As everyone in my family will tell you, I'm a sucker for felines. Kittens or adults, I'll always take a moment to try and get them to let me pet. Japanese cats tend to be a very skittish group, even the housecats. So, any days I get some kitten-pettin' is an event for me.
The Japanese have an issue with stray cats. The main problem is that most people in this country prefer pet shops over animal shelters. Strays are all over the place, and rarely does anyone try to adopt one. This rubs me raw, as a cat-lover and as someone who's always gotten his felines "off the street," as it were. If it weren't for the draconian pet regulations in my apartment building, I'd probably have picked up a stray or two myself at this point. Instead, I contribute to the cat fund at my local convenience store (which has had its own family of strays for going on three years now). It's ridiculous how much a pet shop can charge in this country. One of the lowest prices I've seen for a cat in a store was almost $800 for a single kitten, in that case an American Shorthair that was almost identical to a cat I'd seen on the streets earlier that day.
Still, there are some good and sensible cat fanciers over here. Two weekends back one of my older students picked up a kitten near Lake Ezu (her name's now Ezuko). And on Monday I got a super-dose of kitten-lovin' at a cafe in downtown Kumamoto called Kago-nyan.
Kago-nyan is a time-service cafe, similar to internet or manga cafes in Japan. Customers pay 400 yen for the first half-hour, 100 more for each ten-minute block, and there's a one-drink minimum. For that, the customer can play with the cafe's kitties to his heart's content. Proceeds go towards animal shelters and cat adoption advocacy groups.
After answering a trivia question ("Where were cats first domesticated?") I received a free package of cat snacks and the undivided attention of over a dozen greedy felines, ages ranging from one month to two years. But eventually things calmed down. I had my latte (which was better than the local Starbucks, I can tell you that!), wrote in my notebook, and played with a scrubby little kitten till he fell asleep.
Yes, Monday was good for me.
A couple weeks ago, a famous manga artist in Japan put out a scathing critique of the industry (warning, linked site is not necessarily safe for work). Then he announced that he was starting his own online manga service, here. It may take a while to load. Personally, I've been reading some of the free manga on Famitsu lately. They have comic adaptations of quite a few game series on there, including Devil Summoner, Atelier Rorona, Disgaea, Ar tonelico, and half a dozen others. It's all in Japanese of course, but that's never stopped a mangaphile before, no?
Yakuza PSP is going to be in stores in September, and Sega is already making rumbles about the next title in the main series. Aside from the fact it exists, is going to be the same style as the rest of the series, and is probably going to be for the PS3, we really only know one thing about it, and that's that this guy is somehow central to the plot:
Now, my only knowledge of the series comes from the movie version of Ryu ga Gotoku, but that means I know enough to laugh
like crazy when I saw this guy again.
The last few weeks have seen some new games emerge for the Japanese cell-phone networks. We have scans for two of them below. One's new, and one's a port of a remake of a game that was previously ported and... honestly, it's a bit of a chore keeping up with all the ways that Red Company has remarketed Tengai Makyo ZIRIA in the last two decades. This makes their second port of the game on the cell networks. The first was a fairly straight port of the original PC Engine title, minus the voice-acting and animated sequences. The second time around is also a fairly straight port, of the XBox version. The port retains all the new material added to the XBox version, including the voice-acting and some limited animation in battles and cut-scenes. It's only available on the new, high-end DoCoMo i-Mode phones.
Also available on DoCoMo is the newest RPG from G-Mode is Hundred Dragon, a traditional RPG in the mold of the Breath of Fire games.
The hero du jour is Leos, a young boy born with the power of dragons in his heart. His mission, as determined by his birthright, is to track down and defeat the Six Dragons -- though for what purpose, we do not know.
Battles in Hundred Dragon are designed to be fast. In a system called "Automation Battle," the player sets a skill for each of the four characters, and then controls the timing for the attacks with a single button on the cellphone's main pad. Better timing leads to linked attacks between players, resulting in more hits and greater overall damage. Also, as the attacks add up and the monsters go down, Soul Points are accumulated. Once a character's SP hits 100, super-powerful attacks can unleashed. In Leos' case, this means a transformation into a fearsome draconic entity.
Yeah, definite shades of Breath of Fire.
A while before my kitten-extravaganza on Monday, there was a bargain-bin bonanza at the big Tsutaya media store downtown. Out of curiosity I looked through the used Playstation selection and came up with two RPG titles that I had never seen before. They're both ten years old at this point, and worth about seven bucks altogether, but I bet they're new for most of my audience.
The first of the two is Study Quest - Keisanjima no Daibouken, or "Adventures on Calculator Island." In an interesting attempt to make a study-aid game, someone thought it would be a good idea to have RPG battles hinge on one's ability to do sums. Seriously. Adding to the silliness, the story goes like this: The Dark Lord Randamn has invaded Calculator Island, throwing the calm land into utter chaos. Only through the efforts of studious young heroes can order be restored.
The other title is Ningyo no Rakuin, or "Mark of the Mermaid." I'm not quite sure how it's supposed to play, but the back of the jewel case describes it as a Horror Simulation RPG, and gives the byline "It is up to you to save your beloved... or kill her." Whenever I get to this one, I can hope it's both as original as the last mermaid game I played, and at the same time better designed.
Tofu Defenders in Uniform
I'm a fan of tofu of all kind. I must be one of the rarer type who would always go for tofu over meet. Mabo Tofu is definitely one of my favorite dish for me. How dare you rant on it!
I'll tell you what. If we ever have the chance to eat at a Chinese place together, I'll let you have all the mabo dofu. I'll trade you for some chili shrimp and shoranpo, okay?
Anyway, let's talk something new. I want to know more about the school uniforms. When I watch anime/play games, people are able to identify what school a person comes from (and whether it's private/public school), etc etc. What are the differences, and what exactly can you tell about a person from their uniforms? (Are there supposed to be any rules regarding hair style, etc in general?)
Wuv ur column,
That's something that depends on the area and how snooty the school in question wishes to be. Schools that want to stand out as being "elite" will often go the extra mile when it comes to uniform design. Uniforms may have different color combinations, or different shades of a common color (most likely blue). There may be differences in the cut, the hem, or the collar. Sometimes it's as simple as having a particular print design on the breast of the shirt. For the most part, these differences pertain to the girls' uniforms only. Guys' uniforms are usually the same black suit-like things, with the lapel pins showing which school they go to.
Anything that has any sort of social importance in a school setting will find its way into Japanese entertainment media -- that's pretty much a given. Case in point:
Normally I'd make this into another item in the main column, but you gave me a good opening here. Class of Heroes 2G lets you choose which school you enroll in, and each school has a different uniform. As far as I can tell, it's largely a cosmetic difference.
It's not just the high schools or junior highs, though. Many (but not all) elementary schools in this country have uniforms, and you'll see a little of the same thing there. Not as much though, because elementary schools are regional (kids have to go to the nearest one) and high schools are not (which means there's more choice and the uniforms become a recruiting point). Some of the higher-class kindergartens in my city have their own uniforms too. I can easily recognize if a little boy or girl goes to any one of half a dozen kindergartens, just by the outfit.
As for hairstyles, there's a set number of acceptable hairstyles for teenagers that sometimes varies according to the school. A few schools have garnered attention in the past for requiring male students to shave their heads the way they used to in the old military school days. Hair dyes are generally banned, as is perming or other obvious alterations to the student's hair. They can be quite strict about that.
Thanks for writing in!
My thanks to everyone who's written in letters! I've gotten more unsolicited letters in the last week than I had in the entire first half of 2010. Keep it up! I'll be rationing a bit to see how long I can go without having to hit up Nyx or Jumesyn. At this rate... at one letter a week I might make it to the end of August, maybe even to the equinox. I'm hoping to manage a letter a week through to the end of the year, but I'm not counting on it. So, anyone who's waiting to see their letter in HTML need only wait.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,