Archive for September, 2009

The further adventures of the Hakaida Squad

September 12th, 2009
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Back in July, a group from Hawaii entered Anime Expo’s Masquerade and performed a little skit as members of the Hakaida Squad — a performance that ultimately earned them the convention’s Master Craftsmanship award. Among the participants was Oahu Anime Explorer president Kell Komatsubara; I’m pleased to present part 2 of his essay about the experience here. Part 1, of course, is just a click away.

Somehow, our armor had gotten lost by the postal service, and Hakaidas without chest armor were really not an option. After all we went through and had overcome so far, being stopped by this setback was NOT going to happen.

On the Thursday before I was to leave for Los Angeles, I ordered a sheet of aluminum and began cutting out the pieces for the chest armor. By Friday (and a few blisters on my hand later), I had all the armor cut and dressed it all up. I knew, however, that I was not going to have time to paint it here in Hawaii and ship it.

That Sunday, I boxed up all the armor and prepared to take it on the plane with me. On Monday afternoon, I began the final fitting of the armor for everyone. Since I was now in Los Angeles, I didn’t have access to the same race car shop as in Hawaii, so to make the bends in the armor I used a light pole to form it.

On Tuesday night, I went to my friend’s place in nearby Torrance to paint the armor. When we left there, it was almost 10:30 at night and I didn’t want to come back to pick up the panels, so I put them in the car, spread them out as much I could and turned the car heater to full blast.

The Hakaida chest armor in its unpainted state.

By Friday afternoon, I had the full armor assembled for craftsmanship judging, and Flo, Danielle and I went to our scheduled judging time. The judges were amazed with all of the weapons, masks, and costumes we presented and asked a LOT of questions.

We began our rehearsal sometime around 1 a.m. Saturday. This year, I brought along my external speakers and iPod so we could practice. This was much easier than the Eva skit, but it was just a matter of timing when to march off the stage, with our vision with our masks on limited. We worked at it for about an hour and a half, making minor changes to the entry and exit and some of the timing as well. We then decided to go to sleep and make final preparations for the big show later.

Later Saturday morning I went over the weapons and masks to make sure everything was in order. I then boxed everything up and took a quick inventory so we wouldn’t forget anything. It was then time to leave, and we loaded up Ethan’s car with all the boxes. He and I would drive down to the Los Angeles Convention Center while the rest of our group caught the shuttle. When Ethan and I arrived, we unloaded the boxes. He went back to drop off the car while I waited for everyone else to get there to help haul everything into the back of the main events arena.

A look at the inner joints of the Hakaida chest armor.

The staging area for all of the skits was behind the stage at the main events hall, LA Convention Center Hall A, in a large holding area. It had a lot more room than the Nokia Theater last year, but that was the only advantage this venue had. I kept thinking of how I missed the Nokia theater. The stage was now reduced to about a quarter of the stage we had in 2008, and the seating and audio was nowhere near as awesome as the other venue. But we all understood why we couldn’t get the Nokia, as the price to rent it out probably would have driven Anime Expo bankrupt.

We began to get everything out of the boxes, and then laid everything out. Next we put on the jumpsuits and boots and started last-minute adjustments to the masks. The one thing we did not anticipate was that with the mask on and the baklava under it, we had a hard time hearing what was going on. It was also difficult to see out of the masks, but I had discovered earlier that I had a much easier time if I closed one eye and looked through the hole with the other. It was a good thing we had Angela and Sara as stage ninjas to help us get on stage; if it weren’t for them, we probably would have ended up crashing into something. While we were waiting to go up on stage, Flo overheard one AX staffer saying, “I heard about their stuff lighting up. I can’t wait to see these guys on stage.”

The Hakaida chest armor in its final painted form. (photo courtesy Kell Komatsubara)

Finally, we got our chance. We did stumble a bit on some small things, but it was pretty cool to actually be a part of this six-year dream come true for Flo! In the end, we left the stage marching to “Colonel Bogie’s March” from Bridge Over the River Kwai, and the audience went nuts. We were told afterward, that our skit was the first time, either in the U.S. or Japan, that all four Hakaidas had ever been depicted in one place at once. I’m grateful to have been given this opportunity to do this skit and work with great cosplayers.

After we took our photos backstage, we went back to the holding area and began to get out of the jumpsuits and packed up all the weapons again. Remember when I wrote that I doubted we’d win anything? We were kicking back afterward when one of the AX staffers came up to us and said, “You’re entry 43, right?”

Flo and I were in utter disbelief that this was happening. Danielle confirmed to the staffer that we were entry 43, and we discovered we had won the AX Masquerade Master Craftsmanship award, given to those who are of the highest levels of their art. Danielle won the individual award for 2009.

Once again we take what we learned from this skit and will be applying it toward 2010’s skit. I am, to this day, forever grateful that Flo, Danielle and the rest of the squad allows me to be a part of their programs. I hope to continue to build these weapons and props, with the eventual goal of joining Flo and Danielle as AX award winners.

As for next year? We’ll hope fate will allow us to stay the night at Anime Expo.

Rhythm hell

September 8th, 2009
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Despite the relative rapidity with which I finished “Diabolical Box,” most times I’m not exactly on the ball with playing — much less FINISHING — a game within a decent time after its release. I once dug up a post on a gaming forum that I visit that said the sole reason I got finally got a Nintendo DS was for “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” — and 3 years later, the aforementioned game was STILL unopened and unplayed, despite the fact that I had played (and actually finished!) other games in the interim.

Hence why it was just yesterday that I finally cracked open “Rhythm Heaven” for the Nintendo DS. More accurately, I finally cracked open the case of Jason Y.’s copy of the “Rhythm Heaven” game that he let me borrow. (Hey, it’s been only 5 months since its release, at least!) The game comprises more than 50 rhythm minigames controlled completely by the touch screen. You tap the screen and do other actions to the beat of the music, which differs with each minigame. As a fan of Konami’s “Dance Dance Revolution” series, I was drawn to the prospect of playing minigames set to music. And I figured that since I was a relatively decent DDR player, I would have fun with a DS rhythm game.

Boy, was I seriously wrong.

I had trouble from the very beginning, starting with the game’s title screen, as I simply tapped the little blue dot that screamed “Touch me!” and then watched disbelievingly as I failed to start the game for some reason. I kept tapping furiously at the dot until I finally realized that when I tapped, the screen then switched to a large arrow pointing upward along with instructions to “Flick it like this!”

It took a bit of time for me to get used to that “flicking” maneuver — tapping and holding the stylus on the touch screen and then flicking upward with a sharp action of your wrist. While the practice games didn’t seem to care what direction you flicked, certain other minigames DID.

Specifically, the “Rhythm Rally” game — in which you hit a ping-pong ball back and forth according to the music’s beat — was far more discerning, requiring the specific action of tapping and holding at the corner of the touch screen and then flicking upward at a diagonal. Any other direction will cause your Katamari-prince-semi-lookalike character to flub the ball, either completely missing it or sending it off at a bad angle accompanied by a disheartening “poink!” sound. I found this out when, after thinking that the touch screen possibly wasn’t registering my flicking, I tried to flick in different directions and from different start points (such as the opposite corner or the center of the touch screen). None of them worked. Granted, the diagonal movement does match the motion a real person would make if holding a ping-pong paddle in the same position, but this is a VIDEO GAME! Give me some leeway here!

After a very short while, I was ready to flick something else at the game.

And “Rhythm Rally” is in just the second set of games, unlocked after you get a good enough rating on the first 5 minigames that are available at the beginning. I bumbled through most of the first set — while I easily passed “Built to Scale,” I then barely made it through “Glee Club” (make your character sing in time with the other two in the chorus), on to failing a few times in “Fillbots” (fill up robots with the proper amount of fuel), then to the hilarity of “Fan Club” (you and two other monkeys — yes, MONKEYS — must clap and jump to fire up the monkey audience listening to a pop idol singer), and finally on to “Remix 1,” which brings together all the various maneuvers you did in the first 4 games.

After those five games, I realized I’m FAR less musically coordinated than I originally gave myself credit for. After “Rhythm Rally” came “Shoot-’Em-’Up,” in which aliens come onscreen in a certain musical pattern and you have to copy that pattern to destroy them. I also had so much trouble with that one that the barista in the in-game cafe took pity on me and offered to allow me to bypass the game, which I accepted without hesitation. That turned out to be a good and bad thing.

Still, my screwups provided me with some entertainment. I got a grand kick out of seeing the stink looks that the kids in “Glee Club” or the monkeys in “Fan Club” threw my way whenever I messed up, to the point where I was enjoying my mistakes far more than my correct moves.

Despite that hilarity (and I really was laughing whenever I screwed up), there’s a limit to one’s tolerance, and my limit got hit in the game that followed “Shoot-’Em-Up”: It was #8, “Blue Birds,” in which you play a duckling and you tap your beak to the beat of the music under the direction of a military duck wearing shades and a baseball cap. I couldn’t even pass the practice round, during which Sgt. Duck yells out, “Peck your beak!” and the other two ducklings peck away to some beat in the music that I constantly failed to distinguish. I finally gave up and turned off the game in disgust.

My goal had been to make it to whatever game it is that features the gigantic Rapa Nui moai, the screenshot of which that I saw in ads being the main reason I got interested in “Rhythm Heaven” in the first place. (Yes, the weirdest things can completely capture my attention sometimes.) Jason warned me against trying to take it up again, saying, “What if that game ends up making you do something stupid?”

But I wouldn’t take warning and I started up “Blue Birds” again after about an hour or so. It turned out that the actual minigame was far easier than the practice session, with its Russian-inspired music and visual cues that I hadn’t noticed before (Sgt. Duck added the extra command of “Stretch your neck!” once the pecking part was over), so after a few tries, I passed “Blue Birds.”

To my surprise, my coveted moai game was the next one I unlocked! And, indeed, the game is pretty silly: You have to do long and short taps to get your moai to sing. Actually, all they really do is moan deeply, but I’m not going to argue the point. You can tell how well you’re doing by the literal crap that falls on your moai: The worse you do, the more bird droppings fall. I was getting plastered by the stuff about halfway into the song, while my partner moai’s eyes kept flickering in distaste at my pathetic attempts at “singing.” A few tries later, I quit THAT game, as well.

My overall failure to keep a beat to “Rhythm Heaven’s” satisfaction has made me completely give up on it, especially after I went back to the supposed easier stages to try to get a perfect score and instead I ended up getting even WORSE ratings than before. Plus, I figured that all that hard tapping and flicking was doing a number on my DS screen.

My apparent lack of rhythm aside, the wide variety in the minigames and the sometimes strange tasks that are set to music will definitely keep you from being bored. Proof that you can do almost anything to music if the beat is steady and catchy. For those whose musical prowess is far greater than mine, you’ll probably have a lot of fun.

Yup, these are (not) my readers.

September 8th, 2009
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Taking a break from cleaning up the formatting on part 2 of the Adventures of the Hakaida Squad (which will probably return on Friday; watch for it then!) with this quick commentary…

I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with my Tuesday morning routine: hop onto the Internet, check to see that Cel Shaded made it onto the dot-com safely, pimp the heck out of it on Twitter. Today, though, was a bit different, as I noticed there was actually a comment on my column about ADV’s final disintegration.

Now, you have to realize that comments on Cel Shaded are relatively rare … that is, unless I write something about, say, Keanu Reeves starring in Cowboy Bebop. Which made today’s comment seem rather unusual  to me. Even more odd … well, take a look. (And, umm, pay no attention to that Front Sight ad.)

This ... needs no explanation, really.

Now, I’ve heard ADV called many things over the years, but “tasteless and troubled kleptos?” That’s a bit harsh, particularly for a freshly deceased ent… ohhhhh, wait a sec, you probably wanted this story about Wyland and the stolen painting instead. Never mind.

So to this person, I say: Thanks for reading! I think. And, umm, might want to double-check that the story you’re replying to is, in fact, the story you want to reply to. ^_~