Indoor Intergalactic Journey

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The Shinagawa Prince Hotel, located just a stone’s throw through the labyrinth before Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, even with its tuxedo wearing top-hatted valets has more than just your standard regal affairs.  Indeed, it also houses the Epson Aqua Stadium, filled with overpriced and over-glorified pastimes.  That is, all except the Galaxy Express 999 indoor roller-coaster.

Bastu went after a visit to the immigration bureau on the other side of the station, and nothing gives bureaucracy a good kick in the face like traveling through a void of mysterious dark space, upside down at incredible speeds.

I was practically the only visitor in the whole park!  Not bad for a Thursday evening.  There were armies of staff ready and waiting to heed my every whim as I careened through the tape.  A pleasant attendant manning the automated machines (oxymoron?) was quick to do the entire processes of purchasing a ticket for me, sans actually paying.  She then escorted me mostly to the ride, where another bevy of enthusiastic employees lie in wait.

“Your train will be departing in 10 minutes,” one of them informed.  The other six scuttled away.

Looking up, a huge information board with scheduled departures hung over the entranceway.  How cool!  My train was coming in 10 minutes!  Not just any train, but an intergalactic train bound for Andromeda.  I felt so cool!  Looking down, there was a map of the various trade and train routes; however, it was obstructed with dividers – no good pics.  A few minutes later, the times flipped – Oh!  It was time to get on the platform!

A staff member quickly went through a check list of possible ailments (no heart problems, no blood pressure problems, no other illness… you’re OK going upside down, right?) and then led me into a holding area with replicas of Maetel and Tetsuro’s clothing.  There were other things to be seen, but I was quickly led to a futuristic platform with 3-D dioramas of Megalopolis embedded into the floor and intimidating robotic guards overlooking to the side.  After a few moments, the guards announced the arrival of a tram bound for the actual track and made various safety announcements.  Like, about space pirates and whatnot.  They seemed just like statues, but were really animatronic actors that really came to life.  It was just like being in Megalopolis, or at least, just as I had imagined it.

The tram arrived and the doors opened.  Another staff member led me in and explained the ride, such as the glories of how to take off your glasses and empty your pockets.  The tram would now be departing towards the 999.

Of course, the tram was just a room with a huge screen, but still had a nice facade.  The conductor began explaining about the train and the route, showing our position relative to the track when – all of a sudden we encountered trouble!  The whole car shook in suspense!!  We were up against some formidable foes, but Tetsuro and Maetel came through, along with the assistance of Harlock and Emeraldas.  Mr. Conductor apologized for the inconvenience, upon which the door opened, revealing the ride.

Just one look told me I did not want to ride that thing.  It was small – even compensating for the fact that many Japanese things seem small.  The seats were hard, with no shock absorption, or even modest fabric covering.  Could I just refuse and walk out?  I’d certainly had my 1,000 yens worth, but nonetheless quickly stepped in file putting all of my belongings and glasses into the cubbyholes like the nice man said.

Strapped in tightly, the train (coaster) took off with frightening speed.  But without my glasses it was hard to tell what was going on.  I could make out a glowing green ring which the train went through and then circled about, which left me wondering if I had actually been upside down or not as a barrage of weird colored lights appeared to be suspended in the darkness, here and there, in clusters.  The train swooped around them, jutting left and right, as I hoped it would quickly be over.  Though the ride itself gave a wicked headache, there was a cool futuristic lounge area full of character art just outside, which I made full use of.

However, had there been a gift shop full of swag, it would have all been coming home with me.  Despite the sour ending, this was one of the cooler interactive anime experiences I’ve had, and I didn’t even have to buy admission to a major theme park or wait in line.  I felt like a princess having so many staff members to pamper me, and the mock-ups were really good.  Aside from the train, this is as close to Megalopolis as it gets.

So indeed, after weathering my next pilgrimage to the immigration offices, I will be riding the 999 again.  Taking another look at the map, there is supposed to be a “souvenirs and novelties shop” – I was just too sick and spaced out to find it.  Or, shall we blame poor marketing and /or product placement?  I should have just asked, but by that point the place had more and more couples on dates, giving me weird looks.  Common sense says one wouldn’t usually take themselves to the amusement park – but it probably would have been alright had I dressed less fancy.

What: Galaxy Express 999 roller coaster

Where: Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium

When: Mon.-Fri. 1pm-10pm, Sat. 11am-10pm, Sun. and Holidays 11am-9pm

Broken Alice

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Batsu saw this figure back in December at the Volks shop in Akihabara – truly a beautiful sculpt.  She goes by the name “Alice in Neverland” – and as far as I can tell, she is an original character sculpt (no pre-existing anime, game, etc.).  Pre-orders opened in late January, but the figure won’t be released until late April.

Slender, broken body, part woman and part girl, dream and nightmare, innocence and corruption – simply captivating.  According to the Questioners, LLC website, each eyelash is painstakingly affixed one at a time.  Her crown doubles as a ring, and her little storage box is lined with luxuriant black velvet.  (Watch the video on the link above.)  The latch and detailing of the case is as almost as exquisite as the figure itself.

The artist, Sakarako Iwanaga is one of few recognized female shoujo sculptors.  Reading an interview with her was like reading excepts of a feminist manifesto – not that she seemed overtly militant, but perhaps a bit weathered by sexism in the industry.  This would seem to be coupled by the perception of a woman sculpting – let alone specializing in – female characters.

Of couse Iwanaga has done many other beautiful sculpts as well – apparently one I just missed of Kanako from Mouryou no Hako (click for more pics).  It’s a raw “garage kit” – meaning just parts, no paint, perhaps even independantly produced – made for Wonder Festival Summer 2009.  There may, perhaps, still be a way.

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Majolica Majorca

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Around 7 years ago, Shiseido came out with a unique style of make-up brand targeting more eccentric girls.  Covered in luscious Victorian-style frills and alluding at many quaintrelle pleasures, most of the products and images used in Majolica Majora campaigns have a distinct loli flavor; the current Ch. 26 – “She was a doll,” no exception.  I’m particularly captivated by the doll sculpt and stop animation, woven into an interactive story-book like presentation.

It’s fun to look at and play around even if you can’t read Japanese: http://www.shiseido.co.jp/mj/index.html

Cheap Alice

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A small cosmetic pouch purchased on clearance at HusHush.  They don’t usually have loli stuff, but came out with an Alice-style series of tote bags last fall.  Other prints included cards, hearts, whatnot in golds and pinks.  The zipper-pull is especially nice.

Bad Medicine

A few years ago, when Square-Enix decided to launch a “exlixer” style beverage to commemorate the release of the FF7 movie, it came in a magical, faceted blue plastic and glass container.  Of course, the container was held in a box, which concealed which type of bottle it contained (collect at 6!), but nonetheless it was magical.  A mere glance was sufficient to conclude that it infused with some ethereal mana of life, that would instantly give you full MP and HP for the coming boss battle.  Which totally made up for the way it tasted like absolute crap.

The newer version of said elixer looks anything but magical.  It looks like a cheap soda can.  Considering that Japan prevalently packages alcoholic beverages in aluminum cans, it contains even more disappointment and less magic than usual.  But somehow, looking at the white box, batsu fell into a time slip and impulsively purchased one of the newer FF13 potions. Upon opening the box, she realized this error.

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Blast and damnation!  Who cares what figure that is – what a rip!

It sat in the fridge for a week or so – remembering the vile serum contained within the aforementioned truly magical elixers.  But then one day, I realized that I needed a boost to finish a project for work.  Expecting the worst, it surprisingly had a pleasant lychee-like aloe taste.  Something definitely worth drinking again, if it only appeared to be magical.

Strawberry Swindlers

To put it frankly, batsu doesn’t like ice cream.  Not even extremely high-grade expensive ice cream, which draws the line of demarcation for every other Western-style sweet.  However, the marketing geniuses in Japan have convinced fooled me into eating it on occasion.

In Japanese, ice cream is called “aisu kuri-mu,” borrowed from the English equivalent.  Most often though, it is shortened just to “aisu.”  To recap, I hate “aisu.”

One perennial delight for taste-bud torture is Pino, a bite-sized pellet of flavored frozen milk covered in chocolate.  It’s comforting, in that after one bite the agony is over, and the rest can be passed on to someone who enjoys the stuff without weird germ phobias.  I basically had no interest in it until seeing this music video…

Oh, perfect little Pino-powered dolls!  This was incidentally the same reason a subsequent infatuation with Perfume soon after developed.  And thus, I now enthusiastically purchase Pino 2-3 times a year.

Since it is officially “Spring” now in Japan, due to an unfortunate combination of Chinese lunar calendar and Western solar calendar holidays, strawberry flavored everything is hitting the shelves – Kit-Kat, Pockey, Kinoko no Yama, Pure Gummies – mostly processed foods, mind you.  Pino not withstanding.

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This is the “delicious” spring Strawberry Milk flavored Pino.

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The inside of the box never looks as promising as the packaging.  I shudder to think what they used in the Perfume video shoot.

This was definitely not the best Pino I’ve ever had…  but don’t take my opinion too seriously.  To me, this stuff is barely passable as is.

At the same time, I decided to go for this:

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Presenting: Meiji’s Rich Strawberry chocolate ice cream bar.  I’ve tasted their rich strawberry chocolate before, and delighted in the shock that it tasted nothing like chocolate.  Not so shocking if you consider that the ingredients are 70% strawberries.  Nonetheless, it was a much better choice, tasting neither of ice cream nor chocolate.  It looked almost exactly like the packaging, to boot!

In retrospect, both of these purchases were likely spurned by the fear of soon leaving Japan.  Indeed, why suffer all the nonsense if it’s the strawberries you so desire?  My hat goes off once more to marketing genius.

There’s much better stuff to be had, though. If you were to inquire about batsu’s choice strawberry dessert, the answer would be homemade strawberry tart, made with freshly picked wild berries.  As Tokyo is sandwiched between two of Japan’s finest strawberry producing regions, no crummy store-bought strawberry flavored anything could ever compete.  This is my pie from last May:

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Strawberry daifuku – a strawberry covered in anko covered in mochi – is a close second… but speaking from experience, never buy one from a convenience store after enjoying a handmade treasure.  If you can’t find a wagashiya-san (Japanese confectioner) in your area and care to try your hand at it, I recommend this method:

Nurse Audrey

A while back, batsu made a promise to babyart – that his beloved Audrey Hepburn Pullip might be better outfitted.  It took a while to make good on that promise (a couple months?  though, only a week of actual work^^;) but here you have it, in an indulgent yet still poorly shot session.  My place was prepped for a Malaysian move, and not really the best photo space…  Excuses, excuses!

Her outfit is based on late Victorian and early Eduardian style nurses’ uniforms, like the last image in the gallery.  Otherwise, I made an original pattern using a Blythe doll dress from Dolly Dolly vol. 20 as reference.  The reference piece is was half-sleeved, scoop-necked, tiered skirt number – essentially a totally different dress.  In addition, Audrey was much more willowy, so the entire pattern had to be redrawn in the end.

This was my first time working with a doll so small.  On the one hand, the newness and excitement was inspiring.  Mistakes and remakes, such as the time my thumb was unwittingly pierced and her dress spoiled with blood, wasted little fabric.  On the other hand, some portions required very delicate stitch-work, manoeuvring extremely tight spaces.  It was a difficult balance, but Audrey-chan was a paradigm of patience.  Perhaps it will improve her bedside manner.

Most of the fabric was puchased at discount fabric outlet Tomato, which I’ll rant about in another piece.

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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all hallows’ evening invitational

a couple weeks prior to halloween, batsu and maru were invited to a private gaming and dinner evening.  the theme for the evening was hp lovecraft – more specifically, the cthulhu mythos, set in the roaring 20s.

after some debate about the menu, the host and i decided that indian food would allow us the range of color necessary to envoke the proper pallete without appearing discusting.  the menu included:

the maw of cthulhu (palak paneer surrounded by tentacle naan)

yog soggoth (vegetable kofta in tomato curry)

shrub niggerath (curried green beans in carved gourds)

blood of the foresaken (brillant red cucumber pickle)

sign of the elder gods (chocolate sketched on kheer, splattered in raspberry sauce)

the lighting was rather ambient, making photography difficult, so i’ve included a test photo from when the “tentacle naan” was still in development.

the gaming session which followed our feast started with Arkam Horror, using the Innsmouth expansion.  in short, the game tries to recreate a scenario of the ancient ones reawakening on earth – in which the participants generally become mad and lose to the alien gods.  winning is possible, but chances are slim.  the experience is apparently more about trying to imagine the horrors than actually arising victorious (as explained by one of the hosts).

the second, and last, game we played was the Shab-al-Hiri Roach.  admittedly, we didn’t have enough time to play properly – though the game is a dark comedy lampooning the world of academia, through turns of collective storytelling.

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