Sunday, September 30, 2012

Higashino Keigo Mysteries ep 7

First off I've got to say a big thank you to tayorinai tenshi for recommending episode 7. For those who have given up on this series, I highly recommend you just watch episode 7. It is that damn good. Almost Shokuzai ep 1 level good. Toda Erika is like heaps better than Nagasawa Masami. She can do cute, funny and serious. To be fair to Masami, ep 6 was stuck between trying to be serious and moving and ended up doing neither but after watching Masami for years, its clear she can't do more than being cute. I think if you put Toda Erika in Bunshin, it would be pretty good. Interesting to note that Bunshin is based on a Higashino Keigo novel as well. Stop reading and watch it if you haven't cause there's gonna be some spoilers.

Why is episode 7 so good compared to the rest? Its done a better job of cramming in the ebb and flow of a 90 minute movie into 40 minutes compared to the rest. You've got your murder, initial suspects, multiple red herrings leading to confirmation of killer with with a twisted motive and one chilling revelation at the end. 

During the 45 minutes, there is constantly new information to keep me guessing. Contrast that with the Nakai Kiichi mystery where people just show up and I don't care cause there's no clues to entice me. Mysteries are fun when the audience thinks along or is lead to think something. The previous mysteries are simpler and needed to be more character stories instead of depending on the twist and 40 minutes is not enough.

Episode 7 would have made an awesome movie cause its a movie with every single ounce of fat cut out. Give Santamaria Yusuke's character more of a background and spend more time on the red herrings and it can easily earch 1 1/2 hours. The step brother red herring turned out to be interesting because he was an indirect cause. 

The ending is so kick ass. Japanese horror at its best. I will never forget that scene with Santamaria Yusuke trying to peep through the gap trying to figure out who that person was. The same person who was talking about the lullaby to her at the beginning. If the other mysteries turn out to be good, please let me know. I think I'm going to remember 2012 not for any series as a whole but for single episodes, specifically Higashino Keigo ep 7, Shokuzai 1 and 5 and Tsumi to Batsu 1-3.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Scandal - Pin Heel Surfer

The latest Scandal single is Pin Heel Surfer. Fun catchy song with lots of dancing. It kinda fits the song but Scandal is an actual band, not a miming dancing girl group that can't actually sing. cough AKB cough. I don't watch the Scandal PVs cause they are antithesis of the fact they are a rock band. A colleague caught a PV on Australian TV and asked me whether they were an actual band.

Its as if being an actual band is not enough. In order to appeal to the stupid masses, their PVs can't be just a five minute video of them playing a song. It has to be dressed up with moves or have a budget of a 5 minute dorama episode. Just found out that Scandal are going to Malaysia in December as can be seen in the video below which is from their recent free live at Yoyogi Park. I'd rather go watch them in Japan though.

Can't complain about the OL uniforms and tight skirts though.....

Confirmation that Tomomi has the best ass in Scandal and Haruna the worst.

Update: Scandal in crisis clip with English subs.

Narrated by Toda Erika who is friends with Haruna! You can find the rest of the doco on youtube. My other favourite singer is Ohyama Yurika and Toda Erika has appeared in her PV too. Seems like Toda Erika has a strong influence on music that I like. :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Higashino Keigo Mysteries ep 6

The worst acting I've seen from Nagasawa Masami aka Miss Show me your Legs. I can't complain about her wearing a very short black dress to a funeral but combined with the acting it felt like I was watching a midnight dorama. As seen from Bunshin, outside of playing cute, Masami just can't pull it off. Serious and heavy emotional roles are not her forte.

As for the series itself, all six episodes have been disappointing. There might be a good episode or two to come but I have little faith and little time to scavenge for a good episode so I'm dropping Higashino Keigo Mysteries.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Furuhata Ninzaburo ep 12

Great ending to the only consistently great jdorama that I've watched this year. Furuhata going up against a veteran cop is very entertaining not just because its a fun cat and mouse game versus a killer who knows how to hide his crime but because the hardened school police officer is such a contrast to Furuhata's character.

The macho, hard boiled detective vs Furuhata's more intellectual, less violent approach. Great example of showing and not telling the audience; working in exploration of Furuhata's character through the story. Imaizumi also gets his chance to speak out about his bullying over 12 episodes and his reaction to the suspect is in great contrast to Furuhata's.

Its a damn shame that the no. of downloads for Furuhata Ninzaburo subs has been decreasing from 422 for the first episode to 174 for ep 11. Loss of 200 viewers! I can't imagine anyone not finding this series very entertaining. A must watch dorama from the so called golden age of jdoramas. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tokkan ep 8

If there is one word to describe Tokkan, its kuyashii. Frustration because there are moments where its so good but there are moments where its like a stupid morality tale written for the Sesame Street audience. Ep 7 was kick-ass and ep 8 started off with Suzumiya trying to step into Tokkan's shoes which provides great comedy.

The case is interesting whereby inheritance tax must be collected but it does not have to be in proportion of monies received. In order words, the tax office doesn't care who pays the tax as long as someone pays. So we got the story of Cinderealla and her two wicked stepsisters. Stepsisters hate her for getting equal share and don't want to pay the inheritance tax so Tokkan wants to either do an S on Cinderella's new cafe or the family home.

As I mentioned, nothing wrong with some morality plays except it basically ends with Tokkan rushing into the deceased dad's room, magically knowing that there was a drawing by Cinderella of when she was adopted and it somehow melts the hearts of the stepsisters with a long contrived speech. Why fucking talk down to your audience? Where is the subtlety in the message? Why couldn't the threat of their poor mom losing the family home be a catalyst for the stepsisters' change of heart? Let's not forget the mother's silence in the face of Cinderella's bullying.

The frustrating thing is that the Ikari storyline is handled with great subtlely and care. Ikari is what Suzumiya/Guu wants to be. The perfect woman. However, in Ikari's search for perfection she became overly fearful of keeping her job and destroyed her own integrity. Basic superhero 101 writing, the villain is the mirror image of the hero in a what if situation and Ikari is Guu if she were to try too hard to pretend to be what she was not.

The conclusion to the Ikari arc is done with a deft touch. No long debate about right or wrong. The other character acknowledge the seriousness of Ikari's crimes but we are also shown with great humour I might add how effective and useful she was at her job. Ikari basically tells Guu that it was wrong of her not to rely on others which ties into Guu trying to shoulder Tokkan's role by herself. Ikari is basically telling Guu is ok to be herself and not be perfect and require the assistance of others without saying it. Its the bloody opposite of the heavy handedness of the inheritance tax story! The Ikari arc is a prime example of showing the audience and not lecturing us.

You have two story arcs in one episode which are polar opposites in terms of writing quality and intelligence. One completely dumbed down and preachy and the other a lot more subtle and elegent. Let's not forget the lawyer bit. I love the foreshadowing and can't wait to see what happens next. Tokkan could be such an awesome dorama if it could consistently say what it wanted with tact. I can't recall another dorama that is so schizophrenic.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Salaryman Kintaro season 1

Before I begin talking about Kintaro, one of my favourite doramas of all time, I would like to say that I ended up rewatching Heaven Cannot Wait over the weekend. Once I started, I couldn't stop. Yes, its still good but I have to downgrade my rating from must watch to very watchable. Its still good and if it came out this season I would be singing its praises to no end but it does drag a bit towards the end. Still very fun and worth checking out, just not on a you must definitely watch this level.

Now, for a dorama I heartily recommend. A dvd-rip batch torrent was released for the first season by Avallac'h this year and arcticmoonrise has transcribed the subtitles from the old tv rips for the first two episodes. No new subs since July though and I am not sure whether the old tv rip torrents are still working.

Do I see a nipple? And I don't mean Kintaro's.

If you're after the best GTO clone, ie maverick former biker who challenges the system dorama, Salaryman Kintaro is it. If you consider the fact that Kintaro has 4 seasons and they are all pretty good, you can say Kintaro is better than GTO which got worse after the tv series ended. I had written about season 3 back in 2006 here and here and I loved how they managed to keep things fresh. Since I have not written about season 4 it might be because it felt a bit redundant though I don't remember much from it. Enough about Kintaro as a whole series, this is about season 1.

The premise is simple, former biker gang leader Kintaro who has a son becomes a salaryman. Since he is uneducated and your macho straight forward hero, he usually solves things with his fists and doing ridiculous feats like sharpening pencils with such skill that it becomes noticeable. Yes, plenty of outrageous stuff goes on in the series including the worst ever hacking attempts ever put on film but its all good because Kintaro is about embracing the absurd and making it a serious dorama.

What makes Kintaro stand out above the GTO clones is that Kintaro is a symbol. He is more than a Salaryman superhero. He is like the old samurai values trying to reconcile with the values of salaryman. Doing what's right versus following the company line. Its not preachy like Tokkan but the subtext is there.

The other great thing of course is that it is a harem dorama. Kintaro, the man among men attracts women like honey does the bees. Instead of the usual generic protagonist of today's harem or the Ikari Shinji wimpy protagonist, we have a main character all men want to be and women want to be with. Of course, he also has the secret weapon of a young son to sucker in the women and jealousy and fighting among them proves to be a great source of comedy.

This is Katsunori Takahashi's defining role. He plays Kintaro with a child like earnestness sort of like an idealistic protagonist but he doesn't whinge about the system, he knocks all obstacles down and somehow solves things by fighting. Praise must be given to Hosaka Naoki who plays Takatsukasa who is the best Vegeta character in the series. Its the best example of hero who only knows how to fight vs villain who uses his brains.

Hopefully articmoonrise can continue transcribing. If not there are still the vhs rip which hopefully are still being seeded. Very highly recommended. They don't make doramas like this anymore.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Andriasang is dead! Long live Andriasang!

This week something very sad happened that changed my life forever. Anoop Gantayat, the dude who runs the best English language website for Japanese games Andriasang decided to stop when he got a non-gaming job that would keep him very busy. Andriasang, for the past few years it has been around has always been one of the first websites that I check besides d-addicts and Sankaku Complex.

Anoop provided the kind of Japanese game coverage that hardcore people like me want and need. A lot of the news can also be found on other websites but Andriasang always had it first, had other fun stuff like Anoops last info about the Senran Kagura t-shirts and there was a personality to the postings.

It was like listening to news from a friend who knew his Japanese games and why people like me spend so much time and money on them and not to mention for me so much effort into learning Japanese just to play them. Anoop used to write for IGN back when they were awesome and had recruited staff from hardcore gaming websites and write a lot about Japan.

Now mainstream gaming has turned their eyes from Japan. People say PSP has no games but that cannot be further from the truth in Japan and not counting SF4 on xbox, my PSP is my most played system. I love the Vita and now I can play most of my PSP and PS1 games on it. There are other websites just not as good as Andriasang. I want news about any Japanese game especially the obscure ones, not just those that might get ported. They are:

Magicbox : Old reliable. Was the go to website before Andriasang. Slow to update.

Siliconera: Updates a bit faster than Magicbox. Not as much news.

Gemetsu: ok I guess.

Bdash: New one. Still too early.

So I thought, maybe I should turn this is into a positive. Maybe its time to practice learning to read Japanese gaming news and expand my reading beyond RPGs and karaoke. Right now I'm doing Famitsu, 4gamer and jin115 which luckily can be accessed at work. Right now, even reading headlines is a chore. Hopefully, one day I will be able to glance at a headline in Japanese and understand it in a flash instead of going word by word. Its also difficult when a game's name is in English/katakana and I'm trying to figure out where a word ends and the next one begins. Some words that I need to remember:

体験版 - taikenban/demo. karada (body) + ken from shiken (exam) and ban is supposed to be edition. Demo in japanese is body testing version.

発売 - hatsubai/on sale. The first kanji means discharge; departure; publish; emit; start from; disclose; counter for gunshots. Don't you just love kanji with like 7 possible meanings? Of course the 2nd kanji means to sell.

発表 - happyou/announcement. 7 meaning kanji + on the surface(omote). I'm guessing its publish + on the surface

独占 - dokusen/monopoly. The second kanji is uranai (divination). Who said kanji made sense? Basically the Japanese reaction to Bayonetta 2 being a WiiU exclusive. Made me consider getting a WiiU for a second since I think Bayonetta is the greatest DMC style action game ever but I'm pretty sure it'll be ported in the future.

I've been playing Project Diva Extend/F and Dreamy Theatre Extend so not much Japanese practice there since reading the lyrics is fatal in a music game but I've been working my way through Japanese grade school kanji. Currently at grade 4 and using Nouben kanji quiz to study. Of course answering multiple choice questions is a lot easier than knowing all the pronunciations and kanji combinations. Its gonna be a while before I can say I know my grade school kanji.

Back in high school, I used to play a lot of Japanese RPGs without being able to read a thing. It was basically memorising whatever option does what I just guess the story from facial expressions. With voice acting, I could understand stories now but I've still got a long way to go in terms of reading. Basic conversations, no problem. That's why I enjoy playing the AKB games on my PSP. I can read and understand almost everything. Plus I can pull up the dialogue anytime to look up words I missed.

Downloaded the Bravely Default demo yesterday and got a headache from reading. I even thought about getting a Pokemon game cause they have furigana lol. This year, I've finished Fire Emblem Kakusei and Legend of Dragoon. Just started on Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on my Vita cause I need something with voice acting to make reading easier. Hopefully one day, I shall be able to read Japanese proficiently but it will be after a few more years of kanji study.

Back on topic, a big thank you to Anoop. I'm too lazy to register on Andriasang to say thanks. Should have registered long time ago. Andriasang was one of those rare hardcore websites that will always have a place in my heart like the classic Dave's Sega Saturn Page. I still don't have to heart to delete Andriasang from my Opera speed dial and find myself clicking it all the time hoping for one more update from Anoop.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tokkan ep 7

Ep 7 is Tokkan at its best. First of all, not stupid moral lesson that the writer felt had to be spelled out to the audience. I have nothing against moral lessons but the reason why parables are so good for dispensing moral advice is that they don't spell things out. The listener has to actually do some thinking.

Back to why ep 7 is so good, is that it concentrates on the concept of the movie which is uncovering evidence on tax cheats and using all other elements to make it fun. I really like Inoue Mao's character, Guu-chan because everyone plays off her well. From the stern Tokkan to the proud Nanbu and the secretive Ikari-san. When Suzumiya is not this righteous moral compass but rather an unassuming character who can bring out the good and bad in people as well create some funny moments, she is fun to watch.

Someone get me the address of this place.

Example would be Guu-chan's run in with Nanbu. It furthers the investigation, highlights the differences between them, provides some humour and also shows why they are friends despite their differences. Really enjoyed the main story of the perfect Ikari-san and the truth is finally revealed. Fingers crossed there's not too much preaching in the next episode.

Probably the only show this season I am going to watch to the end. There are bits I don't like but episode 7 is the perfect example of what this series can be. You know how investigation jdoramas always have redundant characters? Every character in Tokkan has a purpose and the team chemistry really works. Plus ep 7 is the funniest one yet. Can Tokkan finish strong? Fingers crossed but I am not keeping my hopes up. Must watch episode of a watchable series so far.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Saka no Ue no Kumo 6-13

I really wanted to like this dorama. As I said in my review of episodes 1-5, Saka no Ue no Kumo feels like a struggle between a history channel show and tell show and a dramatic story about 3 people who aren't that interesting to begin with.

The show and tell parts are mostly this guy this did this or this guy did that or this dude was ordered to promote uprisings in Russia and though there is no proof he did anything, the fact that he was in Russia during the upheavals means something. Instead its basically a history lesson written by the Japanese. Can't blame the makers but it just means its sorely lacking as a historical program.

As for the characters, let's just say I was so damn happy when the haiku dude died. I just wanted to get to the action. Since the beginning of the series we were told that one brother defeated the mighty Cossacks and one brother defeated the Russian fleet. Instead of the narrator telling me all the time they are like military geniuses, why not show me? Nothing to build the characters up for the final showdown and when the two big battles come, I'm left wondering what ingenious thing both of them did.

Its a famous book and there's even a Saka no Ue no Kumo museum in Matsuyama so the Japanese must love it. For me it fails as an interesting historical narrative nor does it make the characters interesting. I actually enjoyed all the parts about the Russians more because its more inclined to portray the Russians as characters rather than historical heroes and pound on that fact non stop. There's more politics on the Russian side of the story.

One part I really hated was when the sailor sank their boat and were rowing away desperately for their lives. They were fish in the barrel, enemy searchlights scanning for them and bullets and explosions all around them. One of them gets shot and all of them stopped rowing and started crying so the Captain can say something inspirational.

I think the true significance of the story is a fishing country modernising itself and going to war and winning against an established world superpower. Instead its about two brothers and their sick friend who the narratory keeps promising us are great people and we find out they are mere bit players in the big picture and I spent 13 episodes watching them from afar and they never felt real to me. I guess I wanted to see political arguments and stuff like the government using propaganda to drive public opinion.