March 27, 2015

The phenomenon of childhood friends in anime, and hard-to-eat Japanese foods

The phenomenon of 'childhood friends in anime, and hard-to-eat Japanese foods

One of the more common character archetypes in anime are 幼馴染 osana-najimi, or childhood friend. This has become a standard “character class” in anime stories that exists alongside the outwardly-confident-but-really-scared-inside senpai, the “genki girl” who loves sports, and the

twintail transfer student in a wheelchair who works as a eye patch-wearing robot maid and who’s secretly the ghost of a fox-spirit whose memory is erased every thirteen hours. In Japan, elementary and junior high school are part of compulsory education, while high school is “optional,” functioning as a miniature version of universities, with students attending schools that are right for their academic level or career goals rather than going to whatever school they live near. As a result, everyone generally has two sets of friends: osana-najimi they grew up with, walking to school and catching fireflies with in the summer as children, and their high school friends with whom they share the first steps into adulthood. While the drama created by a childhood friend who’s secretly been in love with the main character all her life is common in anime, in reality this kind of situation would be rare, according to Mrs. J-List. “They’ve been around you all your life, and know every embarrassing thing you’ve ever done. Who would be attracted to that? A childhood friend would be much less interesting than some new person who catches your eye as you go through life.”

Japanese food is famous for containing things not traditionally eaten by Westerners, like pickled daikon radishes (aka Mugi’s eyebrows) and natto, fermented soy beans that are hated by people from Osaka because of their strong smell. Many unique foods the Japanese eat come from the sea, including sushi (a word which actually refers to the vinagered rice it’s made with, not the raw fish part), sashimi, ika (squid or cuttlefish), tako (octopus), ikura (salmon roe), and fugu, pufferfish so poisonous it can kill you. While a lot of countries enjoy the taste of crab, one Japanese winter delicacy is kani miso soup, or miso soup with a crab’s torso floating inside for flavoring. (My wife loves to open the crab’s shell and scrape out his brains while I look on in horror.) The Japanese are fascinated with asking gaijin what Japanese foods they’re unable to eat, and the other day I was in Shibuya on business and was stopped by a camera crew who wanted to interview me about this. I told them one food I was not a fan of was shiokara, raw squid meat pickled in squid intestines and saltwater, so they naturally brought some out for me to try on camera. It was…not that bad, really, once I tried it properly and with an open mind. I doubt if they’ll use my interview for their TV show, since they were expecting a foreigner to react in disgust rather than eat it normally.

New 'H' Games in stock

For more than 15 years, J-List and JAST USA have been bringing you quality visual novels, full translated into English for maximum enjoyment. In addition to great new titles like Hanachirasu or Starless or the uncensored version of HuniePop, we’ve got a convenient line of 2-for-1 combo game packs that let you get two games for the price of one. Some of our best games are available, including Yume Miru Kusuri, The Sagara Family, and the total remake of Kana Imouto with new art and full voice. Browse them now!

March 25, 2015

Comparing obsessions, and the season of the sakura in Japan.

It’s sakura time in Japan right now, as cherry blossoms around the country explode in beautiful fireworks of pink. Being the symbol of Japan, sakura are very common here, and virtually every city has parks and avenues with beautifully landscaped cherry trees in order to promote itself as the “best” place to take in the fleeting beauty of the flowers before they scatter in the wind. In addition to weather forecasts, the TV news issues “sakura reports” that give information on the state of cherry blossoms in every prefecture, so people can plan their 花見 hanami or flower-viewing parties, an excellent excuse to spread out a blanket and have a party with friends. Flower-viewing season is a big social event for the Japanese people, but it’s also important economically, since there are many stands selling everything from canned beer to choco banana to takoyaki. Every few years local economies take a hit when rain causes the cherry blossoms to wash away before people can spend money on food and drink. While there are countless places to enjoy cherry blossoms throughout Japan, my favorite is Ueda Castle in Nagano, which was used as the setting for the film Summer Wars.

The other day a graphic appeared on the Internet that offered an interesting question: why is a room full of basketball memorabilia considered a cool thing by society at large, while an otaku’s room filled with figures and manga is presumably not? I posted the images to J-List’s Facebook page and Twitter feed to see what feedback people would have. While followers of J-List are obviously more likely to prefer an otaku room to the one dedicated to “sweaty men playing with balls,” there were some good comments, for example someone who pointed out that sports celebrate athletic achievement, which is one reason sports fandom is usually seen in a positive light. Also, having a collection of basketball memorabilia might be viewed as “okay” because it likely has an easily calculated value to collectors, rather than large only having value to the owner. One female reader wrote, “I could care less. I prefer a man I can watch anime with. Also I can steal and read his manga.” Another popular comment was, “Screw anyone that tries to change your passion for the things that you loved and cherish. Why the hell should we live to please other people?” I’m personally a big fan of obsession – my main two have been Star Wars and Japan – and think there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you’re not using your kids’ college savings to buy AKB48 CDs, which some obsessive fans occasionally do.

New 'H' Games in stock

It never rains, it pours: hot on the heals of Littlewitch Romanesque, the Kana Okaeri ~ Welcome Home Kana and the release of Hanachirasu, we’ve got new games from MangaGamer in stock for you. First there’s Imouto Paradise, a great game for fans of the imouto anime genre, with gorgeous art and characters to get to know better. Next up, we’ve got a cool physical release for HuniePop, the fun dating and puzzle game you’ll love playing. All games are fully translated and 100% DRM free! Browse the new games now!

March 23, 2015

A new SF anime by Urobuchi Gen about the future…of animation?

Can Urobuchi Gen make us love CG butts?

I realized I’d missed the new film from Nitroplus called Rakuen Tsuihou: Expelled From Paradise, so I decided to watch it over the weekend. (Okay, I’ll be honest: the cute butt on this figure coupled with my love of tsundere voice actress Kugimiya Rie were my real reasons for watching.) It’s an interesting story about a cyberpunky future in which a disaster known as the Nanohazard has forced most of humanity to discard their physical bodies and move to a virtual reality paradise called DEVA, their minds digitized inside a computer floating in orbit. When this perfect world is infiltrated by a mysterious hacker from Earth, investigator Angela Balzac (heh) is given a physical body and sent down to investigate. The film was written by “the Christopher Nolan of the anime world” Urobuchi Gen, creator of Madoka Magica, Psycho-Pass and the highly regarded Cthulhu-esque visual novel Song of Saya, and is very entertaining. As is usually the case, anime like Ghost in the Shell, Planetes, Guilty Crown and this new offering do more to present the really big ideas in science fiction than, say, live-action films, which are weighted down with multi-million dollar budgets, top-name Hollywood stars and studio execs determined to drag every project down to their level of mediocrity.

Besides the hard-hitting SF themes of the story, Expelled from Paradise is commentary on the future in another way: it was made entirely using the “cel-look CG animation” system developed by Graphinica, which uses computers to create traditional-looking animation. This is same system used to create the Arpeggio of Blue Steel “moe submarine girl” anime and the excellent Knights of Sidonia, two shows that I enjoyed watching even as I groaned at the unnatural way the characters moved compared to traditional series. Of course, the technology of creating animation has never stopped changing, from Walt Disney’s innovative use of multiple backgrounds moving at different speeds to create depth of field for Snow White in 1937, to the first use of computer inking and coloring in 1989’s The Little Mermaid, which brought an end to the era of hand-painted cels. While I’m personally happy to accept the need for CG to augment traditional animation (mountain racing sequences wouldn’t be the same drawn by hand), I’m personally against trying to capture the spirit of moe without actual human animators being involved, especially when their salaries are already ridiculously low. So, what’s your opinion of the new CG based animation system?

Preorder Raidy III now!

As you know, J-List and our sister company JAST USA are involved in licensing and translating the best visual novels and RPGs in Japan, so you can play them in English with no silly mosaic censorship. We’ve been on a roll lately, releasing the outstanding Littlewitch Romanesque, the Kana Okaeri ~ Welcome Home Kane remake and the brand new “sword opera” Hanachirasu. We’ve got great news now: we’re opening Raidy III up for preorders! The game is nearly done, so preorder the Limited Edition right now!

March 20, 2015

How salaries work in Japan, plus the benefits of mixing East and West.

How salaries work in Japan, plus the benefits of mixing Japan and the West.

One of my favorite Japan-related concepts is 和洋折衷 wayoh setchu, which means “a blend of both Japanese and Western influences.” The term comes up a lot in architecture, fashion and also cuisine, for example to describe variations in the traditional dishes eaten over New Year’s made with Western foods instead of purely Japanese ones, which leads to a richer overall culinary experience. One of my favorite examples of blended food culture is katsu sand, a Western-style sandwich made of Japanese pork cutlet and that heavenly sauce, which was invented in 1935 as a convenient food that geisha could eat without messing up their lipstick. One of the reasons J-List has been successful as a company is, I think, the way we combine the best of East and West, with the foreign staff bringing entrepreneurial energy and a vision about what makes Japan special that only “outsiders” could have, and the hardworking Japanese staff forming the backbone of the company. Whenever a Japanese product buyer starts working at J-List, I work closely with them to teach them to see their country from the outside, as we do. For example, to a normal Japanese person those clear plastic umbrellas that are ubiquitous in Japan are the most boring thing ever, certainly not something someone in another country would want to buy. But I knew better, and when I insisted we try selling the umbrellas (which are seen in films like Battle Royale and Lost in Translation) on the site, they become a huge hit.

Sometimes I like to toss out requests on J-List’s Facebook page or Twitter feed and see what questions our followers have about Japan, and one reader asked me to talk about how wages work here. We’re currently three years into the second administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has tried to get the Japanese economy growing after two decades of near stagnation. Japan is a country that’s had basically zero inflation ever since the Tokyo asset bubble burst at the beginning of the 1990s. While having a carton of milk or a train ticket cost the same in 2015 as it did in 1991 sounds nice on the surface, the flipside is that if prices don’t increase, the economy doesn’t grow and wages stagnate, too. The minimum wage in Japan is around 880 yen, or US$7.35, which sounds low in part because the dollar is so strong right now. (Just two years this amount would have translated to US$10.30, with no difference in local buying power.) Despite a mini-recession caused by an unpopular consumption tax increase last year, there’s some indication that wages might finally start going up, as industry leaders heed the government’s call to bump them up. Wages might be rising soon for another reason: with an unemployment rate of just 3.5 and a continually falling birthrate, companies may soon have to pay more in order to find employees. I’ve heard that waiters in the Nagoya area, where Toyota is located, make $20 an hour or more, which restaurant owners have to pay to keep their staff from being headhunted by the booming auto industry.

Preorder Raidy III now!

As you know, J-List and our sister company JAST USA are involved in licensing and translating the best visual novels in Japan, so you can play them in English with no silly mosaic censorship. We’ve been on a roll lately, releasing the outstanding Littlewitch Romanesque, the Kana Okaeri ~ Welcome Home Kane remake and the beautiful “sword opera” Hanachirasu, which came out last week. We’ve got great news now: we’re opening Raidy III up for preorders! The game is nearly done, so preorder the Limited Edition right now!