October 17, 2019

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (more covers)

The first two volumes of Shirogane no Oka, Kuro no Tsuki ("Hills of Silver Ruins, a Black Moon") are now in bookstores (in Japan). Shinchosha has published the cover art for volumes III and IV, which go on sale November 9. Akihiro Yamada created the covers and illustrations. (Click images to enlarge.)

「白銀の墟玄の月」第三巻 ISBN 978-4101240640

「白銀の墟玄の月」第四巻 ISBN 978-4101240657

The books are available online at Amazon/Japan, Honto, and Rakuten.

Related posts

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (title)
New Twelve Kingdoms novel (covers)
New Twelve Kingdoms novel (publication date)
New Twelve Kingdoms novel (Happy New Year!)
New Twelve Kingdoms novel (it's official!)
Squared (lined) paper

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October 10, 2019


Everybody loves a triumphant underdog. The problem is when the only way for the underdog to end up top dog is to make the bad guys dumber than dirt and the good guys the luckiest in the universe. In other words, the ending of the supremely silly Avatar. And to be honest, the ending of Star Wars dances right on the line.

The suspension of disbelief can only be suspended so far before some semblance of reality must intervene.

Pit the primitive against the modern in head-to-head battlefield combat and the noble savage will—sooner or later, rightly or wrongly, and no matter how noble—get its military butt kicked. As Kate says about the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, "Yeah, sure, Winnie the Pooh versus lasers. My vote is on the lasers."

In The Last Samurai, Edward Zwick and Tom Cruise do an ironically good job of turning the ruling military class of a defeated dictatorship into underdogs. "Movies can manipulate you to root for just about anyone, anytime," observes David Edelstein. Though Zwick and Cruise do deserve credit for demonstrating why bringing a knife to a gunfight is a bad idea.

Oda Nobunaga figured this out back in 1575 at the Battle of Nagashino, where he deployed arquebusiers in staggered ranks and cut the attacking Takeda cavalry to shreds.

There was no way Saigo Takamori ("Katsumoto" in the The Last Samurai) was going to prevail in the ill-fated Satsuma Rebellion. The soldiers mowing down Katsumoto and his troops were in fact "the good guys," representing the ninety percent of the population finally allowed to fight for a share of the rights and privileges once granted only to a small elite.

The Last Samurai could also be titled, "What the ending of Avatar would really look like."

And that's pretty much what happens in Gate too. Only this time we get to cheer overwhelming military superiority right from the start, with no need to rationalize the backward prerogatives of a decaying feudal order. Besides, they started it.

On a perfectly normal summer day, a sort of Stargate portal opens in the middle of downtown Tokyo. A Roman-era army pours through, accompanied by an "air force" of flying dragons. Chaos ensues. The bewildered Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) finally get their act together and send in a couple of gunships. Invasion over.

Not wanting to turn Tokyo into a battleground, the JSDF sets up a fortified base on the other side of the Gate. The "Special Region" happens to be smack dab in the middle of an empire ruled by Emperor Molt Sol Augustus (there are reasons for the Roman resemblances). The emperor orders his forces to expel the interlopers. They attack and get wiped out. Repeatedly.

However replete the Special Region is with magicians, elves, dragons, and super-powered demigoddesses, as Arthur C. Clarke pointed out, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

A dramatic illustration of this occurs when a mercenary army attacks a walled city lightly defended by a JSDF recon patrol. They call in an air strike (cue Ride of the Valkyries and a bunch of Apocalypse Now allusions). Just as the mercenaries breach the gates, an AH-1 Cobra hovers inside the walls and does a one-eighty with its Gatling gun, bringing the attack to an abrupt halt.

As it turns out, Emperor Augustus isn't that stupid either. He is cynically using the "invasion" by the JSDF to hobble the military strength of any "allies" that might threaten his reign. His "allies" are aren't happy about being turned into cannon fodder. When a patrol tracks down a badly wounded King Duran of Elbe, he knows who the enemy is, and it isn't them.

The futility of armed conflict leads to an uneasy peace. The story at this point resembles the 1853–1867 Bakumatsu period in Japan, during which both the shogunate and its domestic enemies came to realize that the "Expel the barbarians!" (sonno joi) call to arms was a military impossibility and they had to find ways to deal with the situation politically.

So the diplomatic corps are sent in to negotiate an armistice. Their guide and on-the-ground expert is Yoji Itami. Able to adapt on the fly to unusual situations and get along with the locals, the watchword in the Special Region soon becomes: "What would Itami do?"

Yet Yoji Itami is at heart a die-hard otaku who candidly admits the only reason he works is to support his hobby. A running joke throughout the series is that, unknown to practically everybody, the lackadaisical Itami is actually a highly qualified special forces graduate with little interest in climbing the ranks. Nevertheless, despite his slacker attitude, he can't help rising to every occasion.

He was on a shopping trip to the Ginza when the Gate first opened. Keeping his wits about him, he saved hundred of civilians, thus unwittingly gaining hero status. He is promoted and given command of a recon patrol in the Special Region.

Another running joke is how closely the Special Region resembles the isekai genre otaku are so enamored of. Itami and his sergeant pass the time wondering what stereotypical otherworldly creatures they're going to meet next.

During their first patrol, they encounter their most formidable foe, a Godzilla-sized fire dragon. They manage to drive it off with RPGs (not kill it). Along the way, they rescue Tuka Luna Marceau (an elf), Lelei La Lelena (a magician), and Rory Mercury (a demigoddess with a fondness for goth). These three form the core of Itami's Scooby Gang.

Meanwhile, Molt Sol Augustus finds himself caught between the peace faction, led by Imperial Princess Piña Co Lada, and the war faction, led by Imperial Prince Zorzal.

The hotheaded Zorzal is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, and his slave, Tyuule (defeated queen of the Warrior Bunny Tribe), makes herself Iago to his Othello, goading him into conflict with the JSDF in hopes that he will destroy himself. Palace coups, embassies under siege, and that pesky fire dragon keep Lieutenant Itami a busy man.

In the middle of all this, the Scooby Gang gets dispatched back to Japan to report to the Diet about What in the World is Going on There. This is the least satisfying arc in the series. While it's fun meeting Itami's ex, the political confrontations are ham-handed and the accompanying Spy vs. Spy antics do nothing to further the plot.

Back in the Special Region, King Duran having granted them passage through his territory, Itami gets approval to put together a small team and go after the fire dragon. This arc reminds me of WWII actioners like Where Eagles Dare and The Dirty Dozen, where everybody but the leads (the Scooby Gang, in this case) gets taken out before the mission is complete.

After a little nick-of-time assistance from a pair of F-4EJ fighter jets, Itami circles his squad around to the capital to rescue Princess Piña Co Lada and Emperor Augustus from the machinations of Prince Zorza. The series concludes with a massive airborne operation.

As you have probably gathered from the names of the characters, we're not asked to take any of this very seriously. Despite the high body count, Gate definitely belongs in the "War is hell but a lot of fun to watch" category. One thing Gate does take seriously are the military details. There is plenty for military otaku to geek out about.

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution prohibits the armed forces of Japan from engaging in offensive action outside their borders, restrictions Prime Minister Abe would like to amend. For the time being, the JSDF confines itself to peacekeeping missions, disaster relief, and chasing off the Russian patrol planes and Chinese patrol boats that "stray" into Japan's territorial waters.

The full name of the series is Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought. I do not doubt that it was born in part out of a desire to see the JSDF strut their stuff on a larger stage.

Related links

Gate (CR HD)
No way to wage a war
Dances with Samurai
Mononoke vs. Avatar

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October 03, 2019

(Almost) Live Japanese TV

As I've discussed in previous posts, back in early 2018, TV Japan (née NHK Cosmomedia) abandoned Dish and made DirecTV its exclusive satellite provider. But with the price of an a la carte subscription from DirecTV or Xfinity almost doubling from $40/month to over $70/month, I decided it was time to "cut the cord" and go over-the-top at a fraction of the cost. Seriously, Crunchyroll + Funimation + HIDIVE = less than $20/month.

The old-school content delivery model has since gotten turned on its head. Just three years after buying DirecTV, AT&T doesn't want to be in the satellite business anymore. "We've launched our last satellite," John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, stated in November 2018. AT&T chairman Randall Stephenson chimed in that AT&T was essentially "done" with satellites, and was "investing very aggressively" in OTT distribution.

The DirecTV NOW streaming service has already been re-branded as AT&T TV NOW (not to be confused with AT&T TV). Nobody would be surprised at this point if AT&T sold its satellite business to Dish. A lot has change since a proposed acquisition of DirecTV was shot down by the FCC in 2002. Dish would gain a subscriber base competitive with cable. And I would enjoy the irony of TV Japan leaving Dish only to end up back on Dish.

NHK Cosmomedia depends on satellite service to reach a worldwide market outside of North America and to provide programming to its legacy customers and hotels that cater to Japanese businessmen and tourists. To be sure, NHK Cosmomedia has diversified its distribution network, with TV Japan available on Xfinity nationwide. But cable television faces the same competition from streaming (though Internet-only is a profitable business).

This is hardly news to NHK Cosmomedia. NHK World has streaming apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku. Two years ago, NHK Cosmomedia launched dLibrary Japan, essentially a VOD service for TV Japan. But it has slow-walked the roll-out, and I mean at a turtle's pace. Aside from its web-based player, Chromecast came out a year ago and Apple TV is the most recent addition. Those apps constitute less than 20 percent of the market.

Both apps have been poorly received, the biggest complaint being the lack of content. If you're going to charge $10/month, you'd better be at least in the same programming universe as services like Hulu, Netflix, and Crunchyroll that charge less.

NHK Cosmomedia is naturally predisposed to favor its satellite and cable subscribers. And seems to be proceeding as cautiously as possible while waiting for another shoe to drop somewhere. A classic case of what Clayton Christensen calls the "Innovator's Dilemma," according to which companies put too much emphasis on the current business model and fail to anticipate or adopt new technologies to meet future needs.

Though AT&T may be trying too hard to adopt new technologies to meet future needs and has ended up aimlessly flailing around instead.

Though perhaps NHK Cosmomedia saw the writing on the wall and are using the roll-out to collect data about the technology and the user base, in anticipation of adding TV Japan to the platform. TV Japan targets exactly the kind of niche market that streaming was made for. Should the moment arrive that NHK Cosmomedia can't figure out where AT&T is headed next, streaming is one way to take a good deal of uncertainty out of the equation.

After all, NHK Cosmomedia already has NHK World, a proven live-television streaming platform. At the end of September, dLibrary Japan gave its home page a much needed makeover and announced that "New programs will be available every week from October!" so maybe they are finally getting serious. Though "serious" to me means a Roku app. So not yet serious enough.

For the time being, though, DirecTV provides the most almost-live television options to the Japanese language viewer, with a premium package that includes TV Japan, Nippon TV, and the NECO movie channel. That bundle costs $45/month plus a required "basic" package plus a boatload of taxes and fees. The whole thing would quickly add up to a cool grand a year.

Again, Crunchyroll + Funimation + HIDIVE = less than $20/month. Total.

Were money no object, the DirecTV package would be a no-brainer. But it is, so now I'm wondering whether AT&T can really back up all the big claims its executives are making about making DirecTV content available through a streaming set-top box. Then again, Nippon TV (the biggest television network in Japan) already owns Hulu/Japan. It may be the best positioned Japanese content provider to break out on the streaming front.

Related posts

Japanese media update
The streaming chronicles

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September 26, 2019

Telling the how-to story

A common criticism of Hollywood is that it cares more about what sells in China than what sells in middle America. That Hollywood can sell its wares in China at all is a testament to the universality of storytelling and the structured approach to the craft that Hollywood has polished to a shine.

At the same time, what makes universality equally interesting are the exceptions that are not so universal. Here I'm thinking about a unique interplay between subject matter and genre, quite apart from cultural specificity, that has no real equivalent in Hollywood when it comes to narrative fiction.

Call this one the "how-to" genre.

In the non-fiction space, there is no lack of DIY and "how-to" programming in the North American market. PBS Create does nothing else 24/7. But while there is often an element of DIY in scripted television shows coming out of Hollywood, it's hard to think of an example where it is the single defining element.

The setting of any series will dictates a certain amount of expository material, as will the occupations of the characters. At the very least, in the name of verisimilitude, a show that, for example, takes place in a radio station (NewsRadio, WKRP in Cincinnati, Frasier) must necessary provide some insights into broadcasting.

In Home Improvement and Last Man Standing, Tim Allen comes close, epitomizing a "how-to" man working in "how-to" businesses.

On Japanese television, and specifically anime, "how to" is not only a defining element but often the entire point. The hugely popular "gourmet drama" pays the kind of attention to the nuts and bolts of cooking otherwise only found in reality shows and the occasional feature-length Hollywood production.

It is certainly a defining element in the ever-popular sports genre, appealing to its audience with a focus how to play the game better.

Thus the protagonist in a mainstream sports drama commonly starts off with a great deal of promise but an Achilles heel that must be overcome. Tsurune begins with our protagonist suffering from a bad case of the yips in the form of target panic. Big Windup features a pitcher with incredible control but no speed.

Especially in baseball series, multiple episodes can be devoted to a single game, with the granularity of the narrative resolving to a pitch-by-pitch analysis.

Then there is the "oddball sports" category, which features sports or games the audience may be familiar with but probably doesn't know a lot about. Again, an excuse to work a great deal of exposition into the narrative.

Examples include Chihayafuru (karuta), Saki (mahjong ), Hikaru no Go (go), Tsurune (archery), and March Comes in like a Lion (shogi). The latter gained particular resonance when real-life Sota Fujii turned professional at the age of 14 (youngest ever). These sports-related series do also generate a great deal of melodrama.

And finally we come to the "how-to" genre distilled down to its essence.

The Japanese fascination with "how-to" is fully on display in what I call the "Cute girls doing interesting things in a cute way" genre. The typical approach is to have the protagonist get interested in a somewhat obscure activity, discover that her friends are interested in it too (or recruits them), and plunges in.

The result are slice-of-life stories, often with little actual drama and only the rudimentary scaffolding of a plot, but with great attention given to the specific details of the activity. Recent examples include Encouragement of Climb (hiking), Laid-Back Camp (camping), and Long Riders (bicycle touring).

Even the shamelessly silly and purposely low-brow Bakuon!! explores the world of motorcycling in considerable technical detail.

The result is part how-to guide and part promotional video in a surprisingly entertaining format. And who knows? Maybe viewers here and there will be convinced to put down their phones and venture into the great outdoors. (Along with a great many DIY aficionados, I'll settle for watching the great outdoors on television.)

Related links

Bakuon!! (CR HD)
Big Windup (CR Fun)
Chihayafuru (CR HD)
Encouragement of Climb
Laid-Back Camp
Long Riders (CR HD)
March Comes in like a Lion
Tsurune (CR HD)

Food fiction
Cute girls doing interesting things

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September 19, 2019

Red hair and redheads

In her translation of Anne of Green Gables, Muraoka Hanako titled the novel Akage no Anne (「赤毛のアン」). The kanji ke (毛) can refer to fur, wool, down, as well as hair, while kami (髪) specifically means the hair of the head. So a strand of hair on your head is kami no ke (髪の毛).

Anime characters aside, actual human red hair (of the scarlet variety) is very rare in Japan. So while common hair colors like black (黒髪) and white (白髪) use kami, the ke (毛) in akage sets it apart from the norm.

The popularity of Akage no Anne after its publication in 1952 was such that subsequent translations have followed suit, and akage (赤毛) has come to mean "redhead" and all its related synonyms.

By comparison, the manga and anime Snow White with the Red Hair (「赤髪の白雪姫」) uses akagami. The association of akage (赤毛) with Anne Shirley is so pervasive that Sorata Akizuki (or her publisher) likely wished to avoid any confusion between the two literary redheads.

Related posts

Hanako and Anne
Mary Sue to the rescue
Snow White with the Red Hair

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September 12, 2019

The orphan's saga

Anne of Green Gables has been a perennial bestseller in Japan ever since the publication of the first translation by Hanako Muraoka in 1952.

The character of the spunky orphan (or a girl who becomes a "social orphan" when she sets off alone for the big city) has long been beloved in Japan. NHK built an entire franchise around the concept, with the Asadora morning melodrama now entering its sixth decade.

When it comes to cheerful and resourceful optimism in the face of punishing circumstances, Tohru from Fruits Basket is every bit Anne's equal. She needs to be when she ends up the only "normal" person in a household whose members are the actual animals of the Chinese zodiac.

The orphaned Takashi in Natsume's Book of Names (a guy for a change) has the ability to see the spiritual beings that haunt the Japanese countryside. Like Anne, he was fortunate enough to finally end up with adoptive parents who truly care for him.

The far less fortunate Chise in The Ancient Magus Bride has the same abilities as Takashi (a common trope). She was orphaned when her mother committed suicide and blamed her in the process. Little wonder she's a borderline basketcase when we first meet her.

In a twist on Beauty and the Beast, the Beauty (Chise) is saved by the Beast (the monstrous Elias Ainsworth). Although Elias isn't exactly a rock of stability either. He's not even human, to start with.

Speaking of borderline basketcases, Rei in March Comes in Like a Lion is a shogi prodigy orphaned when the rest of his family is killed in an automobile accident. He turns pro in large part to get away from his screwed up adoptive family.

Rei is saved (psychologically) by an eccentric family of three orphaned sisters (mom died, father ran off) and their grandfather. And by the wealthy Harunobu, another shogi child prodigy who adopts Rei as his best friend. Harunobu is sort of an orphan himself, being raised mostly by his butler.

And then there's Motoko Kusangai from Ghost in the Shell, who can be counted on to be resourceful in the face of punishing circumstances, though not necessarily very cheerful about it. In any case, she can count on her "family" from Section 9 to watch her back.

Related links

Fruits Basket (CR Fun)
Natsume's Book of Friends
The Ancient Magus Bride
March Comes in like a Lion
Ghost in the Shell: Arise

Hanako and Anne
Anne illustrated
The drama of the PCB

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September 05, 2019

"Anne" illustrated

Mangaka Chica Umino, best known for Honey and Clover and March Comes in Like a Lion, created the cover art for Shueisha's new translations of the first three books in the Anne of Green Gables series.

"Red-Haired Anne" (Anne of Green Gables)

For her original translation published in 1952, Hanako Muraoka chose the title Akage no Anne (「赤毛のアン」). Due to the book's immense popularity, translations since have stuck with it.

"Anne's Adolescence" (Anne of Avonlea)

The kanji for "adolescence" is seishun (青春), literally "green spring." In this context, the word takes on an aura of classical romanticism tinged with sentimentality, the "blossom of youth."

"Anne in Love" (Anne of the Island)

Though now a century old, Anne of the Island reads very much like a contemporary shojo manga, right down to the emphasis on competitive academic performance.

Related links

Honey and Clover
March Comes in Like a Lion

The orphan's saga
Hanako and Anne

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September 02, 2019

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (covers)

Inaugurating the 40-day run-up to the October 12 launch of Shirogane no Oka, Kuro no Tsuki ("Hills of Silver Ruins, a Black Moon"), Shinchosha published the covers for the first two volumes and went live with a redesign of the official Twelve Kingdoms website. Akihiro Yamada created the covers and illustrations.

The Twelve Kingdoms Twitter account is @12koku_shincho (in Japanese).

「白銀の墟玄の月」第一巻  ISBN 978-4101240626

「白銀の墟玄の月」第二巻  ISBN 978-4101240633

The books are available online at Amazon/JapanHonto, and Rakuten.

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August 29, 2019

Last storehouse standing

Chapter 10 of The Space Alien (which takes place in 1953) has the following description of a neighborhood in Setagaya ward in the southwest corner of Tokyo:

Less than a mile from Ichiro's house, a concrete storehouse stood alone in the middle of a field. During the war, air raids had destroyed all of the wood-frame houses on the block.

The genesis of these fireproof residential storehouses goes back almost three centuries.

The Great Meireki Fire (named after the imperial era or gengo) in 1657 destroyed over sixty percent of Edo (now Tokyo) proper and killed upwards of 100,000 people. Halfway around the world and less than a decade later, the Great Fire of London wreaked an equal amount of physical damage.

(Click image to enlarge.)

These two cities responded in quite different ways to these similar disasters. In the latter case, a concerted effort was made to prevent further conflagrations.

The zoning laws and building codes of London were upgraded, specifying wider streets and deeper setbacks, and access to wharves along the Thames. Perhaps most importantly, brick and stone were dictated in the construction of new buildings, resulting in thicker walls and heavier framing.

Famed architect Christopher Wren distinguished himself during this period, rebuilding fifty-two churches along with many secular buildings in London.

These building requirements raised the cost of housing and slowed the overall growth of London, but were effective at preventing further similar disasters until the air raids of the Blitz.

During the rebuilding of Edo, city planners moved the larger estates and many shrines and temples to the outskirts of the city, opening access to the rivers and widening the main thoroughfares. However, in almost every other respect, they took a completely opposite approach to fire prevention.

In short, the point wasn't to prevent fires but to slow fires down and give people time to escape. Fire was treated as a natural disaster, like earthquakes, tsunamis, and typhoons. Survival mattered, not, as George Carlin famously phrased it, saving your "stuff." A very Zen philosophy.

The result of this policy was that, on average, an Edokko could expect his house to burn down at least once during his lifetime. In 1806, the haiku poet Issa Kobayashi wrote of a fire in the Shitaya district where he was living at the time (courtesy David Lanoue, edited for syllable count):

Everything has burned
down to and including the
blameless mosquitoes

Firefighters in Edo (the true action heroes of the era) took pretty much the same approach as hotshot crews in the United States today. The lightweight wood frame row houses that were home to the majority of Edo's population were a key part of the strategy.

When the fire alarms rang, firefighters first collapsed the flimsy row houses in the path of the flames. The "floor" formed by the roof tiles created a firebreak. The row houses were inexpensive to rebuild, and neighborhood mutual insurance organizations covered the costs.

A wealthy family might keep an entire house on layaway at a lumberyard, like the one depicted (at the bottom right) in Hokusai's "Lumberyard on the Takekawa in Honjo." As an inside joke, Hokusai put his publisher's name on the placard.

(Click image to enlarge.)

These firefighting techniques successfully limited widespread loss of life without holding back the economic and population growth of Edo, that by the 18th century was the biggest city in the world.

The devastation of the Great Meireki Fire was not equaled until the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake and the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo at the end of World War II. In both of these cases, the fires broke out everywhere all at once, rendering traditional firefighting techniques ineffectual.

To be sure, Buddhist beliefs in the effervescence of life notwithstanding, the denizens of Edo weren't entirely nonchalant about the loss of their "stuff."

Residents of the row houses dug root cellars beneath their apartments, where they could stash their valuables during a fire. Landowners built a stone storehouse in a corner of the property away from the main house. These Edo period storehouses can still be found scattered throughout Japan.

In the NHK serial drama Warotenka, the Fujioka family returns to Osaka at the end of the war to find that only the wrought iron front gate and the storehouse survived the air raids. So they move into the storehouse until they can scrape together enough materials to rebuild the main house.

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August 22, 2019

Interviews with Monster Girls

This adorable 13-episode series revolves around one of my favorite variations on the slice-of-life genre. Call it the "supernormal supernatural."

A supernatural element is introduced into everyday life without significantly altering the known world, other than possibly requiring the creation of a government agency to provide oversight. Before long, the "normal" world grows so accustomed to this supernatural element that its existence becomes rather run of the mill.

In the equally delightful Kamichu! an otherwise normal junior high school student becomes a Shinto god and pretty much keeps on being a normal junior high school student at a normal junior high school in a normal fishing village on the Inland Sea. Except for being a Shinto god, of course.

That the "monster girls" represent a small proportion of the population helps to maintain an aura of normality. Some inherited their traits. Others are the product of mutations. There is nothing at all supernatural about Hikari's fraternal twin sister, for example. Aside from the headless Kyoko, none of them appears that out of the ordinary.

And even without her head literally on her shoulders, getting accustomed to Kyoko proves surprisingly easy.

Amidst all this "supernatural normality," Tetsuo Takahashi is a biology teacher at Shibasaki High School. Despite his keen interest in "monster girls," he has never met one. Until this semester. Three of the first year students and a new teacher turn out to be "demi-humans" (Japanese uses the cute diminutive "demi-chan").

Hikari is a vampire (and thus receives a monthly blood ration courtesy of the government). Yuki is a yuki onna (a snow woman from Japanese mythology). Kyoko is a dullahan from Irish mythology (and thus carries her head separate from its usual location). And the new math teacher, Sakie Sato, is a succubus.

Hikari starts hanging out in Takahashi Sensei's office because it has the best air conditioning (she and Yuki have an aversion to hot weather). Takahashi asks her about what being a demi-human is like. The preternaturally extroverted Hikari happily strikes up a conversation. Before long, Takahashi is interviewing all of the girls.

Takahashi Sensei is smart and insightful, and being a nice guy, brings both a natural empathy and a knack for problem solving to the subject. Some of the most interesting parts of the series are these "interviews."

While Kyoko is the strangest in appearance, she is the most "normal" of the three monster girls in terms of personality. The dullahan is depicted in legend as a violent and bloodthirsty demon, more commonly known as the "headless horseman." The starkness of this contrast leads to a fascinating discussion about how mythical types arise.

Takahashi Sensei later introduces Kyoko to a friend of his from college, now a professor of physics. He comes up with a explanation for her "condition" based on theoretical physics that could qualify as an episode of Because Science with Kyle Hill. This contemporary fantasy very often snugs up close to "hard" science fiction.

There are a few episodes at the beginning that suggest Takahashi Sensei is getting a little too personally involved with his students (at least applying real-world standards). But then the grumpy vice principal suggests to Takahashi Sensei that he dial it back a bit and the grumpy vice principal turns out to more or less right.

It is always better to directly address the obvious rather than wave it aside.

The presence of a succubus at the school means the subject of sex is bound to come up. But director Ryo Ando and screenwriter Takao Yoshioka, adapting the manga by Petos, keep the dialogue smart and relevant. Takahashi Sensei and Sato Sensei engage in the kind of intelligent conversations that only make you wish they went on longer.

As it turns out, Sato Sensei's personality is at odds with her "powers." She is a reserved person, loathes being the center of attention, avoids crowds, and dresses plainly to suppress her aphrodisiacal nature. The word for the latter in Japanese is saiin (催淫), which you should have learned by the end of the series.

Sato Sensei is an excellent example of how fantasy can give substance to a psychological or metaphysical concept and make the metaphor concrete. Her concerns about whether a man will ever truly be interested in her for her arises out of neither neurosis nor narcissism but is rooted in the realities of her supernatural biology.

(Another great example is when Youko kills the monkey spirit in Shadow of the Moon, she is literally killing the voice of her uncertainty and self-doubt.)

Alas, their relationship doesn't have time to progress much by the end of the series. The manga is still ongoing so that subject will hopefully be addressed in the future. The only disappointing aspect of Interviews with Monster Girls is that it contains so much great material and not enough time to handle it all.

Related links


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August 18, 2019

Kyoto Animation fire (update)

The servers for the building were located in a concrete-lined room on the first floor. All of the data on the servers has been successfully retrieved.

Investigators confirmed that the (confessed) suspect submitted a manuscript to a writing content sponsored by Kyoto Animation. According to Kyoto Animation's legal counsel, the entry did not pass the competition's preliminary stage and there are no similarities between Kyoto Animation's IP and the manuscript in question.

Three survivors of the fire remain in critical condition. On August 2, Kyoto Prefectural Police released the names of ten (of 35) victims of the fire, one of whom was Yasuhiro Takemoto.

Takemoto directed Kyoto Animation's first in-house production, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu. It is no exaggeration to call him one of the best series directors in the history of anime. His credits include Lucky Star, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Hyouka, and Amagi Brilliant Park.

NHK reported this morning that Kyoto Animation has thus far received donations totaling $18.8 million. On August 22, the Japanese government announced it would classify these donations as "disaster relief" and not as taxable income. The ruling also means that donations (in Japan) will become tax-deductible.

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August 15, 2019

From XP to X (software)

My biggest concern about upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 10 was having to replace all the legacy software I'd become dependent on. As it turns out, I had to replace very little (though I ended up replacing some of it anyway).

Homesite 1.0 (1996), PaintShop Pro 7 (2003), and JWPce 1.50 (2005) still run fine in Windows 10. The latest version of Notepad++ runs even better. The ancient and venerable DOS has left the building, but in real blast from the past, Webster's Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus 1.20 (1993) runs great in vDos.

Microsoft's older Office apps "are not certified compatible with Windows 10 but might work with or without compatibility mode." At least Microsoft still sells new standalone editions of Office at a reasonable price. Getting used to Word 2019 wasn't that hard and it has a couple of nice new features.

Like Microsoft, Adobe is all about the subscription model these days, which makes no sense when I only occasionally have to convert high-resolution raster graphics to the PDF format. Thankfully, except for an inoperable printer driver, Acrobat 6 runs without any issues.

Windows 10 comes with a built-in Print to PDF driver. It's a much needed feature, but could stand to be a lot more configurable and user friendly. I only got it to work with non-standard page sizes after hacking the configuration files.

Update (8/30/19). Well, so much for configurability! The 1903 update broke that workaround completely. I finally gave up fiddling with it and installed Bullzip.

For the most part, everything runs fast enough on my entry-level PC. PaintShop Pro 2019 is the only app that pushes the limits of the system, but not intolerably so. I tackle day-to-day graphics jobs in PaintShop Pro 7 and use PaintShop Pro 2019 when heavy lifting is required.

Bill Gates and Microsoft don't get enough credit for maintaining backwards compatibility in MS-DOS and Windows operating systems for so long.

Related posts

From XP to X (hardware)
From XP to X (benchmarks)

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August 08, 2019

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (title)

On August 1, Shinchosha announced the title of Fuyumi Ono's new Twelve Kingdoms novel: 『白銀の墟 玄の月』 (Shirogane no Oka, Kuro no Tsuki). I have tentatively translated it, "Hills of Silver Ruins, a Black Moon."

The furigana oka lends the kanji for "ruins" (墟) the meaning of "hill," which is difficult to incorporate without getting wordy. Based on the hiragana for the title (above), it would read, "[A] Silver Hill[s], [a] Black Moon."

As for the literal meaning, all that remains of most medieval castles in Japan are overgrown hills. Oda Nobunaga's magnificent Azuchi Castle was destroyed by fire after his assassination in 1582, leaving behind only the stone foundation.

Without the actual context, other than the Kingdom of Tai being in the midst of a civil war, these are the images the title brings to mind. Considering the northern climate of Tai, "silver" could also describe ruins covered with snow.

The Traditional Colors of Japan website assigns「玄」a web color of #3E1E00, closer to "maroon." But it also describes「玄」as a synonym for black and suggests that「玄」is less a traditional color than a metaphysical concept associated with the darkness of the unknown.

Metaphorically, "silver" and "black" could refer to the silver-haired Gyousou and Taiki, a rare "black kirin." Using the possessive particle no (の), "silver" and "black" can function as both adjectives and nouns in Japanese.

Attempting the equivalent in English would sound clunky. So at this juncture, the English version will lean more heavily on the dictionary meanings.

At the end of July, Shinchosha released a Twelve Kingdoms promotional video (in Japanese). The narrator is Ken'ichi Suzumura, who played Rakushun in the NHK anime series.

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August 01, 2019

The Space Alien

My translation of The Space Alien by Ranpo Edogawa is now available.

The year is 1953. The Korean War is winding down. The Cold War is heating up. UFOs are appearing all over the world. Five flying saucers suddenly zoom across the skies of Tokyo. Ichiro Hirano's next-door neighbor is kidnapped by an alien lizard creature. That same creature is now stalking the pretty and talented sister of Ichiro's best friend.

What in the world is going on? What do the aliens want? And where did they come from? These are the kind of questions that only master sleuth Kogoro Akechi and the Boy Detectives Club can hope to answer.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased from Amazon, and ePub version from Smashwords and Google Play. Please visit the website for more details and bookstores, and check out Kate's interviews (and here, here, and here) with me about the translation process.

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