December 28, 2021

HIDIVE offer

Until 31 December 2021 (PST), you can get a one year subscription to HIDIVE for $23.99. Only two bucks a month, a good excuse to show the last independent pure-play anime streaming service in North America a little love. Worth it for Non Non Biyori, K-On, Made in Abyss, Chihayafuru, and Girls und Panzer alone.

And, of course, seasons 1, 5, and 6 of Lupin III.

Not to mention Patlabor (including the movies), Gate, Girl's Last Tour, The Magnificent Kotobuki, Beautiful Bones, Clannad, Senryu Girl, Strawberry Marshmallow, Tamako Market, Beyond the Boundary, Rifle is Beautiful, My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu, and Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions.

Okay, given the Fortune 500 competition, HIDIVE rarely gets its hands on the latest and greatest, but it does have a fine catalog of backlist titles, along with one of the better search engines in the business (click the category links at the top left of the home page to bring it up). This is a feature I wish Tubi had.

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December 25, 2021

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/9)

Risai learns about the hakushi (白幟) in chapter 6 (book 2) and meets Shunsui in chapter 7 (book 2).

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December 22, 2021

Cute girls doing interesting things

Being less constrained by the budgetary boundaries of Hollywood productions, and often based on material originally created by a production team of one or two, anime ends up throwing a lot more ideas against the wall to see what sticks.

As depicted in Bakuman, manga artists constantly compete to come up with a unique cast on the same-old same-old. The survival of the fictional fittest yields new tropes and formulas that are refined, exploited, and exhausted. Then the whole process starts all over again.

This Darwinistic struggle can also yield bursts of surprising creativity. Genres from opposite ends of the story spectrum intersect in ways that can only be described using multidimensional Venn diagrams.

A recent break-out genre is commonly referred to as "Cute girls doing cute things." It arose out of the primordial soup of moe, which can be defined as "the ideal of youthful and innocent femininity." In narrative terms, it means using cuteness both as a theme and a character trait.

Writers were soon populating their stories with casts of cute girls. This resulted in slice-of-life comedies about cute girls attending school, having fun, and hanging out together, less concerned with plot than the warm fuzzies. It's a life-affirming approach that defines the iyashikei or "healing" genre.

Representative series include Non-Non Biyori, Azumanga Daioh, and Strawberry Marshmallow.

Also drawing on the noteworthy insight that a sure way to create an interesting character is to give her a job or hobby, the focus was further refined to highlight cute girls engaged in specific activities. This evolved in a genre best described as "cute girls doing interesting things in a cute way."

The genre-making hit in this regard was probably the K-On! franchise, about five high school girls who form a rock band. But to illustrate how heterodox such a simple concept can become, an earlier hallmark series was Aria, about cute girls working as gondoliers on Mars.

And then there is Girls und Panzer, in which a group of cute girls operate a platoon of vintage tanks in unrealistically realistic high school war games. On a less exotic note, cute girls form a mountain hiking club in Encouragement of Climb and a camping club in Laid-Back Camp.

Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater plunges into the activities of an all-girl high school fishing club, with each episode focusing on a different species of fish and the techniques used to catch it. Super Cub celebrates Honda's hugely popular (throughout Asia) line of utility scooters.

Sakura Quest tackles the intractable problems of rural depopulation. Five cute girls (they're mostly adults this time around) are recruited by the tourist board to help revitalize a small town. The comic premise notwithstanding, they come up with real-world, practical solutions.

Seriously, you could use Sakura Quest as the text in a college course on the subject.

The Japanese obsession with technical precision is on full display. Actual equipment and techniques are depicted in Encouragement of Climb and Laid-Back Camp. The tanks in Girls und Panzer are operated according to the historical specs. Honda consulted on Super Cub.

As with the ever-popular cooking shows, the goal is to geek out on a subject while keeping it interesting. And one sure way to make it interesting (to boys in particular) is to keep it cute!

Related videos

Azumanga Daioh
Diary of Our Days at the Breakwater
Encouragement of Climb
Girls und Panzer
Kiyo in Kyoto
Laid-Back Camp
Non-Non Biyori
Sakura Quest
Strawberry Marshmallow

Super Cub

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December 18, 2021

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/8)

Seika (菁華) is the soldier in Rouan they met in chapter 31 of book 2.

As described in chapter 5 of The Wings of Dreams, each of the four gates into the Yellow Sea opens only once a year on the day of the equinox or solstice.

The shusei (朱旌) are traveling entertainers and citizens of the Yellow Sea who roam throughout the Twelve Kingdoms. The title of oyakata (親方) can refer to a master, a boss, and a father figure (a provider).

The name Genkan (玄管) literally translates as "black tube." The kanji (玄) is also used in the novel's title, though it is nonstandard for "black" (黒) in modern Japanese.

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December 11, 2021

dLibrary Japan (another update)

The one basic weakness of dLibrary Japan (the lack of subtitles aside) is that it doesn't have a backlist catalog, a decision that comes down to simple dollars and cents. Licensing shows for a year saves a ton of money they can spend on acquiring more titles, including the occasional simulcast.

Alas, that means I never got around to watching the Tsuribaka Nisshi ("Diary of a Fishing Nut") movies and now they're gone. And because the first six cours of Solitary Gourmet expire at the end of 2021, I ended up binging them (worth it, though). Season nine just arrived (no idea about seasons seven and eight).

Solitary Gourmet, a solid entry in the ever popular food genre, has Yutaka Matsushige traveling around Japan as the self-employed proprietor of an import-export business. Every episode consists almost entirely of Matsushige eating dinner at an actual hole-in-the-wall restaurant with voice-over commentary, a strangely compelling combination.

But that's why much of the programming mentioned in previous updates is no longer available. Here is some of what is, though limited to what I've seen recently or plan to watch. There are only so many hours in the day. Even without a backlist, dLibrary Japan carries a great deal of content (and I've got lots of shows queued up on Netflix and Tubi too).

dLibrary Japan currently has seasons one, eight, eleven, fourteen (through 3/2022), and eighteen (through 8/2022) of the police procedural Partners. It'd be nice to have the entire series available. But with twenty seasons to date, only indefinite license terms would make sense. Hey, how about it, Netflix?

dLibrary Japan is only as good as its latest acquisitions, and they're doing well in the police procedural department, starting with a second cour of 99.9, about a team of eccentric defense lawyers. And a simulcast of the live action version of Police in a Pod, which will debut next year as an anime series.

Police in a Pod is a "realistic" look at daily life in a koban or police box. Meaning that what the lead characters do most of the time is closer to social work than crime fighting. So nothing like the hilarious antics in You're Under Arrest.

Though if you've seen the latter, you'll recognize many of the stock characters in the former. Like every motorcycle cop is some version of those guys from CHiPs.

Detective Yuri Rintaro is a half-cour series in the Holmes & Watson format about a forensic psychologist who consults on cases for the police in Kyoto. There seems to be a Japanese television industry quota for police procedurals based in Kyoto, which is nice for the change of scenery and accents.

Koji Kikkawa in the lead role brings to mind Jeremy Brett as an unexcitable Holmes who dresses way up for his day job and carries it off with aplomb.

Ataru is an autistic version of Monk, so we're pretty much talking complete basketcase. This particular sub-genre only works if the writers are smart enough to convince you that the protagonist is a genius. So far, they've gotten it mostly right, and Masahiro Nakai is convincing in the title role.

I do my best to ignore the Spy vs. Spy subplot, which only makes me suspect that if depictions of American spies in a Japanese show are this silly, then depictions of foreign spies in Hollywood shows are probably just as dumb (like how many of them actually speak that foreign language fluently?).

Signal employs the same plot device as Frequency (with Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel). Two detectives fifteen years apart communicate via a pair of time traveling walkie-talkies to solve a cold case.

The second cour of Hanasaki Mai Speaks Out continues the adventures of two bank examiners with a knack for uncovering financial improprieties and bringing down the high and mighty. Yes, accounting can make for some quite entertaining cozy mysteries.

I follow a few dramas and reality shows too.

I saw Dragon Zakura and The Rookies when they debuted on TV Japan. The Rookies wants to be baseball version of Dragon Zakura, though it's closer to Gokusen. But while Gokusen never takes itself seriously, The Rookies takes itself too seriously to take seriously.

My Housekeeper Mr. Nagisa features Mikako Tabe as a super competent rep for a pharmaceutical company. Her private life is a wreck, until her kid sister arranges for Shigino Nagisa to show as a Marty Poppins to put her home life in order.

A couple of episodes in, as with Lucy Liu in Elementary, I started noticing that Mikako Tabe's character apparently has a wardrobe filled with an infinite number of outfits. And as with Liu, Tabe's costume designer does an excellent job dressing her up without it ever looking unnatural.

Masao Kusakari (The Mark of Beauty) teams up with an ugly (animatronic) cat in A Man and His Cat, about a widower getting over the death of his wife.

How About a Coffee? belongs to the same food genre as Midnight Diner, according to which the right food served in the right way at the right time can solve any problem.

Sleepeeer Hit! [sic] (the Japanese title translates as "Print a Second Edition!") explores the business of manga publishing from the point of view of the publisher. The great cast includes Yutaka Matsushige (Solitary Gourmet), Joe Odagiri (Midnight Diner), and stars Haru Kuroki (Hanako and Anne).

Infotainment shows like Before and After (a sped up version of This Old House) are actually the easiest for me to follow. Add to the list another cour of Tetsuro Degawa's delightful travel show, in which he rides a little electric scooter until the battery dies, then runs around trying to bum a charge.

An odder entry in the reality show category is Can I Follow You Home? in which a camera crew hangs around stations in Tokyo to get the story from people who missed the last train home. Higher up the intellectual scale are documentary-style interview shows hosted by Ryu Murakami, Eiko Koike, and Nao Matsushita.

As previously noted, for the most part, only the movies on dLibrary Japan are subtitled. Hanasaki Mai Speaks Out and Signal are two exceptions in this list (Signal even has real subtitles and not closed captions). For now, dLibrary Japan is available in the United States and Canada.

Related posts

dLibrary Japan
dLibrary Japan (update)
dLibrary Japan (background)

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December 04, 2021

Hills of Silver Ruins (3/7)

A duke (公爵) is the member of nobility that ranks just below the monarch. A duke is the ruler of a dutchy. In the case of the kirin, the dutchy is the capital province of the kingdom.

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December 01, 2021

Radio Garden

Radio Garden was created by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision and the design firms Studio Puckey and Moniker. It hosts over eight thousand stations from around the world and can easily navigate to anyplace on the planet.

You can save favorites and bookmark links. There are apps for iPhones and Android devices too.

Also online are the NHK Radio News archives (in Japanese) and J1 Radio. The three main channels on J1 Radio are J1 Hits (pop/rock), J1 XTRA (Heisei era hits), and J1 GOLD (Showa era hits).

Now that we're on the subject, Wave, Listen to Me! is sort of WKRP in Hokkaido. The anime can be streamed on Funimation. Amazon has the English translation of the manga published by Kodansha.

On that nostalgic note, let's conclude with "My Broken Radio" by Hideaki Tokunaga (lyrics here).

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