hachigatsu no ni-juu-hachi-nichi

Summer vacation is winding to an end, and that means one thing for sure -- souvenirs. Families like to travel a lot, and often they'll bring back stuff for any friends, family, or teachers that they like. I've gotten all sorts of things this week from students who took trips. Here's some of the stuff I've gotten so far:

The first three pictures are the same thing, a box of melon-creme spongecakes from Tokyo's Ginza district. Then we have a nice folding fan with a Phoenix and a Dragon. Finally, there's a package of chocolate coconut macadamia pancake mix, straight from the Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu. My little kids really got around this year, didn't they? This isn't counting all the stuff that was given to the school staff as a whole (mostly chocolates, cakes, two bottles of black vinegar drink, and a dozen bottles of wine).

I'm trying something a little different with the format of the column as well, as you might notice by the fact that the Table of Contents is beneath the opening blurb. Hopefully this will make it look a bit better when I post the links on Facebook.

Oblivion Island - Kanata and the Rainbow Mirror (English title recently amended) arrived in stores three weeks ago, but it wasn't until last weekend that its associated film, Haruka and the Magic Mirror, started in theaters. As in the game, the main character finds herself lost on Oblivion Island, a strange land where all things that have been lost or abandoned somehow appear. In fact, she's looking for her late mother's hand mirror, and actually has to trick her way onto the island in the first place.

Anyway, let's look at the advertising flyers I picked up from the cinema last week.

Source: Toho Cinema

For anyone who cares to ask, Dragon Quest IX was supplanted by Monster Hunter 3 in the top spot for the last week of July, and by SD Gundam Generation Wars at the start of August.

Position Last Week Up / Down Title Publisher Platform
2 2 Down from 1 Dragon Quest IX - Defender of the Stars Square Enix
12 New Arrival! New Arrival! Blood of Bahamut Square Enix
13 New Arrival! New Arrival! Magna Carta II Bandai-Namco
26 25 Down from 16 Pokémon Platinum Nintendo

Game designers in Japan have flirted with the retro look for a while now. There was the "fresh from the NES" style of Mega Man 9, for example. On the opposite end of the spectrum were games like Half-Minute Hero or Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman!, which delight in having the most graphically advanced low-res sprites the world has ever seen. Even Persona 4 got in on the act with its 8-bit video game dungeon. Now we can see the logical continuation.

Now we hearken back to days of yore, when the number of a hero's pixels could be counted on both hands, and each dot of light was large enough to be visibly distinct on the screen. Imagine a game where everything was made of those little blocks and then brought into full, blocky 3D glory. The result is 3D Dot Heroes, by From Software and the Silicon Studio, aka the guys who also did the picturesque Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke.

The story is as follows: Long ago, the Kingdom of Dotnia was protected by the power of six mystic orbs, each held in trust by one of six sages. But then the Dark Lord invaded, flooding the land with monsters and keeping the citizens besieged in their towns. One by one, the sages were captured, and things looked bleak. Then, a young warrior arrived in the land. Armed with the Sword of the Sages, he recovered the orbs and sealed the Dark Lord away. Ages later, when the tale of the orbs had passed into the legend, the King of Dotnia made a strange decision. "From now on," he declared, "this kingdom shall be in 3D!" And it was so, by grace of strange and technical magicks. Thus a whole new way of life is born for the people of Dotnia, and old evils slowly awaken under the direction of the mysterious High Priest of Darkness. His goal is the full revival of the Dark Lord. The land needs a hero for these strange new times, and that hero is you.

To be honest, I think it looks like someone decided to recreate an early, perhaps lost, Dragon Quest or Zelda title in Lego blocks.

Source: Famitsu Weekly

For the first time, we get a look at a side of Level 5's upcoming The Another World that we've never seen before -- combat. Yes, there are battles in this game.

Battles and magic and quests, oh my! Young Oliver and his comrades have no small amount of danger in their way, if the one monster shown so far is anything to judge by. The magic system is very well suited to the DS, as The Another Country has the player draw magic signs in order to blast or heal. As well, extra questing is available for anyone who wants to pad the playing experience a bit. Judging from Level 5's work with Dragon Quest IX, there'll probably be a lot of them.

Source: Famitsu Online

A few weeks back I caught an episode of Element Hunters on TV. It was an early episode, I think, since the characters had to keep going over what they were trying to do (and also the fact that the series only started in early July). The three main characters had come from their homeworld to the show's setting, "Nega Earth," for some reason, and couldn't go home until they had gathered a set of elemental pieces. To do that, they had to defeat a standard Big Ugly Monster that was the physical incarnation of the element. In the end, they gained the Emblem of Nitrogen.

Yes, we're talking about the chemical elements for a change. I'm not sure if the show included the trans-uranics (though it's likely), but even if they aren't in there, that's still eighty-eight natural elements to combat. A premise like that sounds like it might make a good action-RPG, and as luck would have it Bandai-Namco is happy to oblige.

Each of the available elements has its own effective properties which the player can harness via the Chemical Combine system. How these work, and how the effects relate to the actual elemental properties of each substance is yet to be seen. What we can see is the hero taking on the giant Fuyu-no-ryuu, or Winterdrake.

Source: Dengeki Online
Ichirui ni iru hito wa dare?

Dear Gaijin,

This letter is going to sound like 20 questions. I have no idea how to clean it up, so here goes:

Could you tell us a little about Kansai-ben (or Kansai accent)? To me, it's that "funny sounding Japanese" but more than that I don't really know.

Could you tell us where on a map is Kansai? Do you know anyone from there?

Could you tell us about RPG characters who speak in Kansai-ben?

Can you tell us about the boke-and-tsukkomi comedy routine? Have you ever been to a Japanese comedy club?

Thanks in advance for the answers!



OK! Let's get started!

Kansai-ben is the group of regional accents local to the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto area. Kansai itself (also known as Kinki) encompasses the prefectures of Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Shiga. While every little section of Kansai has its own variations of accent, one of the things that routinely stands out is in the negative verb conjugation. Usually, a verb in this conjugation ends in -nai or -masen, but in Kansai-ben the ending is changed to -hen or -mahen. I've seen this done from time to time in manga, and also have heard it in Japanese TV dramas (for example, geisha often speak with an affected Kyoto accent that does this). There's also a lot of specialized or colloquial usage. For (a lot) more information on it than I could possibly fit in a single Q&A, check the wiki page.

I'm not sure if I've ever actually seen an RPG major character speak in any version of Kansai-ben, though I'm pretty sure I've seen NPCs use it from time to time. For anime characters, well, Akira Toriyama is supposed to speak with a strong Kansai accent, and so do many of the characters of his various anime series. The main character of Dr. Slump has a strong southern Kansai accent, while his major rival talks like he's from the opposite side of the region.

--edit: JuMeSyn has informed me that one of the major characters of the Sakura Taisen series, Li Kohran, speaks Kansai-ben.

As for boke & tsukkomi, while I've never actually been to a Japanese comedy club, I've seen these acts on the air. In fact, they're one of the more common forms of Japanese stand-up as far as I can tell. The boke character is usually a clueless or otherwise dopey guy (lit. "goof off" or "air-headed"), while the tsukkomi character is more grounded, smarter, and usually whacking the first guy over the head with something. I've seen it compared to the dynamics of Abbott and Costello, or Moe and Curly Joe, and that's probably a good comparison. It's also usually done in Kansai-ben, since the modern manzai style (which is what we're actually talking about here) originated in Osaka.

Fun fact, though: One of the Performer class skills in Dragon Quest IX is called boke. Basically, you act like a goof and all the enemies fall over in shock.

Don't worry about the 20 Questions format, though. It's nice to have something to put in this space. Thanks!

And summer vacation is over! Not to worry, there will be plenty of time to rest up during "Silver Week" next month. Until then, it's just business as usual.

And that's the news from Hi-no-Kuni,

Your man in Japan,

Gaijin Monogatari

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