Japan-Stuff

SoreMachi…

So, my current favorite manga series, “Sore Demo Machi Wa Mawatteiru” (“And yet, the town continues on…”, it’s kind of a trick on an old expression): I just found out that it’s going to become an anime soon. It’s a slice-of-life manga about an average high school girl, her average friends, an average town, but the characters are interesting, the stories are feel-good and innocent, and very, Very fun.

Huh. On one hand, that’s a good sign: That means that it is then likely that someone will pick up the rights to release the original manga in English.

On the other hand, it’s likely a bad sign: Pretty much all anime from the past several years is total shit.

A previous series that this happened to: “Sumomomo-momomo”. The manga is great, funny, action-packed and dramatic. The anime was total shit. But, because of the anime release, the manga is now slowly coming out in English so my friends can read it, too.

The studio behind it, Pony Canyon (looks like a subsid of TBS or something?) isn’t really in the anime biz, they’ve only released like 1-2 other anime (one of them, “K-On!”, is otaku-flavored drivel). Maybe that’s a good sign, better than a gutter company with a long history of crap.

Thoughts on a Wed^H^H^H Thursday

* Started writing a post yesterday, found myself lacking in time, deferred to today.

* Sleeping schedule messed up again, starting to feel sick, will need to reset again this weekend: Due to some insomnia, I’m only sleeping like 3-4 hours a night, so I go to work and bust ass: After work, though, I’m so drained I can barely think. So I take a nap after work, only planning on sleeping about 30-40 minutes to refresh. 3-4 hours later, I wake up again, feeling tired, trashed, but awake enough to do some follow-up leftover work. Do the work, check some email, crash again. Repeat. This has only been happening this week, but man it’s a bad cycle. Need to stop it. Thinking about dosing on Yerba Mate before I get home so I don’t nap, and just go to bed early. Will be trying this tonight.

* Had to pick up a few new T-Shirts: The old ones were getting… old. And when 3 years ago my company *stopped* giving us free T-Shirts every other week for some small new product release I *was* happy at the reduction of waste, admittedly… but some of those were alright, and now I’m starting to even lack a typical “the company where I work” Tee.

Been looking specifically at religious iconography: Got a cool “OM” shirt, and stumbled across an excellent picture of Ganesha on a shirt. Unfortunately, most such T-shirts are either lame, “funny” (but not really), or just tacky/plain. There’s no Buddhism-themed T-Shirts (yeah I know how weird that sounds, but bear with me) that are interesting. Kinda made me think about going back to some calligraphers and maybe doing up some prints.

* Helping redo the kanji in the margins for John Wick’s Blood and Honor. It’s an interesting process. If you have the game, the Japanese in the margins is (currrently: “some sort of”; soon: “actual”) Japanese traditional proverbs and the like. Gonna aim to do it all up pretty-like, like the cover of Kagematsu.

* On that front, I found some AWESOME resources for classic Japanese proverbs and expressions, which include both the Japanese and English translations. I’ll tell the whole story later, but basically 80% of the proverbs/sayings that are on websites that collect proverbs from around the world and attribute them to Japanese… are bullshit. Turns out they simply don’t exist, or exist in a form so unrelated it should be stricken. But since these expressions/proverbs websites copy content from each other without fact-checking or noting the original Japanese, these fake expressions continue on. More on that later. But for now, the good sites/google books that have true, real proverbs (which honestly are more awesome than the fake ones anyway):

http://www.languagerealm.com/ <– The Japanese proverb section is very well thought out! Tons of great stuff here.

http://books.google.com/books?id=wGb4zNqYj10C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false <– Tons of classic expressions with complete explanations. I might try to score the original print on Amazon later. The original Japanese is not noted, but the romaji version of the original Japanese IS noted, so that means the proverbs are both Real and Relatively easy to find on Japanese language sites.

http://books.google.com/books?id=qQPWtyEP23kC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false <– Also great, includes original Japanese, romaji and hiragana.

* Market has been interesting for the past few days. Pulled out all my ESPP shares, putting that money back into the market (75%) and a new screened-in porch (25%). I need to follow up on that last post re CREE in July: That was an interesting play, and it paid off, but I’m still following the rollercoaster that’s been happening on that stock the past few days.

* GenCon is six weeks away. Yikes! Gotta buy plane tickets. Let me know if you’re going, we’ll meet up.

* Mark Causey is an awesome human being. He stepped up to help me out with last minute doc changes on Tenra. We’ve got a weekend set aside as a failsafe; “If I don’t have any time to do this work between now and then, we’ll have a marathon session and get it all done then.” That’s exactly what I needed.

* Watched two time travel/comedy movies from Japan recently, both were funny and fun (the latter being more “scientific-ish” than the former): “Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust”: About a girl sent back in time to the year 1990 through a time-travelling washing machine by the minister of finance, on a goal to A) find her mom, who went a few days previous but hasn’t returned, and B) stop the Japanese economic bubble of the early 90s from ending so catastrophically (imagine our S&L scandal on top of our housing bubble, multiply that by 10, and that’s what happened in Japan in the early/mid 90s). Lots of funny “this is what the 90s were like” moments, charming story, fun all around. The other  is “Summer Time Machine Blues”, a more “time travel/paradox realistic” yet still as silly/laid back movie about a bunch of boys in this school “SF club” who happen upon a time machine and initially try to use it to get back a broken air conditioner remote control. The results are basically Primer-level paradox-upon-paradox which eventually all  have to get resolved by the end. Without melting your brain, even.

I highly recommend both: Bubble Fiction is more for the anachronism lols, Summer Time Machine Blues is the better SF movie yet still wrapped around a fun, youthful plot.

* Money goal: If this investing continues to pay off, I’m thinking about going back to school specifically for Japanese study. Not even for a career change or anything, just because it’s something I love and want more time/resources to dedicate to getting better at it.

* d20 cuff-links on etsy: Bought.

Weird Twist of Fate at the Game Store

Had to drop off the Honda Fit for service near Southpoint. When I was done, I took a detour up to the SciFi Genre game store in Durham, my favorite local place to pick up boardgames and the like. I wandered around for a bit, when I came to the “Discount Shelf Area”. There, for the marked down price of one single dollar, was my favorite Japanese tabletop RPG: Doublecross (2nd edtition), in perfect condition. Even the “Scene Player” card and survey form was intact. I asked the employee when I bought it what the deal was, but while he was aware of it (“I was waiting to see who would pick that up!”), he had no idea how it got there.

Now it’s mine. That’s fate kicking me in the pants, saying “Finish up Tenra, then run a Doublecross campaign for your friends.”

Random Wednesday Thoughts:

* Moved all my investing/Scottrade cash over to OptionsFirst (“options.scottrade.com”), and have begun experimenting with various option platforms. Currently have a few contracts of CREE, Jan 2011 expiry, a call with a strike of 30. Next, from now until then, I plan to lease it out by making covered calls against it. We’ll see how that does. It’s definitely interesting to make the same amount of money with only a fraction of the overhead of owning the stock in full.

* P90X: Day 3. Tightness kicking in. Totally wiped out after the *warmups* for Plyometrics, but it’s solid. And amazingly enough, it’s pretty fun too. I didn’t expect the fun part…

* PS3: Picked up Riddick: Dark Athena and God of War III. GoW is… well, not surprising at all. But the graphics are really, REALLY pretty, plus the reconceptualization of the Greek Gods is pretty cool.

* Currently reading “Gakuen Kakumei-den Mitsurugi” (“Mitsurugi: Tale of the School Revolution”). It’s probably my current favorite comedy manga (Saint Niisan in a close second place), I’m really enjoying the mini stories. If you read Japanese and dig surreal/human comedy (not so much slapstick, but watching twisted people make bad decisions over and over), I highly recommend this series. Plus, the art is gorgeous.

* So, aside from getting in shape, I’m also (stupidly enough) also getting better at making Parisian Macarons. I bought the “I Love Macarons” book from Amazon that I originally borrowed at the library, which started my descent into this party frenzy. I already have ideas of what to do for my next batch: Basically strong vanilla/vanilla-bean macaron shell, and buttercream in several flavors including Grand Mariner Orange, Vanilla, Matcha, and Ligonberry. While at the same time being careful not to eat too many, as I’m simultaneously dieting/exercising. This kinda feels like Greek Hell, but far more delicious.

Google Japan’s April Fools’ Joke was Funnier…

http://googlejapan.blogspot.com/2010/04/google.html

Google develops a keyboard system ore friendly to the Japanese written system.

Check out the link, above for “Concept Art”, close-ups of the pads, and the keyboard in use.

Japanese Fantasy RPGs, A Brief History of Disappointment

So I’m aiming to at one point run a medium-length Dungeons and Dragons 3/3.5e game set in a fantasical asian-themed setting using the excellent E6 hack (max character level = 6) by Ryan S. To that end, I picked up the Rokugan sourcebook for about $2 at some sale or other, and recently finally acquired the Oriental Adventures handbook for 3e as well.

I earlier ran a modified Legend of the Five Rings game, removing some aspects of the setting I didn’t like, and adding others in (namely religion, and names that don’t sound dumb). It worked ok, but since it was based on L5R’s d10-pool system, combat had no real tactical crunch: It all comes down to “roll some dice, look for “10s”; if you don’t have at least one 10, you fail (as all the PCs were “from the Crab clan”, they have these outrageous armor bonuses and the like).

So I thought about using D&D 4e: Soon in the PHB3 there will be Samurai and “Oriental” (yeah, I said it because I mean it) classes and rules hacks (“Ki!”) and the like. However, my experiences with 4e have been mixed between “better than OK” to “man, combat is *awesome*, but anything that isn’t combat feels contrived and silly”. I’m still gonna get Dark Sun when it’s released, and it’s idea of Kit-style “bolt-on/template classes” is exactly what I think a “Samurai” or “Ninja” needs to be. But honestly, core 4e supports orientalized-Japan pretty well: Tough warriors, samurai, mountain bushi are Fighters. Glamorous or skilled swordsmen are Rangers (with 2-weapon style, but simply have them fight with one katana simply making 2 attacks with it). Ninjas are Rogues. Taoist Sorcerers (Onmyoji) can be Wizards, Sorcerers or Warlocks depending on how you describe your character. And so on.

Anyway, since I’ve had a lot of luck running and playing 3e with the E6 hack, I figured I’d take a stab at buying the 3e Oriental Adventures/Rokugan material, and hacking it into something that I think could be some awesome Japanese-themed fantasy.

So I was reading through it last night, and man while I still think the core conceits of the Rokugan/L5R setting are pretty cool, there’s still a lot of just plain can’t-get-around-it *stinky* in there. I can’t work with this stuff. A lot of OA is recycled crap from 1st edition that didn’t work then.

Anyway, It started my mind chugging along, though. A hack. Oh yes, a hack. Possibly D&D 3.5e with some modifications, ruleswise. But more importantly, a setting hack: Something that feels a bit historic, a lot fantastic, builds off of core Japan/Chinese myth but evolves it as well.

The main inspirations for this direction were the anime 12 Kingdoms (classical Chinese monsters, basically giant normal animals, made scary; plus, all that culture); the Wii video game I’m playing now called Oboro Muramasa, which incidentally is awesome; and elements that rang true from my last L5R campaign. There’s definitely some Tenra Bansho Zero influence in there (it’s hard to distinguish anymore which parts of my inspiration were lifted from TBZ and which ones weren’t), but I was thinking something that was more fantastical, less extreme…

This is a project which I’ll engage in after TBZ is done from my end, but I’ve come up with a foundation and guidelines:

* Genuine setting material, complete with unique lands and people.

* No “non-human” characters, or at least very few (“spirit folk” would be about it).

* Rules for combat: 3e/4e/burning wheel-style tactics, not L5R style “stand toe to toe, roll a bunch of dice and get high numbers until the other guy falls over”

* Rules for social stuff: Unknown.

* Rules for CULTURE. This was a point of inspiration last night. GUMSHOE/Trail of Cthulhu style culture skills (instead of investigation skills); including things like Calligraphy, tea ceremony, painting, haiku/composition, music/instrument, yuujyou/makura-jutsu/”pillow arts”, buddhist/sutra lore, shinto lore, cooking, war history, craftsmanship, and so on. Every adventure would involve one or more of the above, and when the appropriate culture element came up, the person with that skill on their sheet (every member of the group would have at least one of these in a small amount) would step forward and strut their stuff, getting the clue, talking to the lord (“Oh, your tea ceremony style is unconventional! Please, show me again how you do that…”), and so on. While seeming to require its own system, this hack can easily be grafted into classic 3e/4e.

* Monsters: Monsters are cool and fun to hunt and defeat. Unfortunately, every attempt at western RPGs bringing in Japanese-themed monsters has failed IMO. Either they use stuff that doesn’t make sense (Rakshasa), or they use stuff straight out of the Japanese lore-book: Which might have been scary 300 years ago, but by our modern standards sounds lame or dumb (“a woman with a LONG NECK, OH SHIT!!!” “a WALL SEGMENT that is REALLY REALLY WET!!!” “An umbrella, but it’s one one eye and one leg and it hops around!!!” “A wooden wheel, on fire, with a mouth on it OMG!”). Every game I’ve seen, from D&D to Sengoku to L5R has basically taken these monsters, kept them as-is, and stapled hit points on them. I thought for a time that there was nothing to be done about this, but Awesome Video Games proved that wrong:

- Ookami re-invents classical monsters in a really stylized, cool form.

- Oboro Muramasa does the same, and on top of that it also creates a new type of monster that both pulls from classical mythology but layers modern sensibilities on top of it. THIS was the true visual inspiration that told me “This can be done: It is possible to create new monsters for a Japanese-themed fantasy game, keep them rooted in the classical mythology, but reinvent them so that they are scary and cool and not just archaic and lame-sounding.” For example:

Anyway, just some thoughts that were rolling around in my head. I’ll be digging deeper once TBZ is done. Likely this will turn into an open setting project compatible with any game, with stats for a few.

-Andy

Checking out the Wii…

So, Mark C  lent me his Wii for a bit, with a big pile o games to check out. Here’s some quick impressions of some games I’ve been playing with:

Fragile: Imagine this: Someone wants to make a Japanese version of Fallout 3 into a heartwarming anime-like experience. As weird as that sounds, that’s exactly what Fragile feels like. It’s creepy as hell, Tokyo is in shattered ruins, but you help ghosts find the afterlife in a heartwarming way (but the lead up to them screams “they died horribly, in terrible sadness and pain”). It’s very weird, and extremely cool thus far.

Zero (aka Fatal Frame) 4: OK, I’m hooked. Unfortunately, they couldn’t design a Wii interface for crap: It uses nothing at all “Wii-like”: The Motion Controller only registers “up and down”. So when you look around or use your camera, you have to use the nunchuk to steer left and right, and the motion controller to do up and down. They really should have just included a PS2 controller, because that’s all it is just split up over the Wii. Story so far is good, and sufficiently creepy.

Silent Hill – Shattered Memories: I like what they’re trying to do, but the run-away scenes involve too much waggling. I’ll probably pick it up on sale on the PS2 (where, to throw a dude off your back, you have to “press one button”).

Oboro Muramasa: Hot damn. HOT DAMN. Why didn’t they make this a cross-platform game? It doesn’t even use the Wii motion stuff at all… I totally would have paid $50 for this on the PS3. Bastards.

Imabikisou: Interesting use of the “audio novel” (basically a long-form choose-your-own-adventure kind of text game, with pictures and some fragments of animation): Lots of text, head kinda hurts. Makes me want to play 428 even more (will probably import for the PS3).

Year of El Tigre

明けましておめでとうございます!It’s the year of the ->寅<-. Yippie!

“10 years ago” has been the Internet Theme for the past day. For me, 10 years ago…

* I had just left Japan and returned to the US, been in the states for a little under a month with 1 wife, 3 cats (Subaru, Chobi and Ku-chan), nowhere to live and about $4,000 to my name, saved up from a teaching/consulting gig in Japan.

* I was just starting my career over from scratch, temping at the Duke University Glaucoma Center. At this time, I started moving back slowly towards computers as a career, but I was still looking into consulting and training work.

* It was about a week before I “tried to teach myself Linux over the weekend”. LOL!

* I had been playing Thief: The Dark Project for 2 years, and Thief II for a few months.

* I was a size 34. Now I’m a size 36, trying to get back to 34.

* I was still feeling shitty about my previous relationship breakup (due to it being entirely my fault). Cut to 10 years later, when I dwell on it I still feel pretty shitty. Funny how time sometimes doesn’t blunt pain.

* I was looking forward to the next Matrix movies.

* Nikolai lived a few hours away in DC, Drew in Boston.

* My hometown in Japan was still called “Sakai-machi” (and I worked mostly in “Azuma-mura”), and both hadn’t yet been assimilated into Isesaki-shi.

* I was into my first year of posting on RPGNet.

If you have 50 bucks, you can buy the best anime ever

I just noticed the other day that my favorite anime epic, Twelve Kingdoms, is now packaged into one super-DVD set for only $50 at Amazon.

Link here: http://www.amazon.com/Twelve-Kingdoms-Complete-Aya-Hisakawa/dp/B0021BSOHW

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically the story of a high school girl that gets whisked away to a confusing, dangerous and splendid China-analogue world that runs parallel to ours. She has a great destiny there, and the series follows her and others in various tales of growing up and adventure. 5 story arcs in all, the first and third (which focus on Yoko) are the best IMO: Quite stirring and epic.

It’s slightly above the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series for “favorite anime”, above Fruits Basket, Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, and Vampire Princess Miyu.