Happy New Year

New Year’s holiday is never complete in Japan without… well, a lot of things to be honest.  But taking the number one spot on batsu’s list this year is:

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a New Year’s card from Perfume.  The most awesome part is that it was actually delivered on New Year’s Day, along with many other cards from friends and family (that did not have anything to do with Perfume, so we’ll skip them).

It was totally worth the ridiculous amount of money I spent on becoming a fan club member back in October.

The Triangle tour was the first time I’d ever seen Perfume live in concert, and also the first time I’d ever paid (a lot of) money to catch mere snippets of a stage performance.  The “standing” seats, which were nearly the same price as actual seats, were not in the center of the arena as I’d assumed, but actually standing in rows behind those in seats (who were, inevitably, standing).  If maru and I had managed to be in the first row of standers, well, things may have been different.  Then again, we didn’t choose standing so much for fun as for necessity.  All real seats for both Yokohama days sold out in less than 5 minutes – and yes, I was in line at the convenience store ticket machine 15 minutes early.

At the first wind of “club members get priority tickets” I was sold.  Special live house (small venue) tour for club members this spring?  Sold.  Special holiday greeting cards?  No, I totally forgot about that until it arrived in the mail, but looking at it now, sure.  Sold.

In a bit of an aside, batsu had to take leave in preparation of a 6 month relocation to Malaysia.  However, at the last minute, 3 days prior to departure, the business trip was cancelled, or possible postponed?  I’m not sure, but it felt good to wake up in Japan.  Expect more bastu updates shortly.

a tribute to all sick people – nurse brightfeather

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Batsu had nurses on the brain last month and couldn’t help but pine for a figure she saw last summer.  Fortunately, bastu has a friend that specializes in finding rare toys – often at bargain prices.  That friend just so happened to be present the first time Brightfeather was spotted – all the better since neither of us could remember what she was called.  A few weeks later, quite possibly the greatest abomination ever made by Bandai was put safely in my hands.  After which I had to carry it out in the open through the streets of akiba…  until remembering a reusable bag in by purse – phew!

Busou Shinki seems to be a concept series developed by Bandai for the express purpose of pandering to other mediums (anime, game, etc.).  At present, through the purchase each figure, you are enabled a free trial period playing as that character in some sort of online game.  I have not, nor do I intend to investigate further.

Aside from all of that, Nurse Brightfeather is one of the greatest concept characters ever developed.  Part nurse, part cyborgic angel, and mind-numbingly moe, with far more interchangeable parts than I’ll ever understand.  She comes with an elaborate back-pack style artillery, showcasing detachable scalpel blades (that double as wing-like apparati) and crash paddles, as well as an over-sized syringe.  Other parts include glasses, two different chest-plates, two different facial expressions, two different hairstyles, and a menagerie of hands.  Tiny, yet deliciously poseable perfection.

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Yamato Dolls, Dolls, Dolls

About a year ago, batsu wrote this article/review for Otaku2.com. The subject of the review was a doll made by Yamato; specifically, a limited edition Obitsu 50cm body Minmei character doll. I don’t think it’s one of my better pieces, but the photos turned out alright. I got to dress her up in a few different outfits, and we took a walk to Kanda Myojin Shrine in Akihabara.  And apparently it was published in some Hungarian magazine, too?  The details on that are fuzzy, but I hear it’s true.

Apparently, someone in the product development department was kind to take notice. Kanda Myojin is actually right down the street from their offices.  And, surprisingly, that same someone still remembered those photos a year later! So in short, today I was invited to their showroom for a peek at new dolls, figures, and accessories.

The new bodies look sharp, and it seems like they’re going to steer away from licensed characters and go more towards original dolls, making them both more affordable and more customizable. The B-type body is admittedly a bit voluptuous and muscular for my taste, but is nonetheless perfect for the Ikitousen character it was created for. Not only ripped, but well shaded to show muscle tone. They’re going to start offering it, along with a bit less beefy (but still quite busty) D-type body in both raw kits and as well as concept characters.  The dolls were deco’ed out today in jeweled nail stickers by the company president, who also took the liberty of adding some up-skirt bling for the precarious passerby.

That said, speaking for myself the best part about Yamato is their costumes and accessories. Factory produced, yet still meticulously detailed. Ms. Yasuge is assuringly – refreshingly – fastidious in regard to particulars, and was quite generous to expound upon the making of various parts, such as wigs, gloves, clothes and shoes.  Just taking one look at those shoes more or less speaks for itself.  Sourced out to a “regular” shoe factory and made of the same materials as “people” shoes, they have a presence all their own – of which the same can be said for their pleather outfits.  The new glasses are also top notch, made with a special thin plastic as to not distort the overall look and shape of the eye, and delicately hinged just like “real” glasses.

There were figures and other dolls as well, but I only snapped picutres of Mercedes from Odin Sphere and the intimidating Macross collection, now with street-legal bike helmet.

You can go see it all for yourself tomorrow, when it’s open to the public:

Doll Holic

10/24/2009 11am-4pm

Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku Sotokanda 2-4-4

Dai-Ichi Denpa Building 8F

In addition to the showroom, there will also be a photospace if you care to bring your dolls.

Remebering Love with Lynn Minmei

I got the rare chance to play with Yamato’s Lynn Minmei for a day last week.

She’s a limited edition production, made to order and distributed last September.  After trying on her standard costume – modeled after the famous “Do You Remember Love” performance – we experimented with some other outfits and then went for a stroll in Akihabara.  I didn’t have a case for her, and wasn’t about to put her back in the box, so she just rode on my arm.  Yes, it was quite a spectacle, and a little embarrassing, really.  We stopped at Kanda Myojin Temple for a few shots, and then prayed to the kami-sama, or patron gods of the temple.  There were a lot of people gathered around, but I only prayed that none of them be angry.  Even kami-sama have limits.

You can read the full review, as well as view the full photo gallery, at http://www.otaku2.com.

Dolls in Wonderland – Osaka

Last weekend marked the first in what appears to be a promising new style of doll event entitled “Dolls in Wonderland.” Unlike other events which prominently feature dealers and provide little if any space for photos and creative play, Dolls in Wonderland, as the title suggests, aims to create a more interactive experience for both dolls and doll owners. Organized by used otaku-related goods retailer Mandarake, the special one day event showcased a small circle of independent dealers, offering a wide variety of handmade goods while making photo opportunities with dolls the focal point of the festivities.

Both dealers and attendees alike indulged in photo sessions throughout the day, as five different styles of dynamic photo spaces allowed for a variety of shots. In addition, props such as doll-sized couches and musical instruments were available for free use to aid in the creation of photo scenarios. As the Osaka Mandarake has a floor that specializes in costume rental, patrons were also encouraged to change in the rooms provided and take photos with their dolls. Available costumes ranged from anime to elegant gothic lolita fashion, and a special white photo backdrop area with extra lighting was set up for patrons to use freely.

Indeed, “free” seemed to be the key word for many attendants. “We don’t go to many doll events as they can cost a lot of money, or are far away,” said one participant. “But, we really wanted to do something for our dolls – they can’t go out so often.”

Like anything else, dolls can quickly become an expensive hobby, with basic bodies alone costing 30-70 thousand yen. Clothes, shoes, and other accessories can cost as much if not more than their life sized equivalents. The opportunity to enjoy a free event together with their dolls coaxed many visitors to indulge both themselves and their dolls, quite a few of them for the first time.

Indeed, many of the dealers as well were first timers, which added to the friendly ambiance. Most people came to know of the event through the Mandarake homepage. In the words of one attendee, “I just happened to look at the site and there it was – what a happy coincidence!”

However, despite the small number of dealers, there were quite a variety of items available. Dresses, clothes, knit stuffed animals, custom made eyes, and custom made optional parts were some of the highlights. Perhaps due to the proximity to Kyoto, many beautiful Japanese inspired items were also available, including handmade kimono, zori, and parasols.

Inquiring about the inspiration of one kimono dealer, who also offered a wide variety of hand painted Japanese style shoes, she replied “I make this sort of thing because I’m Japanese, but, as you know, we don’t get to dress this way very often. I don’t have many opportunities to really enjoy wearing kimono, but I have her (my doll) to enjoy it for me. Just seeing it everyday makes me happy.”

Another kimono dealer offered not only hand sewn kimono, but also real obi as opposed to the velcro type. Even many aficionados prefer velcro, as tying anything around a doll who refuses to sit still can be a trying experience, potentially ruining the position of the kimono. However, with seemingly magic hands, she tied again and again to demonstrate various obi styles. When inquiring about the patience in which her doll endured all this, she lifted the doll’s kimono skirt to reveal her legs bound together and severely out of socket; though they looked fine covered.

Mandarake also had a couple tables and a display case, selling the various doll items that had collected through customer buybacks. Including doll magazines, Volks brand clothes, and whole dolls, many were in mint or near mint condition. As an otaku themed recycle shop, Mandarake specializes in used manga, doujinshi, figures, animation cells, and related second hand goods, though the influx in doll related merchandise is recent. A staff member costumed as Suigintou, a character in anime Rozen Maiden (about dolls that come to life), manned the station.

Though this was only the first Dolls in Wonderland event, it was considered a big success. According to event supervisor Mr. Hara, the day had been busier than expected , and they were very happy with the turnout. “The next Osaka event, which is scheduled for January 31 of next year, will be for dolls of all types and not just ball joint dolls. We hope in time that more people gain interest in this type of event, and that it can grow even larger… but, we’ll have to find the room for it first.”

Annual Akiba Uchimizukko Splash the Streets

August 2 will mark the 5th annual Akihabara Uchimizukko. The event will involve a variety of costumed girls splashing the street with water, including many representatives from area maid cafes. The opening ceremonies will begin 3:00 at Kanda Myojin Shrine, and then take to the streets at 4:30 to cool the whole town.

Uchimizu actually finds its roots in traditional Japanese custom, and even today you can see men and women alike of all ages splashing outside areas with water. People perform this action to abate dust, or in this case cool the area. The evaporating water feels refreshing to the skin, and offers a temporary ease from the sweltering heat. It is usually performed with a small bucket or other container of used water (like bath water) or rain water, as opposed to fresh tap water, and is disbursed in small quantities using a hand or ladle.

Last year, the uchimizukko undertook the noble task of combating global warming… by spilling a bunch of water on the street. This year, organizers seem to have a more realistic sense of the event, making “moe” costumes rule number one for participants. Spectators will surely be packing zoom lenses. There was also a hilarious video last year detailing the right and wrong way to uchimizu, but this year’s site still encourages people against splashing others.

Miniskirted Miko – Knife in the Heart of Moe?

Whether or not a deathblow can be deemed victorious, it doesn’t feel as good to be on the receiving end.

LINK-UP Inc., the parent company responsible for @home cafe, @home sabo (tearoom), @home Hana, and most recently Miko-san Cafe, more or less invented what is know as the “entertainment-kei” variety of maids and moe. They opened @home cafe three years ago with the intent of bringing a new type of “idol-maid” to patrons who were perhaps in need of something more to worship. In effect, pairing the rather ambiguous maid character with a singing and dancing short-skirted idol created a new precedent in the industry, and pretty soon everyone was trying to hop onto the bandwagon. The barrier between maid and customer began to erode, performance and exhibition became seen as part and parcel of the job, and the already suspicious general public actually began to suspect something more than tea and cakes. That something more has been theorized many different ways, but the effects of this merger more or less defined if not redefined the one-word mantra for a generation of Akiba geeks: moe. (Pronounced “mo-ay.”)

This brings into question what is moe – or in the case of LINK-UP, which parts of moe are the most profitable?

“Moe” is a part of Japanese slang, a double entendre pronounced “burning” but written with a character that means “sprouting” or “growing.” It can be both an adjective or a noun, even a verb at times, and is perhaps best translated into English as “passion.” A non-otaku Japanese associate speaking to a salary man once explained, “Moe is when guys look at young girls and getting excited – the same way girls get excited when they see Mickey (Mouse).” His statement beautifully articulates the ideal “sexlessness” of Utopian moe. However, as @home boasts at least 40% female patronage, and many of their female clientèle are regulars, the gender exclusion in his statement is perhaps a bit of a misunderstanding. Even before @home, it’s safe to say that moe captured a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for youth, beauty and all things “cute.” Because after @home, things started to change.

Though not always and for everyone, idols remain to be sex symbols at some level. The idea of openly mixing the images “maids” and “idols” leads to a definite conclusion – supported with the various photos, hand-drawn art, and various goods (such as beach towels and body pillows) emblazoned with maids’ images. That is, the sex appeal of the maid image can be materialized commercially, while still contained within the safe and friendly container of a moe-cafe. This is pretty much what LINK-UP has accomplished, and as sex is a more basic human interest than moe, more and more maid-related businesses are taking this angle in both Akihabara and beyond.

In recent times, LINK-UP has worked towards ever more aggressively towards their brand of moe-capitalism. Their most recent venture into moe enterprise is Miko Cafe. Miko means “shrine maiden” – the girls dressed in red and white at Shinto shrines. In recent times, they have become something of stock characters in popular literature – perhaps most recently in the anime series Lucky Star, in which two sisters dress as miko to help out at the temple every New Year’s holiday. However, as most things LINK-UP, these girls are miko with a twist, namely: short skirts and microphones.

Miko Cafe takes up two floors of a predominant Chuo Dori building, which isn’t saying much considering floor size; however, the top floor is reserved for song and dance performances by the miko (currently once a day weekdays, multiple times weekends and holidays). The lower floor is run sort of like a cafe, with a 1000 yen seating charge. They give cute greetings when you enter and leave, such as, “We welcome your worship at Magokoro Shrine,” and “We hope your dreams come true.” They “pray” over your food before you eat it as well, emulating @home’s patented “ai-kome” or “love infusion” magic spells seen in LINK-UP’s other venues. Performances are given at a set time at an additional price.

@home certainly garners a substantial number of regulars who fork out for special services, but by and large their clientèle could be described as tourists. It’s this author’s opinion that Miko Cafe, with set performance times, will be even more popular with casual curiosity seekers yearning to gawk at otakudom. The most regrettable part of this venture is the substantial departure from most things otaku and moe, making Miko Cafe just another cog in commercial entertainment at the expense of the girls working there.

Akihabara Bloodbath – Estranged Killer? Otaku Connection?

Yesterday, around 12:30pm, tragedy hit Akihabara. 25 year old Kato Tomohiro drove a 2-ton rental van into Walker’s Paradise, hitting three people. He then left the vehicle wielding a survival knife, and indiscriminately mowed down pedestrians as he ran south down the vehicle free street. Fifteen victims later, a police officer was able to corner him in an alley and disarm him. For the next five hours, the entire street was taped off and lined with emergency vehicles as rescue workers attempted to save lives and stations of investigative teams worked quickly to gather evidence and eye witness accounts. At the end of the day, seven people were pronounced dead while ten were in stable condition.

Initial reports quoted Kato as saying he did it because he was “sick of life;” however today’s reports have changed to the more elaborate, “I came to Akihabara to kill people. The world at large has become intolerable. Anyone would do.” Though police are still questioning Kato in regard to motive, no further statements are available. Today’s news was also peppered with even more amateur camera and video work. Indeed, Kato chose the perfect place to make a very high-impact crime.

Many have jumped at the opportunity to make wild otaku-based accusations and assumptions. For example, in less than 24 hours it was outed that he was leaving English scrawlings in a JHS yearbook – er, rather, he was in tennis club… Which is to say that he made a sketch of a Tales of Destiny video game character in a friend’s yearbook. Clearly this underlines the fact that the perpetrator has undeniable links to Akihabara and the unpredictable otaku freaks that populate the area.

Yahoo! News Japan mistakenly reported that the event was alluded to in a May 27 2ch BBS posting. The post, which predicted that a tragedy involving a “Ninja-guised knife-wielding perv” would befall Akihabara on June 5 turned out to be nothing but a rant about the Xbox360 release of Ninja Gaiden 2. Though Yahoo! pulled it’s initial article, other news agencies picked up on the thread and have, by now, created yet another meme incriminating otaku and 2ch. Other news sources are saying that Kato had “been to Akihabara many times.”

At first glance Kato bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Ito Atsushi, who played Densha Otoko in a televised drama of the same name; however, it may be safe to say that the similarities stop there.

Though police officers now line the streets, quickly disbursing crowds and attempting to stop performances, Akihabara is still a haven for otaku, cosplayers, computer buffs, gamers, misfits, and even the occasional high profile panty-flasher. An associate once wrote, “they are perpetually broke, and perpetually happy,” speaking of two interviewees who frequent Electric Town and its various maid cafes. Sundays are an especially festive day when the main street in front of JR Akihabara Station’s Electric Town Exit is blocked off to traffic, creating a “Walker’s Paradise.” Markedly less than in times past, cosplayers and performers still gather in the vehicle free zone, while cameramen compete for cool points getting extreme angles with massive zoom lenses. Though there are some shops and services of questionable reputation, there are probably some where ever you’re reading this article. Akihabara is no more a place for pervs than anywhere else.

Incidents like this in Japan are extremely rare, and as a result, whenever they happen both the media and the general public tend to get a little crazy.  As in most developed nations, Japanese society tends to blame youth, video games, and pop culture in response to greater social woes.  Given that this event happened in Akihabara, the propensity to develop such connections is even greater.  However, the notion that an otaku would choose Akihabara for a stabbing spree is equivalent to an Islamic-extremist choosing the city of Mecca for a suicide bombing.  Indeed, it’s totally ridiculous.

Anyone who had an affinity for the “Akiba” portrayed in the media would have alternatively mowed through pedestrians coming out of the Showa Dori side of the station, where large corporate entities are displacing smaller local shops and two huge new buildings are vying to attract fashionable female consumers. Many argue that these are the forces cracking down on cosplayers and street performers, calling for a “cleaning up” of the district on their own terms. Indeed, some have already predicted that Sunday’s incident, in combination with the ongoing panty-flashing fiasco, may put an end to Walker’s Paradise. Thankfully – or otherwise – all of the corporate money now flowing into Akihabara will protect both the town’s reputation and the otaku image to some extent, as both tourists and consumers will have to be ensured that the area is still a “cool” place to visit in order to maximize profits.

This event is truly horrible, and will undoubtedly shake the community for some time, though it’s difficult to say how things will fall into place in the end. In memory of the victims, some people have begun leaving flowers in front of electronics retailer Sofmap, where the violent escapade began.

**Update: June 10

Today, Sofmap has erected a tent in memory of the victims, and for people to leave flowers and other items for the deceased.  The company president made an appearance before the store to give a speech, where the terrible chain of events began.  All Sofmap shops in Akihabara have lowered their background music, turned off demo-displays, and at least one event has been canceled.  Employees will also not be openly soliciting customers in the standard “barking” fashion in what seems to be a day of relative silence in response to Sunday’s tragedy.