Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

We are the World Cup: anthems from pitches past

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Brazil soccer fans pose with a replica of the World Cup trophy on June 11 inside a metro station near Arena Corinthians stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. | AP PHOTO

Brazil soccer fans pose with a replica of the World Cup trophy on June 11 inside a metro station near Arena Corinthians stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP PHOTO)

Japan plays its first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, against Côte d’Ivoire this weekend. Although the tournament kicks off two days earlier in São Paulo, for many the Samurai Blue’s opening game ushers in the event, along with the activities that would normally raise eyebrows but get a pass every four years, such as waking up at 2 a.m. to watch football and drinking before noon.

It will also unleash a new batch of World Cup songs that will play practically on loop for the duration of the competition, including the television network’s special theme tracks to various commercial tie-ins. And that’s just on the domestic side. Pitbull’s voice will haunt many for months to come.

World Cup-related songs have a long and interesting history, including official anthems (from superstars like Shakira down to half of Hall & Oates) and all sorts of country-specific tunes (Weezer sining for the U.S., the Village People putting on for, uh, Germany). Having qualified for their first World Cup in 1998, Japan doesn’t have the rich soccer-music history of other nations (“World Cup Willy!”), but entering their fifth cup, the country now lays claim to a handful of Cup anthems.

Here are the most noteworthy from each edition of the World Cup:

CONTINUE READING about World Cup support songs →

Ultra Hawai’i: Even superheroes need a vacation

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

oahu_1280_800

The Ultra tourists get a quick lesson before hitting the waves

In a stroke of genius, travel-deal website TravelZoo, in collaboration with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and tokustasu pioneers Tsuburaya Productions, has enlisted serious star power to promote its current Hawaii travel packages.

Targeting a wide range of would-be travelers, the “Ultra Hawai’i ” campaign follows the well-loved characters from the generation-spanning Ultra series as they engage in classic tourist activities on the main Hawaiian islands of Maui, O’ahu, Kaua’i and Hawai’i.

For a look at how the Ultra family spends its time off,  click over to the campaign site and travel along with Ultra Dad, Ultra Mom (yes, they really do exist in the series), Ultraman Taro and even their alien cohorts — the friendly, spindly-fingered creature Pigmon and the pincer-handed Alien Baltan.

Best of all, their special moments have been chronicled on their YouTube channel and set to the Ultraman theme song, played on ukelele no less.  In true Japanese fashion, they pack a lot into their vacation, which includes surfing lessons, hula dancing, poolside yoga, a friendly game of golf and a side trip to the volcanic terrain of Kīlauea, which surely must feel like a home away from their extraterrestrial home.

The campaign is both hilarious and touching in the way it humanizes the superheroes as they shoot selfies in a gelato shop and are moved by an afternoon of whale watching. In  rare moments away from the universe-saving day jobs, the family take in romantic sunsets and even Baltan Seijin, one of Ultraman’s archenemies, can put aside their differences to attend an intimate Ultra wedding on O’ahu. The beauty of Hawaii clearly brings people together.

The Ultra Hawai’i campaign runs until July 18. Oh, and there’s an island-hopping stamp rally. Collect ‘em all and get a special campaign souvenir.

Schwatch!

My little pork industry can’t be this cute: ‘Pig Farm’ and ‘Slaughterhouse’ smartphone games

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Is making a game butchering cute little pigs kimo-kawaii or just real talk? JOE Inc.’s “Yōtonjō” (“Pig Farm”) is a pig-raising simulation game with a predictable outcome. After all the vaccinating, poop scooping and keeping track of each porker’s picky eating habits, you send ‘em off, and not not on vacation.

“That’s how it works — they’re pigs after all!” The game’s copy reminds us.

 Left: Isn't it only right that each one would have its own preferences? They're pigs, after all. Devote yourself to their care. Then give thanks for the pork! Right: A chance a day! Get rare pigs in the piglet hunt! The better the pig, the higher the price it will fetch! Compete with pig farmers from around the country!

Left: Isn’t it only right that each one would have its own preferences? They’re pigs, after all. Devote yourself to their care. Then give thanks for the pork! Right: A chance a day! Get rare pigs in the piglet hunt! The better the pig, the higher the price it will fetch! Compete with pig farmers from around the country!

Here’s a look inside my pig pen:

YOUTON PIG PEN

I like how that one is sleeping with his face planted in his food. Pigtastic!

The color of the pig-pen floor is different on the right because I applied a sawdust coating to help the pigs grow faster. Where do you think I got that sawdust? I bought it, of course. Did I have enough points right off the bat for that? Of course not! “Pig Farm” is perfect for short bursts (those moments of time between checking your Twitter and Facebook at the bus stop, for example) but if you’re busy and you just want to see what kind of goofy pigs you can raise as fast as possible, or expand your pen faster, the in-game store is more than happy to take your money. Farmers who want to invest can buy points in increments ranging from 2,000 for ¥100 to 200,000 for ¥5,800.

Here are some of the fine specimens I managed to raise so far:

CONTINUE reading about JOE's "Pig Farm" app

Bump of Chicken x Hatsune Miku, plus two other ‘must-see’ J-pop music videos

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Bump of Chicken‘s seventh album, “Ray,” came out today along with the announcement of a Hatsune Miku duet remix of the titular track. It’s available now under the artist name “Bump of Chicken Feat. Hatsune Miku” on iTunes and Recochoku and is the first time the band has done a collaboration of this type. Not only that, but Crypton Future Media is producing a video using tons of new tech, including a “14 [ichiyon] model” of their virtual idol. Hatsune Miku will not be edited in later, but perform in real time with the band. Find out more details about the development process in the documentary above.

Babymetal - “Gimme Choco!”

Cuteness has never been this metal. Blending hard rock and idol pop, Babymetal has been recording since 2011, but it was only with the release of their first major album last month that they went viral. “Gimme Chocolate!!” is a tale of chocoholism that cannot be cured even though “I’ve been worried about my weight lately.”  If that particular instance of will power isn’t the most hardcore, how about this for metal? Trio member Yuimetal fell 2 meters off the stage at their Budokan show earlier this month, but was back up and performing again within minutes.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu - “Yume no Hajimarinrin”

Kyary’s popularity continues to grow, and not only in Japan. Her latest single is used in a commercial for the apartment listings company Chintai. The video, however, remains solidly in the Kyary universe, including plenty of references to her other videos. Toast clapping! How nostalgic.

Bonus: Omodaka, who engineers a quirky harmony between traditional Japanese folksongs and chip-tunes, released a new album today called “Bridge Songs.” Wonder when we can expect another amazing music video . . .

Joysound’s top 10 karaoke songs of 2013

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Karaoke titan Joysound announced the most popular songs in their catalog over the course of 2013. Let’s sing along while checking out the top 10!

10. “Tentai Kansoku” — BUMP OF CHICKEN

Approximate English title: “Astronomical Observation”
Album: “Jupiter” (2002)

9. “Hebiirotēshon” — AKB48

Approximate English title: “Heavy Rotation”
Album: “Koko ni Ita Koto” (2011)

8. “Kiseki” — GReeeeN

Approximate English title: “Miracle”
Album: “A’, domo. Ohisashiburi desu.” (2008)

7. “Eikō no Kakehashi” — Yuzu

Approximate English title: “The Bridge to Glory”

*No official video available.

Album: “1 ~ONE~” (2004)
Factoid: Was the theme song to NHK’s coverage of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

6. “Guren no Yumiya” — Linked Horizon

*No official video available.

Approximate English title: “Crimson Bow and Arrow”
Album: (The maxi-single “Jiyū e no Shingeki” just came out in July.)
Factoid: Was used as the opening theme to the first season of one of this year’s hit anime,  “Attack on Titan.”

5. “Hanamizuki” — Yo Hitoto

*No official video available.

Approximate English title: “Flowering Dogwood”
Album: “Hito Omoi” (2004)
Factoid: Was used for commercials and themes including “Kayō Sasupensu Gekijō” on NHK.

4. “Chiisa na Koi no Uta” — MONGOL800

*The only official video is a special tie-up with Pocky and Space Shower TV.

Approximate English title: “A Little Love Song”
Album: “MESSAGE” (2001)

3. “Senbonzakura” — Whiteflame feat. Hatsune Miku

English title: “A Thousand Cherry Blossoms”
Album: “5th Best Anniversary” (2013)
Factoid: The member of Whiteflame who created this song (using Hatsune Miku Vocaloid software) is Kurousa-P.

2. “Zankoku no Tenshi no Tēze” — Yoko Takahashi

*The only official video is a live cover by MAX.

English title: “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”
Album: “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (1995)
Factoid: The theme song to the hugely popular anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” which originally aired in 1995-1996 and has spawned an ongoing feature film reboot.

1. “Memeshikute” — Golden Bomber

Approximate English title: “Effeminate”
Album: “Gōruden Besuto ~Pressure~” (2010)

Does it surprise anyone that the Evangelion theme is up there so high? A more pertinent question might be, were there any karaoke parties where that song was not sung? I don’t think I’ve heard anyone do “Memeshikute,” but I can see how it would get the room pumped up.

As a bonus here are the top 10 Western songs of 2013:

10. “We Are the World” — USA for Africa

9. “I Want It That Way” — The Backstreet Boys

8. “A Whole New World” — Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle

7. “Top of the World” — The Carpenters

6. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” — Aerosmith

5. “My Heart Will Go On” — Celine Dion

4. “What Makes You Beautiful” — One Direction

3. “Live While We’re Young” — One Direction

2. “We Are Never Getting Back Together” — Taylor Swift

1. “Call Me Maybe” — Carly Rae Jepsen

So Japan didn’t escape the “Call Me Maybe” wave, but they leave Bieber in the dust and favor One Direction? Hmm, hmm…

Which song did you sing the most in 2013?

All approximate translations approximated by the writer! See the rest of Joysound’s variously categorized “top” lists here and thanks to My Game News Flash for the tip.

The cutest little whitehead, Kakusen-kun

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Yeah, you’ve heard it a hundred times: Japan’s weird. “They had that bagel head thing,” you may say (which was never a “thing,” actually). Well, Japan has once again come up with something that will get under your skin, only this time it’s actually a “thing” broadcasted on national television.

It’s an animated series called “Nyuru Nyuru!! Kakusen-kun” (nyuru nyuru being the sound of something squeezing out of somewhere), which follows a newly formed whitehead (kakusen in Japanese) during his adventures living on the surface of a human nose. The two-minute show is supposed to be an obscure comedy that occasionally drops some skin care tips. The characters try their best to survive attacks by pore strips and face mites, which is more kimoi than kawaii. Popular idol group Dempagumi.inc sings the theme song, adding to the buzz factor.

While we certainly appreciate the cuteness and fidelity of having an 8-year-old boy play the young protagonist, rather than an older girl (as is the practice in many anime shows), it is pretty strange to hear him saying stuff like, “I wonder how much money I’d have to spend to get that lady-whitehead to go out with me,” about a beauty queen contest-winning zit, or learning to appreciate the lashes of her whip later on.

If curiosity has gotten the best of you, check out more videos here.

Inside Nazo Tomo Cafe

Friday, August 16th, 2013

The other day we brought up the nazo toki (puzzle solving) trend that appears to be building even further with the appearance of Nazo Tomo Cafe in Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku’s Theatre Cybird. Though I’ve played “Professor Layton” and used to get a kick out of logic exercises as a kid, I can’t say I am “good” at puzzle solving, so it took some guts for me to walk into the quirky pop-up cafe.

I thought I would warm up with a “cup dessert,” a perilously sweet parfait-like affair with heart-shaped cake, generous amounts of whipped cream, marshmallows, cornflakes, etc., but my true warm-up was the puzzle that came with it.

nazo

Strawberry sauce cup dessert ¥500

The event is put on in collaboration with a romance sim mobile game for girls by Cybird (under the same company group that runs the theatre space) called “Ikemen Oukyū Mayonaka no Shinderera” (something like “Hottie Royal Palace: Midnight Cinderella” in English). In the cafe puzzle, you’re a princess 30 minutes before a ball and you’ve received a letter announcing a crime will occur. However, the message is in code, so you need to get hints from the game’s handsome young men to discover what the criminal is after.

coaster

Coaster prize featuring Leo from “Hottie Royal Palace: Midnight Cinderella”

Now is perhaps a good time to note that you can’t expect to do any of this without good working knowledge of Japanese. The code itself is written in katakana, but you need to be able to read and understand the instructions, too. And don’t waste precious puzzling time looking for furigana. Of course, even though my Japanese was cutting it, the other parts of my mind were embarrassingly dull. Luckily the staff are friendly and will give you further hints until you feel almost as if you solved it yourself — definitely the reason for the 100 percent pass rate compared to the actual missions, of which when I went most did not reach 20 percent.

After picking up my prize coaster, I decided to pass on the rest of the side mission in order to get down to the real business at hand. I wanted to get inside one of those “mission cubes”!

The main draw of Nazo Tomo Cafe is not the cafe at all, but the puzzles awaiting inside each of the six mission cubes. Participation costs ¥1,000. Having never played a Real Escape Game or solved any similar real-life puzzles, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but more in the mood for science fiction than murder or romance, I picked mission six, “Taimu Mashin 765~Mirai wo Sukue~” (“Time Machine 765: Save the future!”).

[Mild spoilers ahead]

Led up some stairs to a short hallway-like room, I was told not to touch anything until after the countdown started. All the puzzles are designed to be solved within 765 seconds (a number too close to na-mu-ko in Japanese, i.e. producer Namco, to be a coincidence), but I knew at first glance it would be impossible for me alone. After a short video explaining (in Japanese with Japanese captions) how the world would end as the culmination of a series of unfortunate events beginning with some guy stubbing his toe, I was faced with a seven-step brain teaser with no hints in sight. How would I push the button to save the planet from certain doom? One of the steps involved playing the Japanese word game “Shiritori,” an example of how cultural fluency can matter as much as the linguistic kind.

[End mild spoilers]

Of course, once I had failed magnificently I thought of various ways I could have tried to proceed in a swifter, more orderly fashion, but so it goes. If nothing else, know that this is not a pencil-pushing game; you’ll be pacing your cube, manipulating objects and hopefully talking things through with your friends along the way.

That’s why it’s called “Puzzle Friend Cafe.” Even just two heads are better than one, so don’t be like me showing up alone. The staff will welcome you gladly (one of them confessed player numbers had decreased a bit since they opened on July 31), but you’ll have more fun, and more of a chance for success, with a pal or five (it seems up to six can play together). I paid once and received a free ticket to try another day, so maybe I’ll see if I can round up a posse for sometime next month; although the cafe closes briefly starting Aug. 25, round two runs Sept. 6-23.

Nazo toki trend goes mainstream

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

The Nazo Tomo Cafe in Daikanyama

The Nazo Tomo Cafe in Daikanyama

A pop-up shop with a difference appeared on the fashionable streets of Shibuya last month. Open until Aug. 25, and again between Sept. 6 and Sept 23, the Nazo Tomo Cafe is a mystery waiting to be solved. Inside, for ¥1,000, customers can team up with strangers or friends to solve a puzzle of their choice. For us the appearance of this cafe is an indication that the trend for real-life puzzle games is really booming.

It all started back in 2008 when SCRAP introduced The Real Escape Game. A real-life version of popular escape games for the PC, players are trapped in a room and have to figure out clues in order to free themselves within a time limit. The idea of making these virtual rooms a physical reality was hugely popular and really took off in Japan. Indeed, SCRAP has even exported the game overseas, holding their first event in San Francisco last December.

Part of the success of the game could be due to the social aspect — players have to collaborate to escape in time. Indeed, as with paint balling, companies sign up employees to play as a team-building exercise. The idea of solving puzzles in a real-life, real-time setting has clearly taken off. Escape games are now held all over the country by a number of different companies. Different kinds of puzzle games have also begun to become popular (for example, games in which teams hunt for treasure) and amusement parks have become popular venues for these larger-scale events.

Sites like Nazo Toki provide information on upcoming events around the country. Indeed, the word nazo toki (puzzle solving) now appears to refer to the wider range of puzzle games that includes escape games. Nazo Tomo Cafe reflects this diversification and the games on offer vary to suit all tastes. Choices include diffusing a bomb or a murder mystery, as well as the classic room escape game.

Produced by Namco and managed by the Nazo Tomo website, Nazo Tomo Cafe has some impressive backing behind it — perhaps an indication that big name companies want to get in on the nazo toki trend. Check back soon for our hands-on report!

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