Souvenirs from Asia: Japanese snacks!

My husband and I scheduled an anime viewing at our house this month so I asked him to buy a few unusual snack foods from Japan for the party. This is what he brought back.


I am amazed he made it back with all that plus his other souvenirs AND luggage.

Since it would take too long to go through the entire stash, I’ll limit it to the highlights for this post.

First we have the nori wasabi flavored potelong. I suppose wasabi flavored snacks aren’t so unusual in the West now, but I thought the nori and wasabi high-fiving on the package was especially cute.


Next is a potato snack that definitely would not make it out West. Not sure who thought chocolate and potato would make a great combo, but it’s popular enough for my husband to find Jagachoco chocolate covered potato chips in the convenience store.


The next snack is all about the packaging. I don’t know what message the Tohato marketers wanted to convey, but to me, that Jack o’ lantern styled pepper screams, “DANGER. RUN AWAY.”


On the other end of the packaging spectrum is this. It may be just a bowl of instant udon noodles, but the kimono-clad Hello Kitty makes you feel like you’re getting something truly elegant.


Prefer a more masculine Japanese icon? How about some Ultraman raman navona? No, I have no idea what that is, but it comes from a confectionery so I assume it’s sweet.


And here’s another confectionery offering. I was surprised my husband found this one because Initial D is over a decade past its heyday. Maybe Initial D fans have a raving sweet tooth that makes this product profitable? Or perhaps there’s a reboot in the works?


img_2619Finally, we have a snack that also a game: Godzilla vs. Evangelion! I don’t know who decided to put these two together, but at the very least the chibi character versions are really cute. My limited knowledge of kanji tells me the circle and characters on the back of the box are used to play something, but I’ve no idea what. However, our Japanese-literate friend JB is coming to the anime viewing so perhaps our party will include monsters stomping over noodle-shaped snacks.


Manga Review: The Heiress and the Chauffeur Vol. 2

A forbidden love between master and servant… That theme has formed the basis of many a romance, including Viz Media’s newly released historical manga, The Heiress and the Chauffeur. The second and final volume of the series has been released and you can read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Sayaka’s father arranges for her to marry the son of an earl! Meanwhile, Sayaka has started to develop feelings for Narutaki… But with such a huge difference in their social standings, is it possible for Sayaka and Narutaki to be together?

The Review

This is the final volume of the series, and Ishihara-sensei introduces a rival, has Sayaka realize her love for Narutaki, and brings everything to a close in five chapters. This is a lot for one installment, yet it still dragged for me. Much of it had to do with Sayaka’s continuing cluelessness about Narutaki’s feelings and Narutaki’s lack of initiative to do anything other than catch Sayaka when she inevitably falls.

The addition of marriage candidate Akihiko Tachibana doesn’t do much to intensify the situation. He starts off as a promising element to complicate Narutaki and Sayaka’s lives, but he’s so quickly and overwhelmingly won over by Sayaka that he becomes more baffling than intriguing. As Ishihara-sensei accurately admits in an author’s note, “Mr. Tachibana changed so much it was as if he had been abducted by aliens.”

Also inconsistent is the matter of Sayaka’s foot. She alternately displays the actions of a reckless tomboy and a stumbling cripple. In Chapter 5, she leaps off a bridge into a lake and lands without trouble, but in Chapter 6, she balks at jumping from a sinking rowboat to a dock. And time and again, she trips for no better reason than to be dramatically caught by the male characters.

This is a romance so it of course has a happy ending. However, it’s not till Chapter 7 that Sayaka realizes her feelings toward Narutaki are not sisterly ones. That leaves only two and a half chapters for heiress and chauffeur to contend against and defeat the forces that would tear them apart. Sayaka’s long-absent father abruptly appears to play the ultimate obstacle to their happiness only to capitulate so quickly that he, like Mr. Tachibana, appears to have been abducted by aliens.

While the final chapter doesn’t involve a wedding, the volume includes a four-page bonus story that paints a pretty clear picture of Sayaka and Narutaki’s ever after. Other extras include embedded author’s notes and afterword. I should also mention that the artwork does include a few larger, sweeping illustrators, but for the most part, panels are small and cramped, and the printing tends to be overly dark and heavy. The dialogue translation is also confusing at a couple points, and it doesn’t help that several dialogue bubbles are arranged such that you can’t tell who’s speaking.

In Summary

Ishihara-sensei concludes with a happy ending for our heiress and chauffeur, but the journey is rife with character inconsistencies. In addition, Sayaka’s inability to recognize romantic feelings (including hers) for what they are drags down the first half of the volume, and when she finally does realize she’s in love, things move unbelievably fast in the second half. Sayaka might be touted as the universally adored “Crimson Lily” of her school, but I found her to be a frustratingly dense and somewhat pretentious heroine.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Souvenirs from Asia: The Japanese School Festival revisited!

A couple months ago, I got an inquiry from someone (from Belgium!) about bunkasai. FC is going to Japan this fall with his girlfriend, who is a big anime fan, and, after reading my 2012 post about the Komazawa Girls’ School Festival, wanted to ask if I could provide any information on locating a bunkasai to take her.

I have to commend FC for going the extra mile for his girlfriend. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give him the help he needed. School festivals are small local events, and you really need someone who is Japanese fluent to find them. I definitely am NOT Japanese fluent, and if it weren’t for the kind efforts of my Okinawan friend, we never would have found the Komajo bunkasai.

Fortunately for FC, he was somehow able to learn that Todai is having a festival during the time of their trip so he’ll be able to treat his girlfriend to a university-style festival in November. (Yay!)

I’m not sure how FC wrangled that information from the Internet, but my husband also orchestrated a bunkasai visit on his last business trip all by himself.

Well… almost by himself. The visit was made possible by two things. One, he was in Japan at the right time. Bunkasai generally take place in the fall, with high school festivals at the earlier end and university events scheduled later. Two, even though he didn’t have our Okinawan friend scouring the Internet in advance of his trip, he did have the concierge of his Nagoya hotel. They decided to humor his request and sent him off with printed directions to Nagoya Women’s University.


img_2614The festival, the school’s 66th, was also a kind of open house for prospective students. Nagoya Women’s University teaches fashion so one of the events was a fashion show. You can see a couple of the models from the fashion show next to the local mascot, who was also in attendance.

Overall, the university, which also has an associated primary, middle, and high school, wasn’t quite as posh an establishment as Komajo, and everything was on a proportionally smaller scale. While a celebrity (whom I didn’t recognize) was included in the lineup, the main stage events also included simple magic tricks by a white-haired gentleman. (My husband couldn’t tell if he was a faculty member or maybe someone’s uncle.)


img_2613However, all the elements of student booths and food stalls were there, and my husband brought me back two matcha green tea umeboshi dorayaki to try. (Looked pretty but was super sour!)

We are hoping the next time we manage a bunkasai visit it can be to a coed or boys’ school. It just so happened that the only festivals open to the public where we visited were girls’ schools. There’s nothing wrong with girls’ school per se, but it does make it more awkward for my husband to try to strike up a conversation with the students, especially if I’m not with him. And it would be interesting to see if there are differences. Perhaps FC will put up a blog post after his Todai visit and let us all know🙂







Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet Vol. 002

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has released Volume 2 of the Sword Art Online: Phantom Bullet manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Kirito has entered the new VRMMO Gun Gale Online in order to investigate the Death Gun incidents, only to discover his avatar is not exactly how he remembers it! He barely knows up from down in this new world, and he needs an ally. He may have found one in the mysterious female sniper Sinon, but she’s got an agenda of her own…

The Review

Volume 2 opens with an entire chapter devoted to Sinon’s real life, and unlike her online persona, Shino Asada can’t stand guns. In fact, a person mimicking a shooting motion is enough to give her a panic attack. Thus, one of GGO’s gutsiest players is ironically the target of bullies. As in the anime, the manga lays out her background and the incident that traumatized her. Yamada-sensei’s illustrations do an excellent job of conveying Shino’s panic attack and depicting the robbery that scarred her. By the end of the chapter, you can’t blame her for her phobia. In addition, the manga includes details not mentioned in the anime that add additional depth to her personal struggle (for instance, the fact that her mother had a damaged psyche even before the shooting incident).

Then the setting moves from real life to the world of GGO, where Kirito and Sinon cross paths for the first time. Although Volume 2 includes an explanation for why Kirito looks the way he does, it only makes his girly avatar that much more peculiar to me. In addition, Kirito chooses a sword as his primary GGO weapon, which strikes me as both improbable (this is the world of guns after all) and disappointing. Previous SAO titles have already established Kirito as a master swordsman; I really wanted to see him forced to handle a completely different skillset. At any rate, his avatar allows him to befriend Sinon (who doesn’t realize he is a guy), and the existence of a photon sword allows him to fight toe to toe with GGO’s best with minimal adjustment.

Kirito’s looks and sword aside, the story is a gripping one as the Bullet of Bullets competition begins. The manga reveals more internal thoughts than the anime, which helps make Kirito’s first brush with Death Gun more chilling. The narrative also draws intriguing parallels between Sinon’s and Kirito’s experiences and their efforts to deal with them in the virtual and real world.

The strength of the plot is matched by the strength of the artwork. Yamada-sensei’s depictions of gun battles and emotional turmoil deliver quite a punch although the bullet predictive lines take some getting used to. I should also mention that Phantom Bullet, like the other SAO manga series, lays on the fan service. Sinon/Shino isn’t nearly as busty as other SAO females, but Yamada-sensei uses every chance he can to get a panty shot in.

Extras include the title page printed in color, embedded notes about GGO, and a comment/illustration from series creator Reki Kawahara.

In Summary

Thanks to Kirito’s androgynous avatar, Sinon lends him a helping hand in getting acquainted with GGO. He quickly gets up to speed, perhaps too quickly for a game so unlike the previous ones he’s experienced. However, once the Bullet of Bullets begins, both he and Sinon must contend against past demons in an internal struggle that lays out all the vulnerabilities of two unparalleled fighters.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Souvenirs from Asia: Swallowtail Butler Cafe revisited!

My husband was in Japan on business recently and, while there, he revisited a highlight from our 2012 Japan pop tour: Swallowtail Butler Cafe!

Now his actual intention was not to visit Swallowtail by himself. As I’ve mentioned to a few inquirers, a single lady, a group of ladies, or a lady with a gentleman date would definitely fit in with the Swallowtail clientele. A single gentleman, not so much. (And I’m not sure they’d know what to do if they got a group of salarymen.) However, he was in Ikebukoro in search of an Attack on Titan costume for a friend of ours and passed Swallowtail’s corner on the way to Cospa. This is what he saw there.

img_2607The Swallowtail franchise has expanded! Now on the corner opposite Japan’s premier butler cafe is a gift shop and patisserie. And quite popular from the looks of it. FYI, the line on one side is to get tickets and the line on the other side is to enter the patisserie after purchasing a ticket. As much as my husband wanted to stay and try the owl themed treats, the line was literally out the door.

So he wasn’t able to see if the patisserie servers were attired as they were in the butler cafe. ( For more details and information about the butler cafe, read my 2012 post here). However, judging from the crowd outside, Patisserie Swallowtail is a more casual establishment that appeals to the same demographic: single ladies, female groups, and couples on dates. And with its sidewalk level signs and large red awning, Swallowtail corner is now a lot more easy to locate.


So Patisserie Swallowtail is now on our list of places to visit together. In the meantime, I get to enjoy a souvenir my husband bought at the gift shop: cute pastries in an oh-so-elegant box. Just to sort of thing you’d expect from the Swallowtail franchise.




Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 2

Most romances in Viz Media’s Shojo Beat line are targeted toward a high school audience, but Everyone’s Getting Married is actually aimed toward older readers. It’s twenty-something angst instead of teen angst, and you can read on for the review of Volume 2. (For the review of Volume 1, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Successful career woman Asuka Takanashi has an old-fashioned dream of getting married and becoming a housewife. After her long-term boyfriend breaks up with her to pursue his own career goals, she encounters popular newscaster Ryu Nanami. Asuka and Ryu get along well, but the last thing he wants is to ever get married. This levelheaded pair who want the opposite things in life should never get involved, except…

The Review

The previous volume dealt mainly with Asuka diving back into the dating pool after getting dumped by her long-time boyfriend. Now she’s made her choice, and Volume 2 explores the difficulties of two busy career people trying to maintain a relationship. Asuka’s no slouch, but Ryu’s duties at the TV station are all-consuming. In the several weeks following their decision to date, Ryu barely has time to call Asuka, let alone see her. When he does manage to get within groping distance, passion generally ends in comedy with the interlude getting interrupted by one thing or another.

As such, Asuka and Ryu enjoy very little quality time, but readers get to see quite a bit of the broadcasting and recording world Ryu lives in. By the way, his workplace is definitely a male-dominated one, and with so many guys in suits, it’s sometimes difficult to tell characters apart. As Ryu interacts with his coworkers, we get their perspectives on PTV’s hot young newscaster as well as more hints and rumors about his past. While the particulars of his career history are interesting, Miyazono-sensei has yet to reveal the details of the circumstances that led to his aversion to marriage.

Despite that aversion and Asuka and Ryu’s extremely limited time together, the topic of marriage does manage to pop up regularly in the chapters. Concerned friend Rio questions Asuka on the wisdom of dating Ryu when he’s so set against marriage. As for Ryu, he’s obligated to cover the marriages of celebrities in his job. However, the volume ends with the introduction of a new female character who’s likely to add a new dimension to the marriage discussion.

Extras include character line up, story thus far, author’s note, and the nine-page bonus story “Nanaryu’s Rude Language.” Also, the romantic moments between Asuka and Ryu in this installment aren’t overly graphic, but they do warrant the manga’s “M” rating.

In Summary

Marriage-minded Asuka seems to be setting herself up for disappointment with her decision to date Ryu. However, this volume depicts her more as the neglected girlfriend fighting for time with her man rather than the one trying to argue him into marriage. There are a couple steamy scenes, but Volume 2 largely focuses on the career life of Ryu the talented, successful (and insanely busy) announcer.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Liselotte & Witch’s Forest Vol. #1

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 1.

Back cover blurb

Despite being completely hopeless at endeavors like farming and cooking, Liselotte, a young lady of noble birth and guardian to twins Alto and Anna, picks up and moves to a remote land. At the easternmost reaches of her new home lies a forest where it’s said witches roam. When Lise one day finds herself at the receiving end of an attack by one such witch, she’s saved by the sudden appearance of a young man named Engetsu. Though they’re strangers, Engetsu is remarkably similar to someone she already knows…

The Review

If you’re a fan of Natsuki Takaya’s art and particular brand of ditzy and big-hearted heroine, you’re likely to fall in love with this title’s main character, Liselotte. For those familiar with Fruits Basket, Liselotte is pretty much a blonde, blue-eyed version of Tohru, with the same energetic optimism and trusting nature. However, whereas Tohru was a hard-working poor orphan, Liselotte was born to privilege and would probably starve without the help of her two servants. In addition, Liselotte’s setting is not contemporary Japan but an unnamed European-style fantasy land where witches exist.

Takaya-sensei mentions in an author’s note that she aims to “make it a relatively easygoing story,” and the tale starts off that way. The first several pages consist of Liselotte driving her considerably younger but much more capable servant boy Alto crazy with her attempts to do chores in their new home. Then the mood abruptly shifts when Liselotte gets attacked by a witch. This isn’t your chipper moe-style witch, but one who’s dangerous and malicious, and Takaya-sensei does an excellent job conveying the suddenness and creepiness of the assault. Fortunately for Liselotte, a young man named Engetsu rescues her, and despite his spacey behavior and strange clothes, he’s remarkably similar to someone she once knew.

While the magical elements put this series into the fantasy category, it’s difficult to tell what kind of journey Takaya-sensei’s taking us on. There are plenty of comical interactions, including a lot of bad cooking and growly stomach humor, but while the scenes are entertaining and establish character relationships, they don’t set a clear direction for the plot. In addition, the witch’s forest loses some of its ominous aura when the attack on Liselotte gets followed by an invasion from a witch’s familiar who’s about as terrifying and destructive as a puppy dog. However, Takaya-sensei keeps the narrative moving by revealing bits of Liselotte’s past, which, for such a simple-minded character, is surprisingly complicated. Engetsu, on the one hand, remains largely a mystery, but judging from the emotion that overflows from the drawings whenever he and Liselotte are together, romance will brew between the two.

I should mention that the book doesn’t include translation notes, which may prove problematic for manga newbies, especially in one particular scene regarding the honorific “-sama.” However, the book does include embedded author’s notes, two color illustrations, and two full-spread black and white illustrations.

In Summary

Natsuki Takaya spins a new fantasy tale with a girl determined to create a new home for herself beside a witch forest. In addition to our super-positive heroine, we have a grouchy butler, an ever-supportive maid, an adorable fireball of a familiar, and a mysterious young man. It’s unclear where this group is headed, but for now, readers can simply enjoy the lively antics of this noisy and unusual household.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Love Story!! Vol. 9

Takeo Goda, the male lead for Viz Media’s  My Love Story!!  is quite unusual. Bishonen tend to dominate the cast of shojo manga, but Takeo’s looks are about as far from a stereotypical pretty boy as you can get. Still, he possesses tremendous appeal in this hilarious romantic comedy. Volume 9 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of other volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Yamato starts working at a cake shop, where she meets a handsome pastry chef named Ichinose. Ichinose mistakes Yamato’s kind-hearted actions for signs of affection, and he falls for her! What will Takeo do about this persistent rival?

The Review

Volume 8 concluded with the introduction of the handsome young pastry chef Ichinose, and interestingly, seeing him call Yamato by her first name (an indication of familiarity in Japanese culture) doesn’t make Takeo go ballistic. Rather, he sinks into a funk because he isn’t bold enough to do the same. His insecurities grow as he realizes how much fun Yamato’s having at her part-time job with Ichinose. Of course, Suna gets dragged along to listen to Takeo’s problems and stand witness to the funny effects this emotional blow has on him.

Then things get really heated when Ichinose outright demands Takeo give Yamato to him. It’s a hilarious interchange when Ichinose presses Takeo about his qualifications to be Yamato’s boyfriend and then makes his own pronouncements about the type of woman Takeo should be with. Again, even though Takeo could easily knock Ichinose into next week, he comes away from the encounter like a whipped dog.

Meanwhile, Yamato is completely oblivious to the turmoil she’s causing. She thinks Ichinose’s interest in her is solely professional while Ichinose interprets her unabashed praise of his work as confirmation that their feelings are mutual. Takeo’s pretty dense, but Yamato and Ichinose bring in their own comic brands of cluelessness as well.

For those familiar with the anime, the TV series followed this volume fairly closely but did omit a couple minor scenes, including one where Takeo’s friends come to invite him out. The omitted scenes aren’t critical to the narrative, but the pacing of the manga feels more natural compared to the corresponding anime episode.

Volume 9 is a bit short. It only contains three chapters, but they make up for it with an extra-long bonus story about Takeo and Sunakawa when they were in elementary school. Extras also include story thus far and notes from the creators.

In Summary

Gentle giant Takeo breaks more stereotypes when another guy demands that he break up with Yamamoto. Instead of squashing his rival shonen-style, Takeo gets depressed, wondering if he’s good enough for his girlfriend. Given how cute Yamato is, this arc has been a long time coming, but Takeo’s unexpected insecurities and Ichinose’s overconfidence make it a worthwhile one.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Behind the Scenes Vol. #02

There are a LOT of anime and manga centered around glamorous idols and movie/TV stars, but what about the humble folk that do the grungy, tedious work behind the camera? The unseen teams charged with creating film sets, costumes, and props are the subject of Bisco Hatori’s Behind the Scenes!! Viz Media has released Volume 2, and you can read on for the review. (Reviews of other volumes can be found here.)

Back cover blurb

When the Art Squad is assigned to dress a set, Ranmaru is shocked at how seriously Goda takes the job. Every action figure and empty soda can is placed with utmost care to tell the story of the character who lives there, every sock and towel artfully be-grunged with coffee grounds and fuller’s earth to support the narrative. Ranmaru has always been detail oriented, but isn’t this taking things to the extreme? He’s about to learn that attention to detail can do more than just set the scenes!

The Review

So far, Art Squad projects have been manifestations of various antagonism, but it now appears that Goda treats all requests as challenges, even when they’re not. In the case of their latest Film Studies assignment, one seemingly innocuous word has Goda turning an otaku bedroom set from a low-key job into an intense task that newbie Ranmaru can barely keep up with. Following that, a student actress asks Goda to help her get rid of a clingy boyfriend (by posing as her new boyfriend), and Goda instead drags the Art Squad into Mega-Operation: Filthy Room!!

These two chapters reemphasize what readers already know about Goda: he is completely devoted to his art and his forceful personality somehow sweeps everyone else along. Along the way, readers also get a smattering of set dressing techniques as well as a hint of romantic feelings. At the end of Volume 1, a word of thanks from Ruka put Ranmaru in a fluster, and Volume 2 continues in that vein with Ranmaru’s fluster developing into a crush. However, those looking for a love arc are likely in for a long, drawn out ride. Ranmaru’s too timid to make a move, and while he observes that Ruka might feel something for Goda, she’s not making moves either. As for Goda, he, as Maasa puts it, “loves only art.” So while there is the potential of a love triangle, hardly anything is in motion.

Romance doesn’t seem likely among the other Art Squad members either, judging from Chapters 8 and 10, close-ups on Maasa and Izumi respectively. Maasa desperately wants a boyfriend, but when Ranmaru gets dragged along to a singles meet up, he quickly learns how the Art Squad’s resident gore expert self-sabotages her prospects. As for Izumi, he’s got a gaggle of fangirls but seems neither interested in nor capable of sustaining a deep, intimate relationship. As such, it looks like art will be the sole passion driving the engines of the Art Squad for a while.

Volume 2 also includes a Soh-centric chapter. In Volume 1, Ranmaru’s bossy cousin served mainly to heap disdain on Ranmaru and reinforce his insecurities. Now Hatori-sensei seems as if she’s completely changed her mind about this character. Chapter 9 depicts Soh not as arrogant and self-assured but as depressed as Ranmaru. The 180 in her personality is a lot to swallow, but it does make her interactions with Ranmaru funnier, and along the way, readers get to learn about resin crafts.

Extras include character profiles, embedded notes from the creator, glossary, and author bio.

In Summary

If you thought love entered Ranmaru’s life, think again. He may be harboring a developing crush, but for the most part, he’s just struggling to keep up with Goda’s latest project. In fact, romance seems to be getting nipped in the bud among all his fellow club members, but there’s passion aplenty for their work along with a lot of Art Squad craft techniques.

First published at The Fandom Post.

New on the shelves: the Mysterion anthology!

It’s out! My  sixth short story “Yuki and The Seven Oni” is now available in Enigmatic Mirror Press Mysterion.  The Christian spec fic anthology is comprised of twenty stories that include dragon infestations, aliens, a 17th century automaton, and my own Snow White retelling. You can find Mysterion on Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo.   Please check it out!