Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Anne in Japan 2014: The Game Haul

One of the best things about going to Japan is the chance to go game shopping. Last year I bought a whopping 24 games when I was in Osaka on vacation for three weeks, but this year I had to be slightly more frugal. Still, I think I came back with quite a few goodies, including some rare and very cheap finds! 

If you add it all up, I purchased a total of 13 games this trip, comprised of three PSone games, one PS2 game, one PS3 game, one PSP game, two Vita games, one GBA game, three DS games, and one 3DS game. I'm actually pretty impressed by the relatively even sampling of consoles on display in my haul overall! While I may not have bought quite as many games as I admittedly would have liked, that was largely due to the fact that three of the games purchased were significantly more than the few bucks I usually spend per game while in Japan. 

Funnily enough, one of the first game purchases I made also happens to be the one I'm most proud of! Last year I actually got a copy of The Vision of Escaflowne for about $8, but this year I managed to find the limited edition for only $15 in Akihabara, so even though I already had a copy of the game, I absolutely had to add the LE to my collection. It comes with a tarot card set and extra booklet that I'll definitely be showing off more in-depth in a future post.

I'll actually be giving away my extra copy of the game in my August Chic Pixel supporters giveaway, so if you'd like to be in the running, donate $5 or more to support the site and you'll have the chance to win that and some other nifty stuff! My secretary tells me we only have two entries so far, so your chances of winning might be pretty good...

Since I'm talking about PSone games, here are the other two I picked up. The one on the left, Harukanaru Toki no Naka de, is the first otome game in the series by the same name. It was only $1, so I figured I might as well pick it up! On the right however, is a game that I totally stumbled upon by accident while I was wandering around Super Potato in Ikebukuro. Titled Oujisama Lv1, it claims to have RPG elements while apparently having an entirely male cast that may or may not all have crushes on the protagonist. You guessed it: the main reason I picked this up was due to the shōnen ai vibe! After doing a quick search on, it appears my intuition was correct, as the game originated as BL PC RPG that spawned a fan disc and sequel, as well as a manga. I can't wait to see what it's like!

My lone PS2 purchase was the Harukanaru toki no naka de 2 premium box, which came with some art cards in addition to the game itself. What can I say, I'm a sucker for cheap otome games!

... And then there were the slightly more expensive otome games. Uta no Prince-sama Repeat for the PSP was nearly $40, as many otome games on the PSP don't ever drop significantly in price, but it's one I've been meaning to play for a while. After watching the anime, I know I'll probably enjoy it, even though it's very silly!

Yet another otome game! Do you sense a theme? Beyond the Future: Fix the Time Arrows is one of the few otome games available on the PS3, and though I literally know nothing about it, I quite like the art style. For $15, that was enough to sell me on it!

Believe it or not, these two PS Vita games were my most expensive game purchases of the trip. On the left we have the self-explanatory Puyo Puyo Tetris, which I originally planned on buying for PS3 for the couch co-op but ultimately decided it would be more enjoyable on a handheld. I've played a little of it and so far it has reestablished the fact that I'm awful at both Puyo Puyo and Tetris.

On the right, we have a game that actually came out while I was in Tokyo, Corpse Party: Blood Drive! The Corpse Party series are pretty much the only horror games I've ever gotten into, but after XSEED brought the first two for PSP out in English, I've been hopelessly hooked. I haven't really had a lot of time to dig into this one yet, but it's definitely very high on my list!

It's a sad truth that the above game, Ohanayasan Monogatari GBA, is the only GBA game I bought during my trip, despite my obsession with them. It's getting increasingly more difficult for me to find GBA games within my price range that I don't already own! I'd never heard of this one before running into it during one of my routine GBA section checks (of course I had to meticulously go through all the GBA games in every game store I went to), but the cover art was cute and it seems like Harvest Moon... but with flowers. Apparently there's a DS game in the same series that actually looks cuter, so I guess I need to put that on my list of things to get eventually! 

Speaking of DS games, Pokémon Typing DS is one I've had my eye on for quite a while now but never wanted to spend more than a few bucks on, so I was pretty stocked to find a copy with the bluetooth keyboard (pictured in the first photo) for only $5! The bottom game is Chocobo no Mahō Ehon: Majo to Shōjo to Gonin no Yūsha, which is the Japan-only sequel to Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales game. I honestly didn't have this one on my radar at all, but after seeing it for $5 and initially passing on it, I ended up going back to the same store and grabbing it a few days later.

The final DS game I added to my collection was another spontaneous purchase, Ore ga Omae o Mamoru (bottom). I only knew it as an otome game with some RPG elements, but apparently it's also a Metroidvania side-scroller? I'm definitely intrigued, but I don't remember it getting a very good reception when it came out...

Oresama Kingdom: Ikemen Kareshi o Getto Shiyo! for the 3DS (top) is actually a game I had wanted to pick up last summer, but at over $40, I ended up passing on it. I had completely forgotten about ever wanting it until I randomly ran into it in a bargain bin in Ikebukuro the morning of the day I was returning to Australia... And for only $10, I knew I had to grab it! It's one of the rare 3DS games that requires players to hold the system as if it were a book (think Hotel Dusk on the DS), and, of course, it's an otome game. In the case of Oresama Kingdom, I believe it's based on a manga series aimed at elementary/middle school girls. It's currently going for $24 at Play Asia, which is the cheapest I've seen it available online, if you're interested in checking it out!

Well, there you have it – every single game I bought while I was in Japan! If there's any title you'd like to hear more about sooner rather than later, let me know in the comments and I'll prioritize it!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Alice in the Heart Deserves a Better Localization

The Alice in the Country of Hearts series by QuinRose is otome game series that fans have been clamoring to see released in English since the first game was released in Japan on PC back in 2007. Loosely based on Alice in Wonderland, the series is highly regarded for having sharp writing and a refreshingly spunky protagonist, along with a slightly sadistic yet colorful set of suitors. Largely due to this series, developer QuinRose is now a household name for otome game fans worldwide, and the Alice games have even spawned a number of very successful manga adaptations and spinoffs, many of which have been released in English and frequent the New York Times best seller list for manga.

Needless to say, the series has a well-established western audience that has been eagerly awaiting the release of the Alice in the Country of Hearts game for many years. Why is it, then, that when QuinRose finally brought the game over to their English-speaking fans, they couldn't even grace it with a serviceable localization?

Alice in the Heart ~Wonderful Wonder World~ is an iOS/Android port of the PC/PSP remake of the original Alice in the Country of Hearts ~Wonderful Wonder World~ game, which, most notably, featured a complete art overhaul. The first thing that caused alarms to go off for me when I learned of the Alice in the Heart release was the title. Why would QuinRose choose to localize the title as Alice in the Heart when the series has already been established by a number of publishers from TokyoPop to Yen Press as Alice in the Country of Hearts in English? Immediately, it breaks continuity from the very popular manga, and also gives an extremely poor first impression for just not making any sense.

Luckily, the prologue and episode one of the game are available for free, so people can try it out before committing to buy it. All of the screenshots included in this article are from the prologue, as I honestly couldn't bring myself to play any more. I was prepared for a mangled translation going in, and while at first I felt a combination of amusement and disappointment, as I read on, the amusement faded until I was left feeling nothing but frustrated and sad about the state of Alice in the Heart. While I have the Japanese version of Alice in the Country of Hearts for PS2, I was prepared to purchase the version with Japanese voiceovers for $37.99 (it's $24.99 without voiced audio) just to show my support for this and more otome games being localized. Now, I want to implore anyone thinking of shelling out money for Alice in the Heart not to do so until QuinRose fixes the localization.

While otome games on mobile devices have a reputation for getting subpar localization jobs, Alice in the Heart truly takes the cake. I'm sure I'm not the only one who understands how much work it is to translate the wall of text that is a visual novel, but running the Japanese through Google Translate (I can only imagine this is what they did) to save on time/costs is simply not acceptable. In fact, Jenni Lada over at Technology Tell has already written an article calling the release "heartwrenching" and "one of the worst game localizations I've ever seen," and nearly all of the reviews on both the Android and iTunes pages for the game cite the poor translation and/or a bug that causes the game to freeze during the prologue. It goes to show that in a genre that relies so heavily on reading to advance the narrative, the translation is everything, and fans should and will hold popular otome games like Alice in the Heart to such a standard.

With the huge number of quality freelance translators doing work to bring Japanese games out in English available, combined with the number of people that have been long awaiting an Alice in the Country of Hearts game release, there is simply no excuse for Alice in the Heart's poor localization. If you find yourself amused by the gibberish and want to try the game out for yourself, please consider downloading and playing the free portion of the game and then sending QuinRose an email or writing a review telling them you won't pay for the full product until it is in, at the very least, understandable English. The game, otome game fans, and the localization industry as a whole deserve much, much better.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Japan Envy: Card Captor Sakura Bags by Super Groupies

I've always said that the best kind of nerdy fashion is that which incorporates nerd/geek culture in an interesting yet trendy and not completely obvious way, and this new Card Captor Sakura bag line by the Japanese brand Super Groupies does exactly that. They manage to be adorable and functional without screaming "I'm from an anime/manga series!" but also have lots of details that will most certainly appreciate. Let's take a look!

The largest bag, pictured at the top, is a "roll Boston bag" and priced at ¥7,800, while the smaller shoulder bag is ¥4,800. The small red Clow book pouch is for organizing your things within a larger bag, and is priced at ¥3,800. Both larger bags feature iconic bows similar to those found on Card Captor Sakura's many outfits, but a closer look reveals a lot of cool details: 

The zippers are shaped like Sakura's sealing wand when it's in key form!

The inside of each bag is even patterned with a Card Captor Sakura-style print! 

Here's closer look of the print, as seen in the Clow book pouch. The pattern of Sakura, Kero, Spinel, and various accoutrements is really special.  

Both bags also have a faint embossing that says Card Captor Sakura, along with a cute star pendant hanging from the bow. 

Finally, here's a close up of the Clow book pouch. I really love the design on this one!

Card Captor Sakura-inspired bags aren't the only CCS items Super Groupies is offering, though they're definitely the most exciting.

It's hard to make out the design by the ankle, but there are also these Kero "tattoo" stockings. I'm not actually all that fond of these... I think I'd much prefer a pair of stockings with a full pattern like the one featured inside the bags, even if it is a bit flashy (what can I say, I like flashy stockings).

Super Groupies also offers a number of other anime-inspired items, including some gorgeous Revolutionary Girl Utena shoes. I can't say yet whether or not I'll spring for one of the Card Captor Sakura bags, but I know at the very least that I'll keep this brand on my radar from now on!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chic Pixel Joins Kawaii in Manila 2's Worldwide Kawaii Campaign

There's a lot of horrible things going on in the world right now, and it's starting to wear on me, but that's all you're going to hear about that here. What I can do, however, is share something a little personal and hopefully a little uplifting in light of all the current news. At the very least, I hope it makes you smile!

I don't believe I've ever mentioned it here, but I really admire Kaila, Kawaii Ambassador of the Philippines (official title!), as well as creator of Rainbowholic and Kawaii Philippines and co-creator of the amazing site Japan Lover Me. She's only 21 years old, but she's something of a social media celebrity if you're into anything Japanese and cute, and she's currently involved in putting on Kawaii in Manila 2, the second year of the first ever "kawaii convention" in the Philippines.

If you're not familiar with any of those sites and you're a fan on this blog, I highly suggest checking them out. While Kaila isn't as nerdy as me, she definitely appreciates many of the same things about Japanese culture and entertainment as I do, and I strive to be half as motivated as she is! She and the other folks behind Kawaii in Manila started the event to bring kawaii Japanese culture to the Philippines, but they also recognize that there are many of us around the world that wish we could attend... which is why they started the Worldwide Kawaii Campaign!

The Worldwide Kawaii Campaign encourages everyone to take part in the festivities by sharing what kawaii means to you. All you need to do is create an A4-sized poster answering that very question and take a photo of yourself with it like I've done in the above photos. Then, share it on your blog/social media accounts to spread the fun! You can also email your submission to the Kawaii in Manila folks to be in a photo compilation that they'll display at the event itself. Apparently they will even be giving out special prizes to stand-out entries, though they haven't revealed the details of that yet.

Kawaii is a great word that I think really means more than its dictionary definition of "cute," so there are a lot of ways to approach this project! I originally thought of the rather cliché "kawaii is anything that makes you smile," but I quickly realized that one of the example submissions basically said the exact same thing, so I had to come up with something a little more unique! Since "kawaii" to me is all about expressing myself in whatever way makes me happy, rather than worrying about what others think, I decided to go with "kawaii is fearless self-expression." I've decided to submit the very first photo in this post, since that's the one I'm happiest with, but here's an example of one of my nerdier photo attempts:

Whether you're into kawaii or kakkoi (cool), what's most important is doing what makes you happiest. And, if you decide to join the Worldwide Kawaii Campaign, do share your photos with me! If you'd prefer not to go to all the trouble, but feel a special connection to the word kawaii like I do, why not share with me what kawaii means to you in the comments?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Apricotsushi Reviews: When Marnie Was There

When I realized I would be in Japan while the latest Studio Ghibli film, When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Maanii), was in theaters, I was thrilled. The last time I saw a Ghibli film in Japan was Ponyo, which was gorgeously animated but ultimately a little disappointing for me, so I wanted to see if Ghibli could outdo some of their more recent mediocre affairs. While When Marnie Was There's premise of a young sick girl who goes out to the country and becomes friends with another, rather mysterious, girl didn't seem all that enticing from a plot synopsis point of view, I went in hopeful that I would be getting another dose of Ghibli's magic on the big screen, well before the film aired in the rest of the world.

When Marnie Was There excels in subtlety through its depiction, and ultimately, transformation, of the melancholy young protagonist Anna. An orphan, she suffers from health problems and an introverted personality that have resulted in her not making many friends, nor opening up to her adopted mother. In an attempt to change Anna's scenery and hopefully kickstart her health, her mother sends her to rural Hokkaido to live with some relatives over the summer break. It's here that Anna meets the magical Marnie, who lives what is said to be an abandoned mansion. As their relationship grows and Anna learns more and more about mysterious building, she starts to question who, or what, Marnie is.

The film is based on a British book by the same name, but I wasn't familiar with the story going into the movie. I'll get my major gripe about When Marnie Was There out of the way immediately, though: I thought the film was a total drag. And by that, I not only mean it was disappointing overall, but it literally dragged plot and pacing-wise, making me wish they cut off 15 minutes (it clocked in at 103 minutes). The major plot reveal felt excessively obvious quite early on, so it made Anna's personal journey feel like even more of a slog. As the film crawled along, I found myself hoping she'd just hurry up and figure things out so we could both move on with our lives.

I imagine if you know the plot of the book, it's even more frustrating to sit through unless you have extremely fond memories of the relationship between Anna and Marnie. I hate to say it, but Roy Blakely was right:

I wish I could say the film was saved by Ghibli's trademark animation, but even that fell flat for me. Granted, their work is always beautiful, but there were no details or particular scenes that stood out to me for their animation in any way. On the other hand, Miyazaki's final film, The Wind Rises (another Ghibli excursion I didn't really like in the end) had a number of sequences that were memorable if for nothing more than their breathtaking animation, which I can't say about any aspect of Marnie.

If I sound really down on When Marnie Was There, do know that it really does pain me to be so critical of Ghibli. I, like many of you probably reading this, grew up on Ghibli films and consider the studio to be revolutionary for Japanese filmmaking and animation. But, sadly, Marnie could not hold my interest, though I did enjoy the care with which Anna's personality and mannerisms were portrayed. The Hokkaido setting was also appreciated, but I simply didn't feel it was animated with as much attention to detail as some of Ghibli's past features. However, I'm willing to admit that my overall perception of the film may have been colored by my dissatisfaction with the story, so it might be worth a rewatch where I focus my attention on the animation. Honestly, though, I don't know if I could sit through it again.

I left the theater wondering who Marnie is for – I doubt it will be able to hold a child's attention, and western fans who haven't read the book are apparently think the film's Japanese trailer makes Marnie and Anna's relationship seem more queer than it actually is. (I could write a whole article on this, but I'd rather not) Older fans such as myself may appreciate the subtle storytelling and melancholy mood, but if you're anything like me, you'll be left wishing Ghibli would go back to their more quirky, fantastical roots as the credits roll. Perhaps if you have a penchant for slow-paced, character driven flicks and don't go in expecting a classic Ghibli production, you may enjoy When Marnie Was There more than I did.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Catch-Up Corner: HaruToki 4, Battle Princess of Arcadias, and Rilakkuma Re-Ments

Now that I'm back in Australia and attempting (and mostly failing) to resume "normal" life, it's time to get back to my favorite/only weekly column: Catch-Up Corner! If you're new to Chic Pixel or just forgot since I haven't done one in a while, the Catch-Up Corner is my attempt to make a space to talk about things I wouldn't normally write a whole post about – a weekly roundup, if you will. This week, I'd like to talk about two games I started and the latest video on my YouTube channel.

First, after buying my fair share of exceedingly cheap retro Japanese games while I was in Tokyo (don't worry, I'll recount my haul very soon!), I decided it was high time to start chipping away at the old Japanese game backlog. I've always wanted to play one of the games in the otome series Harukanaru Toki no Naka de, and after buying yet another copy of the 4th installment by mistake because it was 100 yen (you know you have a problem when you can't remember what games you have in your collection), I decided that was as good a place as any to start.

I've only played a couple hours of HaruToki 4 (PS2 version), but so far I'm really enjoying it! The games are developed by Koei, creators of the first otome game series ever, Angelique, but are particularly unique for the genre in that they have RPG elements in the form of battles and character progression. HaruToki 4 takes place in a fantastical setting loosely based on historical Japan, and features one of my favorite story clichés: girl getting transported to fantasy world and turning out to be the people's last hope/princess/priestess. I'm surprised it took HaruToki 4 to remind me of this, considering I loved The Vision of Escaflowne and Fushigi Yuugi as a youth, but there you have it. I'm having a lot of fun playing a mystical princess surrounded by a bevy of hunky male protectors, so I imagine I'll be sticking with this one.

Speaking of fantasy princesses (how's that for a segueway), the other game I dabbled in this week was the new PSN release, Battle Princess of Arcadias! Ever since the game was announced for Japan, I've been enamoured by the gorgeous art style, and intrigued by its apparent similarities to Odin Sphere. From my limited experience with the game, I have to say I'm surprised with how difficult it is! I died right in the very first tutorial level, and multiple times in every level since. It's a 2D action game, which I've never been particularly proficient at, but Battle Princess of Arcadias really makes you work for the victories, and so far I've determined that you need to be willing to replay past levels to beef up your characters in order to push through each new area. If you want to hear more about what the game's all about, check out shidoshi's recount on The Nichiest Podcast Ever episode 10. I'll also have a full review in the near future, but I'm pretty positive about it despite the difficulty so far, and that's partly due to just how darn beautiful it is.

Finally, be sure to check out my latest YouTube video, which is an unboxing of my very first Re-Ments! Re-Ments are a brand of Japanese miniatures that happen to come in many cute character-themed sets, the most important of which being Rilakkuma. I grabbed three different Rilakkuma singles and was really excited to see what I got, so if a video of cute bear-themed toys sounds pleasing to you, do check it out!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Apricotsushi Interviews: Foo Swee Chin (FSc)

While most of the influential artists of my youth were undoubtedly Japanese, there is one non-Japanese illustrator I followed from a young age that stands apart from the others for her eerily beautiful style. I'm referring to none other than the Singaporean artist, Foo Swee Chin, who is an all-around amazing creator. I actually had the privilege of meeting her last year at a conference in Sydney, and she also happens to be one of the sweetest professional artists I've ever met!

An example of FSc's quirky, dark style (source)
☆ When did your first start drawing? Have you always wanted to be a comic artist?

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. Drawing is a substitute for friends. I wasn't allowed to go outdoors besides school and the library. So drawing is like a friend. We travelled together. XD
The comic thing kind of happened gradually. I enjoyed making up stories and creating worlds so the best medium was comics. I submitted some drawings and short comic stripes to a student newspapers in my teens. They published them, so I continued to send them more. After that I uploaded some online and sent samples to Slave Labor only because I enjoyed reading the comics they published. I kind of never stopped making comics since.

☆ Many of your fans probably came to know you through your work on Nightmares and Fairy Tales by Serena Valentino. What was it like doing the art for someone else's story?

You are right, majority of them came to know my drawings because of Nightmares and Fairytales.
Serena was very nice and straightforward. She gave me a lot of freedom so it was quite fun to work on NNF. I didn't feel very stressed out.
She explained everything very clearly so it wasn't very difficult.
The only difficult part was that... being used to Japanese comics I found it hard to fit a lot of panels and dialogues into one page. But I got used to it after awhile, and now it is difficult to not over fill a page.

One of FSc's character designs for Wayforward's game, LIT 
☆ Is Wayforward's LIT your only experience working on a video game? Is that something you'd like to do again in the future?

Kind of I guess. I did character designs for interactive games too but I guess that is different from video games.^^)>

☆ Interactive games still count! It's really interesting that you've been able to work on projects in different mediums. You've also had the rare opportunity as a non-Japanese to work with a Japanese publisher and have your comics published in Japanese. What was that like?

It was... I was very honoured. I felt very lucky.
It wasn't easy. Making Japanese manga is so different from making alternative comics. The editor and the manga artists have to work together as a team. I learned a lot from the experience. It made me humble.
A couple volumes of FSc's comic, MuZz, at Mandarake in Shibuya
(photo taken by me)
☆ Back in January 2013, you spoke at the Women’s Manga in Asia: Glocalizing Different Cultures and Identities conference about being a female comics artist with Japanese influences. However, your style is probably not considered very manga-like by some. Do you consider your art manga?

No. I don't anymore. I used to, simply because everyone said my comics are very manga. When I went to Japan I was told that my art is very European.
I don't know anymore. My brain is a mashed potato.

☆ I personally don't think it matters how you define it... Just keep drawing in your own amazing style! As for the future, what do you hope to be doing in five years?

I hope to get more art related work, at least enough to pay the bills and feed my cats XD
I'm open to any art related work, be it illustrations, concept visualisations, comics or manga, clothes designs, merchandises...  galleries (that is if anyone sane enough wants to see pages and pages of scribbly wiggly black and white line drawings LOL)
But my dream would be to have my own comic/manga series which can support my lifestyle and pay the bills someday. That dream is getting more and more difficult by the second.

She also posts lots of comics about her life on her blog.
Keep at it, FSc! 
A rather melancholy note to end on, but thanks so much to FSc for chatting with me about so many interesting topics! If you'd like to see what she's up to, you can follow her on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. She always needs the support, so to read or, more importantly, purchase her work, please head over to her website!