Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Great New 2014 Anime and JRPGs Make Me Busy

Wow, where has all the time gone?  Busy with work, tax season, overcoming health issues, trying to complete final edits on my novel, and blogging.  Then there's that Japanese pop culture thing making you want to play Japanese role playing games on the PS Vita, Nintendo 3DS, and PS3 during that extra 24 hours a day you don't have.


JRPG - Bravely Default / Final Fantasy X/X2
Just finished playing chapter 1 of Bravely Default and it is definitely living up to the hype of being a great Final Fantasy game, but not being Final Fantasy.  Enjoying it immensely.  Fought the boss at the end of the chapter and it was way harder than it should have been.  I didn't level up enough and after adding a few job levels for my knight and black magic wizards it was a piece of cake.  Take the best armour and gear in.  Square Enix did a really good job on the collectors set with the AR art cards, soundtrack, and art book.  Nice box too.



I have to start Final Fantasy X and X2 on the Vita too as it is supposed to be nicely remade for HD.  I just wish they would release a Valkyria Chronicles for Vita to make my deepest wish come true.  But I hear there is a Tales RPG coming out so that will be good too.



I also got this really good miniature model of the Panzer IV from Girls und Panzer from Japan last week and it is awesome!  The little chibi characters all fit in it making it a great souvenir for the show.  The videos of the PS Vita game for Girls und Panzer also look pretty good too.  I'm not going to hold my breath for a North American port of this, but here's to hoping for one.  http://www.japanator.com/girls-und-panzer-for-the-ps-vita-showcases-tank-on-tank-violence-32314.phtml


Crunchroll Spring 2014
There's a pretty stellar lineup of anime to watch right now for free on Crunchyroll.  Not a great deal of mecha anime, but they are there.  Unfortunately the only one right that looks good to me is Captain Earth at the moment.  However, the best thing about anime is that is is so diverse and you can find many different stories being told.  The ones I'm able to follow right now or have just finished are:
  1. Nisekoi.  Kind of a harem anime, but with some nice character twists and plotting.  The whole locket and key thing seems to be a red herring so far as a plot device.
    Did everyone see the cool homage to Evangelion in this anime on Twitter?
    https://twitter.com/kyonkun_sos/status/457828553581535232/photo/1
  2. Kill la Kill.  Great action anime in the old school style.
  3. Love Live! Season 2.  More Love Live and idol singing and antics.  You're either a fan or can't run into the hills fast enough.
  4. The World is Still Beautiful.  I like this one with the princess that controls rain to be married off to the child emperor that has conquered the world.  Nice art, lovable main character, and a gentle touch to the stories.
  5. Captain Earth. Giant combining mecha and mysterious tech.  Hmmm.  Could be good, but we'll see.
  6. The Pilot's Love Song.  Alternate world and some new student pilots that are going to be exploring both a mystery and flying in combat against an enemy empire.  Looks good as it combines Miyazaki, Last Exile, and the Pilot and the Princess.
  7. Nagi no Asukara.  Weak story on this one (world building seems odd with the physics and tech), but the artwork and the characters are good. Suspension of disbelief could be hard even if the ideas are good.
  8. Witch Craft Works.  Lots of people seemed to like the reversal about having a strong female character protect a weak guy.  Seems like Fate/Stay Nightish or Shana-ish to me, but it is a nicely realized magical world and story.  Highly recommended if you like these other shows.
  9. Beyond the Boundary.  Not done, but this looks like a very good show about high school and youmi hunting.  Good characters and plot twists coming up I think.
  10. Silver Spoon.  Farm school anime is awesome.  Very entertaining.
  11. Golden Time.  Amnesiac trying to resolve his life and love relationships after he moves to Tokyo to attend college.
  12. Wake Up Girls.  Another school idol anime with a great heartfelt story.  Good characters.
There's more than this too on Crunchyroll, but there isn't the time to watch it all.  Eureka Seven AO, Last Exile FAM, and Robotic's Notes were all pretty good video releases too.  I'm waiting the English subbed official release of the Macross Frontier movies, to see Space Battleship Yamato 2199, and the Puella Madoka Magica Rebellion movie too!



Monday, April 21, 2014

Real Coffee With Japanese Instant Filter Packs

I can't say that I've seen these types of coffee filters anywhere else, but all you need is access to a cup and hot water.  These would definitely be handy if you were backpacking and didn't want instant coffee or just working out in the field.  I've tried out two brands over the years and they both made pretty good coffee and the sealed packs stay fresh for a long time.  It is about a 75 cents a cup when I found them imported from Japan, but the actual price in Japan will be far less.  The single cup coffee makers are going to give these items a run for their money, but if you're travelling light or at the office needing a fix, these are the way to go.
I previously published a post of about the Japanese coffee chains and canned coffee here.

Mon Cafe
The first kind of filter was Mon Cafe, and they incorporate a paper filter with a cardboard stand that fits onto the rim of your coffee cup.  This one worked better than the other one by keeping the filter well above the cup.  Combines good coffee and papercraft - gotta love Japan.  They also had a Kona coffee variant too.


The coffee comes in individual sealed foil pouches that are very light.

Drip Coffee Bag - Royal Blend
These work the same as any drip coffee maker, and the filter just described above.  Just slowly pour your hot water through the grounds to make a nice cup of joe.  The filter hangs lower in the cup, but it still works pretty good.

The filters come in wide flat foil pouches and your tear the filter along the top serration then unfold it.

Cup of coffee



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lawson Station Red Chicken and Oden Food to Go

Out of the many Japanese konbini (convenience store) chains, one of my favourites is Lawson Japan.  Just like 7-11 this chain originally started out in the United States and is completely Japanese now.  Both chains are way better in Japan for the variety of offerings, especially the food and snacks.  There are plenty of sneak a peak videos on Youtube about konbini, but this post is all about the image Lawson is promoting about themselves and their food products. They've done some pretty nice marketing.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawson_%28store%29
http://lawson.jp/en/

What is Lawson video?

Red Chicken / Chicken Nuggets (Karaage)
Fried chicken is a hot market segment in Japan.  Everyone has chicken drums or nuggets or skewers to bring in the old snack business into the store.  Kentucky Fried Chicken is popular, and even has a special affiliation for Christmas dinner.
Lawson has yummy chicken nugget offerings too.  They have their regular, red, and brown chicken boxes (but they have run regional flavours for their chicken nuggets to - like Kit Kat does).  The chicken nuggets at Lawson in their distinctive chicken-themed boxes are rated as being pretty darn tasty, even by professional chefs like Anthony Bourdain. http://fightland.vice.com/blog/ottavia-bourdain-gets-lost-in-tokyo

Catchy tune with their Akikoloid singing about their fried chicken.

Oden (Stew)
This is a traditional Japanese dish and it bubbles away all day at front counter of the konbini in the winter months.  It is comfort food (might even remind you of your Japanese grandmother or mom if you have one) that full of veggies and different kinds of meat and seafood.  You choose what you want to eat.  More of their Akikoloid singing is shown below.  Wonderful that they have a vocaloid mascot to mingle along with the likes of Hatsuni Miku.  If you're wondering what a vocoloid is, check out my Hatsune Miku post here.

Akikoloid singing about their oden this time.


Another nifty little song about Lawson's oden offerings.

The grand opening of Lawson in Hawaii - includes a segment about oden.

Fresh Coffee
Everyone is also moving into the competitive, but lucrative coffee market.  The konbini all sell canned coffee that is both hot and cold already, but everyone is moving into fresh coffee to hammer away at Starbucks and McDonalds.  Looks good to me so I'd try it, although I'm really a Starbucks guy who also likes canned coffee!  It looks like coffee consumption is also rising in Japan, and part of it is thanks to all of the convenience stores now selling fresh brew.
http://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Consumers/Convenience-stores-new-coffee-hot-spot-for-Japanese

Coffee Commercial



Saturday, April 5, 2014

Tokyo Disneysea Fun and Attractions Guide

I'm a big Disney fan and an anime fan.  This would normally mean that (Tokyo DisneySea + visiting Japan + anime pop culture) = BIG WIN.  Well, I can say that DisneySea is definitely worth a visit for any Disneyphile.  It is a unique Disney theme park operated by a Japanese partner and the localization touches are wonderful - BUT the place is crowded.  I've been to Disneyworld twice and love the place, but this park is on the high end for crowding for me.  I think it is because it is popular and there is a massive population 35 million people who live in the greater Tokyo area (Tokyo + surroundings) and they can all visit by train within 2-3 hours.
Entry Gateway
Mickey Columbus
Morning Float with the Disney Characters
Mysterious Island and Mount Prometheus
Laughable Disclaimer often found in investing blogs (at the time of writing this article I own Disney stock, but that just means I believe in the company's capabilities). Disney is a remarkable company due to its great character franchises, elaborate tie-ins, and cross-marketing for its products.  This is very similar to the Japanese method for cross-marketing anime/manga and all of the product tie-ins; something that I just nickname the Japanese anime industrial complex. For example, a Disney film like Frozen has wonderful music, princess characters that can be made into toys and characters at their theme parks, books, a theme park attraction at some point, there are video games, and all sorts of character goods from bedsheets to snack foods.  In anime/manga you have the same type of thing happening (but not to the same broad audience).  There are toys, models, manga, short novels, jpop idol crossovers, soundtrack CDs, mini-theme parks, pop-up attractions, art figures, and all other other character goods too.  Both are imaginative operations that build that all encompassing consumer experience to maximize their franchise potential.  If you like this, which I do, it is a wonderful thing, otherwise it is probably too much of a good thing.
Pokemon Cup Noodle for cross branding.
Venice
Tower of Terror at night.  Shot turned out really cool.

S.S. Columbia
DisneySea is unique with its big central lagoon (like Epcot in some ways), and a giant volcano as a centerpiece.  This giant volcano houses a secret lake with Captain Nemo's Nautilus and the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride.  Mountains and Disney parks are used to usually feature specific rides and there is even a book titled "The Disney Mountains - Imagineering at Its Peak." There is a regular Disneyland theme park there too, but I passed on that as DisneySea is "only available in Japan".  Back in 2009 I hit the park on November 2, and it was a bad time as it was a long weekend, so the park was mobbed by mid-morning.  I highly recommend you determine which attraction you want to see first, get everyone in line, and have a runner grab fast passes for the next attraction as the first thing you do. For example, grab the fast passes to Indiana Jones while lining up for Journey to the Center of the Earth or something like that.
Mt. Prometheus Caldera

Drilling Machine

Visiting a Disney park sometimes can also seem as daunting as visiting another country with a foreign language.  Just look at the guidebooks that are out there.  The guidebooks to Disneyworld can be as big as a guidebook to New York city or France.  That is like major overplanning, but it is a direct response to not enough time and long lines (competition for scarce resources).  So do some preplanning, see what you need to see, eat what you want to try, and chill out in that awesome Disney imagineering experience to get the most out of it. It does take an hour or so based on my memory to get to Disney from central Tokyo, so an early start to hit the gates when the parks open is a must.  An alternative would be to stay at one of the Disney affiliated hotels nearby the parks to cut down on travel at the beginning and end of the day.  Getting there at opening is a big advantage to enjoying any Disney park.  Also, make sure you have a sit down meal at a restaurant if you can in the middle of the day to rest your feet for an hour or so to ensure you can endure to the end of the day.  Book your tickets in advance if you can too! 
http://www.tokyodisneyresort.jp/en/index.html

Having said all of this, here are some of the best things about Tokyo DisneySea:
  1. Mount Prometheous volcano, the fantasy city on the flanks of the volcano, and the caldera.  Love all the details from the Nautilus, drilling machine, to the eruptions that occur.  I really wanted to see the park just for this.
  2. Venice is an interesting little area.  Mediterranean Harbour gondolas are a nice highlight.
  3. The Americana area with the S.S. Columbia was cool too.  Check out the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge.
  4. The Arabian Coast Area is very atmospheric.
  5. Mermaid Lagoon with King Triton's castle is quite pretty.
You will also find that the Disney fanbase raves about many of the foods available at DisneySea.  Definitely try to check some of them out as food is part of any travel experience, but if you have been eating great Japanese food already in Tokyo, pick your essential experience carefully.

Some interesting food experiences here are:
  1. Gyoza Dog (aka Pork Gyoza) at the cart in the Mysterious Island
  2. Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry custard Toy Story alien dumplings
  3. Curry flavoured popcorn
  4. Disney curry with rice at the Arabian Coast
  5. Tipo Torta pastry stick with a sweet potato filling
  6. Chandu the tiger tail chicken cream buns
  7. Sultan Sundae with coconut ice cream, mango chunks and pineapple syrup
There are many more of course and don't forget your Duffy the Bear souvenirs too (not my favourite, but popular over there).  Anyhow, if you're going to visit, have fun and check out the list of links below for more information.

General
Mysterious Island / Journey To The Center of the Earth

Attractions

Food

Hotels