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Updated: 2018-04-20T07:46:39.067-04:00

 



beyond the bugmen, part VIII

2017-06-09T09:30:00.906-04:00

BEYOND THE BUGMEN: A KAMEN RIDER OVERVIEW SERIES
PART VIII: The Doctor Rider Saving People's Smiles

Kamen Rider Ex-aid (October 2, 2016 - TBA) is currently airing in Japan, and as such, there's still quite a bit to be seen about the deeper plot and themes of it. But, what we do have so far is absolutely fantastic. Following a pediatric intern named Houjou Emu, he discovers a secret department of the hospital he works in called the Computer Research department, or CR for short. They fight off a virus infecting humanity known as the Bugster virus,  which is created and spread via video games.
(image)
Our main character, Hojo Emu. Thankfully, he remains this happy through most of the series.

The part that gets most people interested in Ex-aid is the video game theme. Unfortunately, it's not real-life video games (though movie tie-in toys tend to break that rule), but the Riders have powers based on genres of video games - our main three are platformers, RPGs, and shooters. We see a plethora of other power sets, as well. Sports games, racing games, even Monster Hunter-style cooperative games are represented. It's interesting to see what Japan views as the most important genres of games.

(image)
The ten Gashats, or game cartridges, in the series.

The other big thing that I've started picking up on, which I'll be able to go into more detail with when the series ends, is how the virus is propagated. The Bugster virus feeds on, and is empowered by, stress and anxiety. The monsters of the week try to stress out their hosts enough to give them a physical form. Thus, the doctors of CR have to not only transform to fight the monster, but find out what is causing the stress in the first place, so that they can isolate and remove the Bugster from the human body. It's all really fascinating and well-executed.

And with that, the first incarnation of BEYOND THE BUGMEN is complete. After some introspection, I'm going to go back and change the name to OVERVIEW instead of Analysis - these didn't get as in-depth as I wanted to go. I might go back and talk about some other Rider series later on down the line, but for now, what topic do you guys think I should cover next? Let me know in the comments below.



beyond the bugmen, part VII

2017-06-08T22:43:21.438-04:00

BEYOND THE BUGMEN: A KAMEN RIDER OVERVIEW SERIESPART VII: A Man Who Is Already Dead, GhostOkay, honesty time. Kamen Rider Ghost (October 4, 2015 - September 25, 2016) is the only recent Kamen Rider series I have NOT finished. I got about twenty episodes in when it was airing, and fell off of my watching schedule. I've heard of what happens, though, and I...am honestly a little unimpressed. It's a shame, too: just like Wizard, the designs for Ghost are fantastic.I mean, look at this! It's even based on a firefly, which represent the souls of lost soldiers in Japan.Personal feelings aside, I'll at least contribute what I can to talk about Ghost. The series follows Takeru Tenkuji, an eighteen year old who wishes to become a ghost hunter like his father before him. Within the first few minutes of the first episode, we see his temple attacked by the Ganma, a race of spirits that invade this world. To defend the temple and the ones he cares for, he confronts the Ganma, and loses. He is killed in the first ten minutes of the first episode (this becomes a thing). Another spirit brings him back to life as a ghost, giving him 99 days to retrieve fifteen souls of "luminary figures". This seems to be a blanket term for various historical figures of significance, from Musashi and Beethoven to Edison and Billy the Kid.Some places translate it as "legendary heroes", but when you see Billy the Kid among them...Being that I have not finished the series, a lot of my analysis is going to be based on the initial story arcs and character development. The major thing that seems to be prevalent at first is a sense of science versus religion. Takeru uses the Ghost Driver and is essentially between the two, but he has two friends that help in his quest: Akari, a brilliant scientist, and Onari, the head monk at the temple he lives at. They are often at odds (again, from what I have seen) about whether the solution to the Ganma problem is based in science, or in spirituality. They do begin to adapt to each other's ways of thinking, however - Akari can believe spirits exist, and Onari learns to let science and gadgets take over when meditation and prayer cannot.Apologies for the lateness of this segment, and for how brief it is, but I couldn't get into Ghost nearly as much as other Rider series. Next week will be the conclusion of the main part of our series, with the currently-airing series, Kamen Rider Ex-aid. Have ideas for what I should cover next? Leave them in the comments.[...]



beyond the bugmen, part VI

2017-06-08T22:43:33.552-04:00

BEYOND THE BUGMEN: A KAMEN RIDER OVERVIEW SERIESPart VI: The Detective Moving at Top Speed, DriveI will preface today's article about Kamen Rider Drive (October 5, 2014-September 27, 2015) by saying that it is CURRENTLY my number one favorite Kamen Rider series. It was also the first one that I watched as it came out, week by week (when Charles was in Japan, he actually saw one of the last episodes live, and accidentally spoiled part of the fight by describing it!). I'm not really sure what makes me love it so much, but I do. Tomari Shinnosuke is our main hero, a detective whose partner was injured after the Global Freeze Incident, where monsters known as the Roidmude slowed down the entire world. This caused a shot that Shinnosuke took at one of the monsters to hit a gas tank near his partner. We find him six months after, lazy and unwilling to do much of anything. But, when strange things start to occur, his brain shifts into top gear, and he takes on the case.Our hero, mid-henshin pose.I think what really solidified Drive as my current favorite series is the detective aspect - anyone who knows me well enough knows my all-time favorite game series is Phoenix Wright. Yes, W was a detective story as well, but we saw far less actual detective work in that one. In Drive, Shinnosuke spends most of his non-costumed time following clues, questioning witnesses and bystanders near a crime scene, all to determine the motives of the Roidmude. And just what are the Roidmude, anyway?Here's a few, as an example.The Roidmude are mechanical lifeforms, who are able to slow time in their vicinity, steal the likenesses of human beings, and generally wreak havoc. There is a major question that gets brought up later in the series, however - when do the Roidmude stop being Roidmude, and are considered human? Some events occur that bring this sort of thing into question, which mirrors many conversations happening in our world right now. Where is the line between human and machine, if the machine looks, acts, and feels like a human? Being one of the most technologically-advanced countries in the world, Japan will have to address these questions sooner than many of us.For now, we have Kamen Rider Drive to give us plenty of food for thought, as well as a fantastic detective story to wrap it all up in.[...]



beyond the bugmen: part V

2017-06-08T22:43:57.325-04:00

BEYOND THE BUGMEN: A KAMEN RIDER OVERVIEW SERIES PART V: The Dancing Fruit-Samurai Rider, GaimWhat to say about Kamen Rider Gaim (October 6, 2013 - September 28, 2014)? Well, to start with...as I alluded last week, this is another Rider series worked on by an anime director - Gen Urobuchi, most well-known for Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Like that series, Gaim suberts and inverts various Kamen Rider tropes, such as having little to no monsters to fight the Riders with. Instead, the series follows Kouta Kazuraba, among various other Beat Riders as they're called, who compete in a televised dance-battle competition in Zawame City. The dance teams compete for stages throughout the city, and if a stage comes into conflict, they fight with small monsters called Inves. Sounds a LOT more like a certain other popular Japanese property, doesn't it?TOTALLY what came to mind first.Like any series done by Urobuchi (or Urobutcher as some English fans call him), the series is rife with confusion and misinformation (seriously, watch episode 11 of Gaim, it is MESSED UP). Zawame City is built around the headquarters of the Yggdrasil Corporation, who also sponsor the Beat Riders competition...and manufactured the Sengoku Driver...nothing bad can come of this, right? Well, eventually stuff DOES go down, but unlike with some other Kamen Rider series, I can't talk much more about even the beginning of the series without giving a lot away. Let's just say that there's a lot of religious parallels throughout the series.This is their version of the Garden of Eden. Yeah.The other big comparison between Gaim and Japanese culture is the whole Beat Riders competition in the first place. The teams are fighting for territory and acclaim, eventually by doing away with the dancing and just sending their own Kamen Riders after each other to claim territory. All of this centered around a huge central tower...and the henshin device itself gives us the last piece. The majority of the series is a takeoff of the Warring States era of Japanese history, down to some of the helmets of the Riders looking quite a bit like the historical figures' armor.Our main hero's helmet, side by side with  Date Masamune's helmet.Gaim was a bit strange as far as theming and concepts go - it still stands out amongst Kamen Rider fans as a bit standoffish compared to the series around it. Our next one is a bit less strange, but there's a major change in it that makes it notable...[...]



beyond the bugmen, part IV

2017-06-08T22:43:53.092-04:00

BEYOND THE BUGMEN: A KAMEN RIDER OVERVIEW SERIESPart IV: The Ringed Mage of Hope, WizardKamen Rider Wizard (September 2, 2012 -September 29, 2013) has always had one of the best designs of the past few years of Kamen Rider, in my personal opinion – I mean, just look at that coat! But, we're not here to talk about the design of the suits. Wizardtakes place in a world where a solar eclipse welcomed demons known as Phantoms into the world – these Phantoms are released when a human falls into despair, usually illustrated as something that is “holding up their heart” being shattered (in the first episode, a locket with a character's father in it is literally shattered, which makes her fall into despair). Haruto Soma, a man who held in the Phantom inside him and received magical powers in return, fights to stop the Phantoms from causing despair, becoming the world's “final hope”.Seriously, look at that design. One of the coolest out there.Wizard follows immediately after Fourze, which as we all remember, was a very lighthearted series to counteract the Tohoku disaster that was happening at the same time as Fourze's writing. When this series was being conceived, it was now a year after the disaster struck Japan. Families were still struggling to return to normalcy, and many in the more heavily-affected areas were permanently displaced. I believe Wizard was written with that in mind – the Phantoms represent the dread and fear of the disaster's aftermath, ever-present and still dwelling within people's hearts. Haruto, and by extension, Wizard, is the team behind the show attempting to quell the fear in viewers' hearts. Haruto is able to turn despair into hope, and save people from having their hearts shattered.Haruto about to fall into despair. The effects on this show were INSANE.If you thought the premise of this series was sad...remember last week, when I said some teams from popular anime often work on Kamen Rider series? Well, the next one's known for some deeply sad stuff…I promise there's no contract to read next week's article...yet.[...]



beyond the bugmen, part III

2017-06-08T22:44:16.428-04:00

BEYOND THE BUGMEN: A KAMEN RIDER OVERVIEW SERIESPart III: The Friendliest Man Who Loves Space, FourzeKamen Rider Fourze (September 4, 2011-August 26, 2012) is the first chance that I have to bring up that a lot of Kamen Rider series have various teams from the anime industry working on them. In this case, the head writer for Fourzewas Kazuki Nakashima, who is best known for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill (readers of Study of Anime will know that we all love both of those series here). The writing style definitely shows – it's a very energetic, bombastic series, set in a school called Amanogawa High School. Kisaragi Gentarou is our main hero, a pompadoured prime example of the “delinquent” trope.You can't see it here, but he has the GOOFIEST smile. But he's the farthest thing from it – Gentarou is “the man who will befriend everyone in this school” as he says in the first episode. He is generally a very upbeat, friendly character, completely going against his appearances. He's joined by a group of students that supplement his ability to use the Fourze Driver, either with knowledge of the various Astro Switches, or knowledge of the school itself. It's a series very driven by friendship, and it's very rare to see one of the monsters outright destroyed – I can only recall one instance of a defeated monster never being redeemed. This is crucial to the theme of the series, and it's pretty apparent why they chose this sort of series when you look at the time around it.Sendai Airport flooding after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, and the ensuing disaster conditions were hard on the whole country. From power and water outages, the meltdowns at Fukushima, and more damage, the country was struck by disaster. In the timeline of Kamen Rider production, around March of every year, the series for the following year begins its production and writing. Fresh off the heels of the earthquake, the production team ended up making a cheerful, uplifting series that still manages to hit hard (I legit cried at the end of this one, y'all). Remember that last section when we talk about our next series, because despair becomes a VERY important plot point...[...]



beyond the bugmen: part II

2017-06-08T22:44:26.828-04:00

BEYOND THE BUGMEN: A KAMEN RIDER OVERVIEW SERIES
Part II: The Greedy Selflessness, OOO


Kamen Rider OOO, pronounced O's, is the next series in our look at the Kamen Rider franchise under a microscope. Airing from September 5, 2010 to August 28, 2011, the series follows Eiji Hino, a wanderer with a tragic sort of backstory, and a desire to help others. Soon after we meet Eiji, we are introduced to his “sidekick”: a floating hand named Ankh. Ankh is one of the Greeed (no, that is not a typo), a race of monsters that are made of coins – silver coins called Cell Medals make up their physical forms, and the Core Medals (each with its own color scheme and animal motif) make up their actual being. The Greeed create monsters from humans' desire, and hunt down their Core Medals so that they can take over the Earth, as they had tried to do 800 years ago.

In OOO, more than almost any other Rider series I've seen to date, the theme is so easily seen. Eiji represents a selfless hero, giving up all he has to save others, and even keeping little for himself outside of the fight – he believes that as long as he has a pair of underwear, a little money, and somewhere to sleep, he needs nothing else in the world. This actually starts to become a problem, as Ankh wants his Core Medals back, and will do anything to have them. He can't fight, though – which is why he helps Eiji to transform into OOO in the first place. When he starts putting innocent lives in danger, Eiji makes him promise – either he starts paying more attention, or he'll never transform again (mind you, this is while both of them are dangling from a collapsing skyscraper).


Later in the series, the emphasis begins to shift – rather than simply following the fight between Eiji and the Greeed, we see a fight between three sides of the Greeed. Uva wishes to gather Cell Medals to boost his power, Mezool tries to keep the group together and find their Core Medals, and Kazari flip-flops between the sides of the Greeed. In the end of the series, things happen that make Eiji realize that being entirely selfless is just too hard, but being too greedy is not good, either. So, he's left to take a pragmatic view on greed – want and desire for things, but do not be afraid to help others.



beyond the bugmen: part I

2017-06-08T22:44:39.928-04:00

BEYOND THE BUGMEN: A KAMEN RIDER OVERVIEW SERIESPart I: The Half-Boiled Noire, WHello, everyone! It's been a long while since I was made an editor of Study of Anime, and I feel like I've done nothing with it. So, as the cherry blossoms begin to bloom (yeah, real original analogy there, self), so, too, will this site bloom with new articles. This is a deconstruction of my Kamen Rider analysis panel, which looks at every Kamen Rider series, from W to Ex-aid, under a microscope. There will probably be more added to this as we go, but for now, here we go with Kamen Rider W.Kamen Rider W (or, as it's pronounced, Double), aired from September 6, 2009 to August 29, 2010, and was the first series in what some call the "Neo-Heisei" era of Kamen Rider. The eras mainly refer to the era of Japanese history the series was made in; however, the fandom has started to refer to any series that was worked on by the series creator, Shotaro Ishinomori, as Showa era, and anything else as Heisei. Whichever it is, W was considered the start of a 'new' era, as the series preceding it (Kamen Rider Decade) was sort of the end of a decade of series.The series stars our main hero, Hidari Shotaro, who transforms into the "half-and-half Rider", along with his partner, Philip. Right away, the series screams "film noire" at the top of its lungs. Shotaro himself is a detective, who wears a suit, a trilby hat, and drinks coffee (we'll get to THAT little tidbit later). Film noire is a genre that tends to focus on crime films, with especially cynical worldviews. Shotaro himself identifies as a "hard-boiled" detective, which in his terms, means "Not being swayed no matter what the situation. It's a man-among-men lifestyle." However, the various characters throughout the series comment that he is half-boiled (yet another joke about the two-in-one Rider concept), and in the end, it is described as his greatest strength: a hard-boiled detective is not swayed, even for the best of reasons. Shotaro is often swayed by someone in need, and thus, is too compassionate to be truly hard-boiled.Bringing me to my next point is another aspect of Shotaro's character that he uses as proof that he is a hard-boiled detective - he drinks coffee. In America, that doesn't seem like much - Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and various other companies started here for a reason. In Japan, though, there's a trope with the cool, "lone wolf" type character. They tend to drink coffee, properly brewed either by a drip brewer or a French press. My theory about this comes down to time. Canned coffee drinks are very popular throughout Japanese vending machines, but it's rare that we see anyone sitting down to drink a proper cup of coffee. Thus, it is used for the calm and collected characters, who have the time to sit and wait for a cup to be brewed.Kamen Rider W is one of the most well-loved Kamen Rider series to this day, for good reason. It established many of the tropes that we'll see throughout the rest of the Neo-Heisei era, and its theming creates a world with interesting characters, with plenty of motives to keep the viewer guessing. If I had to recommend somewhere to start, it would be one of my first choices.[...]



a brief look: Earthbound

2016-10-04T15:55:53.361-04:00

"Listen Ness. I'm going to tell you something very important. You may want to take notes. Ready? ......You're the chosen one." Hello, everyone! I'm Troy, also known as SymPhoenix. Since this is my first article in my tenure in Study of Anime, I wanted to talk about the moment I realized that this could be my next step for my writing, as well as one of my favorite games of all time. This won't have nearly as much academic content compared to what's to come, but it might help to introduce myself to you all.When Earthbound was released, and even on the surface now, it's pretty plain. It's a JRPG on the SNES, in an era when the JRPG was the biggest genre, and you had the greats – your Final Fantasys, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana, to start. Against these, Earthbound looks like a child's game at first. Instead of massive monsters and huge worlds to explore, you're...a kid with a yo-yo beating up stray dogs and crows. Even from a technical standpoint, Earthbound – developed at a time when the SNES hardware was being pushed to its limits – was unimpressive.I'll get this out of the way. I love Earthbound. I always have. I have fond memories of renting a SNES from Blockbuster (sure dates me, doesn't it?), and three games: Mario Paint, Super Mario RPG (which I'll talk about another time, probably), and Earthbound. I've never really been able to express why I love Earthbound so much, except that it tugged at my heartstrings in a way many games today haven't. I never finished it as a kid, with it being an RPG that took far too long to beat in a single week, but after recently finishing it for the first time, I think I can finally talk about why I love Earthbound.The main thing that makes Earthbound stand out among its peers, I've already stated, was its very different setting. Our hero, Ness, is a young child with a baseball cap and shorts, not a sword-wielding adventurer. His first real adventure is into his town of Onett, and his first enemies are aggressive members of the local gang, the Sharks, at the arcade. There's some exposition at the beginning, with a prophet from the future named Buzz Buzz, but it's more like a trial-by-fire tutorial  - you're asked to help find the younger brother of your neighbor, Pokey. When you find Pickey at the site of a meteor crash, you also discover Buzz Buzz, who escorts you back to your home. Before you reach it, though, you are stopped by a Starman, a servant of the evil Giygas, who's doing some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff to destroy the world. Or something, it was always really unclear. This is where the story starts being more like our normal JRPG.Upon defeating the Starman and bringing the brothers Pickey and Pokey home, Buzz Buzz (a bee he is not, but he definitely looks like one) is swatted out of the sky by the boys' mother, and Ness is given a Sound Stone, and told to collect eight melodies from Sanctuaries - points of great peace in the world - in order to truly defeat Giygas. Along the way, you meet three other children who are destined to help you save the world - Paula, Jeff, and Poo. The dialogue is rich with lots of tongue-in-cheek fourth-wall breaks like the one quoted above, and the visuals and music lend themselves to the quirky, off-beat charm that Earthbound is most known for.What really makes the game interesting, though, is just how lovingly it paints a picture of American society from the eyes of Japan. Cities like Fourside and Summers are alongside small-town settlements like Twoson and Threed, all littered with burger shops, pizza joints, and pubs. I hesitate to mention this, because it seems a bit tacky, but an article that Charles wrote actually motivated me to think deeper on Earthbound, and games in general (search up his article on syncretism - definitely worth a read). The idea that Japanese developers did all of this as a wa[...]



preview: waku waku nyc

2015-08-21T12:15:33.537-04:00

We at Study of Anime first heard about Waku Waku NYC back in June, and wondered about it: it had been a long time since NYC had its own anime/manga/Japanese-flavored event, and here was a new event coming along with an impressive list of sponsors that seemed to guarantee Waku Waku would show up with an amazing flourish. The trick though, is hoping this year goes well so it'll be scheduled again and again.

Study of Anime will be present there as an attendee (via me, Kit), so let me tell you a bit of what I'm looking forward to or would otherwise recommend:

Savory Square: I love ramen, but Japanese style iced coffee is also a thing I enjoy. So I plan to check it out if I can! If you haven't had takoyaki or Japanese style cream puffs, you might also want to check it out. I have a soft spot for takoyaki, myself, as it still reminds me of when I visited Osaka back in 2004.

Kodansha Comics is also doing an industry panel on Saturday, and even though Kodansha (as part of Random House) is based out of New York, I always enjoy seeing them at conventions and seeing what they have to say especially with regards to the localization process, as localization is one of my key interests. So, I'm interested in seeing what they have to say at their panel at Waku Waku.

There will also be an Anime and Manga Studies panel on Sunday, right in time for the new school year, so if you're a student interested in studying anime and manga this panel will be sure to help you get more insight about doing so. I've seen the presenters give a similar panel at other conventions, but the timing of this one (again, right before the new school year) and the closeness of so many schools and universities to Waku Waku's location means this might be the best panel they give. We'll just have to see. I won't be involved with this panel, but friends of Study of Anime such as Kathryn Hemmann are.

 This event is right in my proverbial backyard, so of course I'm going to try and check it out. If you're in the NYC area, or close to it, try to check it out also if you see something interesting on the schedule.

Waku Waku NYC is August 29-30, 2015.



review: otaku journalist's 15 minute workbook

2015-08-04T14:39:10.548-04:00

Lauren Orsini wants you to write.

In fact, she wants you to write about the things you care about: so much so, that she now has a workbook out for the aspiring writer. It's billed as part of her Otaku Journalism series, and you can see it here (it's currently on pre-order special until August 6): http://otakujournalist.com/workbook/

I received a review copy, expecting myself to already know the tips in the workbook. After all, I already have the Otaku Journalism ebook also written by Lauren and by now I have written for various online publications aside from Study of Anime.

I was pleasantly surprised: and reminded how little I knew.

The workbook is designed so each sheet could be potentially completed in 15 minutes or less: perfect for those with school obligations or other jobs. However, some sheets - such as finding a beat - might take more thinking and reflecting than others. Each sheet is focused, and you'll want to refer to them or amend them over time: because of that, what I'd recommend is getting a binder, printing out the worksheet, and having the worksheet in the binder with plenty of paper or notes to serve as a "master reference" as you go about your writing adventures. That way you can keep track of pitches, where you've submitted, ideas for future articles, and more in the same place as your initial thoughts on beat, resources, contacts, and upkeep.

The quality of it is similar to the Writer's Digest published books on writing reference, but Lauren is mindful of what people are using and what they want to see. And a high-quality workbook and reference for $10 is a hard deal to beat.

People come to us asking us how they can do what we do: if you're interested in the writing angle, we turn to Lauren for tips and tricks.







retrospective - persona 3

2015-07-13T14:37:09.933-04:00

“What if I told you that there are more than 24 hours in a day?” On 7/13/2006, the role-playing game Persona 3 was released for the PlayStation 2: after years of silence from the Persona franchise, this title renewed the franchise, helped bring us Persona 4 (again, for the PlayStation 2), and was featured again in Persona Q (Nintendo 3DS). There is a set of four animated feature films for Persona 3 airing in Japanese theaters as well, one based off of each season: the first one entitled Spring of Birth, the second Midsummer Knight's Dream, and so on. But why did Persona 3 capture the imagination? After all, it seems very violent: the Evokers used to summon the characters' Personas takes the shape of a gun, so it often looks like (upon Persona summoning) the characters are shooting themselves. There is much talk of Death, of time, and how it comes for all. Even the imagery of Tartarus, the dungeon, seems like something out of nightmare: the walls oozing blood or ichor, the abnormally full moon shining through as if grinning at the party. It's dark. But at the same time, Persona 3 carries a message of hope – of fighting against the darkness. The main protagonist, who in the films is called Makoto Yuki, is shown to suffer from trauma due to the deaths of his parents in a mysterious accident 10 years before the events of the game: and surprising even him, Makoto does not seem to care whether he lives or dies. Most of his decisions are what might be interesting to him, or because he has no strong feelings one way or another: this is someone who has lost their passions and dreams. This may reflect the “depressed generation” of Japanese people who grew up after the economic bubble burst: that is a topic for another day, perhaps. But what we are shown, is someone who has to learn from those around him about life and connections, especially when he is made the leader of a group called SEES – ostensibly an after-school club, SEES is actually meant to combat the mysterious creatures called Shadows that plague the city, and investigate the mysterious Dark Hour phenomenon, the “hidden hour” that takes place at midnight every night, and the secrets of Tartarus. He has to learn to fight back – somehow – and figure out what might be worth fighting for. And in the fantastical world of Persona 3, you can fight the monsters head-on with swords and baseball bats; you can fight, and you can win. All that's built up over the course of the game, all the little interactions, or the little storylines of the people you meet along the path of the story, build up to the climax of the story. Not only is there the rich symbolism that the Persona franchise is known for, but Persona 3 introduces the Social Link system, encouraging you as the player to find out more about the other characters in the game by spending time with them. As you spend more time with them, you get to know their problems - and see them overcome, or get closure. These Social Links range from stories of abandonment to divorce anxieties to even just anxieties about growing up and becoming an adult. There are other stories too: you adopt a dog called Koromaru (modeled after the famous story of Hachiko) whose loyalty and closeness to his deceased owner seemingly helped him gain the power of Persona, an alternate self to use in combat. You encounter Strega, another team of characters who can use the mysterious power of Persona just like your team – only their motivations are more about power, and holding on to it. As the player, you also see one of the teammates grow from having a massive hero and inferiority complex to realizing that being the hero isn't great, and that he was already good enough to begin with. You delve into stories of revenge, of tragedy, and in[...]



ramblings on digital life and death, in second life

2015-06-29T14:14:41.888-04:00

Earlier this year, I received the news that a member of the steampunk community in Second Life had passed away; the typist (i.e., the person behind the avatar) had declined and passed away due to a form of cancer.

I did not go to the funeral.

First off, the typist in question had been from England - he was a proud Englishman both in Second Life and outside of it, and I could not afford to fly out. Besides, the real world funeral was for his family and friends there - so what could the friends and acquaintances he had made in Second Life do at all?

There was a memorial service in Second Life, also.

I did not go to that, either.

Not because I didn't mourn. I remember, in my days as a DJ in the steampunk neo-Victoriana community of Caledon in Second Life, doing a set for him before his diagnosis - to all everyone knew, he was quite well, if obstinate. And he was pleased that I had done a set themed around him, even though we had only talked in passing; after that, it led to asking how I was doing, how me-the-typist was doing, I talked with him even over Skype a couple of times. The avatar taught my avatar - and me behind the screen - how to craft tiny, tiny virtual jewelry using the basic building "blocks" called "prims" that made up user-created content in Second Life. It took patience, and attention to detail, but he was patient.

So I mourned. But I mourned in private, wanting to hold on to my memories of him as he had been, a crotchety but good-hearted yellow-haired avatar with a jewelry shop known for crashing entire regions. It is only recently - months after the fact - that there is a need for sharing in this as well; that we are not alone in our mourning.

But what is it to mourn someone whom we know from a game? People interact all the time in massive multiplayer settings: from World of Warcraft to EVE Online and more. And in MMO settings, especially those with a high emphasis on user created content, guilds and corporations and players occasionally hold fundraiser or charity events to help fellow players (whether personal events or organized through charities like AbleGamers), or even memorial services for fellow players who had passed away. 

 It's not just MMOs, either. We interact on Twitter, we interact on Tumblr, we interact on Twitch and YouTube and other social media channels, often with people we know only through digital means - digital recordings of themselves, or avatars, or a social media / game handle. When it is someone we do know more, we try and search for ways to come together; when all these factors combine, it seems that online memorials and ways to celebrate lives online would be easy to find.

But they aren't. Not yet.

We try, though. Dealing with loss is nothing new.

Dealing with loss - in an increasingly digital context, with people we may have only interacted with through a digital lens - is, however, something that we have to find ways to deal with, ways to approach, new rites and rituals of memory and moving on.

We'll try. We are human - we'll find a way to meet a human need.

Until then, celebrate and love those around you.



 Dedicated to the memory of Alistair, who was always a gentleman.


For more information, check out:

How MMO Communities Memorialize
After a Death, Celebrating a Life Online (Wall Street Journal)





the little con that could: in remembrance of BAMcon

2015-05-14T14:37:07.393-04:00

Conventions come and go, be it through luck or mismanagement, or any other factor that can drop attendance or cause any event to suddenly no longer be viable. Its just part of the game, one that anyone who chooses to run a con has to contend with. Success has a weird barometer these days, and sometimes “sure things” grow like crazy, or just fizzle out. This is the story of my time spent at BAMcon- the Berkshire Anime Manga convention- which felt like it was on the verge of explosion, but ended up a footnote. “The convention was the dream child of Jon Wynn, founder of the Berkshire Anime Club,” said Amelia Ritner, BAMcon’s guest relations social media promotions guru. “He and fellow club member Crystal Howcroft had begun planning the early ideas of the con, along with a couple of other anime lovers, just as I joined the club. “The goal was simple: to create an anime convention for Western Massachusetts.  Crystal had experience helping run other conventions before, Jon had the love of anime, business sense, and the money, and I had enough time on my hands (as a stay at home mom at the time) to do most of the legwork.  We started to plan in July of 2011 for a convention to be held in May of 2012.”On Mother’s Day weekend 2013 I had the good fortune to attend what would be the second (and last) BAMcon, up in Pittsfield Massachusetts. It was a convention like the local cons I thoroughly enjoy to this day- small, but not empty, the type that makes a perfect “starter” event for people eager to get involved in the con scene, with solid programming and a variety of events that gives good breadth to the experience of congoing. After making a scenic three hour drive through the NY side of the Berkshires, I found myself in a quintessential New England town, ready for a quintessential New England convention experience. While most attendees might never get insights into the inner workings of a convention, creating s successful event requires a lot more foresight than just picking a weekend and throwing ideas a the wall. Even now, after more than a decade of anime cons under my belt, I still get surprised whenever I discover how expensive some of these events really are to get off the ground. “We had some reasonable small-con startup money, but we all balked at the fees many of the typical industry guests charged to show up at a convention. Travel, lodging, food… of course we expect to pay that.  But the fees for simply being in the same room as some of these celebrities reached into the thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars.  As a first-time con with no guarantee of success, that was a hard pill to swallow.”While the con started off slow, with a small Dealer Room and panel rooms that sat maybe a dozen each, it became very clear to me that this was a convention that knew what its attendees wanted, and was more than eager to give it to them. BAM had far fewer VAs than other conventions, but made up for it by stacking a schedule full of a strong variety of events that kept attendees busy and excited for the entire weekend. Game Shows, interactive panel session, whatever it is I do, instructional workshops from the Leetstreet Boys...something for any and everyone. And this highlighted that BAMcon had managed to cultivate a “vibe” for itself, one that the local crowd ate up and just plain loved. The energy in the air hummed and flowed, and I got into it right quick. It reminded me a lot of that first Conbust two years earlier, or perhaps Anime Next in 2003: growing, finding its footing, but still well organized with a strong attendee base. Proof enough that dedication and discipline goes a long way in crafting a gr[...]



(primordial) Mother's Day

2015-05-10T13:32:46.018-04:00

Well, it’s Mother’s Day, and in keeping with my new promise to write down every moment of inspiration I get (so as better to discipline myself...thanks Mom!) I’ve decided to share with you something I’ve spoken about many, many times in the past. Today, as we celebrate our Mothers and the profound impact they’ve had on us, I want to talk about the Primordial Mother, an archetype that pops up in a lot of folklore, but which often gets ignored because, let’s be honest here, a lot of those primordial parents weren’t the best role models, but they did offer us something powerful by which we can live our lives. So give you moms a hug, or some flowers, and be glad that they’re the Mother goddess, and (hopefully) not the Primordial kind. And if you do, Satsuki has methods for dealing with them.Mythology has no shortage of mother figures: the Greeks had Gaea, Rhea, Demeter, and Hera (and Hestia, she who knew compassion, mercy, and sacrifice in the name of one’s children); Isis ruled the Egyptian court for some time; half the Celtic goddesses were known for being fiery defenders of their progeny; Frigga and Freyja embodied dueling concepts of fertility, hearth, and protection; and we can’t forget every single Mary in the Bible. And by and large they all had something to do with the same core concepts: home, love, and fertility. They were the strength by which their respective pantheons and heroes drew their resolve and noble deeds.But PRIMORDIAL mothers were something entirely different. Whereas the maternal figures were meant to represent the motherly love we are supposed to be shown, the primordials were often aligned with creation, darkness, and Chaos- the elements of unpredictability or that eternal darkness from before our births, when there were no rules, only vast chaotic potential that would somehow coalesce into who we are. The waters of childbirth, the act of creating life, and frequently the chaotic consequences of when it all goes wrong. (Or, in some cases, the idea of the child overcoming and exceeding the parent, who had lost their way due to jealousy, stagnation, or the refusal to cede destiny to their progeny. Talk about metaphors...) The fertile crescent had its Tiamat, the mighty “dragon” of the waters, from which all life was born, and who repeatedly attempted to devour it; Greek lore gave us Nyx, the eternal darkness, who was so mysterious and powerful that the kings of gods and titans gave her wide berth; Hel, though not primordial in origin, embodying the notions of death and its pull over life- a mother to those seeking stability in the most unstable of places; and the Fomorians of the Celtic Isles, this children of some nameless Mother, birthed from “Chaos and dark night” and arriving from “under the waters,” much like Tiamat. But the award for “Primordial Mother” goes to possibly my favorite of these chaotic forces, because she didn’t start out that way. Rather, she represents the idea of corruption, of maternal love falling to pieces in the face of jealousy, as a formerly pure and devoted wife/mother loses herself to physical and emotional impurity. And her actions afterwards embody this sense of fear, anger, and loss, manifested as hatred and righteous rage. Are you really surprised I went with her? While I could sit here and make an argument as to all the ways Amaterasu is the new mother of the Amatsukami, it’s far more fun to focus on her own “parent,” the female force that helped populate the nascent Japanese isles, and ultimately curse them. Izanami-no-Mikoto was one of two godlike being tasked with creating life following the building of the world we know[...]



bandwagon jumping: thoughts on cards against humanity

2015-05-08T14:40:31.907-04:00

Given the sheer number of shares I’ve seen relating to this, I’ve decided to break my writing drought chipping in my two cents about “Cards Against Humanity.” And at the same time boost for a game I feel is far superior, that doesn’t get enough love as far as I’m concerned. You may direct criticisms of my rantings to me in person through the creative application of pies and/or homemade soup. my favorite is Italian Wedding, btwI first discovered Cards Against Humanity at ConnectiCon 2012, when I was drawn into a game with some friends and fellow geeks. We took over the Starbucks inside the convention hotle for about two hours, during which time I laughed at a lot of the cards, and began making up a fantasy list of my own, in the event I ever managed to score a set. Three years later, have a massive custom set of cards chock full of weird in-jokes (Baron von Schaftenrectum, The Floating Head of Henry Rollins), references to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (Getting Blasted In The Ass, Pretending to Have Cancer So A Girl Will Have Sex With You), political topics (Things Conservatives Want to Eliminate From the National Budget), and other, more strange collections of words, all run off at my local Staples and shared with anyone who requested a copy. At first I found the game to be a hilarious diversion, something suited well for downtime pickup games, or indulging the thoughts that always seem to lurk around the back of my mind. I didn’t know about where it had come from, only that somebody had finally decided to make the homebrew Apples to Apples Adult Edition, and promptly sold out of each and every printing. A true American success story if I’ve ever seen one: getting paid to be racist, sexist, homophobic, or just plain evil. (Well, mostly just plain evil.) This vision of the game was further validated in my eyes when a friend (and self-professed sociopath) decoded exactly how to win, just by observing who was in the group and making decisions based solely on the questioner’s sense of humor. Needless to say, said friend won straight away almost every hand.The game barely had a year’s worth of active play for me in the end. Maybe it was the six hour long marathon at Otakon, or the 22 person game at Conbust where half the people didn’t get a turn, or me just finally having enough of the same bloated card combinations/attempts to gross everybody out, but by mid 2013 I had shelved my set for good and had moved on to other things. Call it a consequence of growing up, but I found the distinct lack of sarcastic/snippy/witty cards to be a game breaker, as well as the heavy reliance on gross-outs or inappropriate dialog. Nothing that hasn’t already been said in the lovely article going around right now. Or maybe I was just growing up, and my sense of humor changing based on repeated scrapings of the junk barrel. The problem I found mostly with CAH is much like has been previously said: its building blocks for tasteless humor that does little to elevate the gameplay or make light of really anything. It aims for the lowest common denominator, and players are either encouraged or more than willing to dive right in, either to indulge in the “-isms” with a “clear conscience” (because “its only a game”) or allow socially conscious facades a moment of release (for the same reason). As someone who doesn’t really feel the need to do either of those things, it was little wonder the game fell flat after a while. I can only see the same jokes on repeat for so long, and even when my 200 card custom set was all I used, I eventually gave up adding to it, because the effort involved [...]



throwback thursday - elegia eternum

2015-04-09T12:58:13.757-04:00

Kit here, doing a retro gaming post for once.

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday, and retro gaming, I want to talk about a game that has been with me since (roughly) 2002-2003 when I first discovered it.

It was a module for Neverwinter Nights, created by Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne, called Elegia Eternum. This is its official description:

It started out as such a simple quest... there you were, a bold adventurer, seeking a magic staff. There was an inn on the edge of nowhere, with a group of friendly locals willing to help... and then matters got more and more complicated, more horrific. A maze of sorrow and despair unfolded before your very eyes, enveloping all... a maze that sang a song of lamentation for those who have passed away. An elegy. 
(You can see more information, and get the module if you have Neverwinter Nights, here.)

Elegia Eternum used the tileset from Neverwinter Nights to turn a high fantasy setting into a setting of psychological horror; investigating the causes of the sorrow and despair around you, and making decisions that carried emotional weight. The music also stands out: I remember an incident playing it once where I had to go away from my keyboard, and the person I was playing it with (there is local co-op play available) had to listen to soft wails for minutes on end, alone there in the dark, embers flying amidst broken wooden boards and despair reaching out to pull them under.

While Elegia is a short module - I've gone through it in an hour and a half - it does have a sequel called Excrucio Eternum, which delves heavily into more of the psychological side of horror and examines fears like isolation, speech (and not being able to be coherent), sexual violations and objectification, and the fear of death. Excrucio also examines the possibilities of change;  the player character can overcome their own past and their own horrors, and become a healer instead of a destroyer. I used to play these games to help me face and battle my own fears and insecurities, and to help people understand a bit about trauma: this was before interactive games like Depression Quest or dys4ia appeared, and so it was the best tool I had at the time. Fantasy is good like that: in fantastical tales, we realize that even though there might be dragons, we can defend and do battle against them, or come to understand their pain.

These modules - games in their own right - heavily influenced our game of Die Nachtblume, and will particularly influence Chapter 2. It also influenced Crossroads, which is a Twine game you can play at my own personal site (donations encouraged).

If you have time, go and get Neverwinter Nights if only to play these modules for it.

And face your own fears.



Throwback Thursday x2: Final Fantasy IX, The Place I Will (Re)Visit Someday

2015-03-26T14:27:47.157-04:00

Given the general trend of today’s games emphasizing style and image over substance, it’s not exactly surprising that a lot of “old” gamers have found themselves going back to some of the gems of yesteryear. Some have even just plain forgotten that there was once a time when games had powerful stories, imagery and emotional depth that set them apart from flashier fare. Unfortunately, as graphics processors increased in complexity and character models became more intricate, games started moving away from their old standards and embracing newer fare.Take a journey back to the dawn of the 21st century, to the end of the road for the Sony PlayStation, and there you will a find a game that might have been one of the last to truly mix a compelling story, relate-able and interesting characters, and just enough image to make it a true representation for what gaming could accomplish. Now, a full decade after its release, the game can still stand up against the best of what the modern generation has to offer, with excellent replay value and a lighthearted experience.And did I mention, it was released by Square?Final Fantasy IX could have been the biggest thing ever to grace the Playstation, and was certainly anticipated. Coming off the best selling Final Fantasy VIII (still one of the most played titles in the series), and following several of the best-selling games in RPG history, Final Fantasy IX had the pedigree and talent behind it to craft an instant classic. It reunited the original developers, and was part of a massive "compendium" of games that would  also yield Final Fantasy X and the online XI, ushering in a new generation of games for new technologies. Yet, when you ask the general gaming public about the game, most are unaware of it, or have simply not bothered to play it. Those that have, speak highly of what they took away from it, but it never had the impact or reach of its predecessors. However, it touched many of those who played it, and many of those players count it as the most repeatable of all the Final Fantasy games.If someone turned the Globe Theatre into a ship, it’d look like this.When it was released, Final Fantasy IX was heralded as “a return to the fantasy that made the series so popular.” Whereas some of the more recent entries had gone further and further down the road of science fiction, with big weapons, space travel, and heavy scientific themes, Final Fantasy IX was a fantasy game in the truest sense of the word. At a time before steampunk became the defined experience it is, Final Fantasy IX was using it to tell a compelling story set in a colorful, deep world populated my the types of interesting races and nations that had once graced all their games. Steam (well, Mist) powered airships flew in the skies, rolling hills and vast oceans graced the world below, blades and magic replaced guns and rockets, and music was quaint and fitting. Exploration was a huge part of the game, and a very real sense of awe seemed to permeate the places even the Mist could not. One of the biggest complaints about the previous game (or two, depending on how you viewed Final Fantasy VII) was its heavy reliance on graphics and Full Motion Video over  story, which was one of the leading aspects that set the Final Fantasy series apart from others. Indeed, much of Final Fantasy VIII centered around crafting some of the best video sequences of any game at the time, and truly made the graphics stand out. Unfortunately, at the same time, all those fancy pictures lacked a solid story to connect them. There was little to no char[...]



throwback thursday: wayward ramblings about 90s gaming

2015-03-19T12:47:22.501-04:00

Since MAGfest I’ve been on a huge nostalgia kick, thanks in part to long conversations with Aaron Clark on retro game collecting, and the sight of some lovely Dreamcast titles in their Dealers Room. That trip (and the resulting scouring of eBay for a copy of Grandia II) was only the tip of a very large, very deep iceberg, which has managed over the past few weeks to spread from video games to card games to tabletop RPGs, back to video games, and about a dozen currently-open eBay windows offering me chances to buy replacement copies of Devil May Cry, boxes of cards for Middle Earth: the Wizards, and a few options for Dungeons and Dragons books I didn’t buy because screw 4th Edition. This is my madness, my white whale. This is why I wake up late, stare at my computer for hours on end, and find myself thinking back to a far easier time, before stripping my game collection was necessary to pay my bills, and hoarding boxes of CCG cards wasn’t that big a deal for me. I sit here, in March of 2015, reliving my past quite vividly as I tear apart my closet hoping that some long-forgotten relics of my past are still there, and regret letting go of so many objects that defined who I was as the 20th century wound down to a close. I promise I won’t get too philosophical here. And if my ramblings sound too weird, feel free to read Lauren’s views on why you should watch classic anime. She put her ideas together really well, and since anime wasn’t part of my life back then, I can sit back and enjoy her words without worrying they might launch me into some weird Toonami binge. I really can’t afford another binge right now...got a con this weekend. I recently made a comment on social media about how my neighborhood was once a nerd mecca. I wasn’t kidding- while I might describe Flushing these days as home to bubble tea cafes and a Chinese bakery on every corner, back in the late 90s it was anything but. Bubble tea hadn’t made a foothold in my neck of the city yet (despite boasting the largest population of Asian immigrants anywhere in the 5 boroughs), and the single Tai Pan bakery (which is now very gone) was located right above where I used to spend weekdays playing Magic the Gathering. Back then, Flushing was still growing itself, and the previous decade of filth and after-hours crime was being swept away by a new populace that didn’t have the time or the care for dealing with that bs. It might have started when the Barnes and Noble closed as the 90s rolled in, but within a few years, my home had completely changed. Now I could spend time talking about ethnic enclaves here, but at the time I was all of 13 or 14, and I was more focused on the fact that an laser tag place had opened downtown, a few blocks off Northern Blvd. Not that I had time (or money) to go, but the fact that it was there spoke volumes. Right across from that institution of class-skipping and suburban warfare was an arcade, which was the first place I had a chance to play Star Wars (and later Trilogy) Arcade and Ehrgeiz cabinets, and maybe halfway down the block was Chameleon Comics, which would eventually become my weekend hangout for 2 full years. These three places were soon joined by a second comic shop (with a Tekken machine), a card game open play space, two “manga” stores, and a host of locally owned video game retailers. By late 1997, the downtown area of Flushing had become the go-to destination for not just local kids looking for gaming fixes, but for people all over the borough (and as far as northern Manhattan) to meet, play, t[...]



throwback thursday: a forgotten relic from the cog boom

2015-03-12T03:19:29.331-04:00

Lately, life for me has been one big trip, both literally and metaphorically. Between the steady stream of weekend events, I’ve spent more time on the road than at home. But that only gets compounded by the nostalgia trips I’ve been taking, ever since I uncovered a stack of old InQuest magazines from the 90s. For those who’ve never had the chance to read that now-defunct publication, it was put out by Wizard Press, the same guys who did (do?) the comics price guide Wizard, and was a companion to the also dead ToyFare. Occupying a sort of middle ground between the other two magazines, InQuest was billed as the “Guide to Collectible Card Games,” which at its peak in the 90s, meant a steady stream of coverage dedicated to Magic the Gathering, and whatever other flavors of the months were on gamers’ minds. It blended a wonderful mix of news and often sarcastic/tongue-in-cheek humor revolving around the tabletop gaming hobby that was booming during those last years of the 20th century. Exposing/ridiculing stereotypes and the weird devotion that generation’s gamers had for their obsession was par for the course in the average issue, often spread out across the ever-present “Letters” page, continuing through deck building strategies, and even filtering into the massive price/card guides that took up the last third of each issue. But part of the fun from reading each issue was the previews and reviews of card games other than Magic. While the “granddaddy of CCGs” was the main focus of each issue, two decades after the fact its easy to forget that Magic was just the opening salvo in a plethora of collectible games that flooded the market between 1994 and 2000. The 25th anniversary issue of InQuest profiled some 60 of those games, which had been released up until 1997. Take that in for a moment: within 4 years of the debut of Magic, 60 other games were released hoping to cash in on the rampant popularity of that one property. And while today pretty much all those games are dead (the only games on that list that still receives expansion support are Magic and Legend of the 5 Rings, which is a game EVERYONE SHOULD PLAY), there still remains a fairly vibrant secondary market online dedicated to keeping the communities of landmark games like Middle Earth, Star Wars, and Vampire the Eternal Struggle alive in the hearts of those who once (or still, based on the pricing) played. Topping off that then-current list of games was an oddity, at least to this guy at that time. It was a card game that played like a bizarre scavenger hunt, where parties of colorful, exotic characters did battle with walking disasters and other players, in the name of unearthing powerful artifacts for their collection. This game was called Ani-Mayhem, and it was billed as a romp through the worlds of Japanese animation, with all the fights and romances attached for your playing pleasure. The game featured a number of location cards set out on a 3x3 grid system in front of the player. Under each location was placed an artifact card, which would be the eventual goal of the player to unearth through exploration. Under that card would be played an array of either disasters (which players had to fight to bypass) or items that could be used to strengthen the party. In a two-player game, players would frequently seed items under their own locations, and disasters under their opponent’s, until the 9 cards were raised up off the table like the tiny mountains they were. Each player would then assemble a team of 4 “[...]



you better watch out…the namahage comes to town

2015-02-19T18:38:46.730-05:00

I got you something...Last weekend, while many of you were busy enjoying your candy and other gifts bestowed upon you by loved ones (or complete strangers, in which case STOP READING THIS AND RUN), the monsters were silently roaming about. Using the seemingly nonstop swarm of blizzards blanketing the country with snow and forcing any sane individual inside as cover, these hideous monsters crossed into our borders, hiked up their trousers, and began their silent march across the country, eager to dispense their own brand of rough justice. Justice you say? Justice for whom? Against whom? Well, that’s a good question to ask. Because when it comes to these cold-weather warriors, the justice attached to it can take so many forms, and none of them pleasing. So lock your doors, bar your windows, and begin praying. Because now, as the deep freeze settles in, the namahage have come to town with it. Snuggled in between Setsubun and Lunar New Year, the Namahage festival usually falls on or around February 15th, or typically “on the eve of the New Year” (localization be damned). While the festival has its roots in Northern Japan, particularly in Akita prefecture and the Oga Peninsula city, the monsters themselves are of the sort that would not have issue abandoning their traditional posts in order to deliver some serious “oni justice” to anyone who violates their deeply held convictions. Now, Kit has already mentioned how Setsubun was a time when the oni were driven out, in order for luck to take their place in the coming new year. Banish some serious mischief, and be rewarded with good fortune- thats never a bad deal. But the namahage aren’t those types of oni that need to be kicked out. On the contrary, the namahage legend is one that would be more likely to be invited IN, so these creatures can indulge their fancy at the expense of the wicked, the whiny, and the disobedient. Their coming is a mark of good fortune, and they are on some level avatars of that same good luck that Setsubon promises. Unless, of course, you are one of the wicked, the whiny, and the disrespectful that need to be driven out. In that case, start packing your baggage, because the hammer is about the drop. Origins of the monster take so many different flavors. My personal favorite is courtesy of yokai enthusiast Matt Alt, who describes the namahage in his book “Yokai Attack!” as “taking their name from concept of the blisters that appear on the feet of the slovenly individuals who sit in front of a warm hearth for too long...a colloquial contraction of the words ‘namomi’ (fire blister) and ‘hagu’ (to peel).” These justice ogres would gladly invade the homes of those who were shirking their duties to sit in front of the fire by holding them down and ripping the blisters off their feet. Adding further insult to injury, the namahage would then shove a tool into the screaming victim’s hands, kick him outside, and force him to work, all the while dealing with the fiery pain surging through the open wounds the monster has inflicted.Hey, at least the ice and snow would staunch the bleeding and render the feet numb after a time. The power of community found throughout Japanese history and culture allows for beings like the namahage to exist, and even thrive, especially during the cold weather months. When entire neighborhoods live or die based around the actions of the people who live there, someone wasting their time because “it’s too cold” or “it’s borin[...]



a first-timer's guide to katsucon

2015-02-17T13:30:51.325-05:00

Kit here! I had not been to Katsucon since Katsucon 2002, so effectively, this was my first time being at Katsucon since it was in the Gaylord National in National Harbor, MD.So what do you do when it's your first time at a convention? Especially one in what is essentially an indoor resort?Exploration is better when you're prepared! (Zen and Rei cosplay from Persona Q.)First: The bare necessities.So I heard you like Gazebos.Elevators, bathrooms, lobby staff (for directions to which rooms required which elevators or escalators), landmarks like the gazebo. There were maps included in the registration packets, but I never got one - so I used the interactive maps the hotel had, which directed me to the right places without fail. The elevators were on opposite sides of the gigantic atrium area, which made it easy to remember where they were located, and the views of the atrium and of the Potomac River were amazing. If you were meeting people for meetups or photoshoots, knowing where landmarks were like the gazebo (middle of Floor 2) helped to coordinate locations. The lobby staff of the hotel were also helpful, as it can be difficult to figure out where individual rooms are or the easiest way to get to them, so a big shoutout to the Gaylord National staff for being so helpful and friendly towards flustered attendees like myself.Walter and Alucard from Hellsing: the Dawn.Second: Take your time.This should really go without saying: if you're in an unfamiliar area, and ESPECIALLY at a convention, allow yourself more time to get to panels/dealers hall/meetups than you might initially think. You might get stopped on the way by a friend, or stop for pictures like I did - if I saw an amazing or rare cosplay, I jumped at the chance to take photos. (Like this Hellsing: the Dawn cosplay, to the left!) The elevators may just take more time than you thought they would, or getting coffee turns into a 20-person line ordeal. I gave myself plenty of time to get to my panels, and even though I arrived on the side of early, it also gave me the time to talk to the convention staff, get drinks, and remember my way around more easily. I also was able to explore the hotel more, and see what was going on in other rooms (such as tabletop gaming, where the LAN gaming room was, and so forth) that I would not have otherwise been able to check without giving myself the extra time.Third: Make friends!Don't be afraid to talk to people you see in line, or at panel presentations! Thanks to Katsucon, I saw an array of people that I had only heard about from friends-of-friends, or through associations with other conventions: Katsucon gave me an opportunity to actually meet with them, and due to its location in National Harbor, it was easy to go out of the Gaylord National for a bite to eat or to grab some delicious coffee at Harbor Coffee!An acquaintance of mine at another convention had a rule for conventions: don't eat alone. This is a quick way of talking to people: when you go for coffee or tea, or a snack or a meal, invite someone to go along with you for the company if you can. It's a neat idea, so if you can do so, feel free to borrow it too!Final thoughts.If you have not been to Katsucon, go at least once for the experience of it, if you can! It may be overwhelming, but with these tips in mind, I hope it's easier. I had a lot of fun this year, even though I did not take many pictures - but I hope to come back next year![...]



modern artifacts: the gazebo

2015-02-11T08:13:51.140-05:00

The idea of artifact yokai is still a piece of favorite lore in Japan: these are known collectively as "tsukumogami", and relate to a very old idea that utensils, or teapots, or umbrellas, or any of these everyday things, may in fact have a spirit in them of some kind. They can become yokai - mischievous or malicious - depending on how they are treated (for example, if they're improperly thrown out), and of course, what region you are in: the relatively sedate kasa-obake may in fact spirit you up into the sky instead of just being a one-eyed strange umbrella hopping after you!These ideas are not completely unknown to us in the West, though. Disney's Beauty and the Beast played on this idea in the film, even though the teapots and clocks and such were a result of a curse instead of old age of the tool/utensil itself.But what about more modern day things?I bring to you, the Katsucon Gazebo. Kit (myself) at Study of Anime had the opportunity to speak with the mysterious Administrator of the Katsucon Gazebo's Twitter account recently, and we want to share the interview with you![K - stands for Kit, words will be italicized.][A - stands for Administrator.]K: Okay. First, you've said before that the idea for the Katsucon Gazebo, devourer of souls, was in part due to already existing sentiments towards the picturesque gazebo at the hotel center. But why do you think it became so popular?A: Honestly. I think it was because a lot of people already had a lot of silliness to it. Most people assumed it was just this peaceful picturesque thing. But given the way it got so nasty in 2013. I thought the idea of making it something that basks in "evil" would be amusing. Sort of a way to explain why people got so crazy over it. I think it got popular because of the transposition of something so beautiful being vaguely evil. Being sinister under the fact that's it's pretty.Also, I had taken from pre-existing Gazebo folklore from the Dungeons and Dragons Mythos. I'm not sure if your familiar with the story of Dredd Gazebo. I won't transcribe it here. But in short it ended with the Gazebo coming to life and killing the whole party. So I think some of the popularity came from people who already knew about that too. It was just a sort of perfect storm of fandoms.K: It's been likened to Weird Twitter - the type of surreal, poetic weirdness that ebook bots and fandoms like that of Welcome to Night Vale take delight in. It's just interesting to see that around a particular, concrete thing: people can visit the actual gazebo, for example, and let their imaginations run wild.I'm not sure if you're familiar with the parallel of conventions with religious festivals or pilgrimages, but considering that parallel, it isn't too far off to think that the story of the Gazebo might tie in to popular imagination of powerful and dangerous artifacts or relics, too.A: I can see that. I mean one of the ideas I run with is that people make a yearly "pilgrimage" to the Gazebo in hopes of being blessed by cosplay fame. And those parallels aren't exactly by accident. Part of the reason I'm able to make some of the jokes about the soul devouring and the "What will you give up for Cosplay Fame" does stem from the fact that there are some cosplayers that only go to Katsucon for the Gazebo itself.The Irony in that, as it's Twitter admin, is I've become one of those people.K: That is some definite irony. Has being its Twitter admin helped you as a person at all? What have you lea[...]



Katsucon incoming

2015-02-09T16:19:23.045-05:00

Not even back a full day from Almacon and I'm grabbing my stuff for Katsu. Year 7, and I believe I've got 11 hours of panels this time around. Same as year 6, but this time a lot less straight lectures and a lot more interactive sessions. There will also be a table in the Artist Alley, selling art prints (including a few brand new ones from AJ), copies of Ghostly Tales (I should have 70 this time), tarot card readings (I got a Legend of Zelda deck this past weekend) and information on both book preorders AND support for my upcoming trip to Japan this fall.As for scheduling:Game of Phones - Friday - 4pm - JCI Lecture 2: Return of the Culture Trade panel. It's been way too long since I last gave this one, and I've had a chance to shore up more information on Japanese Cool and its impact on the post-bubble economy.Hyaku Monogatari - Friday - 10pm - JCI Lecture 2: Those ghost story books I'm selling can come in handy here. Bring your favorite tales to tell, art to show, or maybe even a stuffed animal so we can try Kakurenbo. Because we're nuts.Mononoke Masters - Saturday - 11am - JCI Room 2: Preserving the world of Yokai, this is an exploration of yokai in art and literature, and the people who evolved the concept. For more information, check this out: Yokai GalleryKill la Kill: History, Mythology and Allegory - Saturday - 2pm - JCI Lecture 2: All my research and reading comes down to this. History, mythology, literature, culture in transformation AND criticism, and questions about Japan both past and future. It also features the latest art, blending old tales with new friends.Hanafuda Workshop - Saturday - 4:30pm - JCI Room 2: Learn to play the card game that made Nintendo famous. Decks will be on hand for sale, and (hopefully) a number of tables will be open for play during the workshop.Yokai Girls Gone Wild - Saturday - 7:30pm - JCI Lecture 2: Female monsters prowling about, scaring the ever-loving beJeezus out of those unlucky enough to cross their paths.Panel Rewind - Sunday - 12pm - JCI Lecture 2: I need to see which panels I want to offer this time around. Potentially Ghibli, Poke-mythology, or…hell, just look at the list and tell me what you guys want.Those are all JCI track classes. I also have 2 non-JCI panels for your viewing pleasure:Theory of Grimdark - Friday - 12:30 AM - Live 6: THIS IS THE GRIMDARK PONY PANEL. LITERARY THEORY, SOME DISCOURSE ON FANDOM AND HOW FANS CRITIQUE THEIR MEDIA. BUT MOSTLY GRIMDARK PONY ART AND FICTION.Elements of Style - Friday - 1PM - Cherry Blossom Ballroom: Anime Openings, structured around style and experimentation. I've had this one in the pool for Katsu ever since I did the first OPs panel in 2012. Now its back on.See you all at the Gaylord this weekend!Also, Kit has a few panels this weekend as well!Just Say It! - 6:30 PM Saturday; about Japanese aesthetics in communication, unspoken incidents in anime and manga, and more.Traditional Treats - 8:30 PM Saturday; an exploration of the history of treats like amazake and azuki paste, to Sakuma Drops and Pocky!Utena and Madoka: Gentle Strength - 11:30 AM Sunday; exploring the concept of "yasashii" using the series of Revolutionary Girl Utena and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Also explored: witches, femininity, magic, and when heroism goes wrong.[...]



Setsubun - Oni out, luck in!

2015-02-03T14:26:05.678-05:00

Setsubun - more precisely, Risshun/Spring Setsubun (Setsubun just means 'seasonal division', but here means the division from winter into spring) - is known in Japan to be a time of festivals, cleansing, and of soybeans....wait, soybeans?Roasted soybeans - and sometimes, peanuts - are used in celebrations of Setsubun. It used to be that the head of the household would take a handful of roasted soybeans, go to the family altar (the Buddhist altar or the kamidana, or both), pray for good fortune in the oncoming year, and then throw the beans out the door while saying "Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi" - a chant loosely meaning "Oni out, luck in!". The idea was that the sanctified beans would help purify the home by catching the attention of any wandering oni or malicious spirits, and the oni or the spirits would go after the beans instead of the home. As Setsubun tended to fall at the start of the New Year in the old lunar calendar, many of these traditions of driving spirits out are related to ensuring good luck in the oncoming year; much like modern New Year celebrations and preparations for a new, fresh start.However, this is one of those celebrations that have a lot of variations throughout Japan.Some shrines, like Tsubaki Grand Shrine, set their celebration on February 1st, while people may celebrate on the 2nd or the 3rd. Sometimes, it's adults who put on oni masks and children 'drive' them away with the chant; sometimes, it's a comparatively more orderly festival at a shrine; sometimes, the chant itself varies or peanuts are used instead of soybeans. Sometimes, if soybeans are used, only a few will be thrown, and the remainder eaten for good luck and good health. And even then the custom may be different! Some people eat one bean for each year of their age, while some people are used to the custom of eating one bean for each year of their age PLUS ONE for luck in the new year.Speaking of food customs, Osaka started a new one: the custom of eating specially rolled makizushi. Apparently, one must face the direction predicted to bring the most fortune for the year (as determined by the Chinese zodiac and corresponding compass directions) and eat one of these specially prepared rolls in silence, to ensure the best possible luck for the oncoming year. This started in Aichi Prefecture, but spread to Osaka, the Japanese home of restaurants and food culture, and is quickly spreading to other areas due to promotions via grocery stores and merchants. It is possible also to make your own makizushi as well! (The lucky directions for 2015 seem to be East/South-East according to the information I found, but we will see if this is correct!)If you have a tradition for Setsubun, let us know! If not, look forward to the start of spring![...]