Saturday, January 14, 2017

Anime With Shrine Maidens

Shinto Shrines appear in anime fairly often.  If an anime runs long enough you are going to get a visit to a shrine for new years, or after school, or just a place to walk through, or maybe a scene will be even set in one.  They are part of the Japanese landscape and play an important religious role.  When I was visiting Kyoto in 2016 my hotel was near Yasaka Shrine and I wandered through it early in the morning and in the late evening when I was back from touring around.  In the morning, people on the way to work or kids going to school would cut through the grounds, sometimes stopping to offer a prayer or make a wish.  In the evening it was quite dark, even with the lighting on, and the place took on an air of mystery.  There were fewer worshippers and tourists, but you never really felt unsafe, and there was a security guard patrolling the grounds.   
Front Gate, Yasaka Shrine
When a Shinto shrine with shrine related characters is in an anime, the focus is usually on the shrine maiden (miko), rather than the priest of the shrine.  It is usually an opportunity to show a cute female character in the traditional white and red miko garments.  I have to say I kind of find this phenomenon fascinating myself and one of  my favourite characters out of Love Live is Nozomi who is a part time miko at Kanda Myojin Shrine in Akihabara.  Miko help out with shrine operations by cleaning, performing ceremonial dances, and selling fortunes (omikuji) or charms.  This isn't usually a full time job and it is for younger women and teens.  I also like foxes which really helps out when watching anime about Inari shrines which have fox guardians.
You can see how green it is around Yasaka Shrine
Shinto is an interesting religion with deep connections to nature, nature dieties, and especially the Inari shrines relating to good crops.  The religion has also taken quite a beating in Japan during the Meiji era as the central government set out to control Shinto as a way of controlling the deification of the Emperor.  They eliminated thousands of small family run shrines via consolidation and even set up their own administration.  After WWII these restrictions were dropped.  Shinto shrines do not receive government support and are supported by visitors and worshipers.  I've even read some interesting stuff about how some shrines even use an anime affiliation to attract visitors - like Kanda Myojin for Love Live! and Washinomiya for Lucky Star.
Torii Gates
Below is a brief listing of anime which have shrine maidens or have a shrine as a significant setting.  It is by no means comprehensive as there have to be dozens of shows. 
  • Aria
  • Stein's Gate
  • Lucky Star
  • Love Live
  • Sailor Moon
  • Cardcaptor Sakura
  • Tayutama
  • Shrine of the Morning Mist
  • Kannazuki No Miko
  • Kannagi
  • Inu Yasha
  • Gingitsune
  • Lucky Star
  • Kamichu
  • Inari Kon Kon 
Out of these anime, there are three which I really like as they really feature shrines, and I'll cover them below.

Fushimi Inari

I really like this anime about the relationship between a teenage daughter of the priest of a small Shinto Shrine and its resident fox guardian.  The fox is a little cranky, ancient, but rediscovers some of the joys of living when Makoto (the daughter) involves him with some of her adventures.  Makoto is the true successor of the shrine as she has the sight to see Gintarou the giant white fox spirit.
A young girl, Yurie, becomes a kami (kind of like a Japanese god) and learns to use her powers.  The whole show is pretty closely tied to Japanese mythology with kami and of course a local Shinto Shrine where one of her best friends is a shrine maiden and daughter of the priest.  Some of the explorations about the world of the gods and how they interact with us on our plane are pretty good.

Inari Kon Kon
This one is a recent favourite and a great deal of it happens at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.  After visiting the shrine, it is one of my top attractions in Japan as it is just pretty amazing with its thousands of torii gates.  The main character is a girl named Inari Fushimi and she gains the power of being able to transform into another human shape from the resident goddess, Uka, who also happens to like playing dating sims.  The granting of the transformation power eventually gets both Inari and and Uka into trouble and they need to venture into the realm of the gods again to resolve everything.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

2016 Was a Pretty Good Year For Anime Shows

Looking back on 2016, I have to say it was a pretty darn good year of anime viewing for me.  A number of very memorable shows were on, some of which will be classics in the years to come.
Most of these shows were on Crunchyroll, with a few on Netflix, but Netflix has some awesomely great shows in their catalog.
Love Live Sunshine Display in Akiba
When I thought about what I really liked, these shows really stood out for originality, art, and even their openings and endings.  Great stories and characters sure helped too.  My top three anime (as in what I like) from last year would have been:
  • Izetta: The Last Witch - great story and a witch that flies on an anti-tank rifle that is set in an alternate WWII historical environment.  Izetta and the duchess were great characters with some great scenes of magic versus tech.  Well imagined world and a nice portrayal of magic. 
  • ERASED - great story about a 29 year old guy name Satoru Fujinuma who has the ability to jump slightly back in time (rewind) to save a life.  He gets involved in events that take him back into his 10 year old self to save the life of a girl and fix something that has haunted him since.
  • Re:ZERO Starting Life in Another World. A shut-in named Subaru Natsuki finds himself transported to a fantasy world where he meets a silver haired, half-elf named Emilia.  Their fates are now linked and he finds out that there are some pretty dark forces at work in this world, but he has the ability to restart the day after dying.  Why and how he does this is a mystery, but the story is pretty good, and it is a lot like restarting from the last save point in a video game.
Out of these shows, only Re:ZERO is a longer running one.  When I was in Tokyo in November, it was pretty hard to find any merchandise for any of these shows.  I did notice that there was plenty of merchandise for shows like Gintama (super popular) or a few other long running shows that are still airing, but some shows like Bleach which are done, there was very little to buy.

Then I had a bunch of shows that were super good, really entertaining, and maybe even really close to the top three so they should have been up there.  In this set, there was some mecha love from Mobile Suit Gundam and Schwarzes Marken.  I got to see my home city of Edmonton get some Gundams fighting down on Jasper Avenue (main street).  Schwarzes Marken was pretty cool with the alternate Cold War and having mecha action set in East Germany with the Stasi (secret police) and politics of the time.  GATE just rocked with modern tech versus fantasy as the Japanese Self-Defence Forces fight medieval invaders.  Food Wars! has got to be my favourite food anime, with the tasty food related plots and cooking.  Konosuba was a pretty hilarious take on an otaku trapped in a fantasy game world and who doesn't only practice Explosion magic!  March comes in like a lion was a great character show based on the backdrop of the Japanese chess game Shogi.  Yuri!!! On ICE was a pretty good story with fantastic skating animation.  Inari Kon Kon was an anime I wish I had seen prior to visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine as it makes it a pretty magical place with the red torii gates even more magical.  I always like the stories about kami and shrines.  Finally, Love Live Sunshine was a nice successor to Love Live, but my first love will always be Love Live!
  • Mobile Suit GUNDAM Iron Blooded Orphans
  • Schwarzes Marken
  • GATE
  • Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma
  • KONOSUBA -God's blessing on this wonderful world!
  • March comes in like a lion
  • Yuri!!! On ICE
  • Inari Kon Kon
  • Love Live Sunshine
A bunch of the other stuff I managed to watch and thought was pretty good included:
  • Drifters
  • Brave Witches
  • High School Fleet
  • ReLIFE
  • Flying Witch
  • Alderamin on the Sky
  • Adventures of Sindbad
  • KuroMukuro
  • Heavy Object
  • Yuki Yuna is a Hero
  • Qualidea Code
  • Amanchu!
  • Garakowa -Restore the World-
  • The Ancient Magus' Bride
  • The Lost Village 
  • Myriad Colors Phantom World
  • BAKUON!! 
  • Anti-Magic Academy: The 35th Test Platoon
  • Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Then there was the stuff that I think I'm only going to watch a few episodes:
  • Kaiju Girls
  • ClassicaLoid Beethoven, Mozart
  • Cheating Craft
And finally some stuff I need to watch or have on my to do list.
  • Twin Star Exorcists
  • Blue Exorcist
  • Durarara
  • Lostorage incited WIXOSS 

It is always interesting to look back and see what you watched over the year, even if it was for only one episode.  I probably missed a few too, but this is already a pretty long list.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

I Finally Visit Yamashiroya, A Great Tokyo Toy Store

I blogged about Yamashiroya years ago, but I never managed to visit it until this trip.  One night, we were nearby at Asakusa and decided to drop in as we had a mission.  We were actually looking for the Cardcaptor Sakura Wand (looks like it has a beak) that she uses in the first half of the anime to capture the Clow Cards, and now I've heard that they are releasing the Sakura Star Wand (with the star in a circle at the tip) in the spring of 2017.  These are big, life-size wands and while we saw a display model earlier in the trip at Kiddyland in Harajuku, they were sold out like most of the places we checked. 

Yamashiroya has 5 floors of toys, not counting the basement, but it is a cramped and narrow building that isn't very deep.  I really liked it as it reminded me a bit of the old Radio Kaikan building in Akihabara with its cramped little hallways and shops.  It is not as decorated or spacious as Kiddyland, but it has a gritty old school toy store charm that I really liked and they have an amazing number of toys packed in there.  It was quite warm inside despite it being quite cool outside too, just like the Radio Kaikan building.

To get to the store, go straight out the south exit at Ueno Station, and cross the street.  It is on the east side of the rail tracks and pretty much right in front of you.
 The big Yamashiroya Sign out front.
Looking across the street from Ueno Station.  Yamashiroya is on the right.
This cool musical dance cat toys.
And yes, we found the Cardcaptor Wand!!!
Some Cardcaptor Figmas.
Batman and predator masks display.
Hogwarts model.
Monster Hunter
Dragon Quest slimes
Pretty Cure wands
Yes. It is staircase.  A panda's worst enemy.
Robot cat and dog toys.
Around the corner was this cool looking vending machine with a Marvel Wrap.
 If I'm in the area again to visit the Ameyoko Market or going to Ueno Park or the museums, I'll make some time to swing by the shop for sure.

Monday, December 19, 2016

I Try Big Cup Noodle Mystery Meat Festival

Celebrating 45 years of instant noodles, Nissin rolled out a special cup noodle called Big Cup Noodle Mystery Meat Festival.  If you've have the regular Cup Noodle from Japan, you get these little cubes of dehydrated ground pork with every cup.  In the imagination, you're never quite sure what kind of meat it is, so mystery meat it is with every Internet rumour.
Mystery Meat 45 Anniversary Cup Noodle
Anyhow, they loaded up these large size big cup noodles with 10 times the number of cubes of meat to celebrate this anniversary, playing along with the popular culture myth of mystery meat.  When I went to Japan, I went looking for this as it was supposed to have been re-released in early November after selling out in September after the first release.
Very nice looking packaging with a big 45 on it.
It is quite festive looking from the side view with colorful little figures climbing on cubes of meat.

Back of the cup.
Once you peel the lid back you can tell it is full of the meat cubes.  That's a lot of meat!
I poured in hot water and waited the three minutes for the noodles to rehydrate.
The top of the noodles was just covered in meat cubes.  The was a great aroma of soy broth and the meat cubes in the air when I peeled the lid back.
One of the things I did was really mix up the noodles and meat as I wanted to make sure that everything was hydrated.
Finally I dug in and it was good.  Tastes like a more intense, meaty version of their regular cup noodle and I think there were more green onions added too.
I'm glad I managed to find this special cup noodle.  It was just fluke I was in Japan when they were out, but it was still a bit of a search.  I managed to find it most consistently at Lawson convenience stores, but only a few at time as I think it was still pretty popular.  Other convenience stores don't seem to stock these special noodles as much.  For 205 yen (around $2) it was a cheap souvenir.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dragon Quest 30th Anniversary Lawson and Goods

Dragon Quest hit the big 30 this year.  While there wasn't a huge huge party or anything, they did release a bunch of Dragon Quest games this year.  North America gets Dragon Quest VII for the DS for the first time along with  Dragon Quest Builders.  We also will get Dragon Quest Heroes II and Dragon Quest VIII in 2017.  In Japan they released more games too, ones we'll have to wait awhile for in English.  There is a Dragon Quest Museum moving around Japan too this year.

I remember playing Dragon Warrior on the original black and white Gameboy, but only got back into it playing Dragon Quest VIII on the PS2.  I loved this game and it holds a special place in my heart along with Tales of Symphony on the Game Cube.  When I was in Japan in November, I ran across this Dragon Quest 30th Anniversary branded Lawson store.  It's got slimes everywhere and there was some Dragon Quest merchandise and branding inside too.  I wasn't into the special merchandise they had, but I have some other Dragon Quest related pictures below.  Enjoy!

Dragon Quest Lawson in Akihabara.  No idea how long it'll stay.
The inside of the store.  Mostly a regular Lawson, but you can see some of the special goods on the right.  Big King Slimes smiles upon you from the back wall.
Outside the store was a pretty cool looking vending machine with a Dragon Quest wrap.
In some of the other stores I visited I saw some other Dragon Quest stuff.  Almost all toy stores and such have a bit of Dragon Quest merchandise and the blue slime is pretty common.
The arcade card came for Dragon Quest.
Slime plushies.
More DQ merchandise.  I picked up a slime t-shirt.
There were big pushes for Final Fantasy XV when I was there too, but I found it pretty hard to say if any one game was more popular than the others for merchandise.  There is just so much stuff.  The only thing I'd say is that only the popular shows or very long running shows have more merchandise than the others.