Monday, April 30, 2012

Macross 30th Anniversary Exhibit and Inside Gundam Front

Two big updates today.  Finally, some more recent footage of now opened Gundam Front at Diver City and the Macross 30th Anniversary Exhibit.  Both look wonderful, but the Macross exhibit is unfortunately a temporary exihibit that will run from April 28, 2012 to May 6, 2012 - just over a week.
Macross 30th Anniversary Exhibit
I didn't know this was even planned, but I found out about it yesterday.  I had just returned from Calgary Comic Expo and stumbled across the post on Reddit that night.  The convention was pretty crowded and they had some interesting lock outs as the facilities were deemed too crowded by the Fire Marshall. Anyhow, just when I thought nothing big was happening, this exhibit pops up and makes me wish I was in Tokyo to see it at Sunshine City in Ikebukuro.
http://tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/p/my-sf-writing.html

It looks like there is a very nice set of displays about all of the Macross series and bios of a large number of the characters with life-size pictures and card board cutouts.  The big attraction is the 1:1 scale model of the VF-25 Messiah Valkyrie in pseudo Gerwalk mode. You can even sit or stand on one of the hands to have your picture taken on it!  Also present are 3 life-size models of your Macross femme fatales Lynn Minmay, Sheryl Nome, and Ranka Lee.  There are many models, the gift shop, and even a themed cafe to visit.

Since I can't get there, and maybe you cannot either, here is a nice 7 minute video for us instead :)
A nice post about the other parts of the exhibit at Mecha Guy (gift shop, displays, etc.)
Great post on Gundam Guy about the exhibit, which I saw on Reddit.
Inside the Macross Cafe!

UPDATE: The Macross is now on exhibit at the Tokyo Skytree in the Chiba Institute of Tech Museum.

Inside Diver City Gundam Front
Lots of new movies and such finally showing up on Youtube about Gundam Front at Diver City.  I've been waiting to see what it looks like on the inside.  It looks like there is an absolutely massive collection of Gundam models in a showroom, with many photo spots with various Gundam themed displays, and large scale models of the Gundams.  Very nice indeed and I will definitely try to see it.  Check the second movie for an inside tour!

All Photos used under the creative commons license from Flickr by Takashi H

Outside Gundam 1:1 Statue at Diver City.  There is a big projected lightshow at night with the Gundam lighting up with smoke effects and such. 

Exterior of Gundam Front inside the mall.
Big Bust
Core Fighter and asteroid base.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tokyo International Forum, Bic Camera, Ginza Yakitori, and Toho Godzilla

The buildings, locations, and Godzilla statue described in this post all run along the Yamanote Line and border Ginza in Tokyo.  They are a few stations apart and are quite walkable between them.
Tokyo International Forum
The Tokyo International Forum is a fantastic looking piece of architecture that looks like a long narrow boat when viewed from above.  I also recently discovered that it has been nicknamed the Tokyo Spaceship from its futuristic appearance.  It has a web of catwalks connecting the two sides of the convention center and looks like it is all made of glass.  Did I mention it looks like it was MADE OF GLASS?  I think the building looks stunning, but I've read that it was also considered folly to build this building in an earthquake zone.  Maybe I don't get it, but aren't most buildings composed of an outer glass shell anyhow?  Maybe you're worried about being inside and not outside when a big one hits...
Tokyo International Forum   Tostzilla
http://tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/p/my-sf-writing.html

Construction was finished in 1996 and it has seven conventional halls, with the biggest seating 5000 people.  The building is just west of Yurakucho Station.  Near here, I think to the west side, there are also some entrances to buildings that resemble big airlocks.  Kinda cool.
Tokyo International Forum   Tostzilla

Surreal HDR of Tokyo International Forum   Flickr / galactic.supermarket

Bic Camera
Bic Camera is more than cameras.  They are another chain of electronics superstores that are like Yodobashi Camera.  This particular location of Bic is one stop south of the Tokyo International Forum.  It is a building which has a very nifty LED facade that lights up at night with a changing pattern of colors.  The pictured location is just West of Yurakucho Station on the Yamanote Line.  Ginza is on the other side of the tracks.
Bic Camera Shimbashi   Flickr / Slick Vic
Yakitori Under the Yamanote Line in Ginza
This was one of the things I really thought was pretty cool.  The arches under the train tracks are actually used as storefronts and restaurants.  In some of the tunnels there are these yakitori stalls where you sit, grab a beer and eat at  a counter with your back to the hallway behind you.  You can get some pretty good yakitori here. 
Restaurants and Yakitori Stalls Under The Yamanote Line   Tostzilla
Grilled Yakitori Skewers   Flickr / shinyai

Toho Studios Godzilla
Godzilla lives here outside of Toho Studios Headquarters in Tokyo.   Toho Studios HQ is located just southwest of Yurakucho Station / the International Forum and west of Ginza.  If you haven't seen a large reptile breathing radioactive breath this is your big chance to see one.
Godzilla Statue at Toho Studios HQ   Flickr / galactic.supermarket
Looks really impressive right?  But... It isn't quite like the 1:1 scale Gundam.  In fact, it is a lot smaller as it is roughly the size of a small person.
Not so big "GIANT" Godzilla   by Tostzilla
This statue was still one of the things I wanted to see just because I had never seen a large-sized godzilla statue or model.  It was interesting and I'm sure the office workers around the area are pretty used to seeing tourists posing with it.  Look around on Flickr or other photo sites and you'll see lots of people who played with the photo angles to make Big G look big and mean!
I put Godzilla appearing behind me between two buildings myself!
And using the miracle of the Google Streetview you can view a 360 degree picture of the statue NORTH of the corner of the building marked TOHO and map to it if you monkey around with Google. View the larger map and zoom out to see the streets to pinpoint the location for your reference.


More Tokyo Highlights
More Japanese Pop Culture




Saturday, April 21, 2012

Gundam Video Games In the Arcade and Home

http://tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/p/my-sf-writing.html 
Ever want to pilot a Gundam or a big robot?  Well, there is a simulator for that called Mobile Suit Gundam: Bonds of the Battlefield.  It looks kind of cool, but I think I'd be spending quite a few $$$ getting good at it.  I really like the concept of being in the cockpit and the little extra's they have thrown in to try and make the experience immersive.
Inside of Gundam Game Pod   Flickr / ryanshultz
"Kidō Senshi Gundam: Senjō no Kizuna (機動戦士ガンダム 戦場の絆), is a Japanese arcade game set in the original Gundam universe (Mobile Suit Gundam). The game was created by Bandai Namco and Banpresto and was released late 2006. Play involves stepping into a P.O.D. (Panoramic Optical Display) and doing battle with other players across Japan at other arcades or the same one." From Wikipedia.

Gundam Game Pods




Gundam is about giant humanoid robots that you climb inside to pilot and then do battle with other giant robots.  There is always a lot of talk about peace in these games, but war keeps breaking out, as no one gets along.  These Gundam Game pods simulate the Gundam cockpit with robot driving controls (complete with 2 sticks and foot pedals), video, microphone and audio communications with your team mates and you battle with other players in one or more arcades.  People outside the pod can watch displays to see how the battle is going and you need to cooperate with team mates to win.   This game isn't exactly new as it has been around for years and there is lots of online co-op team play these days, but it would be the Gundam theme and the cockpit environment that are the selling features.  This game is only located at select arcades, one of which is in  Akihabara Sega World, but a number of other countries such as Taiwan also have a few arcades with it.

Check out this link to the manufacturers site to view more about the game first hand. http://www.gundam-kizuna.jp/index.php
Very nice overview of the game.  http://gaming.wikia.com/wiki/Gundam:_Senjou_no_Kizuna
In depth how it works article.  http://coolstuffjapan.sblorgh.org/2007/09/mobile-suit-gundam-bonds

How The Game Works (super short summary)
Sign up to play as there are registration lists.  Pay money ... :) 
  1. Create a pilot card then choose to join with the Earth Federation or with the Principality of Zeon. Players choose their pilot's name and other characteristics. 
  2. New players should choose beginners to fight on a separate map, "Australia Training Area" for new pilots.  You fight in the same basic mechas for both sides and respawn when you die.
  3. When you get promoted you can then fight online in your same class level using the main maps.  You will be fighting players of similar rank in teams.  Yeah. Go against Char right out of the academy. Fun game for 2 seconds....
  4. You will gain points after each battle to upgrade your Mobile Suit with better weapons, equipment, or even upgrade suits.
  5. Rinse, wash, and repeat!

What If There Is No Arcade Nearby?
It looks like Sony is giving you your Gundam fix from the comfort of your home in Japan... Doh.
Up to six players can join the Federation or Zeon Forces to play each other on their PlayStation 3s via the Sony Entertainment Network. You can pilot mobile suits, vehicles, and be on foot to take the fight to the enemy.



Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Tale of Two Murakami's

Some time ago I realized that there were two famous Murakami's.  One is an artist doing very modern art and the other is a writer of award winning, surreal fiction.  Both have contributed mightily to Japan's stockpile of coolness overseas and at home.

Murakami Flowers   Flickr / Valeri-DBF

 Takashi Murakami

Takashi Murakami is an internationally famous Japanese artist. He does work in painting, sculpture and other arts in the modern art field in his signature Superflat style.  A good portion of his work is art done for commercial purposes (such as work for Louis Vitton) that blurs the line between high and low art. He coined the term Superflat, which describes both the aesthetic characteristics of Japanese artistic tradition and the nature of post-war Japanese culture and society.

He really is an awesome artist and I pretty much admire all of his work.  I find the colors so vibrant and his sculptures very imaginative.  His work in commercial media is also of very high quality and I'd hit an exhibit of his if I could get to it.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takashi_Murakami

Murakami   Flickr / Ammar Abd Rabbo
The Superflat style emphasizes surface area and use of flat planes of color and argues that this is a trend that started in traditional Japanese art that was carried through into manga and anime.  Murakami also argues that differences in social class and popular taste have ‘flattened,’ producing a culture where the gap between "high" and "low" has vastly shrunk.  With this distinction in mind, Murakami repackages "low" art and presents it in the "high" art market.  His art is usually available as plush toys, display sculptures, t-shirts, personal accessories, and is often priced in a more affordable price range. His art incorporates traditional Japanese themes and many of the themes from anime / manga otaku culture, including the inherent sexual undercurrents.  If you haven't heard of him, after looking at the photos below, you will probably realize you have seen his art or art influenced by his style.
NY / Bosc d'Anjou

Flickr / by Jim Linwood
Flickr / wallyg
Flickr / jpellgen

On 21 June 2011, Google featured a doodle tagged as "First Day of Summer" which was created by Murakami. This was accompanied by a Winter Solstice doodle for the Southern Hemisphere.

http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/17056/takashi-murakami/
http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/755342/takashi-murakami-declares-war-on-cool-japan
http://www.dezeen.com/2007/11/13/takashi-murakami-at-moca/  Very nice overview.

Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer who has received critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Franz Kafka Prize and Jerusalem Prize among others.  I've read only a couple of his books, After Dark and the Wind Up Bird Chronicles and they are usually pretty interesting.  I have to read his current book 1Q84 when I can get to it.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haruki_Murakami

"Murakami's fiction, often criticized by Japan's literary establishment, is humorous and surreal, and at the same time focuses on themes of alienation and loneliness.  He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature. The Guardian praised him as "among the world's greatest living novelists" for his works and achievements.

In 1985, Murakami wrote Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a dream-like fantasy that takes the magical elements in his work to a new extreme. Murakami achieved a major breakthrough and national recognition in 1987 with the publication of Norwegian Wood, a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality. It sold millions of copies among Japanese youths, making Murakami a literary superstar in his native country. The book was printed in two separate volumes, sold together, so that the number of books sold actually doubled, creating the million-copy bestseller hype. One book had a green cover, the other one red." From Wikipedia


Some key Murakami novel publication dates below.

1987     Norwegian Wood
1995     The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
1999     Sputnik Sweetheart
2002     Kafka on the Shore
2004     After Dark
2009     1Q84




Thursday, April 12, 2012

Can Skylanders Be A Pokemon Phenomena?

Skylanders was a sleeper video game hit of the 2011 Christmas Season and it could be a pretty good North American franchise that could do well everywhere.  Activision did a great job of producing this game and the toys that play an integral role within the video game.  If you have children, younger siblings, work in a toy store or video game store, or just like video games with very nicely made figures, you have probably heard about Skylanders.
Skylanders / Tostzilla
If you have been collecting these Skylanders figures you probably have also experienced great frustration as you couldn't buy most of the 30 figures, as they were always sold out for months.  You can complete the game with just the three starter figures that come with the game, but the extra figures add variety and depth to the game.  Well, at the least the figure drought seems to be over as some container ships from China must have arrived in North America and stock seems to be showing up regularly.  The ridiculous EBAY prices have had their day as the figures were selling for 3x their retail value or more.

"A video game with figures?" you say.  "So what?"  When I first saw it I would have to say I had the same sentiment, but seeing the game in action changed my mind.
  1. First of all, the figures are nicely made - much nicer than most mass produced toys (they would look good even by Japanese standards of figure quality).
  2. The Portal of Power thingy you put the figures on to get them in the game works like a charm, and changes color.  The wireless connection to the XBOX, PC, PS3, 3DS, WII works great.  Figures are easily swapped in and out of game and it plays very well with 2 player COOP.
  3. The game is fun and Kaos the bad guy is hilarious. Kids absolutely love this game!
  4. Each of the figures has different abilities and strengths representing one of the 8 elements.  Death is an element? Huh?  
  5. Game is nicely rendered with indestructably flammable sheep.  Very cool.

So now to the title of this little blog post.  The popularity of this game could be multiplied out if there was enough cross marketing like for a Japanese game title.  For example, the original Pokemon Games Blue and Red for the black/white Gameboy was very popular and only became more popular after the collectible card game was introduced.  They have manga, anime, movies, and more games and merchandise that you could collect in a lifetime.  See my blog post on the Pokemon Store for more details about merchandise.


So Skylanders is a growing franchise too, with the Giants expansion (a new game with overgrown Skylanders) that I'll play in the fall.  They just need to crank up the tie-ins and do the turning Japan-esa thing like the song from the vapours.  I wonder if it will ever get that popular, but I would think it has a shot.  I'd sure like to see a full Skylanders movie.  BTW, does anyone know how well this game is doing in asia, particularly Japan?









Sunday, April 8, 2012

Anime & Games Set In Akihabara

Akihabara is still the otaku capital for Japan (or at least Tokyo) even if it isn't as edgy as it was before.  Otome Road, and Nakano Broadway are important sites now too, but Akihabara still has the media mystique.  This mystique or should I say myth is self-fulfilling as the neighbourhood fed the appetites of the anime fans, and then the anime and games were even set in the area to wet the appetites even more.
Akiba HDR   Flickr / pictureTYO

Stein's Gate
One of the most famous of the games, Stein's Gate, also became an anime.  Originally released for the Xbox it has even been ported to the PSP and is slated for a North American release in both forms.  It is a time travel story and it features Akihabara against a background of intrigue, murder, and mystery.  The game has an awesome opening song and animation shown below.  

The Stein's Gate time travel story is partially set in the old Radio Kaikan building that has been or will be demolished (so it now belongs to the land of myth).  The Radio Kaikan building was a bit of an anime store mecca and was pretty neat to walk through.  It was hot and muggy the day I visited, but it was a neat little warren of stores and I love the central staircase. There are documentaries about the building and its closing along with its brief reopening for the satellite crashing event.

Akiba's Trip
Another game that received a bunch of press was Akiba's Trip for the PSP which was a vampire hunting game set in Akihabara.  Some weird game mechanics happen in this game such as the methods for exposing vampires to sunlight, but it has a following and you get to wander around electric town.

Other Anime
There are also some anime series such as Cyberteam in Akihabara, Ore No Imouto that featured the area in episode 2, Lucky Star in episode 16, and numerous manga that are set in this area.  The items here are just the tip of the old iceberg and I'm sure there are tons more that also set here.  Sometimes the area is used almost as an inside joke or self-parody, but it is all in fun.




Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Giant Robot Toys - Macross, Godzilla, Gundam

Who has the coolest toys?  The Japanese do.  They invented the transforming toy and had cool toys that shot little missiles even though they got banned in other places for being health hazards to small children.  Well, I kind of agree with the health hazard thing for small children, as you need the kids to grow up to support you in your old age and for companies to keep making cool toys...
Godzilla   Flickr / by SebastianDooris
http://tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/p/my-sf-writing.html

There are three types of toys I'm going to cover today.  Unfortunately I'm not talking about the big, older vinyl robots like giant Mazingers that are 3 feet high, Japanese Transformers, or big 6 foot tall Gundams, even though they do exist.  What we have on the menu are Macross transformers, the new articulated Godzilla figures, and Gundam models or Gunpla.  All three of these types of toys are pretty popular and they come in all price ranges from a few tens of thousands of yen ($20 - $30 USD) to hundreds of thousands of yen (beyond my price range).

Also check out my post on real robot anime mecha if you're interested in the genre.

Macross Toys
Macross is one pretty popular anime series with a big following even in the USA and Canada where it was shown as Robotech.  The older Macross and Macross Plus DVDs are available in North America, but unfortunately, licensing problems won't allow the really cool Macross Frontier series or its movies to show here.  The Macross Valkyrie transforming fighters are able to transform from humanoid robot, to half-plane / half-humanoid robot, and full plane modes.  These are very cool and there are loads of model kits, and transformable toys available.  Just check out places like amiami.com or hlj.com to view or buy them if you are not in Japan. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VF-1_Valkyrie.   Some of the more affordable figures are from the Revoltech or Mecha Damashii lines of toys, but they may or may not be transformable.

Godzilla
Godzilla is my favourite Kaiju ever since I was a small child.  I've had several sets of Godzilla figures over the years, but the new releases from the S.H.MonsterArts line from Bandai are very posable and quite detailed.  These are mid-range in price and good value for the money.  I did like the ad campaigns for it and there are great commercials for it.



Gundam Model Kits or Gunpla
Gundams models are their own business.  You can have other plastic model kits, but Gundam modelling has its own name "Gunpla" and its own industry.  You can go to the naval section in a hobby store or the Gundam section - it is that big.  Again, these model kits come in all levels of pricing from simpler, less articulated models to complex models that have thousands of parts to assemble.  I like building the occasional model, but am not too good at the detailing.  However, I have used Gundam Markers (yes, they have their own paint pens) to do detailing.  I like full articulation and detail of these models.  At online retailers you can often find them on sale (this could be a good or bad thing) and get a kit to try.  Some of the pro modellers are just amazing in what they can do for paint jobs and in the dioramas you sometimes find.


You can tell they are trying to expand their market as it isn't just for guys. Gundam modelling is also for space frogs invading the Earth if you have watched Sergeant Keroro.  Gunpla is a pop phenomenon that often shows up in various anime.  Distantly related to Gunpla would be the giant 1:1 scale Gundam in Odaiba (http://tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/2012/02/gundam-front-tokyo-at-diver-city-in.html).

Monday, April 2, 2012

U-Ram Choe Kinetic Art and TRON Inspired Dance by Wrecking Crew Orchestra

Two amazing sets of visual movies to inspire you today.  One is by an amazing Japanese dance troupe and the other by a Korean, kinetic sculptor named U-Ram Choe. Human talent is just amazing... astounding... wow!

U-Ram Choe
He is a contemporary artist, based in Seoul, Korea, who works with kinetic sculpture and makes amazing cybernetic organisms.  Seeing a picture does not do justice to his work as it changes and moves like a living organism.  You need to watch a movie or see it in person.  I have never seen one of his exhibits, but I would sure love to.
Kinetic Sculpture  Flickr / kDamo
His exhibition for the MAM Project at the Mori Art Museum in 2006 had giant bio-mechanical plants looming over the gallery visitors while everything pulsed with light. Skeletal creatures lived around it and amazed everyone with their animations.  He even has stories and background set up to tell you about the ecosystems that his creations live in.  The art is both very creative and slightly spooky, like some strange robot out of the Matrix or a sci fi nightmare.

U-Ram Choe's Official Website - lots of good stuff here, with interviews and more.

http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/tablog/entries.en/2008/06/tokyos-urban-parasites.html


Wrecking Crew Orchestra
While we are on the topic of kinetic art, here is an amazing 8 person dance troupe out of Japan who can't stay still!  Their dances have been making the rounds on the Internet as everyone is showing off their moves.  Their most famous dance starts out with the new TRON: Legacy music and their really cool LED suits.  It's like they are out of the movie.

Wrecking Crew Orchestra Official Site

The dancers perform on a dark stage and they appear and disappear in time to their moves and the music as the lights on their suits go on and off.  Everything is tightly timed by computer. They are able to do some sequences that seem impossible as their suites flicker on and off and they seem to animate and hop all over the stage.  Well worth seeing in video and even more as a live performance!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kiddyland - Tokyo's Amazing Toy Store

Kiddyland is a great name for a toy store!  I don't know if it is the world's best toy store, but it sure feels like one of the best when you visit.  I know I really enjoyed my visit and seeing all of the different toys, clothes, stuffies, gadgets, stationary, and much more.
Kiddyland Front   Flickr / seq
While they have some of the anime figures and Gundam models on the top floor this isn't what this store is about - go to Akihabara for that.  The store isn't as big as one of the massive Toys R Us stores for example in terms of square footage, but it is DENSELY packed with amazing and wonderful toys.  There are 5 stories of toys in this building with themed floors / areas by brand.  So there is a Winnie the Pooh section, or a Hello Kitty / Sanrio section, a Ghibli section, etc. 
Hello Kitty / Tostzilla
http://tokyoexcess.blogspot.ca/p/my-sf-writing.html

Wandering from floor to floor is like popping down multiple levels of Alice's rabbit hole and when you pick up and check out the toys, you're taking the potion marked "drink me!"  There is a massive variety of stuff and it is well worth a visit if you are in Harajuku checking out the architecture and fashions, etc.  There are going to be toys / widgets / gadgets that will appeal to all ages here.  If you have kids, taking them here and the Pokemon Center Store will probably get you the best parent of all time award (as long as you get them something and to be fair - get something for yourself too).
Ghibli Stuffies / Tostzilla
There will be stuff here you have never seen before as they have a really good selection.  For example, the Ghibli toys were really well stocked with great variety and they had stuff that the Ghibli Museum didn't have (but the Ghibli Museum has exclusives too like this Mei cosplaying as Totoro, etc.).

I'm also amazed that specialty stores like this can exist still as they seem to have gone extinct back in North America in most places.  I think high population density and the fact there are still lots of cool toys for all ages allows these places to exist.  This is something that seems to be rare back home now.

There are great little themed displays of toys too, but just remember that the displays constantly rotate so you will likely see different things when you visit, even if you don't buy.

This map below shows the location of Kiddyland as the helicopter.
View Shibuya Shinjuku Harajuku in a larger map
 

KIDDY LAND - Harajuku
6-1-9 Jingu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

This branch of the Kiddyland shops was recently renovated in the summer of 2012 and is now open again!
Danny Choo recently visited the reopened site in September and here's a link to this article.

Check the Kiddyland website here for current details (look under the SHOPS menu - so I don't mislead you!!!)

Some cool little toys that link together to dance together shown below in the next two videos shot by the anonymous mass of videographers out there.  There are Sanrio characters or even Disney characters to make your own small world after all.

http://peterlok.blogspot.ca/p/my-publications.html http://peterlok.blogspot.ca/p/my-publications.html http://peterlok.blogspot.ca/p/my-publications.html

Other Tokyo Anime / Otaku Highlights Worth Visiting