Archive for September, 2008

Busy weekend

More from this past weekend – much of it I spaced on due to my need to do laundry and my son’s need to lie in the grass and stare at the clouds.

Brigid links to an interview that Takehiko Inoue (mangaka, Slamdunk!, REAL) does with wheelchair basketball team captain Shingo Fujii for the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Inoue: I happened to see wheelchair basketball by accident while I was in the United States. It was after I completed “Slam Dunk,” and I was thinking that I would never draw sports manga again, but then I thought, “Wow, I can turn this into manga!” There’s this sense of speed [in wheelchair basketball] that is comparable to a motorbike race or competitive cycling. It was so different from other sports.

Fujii: At first, I lost all my confidence. My body didn’t move well, so the space I could cover to reach for the ball was very limited, and I couldn’t pass the ball well. I thought, “I’ve been doing basketball for so long, why can’t I win?” It was frustrating. But becoming a wheelchair user also made me realize I really loved basketball. My legs didn’t move, but I wanted to play basketball. I think that’s why I got better.

She also links to an article on MSNBC by Brian Alexander that opens with mention of Hello Kitty vibrators.  I think it’s supposed to be an article about the role of sex in anime and manga.  Aside from it being broad and disorganized, I think the biggest problem with this article is that it takes “otaku culture” (as Alexander refers to it) out of context.  Not that it’s easy to explain something like Japan to outsiders – writing about manga for the general public is very, very challenging.

To be honest, I think Alexander is really trying to understand and explain the sexual undercurrents in Japanese pop culture.  There’s just not enough room on MSNBC for the type of article that would do this.  “Otaku” has it’s negative connotations in Japan, and “techno-geek” isn’t a wrong definition/translation, nor is the description of men in manga as fawning over statuettes of their favorite female anime character (Welcome to the NHK, Sundome, Genshiken, all feature male characters like this).  There’s a grain of truth in pretty much everything he mentions.  But the larger picture that all the small truths fit into is missing.

Luckily, there’s always a way to learn more about Japan – like Japan C, which is going on now:

A rolling eleven week exhibition of all things Japanese. Spanning home and fashion accessories to gadgets, food, beauty and pop-culture products, Japan C is part design exhibition, part bazaar, part trade fair, highlighting over 70 diverse Japanese firms.

At the Felissimo Design House, 10 West 56th Street, New York City (map). Monday through Saturday 11am to 6pm. New products go on sale every Monday.

japan_c_t-boy_02.jpg

THEME WEEKS

WEEK 1: 8/16 – Celebrate Jiba! Modern Traditions From hand-dyed fabrics to zori sandals, time-honored craftsmanship finds contemporary expression.

WEEK 2: 8/25 – Design at Play Robots, Mu-Bots and other design objects with surprising twists.

WEEK 3: 9/1 – Accessorize Your Passion for Fashion Jewelry, handbags and shoes, Japanese creativity from head to toe.

WEEK 4: 9/8 – At Home in Japan Uncovering the joy in inspired, Japanese living.

WEEK 5: 9/15 – Design Japan See the substance behind the star power of Japan’s biggest names in design.

WEEK 6: 9/22 – Notes from Japan: The New Stationery Discover the latest advancements through the traditional arts of writing and paper.

WEEK 7: 9/29 – I ♥ Kawaii A celebration of Japanese cuteness in all its forms.

WEEK 8: 10/6 – Secrets of Japanese Beauty Experts reveal the wellness tips that have made Japan one of the healthiest nations in the world.

WEEK 9: 10/13 – The Smart Japanese Kitchen The latest tools for Japanese cooking, from the ideal table setting to rice cookers that make the perfect bowl of rice.

WEEK 10: 10/20 – Taste of Japan Sample the finest sakes, soy sauces and sea urchin.

WEEK 11: 10/27: – Cherry Tree Auction Bid on your favorite items and help the nonprofit New York Restoration Project bring Japan’s sakura cherry trees to New York City.

The domestic in me (the same domestic that spent countless hours online this weekend indulging her Zojirushi fetish) that pines for non-burnt homemade rice thinks that the week of 10/13 is the week to pay a visit to Felissimo.

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Crunchyroll hosts Princess Ai: Encounters

princess ai calendar

Online media distributor Crunchyroll will be hosting Tokyopop’s manga Princess Ai: Encounters.  The Crunchyroll website has a new manga reader and will preview Ai: Encounters for a full two weeks, going live the same day the book will be released (9/16).

From what I hear, Crunchyroll gained a lot of their popularity via their online anime distribution.  (Rumor has it that their early approach to online anime distribution was of the bootleg fansub variety but I haven’t spoken to anyone at Crunchyroll about this so I could be spreading rumors.  But what better way to go legit that actually pursue licensing negotiations with Japanese anime companies, which is what Crunchyroll does now.)  I haven’t spent that much time on the Crunchyroll website but it looks like there’s a whole lot more on there to dig into.

As for the manga – online distribution of manga is something that pubs (both in the U.S. and Japan) have struggled with.  Scanlation being the point of contention.  But this is exactly what TP was going for with its OEL – the flexibility to distribute their product online however they wish.  With Crunchyroll they’re hitting their sweetspot insofar as audience is concerned.

Princess Ai is the OEL that Stu Levy (ne DJ Milky) collaborated on with Courtney Love and Yazawa Ai.  The manga was penned by Levy and illustrated by Misaho Kujiradou, but Yazawa did the original Princess Ai character design.  Given Yazawa Ai’s proclivities to fashion and music (Paradise Kiss, NANA) it’s fitting and pretty darn amazing that they were able to get her to do it (back in early 2000, but still).  And Kujiradou earns it with the ripped corsets and embellishing silk with all sorts of buckles.

OEL is moving in all sorts of new directions and growing so this isn’t to bag on it or anything like that.  But looking at Princess Ai doesn’t send me digging through my files to listen to Hole, it’s got me listening to

Mika Nakashima

Mika Nakashima, Olivia Lufkin, and Anna Tsuchiya – the girls of NANA.

But that’s probably because listening to Hole would only make me feel old.

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Sumi and Water

For the most part, I do my best to do the best job I can with the opportunities I’m given.  Verify sources, keep things cordial, keep my inner fangirl in check, make the deadline.  No bashing books, no love-ins; insightful critique and clean copy (steer clear of terms like “spanked” and “panties” – or at least try to); resort to writing about the punk stylish clothing in Shugo Chara and sweeping upsy-downsy hair styles in Parakiss only when necessary.  Be professional, take nothing personally, it’s just business.

But as far as this blog is concerned, business can’t wait to get personal.  I can’t always keep the inner fangirl in check – nor do I always want to.  I love comics and I love manga.  Or rather, for the sake of professionalism, I have developed certain….feelings for comics and manga.  But not everyone shares the love – er, feelings that I have towards both – manga is still a niche within graphic novels, a niche within publishing.  So it doesn’t take much for me to feel like the manga crasher at the comics party.

But every once in a while, a creator comes along that has me putting on my good shoes and my nice dress and throwing a little party of my own – one that typically includes me.  And Ed.  IM-ing me.  From Japan.  And that’s okay.

But this month, that changes.  Viz Media has launched a gigantic Takehiko Inoue campaign – Slam Dunk, his quintessential work, REAL, a series that, in my opinion, challenged him the most while allowing him to fuse two aesthetics in a storyline that further combines his two loves of basketball and drawing; Vagabond omnibus editions, and two books that I’ve been waiting for, gritting my teeth with anticipation, Sumi and Water.

It’s no secret that I harbor certain…feelings about Inoue-sensei’s work.  He is one of  my favorite creators for so many reasons.  Manga can be mass-produced and formulaic – either for the sake of the genre or the story (although often for both) – to the extent that both artwork and narrative start to feel old, stale, with characters looking the same, stories sounding the same.

But everything about Inoue-sensei’s work stands out in a fresh, lively way.  Not all that many creators have the range that he has – visually or narratively.  It’s common to see creators in Japan do series after series that are basically variations of the same thing.  Tsutomu Nihei is another creator whose work I feel strongly about, but BLAME!, ABARA, his Woverine: SNKT! comic for Marvel – were all in the same vein.  He does it incredibly well, but he pretty much does only one thing.  Inoue-sensei, on the other hand, does basketball and samurai.  And he does them both very, very well.

(from Water)

Sumi and Water are both artbooks that collect Inoue‘s lush Vagabond illustrations.  If you’ve only read Slam Dunk, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that he’d progress to this.  One of the many things that I love about his work is the inherent movement and life that spreads over the page.  Each picture tells a story.  Each picture conveys a certain emotion.  The energy of his lines is balanced by the stillness of his characters.  Inoue’s story of Miyamoto “I-don’t-bathe-but-I’m-still-damn-fine” Musashi isn’t just one of bushido, but one of becoming a man.

(from Sumi)

But the best part is that anyone who loves art or comics will want to get their mitts on these books.  Knowledge of Vagabond or manga isn’t a requisite.  Sumi and Water stand alone as the gateways to the rest of Inoue’s work.  And gateways ain’t a bad thing.

So this month, I’m having the party.  Everyone is invited, as always, I’ll be wearing my good shoes and my party dress.  But here’s the big bonus: people may actually show up.

(from Water)

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Lolitas in the NY Times

Bill Cunningham pulls together more street fashion for today’s Sunday Styles section in the New York Times.  Lo and behold….it’s a small shot, about three or four photos into the slideshow, but it’s Lolitas on the street.

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Not comics – at all.

Now that it’s officially September, it’s time to gear up for the other memorial day, 9/11.  The whole lice situation at school had us hooking class after lunch and spending the rest of the day with the fellas who are setting up the Towers of Light downtown.

They got 88 of these babies – 44 for the North Tower, 44 for the South.  Each is 7000 watts.

One of my favorite parts is following the cables that snake around from the lights

to the breakers, along the ground and converging as this thick mass of spaghetti

at the transformers – which regulate the wattage and make sure the lights don’t get more than they need (and blow out)

then spills over the roof

down seven stories to plug into this thing (which I forgot to ask what it was)

and connect to these two generators.

Once it gets dark, the Italians test each light to make sure tha it’s getting power – and turns on.

This part of the job is actually kind of dangerous because if you’re not careful, and you look directly into the light by accident, you end up burning your corneas and getting rushed to the emergency room – which happened to Massimo (on the left) last year.

7000 watts go a mile into the sky.

And it’s showtime

North Tower is lit

My son takes this photo of a cloud passing by.

After all the testing, the guys pull out these huge tarps in to protect the lights in preparation for Hannah.  On Monday, they’ll have their guys out in Jersey, Brooklyn, Staten Island on their NexTels to radio in and get the two towers parallel to one another. And on the 11th, the towers will be lit dusk ’til dawn.

Thanks so much to Michael Ahearn Productions and all the crew for making their work place our home for the day and feeding us barbeque ropa vieja mixed plate.

And to Rafael for suggesting that we visit in the first place.

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Speaking of kids with hair….

This past convention season I became a seasoned player of the “Where’s Erik Ko?” game.  It’s played kind of like this: every time I showed up at the Udon booth, looking for Erik, I was told “You just missed him!  He went home to be with his pregnant wife.”

So where’s Erik now?

Taking care of Baby Farrah.  Look at all that hair, just waiting to be feathered.

Congratulations, Erik!

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Not so fun

Day three of school and already there’s a lice scare.  We take no chances:

Even though it leaves us with a look somewhere between Shao-Lin special and Aaron Chang….

We’re still not thrilled with our new summer hair cut.

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Something fun

In celebration of Fashion Week (which starts tomorrow and runs til the end of next week), and in anticipation of the New York Anime Festival, Kinokuniya is hosting an Ino Hidefumi listening session at their store across the street fr. Bryant Sq. Park on Sept. 10, 5:30 pm.  Samurai Beat Radio will debut two new Ino albums, “Satisfaction” and “Live Messages” and will also have a podcast with Ino himself on their webpage (forthcoming).

Press release below, or click on “listening session,” “Ino,” or “Satisfaction” in the above graph for music samples:

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First Day of School

The first day of school is our time to be Janus – looking forward, and looking back, and looking far, far forward.  As every parent knows, the road to Yale starts in utero, and is paved by the best schools that money can buy.  Or, in my case, the best schools that we can claw our way into.

I stumbled upon this school project while searching out middle-schools for my son: Mott Hall is a G&T school in Harlem that services families in the neighborhood and as far north as Washington Heights. They’ve done some studies of Japan, so naturally, the kids turned to manga for their school project. Scroll down to the plug-in/menu to see more. It’s an insightful meditation on the form and what youngsters actually think about what they read insofar as comics are concerned.

The Mott Hall student body is primarily Dominican and Puerto Rican – and if they’re thinking this hard about manga, and the teachers/administrators are supporting it, I think we’re obligated to apply.

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And we’re back

Still struggling to reorient myself, but I did manage to knock-out some of the more pressing tasks on my list of things to do today like a) stay in bed all morning, b) work my way through half a bag of caramels, c) ignore the mountain of dirty laundry that has taken over the bathroom.  I’m feeling rather accomplished.

A few things that caught my eye while I was deftly not noticing the stench of fetid ocean that seems to have traveled back home with us in our clothes:

Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D manga has made its way to Hong Kong via Jade Dynasty

Kikuchi-san will be a guest at this year’s NY Anime Festival later this month – as will Yoshitaka Amano who does the illustrations for the Vampire Hunter D novels.

A smattering of what you will find at gallery 140sqm in Shanghai next weekend:

140sqm is one of my favorite gallery spaces in SH because it’s on one of my favorite streets in SH, Fuxing Zhong Lu, which is also home to one of the most pretentious, over-priced cafes where they serve killer chocolate milkshakes.

Also on the horizon: Wong Kar Wai’s Ashes of Time Redux which is part of this year’s New York Film Festival and screens on October 10th.  It looks like it will be released nation wide.

Ashes is Wai’s martial arts movie, waaaaaay before In the Mood for Love, Happy Together, or 2046.  It’s been a while since I last saw it so I don’t remember the specifics, but the movie is based on the classic kung-fu novel Eagle Shooting Heros by Louis Cha (my family name) and features the late Leslie Cheung as Ouyang (also my family name).  Ashes of Time was pretty popular on the HK film festivals of the mid-1990’s.  I think it’s pretty neat to see it come back ’round, even though I don’t quite remember it and am not sure what the Redux part is.

Lastly, one thing that’s keeping my stoke alive is the anticipation of Baby, the Stars Shine Bright who are arriving en force at NYAF with designers, a tea party, and clothes, actual clothes!  That we can buy!  And wear!  My leanings tend to be more towards punku styru but the mere idea of a Baby boutique in the middle of the con floor is exciting all the same.  Girls, bring your Benjamins.  Baby means business.

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