Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Chic Pixel Plus Episode 21 – The KusoCast

On episode 21 of Chic Pixel Plus, I bring on regular extra Elliot Gay (@ryougasaotome) to talk about the most important game topic of our generation: kusoge. What are kusoge? Are they so bad they're good, or just plain bad? We talk about all that and more, plus, related news!

Games included in the discussion range from the Drakengard series to Friday the 13th, plus we get in some Seaman, Vangaurd Bandits, Disaster: Day of Crisis, and Dirge of Cerberus: FFVII talk as well.

This podcast was recorded early/mid-June and is going up quite late, much to my dismay, so while I talk about Puzzle Month, we're actually already in the midst of JRPGJuly! Sorry about that!

Opening ♫ - Life is Beautiful, Deadly Premonition 
Closing ♫ - Seaman commercial


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Celebrating Geekness Day at Chic Pixel

The other day, I was approached by the cloud storage provider SingleHop to participate in some Embrace Your Geekness Day festivities by sharing a little bit about how I celebrate my geekness with the world. Imagine that! I had no idea July 13th was an international geek holiday, and having them reach out to me specifically was quite the pleasant surprise! I’ m more than happy to use Geekness Day as an excuse to talk a little bit more about myself than I usually do on this blog.

Me being... geeky, I guess?
First, I have to get this out of the way – not that it really matters much in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve never once considered myself a “geek”! In my mind, a “geek” and  “nerd” are two very different things, with “geek” usually having the connotation of someone who is more into computers and tech, for whatever reason. On the other hand, I’ve always considered “nerd” to be someone who is just really into one or more, probably obscure, things, kind of like the Japanese term “otaku.” But that’s all silly semantics (and probably my own made up definitions at that), so and I’m happy to be thrown in the geek camp if I get in on this cool holiday!

So, when did I start to become aware of my own “geekness”? I don’t think I’ve ever really been “mainstream” with my interests, but I didn’t really have a name for my weirdness until I got into anime through watching shows like Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z as a young kid. Games were in my life from a young age, to an extent, too, but I didn’t really fall in love with gaming until I played Final Fantasy VII and realized the potential games had as a storytelling medium (what a cliché!). It soon became pretty apparent that everything I was into was coming from Japan, and I quickly fell into the colorful world of otaku. Soon I was searching the internet for fanfiction of my favorite series and trying to teach myself Japanese words and phrases with a rudimentary English – Japanese dictionary. I was (and probably still am), the textbook definition of a weeaboo, your friendly neighborhood Japanophile.

Book from a shōjo manga event I had the opportunity to present at
This can be interpreted as a good thing or a bad thing, I think, but from that point onward I was always driven to find ways to allow my hobbies to cross over with my school endeavors, whether it be analysising a Japanese song for my high school English class (true story) or grabbing a group of friends and convincing the librarian to offer a special one-semester course on graphic novels so I could do a presentation on manga for credit (also a true story). I was also highly driven to study Japanese as much as I could, so once I’d burned through the Japanese my high school had to offer, I started taking college courses in Japanese so I could be as far along as possible when I entered university myself. My parents were always very supportive of my interest in Japanese, probably since it crossed over with my academic pursuits, so I also had the wonderful opportunity to go to Japan to study not once, but twice in high school.

Some people say it’s bad to mix your hobbies with your career, but that’s one thing I’ve always been really passionate about, personally. As a result, I’ve pushed forward in my pursuit of Japanese “fluency” and managed to be a perpetual student up until this point, where I’m currently writing this on a plane to Japan for a intensive workshop related to my PhD topic on boys’ love manga! It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come, and though I’m not exactly sure what path my career will head down once I finish my thesis, I know that my love for Japanese popular culture and media will be essential to whatever it is I end up doing.

Me with my host mom in Sydney. I've meet so many wonderful
people through my hobbies that I would've never met otherwise!
One of the questions SingleHop asked me to consider is what my proudest moment as a geek has been, but I honestly don’t think I can pick just one. I’m extremely self-critical and a perfectionist at heart, so it’s hard to say I’m genuinely “proud” of anything without heavily critiquing myself, but I think I can say with utmost sincerity that I’m proud that I stay true to myself in pursuit of my interests, as well as my attempt to share those interests with all of you through this blog. If I could give any words of advice for Geekness Day, it would be to never let anyone make you feel bad for liking what you like, and to pursue what makes you happy with all your heart, whatever that may be (as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, of course!). If I keep doing that for as long as I live, I don’t think I’ll have any regrets!

What about all of you? Do you have any geeky stories you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them, so please sound off in the comments! Again, thanks very much to SingleHop for inviting me to celebrate Geekness Day, and I hope you all find a way to celebrate your hobbies in your own unique way. If you're interested in learning more about SingleHop, have a look at their private cloud hosting page.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Apricotsushi Reviews: Insert Coin Clothing

I don't always wear gaming-themed clothing, but when I do, I like to do it in style! I kid, but when it comes to gaming threads, there's a fine line between "wink nod" game references on trendy clothing and obnoxiously obvious tees that proclaim your love for all things nerdy for the world to see. 

I bring this up because the other day I received a curious package. Isabelle was very interested to see what was inside! 

The kind folks at Insert Coin Clothing sent me some items to review! I don't normally do clothing reviews here at Chic Pixel, but I'm always excited to find new ways to express my love of gaming though fashion. So let's see if Insert Coin Clothing makes the cut! 

Do you know where this shirt's from? It's Gum's tee from Jet Set Radio! If you compare this shirt to her's, there are some differences (the most obvious being the fact that she has long sleeves in the game), but I think they did a really great job translating it to a shirt design. It's the best kind of gaming shirt, as fans of the game will definitely recognize the reference, but folks who don't will (hopefully) just think it's a neat design. I suppose people who can speak Japanese might wonder why it says "gum," but there certainly is no shortage of shirts with odd Japanese on them in the world, so I don't think it would really turn many heads. 

The size I'm wearing is a girly M, and it's just about the right fit, if just a tiny bit tighter than I usually like in the armpit area. 

Yet another generic peace pose! I guess I'm not cut out to be a model... Anyway, I was thrilled to see the other shirt Insert Coin Clothing sent my way was none other than a Space Channel 5 Ulala tank! I love the design and soft fabric of this one, but unfortunately I don't think it's quite as flattering on me as the Gum tee... Like the Gum tee, it's a girly M, but it's much looser due to the fabric type. The image on the website does make the tank look like it's supposed to be pretty loose, so it may just be that it doesn't fit my particular body type. 

The other thing I have to note about the Space Channel 5 tank is that it came with a small mark near the trademark symbol. It's not super noticeable and I was able to get most of it out with a little soap and water, but I'm still not sure what it was in the first place.

Both shirts are very high quality, and the transfers seem like they will hold up well in the wash (I've washed both once). Some t-shirts have transfers that are stiff and quickly start to show cracks after a wash or two, but I'm really happy with the quality of these! 

The final item I received was this awesome Dreamcast side bag! This is probably the most obviously game-related item of the lot, but most non-gamer adults will probably not have heard of a Dreamcast anyway, right? Either way, I think designing a bag after a console is a really neat idea, and the bag itself is really durable and has plenty of space to hold books, a wallet, and whatever other personal items you need to carry with you. I am really impressed by the quality of this one, and can see it holding up really well even with regular use. 

There is currently a 3 for 2 sale on all t-shirts going on at the Insert Coin Clothing website and the Space Channel 5 tank is 40% off, making it a great time to stock up on gaming-related goodies! There are all kinds of great series represented such as Parappa the Rapper and Zone of the Enders, as well as clothing and accessories for both men and women, so if you'd like to wear your love for gaming on your sleeve (literally), I highly recommend checking Insert Coin Clothing out. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Catch-Up Corner: A YouTube Giveaway and the 1st Brisbane Monster Mash

It's already the beginning of the new week, but I so enjoy these Catch-Up Corners that I'd hate to miss one! I had to push it back so I could get my review for A Fujoshi's Guide to Japanese vol. 2 posted, so please check that out if you're interested in Japanese language learning materials! 

I'm currently having a giveaway on my YouTube channel to celebrate reaching 100 subscribers, so definitely enter that if you haven't already! Japanese Treats was kind enough to offer one month of their Japanese snack subscription service to the lucky winner of my contest. If you're curious to see what kind of goodies might be included in said box, check out my review of Japanese Treats! The giveaway is open until July 10th at 9 pm EST, after which I'll post a video announcing the winner on my channel. As always, if you haven't subscribed yet, please consider doing so! I have a new episode of Apricosushi Samples coming in the next couple of days. 

I mentioned last week that I was hoping to sew a Felyne hat as a prize for the Monster Hunter event I had coming up. Well, I'm happy to say I managed to finish it, and the event was a success! It was so funny to see the difference in atmosphere from my usual StreetPass meetups. Everyone was so focused on hunting that the chatter wasn't nearly as loud as when everyone's hanging out and doing their own thing! I brought in some Monster Hunter-themed treats (pictured above), including "meat sticks" I tried to make using straight pretzels and marshmallows and some colored sodas that I labeled with names of potions from the series. 

For the competition, I had everyone try the Lagombi Arena Challenge in Monster Hunter 3U and submit their best time. The winners were tied at 2:21! I'm not sure I could manage to kill a Lagombi that quickly... My new Twitter pal @Doodlyboops was one of the top scorers with her longsword time, so it was really nice to be able to give the hat I made to someone who will appreciate it! I just wish I wasn't rushed to finish sewing it, as the ears came out a little crooked...  

By the way this time next week, I'll be in Japan! I don't want to make any big promises, but I'm hoping to get a few bite-sized videos filmed while I'm there (hopefully some even "on location"!), along with the usual photos I post to my Instagram and Twitter accounts. As always, I'll be sure to update here with any videos I post, but if you want to see everything as it goes up, make sure to follow my various social media accounts! If you're the kind of person who just wants everything all in one place, it'll all be cataloged on the official Chic Pixel Facebook page. I look forward to updating you all from Japan! 

Apricotsushi Reviews: A Fujoshi's Guide to Japanese vol. 2

One of the unfortunate realities of being a fan of Japanese media and culture is that, while there are a lot of options now available for those that speak English, the vast majority of content and information out there is only available in Japanese. I may be wearing my nerdy heart on my sleeve, but I'll readily admit that the #1 reason I was driven to start studying Japanese in middle school was so I could watch anime that wasn't getting released in English fast enough to satisfy my rabid fangirl ways. Of course, there are many, many reasons to take up learning a new language, including Japanese, but it's always great to have the added motivation of a hobby you're passionate about to spur on your studies!

A lot of people ask me to recommend resources to help them get started learning the language, but honestly, there are so many options available that it's hard to even know where to begin! Since I personally learned Japanese through school, I'm most comfortable with suggesting textbooks to help you learn the basics, as I think it's a great way to get a foundation that you can build on from as you get more comfortable with vocabulary, Japanese sentence structure, and reading/writing.

But I more than anyone know that textbooks can be boring and dry, so imagine my excitement when I heard about A Fujoshi's Guide to Japanese! Published by Otome's Way with the help of a Kickstarter for the second volume, the two-volume Japanese language textbook series presents Japanese language learning in a way that is fun and interesting for fans of anime and manga, with gorgeous color illustrations and informative manga and tons of audio supplements by professional voice actors!

If you're unfamiliar with the term "fujoshi," it's generally used to describe women who like boys' love, or yaoi, manga and related media (of course men can be into BL as well, but they're usually called "fudanshi"). While the series is clearly made with fujoshi in mind, as it features an all-male cast and drawings by BL artist Ai Yusura, from my experience with the second volume there is nothing overtly "BL" about the content, making it great for anyone, not just fujoshi.

Since I was provided volume 2 for the purpose of this review, I unfortunately can't comment at length on the content of volume 1 if you're just starting out and want to begin your Japanese studies from square one with this series. From the preview provided on Otome Way's website and the brief overview of volume 1 that appears in volume 2, it looks to provide a great foundation for further learning by teaching readers pronunciation, how to read and write hiragana and katakana, and some very basic beginner vocabulary and sentences.

Volume 2 builds on the introduction provided by volume 1 by going deeper into sentence structure and grammar while also starting readers down the long road of learning how to read and write kanji. I imagine the double-whammy of diving into more complex grammar such as adjectives, forming questions, and working with verbs along with the addition of kanji is daunting to start, but unfortunately that's how Japanese study usually is – it's best to dive in as early as possible, especially with kanji! Luckily, you're free to take the contents of the book on as quickly or slowly as you feel comfortable, but without the structure of an actual class it may be easy for individual learners to feel too intimidated to press on, so I might suggest making goals such as focusing on mastering one chapter every two weeks and treating it like your own personal course.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Fujoshi's Guide series are the manga portions that follow protagonist Alexis and his butler Shou that are used to introduce new concepts at the beginning of each chapter. These can be read while listening to accompanying audio of the voice actor's performing the scenes, and then an English translation is provided so you don't have to worry if you didn't understand everything in the first go. The voice actors are really nice to listen to and actually bring life to their respective characters, unlike some of the horrific audio recordings I remember having to put up with back when I was a student! There are over 90 audio files included with volume 2, meaning nearly everything in the textbook is voiced, which is both extremely helpful for learning and fun to listen to at the same time (a rare combination for Japanese textbooks, I've found!).

There is also clearly a lot of care put into the structure of the book and making sure that readers learn more than the usual stuffy standard Japanese taught in most textbooks. Japanese teacher Yumiko Akeba is clearly familiar with the areas where English speakers usually experience trouble when learning Japanese, and I appreciated her direct yet informative explanations. One section that particularly stood out for me was an explanation of the particles "ne" and "yo" and their gender differences in Japanese with a variety of illustrated example dialogues. I also really liked the short explanation about natural speech, with examples of how spoken Japanese can often very from what's taught in textbooks.

For those worried about implementing what they've learned in the book, never fear – each chapter has a review section and ample opportunities to practice. Unfortunately, though new vocabulary is introduced in each chapter, there aren't quizzes, per say, so you have to keep yourself accountable by making sure you spend time learning the vocabulary. I also noticed that the book continues to teach readers new hiragana up through chapter three and then immediately jumps to introducing kanji in chapter 4, but doesn't stop using romanji in examples until partway through chapter 10. Of course, I don't profess to have any great understanding of how to teach people Japanese, but I worry by leaving in the romanji for so long, readers won't push themselves to master hiragana even after they begin to learn kanji, which could make it difficult to retain much of anything. If I could give any advice to someone using the book, it would be to make sure you are diligent about memorising hiragana and katakana, and that you feel confident in reading it without romanji before starting chapter 4 so you can focus on kanji going forward.

Overall, I am extremely happy with A Fujoshi's Guide to Japanese volume 2 and would highly recommend the series to anyone interested in learning Japanese! The colored illustrations and audio make this already professional and informative book really shine, and it would be the perfect way to make Japanese learning interesting to those who want to be able to watch anime or read manga in its original Japanese. If you already know some basic Japanese, I don't see any reason why you couldn't jump into volume 2, but if you want to see all of Alexis and Shou's adventures, be sure to purchase volume 1, as well!

A copy of the book was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. All opinions, however, my honest impressions!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Manga Gamer acquires OZMAFIA!! and No, Thank You!!!, making it my new favorite company

I don't always feel the need to do news posts here on Chic Pixel, but with announcements as big and exciting as these, I just couldn't pass them up! Manga Gamer, the bishojo game publisher, revealed their new game lineup at Anime Expo today, which included not one, but two titles aimed squarely at the otome and fujoshi demographic (aka me), OZMAFIA!! and No, Thank You!!!. I like to imagine those excessive exclamation marks were included in the titles because the developers knew how happy fans would be to have them localized...

The fact that OZMAFIA!! will be coming out in English isn't exactly new, as the developer, Poni-Patchet, announced as much at the game's one year anniversary event a week ago, but this is the first world we've gotten of who's actually helping them bring over the PC-only title. According to Manga Gamer's Anime Expo panel, they will be looking to bring the title to Steam, as well.

OZMAFIA!! is pretty much exactly what you'd imagine it to be from the title: it's an otome game (romance visual novel for girls) that features a mafia... based on Wizard of Oz characters. While some of the romantic interests are loosely styled around memorable characters such as the Scarecrow and Tin Man, other rival mafias get their inspiration from Grimm fairy tales, among other classics. For those familiar with otome games, the artist behind all of the illustrations is none other than the woman who worked on Diabolik Lovers, one of the most popular otome game series in Japan at the moment.

No, Thank You!!!, on the other, hand, came completely out of left field. Otome games have been typically hard sell for western publishers, but BL games have been even harder (Is that a pun? Don't ask). Well, Manga Gamer is ready to take on the challenge with what will be the first English release of a BL game since Enzai: Falsely Accused came out way back in 2006! No, Thank You!!! is, in my opinion, extra special as it really starts to blur the lines of bara (a general term referring to pornographic material aimed at gay men) and BL (generally for a female audience). Not only do the men have much more varied character designs than the usual BL fare, but they're a wide range of ages, and players even have the option to toggle their body hair on and off at any time during the game! Now that's something!

I've previously expressed my disappointment with western publishers passing over games aimed at a female audience in favor of more of the same, so it's time to make some noise and really celebrate this news! While OZMAFIA!! probably wouldn't have been a game I'd have specifically sought out myself, No, Thank you!!! has been on my radar since before it was released in Japan (in fact, I've written about it twice). If you're at all interested in more varied games getting localized, please let Manga Gamer know how thrilled you are that they're releasing these titles, and consider picking them up on release!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Gackt's Latest Project: A Let's Play Series with Nestlé?!

I love Gackt. I imagine a lot of people who got into Japanese culture in the late 90s and thought themselves to be somewhat alternative love Gackt. But, you know, my love with the somewhat-infamous singer isn't the kind of all-encompassing love a lot of young girls express for their male idols, it's an ironic kind of love. Yes, I love(d?) his music, but after seeing him on Japanese television and watching the film he wrote and starred in with fellow singer Hyde (Moon Child), as well as his international debut in Bunraku (with Josh Hartnett), I can conclude he is completely nuts. And I kind of love him for it.

In fact, the guy who once proclaimed he was an immortal vampire is turning 41 tomorrow, so happy birthday, Gackt! But that's not what I'm here to celebrate today... Instead, I want to talk about the new Let's Play series Gackt has launched in collaboration with Nestlé Japan. Every day for a whole year, videos of Gackt playing various retro video games will be posted to Nestlé Japan's YouTube channel in what might be the strangest collaboration I've heard of in quite a while!

Does Gackt even like video games? What does this have to do with Nestlé? Well, they're giving away some Nescafé coffee machines signed by Gackt, so there's that... What we do know about this new series is that the episodes will be posted every day at 7 pm Japan time and will last between 5 to 10 minutes. He'll also be playing between 5 and 10 different titles a month. So far he's played Mega Man 2 and Super Dodge Ball and... he's not very good at it. Nor does he look all that amused. Ah, Gackt, you've finally started to age... There's something oddly charming about his nonchalant manner and the fact that he doesn't ever take his sunglasses off despite all the weird mood lighting going on in the room they have him playing these games in.

Unfortunately the series is currently only available in Japanese, but some zealous fan might subtitle them à la Game Center CX. Still, I think it's amusing enough to watch even if you don't know what's being said. I'm cheering you on, Gackt!