, most of the people attending were most likely fans of the series and already knew the games quite well, but many others weren’t, and a program giving a brief history of the series would’ve been nice. And Zelda-related stuff aside, EVERYONE would have benefited from having information on the producer, original composers, music arrangers, the conductor, the symphony orchestra, the chorus, the video editor, lighting director, stage staff, etc. The program is also often where production people often give thoughts or other behind-the-scenes looks at the music, etc. The lack of all that was an unfortunately lost opportunity.
But after all that, the positives still outweigh the negatives, and if another season of “Symphony of the Goddesses” came along with a different selection of music to perform, I’d still go see it.
I would, too. Hopefully the success of this show will encourage other touring symphonic suites to stop by here as well — Final Fantasy concert, anyone? Or perhaps “Video Games Live“? One can dream.
It really is an experience, especially if the concert is always being tweaked and improved. I appreciate any event that elevates and enhances what is often seen as a “juvenile” activity, and lots of kudos go out to everyone from the producers to the orchestra to the fans for making this happen. Here’s hoping this won’t be the last such concert that we see here.
In my previous post, I rambled on extensively mostly about Legend of Zelda-related video games. That actually hadn’t been my intent. I was supposed to ramble about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, but I got distracted because I went on some kind of extended monologue about stuff leading up to Borderlands.
Before I leave off on talking about Legend of Zelda-related stuff, however, just a quick note that we will indeed be there at tonight’s Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses concert at the Blaisdell Concert Hall! Tickets are still available at the link above. It’s the first big video-game-music concert in Hawaii, so attend if you can! We’re expecting it to be awesome. ^_^
Anyway, let me get back on my intended track. This will actually be a great time to take up the subject again since Gearbox and 2K recently announced the March release of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, which comprises Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel, as well as the related downloadable content (DLC) for both games, remade for next-generation systems (Xbox One and Playstation 4). I’ve also heard tell that the original Borderlands might eventually be included if the collection does well.
Blogs are wonderful things. Most of the ones associated with the Star-Advertiser, including this one, are informational. Which is great, but it would be a shame, really, to limit it to that. Because here, we can talk about whatever (almost). We can be informal. We don’t need to adhere to strict grammar rules or AP style. And it certainly has been some time since we here at Otaku Ohana have just, well, shot the breeze.
So that’s what this post is about.
Well, not completely. It’s more like me going on very long ramblings about video games, because this is probably the best place for me to ramble about them. So if that’s not what you’re here for, and you just want to pass on by, then I’ll understand.
Feel like entering the possibly rough currents of my stream-of-consciousness typing? Then read on, intrepid adventurers…
Today’s profile: Layton Brothers Mystery Room Publisher: Level-5 Platform: Apple iOS (reviewed), Android ESRB rating: N/A (but suitable for ages 12 and up)
By now it’s pretty well established that we — and by that I mostly mean “I,” although tag-team partner in fandom Jason Y. is certainly no stranger to the games, either — are huge fans of the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney (aka Phoenix Wright) series of games. So much that there was much crying (on my part) when the second Miles Edgeworth Investigations game was not released in the U.S., and much disdain (on many fans’ parts) when gaming website Kotaku revealed the reason for that. There was equally much tearing of hair as Capcom remained noncommittal about the release prospects for Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, the Nintendo 3DS game that pretty much is what the title says.
Fans such as myself might be eased somewhat in their pain with the recent release of the game Layton Brothers Mystery Room. As I commented to Jason while I was immersed in the first case, I felt like I was indeed playing a crossover of Layton and Ace Attorney. The caveat? It’s only for the iOS. Yes, only for Apple mobile devices, only for the iPhone and iPad.
(At least, it was so at the time I wrote this part of my review, which, admittedly, was back in July. Now, however, being that Mystery Room was recently released for Android devices, that’s kind of a moot point. But bear with me and my fangirl pain for at least the next few paragraphs.)
I will skip over the many exclamations of disbelief I used when I was made aware of that fact. Because, sadly, I have no such device. And I have no plans to buy one. Although, being as Layton- and AA-starved as I was, I had to admit I was teetering dangerously toward getting one. So much that I had to warn my husband (who is a rather staunch non-Apple user, but please don’t comment on that) of the possibility.
So how, one may ask, could I have been playing the game if I don’t have an iOS device? Simple: I had to beg Jason to borrow his. (I had actually been borrowing it for a different game; the release of Mystery Room was unexpected and caught me off guard. And I’m sure my fevered, delirious chats to Jason once I found out about it caught HIM off guard, as well.) He walked me through the steps of downloading and installing and BAM! I was soon back in the world of Layton.
Today’s profile: Barbara (one volume, complete) Author: Osamu Tezuka Publisher: Digital Manga Publishing Suggested age rating: Mature 18+ Availability: In print & readily available
Like many manga artists, Osamu Tezuka is enjoyed in the U.S. mainly for his lighthearted fare. And once artists become known for one genre or another, it becomes exceedingly difficult to publish others of their works that don’t exactly fall into that widely accepted category.
Barbara is one of those Tezuka works that U.S. publisher DMP wanted to take a chance on. So using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, the company garnered a good bit of support to bring out the 430-page manga in English.
After I finished the book, it was easy to see why DMP needed to go the crowdfunding route. On the back cover, the description reads, in part, “Barbara may be Tezuka’s most psychological and unsettling work, shattering the fine line between art and madness with masterful precision.”
Short response: It is.
I must admit I am not familiar with the bulk of Tezuka’s work. I did watch Metropolis, the feature-length anime based on one of his more serious stories, and is a movie I didn’t particularly care for. I also know he’s done Astro Boy and Atom Cat and Unico and Black Jack, and if those are any yardsticks to measure Tezuka by, then Barbara is certainly a wide deviation from his norm. To give you an idea of how unique this manga is, DMP even released a separate digital companion to Kickstarter backers with an essay dissecting the work, as well as a foreword in the actual book explaining briefly the political and social situation in Japan at the time the manga was originally serialized.
Barbara tells of a famous writer, Yosuke Mikura, who comes across the title character in Shinjuku station. The woman is a stinky, dirty alcoholic, but something about her prompts Mikura to take her home with him. She decides that his apartment isn’t such a bad place to hang out, so she settles in and makes herself at home — especially with the liquor cabinet.
Over the course of the book we see the ups and downs of their strange relationship and the many times Mikura kicks her out for her slovenly ways, then just as readily accepts her back when she predictably shows up at his door again. Even he can’t explain why he doesn’t give her the boot, considering all the times she’s messed something up or how much she’s costing him.
The manga is psychologically interesting at first as it delves into the queer mind of Mikura. From the beginning, he can’t seem to distinguish between one thing and another, which leads to several bizarre but not completely unexpected twists — most times Tezuka cleverly provides hints that could point one way or the other depending on how he would have wanted the story to end, or even could have left the ending wide open to discussion. Other times, Tezuka leaves things blatantly ambiguous. It’s certainly not a new plot device, but it’s always highly effective in dealing that mental blow to the reader.
But then Mikura’s obsessions coalesce and center on Barbara, and the manga starts getting less interesting and more just simply crazy. It all comes to a Matrix-like ending that is expectedly a bit sad, but satisfying.
It’s the roller-coaster feeling of Mikura and Barbara’s relationship, and of Mikura’s life overall, that makes this manga difficult to enjoy. And that’s not even including the famed author’s psychotic-ness in general, with or without Barbara. Many chapters are the same: They start off with a seemingly normal (or at least tangible) situation, then devolve into an insanity that eventually bursts, leaving Mikura to deal with the shock of returning to reality … or with the haunting realization that he does not know what the reality is.
Add in the drunkard’s aggravating personality and deeds that would drive even a saint to slap her upside the head as Mikura often does, and you have a story that’s so peculiar that it takes great effort to keep reading — but at the same time, it drives you to continue on to the end.
Mikura is obviously a tragic character, one for whom a kind of happiness (and perhaps even a bit of sanity) seems as though it could be within reach but then slips from his grasp, one who struggles constantly to chase his desires but never achieves them. And Barbara is the one thing he wants but never truly possesses.
We don’t find out what is behind his misogynistic personifications; he just is like that, and in some way that lack of knowledge adds to the tragedy of his life.
The one thing that is sort of explained is Barbara’s background, although even that could be just another pretense. That revelation — and the story’s eventual dependence on it — both add to and take away from the enigma of Barbara herself, even as the story tries maintain her mystery. It also needlessly gives Mikura a reason for going mad, although by that time even we aren’t certain what might be witchcraft and what might be the hallucinatory product of Mikuru’s fevered brain.
But then, that is probably what Tezuka was aiming for, and in that sense, he’s definitely achieved his goal and shows how unhinged Mikura’s mind has become. Nearly every chapter had me thinking, “Wow, these people are really messed up.” But it also begs the question: Must an artist such as Mikura necessarily go through such madness to create great works?
In many ways, Barbara is not much different from other demented stories. The key to remember is that this manga originally came out in the early 1970s, when far more people would probably have been appalled at the scenarios depicted.
Nowadays, it’s not so much the shock of the supposed deviant life of artists that makes this book so disconcerting and fascinating at the same time. What still resonates after all these years is the mental trauma that Mikura is clearly experiencing. For the reader, the true pain is not only seeing Mikura’s descent into madness, but also recognizing the inevitability of it.
Still, this is the kind of story that makes you incredibly glad you are sane — or at least much saner than Mikura — and, when it’s over, immensely grateful that you are merely reading about it from the outside rather than experiencing it firsthand within your own life.
Barbara is a bit too extreme for me, but it is moving and powerful in its portrayals in a disturbing way.
Today’s profile: Journey of Heroes Author: Stacey Hayashi Illustrator: Damon Wong Publisher: Self-published Availability: In print & readily available at www.442comicbook.com and various retailers (refer to this list posted on Facebook)
If you grew up in Hawaii, chances are about 100% that one of things imprinted upon you in school is the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent internment of Japanese-Americans following the attack. And naturally, one of the things you also hear in conjunction with that is about the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Infantry Regiment; how they were composed of all nisei (second-generation Japanese), many of whom were from Hawaii; and how they are among the most decorated units for their size and length of service.
But something that’s not often taught in schools — at least, not in my memory, and I will say that I’ve been out of high school for many years now — is what happened in the time between the Pearl Harbor attack and the creation of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team and the days leading up to their entrance into actual combat. It’s usually only around the anniversary of “the day that will live in infamy,” Dec. 7, when we hold gatherings around the state to honor those who sacrificed themselves, that we hear the tales from the few remaining survivors about the horrors they experienced in the war. And even then, the stories can be few, with many veterans often reluctant to speak of those times.
The slim graphic novel “Journey of Heroes,” written by Stacey T. Hayashi and illustrated by Damon Wong, attempts to fill in that gap. And a fine endeavor it is. (It also made me finally understand why the unit is called the “100th/442nd.”)
According to a note from the author, Hayashi wanted to tell the story about the nisei units, so she met with hundreds of veterans and gathered their reminiscences with the intent of making them into a movie. Unfortunately, the difficulties of producing a film stood in the way of that project. Fortunately, this 30-page book grew out of it instead.
“Journey of Heroes” is told in the first person from the perspective of an unnamed nisei soldier. (The stories, however, are based on the experiences of veteran Goro Sumida, a dear friend of Hayashi’s who died last October.) It starts off in November 1944 just after the famous Vosges assault in which the 100th/442nd had been ordered to rescue a Texas unit that had become trapped behind enemy lines — the so-called “Lost Battalion.” The nisei units managed to save the Texans after several days of fighting, suffering heavy casualties in the process. And as the remaining men are standing at attention waiting to be recognized for their bravery, the narrator describes what happened up until that point and what will happen in years beyond, switching seamlessly from past to present to future while maintaining a “flashback” mode. It sounds strange as described here, but the device works well.
It’s “only” 30 pages, which sounds awfully short for a graphic novel. And in one way it is, but in another way, it’s interminably long as you read through the history of the 100th and 442nd, the details that most people don’t often get the chance to hear about, of the pain and humiliation and struggle and the differences — even with each other — that they had to overcome.
Damon uses the “chibi” — Japanese for “small,” with the connotation of “cute” — drawing style, one that’s often used in Japanese manga. I initially had qualms about it, wondering how such an approach could effectively portray the grueling intensity of war, racism and more. However, I found that the “cuteness” of the people doesn’t detract from the emotion that the simply worded narration evokes. Even the use of pidgin English is well placed, serving to show the contrast between the carefree island days and the grimness of war. Married with this are realistic, stylized backgrounds and elements taken straight from history, such as the well-known photograph of the sinking of the USS Arizona; the famous front page of the extra edition of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin declaring war on Dec. 7, 1941; the gates to ‘Iolani Palace as the nisei soldiers are given a huge farewell send-off; and even smaller features such as flags, office windows and bunk beds. It all contributes to a tremendous reading experience, and I must admit I didn’t expect to be moved as I much as I was when I read the book.
Even now, after having read “Journey of Heroes” multiple times, I still choke up as I can only try to imagine the hell it was. It is intense and emotional in a rather simple way, which easily reaches out and touches the reader. We can’t help but share in their pain and feel great respect for the men who came out of it all and did not let the war and racism break them as they continued on with their lives.
About half of the book is devoted to the soldiers’ battles and the Vosges assault, but what made the most impression on me is the recounting of the time before their deployment to the war zone in Italy. This is the part of their story that we never hear about and that contributes even more to our admiration for them. We are finally taken behind the scenes, beyond the well-publicized heroism, and we see what they went through to even get to the point at which they went to war. We read about the family struggles, about the deep-seated prejudice that went both ways, forcing some Japanese-Americans on the mainland to sneak out so they could start their military careers, sometimes against their loved ones’ wishes. We see the culture clashes when the Hawaii men meet up with mainlanders, the tension and conflicts within the units caused by different upbringings. We watch as the Hawaii and mainland soldiers are finally made to realize that it doesn’t matter where they come from — they are all Americans, they are all fighting the same war, and the enemy is not each other.
One thing that stood out at me in the entire manga was something so tiny it was easy to overlook. When discussing the values that Japanese held, the concept of “not bringing shame to the family name” was brought up. It may very well have been this ideal that led the nisei to “go for broke” and achieve more than anyone likely thought they ever would. But also, perhaps it is some kind of “shame,” perhaps it is the trauma, that keeps many veterans from speaking — both of which are understandable, and I know that I would never be able to truly comprehend what they went through that keeps them silent. We are fortunate that so many already are willing to open up and share the experiences that led to the creation of “Journey of Heroes.” I hope more veterans of the proud 100th/442nd can overcome those sentiments and share their stories for the next generation and many more beyond.
The only “gripe” I have is that this graphic novel is such a small, thin volume that it could easily be passed over on the bookshelf — it doesn’t even have its name on the very narrow spine. It would be a shame if this very worthy book were lost due to mere slimness of size. I wish Hayashi much luck in raising the support and getting the help she needs to get more books out to students. Her original goal was to split the first print run of 10,000 copies in half, with 5,000 being distributed to students and libraries and another 5,000 being sold to recoup production costs. While that strategy’s been a success — so much so that a second printing’s become a possibility — production logistics are a bit of a concern, as this comment on the book’s Facebook page would indicate.
From the once-happy-go-lucky times of prewar Hawaii, to the internment of Japanese-Americans, through the difficulties of finally becoming a true unit, to the Vosges rescue, to the liberation of a Jewish death camp, to the homecoming back in the islands after the war, and beyond — this graphic novel truly takes us on the “Journey of Heroes.”
Jason’s note: From the Pile was supposed to be a semi-regular feature in which we profiled something at random from our large pile of yet-to-be-reviewed anime and manga. Considering the last installment came with Genkaku Picassoback when this blog was regularly updating on the starbulletin.com domain last year, and the last installment before thatcame with the gawd-awful Master of Martial Heartsaaaaaalllll the way back in 2010, we’ve kinda abandoned all hope of this being even “semi-regular.” But we still try. Oh, we still try. Anyway, without further ado …
Today’s profile: Aron’s Absurd Armada vol. 1 Author: MiSun Kim Publisher: Yen Press Suggested age rating: Older teen 16+ Availability: In print & readily available
Like many other books I get attracted to on a whim, the synopsis of the Korean manwha Aron’s Absurd Armada was what drew me in. It seemed like a funny enough series, about the misadventures of a pirate crew under the captainship of one Master Aron, a freewheeling noble who wants to go out and be a pirate because they’re “cool.” His faithful servant Robin naturally tags along with him to protect him — because if Aron gets killed, he’ll be out of a job, and Robin loves money more than anything.
Along the way they pick up two sailors, Gilbert and Anton, and a mysterious tomboyish girl, Ronnie, who is constantly mistaken as a guy, which provides the fodder for a lot of the jokes. Rounding out the crew is another gender-bender mate, Mercedes the hairstylist, a guy who looks (and acts) like a girl, and “chef” Vincent, whose cooking skills — or, more accurately, the lack of them — create concoctions that are probably the most lethal weapon the pirate wannabes have aboard.
You can tell right off the bat that this is going to be one of those series that will live up to its name and makes no bones about it. The character descriptions on the first page, for example, say this about Aron: “He’s an immature rascal who drives people up the wall, and he’s a stupid dumbass.”
After that introduction, I was ready to have a good laugh with what I expected to be a typical manga-style comedy story. But what I found instead is that Armada isn’t your usual manga or manwha style; it hews more closely to what’s known in Japanese as the 4-koma format. Rather than long-form stories drawn on full pages like regular manga, 4-koma — an abbreviation of the Japanese term that literally means “4-panel comic” — is more like the daily newspaper funnies: The strip is divided into four frames and usually ends with a gag.
Because of that, any apparent character development or seriousness during the first three panels is almost immediately wiped away by the silliness of the last panel. There are occasional longer comics that are more in the typical manga format, but even those end just as inanely. At the end of 30 pages, which is as far as I managed to force myself through before tossing the book down in disgust, I wasn’t sure if anyone had any “development” at all or if the comics had merely cemented the “Absurd” part of the title.
This steep up-and-down cycle gets stale, extremely annoying and terribly disappointing after just the first few strips. If the technique was meant as a laugh-getter — hey, here’s a totally serious situation but we’ll end it on an unexpected ridiculous note because it’s FUNNY! — then it failed miserably. (Actually, after just a few strips, it won’t be “unexpected” any more, just exactly HOW it ends will continue to be the surprise.) If the story kept solely to running up the “funny” meter, rather than trying to include some actual development, then Armada might work. Barely.
Adding to the headache is that Kim often squeezes a lot of text and action into the small frames, many of which are divided into even smaller blocks to try to get even more into the story, so the four panels usually turn into six, eight or more. The detailed art style suffers from being squished into such a small space, and a lot of times coherency is sacrificed as well — at points I struggled to understand the story and which character was saying what.
I read Armada off and on for about a week before I finally gave up. When I opened it up again after a couple of months (because, to be honest, I had nothing else to read and that was the only thing close at hand) and picked up from where I’d left off, I found myself laughing out loud at the gags. But the enjoyment still faded just as quickly as when I’d initially started reading.
So as my experience shows, Armada is one of those books that: 1. grows on you; 2. tickles your funny bone once you understand that it’s not a serialized comic; and 3. like anything slapstick, is best in small doses. Emphasis on “small.”
Still, in the end, there’s only so much I can take, and seeing as this was labeled as volume 1, there’s apparently more in store. But my patience and sanity were exhausted by the time I managed to reach the end of the book, and the thought of a “volume 2” and beyond makes my mental faculties scream for mercy. My brain has had all it can handle of Aron’s Absurd Armada.