August 01, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (12)

I've posted chapter 12 (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon. 

The Daishikou (大司寇) is the Justice Minister and runs the Ministry of Fall. The Shuushikou (州司寇) is the Provincial Justice Minister. This terminology dates to the Zhou Dynasty. "Prison of Dusk" in Hisho's Birds focuses on the work done by the appellate courts in the Ministry of Fall.

A blue bird (青鳥) is a bird-based voice mail system. The sender dictates a message. The bird flies to the recipient and repeats it verbatim. A blue bird can also perform the same tasks as a carrier pigeon. "Pen-pals" in Dreaming of Paradise has Youko and Rakushun corresponding using a blue bird.

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July 25, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (11)

I've posted chapter eleven (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

Taiki's journey to Ren is described in "Winter Splendor," published in Dreaming of Paradise.

A meishoku is a small shoku triggered by a kirin in distress. Natural shoku occur almost imperceptibly. Otherwise, even small shoku have destructive side effects. Kirin and shirei can travel back and forth to Japan and China without causing a shoku. But bringing a human being with them will trigger a massive shoku.

Esui is an invented word that combines the kanji for "contamination" (穢) and "fatigue" (瘁). In Taiki's case, the primary cause was consuming animal products, especially food containing blood, while in Japan. Kirin are strict vegetarians. Being a strict vegetarian in Japan is surprisingly difficult.

Kyouryou is an introvert in an extrovert's world. I can identify.

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July 18, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (10)

I've posted chapter 10 (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

Rakushun rides a suugu (this one on loan from Rokuta) in A Thousand Leagues of Wind. A suugu resembles a tiger in outward appearance.

A keiretsu is a "business network made up of different companies that have close relationships and sometimes take small equity stakes in each other, all the while remaining operationally independent."

After this chapter, you might be inspired to watch Spice and Wolf, though the setting and time period are more medieval Europe than medieval China.

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July 11, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (9)

I've posted chapter 9 (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

All legal residents of a kingdom receive a plot of land when they reach their majority. A single allotment is equal to one hectare. Enho teaches Youko about the allotment system in A Thousand Leagues of Wind.

Kouki (鴻基) is the capital city of Tai.

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July 04, 2020

Ultraman (2019)

There's nothing wrong with the same only different. "Originality" in art is overrated. The heroic journey, for example, will never get old. The entertainment world is richer for both The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. For both Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars.

Though Sergio Leone stole a bit too much in A Fistful of Dollars without permission from Akira Kurosawa and later settled a lawsuit with Toho Pictures.

The problem with Hollywood's version of Ghost in the Shell isn't so much that they "expropriated" and "whitewashed" the original (duly licensed) material, it's that they did such a lousy job of it. (The first mistake was cribbing from Mamoru Oshii instead of Kenji Kamiyama, who directed the Ghost in the Shell: SAC series.)

On the other hand, the 2019 Netflix reboot of the 1966 Ultraman series does the same only different right. The original was a tokusatsu (special effects) series in the giant monster genre. High camp, in other words. It's an acquired taste that aside from the first Godzilla movie I've haven't acquired.

The reboot is instead based on the manga by Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi that began serialization in 2011. The 3DCG anime series is directed by Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki, who directed the 2020 Netflix reboot of the Ghost in the Shell: SAC franchise, also produced by Production I.G and Sola Digital Arts.

But I'm not talking about sequels that simply reinterpret the source material. If, as Picasso (among others) said, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal," who is this Ultraman ripping off? Well, in a nutshell, Ultraman is Peter Parker in an Iron Man suit and set in the Men in Black universe. In Tokyo.

To be sure, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man stands alone. But in the overall framing of the story, Ultraman improves on Spider-Man. As Shinjiro Hayata, veteran voice actor Ryohei Kimura is the perfect dorky teen superhero. He's got a Mary Jane (Rena). His dad (who almost but doesn't get killed) fills the Uncle Ben and Aunt May roles.

Actually, a more accurate name for the series might be Ultramen, as by the end of the first season we've got three. Along with Shinjiro, there's Moroboshi, Shinjiro's tough-as-nails supervisor, and Seiji, who's a year younger than Shinjiro. Seiji enters the fray sporting a ton of Deadpool attitude and a bunch of hidden agendas.

Though they are very personal agendas. He's not out to save the planet.

The cinematic Spider-Man (and the whole Marvel Universe) has always suffered from a overdependence on supervillains. Bemular in Ultraman seems one at first but turns into more a fusion of Mewtwo from Detective Pikachu and the Vulcans in the first season of Enterprise. Plus a little bit of Q from Star Trek: TNG.

Still overpowered. But this is where Men in Black elements make an important contribution (besides the otherworldly Edo looking great in a suit).

Although the SSSP, the SHIELD-style organization running the Ultraman project, intends to increase civilian awareness of the aliens in their midst, they want to do so on their terms. Superhero brawls that spill into the public square cause all sorts of problems.

The resulting skulking about in the shadows keeps the conflicts in proportion, reins in the property damage, and gives Ultraman a cool noir look. The middle arc of the first season is actually a murder mystery that revolves around Rena, an up and coming pop star.

That arc culminates with the appearance of Adad, a ruthless extraterrestrial cop with a Gul Dukat vibe about him. I hope to see more of him in the future too.

But these are still small stakes compared to the fate of the universe. Ultraman shows how keeping the stakes (relatively) small in comic book material allows the writers to say important things without beating the audience over the head with the message, and tell interesting stories without the world ending in every other installment.

I'll be a very happy camper if Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki continue to alternately direct seasons of Ghost in the Shell: SAC and Ultraman for the next decade.

Ultraman is streaming on Netflix.

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June 27, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (8)

I've posted chapter 8 (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

Kaikyaku (海客) are people from this world who are transported by shoku across the Kyokai (虚海), the Sea of Nothingness, from Japan. Sankyaku (山客) come across the Adamantine Mountains from China, known in the Twelve Kingdoms as Kunlun (崑崙), the name of a mountain range in central China. Analogous to Hourai, Kunlun is also a mythical mountain said to be a Taoist paradise.

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June 20, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (7)

I've posted chapter 7 (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

The White Pheasant or Hakuchi (白稚) sings once when the emperor is enthroned and once when the emperor dies, after which it also dies. The White Pheasant is thus known as Ni-sei (二声) or "the two cries." A Phoenix bird in each kingdom repeats the song of the White Pheasant.

The Minister of the Two Cries or Nisei-shi (二声氏) is the government official who tends to the White Pheasant. The incident Risai describes in this chapter is recounted in The Shore in Twilight. Asen tried to kill the White Pheasant but had to fake its death with an ordinary pheasant instead.

The discovery of Gyousou's belt or sash in a shipment of gemstones is covered in greater detail in The Shore in Twilight.

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June 13, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (6)

I've posted chapter 6 (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

Shirei (使令) are youma subjugated by the kirin. They serve as the kirin's servants, messengers, and bodyguards. Older kirin may have dozens or hundreds of shirei at their command. Taiki had only two shirei, and the injury to his horn and being stranded in Hourai (Japan) resulted in him losing them.

According to the kirin's quid pro quo with the shirei, in exchange for the shirei's service during the kirin's lifetime, the shirei get to eat him when he dies.

A taika (胎果) is a person born in China or Japan because of a shoku event that transplanted the ranka (卵果) into the body of a pregnant woman. A child like Youko who is born as a result will genetically resemble her parents until she returns to the Twelve Kingdoms, at which point she "sheds" her outer skin.

A rike or rika (里家) is a foster home and school for orphans and the aged that also serves as a community center. The rike is run by the superintendent (閭胥).

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June 06, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (5)

I've posted chapter 5 (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

Wagen (和元) is the gengou (era name) of the late Emperor Kyou, which continued after his death until Gyousou was formally enthroned. Koushi (弘始) is the nengou chosen by Gyousou.

The gengou (元号) or nengou (年号) dating system begins with an era name created specifically for the reign of that emperor. The year of the enthronement counts as year one. The era name of Youko's dynasty is Sekiraku (赤楽). The kanji refer to the color red and the first character of Rakushun's name.

In Japan, the current era name is Reiwa (令和), and its announcement last year was a major public event. Emperor Naruhito was enthroned in 2019 so 2020 is Reiwa 2.

The Ministry of Winter (冬官) is in charge of public works.

shoku (蝕) is a wormhole between two universes. Or as Rakushun explains in Shadow of the Moon, "[A] shoku is when here and there get tangled up together." Shoku can be engineered on purpose by a wizard or kirin, as with Youko, but also occur at random, as with Suzu in A Thousand Leagues of Wind.

The Divine Decrees (太綱) are a fusion of constitutional and natural law. Laws promulgated by the emperor must align with the Divine Decrees. Violations have drastic consequences. The most common manifestations of imperial wrongdoing are that youma proliferate and the kirin falls ill (the shitsudou).

If the kirin dies from the shitsudou, the emperor will die too.

Hourai (蓬莱) is a mythical paradise derived from the Chinese legend of Penglai. It is also a classical geographical name for Taiwan, which in the Twelve Kingdoms has come to mean Japan.

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May 30, 2020

dLibrary Japan (update)

When I first started streaming with Netflix, I hoped it would continue to build its library of live-action Japanese content. Alas, Netflix is the latest service to discover that there simply isn't a big audience for localized Jdrama in North America.

Or, for that matter, anywhere else, which is why anime makes up 80 percent of Japan's broadcast television overseas exports.

So while Netflix has been busily licensing anime movies and series, and producing anime content for its Netflix Originals catalog, it hasn't added any new live-action scripted Japanese programming. That means dLibrary Japan has the VOD market mostly to itself.

Over the past year, dLibrary Japan has taken that responsibility seriously, evolving from a usable but clunky beta site into a fully functioning streaming provider.

At the end of May, dLibrary Japan revamped the website, making much needed modifications to the Continue Watching list and significantly improving content discovery. The only critical thing left on the to-do list is to move the new features over to the app.

A few bugs remain. The "remember me" login checkbox doesn't remember me for very long. And to get picky, "details" is spelled wrong on the website.

There is still no way to search the website but they've added scads of genre categories and subcategories, making it easy to narrow down selections. You can always search the catalog using the app.

One of the new categories is subtitled content. Though it has less than two dozen titles, five of them are NHK Taiga dramas. At fifty or so episodes each, these historical epics alone might be worth a subscription if you haven't seen them before.

dLibrary Japan is mostly Japanese-only (you can navigate the site in English or Japanese), and is acquiring that Japanese-only content at a brisk clip, adding several new series or seasons a week. I'm looking forward to seeing how the site will grow in the future.

dLibrary Japan is supported on most browsers. There are apps for Android smartphones and tablets, Apple iPhone and iPad, Apple TV, and Roku.

Related posts

dLibrary Japan
Netflix in Japanese
TV Japan and NHK World

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May 23, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (4)

I've posted chapter 4 (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

The same way the president of the United States is also commander in chief of the armed forces and the chief executive, the Taiho (台輔) or Saiho (宰輔) also serves as chief advisor to the emperor, province lord of the capital province, and commander of the Provincial Guard, which constitutes half of the Imperial Army.

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May 16, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (3)

I've posted chapter 3 (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

The kanji compounds the author uses for throwing knives (飛刀) and concealed weapons (暗器) are derived from Chinese martial arts. Both words show up in Chinese dictionaries but not most Japanese dictionaries, though the latter one does have a Japanese Wikipedia entry. Even so, the meanings of the words are pretty apparent from the kanji alone.

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May 09, 2020

Rifle is Beautiful

Sports is the most enduring genre in manga and anime. With the conflict built into the narrative, athletic competition is an always reliable source of story material. Baseball has long been the king of this particular hill, but the genre has tackled everything from mahjong (Saki) to archery (Tsurune) to bicycle touring (Long Riders).

And just when you think maybe all of those permutations have been exhausted, competitive karuta makes a brilliant contribution with Chihayafuru. And shogi becomes the center of the masterful melodrama, March Comes in like a Lion.

With both mainstream team and individual sports, significant parts of the story are often fashioned out of the play-by-play. Even Yowamuchi Pedal (bicycle racing) and Chihayafuru spend multiple episodes on a single competition, at each step along the way diving into the winning strategies of the players.

But with archery, there's not a whole lot to make of an arrow striking a target. Either it does or it doesn't (though roster order apparently matters). So Tsurune focuses more on the mental than the muscle, starting out by giving the protagonist a bad case of target panic as a source of the conflict (along with a bunch of teenage angst and a family tragedy to boot).

Even archery is more action-oriented than firearm "bullseye" or "range" shooting, where the "objective is to score points by hitting a round shooting target as close to the center as possible with slow precision fire." When the shooter is doing everything right, the only thing that moves is the trigger finger, and imperceptively.

Rifle is Beautiful (distributed in North America as Chidori RSC) is about a high school shooting team, so it could go down the melodrama route (like Tsurune) or slice of life. It takes the latter approach, what I call the "cute girls doing interesting things" genre, though more competitive aspects do emerge in the concluding arc at the national high school championships.

Now, given that Japan has some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the universe, the obvious question is what kind of rifles they are shooting.

Two of the girls in the series participate in air gun competitions. Doing so, we are told, is expensive. In order to purchase an air rifle (as opposed to less regulated airsoft and paintball weapons), you have to present a certificate obtained by attending a gun safety lecture and pass a test at a local police station. Thereafter, the certificate has to be renewed every three years.

So the emphasis of Rifle is Beautiful is on "beam."

Not a laser beam. The light source used in a beam rifle is the same kind of xenon lamp used in electronic camera flash units. The result is a weapon that literally couldn't hurt a fly (unless you smacked the fly with the butt of the rifle). A well-hit line drive, by contrast, is seriously dangerous. Not to mention a bow and arrow.

The target of a beam rifle is a photoelectric grid that feeds the "hits" to an electronic display that generates the sound and calculates the score. From a gadget point of view, this is totally cool technology. As an extracurricular activity, it means a shooting range can be set up in a high school gym. Of course, it helps if the high school has already purchased the equipment.

Not many have, so the entire Tokyo regionals can be held in a high school gym too.

Hikari Kokura chose to attend Chidori High School because it did have the equipment. According to the well-established formula, she has to scrape together enough members to form a club. That turns out not be much of a challenge either. There isn't a whole lot of drama in Rifle is Beautiful. It's more about the how, what, and why of the sport.

Hikari gets a bit of a character arc at the end, but as with series like Laid Back Camp and Long Riders, your entertainment value will depend on how much you enjoy the subject matter and the characters and the comic relief (supplied by the club's scatterbrained faculty advisor), and less the threadbare plot. As a low-stress entry in the slice of life genre, it worked for me.

Here's footage from the 2019 high school championships at the Tsutsuga Shooting Range in Hiroshima Prefecture. It's been held there ever year since 2006 so you will recognize the setting from the series. If you wonder why the girls are walking rather stiffly in their uniforms, the series explains that as well.

Treat Rifle is Beautiful as a promotional video and you should have a good time. It's been officially endorsed by the National Rifle Association of Japan (first and foremost a sports organization). All the power to them if the series can excite more interest in what is, at heart, a very Zen activity.

Related links

Chihayafuru (CR HD)
Laid Back Camp
Long Riders
March Comes in like a Lion (CR NF)
Rifle is Beautiful
Tsurune (CR HD)
Yowamuchi Pedal
A title by any other name

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May 02, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (2)

I've posted chapter 2 (book 1) of Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon.

The ritual of petitioning the Riboku tree for a child resembles the custom of writing a wish on a paper strip (tanzaku) and tying it to a bamboo branch during the Tanabata festival.

Kijuu (騎獣) are domesticated youjuu ("magical animals") captured in the Yellow Sea (actually an island). Like a pegasus, kijuu can fly or leap great distances. Like horses, the best ones cost a small fortune.

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