Archive for November, 2011

Tamagtotchi turns 15, as virtual pets continue to evolve

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Tamagochi reached the ripe old age of 15 yesterday. To celebrate, Bandai brought out a special Tamagotchi iD L 15th anniversary edition in pink or purple with plenty of new functions. Not just for the 8- to 9-year-old girls, those who recall their cute digital pets with fondness, rather than mild irritation, are bound to want to get their hands on these special models which have one of the game’s first-generation characters, Oyajichi, among their sets of 32 characters.

The commemorative version of the Tamagochi features one of the game's original characters

Tamagochi have come a long way since their birth and the iD L has a color screen, is decorated with sparkling crystals and has a function that allows you to swap items and propose marriage with other players.

The success of the toys sparked a virtual pet rearing boom that continues to this day. It’s not that surprising, especially when you think of all the city apartment dwellers who aren’t allow to keep real pets at home. Though some simply get around a landlord’s strict rules by keeping a secret pet (small dog owners can resort to hiding a dog in a bag when entering and exiting a building), many have sublimated their need with virtual games.

Pet-raising games have continued to be popular in Japan and the increased complexity of games like Nintendo’s Nintendogs has arguably brought pet games to an adult market. More recently this popularity has spread to smartphone apps. Just this month, for instance, a new pet-rearing app, featuring a cute cat called “Mecha-kun,” was released on the market.

But the area in which pet-rearing games are really evolving is within games that combine the usual game-playing characteristics, such as feeding and petting your animal, with a social networking element. Online game Meromero Park, for instance, allows you not only to raise your own cute creature, but to meet and chat with other users who share your interests while going out for a walk.

Sniffling and shivering into a setsuden winter

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

As we inch toward December, a chill is most definitely in the air, as are the inevitable cold viruses that accompany the onset of winter. At Shinjuku Station, it feels like you can hardly walk a minute without getting sneezed or coughed on by a passing comuter. According to a recent survey by cold medicine makers Contac, those living in areas powered by Tepco are particularly worried about catching a cold as a winter of setsuden (power conservation) looms.

Kaze Miru Plus tracks the cold virus in your area

The survey of office workers living alone in the Tokyo area showed that 89.1 percent were proactively taking steps to prevent getting a setsuden cold. Some felt that these might not be enough: 34.1 percent were worried that if they practiced power-saving with their heating appliances it would be harder to keep in peak physical condition. It appears that women had more of a tendency to worry about this issue: 41.1 percent of females compared to 27.2 percent of males.

As well as wrapping up warmly like the government advises, alternative sources of heating are popular. Yomiuri Online reports that a store selling kerosene heaters in Iwate had sold 200 heaters in a week and had 30 reservations from customers. These heaters are being actively marketed as being good for setsuden winter. If you’re not too keen on getting gassed in the night by one of these, a new electric heater called the “Beam Heater” claims to kick out 800 watts of heat while only running on 400 watts of electricity.

Another way to prevent getting a cold — at least in Japan — is to use a cold mask. Cold masks have become increasingly funky in recent years and we noted a nice product just out for kids that includes masks and cool packs adorned with decorations of Tomi cars and trucks. You might even manage to snag a mask for free. According to Eiga News, individually wrapped masks were available at five Tokyo stations, including Ikebukuro and Omotesando, as part of a clever advertisement for the movie “Contagion.” Once removed, the faces of the stars of the movie are revealed.

If the doomsday scenario of a super bug spreading throughout the world has you reaching nervously for the hand sanitizer, then you might want to sign up for Esu Esu Pharmaceutical’s Kaze Miru Plus, a Twitter-based application that tracks and forecasts cold and flu symptoms throughout Japan. By bringing together data from tweets and weather forecasts, Kaze Miru makes a cold forecast for your area. Today in Tokyo, 1,447 tweeted headaches, 970 a cough and 639 a runny nose. As the mercury drops those numbers are bound to rise drastically over the next few months. Be careful out there, folks.

Virtual games in a real sports club

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Hey, Tron fans. The future you’ve been dreaming of is here, located in a sports club inside a shopping mall in Tokyo. Or one step closer, anyway. With the new e-Sports Ground, players can run around a yoga studio kicking balls and breaking blocks made of light projected on the floor. The technology behind it is a system similar to Microsoft’s Kinect:  Sensors hanging from the corners of the the ceiling read and react to players’ motions and instantly change the projected images accordingly. Players don’t need to hold or wear any special equipment.

Get your virtual game on

As described by Nikkei Trendy, there are sports games, where where players kick virtual balls to each other and try to score, like one-on-one soccer or full-body air hockey. Another option is like stepping into the kind of video game you might have played … if you were a kid in the early ’80s. You become the paddle in a version of Breakout, using your  feet or hands to bounce a ball into a layer of bricks to destroy them. In Spacerunner, you outrun moving blobs of light. For a more cerebral experience, a game that translates roughly to “Spreadsheet Walk” challenges you to perform calculations on numbers on the ground by walking on them in the right order. We don’t remember seeing that in Tron.

The space opened last Friday at sports club Renaissance in Kitasuna, Koto-ku. Playing is free for sports club members. The game schedule is posted on the gym’s homepage. A spokesperson at the gym was quoted in Nikkei Trendy as saying that they have plans to add the system to one more branch early next year and hope to install it in others as they are renovated.

The maker of the e-Sports Ground is Eureka Computer. The system is also currently on display at the Kobe Biennale. Versions of the game system have been appearing at new media and digital art exhibits in Japan over the last two years, including at 3331 Arts Chiyoda and at the Japan Media Arts Festival in 2010.

Fun for one, online and off

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

While Japan’s konkatsu, or “marriage hunting” boom is into its third year, it seems that Japanese companies are embracing the fact that there are plenty of people out there who are rolling solo. Pulse has looked at a yakiniku restaurant that takes the embarrassment out of cooking meat by yourself, as well as places that serve ramen for one and cater especially to women looking to grab a solo drink and snack on the way home.

Dinner for two... sort of.

For the working woman who simply wants to have a relaxed meal at home with a little — and only a little — company, there’s the iPhone app Kare to gohan (Dinner with My Boyfriend). The English version is called PlusBoys. The app has photos of clean-cut young men who each have personality profiles and back stories: Biker and college student Tatsuya is “friendly, but a luck pusher. He likes going to rock festivals by himself.” There are photos of each of them whipping up a meal for two, accompanied by screens of cheerful “welcome home” banter. The instructions warn that checking on more than one character might make them jealous. (Is nothing simple?) As you proceed through the stories, you can buy new characters from within the app.

For guys, there are a handful of apps that will liven up a dinner for one – or make you seem popular with the ladies when you’re out with friends. That is, as long as your friends don’t see who’s actually calling: These apps send you “phone calls” from anime characters or, equally unlikely to actually call you, pop stars. A recent version of Dream Call requires you to pick up the phone and make appropriate “I’m listening” noises in response to the recorded pre-programmed chat and scores you on your “mm-hmms” and “I sees.”

And then, for the . . .  actually, we’re not sure who this is for. Hatofuru kareshi (pigeon boyfriend) is a dating simulation game where you are a second-year student at the St. Pigeonation high school, finding yourself increasingly attracted to your male classmates, who are all pigeons. If it comes to this, please, put down the iPhone and get out of the house.

While you’re out there, may we suggest checking out OneKara, the new karaoke place for soloists only? There’s no shame in a little hitokara. Rent a room for one and rock your own socks off.

Corporate brands drawn to anime’s selling power

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Tiger & Bunny,” which just ended its first season, has been one of the most popular anime releases this year, despite that fact that contained blatant product placement for Calbee, Softbank, Pepsi and Bandai. The show features superheros called NEXT who perform acts of bravery about the futuristic city of Stirnbild, earning points as they do so. As their activities are filmed on TV in this fictional world, each hero is sponsored by a different company and sports the logos of  a sponsor.

Characters include Pepsi’s Blue Rose and Rock Baison, a bull-themed hero who  advertises the yakiniku restaurant Gyu-kaku. According to Tokyo Walker, fans of Rokku Baison have even affectionately nicknamed him Gyu-kaku -an. These companies are keen to capitalize on their involvement in the show: Pepsi is running ads featuring Blue Rose (see above) and Gyu-kaku are offering discount vouchers for a special Rokku Baison set meal (a pretty good deal for yakiniku lovers btw).

Despite anime characters being used to sell just about anything in Japan via product tie-ins, product placement within a contemporary anime is unusual, according to Nico Nico Pedia. One reason is that anime creators believe this would turn off fans, another reason is that once the toy industry got involved in anime and tokusatsu, toy companies had strong objections to introducing other products onto a show, so instead sponsers names were announced at the beginning and end of ad breaks.

Continue reading about product placement in anime →

Cult of the voice actor continues to grow

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Peace Love

Seiyu supergroup Peace Love employs 45 anime voice actors

Stepping out from behind their animated alter egos, a supergroup of seiyu (voice actors) made their debut at Womb in Tokyo on Nov 5. Performing tracks from their recent album “Rebirth,” 45-member Peace Love treated fans to a mélange of pop, rock, house and R&B at the sold-out show. Though the popularity of this band owes much to the similarly overpopulated and insanely popular act AKB48, another factor at play is the ever-evolving cult of the seiyu, which shows no signs of abating.

Since the late 1970s seiyu actors have been forming bands or putting out solo records, so the success of Peace Love will come as no surprise to the industry. As seiyu stars became famous in their own right, they began to increasingly appear in the media, so that by the ’90s magazines dedicated solely to seiyu actors started to appear. Despite the flagging fortunes of the magazine industry, in January 2010 Voice Girls, a gravure mag dedicated to female seiyu, joined other established titles such as Pick-Up Voice, Voice New Type, Seiyu Grand Prix and Seiyu Animedia.

Using seiyu talent to provide dialogue for the games industry is also becoming increasingly popular and this month a new title just got released that employs no less than six big name voice actors. “Blue Tears” is an action online fantasy RPG for PC. Those who’d like to hear the dulcet tones of these voice actors before buying the game can access sample sound files on the game’s website.

As the demand remains high for seiyu related merchandise, one canny business has discovered the perfect way to feed the appetites of a hungry fanbase. The Seiyu Cafe in Akihabara opened its doors in July this year. Closely resembling a recording studio, complete with a professional microphone on a small stage, all the serving staff employed at the café are professional seiyu actors. A quick glance at the staff list shows that the café employs actors who’ve worked on such big titles as “Darker Than Black,” “Fairy Tail” and “Death Note,” albeit in rather minor roles. Visitors to the coffee shop can order dialogue from the menu from the staff who then perform their lines. This way starving seiyu actors forced to wait tables are still able to practice their craft.

Tokyo Designers Week 2011

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Here’s a selection of what blipped on our radar at Tokyo Designers Week 2001, a multi-ring circus of design innovation. This year the organizers put an emphasis on Tohoku reconstruction, the environment, food and loooove.  And as in past years, the student work was just as eye-catching as that from professionals.

From amateur endeavors to corporate PR, from high art to crass commercialism, from sleek motocycle prototypes to dried squid light shades, the annual event literally offered something for everyone.

Photos by Mio Yamada

Anyone for canned sea lion curry?

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Mr. Kanso stocks an impressive collection of 350 varieties of canned goods including bear curry 

A chain of bars currently opening up in Tokyo has been getting a lot of attention for its unusual menu, which includes items such as sea lion curry and steamed Korean silkworm chrysalis. Not for the faint of stomach, Mr. Kanso, is a no-frills drinking establishment that offers an impressively diverse menu of 350 items all of which come out of a can.

The chain has its head offices in Osaka and has already been incredibly successful operating in the Kansai area. Its Shibuya branch, which opened in August, is the first Mr. Kanso in Tokyo, but in mid-November, two more stores will be opened in Yotsuya and Tamachi. Decor is quite simply a bunch of cans displayed on shelves creating a retro feel — though each store manager is free to add his/her own personal touch. Because there’s very little to do in the way of food preparation, costs are kept down and a draft beer comes very cheap at ¥350.

The cover charge at Dagashi allows you to eat as many sweets as you can

Light meals out of a can range from ¥200 to ¥2,000. The selection of canned foods come from all over the globe, but foodies willing to try something new will be keen to order dishes such as bear curry, seal curry, deer curry and sea lion curry, all of which were made in Japan.

As the trend for Showa Era nostalgia shows no sign of slowing down, bars like Mr. Kanso stand to make a tidy profit. Dagashi Bar, for instance, which opened back in 2003 in Ebisu, is now thriving with several bars around Tokyo. Dagashi bars are not only covered in Showa Era memorabilia, including movie posters and toys, they’re also stocked up with cheap sweets that were popular during that time. Table charge includes sweetie tabehodai (all you can eat), a gimmick that further encourages customers to reminisce about the good old days.

But not everyone can afford to pay table charge these days, and spit ‘n’ sawdust establishments in which customers sit on beer crates or lean against standing bars, where you sacrifice a seat in favor of cheaper drink prices have been increasingly popular in recession-hit Japan. We reckon it makes a nice change to find a bar that’s found a fresh new way to interpret cheap and cheerful.

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