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

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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.

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.

Doki Doki Anime Meeting

Today, the Doki Doki Anime club met at the Collingswood public library, as we do every second saturday of the month.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed to make it on time (up late last night), so I got there around 11.

Among the programming lineup were episodes of Ghost Stories (a testament to the kind of fun you can have with an American dub) and Fullmetal Alchemist. Afterwards, we discussed the arrangements for the next NYC trip, to take place on April 24th. Assuming I have all my affairs in order (classwork done, cash saved up, equipment borrowed, etc) I’ll be covering the whole event for your nerdly pleasures. I do it for you, people.

Coming up on Monday: Where to find Japanese culture in the South Jersey area.

Farewell, Iwate Swan

I can’t believe it.

It had been months since I checked out Iwate Swan, the YouTube page of vlogger and Japanophile Roger Swan. Last night, wondering if he had posted anything new, I decided to check, only to be shocked by the comments offering condolences to his parents.

On Jan 27, days after making what would be his final video, Roger Swan bled to death of acute pancreatitis. He was 23 years old.

I only knew Roger from his videos, and then only for a matter of months. A reviewer of Japanese movies and culture, Swan managed to accomplish what most American Otaku dream of doing, actually moving to Japan and taking up as an English teacher. However, he was kind enough to bring his  incredible experiences back to us in his videos, which demonstrate what an incredible person he was.

A memorial fund has been set up in Swan’s memory.

His final video:

Greg Ayres Interview

He rocked the stage as Hideki in Nerima Daikon Brothers, and stole hearts as the soft spoken cross-dresser Yuki in The Wallflower. Today, Richmond, VA native Greg Ayres continues to steal hearts in the world of voice acting, and continues to rock on the side as a DJ. Thankfully, he was able to take time out of all that rocking to be interviewed over email. 

How did you become a voice actor?

I never really set out to be a “voice actor” specifically. I have been acting professionally since the age of seven. I’ve done stage, radio, TV, film, along the years, and am always looking for new venues to “perform.” While voice acting seems to be the best “fit” so far, It’s not something that I ever thought I would do for a living.

There are lots of people who want to get into the voice acting business, but want to skip the whole “acting training” part. I’m afraid that’s not a reality. With only a few exceptions, almost all of us in this field have some sort of background in the performing arts.

I have to thank Monica Rial for my first gig with ADV Films. They were casting a show called “Spriggin”, and they were looking for a really young boy. Monica suggested that they call her friend who was “in his 30’s but sounded like a kid.” 

In spite of the fact that I didn’t get THAT role, I continued to audition for several other shows over the next year before landing 2 roles in “Steel Angel Kurumi.”

What is the favorite out of the characters you’ve done, and how did you develop that character?

I would have to say Chrono from “Chrono Crusade.” Not because of the size of the role (something that’s not really important to me) but because of the depth, and warmth of the character itself.

There are three things that usually contribute to the development of a character. The first would be the text – if the dialog is stilted it will hinder your performance. The second would be the Director – he or she cast you in the role based on what THEY wanted the character to sound like. And lastly the actor – who takes the visuals, and the music, and the text, and the direction…and brings it all together in the delivery.

I had a little extra help towards the end of the recording, as I was fortunate enough to meet the original Manga-Ka (Manga Creator) for Chrono Crusade. As it was his original story we were working on, I was thrilled to have the chance to talk to him about his original ideas for the character. It really made recording the end of the show very special for me.

What non-anime work have you done/are you doing?

The work I’m most proud of is a totally different type of performance. I have been DJ for the last 28 years (almost as long as I’ve been acting) and continue to do that to this day.

Since I spend most weekends away from home at anime conventions, I bring my decks and throw big dance parties. While I would love to spin in clubs again, I really enjoy turning people on to new music.

 What is the most fun part of being a voice actor? What is the most challenging?

The best part about this job, is that I get to do something that I love for a living. I can’t imagine a time in my life that I wouldn’t want to perform, so the fact that I get to do that for a living is a huge blessing.

That is also part of the most challenging side too. This is not a job where you will EVER get rich. In fact, with the decline of the anime industry over the past years…It’s not really a full-time job anymore. There are more than a few of us that are looking for part-time work so that we can continue to do this on the side too.

Who do you consider to be your greatest influence?

As an actor, I find the people around me to be my biggest influences. Part of the job of being an actor is being able to slip into the skin of your characters. So the people around me provide me the ability to understand so many things that I would never be able to grasp otherwise. So even though I may never go charging in to battle, I have more than a few friends in the service who do just that. I live and I learn through the people closest to me.

 Why do you feel that so many people gravitate towards anime?

I think anime appeals to such a large audience, because the medium itself is fairly broad. Unlike other subcultures that appeal to a specific demographic, anime has something to offer everyone. There are as many different genres in anime as there are in modern film, so as long as you are in the market for a good story…anime has something to offer you.

 What’s next for Greg Ayres?

I’m not really sure. 

The current state of the industry doesn’t look too good. In the last three years we’ve seen three very large anime companies disappear (Geneon, Manga, and ADV Films), and while many people would like to believe it was due to other things…it can directly be linked to loss of sales. 

I have spent the last few years at conventions talking to fans about the effects that digital piracy has had on the industry. 

So for the time being…I’ll keep doing THAT..in the hopes that it’s not too late.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the above link indicates, Manga entertainment is still operational.

Dem Rep: “Two Nukes Not Enough”

Facebooking is hard to do, something New Hampshire State Rep. Nick Levasseur is learning the hard way. Yesterday, Levasseur wrote on his status “Anime is a prime example of why two nukes just wasn’t enough.”

Wait,  what?

The  Republican party, naturally, jumped on this, calling the Representative’s remarks ‘hateful’ and insensitive to the Japanese people, and for once, I have to agree with them. Disliking Anime is one thing, but saying that an entire country should have been nuked because of it? Did Goku pee in this guy’s cereal, or something? Did Lupin the 3rd steal his car? What exactly would possess him to say something like that? Unfortunately, no details as of yet have been provided on the context for the original comment, although he did issue an apology soon afterward (it reeks more of “I’m sorry I got caught,” than anything else). Let’s just hope the rest of the Dems in New Hampshire have the good sense to oust him before he embarrasses them again.