June 2011

Asobi ni Iku Yo! book one


ネコミミ・ノート
Notes taken with a 1.8m catgirl.

[6/4 minor update to 4.1 (Jens)]

I've been keeping detailed scene-by-scene notes on this book, largely to check my comprehension (it's harder to read than Kino), but I thought it would be amusing to post them to allow a better look at how the series was adapted for anime, and to fuel speculation on possible future animation. The numbers will not be useful for anyone who doesn't have my copy of the marked-up text file, though; I did some cleanup on the version I downloaded, to clarify section and scene breaks compared to my print copy.

Warning! This is not only chock full of spoilers, it's also quite long. And there are pictures.

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Readers Guide to Intermediate Japanese


Ignore the wretched cover design, with its physically painful use of letterspaced Lithos Bold. Readers Guide to Intermediate Japanese is not the cheesy self-published unedited piece of crap it appears to be. (honestly, if it hadn’t been from University of Hawai’i Press, I wouldn’t have bought it on a bet)

This is an excellent reference to written Japanese, filled with clear explanations of the things you start running into when you step outside of prepared student texts. It neatly supplements the three volumes of Makino/Tsutsui’s grammar, filling in some important gaps. It also provides some useful cross-references to similar phrases and standard forms, for the student who isn’t sure if he should be looking up chigai nai or ni chigai nai, etc.

Perhaps most immediately useful is the 19-page section listing common variations of ki ga/ni/o X and 9 pages of mi ga/ni/o X. You pick up some of this in textbooks, but it’s very nice to have it all in one place.

Sadly, as usual there is no ebook edition. Someday, you’ll be able to carry around thirty pounds of reference books on an 8-ounce reader, but not today.

Any Japanese cinema buffs out there?


In the second AsoIku novel, chapter two opens with Aoi dreaming. The first part of her dream features her oldest memory, of sitting on her father’s lap watching a movie and laughing together. She was very young, and this is almost all she remembers of him. It’s also one of the few happy moments in her life.

They’re watching an old black-and-white film, based on a television show that was a big hit before he was born, a comedy period piece. The lead actor, who later was known for a role as a long-faced, hard-boiled (すっかり渋い) detective, sang and danced, making funny moves and gestures. Without understanding much else, that was enough to amuse her.

The movie could have been shot in black-and-white as an artistic choice, but the wording suggests that both the original TV show and the movie were B/W, so no later than the mid-Sixties. Since the book was written in 2004 and set in 200A, and Aoi is sixteen, that works even if Dad was in his late twenties at the time.

I crossed my fingers and hoped that a “big hit” TV comedy would have a video or DVD release, and Amazon Japan allowed me to come up with a short list (rant about the difficulty of setting up the search left for another time…). Of those, exactly one early-Sixties title was a B/W period comedy, with a B/W movie adaptation, and a search for the first actor in the cast turned up a hard-boiled detective role. He even has a long face.

So, have I guessed correctly that her movie is Tenamonya Sandogasa, starring Makoto Fujita, who later went on to play the lead in the film Hagure Keiji?

[The exact identity of the film isn’t critical to the story; what’s important is that after a miserable youth being trained to become a cold-blooded killing machine, one night she saw this film again on a hotel TV, and remembered, and cried. So, her interest in movies is at least in part a way to connect with her father, and if she hadn’t seen it again by chance, she might never have become a movie maniac, met Kio, and broken away from her old life.]

Resolving the student loan crisis…


Unless there’s a whole helluva lot missing from this story, there are a lot of people who need to be fined, fired, and jailed:

The U.S. Department of Education issued the search and called in the S.W.A.T for his wife's defaulted student loans.

An early-morning no-knock raid by heavily-armed federal agents, over student loans. And they locked three children in the back of a patrol car while they spent hours searching the house for a woman who wasn’t there. What exactly were they looking for, a secret stash of hundred-dollar bills they could seize to pay off the loans? What were they afraid he’d flush if they executed a normal search warrant at a normal hour, his checkbook?

[Update: and the additional explanation, as provided by the actual search warrant, is that they believed the woman who didn’t live there had fraudulently filed student-loan paperwork, possibly in volume. The kitchen-sink list of items they wanted to be able to seize (and the judge’s refusal to allow them to go fishing for unrelated crimes) suggests that it would have been impossible for someone to destroy it all during a normal search, so there’s no excuse at all for an armed raid. One or two feds, with a local officer for support, could have politely knocked and executed a normal search.]

Vacation update


Unpleasant surprise with a happy ending: yesterday morning, Interplanet Janet was looking at her upcoming flight itineraries, and discovered that our November round-trip flight to Kyoto had somehow become a one-way trip from Japan back to San Francisco.

There were vestigial traces of the actual to-Japan departure date associated with the itinerary, but no flight, and no hints on the site or email notifications. You couldn’t even tell when it had happened. To make sure it wasn’t just her account being messed up, I logged into mine and double-checked. Same thing.

On the phone, they told her that they’d canceled the flight for that day, but they could put us on the previous day’s flight instead, and also adjust her connecting flight from Chicago at no charge.

So, while I’m disturbed that this happened silently and could have horribly screwed up our trip if she hadn’t noticed it, we end up with an extra day in Japan, which doesn’t suck. I couldn’t change the existing hotel reservation, so I booked us for one night right by the airport. We can get our bags shipped from there to the Kyoto hotel, leaving us free to spend the day in Osaka.

Additional bonus: no lengthy train ride after the long flight. If things go smoothly, we can be relaxing in the hotel less than an hour after the plane touches down, with time to unwind before hunting dinner.

The one thing I need to research is what we want to do on our extra day, because it happens to be a national holiday, Labor Thanksgiving Day. My impression is that stores, restaurants, and tourist sites are going to be open but packed. I don’t know if stores that are usually closed on Wednesdays (like much of DenDen Town) will be open, but it’s probably not a good day to try for Osaka Castle or the Duck Tour. Maybe just a day of souvenir-hunting in Namba, Dotombori, and DenDen Town?

Asobi ni Iku Yo! 2: Operation ‘Unyaa-kun’


[prologue through chapter 6 (of 11) up now, catching up after being diverted by a fresh batch of naked catgirls...]

General note: the first book was adapted almost shot-for-shot into the first two episodes, with the notable addition of Aoi's opening action scene. Some minor characters were eliminated, consolidated, or set aside for later use, but almost everything else appears, in the exact same order.

This book forms the basis of episodes 3-5, but the order of some scenes were rearranged, some were omitted, and some new ones were created using material that was presented differently in the book. Many of the changes are improvements; for instance, there's no need to show great-aunt Ushi giving Kio and the Assistoroids a lesson in how to make yakiniku. Others were done simply to emphasize the harem comedy side of the story, such as having the catgirls use their bells to change clothes in front of Kio, giving him an eyeful. The small joke about two #17 Assistoroids is anime-only, and in any case, they got their numbers in book 1.

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Dear Amazon,


Oopsie.

Product: Battle: Los Angeles (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

Product Description (yes, it’s all-caps):

ON A WEEKEND TRIP TO HAWAII, A PLASTIC SURGEON CONVINCES HIS LOYAL ASSISTANT TO POSE AS HIS SOON-TO-BE-DIVORCED WIFE IN ORDER TO COVER UP A CARELESS LIE HE TOLD TO HIS MUCH-YOUNGER GIRLFRIEND.

Converting FLAC audio to MP3 in an MKV video


Let’s say that you have somehow acquired a video in MKV format, where for no particularly good reason the creator has chosed to encode the audio as FLAC (we shall neglect for the moment their poor taste in embedded fonts for animated karaoke and special-effect subtitling).

If for device-compatibility reasons you would prefer a better-supported audio format like MP3, and you’d really rather not re-encode the video to MP4 with hardsubs, the simplest solution is to extract the FLAC audio with mkvextract (part of Mkvtoolnix), decode it to WAV with Flac, encode it to MP3 with Lame, and then reinsert it with mkvmerge.

You also have to figure out which audio track, if any, is FLAC-encoded, but mkvinfo will do that for you, in a relatively-sane format. I have of course automated the whole task with a small Perl script.

Finding a video player that can smoothly scrub forward and backward through an MKV video for screenshots is left as an exercise in frustration for the reader.

Lost in adaptation…


…at least for now. I’m still finishing up my notes on book 2 of Asobi ni Iku yo!, but I’m also enjoying book 3. I’m about halfway through chapter 6, and I’ve now had four pleasant surprises in the development of minor characters.

First, Ichika has a much larger role, and doesn’t just appear out of nowhere on the beach. She had an interesting scene in book 2, but she’s fleshed out a lot more here. Her home, her friend/ally Tabito, her work as a model-maker, a hint of her power as a sennin, the lack of any attempt to hide her ears and tail in public, and the reason she went out to the beach to check up on them in the first place, after she meets up with our second surprise development, Assistoroid #6.

When the assistoroids were introduced in episode 2 of the anime, one of them behaved slightly differently from the rest, in what seemed to be a small bit of visual comedy. That wasn’t mentioned in the matching scene in book 1, but in book 3, it’s revealed that #6 is definitely different from the others. When house-sitting Chaika orders them to take a break from their work, the rest do normal things, but he goes off exploring the neighborhood on his own. He’s just normal enough to pass all the usual diagnostics, so neither Eris nor Chaika has realized that they have a unique individual on their hands. He ends up playing games in the park with Ichika and a group of small children, and comes home with a resin model of himself that she made for him. As the kids head home for lunch, we finally learn her name, as they call out a happy bye-bye to Ichika and 6-chan.

The third surprise is in the scenes between Jens and her new assistant Muttley, assigned to her in the epilogue of book 2 after her failure on Antonia’s ship. She had asked for a full squad of reinforcements, and she got him instead. Their relationship is different, and in particular, he’s a much better tactician, spending a merry day slaughtering her in various wargame scenarios before relaxing in front of the TV to watch anime.

The most recent surprise (and I suspect not the last) is who else showed up on the beach: campy film director Kawasaki, who came to Okinawa looking for Manami and Aoi, to show them the rough cut of his latest movie, featuring them. The sight of a crazed pervert running across the beach leads Maya to order the maids to open fire (while Manami frantically tries to intervene in time), but he evades their hail of bullets with the grace of a ballerina, and when Maya orders the maids to shoot again, he not only evades, but ends up behind her, admiring the fine muscle tone of her buttocks and thighs.

Maya loses it at this point and fires wildly, until Antonia rebukes her for putting everyone in danger. After that, things settle down, and Kawasaki gleefully pulls out a portable DVD player to show off his movie, to the admiration of the film-club members. But a bit later, talking alone with Manami, he drops the act and gives her some serious advice about fully enjoying this too-brief time in her life. When others start to join them, he camps back up and heads off into the sunset.

Strike that, reverse it


Seen on a nice large color ad on the side of a bus:

Offer good till supplies last

To my surprise, this little gem is not particularly rare on the web, thanks to an enterprising comment-spam bot.

Best line in book 3


The morning after all the excitement, the film-club beach trip comes to an end, with Antonia’s maids frantically pestering their chief Maya with questions and problems. Most are trivial, but they’re driving her nuts because her assistant Sara is nowhere to be found. Their biggest problem:

摩耶様、テントの中でカントクさんが起きてくださいません。下品な寝言を言いながら股間を……

Translated, “Maya-sama, could you please go into the tent and wake [Kawasaki] Kantoku-san? He’s talking dirty in his sleep, and his crotch is…“.

Where’s Sara? On cloud nine. Something to do with the assistoroids calling her “Mommy” after she came to their rescue inside Unaa-tan…

[I’ve finished the book, and I think I’m going to start book 4 rather than writing up book 3 right now. Book 3 covered the same timespan as episodes 6-8, but some significant differences are starting to appear, and I want to reach the point where the anime ended. Book 4 covers the attack on the Catian mothership, including Kio’s command decision, but does not include the arrival of the Christmas Tree; that shows up at the end of book 6. Other material was rearranged and compressed as well; for instance, Manami hasn’t thrown her hat into the ring yet, so only Aoi and Eris are openly competing for Kio’s affections right now. (that is, we haven’t been shown that Manami wants to compete)]

The push for “medical” marijuana


You know, if people came out and said, “legalize marijuana so we can get high”, I’d likely vote for that. The social impact of their drug of choice compares favorably with tobacco and alcohol, and I’ve yet to hear a pro-prohibitionist argument that’s sturdier than tissue paper. I find the smell vile, even worse than stale cigarette smoke, but I also can’t stand thick perfume or strong BO, which are at least as common in public places today.

But don’t try to bullshit me. Yes, there are medicinal applications for marijuana and THC, but when I drive down the highway in San Jose and see a billboard advertising medical marijuana evaluations at sj420.com, it’s about as “medical” as a prescription for Lucky Strikes and Coors.

[ditto last year’s trip to Las Vegas, where the billboard was for DrReefer.com]

Gained in adaptation…


[Book four finished; I think I’ll go back and review for a few days to clear up some rough spots, then spend the holiday weekend reading book five]

“Splendid villain! Very exuberant!”
    ―Uncle Max, from Zot

“As evil plans go, it doesn’t suck.”
    —Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, from Angel

In the anime version of AsoIku, Jens is a terrific villain. Smart, tough, competent, dedicated, and ruthless. At first, she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder about pathetic humans, but then, the only ones she’s really spent time with are pretty slimy. She’s the sole member of her race currently on Earth, and she runs the whole operation with her aide Muttley: smuggling alien technology, manipulating governments, planning covert operations, and leading full-scale military assaults. She’s good at it, and once she starts taking them seriously, Our Heroes need brains, skill, guts, and luck to overcome her.

Her motives make sense. Her actions make sense. Her final plan is brilliant and vicious, meticulously planned and expertly carried out, and if it had succeeded, it would have accomplished exactly what she wanted. She’s head and shoulders (and bust…) above the usual Bad Guy in anime.

In the books, Jens and Muttley play catch with an idiot ball.

But first, a cast picture, and a spoiler warning…

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California budget follies


In a move that will surprise no one but the California Legislature, the $200 million dollars that California expected to get out of Amazon will instead give the state precisely $0 to waste. As they’ve done every other time a state has redefined “nexus”, Amazon has ended their Affiliate program in California, effective immediately. Brown signed it, and Amazon sent out the termination notices.

With luck, this will leave the latest phony-baloney budget enough out of balance that the legislature will continue to go without pay.

“Irradiating organic food would save lives”


I cannot improve on the original headline. All I can do is imagine the tens of thousands of Certified Organic head explosions around the world.

AsoIku manga note


Incidentally, the manga scene that Pete mentioned back in April is from book 4, and takes place during the flight to Russia to acquire a rocket, immediately after Manami confronted Kio about Aoi’s feelings. The key difference from the anime is that he didn’t miss Manami’s point; he’s gone off alone to figure out what to do about his romantic entanglement with both Eris and Aoi, and Maya turns up just at the point where he needs advice from a grown-up.

(and almost certainly delivers better advice than he’d have gotten from Uncle Yuuichi…)

Given that volume 7 of the manga came out the same month that issue was released, either it has a lot of side stories, or they’re doing a more leisurely adaptation of the novels, or both.