Sunday, October 12, 2014

Evangelion Store in Ikebukuro Now Open (October 2014)

The new Evangelion Store 01 officially re-opened on the second floor of the P' Parco mall annex in Ikebukuro on October 3.  Just north of Ikebukuro Station, the place isn't hard to find, and it looks like there are a number of interesting shops in the mall.  There still haven't been many news articles on it except in the Japanese press though.  Just remember this is in the P' Parco building just a little NW of the Parco building to find the right place.

The store looks pretty large, like the original in Harajuku, but on one floor only.  You are greeted by the statue of Rei that was at the original store and it looks like there is a ton of merchandise here again.  I know I'll be visiting it next time I'm in Tokyo.  It looks like there are many reasons to visit Ikebukuro now as there are a number of anime or cool shops to visit.  The Animate Flagship store, the Shonen Jump Theme Park in Sunshine City, the Kit Kat store, the Bic Camera with a Gundam floor, and now the Eva Store are all unique to the area.  There are  the Tokyu Hands and Gamers stores and others, but you can find those around most major train stations.

EVANGELION STORE TOKYO-01 ( Evangelion Store Tokyo Zero One )
Second floor , Toshima-ku, Tokyo 1-50-35 Higashi Ikebukuro P'PARCO
Tel: 03-5992-3310

EVANGELION STORE TOKYO-01(エヴァンゲリオン ストア トウキョウゼロワン)
住所:東京都豊島区東池袋1-50-35 池袋P'PARCO 2階

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Summer and Fall 2014 Anime on Crunchyroll

2014 has been a pretty good year for anime, and it was even better for mecha fans with several good mecha series.  This fall also has a number of series that I'll be watching and it is going to keep me pretty busy with regular television also at a bumper crop for me to watch.

Still waiting for Girl's Und Panzer 2nd season or the OVA here.

The shows I've watched to completion or will watch to completion so far this year are:
  1. Sword Art Online, 2nd season.
  2. Log Horizon, 2nd season.
  3. Argevollen
  4. Aldnoah Zero
  5. Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun
  6. Denki-Gai
  7. Love Live! 2nd season
  8. Golden Time
  9. Nisekoi
  10. The World is Still Beautiful
  11. Persona4 the Golden
  12. Witch Craft Works
  13. Beyond the Boundary
  14. Maoyu
  15. Rail Wars!
  16. Arpeggio of Blue Steel
  17. One Week Friends
  18. Silver Spoon 
  19. Shirobako
  20. Nanana's Buried Treasure
There's plenty of other interesting anime to watch too:
  • Fate/Stay Night Remake
  • World Trigger
  • Akame ga Kill!
  • Terraformars - not too sure about the whole martian roach thing, but it might be popular like Attack on Titan
  • Chaika - The Coffin Princess
  • Celestial Method
  • Parasyte -the Maxim-
  • Black Bullet

I tried watching a few more like Captain Earth, Nagi no Asukara or Glasslip, etc., but I wasn't able to get into the shows because of the plots or the characters.  I think my favourite shows this year are Sword Art Online, Aldnoah Zero,  The World is Still Beautiful, and Witch Craft Works.  They seemed to have the best stories (Persona is always good, but it wasn't really new as it follows the game) and characters.  Rail Wars and Arpeggio were fun shows too that I like, but all of these shows were entertaining overall.

For mecha shows, Argevollen and Aldnoah Zero are pretty good, with Aldnoah Zero being the better show for story and originality.  Argevollen is a fairly good mecha anime with a brash young pilot who does learn the ropes and self-control.  The world is weird as there doesn't seem to be any air power - no planes so far - but the ground combat is good.  The cast is fairly well rounded out with a few mysteries to the various characters that I'm sure will be resolved as the series runs on. Aldnoah Zero has a princess of mars coming to earth to promote peace.  She survives a martian assassination from her own side, but this triggers a full scale invasion of earth.  Any show that has a princess firing a grenade launcher is a winner in my book, but the princess is a good character that is somewhat innocent at heart and the protagonist is one cool high school mecha cadet.  The show is different from some of the others as the earth mechs are completely outclassed by the martian tech and each battle has the hero trying to find a weakness in the enemy to exploit.  This kind of reminded me a bit of Starship Operators.  Nice cliff hanger ending at the end of the current arc too.

Sword Art Online II had some good fight scenes (including the one between Kirito and Sinon shown above) in the new MMORPG called Gun Gale.  The old characters were kind of sidelined in this one, but the gun / tech action instead of swords / magical action was a nice change.  Kind of funny that there isn't a commercial crimes division setup yet for online games, considering the scandal that Sword Art would have created, but it was nicely done overall.  There's plenty more anime entertainment out there and new fall shows are still being announced on Crunchyroll. 

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Skylanders Trap Team Released

We've been playing Skylanders through four versions now.  In this episode, the new Trap Masters must capture all of the escaped villains from a Crystal Prison.  This new version is a pretty good addition to the series and the new Trap Masters and the crystal portal are pretty cool.  Game play is similar to the previous releases and you can use all of your old Skylanders.  The level cap wasn't raised for the old Skylanders, which is a bit of a downer as they don't get any improvements.  You will need to buy one of each type of Trap Master to unlock all of the optional areas in the game, and the cost of the figures seems to go up a bit with every release.  At least you get a physical memento of the games  from your Skylander figures, as long as you have a few feet of shelf space to display them all.

There is more of an in-game collection of enemy monsters with the addition of crystal traps - remnants of the Crystal Prison that a number of bad guys escaped from with the help of Kaos at the beginning.  We purchased all of the traps, except for the unknown element - which I'm not sure what it is yet - and you can use the same element trap to capture multiple enemy monsters of that element to fight for you.  In this respect it adds a bit of the monster collecting from Pokemon to the game or from Dragon Quest Monsters.  The Dark Edition of the game comes with a Kaos trap to trap Kaos to fight for you when you complete the game I'm assuming as I haven't completed the game.

Trap Team is fun, has all of the humour of the other versions, and it'll be a fun play through for all ages.  The computer game + collectible figure accessory market is getting kinda competitive now with Disney Infinity (and the Marvel expansions), and Nintendo also getting into the game + figure market.  I'm not sure how it is all going to play out as I'm sure there are going to be winners and losers in this one.  I'm avoiding both the Disney and Nintendo games as I don't need to collect too many of these things myself.  I did notice down at the Gamestop that there are used Infinity figures for sale, but I've never noticed this for Skylanders.  It would be nice to be able to pick up some missing figures cheap that way.

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sushi Transforming Robots From Takara Tomy

Go! Go! Sushi Rangers!  These are pretty cool little toys that are both little pieces of nigiri sushi and robots.  They transform from suishi into fighting robots that will uphold justice against the forces of evil at your local sushi joint.  Takara Tomy calls them the Schalliders who seem to be a cross between Power Rangers and Transformers.  I keep thinking of Despicable Me for some reason, when Gru orders cookie robots and gets disco bots or rather sushi bots instead.

Super Sentai Sushi Rangers!  They come in these little plastic clamshells that remind me of the plates that go around in the conveyor belt sushi restaurants.  Nice touch!
In their untransformed mode they look like nigiri sushi.   With or without wasabi?  The discs are for another little game.
When I saw an article about these at Rocketnews I knew I had to get a set from HLJ.

Your sushi rangers up close with their personal weapons. From left to right: Mackerel has a gun, salmon has a bow, ebi (shrimp) has a tail, tuna has a soy sauce packet, and tamago (egg) has a hammer.
These nifty toys actually look like a salmon, tuna, tamago, mackerel, and ebi niguri sushi when untransformed.  Push down on the toppings and you get an instant transformation into a robot. There are also bad guys that look like sushi rolls too, as good guys always need villains to combat.

These are fairly inexpensive toys at 700 yen a piece and there are more coming in the form of other sushi shop accessories and other sushi items like battleship rolls.  They are a great little idea and would look pretty good on shelf or in your sushi shop.

A detailed look at the toys!

There is even a great trailer for them with classic super sentai music.

Does anyone else remember this short lived series called Sushi Pack from 2007?

Not related to this except for the word sushi is Sushi Ninjas from Japan.  An recent animated series.

Official Takara Tomy Page

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Nissin Deluxe Instant Ramen Bowls

Nissin has some more deluxe instant noodle bowls this 2014.  These are usually only found in Japan, but I did manage to try a few of these this year.  These types of noodles have liquid concentrated soup stock, flavour packets, and other packets of ingredients (including real meat) to top it all off.  Even the noodles can be specially created (not fried in this case).  These definitely aren't your typical instant noodle bowls.
Torisoba Noodle Bowl
This one is a chicken and soy based broth with dehydrated chicken pieces to go into the soup.  The broth and noodles were quite tasty and I'd definitely have it again if I had one handy.  In Japan these retail for about 270 yen or around 2.5 US dollars.

Ingredients include chicken pieces, bamboo shoots, lots of green onion.

Add your hot water and wait.
Wakayama Noodle Bowl
 This one is a tokotsu (pork) based soup stock.  Even instant ramen really depends on the broth, just like fresh ramen.  The soup was rich and tasty and there was a nice mix of ingredients again for the completed soup.

Concentrated soup packet, spice packet, piece of pork, packet with bamboo shoots, green onions, fish cake slice (like naruto)

Looks tasty and delicious!

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Six Anime With Tough Heroines

Japan is a male dominated society.  You can see this in the small percentage of women in leadership or important roles.  Prime Minister Abe is trying to integrate more women into the work force in senior positions and in general, but there was the famous heckling case of a female assemblywoman in their legislative chamber casting a shadow on that.  One hopes that women will play more senior and vital roles in their society in the years to come.  However, in anime, even though there are anime with a great deal of fan service, there are also very tough female characters that could grind most tough guys into the dirt.

So, this list is not a survey or complete list of tough female characters.  Series like Ghost in the Shell with Major Kusanagi, or 009, or Fujiko Mine from Lupin more than qualify, but I wanted to focus on some other shows that might not be as well known.  Even as I write this there are newer shows with tough females such as Blade and Soul and The World is Still Beautiful and many others.  All of the shows mentioned have been released in English.

This was one of the early anime I saw when I first got back into anime.  It was pretty entertaining with an experienced female assassin Mirielle Bouquet taking a younger girl as a ward.  The younger girl, Kirika Yuumira, turns out to also be a very lethal child assassin.  The two become friends, and begin to unwind the conspiracy and destiny that surrounds them in the form of a global religious orgranization.  Mirielle is a sophisticated, resilient, and very capable killer who leaves a trail of bodies behind her when necessary.  She is a master of the gun who fights for what is right in the end.  I also really like the classical type music score that accompanies this anime - such as the song Coppelia's Casket.

This is an anime produced after Noir by the same studio, Bee Train.  It is the second of three guns and girls anime series produced by them.  Again, this anime has two women, one of whom is an elite mercenary and assassin named  Madlax.  She doesn't remember her past and eventually teams up with a girl named Margaret Burton.  Together the two begin to discover their true histories and fight another conspiracy that will threaten the world. I didn't think this one was quite as good as Noir, but it was still entertaining.

El Cazador de la Bruja
This series is the third installment of guns and girls from Bee Train.  It is the most light hearted of the three, but there is still an impressive body count.  Nadie, an independent bounty hunter is tasked with finding and escorting a young girl named Ellis who has a mysterious past again.  The story plays out as one long road trip to find the truth, with numerous fights against another super assassin and other obstacles.  Nadie and Ellis become friends and Nadie has to make the tough decisions to make money or to be loyal to her friend.  I probably liked this one better than Madlax because of the characters.

Black Lagoon
This is a really gritty show and manga about Lagoon Company, a small smuggling operation with a torpedo boat, run out of the fictional country of Roanapur.  It centers on Rock, a straight-laced Japanese salaryman, who ends up joining them out of necessity and there are many stories with assassins, smuggling, betrayal, former Spetznatz, and gang wars.  Revy, who is Lagoon Company's main enforcer, is a chain smoking wielder of two custom Beretta 92 handguns.  She is the bullet time queen with an attitude, foul mouth, and is survivor of the mean streets.  Still, she seems to develop a soft spot for Rock and the series has them meet a variety of underworld characters.  Lots of fun and bullets in this show, and it isn't for little kids.

Moving away from guns, there are also many women with blades that are really strong characters.  Claymore is an interesting show and manga about demon hunting women warriors who have superhuman abilities as they have given up part of their humanity.  These women are hybrids who have been infused with Yoma tissue to gain their powers to fight against the same shape-shifting Yoma demons.  Eventually this process turn the women into monsters, who then need to be put down, but until that day, they are known as Claymores who wield massive swords and wear their distinctive silver armour.  One Claymore known as Clare permits a young boy who is the only survivor of a Yoma attack to accompany her against her best judgement.  The two then develop a deep bond and the boy proves his worth in his trust and loyalty to her.  It is a harsh world in this series and of course there are mysteries to be solved and a great rising evil to fight.

This show had me blitz through it as I really liked the main character, Balsa.  She is a spear wielding bodyguard who is atoning for an incident in which she caused eight deaths.  She rescues a young prince and then has to protect him from assassins sent by his own father who believes he will bring about the destruction of the kingdom.  The boy prince is a bit spoiled, but develops character as a ward under Balsa who basically has to change her whole life for him.  The world building and plotting of this show was also really well done.

That's all for now, so enjoy that anime.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Japanese Vending Machines

One of the interesting facets of modern Japanese culture is the abundance of vending machines there.  It is kind of like Australia having millions of sheep.  In Japan, there are over 5.6 million vending machines or 1 machine for every two dozen people or so in 2014.  Each vending machine is a simple robot, or not so simple in some cases, as they are packing more electronics into them than ever before.   I know that when I visited Japan for the first time I wanted to see their common vending machines.  Unlike the machines we have over here, the displays in the machines seem so much more dynamic.  The new video display versions of these machines are not as pretty, even if they do more and have flashy graphics.

Colourful display of machines
Japanese vending machines in their glory.
Some of the cool features and facts that can be found about Japanese vending machines:
  • The machines can be everywhere as people can ask the big beverage companies to install one on their land. They'll get a commission on each drink sold, but have to pay for rent (if it isn't on their land) and electricity.
  • The full sized machines can stock over 600 beverages.
  • If you don't want to carry an empty can, drink it near the machine and then use the recycling bins there.  Garbage cans are few and far between on the streets.
  • The machines have hot and cold beverage sections, which is a wonderful technological feat.  Who wouldn't want a hot coffee or tea or soup on a cold day!
  • Some machines can take electronic payments via PASMO, or SUICA smart cards that are also used for the train system and in many shops near train stations.
  • There is basically a vending machine for almost anything from hot food (like ramen, burgers, or fries), fresh eggs, t-shirts, underwear, umbrellas, toys, fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, etc.
  • I love the fact that you can find vending machines on hiking trails, in city parks, and even on Mt. Fuji.  In many ways a vending machine on a mountain hiking trail is so wrong, but at the same time, it is so cool.
  • There is stiff competition in the canned coffee market. Canned coffee is pretty tasty, but not necessarily the coffee you grew up with.  These machines compete against konbini offering fresh coffee, Starbucks, etc.  I just know that a vending machine selling cold canned coffee on a hot day, or hot canned coffee on a cold day is a godsend.  They are also great whenever there are no coffee shops open or nearby.  I previously blogged about canned coffee here.  UCC developed the first canned coffee for machines, and a video of their coffee museum in Kobe is below.
  • There is usually plenty of variety for the beverages in each machine.
Hot and cold drinks available in this machine.  See the red labels for hot.
Many bottled drinks in this machine.  Hot drinks too.
This machine vends cups instead of cans.
More drinks!
  • There is marketing science at work in the types of beverages stocked in many machines.  Many machines are outfitted with computers and radio antennas that allow the beverage sales to be tracked by time of day, weather, temperature, etc.  This information can be combined with geography to stock the machines with drinks that people want going to work, the beach, going home, etc.
  • The new machines with video cameras will even do facial recognition to evaluate you and even recommend a drink for you depending on age, gender, and more.
  • There are even vending machine with a personality (usually female to attract male customers), and you'll get messages from your favourite vending machine. 
  • Many of the new machines installed or evergreened since the big quake are more environmentally friendly as they cool the drinks down at night when power consumption is low (reducing peak power demand), and the drinks stay cool all day.  The machines are also way more efficient at staying cool / hot with more efficient vacuum insulation installed now.
  • Finally, some machines are able to function as disaster relief centers during emergencies.  The vending machine companies have agreements with local governments to basically flip switches to allow free drinks / water to be dispensed to disaster victims.  These machines are remotely operated and can even display emergency messages from the government.  Battery backup / solar power is available for some machines too. 
Yup, I think Japanese vending machines are pretty cool.  I haven't seen all the types of machines, but I keep my eyes open every time I visit.  I would love to see the cup noodle vending machines, some of the hot food machines, and the Evangelion themed machines in Hakone (UCC canned coffee is also featured in the Evangelion movies). I've included more machine photos for any vending machine geeks out there to look at too.  There are also links to vending machine articles at the end of this post.

Vending machines with recycling on the ends.
Hotel vending machine.  Change machine on the left, cold beer machine in the middle next the to hot water dispenser (you can use it for cup noodles or tea)
Newspaper vending machine.
Coca Cola vending machines.
Closeup of beverages in machine.
This machine sells apple slices.
More beverages available.  Hot ones are in red.
Vending machine nook
Another vending machine up close.
One of the new fangled vending machines with front cameras and the video displays.
Vending machines are even in the trains!
Nice little video about Japanese vending machines. 

Some links for you to follow up on your own reading.

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Tokyo Viewed by Day and Night

Visiting the same area in Tokyo by day and night can give you quite a contrast in both appearance and atmosphere.  I think everyone has been down some street where they live during the day when it is lively and then again when it is dead at night.  During the day you might even feel safe and then kind of creeped out at night as the streetlights are few and far between.  Tokyo is pretty safe so I'm not usually too worried about this, but walking through parks in the dark isn't something I like.  One interesting contrast that I'll note is that many shops have steel shutters that are rolled down overnight.  When you hit a shopping area in the morning before 10 AM, it may look like a deserted area because of this, but it changes completely once the shops are open!

For photographers, the contrast between daytime and evening is pretty fantastic for many neighbourhoods and I have a number of photos to show the difference.

Shinjuku by day
Shinjuku by night
Shinjuku by day 2
Shinjuku by night 2
Shinjuku signs at night
Ginza Fujiya by day
Ginza Fujiya by night
Ginza by day
Ginza by night
Ginza by night again

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