Special Halloween Edition Doujinshi Review

I know, I know. I’m late to the party. Halloween is not usually a big thing for me, since I’m from central Europe. But I made a trip to Roppongi on Friday to see the lifesized Patlabor Ingram (which was super cool, but unfortunately already getting prepped for transport and I didn’t get a good look at it), and the streets were flooded with people in flashy Halloween costumes, so it gave me an idea. Why not do a Halloween-themed doujinshi review?

So I made a short trip to Melonbooks and Lashinbang in Omiya yesterday to specifically look for books with Halloween-ish content. I expected to find a lot of cute witches, ghosts, and possibly some horror content, although I wasn’t sure whether the big stores would be stocking the heavy stuff.
But lo and behold, the first thing I found was this:

IMG_20141103_00011. Kuwareru (being devoured) by Nagomiyasan (Suzuki Nago)

Kuwareru‘s protagonist is a regular Joe, down on his luck: on the very first page, his wife files for divorce, and her lawyer reads him the conditions for meeting their adorable daughter Yukari.
A few days later, he is spending some time with Yukari, and we get the feeling that her innocent smile just might be his salvation, when suddenly he passes out and awakes to…

IMG_20141103_0003Chained to the wall in a barren room, the protagonist finds himself face to face with a huge, savage-looking monster that looks like straight out of Attack on Titan.
Both of them are bound by chained linked to the wall by a timed lock, the last one holding the monster down being set to 15 minutes earlier than the protagonist’s. Next to where he’s sitting, he finds a rusty knife, and binoculars, while the beast on the other end seems to be surrounded by human body parts from multiple victims.

He remembers a similar scene in a horror film, where the main character ended up cutting off their own foot to survive, but quickly dismisses the idea since the knife doesn’t look nearly sharp or strong enough to amputate anything… So he does the understandable thing: He freaks the fuck out.

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Only afterwards does he remember that he was with his little daughter when he was apparently abducted… And things only go downhill from there.

Kuwareru is a classic locked room horror story, and while there is some gore in it, the main scare element is definitely psychological. The main character faces the realization that his life is over, not only because he is about to be dismembered by a hulking monstrosity with gigantic fangs, but because he has already lost everything – his career is stagnating, his wife dumped him, and his dearest daughter may well be dead already. It’s a no-way-out situation, and this being a Japanese story, it is safer not to hold your breath for a happy ending…

Kuwareru  is 28 pages in B5 format, with a matte 4-color cover (probably the scariest I’ve ever seen on a doujinshi). It’s a pretty standard production physically, and definitely more about the story than visuals. The art is reasonably professional, and purposefully comes apart at times when the protagonist loses it.
The original price was 400 Yen, I got it at Melon Books for 549.

The author: Suzuki Nago on Pixiv, Twitter
Kuwareru on Melonbooks

Surprisingly, I didn’t find anything else appropriate for the theme at Melonbooks. So I moved on to Lashinbang, which sells second hand doujinshi and character goods.
And there, at the opposite end of the Halloween doujinshi spectrum, I found:

2. Potoneko Halloween by Naru Nanao & KOKONOBI (circle: Ice & Choco)

IMG_20141103_0006Okay, this is something that would normally never pick up, but it was the only book I could find that actually said “Halloween” on the cover, so I just had to get it.

Poteneko Halloween is a book from 2002, and unlike the other books I have been introducing, it’s simply a collection of illustrations rather than a manga story. According to the introduction, the artists had produced a variety of goods to go with it, such as a clear file (a plastic sleeve/folder to protect loose sheets of paper) and a decorative plate.

The 6-page insides of the book are fairly similar to the cover: There is one illustration per page, with a small block of text describing the artist’s motivations for producing the respective images.

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From what I can find on the web Naru Nanao is a fairly well known games illustrator, and Kokonobi a frequent collaborator (and former assistant?). The book is full color, and printed on pretty thick stock. It was 100 Yen at Lashinbang, I assume that’s because there’s not too much content and it’s fairly old.
There’s a lot of Kancolle illustration on Kokonobi’s Pixiv profile, including one for this year’s Halloween:

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halloween! by ここのび on pixiv

The artists:

Naru Nanao on Wikipedia

Kokonobi on Pixiv, Circle profile

And finally…

3. Kaijuu Wakusei (Monster Planet) by duke

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What would Halloween be without a good Kaijuu movie?

The story is set on a distant planet inhabited by peaceful creatures. Humans invade, and start harvesting the “Kaijuu” as material for weapons and armor. When one of the beasts, a sort of plant-dragon, being herded into town for slaughter, fights back, it’s put into chains and thrown into a dungeon.

There, it encounters a young girl, who has been imprisoned for living together peacefully with the monsters.

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Soon, she is taken back outside to be crucified publicly.. Until the plant-dragon bursts out of the ground from underneath and starts attacking the soldiers torturing the girl.
The soldiers being powerless against the monster, the town’s “king” shows his true colors: He’s a Kaijuu himself, having feasted on the monsters for years.

From there on, it’s an honest-to-god monster brawl, in the vein of the best of the Godzilla movies.

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Since I got this book at Lashinbang, I didn’t get to look at the insides, and half expected it to be a collection of Kaijuu illustrations. Very pleasantly surprised that it was a proper manga, with great art and a good story. Very satisfying conclusion, too.

Monster Planet is a 44-page story in B5 format, square bound with a semi-glossy 4c wraparound cover. It was 300 Yen at Lashinbang, and well worth it I think!

The artist: duke on Pixiv, Twitter

edit: Forgot one! Here is another “illustration collection” type book by artist kr3:

4. kr+4 by kr3 (Shibano Kaito)

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A beautiful collection of witch-themed illustrations. The artist points out on the first page that he loves drawing witches, which have a fairly defined general theme. The book features 7 illustrations, including the cover, each covering a different color or element.

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There’s no text or anything, but the illustrations are gorgeous, so I feel it was a steal at 100 Yen.

The artist: Shibano Kaito on the web

That’s it for today! Hope you enjoyed this look at a few books a little different from what I usually read. Want more? Make sure to check the doujinshi tag for books I have previously reviewed.

As always, I welcome feedback and interaction, so I’d be happy if you liked/reblogged, or even commented. Questions and suggestions are welcome!

Weekend Doujinshi Review, 2014/10/26

Another weekend, another self-published manga review. Make sure to check the doujinshi tag for previous installments!

The doujinshi in this week’s post are not from Comitia, but actually from a store! I stopped by Comic Zin in Akihabara with a friend visiting from Canada this week, and of course I couldn’t stop myself from getting a few for myself.
Zin is a great store, because they, unlike a lot of other stores, have the erotic, “adult” doujinshi  in a completely different section (read: floor) of the store. As others have pointed out, Akihabara is full of porn, mostly because it attracts more male otaku than female (which is not to say there aren’t boatloads of BL doujinshi to be had here too). We visited a few other shops too, but weren’t able to find such a good selection of original, non-adult books as Zin had. The West Shinjuku Zin store, by the way, is a fantastic shop as well, and has the adult- and all-ages books clearly separated (albeit next to each other).

On to the books.

1. Kuwagata by Higurashi Mikio

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Kuwagata, which translates into “stag beetle,” is a book about two boys, rambunctious Yusaku and quiet Takaya, spending their summer vacation in the countryside. In the opening scene, they race into one of the boys’ grandfather’s house with their catch of the day, a huge stag beetle.
Catching large beetles is a hugely popular pastime for young boys in Japan, where insects or all shapes and sizes are ever-present, and is a popular ingredient of the romanticized “perfect” boyhood summer.

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The beast clocks in at 10cm, beating the previous record of their friend Hana – at which point we start to notice there is a wheel missing from the tricycle. Hana has been away at the training camp of her tennis camp, a fact Yusaku laments vocally.

Hana finally returns the next day, surprising the duo at the creek where they have been hanging out. After she whacks Yusaku over the head with her racket for criticizing her tennis club activities, they get the chance to present their grand victory (the beetle), and she is… utterly unimpressed. Hana is portrayed as, physically as well as mentally, more mature than the boys, and it quickly becomes clear that the relationship between the friends is going to change in a big way…

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This book is from 2007, but personally I didn’t feel like it shows its age at all. It tells a universally recognizable story of the very beginnings of puberty. While the boys, particularly the taller one, are still quite noticeably still children, we get a hint of their development as well when Takaya clearly shows an interest in Hana that goes beyond friendship (and promptly gets heckled by Yusaku for it).

Kuwagata is 20 pages in A5 format, and sold at Zin for 324 Yen. The cover has a beautiful matted finish with a hint of a pearl shimmer that really brings out the blue of the sky and water. The art, while not likely to win any awards, is very fitting for this youthful slice-of-life story.

The artist: Higurashi Mikio (currently going by Ukiwa Yoruno) on Twitter, Pixiv
Kuwagata at Comics Zin

2. TUBB: 桶の狭間で (TUBB: In between the tubs) by Kasahara Tetsuro

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Unlike the other books I’ve been showcasing, this one is actually a side project from an established Manga creator. Kasahara Tetsuro is best known for the manga Rideback, and has been published pretty consistently since 2000.

Oda is a newcomer at a security outfit called “Cucumber” in the distant future, using robotic exoskeletons called “TUBB” (Technical Utility Body Build, nicknamed “tubs”) to protect their clients. It’s a fairly dystopic world, where desert abounds and global warming has triggered the evolution of gigantic insects. He has been there just short of a month, but is already thinking of quitting, largely due to his insufferable superior, Imagawa.

But not all of Oda’s colleagues are as horrible: There’s also Nohime, who despite her cute looks is by far the most capable of the TUBB operators due to her military background. True to form, Oda is smitten with her and trots along into hazardous situations obediently.

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Cucumber’s mission du jour is the escort of a team of engineers set to inspect a power plant (power transmission from space via microwaves, in case you were wondering. They encounter a gigantic beetle called a Rhinodon, and with Nohime preoccupied with subduing a panicked Imagawa, it’s up to Oda to cut the beast down to size with his trusty chainsaw gun.(!)

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As I said before, Kasahara is a published pro, and it definitely shows. The art in TUBB is fantastic, the pacing is just right, and the even with the limited space, every single character is relatable and likeable.

The story finishes with Oda looking down at the handily dispatched Imagawa, and the narration saying “I never imagined that I would be shedding tears over this guy only a few months later.” I have yet to find a sequel to this, I honestly don’t think there is one… Dammit Kasahara!

TUBB is 36 pages long, A5 size, with a matte, textured wraparound cover. Zin is selling it for 630 Yen.

The artist: Kasahara Tetsuro on the web, Blog
TUBB at Comic Zin

And that’s it for today! As always, I welcome feedback and interaction, so I’d be happy if you liked/reblogged, or even commented. Questions and suggestions are welcome!

Moto 360 Impressions 2 (11 days and counting)

So, I’ve been using the Moto 360 smartwatch for 11 days now, so I thought I’d write a second post to let you know how I feel about it. I’ve been using it pretty consistently every day.

First off, I still have no problems with the battery life. I have had it on Ambient most days, mostly out of vanity – it just looks better with a face on it at all times. I have not had it die on me once. I even used it without charging for two days last weekend – ambient off, and fully powered down from 10pm til 8 am.
I’ve also had zero performance issues, so I’m guessing that the people reporting slowdowns either have a ton of apps or faces on it, or are simply comparing it to some of the other devices I haven’t seen. Either way, it’s a non-issue for me.

I have installed a few custom faces – Facer, Minimus, and Speeds – but most of the time I’m using the Motorola ones anyway. Such as these:

IMG_20141010_194321Still, it’s good to have the options. I do enjoy essentially wearing a different watch everyday!

One thing that was a huge deal for me – and I did add that to my original post – was when I found out that muting does not turn off notifications on the watch. It simply bans all cards off the home screen, and stops the watch from lighting up or vibrating. The cards are below the home screen, so if you swipe them up, everything – notifications and Google Now cards alike – is right there.

Why is this a big deal for me? Because I wanted a clean home screen, and because I didn’t like having to dismiss all cards, not knowing when they will return (which is something I dislike about Now).  So I re-activated the steps card (pedometer), and now have permanent access to the weather, travel time to work/home, notifications, and calendar appointments at all times. score. I don’t walk/run a lot on purpose, but it’s fun to check this stuff either way. Here’s my tweet from right after I found out about this, just to illustrate how much this mattered to me:

By the way, in case you’re wondering, Wear does not display Google Now’s story suggestions and TV-show stuff. Good decision, if you ask me.
I want it to display more things, but I’m not entirely sure what. Maybe restaurant options nearby or something like that? I’d also like to have a face that shows a little number for unread notifications, making it even more glanceable.

The voice activation is hit-and-miss… haven’t quite figured out how to have it consistently recognize the “OK Google” command. But once you tap it to start the voice input, recognization works great.

Also, I got a Pebble Steel band for it. I’d seen it on a few tech blogs, and they looked great on there… so I had to try it out.

IMG_20141019_211207Verdict: It looks really, really good and feels great too. It’s noticeably heavier, but that’s a tradeoff I’m more than willing to take. Even my wife agreed it looks great, and she doesn’t care about gadgets at all.
Swapping out the band was a pain in the ass. I didn’t get a specialized tool, so I did it with the little screw driver that came with the band. Plus, I have the fine motor skills of a 3 year old and about as much patience, so your mileage may vary… But it was really fidgety and I did scuff the edges of the plastic back plate a tiny bit trying to get the pins back in with the new band (particularly the second one).

I also noticed this when I was swapping out the bands:

IMG_20141019_144015I don’t recall snagging it on anything, or doing anything else that should have caused this, but the top layer of the leather band started to peel off. I’d gotten used to the thing, although it was still creaking, but that is a bit of a turn-off right there.

All things said, I’m still using it a lot pretty consistently. Obviously most of the time, I’ll check the time, see if there’s any notifications, maybe look at my steps for kicks or switch songs, and then put it away again. But I think that’s exactly what it’s for, to save me from having to get out my phone for the little stuff. Is that worth $250? Weeeell I think you need to be a special kind of geek for it to be (although there’s plenty of regular watches that cost more I guess).
But I am, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Android Wear goes from here!

Comitia 109 haul review 4

Another weekend, another batch of doujinshi I would like to introduce to you. Like the previous ones, all of these are completely original properties, not “fan fiction” type books. If you enjoy this, make sure to check out the previous reviews: 1, 2, 3

1. Remembrance by PLT (circle: i am nebula)

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circle thumbnail:

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Remembrance is a set of short stories about two angels and a god, all of whom are depicted as girls dressed in outfits resembling Japanese school uniforms. All of the stories are relatively light on dialogue, and do not delve too deeply into story- or philosophical elements. (also note that this has no religious context whatsoever, despite the subject matter)

For example, the first chapter opens with one of the angels, Koru, observing Saturn through a telescope. The other, Aru, approaches her and comments on why she doesn’t just fly up close, where it would be much easier to see. The first angel retorts that she sometimes prefers to experience things just as humans do, with all the limitations that entails.
After a bit of banter about humans and their shortcomings, the two accept each others’ points of view, and they head off to Saturn together.

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The 36-page book is drawn in a style usually reserved for light, comical material (reminiscent of Kill Me Baby), and while Remembrance doesn’t go for straight out slapstick, the stories are lighthearted and easy reads. The stories do not interconnect, however the creator suggests in the afterword that they are part of a continuity, albeit out of order.

The art relies heavily on screentones and large-area spot blacks, and is generally well executed, if at times a little loose.

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I picked this up mostly because I really liked the colors and composition of the cover (see the artist’s tumblr for a bigger and nicer version), and while I don’t usually read this sort of books it’s not something that I dislike.
It’s a very light read, and closes with a dark god telling the reader “See you!” as she prepares to smash the world to bits.
It’s a A5 book (I seem to have a thing for these), 40 pages, 400 Yen.

Bonus round: Here’s a lot at the artist’s table at Comitia.

The artist: PLT on Tumblr, Twitter

2. ROUCHE by Payo (circle: インコ(株) = Inko, Inc.)

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circle thumbnail:

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Rio lives in the underbelly of a big city. Feeding herself off scraps from a dumpster, she overhears some guys talk about a painting in some ruins, which they are planning to sell for a fortune.
Hopeful that she might get to it before them, she examines the ruins, but gets caught in the line of fire when a scuffle breaks out between a group of soldiers and some rebels, and hides behind a half-toppled wall in the ruins.

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There, Rio discovers a mural of a little girl smiling, labeled “Rouche. Immediately, she is ambushed by Ivan, a soldier who, like her, discovered the painting while trying to escape the armed conflict around them.
Over the following days, Rio and Ivan keep returning to the ruins, gradually getting to know each other and making a pact to clean up the painting. But just when they are started to get along, the war catches up to them…

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The story starts out bleak, and, perhaps realistically for a world in constant conflict, it doesn’t end well for the protagonists. The 40-page story wraps up with a flashback illustrating the story of the real-live Rouche, a girl adopted by her uncle when her father gets drafted into the military at the start of war. Her uncle, a painter, vows to protect her, but his promise slowly turns into an obsession that ultimately drives him mad.

The reader is left to draw their own conclusions about what happened to Rouche, where the painting came from, and whether it might have been the curse of her and her uncle’s fate that drew Rio and Ivan to the painting, and their demise.

Both art and storytelling are a bit unrefined,  but Rouche still delivers a gut punch or two that makes the book well worthwhile.
I might have actually skipped this book had it not been for the production values: The covers are rounded, and the blank page separating cover and content is a deep shade of blue, with a pattern of silver foil stars embossed on it. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the contents, but I really do appreciate when artists go to such lengths to make their books look apppealing. It’s an A5 book, 300 Yen.

The artist: Payo on Twitter, Pixiv

That’s it for today! I hope my reviews are helping illustrate how varied and fun Japanese self-published comics can be when you look outside the fan-fiction and porn sections. I will try to keep this on a roughly weekly schedule, so stop by again next week!
Also, I always welcome feedback and interaction, so I’d be happy if you liked/reblogged, or even commented. Questions and suggestions are welcome!

Moto 360 Impressions

I just got my Moto 360! Here’s a few impressions from my first day and a half with it. (Edited for expansion and corrections after a week)

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Firstly, hardware. As you’ve no doubt gathered from the gazillion reviews already out there, it’s got a very nice premium build, the metal housing (I got the silver/grey one) looks fantastic, just like a high-end watch should. What surprised me was that it’s actually really light, I expected a lot more heft from the steel casing and glass panel.
I was a bit let down by the leather band. Now, I haven’t worn a watch in ages, and use very little equipment that has any leather on it, so my opinion isn’t the most well-informed, but it feels a bit cheap to me, I’m tempted to say plastic, but it’s actually closer to thick, printed cardboard, if that makes sense. It also creaks. (edit: It still does after a week) On the other hand, the clamp looks really really nice. Love the flat design. Very sleek.

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Photos also make it look pretty huge and thick, but it really doesn’t feel that way when it’s on the wrist. It’s about 4.5 cm wide and 1cm thick, so the shape probably makes it feel a little smaller.
Also a nice surprise: It charged from 30% to 100 in less than 2 hours (I’d read it would be 3-4), and the setup process was painless (provided one is patient enough to wait for the updates to finish before doing anything). Bluetooth connection has not been a problem for me so far either.

The screen, as you might have heard, doesn’t have the best pixel density, so if you look closely you can definitely see the pixels. And, as many have pointed out, the chamfered edge magnifies them, resulting in a lot of chromatic aberration on the edges when you have a bright watch face on. I have slight OCD-ish tendencies, so that bothers me a lot. I’m using the black faces, mostly the really nice triple-timezone one that comes preinstalled.

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And of course, I slapped a few custom faces on there from the web, just for kicks (and, in the case of the fake apple watch face, trolling. Don’t worry, I deleted it pretty fast)

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The big question is, what does it actually do?

The first thing you’ll notice is that it mirrors all of the notifications on your phone, as well as Google Now cards. So if you don’t have access to a lot of Now cards (I think we get like half of the good stuff over here in Japan), or get a lot of notifications, it’s kinda boring. It kept bringing up the steps card, which is what it implies – an automatic pedometer step count that is always on. So far it feels pretty accurate, but I wasn’t that active today.
I’ve got that card disabled now, because it kept coming up again and again…

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Cards pop up in a compact little strip at the bottom of the watch, and if you pull them up, expand into a pretty nice full-screen view. If you want to get rid of them completely, you have to swipe them away – some will expand to the right side, but if you swipe them off the left side they will disappear.

Which is a bit of a problem, because as anyone who’s used Google Now a bit will know, there’s no way to get them back. So if you swipe the weather card away, it’s gone until it decides to pop back up by itself (or if you tell the watch to “show me the weather”).
There is also no way to hide the cards and still have them appear when you swipe up, which annoys me to no end.
Edit: “Muting” the watch (drag down from the home screen) will ban all cards from the home screen. The watch won’t vibrate or light up for new notifications anymore, but if you swipe up all the cards are right there, so there’s no need to dismiss them completely.

Third-party notifications look nice as well. Here’s a few samples.

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Personally, I’m happy with the LINE integration, as it gives me a glance at a message that allows me to judge whether I want to get my phone out and reply, or if it’s just a message from a corporate or news account. Edit: It actually now contains a Reply button on the expanded card (to the right), unfortunately all input is voice based so no multilingual input for now.

The watch can also actually run apps, although the option for this is kinda tucked away awkwardly – you have to tap the watch screen, which brings up the voice input menu, then scroll down from there through a pretty neat list of predefined actions (“take a note,” “remind me,” “show me my heart rate,” ‘send email to…,” and so on), and at the very bottom, it says “Start…” which will bring up a list of apps that are available on the watch. The neat part is, these get synced automatically from your phone, so you don’t have to go look for wear apps. If an app you are using on your phone has wear capability, it’ll show up.
Here’s what happens if you launch Google Keep (which I use for reminders and short notes a lot):

IMG_20141008_224519If you scroll down, it’ll show the rest of your notes, and even let you edit them, via voice input. (Which, thankfully, is great on Android) Unfortunately, it doesn’t give me the option to switch languages, or discern between them automatically, as my phone does. Hoping this will get added soon.

Another app that I’ve been using a lot is the Stellio Music Player. Without it, you already get simple “next/previous/stop” type controls when playing a song in Google Play Music, but with the Stellio player, you can actually launch the app from the watch, browse through your collection, and have a fully-fledged player on the watch, without ever getting out the phone. Great on the go and in crowded Japanese commuter trains. Paired with the clock, this is 99% of why I get my phone out when I’m on the go, so this is great for me.
Looks pretty nice, too!

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Of course, these apps aren’t perfect, especially the third party ones… As you can see in the first picture above, some content tends to get cut off because of the circular display, because the developers are clearly thinking more about the square ones like the Samsung Gear Live or the LG G Watch. A more jarring example is the Yahoo commuter app:

IMG_20141008_230309No idea what the icon in the top left is even supposed to be. I was pretty excited to see that some Japanese developers are already working on this platform though.

When you fire up the camera on your phone, it gives you a remote shutter card, but that is pretty useless – It’s just a button without any way of telling what’s actually in the picture.
Luckily, there’s already an app called Wear Camera Remote, which does just that. So you can just put your phone down somewhere, position yourself and take a selfie remotely, which no doubt will create a stir in Japan because it enables you to take pictures from angles such as this:

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Other apps that showed up on my watch were the preinstalled Google Fit and Motorola Connect, with another set of fitness-related options such as the heartbeat monitor and step counter (two options which I really like, btw. Always wanted to have a heartbeat monitor), as well as Runtastic. I also got Wear Mini Launcher, which is great to launch Wear apps faster without having to scroll to the bottom of that menu.

And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing with it so far! I’m sure I’ll find some more apps to do, and Wear as a platform is bound to evolve fast, but this is what it’s good for right now. I have been pretty ambivalent about the actual need for such a thing, but I decided to jump on early because I was proven wrong about cellphones, smartphones, and tablets, so there.
There’s a few things I’d like to get remedied, such as not being able to hide the cards completely while still being able to swipe them up,  but overall it’s a better experience than I expected.

And lastly…. I know what you really wanted to ask me about. Battery life. It’s been ok. I have had Ambient Mode (screen always on) on purposefully, because I’ve heard it takes a pretty good bit out of the battery time. Additionally, I did everything you see above, both to entertain myself and test stuff, and to show others, so I’d say it was probably heavier use than I would get after getting used to it. I took it off the charger at 8:30 at 96%, and it is now 23:30, at 3%. So with ambient mode on, I got about 15 hours out of it. So if you’re looking for 2 days+, you’re out of luck. Thankfully, I wasn’t planning on that, and the charger turns it into a really nice table clock:

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Edit from day two: Tried it without ambient mode on today, which means the screen goes completely dark when not in use. 8:15 off the charger at 100%, 85% after 4 hours, 70% after 8, 49% after 12, it is now 23:30 again and I still have 41% left. So turning ambient mode off definitely has a noticeable impact on battery life.

Comitia 109 haul review 3

Continuing the series of reviews of books I got at Comitia 109, today I have another 2 doujinshi to introduce to you. Like the previous ones, all of these are completely original properties, not “fan fiction” type books.

1 Nikochuu Witch Kemuri by Totsuka Kodama (circle: Aramugi)

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This is an odd one. Circle thumbnail:

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The 40-page book contains two chapters of an ongoing story featuring Yanikura Kemuri, university sophomore and chain smoker. After some awkward social moments at school (such as being invited to a party that she actually wants to visit, but turning it down when she notices other peers watching the conversation), Kemuri steps outside for a smoke, and starts hearing voices calling her name.

Shortly after, she finds herself under attack by a monster named Mildzebub, an obvious riff on the cigarette brand Mild Seven. Instinctively, and with some help from the voices in her head, she gets out her cigarettes, and, after a short struggle, lights up. And in a burst of tobacco magic, the monster is vanquished.

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In the second chapter, Kemuri goes out for lunch with a friend who has fallen in with some kind of sect, and tries to persuade Kemuri to join. When Kemuri tells her about her encounter with Mildzebub, her friend rambles on about how tobacco was originally a way for Native Indians to connect with the spirit world, and repeatedly points out there are some Nicotine addicts in her sect as well, who would be able to help her.

When Kemuri blows her off, they are attacked by Kuraclown, a bird-shaped monster riffing on Lark cigarettes. To her surprise, Kemuri’s friend turns out to be a fellow nicotine addict witch, who deftly strikes down the monster with her own tobacco magic.

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My first impulse to get this book was the art, which distinctly reminded me of the short-lived Shounen Jump serial Hachi.  I don’t know whether that has been translated into English, but if you get a chance, do check it out.
Now obviously, the art in Nikochuu Witch Kemuri (Nicotine + chuu(doku 中毒) = Nicotine addict, btw) is not as consistent as Hachi’s, and the story is a bit hit-and-miss, but it does get points for originality. Tobacco Magic? WTF?

Production quality of the 500 Yen book is pretty standard, with a glossy cover and medium heavy, matte white pages. There is a 2-page sketch section in the back explaining the monsters and their (tobacco brand) inspiration, which is sort of cool.

The artist: Totsuka Kodama on the web, Pixiv, Twitter.
The first two chapters of Nikochuu Witch Kemuri are online here.

2  Usagi Samurai (Usagi Samurai boards a boat) by 天邪鬼 (Amanojaku)

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R-device circle thumbnail:

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Completely unrelated to the great Usagi Yojimbo, Usagi Samurai takes a decidedly cute take to the world of leporidae swordsmen. The titular character finds himself in the country (Hyuga instead of Iyo), and tries to hire a ferryman to reach his destination. Unfortunately, the town is engulfed in a thick fog, making the voyage impossible.

Having overheard the conversation, a fox in a monk’s robe approaches the samurai, and offers to dispel the fog. The samurai wastes no time in agreeing to the deal, and the fox takes him into the mountains.

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After a long and treacherous path into the mountain, Usagi Samurai finds himself at a guesthouse being treated to great food and a bath in a hot spring. He enjoys himself, forgetting about the issue at hand… Until the fog lifts, and he makes his way back to the harbor town. There, he notices a change in the town’s appearance, and asks a few sailors what year it is, only to find that roughly 400 years have passed.

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This is a nice, compact take on the classic Japanese folklore theme of kamikakushi, an “abduction” by the gods, as famously depicted in Miyazaki Hayao’s Spirited Away.
The art is gorgeous, not to mention cute as hell, which is almost a requirement for books about bunny samurai. Most of the animals are actually quite carefully selected, a fox traditionally being a servant of the gods in Japanese folklore, and raccoons (such as the one serving the food in the page above) being shape-changing tricksters, but also very popular good-luck charms used by restaurants to pray for good business.

The book is gorgeously produced, with the cover having an almost Washi-like quality to it with a faint metallic shimmer. The artist apparently cranked out this 12-page story in just the 2 weeks between Comiket and Comitia, which is extremely impressive.
This seems to be a pretty long-running series, as I also got another issue from 2011, which says it’s already the 5th one.

The artist: 天邪鬼 on the web

Comitia 109 haul review 2

As I mentioned in my last post, I got a ton of books at Comitia 109, and am still slowly working my way through them. Here’s a look at another couple of books from the batch.

1 Melissa by Mephisto (circle: Angraecum)

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Sadly couldn’t find the circle cut, they must have been listed under a different name. The artist states in the afterword that this is his first stab at an original book.

The title character is a girl magically bonded to an “arsenal” housing millions (or billions, depending on who you ask) of the world’s mightiest weapons. She acts as the key to the arsenal, and is thus able to conjure up any of the weapons at wish.

A being of immense worth, and, at the same time, danger, she is confined to a cell on a prison island, which the protagonist (a newly-hired guard who frames the story with a letter to his mother) catches her trying to escape from.

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From there on, things quickly escalate into an all-out battle, as a sorcerer-soldier from a hostile country (?) attempts to abduct Melissa, and she singlehandedly whoops his ass as the guards stand uselessly by.

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The art has a dynamic, fairly conventional style, and definitely a little rough around the edges. But not so much as to distract from the story too much. Ultimately, the book reads very much like a prologue. It’s a very, very brief glimpse into Melissa’s universe, and roughs out her character just enough that I might look for a sequel, maybe.  Time shall tell whether we ever see more of her.

But man, that cover. gorgeous.

The artist: Mephisto on the web, pixiv, and Twitter

2 雑貨屋 by Biyora (circle: クレープたべたい) (Zakkaya by Crepe Tabetai)

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Circle thumbnail:

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雑貨屋 translates into “general store”, and modernly also refers to a store selling assorted trinkets for home decoration etc. The heroine of the book is a gatherer, who scours the ruins of an ancient city in the “forest of stones” for rare artifacts to sell in her store.

The story starts out with a guy pestering her to get him an “iron flower,” seemingly an everyday item that she has run out of stock of. After some convincing, the heroine agrees to make a run and get supplies.

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It turns out that the “iron flowers” are actually gears (like the ones on the cover), and the artifacts the heroine is selling are various machine parts such as pipes, screws, and cables. Upon returning to town with her bounty, she briefly encounters a friend who bugs her about bringing back machines, which are evil according to her. Except for windmills and weaving machines, which are necessary for life. This leads to a bit of really witty dialogue, as the heroine calls out her friend for being a hypocrite.

She delivers the gear to the guy, who uses it to fix up a mechanism to draw up a big parabolic antenna. Nobody knows what it is, so they just decide it’s a big iron flower, which the ancients built for purposes of… Hanami (picnics under blooming trees).

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And finally, in the last 4 panels, the story takes a 180 degree turn worth of an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Totally took me by surprise, in an awesome way. I was on the fence on whether to spoil it, since most of you won’t get to read it, but decided against it, in case someone sees this who might. If you want to know more about the book, feel free to contact me.

The whole book is drawn in a deceptively simple, comicky style, but there’s a surprising amount of detail crammed into the art, with purposeful, clear lines that convey a lot of confidence. It’s only 8 story pages, and the story is super compact, well structured, and with great, witty dialogue.

The artist: Biyora on Pixiv, Blog

That wraps up the second round of my doujinshi reviews, hope you enjoyed! Lots more to come, let’s see if I can keep up the pace.

 

Comitia 109 haul review

It’s been pretty much exactly a month since Comitia 109, but I haven’t really had the time to comb through my spoils from the show. I got a pretty good amount of stuff this time around, as you can see in my Instagram from just after the event:

There’s a handful of these that stood out for me (as I said I haven’t really had the time to comb through them yet, so there might be other hidden gems), so I’ll take some time today to tell you about them.

1. kraken by Torimura (circle: Daiouika)

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This was my major new discovery at this year’s Comitia. I discovered it in the catalog, decided to check it out, and wasn’t disappointed.
The circle thumbnail:

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kraken was actually advertised in the “magazine” section of the catalog too:

Igawa’s entire body is covered in bandages, and she is shunned by everyone at school. A mundane encounter leads Higuchi to develop an interest in her, and he discovers her secret. A drive for revenge born out of miscommunication leads to a bitter and tragic end. 
The pain of adolescence, and a giant squid… This strange combination turns out to be really good.

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Higuchi, a pretty regular guy with a constant group of friends, notices weird, social outcast Igawa after they try to check out the same book about giant squid from the school library. She is being severely heckled by her peers, including the obligatory “die” and “scum” scribbled on her desk, and having her box lunch “accidentally” knocked out of her hands by a fellow student.
They develop a quiet, friendly bond, and she introduces him to her after-school project: Building a mechanical giant squid to destroy the school, their peers, and everything in its way.

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The 72-page story is drawn in a deformed, scribbly style with simplified faces and expressive, big eyes. there’s a lot of well-placed spot blacks, and purposefully loosely-cut screentones. The story moves at a fairly leisurely pace, and concludes in a destructive inferno that, while not entirely original, feels just right for the book.

Obviously my main impulse for buying this book was the cover. It’s amazingly designed with a great 5-color palette, a matte finish in the compact A5 size. I liked it so much that I asked the artist to sell me the display copy when I heard it was sold out. She sold out of it early in the day, apparently she had completely underestimated the demand (not suprising, since it was only her second show, and likely the first time she was featured this heavily in the catalog).
The story pages are a fairly heavy, matte paper as well, and overall it’s a very attractive package. I believe it was 500 Yen.

Artist: Torimura on Twitter Pixiv

2. iromonia by usamimiki (circle: R-Panda)

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This was a chance find, I just walked by their booth and there it was. Turns out I had already purchased another one of her books, 恐竜肉食少女時代(lit. “The age of girls who eat dinosaur meat”)at Comiket. I guess her style just instantly clicks with me.
R-Panda’s circle thumbnail:

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iromonia is about a blind little girl who gets picked up by a robot small-time criminal, who offers to take her back to her home town in exchange for her eyeballs (which he intends to sell on the black market).

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When she opens her eyes to allow the robot to take out her eyeballs, he is stunned by their beauty, and changes his mind, attempting to leave her be. In the girl’s youthful naivete, however, she tags along with him, and with the help of a friend, they set course for her hometown. It’s the tried-and-true formula of no-good adult and innocent child sidekick on a roadtrip, and true to form it’s not long before things go awry.

I bought this mostly for the art, which is beautiful with lots of detail and parallel hatching, as well as great character designs, especially for the robots. It’s about 80 pages for I think? 500 yen. The cover is beautiful with stark contrast of the white-faced girl against black background, and a logo embossed in silver foil. At one point in the story, the book actually goes full color for two pages to illustrate the girl’s emotions, and it just blew me away. It even came with a separate little booklet featuring design sketches and comments. I’m amazed at how well this book is put together.

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But the art is not the only beautiful thing about iromonia. The story of a 2-bit street thug getting more and more enthralled by the sincerely innocent little girl, and trying to make things right for her, only to realize he has no place in her life, is heartwarming and ultimately heartbreaking. It had me very, very close to tears by the end.

If you can find anything by this artist, I highly recommend checking it out.

Artist: Usamimiki on web and Pixiv

And that’s it – my two favorite picks from this year’s summer Comitia! Hope you liked them.

Comitia time!

Last week, I wrote about Comiket, Japan’s largest doujinshi market.

Believe it or not, this week, a mere two weeks after Comiket, we’re having another similar event. It’s called Comitia, and unlike Comiket, this one is all about original books and items, no commercially available properties allowed!

This year is the 30th anniversary of the event, and this week’s is Comitia #109. It’s held in the same venue as Comiket, on a smaller scale, and of course there’s going to be a lot of the same people and even books, but it’s all original and that’s awesome! I actually like this more than I do Comiket.

I’m going to have very little time at Comitia this year, so I decided to actually get the catalog (“Tia Magazine”) in advance and try to prepare. Here’s what it looks like:

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It’s a flipbook, this side being a magazine-style layout with a few essays and introductions of a few notable books, and the other side being the actual catalog. By the way, the catalog actually acts as the ticket to the show, and unlike Comiket they do check for that.

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The first thing on the catalog side is the floor map, I’ve translated the categories so you can get an idea of what’s on display: (click to enlarge)

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(JUNE, by the way, is the “official” term for Boys’ Love, or male x male romance books)

After that, an introduction to the event (by way of a manga from artist Kumichou), an overwhelming index list of all participating circles and their booth no., an intro of which editors are available in the review area, ads for books and seminars being held at Comitia, intro to exhibiting companies (they get little booths at the outskirts of the hall), and then of course 150 pages of….

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Yep, that’s all circles get to try and grab your attention! I’m going to put a few hours into this and see if I can figure this out! I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’ll leave you with this gem I found in the catalog at lunch. Definitely going to have to check this book out.

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Comic Market 86

Last weekend, I spent a few hours at the famous Comic Market. It’s a huge, confusing event, but it can be a lot of fun, so I decided to write up a little post about what I know, so you can skip some of the figuring-it-out stage if you intend to visit, or just imagine you were there.
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Comic Market, abbreviated Comiket or コミケin Japanese, is Japan’s biggest comic convention. Calling it a convention, however, might create some confusion for people who are familiar with American or European comic cons… There is no big, elaborate publisher booths, panels, or signings with creators.
In fact, the japanese term for this type of event is 即売会, which loosely translates into “on-the-spot sale meet.”
The entire event is essentially what is known at conventions outside Japan as artist’s alley. Exhibitors attend it mainly to sell their doujinshi, amongst some other goods and apparel.
doujinshi sold at Comiket can be anything from a few copies stapled together, to full blown artbooks, but the vast majority are leaflets of about 30 pages or so, with a full color cover and black & white inside pages, in A5 or B5 size.
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This is my haul from Sunday. The small (A5) books in the upper left, which amazingly have about 80 pages, cost 400 yen, or about $4. The bigger (B5) ones with about 30 pages were still only 500, and the one in the top right, which has full-color insides, was 1,000 Yen. These B5 books are from Serial Experiments Lain and Haibane Renmei creator ABe Yoshitoshi, some samples from the insides are up on his Pixiv account if you want to check them out.
There’s a lot of on-demand printing services that are very easy to use and dirt cheap. Depending on the paper quality and amount of copies you produce, it’s entirely possible to make a beautiful 30+ page book for not much more than 100 Yen per book.
Some relatively unknown creators I talked to mentioned they had done a print run of about 200 copies, while superstar creator Akamatsu Ken of Love Hina and Negima! fame mentioned selling about 8,000 copies before 1pm.
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Comiket is held at Tokyo Big Sight, a huge convention hall with an exhibition space of 80,660 square meters (868,217 square foot) For comparison, the dealer floor at San Diego Comic-Con is 460,000 square feet = 42,700sqm. It’s held twice a year, typically in August and December
This year’s summer Comiket claims to have had 550,000 visitors. I’m not entirely sure how they count that, since there are no tickets (just gigantic open gates), and rumor has it they keep the numbers artificially low to avoid problems with fire protection law and the like. Either way, it was a madhouse.
An official report said there were over 10,000 people camped out overnight for the first day this year.
But of course it wouldn’t be a convention without exhibitors – this year, the official Comiket publicity twitter account reported around 35,000 circles were attending. That’s mindblowing, considering that the chance for winning the attendance lottery is supposed to be around 50-70%.
What’s a circle, you ask? Circle, in this context, refers to a group of people who share a passion for a subject (such as an anime series or a videogame), enough to band together and produce doujinshi together.
As you might have heard, the term doujinshi, spelled 同人誌 in Japanese, literally translates into “same people magazine.” For years, I just assumed that this referred to a book featuring characters from an established property (thus the “same people”). But then I found out that there’s lots and lots of original properties being told in the same format, and they’re also called doujinshi. So I put the question to Twitter, and one of my Japanese acquaintances explained that the “same people” doesn’t refer to the characters, but the people comprising the circle, who share the same interests. Mind blown!
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Each booth, or “space” as it’s called at Comiket, comes with a narrow table, and two chairs. Most exhibitors do little to spice up their booth, some add a table cloth, maybe a little standee banner, but nothing too fancy. Obviously, the books are the main attraction here.
There is very little aggressive selling. Very few people will ask you to take a look at their books, and asking someone to buy is actively discouraged.
Which brings up the question, how the hell do you find anything in this huge place, when there’s so little clues?
Obviously it’s easier if you know a creator that you want to go visit. They’ll have announcement up on their blogs, Twitter, or Pixiv (the Japanese equivalent of Deviantart). A lot will even change their Twitter handle to include the booth number, like so: 安倍吉俊/3日目東A41a,b “Abe Yoshitoshi, 3rd day, East A41a,b.” So Abe Yoshitoshi can be found on the 3rd day of the event, in the East hall, A41 a and b. Note that while the event is 3 days, each circle is only represented on one of them.
What if you’re not looking for a specific creator, but a genre, for example, say, a Naruto fanbook? The halls are divided by genre, 42 rough categories, and similar books will usually be grouped together. The category for Naruto and other Shounen Jump books will be FC(少年).
So you know the category now, and if you’re only there for one category you might as well just go to that area of the event and browse. But say you want to narrow it down a little more. There is a catalog available before the event, sold at book- and anime stores etc. for about 2000 Yen. As you can probably imagine from having seen manga magazines, the catalog is pretty close in dimensions to a phone book. And the insides look like this:
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Yeesh. This is a page in the Kancolle section, featuring doujinshi of the popular character Shimakaze. It has the row number (ソ, note that there will be alphabet, hiragana and katakana row numbers), and then a single image for every circle to present their visual style, with the booth number and circle name. That’s all the hints you get. If you find one that piques your interest, it can’t hurt googling the name and see if they have a twitter or Pixiv account which might feature some more samples of their work.
It’s a pretty daunting task.
Here’s a look at one of the halls’ floor plans:
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Notice how the “A” section is hugging the walls, with a broad-ish corridor between it and the rest of the tables? This is where the bigger, well-known circles get to exhibit. They tend to draw larger crowds, so they are positioned in ares where they can form lines (which usually extend out of the huge gates) without blocking the other exhibitors’ booths. The ends of the rows are similar, as they also offer more space and a clearer view of the booth.
As you can imagine, a lot of the Shimakaze books on the catalog page above are adult books, which is something that doujinshi are very commonly associated with. And rightly so, this is definitely a big part of Comiket’s wares.
But there is so much more to be found. Obviously there are other, non-adult themed fanfiction doujinshi, but there is also a ton of other content. A small list of things I discovered in my very cursory browsing of this year’s Comiket, after I was done checking out the creators I had planned in advance, directly from my twitter updates:
Travel essays, train photos, anti-TPP propaganda leaflets, screenplays… this is #comiket too. UFO magazines. Tons of them for the believers. Restaurant review booklets. Recipe collections. Flute playing instructions. Stickers. Charms. Papercraft. Handmade dolls. Handmade bags, purses and earrings. T-shirts. Rubber stamps. 
 
The above is from a span of about 20 minutes of my tweets. There is a vast amount of content to be found for all tastes, if you manage to find it in the limited amount of time available: Comiket opens at 10 and closes at 4pm. As I mentioned above, over 10,000 people spend the night in the parking lot overnight and flood the venue all at once, so even entering before noon is literally impossible.
I usually try to be there about 12:30 – 1pm. The crowds are still absolutely crazy, but there’s no wait to actually enter the venue, and it’s possible to navigate without getting squashed. Popular books start selling out around 2-3pm, at which point the exhibitors pack up and go home, so some research into what you plan to look at is a must.
Also, there’s two areas of the event that I haven’t touched upon: The commercial booths and cosplay areas. The commercial booths, 企業ブース in Japanese, are put up by publishers, anime companies and apparel/goods vendors.
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Unlike the publisher and TV booths at an american convention, there are no talkshows, meet-and-greets, or any activity other than sales here. All there is are limited edition goods (anything from printed tumblers to the notorious 抱き枕 – long pillows with a print of an anime character on them) to be bought, and people gladly line up for an hour to get to them. Honestly, even going up there isn’t worth it. There’s too many people, and very little to see.
The cosplay area(s), on the other hand, are a different story. There’s tons of really elaborate, great cosplay here, but the thing is that it’s separate from the dealer floor (aside from a select few people wandering around in costume, and a few aisles of cosplay photo books and DVDs being sold). The Comiket rules dictate that cosplayers need to change into their costumes on site (there are dressing rooms available), and cosplayers then pose for photographers in a roped-off area outside specifically reserved for that purpose. It’s huge, and there’s like 20 photographers with huge DSLRs crowding around each scantily clad girl, but I can tell you little else because I haven’t really bothered to go in myself. My understanding is that you actually have to get a permit on site to take pictures (a result of Japan’s rampant trend of taking unwanted pictures, and extreme protectiveness of ones portrait rights, and generally personal information). So I’ll leave that up to someone more in-the-know to describe.
That’s it! Pretty much all I know about Comiket! Let me know via Disqus or the Ask me feature in case there’s anything you want me to elaborate on. I’ll be happy to help!
(ported from my tumblr)