Archive for November, 2009

Love it today, find 500 ways

November 11th, 2009
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Our intrepid "nemu*nemu" duo Audra Furuichi and Scott Yoshinaga, circa 356 comic strips ago.

Five hundred nemu*nemu comic strips. It’s a number that boggles my mind. But it’s true: With the posting of “A Note of Thanks” on Tuesday night locally (early Wednesday for much of the rest of the U.S.), co-creators Audra Furuichi and Scott Yoshinaga hit a very impressive milestone.

The 500th strip, in which the shopkeeper who gave the enchanted (and enchantingly cute) plush pups Anpan and Nemu to best buds Anise Kurobu and Kana Mezurashi gets a thank-you note from the two girls, brings back memories of the first strip published on April 1, 2006, in which the shopkeeper brought down a box containing those pups. Much has changed since then — the characters have become simpler and squishier (note Anpan and Nemu’s evolution from Beanie Baby-like pups to more distinctive dog forms), the format has shifted from a vertical “4-koma” Japanese style to the more familiar horizontal American comic strip style, and black-and-white strips gave way to glorious full color. But every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for more than three years now, those “smiles to go” have been a part of my morning Web browsing routine.

The milestone also brought back memories of how I got to know Audra and Scott. I’ve known Audra since 2004, when I met her at the Ani-Magic anime convention in Valencia, Calif., as a member of Morning Musume tribute group USA Musume (yes, I have pictures of her performing; no, you can’t see them). Later, I was reunited with her — and met Scott for the first time — when they were part of the local anime/manga-inspired artists group MangaBento and I was working on a story about the group in advance of the first Kawaii Kon. They would break off from MangaBento shortly afterward and form their own enterprise, and the rest is history.

So in honor of #500, I’d like to reveal my 10 favorite nemu*nemu strips and story arcs to date. It’s difficult to whittle down so many strips to just 10 favorites; there are so many signature moments, always with a keen, yet subtle, eye toward continuity — Mister Buns always flopping over when he appears, Nemu’s childlike innocence, Anpan’s scowl (which isn’t a sign of anger, but determination!), the ongoing adventures of Henshin Rider and his battle against the evil Space Cow (who happens to be a pig), the crackling conflict between Anise and Nemesis over whether Henshin Rider or Hanshin Flyer is the coolest superhero. (How dedicated are Audra and Scott to maintaining continuity? That picture above, with prototype Anpan and Nemu plushies riding in a wagon, was taken right around the time the “Breakin’ Out” chapter was running online … in which Anpan and Nemu have an adventure in a little red wagon.) But after a night spent plowing through the entire online archive, I think I have a pretty good idea. (Of course, this list, like the Canon 50 list I assembled for The Rough Guide to Manga, is subject to change. Daily.)

Without further ado, the list:

sacrifice10. Sacrifice (May 5, 2006)
Early in its run, nemu*nemu established itself with elements of humor (Anise’s unbridled energy) and fantasy (hey, these plush pups can talk!). This, the 15th strip, contributed a third, key element to its success: the tug-at-your-heartstrings factor, or, to put it more simply using local terminology, the “HO, DA CUUUUUUUUUUUTE” factor. When you read this, you hoped beyond all hope that the shopkeeper would let the girls have these precious pups so they wouldn’t be separated. They did, and all was right with the world.

9. Jailbird (March 26, 2008)
And speaking of that “HO, DA CUUUUUUUUUUUTE” factor … this strip proves that dialogue isn’t necessary to tell a good story. The innocence of Nemu shines through here as his hope that he’ll be rescued from behind a gate — a gate that he later unintentionally finds is totally avoidable just by going in another direction, but that’s another strip for another day — slowly gives way to sadness over being forgotten. (Anpan was supposed to rescue him, but he was distracted by the TV.)

vision8. Luck is On My Side (June 22, 2007)
Anise’s luck — or lack thereof — captures the story of my gachapon-collecting life. Really. Oh, sure, I wanted the Galaxy Angel figures of Vanilla H and Mint Blancmanche, but what did I get? Forte Stollen, the Space Cow of the series. Why yes, I’m still bitter about it … can you tell?

7. Visions of Doom (Aug. 31, 2009)
Yes, I’m a guy and Kana’s a girl, but her experiences as a glasses-wearing member of society totally resonated with mine as I was growing up. All of the “Play Ball!” chapter had me nodding in agreement, but this strip in particular really hit home — I mean, seriously, have you ever tried wearing those 3-D glasses over regular glasses? Not a pleasant experience. And, of course, the whole gym class thing. Eww.

6. Role Model (July 24, 2006)
I love the little girl and her mother who pop up from time to time in the strip … usually when things are at their most chaotic for our heroes. And the way this strip is set up — Anpan climbs into a vending machine, Anise tries to get him out, average passers-by would just see a girl yelling at a machine for some strange reason — makes the payoff all the more rewarding. Will this girl ever get a doggie of her own?

5. A Camping Story (July 10, 2009)
A good number of you may be familiar with Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine cartoonist. Pastis’ wordplay strips are some of the best, punniest, most groan-inducing strips out there. This nemu*nemu strip would easily give Pastis a run for his money.

icecream4. Into the Music (January 10, 2007)
Kana’s Mimpii Club fandom reveals itself … acknowledging that we all have some secret fandom somewhere. (And that we should always be wary of friends bearing cell phone cameras that could be fired off at any time.) What makes it even greater? Those pictures show up later on campaign posters Anise posts during Kana’s run for class representative.

3. Ice Cream! / Still Good (May 25 and 30, 2007)
Many of us scream for ice cream … and many of us scream even LOUDER when said ice cream accidentally tumbles to the ground. Poor Nemu! Fortunately, Anpan’s a good enough friend to give him his ice cream instead. (Never mind that Nemu also subscribes to the “five-second rule” of dropped food.)

HIAI2. The Hawaiian Ai arc (May 21 and June 23-July 18, 2008)
Okay, so Audra has said on her blog post accompanying strip #500 that this arc doesn’t count toward the 500-strip mark, but really, it’s a great work regardless. It reminds you that, putting aside the little irritating elements of daily life (and, of course, that whole Furlough Fridays thing), Hawaii really is a great place to live, what with the unique nature of pidgin English, the scenic beaches and hikes and the food (macadamia nut chocolates! shave ice! mixed plates!). If there’s one strip that makes you sit back and really marvel, it’s the July 4 strip, The Journey, which is a showcase of Audra’s artistic talent. Watch for cameos by Ala Moana Center, Rainbow Drive-In, characters from Audra’s college comic strip “Culture Shock!” and even Scott himself (waiting in line behind Kana in one strip).

golden1. Golden (March 6, 2009)
I cried when I first read this strip. Still do now. It’s the high point of a story that saw Pollo literally crash into the gang’s lives, get healed up from a leg injury, and then soar off again. And hey, any arc where Nemu has his dream of flying fulfilled is always touching. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pollo returned someday, but still … saying goodbye to a good friend is always hard. And the fourth panel is priceless.

Congratulations on 500 comic strips, Audra and Scott. Here’s to 500 more … and beyond.

Call of Duty: Modern Apathy

November 10th, 2009
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Today is one of those milestone, red-letter days in the video game industry, a day that millions of gamers across the country have been eagerly anticipating. Stores opened at midnight and people flocked in and got their copies of this omega-blistering-hot game, rushed home, tore off the shrink wrap and started playing the heck out of it, work, school or other non-game-playing enterprises be damned.

That’s right: Today marked the official release of Konami’s Pop ‘n Music for the Wii. It’s all the fun of all those versions you’ve imported from Japan through the years, except without the colorful nine-button controller and with (very likely really dubious) waggle control support! LET ME AT IT.

… oh, yeah, and there’s also some bang-bang-pow-pow military tactical shooter, too. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, I believe it’s called. It’s a game that Kanye West would interrupt someone else’s awards ceremony speech to proclaim the biggest video game release of all time, likely to supersede in sales Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST, Madden NFL 10, Guitar Hero, Band Hero, DJ Hero, hero sandwiches, Rock Band, Beatles Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, and, of course, the entire Mario, Zelda, Imagine and Insert Plural Form of Proper Noun Here Except Stick a “Z” Instead of an “S” at the End (see: Dogz, Catz, Petz, Marmasetz, et.al.) series … combined. (That is, of course, until video game retailers begin pushing preorders for the next big thing, which should be starting riiiiiiiiight about … now.)

Wake me up when it’s over, please. I’ll be playing Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box in the meantime.

Not to say that I’m immune from the marketing hype machine. I picked up my Day One copies of Tekken 6, Soulcalibur 4, Street Fighter IV and Katamari Forever, to name a few recent examples, like a good little shopper drone. And I can understand to a certain extent the appeal of Modern Warfare 2. It’s just … another first-person multiplayer shooter? Why? Didn’t we just go through this a few months ago with ODST? I stopped by a store a few days ago to look for a copy of Tekken 5 ($9.99 on sale that week, yay), and I counted several bazillion used copies of ODST. Several bazillion! And I fully expect the same avalanche of used Modern Warfare 2 games to appear in a few months.

So yeah, I can wait. Never was a big fan of online multiplayer — you’re reading a blog written by a guy who grew up with nice single-player games like Pac-Man, Q*Bert, Galaga, all those fun games that you see crammed onto compilation discs now for $20, and I’d much rather not deal with college-age students acting like 6-year-olds as they pwn clueless n00bs, kthxbye. Then again, I’m not particularly fond of first-person shooters in general … only ones I’ve enjoyed in recent memory are those in the Halo series, and that’s because it allowed me to pull off the following strategy:

  • Advance a few inches.
  • Fiddle with controls a lot. Carefully aim in general direction of enemy.
  • Fire several dozen shots. (One or two may actually hit its intended target.)
  • Immediately get riddled with enemy gunfire.
  • RUN AWAY RUN AWAY RUN AWAAAAAAAAAAAAAY
  • Allow life bar to refill.
  • Repeat.

… and all of this is on the “rookie” setting, too. (I told you I’m really bad at this sort of thing.) The Halo series was better for me than other series because of that auto-life-bar refill … other series employ the accessory commonly known as “the med pack,” which basically meant I’d get riddled with enemy gunfire while looking for something that may refill my life bar halfway (only to see it emptied out again a few seconds later). Playing games: fun. Dying several zillion times in the first level: Not fun.

So have fun on your missions today, virtual soldiers. I’ll be over here figuring out the longest path for an ant to get to his colony, and other insanely aggravating puzzles like that.

Toying with emotions

November 7th, 2009
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Today on Otaku Ohana, we go in a somewhat different direction from the usual.

I received a press release on Thursday hailing the induction of the Nintendo Game Boy, among others, into the Toy Hall of Fame. I’m not surprised; that little guy changed gaming habits for all time, long before cell phone games were as ubiquitous as they are now.

But it wasn’t the Game Boy that caught my attention when I read the release. It was another toy that just got inducted that I homed in on: the ball. Yes, just the ordinary ol’ ball, the kind you kick, throw, hit, and lose over fences, down gutters and in shrubbery just way too easily.

That “the ball” was only NOW inducted into this previously-unknown-to-me National Toy Hall of Fame piqued my curiosity, so I looked it up online. The hall of fame is apparently a creation of the Strong National Museum of Play, another entity I had never heard of, and was established just in 1998.

Which explains the appallingly short list of toys that so far have made it into the hall of fame. A lot of toys I expected were in there — Barbie, Monopoly, LEGO — along with a particularly strange entry: the stick.

I am serious. A STICK. Not yet included is my most favorite generic toy of all — toy food and drinks — and they’ve already inducted a STICK? I count my childhood as one that was spent outdoors quite a bit, and neither I nor Jason Y. can think of much non-violent use for a stick — although granted my playtime was spent with friends on bikes in neighborhoods that had few trees, so maybe my problem is really that I didn’t have the necessary material to properly enjoy this gift of nature.

Instead, what we had — at least in our old neighborhood prior to moving to our current one — were those little “boats” made of the dried, split seedpods of African tulip trees; the accompanying young buds of said tree, full of liquid and dandy for use in the absence of actual squirt guns; seeds from the golden shower tree, whose actual kernels rattled inside their thick pods, sturdy enough to be used as coins for pretend currency; and hibiscus petals, which we ended up destroying in a way that I will not relate here in order to prevent more blossoms from meeting such a fate.

But, amazingly, NO STICKS. As surrounded as we obviously were by plants that could have provided us with such, WE NEVER USED THEM. Well, I shouldn’t say “never”; rather, I should say, I can’t recall us using sticks for much more than picking up bugs and other items that we were too scared to try to grab with our bare hands. Oh, and as kindling. But that of course was under careful adult supervision.

Let me say that I have nothing against sticks. I just found it funny how, among the list of honored toys that includes a cardboard box — which is also probably the craziest item ever included in a serious video game — seemingly so out of place, was, well, A STICK. We probably got more mileage out of tree leaves than we did sticks.

Still, it’s a reminder that the most nondescript items can be fun — and free. So even as the Nintendo Game Boy gets its due as a playtime pioneer, it’s got some pretty tough competition against the simple stick.