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!

 

Souvenirs from Asia: Haikyu!! snacks!

As mentioned previously, a change in my husband’s business trip itinerary allowed him to get to the Jump Shop’s Haikyu!! promotional event. The interesting thing was that about half the items he bought back were edibles, mostly snack foods. I’m not sure what marketing consultant drove the Jump Shop in that direction, but I guess it worked, considering my husband bought a bunch.

Choco-caramel and chocopuffs

So to start we have the sweets. Karasuno, Shiratorizawa, and Aoba Josai chocolate candies. As with many Japanese food products, a lot of effort went into the packaging. I will definitely keep the containers, but the Shiratorizawa and Aoba Josai tins only contained 5 choco-caramel candies each. As for the Karasuno one, it didn’t contain chocolates but chocolate flavored corn puffs. When we tried it, we felt like we should pour the whole thing into a bowl and add milk.

Although the packaging for these next candies isn’t nearly as durable, it is clever and super cute. The Haikyu!! characters are occasionally shown with milk or juice boxes which is the inspiration for this candy set. Not really sure about a giraffe for the chocolate candy box, but the cow makes a nice design for the milk caramel.

Choco candy and milk caramel in juice box packaging

Next, pie from the rivals! The pie, by the way, comes in (tiny!) individual servings that are of course well encased in packaging. I haven’t yet tried the leaf pie so I’m not sure what that’s about, but the filling for the apple pie is more like apple puree. So it looks cute, but it wouldn’t be my first (or second or third) choice for a snack.

Apple and leaf(!) pie from Karasuno rivals

More appetizing is the Karasuno manju. They’ve updated it since two years ago, and this version has a cute crow shape and comes with bonus postcards!

Crow shaped manju!

With player stats on the side!

The majority of snacks my husband bought were sweet, but there is a savory one in the mix. Position snacks! Each box features one or two players with their stats on the side. Pretty cool in the package design department. As for the snacks themselves, well… they kind of taste like a barbeque-ish version of the corn puffs from the Karasuno chocolate flavored corn puffs.

Position Snacks!

And finally, what all shonen like to eat: curry! I don’t know what makes it cafe curry or why the rival cats and owls got put together, but it still makes a nice visual on the box.

Nekoma and Fukurodani curry!

By the way, as part of the Jump Shop promotion, customers received a Haikyu!! sticker per a certain amount spent. Because of that, my husband and I now have more stickers than we know what to do with.

Jump Shop promotion Haikyu!! stickers

Next up: Not Haikyu!! but still cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Souvenirs from Asia: Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival musical DVD and more!

When my husband and I went to the Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival musical last November, we signed up for email updates from the production company. Thanks to Google translate, we’ve learned from these periodic messages that the third Haikyu!! musical, The Winner and the Loser, toured Japan last spring; a special Haikyu!! exhibition took place at Tokyo Dome; and their fourth musical, The Summer Evolution, is coming out this fall. Then just before my husband’s most recent business trip, we learned that Jump Shop stores would be selling Haikyu!! musical goods for a limited time.

My husband’s itinerary was all China, so we chalked it up as just another event we couldn’t take advantage of. However, due to some unexpected hiccups during his trip, his boss redirected him to Nagoya for the last bit of his trip.

Translation: he wound up with one full day to shop in Japan.

DVD for the second Haikyu!! musical

And shop he did. Not only did he find the musical goods at Nagoya Jump Shop, but the store, in anticipation of an influx of Haikyu!! fans, also had their own Haikyu!! goods in force. In addition, my husband has learned from previous trips that there’s no guarantee that a character good will be around the next time you visit, even if it’s just a week later. So if he sees something he likes, he gets it. Thus, he came home with quite a haul.

So to start, we have the Hyper Projection Engeki Haikyu!! Karasuno Revival DVD. This is the musical that we saw last fall. Yes, we liked it so much we want to watch it again and again. No, there are no English subtitles. Yes, the DVD requires a Japan region player, but that’s okay because we got one when we bought the DVD for the first Haikyu!! musical.

Jersey towels!

Next we have jersey mini-towels. As those who’ve visited Japan know, most Japanese restrooms don’t provide paper towels, so people carry handkerchiefs or small towels for drying their hands. Now fans can show their team spirit every time they head to the sink. Jump Shop had a towel for every Karasuno member, and because Daichi and Hinata are my favorites, my husband brought back 1 and 10.

Jump Shop also had jersey mugs for the whole team. My husband picked up a Hinata mug along with a traditional-style tea mug featuring most of the Karasuno team and several rival players. A nice detail of the jersey mug is that the inside of the mug has a manga-style picture of Hinata.

Chibi character tea mug and jersey mug

 

I think it reads,”Mou ippai!”(“One more cup!”)

Not to leave the Karasuno captain behind, my husband also picked up a Daichi clip and stamp. However, these items and the Haikyu!! pen alongside them are actually not from the Jump Shop but a random Ikebukoro shop.

Haikyu!! stamp, clip, and pen. The clip splits Daichi in half.

Also from another store (Ikebukoro Animate) is one of the best items of the bunch. When we visited last November, this team banner was part of a store display, but it wasn’t actually available for sale. This time it was, so now we get to show our support for our favorite volleyball team. Go crows!

FLY!!!

Next up: Haikyu!! themed snacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 1

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 1.

Back cover blurb

Accepting the post of Royal Tutor at the court of the king of Grannzreich, Heine Wittgenstein is a little professor with a big job ahead! Each of the kingdom’s four princes has a rather distinct personality. Does their diminutive new instructor have what it takes to lay down some learning? It’s a comedy of educational proportions!

The Review

The Royal Tutor is an interesting take on the reverse harem genre. It includes several standard elements including four handsome princes and a luxurious, palatial setting. However, the protagonist is not a teenage girl through whom readers can live vicariously. Our main character is the princes’ tutor, Heine Wittgenstein.

Summoned to the royal palace by the King of Granzreich himself, Heine is charged with grooming the king’s troublesome younger sons into suitable candidates for the throne. Heine though is not your ordinary academic. Although he is an adult with a certain degree of weakness for female charms, he looks like (and is constantly mistaken for) a little boy. Yet his intellect is second to none, and he is physically capable of chasing down his much larger students. At the same time, his small stature causes all sorts of inconveniences, which affords ample opportunity for visual humor, and he occasionally gets handled like a plushie toy. In fact, Heine at times looks like a cute mascot for this princely lineup.

As such, there are no romantic overtones whatsoever between this teacher and his students. (In fact, the only females in the cast are the princes’ grandmother and three-year old sister.) Even so, Heine, like many reverse harem heroines, is able to win over these difficult bishounen in short order. Despite its late 19th century European setting, these princes have very modern sensibilities and of course extremely distinct personalities. Thus, we have Kai, the taciturn delinquent; Bruno, the rigid intellectual; Leonhard, the prideful athlete; and Licht, the frivolous playboy. These brothers have driven all preceding royal tutors to resignation, yet Heine is able to quickly discern the true natures behind their public facades and earn their acceptance.

Heine himself though is a bit of a mystery. For all his abilities, he has no formal credentials. And although he was summoned to the palace by the king, Heine has his own–and as of yet unknown– personal agenda for accepting the position. While this does make him more intriguing as a character, Volume 1 is for the most part lighthearted comedy stemming from Heine’s unusual appearance and abilities and the princes’ antics.

For those familiar with the anime, the storyline is not an exact match for the TV series, but it is pretty close. The artwork is clean and well-drawn with lots of chandeliers and Rococo style decor and dress. Character designs alternate between shojo-style bishounen and chibi-style for princes and tutor alike (although Heine gets chibified more frequently than anyone else).

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

If you’re the type that enjoys princely eye-candy against a luxurious backdrop, you’ll probably like The Royal Tutor. This series is also worth checking out if you like light comedies with characters that don’t fit the mold. The bishounen princes are somewhat standard, but their tutor is in a class of his own in this near reverse harem comedy.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: My Love Story!! Vol. 12

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 12 has been released, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of other volumes, click here.)

Back cover blurb

Tanaka, a boy who transferred to Takeo’s school, keeps hanging around Sunakawa for some reason. At first, Takeo thinks nothing of it, but when he hears that Tanaka is just using Sunakawa, he immediately goes to help his friend! And later, Takeo finds out some distressing news from Yamato! Will Takeo and Yamato actually be separated?

The Review

It was initially unclear where the plot was going with the introduction of fashionable transfer student Tanaka, but it winds up a hilarious arc that shows a hitherto unseen aspect of both Takeo and Suna. Takeo’s strong point since the very beginning is his popularity among other males, and Tanaka’s the first guy we’ve seen (other than the groper) that dislikes him. However, Takeo’s clashed with other boys before and actually has a proven strategy for turning enemies into friends. To be sure, this strategy is the sort a grade school kid would rely on, but that’s okay because Suna is acting a bit childishly as well. Suna’s definitely the most mature character in the cast, and despite all the crazy stuff Takeo drags him into, he’s never gotten really mad. Now we get to see what Suna is like with someone he seriously dislikes.

Meanwhile, Tanaka is a much more typical teenager, insecure in his relationships and obsessed with looking good on social media. I’m not sure if Tanaka’s chat group lies are meant to be social commentary, but when the three go out for a day trip and Takeo takes all of Tanaka’s posts at face value, the results are a riot. I’m not a fan of Aruko-sensei’s particular art style, but the expressions in this arc deliver huge comedic impact nonetheless, and I really wish I could see these chapters animated.

Then it’s back to Takeo’s love story and the next challenge for our main couple: the Yamamoto family is moving–to Spain! The announcement takes everyone by surprise, and although he’s crushed by the news, Takeo does his best to be a supportive boyfriend and reassure Yamato of his commitment to her even while they’re apart. Thus, Yamato’s last days in Japan go pretty much as one would expect–until she runs away from home! It’s a shock to everyone, Takeo included. But even though she’s been portrayed as a model daughter, her actions–though drastic–are not out of character. Still, it’s anyone’s guess how this arc will end, and I look forward to its resolution.

Extras include story thus far, two sizable bonus chapters, and notes from the creators.

In Summary

My Love Story!! hits another one out the park! As Takeo discovers, Tanaka is using others to achieve his own shallow goals, which sparks a near rampage out of our main character. However, what’s even funnier is Suna’s reaction when Tanaka airs his unfiltered thoughts about Takeo. It’s male bonding magic when self-absorbed superficiality collides with earnest friendship!

First published at The Fandom Post.

Castle Under Siege: An Attack on Titan Real Escape Game!

Back in the day, the most a manga could hope for was an anime adaption and maybe a movie. Nowadays, manga serves as the basis for all sorts of entertainment, and when my husband and I visited Los Angeles for his birthday a few days ago, we experienced Castle Under Seige: a collaboration between Real Escape Game and Attack on Titan.

For those unfamiliar with Real Escape Game, it’s a franchise that began in Japan and has since spread to other places including San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles. It runs Escape Rooms and hosts events at special locations, but the premise behind all of its puzzle events is the same. You and your team members are “trapped” and have 60 minutes to search for clues and solve puzzles in order to escape.

Castle Under Seige, by the way, is not the first Attack on Titan themed Real Escape Game. In 2015, Real Escape hosted Escape from the Walled City at AT&T Park and a couple other stadiums in the United States. Sadly, my husband and I heard about it two months after the event (so disappointed!). Thus, when we chanced upon a Castle Under Seige flyer in Little Tokyo on our last day in Los Angeles, we couldn’t let the opportunity slip. Less than two hours later, we were at the Los Angeles Real Escape Room with five local college students.

The premise of Castle Under Seige is that participants (maximum of ten) are members of the Scouts/Survey Corps, who’ve been forced to take shelter from titans in an old castle. Eren (in titan form) and Mikasa are buying time (60 minutes to be exact) by fighting them, and Armin is giving clues to find various objects to help against the enemy.

The game does go out of its way to make it fun for Attack on Titan fans. If you have your own Attack on Titan cosplay, you are encouraged to wear it. For those without, the hosts provide green cloaks with the Wings of Freedom insignia to wear during the game. The game instructors/hosts are also in cosplay and in character. Funimation is one of the game collaborators, and I’m assuming Castle Under Seige used the anime’s English language voice actors for Mikasa and Armin (sorry, I prefer subtitles so I’m not familiar with the dub). Also, several inside jokes are infused into the puzzles and clues.

Participant uniforms!

While knowledge of Attack on Titan makes Castle Under Seige more enjoyable, it doesn’t actually give participants much of an edge. When it comes to solving the puzzles, experience with other Real Escape Games actually gives a greater advantage. So it’s entirely possible for a team with no knowledge of Attack on Titan to succeed, although they’ll probably think it’s weird that a gas cylinder is useful against man eating giants. (And according to our host, Castle Under Seige has had participants unfamiliar with the series. They provide those players with a single page synopsis of Attack on Titan.)

By the way, the success rate for Castle Under Seige is about 60%. For comparison, Real Escape Game’s Escape from the Mysterious Room is closer to 10%. So the Castle’s puzzles aren’t as intense as the Mysterious Room’s, but they’re enough to pose a fun challenge to fans looking for a new way to experience Attack on Titan.

So did we escape the titans? We did! Everyone in our team of seven was familiar with Attack on Titan, but only my husband and I had prior Real Escape Game experience (we played the Escape from the Mysterious Room in 2015). With everyone’s help, we achieved victory in 55 minutes. We weren’t anywhere close to Castle Under Seige’s current record (just over 30 minutes), but it was enough that we didn’t get eaten. And we got to pose with the props afterwards! It made my husband’s 44th birthday a memorable one.

So if you and your otaku friends are looking for a group activity and have $35 to spare, I would certainly recommend Castle Under Siege. Castle Under Siege is currently only available in Los Angeles Little Tokyo, but Real Escape also has a Zelda game and Final Fantasy XIV game touring various cities this summer. Supposedly, there’s also a Dragonball escape game at Anime Expo 2017, but the website is unresponsive so I can’t confirm that.

Anyway, check it out. And have fun escaping the titans!

Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 5

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 5. (For the reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Akito Kamiya has found out that Ryu and Asuka have been dating away from the public eye, but he hasn’t given up his pursuit of her. Ryu means to keep Kamiya in check, but instead a direct confrontation erupts between them!

The Review

The previous volume ended with Ryu and Kamiya looking like they’re about to brawl it out. However, this is an adult cast, and while boys might knock the snot out of each other over a girl in shojo manga, grown up men apparently handle such disputes by going to a bar and making snarky remarks over drinks. It wasn’t the clash I’d anticipated, but Kamiya’s comments do get under Ryu’s skin in a way that shakes his confidence.

Kamiya doesn’t let up either. He continues to finagle ways to be alone with Asuka, even coercing a date by threatening to make her relationship with Ryu public. Although Kamiya’s reasons for choosing her were coldly calculating, he’s not nearly so logical about accepting her refusal. While this might seem like a character inconsistency, Kamiya’s personality is so aggressive that it’s not. It’s questionable whether his feelings for Asuka can be accurately termed “love,” but his actions are certainly those of a competitive man who hates to lose.

And how does Ryu secure his claim on Asuka with such a rival? Sex and lots of it. The last volume was light on the bedroom scenes with rivals Kamiya and Yuko distracting our couple. Now Ryu’s pawing Asuka’s clothes off every time she has a run-in with Kamiya. As usual, the scenes aren’t too graphic, but Ryu does come off as inexhaustible the way he pounces on Asuka despite his supposedly grueling work schedule. And when Kamiya buys Asuka a pair of Altier earrings, Ryu responds with a spur of the moment trip to Kyoto and his own gift to Asuka. No, it’s not a wedding ring, but we do get to see our main couple in a traditional setting and relaxing for once.

Meanwhile, Yuko doesn’t do much in this volume. In fact, she looks like she might be dropping out of the love square entirely. Never fear, a new PTV character gets introduced as she steps away. Yuma Shimizu is a rookie reporter on Ryu’s news show. Although he’s definitely not a love interest for Ryu, he brings out a side of Ryu we haven’t seen before, and it remains to be seen how exactly he will affect the plot.

Extras include a 6-page mini-manga about Ryu.

In Summary

It’s two alpha males vying to get the girl in this volume. Kamiya takes every opportunity to monopolize Asuka, and in the face of such pressure, Ryu must bring his A-game to compete. Most of that involves sex, but based on their trip to Kyoto, perhaps wedding bells aren’t just wishful thinking on Asuka’s part.

First published at The Fandom Post.