The Japanese love souvenirs, and not just for themselves -- it's a tradition to bring back a basket of something or other for the folks in the office. More often than not, souvenirs take the form of food..
Way back when, in the Edo Period, travel between provinces was heavily restricted, and various regions developed and bred their own varieties of fruits and vegetables in isolation. Today, a large portion of the produce aisle in any supermarket will have been grown in Japan, and will definitely have its prefecture of origin listed. In fact, prefectures take great pride in the foodstuffs and other items which represent them nationally. This leads us to the word for today: meibutsu, or "famous stuff."
Kumamoto has many claims to fame, including an important castle, one of the world's largest volcanic calderas, and the final resting place of the famed swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. But, as interesting as they are, you can't take them home with you, so today we're talking about edibles.
For our hors d'œuvre this evening, we start with karashi renkon, or spicy lotus root. After the boiling the root until it reaches just the right texture, it is sliced into cross-sections and stuffed with a mixture of mustard and miso (fermented soy bean mash). Crisp and piquant, this dish goes well with any meal.
We follow with a small plat de crudités: basashi on a bed of shredded daikon radish. These slices of neck muscle come only from the finest cuts of horseflesh, and go well with a mixture of soy sauce and grated ginger. Properly done, it practically melts on the tongue.
Our chef is offering a choice of soups this evening. The first, taipien, was originally a Chinese import, but it has found a new home in Kumamoto restaurants. Delicate, translucent harusame noodles are served in a light broth with cabbage leaves, shrimp, boiled squid, and a roasted egg.
Our other choice is tonkotsu, or pork-bone ramen. While this style of ramen is known throughout Kyushu, the Kumamoto variation on the recipe is well known for its rich texture, variety of extra toppings, and the sheer amount of garlic it contains. Of note is the fact that it is one of the few internationally known varieties of ramen that does not come in a little styrofoam cup. Many years ago, the Ajisen Ramen chain of restaurants expanded to include stores in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and now they have franchises in most parts of Japan and China, as well as nine other nations across the globe. While it is not quite as good as what can be found in the smaller restaurants of Kumamoto, it is still far better than Cup Ramen. If you would like to try for yourself, then there are franchises in New York, San Francisco, L.A., Vancouver, and Toronto which would be happy to serve.
Lastly, we come to dessert. Ikinari dango are a traditional Kumamoto snack consisting of a slice of boiled yam topped with anko (sweetened red bean paste) and wrapped in a rice-flour pastry. Tonight it is served with a dish of soft-serve ice cream and honey, fresh from the dairies of Mt. Aso.
Now that we've sampled some of the Kumamoto meibutsu, let's get to business, shall we?
The world of Sacred Blaze is one of contrasts. Dark versus Light, Chaos versus Order, the world is both built upon and slowly being consumed by the tension between these forces. Last time, we met some major characters and their servants, and at first sight it's pretty obvious these guys are aligned with the Light.
Now it's time to take a walk on the Dark side. Rather than simply imposing an alignment on the player, this game offers a choice. Either way, there's going to be a fight -- choose your own side, and see the conflict from either of two very different perspectives. So, who's with us this time?
In the "heroic leader" position this week is Lady Kiyora, of the eastern lands. With her loyal retainers, she's out to defend the honor of her people and defeat all who oppose her. The experience of personal loss has hardened her a bit, and she does not hesitate to strike hard and fast with one of her special attacks.
Standing parallel to the Merchant-Adventurer, we have Viran the Golden Wolf. That's not just a handy moniker, either -- the guy is a werewolf. His peculiar nature allows him to communicate and lead the Dark Beasts, wild animals which have been altered into monstrous shapes. They will even allow their master to siphon health from them in times of need.
Shamanna the Witch holds the offensive magic position for the Dark side. Though she doesn't look more than twelve years old, she's an accomplished magician who has several faeries at her beck and call. And let's not forget her witchy fashion sense. Is that a frog sticker on that broom?
What Japanese RPG would be complete without the ninjas? Not this one, if Tengai the Ringleader has anything to say about it. While his motives are as inscrutable as may be expected, he has thrown in with the side of Dark and Chaos. It just seems to be the right fit for people of their profession.
Finally, we have Manofica, Queen of Sistoram. In the ways of magic, both to hurt and to heal, she is ranked with the greates of mages. Though some might suggest that her warrior servants are a little past their prime, her dark arts give them all the vigor they need to do battle with those of a more living persuasion.
These are the allies of darkness. Choose your side.
The land of Oz has always been populated with people who are, for lack of a better term, "really weird." I think the folks at Media Vision are starting to push the envelope a little bit here with three new characters: the "Dragon Grandfathers." The Wizard gets what the Wizard wants, and what the Wizard wants, the Dragons have.
Just to make the map of Oz a little more confusing, signposts pop up at many intersections and forks. I'm still not sure what they're supposed to do, but Dorothy can change the markings on the signs as many times as she likes. Perhaps they just help to keep you oriented, perhaps they do something more bizarre. I wouldn't assume anything about anything in the merry old land of Oz. It's generally safer that way.
Crossover games seem to be gaining in popularity these days. I mean, aside from the unstoppable wave of Super Robot Taisen remakes. Capcom is about to release the latest in its Capcom vs... series, this time taking on characters from the Tatsunoko anime company. Cross Edge (sometimes spelled with an X) made decent sales over the summer, and several other games managed to have major cameos from unrelated series (I'm looking at you, Infinite Frontier).
I'm not quite sure what to make of this one, however.
Welcome to Dengeki Academy - Cross of Venus, a new crossover RPG for the DS that features various major characters from light novel titles under the Dengeki imprint, many of which are derived from existing manga titles. The list of source material includes Shakugan no Shana, Kino no Tabi - the Beautiful World, Iriya no Sora, UFO no Natsu, and I'm not quite sure what else because I only recognize the first few titles on this list. I'm not even sure if I can read all the characters' names correctly, since manga writers are notorious for including invention combinations and pronunciations of name kanji. I only keep up with one or two current series -- after all is said and done, who has the time to keep up with them all?
So, if anyone would like to write in and tell me who any of the following girls are (besides Shana and Kino), feel free.
Here's what I know about the story, such as it is. The main character and his cosplay-obsessed girlfriend Kizuna are second-year students at the Dengeki Academy. Lately, there have been rumors of ghosts haunting the school, so the two of them stay late one night to check things out. What happens next is only vaguely alluded to in the Dengeki article, but apparently due to "ghostly" interference, a major villain from one of the light novels in the school library just appears out of nowhere. For whatever reason, various books are now serving as portals to their respective narrative realities.
Honestly, this is about what one would expect from a crossover plot -- vague, trite, with plot holes large enough to lose a Volkswagen.
In closing, we have some pictures of the main character and Kizuna, as well as several screens from the game itself. Dengeki Academy - Cross of Venus should be in stores late February.
Another Satisfied Reader
Just wanted to drop you a note to say you got "Everybody Aught to Have a Maid" from Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum stuck in my head.
I love the musical, but that song just stays in my head! Oh well, at least it's a good song. ^_^ Time to go loop the Distant Worlds concert music a few times to reset the brain music.
Yes, there are worse tunes to have stuck in the brain. When I think back to the summer of "Oops, I Did It Again".... Oh lord, that was a mistake. Looks like I'll be looking for some loud music with which to reset my brain as well.
You have to admit that "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" would make the perfect accompaniment for a Virtual Maid Alice commercial, though.
Oh, and kudos to you and Cidolfas on the message forums for being the only ones (so far) to point out the reference. I'm not sure what a kudo should look like, though. Maybe like this? þ
It's beginning to feel a lot like winter over here, as much as it ever does. I think we're still appreciably above freezing here, but not for much longer.
And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,
Your man in Japan,