August 30, 2023

Silver Spoon

Since her adventures in Coin, Donna Howard has become an established investigator of relics and antiques, with the help of deceased historical people only she can see. This time around, her investigation takes her to Salem, Massachusetts, where she delves into the town's haunted history and the modern world of antique hunting.

Her research into the provenance of a silver spoon leads Donna to a stash of unexpectedly valuable junk in an old man's basement, an old man whose death Donna begins to suspect was less than "accidental." Along with opportunistic antiquers, she must also contend with a possible murder, a possible possession, and a possible boyfriend.

Because nothing can make the dead past and the living present more precarious than the unpredictable complexities of human relationships.

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Donna Howard Mysteries

Silver Spoon

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August 26, 2023

Carnivorous vegetarians

The Japanese may be the most pragmatic people on the planet. Going all-in on half-of-the-world domination and then losing everything knocked the stuffing out of that sort of zealotry. And unlike the Germans, they decided not to dwell on it.

Well, except when silly westerners try to ratchet up their own virtue signaling by apologizing for beating them.

And unlike the Germans, the ultra-nationalists and their rhetoric aren't banned. Some even get elected to high office. Then there's that whole Yasukuni Shrine business, which prime ministers pretend to be "sensitive" about.

Until the cameras are turned off, that is.

All the paeans to pacifism are pragmatic as well. In a neighborhood full of angry bulls, it's a good idea not run around waving a red flag. But at home, disturb the social order and the kid gloves come off. Japan has the death penalty and uses it.

And they don't pay much real attention to foreigners who complain about such things. Frankly, I think the Japanese government sticks to that whole whale hunting thing (it's for "research," don't you know) because foreigners complain about it.

It's a passive-aggressive way of asserting Japan's sovereignty and national prerogatives.

Japan's eating habits are doing a lot worse to the unagi, but when's the last time you heard anybody campaigning to "Save the eels!"

As Homer Simpson would put it: "Mmmm . . . eels."

Which brings us to the subject of another bunch of virtue-signaling westerners that amuse the Japanese when they're not bemusing them: vegetarians. Long story short: the best way to be a vegetarian in Japan is to not ask about the ingredients.

Eryk points out in his This Japanese Life blog that the

long life expectancy of Japanese people isn't from a vegetarian diet, because none of them are vegetarians. Okinawans are usually singled out—longest life expectancy in the world—but Okinawans actually eat taco rice and chicken.

The same goes for cancer rates. Japan's cancer rates aren't low because they avoid meat. Japan's diet is heavy on meat and soy—tofu, in particular—and soy can lower the risk of certain cancers. But tofu in Japan is usually served alongside meat, not in place of it.

Far from utopian, Japan is one of the least vegetarian-friendly places on Earth.

A vegetarian lifestyle is tough enough. But a vegan diet is almost impossible to strictly adhere to in Japan. Even in vegetable dishes, the dashi (broth) that is a ubiquitous component of Japanese cuisine almost certainly contains pork or fish.

The ingredients that go into dashi.

Laments Anne Lauenroth at GaijinPot, dashi is commonly made from bonito (related to tuna), and it is everywhere,

from sauces, salad dressings and miso soup to udon and soba noodles being boiled in it. Better restaurants pride themselves on making their own dashi, and they will be inclined to cook even their vegetables in this special broth instead of lovely, ordinary water.

But as far as Japanese cooks are concerned, dashi doesn't count as "meat," regardless of what it's made from. If you can't see the meat, there isn't any meat. Warns a site called the Vegetarian Resource Group,

It may be difficult to explain to Japanese people what you cannot have, because the concept of vegetarianism is not widely understood. For example, if you say you are vegetarian, they may offer you beef or chicken soup without meat itself.

Agrees Peter Payne,

One special challenge is being a vegetarian in Japan, since the country generally doesn't understand the lifestyle. One restaurant even advertised "vegetarian" bacon-wrapped asparagus, as if the presence of a vegetable was enough to make it vegetarian.

He advises sticking to shoujin ryouri, the food traditionally eaten by Buddhist priests. Which could be tough for the typical tourist to arrange alone. So the Inside Japan Tours website "will advise all your accommodation of your dietary needs in advance."

 Why? Because it is

decidedly more difficult to be a full vegetarian or vegan in Japan due to the ubiquity of fish in the diet. In fact, it is so rare that many restaurants do not offer any vegetarian dishes at all.

Protecting tourists from vegetarian dishes that aren't really is a great example of what Tyler Cowen calls "Markets in Everything."

Granted, I find actual "travel" utterly unappealing as a hobby, let alone a necessity. (Fun to watch on television, though.) But this strikes me as an odd tourism mentality. It's a kind of reverse cultural appropriation: "Don't do as the Roman do."

Then why go to Rome in the first place?

When it comes joining the culinary globetrotting set, I think Phil Rosenthal has the right idea in I'll Have What Phil's Having and Somebody Feed Phil. He travels the world and eats whatever he is served with great élan and with barely a care about where it came from.

After all, all those other people are eating it and they didn't fall down dead. Yet.

Related posts

Food fiction
Eat, drink, and be merry
Hungry for entertainment
Kitchen Car

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August 23, 2023

The Real Darcy

Besides the badness of the writing, Kate argues that the biggest problem with Pride and Prejudice fan fiction (commercially published or otherwise) is that it inevitably makes Darcy out to be the stereotypical alpha male of Regency romances.

Austen simply wasn't capable of being that simple and obvious, and nothing in the text justifies it. As Kate explains:

I go along with Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer's argument in So Odd a Mixture that Darcy is borderline autistic. Her delineation of Darcy's character is one of the most accurate and delightful on record. She recognizes what few interpretations do, namely that Darcy is accused of pride in Hertfordshire for reasons that have nothing to do with familial or class pride.

Most tributes to Pride and Prejudice fail to acknowledge that all of Darcy's problems in Hertfordshire stem from his behavior, not from his beliefs about himself. He is perceived as proud because he won't dance or talk, not because he boasts about his position or even because he gives anyone the "cut direct." He doesn't even cut poor Mr. Collins.

To correct this problem, she penned A Man of Few Words, an addendum to Pride and Prejudice that relates Darcy's perspective on the important events in the novel.

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The Gentleman and the Rake is the omnibus edition of Mr. B Speaks! and A Man of Few Words.

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August 19, 2023

Two to watch on Viki

The great thing about streaming is that you can sign up for a month, watch what you want to watch, and then sign off (my Netflix approach).

Even if you're not interested in the rest of the Viki catalog, I recommend subscribing for a month to watch Sleeper Hit and Isekai Izakaya Nobu.

The latter is a cute live-action drama that is better than the anime (and I usually steer clear of isekai). The former is an insightful look at the manga publishing business.

What makes the isekai part of Isekai Izakaya Nobu work is that it ultimately doesn't matter that much. The show posits that the back door of the restaurant opens onto an alleyway in Kyoto. The front door opens onto a sort of alternate universe Geneva during the Habsburg Dynasty.

Nobody wastes much effort asking why (or wonders how electric lights work) and nobody really needs to.

This is ultimately a food-focused show and the setting is an excuse to introduce Japanese cuisine to people who have never heard of it before. There are melodramatic arcs that tie the episodes together but they never overwhelm the rest of the story. The meals are ultimately the main characters.

Viki has two seasons of the live action series. Crunchyroll has one season of the anime.

Sleeper Hit follows the triumphs and travails of the editorial staff at a second tier manga imprint. They are one small division in a big publishing house with healthy enough sales to keep it alive but not in the same stratosphere as Young Jump (and thus have to worry about their best talent getting poached).

The Japanese title translates as "Print the Second Edition!" That is the turning point in the life of a manga. Manga magazines do well to break even and most mangaka lose money during serialization. They only end up in the black when a series has enough chapters to justify the release of a tankoubon edition.

The show starts out like a sitcom but soon turns into a serious drama about commerce and creativity. The story arcs make no bones about the punishing deadlines, the inextricable link between business and art, and the primacy of story, with the fickle reader exercizing the final vote on success or failure.

We are taken through the life and death of a manga, from acquisition to serialization to cancelation, including a poignant scene in which the company president takes two of the new hires on a pilgrimage to the warehouse where the returns (all of the unsold books and magazines) are getting shredded.

The outstanding cast includes Yutaka Matsushige (Solitary Gourmet) as the managing editor, Joe Odagiri (Midnight Diner) as a senior editor given to bouts of philosophizing, and stars Haru Kuroki as an energetic newbie hired right out of college after the CEO challenges her to a wrestling match.

That last sentence will make more sense once you watch the first episode.

Sleeper Hit should be watched along with Bakuman. The anime covers the manga industry from the perspective of a pair of budding mangaka working extraordinarily hard to create a break-out hit.

Related links

Isekai Izakaya Nobu (Viki)
Isekai Izakaya Nobu (Crunchyroll)
Bakuman (review)
Bakuman (Tubi)
Sleeper Hit!

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August 16, 2023

Mr. B Speaks!

First published in 1740, Samuel Richardson's Pamela, the story of a maid who marries way up, was scandalous in its time. For those familiar with its profound influence on the romance genre, it continues to be scandalous now, though for quite different reasons.

Unfortunately, the book is largely forgotten outside of academia. Fortunately, Katherine Woodbury has read it so you don't have to!

As she did with A Man of Few Words, Fitzwilliam Darcy's version of the critical events in Pride and Prejudice, Katherine has again taken a classic novel written from a woman's point of view and flipped the narrative around to the man's.

This time, though, with a postmodern twist.

In a world where characters from novels can be put on trial for their literary crimes, Mr. B, the famously redeemed rake of Pamela, must defend his actions before a panel of skeptical literary scholars. Can he salvage his good name and win back his wife?

Step into the courtroom and judge for yourself!

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The Gentleman and the Rake is the omnibus edition of Mr. B Speaks! and A Man of Few Words.

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August 12, 2023


Clint Eastwood defined the essence of the role in Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. A lone rider with no ties and no dependents and little interest in the human condition, the "Man with No Name" is an unapologetic misanthrope who, despite himself, ends up doing right by his fellow man.

A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More were based on characters created by Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune for the equally iconic chanbara films Yojimbo and Sanjuro.

Manga and anime embraced the trope, often adding a sidekick (a gregarious Watson to his taciturn Sherlock) and spirited girl with a cause or quest of her own. The relationship between the "wandering swordsman" Himura Kenshin and Kaoru Kamiya in Rurouni Kenshin is a case in point.

Such pairings became a staple of the romantic dramedy, perhaps no better exemplified than in Clannad. When we first meet him, Tomoya (Yuichi Nakamura) is a senior in high school. Cynical and aloof (not without his reasons), he proudly wears the label of "class delinquent."

The first day of school (one of those halcyon days in early April), he runs into Nagisa and his whole life changes. Not because he falls for her (that takes two dozen episodes) but because she presents him with a problem to solve. Solving the problem is what brings them together.

Hyouka follows a similar formula with equally outstanding results. That includes again casting Yuichi Nakamura in the lead and again pairing him with Daisuke Sakaguchi, who played his sidekick in Clannad.

Unlike Tomoya, Hotaro Oreki has no "troubled past." His goal is to get through high school with the least possible social involvement, expending as little energy as possible. That goal is frustrated when his older sister insists that he join the soon-to-be defunct "Classic Literature Club."

He shows up for the first club meeting to find one other person there, Eru (Elle) Chitanda, scion of one of the wealthiest families in town. The story, though, avoids the "poor little rich girl" meme and instead begins with series of one-off Encylopedia Brown type mysteries.

As it turns out, Hotaro is really good at solving puzzles. This realization prompts Eru to present him with an unresolved family scandal. Along with Satoshi (his childhood friend) and Mayaka (the student librarian), they tackle the curious fate of Eru's uncle.

Her uncle helmed the Classic Literature Club forty years before, until he was expelled from school under questionable circumstances. Hotaro ends up expending a whole lot of energy figuring out why.

Hyouka is the title of the literary anthology the club publishes every year. It becomes the most revealing clue of all. "A dumb joke," Hotaro mutters when he figures it out, and exactly the kind of dumb joke a wronged teenager with a literary bent would come up with.

The author of the series, Honobu Yonezawa, includes an additional twist in the opening and closing credits with his punning alternate titles to the stories, such as "The Niece of Time." I got that one. I had to google "Why Didn't They Ask Eba [Evans]?" to get the Agatha Christie reference.

The ED for the second cour is a delightful tribute to the "cozy" genre that could constitute an episode all on its own.

The ED for the first cour, on the other hand, is simply surreal.

Some episodes are straightforward head-scratchers, even so basic a matter as why a teacher messed up his lesson plan (which begins with a debate of why some people have shorter tempers than others, which leads to discussion of the seven deadly sins, which leads to Eru's version of "greed is good").

And then the film club sets out to make a murder mystery video for their class project. In the middle of the shoot, the girl writing the script quits. So the film club turns to Classic Literature Club to figure out how she intended to finish it, which means solving the mystery she started.

No sooner has he done that but Hotaro finds himself wrestling with issues of artistic integrity and authorial intent. These themes also arise in a surprisingly complex arc in the second cour that begins with a harmless prank and concludes with a meditation about creativity and talent.

These slice-of-life whodunits often involve no crime at all. The real mystery is human nature and why Eru can so easily knock the otherwise cool Hotaro for a loop. Sensing that "the game is afoot," she is bound to exclaim, "Ki ni narimasu!" (I'm curious!) and will not relent. Alas, he cannot resist.

Here Kaname Naito explains the grammar of the expression.

Hyouka gives us Kyoto Animation at its finest, and more stellar work from the talented and productive Yasuhiro Takemoto. His previous directorial projects include Amagi Brilliant Park, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, and The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Honobu Yonezawa wrote five novels and half a dozen short stores in the "Classic Literature Club" series, which have been adapted to 11 manga volumes, 22 anime episodes (plus an OVA), and a 2017 live-action film.

Hyouka is streaming on Crunchyroll.

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August 09, 2023

Richard: The Ethics of Affection

Richard St. Clair struggles daily to suppress less-than-appropriate feelings for his new assistant. He's an engaged man, after all, and a recently appointed civil servant. He's sure he's got the situation under control. Until an unknown adversary slips him a love potion that unleashes his true affections.

Now with the help of his once-enchanted sister, his policeman brother-in-law, and the woman he really loves, Richard must scour Kingston for his foe and find a way to ethically express the desires of his heart.

Book two in the Roesia series, Richard continues the story of the St. Clair family that begins with Aubrey. Roesia is a Victorian world where magic is real and spells and potions are the focus of academic study. While sharing characters and events, the books can be read as standalone stories.

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The Roesia Series

Tales of the Quest
Lord Simon: The Dispossession of Hannah
Richard: The Ethics of Affection
Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation

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August 05, 2023

Holmes of Kyoto

In a previous discussion about the Mary Sue trope, I suggested the "cozy romance" as a companion to the "cozy mystery." Well, a series that qualifies as a cozy mystery, a cozy romance, and a Mary Sue that mostly works is Holmes of Kyoto.

Aoi Mashiro is a boy-crazed ditz when we first meet her. But her encounter with Kiyotaka Yagashira at the Yagashira Antique Shop turns her into a cool-headed antiques appraiser.

Eventually. Kiyotaka hires her to dust and sweep and make tea. But she's a fast study. A really fast study. Nevertheless, we see her put in the work. And she's got a great tutor. So she earns it.

Kiyotaka is, of course, young and handsome, the smartest appraiser in Kyoto. He claims that "Holmes" is merely a play on the kanji for "home" in his name, but he and Aoi end up solving a lot of crimes and mysteries.

The series has a Moriarty as well, though he's closer to the "Fiend with Twenty Faces" created by Ranpo Edogawa. Ensho is a defrocked Buddhist priest and frustrated forger who seems mostly obsessed with fooling Kiyotaka.

Along the way, of course, Aoi and Kiyotaka develop feelings for each other. But by externalizing the conflicts and taking the usual "complications" out of the relationship, the "cozy" romance can mature at a slow slow burn.

Aoi is still in high school, to start with. In any case, I'm not interested in a Mary Sue who is forever torn between cowboy Billy and billionaire Bob. Nobody plucks petals off a daisy while intoning, "She loves me, she loves me not."

The art and animation isn't as polished as Snow White with the Red Hair. But if you're looking for cozy mysteries and a very gently simmering romance, this dive into the world of Kyoto antiquing nicely fits the bill.

Holmes of Kyoto is streaming on Crunchyroll.

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August 02, 2023

The Phantom Doctor

The evil mastermind known as the Fiend with Twenty Faces is fed up with Kogoro Akechi and those meddling kids from the Boy Detectives Club. Determined to exact his revenge, the Fiend embarks on a crime spree, stealing top secret documents and a priceless work of art, while kidnapping and tormenting anyone who stands in his way.

The ingenuity of this archvillain knows no bounds. Living up to his nickname, the Fiend dons one disguise after the other. He soon has the police chasing their tails, and even shows up to investigate his own crime! Obsessed with his vendetta, he pursues his quarry through haunted houses and limestone caverns inhabited by giant bats.

The Fiend won't be satisfied until he finally confronts Detective Akechi and the members of the Boy Detectives Club in a life-or-death struggle deep underground in the dark.

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The Boy Detectives Club

The Phantom Doctor
The Bronze Devil
The Space Alien

Family names follow Western convention, the surname given last. Long vowels have been shortened to a single character with no diacritics.

The Phantom Doctor was edited by Katherine Woodbury. Check out her interviews with me here, here, and here about the translation process. Please visit Peaks Island Press for more information.

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