The Cel Shaded report, 6/22: Just kickin’ it

Tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. and I are big fans of Kickstarter, the fundraising website that gives all sorts of projects, from art exhibits to state-of-the-art technological doohickeys, the chance to go from dream to reality with the help of people willing to invest a bit to make them happen.

dragonfly poster… wait, did I just write “big fans of Kickstarter” in that last paragraph? I meant to say “freakishly obsessed with Kickstarter.” If there’s a worthy cause for us to support and an affordable tier of cool swag for us to jump on, we are so. there. Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick reprint project? Helped with that. Double Fine’s untitled adventure game? That, too. And, of course, you’ve read about one of the most prominent/successful local campaigns in this space, the nemu*nemu volume 6 Kickstarter. We’ve hopped on those and so many more.

It’s with that obsession in mind that I present to you two more Kickstarter projects in the process of pursuing funding, one local, one national. The local project is one that’s been in the works since Burl Burlingame first profiled it in the pages of the Star-Bulletin in 2007: Dragonfly, a live-action superhero show from the creator of Pineapple Man, Sam Campos. Campos has described his show in the past as “Kikaida meets X-Files,” and it’s easy to see the influence of tokusatsu (live-action superhero) series like Kikaida and Kamen Rider on the costume designs in his series. The show stars Cole Horibe as Alex Tombo, descendent of an ancient line of genetically engineered warriors that defends the world from an ancient evil that lurks within the islands. (You may have seen Horibe on TV recently, as he’s in the running in Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance with his martial arts-infused moves.)

Campos is looking to raise $50,000 to finish production of Dragonfly’s first three episodes. With that in mind, here’s the Dragonfly Kickstarter pitch video:

… as well as a link to an interview Campos did on World of Superheroes that explains a bit more about the project. Rewards include anything from digital downloads of the three episodes in production ($10 for one, $15 for two, $20 for all three) all the way up to an executive producer credit, a prototype helmet, signed copies of Pineapple Man issues 1-4 and a Dragonfly DVD (a price tier so high that I’m pretty sure the average Otaku Ohana reader wouldn’t be able to afford it without taking out a loan somewhere). You have until July 13 to contribute to the Dragonfly Kickstarter at http://ow.ly/bKJ4r.

unicoOn the national front, Digital Manga Publishing — which already has successfully Kickstarted a reprint of Osamu Tezuka’s Swallowing the Earth and the first run of Tezuka’s Barbara — is going back to the Tezuka well for its latest project: a full-color print run of Unico. The series, about a unicorn endowed with magical powers to help those to love him, was serialized from 1976 to 1979 in Sanrio’s Ririka magazine — yes, that Sanrio, better known the House of Hello Kitty. As such, this title is far more accessible to readers of all ages than Swallowing the Earth and Barbara, two series tailored for older readers. This would be the first translated run for the Unico manga in the U.S., but it’s not the first time Unico’s shown up in the states; most recently, Discotek released two animated features, The Fantastic World of Unico (1981) and Unico in the Island of Magic (1983), on DVD in May.

As I was writing this post, the campaign had just crossed over the $12,000 mark and appears well on its way to making its $20,500 goal well before its scheduled closing date of July 21. Once it hits that goal, it looks like there’s going to be an announcement of another Tezuka manga that’s joining the party, so stay tuned. For now, $35 lands a copy of Unico and either $10 worth of online manga at eManga.com or six issues of the Astro Boy online magazine, and the tiers scale upward from there to include stickers, T-shirts and posters. The always great Tezuka in English site has more background information about the Unico manga, and you can contribute to the Kickstarter, check out some sample translated pages and watch DMP’s pitch video at http://ow.ly/bKKqS.

Update 6/28: Original goal has been met! Now the DMP Kickstarter-teers is working on getting another manga, the “Astro Boy … if Astro was a cat” story ATOMCAT into publication. And if that gets successfully funded — and it’s about a shade over $1,000 to doing that — the push for another manga will begin. Stay tuned.

Anime around town

uematsuHEXXP: Online registration is continuing for the third annual edition of the pop culture convention, and so are the monthly giveaways. Those of you registered by the end of this month, in fact, have a chance to win a rather coveted item to anyone who’s a fan of one of this year’s guests, Nobuo Uematsu. See that Earthbound Papas CD to the right? See that silver scrawl on the upper left corner? That is, indeed, Uematsu’s signature, and if your name is drawn, you could very well win this signed CD. HEXXP is happening Oct. 20-21 at the Aloha Tower Marketplace; visit https://www.facebook.com/hexxphawaii for more information or http://www.hexxp.com to register (and, by extension, enter to win). 

Pen & Ink Works: This group of anime- and manga-inspired artists is getting together for a Sketch Meet from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the McCully-Moiliili Public Library, 2211 S. King St., in the first-floor reading room. (If you’re attended the library’s Mini Con in the past two years, you know where that room is.) Bring your sketchbooks, get some drawing advice from senior members, and get ready for a fun afternoon. Visit peninkworks.wordpress.com.

MangaBento: The other group of anime- and manga-inspired artists meets from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Honolulu Museum of Art School, 1111 Victoria St., Room 200. Visit http://www.manga-bento.com for more information. Also, the group’s latest exhibit, “Nakamaboko” is on display in the art school’s second-floor gallery through July 14. I’m still working on processing the pictures I took at Sunday’s opening reception and a follow-up visit on Wednesday, but here’s a sneak Pika-peek with a ceramic piece by Chad Vilayvong.

pika peek

Comic Jam Hawaii: This month’s informal gathering of comic artists is happening Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Center Court of Kahala Mall. Artists of all skill levels are invited to draw, talk story and collaborate on cartoons like this one, also among the pieces on display at the “Nakamaboko” exhibit:

comic jam sample

The Cel Shaded report, 6/14: Returning with a boxed lunch

Well. Hello there. It’s been a while since I’ve actually written a full post in this space, hasn’t it? Yes, there was a guest post from Christina Chun on the Dragon Age movie, and tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. handled the May Manga Movable Feast post, but I haven’t written much here since May 3.

Not that I haven’t tried to write anything, of course — I have about two or three unfinished posts sitting in the Otaku Ohana drafts folder. Great topics, too. For starters, I really ought to share some of those pictures I took at an exhibit at the state Capitol in early May, so you can see all the nice artwork from the Cartooning Social Jam group at Aiea Intermediate School. Like this piece by Jessica Sato.

An intermediate school student did this, folks. INTERMEDIATE. SCHOOL. STUDENT.

It’s just that, I must admit, I haven’t felt very inspired to finish anything as of late. You could call it partly a feeling of burnout, partly that feeling of blogger mid/late-life crisis where one starts questioning why he or she still blogs and whether anyone really cares about what gets written/published anymore. It just seemed like I needed to step away for a bit and re-evaluate just why I do what I do. Rediscover the joy of writing, if you will.

So, without a word, I just took some time off. Yes, I edited Christi’s and Wilma’s posts and added some introductions,  but that was pretty much it when it came to Otaku Ohana. In the interim I also visited San Jose for FanimeCon over Memorial Day weekend, one of the largest and best anime conventions in northern California … unless, of course, you show up at your hotel on the same night that the leader of the free world is staying there and have to navigate your way through various security measures and metal detectors just to make it to the front desk, and then, less than 24 hours later, endure six hours waiting to pick up your badge (and not having any guarantee of picking it up, at that!). In which case you’d probably seriously rethink ranking Fanime among your best experiences and relying on it as your “vacation con,” too.

On the bright side, I did get to watch this sax player play songs like the Sailor Moon theme song, the Epic Sax Guy riff and, my personal favorite (because I’m old-school like that), “Baker Street,” in the hallway of the McEnery Convention Center. A YouTube search pulls up the user name “MkaliKunguru” as the man responsible for filling Fanime with his merry melodies. Assuming YouTube doesn’t take this video down on a copyright infringement charge, here’s his take on “Baker Street.”

That video is admittedly a bit dark, so here’s a clearer picture of what he looks like. You may also notice in this picture that some familiar plush pup companions were enjoying his music, too.

On a side note: I also saw this guy one night while waiting in line at popular neighborhood eatery Pizza My Heart. He was carrying Anpan with him. Those of you who read "nemu*nemu" will find that quite apropos.

So what did I conclude during my time away? I don’t think I’m quite ready to give up this gig yet. It’s just too much fun to write about what we experience in the world of anime/manga/cartooning fandom and share them with our readers — whoever they may be at this point. (Please leave a comment if you’re still reading, by the way. I’m a bit curious to see who’s out there. Don’t be shy.) Granted, tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. and I may not post as often as we’d like to — our targets have slipped from “multiple posts per week” when Otaku Ohana started, to the more recent “once per week” schedule, to the current “whenever we can scrape together 10-15 minutes out of our busy schedules to write part of a post that maaaaaaay, God willing, come out sometime in the next few months” — but then again we’ve always been more about quality than quantity ’round these parts.

Enough of my rambling, though. Let’s get to the good stuff.

“Nakamaboko” ready to serve

These past few weeks have been very, very good for local fans of anime/manga/cartoon-inspired art. It started with the aforementioned Aiea Intermediate Cartooning Social Jam exhibit. Then Comic Jam Hawaii, a group of local artists that’s been popping up on my radar quite frequently as of late, conducted several jam sessions around town. Our sister publication, MidWeek, had an article about Pancho Abalos’  “Tributes” exhibit, with his pieces influenced by the Edo period joined by student artwork on display at the ING Direct Cafe in Waikiki through June 30. Elizabeth Kieszkowski over at Honolulu Pulse also did a piece on it, and I’m going to try to make my way out there sometime before the month is out as well. (The cafe’s at 1958 Kalakaua Ave., in case you want to see it for yourself.)

nakamaboko2The rest of the month is packed with events — more details, God willing, next week — but the latest event in this recent chain just opened Tuesday at the Honolulu Museum of Art School: “Nakamaboko: Working Together,” this year’s exhibit by the anime/manga-inspired young artist collective MangaBento. Those of you who visited MangaBento’s “Kakimochi” exhibit last year know what the display space on the school’s second floor looks like; you can expect to see an all-new lineup of pieces on display this year. The group’s already posted a gallery of pre-exhibit setup photos on its Facebook page, and the space is already looking quite promising. (I’m certainly digging the octopus over the elevator.)

You have until July 14 to check out the exhibit, but in case you have some free time this Sunday, the group will be hosting an opening reception from 2 to 5 p.m. AniMaid Cafe Hawaii servers will be on hand with refreshments, and art activity stations will be set up around the gallery. Yes, it’s also Father’s Day. Just bring dear ol’ Dad along after taking him out to lunch or before taking him out to dinner, and it’ll all be good.

The Honolulu Museum of Art School is at 1111 Victoria St.; admission is free. For more about MangaBento, visit www.manga-bento.com.

Anime around town

Aiea Library Anime Club: 3 p.m. Saturday at the library, 99-143 Moanalua Road. This month, librarian Diane Masaki will be screening the first few episodes of Ghost Hunt. For more information or to RSVP, call 483-7333 or e-mail aiealibraryanimeclub@yahoo.com.

Feasting on ramen, “Oishinbo” style

There’s a fascination with delving into the nitty-gritty of everyday things and realizing that what you may take to be simple, uncomplicated things often actually requires a lot of thought and work. It’s especially intriguing with something you’re a fan of or that you particularly enjoy.
And so enters the manga “Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza.”
eagerly drink up
In Japan, the manga “Oishinbo” clocks in at a whopping 100-plus volumes, and it’s still going.
because of the way viz decided to bring out this series in the U.S. — taking stories from different parts of the entire manga and compiling them into volumes by subject — this manga is something that needs to be enjoyed carefully and digested slowly.
Numerous notes at the back of the book explain the (vagrancies, quirks) of not only Japanese cuisine but the Japanese culture. While such notes are becoming more common, I really have to give props to Viz for also including numbers on the majority of its pages. Many other manga released in the U.S. lack this basic feature, which makes it very difficult to figure out what page the notes refer to.
There’s a fascination with delving into the nitty-gritty of everyday things and realizing that what you may take to be simple, uncomplicated things often actually requires a lot of thought and work. As someone whose ramen feastings are either prepackaged instant noodles or steaming bowls brought to the table that are immediately devoured, I certainly had no little thought left for the care that goes into just the creation of the raw noodles.
I love ramen, but that love is mostly limited to either prepackaged instant noodles at home or steaming bowls brought to the restaurant table that are immediately devoured — forget about all the meticulous work that went into making the noodles perfect or the char siu tender or the broth not too salty.
If you’re not already familiar with many of the basic noodle dishes or common ingredients served in Japan or China, the terminology might cause your eyes to cross as you keep flipping back and forth to the end notes for their descriptions. Most of us in Hawaii have been immersed in Japanese culture one way or another from small-kid time without realizing it, so things like miso and nori are everyday items here that need no explanation.

(Jason’s note: The monthly Manga Movable Feast virtual gathering of manga bloggers usually celebrates series and artists. This month, though, the Feast, hosted by Khursten Santos over at Otaku Champloo, is hewing a bit closer to its name and celebrating … food. Or, to be more specific, Oishinbo and other food manga. With that in mind, here’s our contribution to this month’s potluck.)

There’s a fascination with delving into the nitty-gritty of everyday things and realizing that what you may take to be simple and uncomplicated often actually requires a lot of thought and work. It’s especially intriguing with something that you particularly enjoy.

And so enters Oishinbo, a manga written by Tetsu Kariya and drawn by Akira Hanasaki that’s been serialized in the pages of Big Comic Spirits since 1983. The story follows Shiro Yamaoka, a journalist with the Tozai Times and a serious foodie who’s been tasked by his editor to come up with the “Ultimate Menu” as part of the newspaper’s 100th anniversary. The meal is meant to embody the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine, so Yamaoka and his partner, Yuko Kurita, set out to discover the best of the best.

oishinbo ramenThe books being released in the U.S. by Viz are actually only a small part of the entire Oishinbo series. There are more than 100 volumes in Japanese, so rather than taking a chance with a relatively niche subject and publishing as is, Viz has instead taken highlights from the overall story and compiled them into so-called “a la carte” editions on one topic. And the particular one that caught my eye was the Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza volume.

I do love ramen, and in fact I’ll urge my ever-patient fiance to out-of-the-way places to try a shop that I’ve been told has good stuff. (And by the time I finished this review, my keyboard just barely managed to escape the destructive slobber of a stomach made ravenous for hot noodles topped with tender char siu and crunchy menma and garnished with green onions and … I’m going to have to stop there. My keyboards have come much too close to destruction lately.) But with those ramen feastings consisting of either prepackaged instant noodles or steaming bowls brought to the table that are immediately devoured, I certainly have far more interest in the delectable finished product before me and have little thought left for the care that goes into the individual elements.

But that very enjoyment is also what leads me to appreciate the detail that “Ramen & Gyoza” goes into regarding the many factors — including the science! — that can influence the taste and texture of each ingredient and, therefore, the entire product as well. Despite the title, the book centers on ramen and has just one story on gyoza, although, like an Iron Chef episode, that story is just as dramatic and insightful as the others.

Because of the way Viz decided to publish the series, readers miss things like people’s introductions and backgrounds, interactions and story progression. However, because the manga is episodic, brief descriptions of the characters and a synopsis of the overall story at the beginning are sufficient enough to grasp the plot. The only part that needs explanation — which is given in the numerous notes at the back of the book — is the sudden declaration of Yuko being out on maternity leave and the situation surrounding that.

Those notes also explain the intricacies of not only Japanese cuisine but the Japanese culture. So if you’re not already familiar with many of the basic noodle dishes or common ingredients served in Japan or China, the terminology might cause your eyes to cross as you keep flipping back and forth to the end notes. Most of us in Hawaii have been immersed in Japanese culture one way or another from childhood without realizing it, so things like miso, nori and even the Obon festival are well-known here and need no explanation. Aside from that, the notes aren’t required reading, but do give more background for those interested.

While such commentaries are becoming more widespread, what I really have to give props to Viz for is including numbers on the majority of its pages. Many other manga released in the U.S. lack this basic feature, which makes it very difficult to figure out what page the notes refer to.

One thing that remains obvious despite the omissions is Yamaoka’s advocacy of pure, natural ingredients and farming methods to make healthier, better-tasting food. This focus on organic methods — with all the assertions made by both Yamaoka and his father, Yuzan — isn’t annoyingly preachy and definitely opens your eyes to all the additives and shortcuts that go into making food these days that you don’t realize, and that may not necessarily be great for your health.

The characters are likable enough, and there’s enough conflict among all involved as well as non-food plot to keep things interesting. Yamaoka’s humorous stubbornness is clear throughout, and we see the hint of the romance starting between him and Yuko. Still, the main draw of Oishinbo is the depth at which they explore food and the discerning palates of Yamaoka and his cohorts. The series isn’t geared toward gourmets so it’s easy to follow along and doesn’t make you feel like a food fool. Oishinbo is a manga that is ultimately thoroughly enjoyable.

“Dragon Age” film left seeking more substance

DA_titleNote from Jason: We get in a lot of titles for review here at Otaku Ohana Central. Granted, it’s all Funimation anime and Vertical manga these days, but hey, that’s still a LOT of stuff, so it keeps us busy. So busy, in fact, that if you haven’t noticed, we haven’t posted any reviews of anime here since … well, it would take an extensive search through the archives to find that last true anime home video review. (I want to say it goes back to the old “Drawn & Quartered” column in the Star-Bulletin, but I’m probably missing something that’s run since then.)

Recently, though, we got in an advance copy of Funimation’s Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, bowing on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday. I knew exactly who to hand it off to: coworker/friend/Dragon Age fangirl Christina Chun. Here’s why I thought she’d be more qualified than either me or tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. in writing this review:

  • Wilma has heard of Dragon Age, and that’s pretty much it.
  • I managed to pass my Joining and meet Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins, which I believe is 0.000001% of the game’s story (add a few zeroes if you count the downloadable content in that total).
  • Christina played through Dragon Age: Origins. And tweeted about her party. Often. Enough that I remember that she tweeted about her party often to this day.

Game, set, match: Christina. Here’s her review.

*****

I wasn’t inclined to pick up Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, an animated movie based on Bioware’s Dragon Age fantasy RPG series. I didn’t even know about it, and even if I had, I like to play my games, not read them or watch them. I usually pass on video-game-related books or movies. They’re rushed and bland, and rarely contain any magic from the game itself.

Having played Dragon Age Origins (DA:O) and some of Dragon Age II (DAII), however, I was the most qualified person nearby to look at the copy that came to our office.

Here are some thoughts:

Dawn of the Seeker has high production values. As with most anime, background detail is lacking. On the other hand, I’m impressed that Bioware hired MOZOO Inc. and Studio Oxybot to add slick motion capture animation and 3-D modeled characters with an appealing anime cel-shaded look.

Dragon Age wouldn't be Dragon Age without dragons, it's true.

It works well. In true Japanese tradition, watch everyone’s eyes carefully to decipher their emotional level, as faces are expressively rendered. I’d love to play a Dragon Age game in this visual style.

Screenplay writer Jeffery Scott has fashioned a serviceable story. Movie music composer Tetsuya Takahashi does a utilitarian job riffing off Dragon Age game composer Inon Zur, and end credit music by Seether and GACKT is a nice touch. All the voice actors did a fine job of blending in with the one temperament assigned to each character.

The story takes place prior to DAII, and after the fall of Kirkwall in the DA:O expansion “Awakening.” Cassandra Pentaghast, a DAII character, is the focus in this movie as a tsundere warrior descended from a royal Nevarran dragon hunting bloodline, and a member of Seekers of Truth.

From left, Byron, Cassandra's sword teacher; Cassandra; and the High Seeker kneel before the Divine.

Seekers answer to the Divine, leader of the Chantry, aka the world’s most powerful religious order. The story opens with Cassandra and her Seeker company preparing to to rescue a kidnapped Dalish elf girl, presumably at the Divine’s behest. Blood mages have captured her and no one knows why. To make matters worse, these blood mages have also captured a dragon.

To what end? I don’t want to say much more, as it feels much like a standard sword and sorcery plot to pull us from point A to point B. A conspiracy threatens the stability of the Chantry; see if you can figure out who the highest-level conspirators are before the movie outright tells you. Bioware has shaped a dependable Cassandra back story and prequel to DAII, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My main beef is that there isn’t enough distinguishing the movie as distinctly Dragon Age except for Cassandra. “Keep your focus, Cassandra!” exhorts her mentor Byron as they prepare for battle. It’s a good thing I’m not her, because I found it difficult to focus with so few Dragon Age-specific cues to keep me hooked.

Cassandra's face covered in blood after battle.

There are scattered details such as blood splatter in an early combat scene, similar to that seen in-game with the “gore” setting turned on. A mage also casts Firestorm, a DAII spell, later in the movie. But overall, it’s as though the movie forgot how much enjoyment game fans get from spotting these touches. Without them, Dawn devolves into any other enjoyable, yet fluffy action-filled fantasy most of the way.

I would’ve also liked to see the movie’s templars be less pathetic. No one will ever want to play a templar after seeing them portrayed in the style of Star Wars‘ straw-stuffed Stormtroopers. The mages aren’t much better.

And feel free to skip the first chapter in the Select Chapter menu; it only gives back story to the series’ world that any Dragon Age player would know, and heavy foreshadowing of the plot ahead.

Dawn of the Seeker is entertaining enough for a Dragon Age fan to plunk down a few bills, but a hard sell at full retail. If you have any intention of ever watching it, pre-order before May 29 on Amazon.com to get a significantly discounted price (see below).

DISC EXTRAS

Bioware Studio Tour. Follow Dragon Age creative director Mike Laidlaw around his workplace.

Dawn of the Seeker Backstage Pass. Twenty minutes of movie commentary from Bioware-ians.

Dragon Age Production Art. About 60 Dawn of the Seeker art pieces live here.

Previews. There is a short slideshow of production art from the animated Mass Effect movie in the making, a notable addition for Bioware game fans.

MOVIE DETAILS

English voice main cast: Colleen Clinkenbeard as Cassandra, J. Michael Tatum as Galyan, Chuck Huber as Frenic, R. Bruce Elliott as High Seeker, Christopher R. Sabat as Knight Commander.

Japanese voice main cast: Chiaki Kuriyama as Cassandra, Shosuke Tanihara as Galyan, Hiroshi Iwasaki as Frenic, Takaya Hashi as High Seeker, and GACKT as Knight Commander.

Running time: 90 minutes

MSRP: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack ($34.98, contains one English dub disc, one Japanese voice/English subtitled disc, and one Blu-Ray disc with content from both DVDs) or DVD ($24.98). Pre-order the Blu-Ray/DVD combo on Amazon.com for $14.86 at the time of this writing.

Release date: May 29

The Cel Shaded Report, 5/3: Freebies assemble!

2012 FCBD logoSo there’s this really big movie opening this weekend. Really big. Several superheroes from recent movies rolled up into one giant juggernaut of a movie big. So big that the Associated Press began its weekly box office earnings story earlier this week by talking about how many hundreds of millions of dollars it made … and it hadn’t even opened yet in the United States.

Indeed, if you haven’t seen any of the other movies that have been out for a while, this weekend might be the best time to catch some of ’em, because it’s a given that all the theaters screening The Avengers will be the ones crammed full of people. The fact that it’s a big weekend featuring a blockbuster movie based on a popular comic book series also can mean only one thing: It’s time for the return of Free Comic Book Day, that one day out of the year when most comic book stores — one three-store chain in Virginia excepted — promote sequential art by giving away books by the boxful.

Four comic book stores are participating on Saturday:

  • Collector Maniacs, 3571 Waialae Ave., ste. 102A (Kaimuki)
  • Gecko Books, 1151 12th Ave. (Kaimuki)
  • Other Realms, Ward Warehouse, 1050 Ala Moana Blvd.
  • Jelly’s, 98-023 Hekaha St. (Aiea)

If you visit any of these stores, don’t forget to throw some money at them and buy something in appreciation, too — supporting local small businesses is always a good thing.

Thirteen libraries across the state are participating as well — 10 on Oahu, two on Maui, one on Hawaii island. (Sorry, Kauai — just as with The Secret World of Arrietty screenings, looks like you’ve been shut out again.) Some will also be hosting special events. The sites:

  • Aiea (99-143 Moanalua Road) — 501st Imperial Legion visits from 10 a.m. to noon; from 3 to 5 p.m., the gang from Comic Jam Hawaii, a group of local cartoonists that meets regularly for fellowship, drawing and creative brainstorming, will be at the library for a Free Comic Day Jam. The public can join in, too.
  • Aina Haina (5246 Kalanianaole Highway) — Oahu FanForce, a group with members cosplaying as various Star Wars characters, visits from 10 a.m. to noon.
  • Hawaii Kai (249 Lunalilo Home Road)
  • Hilo (300 Waianuenue Ave)
  • Kailua (239 Kuulei Road) — 501st Imperial Legion visits from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Kapolei (1020 Manawai St.) — Rebel Legion Hawaii visits from 10 a.m. to noon.
  • Kihei (35 Waimahaihai St.)
  • Lahaina (680 Wharf St.)
  • Liliha (1515 Liliha St.) — Rebel Legion Hawaii visits from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • McCully-Moiliili (2211 S. King St.) — Rebel Legion Hawaii visits from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Mililani (95-450 Makaimoimo St.) — 501st Imperial Legion visits from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Waianae (85-625 Farrington Highway)
  • Waimanalo (41-1320 Kalanianaole Highway) — 501st Imperial Legion visits from 10 a.m. to noon.

While there aren’t any giveaways of Japanese manga — you’ll just have to resort to the increasing number of chapter samples available year-round on legal manga sites like jmanga.comvizmanga.com and pretty much any manga publisher website you can think of for that — there are a few properties that manga fans may be interested in, including Archie Comics’ Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog books and OEL (original English language) manga Voltron Force: Shelter From the Storm from Viz and The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel from Yen Press. As for properties without manga ties, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for … well … a bunch of other titles that I don’t have the time and energy to hyperlink at the moment, but you can pretty much guarantee that if it’s tied in to some cartoon, Mouse Guard or Moomins, I’m interested. A complete list is available at http://www.freecomicbookday.com/Home/1/1/27/981; note that the locations listed below won’t necessarily be carrying all these titles.

UPDATE, 5/5: I’ve gotten word of several neat online-exclusive freebies that will be available during Free Comic Book Day as well. For one day only, Audra Furuichi and Scott Yoshinaga are offering digital copies of nemu*nemu volume 1; not only do you get the first year of strips as they were printed online, you’ll also get commentary from Audra and Scott, character profiles and bonus sketches. (And trust me, Anpan and Nemu looked very different from how they look now.) Visit hensh.in/c0 and click on the banner at the top of the page.

Meanwhile, the gang over at Lime Media Hawaii is offering digital copies of Hawaii Star Manga Project issue no. 5. This giveaway’s not limited to just today; it’ll be available until the long-in-gestation sixth issue is released. Included are installments of the comics “The Hylanthean,” “The Tobias Wah Chronicles” and “Children of Aumakua,” as well as the continuing prose saga “River of Stars [:another realm].” Visit www.limemediahawaii.com and follow the links.

Anime around town

nakamaboko2MangaBento: This group of anime- and manga-inspired artists is hosting the “Coloring With Copics + Manga Mania” workshop from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Honolulu Museum of Art School, 1111 Victoria St., room 201. There will be demonstrations of Copic and other popular Japanese markers, as well as an art jam session in advance of the group’s “”Nakamaboko: Working Together” exhibit opening next month. (This is also a great time to remind you that you have until May 23 to submit work for that exhibit. More details in this post.) Cost is $10; bring your own drawing materials. Visit www.manga-bento.com.

Miku check, one, two, three

miku shrinkThe latest news from the Hawaii Entertainment Expo (HEXXP) camp that emerged over the past weekend is a tale of two personas — one real, one virtual.

His name is Kz. (Pronounce it “K-Zet,” please.) In 2007, he, along with Kajuki P, formed the music group Livetune. They started off as a doujin music group — think of it like indie bands in the United States — before Victor Entertainment signed them. In 2009, when Kajuki P left to work for Capcom, Kz became Livetune all by himself. He’s since moved from Victor to Toy’s Factory.

Her name is Hatsune Miku, a Vocaloid and the most famous contemporary virtual star this side of that holographic Tupac Shakur at the recent Coachella music festival. For those of you reading this blog who are unfamiliar with the whole Vocaloid phenomenon, gals like Miku are almost entirely computer generated, save for voice samples taken from Japanese voice actresses. Sometimes they even appear in concert, like the Mikunopolis concert at Anime Expo last year. Here’s a clip.

That team is forming the foundation of what we’re going to be seeing at HEXXP in October, as Babel Entertainment presents the Livetune DJ Dance Party Featuring Hatsune Miku. Expect plenty of glow sticks and people dressed up at Miku and all her Vocaloid friends bopping around to some of the crispest Japanese technopop beats out there.

When Livetune and Hatsune Miku get together, they’re quite a formidable musical combo. Livetune’s breakout album on the doujin music scene was the Miku-driven Re:package, which proved so successful that Victor Entertainment’s first release after signing the group was, well, a repackaged version of Re:package, with three new songs. It promptly rose to No. 5 on the Oricon music charts — think of Oricon like Billboard in the U.S. — selling more than 20,000 copies in its first week. A remix album, Re:Mikus, followed in 2009, as well as other singles that have popped up on the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva series of games.

Then there’s “Tell Your World,” just released by Toy’s Factory in March, available for your purchasing convenience on iTunes — a song that Google used in one of its commercials for its Chrome browser.

The Livetune dance party is the first spotlight event for the first day of the convention, Sat., Oct. 20. It joins the previously announced World Cosplay Summit regional qualifier and a concert featuring Nobuo Uematsu and the Earthbound Papas, which are both happening Sun. Oct. 21.

Two-day passes are $55 general admission (ages 13 and up), $20 children ages 6-12; single-day passes are also available. You’ll want to preregister, too, to be entered in the monthly prize giveaways leading up to the convention. For more information on HEXXP or to preregister, visit www.hexxp.com.

Disappearing ink: The forgotten Viz Signatures

This month, the Manga Movable Feast, under the guidance of host Kate Dacey at The Manga Critic, is celebrating manga past and present that have appeared under Viz’s Signature imprint. Any series that garners the Signature label likely has several qualities going for it: It’s a title geared toward older audiences; it’s probably beloved by Manga Movable Feasters (and, by extension, manga bloggers in general) the world over; and, save for a few exceptions (i.e. Tenjho Tenge … for now, anyway), you’d be really hard-pressed to find anything more than the latest volume of it at your local retailer amid the sea of 500,000 Bleach, Naruto, One Piece and Sailor Moon volumes.

IKKIbanner-NOART-120x60-3rd-yellowAll this talk about the Signature line reminded me of when Viz tried its hardest to nudge it more into the spotlight. Flash back to one week in May 2009, when, in one fell swoop, Viz announced that it was canceling Shojo Beat magazine and starting a new, online-exclusive anthology: Viz Signature Ikki (SigIkki to all its friends), based on a Shogakukan magazine in Japan targeted at young men. The intent was to gauge reader interest in the series posted, with the most popular series getting print runs down the line. I even wrote a Cel Shaded column about it, because really, shock and awe were the moods of the day: Print anthologies, canceled? Legal manga distributed on the Intarwebz, and for free? Revolutionary!

So here we are now, looking back to that seemingly quaint time in the present day (present time, muhahahaha). The print editions of Yen Plus and Shonen Jump also were canceled, moving from print to digital. Shojo Beat’s thrived quite nicely, thank you very much, as a Viz manga imprint. Viz has itself jumped wholeheartedly into digital, offering downloads on both computers and Apple’s iOS devices. (Sorry, Android users.)

And the Ikki initiative? It seems to be drifting into the Black Hole of Manga Websites.  Those of you who were around to watch as the U.S. manga industry boom slowly imploded upon itself over a five-year span, rendering a good chunk of the “Publishers” chapter of The Rough Guide to Manga outdated within a year of its publication in the process (*sigh*), have seen the signs before: First, the updates become inconsistent; then they become infrequent; then it becomes painfully clear that no one cares about updating the thing at all; and finally you either get one of those lame “THIS DOMAIN IS AVAILABLE FOR SALE” splash pages or an “ERROR 404 PAGE NOT FOUND” message in your browser.

I’d say Ikki’s hovering somewhere around the second stage right about now, gradually sliding into the third stage. After several years of updating four times a month with new manga chapters, the schedule slipped to twice monthly last October. After December 9, the updates stopped altogether. Many of the chapters listed in the update calendar are already gone, having been compiled in print volumes. A poll inviting visitors to “Create The Comix Future!” is blank. The last published interview, with Dorohedoro editor Mr. Kouga, was posted on March 25, 2010; the last “Ikki Underground” update was made on Dec. 10, 2009.

It’s all good, though, as long as the manga’s still coming out somewhere.  And for the most part, the series launched on sigikki.com have continued to live on in print and paid digital apps.

All of them, that is, except for four titles.

For a line that musters modest readership at best, these four — Bob and His Funky Crew, I Am A Turtle, Tokyo Flow Chart and What’s the Answer? — appear to have been unable to garner enough reader support online to make publishing them worth Viz’s time. Here are the stories of the Forgotten Four, along with their SigIkki debut dates and a few thoughts on whether readers really missed out in seeing more.

Bob and His Funky Crew (Nov. 19, 2009)

Viz’s synopsis: Meet Bob, the Major League’s legendary cleanup batter who can’t run, can’t field, and can’t play under pressure. His experience, raunchy jokes, and the fact that no one else wants to take his position makes Bob an irreplaceable designated hitter…until he gets traded to the previous year’s division-title team, the Bulldog City Bullies. Together with his funky friends, Youngman “The One-way Runaway Train” (brawling 3rd baseman), “Stink Bug” Jo (2nd base conman), and “The Game Breaker” Jack (relief pitcher with a flea’s heart), the underdogs will reign this baseball season!

Bob and His Funky CrewImpressions: I noted during the Cross Game Manga Movable Feast last year that I love baseball. It stands to reason, then, that I would’ve loved to have seen more of this series. Would it have fallen into the usual sports story cliched cycle of “introduce the lovable losers, drag them around in the dregs of the league for a while, then watch them slowly pull themselves together and win a championship through determination and sheer force of will”? Probably.

Yet at the same time, I want to believe that Bob and the boys are cut from a different cloth. I want to believe that they’re such pathetic losers, they won’t have that championship moment for a long, long time, so that we can see them fumbling about for a bit and have fun doing so. These are guys traded from the Los Angeles Earthquakes to the league leaders, the Bulldog City Bullies, in exchange for the Bullies’ manager, after all. Absurdist humor prevails throughout, whether it’s the Earthquakes’ GM wanting to advertise for a new manager on Craigslist with “moderate compensation,” an argument between teams that ends up throwing in a discussion on the definition of “permafrost,” or Bob and Youngman debating over whose slump is worse and, thus, who can claim more personal responsibility for letting down the team. Those of you who remember Cromartie High School and its dopey delinquents will find a similar feel here. (Although sadly, nothing could possibly equal the comic brilliance that were Cromartie’s Mechazawa and Freddie.)

I Am A Turtle (Aug. 20, 2009)

Viz’s synopsis: Follow this turtle down a Zen path through the wondrous natural world of Japan. Witness his simple life on a tea farm with his young master. Meet other animals such as his neighbor, the Sea Dog, an owl, a family of boars and, of course, more turtles! Come see how much better life can be when you’re a turtle.

I Am A TurtleImpressions: Well, we never do get to meet any of  Turtle’s friends and neighbors, save for a two-page spread with labels denoting who’s who. What we do see in our short taste of this series, is how  Turtle got from Africa to Japan (he fell out of his original owner’s pant leg as he was smuggled into the country) and Turtle’s musings on how furry things are often cute. All of this is told in the style of 4-koma, those four-paneled strips that resemble the traditional U.S. newspaper comic strip.

The thing about these 4-koma series, though, is that they’re wildly inconsistent in quality. When the humor clicks, people buy them in droves — see Azumanga Daioh, K-ON!, Lucky Star and Hetalia. When it doesn’t … well, look at Tori Koro, the bland tale of a bland girl and her bland mom who take in two bland teenage boarders, where it was difficult to tell the characters apart and ComicsOne/DrMaster’s splotchy printing sucked out what little life there was left in the drawings. I Am A Turtle certainly doesn’t fall on the Tori Koro side of the scale — Temari Tamura’s detailed drawings of the various animals certainly eliminates any potential issues with character design — but it also doesn’t reach the humorous heights of, say, Azumanga. It’s definitely not as charming as my current gold standard for the “stories told from the perspective of an animal” category And for a customer who needs more substance before committing to buying a volume of manga, it doesn’t feel like I Am A Turtle could deliver on anything more than a series of hit-or-miss gags.

Tokyo Flow Chart (July 30, 2009)

Viz’s synopsis: Have you ever wished that somebody else would just DO SOMETHING about the chaos in your life? Then this is the perfect manga for a slacker like you! Tokyo Flow Chart is (probably) the world’s first four-frame comic strip in flow chart format. It breaks down the complexities of life and aids in the mastery of brain skills such as flow-chart-manga comprehension or mental bullet-dodging. As Confusious (sic) say: “let your brain flow with the chart!”

Tokyo Flow ChartImpressions: Actual quote from a blurb at the beginning of the chapter: “The journey toward mastery of Brain Skills begins with a single step. In Chapter 1, we will learn basic flowcharting. First, observe that the flowcharts are organized in two ways: on dark ‘main routing’ lines, which connect frames along the main flowcharting route and on thinner subrouting lines, which connect frames along secondary flowchart routes. Reading these flowcharts is simple: Read along the main route until you reach the endpoint. Then return to the beginning and follow each subroute in turn.”

Translation: “These are 4-koma strips. You can either appreciate the first gag we came up with, or you can take one of the branching paths and hope you like one of the other gags instead.”

This, of course, brings back the whole “problem with 4-koma series/why this probably didn’t succeed” discussion from I Am A Turtle, except multiplied up to six times per strip with with a flowchart gimmick. And while it’s clear that artist Eiji Miruno deliberately draws each individual panel with multiple elements in them so that subsequent panels can riff on different elements, what’s less clear is his reasoning for choosing what he does. It can be the T-shirts the characters are wearing, a pigeon that happens to be walking in the background or even flavor crystals in concrete — it just ends up coming off rather funny, and not particularly in the “ha-ha” sense.

What’s the Answer? (Oct. 22, 2009)

Viz’s synopsis: What do you get when you mix absurdity, surrealism, and potty humor, and serve it on a bed of wicked satire? The answer is … What’s the Answer? That’s the answer! Each chapter begins with a set-up question. Then you turn the pages to find out not one, not two, but three three (or five, or sometimes seven) possible punch lines. Can you handle the alternative comic alternatives?

What's the Answer?Impressions: If the question was “What’s the best way to get American audiences to read What’s the Answer? and get them to want more?” the correct answer probably should have been “great googly moogly, why are you even considering publishing What’s the Answer? KYAAAAAAH RUN FOR YOUR LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE BEFORE IT’S TOO LAAAAAAAATE.” In the single published installment that remains, we see a six-panel setup that sets up the question, “What does Santa do on the day before Christmas Eve?”  Then we get three answers: “Fabreeze,” “Preparing to risk his life again,” and “Shadow clone jutsu.”

That’s the chapter.

At least visitors to the Ikki site that week got new chapters of Saturn Apartments and Children of the Sea and an interview with Mr. Sato, the editor of Bokurano: Ours, so it wasn’t a completely wasted visit.

To its credit, that small snippet does deliver on the promised “absurdity, surrealism and potty humor.” Wicked satire, though? Doubt we’ll ever see that show up. In fact, the thought of an entire book filled with chapters like these has me recoiling a bit in horror — sure, there’s a chance that there were better examples of artist Tondabayashi’s humor, but there’s also a greater chance that future installments were even more surreal and unintelligible to the average American reader. Perhaps in this case, the fact we never got anything else from this series was more the result of a mercy killing.