Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Otaku Report, Vol. 1

As you already know, among all the things I was looking forward to about living in Japan, one of the highest on my list was access to that good otaku life.  In other parts of the world, you have to wait around for the local anime convention (ie, AnimeIowa) or else instigate your own (for example, the nerd nights I planned at ASU with my favorite weebs.  Here in Japan, there needs be no special occasion - it's happening all around you.  You could, just for example, be sitting at the Shinjuku Express Bus Terminal and see a tall person of indeterminate gender walk past wearing high-heeled, studded boots and a kick ass outfit with those Sailor Moon-style twin buns in their hair (which may, in fact, have just happened.  Cosplay in Yoyogi Park is a regularly occurring thing, and if you find yourself walking on the streets (literally - they close it to traffic) of Akihabara on a Sunday, who knows what you will come across...last time it was some sort of gaming thing, which - not really being a gamer - I knew nothing about but still found interesting.

Before I got here I learned about Sora News through a friend who'd been living up in Sendai.  It often lures me in with a story, and on the side I'll see something exciting that I want to check out, only to find out that it's long since passed.  The good news is that most of the new stuff I've caught, and it's been fun.

For starters, I got to see Mikazuki Munechika in the...well, steel.  I mentioned the anime about boys turned into swords at least once before, and while Touken Ranbu isn't my favorite - it just seems like such a waste of cute boys to not have any hint of romance - but I have a healthy appreciation for both swords and cute boys, so, you know, it works.  Mikazuki Munechika is one of the five great swords of Japan, and considered to be the most beautiful because of a crescent pattern in the steel thanks to the way it was forged.  He's owned by the Tokyo National Museum, and they had him out on display this summer, so one weekend I went up to Ueno Park to check him out.  I got there a little after the museum opened, and went straight for the sword room - apparently all the fujoshis have been lined up taking shit tons of pictures, and I hate lines, but there were just a few women ahead of me when I got there, so all was well.  I couldn't really see the crescent pattern - it's supposed to be subtle enough that it really doesn't come out in photographs - but it was a pretty cool sword.  Not sure that it was any more beautiful than any of the other swords in the room, but maybe I'm not very discerning.

Along with that, I found out that there was a Touken Ranbu musical coming up in November.  Flower Boy posted that he'd purchased tickets for the Sailor Moon musical right before I came to Japan, and I had all sorts of feelings about that.  First jealousy, because I love musicals and plays and all of that.  Second, I was a little miffed because it was Sailor Moon, and although I watched about 10 episodes - it's a shoujo classic - I couldn't really get into it.  Maybe I'm too old.  At any rate, I wasn't going to shell out for Usagi-chan.  And finally, I was a little wary, because if live action movies are bad, would a musical be worse?  When I found out that there was a Touken Ranbu musical, I decided I'd find out for myself.  I diligently marked the day that tickets went on sale and went online to buy my tickets at the appointed hour.

And then my bank decided this was a great time to decide it was suspicious that I was ordering tickets in Japan, and blocked the purchase.  By the time I had called them and set them straight, tickets were all sold out.  Again the mix of emotions...I was PISSED that they chose that time to block my card.  On the other hand, while I was scrolling through the ticket order pages I found out that there was also an Ao No Exorcist stage show, and if Touken Ranbu is specially formulated to appeal to women who like beautiful men who aren't interested in women, Ao No Exorcist is not.  It is pretty much straight up shounen...and it wasn't sold out.

So last night saw me hoofing it after work up to Roppongi, where the theater was located (this also worked out well - the musical was at the Tokyo Dome, and I would've hated to try to make it up there and back after a long day of work.  It wasn't exactly a walk in the park, though, because I'd realized when I was looking at the email during school that you're not supposed to use the English, foreigner's site if you're living in Japan - there was something in the email about having to bring your passport, so I wasn't super happy to have to run home for it.  Fortunately they didn't look through it to see whether or not I was here on a visa - the picture page was enough bonafides for them (phew!)  I got my ticket, went past whatever swag they were selling - DVD's, postcards of the cast, t-shirts, whatever - and found my seat.  And then looked around.  With the exception of the stinky foreign guy on my right, it seemed like the entire audience was female.  Like, you'd have to go to a women-only screening of Wonder Woman to find an audience with that ratio of ladies to men.  It was a little crazy.
The show was interesting.  It didn't seem to have any overlap with the first or second season of the anime, and I haven't read the manga so I'm not sure if the story was canon, but whatever.  Kamiki gets kidnapped, Shima is up to something twisted - I wasn't entirely sure why, because it was in Japanese.  Now, of course it was in Japanese, but for some reason this came as a bit of a shock to me.  No supertitles.  No helpful notes in the program.  But if you can follow an opera in a foreign language, a movie or a play aren't that much more of a challenge.  And the best parts - the action, and a lot of the comedy - you didn't need to understand the language for.  And I think that's what made this a success as a play - there's a lot of room to play with special effects when your main character is the son of Satan and he wields blue flames.  The actual staging of it was impressive, too - I couldn't believe what they were able to do with a projector, several stair pieces, and two platform things.  It kind of made me wish I was working on a musical this year.

A couple of weeks before, I was shopping at my favorite place, the Daiso store (have I mentioned this before?  I need to start a weekly, "Things I bought at Daiso," post).  And the muzak playing over the speakers, I suddenly realized, was familiar.  In fact, I heard it again last night at the play - the second opening song for Ao No Exorcist.  I hope there's a special hell for people who use good music like that for nefarious purposes.  Cause it sucked.

My final report comes from a gallery stationed at the aforementioned Tokyo Dome.  In fact, I teased the poster for this exhibition back when I was writing about a little more than a month the live action production of Fullmetal Alchemist is being released here, and Japan is great at promoting.  They have nendoroids coming out (Ed, Al, and Colonel Mustang), a new chapter of the manga is rumored to be a freebie when you watch the movie, and they had a big art exhibition featuring covers, pages, and at least a couple of interactive displays. 

It was legit.  I haven't really written about just how damn well Japan uses light and sound in art, but they've got it down.  My favorite was a room painted to look like Ed and Al's house, which had the alchemy circles projected onto the floor and Ed and Al's voices recorded - it really brought you into the moment. 
Much more creepy was the projection - hiding around a corner, so it catches you off guard - of Selim Bradley peeking out of blinking, watching shadows.  Unfortunately for most of the exhibition you weren't allowed to take photos, because I wanted to TAKE ALL THE PHOTOS.  I feel like there should be some sort of exception made for art teachers when it comes to that rule, because we are educating the world's future artists and we need to be able to show them examples of what we are talking about. 

Instead I bought the book - which I would have done anyway if any museum type people are reading this - which had all the gorgeous color paintings in it.  It was well-worth the 1500 yen admission price, and even worth the hour I stood in line waiting to get in, although I would have enjoyed it more if there hadn't been quite so many people.  FMA is one of those stories that kicks you in the teeth every time because it is just SO good.  I read the manga back in the fall of 2014, went back and watched the anime in the summer of 2016, and walking through the art of it made me want to do it all over again...I'll probably even break down and watch the live action movie, because even if that is the one thing about animation that America does better than Japan, it comes with a free, new chapter, so even if it sucks it's not a total loss.  Even if the movie isn't great, the characters - particularly the women - are top notch.  When the nieces get a little older I'm definitely showing them Fullmetal Alchemist, because whether they want to be mechanics, generals, snipers, or just housewives, there's a badass role model in there for them.  If you're in Tokyo and you want to check it out, you've got one more week to do it - aim for morning or late afternoon, the line was lethal when I got there at one.

So that concludes the first volume of the Otaku Report.  I meant to finish last night but after a long ride down to Okayama on the Willer Bus and a full day of slogging through the typhoon, when I got to my hostel I kind of passed out.  Which is a shame, because it has a gorgeous Japanese garden, and I'm currently wrapping this up sitting at my first kotatsu (a little because it's chilly, but mostly because I'm trying to dry out my hoodie some - I'd do the same with my shoes but I don't want to stink up the place).  There are castles, temples, creepy doll villages, and - of course - art in the near future as I head into Shikoku and eventually to Hiroshima over the next week.

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