November 19, 2014

Some bad economic news for Japan, and an Eva Fair at 7-11.

Some economic bad news for Japan, and an "Eva Fair" at 7-11!

A couple days ago the news hit that Japan’s economy had declined for the second straight quarter, officially slipping into its fifth recession in the last 15 years, after a hike in the consumption tax caused consumers to cut their spending. It came as a big blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics,” which aims to force inflation and wage growth through spending on economic projects and enacting various reforms. Recessions in Japan are a bit different from what you might be used to at home. While they’re certainly hard on people, the reality is that most households won’t be affected that much thanks to the Japanese habit of saving money. (The average household has US$170,000 in savings, nearly always earning 0% in banks.) Whereas unemployment is a big problem during economic downturns in other countries, Japan’s unemployment rate is currently just 3.6%…but that’s not really a good thing, as it’s an indication of the huge labor shortage the country will face as it ages. I’m often asked if Japan’s local economic problems affect J-List, and the surprising answer is that they often do in positive ways. Japanese companies are extremely conservative and rarely embrace change willingly, and we’ve noticed that some companies – say, the visual novel publishers we work with – are more open to taking risks and embracing markets outside Japan when they have no choice.

Without a doubt, one of the most wonderful things about Japan is its conbini (convenience stores), which are filled with everything you need, from prepared bento lunches and onigiri rice balls to strawberry and whipped cream sandwiches. You can pay your electric bill, buy concert tickets, or eat an “American dog” (what a corn dog is called here). Convenience stores got their start in Japan in 1974 when a supermarket chain executive named Hideo Shimizu took a bus trip across the U.S. to observe business in different regions, and fell in love with the convenience of 7-Eleven stores. His company bought a license to run 7-Eleven stores in Japan, a business venture that worked out so well that the Japanese company grew to 15,000 stores in Japan alone, eventually buying the parent company in the U.S. A decade or so ago anime studios realized that teaming up with convenience stores was an effective way to cross-market its properties, and now it’s common to see them cooperating on projects. The other day I went into my local 7-Eleven and was pleased to see they were having an “Eva Fair” with lots of Evangelion themed products, to promote the end of the manga. You can even enter to win an Eva-themed sports car.

Did you order your J-List grab bags yet?

Every year the hardworking staff of J-List prepares traditional Japanese 福袋 fuku-bukuro, colorful red grab bags filled with great products for you to discover, from random Japanese figures and plush toys to gashapon capsule toys to bento boxes and related products to some very ecchi items. This year we’ve got a great lineup, with several awesome sets of grab bags to choose from. All items will be shipped in a separate sturdy box, with items securely packed, and a traditional red fukubukuro will be included, folded up, in case you’re giving these items as gifts. Order yours now!

November 17, 2014

Japan’s interest in foreigners like us, and a surprising new Sailor Moon product line.

Japan's interest in foreigners like us, and a surprising new Sailor Moon product.

One theme I write about a lot is how Japan is “the only country in the world that cares what its foreigners think.” There are popular TV shows in which bilingual gaijin are asked what aspects of Japanese society they’d like to see change, or which put camera crews in the arrival lobby of Narita Airport to interview foreigners who have just arrived and follow them around as they explore the country. Another popular show is called Nippon no Deban: Rediscover Japan, hosted by popular comedian Tokoro George, who was the voice of Ponyo’s father if you happened to see the Japanese dub of that film. In the show, foreigners ask questions like, “where does the Japanese obsession with always being on time come from?” or “why do Japanese females use the word kawaii several hundred times a day, even about some potentially non-kawaii things?” and the show tries its best to answer the questions. While Japanese have always been interested in hearing what foreigners think of their country – many follow me on Twitter for this reason – some of these TV programs presumably exist because of official support from the Japanese government’s “Cool Japan” program, which aims to remind the world how cool the country is, in imitation of South Korea’s financial support for companies exporting Korean dramas and K-POP groups to other countries.

We all use euphemisms every time we want to discuss something potentially unpleasant in an indirect way, but the Japanese have raised this to an art form. Everything from the constipation all Japanese women seem cursed with to referring to anything related to sex with the letter “H” (ecchi) are generally discussed using roundabout phrases. Death is something rarely mentioned directly, and when Nitroplus music producer Shingo Minamino was tragically killed in a random knife attack in Osaka in 2012, the phrase 帰らぬ人となった kaeranu hito to natta (“he became a person who would never return home again”) was used. Sometimes when you go to ride a train in Tokyo you find that the lines have all stopped, due to a 人身事故 jinshin-jiko or “an accident involving physical injury,” which is a polite way of saying a troubled individual decided to opt out of the rest of his life by jumping in front of a train. A woman’s monthly period is also something rarely discussed directly, instead using the word 生理 seiri, which actually means “biology,” or with colorful phrases like 旗日 hatabi (“flag day”), which is obvious if you look at a Japanese flag. Women who grew up in the 1990s have another interesting euphemism for this: Sailor Moon’s Day, the day when Sailor Moon comes for a visit. Capitalizing on this cute term, a Japanese company has released a line of officially licensed feminine products which allow women to banish their monthly cycles in the name of the moon!

Littlewitch Romanescque has gone Golden Master!

Fans are going to love the upcoming English visual novel Girlish Grimoire Littlewitch Romanesque for a lot of reasons, including kawaii characters, a great gameplay system involving rolling dice to build up magical skill then learning spells and going on quests, and the depth of the game story. In addition to Aria and Kaya, the two girls whose magical training you’re responsible for, there’s a host of other characters, like the cute catgirl maid Tillet, the female Knight Rosetta, the eccentric elf Marrett, and the sexy architect, who loves building beautiful things. All are romancible characters in this fully translated, voiced and uncensored game that all fans should preorder now.

November 14, 2014

A dark new anime from Sunrise, plus the joy of sushi and wasabi.

A dark anime from Sunrise, plus the joy of "wasabi" and sushi.

I started watching another anime series recently called Cross Ange, a new offering by Sunrise. Quite a “dark” show – my first impression was the Shawshank Redemption meets a “yuri” version of Zeta Gundam – it tells the story of a utopian society in which everyone can use a kind of magic called mana. Everyone, that is, except for certain class of anti-newtypes undesirables who have no magical abilities, who are called norma and viewed as inhuman by society at large. When it’s discovered that the beloved Princess Angelise of the Misurugi Empire is herself a lowly norma, she’s arrested and packed off to serve as cannon fodder in a war with interdimensional dragons. The show is dark and gritty, with a high body count in the first few episodes, and offers more fanservice than I’ve seen from a Sunrise show in a while. Overall the show is entertaining, and since Sunrise is the company behind such outstanding series as Code Geass and Mai-Hime, I’m hopeful the quality of the story will remain good.

I’m often amazed at the extent to which aspects of Japan’s culture have flowed to all corners of the world. I’m sure there are more than a few people in the U.S. and Europe who possess little in the way of detailed knowledge about South Korea or Vietnam or the Kingdom of Bhutan, but who could name at least three weapons used by ninja using the correct terms in Japanese. Japanese food culture has also been carried far and wide, and in most countries you can find such cuisine as as ramen*, tempura, tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet, yum), nabe dishes cooked in a central pot like sukiyaki, all manner of bento boxed lunches, and of one of my personal favorites, sushi. Although J-List’s home prefecture of Gunma is as far from the sea as you can get, we manage to have some decent sushi, and it’s often quite affordable, too. I’m a big fan of wasabi, the spicy root usually translated as Japanese horseradish, and eat it on anything I can. Incidentally, we stock a lot of Japanese cookbooks, in case you want to expand your knowledge of Japanese cooking.

(*Modern Japanese ramen is based on a Chinese pulled noodle dish, though it underwent a good deal of evolution in Japan before reaching its current form.)

Littlewitch Romanescque has gone Golden Master!

Remember our good news, that Girlish Grimoire Littlewitch Romanesque has gone ‘golden master’ and is heading for the duplicators now! A fabulous game illustrated by famed artist Oyari, this is not only one of the most beautiful games to come along in years, it’s also one of the most fun. The goal of Littlewitch is to teach two witches-in-training to use magic, helping them learn spells and sending them on quests. This is the “Editio Perfecta” (perfect edition) of the game, which includes all additional scenarios from the game’s fandiscs plus one all-new game route created for this edition. The game is fully translated to English and 100% uncensored. Preorder the limited Deluxe Edition, which will come in a large box with three laminated illustration boards and a beautiful full color game manual, and you’ll get the download version free, sent to you on shipping day, so you can start playing right away. (You can also preorder the download edition now, if you don’t want the package and printed manual.)

November 12, 2014

Tokyo’s newest luxury high-rise building, and the Girlfriend (BETA) anime.

Japan's newest luxury high-rise building, and the Girlfriend (BETA) anime.

Anime can be based on many things: popular manga series (Maken-ki!, Cardcaptor Sakura), light novels (Oreimo, Sword Art Online), visual novels – both ecchi (Fate/stay night) or all-ages (Clannad) – plus original stories. Now we can add mobage (mobile games) to this list, thanks to the new anime Girlfriend (BETA), which is running in Japan right now. Based on a dating-sim game for iPhone and Android in which you play a male main character surrounded by 100 female characters, each with her own voice actress, it’s a cute slice-of-life show about uber-moe girls and how they interact with each other. As with any new show, it’s fun to observe what new moe innovations the staff will bring to the cast, and in this series there’s a French girl named Chloe who’s always making adorable mistakes while speaking Japanese. Incidentally, if you want to play the free-to-play Girlfriend (BETA) game or its boy-centered otome game version Boyfriend (BETA), alas in Japanese, you’ll need to create a Japan iTunes account, which you can get easily by buying one of our iTunes Japan prepaid cards. There’s lots of other free stuff to be found on the Japan iTunes store, too, including promotional anime games, so it’s good to have an account made.

Over the weekend I went to Tokyo with Mrs. J-List, because I needed to go to the U.S. embassy to renew my passport. Whenever we have an excuse to go to Tokyo we pick some nice hotel we haven’t stayed at yet, which lets us enjoy parts of the city we’ve not experienced before. This time we stayed at a hotel in the newly opened Toranomon Hills building, located in a bustling area where many national embassies are located, as well as Japan’s National Diet (e.g. legislature) Building. Ever since the successful launch of the towering Roppongi Hills high-rise a decade ago – it instantly became the most fashionable address in Tokyo, home to extravagant shopping and restaurants as well as the corporate headquarters of Goldman Sachs, Ferrari and Google Japan – Tokyo has been embracing a higher level of urban life. The new Toranomon Hills building was amazing to visit, with a living bamboo forest inside the lobby and a cute official mascot character called Toraemon. Yes, the “Hills” in both these building names is a reference to Beverly Hills, reminding us that there’s no aspect of life in Europe or the U.S. the Japanese won’t emulate, if it strikes their fancy.

Littlewitch Romanescque has gone Golden Master!

We’ve got some great news for fans of visual novels and eroge in English: the upcoming Girlish Grimoire Littlewitch Romanesque has gone ‘golden master’ and is heading for the duplicators now! A fabulous game illustrated by famed artist Oyari, this is not only one of the most beautiful games to come along in years, it’s also one of the most fun. The goal of Littlewitch is to teach two witches-in-training to use magic, helping them learn spells and sending them on quests. This is the “Editio Perfecta” (perfect edition) of the game, which includes all additional scenarios from the game’s fandiscs plus one all-new game route created for this edition. The game is fully translated to English and 100% uncensored, with no content altered in any way. Preorder the limited Deluxe Edition, which will come in a large box with three laminated illustration boards and a beautiful full color game manual, and you’ll get the download version free, sent to you on shipping day, so you can start playing right away. (You can also preorder the download edition now, if you don’t want the package and printed manual.)