Friday, January 20, 2017

Video Backlog: “The Case of Hana & Alice”

Publisher: All the Anime (Anime Limited, UK)
Format: Region B Blu-ray, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional French Dub and English and French Subtitles. Region 2 DVD, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional French Dub and English and French Subtitles
Length: 98 minutes
Production Date: 2015
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

Tetsuko Arisugawa, known as Alice to her friends, and he novelist mother, Kayo, move to the small town of Ishinomori after her divorce. Alice, who is her second year of high school (or middle school as our US friends call it) is not too keen on restating in new town, but decides to make a go of it anyway. However things don’t go well from day one. The other students shun her seemingly because she is assigned a certain seat in the classroom by the teacher. Alice later discovers that the desk she sits in used to belong to someone named Judas, who was murdered by four other women called Judas who were his wives who poisoned him. Utterly baffled as to what this all means, Alice attempts to pry more information out of a boy (well, she punches him) who teases her after school. He tells her that the class had been cursed by the murder of Judas, a boy named Yuta, who had apparently married four girls in the class. He explains that the leader of the classroom, “Moo” (real name Mutsumi Mutsu) apparently possessed, had performed some sort of exorcism in the middle of class one day which purified her and the entire class. After this the shunning and bulling of Alice by the other students ceases.

At the end of classes and Alice is going home, one of her old friends from old home town, Fuko, goes up to her to say hello. Both of them were in a ballet school in their hometown. Fuko convinces Alice to join the class but is a little concerned that her mother can’t afford the classes. But when Alice asks her mother, she agrees to pay without hesitation. Walking past Alice’s house after school, Fuko becomes scared of the house next door which the local students refer to as the Flower Folly (or Flower House). A young girl can be seen regularly peeking out an upstairs window which naturally spooks the hell out of kids walking by. After school one day the class surround Alice and stop her from leaving. She fights most of the kids off but Moo explains they aren’t going to hurt her. What follows is a strange ritual where Moo removes the curse that has been placed on Alice. Alice thinks it’s a bit weird but is amazed that magic and spiritualism exists in such a small town. Alice’s mother explains to her that it’s just a bunch of superstitious nonsense.

While out running in a park, Alice comes across her teacher speaking to her next door neighbour. After the neighbour leaves she runs up to her teacher to find out what was going on. Alice’s neighbour is the mother of Hana Arai, a girl who is in her class but hasn’t come to school since the Judas incident. Hana is one who is peeping out her window in the Flower House. During the athletics carnival school, Alice has a run in with Moo. However the two of them soon begin to chat about the Judas incident after Moo discovers that Alice lives next door to Hana. Moo tells Hana that she was bullied by the other kids and pretended to be possessed into order to stop them bulling her. Moo doesn’t actually know who Judas is as the incident happed before she came to the school, but she thinks Hana Arai does know.

Later Alice comes home and discovers mail for the old family who lived there, the Yutas. Having found some old test papers for Koutarou Yuta in her cupboard, Alice realises that the boy known as Judas used to live in her room. She is horrified that she lives in a room of a murdered person. Determined to get to the bottom of what is going on, she sneaks into her next door neighbour’s house in an attempt to talk to Hana. After being shocked at a stranger invading her house, Hana calms down and explains what the actual Judas incident was all about. Hana believes that Yuta just moved to another school and never died, but can’t be sure. She knows where his father works but isn’t sure where the family lives so can’t confirm if he is alive. Knowing that the Yuta family doesn’t know who Alice is, concocts a plan to find out the truth.

This film originally played the 2015 Japanese Film Festival but bafflingly bypassed Canberra so I never got to see it in the cinema. This anime feature has a strange history. It’s actually a prequel of Shunji Iwai’s 2004 live action feature “Hana and Alice”. Iwai is a bit of a darling of the Japanese cinema scene with critically acclaimed films such as “Swallowtail Butterfly”, a starring role in Hideki Anno’s live action “Shiki-Jitsu”, a segment in the omnibus film “New York, I Love You” and probably his most famous work “All About Lily Chou-Chou”. An actual early version of the script for “The Case of Hana & Alice” was written as early as 2004, just after “Hana and Alice” was completed, however for some reason it was never actually greenlit. The reason why this film is animated and not in live action is because the two main actresses in the original film, Anne Suzuki (Hana) and Yuu Aoi (Alice), are 10 years older and of course no longer look like teenagers.

Like the much maligned “The Flowers of Evil” anime series, the film is mostly rotoscoped (where live action actors are filmed, then traced over and coloured). For the most part this works, especially for the ballet sequences which are beautiful to watch. Some additional elements such as mouth movements have been exaggerated for effect. For some of the more dangerous sequences such as Alice dangling from a first storey window, CG models have been used, which quite frankly look awful. And the most bizarre thing is these CG models are used in sequences where you wouldn’t expect them to be such as two people walking down a school hallway. Why wasn’t such a mundane shot done as rotoscoping? Regardless, most of the shots in the film look brilliant. There are some strange camera angles which wouldn’t normally see in an anime which I put down to Iwai’s experience as a live action director.

Being a prequel to an existing film, the question is do you need to have seen “Hana and Alice” to fully appreciate this film? I would say no, but watching the live action film certainly does expand your understanding of the two main characters. I decided to watch the film just before viewing “The Case of Hana & Alice”. It follows the rather humorous story of Hana who has the hots for a boy and takes advantage of his clumsiness when he walks into door and knocks himself out. She tells him he has amnesia and says that they were going out. The lie becomes a bit out of control when she has to cover herself for a bunch of photos she covertly took of him which he discovers. Hana tells him that his ex-girlfriend Alice took them and she has to rope her into pretending that she is. Only problem is that Alice falls in love with the boy. That film is a touch too long at 135 minutes and tacks on a sub plot of Alice being scouted by talent agency which I though added nothing to the film except for beautiful dance sequence at the end.

“The Case of Hana & Alice” references a number of scenes from the original, most notably a sequence where Alice goes out to visit her father at a restaurant. The love interest from the first film, played by Tomohiro Kaku, also returns as a cameo as a teacher. There’s also a reference to the origins of the original film; a series of short films sponsored by Kit Kat as part of their 30th anniversary in Japan. Whereas the original film was quite humuorous with touches of melancholy, this film mostly does away with a lot of the melancholic moments. The last third of the film has the pair trailing what they believe is Yuta’s father but is in fact another employee of the company he works for. A hilarious comedy of errors ensures. The film explores and builds on the relationship between the two girls seen the original and the “murder case” is really inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

The only English language version available is All the Anime’s dual DVD/BD set which is dupe a of their @Anime French label version released back in November. The two discs come in a digipak with a 20 page booklet which features a short message from Makoto Shinkai (for what reason, I’m not sure), a Shunji Iwai interview and an article on how they made the film. The only on disc extra is a 23 minute interview with (a pre “your name.”) Makoto Shinkai who gushes about Iwai’s work. All of these are housed in a chipboard case with three postcards and slip case. Overall it’s quite an intriguing film, beautifully shot with an interesting story which is in really about a burgeoning friendship between two girls. The rotoscoped animation is to a large degree a distraction which doesn’t help in the story being told, especially the CG models which are awful. But when it does all manage to work, it’s magnificent. 7.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Eight TV series, one OVA and two movies. In addition I am also waiting for the second part and movie of one TV series to be released before viewing it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Video Backlog: “Working!!! (Wagnaria!! 3)”

Publisher: Aniplex of America
Format: Region A Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Subtitles
Length: 13 episodes x 24 minutes, 1 episode x 51 minutes
Production Date: 2015
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

This is the third season of the series “Working!!!” I originally reviewed the first series back in 2011, but did not review the second. The second series pretty much follows on from the first, adds a couple more characters but doesn’t really break any new ground. The series is set in a family restaurant called Wagnaria, which the décor and name are seemingly based upon real Japanese family restaurant chain Saizeriya, but with the food more in line with other major family restaurant chains, not Italian influenced like Saizeriya.

High school student Sota Takanashi is suddenly asked in the street to join the staff of a family restaurant by Popura Taneshima, a very short 17-year-old (a year older than Sota) whom Sota mistakes for a primary school student. Sota has a fetish for cute animals, children and small things in general so immediately says yes without thinking. He latter feels duped by the fact Popura is older than him, as due to way he is treated by his older sisters he has a distrust of girls over the age of 12. Sota soon discovers the staff are bunch of oddballs; waitress Mahiru Inami who is a teen girl who has androphobia and punches Sota whenever he is near, Yachiyo Todoroki a woman in her early 20’s and the head waitress who carries a katana and dotes on the layabout manager Kyoko Shirafuji, a former gang boss in her high school years who does not much else but eat parfaits that Yachiyo makes for her. The kitchen staff includes Jun Sato who is a chain smoking chef who has the hots for Yachiyo but doesn’t have the guts to do anything about it. He is assisted by Hiroomi Soma who constantly teases Sato about his lack of progress and finds dirt on the waiting staff so he can blackmail them into doing chores for him.

Running the restaurant is Hyogo Otoo who is mostly away due to the fact he is constantly searching for his wife who gets lost quite easily. He will return irregularly from time to time bringing back souvenirs in the form of local snacks to appease Kyoko. One day he returns with a teen girl who calls herself Aoi Yamada. It soon becomes apparent she is a runaway, but she stays on to become a member of the wait staff. This is despite the fact she is hopeless at her job, often slacks off and ends up living in the restaurant’s attic. She’s also very clingy and keeps bugging Otoo to adopt her. We are later introduced to Sota’s sisters; Kazue who is a hardnosed lawyer in her early 30’s, Izumi who is in her late 20’s and is a frail writer of romance novels, Kozue an aikido instructor in her mid 20’s who is seemingly always drunk because her relationships don’t work out, and finally Nazuna the youngest at 12 years old. In one way or another all of the sisters make trouble for Sota. The first series ends with Sota attempting to cure Mahiru of her androphobia and partially succeeding.

The second series is pretty much a continuation of the first (with the animation quality going up quite significantly). A bunch of new characters are introduced such as Otoo’s long lost wife Haruna, Mitsuki  and Yohei Mashiba who are a pair of siblings who used to be in Kyoko old gang and are still fiercely loyal to her and Kirio Yamada and high school boy who claims he is the brother of Aoi and is looking for her. The third series has sense of finality to it. The relationships of Sota and Mahiru as well as Yachiyo and Jun begin to blossom. Several other long running plot lines are resolved including Aoi’s and Otoo’s.

I really didn’t expect to enjoy this franchise this much. I mean it’s pretty much just a silly little show about teens who work in a family restaurant. There are a lot of overused and long running gags such as Mahiru punching Sota, Aoi’s utter incompetence, Yachiyo, Jun and Kyoko’s interpersonal relationships etc. However most of the time a lot of these elements are used fairly sparingly and the constant addition of new characters certainly inject a lot of humour into the show and keeps things fresh. Based up on a four-panel comic strip manga which ran for 9 years and 13 volumes as you’d imagine there was more than enough maternal available for three series. The animation for all three series was produced by A-1 Pictures (“Sword Art Online”, “Anohana”, “Erased” etc) and as you’d expect it’s mostly high quality stuff. I think towards the end of the third series the animation wasn’t up to the standard of previous episodes. The series director was Yumi Kamakura (yes, yet another female director, and this seems to be her first time as series director), who is probably best known as an episode director for the studio, but also wrote the screenplay for the Kickstarter backed “Santa Company”. Her direction is pretty good and as a whole meshes quite well with the previous two series.

As I mentioned previously, there is an overwhelming sense of finality with this season of the show. The seriousness and drama at times almost overwhelm what is meant to be a slice of life comedy. But at the same time it really is satisfying to see a lot of plot lines come to a conclusion. At the same time nothing much has really changed in the restaurant itself by the end of the final episode, which I also found strangely satisfying. The series also introduces Sota’s mother. She’s always away from home due to her work (her job really isn’t explained clearly in the series) and seems to be loathed by Sota and his sisters except Nazuna who hasn’t seen much of her mother during her short life. The final episode (complete with faux fantasy story preview) is a 50 minute special which has Sota’s domineering mother taking him away from the restaurant and forbidding from making any contact with Mahiru. The whole episode feels forced and engineered for maximum drama where there didn’t to be any. It’s a rather sour note to go out on and seems really out of place when compared to the rest of the franchise.

Apart from the animation which takes a rather noticeable nosedive I the latter part of this series, the other big problem I had with this show was its English language release. The first two series were realised by NIS America in an oversized chipboard box with a hardcover book full of artwork. The Aniplex of America version is spread out over two sets with a blu-ray keep case in a flimsy slipcase and a few postcards thrown in. The kicker is the price; for the same cost of either one of NIS America’s seasons of “Working!!”, you could only buy one of the Aniplex of America sets at the “discounted” price. Years after they entered the market, their pricing still shits me. And with no other English language alternative in the home video market, you have no choice. I would still prefer that Aniplex just put English subs on their Japanese releases and be done with it. Their US versions are near Japanese prices, but you’re certainly not getting Japanese release quality. No booklets or anything. They’re ripping off US fans.

Having said that, the content of this show is pretty good. Certainly it’s not a classic show by any stretch of the imagination. It’s kind of silly, but there’s plenty of laughs to be found. The final episode did leave a bit of a sour taste in my mouth and the animation towards the end didn’t seem as good as what had come before it. But as a whole, all three “Working!!” series are great way to be entertained over the course of a few nights if you want something light and fluffy to watch. 7 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Eight TV series, one OVA and three movies. In addition I am also waiting for the second part and movie of one TV series to be released before viewing it.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Video Backlog: “Wish Upon the Pleiades”

Publisher: Sentai Filmworks (USA)
Format: Region A Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Subtitles
Length: 12 episodes x 24 minutes
Production Date: 2015
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

Subaru is a slightly shy and lonely 12 year old girl and the only member of her school’s astronomy club. On the day of an expected meteor shower, she grabs her prized telescope from home and rushes to the club room which doubles as an observatory. However when she opens the door, instead of finding the club room she discovers a very lush greenhouse. Inside she finds a boy around her age called Minato. She asks him what he is doing there but he mostly gives vague answers. Subaru feels like she is in a dream, however she still wants to see the meteor shower. As she leaves the greenhouse, a small blobby creature jumps on her and takes away her compass. She runs after the creature but eventually loses sight of it. Walking down the hallways of the school, she manages to unseal a door which was locked by magic. Inside are four girls in strange wizard or witch-like outfits, one of which is her old friend, Aoi, whom she hasn’t seen much of since she decided to attend another school.

It turns out the small octopus creature which stole her compass is actually a Pleiadian, and alien from the Pleiades star cluster. The alien has asked the four girls to help him find parts of its spaceship’s engine which were scattered in an accident seven years ago. As the alien cannot speak Japanese, he uses one of the girls, Nanako, as a translator, possessing her to speak as such. The alien uses Subaru’s compass to create a drive shaft, a kind of magical broom that the girls ride. Much to Subaru’s surprise her school uniform also transforms into a similar wizard’s outfit, the same as the other girls. Despite Subaru’s protests and pleas for an explanation to what is going on, the girls ignore her as they all take off into the sky to capture a piece of the engine which has appeared. Through a bit of trial and error, the five girls manage to capture the piece of the engine, which has taken the shape of a kind of a large spiny crystal-like star. With their magic they reduce the engine piece to the size of a tennis ball and into something that looks like a piece of Konpeito candy.

Thinking that their work is completed, the girls soon find themselves under attack from a young man in a black cape and with black horns. He attempts to steal the engine piece. However he fails, and somehow in the confusion it ends up under Subaru’s hat. To top off a rather eventful and confusing day, Subaru manages to see the meteor shower with the other girls while riding in the sky. The following day Suburu goes to school and discovers that the girls, Aoi, Nanako, Itsuki and Hikaru are in her class, which is odd because most of them don’t go to her school. None of the other students seem to notice what has happened. Aoi and Subaru also note that their pasts contradict each other’s recollections. The alien believes that his spaceship has caused this. Somehow it is pulling together alternate timelines. The creature latter explains that if his ship appears, it will causes massive problems on Earth. He needs the girls to find all the parts of his engine in order to keep it hidden in another dimension permanently. Luckily only the five girls can see the engine parts and the Pleiadian. But to cover themselves and to have a base for their activities (i.e. a clubroom), they form a Cosplay Research Club.

In the meantime they teach Subaru how to ride a drive shaft broom. Suburu also tries to patch up her friendship with Aoi which ended on a sour note when they went to separate high schools. She consults Minato whose greenhouse seems to appear randomly in different areas of the school. He explains that he went through a similar situation previously. To find the engine parts, the Pleiadian performs a "meteor shower forecast". In this forecast he discovers that two engine parts are nearby. The girls do manage to capture both, but yet again the boy in the black cape appears and this time steals one of the engine parts from them.

This show has some strange origins. It’s actually a collaboration between car manufacturer Subaru and Gainax. Originally a series of five minute shorts steamed on Youtube in 2011, a movie version was later announced in 2013, only for it to be never mentioned again. I’m assuming the movie was formatted into this 12 part TV series. It does seem really weird that a car maker would fund a magical girl anime. The astronomical imagery and themes are easier to understand as Subaru in Japanese is the name of the Pleiades star cluster (which bizarrely a Japanese language teacher told me wasn’t correct, but he was a dickhead anyway). Subaru’s logo on their badges is actually the Pleiades star system. Naturally there are a bunch of a Subaru and car references in the show; the drive shaft brooms which have car headlights on the front of them and later grills of specific Subaru models, and the fact the brooms make the sounds various Subaru engines. Then of course we have the lead character called Subaru. However none of the car references are all that distracting or really obvious. There’s no shots of any Subaru cars and none of the characters are named after Subaru models.

For the most part, “Wish Upon the Pleiades” is nothing really ground breaking in terms of magical girl anime. The five girls have their own distinctive personalities which are for the most part common archetypes found in modern day anime series. You have Aoi who is a bespectacled girl who fussed a bit too much over the clumsy yet lovable Subaru. Itsuki who is essentially a clone of Tomoyo from “Cardcaptor Sakura” with a few other girls mixed in for good measure. Then you have Hikaru who is probably the most energetic and boisterous of the lot. Finally you have Nanako who has an interest in the occult, is always seen wearing a witches hat and cape and is a conduit for communicating with the Pleiadian. The connection between the black caped boy who steals the engine parts from the girls and Minato should be utterly obvious to anyone who has seen any magical girl anime from the last 25 years.

As the series progresses, the girls collect the engine parts, which each successive part being found further and further way from the school. It doesn’t take too many episodes in before they venture out into deep space and eventually out to deep space and even outside the universe. Gainax have done a fantastic job in presenting the solar system and the universe in a realistic fashion, even though the magical genre is usually involves fantastical and unrealistic elements. Later episodes involve near light speed travel and other astronomical concepts. There’s even nerdy references to the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft. Naturally the series also has at least one episode devoted to one of the cast members where they have some sort of deep seated issue which is solved by the end of that episode. Most also explore their backstories where it is revealed all of them witnessed the separation of the engine parts some seven years ago. The other element of the story which makes it unusual is the concept of alternate timelines. Though it’s not really explained in detail, somehow the alien’s spaceship can draw alternate timelines together or take people back within timelines to take a different path.

Though the series does get a bit serious and melodramatic in the last few episodes, there is a lot of humour to be found in the show. Most of the time it’s pretty light hearted and doesn’t take it’s self too seriously. For the most part it’s a really fun and colourful show and goes against a current trend in magical anime where everything thing seems to so pitch black and serious, where the main cast either die or horrible things happen to them. I know sort of stuff has been a part of magical girl anime since “Sailor Moon”, but lately that stuff has been a bit too nihilistic for me. Despite the lawsuits, the defections to Studio Khara and Trigger and other troubles the studio’s had, this show proves that Gainax is still able to make great anime. The show was directed by Shoji Saeki whose only other real directing credit is Gainax’s last real hit, “Medaka Box”. Overall this is a fun and light-hearted series for the most part and I enjoyed it immensely. A lot of the plot isn’t all that original, however there’s a lot of interesting elements to keep you intrigued, the designs are nice, the animation is pretty darn good and the characters more than won me over (even though they’re largely archetypes). I’ll give this show a solid 7.5 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Five TV series and one movie. In addition I am also waiting for the second part of one TV series to be released before viewing it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Roaming Around Japan: Toyosato Elementary School and Kyoto Animation

I’m not really a guy who is into the whole anime pilgrimage thing. It’s pretty easy to blame “Lucky Star” and the many anime fans that still go to Washinomiya Shrine in Saitama prefecture for this whole anime pilgrimage movement. But if anime studios didn’t base their designs on real life towns and buildings, you’d not have this problem. Then again you don’t hear from many towns complaining about the otaku dollars as they cash in by selling merchandise.

Regardless I did decide on my last trip to Osaka in November 2015 that I would go check out the Toyosato Elementary School which was used as a basis for Sakuragoaka Girl's High School in the anime “K-On!”, a show which I had really come to love in the last few years. The main problem with going to the small township of Toyosato (with a population of just over 7,500) is it is really out of the way on a small private railway and hard to get to. If you have the cash, probably the best way is get a rental car and travel the 116 km from Osaka to the school which will take you a bit over one and a half hours. Naturally there are toll booths along the way which are bit hard to dodge, so it’s a bit expensive. Option two is to take the train, which is also a bit of a pain in terms of time and hassle.

From Osaka station, take the Japan Rail (JR) Special Rapid Service bound for Nagahama and get off at Hikone station. Here is where fun starts as you’ll have to transfer to the Ohmi Railway Line, which is a private company which still doesn’t use IC cards (i.e. reusable tap on and off travel cards like Opal and Myki etc.), so your ICOCA card is going to be useless here. It’s time to break out your Japanese skills and ask the guy ant the counter for a return ticket to Toyosato station. Also note that depending on the time of day, the trains going to Toyosato from Hikone only run once an hour (about 35 minutes past the hour) and half an hour in peak hour times. Also note that Toyosato station is unmanned. When you get off the train, go to the first carriage and show the conductor your ticket. Otherwise he will chase you down when you leave. Like he did to me… In total the trip from Osaka station takes around two hours. Please be aware of the amount of time the whole trip takes. You may not want to waste more than half a day to look at what is a school. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, get the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka station to Maibara station, then take the Ohmi Railway Line to Toyosato station to shave about 20 minutes off your travel time. The train line and the township itself have cashed in on the otaku boom. Above you can see the timetable for the train which includes an anime style conductor.

Above is a set of illustrations depicting the four seasons above the platform, also commissioned by the railway. Stepping outside the station, you’ll notice there isn’t anything around in the way of amenities at all. There is a bakery on the left hand side of the street, but it was closed on the day I went. There are no convenience stores within miles (and no restaurants from memory), so bring any food and drink with you if you plan to make a day of it. There are some drink vending machines next to the bakery. To get to the school is pretty easy. Walk around 250 meters straight ahead from the entrance of the station to a T-junction. Turn right and walk a further 650 metres (passing the police station and town offices) and you’ll be right in front of the school.

Along the way you’ll pass several “tobidashi boys” which are essentially warning signs for motorists that a school is nearby and to look out for children. The difference in Toyosatao is that most of these signs have been changed to look like super deformed characters from “K-On!”.

There’s even a Hatsune Miku version and a Konata Izumi (“Lucky Star”) version.

Note that school itself is open from 9am to 5pm. Entry is free. Sometimes the school is closed for special events. Check this Japanese blog called “Clubrooms of Today” for any closures or special events before you make the trip. Besides its inclusion in “K-On!”, the school has quite an interesting history. It was built in 1937 through donations made by philanthropist Tetsujiro Furukawa, the general manager of Marubeni Shoten. His stature appears outside the main school building and is featured heavily in “K-On!”. The buildings were designed by a local American architect William Merrell Vories. Vories had moved to Shiga prefecture in 1905 as a Christian missionary. On the hand rails in the stairwell of the main building are small brass statues of hares and tortoises which illustrate Aesop's fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare”. The story starts at the bottom and finishes at the top where the tortoise wins and the hare can be found asleep half way up. Apparently Vories suggested the motif for the school and Furukawa approved it remembering his childhood teacher has encouraged him using the story. In 1999 it was decided that the school no longer was up to scratch in terms of being earth quake proof. The local mayor announced a new school building and the old school was to be demolished. This did not go over well with the locals. In 2001 they got an injunction to halt any demolition of the school. However the local council fought back and there were even protests at the site which turned violent (well a bit of pushing and shoving at the very least). Eventually in 2004 the council decided to preserve the school and all its buildings, only after the mayor was defeated in a 2003 election.

The main building is where the club room for the fictional Light Music Club resides. Once you take your shoes off at the entrance and find some slippers which actually fit (this is compulsory for all buildings at the school) at the top of the closest staircase is the room. When I visited, I noted that many of the items I had seen in other fan’s photos online were no longer there. All the instruments were gone and the Gamera “Ton-chan” had been removed and replaced with a crappier ordinary plastic turtle. However all of the costumes Sawako had made for the girls are still there, as well other replicas of items that appeared in the anime.

If you return to the entrance of the building walk out to the pathway which connects the two annex buildings at either end of the main school building, turn right and go to the annex at the end of the path. In this smaller building you’ll find where most of the items in the club room went. All of the donated instruments have been moved here which join a collection of figures, some more costumes and a ton of other fan made paraphernalia. The locals also sell some regional merchandise, mostly stuff specifically made for the school, including t-shirts.

I bought a Ritsu Toyosatsu School t-shirt (above). They were selling t-shirts with super deformed versions of all five light music club members. When I was on the train I noticed a number of high school aged kids in uniform some with musical instruments, some without. It was the Sunday of a long weekend (22 November 2015, Labor Thanksgiving Day was on the Monday) and the 5th Annual Toyosato Light Music Championship was apparently on that same day. I was finally tipped off by the flyers and the township and next to the merchandise on display in the annex. One of the guys setting up came to talk to me and we had a slightly awkward discussion in half broken English and my barely functional and very broken Japanese (and also suffering from a head cold). From what I understood a number of local high school bands battle it out over a few hours. There are a couple of trophies, one sponsored by the local NHK station. Unfortunately I had a ticket for the shinkansen from Maibara station to Kobe, so I couldn’t hang around for the 12pm start.

I took a quick shot of the school stage where the event was to take place.

A couple of fans in their Itasha cars had shown up for the show in the parking lot.

On the way back to the station, I spotted a notice board with posters for today’s event and previous events held at the school.

Next it’s off to Kyoto Animation’s main studio in Uji, Kyoto. Again, I stress to be aware of the Ohmi Railway Line timetable for Toyosato station as at times the train only leaves once an hour. I would also check Hyperdia before you leave for the optimal time in terms of transfers. We’ll be going to Kohata station which will be two transfers and can take anywhere from a bit over 100 minutes to two and a half hours. Take the train from Toyosato to Hikone station, transfer to the JR Special Rapid Service for Aboshi or Banshuako and then change again at Kyoto station for the JR Nara Line bound for Nara or Joyo. Get off at Kohata station. Kyoto Animation is pretty much right outside the station’s entrance. Just turn left once you exit the station and walk about 10 or 20 meters and you’re there. I shouldn’t have to say this, but for god’s sake don’t go in. It’s not open to the public.

However the studio does have a KyoAni Shop not far away. Walk back past the station until you get to a T-junction (around 85 meters). Turn left and walk a further 290 meters going over the Keihan Uji Line (past Kowata Station) and a 7-Eleven. You’ll see a brown brick building with spiral stairs. Go up one flight of stairs and you’ll find the KyoAni Shop next to a hairdresser. It’s usually open from 10am to 6pm, but I think closes around 4pm on weekends. It’s kind of small and once you get a few people in there it’s hard to move about. Personally I didn’t think much of the merchandise on offer when I was there. There was only merchandise for shows that had just finished screening or current shows. Then again I’m not really the biggest fan of the studio. I bought a couple of “K-On!” artbooks and that was it. On reflection I could have just bought the books from Mandarake in Osaka, possibly for a little cheaper. Note that I didn’t visit both the school and studio on the same day. I originally went to Uji back in March 2013 after I had visited Fushimi Inari-taisha and Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto.

I think visiting the Toyosato school and Kyoto Animation is great for fans of “K-On!” and the studio, however it does take a big chunk out of your day to get to these places, which I found to be a major factor in deciding to go. Next time I’ll be heading out to the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Roaming Around Japan: The Ghibli Museum

Yes, I know this is a place that everyone goes too, especially if you even have the slightest interest in Japanese animation. Everyone has given their opinion of the places, so what the heck, I might as well give mine. As you may know, tickets can be a little hard to come by. You just can’t rock up to the museum and expect to get in. Often tickets will be sold out a number of weeks in advance even though the museum has been open since 2001 (you’d think everyone in Japan had been at least once by now!). This is because the museum only allows 200 people in per day. Sure, you could attempt to get tickets via the self-service machine in a Lawsons convenience store, but besides being fraught with language difficulties (if you can’t read kanji), as I mentioned before there’s little chance you’d be able to a ticket for the day you want. However if you want to take your chances Lawsons does have an English language website where you can order the tickets. Outside Japan, the best option is to get your ticket from JTB. Frustratingly they have a monopoly on all ticket sales in the western world. Buying a ticket from them costs around AU$17.

To get to the museum from Shinjuku station, take the Chou line to Mitaka station which will be a 15 to 20 minute trip. Take the south exit and turn left and follow the canal for about a kilometre until you get to the second set of traffic lights and a T-junction. In front of you should be Inokashira Park. Take the road to the right and follow the signs to museum which should be 300 metres down the road. The Studio Ghibli and the local council has put up various decorative signs in English and Japanese along the way so it’s hard to get lost. Alternatively there is a bus which goes directly to the museum. However I recommend the walk as the suburb the museum resides in is really beautiful. It’s so green and lush. As I mentioned before Inokashira Park surrounds the museum. You couldn’t claim it’s the most beautiful looking park in the city, but it is really pleasant to walk through after you have a look at the museum. Along with the signs pointing you to the museum, several lamp posts are also emblazoned with a Mitaka coat of arms designed by Miyazaki.

The museum has a faux entrance which has Totoro at the ticket counter (a fantastic photo opportunity that pretty much all patrons take up). The actual entrance is a further 100 meters on. If you buy a ticket in Japan, you will be given a set time when you can enter. This is to have a steady stream of patrons visiting throughout the day. For us foreigners, we can rock up with our JTB tickets anytime during the day (from memory there was two foreign couples who came as well). I went at the opening time, 10am. A ton of people had already rocked up by 9:30am. Around 10 minutes before opening time, the staff called out for families with small children. They were given priority and let in first. At the entrance your printed out JTB ticket is exchanged for Ghibli Museum one which has three 35mm frames from a Studio Ghibli film in it. Mine has a scene from “From Up on Poppy Hill” which had been released the previous year.

As the patrons pile in through the entrance, most head to the gift shop. Despite the best efforts of the museum, both the Mamma Aiuto gift shop and the Straw Hat Café (open from 11am) are seemingly always packed and are hard to get in to purchase anything. The museum itself is unlike any museum I’ve seen. The architecture is heavily influenced by European architecture, mostly on buildings in coastal Italian village called Calcata. On the ground level is the main hall which contains an amazing skylight with a propeller like fan reminiscent of “Laputa Castle in the Sky”. Nearby is an incredibly detailed fresco pained on the ceiling which includes many of the studios characters flying the sky surrounded by greenery. There’s a spiral wrought iron staircase, balconies, a bridge on the first floor and passages, some of which lead to dead ends, some which lead outside to patio area and some of which lead to other rooms. The building has little nooks and crannies all over the place which invite you to explore the building.

The ground and first floors have a permeant exhibit on the creation of one of their animated films. However it is more broadly an exhibit about how animation is made. It includes an amazingly intricate three dimensional zoetrope which animates the characters from “My Neighbour Totoro”. There are a number of “hands on” exhibits in this section which show patrons how animation works. The other main drawcard on the ground level is the Saturn Theatre. The museum runs several animated short films specifically produced for the museum during the day. However you’re only allowed to see one film once during the day. The film I saw was “Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess” which was directed by Miyazaki and seems to be set in the world of “Spirited Away”. There was no dialogue at all in the film, so it’s really accessible to anyone from any country who visits the museum. Like the rest of the museum, the little theatrette is packed full of little details and includes the front end of a tram as a projection booth. I also managed to spot a well-hidden Aardman character in the entrance to the theatre.

The first floor is also home to a mock-up of an animator’s studio which filled to brim with artefacts and tools that animators use and toys as well. On this floor as well are the temporary exhibits. When I went the exhibit was “The Gift of Illustrations - A Source of Popular Culture”, which exhibited the work of Scottish folklorist Andrew Lang and his illustration books from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, in particular the ones about fairies. Other exhibitions have focused on the studio’s work as well as international studios such as Pixar. There’s also the Tri Hawks reading room which is a library of sorts and the Catbus room, which as it sounds has a giant soft Catbuts for kids to play on and in. Outside the Catbus room is a wrought iron spiral staircase inside a cage. This leads up to the roof of the museum where there is a garden and a five metre high statue of the robot from “Laputa Castle in the Sky” and one of the cubes from the film.

It's certainly a fantastic way to finish up your visit to the museum. Everything inside the museum is off limits to photography, hence the reason why I haven’t posted any photos of the interior. I did note that one of the foreign patrons did take a few sneaky snaps of various exhibits. You can take photos of the Laputa robot and garden, so as you can image it’s a pretty popular spot to take photos, especially with all that pent up stress of not being able to take any photos inside the building. I’ve read a couple of comments from some anime fans that the museum is too childish and did nothing for them. This was is totally untrue for me and the majority of people who visit. Hayao Miyazaki explicitly designed the museum as something that wasn’t flashy or put the studio’s work on a pedestal. I really respect what he and the studio have achieved here. It feels “real” and not cheap or shallow or half thought out just to make a quick buck. If you’re looking for a detailed look into Ghibli films with lots of drawings and mock ups of characters or something in the vein of what Disney might do, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

It’s a really fun way to fill in an hour or two for children and adults who love the studio’s films. Afterwards it’s quite pleasant to walk through Inokashira Park, especially in spring when the cherry blossoms have come out. A lot of anime fans do the Ghibli museum in the morning and take the train back from Mitaka station and go to Nakano Broadway which is a mere six stops away. Next time I’ll be heading out to the Toyosato Elementary School which was the basis for Sakuragaoka High School in “K-On!” and the Kyoto Animation studio and shop in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Video Backlog: “Gundam the Origin”

Publisher: Emotion (Bandai Visual, Japan)
Format: Region Free Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English, Japanese, French, Korean and Chinese (Traditional and Simplified) Subtitles
Length: 4 episodes, 63 minutes (episode 1), 58 minutes (episode 2), 68 minutes (episodes 3 and 4)
Production Date: 2015 - 2016
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

By the year Universal Century (UC) 0068, man has ventured out to live permanently in space. Space colonies surround the Earth at various lagrangian points (where gravity from the moon and Earth are equal). Second and third generation colonists have been born over the last 60 or so years. However, tensions are brewing between the Earth government and the local governments who run the colonies. In the area called Side 3, the colony called Munzo wants to become an autonomous republic. Local politician Zeon Deikun prepares to make a rousing speech asking for the colony’s autonomy in the local parliament, but collapses and dies soon after he takes the podium. The public is outraged and allegations about who killed Deikun run rampant. Jimba Ral, a political ally of Deikun, takes in the Deikun's wife Astraia, and her two children. Jimba suspects their factional rivals the Zabi family, was behind his death. During the procession for Deikun’s funeral, one of the Zabi family cars is bombed with Sasro Zabi dying in the explosion. Rumours spread by the Zabi family implicate the Ral family in Sasro’s murder.

Jimba’s son, Ramba Ral, an officer in the local military is tasked with evacuating Deikun’s family from Munzo. However, a mob halts their escape with Kycilia Zabi intervening to save them. The head of the Zabi family, Degwin, arranges for the Deikun family to live with Zeon Deikun’s ex-wife, Roselucia, who as you can imagine is not on friendly terms with Astraia. This is to keep an eye on the family. In particular, the Zabi family fear Deikun’s children may one day seek revenge on them. The children remain with Roselucia in the main house, while Astraia is cruelly banished to a tower far from the main house. Though the Ral family’s standing in the colony has been ruined by the rumours of their role in Sasro’s murder, Ramba hatches a plan so that the two young children, Casval and Artesia as well as his father Jimba, can escape the colony. He gets his lover Crowley Hamon, to pose as a federation solider and using false orders take the children to the spaceport via a Guntank. But everything doesn’t quite go to plan. The soldiers in the Guntank ask for more bribe money and Federation soldiers attempt to stop them in Guntanks, only to have Casval commandeer the firing controls and destroy one of the Guntanks. Eventually Jimba and the two children are smuggled out of the colony in a cargo ship.

Three years later and the trio are living on Earth in Andalusia, Spain. A local businessman sympathetic to their cause, Don Teabolo Mass, has taken under his protection. He has adopted the two children who are now called Édouard and Sayla Mass. Jimba invites representatives from Anaheim Electronics in order to plan a rebellion against the Zabis, however Don strongly advises him to cancel his plans. Later that night a group of armed men enter the house to kill everyone. Édouard and Sayla fight off a killer in a suit of armour and survive. Jimba is killed but Don survives though is badly injured. In hospital Don is visited by Shu Yashima, an entrepreneur and business man. Sympathetic to Deikun family’s plight, he suggests they all move to his Texas colony which he owns. It’s close to Muzno which means they can keep a distance from the Zabi’s but also give the impression that they are submitting to them. Édouard and Sayla move in with the colony’s chief manager Roger Aznable. There they meet his son, Char Aznable, who is a dead ringer for Édouard, except for the colour of his eyes. As he enters his late teens, Édouard becomes rather cold, calculating and manipulative. He severely beats a man he suspects of being sent by the Zabi family to spy on him and Sayla.

Later Char Aznable becomes indoctrinated by the Zabi family’s propaganda as Munzo edges closer to a fascist dictatorship. Char decides to enter the Zabi’s military school. After the children receive word that their mother Astraia has died in Munzo, Édouard suddenly tells Sayla that he is leaving with Char to go to military school. She tearfully pleads with him to not leave her, but he just ignores her. Édouard has not been accepted by the military school, but plans to do away with Char enroute and assume his identity. Meanwhile Dozle Zabi heads up a development team of new robotic construction equipment called a Mobile Worker, which can easily be adapted into a weapon called the Mobile Suit. He invites Ramba Ral and the men who would later become the Black Tri-Stars, to help test these new weapons.

Based upon Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s manga of the same name from the early 2000’s, this is another big budget OVA/movie series release from Bandai Visual and Sunrise. It’s being released in a similar manner to “Gundam Unicorn” with theatrical releases in Japan, a BD release in cinemas on the same day, an English dub and subtitles in various languages on the BD. This time it’s a bit different with the same Laserdisc sized limited box set (only available in Japan directly from the Bandai Visual Club website) being sold in the US, UK and Australia without the option of the cheaper regular editions sold through regular retail outlets in Japan. The difference is pretty significant (about $40), so I opted to buy the regular versions from

The set of OVAs (or movies) generally follow the life of Casval Deikun who would later become Char Aznable. This series generally follows the first arc of the manga which leads up to the One Year War just before the events of the original Gundam TV series. The series is directed by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko with Takashi Imanishi (mostly know as the director of “SPT Layzner”) doing the actual direction of the individual episodes. Apart from Char’s backstory we also see his family, the Zabi family, the Ray family, the Ral family and of course a number of cameos of various characters for the original TV series. Also key to the series is the development of the Mobile Suit on both sides of the conflict.

As you’d expect from a big budgeted series like this, the animation is extremely well done with some really nice battle scenes on occasion. However as this is set before the One Year War, big battle sequences are far and few in between. Most of the series deals with the political machinations between the Zabi family and the Deikuns and Rals. Most of this is scripted quite well. Some of the drama in the first OVA heads into melodrama and feels quite silly. This is especially true for Zeon Deikun and Jimba Ral’s scenes. There’s also a scene where a very young Casval Deikun confronts Kycilia Zabi. I know that it’s important to show what Char was like as a kid, but the entire sequence is hard to swallow. I mean he’s still a prepubescent child at this stage. The other three parts fare much better as the teen Casval metamorphosises into the cold blooded Char hell bent on getting his revenge on the Zabi family.

However the lead up to how he became Char also had me seriously attempting to suspend disbelief. As you may have seen from the trailers for the second part, Édouard and Sayla Mass meet a teen boy Édouard age, Char Aznable, who is pretty much a clone of Édouard. It’s patently obvious what happens next, but the whole set up just feels a bit too forced. I also found it hard to believe that the spies sent by the Zabi family could not figure out what happened. How thick are they? The cameos of characters such as Mirai Yashima, Kai Shiden and Hayato Kobayashi also feel unnatural. I especially felt that Mirai’s cameo was completely unnecessary. What kind of businessman would bring their young daughter to a meeting in hospital? The scenes in the last part which showed Amuro’s school and family life also seem out of place in the context of the series. What really worked well however was the beginning of the friendship between Char and Garma Zabi at the military school. In this series Garma is shown to be much kinder than his siblings and seemingly uninterested in family politics. Char’s character is also developed very well in this section as it is revealed that he is a man that will go to any lengths to sate his lust for revenge, and certainly is quite patient and calculating in doing so.

The standard versions of the series I purchased include slipcovers with brilliant artwork by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, a booklet featuring character and mecha designs and second larger book which compares the rough drafts from the manga with the completed animation. I also got a couple of bonus clear files, one when I bought the second part at Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku and the second from for the fourth part. In conclusion this is a pretty exciting series. I think sometimes it ties itself up in knots trying to explain certain parts of Char’s origins and some of the cameos are too obvious for my liking. A lot of the drama is offset by a lot great humour which I really enjoyed. While these scenes with Amuro feel out of place, the sections covering the development of the Mobile Suit work well within Char’s story. Sunrise have announced the second arc of the manga, known as the Loum Arc, as two movies/OVAs for 2017. I’m looking forward to them. 8 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Eleven TV series, two OVA series and three movies. In addition I am also waiting for the second parts of two TV series to be released before viewing them.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Roaming Around Japan: Odaiba

On my first trip to Japan I had planned to go to a number of anime related places, so much so that unfortunately the holiday just ended up being an “anime holiday” for the most part. At the time I thought that I would never go back there and crammed as much stuff I wanted to see in the short week and a half I was there. Earlier in that year Gundam Front Tokyo had just began trading in the newly opened Diver City shopping complex and this was the main reason I wanted to go to Odaiba. The main attraction of Gundam Front Tokyo (and Diver City) is the 18 metre tall RX-78-2 Gundam statute which stands right outside Diver City. It was previously used by Bandai as a promotional tool for the franchise’s 20th anniversary, in particular for the line of model kits, but now it has been on display in Odaiba since 2012.

Odaiba is in fact a large artificial island in Tokyo bay. Originally built for defensive purposes in the 1850’s, during the tail end of the economic bubble in the early 1990’s it was earmarked for expansion with the then Tokyo governor announcing the area to be redeveloped as Tokyo Teleport Town. The plans were quite grand with residential and commercial properties planned along with a projected 100,000 residents to be living there by the middle of the decade. However by 1995 over a trillion yen had been sunk into the project. The economic bubble had burst long ago, the developers were bankrupt and many plots of land remained undeveloped. The other problem is that Odaiba is virtually in the middle of nowhere in terms transport. It takes over half an hour to get there from Shinjuku via the train. Businesses just weren’t interested in the place. Odaiba was viewed as a boondoggle. The new governor of Tokyo halted the plan. 

However less than five years later, Odaiba started to become a rather popular local leisure and tourist spot. This really isn’t all that surprising considering what’s there; two museums (Museum of Maritime Science and Miraikan), a number of shopping malls, lots of parks and open spaces, and plenty of futuristic architecture such as the Fuji Television building and Tokyo Big Sight which hosts conventions and other events such as Comiket (in summer and winter) and the annual Anime Japan. The extension of the Yurikamome line into Odaiba also helped with the popularity of the area. In the last couple of years there have been proposals to relocate Kabukicho from Shinjuku to Odaiba (which seems absurd beyond belief), however as you can imagine nearly all of the businesses and residents of Kabukicho hated this daft idea. This was plan was part of a push to “clean up” Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic games. Hopefully it has been hit on the head.

To get to Odaiba, probably the best way is to use the JR Saikyo line from Shibuya which will normally link on to the Rinki line without any transfers. However it is advisable to check Hyperdia before you go. The trip usually takes 20 minutes from Shibuya to Tokyo Teleport. The other option is the Yurikamome line which is far more picturesque journey, but will add on another 15 minutes (to Daiba station). Exiting Tokyo Teleport (the “B” exit), keep walking straight ahead following the covered walkway until you come to the overpass. Keep walking towards the distinctive Fuji Television building, right past on its right hand side. Walk between past the Aqua City and Decks Odaiba/Joypolis buildings (unfortunately the “Little Hong Kong” replica of a Hong Kong streetscape was shut down years ago) and across the road to the park. Walk along the boardwalk to your left and you’ll eventually comes across a replica of the Statue of Liberty. This one quarter scale replica (a bit over 12 metres) was a present from France to Japan and installed in April 1998 for the commemoration of "The French Year in Japan".

Walking along the waterfront is quite pleasant with a nice view of the city and the Rainbow Bridge (blown up in “The Next Generation – Patlabor -” movie). You may even see the Tokyo Cruise Ship Company’s Himiko cruise boat, designed by Leiji Matsumoto (of “Captain Harlock” and “Galaxy Express 999” fame). The only other thing of interest is the Noitamina Shop and Cafe Theatre on the fourth floor of Aqua City. Other than that, the two closest malls in the area are full of chain stores you can practically find anywhere else on the planet. If you get back on the viewing platform between the Hilton Hotel and Aqua City, you can turn around and walk back to Diver City on several connecting pedestrian overpasses without having to cross any of the roads below.

Here you will find the shopping complex Diver City and 18 metre tall RX-78-2 Gundam statute which sits outside. Unfortunately Bandai have decided that the statue will be disassembled on 5 March 2017. Where it will be displayed from  then on, nobody knows. Behind the Gundam statue is a local branch of the Gundam Café (open from 10am). The menu isn’t as large as the main store in Akihabara, but you can buy coffee, light meals such as takeaway burgers and a of course a ton of merchandise. I am unsure if the café will be closing when the statue is dismantled. Inside Diver City are a number of chain stores and restaurants, most of which you can find in any large shopping centre in Japan (or the world for multinational chains). Of interest on the seventh floor though is Gundam Front Tokyo (open 10am) which is like a mini amusement park/museum for all things Gundam. There are a couple of free areas such the Strict-G upmarket Gundam inspired fashion shop and the main shop, however to see the displays, it will cost ¥1,000. This includes a short film in the G-Dome where CG animation projected on the inside of a dome, an “experience field” which has a full sized battle scared Core Fighter and a Strike Freedom Gundam torso which you can enter and have pictures taken in the cockpit for an extra fee, plus other displays and a Gunpla Factory which explains how they make the model kits as well as a chance to make one yourself. As fan of the series, I found Gundam Front Tokyo was really well done and extremely fan friendly.

There is so much attention to detail such as the hallway to the entrance of the Dome-G theatre (above). If stand in a certain spot, you can see the image of Heero Yuy’s Gundam from Gundam Wing Endless Waltz. A loop of two introductory videos laying out the rules for the Dome-G play in this hallway before you go in. One is narrated by Gihren Zabi from the original Gundam series, the other by Lacus Clyne from Gundam Seed. Unfortunately Bandai have decided to close Gundam Front Tokyo on 5 April 2017. With the removal of both Gundam attractions, I’m not sure what else Diver City could do to attract visitors. Without the Gundam stuff it’s just another ordinary shopping complex. There was a Maidreamin maid café in the complex, but it seems to have shut down.

Right outside Diver City in front of the Gundam statue, if you turn to your right, keep walking over what is called the Symbol Promenade Park for around 270 metres. To your right you’ll see a covered walkway to the Mega Web (open from 11am). Walk through that  to get to Toyota’s history showcase. This is display of various motor vehicles from the 1950’s right through to Toyota’s short-lived foray into the world of Formula One motor racing in the 2000’s. It also includes an area where they restoring cars they’ve recently acquired and of course a gift shop. The complex also includes Toyota Showcase City which displays current models, concept cars and cars available for test drives and Ride Studio which is basically a large indoor go-karting place. Connected to the Mega Web is Venus Fort, whose interior looks like an elaborate mock-up of an 18th century southern European town. The lighting cycles though the various parts of a day (from morning to night) in about 15 minutes or so. It’s gaudy and quite odd. I’ve never really seen any shopping complex like it before. It’s certainly worth the trip even if you’re not interested in any of the shops. Apart from the usual chain shops you find in these complexes there is a local branch of Studio Ghibli’s Donguri Republic chain, Village Vanguard and Kiddy Land.

Finally, the other building of note is Tokyo Big Sight. To get there, go to Aomi Station and take the Yurikamome line to Kokusai-tenjijo-seimon Station (about a 10 minute trip). As I said before this convention centre hosts the two big otaku events in Tokyo; the biannual Comiket and the annual Anime Japan. Even if there is no conventions happening, it’s still an awesome building to behold. Around 350 meters over the walkway across the road is the Panasonic Centre. This is mostly a building to display Panasonic goods, however some of the displays are quite interesting. Best of all it’s free. The building also houses Nintendo Game Front were you can play recently released games and a café.

There’s far more to Odaiba than what I’ve mentioned here. You could literally spend a day or two wandering around and discovering all it has to offer. I think it’s a real shame that Bandai has decided to pull up stumps in regards to its Gundam related attractions. Still if you need somewhere to go on a rainy day in Tokyo the museums, shopping malls and other attractions in Odaiba should be more than enough to fill in a day or two. Next time like everyone else who has visited Tokyo, I’ll be looking at the Ghibli Museum to give my thoughts.