Tuesday 30 April 2013

Anime review: No. 6

I've yet to see a noitaminA show that wasn't worth watching. No. 6 is an eleven-episode anime series from 2011 based on a series of novels written by Asano Atsuko.

Some elements of the setting reminded me of the earlier Loups=Garous movie (also based on a novel), though it's likely both share influences from earlier dystopian science fiction works. Sion is a young boy with a bright future ahead of him and a passion for science, living in a walled city (the titular No. 6) where peoples' lives are carefully controlled. Sion's comfortable world is soon turned upside-down when he encounters Nezumi, an escaped prisoner whose life he saves.

I didn't watch the dub. Kaji Yuuki's distinctive voice is immediately recognisable in the role of Sion, however, I'm less familiar with Hosoya Yoshimasa who plays Nezumi. He handles the character's difficult range of emotions perfectly. Shindou Kei stood out as the hot-tempered Inukashi as well, even though there was little doubt in my mind about the character's real gender (it was supposed to be ambiguous). The number of important characters is tiny so all of the leads have a great deal of screen time.

By the end of the series I'd grown attached to everyone in the cast - even Nezumi, who was initially too inscrutable to elicit much sympathy. One thing which should be noted is that the Sentai translation uses the English words for names where there's a direct equivalent, so Nezumi is 'Rat' in the subtitles and Inukashi is 'Dogkeeper'. This makes sense since their names are also their descriptions and it's a shame to lose that, but some fans are bound to find it grating to see the words translated instead of transcribed in the text. Overall, the subtitles are quite good for a Sentai release with only a few noticeable mistakes.

Let's draw attention to this annoying spellcheck error

The story unfolds with a grimness which would make it a perfect choice for adaptation into a drama series or live action movie. As an anime it's an ideal fit for the noitaminA television slot. The muted colours and nuanced characterisation of No. 6 mean that it might appeal to a different audience to the usual otaku crowd without limiting itself to any particular demographic.

Having seen the forum discussions which occurred when the show first aired, I should mention that a certain type of viewer will find the show's treatment of homosexual themes problematic. I would strongly advise that people who cannot stand seeing two men who might be in a relationship avoid No. 6 entirely rather than watching it and then griping. Having said that, the BL content is only as much of a plot point as the viewer wants it to be; it's easy to rationalise it as a one-sided crush or awkwardly-expressed camaraderie. There's nothing explicit or uncomfortable shown on screen whatsoever. The characters have far more pressing things to be worrying about.

The closing theme by Aimer didn't stick in my mind, unlike the beautiful opening song by Lama, Spell, which gave the start of every episode an uplifting, bittersweet feel. It was one of many things which reminded me of UN-GO - another Bones noitaminA show which aired the following season. The animation which accompanies the opening theme is a good match for the music.

Speaking of music, No. 6 includes a surprising number of insert songs for a serious short story. These are performed by the characters and enhance the emotional impact significantly.

At the time of this post No. 6 has never been licensed in the UK. Sentai Filmworks gave it a full bilingual Blu-ray release in the US back on 21st August 2012. This is the version I watched. The extras are a set of Japanese commentaries, creditless opening and ending videos and some trailers. The DVD edition costs $59.98 and the Blu-ray is $69.98, though it should be possible to find both for $30-$40 with online discounts. Unlike many of Sentai's recent discs, the picture on the Blu-ray version is lovely and it comes highly recommended.

I'm glad that Sentai have been releasing niche titles like No. 6 instead of just focusing on big hits. It's a well-made show, though destined to alienate many viewers by virtue of its weirdness and the polarising BL subtext. Personally speaking, I'm delighted that I had the chance to watch this bleak story unfold for myself.

Monday 29 April 2013

News roundup: Rumours, rubber straps and sticky labels

There are a few new comments about Sengoku Basara 4 floating around on 2ch and Twitter at the moment now that Sengoku Basara Magazine has been released. I haven't been able to verify the content of the interview with my own eyes as yet, so I'm going to refrain from speculating too deeply over the hints which have appeared so far.

The main piece of information that people have picked up on seems to be that the staff aren't sticking to a linear interpretation of historical events for Sengoku Basara 4, meaning that it's possible that we'll get the older version of Ieyasu instead of the younger one. There was also a comment about there being two pairs of leads. I think that it's most likely one will be Masamune and Yukimura, coupled with two new characters central to the end of the Muromachi period (one of which may be the younger Nobunaga everyone desperately wants to see). It's unlikely that all four will be new characters, and Masamune's family kamon is still part of the logo for the new game. Furthermore, if they're using the Sengoku Basara 3 version of Ieyasu, it contradicts their own timeline less to make Masamune and Yukimura play a more central part in the events set earlier in history; the pair of them were already involved with Nobunaga more tightly in the established Sengoku Basara version of history so there will be less rewriting required.

The other piece of information I saw was that the second issue of Sengoku Basara Magazine is due in July. It's a plausible date given that the magazine will be published quarterly so I'll confirm it as soon as possible. If I'm right about the four main characters for Sengoku Basara 4, that would let them put Yukimura on the cover of the second issue, then covers for the other two leads could bring us right up to the release of the game in 2014. This reasoning assumes that Capcom isn't planning on revealing too much about the characters shown in the trailer as silhouettes until the summer.

Oops, I said I wouldn't speculate.

There's a tiny bit of actual news as well: the pictures of the three final characters in their new stage play costumes can be seen in a photograph KobaP posted on Twitter. Yoshimoto looks hilarious, and Yoshiaki's pose is quite odd. My friends said that Kotarou resembles Robocop in the tiny picture. I'm looking forward to seeing some full event reports on Japanese gaming sites soon!

In the meantime, there's always more merchandise to report on. The Sengoku Basara Rubber Strap Collection from last year is being reissued in July 2013 in two separate boxes. The first set contains Masamune, Kojuurou, Hisahide, Ieyasu and Motochika. The second has Yukimura, Sasuke, Mitsunari, Motonari and Hideaki. Each box contains a 'secret' character, but as this is a reissue it's likely that they'll be the same as before: Keiji in the first set and Tenkai in the second.

Using the same designs are some sticky notes due in June 2013 for ¥420 per pack. While the rubber straps seemed to split their characters into vague Eastern/Western Army groupings, the character selection for the Sengoku Basara Fusen Set Part 1 and Sengoku Basara Fusen Set Part 2 is less logical. Each pack contains five small packs of twenty sticky notes (15mm x 50mm).

Friday 26 April 2013

News roundup: Sengoku Basara Magazine comes out tomorrow

This has been a strange week. It's been far from quiet in the Sengoku Basara fandom yet there's very little to report. I'm going to summarise the current situation anyway, so that I can look back on how excited I was for Sengoku Basara 4 and laugh at myself one day.

The most exciting thing that's due to happen will take place in just a few hours, because Sengoku Basara Magazine is going to be released in Japan tomorrow! Amazon Japan has reopened preorders so people who don't want to buy from HMV Japan have another option. The magazine will include the Sengoku Basara 4 interview with KobaP and YamamotoD, so we can expect leaks to start appearing any time now as fans read their copies.  In the meantime, I'm making do with tantalising pictures like these two.

(Edit: Dengeki has since posted a preview which cunningly shows nothing of major importance.)

Also released this week were the two new CDs, Sengoku Basara Tougun BEST and Sengoku Basara Seigun BEST. While my copies are still in transit to the UK I've been desperately looking for samples in music shops with little success. It's surprising how few people have been talking about the Sengoku Basara 4 tracks which will be previewed on these CDs; I haven't heard much about them at all other than a few words of praise from Japanese fans. Perhaps more people will receive their copies at the weekend..?

This hasn't been formally announced, but a fourth set of Sengoku Basara Bushou T-shirts has quietly appeared on e-Capcom for release on the 30th May 2013. Each costs ¥2,415 and they're available in Japanese M and L sizing. It looks as though there's a choice of two colours for each of the characters featured: Date Masamune, Sanada Yukimura, Katakura Kojuurou, Ishida Mitsunari, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Chousokabe Motochika, Mouri Motonari and Maeda Keiji.

Sengoku Basara 4 teasing and clothing aren't the only Sengoku Basara events this week: the new Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage stage play is about to debut in Fukuoka today. A few dates which fell on weekdays still had seats available when I checked the website (the last few days are all sold out). Hopefully the reports from the opening night will be positive and we'll get to see what Yoshiaki, Kotarou and Yoshimoto look like in costume soon.

To draw attention to the start of the stage play's run, Capcom announced a special 'after talk' event where fans who attend the performances at Nagoya on 2nd May 2013 will be treated to some brief extra content. Kubota Yuuki (Date Masamune), Hosogai Kei (Sanada Yukimura) and Butai Sengoku Basara director/organiser Nishida Daisuke will be present. I checked and there were still some tickets left for the two performances on that day. Not for long!

Meanwhile, all of the tickets for the Takarazuka musical adaptation of the series, Sengoku Basara -Sanada Yukimura Hen-, sold out online shortly after they were made available. It's usually possible to buy a few more tickets on the day if you line up outside the venue, but there are still going to be a lot of disappointed people waiting for the eventual DVD. I wonder how many hardcore Takarazuka Revue fans will be experiencing the world of Sengoku Basara for the first time this June? With the brisk ticket sales I'd like to think that they'll consider adapting more of the series to the musical format in future.

Maybe Inori, the new female character created to add a little extra drama to Yukimura's story in the musical, will be included somewhere in Sengoku Basara 4 as a treat for the fans..?

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Event report: A visit to the Capcom Bar

It's no secret that I adore Sengoku Basara. It's the reason I visited the Sengoku Basara karaoke room in Akihabara and the official Capcom shop in Odaiba, and it's a contributing factor to several of the pilgrimages I've made to historical sites in Japan before.

As part of this obsession, one of the locations I made sure to visit on my 2012 trip to Japan was the Capcom Bar, an 'entertainment bar' situated in Shinjuku, Tokyo. This post is mostly going to cover the crazy food my friends and I ordered during our visit, but I'll start by describing the bar itself in case anyone needs help planning a visit one day.

Capcom Bar is located in Shinjuku and might be difficult to find. The easiest way to get there is to navigate to Shinjuku Sanchoume station then take exit B9; it's a long underground walk but hard to get lost that way. A map and list of opening times is kept up to date on the bar's official website.

The first thing which needs to be understood when planning a visit is that the Capcom Bar is very popular. It's so popular that on the day we dined there, a queue had formed which stretched down the road even though the bar wasn't scheduled to open for another hour and a half. If you are a fan of the Biohazard series (Resident Evil), it might be worth trying the separate Biohazard Cafe and Grill S.T.A.R.S. in nearby Shibuya instead.

Everyone in the line ahead was female

Because of the high demand, the bar requires that every visitor reserves a time slot in advance (that's why we were queued up outside to begin with). At the time it was only possible to book in person - slightly annoying, as even though we'd arrived early the queue was so long we had to pick the second time slot of the day, leaving us with a long wait before our meal. Since then, the staff have introduced telephone bookings and Lawson convenience store reservations which should streamline the process.

I'm not sure whether it's still done this way, but we had to complete an order form for our food in advance as well to avoid delays; each time slot is only two hours long so you don't want to waste any time. The names of the menu items are all in Japanese, so if you don't speak the language it's a good idea to check the website before you visit and make a list of all of the dishes you want to order. It will make completing the reservation form much easier. If you can read Japanese, there are detailed menus outside the bar which give much more information about the food than the website. It's quite fun to wait in the lobby area leafing through the menus, making use of the free shaved ice machine and gazing longingly at the merchandise on display.

When our reserved time slot was due to begin the staff rounded everyone up and gave a rousing introduction ("Let's party!") to get all of the guests in the mood for some fun. We were then led inside the Capcom Bar and given time to look around at the decorations bathed in blue neon lighting. Small screens were set up next to the tables to show trailers from various Capcom games and merchandise from Monster Hunter and Sengoku Basara covers all of the available wall space. There were some consoles available too for people who had time to play (nobody did when we were there; the food was too interesting!).

The most prominent Capcom games represented on the menu are Monster Hunter, Gyakuten Saiban (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney), Sengoku Basara and Biohazard, with Street Fighter and Devil May Cry appearing too. Since my visit a few items from Dragon's Dogma have also been added to the list and there are occasionally special events for other games.

As soon as everyone had settled in, it was time to dine!

Sunday 21 April 2013

Anime review: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure volume 2

I picked up the second volume of the recent television adaptation of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure on my recent trip overseas. This disc contains episodes four to six, covering the middle of the Phantom Blood arc.

As with the first volume, the series has stunning visuals and fantastic, over-the-top voice acting. The quality of the presentation on the Japanese Blu-ray disc is magnificent. There's still no sign of a western release - or even a legal English-subtitled stream of the show - so I'm relieved that the Japanese edition has been handled with such care.

JoJo's come a long way since the start of the series. He's been forced to leave his innocent boyhood behind and found some allies in unlikely places, most prominently the reformed thug Robert E. O. Speedwagon from the first volume who has decided to stay around and help JoJo as much as he can.

Speedwagon steals most scenes with his melodramatic narration and reactions to everything that happens. I think it's impossible not to love his ridiculousness; even if he has completely abandoned his intimidating appearance from the previous volume he's so adorable like this that it doesn't matter at all.

Anyway, I should say something about the plot instead of talking about how amazing Speedwagon is for the entire post. After the fast-paced start to the series I was worried that there wasn't much farther that the Phantom Blood arc could go, having already covered enough material to fill a normal television series within its first three episodes.

It soon turns out that Jonathan Joestar's problems aren't over yet as he encounters the mysterious Baron Zeppeli. Zeppeli seems intent on dragging poor JoJo into even more trouble, but he's kind enough to introduce him to some new techniques first. The episodes on this disc consequently teach us all about hamon, the foundation of a new fighting style which might give our hero the edge over his opponents.

It turns out that JoJo very much needs that edge, as Dio has wasted no time in mastering his new powers and setting himself up as a classic villain - now with an even greater grudge than before. His unwavering dedication to his role as the antagonist is an inspiration; criminals all over the world should have posters on their walls to encourage them to strive to be as evil and twisted as Dio.

With another clash between JoJo and Dio seeming inevitable, the three unlikely heroes head to the town of Windknight's Lot to confront the swarm of criminals and undead warriors lying in wait for them. The classic shounen battles which follow are turned into impromptu training sessions by the unpredictable Zeppeli. Every time I think that the series has reached its limit for craziness, it bowls me over with Zoom Punches and various rainbow-hued Overdrive attacks. My excitement turns into laughter (then straight back into excitement) many times over the course of each episode.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure volume 2 was released on 22nd February 2013 and is available as a special edition Blu-ray or first press DVD (picture). The standard Blu-ray and standard DVD aren't being made available until the first press versions have sold out. Once again, the first press DVD has a special slipcase to set it apart from the standard edition while the Blu-ray has a more interesting 64-page 'Key Animations ~Phanton Blood~' booklet accompanying its special packaging (pictured). The second proof of purchase ticket you need to collect to claim your special statue at the end of the series is also included, of course.

On-disc extras for the Blu-ray are limited to English subtitles and a couple of television commercials for the first part of the series. The quality of the English subtitles on the Japanese edition is just as good as before.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure hasn't lost any momentum so far, continuing to be memorable and entertaining with every episode. I can't wait to watch volume 3 next week!

Friday 19 April 2013

News round-up: A place to order Sengoku Basara Magazine, and new merchandise on the way

I was beginning to panic about the lack of availability of the first issue of Sengoku Basara Magazine which comes out next week on the 27th April 2013. Several sites have it listed (including e-Capcom, Amazon and Hobby Search Japan) - and all of them seem to have closed their preorders ridiculously quickly. It's a magazine, not a limited edition figurine!

Anyway, after hunting around I finally discovered that HMV Japan are still accepting preorders. Although the sales tax is waived it will be expensive, since they only ship overseas using EMS and it's going to be quite heavy. At least it means that I'll receive it more swiftly, even though any juicy Sengoku Basara 4 information inside will have been leaked online long before it reaches my letterbox.

The magazine will probably be made available for purchase everywhere else again soon, once it's been released properly, but I feel so much better now I have an order placed!

In my hunting I also came across a couple of new merchandise goodies which are due for release in June this year.

First of all is a set of randomly-packed clear A5 files, the Bushou Clear File Collection Box. It costs ¥3,360 and has a placeholder release date of 27th June 2013. The clear files will be available in designs based on Date Masamune, Sanada Yukimura, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Ishida Mitsunari, Maeda Keiji, Katakura Kojuurou, Sarutobi Sasuke, Chousokabe Motochika, Mouri Motonari, Ootani Yoshitsugu, Oda Nobunaga, Tenkai, Takenaka Hanbee, Fuuma Kotarou and Matsunaga Hisahide.

The second new merchandise item is the very similar Bushou Sticker Collection Box. It's a collection of deluxe stickers for a painful ¥6,720, also due for release on 27th June 2013. This time, Honda Tadakatsu and Kasuga replace Ootani Yoshitsugu and Takenaka Hanbee.

The prices of these boxes make more sense when you consider that physical shops will be able to sell the individual items one at a time as a lucky dip; I'm not sure I could make use of sixteen clear files or stickers by myself to justify the shipping costs. Between both sets most fan-favourite characters get to appear at least once so I wouldn't feel disappointed randomly receiving any of the designs.

One potentially interesting aspect of all of this is that both the files and the stickers are available in sixteen designs. However, only fifteen have been revealed. The secret character in each set is almost certainly someone like Oichi or Hideyoshi, but what if it's a brand new picture or a Sengoku Basara 4 illustration instead..?

I'm looking for clues anywhere these days.

Thursday 18 April 2013

News round-up: Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage merchandise details and more on Busho Matsuri 2013

I haven't been translating the various updates on the Butai Sengoku Basara stage play blog as I have assumed nobody who doesn't already speak Japanese will be interested. However, today Capcom posted a major update which I think is of general interest: the merchandise from the upcoming Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage stage play has been revealed, along with the photographs they'll be using on it. This gives us a glimpse of a few of the new stage play characters in costume for the first time! As much as I love the regulars, I've seen them in their costumes before so the new characters come first.

Matsuda Kenji (Matsunaga Hisahide)

Sakurada Kousei (Azai Nagamasa)

Tamaki Nami (Oichi)

Hirose Yuusuke (Tokugawa Ieyasu)

Kubota Yuuki (Date Masamune)

Nakamura Seijirou (Ishida Mitsunari)

Hosogai Kei (Sanada Yukimura)

Fans who go to see the stage play will have the opportunity to buy clear A4 files, muffler-towels, ticket holders, t-shirts, uchiwa fans, tote bags and the usual commemorative 'bromide' photographs for individual characters. I'm still looking forward to seeing the three remaining newcomers in costume: Mogami Yoshiaki, Fuuma Kotarou and Imagawa Yoshimoto. The new stage play starts its run next week so hopefully I won't be waiting long.

Alongside the new stage play updates, more details of the Busho Matsuri 2013 event have been announced. Nishida Daisuke will be there (he's the person directly in charge of putting the stage plays together), as will series producer KobaP. Isaka Tatsuya will also be appearing on the 14th July only; he played Maeda Keiji in Butai Sengoku Basara 2 and is very popular with fans. Among other attractions, the actors will be wearing their stage play costumes at the event and people who go to see Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage will be given the chance to vote to see battles between specific characters performed at the event! There could be some interesting surprises if the viewers are playful with their choices.

Official Busho Matsuri 2013 fan club tickets will go on sale very soon with general tickets following in May. I think we can expect regular updates from Capcom with a few more guest announcements until then.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

News round-up: Details of upcoming novels and soundtracks revealed

The reason for the strange delay in announcing the track lists for the two new Sengoku Basara compilation CDs, which come out next week on the 24th April 2013, has finally been made apparent: the previously-teased 'unreleased songs' are going to include a few Sengoku Basara 4 tracks!

There isn't much point in me translating all of the track names as they probably have English-language fan titles anyway which I don't know. The Tougun BEST CD will contain two unreleased tracks, one from Sengoku Basara 2 called 'Souryuujin' ('Twin Dragon Formation', obviously a Masamune/Kojuurou theme) and a Sengoku Basara 4 song, 'Tentei' ('Ruler of the Heavens', a fairly loaded title steeped in connotations). Meanwhile, Seigun BEST contains three new songs including 'Sengoku BASARA ver. 0' from the first game and a Sengoku Basara 3 track I'm unfamiliar with, 'Shukuen' ('Fate'). The Sengoku Basara 4 track is 'Sousei' ('The Creation of the World').

The CD titles are Sengoku Basara Tougun BEST (Sengoku Basara Eastern Army BEST) (CPCA 10291) and Sengoku Basara Seigun BEST (Sengoku Basara Western Army BEST) (CPCA 10292). They'll be priced at ¥2,100 each and the theme is that each contains a selection of songs appropriate to the army they're named for.

The other piece of news (which actually appeared late last week but didn't warrant a news post on its own) is that the next two novels for Sengoku Basara on the Kodansha BOX line will feature the subordinates instead of the main characters. Kojuurou and Sasuke will be joining the already-announced Setouchi pair as the stars of their own books. The full series of books will be as follows:

1. Chousokabe Motochika
2. Mouri Motonari
3. Sarutobi Sasuke
4. Katakura Kojuurou

Along with the main announcement it was revealed that the first book in the series has slipped back from its original 19th April release date to 3rd June 2013. They're really announcing these things at the last minute lately - I'm still waiting for a good way to buy the magazine which comes out in under a fortnight!

Monday 15 April 2013

Streaming: Spring 2013 anime first impressions

Spring got off to a delayed start for me since I was away on holiday when it began. After catching up with the endings to the anime series I was streaming already, I dived in to see what was on offer for the season to come!

There are a lot of fresh starts with this new batch of anime because all of the longer shows I'd been following since the autumn came to an end at the same time. This means I have more freedom in my schedule to watch newer series. Unfortunately, several of the shows I wanted to watch (Karneval, Red Data Girl) have been locked away from the UK entirely, while others which might point to Kaze (Arata Kangatari, Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Bride) have yet to appear as Anime On Demand titles. Could this be a chance to catch up on my neglected Blu-ray backlog?

Crunchyroll's lineup is here as always. As far as I can tell, Anime On Demand haven't said a word since the beginning of January. The only other service with a potential UK presence this time is Daisuki.

Saturday 13 April 2013

DVD review: Butai Sengoku Basara 3 ~Setouchi Kyouran~

This review is for the DVD edition of Butai Sengoku Basara 3 ~Setouchi Kyouran~. There are no screenshots in this review, however, a few photographs from the event have been posted on other websites (details here).

The Butai Sengoku Basara 3 ~Setouchi Kyouran~ stage play took place last year with twelve performances in Tokyo Dome City Hall from the 2nd to the 11th of November 2012. There were also five performances in Osaka's Ion Cosmetics Theatre Brava! from the 16th to the 18th November 2012. A 'live viewing' broadcast was arranged for the final performance to give fans who couldn't attend a chance to watch the show in selected cinemas across Japan.

The DVD recording was released earlier than planned on 28th February 2013. The single-disc standard edition costs ¥6,000 and has a run time of 160 minutes. The limited edition comes with a separate bonus disc containing 70 minutes of extra footage and cost ¥6,500. The limited edition has been sold out for a while now; there has actually been quite a lot of ill feeling online since there were a large number of copies being resold for a vastly inflated price immediately after release date.

The cast for Butai Sengoku Basara 3 ~Setouchi Kyouran~ was as follows:

Friday 12 April 2013

All about doujinshi culture and common misconceptions

Instead of finishing my latest meandering review, today's post is a rant! If you don't like that kind of thing please skip it. There'll be more of my usual over-enthusiastic babbling next time.

Doujinshi: a world which is often misunderstood

I felt completely demoralised earlier this week when I clicked a Crunchyroll news story about how some Japanese doujinshi artists are helping others remove unauthorised links to their work from Google search results. The article itself was fine - though I did wonder how well the writer understood what he was talking about when he filled the post with illustrations drawn by someone else without their permission. The problem was that I curiously checked the comments.

A lot of people seem to have strong opinions on doujinshi culture in Japan without having the slightest idea about the realities of the situation there. This isn't the first time I've been exposed to these attitudes and it won't be the last; there was a huge scandal last year when Amazon.com started reselling illegal scans of parody doujinshi (several of which were explicit) on its Kindle store. Amazon weren't responsible directly; they'd been tricked by an unknown party who had acted as an agent and provided the illegal materials. Artists in Japan were appalled when bilingual blogger Komatsu Mikikazu alerted them to the situation, but with many individual creators lacking fluency in English it took some time before the situation was resolved and the material removed.

The biggest fear of many of the artists who were affected by this was never that they might lose revenue from the pirated doujinshi being made available like this, or that the translations might not be good quality, or whatever other reason the bulk of skeptical foreign commentators were suggesting. It was that the creators of the titles that were being parodied would see the works listed and jump to the wrong conclusion about the doujin circles' intentions. It was imperative that the problem be dealt with as quickly as possible, but Amazon's cumbersome complaints process required a physical letter written in English from each artist whose work had been stolen. Many of the artists had long moved on since the time they originally drew those old books, and even being able to understand the foreign complaints instructions was a challenge for non-English speakers. The procedure required them to then write a formal letter to Amazon in the US and wait a week for it to arrive by international mail, then wait a further month while Amazon deliberated the case. This scenario left plenty of time for the problem to escalate even if the artist was fluent in English and dealt with the problem immediately, a situation which terrified the wider doujinshi community with its implications.

What I found additionally disconcerting about the situation then is that most western commentators were only upset that the rights of the scanlators who had made the unauthorised material available in digital form in the first place were being infringed by the unknown person who listed all of the books on Amazon. Very few English-language discussions mentioned the doujin circles' rights anywhere in the debate. I don't disagree that scanning, lettering and translating without permission takes time. However, planning, writing, drawing and printing a whole doujinshi takes a great deal more, not to mention talent. I'm not sure whether this is a xenophobic attitude since fandom on the whole is usually very vocal about protecting the rights of local creators of derivative works. Is it seen as acceptable in some communities to disrespect the work of others if they can't easily complain about it in English?

This idea was reinforced by the comments on the Crunchyroll article today.

I was always taught that two wrongs don't make a right yet it seems that for some people here in the west, they do. Many posters used the rationalisation that the doujinshi are unauthorised parodies, therefore there's no problem with making unauthorised copies of them and spreading them around the Internet without permission. I don't think it's possible to change the minds of those who have already taken a hostile stance, but perhaps if I can gather together everything I know about doujinshi in this post newer fans might stumble upon it one day and understand that the statements parroted by many fans overseas aren't always based upon solid facts.

What are doujinshi?

Doujinshi are fan-made 'books'. The vast majority of these take the form of printed B5 comics drawn by amateur artists, though novels (printed fan fiction) and art books aren't uncommon. Doujinshi are just one part of the doujin scene, which also includes other indie creations such as doujin games, doujin music and doujin goods (fan-made merchandise).

Japanese fans often use the English word 'coterie' in place of 'doujin' to describe the groups of fans which gather together to create a doujin product. As this word isn't commonly used where I'm from, I personally prefer to stick to 'fanzines' or 'fan comics' depending on the situation or just leave the word in Japanese.

The group which created an individual doujinshi is called a 'circle', and it may be made up of several participants or just one person (a 'kojin' circle). Circles with only one member are very common in fandoms with an older demographic, while larger circles often grow from university clubs or close-knit groups of friends.

For the purpose of this blog post I'm focusing mainly on parody doujinshi, the fan comics based on existing manga, anime and games which are best known in the west.

Doujinshi facts and fiction

I'll close this post with a few observations in the hope that they'll help tackle some common misconceptions about the doujinshi environment.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Streaming: Winter 2013 anime final impressions

Thanks to Anime On Demand taking months to get their streaming going again, it feels as though my 'final impressions' have come not long after my 'first impressions' post went online. I won't make the mistake of delaying a post for that reason next time around.

Anime On Demand did eventually settle into a rhythm with the one series I was following regularly (Magi), a day later than the Crunchyroll stream hit the US. I passed on everything else they showed and concentrated on what Crunchyroll had to offer. I disagree with the comments from a lot of people that the Winter 2013 season was a weak one; there wasn't much balance to the offerings and many were squarely aimed at female fans, but there were some very memorable stories tucked away between the glittery idol shows and visual novel adaptations.

My top three shows from the episodes which aired this season, based on how much I looked forward to watching each new episode, were ultimately:

1. Courtesy of Zettai Karen Children: The Unlimited -Hyoubu Kyousuke-
2. Ixion Saga DT
3. Shin Sekai Yori

This post collects brief comments about every anime I followed this season (along with bitterness about those I didn't have the chance to).

Sunday 7 April 2013

Event report: Sengoku Basara tie-in at Tsuchiura City Museum

Since it coincided with my trip to Japan, I decided to pop over to Tsuchiura City Museum a few days after the 'Basara-tachi No Busou -The armor and swords of the warlords who ran through the Warring States' exhibition began to see some of the famous historical weapons and armour they had on display.

The museum is running a special tie-in with Capcom between 16th March and 6th May 2013, where they've gathered a wide variety of weapons and armour from the Sengoku period and put them on display; of course, many of the items in the exhibition were associated with warriors who appear in Sengoku Basara. A range of extra activities have been arranged to fully exploit the links between the historical artefacts and the heroes of the game series (and entice more people to visit).

Disappointingly, a few of the exhibits weren't yet available for viewing as they were being loaned to Tsuchiura City Museum from elsewhere and wouldn't be on display until April. These included Oda Nobunaga's uwagi coat, Ootomo Sourin's armour and, most significantly, Honda Tadakatsu's armour with its impressive horns. If I hadn't had to go back home it would have been worth a second visit a few weeks later to take a look at the items I missed.

The advantage of visiting early, however, was that we were able to participate in the stamp rally and collect the limited edition guide book before the museum ran out. According to news reports the exhibition has been enormously popular with more than 10,000 visitors in just over two weeks; stocks of the clear files were exhausted by the 4th April as the exhibition has attracted more visitors than during any other period in the history of the museum. It's good to see the staff expressing their surprise at the way that Sengoku Basara can draw crowds!

My stamp rally sheet, collected from
Tsuchiura station
My visit started with a trip from Tokyo to Tsuchiura, all the way in Ibaraki. The quickest route is to take the Tsukuba Express (TX) train service from Akihabara to Tsukuba then catch a bus to the museum, but I opted to take the JR Joban line to Tsuchiura station instead. The reason for this was that I wanted to take the scenic route to the museum and participate in the stamp rally event.

Stamp rallies are a quintessentially Japanese gimmick; you collect a special stamp sheet ('daishi') and then wander around marking it with rubber stamps at fixed locations to prove that you visited them. This particular stamp rally wasn't designed to be difficult since there were dozens of stamp locations dotted all over the city (map), only fifteen of which were needed in order to claim a full set of prizes.

After collecting my stamp sheet at the station's tourism booth and purchasing a ticket to the museum (¥600), I noticed very quickly that there was a steady stream of young women arriving at the station and going through the same ritual. Some were alone, others were travelling in pairs.

The station also contained the first few stamp locations. One was at the tourism booth, another at the information desk, and a third was near the ticket barriers. In larger areas, the rubber stamp was often accompanied by a huge Sengoku Basara cardboard standee.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Event report: Basara Matsuri 2013 ~Haru No Jin~

Last weekend, a special Sengoku Basara event was held at Tokyo's Ryougoku Kokugikan sumo hall to celebrate the coming of spring. It had been some time since the a new game was released for the series back in 2011 and there had been no promises of any announcements; in fact, the Sengoku Basara series had been steadily declining in popularity due to the lack of new games, losing shelf space in the retail sector and suffering the indignity of seeing its newest line of trading figures slashed to half price in Animate stores across the country. Still, the stage play series has been successful and the dedicated fans had remained loyal throughout the drought of new material, leading to all of the tickets to Basara Matsuri 2013 ~Haru No Jin~ selling out in advance. There was an electric atmosphere of excitement right from the start.

I was lucky enough to be able to secure fan club tickets for both dates of the event, flying out to Japan to attend. My desperate hope was that a new game would finally be announced, even though I kept telling myself that I shouldn't expect anything more than a pleasant weekend of live performances and candid seiyuu discussion.

There was one Basara Matsuri show per day, commencing at 18:00 on Saturday 30th March 2013 and 17:00 on Sunday 31st March 2013. I'm not sure exactly how many people attended the event in total; the venue has a capacity of 13,000 but they'd had to transform a portion of the seating area into the huge, multi-levelled stage (the sumo hall's usual stage is a tiny square in the centre of the stadium, unsuitable for an event of Basara Matsuri's magnitude). I'd estimate that there were around 5,000 people in the audience for each of the two performances. Almost every single person there was female, ranging from young teenagers to middle-aged women, while there were probably less than fifty male spectators in total (maybe less than twenty). At one point the guests asked asked the boys in the audience to call out to them. They took the opportunity to compensate for their small numbers with some terrifically enthusiastic yelling.

Taking pictures inside the event hall was strictly forbidden so please refer to these official reports from Japanese gaming websites to see what went on inside the venue: 4Gamer, Inside Games (2), Dengeki, Famitsu. My post will only contain photographs I took outside the sumo hall.

The full guest list was a long one. The following seiyuu attended on both days:

Friday 5 April 2013

News round-up: Masamune and Yukimura to graduate from the Sengoku Basara stage play

Basara Matsuri and the announcement of Sengoku Basara 4 seem to have caused the pace of news updates to increase lately. There's no news about next year's new game in this post, however there are some important updates for fans of the Butai Sengoku Basara stage plays and a few other tidbits.

Kubota Yuuki and Hosogai Kei to graduate from their roles as Date Masamune and Sanada Yukimura

The biggest shock today was the announcement that Kubota Yuuki, the actor who has played Date Masamune in all six of the Butai Sengoku Basara stage plays to date, and Hosogai Kei, who has played Sanada Yukimura in all but the very first show, will be leaving the cast after the upcoming Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage finishes its run.

I don't think anyone was expecting this news, which broke suddenly on the official website today. Both Kubota (in his usual abrupt style) and Hosogai have posted formal statements on the site along with a short video, where they explain that their final appearances as cast members will be in the next stage play between April and May this year. At least they'll both be present at July's Busho Matsuri event so the fans can say goodbye properly.

Kubota doesn't look exactly like Masamune but he has always had the perfect attitude to play the part; he made the battle scenes terrifically exciting to watch. Hosogai was also a great Yukimura, with a warm personality to match his good looks and a readiness to throw himself to the ground to worship Oyakata-sama whenever needed. It's going to be strange seeing the plays continue without the two of them in future.

I'll console myself with Hosogai's latest blog post, where he uploaded some cute backstage pictures of the cast fooling around at Basara Matsuri. The size difference between him and Yukimura's voice actor (Hoshi Souichirou) wasn't quite as dramatic as the photograph makes it seem...

Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage live viewing details

The tickets for the newest stage play have been selling briskly; all of the tickets for the Osaka performances have sold out already almost two months before the scheduled dates. To accommodate all of the fans who want to be able to see the show, the organisers have announced their usual 'live viewing' event will be taking place in 25 cinemas across Japan on the 26th May 2013, the day of the play's grand finale. Tickets for the live viewing are limited so fan club members will be offered the chance to buy them first.

The staff often make some kind of interesting announcement on the final day of each stage play run. I'm guessing that this time, though, they're going to concentrate on giving Kubota and Hosogai the send-off they deserve.

Sengoku Basara Magazine now available for preorder

Last but not least, a few sites have begun listing the first issue of Sengoku Basara Magazine, due for release in three weeks. So far I've only spotted it on Amazon Japan and e-Capcom (where it's strangely marked as unavailable at the moment); no doubt AmiAmi, Yesasia and CD Japan will all be carrying it in due course. I hope the magazine does well so I'll be ordering my copy as soon as possible!

Thursday 4 April 2013

News round-up: Sengoku Basara jerseys and Basara Matsuri goods now available to order

In a surprise move, Capcom has made some of the goods which sold out completely at last weekend's Basara Matsuri 2013 ~Haru No Jin~ event available for purchase for a limited time through its e-Capcom website. You can buy the t-shirt, badges, 'big' uchiwa fans and festival happi. Since they sold out within minutes of going on sale at the event, I'm a little tempted by the happi even though they're really expensive...

They've also added two special jerseys for Date Masamune and Tokugawa Ieyasu fans to snap up, following on from last year's Yukimura/Mitsunari versions. As well as being designed to include as many of the characters' signature symbols as possible, the Ieyasu version comes with a hood (of course) while Masamune's has a lightning bolt charm on the zipper. Each comes with built-in 'gauntlet-like' gloves in the sleeves and costs ¥9,975. Preorders are being accepted until the end of May 2013, and the jerseys are due to be delivered in October. Buyers will also receive a bonus postcard of Mitsunari when preordering.

Monday 1 April 2013

News roundup: Lots of Sengoku Basara news updates

I'm going to post a full report from Basara Matsuri shortly, as well as reports on a few other excursions I've made. While I'm preparing all of that, this post will serve as a quick summary of everything else that's been announced in the Sengoku Basara fandom over the last two weeks. There's a surprisingly large amount of news when I don't keep up with it on a daily basis.

Sengoku Basara 4

By far the most important news in months; on Saturday 30th March 2013, KobaP took to the stage at Basara Matsuri and revealed the preview trailer for the brand new Sengoku Basara 4. There's not much else known beyond the fact that it's only coming out for PS3 this time around, and that it is going to expand the series earlier in time back to the Muromachi period. The official website opened today, two days after the initial announcement. Speculation has been rampant on the identities of the two new(?) characters whose silhouettes appear at the end of the teaser video.

The game isn't coming out until 2014 and it's unlikely that we'll get any more solid hints from Capcom until the summer, unless they sneak some clues into next month's Sengoku Basara Magazine.

Sengoku Basara Magazine

I mentioned the news on this the other day in a pair of mini-updates, but the website has now gone live and confirmed the various announcements from Basara Matsuri and Dengeki Maoh. The website showcases the cover art and features which will appear in the first issue of the ¥2,400 quarterly magazine on 27th April 2013. The first issue is all about Date Masamune, featuring his seiyuu Nakai Kazuya and stage play actor Kubota Yuuki. It will include a Masamune rubber strap (in the Mame Sengoku Basara style) and a Shougeki Basara Talk! CD presented by Nakai Kazuya and Morikawa Toshiyuki (Katakura Kojuurou). Actors Matsuda Kenji, Kubota Yuuki, Hosogai Kei and Yoshida Tomokazu will feature in an article about the upcoming Butai Sengoku Basara 3 Utage stage play.

The magazine will also include two chapters of manga; one of which will be Sumeragi's ongoing Mame Sengoku Basara series while the other will be Satta Naoto's brand new manga based on the BSR48 drama CD 'Soul Revolution'. There will be additional tribute illustrations by Shimotsuki Kairi and Tsutsumi Yoshisada.

The crown jewel of the first issue, however, is going to be an exclusive interview with series producer Kobayashi (KobaP) and director Yamamoto on the topic of Sengoku Basara 4. That interview should include some new tidbits of information; there's no way they can mumble their way through a complete article without letting something slip.

Takarazuka (update)

The first preview images were released for the first ever Sengoku Basara musical, which is being performed by the renowned Takarazuka troupe's Hanagumi from 15th June 2013 until 1st July 2013. The musical will be titled Sengoku Basara -Sanada Yukimura Hen- and the three main characters will be Sanada Yukimura (Ranju Tomu), Uesugi Kenshin (Asumi Rio) and a brand new female character called Inori (Ranno Hana), who is said to be Yukimura's childhood friend.

As it's a musical, the cast will be performing vocal versions of the songs from the series. They've also reimagined the costumes to be more glamorous and suitable for an all-female acting troupe. A preview video was played at Basara Matsuri which showed the cast singing one of the songs from the new play; I cannot find it online to include in this post and the other news from Basara Matsuri has saturated most gaming news websites. I'm sure it will turn up very soon.

New compilation CDs (update)

The release date for the Tougun BEST and Seigun BEST compilation CDs has at last been confirmed as the 24th April 2013. They'll be priced at ¥2,100 each and contain a selection of popular tracks from the history of the series as well as some music which hasn't appeared on CD before. The cover art for both editions was also revealed; it's nice to see some of the less common artwork appearing outside of the mobile games.

The track lists are still a mystery. Not that it's stopped me from preordering both of the CDs...

Busho Matsuri

The first ever Butai Sengoku Basara Busho Matsuri 2013 will be held on the 13th and 14th July 2013 at Tokyo's Ariake Coliseum. This event is unlikely to include any news about the games; instead it's entirely focused on the stage play series, bringing old and new actors together for the first time. The amazing list of guests includes Kubota Yuuki, Hosogai Kei, Hirose Yuusuke, Nakamura Seijirou, Yoshida Tomokazu, Murata Youjirou, Sakimoto Hiromi, Odai Ryouhei, Nakamura Kazuto, AKIRA, Chinen Sayaka, Masao, Beppu Ayumi, Shirakawa Yuujirou, Kotani Yoshikazu, Nitta Kenta, Katou Yasuhisa, Asakura Yuuta, Kawamura Yukie, Yashiro Minase, Taniguchi Masashi, Imai Yasuhiko, Takahashi Hikaru, Tsukamoto Takuya, Sakurada Kousei, Kubodera Akira and Tamaki Nami. That's the vast majority of all of the actors who have worked on the stage play to date and it's possible that the remaining few will be announced later on. I can't wait to hear the reports about what the Busho Matsuri involves.

Game bundles

Joining the recent Sengoku Basara Triple Pack box set for PS3 is a limited PSP deal via the Playstation Network. Until 8th April 2013, users with a Japanese PSN account can download a special bundle of Sengoku Basara Battle Heroes and Sengoku Basara Chronicle Heroes for just ¥2,990. It's a good price if you want both games digitally, I suppose...

Date Masamune to prevent crime

The wackiest news from Basara Matsuri was that Capcom's Date Masamune has been selected as the image character for a police campaign in Osaka to reduce vehicle crime. He's not exactly a safe driver himself in the series, but the police are hoping that he'll get people interested in obeying the law. While it's not the silliest tie-in that the series has had, it's definitely up there in the list. I'd like to see the posters on display around Osaka one day!

Monster Hunter Frontier G tie-in

Players of the upcoming PC/Xbox Capcom game Monster Hunter Frontier G can look forward to a collaboration which allows them to obtain costumes resembling the Sengoku Basara versions of Masamune and Yukimura. The reaction on Twitter from most Japanese Sengoku Basara fans was simply "What's Monster Hunter Frontier G?".

Mobile game updates

I'll keep this one short as I don't think anyone is interested. Capcom's popular illustrator Nishimura Kinu has created some new cards featuring Kasuga and Sarutobi Sasuke for the browser game Sengoku Basara Card Heroes Matsuri. They're available from now on, and to celebrate Basara Matsuri there are two other special cards that can be collected in-game until 10th April 2013: Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Maeda Keiji.

Manga (update)

The cover art and release details for Sengoku Basara 3 Naked Blood finally appeared during my holiday. Itou Ryuu's serialised tale of Tokugawa Ieyasu's life from Capbon magazine is being collected into a single 208-page manga volume for release on 8th April 2013 costing ¥630. Naked Blood is the companion to Itou's longer Bloody Angel series about Mitsunari.

In addition to the Naked Blood news, the Dategun Chronicle anthology came out last week so I can confirm the full list of contributing artists. As well as the previously-mentioned Sasakura Kou and Arai Karo, there's manga from S. Kosugi, Ameno Rona, Tane Jugou, Kuromura Moto, Kyunkichi, Tanso, Taki Hiromi, Yamamoto Akko, Tachibana Akira, Kurubushi, Kohtake Hiroyoshi and Hakyu Shou. Sazanami Ichiya and Tsutsumi Yoshisada provide colour illustrations and Ashika Nozomu drew the cover art. Although the anthology is about the Date forces I was pleasantly surprised to see how many other characters crept into the short stories as well.