Feel, Pray, Give [Support Japan Music Event] Update

Posted in Archive, Events with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2011 by speedxgrapher

Hello all. Just a quick update on the charity event. The clothes have been bought (for children aged 0-9) and we are now ready to send them out. Kyoshiro has contacted the relief group in charge of distributing them and will have them shipped on Tuesday. Below you will find our most recent contact with Hiromi Komatsu, as well as some pertinent information.

*   *   *

Hello, Ms Olga K.

I am Hiromi Komatsu who is in charge of a warehouse that goods to people in Iwaki should be in. First of all, I’d like to say that we really thank you for your kindness and concerns. Clothes for kids are acceptable. I’d like to ask you to do below if it’s possible.

(1) Boxes should be separate into three categories ; for babies, boys, girls.
(2) Lists of goods inside boxes in brief would be appreciated.
(3) Second hand clothes are also no problem only if they look fine.
(4) Please let us know how many boxes you will send before you ship them.

Our address is here.

to Komatsu
Iwaki branch of Nihon Univa Counter Crisis Team
c/o Kasano Insurance Company
Tabata 8, Kamiyada-cho, Jouban,
Iwaki-city, Fukushima 971-8131
Japan

or you can copy and paste below.

〒971-8131 福島県いわき市常磐上矢田町田端8
(株)カサノ特級保険内
日本ユニバ いわき支部 小松
Japan

We have a web site to show people our activities. Please check it out when you have spare time. It’s only in Japanese but there are many photos in there I hope that you could understand it.

We will definitely send your clothes to children in North-East Japan.

Thank you again, Ms Olga K., for your heart warming presents. 😀

*   *   *

Again, thank you all who attended or contributed to this effort and know that the people benefiting from it truly appreciate it.

Happy Easter Everyone,

Speedgrapher

Feel, Pray, Give [Support Japan Music Event] @ Da Sein (15/04/2011)

Posted in Archive, Events with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2011 by speedxgrapher

Been a while again… Lots of things going on and an absolutely bare minimum of time: MANGAIJIN ~memories~ came out via Blurb.com just in time for COMICDOM CON ATHENS 2011 (more on that in a future post), over the past two months I have written two new detective stories (“Culture Pop” and “The Gargoyle’s Song”), one set to come out in May and the other (probably) June, then there was COMICDOM CON, of course, as well as the lengthy reports that followed it.

That said, just a week after the convention, we got together with a couple of friends and hosted a charity music event for the victims of the recent earthquake, tsunami and danger of radioactive exposure from the reactor on Fukushima (where radiation levels have now reached those of the Chernobyl disaster, although the contamination is not as widespread).

The whole idea was first mentioned by Kyoshiro around a month ago and after a get-together, KrizD, N8, Bloody K. and myself were on board (as well as Kami, added later). Details on the event were posted on Facebook, a number of blogs, Anime.gr, communicated via posters, as well as a donation box, placed at the entrance of the Hellenic-American Union, over the three days of the comic book convention.

Although we encountered a number of problems at the beginning of the event, with a bit of obsessive compulsion, divine intervention and the presence of one Alexander Markezis, CFO of a corporation known only as “Tremere”, we were able to get the whole thing off the ground. I would like to take a moment and thank all of you who attended this very special event, thereby showing true affection for this country, whose culture we so cherish. Even at the outset, there were those who said that it was meaningless, that any amount we gathered would be insignificant in the face of the disaster, or by comparison to Japan’s economy. I said it then and I say it now: no amount of help is meaningless. No, it won’t save Japan, it won’t even be noticed by anyone other than those who receive the help, but, in this case they are all we care about, the only thing that matters. It is what we could do, so we did it. Pure and simple.

As we speak, the amount collected has been used to buy clothes for children in the struck areas, which will be then distributed via a local relief group in Fukushima. Again, thank you all for being there.

As for the event itself, our roster and succession at the decks was a bit wacky, with KrizD starting, followed by Kami, followed by myself and finally, our lovely freak, N8. We also had a small exhibition at Da Sein’s basement, comprised of photos from various areas struck by the three calamities, as well as art from all over the world, drawn in support of Japan. Furthermore, Kyoshiro selected some pieces from the blog Voices From Japan, which consist Tweets from and related to the situation in the country. I translated the texts into Greek and Kyoshiro was in charge of editing, printing and setting up our exhibits.

Although not at my best (far from it, in fact – three days of COMICDOM and the post-Con edit-binge stretched me to my absolute limit, which accounts for falling asleep at 19:00 this past Monday and waking at 06:30 on Tuesday), I did take some pictures at the event and so I shall cease my rant and leave you with these. Enjoy.

Yours in earnest,

Speedgrapher

P.S. You might notice I still use the nicknames from way back when. This probably won’t change, so learn to live with it.

Oni Market #27: Real World (by Natsuo Kirino)

Posted in Oni Market with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2011 by speedxgrapher

Wow, it’s been 3 months since I last wrote here and the viewing has predictably taken a dive. Not that I complain, mind you – there really are only so many times someone can look at the same pictures and articles over and over again and only so much time that they remain relevant. In part, my distancing from and disgruntlement with all things “J” in Greece is to be blamed for this prolonged absence and in part, the tasks needing completion “in the real world”, meaning outside of the internet and its particular brand of culture and interaction.

It is only fitting then, that today I am going to talk about a book called Real World, written by crime novelist Natsuo Kirino. It is very easy for people not living in Japan (or never even having gone there) to view the country where manga, anime, cosplay and Harajuku Style originated, through the prism that these hobbies afford (for, make no mistake, outside Japan, hobbies they indeed are). The reality of the matter is, Japan is comprised mainly of white collar workers, people slavering away in the anime and manga industry,  repressed and depressed teenagers  and a demographic from 16-25, who comprise the “freak” culture we so love to emulate here in the West, a skin that is usually shed on the 25th year, to join the working masses. Even most J-rockers, so highly idolized by girls and girly women, have other, common jobs to support their income. Furthermore, Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, flirting around and at times reaching #4 (lowest place I could find being #7 in 2007, I think) in the course of the past decade.

Natsuo Kirino is painfully aware of all these and yet more disillusioning facts about her country, so she sets the scene, events and characters in a way that showcases the many skeletons in Japan’s social closet. The actual crime is – at least in my opinion – just a pretext to talk about the real, sad, gritty world of modern Japan. I am getting ahead of myself though, but I wanted to establish a baseline that explains the structure of the actual story, at least in part.

It all starts on a particularly searing Japanese Summer, when a student of K High School (I assume this stands for an actual school and avoids lawsuits) murders his mother with a baseball bat and turns fugitive. His neighbor, 17-year-old Toshi Yamanaka, hears the sound of breaking glass from next door and sees him leaving his home with a calm, near-stupefied smile on his face, as she makes for her cram class. Although she does wonder about the sound and her neighbor’s expression, the heat and prospect of the day’s work do not let her dwell on it too much. In the course of the book, we learn that the killer’s name is Ryo, but she and her friends basically call him “Worm”, because of his tall, lanky body and listless movements.

Real World.

After a number of pages detailing her outlook on life and her opinion of her three closest friends (each going by a different nickname, those being Teroki, the no-nonsense serious one, Yuzan the repressed, boyish lesbian still suffering from her mother’s death and Kirarin – after Kirarin Revolution – the happy-go-lucky, beautiful, self-prostituting one), Toshi finds herself crossing paths with the Worm once more, when he steals her bicycle and cell-phone while she is in cram school. This gives him access to her three friends’ numbers, setting off a chain of events bound to end in tragedy. The strange – to the outside observer – thing is that each of the four girls makes a conscious choice to have dealings with the Worm, whether by not giving him up to the police or even sleeping with him.

The book’s chapters each bear one of the five characters’ names and are narrated from their point of view, giving us access to their most intimate thoughts and personal worlds (which word could be easily substituted by “Hells”). None can truly accept who and what they are, trying on a number of masks and facades, thinking to hide themselves even from those closest to them, naturally ignoring the fact that they are not fooling anyone. However, humanity’s deafening silence, exacerbated in the Japanese urban setting, ensures that they never challenge each other, until they reach a breaking point. The Worm is the only exception, as his initial action has set him apart (at least as he perceives it) from the rest of society, so he finds himself freed from its bonds, yet shackled by the lack of structure it offers.

Most disturbing of all is the rampant idolization and apparent identification of his peers, not with him as a person, but as a welcome societal aberration: murdering his mother and the prospect of murdering his father has made him a symbol of freedom and independence. Sadder still Kirarin’s idea that a teenage murderer must be a really deep and interesting guy to date (in sharp contrast to her dull life and the pointless one-night stands in Shinjuku) and when he proves otherwise, an effective way to get back at the boyfriend she still cries over.

My one problem with this book was the fact that the murder was only a pretext: there was no mystery, not even a real fugitive-type story. In that sense, it was completely off mark from what I expected. Its essence was rather that, even faced with the profound event of knowing and/or socializing with a murderer, Japanese teenagers feel too old to trust in their parents’ wisdom of age (which parents, truth be told, have very little rapport with the reality of their children) and yet their naiveté on the implications of events happening outside the norm of their (granted, distorted) teenage lives, borders on idiocy. They are born to and bred for schizophrenia, a fact which was interesting to look at from the viewpoint of a woman living in modern-day Japan.

So I guess the verdict, for something totally different than what I expected, is favorable and next I will be trying her other translated book, Out, which was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award and seems more geared towards blood and grit. Both have been translated in English and Greek (Greek editions by Metaichmio Publications). It is highly recommended for anyone who wants a taste of real Japan, but not really for anyone looking to read a good detective story.

See you around,

Speedgrapher

P.S. In a number of instances, the book refers to Seito Sakakibara (mainly as the Worm identifies his own, post-murder societal condition with Sakakibara’s), also known as the Kobe killer. Sakakibara was the alias given to then (1997) 14-year-old Shinichiro Azuma, who bludgeoned a 10-year old girl to death with a hammer,  then killed and decapitated an 11-year-old boy, leaving his head at the boy’s school’s gate, stuffed with a taunting message to the police. Sakakibara was in fact released on parole 7 years later, under peculiar legal circumstances and there have been a number of sightings over the years, often weird and controversial. You can read more here and here, but what I find most interesting is the fact that he blamed the Japanese school system for his actions, as well as that, people commenting on his actions, believe that may very well be so.

Oni Market #26: So, What’s Cosplay Then?

Posted in Oni Market with tags , , , , , , on December 17, 2010 by speedxgrapher

No, I have not had an accident which deprived me of my memory, nor is it an early onset of Alzheimer’s, or even one of my usual failing-cosplay-quality-in-Greece rants. No, actually this whole cosplay business (and rather charged discussion) got me wondering: what’s cosplay like elsewhere? Furthermore, what is cosplay to the people of different countries and even more importantly, to those whose country birthed it? (Well, actually birthed it retroactively, since the term was coined by Nobu – often written as “Nov” –  Takahashi in 1984, after seeing trekkies dressed up as the crew of the Enterprise in Los Angeles Science Fiction World Convention). At any rate, the cosplay culture (you could even say “movement”, since Visual Kei and by extension, all the “Kei”, are essentially costume plays targeted at varied but not necessarily different audiences) was born in Japan and integrated into the everyday life of its youngsters (up to the age of 25, mostly), whether as a past-time (the Harajuku Sunday Outings), a commercial tool (advertising of manga, anime, games and along the way, anything from ramen to love hotels) and even a full-time job (whether it’s sewing, modeling or photography, or a measure of all of the above put together).

Night Elf Cosplay by helloloveducks of deviantArt. Simple materials, elegant result.

Now, if you google “cosplay”, “cosplay photos” etc. you will get something in the area of 40000000 results, so this is not really a good way to go about looking for cosplay around the world. However, I stumbled on a thing called 2leep, which is an online application for associating blog content (and ultimately augmenting site views) an following a trail of “associated clicks” (and annoying pop-ups) I found a few interesting things. It’s mainly photographic material but it illustrates in an excellent manner some of the things that Tomodachi (affectionately or derisively known as the “Mother of Greek Cosplay”) has been running her mouth dry about: creative care, posture and (glaringly) physique.

Isaac Ferdinand von Kaempfer of Trinity Blood by Cytanin of deviantArt.

On the other hand, I found some articles and interviews (a good number featured in the newly established COSPLAY GEN Magazine) which illustrate the views of the people involved. One was a particularly interesting (though short) interview with a Chinese cosplayer, explaining why she chose the 1925 version of Hatsune Miku, one of the Vocaloid characters (the Vocaloid phenomenon being interesting and frightening in many different ways but that is a discussion for another time). It is also interesting that, although Chinese, in this case being a cosplayer transcends the rivers of spilt and bad blood between the two countries. Another, featured here (unfortunately in French), explains how Harajukers are gradually breaking with the Sunday Outing tradition, because they have had enough of tourists taking pictures, finding new locales unknown to non-natives. Now, in my mind, bizarre though these people may be, they treat this dressing up as part of their lives and not some excuse to indulge in camera whoring.

Hatsune Miku 1925 Version from COSPLAY GEN.

The things I have mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg: there are tons of sites, articles and photographs out there which, though serving different purposes, all underline one fundamental truth about cosplay: it’s an art celebrating one’s favorite characters, into which goes a great  deal of work and should be treated as such. On the other hand, cheap antics and poorly thought or executed dress-ups often become the subject of Failblog and Demotivational Posters. What follows is a small compilation of sites, posts and pages, which I believe one can find useful in truly understanding what cosplay is about and how people go about it on a global scale.

Tokyo Game Show 2010: cosplay in its natural environment.

51 Sexy Cosplays: because sexy doesn’t mean slutty or trashy. Good examples of attention to physique.

New Fashion Exploration – Cosplay: cosplay overview in a design blog. Note the variations, both of the cosplays, as well as of the character canon.

Pein Sexy no Jutsu by Cytanin of deviantArt. Not canon, yet exceptional (and I don't even like Naruto).

COSPLAY GEN: the magazine’s official site with tons of interviews, tutorials and other interesting material.

Doodles: a Singapore communication artist’s site which includes cosplay photography and her inspirations.

Dhalsim Cosplay: perhaps the best ever example of attention to physique.

Cloud Strife 8-bit Cosplay: the perfect example of cosplay not looking uber-cool, yet being celebrated as an authentic trip down memory lane (and I don’t even like FF7).

Living Cosplay 1: I think the photo and text will be self-expletive.

Living Cosplay 2 and above: this is a bit marginal, since Star Wars and Star Trek dress-up existed long before cosplay itself, but you get the idea.

So, what’s the conclusion? Well, there isn’t one apart from everything I have already said. All that remains is for aspiring cosplayers to browse through the info and get creative, or just drop the matter if they think it’s too much fuss. For the record, since I often hear the excuse “Japan is their home ground” or “you can’t compare stuff from conventions”, only one link is from a convention and of the photos posted here, none are Japanese (even though Hatsune’s cosplayer is Chinese).

Somewhere out there,

Speedgrapher

Nihon (well, Chyuugoku in fact) no Weirdness (Third in a Series?): Son Mao Goku

Posted in Nihon no Weirdness with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2010 by speedxgrapher

Yes, well, I still have no idea where Otaku Lens is going, let alone this category which has only had two posts. However, it fits the bill perfectly for something I discovered: although I am fully aware of the role played by comics and animation in propaganda (both good and bad) on a global scale (Disney’s anti-Nazi animations, Marvel’s original Captain America, Troubled Waters by the European Parliament etc.) and the particular clipping I dug out is a few months old, it is only yesterday that I realized I had kept it.

Rendition of Goku as a Chinese soldier, riding Kintou-un.

It was a paper article about Mao’s China and the role of posters in the People’s Republic (established 1946). At the time, poverty and illiteracy were rampant, so the posters served a double function: first, they conveyed their meaning in pictures, so the people did not have to be able to read the announcements and slogans posted on them and second, they were colorful and beautiful, ideal for decorating the home at a time when even money for food was scarce). The end result was people linking Chairman Mao and his regime to the intimacy of their own homes and to various figures drawn from myth, such as Goku, the Monkey King from the original Chinese epic Journey to the West (Saiyuki Monogatari in Japan), as well as “reverse” Momotaro tales (Momotaro is considered by many to have become widespread due to the character’s wide use as Japanese imperial propaganda supporting the colonization of China and Korea).

Today, the posters are bought by Western collectors for huge sums – long past is the day when they adorned a poor Chinese student’s home. There is also a very interesting book by Taschen on them, conspicuously titled “Chinese Propaganda Posters”.

At any rate, I found it interesting, especially the picture, so here it is.

Cheers,

Speedgrapher

Speedy-san, Speedy-san, Wherever Are You Now?

Posted in Errata with tags , , , , , , on November 10, 2010 by speedxgrapher

Wow it’s been… what, six months now? I think that’s accurate, almost to the day (well, minus 2 days). In those 6 months I have not gone to any of the Asian-oriented parties  (and I say “Asian” since Korea seems to be the new craze), I have not taken any cosplay pictures and – evidently – I have not blogged anything over here. Last time I hailed you dear readers from the depths of my proverbial hole, it was about CHORISSU, the fanzine we put out with Umi & Sora during last year’s COMICDOM CON. It was an announcement of where it would be available post-Con, as well as a poll for the possibility of a next issue and its contents. Although feedback was positive, it was also very limited (only 26 people).

Let’s deviate a bit here and talk a bit more about CHORISSU: bottom line, it did not go well, despite what I was hoping for, given its run at the Con. We may have sold a couple hundred copies overall (I can’t be actually sure – I have lost track of the thing), but all the verbal feedback I got from comic shops, as well as some friends who have been in the fanzine scene far longer and far more regularly than I (not to mention some friends who work in graphic design), led me to one simple conclusion: we tanked it. There is no point in elaborating on the (varied) flaws and mistakes but suffice to say, the end result of the fanzine’s run got the team… disheartened – silently and discreetly perhaps (for the most part) but disheartened nonetheless. Although I did “lobby” for a second issue, which would incorporate some major changes and not repeat the majority of the mistakes, it never got off the e-talks and I sincerely doubt it will, anymore…

Now, given the facts described above, as well as Umi & Sora being on hold (for, as Kyoshiro had wisely predicted, real life will catch up sooner or later – two are outside the country on Erasmus programs, two are swamped with their studies and at least three with work), it should come as no surprise that I have been absent from this blog for so long. As for the so-called “J-scene”? Well, things are going as I feared they would – good cosplays are very few and far between (although Salonika seems to still resist – bless you Cassiel!), exhibitionism is now the main “theme” and worst of all (?), the new trend is Korean Pop (K-Pop) and soon, it seems, all-things-Korea (though I doubt it will last that long, since K-fans in Greece are a minority within the minority of J-fans) . I will be the first to say that most of J-Pop, especially the one I cannot associate with any anime, is more than a little annoying, but K-Pop is barely music at all and almost exclusively boy-band oriented. Sorry, no thanks – I couldn’t stand Backstreet Boys even as far back as junior high. Finally, all the varied teams that were popping left and right (which, in my opinion, were a good thing) have all but vanished. Over the last 7 months, the only event outside of Athens or Salonika proper was one organized in May, at Kerkyra’s Corfu – and then there was silence.

Where does that leave Otaku Lens then? Truth is, I am not sure. A couple of days ago I had a discussion with a friend over the net and she pointed out that Otaku Lens was not just about the parties, but also a number of other things related to modern Japanese culture. That much is true, I guess, with things filed under Oni Market and Nihon no Weirdness but one cannot deny that the main driving force was my love for what I hoped was growing in Greece and the documenting of it. Sadder still, over the past 6 months I have not found anything much to my liking in either the manga or anime departments…

Now, I imagine that the negativity fostered by what I see here in Greece affects my judgment, but there are some other factors to consider: for one, the translation industry of manga in English is waning, with ever fewer (and appallingly similar) things being solicited by American companies (just take a look at the DIAMOND PREVIEWS CATALOG and you’ll get the idea). I can’t find anything I have not already read in another title. As for anime, well, the disappointment is even worse: apart from re-issues of older series (we are talking torrent-wise here, which reflects the actual industry), I have found just two things which somewhat drew my interest, one being DANCE IN THE VAMPIRE BUND, which is nothing terribly special, just well-executed and AOI BUNGAKU, which takes classic Japanese literature (such as KOKORO) and re-interprets it in a more sinister light, which I have not yet watched. As for what is considered widely popular, it’s a complete nightmare: HIGH-SCHOOL OF THE DEAD. Boobs with a mind of their own, swords, guns and, well, zombies. I find zombie movies idiotic to begin with (except a few classics, such as ARMY OF DARKNESS and a funny one, SHAUN OF THE DEAD), zombie anime full of fan-service and devoid of scenario, don’t get me started…

So, again, I ask (probably just myself): where does that leave Otaku Lens? Still no idea but my intelligent friend (not to mention she is cute as a sugar-cane) has got me thinking and maybe the results of the process will be made available to you all. Only time will tell…

Until Yamato flies again,

Speedgrapher

CHORISSU Update

Posted in Oni Market with tags , , , , , , , on June 12, 2010 by speedxgrapher

Hello again people. Just dropping by to give you an update concerning Umi & Sora’ s fanzine, CHORISSU, first presented at COMICDOM CON ATHENS 2010. I know it’s a bit late coming and some of you know this already, but now you can find CHORISSU at Solaris (6, Botasi St., Downtown Athens), Star Comics (24, Ag. Ioannou St., Ag. Paraskevi – Athens, at the far end of the pedestrian street) and Comics Cave (3, Ipodrommiou Plaza – Salonika). We would like to thank each and every one of you who has supported this effort, as well as Star Comics for reaching out to us and having such a pro-fan policy.

While we are at it and since the team is contemplating issue #2 (whether or not to do it, what to include if we do, etc.), take the time to answer the following polls:

Cheers,

Speedgrapher

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