December 31, 2008

I watched the whole thing

Sorted alphabetically and not a definitive list. I'm referring only to series and movies that fit into the arc of the series.

  • Ah! My Goddess (first season)
  • Oh! My Goddess (the Ah! My Goddess remake more closely follows the manga, which means it runs into the problems I describe here; Oh! My Goddess neatly sews everything up in a half-a-dozen episodes)
  • Alien Nine (elementary school kids saving the Earth from an alien invasion; warning: the anime ends right smack dab in the middle of the story)
  • Angelic Layer (basically "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em" robots with really cute marionettes; one of those rinse & repeat sports/mecha series, but it works)
  • Clannad (another fine addition to Kyoto Animation's line of game-based Y/A psychological melodrama; should be watched along with Clannad: After Story)
  • Ceres, Celestial Legend (mediocre animation, great story)
  • Elfen Lied (the opening ten minutes may be some of the blood-spatteringest ever, but I still recommend it)
  • Eureka Seven (a sort of mecha version of Last Exile)
  • FLCL (proving just how far outside the box an animator's mind can operate)
  • Full Metal Panic FUMOFFU (proving just how fun dumb can be) and Second Raid.
  • Gankutsuou (The Count of Monte Cristo, 2-D CG at its inventive best)
  • Geneshaft
  • Genshiken (an actual "adult" comedy--that is, a comedy about geeky college students who mostly act their age; compares well to CBS's Big Bang Theory)
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (both seasons and the SAC movie; best cyberpunk series ever, worth watching for the Tachikoma segments alone)
  • Gokusen (these "reformed gangbanger" series are very popular, but create the impression that Japanese society is about 1000 times more violent than it really is)
  • Haibane Renmei
  • Hellsing (original series; imagine that "evil Angel" worked for the good guys)
  • His and Her Circumstances (one of the best high school romances ever, until it self-destructed over what I've read were creative differences between the writer and director)
  • Ikki Tousen
  • Initial D (first season; repeats itself thereafter)
  • Kamichu!
  • Kanon (an ingenious reinvention of the harem genre as psychological drama)
  • Kodocha (season one)
  • Last Exile (any kid who loved the dogfighting sequences in Star Wars will love this; similar "look and feel" to Castle in the Sky)
  • Mahoromatic (I actually didn't mind the ending, though it's clear nobody knew how to end it)
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (I hope they include the whole dance routine as a future DVD extra; update: they do)
  • Midori Days
  • (Seirei no) Moribito (an alternate Heian Era universe with an honest-to-goodness adult female protagonist)
  • My Hime (stay tuned for the hilariously ribald fan service extras at the end of each episode)
  • My Otome Hime
  • Noein (a serious treatment of time-travel causality and the quantum many-world hypothesis, though it tries a bit too hard to qualify as "hard" SF)
  • Patlabor (old and new and the movies)
  • Ranma 1/2 (first season)
  • Samurai 7 (yes, based on the Kurosawa classic)
  • Scrapped Princess
  • Sherlock Hound
  • Shingu, Secret of the Stellar Wars
  • Simoun (does a good job of creating a convincing single-gender universe, with some time-travel causality thrown in)
  • Someday's Dreamers (I love the idea of treating witches as ordinary social workers on the government payroll)
  • Strawberry Marshmallow (don't let the cute title and cute characters dissuade you; it's plotless and character-driven, but great fun, often poignant, and insightful)
  • Tank Police (original series)
  • The Twelve Kingdoms
  • This Ugly Yet Beautiful World (more fan service from the people who brought you Mahoromatic, but a smart plot makes it work)
  • Tweeny Witches
  • Video Girl Ai (in which the hero literally craws across cut glass for love)
  • Witch Hunter Robin (more witches as government employees, though with a darker X-Files vibe)
  • Witchblade (the Japanese version gives us an over-the-top sexy supermom with a kid and pulls it off; the relationship between Masane and Rihoko is the best part of the series)

Why some series didn't make the cut.

Related posts

Anime horror
The birds, bees, and the trees
Miyazaki's European flying arc
Play ball!
A slice of Japanese life

Labels: , , , , ,

December 30, 2008

"Peanuts" as manga characters

Labels: , ,

December 27, 2008

Chapter 4 (Dreaming of Paradise)

大司寇 [だいしこう] Daishikou; head of the Ministry of Fall (Department of Justice)

Labels: ,

December 23, 2008


I mentioned previously that Kiyoshi Hikawa is an enka singer. In Japan, the enka singer occupies the same musical and cultural space as the smoke-filled nightclub blues singer, albeit with lush orchestration emphasizing the pentatonic scale, and expressively rendered torch songs as the primary material.

The good introduction to enka can be found at Barbara's Enka Site. Two of my favorite singers are Kaori Kouzai and Sayuri Ishikawa. Ishikawa's rendering of Minato Uta ("Harbor Song") is perhaps the quintessential example of the genre. (Listen to an excerpt here.)

The showcase for J-Pop and enka is the "Red and White Singing Contest," a marathon concert held every New Year's Eve and broadcast on NHK. The current enka sensation making his debut this year is Jero (Jerome Charles White, Jr.), a Japanese-African-American singer.

Sayuri Ishikawa and Kiyoshi Hikawa are also scheduled to perform. I'll be watching.

Labels: , , ,

December 20, 2008

Chapter 3 (Dreaming of Paradise)

高斗 [こうと] Kouto ("Big Dipper")
栄祝 [えいしゅく] Eishuku (glorious celebration)

昇山 [しょうざん] Shouzan (ascend + mountain); when a dynasty end, the prospective candidates make an arduous journey to Mt. Hou, where they are chosen by the kirin. This is known as the Shouzan. Risai rails against it in chapter 40 of The Shore in Twilight.

The Rishi (里祠) is the sacred building in the center of every city where the riboku tree (里木) is enshrined. See chapter 53 of Shadow of the Moon. Raising the flag over the Rishi indicates the inauguration of a new regime.

The implications of a student "filling his card" are explained in chapter 3 of Pen-pals.

Labels: ,

December 18, 2008

Japanese book sizes

These are the standard book sizes used in Japan by manga and mass-market paperbacks. All formats are perfect bound, with removable, wrap-around, glossy color covers. Bound Japanese manga (tankouban) have black-and-white interiors, though often with color inserts.

Online retailers like Amazon-Japan and Honto are constrained by laws prohibiting deep retail discounting, so these prices reflect what's actually printed on the back covers. (They compete on shipping, which doesn't help overseas buyers. BK1 offers SAL and Amazon doesn't. Overseas buyers also don't pay sales tax.)

A6: 10.5 x 14.8 cm (4 x 6 inches)

Used for "light novels," pocket paperbacks of all genres, and omnibus manga compilations. The girl's series, Kujira no Oyako ("Mother Whale and Child"), was originally printed in Ko B-ban, and then re-released in A6 in half as many volumes. Anywhere from 150 to 600 pages. Retail prices in the $4.00 to $7.50 range.

Ko B-ban: 11.2 x 17.4 cm (4.5 x 7 inches)

("Small B6.") The preferred mass-market format for high-volume, low-cost manga. Compilations sold by major publishers such as Shogakukan and Shueisha (both owned by the ginormous Hitotsubashi Group) use ko B-ban for their quick, out-the-door first editions. Averages 150 to 200 pages. Retail prices in the $3.50 to $4.50 range.

JIS B6: 12.8 x 18.2 cm (5 x 7.25 inches)

("Japanese Industrial Standards.") A midsized manga format used for upscale trade and "quality" manga. Popular among more specialized publishers--such as Kadokawa, which concentrates on horror/SF--who sell into popular but defined niche markets. Averages 200 to 250 pages. Retail prices in the $5.00 to $6.00 range.

A5: 14.8 x 21 cm (5.75 x 8.25 inches)

Special editions of popular manga such as Ghost in the Shell are printed in A5 with color inserts. At the other end of the spectrum, for publishers of narrowly-targeted content such as yuri, the higher cover prices--in the $8.00 to $10.00 range--yield higher margins on smaller runs. Anywhere from 150 to 350 pages.

JIS B5: 18.2 x 25.7 cm (7.25 X 10 inches)

The standard size for periodicals.

Another caveat about pricing is that long novels are often sold in multiple volumes, rather than in the boat anchor sizes common in the U.S. So in terms of total pages, longer books will price out about the same as in the U.S.

Labels: , , , ,

December 16, 2008

Selling "Twilight" in Japan (update)

Twilight was first published in two A6 volumes (4 x 6 inches), with the original cover art. The three-volume sets, illustrated by mangaka Ryuuji Gotsubo, are in JIS B6 (5 x 7.25 inches).

Labels: , , ,

December 15, 2008

The actual value of the written word

The Dear Author blog documents an attempt by a major New York publisher (Macmillan) to suppress trends in ebook pricing by charging exorbitant amounts (hardcover prices) for ebook versions.

When Georges Santayana said, "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it," he was referring to history, not stuff that happened last week. The lessons learned by the music industry--if they've been learned at all--are apparently too fresh to be heeded.

I believe that at the heart of the music piracy problem was the realization among the first of the "wired" baby boomers that they'd been paying over and over for the same products. I'm old enough to have owned exactly the same tracks on vinyl, cassette, CD, and MP3.

All legitimately paid for, I should add. But once you instill in your customer base the belief that they're being ripped off--literally sold the same bill of goods over and over--the guilt-free impulse to rip you off in turn increases and spreads exponentially.

Publishers would rather complain about piracy than address a lousy business model. For example, despite Japan's inefficient retail sector and higher fixed costs, paperbacks printed and sold in Japan are often cheaper than in the U.S., with better binding quality.

Long before ebooks, something was seriously out of whack with the U.S. book business.

Take the problem of returns. In Japan, the author doesn't get an advance but is paid a royalty on the number of books printed. Think about how that one difference would affect the whole economic thinking of authors, agents and publishers.

(Robert Whiting's comments on getting published in the U.S. and Japan can be found in the August 2006 issue of Number One Shimbun, the newsletter of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.)

The digital revolution forces publishers to come to terms with the actual value of the written word or recorded note. The music industry made a ton of money thanks to a flurry of format shifts--not new ideas--and now Hollywood is doing the same thing.

And like real estate speculators riding a bubble, they thought the ride would never end. Seth Godin sums up the problem succinctly:

Businesses live in ecosystems. A series of rules and assumptions that, taken together, make a thriving mechanism . . . We get stuck because we believe that the rules of our ecosystem are permanent and transferable. In fact, they are almost always temporary and rarely transferable.

Because "the rules of this new business didn't match the rules of the existing business," publishers still think they're in the paper products business, not in the storytelling and information business. Until they realize otherwise, the situation isn't likely to change.

Labels: , , , , ,

December 13, 2008

Chapter 2 (Dreaming of Paradise)

朱夏 [しゅか] Shuka (crimson summer); the Sai Minister of Earth, or Daishito (大司徒)
馴行 [じゅんこう] Junkou (tamed journey)

Labels: ,

December 11, 2008


The theory behind "spaced repetition" is quite simple. When memorizing material using flashcards, cards you know are repeated less often, and the ones you don't more often. Sebastian Leitner developed the algorithms to mechanize this process, and Piotr Wozniak incorporated them in a program called SuperMemo.

Damien Elmes has written an implementation called Anki ("memorization") based on Wozniak's SuperMemo algorithms. The free download includes JLPT vocabulary levels 2-4. User-generated sets in many languages can be downloaded here. Flashcards can also be individually created or imported from Unicode text files.

Anki is available for Windows, Mac OSX, Debian/Ubuntu, iPhone/iPod touch, Zaurus and Windows Mobile. A similar free program is Mnemosyne.

Labels: , , ,

December 09, 2008

Understanding Japanese women (and introverts)

Browsing through David Radtke's Understanding Japanese Women blog—which isn't as Orientalist as it sounds—it becomes clear that as much as Japanese women, Radtke is attempting to communicate an understanding of introverts.

I often found myself laughing out loud at his advice. Not because it's wrong. But because most of it applies equally well to me, a white American male and grade-A introvert. To illustrate, I'll tweak a few excerpts from various posts:

Right now you could be destroying your romance with your [introvert]. How? By clinging to [him] too much.

Remember, calm politeness [for an introvert] is one way of distancing [himself] from others. If your [introvert] is acting very polite and not warm and loving, [he] is actually putting up a barrier between you.

[Introverts] prefer to quietly deal with bad situations rather than to verbalize their disapproval. This works in arguments as well.

[Introverts] yearn to have a marriage where unspoken understanding becomes the normal way to "communicate."

In conclusion, [introverts] just prefer to have less and less conversation as the relationship progresses deeper and deeper.

I'm not at all surprised by this confusion of culture and personality. As Jonathan Rauch observed in his landmark Atlantic essay on being an introvert in an extroverted world:

Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand, because extroverts spend so much of their time working out who they are in voluble, and frequently inescapable, interaction with other people. But the street does not run both ways. Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion.

It's possible that, limited to his wife (and girlfriends), Radtke's sociology suffers from a too-small sample size. But if a quarter of the American population is "introverted" (Rauch's guess), then by American standards, I can imagine a 75/25 split in the opposite direction in Japan.

After all, from 1603 to the mid-19th century, Japan officially declared along with Sartre that "Hell is other people." The battle cry leading to the overthrow of the Tokugawa regime was Son'nou Joui! "Revere the Emperor! Expel the barbarians!"

The Edo period now holds a place in popular culture similar to that of the old American West. The classic Japanese geezer rant is how great things were before them dang "Black Ships" (referring to Commodore Perry's 1852–1854 mission to Japan) showed up.

The difference is that Radtke is willing to admit that different can indeed be good (though it might take some getting used to). But back here in the good old U.S.A., Rauch points out, introversion is diagnosed as a disease to be cured—with more extroversion.

If you think that, then "you are probably driving [your introvert] nuts."

Related posts

Life is a sim
Up with introverts
Useful Japanese stereotypes

Labels: , , ,

December 06, 2008

Chapter 1 (Dreaming of Paradise)

華胥華朶 [かしょかだ] Kasho Kada ("the resplendent branch of Kasho")
長閑宮 [ちょうかんきゅう] Choukan Palace (long leisure)
揖寧 [ていねい] Yuunei (assembled politeness)
砥尚 [ししょう] Shishou ("esteemed whetstone")
扶王 [ふおう] The Late King Fu (support)
才州国  [さいしゅうこく] The Kingdom of Sai (genius)
采麟揺籃 [さいりんようらん] Sairin Youran

The word kasho (華胥) comes from the legendary Chinese "Yellow Emperor" (黄帝) who dreamed of a utopian "Land of Kasho" (華胥の国). The expression, "To holiday in the kingdom of the people of Kasho," now means "to enjoy a pleasant siesta."

Labels: ,

December 05, 2008

Libertarianism at Tor Books

Good article about how a publisher deals with open ideological bias: "First comes the story," says publisher and founder Tom Doherty. The only goal is to "do a story in a way that's honest."

Labels: , ,

December 03, 2008

Finding Free Books

Finding Free Books is a blog about, well, finding free ebooks. According to the site description, "This blog will list websites LEGALLY distributing free ebooks, mostly novel length fiction." The Path of Dreams gets a recent mention. Submissions (of links, not manuscripts) are encouraged.

Labels: , ,

December 01, 2008

Anne Shirley explains "Twilight"

In Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery nicely sums up the attraction of Edward Cullen. And (retroactively) improves on the conceit in several respects. In this scene from the prosaically titled Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel, Kevin Sullivan hews closely to the original text as Anne explains her own predilections:

ANNE: Oh, it seems so funny and horrible to think of Diana marrying Fred. Doesn't it?

MARILLA: What is so horrible about it?

ANNE: Well he certainly isn't the wild, dashing young man Diana used to want to marry. Fred is extremely good.

MARILLA: That is exactly what he should be. Would you want to marry a wicked man?

ANNE: Well, I wouldn't marry anyone who was really wicked, but I think I'd like it if he could be wicked and wouldn't. [Montgomery places the above line here: "Now, Fred is hopelessly good."]

MARILLA: You'll have more sense someday, I hope.

Yep, nothing poisons a romantic fantasy faster than the prospect of a boyfriend who's hopelessly good.

Sullivan then illustrates this axiom by mostly inventing the character of Morgan Harris (Frank Converse), as a wealthy, dashing scoundrel who could be wicked but isn't. Of course, in the end Anne chooses Gilbert, the "boy next door." Gilbert, though, is in medical school, and they postpone the wedding until he earns his M.D.

The bulk of the material in Sullivan's second adaptation comes from Anne of Windy Poplars, the fourth book in the series. In L.M. Montgomery's version, Anne has by then earned her teacher's certificate and her B.A., and is the principal of the school. The sour, cynical Katherine Brooke is one of her teachers.

Sullivan's condensation created a timeline that couldn't account for the ten years that actually elapse between books one and four. So he makes Katherine Brooke the principal and Anne the teacher. Lost is the point that back in 1936, Montgomery quite progressively imagined a marriage of equals between her two protagonists.

But to give credit where it's due, I think Sullivan improves on the overall structure and especially the ending of Anne of the Island (in my opinion, the weakest volume in the series). Accepting Gilbert's proposal (second time around in both cases), Anne says:

I went looking for my ideals outside of myself. I discovered it's not what the world holds for you, it's what you bring to it. The dreams dearest to my heart are right here.

Anne doesn't wear her spunky personality like so much jewelry, but changes and improves herself, and thus her world. L.M. Montgomery created a character as revolutionary then as she is now, which may explain why Anne of Green Gables remains one of the best-selling books of all time (over 50 million copies sold).

Labels: , , ,