May 31, 2010

A shuttle by any other name


The name of the space shuttle Atlantis has always irked me, as NASA could surely come up with a better name for a space vehicle than that of an imaginary underwater city. But now, at the end of its operational life, thanks to APOD and Wikipedia, I've discovered that the source of my irk is largely misplaced.

The RV Atlantis was the first research vessel operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Several ships are named after it, as well as the space shuttle Atlantis.


Of course, the antecedent is still there, but I suppose it's like being given the goofy name of a venerable ancestor instead of your parents making it up out of whole cloth (though Frank Zappa did come up with some doozies: Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and Diva Thin Muffin).

The first operation shuttle was going to be called Constitution, but was ultimately named for another fictitious creation: Enterprise. It flew as a glider but never into space, so maybe it makes for an appropriate metaphor.

I attended a lecture by Leonard Nimoy in the mid-70s (the dry spell before the first movie), and he was quite proud of the shuttle's designation. Deservedly so. Who could have imagined that three seasons of such campily earnest science fiction could have inspired so many (including me)?

Eight ships of the Continental and U.S. navies have shared the name. It currently belong to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

And I have to admit that I entirely approve of naming the Apollo 10 Lunar Module Snoopy and the Command Module Charlie Brown.

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May 27, 2010

A seven-three split


Literally translated, 「七三に分けた」 is a "seven-three split." It sounds like a bowling term, but refers to the parting of hair: 3/10 on one side, 7/10 on the other. When used as a comb over, the "seven-three split" becomes the perfectly named "baa coodo hea" (バーコードヘア) or "bar code hair."

Yakuza types traditionally preferred the "panchi paama" (パンチパーマ) or "punch perm." But as their cultural influence has waned, so has the style.

Any television series containing a pop culture reference to Japan's 1950's James Dean craze (which was alive and well when I was in Japan in the late 1970s) is obligated to include a character with a "riizento" (リーゼント) or "regent style." A pompadour, in other words.

The pompadour is still used (though now more tongue-in-cheek) in television dramas to flag "old school" street gang types.

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May 24, 2010

What a difference an owner makes!


Okay, time to put on your Mad Men thinking caps. This is (really, no kidding) a junk mail postcard that was sent to "current resident" (that's me!) by a venerable Utah institution. (Hey, I only wish I got more junk mail like this.)

It's a decade old by now (I stumbled across it cleaning out old archives), so keep that in mind when answering the following questions:

• Trick question: What venerable Utah institution?

• Bonus points: What's the winsome lass selling?

Before getting to the answer, some ruminating. Although men are stereotyped as the targets of "suggestive" material, especially in the (mainstream) print media, you are far more likely to find (mostly) unclad women in fashion/glamor magazines.

This particular piece of junk mail was certainly not aimed at me.

Many years ago, I was a very green missionary sitting in the venerable Fuji Bank in a Tokyo suburb getting my cash card account opened (Japanese banks don't do personal checks), casually flipping through the equivalent of Good Housekeeping while I waited.

And, bingo! There was a similar ad. Only without the demure Photoshopping (if you know what I mean).

A few months later, a Japanese businessman stopped by the missionary apartment and invited us all out to dinner (this was the Senzoku apartment, so there were six elders). He was a member and had just opened a restaurant in Salt Lake City.

After dinner, we stopped by a cozy little place not far from the church for dessert. There, on the second floor, about a dozen feet away from our table, adorning at least half of the wall, was a backlit, life-sized poster of an attractive young woman in a swing.

Wearing nothing but a smile.

Our benefactor took absolutely no note of it. So the rest of us pretended not to too. Because, you know, that would be rude. (Again, this was a perfectly respectable establishment in the perfectly respectable part of town).

And finally the answer: the venerable Utah institution is ZCMI, which used to be owned by the Mormon church. The trick in the question is that ZCMI was sold to May's a little over a decade ago (now it's Macy's). Here's the ad copy:

Experience Magic by Prescriptives, an extraordinary new concept that optically transforms the skin. Introducing the Concealing Wands--customized special effects tools that instantly retouch dark circles, breakouts, broken capillaries and other imperfections to optically airbrush the skin.

Well, ugh. I'll flip the card over and gaze at the winsome lass instead.

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May 17, 2010

I Want to Bite (You)


Between Yashakiden volumes, I just finished translating I Want to Bite, a yaoi light novel for Digital Manga.

It's a vampire story with a "western" urban setting (meaning a mix and match of European names). The geographically nondescript city is sort of a kindlier, gentler version of Demon City Shinjuku, with the existence of vampires (and ghouls and werewolves) presumed as part of social fabric.

The protagonist, Isaac, works for the "Helsing Group" as a "hunter." His job is to track down misbehaving vamps. The uke is Tristan, a boyish-looking vampire with a bunch of ulterior motives. It's derivative, to be sure, but is sufficiently well plotted to qualify as "the same only different."

Of course, it takes place in that wacky yaoi universe where men think like women and a straight guy can turn gay if he meets a cute enough uke. Seriously, I'd recommend the last chapter as a guide to how girls think about sex (because no two actual guys would converse like this).

Alas, my usual reaction in this case (as to pretty much the entire genre) is to imagine how much better it'd be hetero (or for that matter, yuri). Also true of Better than a Dream, that I translated a while back.

Better than a Dream is such a well-structured romance that I had to take care to write "he" instead of "she." It'd be easy to convert it into one of those bittersweet Hallmark movies. You'd only have to switch the pronouns around and maybe finish it off with an "accidental" pregnancy.

Better than a Dream is also a near-perfect implementation of the McKee narrative structure (confirming that like Campbell, McKee is describing the most popular style of universal storytelling, not prescribing it).

With a bit of role reassignment, I Want to Bite would make a great Angel arc, except with Cordelia as the vampire. A touch of this creative role reversal can be found in the inventive (and somewhat controversial) new vampire series, Dance in the Vampire Bund.

Again, like Demon City Shinjuku, it stipulates vampires coming out of the casket (so to speak). In exchange for settling Japan's Greek-like national debt, vampire princess Mina (together with her loyal werewolf guard, Akira) creates a sovereign vampire city-state off the coast of Japan.

The cause of the hand wringing for its importers (anime: Funimation; manga: Seven Seas) is that Mina usually presents herself as prepubescent girl (for logical reasons, as it turns out), and at times runs around without much on. This understandably set off the lolicon alarms in some quarters.

Funimation balked a bit (and is still CYA prevaricating), but Seven Seas has pressed on, again illustrating the perverse formula that words are more "moral" than drawings, which are more "moral" than moving pictures. (A case in point: Treasure Box by Orson Scott Card.)

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May 13, 2010

"Tokyo South" (Kindle edition)


The latest and greatest re-revision of my missionary memoir, Tokyo South, is now online. There's a Kindle version too. And an updated cover. (Additional background material here and here.)

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May 10, 2010

Nanami Madobe CM


Since Windows 2000, Microsoft's Japanese IME (input method engine) has been the best-of-class in the PC market. Those clever engineers have now turned their formidable brain power to a project no less important: the Nanami Madobe OS-Tan CM! (A CM, or "commercial message," is pronounced shii-emu in Japanese.)

C'mon, let's all build our own Windows PC!


And for today's manga/anime terminology lesson, the video illustrates the chibi (or superdeformed) style, basically a cartoon of a cartoon (:27 to :35). Plus, Nanami's store is in Akihabara, the center of Japan's (and perhaps the world's) geek universe.

Related posts

Nanami Madobe

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May 06, 2010

Sherlock Holmes


The "original" conceit here--Holmes as a brainy brawler and risk taker--improves on the whole "addict" meme, and Robert Downey Jr. pulls it off well. Even Jeremy Brett was allowed to demonstrate some boxing finesse at times, so (along with Eric Raymond) I wouldn't even consider it out of canon.

Sherlock Holmes, though, does fall prey to one of the two more annoying "hip" cinematic ticks of late, namely post-processing the color into a dull sepia palette that consists of muddy shades of brown and bluish gray. (The other is the loathsome and lazy shaky-cam, thankfully absent here).

Robert Downey takes on the role as half MacGyver and half House. Jude Law holds up his half of the duo as straight-man Wilson. No, that's Dr. Watson. Hey, how about Downey and Law do a House episode and Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard do a Victorian-era Holmes. Seriously, it'd be a hoot.

Either way, my disbelief was totally suspended until the final act, when it turned into Iron Man. Now, Iron Man is a great actioner, but if I wanted to watch Robert Downey Jr. save the world from terrorists attempting to end LIFE AS WE KNOW IT, then, you know, I would have watched Iron Man.

It's worse than the generic FIST FIGHT at GREAT HEIGHTS with a WOMAN IN PERIL. Evil villains with British accents conspiring to take over the world is a plot device well past its use-by date. Mike Meyers has deservedly mocked the genre to death several times already. As my sister Kate puts it:

POLITICAL MACHINATIONS by POWERFUL PEOPLE is a writer's ultimate cop-out, a contemporary deux ex machina. . . . There are really no words to express how unbelievably boring this plot device is.

The great thing about Die Hard (and III, though II fails in part for this exact reason, while IV manages to rise above it thanks to an exuberant disregard for the laws of physics and that Mac guy) is that the evil villains with British accents turn out to have no political motives whatsoever.

But that and the cinematography notwithstanding, everything about Sherlock Holmes is so much fun that I'm game for a sequel. But let's come up with good caper next time. The movie concludes by introducing Moriarty as Holmes's new nemesis. Fine, just don't have him conspiring to take over the world.

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May 03, 2010

Suspended Animation


This news story about the current state of the anime business in Japan is one of the best I've seen from an English language broadcaster.

It does begin with the usual overgeneralizations. To clarify, studios like Key Visual Arts produce sophisticated melodramas for older teens and adults, "fan-service" and hentai anime have been around for decades, and non-porn anime series also debut on late-night TV before being released on DVD.

There are a few seconds of (mostly censored) NSFW material. But even there, it's nice to see the subject discussed sans the usual moral panic about the subject.

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