April 27, 2024

Jme My List management

If a show on Jme TV is in a series, the series can be removed from the queue ("My List"). But for movies and series listed as standalone episodes (like Shoten), I couldn't figure out how to remove them from the queue. Clicking the thumbnail simply replayed the show without providing any other options.

But it turns out there is a workaround.

After you've watched a show, the title URL defaults to the following format:

If you edit the URL as follows, then the My List checkmark icon will appear:

The hashmarks represent the five or six-digit code at the end of the URL unique to each program.

One of the best features of the Roku is its simple user interface. To make things even simpler, under Settings > Home Screen > Layout you can remove a lot of the clutter on the Roku home screen.

Useful links

NHK World Premium program guide
NHK World News (in Japanese)
NHK Radio News (in Japanese)
News networks that stream on YouTube (in Japanese)

Labels: , , , ,

April 24, 2024

The Amakusa Church

As with Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the title character of A Certain Magical Index, many of the seemingly farfetched religious references in the series are based on actual historical people and events.

For example, Stiyl Magnus and Kaori Kanzaki are members of Necessarius, the Special Forces sorcery squad of the Anglican Church.

Okay, that part is fiction.

Kaori Kanzaki is a former leader of the Amakusa Catholics, descendants of the "Hidden Christians" that preserved the faith after the disaster of the Shimabara Rebellion in 1637.

That last part is not.

Jesuit missionaries arrived in Japan in the 1540s in the company of Portuguese traders. They were followed by Franciscans and Dominicans under the aegis of Spain. During the latter half of the sixteenth century, they enjoyed the patronage of Oda Nobunaga, the first of the Three Great Unifiers of Japan during the Warring States period.

Nobunaga had no interest in Christianity per se, but he was very interested in the firearms provided by the Spanish and Portuguese. Christianity was also a useful political check on the Buddhist factions in Kyoto that were a constant thorn in his side.

Alas, several years after Nobunaga's assassination, Spanish conquistadores were caught saying the quiet part out loud and Christianity quickly fell out of favor with the powers that be. As Hisaki Amano explains,

A Spanish ship en route from the Philippines to Mexico suffered serious damage in a series of typhoons and drifted ashore in Tosa (modern-day Kochi Prefecture). Under interrogation, the ship's crew responded that Spain was a world power that dispatched missionaries to convert the local population before occupying the countries.

Nobunaga's successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, began persecuting Christians with a vengeance, culminating in the martyrdom of twenty-six priests and believers in Nagasaki in 1597. Under the Tokugawa shoguns, Christianity was outlawed. Especially after the Shimabara Rebellion, simply being a Christian was deemed a capital offense.

That legal status was not amended until the late nineteenth century.

The Shimabara Rebellion erupted in 1638 on the island of Kyushu. Nagasaki was once a major Portuguese trading port and Shimabara had the highest percentage of Christians in the country. The rebellion began as a peasant uprising, and was soon joined by Catholic Christians chafing under the heavy hand of local leaders and the shogunate.

Although the rebellion was not without cause and the governor of Shimabara was later executed for misrule and incompetence, such a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the Edo government could not go unanswered.

At the age of seventeen, Amakusa Shiro became the leader of the Japanese Roman Catholics in Shimabara. After a tortuous siege, Shogunate forces overran Hara Castle in 1639 and killed upwards of 37,000 rebels and sympathizers. But the Hidden Christians persevered until the anti-Christian edicts were removed two and a half centuries later.

This is a case where the winners wrote the history books, so Amakusa Shiro was made the villain. He is one of the bad guys in Makai Tensho, a 1967 fantasy novel by Futaro Yamada that has Amakusa Shiro rising from the grave to exact revenge on the shogunate.

Three movies have been made from the book, the most recent in 2003. The best known remains the 1981 version starring Sonny Chiba as Yagyu Jubei, a role he returned to often in samurai action series such as Shogun's Samurai. Overseas releases appended Samurai Reincarnation to the title.

Tubi has a generous selection of Sonny Chiba films and series, including a dubbed version of Samurai Reincarnation and half a season of Shogun's Samurai.

Over the past century, and certainly since 1945, the image of Christianity in Japan has been thoroughly rehabilitated. Christian style weddings (fake pastor included) have become all the rage. Former prime minister Aso Taro is a Catholic. And Christmas (along with Santa Claus) is now one of Japan's most popular unofficial holidays.

Along the way, as evident in series like A Certain Magical Index, Hellsing, and The Ancient Magus Bride, Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, became a rich source of dramatic material. Unconstrained by the usual cultural preoccupations, Japanese writers often push those religious tropes in quite unexpected directions.

Labels: , , , , , ,

April 17, 2024

A certain anime franchise

As I mention in my review of Little Witch Academia, the philosophical and legal dilemmas at the center of Captain America: Civil War and the Incredibles are more often than not settled issues in manga and anime. The existence of superpowered individuals is widely known and they work within a regulatory framework.

One-Punch Man is another recent example. When it comes to consistent world building across an entire franchise, I've taken a particular liking to the three anime series based on the light novels by Kazuma Kamachi.

Sharing many of the same characters and storylines, A Certain Magical Index, A Certain Scientific Railgun, and A Certain Scientific Accelerator take place in Academy City. Imagine if every major high school, university, research institute, and corporate lab in the country had extension campuses within the same prefectural boundaries.

This being Japan, students are tested and ranked from zero (no superpowers) to six (out of this world). Following a normal distribution, there are a lot of zeroes and ones, and only seven Fives. Even the Fives are ranked, with Accelerator at the top. The ranks are logarithmic, so similarly ranked espers can still be orders of magnitude apart in their powers.

Espers are seen as "scientific," as distinguished from skills derived from magic. When Index Librorum Prohibitorum (her name derived from the 103,000 forbidden magical books she's memorized) shows up in Academy City with a bunch of sorcerers and miniskirted Catholic nuns in her wake, her presence throws Toma Kamijo's life into turmoil.

Incidentally, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum was an actual list of publications deemed "heretical or contrary to morality." It was revised and updated until 1966, though it contained thousands of volumes, not hundreds of thousands.

As the title makes clear, more than the rest of the franchise, A Certain Magical Index switches back and forth between magical and religious forces or scientific and superpower forces as main drivers of the conflicts. The result is an interesting mix of fantasy and hard science fiction.

Railgun and Accelerator belong almost entirely to the latter genre while half or more of Index could share the same world as The Ancient Magus Bride.

In the second and third seasons of Index, it's the English Reformation redux as the Anglicans and Puritans go to war with the Catholic Church. I get a real kick out of the tossed salad of Western and Eastern religious tropes that show up so often in manga and anime, like Jesus and Buddha sharing a Tokyo apartment in Saint Young Men.

Toma Kamijo, the protagonist in A Certain Magical Index, is actually a negative infinity in the esper superpower rankings. With his right hand, he can negate both magic and esper skills. He seems to be the only one who can do this, which means that all the espers milling about in Academy City create a unique law enforcement problem.

Working alongside the regular police are two additional organizations. "Judgment" is run by the students, who basically form patrol units of glorified hall monitors. Though when the hall monitors have superpowers, they tend to stray outside their jurisdictional boundaries. "Anti-Skill" is comprised of heavily-armed SWAT teams.

But when high-level espers go off the rails, even Anti-Skill can find themselves out of their depth. Then only another Five (or Toma Kamijo) can hope to match them. Kuroko Shirai (a level Four teleporter) is a member of Judgment. She's also roommates with Mikoto Misaka, a level Five, so Mikoto often ends up getting drawn into the fray.

Mikoto has a skill set similar to Magneto in X-Men. Her preferred technique is to propel a coin through a self-generated electric field to hypersonic speeds, hence her "Railgun" moniker.

Despite the proliferation of so many superpowered individuals in Academy City, there is, refreshingly, no one ring to rule them all, no big bad, no supervillain. Accelerator certainly has the potential to step into the role, though his reasoning is that if he really could become the biggest big bad in the world, everybody would leave him alone.

There are, to be sure, a whole bunch of little bads, espers renting out their skills to government and private sector and black market organizations. But they usually play supporting roles to the actual villains. If there is a consistently distinct and identifiable antagonist, it is the academic establishment itself and the accompanying state bureaucracy.

The underlying motivations for these actors come down to ordinary human failings like arrogance, envy, and greed, though A Certain Scientific Accelerator starts out as Magnum Force and turns into the sixth season opening arc of Buffy, where the Scooby Gang resurrects Buffy (with near apocalyptic results in this case).

The crazies aside, they don't perceive themselves as bad people doing bad things. They're too busy filling out grant proposals and delivering papers at conferences to worry about the moral implications of their experiments. Surrounded by so many fascinating labs rats, who can blame them for the odd ethical lapse? Scientific progress justifies all!

Tying the three series together is the kind of underground experiment that the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files would love. It involves the manufacture of 20,000 Railgun clones that have been specifically designed to raise Accelerator's powers to the mythical Level Six through the brute-force use of real-time Darwinian selection.

The fate of the clones draws Mikoto into a no-win conflict with Accelerator, the most powerful level Five in Academy City. When we first meet him, Accelerator is a bona fide sociopath. But not beyond salvation. The terrible things we see him doing were not his idea. But he is the reason the Railgun clones were created.

Mikoto's low point comes when she realizes that fighting the establishment using the "Hulk smash!" approach simply results in one Pyrrhic victory after the next. Wreck a laboratory and they'll build another. The only way to stop these Doctor Frankensteins to make them question the validity of the experiments themselves.

This is when Toma steps in to settle things with a good old-fashioned fist fight, he being the only person who can literally reduce every superhero to his level.

Toma takes so much damage getting close enough to deliver the beat-downs that he's got his own hospital room reserved for him. Luckily for him, he can count the Frog-Faced Doctor as an ally. Also known as Heaven Canceller, the Frog-Faced Doctor can reattach limbs and bring practically anybody back to life as long as they're not stone-cold dead.

Along the way, Toma likely sets some sort of cinematic record for getting into brawls with women. As Arnold Schwarzenegger's Harry Tasker says in True Lies, "Yeah, but they were all bad." Academy City is an equal opportunity employer on both sides of the equation and thus home to some of the more interesting female villains in the genre.

Though as they all eventually discover, defeating someone in physical or supernatural combat doesn't change them unless what gets them up in the morning changes as well. It doesn't help that when you're the top dog, somebody is always trying to take you down a notch.

Accelerator's attempts to resolve his own moral quandaries eventually restores a portion of his humanity when choses to defend the final Misaka clone (known as "Last Order") from yet another mad scientist. Though doing so doesn't make him nice. He's like Spike in Buffy after he gets his soul back.

The substance of the conflict is told from the POV of Toma Kamijo in Index, Mikoto Misaka in Railgun, and then with Accelerator as the main character. The result is often great superhero storytelling without any spandex or the world ending every other week.

One ongoing flaw in Railgun is an odd scripting quirk that frontloads each of the narrative arcs with all the comic relief at once. Granted, this approach quickly dispenses with most of the dumb stuff, after which the narratives turn increasingly dark, at times descending from science fiction into outright horror.

The fan service in Index that gets tossed in at random intervals is no less juvenile, though pretty typical of shonen-oriented content. Accelerator is mostly free of slapstick. I guess Accelerator getting stuck with the chirpy Last Order and her third-person self-references was considered punishment enough.

All of the Misaka clones do this, something to do with their programming. It does help to tell who is a clone and who isn't.

The first five series follow a fairly cohesive narrative, interspersed with standalone arcs. Index begins with Toma meeting Index and explains her relationship to the Church of England. Starting with episode ten, we get an abridged version of the Mikoto Misaka clone arc that is significantly expanded upon in the first season of Railgun.

The first season of Index concludes with a segue to the Accelerator series and then adds a short arc that brings the Anglicans back into the story. Season two returns to the religious wars heating up between Academy City and the Catholic Church and the renegade Amakusa sect.

The Index story arcs at this point can get pretty scattershot. In season two, the best Index episodes are those that feature Accelerator. I think Railgun has better overall consistency in terms of the plotting and writing.

1. A Certain Magical Index (1)
2. A Certain Scientific Railgun (1)
3. A Certain Scientific Railgun (2)
4. A Certain Scientific Accelerator (1 season)
5. A Certain Magical Index (2)
6. The Miracle Of Endymion
7. A Certain Magical Index (3)
8. A Certain Scientific Railgun (3)

The timeline plays out in approximately the above order. Except for Accelerator, the series have two-cour seasons so we're talking about a ton of content. The core of the franchise can be condensed to series 1 – 4. Crunchyroll places The Miracle Of Endymion between seasons two and three in the Index series.

Labels: , , , , , ,

April 13, 2024


Making the most of her unique ability to speak to remnants of the dead, Donna Howard researches the provenance of art and antiques. This time, her investigation into a colonial-era portrait delves into the dark history of her adopted niece, SarahAnn, uncovering a kidnapping and a murderer who got away scot-free.

The journey to uncover that history takes the Howards and the Gregersons from Maine to upstate New York, from wedding venues to house museums. Facing a past she never knew, SarahAnn questions what constitutes a person's "real" heritage and whether breaking the law is justified in order to prevent more heinous crimes.

There are times when honestly confronting the past may leave our descendants with no choice but to choose their own ancestors.

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

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

April 10, 2024

Christianity is cool

In Japan, that is. All the more surprising considering that Christians constitute at best one percent of the population. Or perhaps that simply makes it more exotic.

Catholicism has the deepest roots, having arrived in Japan in the mid-16th century. So the aesthetics associated with Catholic culture and architecture are the first things Japanese think about when Christianity is mentioned. After that comes the ecclesiastical structure, extrapolated from the Roman Curia.

Anime like Witch Hunter Robin and Hellsing (Catholics versus Anglicans) play off the supposed existence of an all-powerful Catholic Church that shows up in movies like Constantine, Stigmata, and The Da Vinci Code. The Catholic Church is just too cool an institution not to imagine it running a global conspiracy.

Although in A Certain Magical Index, that role is also shared by the English Puritan Church (also translated as the Church of England).

And as with the spy agencies of any country, in the paranormal action world, the Catholic Church is also a good source of skilled agents, operators, and intelligence networks. Ghost Hunt is an ecumenical paranormal actioner, so it naturally features a Catholic priest as one of the ghost hunters.

At the same time, in terms of theology, the suggestively Catholic Haibane Renmei can stand beside any of C.S. Lewis's work as an accessible Christian parable. The same is true of anime such as Madoka Magica and Scrapped Princess, though you may have to look harder to see the metaphors.

Along with Camille Paglia, Japanese writers have discovered that "medieval theology is far more complex and challenging than anything offered by the pretentious post-structuralist hucksters."

They eagerly pilfer Christian eschatology for interesting characters and conflicts (another good reason to study religion!). Kaori Yuki's Miltonesque Angel Sanctuary turns Paradise Lost into a Gothic romance, with a war in heaven and a descent to the underworld to reclaim a lost love.

At the other extreme, the quite clever The Devil is a Part-Timer (stranded in Japan, the devil gets a job at McDonald's to make ends meet) features both Satan and Lucifer as separate characters.

The only overtly religious aspect of The Devil is a Part-Timer is an institutional church roughly analogous to the medieval Catholic Church (under the Medici popes). The state religion in Scrapped Princess is largely the same.

Then there's the offbeat syncretism of Saint Young Men, about Jesus and Buddha hanging out in modern-day Tokyo. Manga artist Hikaru Nakamura approaches the subject with a goofy but respectful touch. Unless you find the concept itself heretical, there's nothing at all blasphemous about it.

Saint Young Men is hugely popular in Japan (a staggering 10 million copies sold). It won the 2009 Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize and is still in print. An anime series and movie were released in 2012 and 2013.

Most Christians react to this type of thing the same way most Mormons do to The Book of Mormon by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone: "Hey, at least they spelled the names right!" What is far more insulting is ignorance hiding behind a smug mask of condescending self-righteousness.

There's none of that here. Whether the Shinto gods in Natsume's Book of Friends or the traditional folklore of Northern Europe in The Ancient Magus' Bride, these writers have done their homework. They honestly respect the source material.

What gives manga publishers pause when it comes to the Norther American audience is the fear that somebody will whine and stamp their feet and the bad publicity will kill sales. Nobody's going to get killed. But the suits understandably get skittish about the fringe elements that breath such threats.

During the localization of Saint Tail (which features a Catholic basilica as the "Bat Cave") for the North American market, references to God were

removed from the first two volumes in a possible anticipation of a TV broadcast. Considering that Seira Mimori [the protagonist's sidekick] spends half of the time in a nun's habit, one wonders why they thought they could do Saint Tail without references to God.

Common sense finally prevailed and the censoring stopped with the third volume.

This is rarely a problem in Japan, where the whining and foot stamping mostly comes from the political right. They're strident secularists, except when the emperor enters the picture. Then they turn into strident Shintoists. Until they die, that is, at which point Buddhism kicks in with a vengeance.

"Buddhism for the dead, Shinto for the living," so the saying goes. In everyday life, Japanese move back and forth between Shinto rites and Buddhist beliefs and Christian-style wedding ceremonies. It's not that the adherents are blurring the lines. The lines were never firmly drawn in the first place.

You might expect this sort of fuzzy wuzziness to lead to the kind of apathy and neglect that emptied out the churches in secularized Europe. But in Japan, people not getting worked up about stuff can motivate the curious to mix and match belief systems in ways nobody else would have dreamed of.

And in the process, scrub the dust off of old, worn-out tropes to reveal the shining gems buried beneath.

Related posts

Pop culture Catholicism
Pop culture Buddhism
Pop culture Shinto

The Ancient Magus' Bride
Haibane Renmei
Madoka Magica
Scrapped Princess

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

April 06, 2024


It's 1995 and Donna Howard is living an ordinary life in Portland, Maine. She works as a hairdresser, has a boring boyfriend, two opinionated brothers, and two exhaustively energetic parents. As far as she's concerned, she's an ordinary person and proud of it.

Except she can see the past. Walk down any street in the old part of the city and four centuries of its inhabitants walk right along with her. She can observe them, hear them, smell them. And, frankly, she'd rather not. She'd prefer to leave the past in the past.

Until a customer "accidentally" leaves an ancient Roman coin at the hair salon. A coin worth an awful lot of money. Then the woman appraising the coin for the Portland Museum of Art "accidentally" ends up dead. And now the past won't leave her alone.

Not even the man who's visage was molded into the metal 2000 years ago, a man who wreaked mayhem then and may have witnessed murder now. Quite unwittingly, Donna uncovers family secrets, confronts historical controversies, and closes in on a very contemporary crime.

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

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

April 03, 2024

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, she concurs 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, 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.

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

Labels: , , , , ,