Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Enduring Gundam Giant Robot Franchise From Japan

Just the other day I realized that I had previously talked about the giant, 1:1 scale RX-78-2 Gundam down in Odaiba and a bit about the Gundam Pod video games in the arcades, but never really about Gundam.  I'm a Gundam fan of the original series with its offshoot series based in the same universe, but also like the newer series too.  Gundam Seed is actually my favourite of all of the series for the blend of the characters and the awesome mecha designs.  Gundam Seed Destiny wasn't so good, but then Gundam 00 and Gundam Unicorn came along to save the day.  Everyone is going to have their own favourites for various reasons, so lets all just agree that we like Gundam for whatever reason and cherish the fact that Gundam exists.
Gundam billboard for the new game in Tokyo

So what the heck is a Gundam?  A Gundam is a "realistically" depicted giant robot.  Take that with a grain of salt as they're still pretty amazing in capability; since a good model in the hands of a Newtype or really good pilot could take on a small army of other mechs and conventional forces.  Japan pretty much created the giant robot trope originally in 1956 with the manga Tetsujin 28-go.  Many giant robots later, found even in the Godzilla movies, the next big hit was an anime named Mazinger Z which I watched in the mid-1970s when I was a kid (apparently it is going to get a video release in North America in 2014 - but I can't find it for sale yet).  Mazinger was an awesome giant robot piloted by the hothead Koji Kabuto that fought the robot minions of Dr. Hell every week to save the Earth.  Mazinger made a big impression on me and heck yeah, I'd pilot a giant robot any day, fully knowing that they would be impractical to implement or survive with near future military technology.

Anyhow, in the 1979, the Mobile Suit Gundam anime began broadcasting and became a big hit.  Children who watched that have become adults and many are still fans of the Gundam.  Gundam is now a massive franchise that has produced over 30 TV series and movies in the last 35 years.  That is a large amount of robot goodness and it has secured a place in the hearts of many Japanese and foreign fans.

A large number of Gundam plastic models.

Gundam was half done to sell toys too and the amount of Gundam merchandise is staggering.  These robot anime series sell toys, but I've always admired how the Japanese bring anime, manga, music, toys, and more together into a synergistic whole that enhances the Gundam experience.  I love the Gundam model kits and they fact you can create fully articulated models without the use of glue!  Painting always makes them better, but they are molded in colour with stickers for the non-painter.  They also vary in price and quality from a $5 kit for beginners to over $100 for the master grade model kits.  In the larger toy stores you will find a section just for Gundam as it is its own market.

50 episodes of Seed available on Youtube on the Official Bandai Channel

50 episodes of Destiny available on Youtube on the Official Bandai Channel

Right now you can even watch the complete series of Gundam Seed, Gundam Seed Destiny, and Gundam Build Fighters on the Bandai Channel on Youtube.  Fully knowing there is a massive entertainment media and toy complex behind Gundam, I'm really enjoying the still airing series, Gundam Build Fighters, that is about building Gundam models and battling with them in tournaments.  All of your favourite anime tropes about hot-headed pilots, never giving up, and doing your best are in this series.  Great mecha battles too!  Gundam Unicorn is still releasing right now and you can still find English dubbed releases over here for the older series that were released before Bandai withdrew from the R1 anime market.

Gundam Build Fighters.  Build your Gunpla (Gundam model) and enter it into a tournament.

Gundam Manga (I'm really enjoying this series)

There are also the new manga releases based on the original series, written and drawn by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, the character designer from the original anime.  Right now Mobile Gundam Suit The Origin is still being released with volume 5 just coming out in the near future.  This hardcover manga is good, probably more accessible than the now aged looking original anime, and the production quality is awesome.

RX-78-2 Gundam at Diver City in Odaiba

If you become a fan, you can then go to Tokyo Japan to visit great toy stores to buy Gundam models, see the giant Gundam statue in Odaiba, have a drink at the Gundam Cafe, play as a Gundam pilot in the arcade, and immerse yourself within the Gundam Front mini-theme park.  Visit Japan, land of the rising sun, and the giant robot!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Japanese Snacks Winter 2013 - 2014

This is a bit of a catchup post.  Watching the Olympic figure skating in Sochi this morning while having some blueberry pancakes and bacon.   Go Team Canada and good luck to all the competitors out there!

Here are a number of Japanese snacks (mainly chocolates) that I managed to find over here in Edmonton at the T & T in December 2013.  They come with a bit of a premium on the price, but they were pretty tasty overall.  These would be definitely available in Japan right now.

Meiji Chocolate Assortment.  Packaged to the hilt, but very pretty boxes and individual wrappings.
This is Meiji chocolate with a honey apple jam filling.  It was nice, but firmer than the soft chewiness I was expecting from the type of filling.
Meiji chocolate honey flavour with soybean powder.  This was a sweet savory kind of taste.  Not chocolate, but more peanuty with a thick filling of black syrup.
Morinaga white chocolate stick muscat flavour.  Very delicate grape flavour with little pop-rocks in it?
Wasabi-O's anyone?  Pretz spicy wasabi flavour.
These were expensive biscuits that came in strawberry and green tea cream filling with chocolate wafers.  Needless to say the combination is very good, but you only get three packs of 2 cookies each to a box.
Meiji Melty Kiss in both Matcha and Strawberry flavours.  These are awesome little chocolates.  They come in little cubes that are so yummy.  I don't know how the Japanese get the strawberry flavour down so well.  Wait, I do, we were there in February last year and had the sweetest, most strawberry tasting little strawberries from the supermarket.  Greenhouse grown, but good.  There were signs on the subway advertising strawberry farm tours at the time as it is seasonal.
New years cakes in various traditional flavours from green tea to chestnut.  Yum.  Goes good with tea / coffee.
This post was so late that Chinese New Year passed by too.  It is interesting that the Japanese don't really celebrate the lunar new year, but it is the western new year instead.  Lion dance display above with some new years type food stuffs.
More Chinese / Asian new years cakes and snacks.

Notice that more specialty Kit Kats are now available in North America now?
And there was even a Chinese New Year Orange Kit Kat.  Wow.  And these were cheap.  $2 for eight duos.  Amazing that I found this at Walmart of all places!

More Japanese Pop Culture at Tokyo Excess

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Some Tokyo Stores for Street Fashion and Bearbricks or Vinyl Toys 
I received an inquiry the other day about Bearbricks and street fashion stores in Tokyo.  I hadn't posted for awhile as I was dealing with some health related issues so I took it on as a bit of a challenge for me.  These topics are not more core area of expertise at all, but I'm more than willing to share what I found with a little bit of research.  There are a few of these stores I'll definitely visit on my next trip to Tokyo.  Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page or add to the list there.  A good listing of fashion shops.

BAPE Store Harajuku

I visited a Bathing Ape shop on my last trip to Tokyo.  There is an upstairs and downstairs floor to this store to separate mens and womens fashions.  While you are here, there are many little shops on the backstreets around here you could also see, and don't forget to visit Omotesando Hills Mall right next door even if you are just going to look at the interior architecture!



A very nice store in high-end Ginza, but it is Uniqlo so you know it is affordable.  Look here to get something that accessorizes with your other clothes.  There is a great T-shirt floor that is unique to this store too!
6-9-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Tel : 03 6252 5181

There is plenty of nice stuff in this store that is just behind the Ginza UNIQLO.  You literally take a walkway over on the upper floors or walk through the UNIQLO and across the alley.  The price tags were a bit of a stunner for me. Don't forget the Rose Bakery cafe here too if you need a break.

Ginza Komatsu West
6-9-5, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Tel : 03-6228-5080

A famous Japanese streetwear label. It is in the basement of the TUMI Store at this location.

5-9-17-B1 Jingumae
150-0001 Tokyo
Tel : 03 5725 9568

This is one of the more famous streetwear labels to come out of Japan.  A counter-culture brand involving motorbikes that started in Harajuku in 1994.

4-32-7 Jingumae
Kanzaki building Tokyo
Tel : 0 3 3401 1201

Comme des Garcons Aoyama Flagship Store
An old streetwear chain established in 1973 with an international presence.  The flagship store is located in Aoyama Tokyo where you'll see tons of fashion all around!  Further south than the other Harajuku stores.

5-2-1 Minami-Aoyama
Tel : 0 3 3406 3951

Opening Ceremony Omotesando
Flagship store for Japan

6-7-1-B Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

6% Dokidoki

Shockingly cute even for Japan
4-28-16 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku

You can visit the Tokyo Skytree and the Solamachi Mall and also shop for Bearbricks at the Medicom Store there.  Other places to shop for vinyl toys would be any large Mandarake Store like the one in Nakano Broadway, Shibuya, or Akihabara.  There are other places to go too, but I'm not positive about how good they are, etc.  If anyone has suggestions, feel free to chip in!
Tons of stores at the Solamachi Mall.  Ghibli Store, Shonen Jump Store, Medicom Store, and even a Nanoblocks store.

Medicom Official Store
4F Tokyo Skytree Town Solamachi,
1-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Tel : 03-3622-6000

Mandarake Shibuya
31-2 Udagawacho, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan ‎
+81 3-3477-0777

IF you are in Shibuya, plenty of fashion around here too.  Also check out the Parco department stores for all kinds of stuff from toys to clothes.  Many little mini-stores in these buildings.  There are also the Loft and Tokyu Hands stores for crafts and DIY types of stuff (you'll be amazed at what you will find).

For toys only, also check out the big toy stores like Kiddyland (also in Harajuku) and Yamashiroya at the links below.