anime

Why I Want(ed) to Live and Work in Japan

Several years ago, I tried to submit applications to different schools in Asian countries. My goal was to use my pathetic English degree to teach the language abroad. None of that panned out, but this was my favorite submission letter to a Japanese outfit. (No, these images were NOT included in the original query letter.)

My fascination with “the rising sun” began in the spring of 1983. An unassuming precocious child, I channel-surfed Saturday morning cartoons like a pro. Perhaps it was a short attention span, or a reflex, but nothing ever caught my eye. That is, until I ran across anime for the first time.

The channel surfing stopped.

Fast-forward a few years later – by this time, a 9th grader – and introduced to the likes of Akira, thus solidifying my genre preference for all time. But not only that, I had to learn more about the culture that spawned such a dynamic art form. The bookworm in me took over.

Like any teenage male, the first word in the search key was “ninja”. That led to “samurai”, followed closely by “daimyo”, and lastly to “Amaterasu.” Film directors such as Shintaro Katsu, Akira Kurosawa, Hayao Miyazaki and Takeshi Kitano breathed imagery into my textual inquiries. However, I was still distanced from experiencing the culture firsthand.tian xiao cheng

Then came college.

Most would assume a dorm boss to be a beleaguered, tired-looking post-grad student. Mine was the exact opposite – a bright-eyed, smiling, and downright hilarious guy by the name of Hiro. He and I grew to be fast friends and embarked on weekly sushi outings. (Usually impromptu, it being college and all.)

As with all things, though, college ended and we returned to our prospective homes. Too bad his was across an imposing ocean. I heard from him on and off over the years, his same statement being, “When’re you coming to Japan?”

To which, I would shrug and say, “When I have money.”

In passing years, I also developed a palate for refined green teas, gyokuro and matcha specifically. This further fueled my desire to one day cross overseas. I wanted to smell a fresh cup of loose leaf green tea from the source, not just from some secondhand distributor. A need for authenticity barraged me.

Aside from the need to experience a culture on its own soil, another desire needed to be sated; that being, putting use to my English degree. To put it mildly, it had been vestigial at best. No job I retained over the years was anywhere near related to my field of study. Granted, I wrote fiction on the side, but what good was that to anyone? I suppose I had a drive to teach.

Having tutored in the past, I can safely say it was rewarding. Seeing someone beam with delight once they finally understood material, well, there’s no greater high in the world. What’s the point finding joy if one doesn’t share joy.

I suppose that’s what brings me to [insert language school here]. The opportunity to live and learn away from the comfort of home is an alluring prospect to say the least. Traveling is in my blood, and so is teaching. It seems only natural that both be adhered too, and with a wonderful company, no less. I appreciate to opportunity for consideration.

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Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 Steep Stories 4 Comments

A Lament about Dogs, Warriors and Brothers

In a prior article, I made mention of an anime that was influential in my late-adolescence. The title was The Hakkenden: Legend of the Dog Warriors, and it was based on a series of Japanese books written in the late 1700s. The story chronicled the do-gooder exploits of eight spiritual brothers destined to bring their grandfather’s samurai clan back to greatness. Of course, I’m skating over some important aspects of the plot in that brief description. (Chiefly, the reason they were called “dog” warriors. Look it up, it’s weird.)

Point being, though I never read the source material, the anime fueled my own imagination in a profound way. Some years later, I concocted an idea that modernized the old feudal tale. I envisioned a supernatural crime drama centering around young men tied to different organized mafia factions. Instead of eight, however, I opted for four, and each were spiritually tied to one another by pieces of a mystical crucifix gifted to them by their foster mother.

Said foster mother ended up the victim of a crime syndicate raid, and the four lads vow revenge. One of the centerpieces I imagined was a climactic shootout in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland. That and a priest with two sawed-off shotguns showing up. (It was the 90s. Bullet ballets were still cool.)

I even had the perfect title for this little opus – Cursed Lament.

I shelved the idea for several years, as was my M.O. back in the day. No one would dare do an idea like that, I thought. Most Hollywood types had never even heard of Hakkenden. Then, in 2005, this happened.

The premise to Four Brothers was near-identical to the adaptation I had in mind. Four foster brothers – each from different backgrounds – vow revenge on a crime lord for the death of their foster mother. What were the friggin’ odds?! I was pissed.

Distraught, I permanently shelved Cursed Lament and ignored any inkling to watch Four Brothers. The desire to still nagged me over the next half-decade, though. Until a month ago…

I noticed the flick finally showed up on Netflix Streaming. Now, I had no excuse for avoiding it, save for…well…responsibility. One uneventful night, I gave in and queued it up, all the while dreading the possibilities. A part of me held out hope that it didn’t tread on my Cursed idea.

And you know what? It didn’t. Boy, didn’t it?!

The story for the film was an absolute mess from the get-go. For one thing, there didn’t appear to be any emotional connection between the brothers. No fault of the actors involved, but rather the script. I got very little sense that there was a real bond between any of them. On top of that, no real character depth was present . No emotion wept from the screen, either.

Only the moment when the foster mother died at the beginning of the film exuded any hint of gravitas. The rest played out like a typical crime caper. Cursing and bloodletting abound. At the end of it…I was relieved.

My vision for a Mafioso Hakkenden was intact. No Lament necessary.

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Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 Musings 4 Comments

Top 90s Anime You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

I’ve been an anime (read: cartoons from Japan) fan for most of my life. If there’s one generalization I hate hearing, it’s that the 90s were considered the “dark age” of anime. That is, until the advent of Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star and their ilk. Since my otaku (read: geek) side blossomed during this decade, I get rather defensive when I hear 90s anime being derided. Sure, there was a lot of crap. (I’m looking at you Genocyber.) However, there were several gems, too. Many of which most normal folks have probably never heard of.

So, I thought it high time to list off a few of my more esoteric favorites from the dark-aged decade that was.

Here are:

My Top 90s Anime You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

In no particular order.

Combustible Campus Guardress

I would never have heard of this OVA (Original Video Animation) if it weren’t for an anime group I was loosely affiliated with in high school. It was released in Japan in 1994, but never jumped across the Pacific pond. And, to this day, I’m confused as to why.

Billed as a parody of the “supernatural high school” genre, the story centers around Hasumi – the titular “guardress” of the title. Her high school is built over a “hellmouth” of sorts, and her duty is to protect her step-brother – the key to unlocking said gate. Demons called Remnants repeatedly invade the school to take said key out. Luckily, the students and faculty are trained in supernatural combat.

Sounds a lot like Buffy, doesn’t it?

Highlights:

The animation and fight scenes are incredible for the time. And despite its lampooning style of storytelling, some of the characterization is rather well thought out. Hasumi remains one of my favorite female protagonists in all of animedom.

Lowlights:

At only four episodes, it’s painfully short.

The Hakkenden: Legend of the Dog Warriors

In the early-to-mid-90s, Pioneer (yes, that Pioneer) tried to get into the anime game. Many of the titles under their umbrella were rather impressive. El Hazard, Tenchi Muyo, and Bastard!!! were all thanks to them. However, the series they hyped up as one of their flagship titles never got much fanfare after its initial release.

The Hakkenden is based on a 200-year-old Japanese novel originally titled Nansō Satomi Hakkenden (or “The Eight Dogs Chronicles”). The story is long and epic. To summarize, it deals with eight samurai half-brothers who are all part-dog. I’m…not kidding. The chapters focus on their attempts to find one another, and their quest to bring the Satomi clan back to prominence and prosperity. It’s all very Bushido.

The animated version took a more surrealist and subversive turn, emphasizing the horror elements of the series. It also added a bit of grey to the normally black-and-white/good-vs.-evil events of the story. Clocking in at only thirteen episodes (and one clip show), the sprawling epic was sometimes difficult to follow. I had to re-watch it twice to finally pin all the plot points down.

Highlights:

The animation, the music, and the characters. The story has a very deliberate pace, and the visuals are always striking. The eight protagonists are some of the most fascinating and diverse of all the samurai fiction I’ve absorbed.

Lowlights:

For some reason, directing duties for some of the episodes changed hands, leading to dramatic shifts in animation style. The experience wasn’t too jarring, but two episodes in particular stood out as complete eyesores – “Horyu Tower” and “Hamaji’s Resurrection”, episodes 4 and 10 respectively. The former’s style was too cartoonish compared to the rest of the series, and the latter opted for hideous rotoscope animation. Never a good idea.

Sol Bianca

Three words: Female. Space. Pirates.

The story centers around the crew of the pirate ship for which the series gets its name. Said crew are also named for months out of the year – Janny, Feb, April, May and June. The ship itself is an ancient vessel of unknown technology with the capability of “diving” into hyperspace, as opposed to warping like normal vessels. It is also implied that the ship is biotech in origin.

The series only spanned two episodes; the first was a bit of a stand-alone, while the second tried to set up a larger story-arc. Unfortunately, NEC and AIC – the corporate entities funding the project – scrapped any future development, leaving several plot threads dangling.

In the late-90s, the female crew were given a second lease on life with the Pioneer-backed, six-episode Sol Bianca: The Legacy. The series had nothing to do with the previous incarnation. Aside from the ship design and the character names and likenesses, everything else was changed.

Highlights:

Everything. Simply everything. The first episode of the original series was lightning in a bottle. Storytelling, character development, scenarios, everything about it worked. The second episode was a tad weaker, but still held up to the first.

Lowlights:

Everything about Sol Bianca: The Legacy. God, what a celluloid abortion that was.

Toki no Tabibito: Time Stranger

Yet another anime that never saw a stateside release. I first caught wind of it when I saw various scenes in an AMV (anime music video) a fan had made. The animation was so breathtaking, I had to track it down. Keep in mind, this was 1993. Pre-Internet. By “track it down”, I had to beg a smelly bearded man for a bootleg VHS.

Thankfully, it was well worth the awkward effort. The story focused on a youth from the 25th century who escapes his despotic world. Unfortunately, his vehicle is damaged in the escape attempt, and he makes a pit stop in the 20th century to jury-rig his time machine to a bus. Unlucky for him, though, the bus is already occupied by students and a teacher who join him on his time leaping against their will.

The movie actually came out in 1986, but since I didn’t discover it until the 90s, I’m flimsily including it on this list. It was far darker a story than I’d anticipated, but I rather liked the direction it took. Some of the events play out far differently from other time travel tales.

Highlights:

The animation. Man, this was a fluid piece of work. The detailed art was impressive as well, especially considering that this was pre-Akira.

Lowlights:

The pacing and the 20th century characters – particularly the women. They were annoyingly, stereotypically Japanese. That and the movie ended on a rather open-ended, abstract note. A trope in anime I never liked.

***

There are plenty of other anime from this dark age I could recommend, but I’d better cut this short for now. That’s enough geeking out for one entry. I may jot down more at a later juncture. Do give those titles a looksy if you find yourself in need of a good time-waster.

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Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 Musings 2 Comments

I BofA’d Your Netflix in Thailand

A typical Thursday night – for me, anyway – goes like this: (1) Get off work at 11PM. (2) If plans weren’t made, head home. (3) Get out of monkey suit/work uniform. (4) Feed cat. (5) Binge on the Internet ‘til some ungodly hour in the morning. It’s not an ideal or healthy routine, but it’s something…for now.

I decided to throw a wrench in that cycle by adding an old friend to the mix – Netflix. In the Before Time – when movies and streaming were still one option – I was an avid devourer. Nowadays, I leeched off of other people’s Netflix whims. What I missed was a steady supply of anime and Bollywood musicals a mere keystroke away. So, I rejoined via a 30-day free trial.

And that’s where the trouble began.

The day after a night of streaming anime, my cell phone buzzed me awake. At 10AM. I didn’t get to sleep until 7AM. The interruption of slumber was unappreciated. It was from Bank of America, or rather…their fraud department. My account had been locked out due to some recent suspicious activity.

After a two-hour power nap, I logged onto the BofA website to see what they were talking about. Lo and behold, it was locked out. Every time I tried to access my account info, it asked me to click on some fraud website for details. It was all mighty cloak-and-dagger, kinda suspicious, and extra cheesy.

Sidenote: Some of you may be wondering why I even have a Bank of America account. The reason is this – it wasn’t my choice. It’s a credit card I’ve had since college. Before being a BofA card, it was MBNA. Of course, after the ’08 ecomonic crash, that company was gobbled up by the precariously-footed financial giant. Hence the reason why I have no choice but to bank with them. Unlike some of the horror stories, though, I really haven’t had too many problems with them. Well, until recently.

I finally broke down and called the shadowy BofA “fraud protection” number. A perky woman (and, for once, not outsourced Indian) answered. She explained that the suspicious activity on my card was listed as a Netflix charge. Wait…that didn’t sound right. How could my card be charged if I was doing a free trial? Some quizzing on mine and her part ensued to verify the account, then said card was reactivated. However, the website access remained locked.

The next night, I called the regular customer service number to find out why the online option was unavailable to me. They confirmed that my account was indeed active but had no explanation for the website lock. Any attempt to address it couldn’t be made until regular business hours. On Monday. Lastly, the customer service rep informed me that Netflix had tried to charge my card, not once, but three times. Three simultaneous attempts at authorization led to the transaction being labeled as “suspicious”. I could understand that. Why would a “free” trial require three attempted authorizations?!

Groaning, I called Netflix. The barely-pubescent teller confirmed that there were, indeed, three attempted authorizations on my card. Two of them were for – get this – ZERO dollars. The last was for two dollars MORE than what a standard monthly fee was for streaming content. Pube-teller reassured me that the auth-attempt would fall off after two business days. So…by Tuesday.

And all while this was happening, I received an emergency notification from Google saying my e-mail had been compromised. Someone tried to access it. In Thailand.

What have I learned?

Absolutely nothing. After finishing this post, I’m going back to watching anime on Netflix streaming – all the while munching on BofA-bought Taco Bell while keeping my Gmail open. I have a routine to uphold, after all.

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Sunday, October 16th, 2011 Musings 3 Comments

Curse of the Wolf and Moon

Several years ago, when I first jointed the ranks of the otaku (read: anime geeks), I noticed a common staple among the older – but not necessarily elite – members of this nerdy subclass. Aside from unkempt beards, thick-rimmed glasses, Twinkie-fueled corpulence, and a smug expression, they wore wolf shirts. There were the occasional gaming humor shirts, dragon shirts, silk dragon shirts, but the most common were a lovely lupus…
 
On not so lovely large frames
 
This also had me worried. Was that my fate as an aged anime fan? Would that curse befall me to? I shrugged it off, kept clear of most borderline geriatric anime fans. Not that they weren’t cool – okay, sure, some were creepy – but more out of fear for the wolf plight. Hopefully this phenomenon only existed in the subgeek circles.
 
How wrong I was.
 
This group might not seem outwardly familiar, but everyone has seen ’em. They can’t be considered rednecks, due to their political and spiritual affiliations. Chances are they lean to the left, vote Libertarian, and listen to Coast to Coast with George Noory (formerly Art Bell). For lack of a better term – since I’m not sure they have a given title – I shall refer to them as Backwoods Wiccans.
  
I first noticed them when visiting the music page for my CELTIC HARPIST FRIEND. The computer I use at work for leisurely netsurfing is ungodly slow. Pages with oodles of graphics either load at the speed of turtle, or not at all. Eight times out of ten, a glitter-fuckfest of a page would crash the browser altogether. I happened to have been chatting with said friend, when all of a sudden she uttered a string of epithets that were downright unladylike.
 
Some members of her fanbase fell into this Backwoods Wiccan school of dumbfuckery. I had a little more success in loading the page, but lo and behold found it splayed to the gills with glittery wolves. And moons. Awe-struck, humored, and slightly terrified, I gathered my thoughts. Dear God, there was an upgrade to the wolf shirt curse. Wolves and moons.
 
And further still, the terrifying trifecta occasionally revealed itself, some people brandished their collective Myspace pages with wolves, moons, and Indians. Odd considering the people proudly displaying these images looked nowhere near American Indian. Some didn’t even look American. Or human.
 
Maybe that’s unfair. I can understand the love of wolves, the acknowledged majesty of the moon, and the illusory idolatry of the Indian. What I couldn’t fathom was how one would want such an effigy on a cheap cotton shirt, stretched tightly on a beer gut. I didn’t get it.

Some light was shed on the subject last Thursday while out with friends at Harvey’s Comedy Club. The opening act, a normal-looking guy with a receding hairline, conveyed his observations about redneck culture. While he was pontificating, I turned to one of my friends and muttered about Backwoods Wiccan attire, particularly the “wolf and moon” t-shirt phenomenon.
 
The comedian segued into an observation about retirees and a mandatory article of clothing they received in the mail at the age of 65. It was…
 
You guessed it.
 
If there was ever a moment of sheer “ROTFLMAO”, that was it, ladies and gentlemen.
 
A couple of days later, I got a text from one of the gals present for the comedy set. It read: “Guys, I saw the wolf shirt without the moon.”
 
“Oh lord,” I thought. I couldn’t even respond.
 
A few days after that, I was reading my usual spread of webcomics at work. One of my favorite strips – GIRLS WITH SLINGSHOTS – ran a comic about lesbians.
 
(For the record, I’ve personally never seen a lesbian don a wolf and moon t-shirt.)
 
I had to pass it on to everyone indirectly involved. The sheer amount of “loupe”-iness was unreal. What could the Great Wolf Moon Spirit be saying to me? Then I thought back to my earlier fear. Maybe it was telling me it was time. After all, most of the anime geeks who donned the wolfwear were in their early thirties. I was 18 at the time, so they seemed much older. But now I’m there.
 
No, I couldn’t believe that. I…can’t believe that. Wait, there’s still hope! I haven’t seen a wolf on a tea pot yet. No temptation!
 
Fuck.
 

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Saturday, November 22nd, 2008 Musings No Comments

I work for tea money.

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