Tower of Duraga vs Strike Witches

Caught two series a few weeks back, but, being lazy, and now no longer forced to post stuff on a weekly basis, I put off a review. However, I have summer classes coming up…well, tomorrow, so I figured, before shit gets crazy (and yes, this is no longer a school project, so I can say shit now) I thought I’d post something.

I had caught  Tower of Duraga on Hulu. The first episode was hilarious, and, being a fan of RPG’s, I was hooked. Based on a dungeon-crawler video game, the series centers around a loser, Jil, who lives in a village located entirely inside a large tower. The upper levels are inhabited by monsters of all shapes and sizes, with the top dominated by the evil god Duraga. Hoping to one day become a hero like King Gilgamesh (who, prior to being king, was the hero of the original 1984 game), and in spite of his resentful brother, Neeba, Jil manages to acquire a group of heroes and set off to defeat Duraga once again. The series manages to both parody and play straight many of the tropes commonly associated with RPG’s, and makes more than a few nods to the original game. Highly recommended to gamers in general and D and D enthusiasts in particular.

Not so recommended is Strike Witches, a series whose American release, quite frankly, should have been accompanied by an AMBER Alert. Remember the trailer I posted several weeks back?  The show seemed to have some comedy potential (if a little uncomfortable fanservice), however, what results is a mix of slightly amusing cliches and dramatic fluff mixed with a lot of really uncomfortable fanservice. The plot takes place in an alternate timeline, circa 1942, where, instead of Nazis, the earth is attacked by strange aliens called the neuroi. Female magic users, known as witches, are brought together by the military and used to combat the invading menace using special mechanized boots, called brooms, that allow the young women to fly. The girls in question, although each based on real life  WW2 fighter pilots (their “brooms” based on actual planes), are pretty much moe stereotypes. The story, though sounding intriguing at first, is just convoluted (it does make me wonder how someone like Edward O’Hare or Pierre Clostermann would feel about being personified as an overly sexualized 14-year old Japanese girl with magic powers and propeller boots) and too dramatic to be funny, or even mildly amusing. Overall, unless you have a serious witch fetish, and/or are a pedophile, it’s not worth your time.

The Winner: Tower of Duraga

The Anime Tour of New York

On April 24, members of the Doki Doki Anime Club took a trip up to New York, as we do every three or four months, to check out the sights, sounds and tastes of Anime culture. Our first stop was Mitsuwa marketplace in Edgewater, NJ. As close as you can get to Japan without leaving the country, Mitsuwa features restaurants, including an authentic Ramen stand, and a supermarket  specializing in Japanese inports. From there, we took a shuttlebus into NY, where we used the subway to navigate to our favorite haunts, incuding Kinokuniya bookstore, J and L games, and the Chinatown Fair Arcade.

If you’re an Anime fan, there’s no better way to find the collectibles you want – that is, the rare DVDs, the CDs of your favorite J-Pop bands, the games, figures, stuffed animals, art books and everything else – than shopping in the Big Apple. You just have to know where to look. As  mentioned before, Kinokuniya is an awesome  stop,  as  is Elizabeth   Center, Image Anime, Midtown Comics, and Forbidden Planet.

If you want to try the  kind of food your favorite anime characters eat, NY is the perfect place to do it. Prior to my first NY  trip, my experience with Ramen was limited to the cheap bags you find in the supermarket (of the kind perferred by starving college students). However, there’s no comparison with an authentic Ramen Bowl (if you’ve seen the early episodes of Naruto, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about).  There’s also a wide assortment of sushi, pastries, including taiyaki and gourmet cake, authentic bento boxes, and plenty of beverages like aloe drink (yuck) and Boss Coffee. And that’s just at Mitsuwa. Once you get into the city, there’s Yoshinoya (a Japanese fast food restaurant), Mei Lai Wah Coffee house (which has the greatest pork buns, both steamed and baked, known to man), and, located in a back alley, the dumpling  place. Not to mention a wide array of sushi restaurants and stores.

While on this journey, I sought to figure out what it was about anime and Japanese culture that had such an effect on Americans. Asking around, I found that some had  grown up with it, becoming attached  to shows without even realizing where they came from (shows such as Speed Racer and Star Blazers, for example, were anime before the term anime even existed). Others were drawn by a chance encounter with a movie or series, forever changed by a radically different means of storytelling. As for the why, the  response was always the same: there’s just some thing different, more mature, about the way animation is handled in Japan, a difference that allow the stories to be told and expressed in ways that American filmmakers are only starting to catch on to.

Altogether, the trip was a success. Now tired, poverty-striken, but pleased, we await our return by doing the one thing that Otaku are known for – watching anime.

If you are interested in taking the Anime Tour of New York, here’s a map marked with some places of interest.

Ali Project

I admit, I’m not hugely into J-pop music the way that some otaku are. However, every one in a while, I’ll come across an Anime opening/ending credit song that manages to get my attention. The opening to Rozen Maiden, Kinjaretta Asobi (Forbidden Play) by the band Ali Project was one such song, enough that during one of my excursions to New York, I sought out one of  their best-of albums (which is really hard, when much of the writing on the cover is in kanji, and stuck in with racks full of other albums also written in kanji).

The video below is for Kitei no Tsurugi (Sword of the Demon King), the opening for Linebarrels of Iron:

Shin Chan

There’s a  lot about Shin Chan that would make people nervous.

To begin with, most people in the west would  assume that a show about a five year-old would be targeted to that age group, which make the show’s surprisingly off color jokes about vibrators, spousal abuse and AIDS all the more shocking. Next, our squeamish attitude towards nudity, especially concerning minors, tend to make frequent appearances by “mister elephant” and Shin’s bare ass embarassing at best and downright disturbing at worst. And, of course, we tend to take a certain quality  in animation style for granted, especially where  anime is concerned. Shin Chan, by contrast, makes Ren and Stimpy  look like fine art.

Admittedly, when I first saw Shin Chan when it premired on Adult Swim a few years back, the grotesque animation put me off. However, after about five minutes of watching, I was laughing too hard to care.

Following the adventures five-year old Shin Nohara, his cute but ever mischevious baby sister Hima, his long-suffering father Hiro, his flat-chested mother Mitzi, and the cast of characters surrounding the Happy-Fun-Time American school he attends, Shin Chan is basically dead baby comedy at its finest. Watch  at your own risk.

Hot Spots For Anime Culture in South Jersey

If you live in the South Jersey area, where’s the best place to get your Otaku fix? Turns out there are plenty of comic book stores that sell manga, pvc statues and robot model kits, Asian groceries and restaurants that serve the kind of food you’ve only read about in Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine, and plenty of gaming stores featuring Japanese  titles of all kinds.

Places marked with tacks are those I’ve been to. Green tacks mean the place is highly recomended, blue tacks are okay, but  may not be worth the effort, red tacks should be avoided like the plague.

Chris Patton: “I Can No Longer Appear at Conventions”

Last night on facebook, American voice actor Chris Patton announced that he was done with attending anime  conventions. The 39 year old Patton cited fatigue and a desire  to get back to work in his descision.

“Voicing commercials, audio books, eLearning, and to a somewhat lesser extent anime and video games is what pays my bills,” Patton wrote.  “Not conventions. And yet, imagine, in the last five weeks, I’ve spent four of those weeks MOSTLY holed up in a hotel, unable to audition, or work.”

Although he will finish out the rest of the convention season, his final appearance will be Nan Desu Kan in September.

Patton’s voice work in anime includes Ichiro in Nerima Daikon Brothers and the homunculus Greed in Fullmetal Alchemist. He recently completed an audio version of Alex Finn’s novel Beastly.

Abridge Too Far

Yes, I made a horrible pun with the title of this post. And yes, puns are the lowest form of comedy there is.

Moving on…

We all love watching anime. Chances are, if you’re visiting this page (unless you happen to be a certain online journalism professor, a friend/relative I badgered into visiting this page, or an internet denizen who wandered here by mistake) then you should agree with the previous statement. But sometimes, anime, for all its strengths can be long-winded, overly convoluted, and prone to worthless filler arcs used to bide time while the manga the series is adapted from is still being written. What can an impatient otaku do?

Maybe download the episodes online, edit them into the most essential bits, create a comedic fan dub, and stick it online?  Hence the creation of the abridged series.

An abridged series is exactly what the term implies – a heavily edited version of an anime, containing the most basic aspects of the story while dubbed with an overload of crude  jokes, fourth wall breaking humor, and American pop culture references. They are essentially the US equivalent of the various dojinshi sold at Comiket each year (i.e., using already popular characters to create fan made media).

The concept started with the very first abridged series, Yu-Gi-Oh. A British fan of the American dub, Martin Billany, known across the internet by the moniker LittleKuriboh, originally started the series as a joke, and  was surprised when it became an overnight success. Since then, various anime series (and even a  few live action ones) have been given the  parody treatment.

However, as with many fan-created internet works, the threat of copyright infringement and lawsuits linger over the  genre. It’s unlikely that a company such as Funimation or 4Kids would see much difference between a ten minute fan parody or an outright fan dub, although to date, not much has been done  to halt abridged series (save for an attempt by YouTube to take down LittleKuriboh’s videos, though he later started another page). For their part, abridged creators include warnings at the beginning of videos indicating that the work is a parody, and to “support the official release.”