April 24, 2015

Serious stories in anime, and the social facade that protects fandom.

Serious stories in anime, and the "social facade" that protects fandom.

In addition to trying to revive the Japanese economy through his “Abenomics” reforms (which have had the effect of making anime goods cheaper for all of us due to the weakening yen), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been trying to make sure Japan is included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed free-trade agreement which would remove barriers between twelve nations around the Pacific region. I saw some discussion online about the potential for the TPP, which also tries to streamline copyright rules, to bring about the end of Japan’s rather unique subculture of doujinshi, underground fan-made comics that parody everything from Amagi Brilliant Park to WWII ship girls to, erm, Frozencest. Personally, I’m not worried in the least, thanks to the wonderful Japanese mechanism of 建前 tatemae (ta-te-mah-eh), which means “façade” (as in, the front of a building) but which also describes the Japanese tendency of doing something on the surface but not deep down, where it counts. Some good examples of tatemae in Japanese society include the way gambling is officially illegal, yet patrons of Pachinko establishments can win “valuable prizes” which they can conveniently sell for cash at a small building next door, or the soapland (a semi-legal place where men pay women to wash their bodies) in Shibuya which stands not 20 feet from a police station. The opposite of tatemae is 本音 honne (hone-neh), meaning the truth, the way people really think. In the event that the TPP caused new rules related to Japan’s doujin underground to be made, I have full confidence that these rules would be followed on the surface (tatemae) yet nothing would actually change in the end (honne).

One thing I’ve always been impressed with is the quality and depth of the stories found in many anime series, which often feature hardcore SF and dramatic themes (Knights of Sidonia, Planetes) that redefine whole genres, from cyberpunk (Ghost in the Shell) to time travel/time dilation (Steins;Gate, Voice of a Distant Star). It wasn’t always this way. Back in the 70s and 80s, animation in the U.S. was under constant attack from parents’ groups who objected to awesome shows like Hannah-Barbara’s masterpiece Jonny Quest for not being sufficiently “family-friendly” (because they told, you know, interesting stories that were exciting to watch). Recently I started Plastic Memories, about a future in which extremely human-like androids called “giftia” live alongside us, but due to a limitation in their technology, they can only live for 9 years and 4 months before they must be collected and destroyed. The story begins as the main character Tsukasa joins the Terminal Service section of the SAI Corporation, his job being to collect androids who have reached the end of their service period, which he does alongside his partner Isla. Isla is a giftia herself, and it’s pretty clear that the story is headed for a dark place that will no doubt evoking many otaku tears.

Preorder the Shiny Days Limited Edition today!

JAST USA and J-List have been hard at work to clear our backlog of games and get them where they belong, into the hands of dedicated visual novel fans. In addition to recently shipping the Nitroplus “sword opera” Hanachirasu and the total remake of Kana Imouto and announcing the upcoming Starless, we’re now taking the wraps off the Limited Edition for Shiny Days. It’ll be great: a large Japan-style box, with the massive game (18GB on two dual layer DVDs), a 48 page artbook, original mouse pad and more. Preorder your copy now!

April 21, 2015

How indoor shoes work, and the history of eyepatch moe.

How indoor shoes work, and the hottest 'eyepatch girls'

The concept of 萌え moé can be quite deep. Coined around 1993 in response to (according to one theory) the extreme cuteness of 蛍土萌 Hotaru Tomoe, aka Sailor Saturn, the term describes the trend of anime characters who are meticulously designed to represent a kind of “cuteness ideal” in the minds of (usually male) fans. In the end it’s basically a clever hack into our brains intended to illicit the same response we’d have if we saw a kitten or a baby, and it usually works like a charm. While there are many aspects to a well-designed moe character, for me it’s all about the little imperfections which make them charming. A cute moe girl might be clumsy, wear glasses, be nervous having a flat chest, be a childish tsundere, or be so bad at cooking that anything she makes is poisonous. Another pillar of moe cuteness are girls who wear an eyepatch covering one eye, which makes their characters seem weaker and more adorable. This trend got started by the original Evangelion series when fans were bowled over by the cuteness of “battle damaged Rei” with her bandages and eyepatch, and has been going strong ever since. I remember watching a late-night talk show featuring actress Chiaki Kuriyama (of Battle Royale and Kill Bill fame), a lifelong otaku. She brought out a gorgeous Ayanami Rei figure and started obsessing about how she loved the bandages and eyepatch, while everyone in the audience nodded in agreement.

One of the defining cultural differences between Japan and the West is the Japanese custom of removing shoes before entering a home or many businesses, including J-List. Every Japanese home has a recessed area called a genkan where the shoes are removed when entering. This space is actually considered part of the outside of the house (back in the day farm animals were kept in the genkan space for warmth), and it’s not uncommon for visitors to open your front door and step inside while saying “hello?” to see if anyone is home. Since we all need to wear shoes indoors sometimes, certain cultural rules have evolved, like the way people will bring indoor-only gym shoes to wear while doing sports. In Japanese schools, students put their outdoor shoes in an assigned “shoes box,” changing into special indoor shoes called 上履き uwabaki for wearing while inside the school. If you’ve ever wanted to own a pair of these indoor shoes, either for cosplay or because they’re very comfortable to walk around in, J-List now has them available!

Preorder the Shiny Days Limited Edition today!

JAST USA and J-List have been hard at work to clear our backlog of games and get them where they belong, into the hands of dedicated visual novel fans. In addition to recently shipping the Nitroplus “sword opera” Hanachirasu and the total remake of Kana Imouto and announcing the upcoming Starless, we’re now taking the wraps off the Limited Edition for Shiny Days. It’ll be great: a large Japan-style box, with the massive game (18GB on two dual layer DVDs), a 48 page artbook, original mouse pad and more. Preorder your copy now!

April 17, 2015

The best fast food in Japan, plus an anime about Britain and Japan.

The best fast food in Japan, plus an anime about Britain and Japan

One of the most charming shows to come along in a while is Kin’iro Mosaic (Golden Mosaic), about a Japanese girl named Shinobu who does a homestay in the United Kingdom, where she befriends Alice, a blonde-haired girl who loves Japan. When Alice and her half-Japanese friend Karen both come to study at Shinobu’s school in Japan, mass cuteness generally ensues. While the show follows the well-established “super cute moe girls doing cute things” slice of life pattern established by Hidamari Sketch or GochuUsa (“Is the Order a Rabbit?”), I like it because of the cultural lessons we can learn from Shinobu and Alice, who are each in love with the other’s country. (In one scene Shino eats an English breakfast of toast and jam while Alice rice and seaweed.) They’re a lot like Mrs. J-List and me: my dream vacation would be to explore temples and shrines in Kyoto, but she’d much rather visit Los Angeles or New York. The show is also good because it highlights the cultural and/or linguistic misunderstandings that are a part of living in another country, though they’re not usually as cute when they happen to me. In keeping with the recent trend of basing anime in actual locations, Alice’s home in the U.K. is a real place you can visit, the Fosse Farmhouse bed and breakfast near Bristol. You can probably even sleep in Alice’s bed if you’re really into the show.

One of the fun things about visiting another country is exploring the fast food that people eat everyday. Of course Japan has McDonald’s and KFC and Subway — incredibly, we’re set to even get a few Taco Bell locations in Tokyo this year — but happily there are a lot of home-grown options for eating while on the go. First, there are plenty of chains selling ramen or soba noodles, which you can usually get in and out of in 15 minutes or less. I’ve been on an udon kick lately, and one of my favorite chains is Hanamaru Udon, which is sort of like the Chipotle of noodles, with staff adding various ingredients to your noodles as you request them. Sushi can make for a quick meal as long as it’s not too close to the rush periods, and I often dash into my local mawari-zushi restaurant for a few plates of conveyor belt sushi and some green tea. By far the most popular fast food in Japan is gyudon or steamed beef and onions eaten over rice, and every day Japanese consumers eat 2000 head of cattle worth of the stuff, imported from the U.S. and Australia. And now that I’ve once again made myself hungry by writing about food, I think I’ll go get some beef bowl…

Get 10% off everything on the site through April 30!

Folks in the U.S. and several other countries have just completed income tax season, and J-List is celebrating with a special sale through April 30th, giving you 10% off all products using code JLIST10. That’s 10% off awesome bento boxes and accessories, wonderful Japanese snacks, sexy anime figures and even our world-famous “naughty items.” As usual, the 10% discount doesn’t apply to items like iTunes prepaid cards or grab bags.

April 14, 2015

How property works in Japan, and how to meet girls in dungeons.

How land works in Japan, and meeting girls in dungeons

As with most other countries, the basis of Japan’s capitalist economy is land ownership, and there are many legal mechanisms in place to ensure land is managed in a fair and proper way. One of the biggest differences between the U.S. and Japan is that in the U.S, property tends to increase in value over time, 2008-style crashes notwithstanding, while in Japan property values usually go nowhere but down. Part of this comes from the massive asset bubble that collapsed in 1991, during which the value of Tokyo exceeded that of the entire United States on paper, but also from the downward spiral in population and general trend towards deflation. Among the many challenges Japan faces in the 21st century is the “empty house problem,” with many homes around the country standing empty because their occupants have died and the homes are now owned by their children, who are busy working in Tokyo. Buying or selling land is quite an involved process in Japan. Over the weekend Ms. J-List and I took the train down to Tokyo to have a meeting with a real estate agent so we could sign stamp our hanko kanji stamp to a contract for a condo in Karuizawa that we were selling. While a property on the market in San Diego might sell in 30-60 days, it had taken us two years to finally find a buyer for the unit, and sure enough, the sale price had dropped by half from the time we bought it a decade ago. Japan is a country that likes cash, so I wasn’t surprised when the buyers brought out a paper bag filled with cash to finalize the purchase.

Another fun anime I’ve started watching this season is Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou Ka?, aka DanMachi, meaning “Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?” It’s kind of a cross between Sword Art Online and Outbreak Company, a romantic comedy about a young adventurer named Bell living in the town of Orario, which neighbors a labyrinth filled with monsters and treasures. While fighting (or mostly running from) a monster in the dungeon, Bell is saved by the beautiful female fighter Aizu
Varenshutain, and he promptly falls in love with her. The most interesting character in the show by far is Bell’s partner, the goddess Hestia, who exploded in popularity on the Internet overnight, even faster even than the “special feeling” meme and a certain pregnancy announcement. If you’ve ever visited J-List Facebook or Twitter page, you know I love good fanart. The quality of the show is very high, and I’ll certainly keep watching it.

Get 10% off everything on the site through April 30!

It’s tax season in the U.S. and other countries, which is always a bummer since no one likes paying taxes. So J-List has decided to have a special sale from today through April 30th, giving you 10% off all products using code JLIST10. That’s 10% off awesome bento boxes and accessories, wonderful Japanese snacks, sexy anime figures and even our world-famous “naughty items.” As usual, the 10% discount doesn’t apply to items like iTunes prepaid cards or grab bags.