Manga Review: Master Keaton Vol. #11

I became an instant fan of Naoki Urasawa in 2004 when I saw the Monster anime. Psychological thrillers are definitely NOT my cup of tea, but he had me hooked with his combination of realistic artwork and gripping plot. As such, I was thrilled when Viz Media decided to release a translation of an earlier Urasawa action/adventure: Master Keaton. Read on for the review of Volume 11. (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

After the Cold War draws a curtain over Europe and the economic bubble bursts in Japan during the late twentieth century, ace insurance investigator Taichi Hiraga Keaton brings his skills into full play… No matter how difficult the case, Keaton will not miss a clue!

The Review

The quality of the Master Keaton stories has gone up and down since the early volumes, and in Volume 11, it’s more down than up. The one solid story is the three-part “Made in Japan.” Daughter Yuriko, now 17, reappears as she and her dad meet up for quality time in Scotland—at an archeological tour. The story combines several things: their parent-child relationship, Keaton’s unfulfilled dreams of being an archaeologist, his SAS skills, and Keaton’s dangerous career impacting his family. This last element is a situation we haven’t encountered before, and that makes it more gripping than the usual scenarios where Keaton is a passerby.

Domestic drama figures largely in the other stories, but Keaton isn’t personally involved so it’s a bit like watching episodes of unrelated soap operas. In “The Final Challenge,” an old schoolmate asks Keaton to track the whereabouts of another schoolmate, but the story is really about the tangled family situation the two men created. “Lost Beyond the Wall” is partly a commentary on the former East Germany after reunification, but it’s mostly Keaton driving a man around as he expresses his regret about how he ruined his family. “Love from the Underworld” begins as a mystery but quickly turns into a tale of another broken family, and when Keaton reveals the trick behind the” ghost,” you have to wonder why anyone was fooled. Wacky Mrs. Barnum shows up again in “Return of the Super Sleuth?!” and as in her previous appearance, the murder she investigates with Keaton is just a platform for her to nag about how he doesn’t understand romance and women. Keaton doesn’t have a part at all in “Two Fathers,” which features his dad instead, but that story is really about two brothers and which fathered the child of the woman both men loved.

While the two-part “Pact on Ben Tan Mountain” also contains an extramarital affair, the greed and grudge motivating the murders lend it additional substance. Unfortunately, there is too much coincidence in the chain of events to make it a satisfying read, especially the way Malcolm proposes the murder pact but Jackson is the one to take advantage of it. In addition, there are so many characters crammed into the story that I had trouble keeping all the names and connections straight.

Extras include four pages in color, four pages partly in color, and a sound effects glossary.

In Summary

Spunky young Yuriko joins her father for bonding time. While their archaeology tour tuned kidnapping makes for an exciting episode, the same can’t be said for the other stories. They’re not so much about intrigue or Keaton’s unique skills as they are about muddled domestic situations, making this volume feel more like a soap opera than a collection of mysteries.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Advertisements

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #18

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has a unique bent. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released the 18th(!) volume of this novel series, and you can read on for the review. (You can also click here for my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases).

Back Cover Blurb

The long-awaited continuation of the tale of Holo the Wise Wolf and the merchant Lawrence! Over ten years after Holo and Lawrence open “Bathhouse Spice and Wolf” in Nyohhira, the two climb up the mountain in order to help at the festival in Sverner. But Lawrence has an additional objective: to find more information about a new hot spring town near Nyohhira.

The Review

This eighteenth volume in the Spice and Wolf light novel series might have come as a surprise to you. It was certainly a surprise to me. After all, Hasekura-sensei wrote in Volume 17 that he was moving on to a new series. However, as he explains in the Volume 18 afterword, stuff happened, thus fans get another volume about Holo and Lawrence along with an upcoming spinoff novel about their daughter Myuri and Col. While Spice and Wolf: Spring Log provides a brief glimpse of the youngsters and their relationship in the 16-page story Parchment and Graffiti, the book focuses primarily on Holo and Lawrence.

As indicated by the subtitle “Spring Log,” the book does not relate a single grand adventure, but three separate events that take place in the same spring. Over a decade has passed since Holo and Lawrence met, and they are now residents in the hot springs town of Nyohhira. They also happen to be empty-nesters as their teenage daughter has followed Col to an adventure. While Lawrence is no longer a merchant, running a bathhouse also requires business sense, and The Margins of a Journey introduces his new line of work and the concerns that arise when rumors of the construction of a rival hot springs village reach his ears. The scheme Lawrence cooks up to keep customers seems just a pretext for a misleading opening scene, but the rest of the story does a nice job of bringing readers up to speed with their lives. For those who enjoyed Holo’s baiting and carefree attitude, there’s still plenty of that, but Lawrence has matured over years of marriage and is much better at handling it.

The next story Golden Memories moves us from business concerns to a mini mystery. Lawrence and Holo haven’t left the northlands in years, but travelers from all over visit their town. Thus, they play host to a peculiar guest who has the entire town scratching their heads. But once Lawrence figures out the man’s purpose for coming to Nyohhira, that brings up an entirely different puzzle, and Hasekura-sensei does an excellent job blending the mystery with melancholy and fun.

Melancholy and fun also figure into Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf. The longest work in the collection, it might have you running to The Coin of the Sun volumes for a refresher of the connections between Lesko, Svernel, the Debau Company, and the non-humans Millike and Hilde. Lawrence and Holo leave home to take care of business on behalf of Nyohhira at Svernel’s spring festival. As in their early adventures, Holo knows more about what’s happening, and Lawrence winds up playing the fool as a result. Lawrence’s participation in Svernel’s Festival of the Dead also makes for a boisterously entertaining scene.

Then the tone shifts with the introduction of new characters Selim and Aram. They have a quandary on their hands, but to Holo and Lawrence, they are an unwelcome reminder that Lawrence will die long before Holo does. Indeed, the narrative mentions over and over that Lawrence isn’t as hale as he used to be while Holo remains physically unchanged. Holo isn’t one to wax sentimental, but for those dying to hear Holo express her affections toward Lawrence, this is your chance.

The remainder of Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf has Lawrence figuring out a solution that will solve everyone’s problems. This is the weakest element of the story. I’m still unclear on exactly how Selim and Aram got their paws on their permit, and Holo and Lawrence’s brainstorming drags on while the plan’s execution rushes past. Still, our pair attain a satisfactory happy ending for themselves and others.

This light novel includes the first four pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, bonus art from Jyuu Ayakura and Keito Koume, and afterword.

In Summary

Lawrence and Holo are back! The four stories in this volume do an excellent job of showing how years of marriage have changed them as well as incorporating the elements of intrigue, fun, and money-making that characterized the series. Plus, we get a glimpse of the future in their daughter Myuri’s antics with Col. Spice and Wolf fans definitely need to pick this one up!

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 2

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 2. (For my review of Volume 1, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

When the king returns to court, it’s time for the princes to prove their mettle. But not everyone’s been exactly keeping up with Heine’s lessons… (Hint: It’s the prince who only scored a one on his assessment test…and that was for signing his name!) Can Heine really whip these boys into shape well enough to rule a country?

The Review

Volume 1 presented our princely cast and their tutor, and now that the characters have been introduced, lessons can begin in earnest, starting with a field trip into town. That might seem like a strange place to begin, until we learn that only resident playboy Licht has any common sense about how to behave around commoners. Haughty and academically-challenged Leonhard easily lends himself to be made the fool, but all the princes provide something different to laugh at during their outing. In addition to the setting highlighting their foibles, they get to wear something other than their usual uniform-like garb, and readers get a sense of the type of city Weinner is.

Next, we meet the man who literally rules the place. There’s been no mention or sign of a queen (other than the granny Queen Mother), but there’s definitely a king. Given that 17-year old Kai is the second eldest son, I expected the king to be past his prime. Instead, he is a longhaired bishounen who could easily pass for one of his sons. His personality also veers more towards sentimental than kingly. Even so, he’s serious when he must be, and he and Heine share a past that they’re keeping from the princes.

Meanwhile, the princes are surprisingly eager to make their father proud. Given that they’ve driven so many tutors from the palace, I thought they would be more troublesome, but when the king points out areas of improvement, the princes immediately get to work on it. In addition, although the princes are rivals for the throne, they are more than willing to help each other out. So when the king threatens to strip Leonhard of his claim to the throne because of his awful test score, his brothers try to help him learn. When Kai expresses a desire to interact better with people, the other princes offer suggestions and encouragement. Thus, the story includes jokes about Leonhard’s epic stupidity and comic visuals of Kai’s attempts to be approachable, but backstabbing doesn’t play a part. As exemplified in Chapter 12 (the only chapter in this volume with no equivalent in the anime), the princes are brothers first and deeply care for one another’s well-being.

By the way, the quality of the illustrations remains top notch, with the style switching between elegant and chibi as the scene demands.

Extras include bonus manga printed on the inside of the cover flaps; first page printed in color; a note from the creator; and translation notes.

In Summary

Despite the appearance of the king and talk of rivalry and succession, the mood remains light and fun with the princes going to town, then striving to improve themselves as candidates for the throne. Though Leonhard tends to draw the spotlight with his outspoken personality and staggering stupidity, Akai-sensei does a good job of helping us to get to know all the princes. As of yet, there’s no overarching goal other than Heine whipping them into shape, but for the moment, that’s entertaining enough.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Handa-Kun Vol. 6

Fans of Satsuki Yoshino’s Barakamon can now get even more Handa-centric comedy. Yen Press has released Handa-Kun, a prequel series which chronicles the high school days of our favorite genius calligrapher. Read on for my review of Volume 6. (Click here for reviews of other volumes).

Back Cover Blurb

Handa-kun and company have survived the class trip, but now the culture festival is right on top of them! Will Handa get to contribute to the festival preparations, or will the culture festival be his biggest high school frustration yet?

The Review

The previous volume mentioned that this would be the final volume in the series. As it turns out, Volume 6 is the penultimate, not the final volume. The Handa-kun News at the end of the book explains that, due to popular demand, a seventh volume with an extra arc will be released as the last in the series. However, the structure of Volume 6 is very much that of a finale.

A single arc focusing on the school’s annual cultural festival comprises this book. Three chapters are about the festival preparations, two chapters about the event itself, and one about the festival after-party. Because the entire school is involved in preparations and the festival is an open event, it provides the perfect setting to revisit the impact HND-syndrome has had on the cast, even the White Shirts from the rival school. Thus, seemingly everyone, from fortuneteller Tsugumi to the carnivore girls, gets a cameo, like in so many manga and anime finales.

The setting also lends itself to some comical visuals, ranging from various Handa themed games to the fake Handa’s Handa Clone Army. In addition, we get the novelty of seeing Handa’s class in period crossdress for their drama cafe.

Unfortunately, the plot is lackluster. Yoshino-sensei has relied heavily on Handa and his fans misinterpreting one another throughout the series for laughs, and getting more of the same at this point is rather tiresome. The drama cafe play is an inane interpretation of Romeo and Juliet with a badly selected cast, which is a situation that has been done to death in anime/manga. The introduction of the “black suits” makes things interesting for a while, but then it just gets confusing when they reveal why they’ve come to the festival.

As for the conclusion to the arc, Kawafuji’s remorse and efforts to rectify the situation are believable. The final resolution is not. After several volumes of reinforcing Handa’s paranoia of his classmates, the sudden collapse of the “Handa wall” feels like cheating.

Extras include the title illustration in color, bonus manga, translation notes, and an installment of “Handa-Kun News.”

In Summary

It’s not the final volume of Handa-kun, but it’s definitely written like one. The school festival provides a recap of Handa’s impact on his adorning fans. However, many gags are just variations of jokes we’ve seen before. A seventh volume follows this one, but it already feels like the series has gone on too long.

First published at The Fandom Post.

A visit to World Cosplay Summit 2017!

If you’re an anime fan visiting Japan, Akihabara, Ikebukoro’s Otome Road, and the Ghibli Museum are probably on your list of places to visit. If you happen to visit in early August and can afford a detour to Nagoya, you should also consider the World Cosplay Summit (WCS)!

WCS 2017 participants

WCS is what it sounds like, an international gathering of cosplayers. The main feature of the week-long summit is a competition. Every year, participating countries choose representatives (the United States picks its delegates at Anime Expo), and they join on one stage to determine the best in the world. Entrance to the two day competition proper requires the purchase of tickets, but even without tickets to the main event, there’s still plenty to see and enjoy, as we discovered.

While my husband and I enjoy cosplay, we are definitely unacquainted with competitive cosplay. As such, most of what we learned about WCS came from its website, and the English language portion unfortunately had few details on events and schedule. Unsure whether the tickets were worth it, we decided to simply go to the venue the final weekend of WCS and “people watch.”

Saturday, August 5, 2017
Aichi Arts Center and Oasis 21

Cosplayers swarming Oasis 21.

The Aichi Arts Center in Nagoya was where the ticketed events took place. Directly adjacent are Oasis 21 (a shopping center and transportation hub) and Central Park (an underground mall). With WCS taking place at the art center, we figured we’d see a few cosplayers coming and going.

There were way more than a few. The whole area was packed shoulder to shoulder with cosplayers and photographers, too. On the art center lawns, in the restaurants, by the Oasis 21 fountain, in the mall bathrooms, on the stairs, in the train station…I’d never seen so many cosplayers in one place.

Cosplay performance with taiko drums!

We quickly discovered WCS had an official presence outside the paid Aichi Arts Center area. The Oasis 21 courtyard has an outdoor stage, where WCS entertained the general public. Cosplayer teams performed sketches, and between acts, WCS hosts invited random cosplayers from the crowd to the stage to show off their costumes.

Cosplayers of all ages!

The heat is no joke….

Not surprisingly, the average quality of outfits and paraphernalia of the WCS crowd was a level higher than what I’ve seen at Fanime and Anime Expo. Properly colored wigs and tinted contact lenses were the rule, not the exception. These people were out to look good, and what made it even more amazing with that they were fully decked out at the height of summer.

WCS takes place during Japan’s summer break. This makes it easier for students to attend. It also means it’s crazy hot and humid. I was wearing a hat, tank top, and shorts, and I found the heat oppressive. I couldn’t imagine what it was like for those in long wigs, long sleeves, and cloaks. Even the scantily clad ones had to contend against sunburn. Suffice to say, the lines for shaved ice and soft serve ice cream were long, and you could sense the collective relief when the sun went down.

Sunday, August 6, 2017
Osu Shopping District

Oasis 21/Aichi Art Center hosted more of the same on Sunday (except with BIGGER crowds), but before we went there, we packed onto a train with several German-speaking cosplayers and headed two stations away to Osu Kannon Shrine.

The 2017 WCS contestants!

WCS coincides with the Osu Summer Festival held by Osu Shopping District, a covered arcade encompassing several blocks of shops. The shopping district is adjacent to the shrine, and apparently, it’s tradition for the international delegates to parade from the shrine through the shopping district. We figured that was worth seeing, and apparently, so did many others. We arrived an hour early, and Osu Kannon Shrine was already bustling with cosplayers (which certainly helped entertain us till the main event).

The marching band that led the cosplay parade.

The parade was a somewhat smaller affair than we expected. It began with the fifty or so international delegates posing on the shrine steps while an announcer introduced the group over loudspeaker. Then a high school marching band struck up and led the way for the representatives to promenade through the shopping district. I thought more cosplayers would be part of the procession, but no. It was just the main contenders, and the other cosplayers present were there to support them or just get a really good look at their costumes.

One of the best things we’ve ever eaten in Japan.

Thus, it was a very short parade. However, the Osu Festival also had a stage with idol performances after the parade, and we enjoyed their shops and food stands (the beef skewers were AMAZING and only ¥600) before returning to the main gathering at Oasis 21.

Osu Summer Festival idol performance

So in short, it was crowded and hot but the skill and enthusiasm of the cosplayers were amazing to behold. If you have an interest in cosplay, it’s worth checking out. As for us, if we’re in Japan in August again, we might just purchase tickets for the competition stage .

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #5

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 5 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back Cover Blurb

In her exile to the east of the east of the east, Liselotte’s rambunctious house attempts to coexist with the witch’s forest. Hoping to break down the seal Vergue has cast, Anna ventures out on her own to pay the witch a visit. Despite a being hurt by humans in the past, can Anna convince Vergue to give people another chance, and to live among them again? Meanwhile, Lise is shocked by a familiar looking visitor surveying the nearby village.

The Review

In Takaya-sensei’s previous series Fruits Basket, there were a lot of antics and silly interactions, but once you got to know the characters, you discovered each one carried deep trauma. If you enjoy that sort of story, you can eat your heart out in Volume 5 of Liselotte and Witch’s Forest. The previous couple volumes delved into Liz’s tragic past, and now we shift to the rest of the cast, starting with En.

Given his memory loss, he doesn’t have much past to dwell on. The bits he retains suggest a desperate existence before he entered the Berenk household. However, his current circumstances aren’t particularly ideal either, as an interaction with the Eiche spirit reminds us. This is the first time we really get to delve into En’s thoughts, and there’s dark humor in his blunt assessment of Liz and his utter incomprehension of why he was so devoted to her.

Next up are Anna and Vergue. Liz is determined to befriend Vergue despite his attack on the house and repeated rejections, but interestingly, she’s not the one to crack through Vergue’s shell. On the surface, ever-smiling Anna doesn’t have anything in common with the irritable male witch. However, she recognizes the similarities they bear, and when she tells Vergue about the upbringing she and Alto suffered, it’s a confession, a rebuke, and an invitation for him to strive for something better.

The POV then switches from Anna to Vergue. We don’t get as many details on his wretched past but like the twins and Liz, he suffered undeservedly when he was a human. However, Anna’s words do impact him, and it shows in his actions, even if his speech and manner remain prickly as ever.

The focus then returns to the main character with Liz hearing about Heil Village’s spring festival. While it is strange how Liz’s companions unanimously encourage her to see it, the trip there gives Liz and En a chance to be alone. It also allows Liz to cross paths with Richard, the brother that exiled her. Liz’s guilt at seeing her brother isn’t too surprising, but what is surprising is En’s displeasure over the situation, especially since he’s lost his memories of Richard. If a visit from the regional lord isn’t enough, Woglinde, the true witch of the frontier forest, also returns home. With so many powerful characters in Heil Village, I’m anticipating something big in the works.

Extras include four illustrations in full color, story-thus-far, character line-up, and embedded author’s notes.

In Summary

If you like characters who bear the scars of abuse and rejection, you will have much to enjoy in this volume. If you prefer lovey-dovey moments, you’ll find a beautifully illustrated romantic scene between Liz and En, although En’s behavior is somewhat perplexing given his evaluation of Liz in the volume’s opening pages. There’s not much brawling in these pages, but with the arrival of Liz’s brother and the return of the witch Woglinde, the stage seems to be preparing for something big.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Summer Koshien: The 99th National High School Baseball Championship of Japan!

If you watch sports anime, you know the dream of high school athletes is to go to nationals, and of the myriad sports tournaments in Japan, none is more prestigious than Summer Koshien, the high school baseball championship. The tournament takes place in the beginning of August at Koshien Stadium (also home to the Hanshin Tigers) in the Kansai Region. As it turns out, the opening of the two week tournament coincided with the tail end of our Osaka vacation, so my husband and I got to attend the 99th Koshien!

Actually, we nearly didn’t get to go because of a typhoon. Typhoon #5 hit Kansai the night before Koshien’s scheduled start. So the tournament got pushed from Monday to Tuesday, and for a little while, it looked like it might get pushed to Wednesday, the day we had to return home. Fortunately, the rain let up early Tuesday morning, and we were able to join the crowds August 8 for Day 1 of Koshien.

The 2017 competitors!

Opening Ceremony

As former marching band geeks, my husband and I have an appreciation for displays of pageantry, and given that Koshien is a venerable institution, we anticipated a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. We were not disappointed.

Procession of the flags

The opening ceremony began with a band (playing Sousa’s National Emblem!) marching in with a choir. Next came a series of flag bearers. The flag of Japan entered first, then the Koshien banner, followed by what I’m guessing were Japan’s prefectural flags.

Finally, the baseball teams paraded in. Each team was preceded by a girl carrying a sign indicating their prefecture. Next came a player bearing the team’s banner, and the remaining 17 players followed in rows of three. And they were marching. Like seriously high-stepping and swinging their arms. Teams varied in their level of coordination and the height to which they picked up their heels, but there was no mistaking their energy and excitement. And once all 49 teams were lined up on the field, they made a colorful, festive sight.

Players marching in!

It rather reminded me of the Olympics. And like the Olympics, Koshien has its own anthem. After the raising of the Japanese flag, the choir and band led the tournament theme song as the Koshien flag went up.

Speeches followed. I couldn’t understand most of it, but I found it interesting that one speaker sprinkled his address with a bunch of English words. Then a representative player stepped to the mic to lead the sportsmanship oath. Again, I couldn’t understand a word, but the composed young man did a fine job as far as I could tell.

With that, the band played a recessional for all to exit, and it was time to play ball!

The Games

Confession: I am not a baseball fan. Most of the time I find baseball mind-blowingly boring. However, I figured Koshien would be different, and it was. Because it’s a high school competition, most players only have one chance to be in the tournament. Because a single loss puts a team out of the running, everyone’s bringing their A-game. And with representatives coming from every part of the country, their energy is palpable. These athletes are living a dream, and there’s nothing jaded about the excitement on their faces.

Of course, that excitement plus their youth brings a certain amount of unpredictability to the matches. In Game 1, Hasami (Nagasaki Prefecture) scored first with a single home run and maintained a lead in the latter half of the game, but eventually lost in a dramatic ninth inning play by opponent Hikone Higashi (Shiga Prefecture). In Game 2, Tochiku (Fukuoka Prefecture) was hitting balls like mad (total 13 hits) but only got four runs in. Plus, they kept making fielding errors, the kind that you wouldn’t see in a professional game, and ultimately lost to Saibi (Ehime Prefecture). Between errors and random home runs, I was pretty well entertained.

Fans, Bands, Traditions

Entertainment was also to be had in the stands. As previously mentioned, my husband and I were in a marching band so we find bands and cheer squads as interesting as the teams they root for. With Koshien being such a huge deal, we anticipated schools and families pulling out all the stops.

Hikone Higashi’s team acknowledging their cheer squad

They did. Sections of the stadium are designated for the fans of the competing schools (more on that in “How to go to Koshien”). The size of each group varies (i.e. schools located closer to Koshien tended to have more fans present), but they definitely stood out in their identical colors and garb with matching clappers, towels, etc. Fans stood as one, sang as one, shouted as one, jumped as one (yes, one group was jumping). It was the first time I’d seen Japanese cheering, and I was impressed how well-coordinated they were.

Pep bands also varied in size and instrumentation. Saibi had a huge brass section and repertoire to match (they were constantly showing off their trumpets). In contrast, their opponent Tochiku had a band that hardly played at all. Most of Tochiku’s noise came from a massive bass drum and shouting directed by the cheer squad’s cue cards.

Watching the different expressions of school spirit was fun, even if I couldn’t understand cheers or recognize tunes. (We only recognized two: “Popeye the Sailor Man” and “Dr. Who.”) Stadium etiquette is different, too. In the States, bands play when there is a break in the action so as not to distract players. In Japan, the bands (and all the fans) make the most noise when their players are at bat. When their side retires, everyone sits and quiets down while their rivals’ supporters start yelling/playing/clapping, etc. And when a time out is called, everything stops.

We got to see this when lingering clouds from the typhoon dumped rain in the middle of Game 2, forcing a halt. Our college band would’ve taken the opportunity to entertain the crowds with our music. The Japanese bands didn’t play once during the break. In fact, some band players fled the stands.

The diamond after a downpour. Note the tarps on home base and the pitcher’s mound.

In their defense, the downpour came down hard for a good ten minutes. The ground crew only had tarps for the pitcher’s mound and home plate so the dirt from the infield looked like it was melting into the grassy areas. By the time the rain stopped, the diamond was a sopping mess, and then watching the ground crew clean it up with towels and wheelbarrows of dirt provided a different form of entertainment.

But getting back to stadium etiquette … other interesting differences include the singing of each team’s anthem (couldn’t tell if it was the prefectural or school song) in the first inning, the raising of the winning team’s banner at the end of the game, and all the bowing. Teams bow to one another at the start and end of the game, and they bow to their fans before they exit the field.

One more thing they do before leaving: collect dirt. Players scrape dirt from the Koshien diamond into bags to take home. Kind of odd, but it is regarded the traditional keepsake for participants. At the very least, I didn’t see any spitting so it’s probably less disgusting than dirt from an American stadium.

How to go to Koshien

So if you’re thinking of going to Koshien, I would highly recommend it. If you’re already in the Kansai area, it’s affordable, and aside from infants (the weather is way too hot for babies), every demographic in the age spectrum was present. While middle-aged men were in the minority, I saw more dads with sons than I’d seen anywhere else in Japan. People were selling and buying beer in the stands at 7AM (the sake doesn’t come out till noon), but from what I could tell, no one was being an obnoxious drunk.

Getting to the Stadium

Take. The. Train. Unless you are in walking distance, the train is the way to go. Especially because the stadium parking lot is unavailable to the general public during the tournament.

Plus, Koshien Stadium is just two blocks away from Koshien Station. You can see the stadium from the station, and on game days, all you have to do is follow the crowd. You can get more information on exactly which trains to take from your particular location using hyperdia.com or Google maps (use the public transportation tab).

Tickets

Koshien offers special box seats, but I’m just going to focus on the four types of general seating, which are shown in the diagram below.

Seating chart for Koshien tickets

Covered Section (shown in green)
This was the section we sat in. It is the most expensive, but ¥2000 (roughly $20 U.S.) isn’t bad for an entire day of baseball. In addition to getting a prime view, you also have shade, a significant benefit because the heat is no joke. Seriously. During opening ceremonies, one of the sign bearers passed out and had to be carried off. We were also spared having to flee our seats when the Game 2 downpour hit. Along with weather protection, you also get foul ball protection from a metal wire barrier.

Partly Covered Section (shown in blue)
¥1500 will get you here. The awning will shade you for a portion of the day, and only the upper seats will protect you from rain. Obviously, it’s a less centered view of the diamond, and you need to pay attention if there a hit because foul balls will come flying!

Cheering Squad Section (shown in pink)
There’s no shade in the ¥600 seats. HOWEVER, these are definitely the most energetic and rambunctious sections because this is where the cheer squads/pep bands sit.

Bleachers- FREE zone (shown in yellow)
They’re in the outfield, and there’s no shade, but you might get the chance to catch a home run!

Koshien ticket and keychain souvenir (Konan is this year’s Okinawa representative).

No tickets are required for the free seats. It’s simply first come, first served. All other seats require a ticket. However, seats are not assigned. The tickets let you into your designated section for the day, and then you take whatever’s available in that section. So whether you are going for a free or ticketed seat, it behooves you to to go early (or send someone early to hog seats for your group).

As for purchasing tickets, advance purchases are available online a few weeks before the tournament, but this summer those sold out within a day (my Okinawan friend suspects scalpers were purchasing them).

End of the ticket line sign guy. Note Koshien Station and the Ace of Diamond banner in the background.

Fortunately, they also sell tickets on the day of each game. As long as you’re willing to get up early, you shouldn’t have trouble getting a ticket. (Ticket sales began 7AM. We lined up at 6:30 AM.) Just go to the stadium and look for the guys carrying the end of the line signs. You know you’re in the right line if the price on the sign matches the cost of the ticket you want to purchase.

Additional Information

The stadium Kentucky Fried Chicken stand’s colonel in Tiger garb.

One nice (and surprising!) thing was we didn’t have to go through a metal detector to get in the stadium. And if you want to bring your own food or drink, that was okay too, as far as we could tell. So take advantage of that! Bring plenty of cold fluids along with your sunscreen, hat, cooling scarf, etc. because you will need it.

If you forget to bring food/drink, no big deal. They’ve plenty of food offerings at the stadium, and there isn’t a huge markup. (¥200 for a bottle of water, ¥600 for a squid skewer.)

 

So there you have it. Summer Koskien 2017 continues till the end of the week so those in Japan still have the opportunity to go. If my husband and I find ourselves in Kansai during a future August, we’d certainly go again.

 

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #4

Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket was one of the most popular shojo titles in the United States in the previous decade. Now Yen Press has released Takaya-sensei’s Liselotte & Witch’s Forest, which showcases the mangaka’s distinctive art style, a new upbeat heroine, and a fantasy setting. Read on for the review of Volume 4 (For reviews of other volumes, click here).

Back Cover Blurb

Liselotte’s house in the east of the east of the east has become even livelier with the additions of the witch Hilde and her familiar, Myrte. But one day, Vergue, a witch who hates all humans, attacks the household to drive Lise and the others away! Why is it so difficult to live a peaceful life?

The Review

Till now, little information has been given about the place in which the characters reside. Now we learn that The Land East of the East of the East is part of Erstes, a country that once achieved military victory with the help of witches. Considering it’s already Volume 4, these basic details about Erstes are late in coming, plus the way they’re presented (in the form of a schoolchildren’s lesson) is rather heavy-handed. However, they do give us a clearer picture of the society from which Liz has been exiled.

This provides a good place to introduce our next new character. Captain Erwin is head of the frontier outpost near the witch’s forest. However, he’s originally from the capital where he served Liz’s brother. He not only monitors Liz’s activities but seems aware of the true circumstances behind her banishment. He also has his own power when it comes to witches. Despite the lazy front he puts up, he is definitely not an ordinary human, and given his complicated background, he’s likely to get into the thick of Liz and Engetsu’s future affairs.

In the meantime, Liz continues to bravely strive forward in her hinterlands life. For fans of Fruits Basket, Liz is definitely a Tohru-type heroine: a cheerful dimwit who remains intensely positive despite the tragedies in her life. She’s also able to connect with social outcasts, as evidenced by the six people now living in her house. Now that Hilde and Myrte are part of the family, it’s almost a given that Liz will find a way to draw Vergue in, despite his violent efforts to drive her away.

As for the romantic arc between Liz and En, there are a couple poignant moments between the two, but overall, the mood is more comic than sweet. En without memories is sarcastic and blunt, which makes him a lot more interesting than when he was so unconditionally agreeable toward Liz. Judging from a brief interaction with Erwin, this new En is closer to his true personality and hints about a past I’m curious to learn more about.

Extras include four illustrations in full color, story-thus-far and character line-up, embedded author’s notes, translation notes, and a nine-page preview of Volume 5.

In Summary

This volume doesn’t so much move forward as it delves backward. Lessons, remembrances, and flashbacks provide a better understanding of the factors separating humans and witches and the circumstances that brought our characters where they are now. So aside from Vergue wrecking Liz’s house, not too much happens in these six chapters, but they fill in a lot of holes in the story.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: your name.

While there are scores of spectacular animated films, it’s a rare one that attains mainstream success. But in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s your name. rose to meteoric success and rightfully so. Now Yen On brings Shinkai’s your name. novel to English readers for a new perspective on the events of the movie.

Back cover Blurb

Mitsuha, a high school girl living in a rural town deep in the mountains, has a dream that she is a boy living an unfamiliar life in Tokyo. Taki, a high school boy living in Tokyo, dreams that he is a girl living in the mountains. As they realize they are changing places, their encounter sets the cogs of fate into motion.

The Review

Confession: As of the writing of this post, I have not seen the your name. movie.

Therefore, I am unable to draw any comparisons between the film and the novel. That doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with Makoto Shinkai’s work. His name got stamped into my otaku consciousness when Voices of a Distant Star came out, and since then, I’ve associated Shinkai with two things: breathtaking skies and the longing of separated lovers. While novels can’t provide dazzling visuals of the heavens, filmmaker Shinkai displays his mastery with words as he depicts the angst of his lead couple.

For those completely unacquainted with your name. that lead couple is comprised of two modern-day high school students, Mitsuha Miyamizu and Taki Tachibana. Mitsuha lives in the rural community of Itomori in her grandmother’s house. As the granddaughter of a Shinto priestess, Mitsuha’s life is steeped in tradition, but she’s dying to leave her tiny town for Tokyo. Taki lives in Tokyo and works part time at a fancy Italian restaurant. The two don’t know each other at all, but for some unknown reason, each starts dreaming about living the other’s life. Then they realize that they are actually switching bodies when they feel the consequences of the other person’s actions.

It’s a complicated set-up. That brings me to the one weakness of the light novel. It’s written in first person, and the viewpoint switches frequently and sometimes mid-scene between Mitsuha and Taki. If you don’t know the story involves body-switching, the first few pages can be really confusing. However, if you can get through that hurdle, the rest of the book is spectacular.

The cover flap touts the novel as “in turns funny, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching.” Sounds like a lot, but Shinkai actually delivers on all fronts. The comedy comes as a natural outgrowth of the circumstances Shinkai has laid out. In addition to the awkwardness of inhabiting a body of the opposite gender, there’s also city-versus-country humor, and I did literally laugh out loud in places. The heartwarming part comes as the two start appreciating the experiences of the other, and then hearts get wrenched when the swaps stop and Taki goes in search of Mitsuha armed with nothing but his hand-drawn sketches of Itomori’s scenery.

So the guy goes, finds the girl, and they live happily ever after, right? Not exactly. Shinkai throws in a couple major twists that turns Taki’s efforts to find the girl into a desperate quest to save the girl. It’s a dramatic shift in tone from the first chapters of the book, yet it works. Thanks to the groundwork laid by Mitsuha’s  shrine maiden duties and Grandma Miyamizu’s explanations of the family’s traditions, readers are easily carried along as the supernatural aspect goes from a comical glitch between two individuals to something much bigger.

But even as forces push Mitsuha and Taki together toward a seemingly cosmic goal, other factors tug them apart. From the onset, the memories of their body switches are hazy. It’s only when they find workarounds to communicate that they are able to get a sense of each other. However, once the swaps stop, the precious knowledge they’ve gained starts to evaporate from their minds. Shinkai does an amazing job with these scenes, making the agony of those disappearing memories worse than the pain of separation.

In addition to the breadth and intensity of emotion, Shinkai skillfully weaves in foreshadowing and symbolism, and he interconnects the details of events and characters in seamless fashion. Some nuances of the story do require knowledge of Japanese culture, but the book does not contain a cultural notes section. However, even if you’re unaware of the significance of the “red thread of fate,” you can still appreciate the role that Mitsuha’s hair cord plays in connecting our main characters.

By the way, even though I haven’t seen the movie, my husband saw it on his last flight to Asia (thank you, All Nippon Airways). Once he got home, he dived into the book. As for me, I’ve really got to see the film…

Extras include an afterword from the author and a short essay from Genki Kawamura, who produced the your name. movie.

In summary

Over a decade ago, Makoto Shinkai wowed me with his filmmaking; now he wows me with his writing. your name. is about lovers brought together by fate, but it’s much more than a romance. The story incorporates goofy humor, reflections on the fragility of human memory, and a heart-pounding, race-against-time to thwart disaster. And the amazing thing is that it all works. Hats off to Shinkai!

First published at The Fandom Post.

Souvenirs from Asia: Baumkuchen and Fake Toast

As mentioned in my last two posts, a happy convergence between my husband’s last business trip and a Jump Shop promotional event resulted in a massive load of Haikyu!! goodies. However, not all the gems in his souvenir stash were Haikyu!! related.

Baumkuchen is a European pastry very popular in Japan. It is often sold as a souvenir in airports and train stations, and the Narita Sanrio shop went all-out with this apple kuchen. The packaging is adorable, and instead of the traditional ring shape, this kuchen is apple shaped.

Hello Kitty Japan apple kuchen

My husband also picked up baumkuchen at Tokyo Station. As you can tell from the photo, this baumkuchen and the box of cookies beside it are designed for your name. movie fans (my review for the your name. light novel coming soon). Unlike the apple kuchen, the your name. kuchen comes in bite-sited, individually wrapped pieces. The cookies are also individually wrapped, and each has the movie logo baked on top.

your name. cookies and baumkuchen

Do not eat! Its not real toast!

This final item is not edible though it looks like it might be! Fake toast! It looks like a cosplayer prop for that classic late-student-running-to-school-with-toast-in-mouth. However, there’s all sorts of warnings about not putting it into your mouth, which makes me wonder what its intended purpose is.

Anyway, that’s it for this round of souvenirs!