Friday, December 28, 2012

Downtown's No-Laughing! New Year's Special

Everyone one loves watching the YouTube videos of Japanese comedians maiming themselves in name of comedy. For senseless hilarity there is no better than Hitoshi Matsumoto and Masatoshi Hamada of Downtown fame. Matchan and Hamachan, as they are affectionately known, are joined by Hosei Yamasaki, and Cocorico duo Shozo Endo and Naoki Tanaka for a new years tradition that now rivals the 63 consecutive years musical bonanza of Kohaku Uta Gassen.

But every New Year's Eve my TV is set to watch the 6 hour feast of slapstick, scares and tomfoolery that these 5 guys inflict on each other in Downtown's Gaki no Tsukai, in their yearly "No-Laughing! Batsu Game" special. This year sees a return to a school setting, hopefully it'll live up to the 2005 classic, which is one of my favourite episodes. It's also one of the best ways to pick up on some Japanese that you won't find in any textbook.

I read an interview with Matchan last week stating that since he is turning 50 next year, he is getting too old, and he might have to give up on the slapstick and fart jokes. So fingers crossed that this isn't the last year we see Down Town's "No Laughing" special.

So, Happy New Year to everyone, and until next time.... ANDY OUT!

Really, this is just an excuse to post this video:

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Monster (Noaki Hyakuta)

This is not the manga by Naoki Urasawa, but a 2010 novel by Naoki Hyakuta. A friend recommended that I should read something by Naoki Hyakuta, and I'd already seen the excellent movie adaptation of his high school boxing drama, Box! So I had pretty high expectations when I picked up a copy of Monster.

The titles Monster is an unattractive girl who suffers through a lonely childhood, shunned by family and friends. I was expecting a formulaic ugly duckling transformation. Years of hard struggle, until she finally climbs toward her goal and overcomes the obstacles in her life. I'm trying not to spoil to much, but at the end of the novel when the transformation is complete, the Monster remains, she is just a horrible twisted person. In fact, it's very hard to find any likable characters in this novel, there is one, but I'm not sure why he makes the choices that he does.

I must applaud Naoki Hyakuta for avoiding expectations, and providing a twist to the ugly duckling transformation, the same avoidance of the mighty ducks style "school kids overcome hardships to achieve sporting glory" in Box!

If you are looking for an insight into the seedy underworld of snack bars and prostitution in Japan, then Monster is an interesting read. I'm reminded of the Akutagawa Prize winning novel, Snakes and Earings by Hitomi Kanehara. The sole purpose of the books seem to be to shock the reader by giving a glimpse into the Japanese underbelly.

The movie adaption of Monster featuring Saki Takaoka in the title roll will hit cinemas in Japan in 2013.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I Am A Hero #10

I spend the last few days getting up to date with I Am A Hero. Volume 10 was released in November. Already securing a release in France, Italy and Spain, I wonder how far behind the English release is, especially if they want to capitalize on the popularity of The Walking Dead.

Volumes 7-8 finish up the Governor-esque story arc of Sango and his goons at the outlet mall. We see Hideo and "Yabu" searching for medical treatment for Hiromi.

There is a huge contrast between a zombie invasion in Japan, and those we are used to seeing on the Hollywood screen. And unfortunately recent events in America bring that more into focus. But the distinct lack of firepower in Japan calls for a much more cautious approach.

We have seen the zombies develop into the fast zombies of Walking Dead/28 Days Later. But there is also the emergence of repetitive behaviors from their past lives that dominates the zombies actions.

In the world of I Am A Hero a large part of city infrastructure survives intact. The large numbers of Shut-ins (引きこもり) whilst avoiding the dangers outside, have seen their rooms as cages in which they are trapped, and reach out through the still functioning internet for any help that is available. Volume 10 ends with a small group of survivors entering a home and freeing a shut-in boy.

I'm looking forward to seeing the interaction of Hideo and the new group in the coming year. I'm hoping we can see a movie adaption of this sometime in 2013.

More info:
I Am A Hero Official Site:
Kengo Hanazawa's Site:
Kengo Hanazawa on Twitter:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Saint Young Men UPDATE!

I posted about this series only the other day, and I'm already way behind, as Volume 8 was released in early December. But along with the latest volume, a revamped website ( was released with details of an upcoming animated feature.

It will be released in Japan on May 10th, and will produced be A-1 Pictures who recently did the Uchu Kyodai (a.k.a. Space Brothers) anime series. Jesus is to be voiced by stage and screen actor Mirai Moriyama (森山未来) and Buddha by singer, songwriter, actor Gen Hoshino (星野源).

You can follow the movie twitter feed here:
Plenty of more updates to come on this in the coming months, stay tuned.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Saint Young Men

Or 聖☆おにいさん as it's called in Japanese. Jesus and Buddha are two twenty (going on a few thousand) somethings living in modern Tokyo. Trips to Disneyland, rides on the subway, summer festivals. As a foreigner living in Japanese, it's hilarious to see some of the same reactions and situations that I face in my every day life reflected through the actions and opinions of two religious icons. One of my favourite scenes is Jesus being confused with Johnny Depp at the convenience store.

I'm a big fan of the web comic Jesus and Mo, which a satirical slap in the face of the archaic views prominent in some sections of the Christian and Islamic communities. Saint Young Men is more a light-hearted affectionate poke in the ribs.

This is definitely the most hilarious, refreshing manga that I've read in a long time. It's written by Hikaru Nakamura who also writes. Arakawa Under The Bridge, which has recently been turned into a movie. I'm yet to read the manga, or see the movie, but they are definitely on my to-read list.

You can catch Hikaru Nakamura on Twitter here:
And the Saint Young Men website here:

Winter Reading

I set my self a goal of reading more Japanese literature over the winter break. I picked up the following three titles:

Meido Meguri by Maki Kashimada (冥土めぐり、鹿島田真希)
One of this years winner of the Akutagawa Prize. The Akutagawa Prize is one of Japan's most prestigious literary awards, and is awarded bi-anually to a new or up and coming author.Quiet often the award is given to short-stories or novellas, so it's an excellent way for people looking to dip their toe in to current Japanese literature.

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui (パプリカ、筒井康隆)
This one should be familiar to amine fans as it was adapted into an absolutely amazing animated feature by Satoshi Kon. Yasutaka Tsutsui is a giant of science fiction, comparable to someone like Philip K. Dick, and had a huge effect on Japanese science fiction. Only a few of Tsutsui's works have been translated into English (Parika being one of them), so it's worth checking them out if you want some Japanese SF.

The Tatami Galaxy by Tomihiko Morimi (四畳半神話体系、森見登美彦)
This is a more recent novel that has also received a critically acclaimed anime series. I'm yet to see the series, and don't know much about the book. But I remember it being on the best sellers list a while ago, and it's been recommended by several friends.

Looking forward to spending some time reading something a bit heavier than my usual manga series.

I Am A Hero #6

This is one series that I've been reading electronically through my Sony Reader, and since the digital form of manga distribution is still in its infancy, it can take a will while for the digital version to catch up with the print version. Only the first 5 volumes of I Am A Hero are available online, so when I found myself stuck at the station the other day, I picked up volume 6 in paperback.

We often see with zombie series that continue long enough, that there is some evolution, whether it's George A Romero's zombies slowly developing and regaining some cognitive abilities, the 28 Days/Weeks later series where we see carriers of the Rage virus who don't turn.

The zombies in I Am A Hero are more the fast 28 Days Later, super aggressive zombies. I hope this is not too much of a plot spoiler, but after one of the main characters, Hiromi Hayakari is bitten by a zombie baby, she has some immunity to the virus and although she develops a speech and physical disability, she lacks the classic zombie brain crazing. This gives the group hope that infection is not a death sentence, and a cure is possible. I'm very interested to see how the story develops now that keeping Hiromi alive is one of the central story threads.

More info:
Kengo Hanazawa on Twitter:
I Am A Hero website:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Real #12

There is always the argument in western media about the artistic value of comics and video games. And while The Watchmen and no The Walking Dead have pushed comic into a more mainstream awareness, and given some legitimacy to the claim for the comic as an art form  Ico, Limbo, and Braid similarly making the claim for video games. Both forms of entertainment have taken great strides toward becoming accepted as a popular art form.

If I had to nominated a series and artists that are similarly elevating manga, I would choose Tekehiko Inoue's Real. After achieving fame with the Shonen series, Slam Dunk, Real avoids all the common manga tropes to tell a story of depth and character.

With a new volume only being released every November, it is a bit difficult to remember where the story is up to, but included with volume 12 is an 80 page re-cap of the previous 11 volumes, along with character profiles of the 3 main characters and their relationships.

Volume 12 focuses on 19 year old Kiyogawa Togawa, the very driven and proud wheel chair basketball player, who is always pushing himself to be the best he can be, but often finds himself alienating his teammates with his individuality. Tomomi Nomiya makes a brief appearance toward the end, and I'm looking forward to finding out how his trial with the professional team, Tokyo Lightnings, went. I'm not sure I can wait a whole year to find out, I may have to start picking up Weekly Jump when ever Real makes an appearance.

More Info:
Real 12:
Takehiko Inoue's twitter:
Takehiko Inoue's homepage:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Peeping Life - The Perfect Explosion

One of the funniest comedy programs I've seen in a long time. A series of short animations that give peek into real Japanese life, culture, and language. What may at first glance appear to be a caricature of Japan, is actually closer to real life than you imagine. Some of my friends and work colleagues could easily step on screen; the resemblance is uncanny.

The most well known, most viewed skit on youtube is the young couple who are always arguing, they make another classic appearance, along with my favourite couple of the young guy trying to impress his girlfriend with his hip hop skills, also the newlyweds are hilarious. The returning characters are all fantastic, but most of the new characters seem a bit forced, hopefully they can be improved on for the next release.

What makes the series even more impressive is the fact that the scenes are ad-libbed, and it really adds to the flow and natural conversation. I'll have to look into the voice cast, because they do an amazing job.

One other special note I have to make about this series is that it comes with fantastic English subtitles. Whoever translated this series should be proud, a lot of Japanese specific puns and idiosyncracys have been rather cleverly translated in English. Here is the latest trailer, no subtitles on the trailer sorry.

Check out Peeping Life here:
And on Twitter:

Special Others - Have A Nice Day

Pretty excited to be heading to my first live gig in about 12 months. Special Others are a band I found randomly listening to the recommendations at my local Tower Records.

And since it is such a pain in the arse to get myself to a decently sized city, and gigs in Japan are just as likely on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, I'd resigned myself to not being able to catch these guys. But luckily they are playing in Sendai AND on Sunday night.

This album probably features a wider range of styles than their previous releases which where in danger of becoming a bit stale. Still the usual jam band stylings, but with a dose of reggae, rock, and some lower tempo tracks. The first single of the new album is ROOT, I'm not sure what happened to the clip on youtube, but they've taken down the full clip and replaced it with a shortened version. But here it is anyway, enjoy!

More info about Special Others here:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Manga Artists on Twitter

With Twitter being one of the more popular social networks in Japan, it's a good way to keep up with your favourite mangaka. Some recommendations:

Kengo Hanazawa (
The newest artists to pop up on my radar, I wrote about I Am A Hero the other day. And his previous manga, Boys On The Run, received a bit of attention and a movie adaptation.

Takehiko Inoue (
Definitely one of the highest profile mangaka on Twitter. His art is amazing, and he always has so many different projects on the go. Vagabond is a behemoth that I would love to start reading, but with 34 volumes and counting, it's not going to happen soon. Also popular for his basketball themed Slam Dunk and Real. Real is probably my favourite manga series of all time, and I'm not even interested in basketball.

Inio Asano (
Asano is my favourite mangaka. His art is amazing, characters are so well drawn, against some breathtaking inner city backdrops. He writes a lot of small 1-2 volume stories. Solanin was turned into a movie a few years ago. I'm not sure how to describe his current series, Oyasumi Pun Pun. I was very enchanted by the story, setting, and characters when I started, but when you are dealing honestly, bluntly with the topic of awkward teenage boy sexual maturity, things can get... awkward, especially when the main character is also a bird in a human world.

Friday, November 9, 2012

I Am A Hero

The latest zombie wave is sweeping through Japan, although like The Walking Dead, the Z word seems to be forbidden. I've just finished the 3rd volume of this series and no one has thought to mention that the flesh eating violent former deceased are what we commonly refer to as Zombies.

With a cast of characters with unique idiosyncrasies, I originally pegged this series as a Japanese take on Shaun on the Dead. Nerdy guy saves the day, and becomes zombie apocalypse hero. But since the protagonists girlfriend becomes one of the first zombies we encounter in the book, with no princess to save, and due to the comic roots, it's definitely a Japanese take on The Walking Dead.

In I Am A Hero, the zombie apocalypse here is not quiet so total as most other outbreaks, some basic services remain online and available to the survivors.The internet plays a large role in the story, and it'll be interesting to see how the plague develops in a technological advanced society. And I often thought that large urban centers would would be the first places to succumb to chaos, but have you ever seen a zombie climb a staircase or take an elevator? Maybe the metropolis of high rises would be the ideal place to defend and rebuild.

My favourite new series, and it already has publication in Italy and France, hopefully we can see an English realase soon, and I wonder if there are any young Japanese movie directors putting their hands up to direct this.

Space Brothers #19

Or 宇宙兄弟 in Japanese. It's hard to believe this series is now up to volume 19. After the movie earlier in the year, which covered the first 7 volumes, and the anime series that is running too early on Sunday mornings for me to watch, the series seems to be pumping out content and establishing itself as a profitable franchise.

But it seemed to me that the story had stagnated a bit, everyone is still dealing with the fallout from Hibito's accident on the moon. The last few volumes seemed to be going in circles. Mutta getting shuffled around to various projects and training, but now in volume 19 I can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel as Hibito moves on with his career.

I'm a big fan of hard science fiction, Makoto Yukimura's Planetes from 10 years ago being one of my favourites, but it seems that the roles of NASA and JAXA have changed a lot recently. A lot less focus on the manned space flight we see in Uchu Kyodai, but I'm not sure a manga about little wheeled buggies testing dirt on Mars makes for an entertaining read. We need the human drama. So even if there is less need for astronauts in the future, I hope Uchu Kyodai is inspiring Japanese kids to look at the stars and become interested in science and astronomy.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Billy Bat #10

One of the things I really enjoy about the story telling of Naoki Urasawa is the meticulous planning that goes into his story lines. So even though the main plot of Billy Bat doesn't progress too much in the latest volume, there are more multi-layered details added with another conspiracy filled story from 1924's Little Tokyo in Los Angeles.

Although this does leave me with a few problems. During the wait for each new volume, I tend to forget the interactions of each story, and the multitude of characters. And after reading several other of Urasawa's series; Monster and 20th Century boys, so of the minor characters tend to re-appear and blend together. Also, with multiple time lines; 1924 in one chapter, 1964 the next, if you're not paying attention, it's easy to lose track the intertwining threads.

But, the timing of the story telling is superb, with both the newly introduced story reaching an exciting climax, and Kevin perched in a precarious position as we wait the next volume. Hopefully the two stories resolve in the next volume as the story threads start to come together and move towards the climax.