Ota-cool Incoming: Cons, cons everywhere, and nary a time to breathe

It’s been a wild past few weeks here at Otaku Ohana Central, a time that’s included voice actors conducting panels after a lovely morning swim off Hawaii island, some friendly neighborhood anime/manga/cartooning blogger dork talking for a good 40 minutes or so at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, a governor and a congressman offering proclamations and plaudits for comics legend Stan Lee, and lots and lots and lots of waiting in lines.

Also, this happened.

ban daisuke

Hello, Kikaida star Ban Daisuke. Nice to finally get to meet you. Although it was a bit awkward when the person we thought was going to take our picture wandered off to go take pictures of the other costumed characters at Kikaida Day. But I digress.

I’ll have some thoughts on my recent 11-day span of otaku craziness in my next post (which I will try to post really, really soon even if it kills me in the process), but I reeeeeeaaaaaallly need to take a look at what’s coming up over the next few weekends first. We’re coming up on the third of five straight weekends of otaku-related activities, and keeping everything straight (and perhaps pushing you, dear reader, to attend an event or two in the process!) is what I do best. Or at least try to do best, anyway, whenever I have the time/energy to do so.

mini con poster

Our tour of events starts with Saturday and Mini Con at McCully-Moiliili Library. Branch manager Hillary Chang has been putting on this free little slice of comic-con culture for six years now — holy cats, I feel old just typing that — and this year’s installment is, pardon the cliche, bigger and better than ever before.

Longtime exhibitors Jon Murakami (Gordon Rider, Ararangers, the Star-Advertiser’s “Calabash” strip), Audra Furuichi (nemu*nemu, the Star-Advertiser’s “nemu*nemu: Blue Hawaii” strip) and Kevin Sano (Crazy Shirts artist and painter of many Kikaida-themed Minion toys) will be joined this year by Christopher Caravalho, Aumakua: Guardians of Hawaii artist. Brady Evans from the Honolulu Museum of Art will host a digital painting demo at 11 a.m., where you can learn how he creates pretty prettiness like “Wisteria” here. Young adult author David Estes will give a talk at 11:45 a.m., “From Accountant to Author: Getting Started as a Writer.” Collect a stamp from everyone and receive a free comic! Here’s what the stamp card looks like.

mini con card

Of particular note is that this will be the last time you’ll be able to pick up some of that sweet nemu*nemu merchandise in person this year; Audra’s said she’s going to be skipping her traditional holiday craft fair circuit in favor of travel, so stock up on those gifts now! (Or you could just go online and order anytime, but hey, I’m old-school. Personal interaction’s always nice.) Cosplay, of course, is also welcomed; heck, here’s Hillary cosplaying with coworker Wendy Araki at last year’s event.

03 me Wendy

Mini Con runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at McCully-Moiliili Library (2211 S. King St.); as I recommend every year, you’ll want to come early for the best parking opportunities. There’s a new, welcomed twist this time around, though: Overflow parking will be available in the Ross Dress for Less lot across the street. Yay! Call 973-1099 for more information or if you need to make special arrangements.

anime day 2015

A week later, Kawaii Kon will be hosting its fourth annual Anime Day at Windward Mall. Everything you loved about past Anime Days will be back for another round, including the Cosplay Runway, games, art activities, discounted three-day passes for Kawaii Kon 2016, a selection of Artist Alley vendors (including the Star-Advertiser’s own Erika Engle and her handcrafted jewelry!) and a mall-wide stamp rally for the chance to win a fabulous prize. All of this happens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the mall, 46-056 Kamehameha Highway. And, of course, admission is free! Visit facebook.com/events/899357246825955/ for the latest details.

QuickMechaRide

And then about a week after that, on Oct. 9-11? It’s time for Anime Ohana, the fifth of our state’s six-convention windfall this year. As I noted earlier this year, this convention, started by Kawaii Kon founder Stan Dahlin and Sentai Filmworks producer David Williams, will feature voice actors Jessica Calvello (Hange Zoe, Attack on Titan; Yuri, Dirty Pair), Monica Rial (Kaede Kayano, Assassination Classroom) and David Matranga (the title role in Orphen) and all the usual accouterments we’ve come to know and love from the other four conventions this year. (Seriously, if you have to ask what kinds of activities will be available, you really haven’t been paying much attention to the con scene this year.)

All this is going down at the Pagoda Hotel at 1525 Rycroft St., just a short walk away from YogurStory, Walmart, Walgreens, Don Quijote, Like Like Drive Inn, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka … umm, can you tell some of the places I’ll be stopping by during con down time? For the latest news, visit the event page at facebook.com/events/742706302513876/; for passes (available in 1-3 day varieties for both children and adults), visit animeohana.com.

Elsewhere around town

Aiea Library Polar Bear Cafe & Friends Anime Club: Every month, I joke with young adult librarian Diane Masaki that she ought to change the name of the Anime Club to the Polar Bear Cafe & Friends Club, seeing as how the screening schedule for the past few months has consistently been two episodes of the 2012-2013 anime followed by two more episodes of something else. (This month, the “friends” part will likely be Squid Girl.) Every month, she gives me the same response: “Pfffffffft.” I’ll keep trying, folks. At the library, 99-374 Pohai Place, where even now, more than a year after opening, there’s still plenty of parking. For more information or to RSVP, call 483-7333 or email aiealibraryanimeclub@yahoo.com. 3 p.m. Saturday.

Anime Matsuri Hawaii LUV Day: “LUV” is short for “Let Us Volunteer,”and at this event, you’ll get to meet con directors John and Deneice Leigh and learn everything about volunteer opportunities at the last convention of the year, being held over Black Friday weekend (Nov. 27-29). Bonus: There will be games! And prizes! Lili’u Theater, Hawai’i Convention Center (room 310, in the corner closest to Kalakaua Avenue and the Ala Wai Canal), 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Ingress First Saturday: Ever wanted to learn how to play Niantic Labs’ massively multiplayer augmented reality smartphone game? Feel like honing your skills and learning playing tips from high-level agents? Want to meet The Face of Hawaii Ingress in person? Care to see what Niantic is capable of producing before their new likely-to-be-a-megahit collaboration with Nintendo, Pokemon Go, goes live and turns what we’ve known for several years as the Hawaiian Netmender Fountain portal into Jigglypuff? Come to Kapiolani Park for a day of cross-factional rivalry, fellowship, and … triangles! Lots! And lots! Of TRIANGLES~!

Meet at the Diamond Head Landmark portal (www.ingress.com/intel?ll=21.265395,-157.82058&z=17&pll=21.265395,-157.82058 for those of you with scanners; about halfway between the Waikiki Aquarium and the Natatorium on the park side of Kalakaua Avenue for those who don’t). To the Enlightened, may the odds be forever in your favor. To the Resistance, umm … enjoy the cross-factional potluck afterward? Yeah. That’s it. Starts at 9 a.m. Oct. 3.

Random Ingress Portal of the Post:

Screenshot_2015-09-23-17-36-37

Meet Drainage Marker! It’s … a drainage marker! On the corner of South King Street and Ward Avenue!

(Yeah, Niantic’s portal approval team was probably half-asleep when they approved this one.)

Gamer Expo 2015: The second annual edition of what’s been called the state’s largest video game event will feature tournaments for pretty much all the hot games out there (Super Smash Bros.! Hearthstone! Halo! Street Fighter! League of Legends! More!), a retro gaming section, and pretty much all the pew-pew-hack-slash-kick-punch-it’s-all-in-the-mind action you could possibly want. Special guests include Super Smash Bros. pro players Corey “False” Shin, Larry “Larry Lurr” Holland, William “Dkwill” Walsh, Max “Max Ketchum” Krchmar and Michael “MikeKirby” Alvare, and noted Hearthstone streamer Hafu. Presented by eSports HI; $25 general admission, $43 VIP pass. The Modern Honolulu (1775 Ala Moana Blvd.); 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 3.

The big convention roundup

Yes, four out of six shows for this year are done, and it’s already time to start thinking about next year. Con dates are already scheduled out through next September, in fact! Here’s everything I know so far. Unless otherwise noted, con venue is the Hawai’i Convention Center:

Anime Matsuri Hawaii: Featuring guests — deep breath in, Jason — voice actors Johnny Yong Bosch, Crispin Freeman and Maile Flanagan; Justin Rojas, representing Funimation; Masahiko Otsuka, president of Studio Trigger (the studio behind recent hits Kill la Kill and Little Witch Academia); musical guest DaizyStripper; professional cosplayers Goldy, Yuegene Fay, Stella Chuu, Reika and Vampy Bit Me; fashion designers Shunsuke Hasegawa (Putumayo designer) and Chinatsu Taira (Metamorphose chief designer); and KERA/Gothic Lolita Bible model Yui Minakata. And exhale. Nov. 27-29.

Kawaii Kon: The 12th annual edition of Hawaii’s first anime convention will feature a return visit by voice actor Johnny Yong Bosch and his band, Eyeshine, as well as the first visit by Japanese rock band Loverin Tamburin. April 8-10.

Amazing Hawaii Comic Con: Save the date! The follow-up to what may well be the biggest pop-culture convention in Hawaii now (pending the formal release of attendance numbers and what I’ve heard about really crowded conditions Friday and Saturday) will be May 20-22.

Comic Con Honolulu: Kawaii Kon’s pop-culture con spinoff hopes to build on its strong debut with guests Erin Gray (Col. Deering, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), Colin Ferguson (Federal Marshal Jack Carter, Eureka), Summer Glau (River Tam, Firefly/Serenity) and Kristin Bauer (Maleficent, Once Upon A Time). July 29-31.

HawaiiCon: Guests announced so far include Simpsons/Futurama artist Bill Morrison, actress Nichelle Nichols (Uhuru in the original Star Trek) and science fiction author John Scalzi.  Sept. 15-18, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel (Hawaii island).

The Zelda symphony: “Goddesses” among mortals

zelda cosplayHi 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!”

Photo courtesy of Chris Kwock.

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.

This shot was taken before the performance started, by the way.

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.

Photo courtesy of Chris Kwock.
Photo courtesy of Chris Kwock.

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.

Photo courtesy of Chris Kwock.

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.

My disappointments? I was kinda hoping there was some way of inserting the “You found a secret!” chime or the “Hooray! You found a 5-rupee piece in this out-of-the-way treasure chest!” fanfare somewhere in the show — they’re musical interludes of a few seconds, of course, but it would’ve been a neat little Easter egg and a nod to the fans. As for longer pieces, the overworld theme from Spirit Tracks comes to mind, mostly because that thing got wedged in my brain during my play-through several years back and refuses to let go. Please send help.

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.

“Borderlands” tales: The Claptrap chronicles

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.

Continue reading ““Borderlands” tales: The Claptrap chronicles”

Otaku melodies flow into 2015

This hasn’t exactly been the most productive of months here at Otaku Ohana Central. You probably could have figured that out from the fact that this is the first post I’ve made here this month … and the month, not to mention all of 2014, is almost over. Apologies for the long delay between posts.

There are more posts in the works — my look back on the year that was in the otaku community will be coming up shortly, followed by my long overdue profile of/interview with josei manga artist Erica Sakurazawa, and then my even longer overdue chat with voice actor Kyle Hebert will be coming after that. But first, we have some housekeeping to tend to here, so let’s dig in (and get my writing chops back up to speed!) with a pair of recent music-themed news tidbits.

Eir AoiThe freshest news comes from the Kawaii Kon camp, with the Christmas Day announcement that singer Eir Aoi — that’s her at right — will be the headlining musical guest at the anime convention in 2015. The 26-year-old is the voice behind a number of popular anime theme songs, including Fate/Zero, Kill la Kill, Mobile Suit Gundam AGE and Sword Art Online and its sequel. All of her music — including her two albums to date, Blau and Aube — are available digitally via  iTunes or Amazon’s digital music department. This will be Aoi’s first appearance in Hawaii.

Aoi joins cosplayer Leah Rose and voice actors Rob Paulsen (Yakko Warner, Animaniacs), Jess Harnell (Wakko Warner, Animaniacs), Bryce Papenbrook (Eren, Attack on Titan), Todd Haberkorn (Haruka, Free! Eternal Summer) and — announced during my unanticipated hiatus from this blog — Cassandra Morris (Kyubey, Madoka Magica) as guests for next year’s show, scheduled for March 27-29 at the Hawai’i Convention Center. Visit www.kawaii-kon.org for more information or to register.

20141225_201259_3_bestshotMeanwhile, those of you who are more into symphonic music and video games — specifically, of the Legend of Zelda variety — will be pleased to know that Nintendo’s officially licensed concert tour, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, will be stopping by at 8 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Blaisdell Concert Hall. From the official concert website (zelda-symphony.com):

Designed to be a journey as epic and thrilling as the Legend itself, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses presents the music of this celebrated franchise with all-new arrangements directly approved by franchise producer Eiji Aonuma and Nintendo composer and sound director Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda).

Featuring a first in video game concert history, The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses has been arranged and programmed with classical sensibilities in mind, organizing the music of this beloved franchise into a complete, 4 movement symphony, worthy of the Hero of Hyrule himself.

Insert “treasure GET!” music here.

You can expect selections from Majora’s Mask, Link Between Worlds, Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, along with chicken skin and/or loud cheering when the opening strains of the Legend of Zelda Overture” begin to play. I understand there’s going to be a rather large contingent of cosplayers coming to see the show, so bring your cameras (but please stow them away during the performance itself).

Want tickets. Sure, you do. Because there are plenty. (The dark spots show available seats as of Christmas Day.)

zelda ticket map

Everything from the back-of-the-house seats ($48.05 including fees) to the hard-core fan VIP seats ($138.55, includes a limited-edition poster and a meet-and-greet with the producers following the show) remain available. Just click on that ticket map above to order via Ticketmaster (and get an up-to-date view of tickets sold, to boot).

Baby, the anime/manga/toon stars shine bright

Welcome back to Otaku Ohana, the blog that I’ve had far too little time to update for one reason or another as of late. I thank you for your continued patience and readership.

One of the combined benefits/drawbacks of not having time to post for so long is that the news tends to stack up. A lot. That’s the way it’s been with guest announcements at various shows and events around town; one minute, you’re hearing that two of the voice actors from your favoritest show in the world ever as you were growing up are coming to town, then the up-and-coming sci-fi convention on another island brings in a few anime-related fan favorites of their own, then a bona fide manga artist shows up, and pretty soon you’re sitting down and writing a blog post that runs for more than 1,600 words. Heck, one of these announcements (*cough*Melissa Fahn*cough*) is so new, it hasn’t even been formally announced in public yet, but it has been confirmed and vetted for release to me by HawaiiCon, so I’m rolling with it.

You’re going to need a scorecard to keep track of everyone who’s coming in, so here’s a roundup of all the guest announcements that have been made to date. Taku Taku Matsuri, Kawaii Kon, HawaiiCon, even a Honolulu Museum of Art exhibit … they’re all here.

Jamie Lynn Lano

Princess of Tennis coverBest known for: She’s one of the rare artists from the United States who’s managed to make a go of things in the manga industry in Japan, serving as an assistant to Prince of Tennis artist Takeshi Konomi for about a year as he worked on launching The New Prince of Tennis and chronicling her experience, first on her blog at jamieism.com and then in her memoir released this year, The Princess of Tennis. She’s since moved to Oahu and has become a mainstay with the Nightmarchers, Honolulu’s Quidditch team (profiled in this story, available to Star-Advertiser subscribers). At Taku Taku Matsuri, she’ll be hosting a panel from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. as well as taking part in a demonstration with the Nightmarchers from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Appearing at: Taku Taku Matsuri, Saturday at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii (2211 S. Beretania St.) Presale tickets ($13) and ticket/T-shirt packs ($20) are available at www.gofundme.com/dbi0fc. Prices will be higher at the door, so save yourself a few bucks and order now.

Cristina Vee

cristina veeBest known for: Mio in K-ON!, Homura in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Rei/Sailor Mars in Viz’s new Sailor Moon English dub, and Alisa Bosconovitch in Tekken: Blood Vengeance — she’s voiced them all in a career that’s been going strong since she voiced Nanoha in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha in 2008. She’s also voiced various characters in video games including the BlazBlue franchise, Skullgirls and Ar Tonelico.

Appearing at: Taku Taku Matsuri, Saturday. Her panel will run from 3:30 to 5 p.m. with an autograph session to follow from 5 to 6:30 p.m. There are also seven slots still available for a special lunch with her at noon Sunday; those packages, which also include a Taku Taku ticket and T-shirt, are going for $100. Get them at the GoFundMe link above.

Erica Sakurazawa

Aromatic BittersBest known for: Remember back in the early-to-mid-2000s, when Tokyopop was at the height of its “throw all the manga and sorta-manga at the wall and let’s see what sticks” power? Among those that got largely lost in that shuffle were six standalone volumes by Erica Sakurazawa published under their “Manga After Hours” banner: Between the Sheets, Angel, Angel Nest, Nothing But Loving You, The Rules of Love and The Aromatic Bitters. As the line’s banner would indicate, these weren’t your average mass-market titles aimed at teens; instead, they were josei manga, mature stories with a target audience of women in their 20s and older. Johanna Draper Carlson has a profile of those books over at Manga Worth Reading.

Sakurazawa is appearing in connection with the Honolulu Museum of Art’s new exhibit opening Thursday, “Modern Love: 20th-Century Japanese Erotic Art,” which will feature a section on manga with one of her works, Love Vibes, translated into English. Art from Moyoco Anno (In Clothes Called Fat, Happy Mania, Sugar Sugar Rune) and Suehiro Maruo (Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show, The Strange Tale of Panorama Island) also will be featured. As the exhibit title indicates, there’s going to be a lot of imagery containing mature themes in this exhibit, so you’ll want to leave the kids at home for this one.

Appearing at: Honolulu Museum of Art Doris Duke Theater, Wed., Dec. 3, 4 p.m. Admission is free. She’s also hosting a workshop at the Honolulu Museum of Art School on Dec. 7 where she’ll be demonstrating her step-by-step process for drawing manga, but unless you already have an invitation to that, you can’t go. Sorry about that.

Todd Haberkorn

Best known for: The newest addition to this guest roundup (announced by Kawaii Kon Sunday night!), Haberkorn’s no stranger to our little rock in the middle of the Pacific, having been a guest at Kawaii Kon in 2013. He was recently added to the English dub cast of fangirl fanservice magnet Free! Eternal Summer, playing the role of Haruka Nanase. Other prominent roles include Natsu in Fairy Tail, Death the Kid in Soul Eater, Allen Walker in D.Gray Man, Italy in Hetalia Axis Powers, Keisuke Takahashi in Initial D, Keroro in Sgt. Frog and Kimihiro Watanuki in xxxHolic.

Appearing at: Kawaii Kon, March 27-29. Three-day passes are available online for $53 ($44 children ages 5-12) at www.showclix.com/event/3817763/listing. There are still a few Artist Alley tables available for sale at that link. And if you have some extra piles of cash around the house, please give me some there’s still a VIP Package for one person ($750), a VIP Package for two people ($900) and a lifetime membership pass ($3,000) available.

Jess Harnell

Animaniacs v4Best known for: He’s played a number of roles over the years — he was the voice of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Bill Clinton and Isaac Newton in the recent CGI revival of Mr. Peabody & Sherman! — but the one role pretty much anyone who grew up in the ’90s remembers him for is Wakko Warner, the baseball-cap-wearing, giant mallet-bearing Warner sibling in Animaniacs with a Ringo Starr-esque voice.

Appearing at: Kawaii Kon, March 27-29.

Rob Paulsen

Best known for: At Kawaii Kon this year, Jim Cummings filled the role of “the guy who voiced half the characters of your childhood” quite nicely. Next year? Paulsen’s bringing the other half. Consider his resume: Yakko Warner, Dr. Otto von Scratchensniff and Pinky in Animaniacs. Raphael in the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Donatello in Nickelodeon’s CGI Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles revival. Carl in The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Arthur in The Tick. Throttle in Biker Mice From Mars. P.J. Pete in Goof Troop. Bubsy the Bobcat in those series of Mario/Sonic-esque 2-D platformer games that we’d much rather forget from the Super Nintendo era. The list goes on and on and on.

Appearing at: Kawaii Kon, March 27-29.

Bryce Papenbrook

Best known for: As the first person announced as a guest for Kawaii Kon 2015 — the news came down at this year’s closing ceremonies back in April — Papenbrook is the person we’ve known is coming to Hawaii for the longest time. He’s the voice of Eren in Attack on Titan, Rin Okumura in Blue Exorcist, Kirito in Sword Art Online and Hanabusa Aidou in Vampire Knight, which I understand are four series chock full of the new hawtness that all the young ‘uns have been flocking to in droves in recent years.

Appearing at: Kawaii Kon, March 27-29.

Steve Blum

bebopBest known for: Being the voices of two space voyagers — Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop, Tom the android in countless Cartoon Network Toonami block bumpers — as well as the red-cloaked man with his trusty handgun Cerberus, Vincent Valentine, in Final Fantasy VII offshoots Dirge of Cerberus and Advent Children, and the sinister Orochimaru in the Naruto franchise. Blum’s previous convention appearance in the islands was at Kawaii Kon in 2007.

Appearing at: HawaiiCon, Sept. 10-13 at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel on Hawaii island. Discounted four-day passes ($125), VIP passes ($399) and “Five-Year Mission” passes for the next five years of the convention ($500) are available through Dec. 31 at www.eventbrite.com/e/hawaiicon-2015-pre-sale-passes-tickets-13085636491. (Also, if you’re a fan of Farscape, Firefly, Dr. Who or Stargate, you might want to have a look at this Kickstarter campaign that went live Tuesday night. Just sayin’.)

Melissa Fahn

Best known for: Complementing Blum in Cowboy Bebop as the voice of — take a deep breath here — Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV, ace computer hacker aboard the Bebop. She’s also continuing the trend of Invader Zim voice actors who have visited our fair isles, being the voice of Gaz in that series. Other roles include Eri Ninamori in FLCL … and the Tachikoma in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which links her to someone else who’ll be visiting Hawaii next year…

Appearing at: HawaiiCon, Sept. 10-13.

Mary Elizabeth McGlynn

GitS SACBest known for: Ten years ago this past September, the long-awaited sequel to the Ghost in the Shell movie, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, made its U.S. debut. A quick search on Rotten Tomatoes shows that it wasn’t nearly as well-regarded as the first one. Looking back now, it was notable for one reason: It marked Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s debut as the voice of Motoko Kusanagi, a role she held throughout the franchise’s Stand-Alone Complex phase.  She’s also voiced a number of anime roles under the alias of Melissa Williamson, including Julia in Cowboy Bebop, Urd in Ah! My Goddess: The Movie, Nuriko in Fushigi Yugi and Hilda in Outlaw Star.

And voice acting isn’t her sole talent in the industry; she’s served as ADR director for everything Naruto-related in the United States as well as Cowboy Bebop, and she’s sung a number of tracks on the soundtracks for Silent Hill 3, 4 and Origins. (Also, “Your Rain (Rage Mix)” and “You’re Not Here” in your Dance Dance Revolution playlists? That’s her singing.)

Appearing at: HawaiiCon, Sept. 10-13.

May the Triforce be with us

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…

Continue reading “May the Triforce be with us”

The week in panels and portals

Good news, everyone: The “Made in Japan, Loved in Hawaii” panel, which I talked about in my last post, went off without a hitch. Roy Bann, Brady Evans, Audra Furuichi, Jon Murakami and I talked about anime and tokusatsu series for a little over two hours, more people were sitting in the audience than were on the panel, and I didn’t die of embarrassment afterward. Victories all around! Thank you to all of you who came to visit, even if you stayed for just a little while.

Since I was sitting on the panel and couldn’t exactly take pictures of myself, I’ve been relying on what panel attendees have posted and shared with me to see what we looked like up there. Friend/coworker/Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker reviewer Christina Chun sent along a few pictures; here are me and Audra …

… Jon and Brady …

… and Roy, who served as panel moderator.

Here’s a full shot of the panel table taken by cartoonist Roy Chang.

And here’s a shot of all five of us after the panel, taken using the official Otaku Ohana Camera of Record by McCully/Moiliili Library branch manager Hillary Chang.

In case you missed it or weren’t able to stay for the whole thing, not to worry: I recorded the whole thing, and the slides we used — created through Prezi, an online app — are publicly available for viewing. You can download the audio file (a 121 MB download via Google Drive) at http://ow.ly/uwyBr, while the slides are available at http://ow.ly/uwyTQ. Find a comfortable seat, follow along and enjoy; I hope the audio’s okay throughout. (I haven’t had a chance to listen through the whole thing yet, although the portions I’ve heard sound pretty good.)

This week — Thursday at 6:30 p.m., to be exact — I’ll be out at Aiea Library to help my Enlightened teammates take over the library portal yet again chime in where needed with a presentation on Ingress, the massively multiplayer augmented reality mobile online game profiled in our paper (subscription required to view) a few weeks ago. (As our writer, Steven Mark, put it, it’s like “‘Capture the Flag’ for tech geeks,” using area landmarks as capture points, or “portals.”) Heck, the person who set up this panel in the first place, Aiea Library young adult librarian Diane Masaki, was front and center and pretty much became The Face of Hawaii Ingress ™ in the picture on the Today section cover:

That’s her in the black shirt in the front row.

Here’s the official panel description:

The world around you is not what it seems. It’s happening all around you. They aren’t coming. They’re already here.

Our future is at stake. And you must choose a side. A mysterious energy has been unearthed by a team of scientists in Europe. The origin and purpose of this force is unknown, but some researchers believe it is influencing the way we think. We must control it or it will control us.

“The Enlightened” seek to embrace the power that this energy may bestow upon us. “The Resistance” struggle to defend, and protect what’s left of our humanity.

Find out what it’s all about during Teen Tech Week!

Also significant: It’s the last public program at the current library location (99-143 Moanalua Road) before they pull up stakes and head to their new building on the site of the former Aiea Sugar Mill. So if you’ve ever been curious about the game or some of those Ingress-related jokes that I’ve increasingly been including in this blog, come on out. We’d love to see you.

Layton in another light: Enter the “Mystery Room”

Layton Brothers Mystery Room title screen

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.

Well, not really.

Continue reading “Layton in another light: Enter the “Mystery Room””

Deficiencies peek out from behind ‘Miracle Mask’

Layton coverToday’s profile: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
Publisher: Nintendo
System: Nintendo 3DS
ESRB rating: E10+ (suitable for everyone ages 10 and up)

For those of you who are still procrastinating on getting a gift for the gamer in your life, I’ve got a great suggestion: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask!

Yes, you knew this was coming — particularly because, well, this, this and this — and here it is.

But for this latest Layton series game, which was released Oct. 28, I’ll skip my unofficial tradition of recounting how insane I went trying to get the game on release day (mostly because I didn’t go as nuts this time around). I will say, however, that a certain store advertised it in its circular, I rushed to said store and got there before it opened, and there was one other customer actually trying to find the game along with me because it wasn’t out on the shelves, so we had to bug two separate sales associates, and the store had only 5 in stock, and WE SNAGGED TWO OF THEM.

In Miracle Mask, the titular professor Hershel Layton once again receives a letter from an old friend, this time from one Angela Ledore, whom he hasn’t heard from in many years. She talks about a personage calling himself the Masked Gentleman — and he does indeed wear one — who is terrorizing the desert oasis of Monte d’Or, a Las Vegas-type city that her husband, Henry, helped build from scratch into a haven of glitz and glamour in a mere 18 years. Angela, who was like a sister to Layton in his youth, asks the professor to investigate before these actions destroy the town.

74075_Animation_01_13_The Gentleman has been performing what he terms “dark miracles” — events that include the apparent transformation of people into horses, a cage full of Monte d’Or residents going up in flames but with those same people later found at home unharmed, and paintings suddenly coming to life with their subjects running out into the streets and wreaking injurious havoc. But what really clinches things for Layton is the mention of the Gentleman pulling off these stunts with the power of something called the Mask of Chaos — a relic from an ancient civilization and one that has a very personal connection to the professor.

Miracle Mask is the second prequel game, coming after Last Specter and before the animated movie Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva. Layton’s assistant from Last Specter, Emmy Altava, returns here along with his self-appointed apprentice, Luke Triton.

withi durin n the first 15 minutes you’re already treated to a bevy of new controls and animation
because you now have to essentially double-tap to find coins, it’s difficult to keep the magnifying glass in the same place
the space to input your answers is now on the touch screen
It makes for some extra work as you need to tap the arrow to pull up the text of the puzzle, but it’s also handy to be able to write down answers as you might think of them
controls take a bit of time getting used to. i kept tapping the suitcase when i wanted to move, as the move “shoe” icon was located there in previous games.

To envision this in 3-D, please print out this image, cut out the figures and hold them slightly above the background. Crinkle for texture.Within the first 15 minutes of the game, you’re treated to a bevy of new controls and animation. In-game characters are now drawn in 3-D (without needing to use the 3DS’s built-in ability), and although it’s strange at first, it grows on you soon enough. Most cut scenes are still done in the old 2-D style, but some scenes using the 3-D figures do come later in the game. They’re well done and the characters move as fluidly as in the regular 2-D animation, though they still give a sense of being slightly stiff marionettes.

Moving around town is a bit simpler. Instead of a Shoe icon as in previous games, a map of your current location and adjacent areas appears on the 3DS’s touch screen. Places you can move to are marked as orange dots; touch the desired dot to move there, and the location will show up on the upper screen. In this way, you move through Monte d’Or.

However, exploring is a little more complicated than before. Along with the familiar Trunk icon on the touch screen is a magnifying glass, which is the Investigation icon. To check around an area, first you must tap that magnifying glass to enter Investigation mode, which causes a corresponding glass to appear on the upper screen. Instead of tapping madly, you now slide the stylus on the touch screen to move the magnifying glass over the area. The glass will turn orange when you land on something of interest; tapping on it then reveals a person with something to say (and very likely with a puzzle to throw your way); a distinct feature of the town, with commentary from Layton, Emmy and Luke (and all three of them WILL comment); a hidden puzzle or treasure; or a hint coin.

Sometimes the glass will turn blue, denoting a place to zoom into. Zooming in uncovers deeper areas, along with more people and treasures.

Adding to the complexity: Locations now extend beyond the dimensions of the 3DS’s physical screen, so you need to move all around while in Investigation mode to see everything possible. This could prove slightly dizzying if you’re like me, wiggling the magnifying glass all over everything to try to find every nook and cranny where the glass might turn orange or blue and reveal secret items.

The controls do take some getting used to. Because of the disconnect between the movement of the magnifying glass and your control of it, and because of the lag the 3DS has in responding to stylus movements, it can be hard to home in on points of interest if, like me, you slide the thing around rapidly and keep passing over the precise point where the glass turns orange. You now have to double-tap to grab hint coins, and it’s difficult to keep the magnifying glass in the same place to do so. I also kept accidentally tapping the Trunk icon when I wanted to move to another area, as the Shoe icon was located in that spot in previous games.

Yes, there's a puzzle involving Layton's hat. There always is. Luke's hat? Never. But Layton? Every single game.Then there are the puzzles themselves. The mandatory, zero-picarat “puzzles” that must be solved to advance the game make a reappearance — mostly in the form of multiple-choice questions as Layton and the police are dissecting the Masked Gentleman’s “miracles” — and there is no loss if you don’t quite solve it the first time around. Other puzzles are standard Layton franchise fare, and none (that I’ve found so far) take advantage of the console’s 3-D ability. What they have added are mostly aesthetics: The puzzle and the space to input your answer will be on the touchscreen, and some kind of animation will often be on the upper screen — such as little statues of cats jumping over each other when trying to clear a board of all but one statue, or pizza slices flipping upside down and right side up as you try to get the entire pizza facing the correct way up.

Because of this, the text of the puzzle is hidden, though you can easily pull it up again by tapping on the arrow to make it appear on whichever screen you choose. It makes for a little extra work, but it’s also handy to be able to write down answers as you might think of them.

But similar to investigating areas, there’s a disconnect in the controls in some puzzles, such as one in which you must guide a ladybug around a corncob that has had pathways “eaten” into the corn. The corn and ladybug appear on the upper screen, while on the touch screen there is a “dial” that rotates 360 degrees and that is used to direct the ladybug’s movements. Again, the lag in reaction time means you often find yourself smacking the bug against a wall of corn or missing the intersection you wanted to take. It’s a good thing running into corn is harmless in this case, as opposed to, say, trying to maneuver the bug around a maze atop lava and trying not to fall off the edge into the lava below.

Silly rabbit, tricks are for kiGAH LOOK OUT FOR THAT TREEAnd, of course, there are the usual mini games found in the Professor’s Trunk. This time, you have to train a lazy rabbit to perform actions in stories on stage so the circus ringmaster will allow him back into the circus. (After awhile, your rabbit becomes your hint-coin-finding helper, appearing every so often to warn you of coins that you missed in a particular scene. However, the rodent’s more useless than animals in previous games because all it does is pop up in the corner and doesn’t point out the exact location of the coin.) Another is a robot game in which you must guide a toy robot to land on a goal while avoiding enemies. The last is the one I had the most fun with: a shop game in which you arrange items on the shelves in such a way that the customer will be enticed into buying out the entire stock in one fell swoop. Successfully complete the mini games to unlock more difficult puzzles in the Bonus section.

But the most fascinating part of “Miracle Mask” is the Ruins Mode, which is more of an action-adventure that’s easier to play using the D-pad and buttons. The Ruins are an integral part of the game, so without giving too much away, I will say that the first few rooms offer a tutorial into how to make your way through the Ruins, although the first room you come across with an obvious solution to veteran adventurers is painful as you watch Layton go through the motions of being at first unable to solve it.

Ruins Mode is where the game really gets exciting because it’s so different from the usual puzzles. (Plus, those mummies are actually kind of scary. My heart was pounding when they closed in on me as I tried desperately to run to safety.) The concept is simple: Each room has a mixture of enemies, obstacles, switches and rocks, and you must use some things and avoid others to get to the door at the other end of the room to advance. Hint coins are occasionally buried in the ground, marked quite obviously by a glowing yellow light.

The Ruins are also a turning point in the story, when you discover exactly what happened that affected Layton — and indeed his entire life — so drastically.

In this scene, Luke gets in some needed "point with conviction and purpose!" training, foreshadowing his meeting with Phoenix Wright and Maya Fey in "Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney." (Or not.)And ah, the story. Perhaps I’m getting a bit desensitized to the plot lines in the Layton series, but in this regard the series seems to be failing. While uncovering the secrets within Monte d’Or is certainly engrossing, the denouement is more of a disappointment now than in previous games. Instead, they seem to be focusing on the larger, overarching story — if you recall the end of Last Specter, you know there’s something bigger going on, and the end of Miracle Mask advances that.

It’s really the promise of how everything comes together in what’s supposed to cap this second Layton trilogy that’s making me look forward to the sixth game — no longer is the prospect of solving more brain teasers as much of a draw as it was when I first discovered this series. In fact, I haven’t downloaded a single daily puzzle — oh yes, there are daily, rather than weekly, downloadable puzzles in Miracle Mask — nor have I been as eager to go back and find all the hidden puzzles and solve all the 80-picarat brain-busters. I haven’t even been tempted to enter the secret code from Last Specter to unlock the mystery goodies. The difficulty of the puzzles seems to be ramped up in this game — I probably used more hint coins in this game than the previous five combined — which might also explain my dampened enthusiasm for unlocking all of them.

Overall, I still enjoy the series. The great interactions between Layton, Emmy and Luke, the dialogue of other characters, and the excellent voice acting make “Miracle Mask” another worthy addition. But the series also seems to be wearing out its welcome. (For one thing, just how many depressing things can we believe the professor’s gone through without snapping?) The fan in me is more than a little ready to move on after the sixth game … or perhaps to Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, Capcom? Level-5? Just a suggestion.

Specter of disappointment loomed large

As the scheduled October release date approaches for the fifth game in the much-heralded “Professor Layton” series, subtitled “Miracle Mask,” let us have a little retrospective on the previous game, “Professor Layton and the Last Specter” for the Nintendo DS.

I think every time a new game in the “Layton” series comes out, I also hit a new low in terms of desperation and sanity loss.

lastspecter_coverFor “Last Specter,” I actually started an intermittent countdown to its release date on my Twitter feed. The only reason it was intermittent was because the surrounding days also happened to be chock full of personal stuff that prevented my fangirl mind from drooling over the impending “Layton” release every second.

Two nights before the scheduled release, my mind slowly started whirring. Very slowly, because the aforementioned personal stuff was still in full swing and still taking up the majority of my brain power. But apparently my hysteria takes an amazingly short time to spool up to sky-high levels, as evidenced by the fact that I was already trolling the website of the particular store that I bowled into last year to get the previous “Layton” game, hoping to find that store’s new Sunday ad to check if they’d have the game on the day of release. Keep in mind that I was frantically trying to get this information on Saturday night. I figured that hey, it was already midnight on the East Coast by this time, surely the latest flyer would be posted!

I found the ad and rapidly flipped through the digital pages. Much to my disappointment, the game was not listed. I then decided to check certain other likely stores’ websites, hoping for a glimmer of hope in once again getting the game two hours earlier, as with what happened with “Unwound Future.” Still nothing. My despair was growing.

Being that “Last Specter” was released nearly a year ago, I can no longer remember the exact sequence of events that led up to me eventually getting the game in my hands on the afternoon of the release date — which, as tag-team-partner-in-fandom Jason Y. tells me, was a moving target, with the date having been changed several times. I do not remember any of that, so I can no longer write about it. Which is probably just as well, considering the already pathetic state of my mind as evidenced by previous paragraphs. I do remember that Jason managed to snag me a copy on the morning of release at a certain big-box store that we never thought about checking originally, which hopefully means that I have more options this year for getting “Miracle Mask” early in the morning. I cannot remember how my feverish fangirl self managed to survive that ENTIRE MORNING knowing that “Last Specter” was available on the mainland but might very well not exist here on our little island in the Pacific. I can only barely remember reading the instruction book and then popping the game in my Nintendo DS.

So anyway. “Last Specter” is the first of a prequel trilogy to the “Professor Layton” games in which we see how the good professor and his young apprentice Luke first met. The game opens with Layton at his office at Gressenheller University, where he receives a certain letter that causes him to drop everything and rush out — although not, of course, without first having a spot of tea freshly brewed by his housekeeper, Rosa.

As Layton drives away, he runs into — or more appropriately, is chased down by — a young woman named Emmy Altava, who was hired by the dean to be the professor’s new assistant. He has Emmy read the letter, which is from his old friend Clark Triton, the mayor of the town of Misthallery. The town is being destroyed by a mysterious giant, and Clark asks his friend to investigate. But there’s also a hidden message in the letter that makes Layton think there’s much more going on. Emmy accompanies him to Misthallery and they meet with Clark.
Something dastardly is happening in the town of Misthallery, and Mayor Clark Triton asks his old friend Layton and the professor's assistant Emmy to investigate. --Courtesy GamesPress
The mayor is glad to see Layton, but he denies sending the letter that brought the professor into town. Eventually they discover that Clark’s son, Luke, was the one who sent the message. The boy has become somewhat of a recluse since the specter arrived; he desperately needs to talk someone to about the incidents, which is why he enlisted Layton’s help. Turns out that Luke is able to predict the specter’s attacks, and according to his calculations, one is scheduled that night. Layton, Emmy and Luke hurry off to the North Ely part of town to uncover what they can about this destructive giant.

“Last Specter” has all the familiar aspects. Anyone who’s played previous games will immediately fall into the well-worn routine of tapping madly around each scene to find hint coins. It was worse for me in this game after I discovered that the availability of hint coins within each screen is triggered by certain events — not all the hint coins will be there the first time you visit, so it will take several visits to grab all the coins in one scene. This causes some funny breaks in the storyline:

  • “Oh, there’s the door. Let’s knock!” — But first, let me tap around for hint coins.
  • “Look, there’s a bell on the counter. Let’s ring it and see what happens!” — Yeah, after I tap around for hint coins.
  • “Come on, we need to hurry to North Ely before the specter appears!” — Wait, I have to tap around for hint coins!

Again, “Last Specter” includes some improvements over the previous game — or perhaps “twists” is a better word. Characters once again move animatedly onscreen in the same manner I noticed in “Unwound Future,” but now the environment itself is much more interactive — signs at a rope bridge tilt or twist when you tap on them, mailboxes open and shut, sunlight fades in and out of a shady forest, a woman’s luggage falls off a cart. (I tried to tap on that last one to replace it on the wagon after being alarmed by its unexpected falling-off, but to no avail.)

Lead a tiny kitty out of a maze by tempting her with fresh fish. You'll see the cat run up to each fish and gobble it up. --Courtesy GamesPressSome of the puzzles are more dynamic, as well. One brain teaser requiring you to fill buckets at water fountains shows the containers being filled and makes splashing noises when you trace your path near the fountains. Another, in which you must lead a cat out of a maze by using fish as bait, shows the tiny kitty running to each fish and quickly devouring it until nothing but bones are left.

Something else new are mandatory puzzles that, unlike regular ones that are preceded by the well-known “Puzzle!” marker, are introduced with the “Layton” logo and are built directly into the storyline without necessarily having to initiate conversation with a villager. They must be solved to advance the story, but are worth zero picarats and are usually more interactive than normal puzzles.

One thing I’m not particularly pleased with is the increase in the number of puzzles that require you to rotate pieces before putting them into place. As I noted in “Unwound Future,” the game and/or touch screen isn’t often sensitive enough, or perhaps it’s too picky — a lot of times I found myself rotating a piece when I wanted to slide it into place, and vice versa, causing a lot of frustration.

One neat new feature is you can now move around the shoe and suitcase icons to wherever you want them to sit on the screen. Now left-handers will no longer have to bear the indignity of blocking their screens when moving to tap on the respective icons. Although a caveat is the location of hint coins — you might inadvertently be obstructing your way to a coin by moving the icons, so I choose to leave them in their default placements.

Another thing that’s been changed — at least after you solve a certain small number of puzzles — is the screen that comes up after you input your answer, in which you see one of the game’s characters reacting to whether your answer was correct. It’s now a kind of sliding puzzle rather than showing the person’s plain expression, so you can’t tell which way your answer is going until the last second. It’s not something that matters much in the long run, but it was nice to have a little more forewarning as to whether you’ll be doing the puzzle again.

The conversation that comes up when tapping items is also kind of annoying — the dialogue appears the first time you tap on something when you enter a screen, no matter HOW many times you’ve visited the screen before — but I guess it’s slightly less irritating than previous games, which would bring up the same dialogue EVERY SINGLE TIME you tapped a particular item.

But the biggest change is the fact that “Last Specter” is not just one game. It’s TWO games: Included on the same DS card is a role-playing game called “London Life.”

As a fan of “Layton,” I was, of course, drawn to “Last Specter” for the simple fact that it was another game in the series. The addition of “London Life” was just a bonus for me, aside from the usual in-game secrets to find and mini games to complete and weekly downloadable puzzles. And as I am generally an anti-spoiler person, I didn’t try to look up any details of what this “London Life” was supposed to encompass, although the title alone is pretty much a dead giveaway.

The first 'request' you'll get is to talk to your new landlady, Ingrid, outside the house you'll soon be living in.And “dead” is certainly what it sounds like. Despite my determination to not follow news of the game, I couldn’t help but pick up bits and pieces. It seemed as though the RPG consists mainly of Layton and Luke walking around and, well, doing everyday stuff. Now while this might sound like an incredibly dull premise, one must remember the wild success of Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing” — a game in which all you do is gather fruit and lumber and whatnot, ride the train, visit friends in neighboring towns, comb for seashells and fossils, all in the name of stashing up cash to buy cute stuff to decorate your home. In other words, Life.

“London Life” sets the tone for cuteness and a bit of surprise, with one introductory screen cautioning of the tiny populace, clothing, and plants within, and another warning: “This game is played with the Control Pad and buttons. Put away your stylus!” It was a concept that admittedly was rather foreign on the touch-screen DS, as I kept tapping the screen intermittently during the character creation portion to make my choices. I quickly got the hang of this strange “D-pad and buttons only” scheme, however, and I was on my way to picking various appearance and personality traits and playing some ordinary, brown-haired, punk-styling female with a sweet tooth in Little London.

You’ll meet some familiar characters — Sammy the rock-n-rolling conductor and the Molentary Express from “Diabolical Box” are the first you’ll encounter — along with plenty of ordinary townspeople.

I got a kick out of seeing what stuff is available for you to do in this game, just by checking out your stats in the menu. Among other things are counters for Flowers Picked and Fish Caught, and options for the (rather mysterious) Livelihood and Newspaper (both of which are locked at the beginning of the game but I’m sure will be made clear later).

One of the first jobs you can do for money is picking up litter around the town. Someone's gotta do it, I guess.Aside from that, this really does start off as “Life.” Check all your surroundings by simply going up to an item and pressing A, and you’ll get descriptions that are funny in their ordinary-ness. You go around completing “requests” that the townspeople give, which start off pretty mundane at the beginning: The first “request” you get is to see your new landlady, who then gives you another “request” to register your address at City Hall, and then “requests” that you visit the department store. It’s not all worthless, at least: All these manini tasks add to your Happiness score.

One extremely useful control to remember: Press the B button while walking to walk faster. It will relieve most of the boredom that comes from strolling about Little London when you want your promenade to be more brisk than leisurely.

It’s all somehow entertaining in its simplicity and stupidity. At one point I put my DS to sleep and recounted to my ever-patient fiance the first few moments of life in Little London, with these constant and rather silly “requests” that aren’t really anything such.

“See,” my fiance responded. “I told you it was going to be a quest-based game. And you keep doing them again and again, so they’re ‘re-quests’!”

My fiance is one of the kings of bad puns.

Don’t knock “London Life,” though. I found it strangely addicting, but it’s perhaps because I have an affliction for exploring and discovering things, as Nintendo’s “Legend of Zelda” series has ingrained in me. Echoes of the DS game “Hotel Dusk” (which I previously reviewed) by the late, lamented Cing are here as well, with the silly descriptons of plants, furniture, and other ordinary objects almost as fun to read as Kyle Hyde’s comments are in “Hotel Dusk.”

Overall, though? There’s a reason why this review is coming nearly a year after “Last Specter” was released. There was just something about the game’s story that didn’t hold my attention as much as previous ones. The first “Layton” game, “Curious Village,” certainly set the series’ precedent for off-the-wall explanations, but I was already tired of that implausibility by the second game, “Diabolical Box.” The secret behind this game’s titular specter could be seen from a mile away, although the secrets beyond THAT were a little more engaging, at least.

Still, I’m a fan and I fully intend to immerse myself in the next game, “Miracle Mask.” I’m interested in seeing how they incorporate 3-D into the puzzles, if at all. At the same time, I’m hoping that 3-D won’t be essential in too many of them, given how easily it strains the eyes, and when a puzzle stumps me, I can be staring at the screen for hours.

And, of course, here’s hoping that I’ll actually find a copy of the game on the scheduled release date of Oct. 28.