Archive for the ‘Otaku culture’ Category

Hitting the mark at the Miraikan’s ninja exhibition

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

By Jon Ginsburg

Thanks in large part to some teenage turtles and video game culture, ninja are no long hidden in the shadows and known worldwide. The nimble masters of stealth and subterfuge are also experiencing a bit of a comeback in their homeland.

The ninja came into the spotlight at the Group of Seven summit, which was held in Mie Prefecture in May. Iga, a city in Mie that also happens to be “the hometown of ninja,” pounced on the promotional opportunity and had the troupe Iga-Ninja Group Ashura showcase ninja skills and explain their tools and techniques for the summit’s visitors.

Also in 2016, Aichi Prefecture advertised that it would be hiring ninja to promote tourism, as well as its historic Nagoya Castle. No doubt inspired by the upcoming tourism bonanza, culminating with the 2020 Olympics, this campaign will feature ninja performing acrobatic stunts, using their signature shuriken throwing stars and, of course, posing for pictures with tourists.

For the next three months, Tokyo residents and tourists alike can get the full ninja experience at Odaiba’s Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. On July 2, their latest special exhibition — “The Ninja: Who Were They?” — opened to the public.

Three uniquely constructed fire arrows sit in one of the exhibition’s multiple a display cases. Despite its misleading name, fire arrows were actually the world’s first rockets.

Three uniquely constructed fire arrows sit in one of the exhibition’s multiple a display cases. Despite its misleading name, fire arrows were actually the world’s first rockets. (Jon Ginsburg)

On the media preview day, I had a chance to experience it firsthand. Before venturing into the show’s interactive areas, I perused the historical displays and ninja-related artifacts near the entrance. These ranged from different types of shuriken (there are a variety of kinds, believe it or not) to other weapons and tools of the trade, including grapples, iron claws and fire arrows, to name just a few.

The exhibition also contains installations that provide insight into the ninja ways of life and explain survival strategies, such as methods of concealment and secret codes.

What sets this exhibition apart is its interactive component. Visitors — be they children or adults — can test their skills to determine whether or not they have what it takes to be a ninja.

The tiptoe challenge shows no mercy! Hearts sink as the wailing of sirens stationed on either side of the wooden floor force challengers to return to the starting line.

The tiptoe challenge shows no mercy! Hearts sink as the wailing of sirens stationed on either side of the wooden floor force challengers to return to the starting line. (Jon Ginsburg)

The first exercise I tried consisted of jumping over boxes representing sunflowers. Naturally, no self-respecting ninja would leave bent flowers in his wake. While it sounds easy, it’s not merely a matter of jumping high. You have to use your head.

My confidence soared after this first task. I thought I was well on my way to becoming a ninja . . . until I reached the dreaded tiptoe challenge. Participants must silently tiptoe across a wooden floor without triggering sensors that set off alarms. This challenge was easily the most frustrating. My advice to future challengers is to stay on your toes, and don’t let your heels hit the floor.

The shuriken target practice proved to be a fan-favorite among the exhibition’s younger visitors. Kids perfected their throwing accuracy by tossing countless ninja stars at the wall’s illuminated bullseyes.

The shuriken target practice proved to be a fan-favorite among the exhibition’s younger visitors. Kids perfected their throwing accuracy by tossing countless ninja stars at the wall’s illuminated bullseyes. (Jon Ginsburg)

I took another beating at the shuriken target wall. Since throwing accuracy is one of my athletic strengths, I assumed that I would excel at this challenge. Unfortunately, my overconfidence proved to be my downfall. Maybe it was my one-out-of-five hit rate, or maybe it was seeing children half my size hitting the targets more often, but I definitely came up small during this task.

If, as I did, you discover that you lack the right stuff to become a ninja, there are two photo opportunities that might make you feel better. You can attach your head to an animated figure’s body, via the old face-in-photo-wall trick, or visit a light display that shows your digital ninja silhouette. Strike a pose, and the silhouette may even grow or multiply.

“The Ninja: Who Were They?” is an ideal exhibition for those seeking a more interactive museum experience. The history of these Japanese espionage experts is fascinating, but what’s not to love about a show that tests your mad ninja skills?

See City Guide article on “The Ninja: Who Were They?” for details.

AKB48 spends summer vacation at USJ

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan is getting a new attraction this summer. It’s not a new roller coaster — instead it’s the members of everyone’s favorite J-pop cluster, AKB48.

During a special show on June 2 at USJ, the band announced that certain members will be performing not for one day, not for two days, but for over a month straight.

Visitors will be able to see the girls in the flesh from July 21 through Sept. 4, just in time for summer vacation for students. (No word on whether or not middle-age salarymen will be able to take off work to cheer on their favorite members.)

The daily show will feature 16 girls from its gaggle of singers, including Mayu Watanabe and Haruna Kojima, as they form the limited-time only “USJ48.” If that isn’t enough, concerts will also share the stage with members from sister groups from around Japan, including NMB48, HKT48 and NGT48.

Make sure to line up early this summer as groups of fans will surely make the trip from Akihabara to Osaka.

Pokémon catches nostalgia fever for its 20th anniversary

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

It’s hard to believe, but Pokémaniacs have been trying to catch ’em all for two decades. Nintendo and the Pokémon Company are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Pokémon with a year full of new products, re-releases and huge doses of nostalgia around the world.

Up first is a re-release of the very first Game Boy games (“Red,” “Blue,” “Green” and “Yellow”), which will be available for purchase on “Pokémon Day,” Feb. 27, exactly 20 years since their initial launch. Trainers can download digital copies of the game for their Nintendo 3DS or 2DS, or they can buy a special edition of the Nintendo 2DS.

The anniversary bundle comes with either a copy of

The anniversary bundle comes with either a copy of “Red,” “Green,” “Blue” or “Yellow.”

The anniversary bundle comes with a colored, clear-plastic handheld system, a digital copy of the game, stickers, a town map and a code to download the legendary Pokémon Mew. Those wanting something a little more modern should check out the other games coming to the Wii U and smartphones later this year.

If the original game’s 8-bit music doesn’t hold up, you can always hear an orchestrated version of the Pokémon soundtrack in person with the Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions concert.

The North American show will feature a live orchestra performing many fan favorites from various entries in the series. Currently the website only features a listing for St. Louis of all places, but promises more dates and locations in the future.

And when there is a Pokémon celebration, there must be gratuitous amounts of Pokémon swag. U.S. fans can buy a variety of 20th anniversary apparel, featuring a special logo, along with an updated version of “Pokémon: The First Movie.” There will also be limited edition trading cards, featuring some of the original Pocket Monsters, as well as Kyoto-themed toys to commemorate the newest Pokémon Center in Japan’s ancient capital.

For some gamers, this will definitely pull up memories of watching the cartoon after school and demanding that Mom buy new batteries for the Game Boy. If you’re one of them, feel free to join the nostalgia fest with the #Pokemon20 hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. Post your favorite moments and memories from the Pokémon series, whether it’s Red picking his first Pocket Monster or watching your own kids join the Pokémon fandom. Users are also posting artwork and other DIY projects to the hashtag.

So whether you did indeed catch them all or if you were just content with only Pikachu, the 20th anniversary of Pokémon celebration will have something to make you feel like a kid again.

Studio Ghibli on a roll with licenses for new toys

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

If you’re still wound up about Studio Ghibli more-or-less leaving the animation industry, there are some new toys that may help ease the pain.

Toy company Nibariki has a new “pullback collection” of figurines that will race forward when wound up. Certain items are downright adorable while others are just creepy crawlers.

On the cute side, Nibariki has three “My Neighbor Totoro” vehicles, including the blue vehicle that Mei and Satsuki cling to during moving day, and the city bus their father takes to work. (Sorry, no Catbus though.) There is also a wooden buggy made from a tree that’s driven by a Totoro.

The new toys based on Studio Ghibli's movies are both darling and disgusting.

The new toys based on Studio Ghibli’s movies are both darling and disgusting.

On the gross side, there are the huge worm monsters from “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” that roll with such realistic movements that it may bug you out. And just like in the movie, the red-eyed beasts will dart forward while blue-eyed ones go at a much slower speed.

All items are available on Ensky Shop’s website and cost ¥2,300, making the perfect stocking stuffer this season for your anime-loving friends.

‘Japan Sumo Cup’ is possibly the most Japanese thing ever

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Do you like sumo? Into horse racing? Longtime fan of “Street Fighter”? Well, then do we have a game to match your specific and varied interests.

Japan Sumo Cup” is a free web-based game that — prepare yourself — lets you play as real sumo wrestlers riding actual horses from the Japan Racing Association while competing against characters from “Street Fighter.”

No, this isn’t a joke. The Japan Racing Association developed the game with the Japan Sumo Association and Capcom to help promote an upcoming race on Nov. 29, and also created the most Japanese thing in quite some time.

In this rhythm game, players can choose from different sumo wrestlers and then compete against characters from Capcom’s popular fighting series, including Blanka, Guile and M. Bison. The best part is that there are many nods to “Street Fighter” in “Japan Sumo Cup,” such as Dhalsim riding an elephant instead of a horse.

Each fighter’s stage comes with a remixed version of their background music from the original game, and they even perform their signature moves when the race gets close. Ryu shoots out his Hadouken blast and Chun-Li does her Spinning Bird Kick.

Ryu gets an extra speed boost by shooting out one of his Hadouken blasts.

Ryu gets an extra speed boost with one of his Hadouken blasts.

In order to win, players have to tap the arrow buttons on their keyboards at the right moments to rack up combos and win the race. Since the beats match the music from “Street Fighter,” old-school players who have the original soundtrack burned into their brains will have a leg up on the competition.

With this game, the JRA and Sumo Association, long the pastimes of elderly men, are clearly trying to reach out to the next generation. It kind of reminds us of when JRA put QR codes on betting tickets in 2002 or when the Sumo Association held “gokon” matchmaking events at one of its matches.

You can place your bets now on whether or not this joint venture pays off.

“Japan Sumo Cuo” can be played for free online. The site says that more characters will be unlocked later this week.

Sharp dials up the fan service to celebrate 20 years of ‘Evangelion’

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

For those who have always dreamed of owning an Evangelion robot, this might be the closest you get.

Just in time for the 20th anniversary of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”  a mecha lover's wet dream (Kyodo photo)

Just in time for the 20th anniversary of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” a mecha lover’s wet dream (Kyodo photo)

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the popular “Neon Genesis Evangelion” animated series, Sharp is releasing a special smartphone that pays homage to the show both in the device’s hardware and software.

The phone itself is detailed in purple and green with a backside decorated with an Evangelion mech. Naturally the phone’s custom interface echoes the show’s iconic purple and green coloring. For the extra devout, there’s a special themed phone cover.

Perhaps the biggest fanboy perk is 365 different wallpapers that feature illustrations and concept art from the show. Its calendar app will reveal a new wallpaper each day of the year. In addition, the phone will have original character voices and sound effects from the anime.

“Evangelion” fans can apply for the phone, which costs a hefty ¥84,240, at 7-Elevens nationwide on Nov. 2 (or register online). Make sure to suit up and grab yours because the company only plans to make 30,000 units, to be divvied out in December (5,000) and April (25,000).

Pokemon ages ungracefully with middle-aged ‘Ojisan Monsters’

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

ojimon1

Someday Pikachu and friends will have to stop following Ash Ketchum around the world, retire from battling and get a real job.

That’s part of idea behind “Ojimon,” a new mobile game that is a portmanteau of ojisan (middle-aged man) and Pokemon. Using “ojiballs,” players can catch aging pocket monsters, who have disturbing Kobito Dukan-like faces, and make them do their bidding.

Players can put their new Ojimon to work in gold mines and construction sites, but they’ll need pay attention: These Poke-oldies have a tendency to doze off on the job but can be woken with a quick jab on the touch screen. If enough gold is harvested, players can build roads to the next town and find new Ojimon to catch.

ojimon2

The game includes the original 150 Pokemon, with graying versions of Charizard, Haunter and Gyarados. Even though it’s not as exciting as battling wild monsters, your Ojimon can still gain experience points through their menial labor and evolve into more powerful forms, albeit with the same sad, unshaven faces.

For an extra laugh (or to avoid copyright infringement), all of the monsters have been given punny names. For example, Fushigidane (Bulbasaur) has been renamed Oyajidane.

“Ojimon” is available for free on Android and iOS.

Load up YouTube because it’s morphin’ time!

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Summon your Megazord because the Power Rangers are heading to YouTube — and it’s all in Japanese.

power-rangers

The Rangers are back.

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” was a hit children’s show back in the ‘90s that featured campy acting, ridiculous monsters and possibly the best theme song of all time. It was actually based on the long-running “Super Sentai” TV series in Japan, with the Western version featuring American actors mixed with action sequences from Japan.

Toei is now celebrating “Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger,” the season that was adapted into “Power Rangers,” by releasing episodes of the Japanese show online every Sunday. Beginning this June, Toei will post two episodes on its YouTube channel that is dedicated to its “special effects” action shows.

Viewers who grew up with the “Power Rangers” will finally have the chance to see the Japanese counterpart of their favorite show — and there are a lot of differences. For example, in the Japanese show, the Pink and Green Rangers never dated; the Red and Green Rangers were actually brothers; and the Yellow Ranger was a dude!

Oh, and another minor plot change. The Rangers weren’t simply “teenagers with attitude” navigating high school but instead ancient tribal warriors that once co-existed with dinosaurs.

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