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.

Tokyo Game Show 2009 – Less Meat, More Substance

The first time Batsu went to TGS in 2005, her senses were completely overwhelmed.  So many people, so many games, so much swag…  the drowning sea of flash that swallowed every booth babe.  Whoa – booth babes!?  Real cosplayers.  The taste of money in the air.  Sony unveiled the PS3 (though it wasn’t available for another year), Microsoft was about to release the Xbox 360, and Nintendo hinted at the Revolution (now Wii).  There were so many game demos that smaller titles had virtually no line.  Batsu had reached gamers’ nirvana.

Maybe.

The subsequent two years saw more and more development of the same titles unveiled in 2005.  Re-releases of older titles for new platforms, and so on.  The dead space was filled with girls.  And then more girls.  Stage shows of the girls – such as this cabaret-style performance to promote Ninja Gaiden (immortalized by shaky hand camera).  A swimsuit show for DOAX2 (at least they couldn’t replicate the scary gelatinous-animal breasts as seen in-game).  Girls held like show ponies on display to cater to the overly ambitious amateur photographer (the shot is bad, but there are around 10 girls lined up).  Just, ah… girls, girls, girls.  (Excuse the sub-par camera work – what a breathtaking lack of enthusiasm.)  The games were all but forgotten.

I mean, hey, I certainly advocate girls, but the G in TGS allegedly stands for Games.  My in-event pastime (d)evolved into photographing the guys that swarmed the booth babes, lenses flaring, which had more or less become the focus of this spectacle event.  Come 2008, well there were no intentions of attending.  Being chosen for the Little Big Planet test demo, coincidentally at the same time, was just icing on the cake.

And now in 2009, it seems as if the crashing global economy has strangely made all my wishes come true.  Though these gentlemen do quite a fine expose, it would have been even finer two, three, or four years ago.

A non-gamer acquaintance complained that all of the “booth babes” this year (admitting reluctance to call them babes, as they failed to meet the standard model-esque physique) were wearing basic clothes you could pick-up at Uniclo.  Thus, having nothing to photograph.  So I guess he could have played some of the demos on the relatively wide-open press day.  Or, then again, perhaps I forgot to mention he was a non-gamer at TGS.  On a press day.

All due respect to the girls who are paid so you can photograph their boobs.  Indeed, I like them, too…  Up until I have photographers physically pushing me out of the way, and preventing me from entering booths.

This brought similar complaints (from similar long attending acquaintances) that TGS is turning into E3, due largely in part to this the lack of flesh.  Interestingly, no on-line reviews are noting this vast difference.  Not to mention that E3 is an industry only event. (?)  Suffice to say, 2009 was one of the better in TGS history… of events I’ve been to… in the last 5 years.

In addition to the exciting line-up of new games, with tangible release dates, an elaborate Warring States period display, tied into the event’s “History of Gaming” theme, featured armor and other artifacts of more prominent warlords.  Awesome!  Significantly fewer companies showed their faces, which provided a decent amount of elbow room, and not too many titles I could really care less about, leaving everything to the big guns (and knives).

In pictures:

Beginners’ Luck – Game Market 2009

About six months ago, close friend Sankaku-san invited batsu to a game event, and batsu obliged last weekend at the 2009 Game Market.

Game Market is an annual event centered around board games, including but not limited to table-top RGPs, featuring new, classic, and original games.  The first day was dedicated to actual gaming, and the second for buying and selling.  Not really sure what I was getting into, I agreed to tag-along Sunday to see what a Game Market was all about.

Held in a convention hall with the all the austere ambiance of an abandoned warehouse, Game Market had… well, games.  A lot of them; stacked up on folding tables with price tags.  Admittedly, most of this had no meaning to me but it was still pretty awesome to see people excited, toting around impossibly full bags of board game boxes.  There were a few people in fancy costumes – of note, a potentially cross-dressing willowy Victorian maid – but for the most part just back-pack toting types.  In another area, a group of old men in happi were educating con-goes about a mostly forgotten Edo-era game consisting of hand symbols.  This was particularly appropriate given the stone’s throw proximity to Sensoji Temple.  And even more appropriate given the aforementioned maid’s dedicated study with one of the old guys.

I walked into the con with absolutely no expectations, but somehow from a distance spotted a board covered in tarot shaped cards.  The details were fuzzy, but rounded lines and a predominance of black and white indicated cute maids graced some of the cards.  A closer look only confirmed suspicions.  Of course, I bought it immediately without thinking.

The cards turned out to be DEARS Tsundere Tarot, scheduled for release June 12.  It has cool art, but otherwise a bit more contrivance in history than I care to recognize.  There were two varieties, and choosing the more “moe” of the two, I inevitable ended up with the “guys” version.  Which is fine.  It has better character design and none of the “fujoushi” connotations.

Tsundere means something like “prickly,” and is used to describe a character that inappropriately enacts intent – for example expressing affection in an antagonistic manner.  The tsundere in this instance is hopefully not the cards nor the fortune teller, but rather the enclosed CD voiced by the “Queen of Tsundere,” so styled because of her predominance of tsundere type voice acting roles.  Looking at the art style, tsundere seems only a projected gimmic to appeal to a larger audience.

Volks Shop Finder

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The following link leads to a Google Map detailing all of the Volks Showroom and Tenshi no Sumika locations in Japan. In addition to offering a variety of figures, kits, and dolls, including the Dollfie line, Volks shops provide the craftsman and other artists with a plethora of resources for creating and modifying figures, as well as the materials and inspiration to embark on other original projects. Volks shops are also stocked with information about local events, exhibits, and classroom workshops, many of which are organized by Volks itself, and staff are usually friendly craft enthusiasts, more than willing to assist and offer advice.

No two Volks shops are the same, and those living in or visiting Tokyo might find it helpful to visit a few shop locations when collecting materials, or looking for that special SD dress. The main problem with this is actually finding the locations, as they can be hidden in buildings, basements, or dark alleyways in the sprawling urban jungle. With the aid of Google Maps, most of this guesswork has been taken away, as every nook and cranny is carefully documented from an aerial view, and you can often look at surrounding landmarks using the Street View function.

To those visiting for the first time, Volks Showroom locations feature toys, figures, resin kits, and other hobby related materials such as paint, glue, clay, molding tools, and various printed materials. Volks Tenshi no Sumika locations are specialized Dollfie outlets, carrying dolls, clothes, accessories, parts, and special care items among many other things for Dollfie of various sizes. Many Volks locations feature a Tenshi no Sumika area inside a larger Showroom store, though there are some specialized locations, all of which have been detailed on the map.

I hope you find this useful for all of your wants and needs, and look forward to hearing your feedback. And, please, don’t be afraid to mention any mistakes.

Without further adieu:

The Volks Shop Finder

The creation of the Volks Shop Finder has also inspired a number of other maps detailing some of the finer doll, art, hobby, anime, and otaku points of Japan. As such, a permanent page containing links to these maps has been created, and can be accessed under “Pages.”

The maps, however, are still a work in progress.

Cleaning House

Some people may have noticed batsu was down for a while. I’d like to apologize for the inconvenience, as we are in the midst of cleaning house. Please expect to see things looking a bit more orderly, as well as posts more regular, in the coming weeks.

TGS Terror Alert – Expect to Wait

With the world’s most anticipated annual gaming event soon upon us, organizers recently announced that all attendees admitted to TGS on days open to the general public will be subject full baggage search. The move follows a similar decision by Comiket organizers last summer to ensure public safety amidst threats posted via BBS and internet rumors. In the wake of the Akiba Massacre, in which perpetrator Tomohiro Kato used internet forums to inform the world of his criminal intent before killing 7 people and injuring many others, organizers have been taking extra precautions to tighten security at otaku related events.

There will be a total of four baggage checks at TGS, all stationed at points of entry to the event. Despite (or perhaps due to) the one day extension implemented last year, making the event open to the public for a total of two days, attendance was sky high at approximately 120,000 people. Though this pales in comparison to the near 500,000 who attended Comiket, attendees should expect long lines and come early, familiarizing themselves with forbidden articles.

Though the list has not yet been made available in English, these articles include:

- Anything longer than 50cm (including cosplay accessories).

- Anything that can be used as or resembles a weapon over 6cm in length, such as guns, model guns, knives, scissors, and needles.

- Drugs, poisons, and other potentially lethal substances.

- Combustibles, explosives, fireworks, excessive amounts of matches or lighters, and other materials deemed highly flammable.

- Hammers, screwdrivers, and other tools.

- Alcohol.

- Anything dangerous to use in a confined space, such as bicycles, roller skates, skate boards, yo-yos, and balls.

- Anything else deemed potentially dangerous by the staff.

Source: Ota-suke

Comiket N00bs – Amature Comics for Amatures

Comiket is the biggest event in all of Japan, where over half a million people gather in celebration of grass roots artistic endeavors. It’s held twice a year, currently at Tokyo Big Site, though by most accounts the event has considerably outgrown this venue – due in part to free admission. There are separate areas dedicated to industry, cosplay, and doujinshi. And though doujinshi may be something of the minor league of manga, it tends to have a very healthy fan base, arguably fostered by the rarity, and thus collectivity of the comics. Even within the doujinshi areas there are certain subsets, and circles (meaning artists and dealers) tend to be grouped by theme. This piece of Comiket coverage will look at the people that make circles, the people that buy from them, and the people who are just there. After all, 510,000 is a lot of people.  And seriously, I’m a n00b.

Cruising by Tokyo Big Site on the adjacent monorail at 9am, one hour before the event opens, an unmistakable sea of people swells all around the complex. Some have been waiting since the first train arrived in the morning at 5am. Since then, the cool summer dawn has shattered into a sweltering and sordid day; many attendees drape themselves in towels, and others use cooling strips generally used to reduce fevers for moment of relief. Staff are armed with large spray cans of deodorant, spritzing as necessary without inhibition to maintain appearances. And though covered, with hundreds of thousands of people crowded inside, the other side of the door offers only spiritual oasis.

“You want to get a feel for the atmosphere at Comiket?” asked Mr. Yamaguchi, a slightly disgruntled event concierge who appeared to be in his mid-40s. “It’s crowded. It’s crowded, and it’s hot,” he spouted rhetorically, wandering about the crowded tables arranged in block fashion to facilitate navigation. And though he’s right, most everyone else present is willing to see past these inconveniences to revel in their respective creative, or perhaps consumer, joys.

Even past the entrance lines, which can take hours to navigate, the tables of popular circles have lines all their own. Some have special staff to manage crowd control, but others use a simple sign. The last person in line will dutifully hold the sign, saying something to the effect of, “Table 24-1 A end of line” until the next joining the queue takes position. One patient attendee who declined to give her name said she was waiting to buy a gag-themed doujinshi based on a comic “that was never so popular but was published about 10 years ago and ran for about six years but is now totally out of print.” When questioned as to why she was so interested in this particular rendition of the story, she answered simply, “Because I like it.” And though “because I like it” may not seem like the most sophisticated response at first, it manages to sum up the passion that motivates the event perfectly.

Most of the artists featured at Comiket are not professionals, regardless of the polished quality of their work. Among those interviewed, many had started their circles after “becoming members of society,” ie, graduating from high school or university and entering the workforce. Those with newer circles tended to have paper booklets stapled together, while others with more established presence had soft cover bound books and other character goods. A significant minority of tables offered or displayed relevant handmade goods, such as dolls dressed and custom painted to resemble their doujinshi characters, and gifts for purchasing customers.

Though perhaps a few artists were selling original doujinshi, most gained their inspiration from existing stories, and were grouped accordingly via derivation. The East halls contained the “Japanese” area, including Dragon Ball, Naruto, Bleach, Death Note, xxxHolic, and hundreds if not thousands of others. Though not all doujinshi carry an erotic or homoerotic overtone, due to new regulations, any comics containing sexually explicit material must now be plainly marked for “18 and up” only. Surprisingly, creators at these tables were the most reluctant to interview, and those willing wanted an outline of possible questions before proceeding. However, all were very gracious, even in decline, nonetheless.

“You can photograph, but, please remove my name before publication… I’m a little… embarrassed,” giggled a young doujin author, just starting back in the field after a mandatory two year vacation. As hobbyists, real life tends to cause periodic breaks in creation. “Before this I was in a circle for three years, but the stories were different – nothing special we just did whatever we liked.” The doujinshi she was selling found its inspiration in the anime xxxHolic-Kei, which only recently finished airing in Japan.

Of the two West halls, one was dedicated to music or band inspired work, and the other Japanese and American science fiction. The latter was by far the most surprising, some authors combining the two genres to create hybrids such as X-Men Den-oh, a pairing of Marvel’s X-Men and the Masked Rider Den-oh series. The “slash” genre of fan fiction found a whole new world of vivid depiction, but other artistic creations graced tables as well. Whether it was the general age of creators, which was notably older, the material, or just the heat at the end of the day, circles tended to be much more talkative about their work.

One notable exception to the Star Trek norm was the series Neko Trek, actually a doujinshi of a doujinshi. The author based her cat themed gag comic on her own favorite Star Trek gag series, and the two were fortunate that day to sell comics side-by-side. Apparently, a friend of a friend was a bilingual Trekkie and even took the effort to make an English edition, translating the Japanese passages into English printed beside the panels. However, both creators just seemed confused at the notion that the publication mimicked a textbook.

Debu Spiderman, or Fat Spiderman, was another hilarious work that exhibited the author’s extensive knowledge of this web-swinging superhero. “I started making it about five or six years ago, publishing it on the internet, about the same time the Spiderman movie came out in Japan… The cover? Yeah – it gets a lot of inspiration from old style American comics, but you know, Spiderman originally debuted in the comic Amazing Fantasy – hence the name Amazing(ly) (Fat) Spiderman. On this one, well, he’s in the toilet, but you can see comic he’s reading on the floor,” he says, pointing to the Todd McFarlane mock cover.

However, this area didn’t seem to be the most popular, especially among young people. “My daughter bought the CD-ROM catalog as soon as it came out and made an extensive list of everything she wanted to get, including the place, the price, even the bonus gifts if they came with any,” said Mari, a mother in her 50s, showing off her 15 year old daughter’s notes. “Then she made a map of where and how to go.” This is apparently the third time Mari has chaperoned the event.

“At first I was really concerned about what my daughter was getting into. It seemed dangerous – not only because of copyright issues and pornography, but because of the, well, you know… sometimes there are perverts at the events. I was afraid it would be dangerous. But, after going to the first one with her, I realized that most of the creators are women, and the audience, too. Especially private events where you have to pay – they are all, like, 99% women. It really made me feel safe.”

Noting that Friday specializes in comics oriented towards women, but looking around and realizing a sizable portion of men, she added, “This year is kind of different. I guess it’s getting bigger… But, it’s still amazing you can have so many people in one place peacefully.”

In conclusion, Mari said that she felt the otaku of today were safer, incredibly creative and expressive compared to the archetypal Miyazaki incident that defined otaku sub-culture for her generation. Describing Miyazaki as a criminal and pedophile, she even drew a distinctive line between the recent incident in Akihabara and the day’s events. “He is the total opposite of what you will find here. I don’t think you can call him otaku…. The first time I came (to Comiket) I just said, ‘Wow! These people can do this?!’ I couldn’t believe it.” One can only hope that her newfound awe and appreciation – despite still having no real interest – continues to inspire others.

Journey to the Stars – 999 Collection at Suginami

Though some say Akira or even Ghost in the Shell were the first anime to cross over or hit it big in America, truth be told it was actually Battle Cruiser Yamato, back in 1978. Legend has it that it premiered at a sci-fi con in San Fransisco around 4am, originally scheduled to play at 2m, but bumped due to a reshowing of Star Wars at the behest of rabid fan boys. OK… the rabid fan boys part might not be science fact. But nonetheless, despite the insane hour of the time slot and two showings of monumental space epic Start Wars, Battle Cruiser Yamato still had the theater packed – people standing in the aisles, crowding in the back, and waiting in line hovering around doorways in case someone left the theater.

This is of course only legend.

It would seem that most English speaking anime fans of today (at least in America, which is all I can speak for) aren’t too familiar with Leiji Matsumoto, creator of Yamato, Queen Emeraldas, Captian Harlock, Interstalla 5555, and Galaxy Express 999. But in addition to this first “one small step” for the anime industry in America, it’s impossible not to notice the impact of Leiji Matsumoto and his characters in modern day Japan. A special futuristic boat designed by Matsumoto, complete with 999 character tour guides, rides along the Sumida River from Asakusa to Odaiba. An auto repair shop in my old neighborhood was called “Yamato” and their sign board featured both the battle cruiser and characters from the series. In early 2006, clips of 999 were used in commercials for the beverage Dakara. And a 999 themed pachinko / slot machine series was released a few months ago. The 999 series which originally aired in 1977 has been remade at least 5 times, and now even has a limited edition DVD box set release.

Though it’s redundant to say at this point, people love this bildugsroman of a young boy traveling across the galaxy in an antique-styled locomotive in search of hope and humanity, vested in an elusive mechanical body, together with his beautiful and mysterious traveling companion. A celebration of the 30th anniversary of this series is currently being held at the Suginami Anime Museum. It opened May 27th, and will continue until August 24.

The Suginami Museum is a free museum. It resides on the 3rd and 4th floor of a huge building on a back alley street across from a shrine, and doesn’t really seem like the right place at first. Despite this confusing facade, the museum itself is actually very cool – and even better when considering the price. Comparing it to the Ghibli Museum, which is huge and fantastical but designed in theory to be an incredibly interactive experience, Suginami really takes the cake. There are quite a few activities for visitors to engage in that replicate the animation process and that cater to all age groups. These include an “after recording” session – in which you can dub over a Black Jack animated sequence as if you were a voice actor and then hear it played back – and a sketch room, this time filled with tracing cards of 999 characters and scenes for those not so artistically inclined. Desks of various famous illustrators are remade for your amusement, complete with figure collections and various degrees of mess. However, the best part is easily the user friendly manga and anime library annex, which includes a nice cross section, and on this particular day was filled with kids on their way “home” from school.

The special exhibit portions of the museum were the only places you couldn’t photograph, and included many original cells from memorable scenes. Just in case you couldn’t remember, they were all labeled with their respective episode number and title. Character design sheets were also presented, along with the various notes for quintessential character composite points. It was interesting to note that Maetel’s sheet had a very big section dedicated to an eye, along with explanations of all the locations and sizes of white dots to give Maetel her signature twinkle. Other characters also had eye legends, though not nearly as intricate.

The on-site theater mixed episodes of the original 999 series in with other animated works, and on that particular day Batsu and Maru watched the two-part Illusion of the Big Four and a Half Mat Room Planet, episodes 60 and 61. However, on the 9th and 10th of August a special 3D CG animated Galaxy Express 999 movie will be playing, and a few other special theater events, along with guest speakers and workshops, have been going on throughout the exhibit.

A commemorative photo opportunity with Maetel and Tetusuro inside the 999 was also very cool. However, Tetsuro was at least three times the size of Maetel – technically, this should have been reversed… or the same amount of mass with different proportions. The Queen Emeraldas floating across the star scape through the window sort of compensated. A special stamp rally was also in effect, and collecting all of the character stamps placed at various locations around the museum resulted in a sticker prize.

Overall, though rather small, the exhibit was very well done, especially if you consider that the visit doesn’t cost a thing. The museum, too, had a rare charm; it wasn’t too showy but still contained a wealth of information. I think I’ll be stepping into the anime annex on my “way home from school” pretty soon, too.

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.

Hero for an Otaku Generation: A 2-Ch How-To

In 1999, as a bored exchange student at an Arkansas university, Hiroyuki Nishimura created Ni-Channeru, or “Channel 2″ what has in recent times become one of the most prolific forces on the Japanese internet.

The concept behind the bulletain board style interface is simple: anyone can post anything they want at any time, anonymously. The system itself is like an electronic renaissance, allowing users to input only text on a very simple background. However, some people, including Nishimura, claim that this outlet is exactly what Japanese people need – a way to say exactly what they want without facing any social repercussions. His critics, usually people who have been slandered in one forum or another, claim that Nishimura is irresponsible. Unless mandated by a court order, he generally takes nothing down, and certainly doesn’t waste his time policing such a massive forum for any reason.

Ni-channeru has nonetheless gained untold popularity both in Japan and abroad, and served as a massive creative engine for a generation constantly plugged in. User generated content fuels the site; even the splash page design was submitted from the community. The lack of input options such as “smileys” and .gifs has also spawned a legacy of Shift_JIS / ASCII art, and the characters that have emerged from these pages can be found immortalized in Japanese TV, cell phone kaomoji (emoticon) menus, and gachapon toys to name a few. Many people back-up threads of interest on personal servers for others to read, creating a sort of web-community history among users.

One of the more famous collections of such threads was published in October 2004, as Densha Otoko, or Train Man, under the pseudonym “Nakano Hitori” – a play on words meaning “one of the many.” Telling the story on a man who helps a woman being harassed by a drunkard on a train and their relationship that follows, the story did something to show the humbling sense of community and goodwill present in both Ni-channeru and otaku culture. In 2005, it was transformed into both cinematic and TV drama adaptations. About this time the next big wave of otaku hit the streets of Akihabara and maid cafes spread like wildfire – due to the prominent placement of maid cafe Pinafore in the Densha Otoko televised drama.

However, despite all of the hubbub, Nishimura maintains his slacker lifestyle accented with a nonchalant display of both hubris and self-degradation. Mainly hubris. He encourages fans to “go get a job working at a company or something – you’re never going to be able to achieve what I have.” Though he pays for the servers that host this mega-bbs, he is the only paid member of the staff – making a reported million yen (about $950,000) annually.

***

Though a bit orientalist in presentation, a recent article in Wired Magazine does a pretty good job outlining Nishimura’s character, his rise to fame, and the invention of Niconico Douga, a mesh of You-tube and Ni-channeru that allows users to stream comments over videos uploaded and often created by the community. My criticism is that not all of Japan is Tokyo – the most prominent portrait painted of Japanese culture both in this article and most of academia. The author, a native Tokyoite now living in LA, has garnered the most extreme side of Japanese culture as a career for some time now, which is also evident in her style and verbiage.

In my own defense, (haha – what are you doing pandering in wonderland!) I’ll readily admit that these trends are not mainstream and generally viewed as weird or dangerous by a vast majority of people in Japan. However, they have enough of a following to maintain momentum, and get more and more media coverage everyday, both disbanding and creating myths to make these pastimes and cultural pockets more acceptable to the general public. This goes not only for things “otaku” – but most all cultural subsets based in Tokyo. One of the most awesome things about capitalism is the bizarre extremes in which it pushes people, and Tokyo is a good illustration of those extremities. However, to the people living in Tokyo, especially those residing in one of the aforementioned extremities, this isn’t weird, it’s just life. I think this side is often forgotten when people analyze things different from the angle that they are psychotic, as opposed to the psychological elements that create such dispositions.

Of course, this doesn’t do well in terms of marketing.