Monthly Archives:August 2014

A Midsummer Night’s Review

18 Aug , 2014,
Panther
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Saori Suzushiro

No, doing this is bad for you, Suzushiro. One of the best girls this season, of course.

It has been a busy period for me, but I have not let go of the anime series this season that I wanted to watch…except for those I dropped, of course. How has this season fared, now that we are halfway through it? Well, to be technically honest, we are more than that already, but please, indulge me in this Midsummer Night’s Dream Review.

First up, I will be using the S, A, and so on tier system to indicate how good I think an anime series has been doing for me. I find the score system to be arbitrary and rather unwieldy for actually grading or rating an anime, so this season with its +/- possibilities is a better indicator, IMHO. Secondly, I will list the anime series I dropped first, and why, before moving in ascending order through the ones I still catch.

 

Dropped Series

Glasslip (ep. 3) – As much as I think slice-of-life anime can be great, this one with all its romance bits just could not draw me in. I had expected this – Tari Tari was more of a music-based rather than romance-based series after all.

Rokujouma no Shinryakusha (ep. 5) – I have no idea how I stuck past three episodes, but the comedy was just too weak and generic for me to continue. I mean, some of you might find it good thanks to the various girls’ distinct qualities, but there is only so much I can take now without thinking, “This is something I have seen before quite a few times and I know where this is going.”

Momo Kyun Sword (ep. 3) – Yes, this was the highest possibility on the to-drop list and it made it there without a glitch. Quite frankly, I probably knew it was going to be this way and I still picked it up. I deserved it.

Sengoku BASARA Judge End (ep. 4) – I really liked Madhouse’s rendition of this series, so this really came as quite a rude shock when I saw just how far behind Madhouse the current studio, Telecom Animation Film, is. Everything seems disjointed, the animation quality is poor compared to the previous works, and the pacing is really bad. I will not go so far as to say I am a fan of the series, but I was really disappointed by this particular run, even more so than I thought I would be.

*****

Kaneki Ken

Kaneki Ken with a badass mask. One can only hope he truly becomes as badass as his mask makes him look in the anime.

Tokyo Ghoul
Current episode: 7
Current rating: C-

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Tokyo Ghoul was quite the letdown by the second episode. Till this episode, it has not really even picked itself up. Censorship problems continue to plague the series when there is no real need to, and this is not just some blacking out of the screen of gory parts either. It gets really bad at times. Further, the execution of the story and plot has been, the least to say, upsetting. I bet the manga readers of this series dropped it by the second or third episode thanks to that. While it does seem like the story might pick up from here on out, I am really skeptical that it will actually get any better than a C- rating if they continue things this way.

Kuroi Kobushi

Having a best girl in every series is actually kind of helpful for me in sticking with series. Kobushi is the best one of this one for me, though it came as quite a shock that she likes Urushiba’s dad though.

Tokyo ESP
Current episode: 6
Current rating: C

Both anime series this season with “Tokyo” in their names have suffered from largely the same problems – a lack of good execution and plot narration. Frankly, the first episode remains the best we have seen so far of this series, and that is the other problem. The second episode was meant to be the first in terms of the storyline, so we got kind of a weird look at this anime at first before jumping into the backstory. It throws people off…or at least, it threw me off. I will admit that some problems were indeed inherently visible in the first episode, but it remains the best out of this series by far, unfortunately. I say that because the background material has been said to be really good, but again, as with Tokyo Ghoul above, the quality of the animation has just been really disheartening. I will continue to follow both series but dropping either or both in the not-so-distant future seems like quite a real possibility now.

*****

Jamie Hazaford & Susumu Tokimune

These two are made for each other.

Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen
Current episode: 7
Current rating: B-

Argevollen has turned out pretty well even though it pretty much started out as a rather generic shounen mecha-type series. Despite the flak that I have seen some throw at it, I still kind of like it, though not as much as other shows this season. There is definitely some plot development potential, and there are also the mysteries surrounding both Argevollen and the entire conflict that makes the show something to keep on going for. Argevollen itself is no game-breaking mechanism either – both Tokimune, its pilot, and the mech itself are not game-winners in and of themselves. A huge advantage may be given to Argevollen’s side, but it is still Lieutenant Samonji’s strategic mind that almost always pulls Argevollen and Tokimune out of the mess they seem to get in almost every time. The other side is not without its trump cards either, what with that blonde private being so good at piloting a Trail Krieger, almost enough to do Tokimune in during the battle in the pass.

In short, I do not find it anything less than an average show, but I also do not find it anything more than that so far. The show will go on for 2 cours, so it will run over into the next season, where it will have at least three very serious competitors. However, we shall leave that for the fall season preview.

Captain Earth - Pool in Space

I seriously, seriously want a pool like this in space too. Best thing to come out of Captain Earth so far.

Captain Earth
Current episode: 20
Current rating: B

That pool in space. Good lord. Other than that though, Captain Earth was once touted, as I saw on Twitter, as “breaking records for being just shy of ‘good’.” This was true until a few episodes ago, when they finally, in someone else’s words on Twitter, “took off the kiddie gloves.” The plot is moving along nicely and at quite the pace, while the pieces have been assembled on all sides. Unfortunately, while the action has certainly been pretty fine, there are still loopholes here and there that we, as the viewers, are not let in on. In fact, as the series progresses towards its undoubtedly powerful climax, I am instead left wondering if we will ever get answers to who or what Puck is, what the Livlasters actually are, and a slew of other questions. Still, BONES has indeed delivered, if it was quite some time coming, and not at the level that was once expected.

Besides, no one can give up the charm of swimming in a pool in space looking down at the beautiful Earth and looking up at the gorgeous cosmos. This is, undeniably, the epitome of literally swimming in space.

Saegusa Mayumi & Shiba Tatsuya

Tatsuya as the lady’s man without even trying, as he seems to do to every girl in this show, even as he only romances his sister.

Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
Current episode: 20
Current rating: B

流石お兄様! (“As expected of onii-sama!”; “Sasuga onii-sama!”) This continues to be the catchphrase for the show. Tatsuya manages to make every girl in the show fall for him while only really lusting after romancing his sister. Despite the obvious harem references however, as I mentioned in my look at the show 2 months ago, the technical depth of the show has continued to make it a rather good watch. Couple that with at least decent to above average animation, good jokes and action thus far, and you have yourselves a winner in the harem category.

Aside from that, I also managed to receive a lowdown of the depth of Mahouka from a friend who has read the series and gone much further than the anime in terms of the plot. It certainly is, like perhaps what Sword Art Online might seem like to its readers, something that you can get a lot out of if you go deep into its universe. Of course, SAO, for me, is hardly a good comparison; Log Horizon would be a better one. Unlike both Mahouka (so far anyway) and SAO however, I think Log Horizon did a very good job of explaining things in its universe as compared to these two. Still, Mahouka has done a good job by far, though this is of course going by personal standards. It will finish this season with the current Yokohama arc, and I have no doubt that, due to its popular reception, there will be a second season.

Barakamon

A fine piece of work indeed, and innovative.

Barakamon
Current episode: 7
Current rating: B+

Barakamon was not initially among the summer season preview for me, because I thought it would be something I would not want to watch. On advice and suggestions from Twitter folks and other places however, I picked it up around episode 3, and it has since become quite the catch of the season. Unlike Glasslip, the slice of life is pretty interesting to watch and the jokes are funny. It tries to incorporate a sense of learning as well throughout the series, but not so strong as to smother you with it. While definitely not for everyone, Barakamon might be the kind of anime series you want to watch to heal yourself with after a tough work week…if you happen to like it as such.

*****

Esdeath

General Esdeath. Her beauty is only overtaken by her sadism. Urgh.

Akame ga KILL!
Current episode: 7
Current rating: A-

Akame ga KILL! has thus far remained one of the best shows this season. While not enough to bring it up to a pure A-rating, there is at least no silly censorship in this show, and it does not stop with the violence and the grim reality of the world Night Raid lives in, while combining it with a dash of the right humor levels at the right times. Further, the unexpected development (for those who do not read the source material anyway) in episode 6 was quite the rude shock, and I can only see this show getting better as time goes by. The plot is along the same continuum, so the villains may change but the ultimate antagonists remain the same. A good thing too, for that, because with the introduction of both Seryu Ubiquitous and Esdeath, this show just got a whole lot bloodier and crazier, and I am just fine with that.

Leone remains my favorite in this show, but still, what happened in episode 6 was a terrible blow.

Mishima Lisa

This screenshot of Lisa with the light behind her might be a subtle hint that she will never be able to make it to the same level as Nine and Twelve. She may, in fact, be quite the opposite, even as she holds resentful thoughts against the world she lives in.

Zankyou no Terror
Current episode: 6
Current rating: A

Terror in Resonance, or Zankyou no Terror, has taken a turn I did not expect, with the appearance of Five. Initially, before I watched the latest episode, I was pretty much against this turn of events. It seems to be like a repeat of L and Kira in Death Note, at least conceptually, just on a different scale. However, after catching the latest episode, I must say that it has definitely not dampened my enthusiasm for this being one of the top two shows this season in my book. While it did not get back to my idea of how good a showdown between the two boys and Shibazaki might have been, it came quite close with Five coming onto the scene. And Shibazaki himself provided a clue as to how they might destroy the Tokyo area in the latest episode too, and how it might come about thanks to Five, so all in all, ok. This change hardly takes away from the show being something that could be really sinister in the long run. The shortness of its run, however, would imply a second season in order to cover the material, but we will see.

*****

Aldnoah.ZERO

Aldnoah.ZERO, now with flying battleships. Proudly brought to you by Urobutcher.

Aldnoah.ZERO
Current episode: 7
Current rating: S-

Aldnoah.ZERO remains the top show of the season for me, with its dazzling mech designs and the relentless action combined with that master of epic BGM for such shows as Attack on Titan, KILL la KILL, and the Sengoku BASARA series, Sawano Hiroyuki. Nowhere else is the masterful plot narration as evident as in how the story continues to progress beyond mere prediction, with plot twists at every turn. Of course, some have picked at possible weaknesses in the series, such as how Inaho seems to be able to overcome every single Kataphract he has come across, almost with no emotion and a mere logical mind, as well as a low-caliber Kataphract of his own. It went to the point where I saw a retweet on my Twitter timeline regarding how SAO, Mahouka and Aldnoah were airing together. Basically, “they might as well call this slot the ‘OP MC Medley’.” That was a good one.

Of course, Inaho aside, I think there were a lot of people who went into the Slaine camp. Personally, I am all for the Kaizuka Yuki bandwagon. That Ohara Sayaka goodness. Of course, being serious now, the show has seen a lot of strong technological innovation, and solid action. In the way of actual plot development, however, we do get a lot of moving but not a lot of forward movement. For example, there are still unsolved mysteries that might not get solved in this short 1-cour run. The only reason this is not a true weakness of the show right now is because of all the pressure coming from the attack by the Vers Empire’s knights, and how they keep having to run. With this new flying battleship though, they will certainly have more than enough of a chance to fight back. All that remains to be seen is whether or not Asseylum will finally be able to tell the Vers Empire she is still alive, and hopefully, turn against them in an effort to stop the suffering she brought unwittingly upon the people of Earth. Oh, and who might actually end up with her as a lifelong partner, maybe.

Feasting on a Budget — Japan

1 Aug , 2014,
Edric
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Let’s face the harsh reality of how small our dollar is as compared to the Japanese Yen. For a S$1,000 I could only get about ¥81,000 and that is how I got by 14 days from Osaka to Tokyo with Minakami in between (buying a Nintendo 3DS, 5 kg worth of books, games and souvenirs). That’s slightly more than ¥5,784 per day.

If the plan is to dine at an Okonomiyake restaurant spending almost a thousand Yen in Osaka for lunch, you are not likely to last a week in Japan without spending the next week living on cup ramen. Especially when lunch is one of the best time to get a really good deal!

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Okonomiyake is a local specialty in Osaka.

There are many ways to feast in Japan without blowing a hole in your pocket and that comes with careful planning, information gathering, web research like japan-guide.com and reading this article.

There are several types of shops in Japan offering food a lower prices and restaurants found on top of expensive looking shopping malls often charge a premium for a similar dish just a street away. The question is how far, or how low, you are willing to look for your next meal. When you want to min-max your budget to get as much Otaku goodies as your luggage can carry.

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A Singapore restaurant found at a dining area on top of a shopping center.

Gyudon 「牛丼」 

Gyudon is one of the most economical meals anyone will find hard to miss. There are Gyudon chains everywhere at every corner in major cities. So, there is no excuse not to find one unless you’re in rural Minakami.

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There are three food chains (YoshinoyaSukiya and Matsuya) vying against each other to be the king of budget Gyudon. There are others, but these are the big three and it is really hard not to find any of them. All three chains offer the standard size for ¥300  or below. Some of their outlets open 24-7. If you’re really hungry in the middle of the night and sick of convenience store food, you might consider checking out the local friendly Gyudon store. On a side note, Gyudon chains are often packed during lunch and dinner times, while empty during late mornings and after hours.

Lunch Deals 

Screenshot 2014-06-26 07.48.49NTPEK“You should eat as much as you can for lunch. It will have to last until dinner.”

Restaurants often put forth lunch deals at tempting prices. Take Saizeriya for example. This Italian restaurant chain has been feeding the Italian craze (with a Japanese twist) at an affordable price tag of ¥500 (including tax). That comes with a free flow of water and miso soup.

However, Saizeriya is not the only restaurant out there offering a budget lunch menu. Many restaurants offer lunch deals from ¥600 to around ¥1000. If stretching every single yen in your pocket is your kind of hobby, lunch will be the best time to start food hunting.

Supermarkets 「スーパー」
In late 2011, Ben-To, a fighting anime inspired by the mad rush to grab food going at half-price. While the anime had over exaggerated the necessity to the point of a fighting match for a packet of cold food. The reality (less the fighting scenes) is not far from the scene depicted on the anime.

Bentos are not the only food that are affordable at Super Markets.

Bentos are not the only food that are affordable at Super Markets.

At the supermarket next to my hotel at Ikebukuro, Tokyo. It opens 24-7 and the discount man only works at 11pm. No later, no earlier. Other supermarkets start as early as 6 or 7pm. Nightly, a throng of people, salary man, house wives and average Joes will crowd around the cooked food section. Eyeing their next meal while they wait for the discount man to do his work. Pasting discount stickers on each packet. The moment the sticker is slapped on the packet it is almost immediately snapped up if someone wants it for dinner.

However, what drives people to supermarkets to grab their dinner is a matter of money. The price of pre-cooked meals at supermarkets range between ¥300-500 for a rice bowl or a set meal. Side dishes range between ¥90 – 500 depending on the quantity. Chicken yakitori sell for about ¥100 per stick and ¥93 for a piece of korokke (of any favor). There are gyoza and karage among other side dishes.

Working back the equation once the half-price sticker is on the package, a simple Katsudon which normally sells for ¥350 goes down to ¥175. The supermarket gives a 20% discount for some dishes . At others, they would stick stickers stating the precise amount they would shave off the original amount. With a ¥500 coin, this goes into a lot of food and an packet of Milk Tea which retails for 93 yen per 1 liter packet. Put in 200-300 yen more and you could have Sashimi for dinner.

If you are worried about getting souvenirs for many people and Kit Kat comes to mind, try the supermarkets. They sell Kit Kats in bulk. But, they don’t carry exotic favors like wasabi or chili, should you need them to torture your friends’ taste buds back home.

There is always a supermarket somewhere. Even in rural Minakami, there was one right down the street from the Ryokan we stayed in.

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Supermarkets have microwave oven and boiled water if you’re wondering where to heat up your food or cook your instant ramen. Unlike supermarkets back home, you have to pack your own groceries or even purchase your own plastic bags.

Convenience Stores 「コンビニ」 

Sometimes Murphy strikes and that is when you head down to the convenience stores.
Convenience Stores are open 24-7 rain or shine. Unlike other countries, they are as well stocked as supermarkets (maybe more).

They sell Bentos, instant Ramen, surgical mask to limited edition anime Kuji (only at Family Mart). Prices are reasonable, and the selection is surprisingly huge considering its limited floor space. While microwave ovens are common place at all convenience stores, some offer tables and chairs for customers to enjoy their meals.

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A selection from a 7-11 Convenience Store in Osaka.

There is a huge variety of bentos for sale at convenience stores. Mostly comfort food, fusion western cuisine to salads for the health conscious eater. The only difference between a convenience store and a supermarket is the lack discounts. Between an expensive izakaya and a posh restaurant, the convenience stores gets my vote for budget.

Convenience stores near hotels and tourist attraction have a habit of placing English speaking staff, mainly foreign students studying in Japan. Don’t be surprised to meet a non-Japanese staff at the counter. They speak English!

Off the Beaten Path

“When in Rome do as the Romans do.”

We all know that in Singapore locals pay about S$2-4 for a plate of chicken rice. And we jest at tourist for paying S$12 per plate. However, everyday, tourists still patronize these restaurants when you could get them at hawker centers. They don’t know where to find S$2 Chicken Rice. It’s not on the ‘tourist’ map.

I hate to drop the bomb to those who insist on consulting the holy map. But, they are the yellow brick road to tourist traps. I suggest ditching that piece of paper! Okay, not totally trashing it but bring it out only when you’re lost getting back to the hotel. Flaunting the map around is also not the wisest fashion in Tokyo when you ‘re announcing to the world that you’re a tourist. I’ll rather be lost than to be led by the nose.

There are several tell tale signs about the district, whether it is for tourist or locals. The biggest give away are the maps found near junctions and train stations. Tourist maps are illustrated with green backgrounds and landmarks are written in both English and Japanese. Local maps however, are in shades of blue and contains directions only in Japanese.

The other subtle give away are drink prices on vending machines.

After all, an average Japanese don’t earn more than you and me, they have bills to pay and things they want to buy and families to raise. If they are able to get by day to day on that tight budget, they must be doing something right; while we’re doing everything proper to burst our budget.