November 29, 2023

Fox & Wolf

Yuki Yamakawa comes from an old yakuza family. She loves training dogs and beating up bullies for a more clandestine reason: she's a werewolf. But then after one fight too many, Yuki's uncle sends her to Osaka's most exclusive girl's school to straighten her out.

There she meets her exact opposite, Ami Tokudaiji.

Ami is as high in society as Yuki is low. But with the family facing a financial scandal, the fate of the Tokudaiji fortune depends on Ami's mother participating in a shady real estate deal. Just as Yuki's estranged father returns to Osaka to lead the criminal investigation.

As it turns out, on her father's side, Yuki's blood runs bluer than any of her aristocratic classmates. Even so, that long-hidden family connection pales in comparison to the most fantastic fact of all—Ami is a kitsune, a Japanese werefox, and doesn't know it!

When they both end up in the same homeroom class at school, they'll have to stop fighting each other long enough to join forces against the mobsters menacing Ami's family.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

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

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November 25, 2023

Three 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 (or two) to watch Isekai Izakaya Nobu, Sleeper Hit, and 99.9 Criminal Lawyer.

The first is a cute live-action drama that is better than the anime (and I usually steer clear of isekai).

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 exits 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 the 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 exercising 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 hard to create a break-out hit.

I'm a fan of the traditional police procedural (following the one mystery per episode formula) and 99.9 Criminal Lawyer qualifies on all counts.

Ittoku Kishibe (best known as the Machiavellian government minister on Aibou) plays the managing partner at a big law firm. He recruits the eccentric Hiroto Miyama (Jun Matsumoto of the boy band Arashi) for a newly formed criminal defense division.

Character actor and Kabuki veteran Teruyuki Kagawa is Miyama's ornery boss. The "99.9" refers to the conviction rate in Japan's criminal courts, so his skepticism is understandable. Even in modern Japan, the accused is pretty much presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Related links

Isekai Izakaya Nobu (Viki)
Isekai Izakaya Nobu (Crunchyroll)
99.9 Criminal Lawyer
Sleeper Hit!

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November 22, 2023


Jane Austen's Persuasion has the reader rooting for the protagonists to rekindle their estranged affections. But what of the novel's nemeses? In the end, the wily and impious Mr. Elliot casts aside his carefully groomed reputation and persuades the infamous Mrs. Clay to become his mistress.

But every persuader needs a persuadable partner, and Mrs. Clay is no ingénue; she'd send a Willoughby or a Wickham packing. Though no less calculating than those romantic villains, Penelope Clay and William Elliot discover in each other the kind of kindred spirits they fail to find among the titled Elliots.

While highlighting and transfiguring classic scenes from the novel, this unconventional version provides a romantic pairing on a par with that of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. In the process, Persuadable illustrates an eternal Austen truth: love is wholly individual, no matter the age or time-period.

Who says a couple of shameless gold diggers can't find true love?

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

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November 18, 2023

Japanese streaming update

With dLibrary Japan offline until April 2024 (at the latest), it's once again time to reshuffle my Japanese language streaming choices. Tubi and NHK World Japan are free, so no decisions to make there.

Viki goes into watch and drop rotation. No complaints about the service itself. To start with, it's eminently affordable. It's a content mismatch. The Japanese content focuses on BL and romance. Frankly, when it comes to romance, Jdrama simply doesn't measure up to manga and anime.

I prefer police procedurals, low-stakes slice of life dramas, and documentaries, which Japanese television writers are much better at pulling off.

Viki has a few in that category, just not that many. But speaking of which, I see that Viki has licensed 99.9 Criminal Lawyer. It's a well done execution of the reliable formula that pits an eccentric defense lawyer against his uptight boss (a corporate lawyer because it pays much better).

And while I'm at it, I'll again point out that Viki has Sleeper Hit, a fun, insightful, and even philosophical examination of the manga publishing world and the hard-nosed business of selling art.

In any case, as with pretty much every streaming service that doesn't focus specifically on Japan, Viki's Jdrama offerings take a back seat to its Kdrama series (true of Tubi and Netflix too). But if that is what you're looking for, Viki is one of the better overall sources for Asian content.

Unfortunately, take away dLibrary Japan and Viki and there aren't that many viable Jdrama alternatives left. TV Japan is alive on traditional cable but adds up to eighty (!) bucks a month for a single channel on Xfinity. Not an option when I cap my monthly streaming budget at twenty dollars.

Tubi has a few Jdrama series and (subbed) Japanese movies worth watching. It sure doesn't make them easy to find. But a little effort will occasionally turn up genuine classics, campy tokusatsu series (featuring primitive CG effects and guys in rubber suits), and recent releases like Blue Thermal.

At least for now, that leaves Netflix as far and away the best of the remaining Hobson's choices.

Anime, by comparison, offers an embarrassment of riches. Thanks to Sony's acquisition of Funimation and Crunchyroll, Crunchyroll rules the anime streaming world. You could watch Crunchyroll all day long and not make a dent in the huge backlist before getting swamped by dozens of new titles.

The annual subscription option makes Crunchyroll an even better deal. On price alone, HIDIVE is the most affordable anime streaming service but is so much smaller that it's hard to justify an annual subscription anymore.

I've been following Princess Principal and Girls und Panzer on HIDIVE. Both franchises have moved to the theatrical model. This wouldn't be a problem if they were releasing standalone movies but they're actually serials. What we end up with are regular series produced at a glacial pace.

I'll wait until a season is over before watching it. I'm very much on board with the old Netflix approach of releasing a whole series at once. Even on Crunchyroll, I watch a season behind the current schedule. The added benefit is that makes it easier to figure out which series are worth the time.

While waiting for titles to accumulate, HIDIVE joins Viki in the watch and drop category. Once I run out of live-action content on Tubi, I'll shift to Viki and then to Netflix. Netflix uniquely provides Japanese subtitles for much of its Japanese content, a very valuable language learning resource.

Related links

NHK World (Japanese)
NHK World (English)
Rakuten Viki

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November 16, 2023


Suzume is currently available on Crunchyroll (VOD).

Suzume's journey begins in a quiet town in Kyushu (in southwestern Japan) when she encounters a young man who tells her, "I'm looking for a door." What Suzume finds is a single weathered door standing upright in the midst of ruins as though it was shielded from whatever catastrophe struck. Seemingly drawn by its power, Suzume reaches for the knob. Doors begin to open one after another all across Japan, unleashing destruction upon any who are near. Suzume must close these portals to prevent further disaster.

Suzume is Makoto Shinkai's thirteenth directorial work. Here's to hoping Crunchyroll licenses more of his catalog.

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November 15, 2023


Buried inside a cache of religious relics from Medieval England, the ghost of a young boy knows only that he must protect these holy treasures. But as his era recedes into history and the relics scatter hither and yon, all he can do is rage against the collectors of the last remaining object, a silver spoon.

Centuries later, he encounters Donna Howard, an antiquities appraiser who can speak with the spirits. Donna's research has convinced her that a sixteenth century skeleton recently discovered in England is the boy's remains. Now in order to free himself from the spoon, the boy must confront his own murder.

Even when the crime is five hundred years old, Donna Howard is determined to solve the case.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

Donna Howard Mysteries

Silver Spoon

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November 11, 2023

Good Morning Japan

In my original post about Japan's television news YouTube feeds, I stated that the only way to see Good Morning Japan, NHK's flagship morning news program, was on TV Japan.

That is no longer the case. You can watch Good Morning Japan, News at Noon, and News 7 on the NHK World Premium website. Also available are Today's Close-Up and A Small Journey.

dLibrary Japan has announced plans to include NHK news when it relaunches its subscription streaming service. Removing the geo-blocking may be a first step to including these programs in the new lineup.

Along with the commercial news network feeds on YouTube, you can listen to NHK Radio News online.

Related links

NHK World (Japanese)
NHK World (English)
News from Japan
Weather News

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November 04, 2023

Kiyo in Kyoto

Kiyo in Kyoto is based on the manga by Aiko Koyama, published since 2016 in 24 volumes to date. It also inspired a Netflix live-action adapation.

The manga won "Best Shounen Manga" at the Shogakukan Manga Awards in 2020 (curiously enough, the boy's category). The studio is anime heavyweight J.C. Staff, which does a fine job within the given constraints.

Watching the anime, you will see from the (lack of) inbetweening and the use of rotoscoped backgrounds that this isn't a high-budget production.

Rather like The Way of the Househusband, it uses what I'd call the PowerPoint approach to animation, more a moving manga.

To be sure, The Way of the Househusband was purposely directed as "an animation that looks like a manga." With Kiyo in Kyoto, my guess is that NHK chose to divert their available resources into the adorable character designs and top-notch voice talent.

They certainly are adorable and top-notch (veteran voice actors Kana Hanazawa as Kiyo and M.A.O as Sumire).

The setting is Kyoto, so we're also treated to a delightful sampling of the Kyoto and Aomori dialects (coaches for both are listed in the credits). The genre is one of the most reliable in popular Japanese narrative fiction.

Food. With a fascinating setting, Kyoto's Kagai, or geisha district. In other words, cute girls doing interesting things. Don't expect deep drama or complex story arcs. That's not the point. It's slice-of-life comfort food that succeeds surprisingly well at being both entertaining and educational.

Kiyo is the live-in cook at the Maiko House and her childhood friend Sumire is an aspiring maiko, an apprentice geiko (more commonly known in Tokyo as geisha). The reason sixteen-year-old Kiyo isn't in school is because secondary education in Japan is only compulsory through junior high.

Each thirty-minute episode is split into three segments that follow a similar format, a day-in-the-life about Kiyo and Sumire followed by a discussion of the featured recipe (with Sumire doing the research and Kiyo doing the cooking).

The Makanai (referring to the live-in cook at a boarding house) is Netflix's excellent live-action version, written and directed by Hirokazu Kore'eda. Kore'eda reworks the material with Sumire as the main character and gives her more depth.

Kore'eda made his mark directing slow burn but beautiful art house movies. So no surprise that The Makanai is a slow burn but beautiful live-action series.

While the anime starts in medias res and focuses on the food that Kiyo prepares, basically one recipe per eight minute vignette, The Makanai is story and character driven, beginning at the beginning and taking a full two episodes (ninety minutes) to get to the premise.

Nevertheless, Kore'eda sticks to the spirit of the slice-of-life genre with a light touch and lots of ambience, in the process painting a living portrait of this little corner of Kyoto.

Kore'eda brings Sumire's father and Mother Azusa's daughter into the narrative to create a pair of family dramas. But again, he maintains a low-key approach that results in a sweet story seasoned with occasional touches of melancholy that never turn sad or saccharine.

Another addition to the live-action version is Mayu Matsuoka as Yoshino, the prodigal maiko who returns with loudly proclaimed plans to replace the current Mother of the Maiko House when she retires. As the designated court jester, she makes for a delicious dessert.

All around, two very good (and quite unique) entertainment meals.

Related links

The Makanai
Kiyo in Kyoto
The Way of the Househusband
Cute girls doing interesting things

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November 01, 2023

The Path of Dreams

The Path of Dreams is a romantic fantasy based on the traditional Japanese practice of the arranged marriage. The matchmakers in this case are an Osaka samurai academic and a Scottish Mormon polygamist. The union these two nineteenth century raconteurs plot for their great-great grandchildren is one their descendants never could have anticipated, for this o-miai can only take place on "the path of dreams."

Although they have never met before, a seemingly chance encounter leaves Elaine Chieko Packard and Connor McKenzie haunted by passionate dreams they cannot control. They determine to resolve the growing tension between the moral strictures of their religion and their own overpowering emotions by eloping, a decision that triggers an entirely unexpected series of events.

In the days and months that follow, they find themselves reliving—in dreams and reality—many of the same conflicts their parents and grandparents once did. They come to realize that their lives cannot move forward until they have attended to the unsettled obligations of the past, "turning the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers."

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased at Amazon worldwide. The ePub format is available at Apple Books, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, B & N Nook, Smashwords and many other ebook retailers.

Read an excerpt

The Path of Dreams was first published by Parables in 2006, the revised second edition by Peaks Island Press in 2008. An early draft won Honorable Mention in the 2002 Utah Original Writing Competition.

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