I finished last month’s Harta! A bit on the late side…
ハクメイとミコチ hit 100 chapters with a nice story capturing some of the pleasure of travel.
I really liked the first chapter of 黒巫鏡談 by 戸川四餡. It’s about a naive second-rate Japanese novelist visiting Korea during the occupation to research material for a book, and getting haplessly involved in a supernatural mystery of some kind. Occupied Korea is an interesting location for a historical manga to cover, and it seems like the author’s handling it with detail and tact, and it’s interesting to get lots of information about Korean folklore instead of Japanese for a change. Not represented by the panel I chose at all. It’s to run for a short serialization - seems like probably 3 chapters total.
The mermaid series アビスアジュールの罪人 concluded this issue. If you’re into mermaids, check it out! If you’re not into mermaids, well it’s very about mermaids so maybe don’t check it out.
I finally finished a game I’ve been picking away at for quite a while! Arguably it’s more extensive listening than reading, but I’ll put it here I guess…
Definitely something I wanted to do with Japanese someday was to emulate a PC-98 game, since the aesthetic of that computer line is so specific and so not quite like any other computer I’m familiar with. My interest in older computer has waned a bit in recent years (partly because of reading Japanese taking up so much attention), but it’s definitely still there. Anyway, one positive of my backlog system is that it does give me a reason to tackle something like that now, rather than endlessly waiting until later when I’ll feel more prepared and then never getting around to it. And so Policenauts came up in the random draw…
I had, at some point, at least set up the emulator and gotten the game running to prove that I could do it, and been very charmed by the opening but my listening skills were not up to the task at the time.
Now though? Not too much problem! The game is split into two kinds of text: fully-voiced dialogue with no subtitles, and written dialogue and flavor text with no furigana. So it’s a bit of a full-course meal of advanced language learning challenge, and I thought it was pretty cool that at this point that did not make the game inaccessible to me. Certainly some particular details about the convoluted schemes at the heart of the mystery maybe didn’t fully get internalized, and I might have been slightly quicker to lose endurance and skim quickly through dialogue options, but otherwise I was perfectly fine.
And thankfully, wrangling the emulator was a lot easier and more smooth than I feared. Once I figured out how to get things going (and kept a README for myself), I could reliably make progress over and over, with crashes only occurring at the optional shooting range. The one glaring drawback of the process, was that something was definitely busted with the audio - it sounded great at first, but in 10-15 minutes, it would reliably have a desynced ghosting effect that gradually made dialogue unintelligible. Also I think the game is supposed to have lip-synching, but that part’s completely broken, presumably for some same underlying cause. I was unable to fix this (but it’s not like troubleshooting a game I’m exactly the same age as, for a computer I’ve never seen or used was going to be in my wheelhouse), and while thankfully the game is easy to play and extremely generous with the ability to save, the pressure to stop and restart every 10 minutes certainly did not help me keep momentum. But hey, another obstacle it’s kind of cool to clear - pretty neat I could make out the dialogue sorta okay even as it started to glitch!
And there is a LOT of text and dialogue. This is a Hideo Kojima game (successer to the earlier Snatcher, which I haven’t played), written and directed by him, and one way that certainly shows is the sheer amount of codec-like flavor text about different facets of the sci-fi setting. The idea is that colonies (similar to the ones in Gundam) are in orbit, and you’re a cop who had a cryo mishap that’s ended up with you a couple of decades or so younger than you would have been otherwise, and you get to investigate a murder and disappearance that takes you into space again. It’s a really fun setting, and the game almost boils down to “hey, want to play an 80s cop movie (the character designs seem VERY Lethal Weapon inspired) set in one of those cool Gundam colonies?” which I’m totally here for!
It’s a visual novel though, and my initial enthusiasm I confess did wane as the first chapter dived headlong into lots and lots of setup, and it took my wandering around confused for a while to figure out that of course - this is the kind of game where you’re supposed to exhaust every dialogue option and investigate every detail, before the game will then let you forward to make progress. That’s the kind of model that I don’t mind… once I figure out that that’s what’s going on. I really have to make a mental note to expect it as a possibility going forward, since I think it caused friction with Ace Attorney too.
Eventually I recovered momentum and pressed forward to the end, but that first chapter or two after the initial murder and gunfight is definitely the slowest part of the game as things build. I would have been happy to have a bit more of things like the bomb-defusing sequence which was a really fun thing. And anytime there was a little bit of a puzzle I got a kick out of solving it (when the game quized me on mon knowledge I was all smug since a handful of mon like the Tokugawa one or Hojo or Takeda are in my anki… but it was definitely expecting me to have internalized the entirety of the mon listed in a different part of the game, so alas I resorted to google rather than backtrack). But it’s mainly lots and lots of talking and simple mouse-click shooting sequences.
Also… let’s say “a PC-98 game written by Hideo Kojima” isn’t a phrase that inspires me with a lot of confidence about how it’s going to handle female characters (not to regret my words and deeds or anything) and uh, yeah it’s not great. It’s not that kind of PC-98 game or anything, but it is very… leery. All of the receptionists, stewardesses, waitresses etc. are ladies for you to ogle, and there’s interactivity to hit on them or observe them, and I didn’t love the way that the game gating me behind dialogue options I hadn’t exhausted and hotspots I hadn’t clicked on, inherently made me feel pressure to plumb that interactivity for all its worth, just in case that ended up the one thing the game withheld progress for later. All of the main female characters are also… something, either standard noiry femme fatales doing the cross-leg thing from Basic Instinct with a fly-swatting game encouraging you to touch her boobs, a character who’s cast pretty much explicitly as both your (same age as you because of cryo business) daughter and potential love interest, an action girl who is just Meryl from Metal Gear Solid, who says you can touch her boobs if you beat her score at the shooting range, and she gets a very shallow romance with a dorky guy who’s always eating a sandwich and gets killed with his dying words encouraging her to show more femininity… that’s not quite all the female characters (Ed’s daughter is handled mostly fine I guess), but… it’s still a lot writing it all out like that. And anyway – what I was going to say is all that about the actual characters was somehow less off-putting to me (I suppose since it’s more what I expected) than the ancillary service worker leeriness I was talking about before.
So although it was super exciting initially to be able to play this this way at all, and there is a lot about the aesthetics I am taken with, and I enjoyed the game through it. I definitely am not without qualms, and didn’t finish feeling as positively as I hoped. It’s neat though! And someday I very very likely will play Snatcher! And it’s certainly not the last unusual JP-only detective game or visual novel I wanna check out…
other manga report:
- BANANA FISH （１－２）
I finally started Banana Fish! It’s been very high up my next to read list for a long time albeit in part because it’s ahead of ゲゲゲの鬼太郎 in my backlog system… and I have a strange, slight connection to it over the years since when my dad briefly lived in Japan, one of the souvenirs he gave me was, for whatever reason (I think just the name sounding unusual?), a volume of Banana Fish (translated), which I absolutely 100% did not make heads or tails of, lacking any context at all and having no frame of reference for really any manga at the time, much less one this far removed from the shonen jumpy stereotype of the form. The name is so memorable that it stuck in my head and whenever I saw it mentioned through the years as, for example, a shojo manga BL-precursor, I got more intrigued, and maybe more confused.
So anyway it feels good to finally actually dig into it with much much more context and confidence! Some of the trouble I had getting in to it does make new sense though - it’s pretty dense and full of characters, and introduces a lot of them out of the gate without a clear sense of where things are going to go. To the point that I adopted a strategy I’ve used and enjoyed recently with mystery novels, and started taking notes to make sure I was tracking everything and to safeguard against long pauses between reading sessions. That helped a lot!
Yoshida’s art style feels very 80s in a very particular way – I was trying to place what it reminds me of, and I think it’s Dave Gibbons’ work in Watchmen, or maybe Otomo. Like… extremely grounded, non-exaggerated, occasionally punctuated by very posed larger action panels (like Ash firing a gun, or kissing Eiji look great) in a way that suits a big cast of characters interacting with each other. I like how it looks a lot! I suppose part of that Watchmen association in my head might be the New York City and prison system settings here though.
In any case, with these two volumes I think probably the main engine of the series (or at least the beginning of it) is in place Ash and Eiji, resisting Dino, uncovering Banana Fish mysteries and I’m fully on board! It definitely leans heavily on Ash’s extremely troubled and traumatic background involving lots of sexual abuse with the romance of the story sort of coming from him being both a cool rescuer and someone in trouble to rescue, but I’m curious to see how it ends up handling everything, and what the strands of mystery lead to.
I also reread the Salinger short story it’s named after. Pretty bleak! The parts of the web of elements here involving the Vietnam War and trauma from are the first thing in the series but are mostly in the background… I wonder if it will come back around to be extra important based on the themes of the short story?
The volumes I’m reading have afterwords, but I remember seeing a Japanese review on amazon complain about them spoiling stuff later in the series so I guess I might as well hold off on reading them.
- 大ダーク （５）
Dai Dark’s cool! I feel like reading volumes as they come out instead of in bulk might not do them great favors though… I feel like they’ll blend together, since it’s mostly the characters sorta screwing around, relatively free of driving danger. But it’s cool and fun!
- EVOL （２－５）
I caught up on this Monthly Comic Beam series I started! I think it’s really neat! Obviously Atsushi Kaneko’s art style is extremely striking, and that’s a lot of the draw - even the typography of the table of contents is always fun and wild and pops. And while a hyperviolent, cynical take on superheroes is again, extremely well-trodden ground, I found myself caring enough about these frustrated teens as their backstories got filled in, to really feel for them as things developed. I wouldn’t call any of it… like, the most complex or original character work ever, but I think it captures well the exaggerated emotional highs and lows of being a teen and an outsider, and works well on that level - like Nozomi imagining himself as a 1950s b-movie space alien to show he’s alienated, and confessing to the guy he has a crush on and getting badly rejected is an example of what I mean. Or how the title is Evil misspelled and also Love backwards. It reminds me tonally of the tv show Misfits, which I remember liking (although boy am I not sure if that holds up, I think I only saw the first one or two seasons and then stopped hearing about it)
Anyway, I’m also really intrigued where things are going to go - the especially sinister, sort of… divine? sci-fi? like… hero council? is some really cool stuff that is starting to take it farther away from just the usual cynical superheroes. I don’t know if I’ll really get going with Beam when I have plenty of things to read without another magazine at the end of the day, but if I do I’ll be happy to get new installments of Evol in the mix.
A character in the comic listens to the band Discharge a number of times, and I found that the two do pair well.