Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Swooning Over Regional Hello Kitty Blendy Sticks

Back when I wrote about the Hello Kitty regional Blendy stick a few months ago, I resigned myself to never being able to try them due to their limited distribution even though I was traveling to Japan. Imagine my surprise, then, when I ran into some at a souvenir shop that specialized in food at Tokyo Solamachi! Of course, I was utterly thrilled and proceeded to buy them immediately.

Interestingly, the only flavor this particular shop stocked was the Tochiotome Au Lait from Tochigi prefecture, which is north of Tokyo. As you can probably tell from the packaging, Tochiotome is a type of strawberry that is particularly famous in Tochigi prefecture. Though I've eaten my fair share of Japanese strawberries, I don't know if I've ever tried the Tochiotome variety, but I can say that Japanese strawberries are some of the juiciest, most flavorful berries I've ever had!

Each regional Hello Kitty Blendy stick box comes with 10 individually-wrapped packets for 10 cups of strawberry au lait. I believe I paid ¥600 (more or less $6), which might be a tad pricey for this sort of instant drink, but I was happy to spend a little extra for a region-exclusive item.

According to the back of the box, there is a special monkey trainer Hello Kitty design that, if you're lucky, you'll find on one of the packets in the box. A quick Google search tells me that Tochigi is famous for a theme park that used to have monkey troupe performances that closed in 2013, but will have a memorial hall opening this October. Unfortunately, I wasn't lucky enough to get the special design!

I didn't expect the box to reveal a cutout of Hello Kitty's face when opened! It's products like this that really showcase the amazing attention to detail and presentation you'll find in even the most mundane items in Japan. Limited edition packaging is certainly a surefire way to get me to buy an instant drink I would normally pass over in a shop!

Unfortunately, while the strawberry Hello Kitty adorning the box and packets is all-around adorable, the drink itself wasn't particularly impressive. The Tochiotome strawberry flavor was definitely strong and sweet, but I don't think strawberry au lait is really my drink of choice.

Sure, it would be great if the drink itself was as thrilling as the packaging, but I'm still very happy that I was able to try one of the regional Hello Kitty Blendy stick flavors! Though I couldn't find a seller that ships the Tochiotome au lait internationally, there is one that stocks the Hokkaido café au lait! I may have to give that a try...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apricotsushi Reviews: Ali Baba 1/7 by empty

This is it, folks. I've finally fallen into the deep, money-swallowing hole that is scale figures. I don't know whether I should be relieved that I lasted a whole year since I bought my first Nendoroid, or if I should be disappointed that I only managed to keep myself away from them for so long. Either way, I'm in it now, and there's no better way to celebrate the occasion than with a review!

The figure I purchased came completely from left field – I didn't have this figure on my theoretical "if I ever decide to buy scale figures this is what I'd get" wishlist, and I even broke my cardinal rule of not buying merchandise for media I'm not familiar with. Ali Baba, or Allie, as she's known in Japan, is a character from the 3DS brawler Code of Princess, which was released in North America by Atlus way back in 2012. The figure itself was later released in Japan in December 2013, and, as far as I can tell, is a relatively niche figure even among collectors (probably because she's overshadowed by her busty counterpart Solange...).

As you can see from the photo above, the box itself is very lackluster. Still, I was surprised by how massive it was when it came in! The Hatsune Miku Nendoroid Petit is there for scale and, well, cuteness factor. I didn't bother taking any photos of the rest of the box, as it was completely plain and unremarkable. From what I've seen, there are usually at least images of the figure on the back of the box to show potential buyers what they're getting, but there was nothing of the sort for Ali Baba. 

I tried to find the official artwork the figure was based on, and though I can't confirm for sure, the pose in the image above fits the figure to a T. If you're thinking to yourself, "Hmm, that art looks strangely familiar," that's probably because it's drawn by Kinu Nishimura, an artist well known for her work on the Street Fighter series as well as the recent Zero Escape games. That's part of the reason why I let my "no figures of characters you don't know" rule side, as I've always been a fan of her art and I've adored Ali Baba's design since back when Code of Princess was first unveiled. Admittedly, I always though she was a he, but after doing some research while waiting for the figure to arrive, I found out that she is in fact a lady thief, which only makes her more bad-ass in my book! 

Before I go any further, I have a confession to make. When I was trying to remove some plastic packaging that had been inserted around her scarf, I managed to break the beaded strand of hair that whips around in front right between the gold and silver beads just next to her head. My first figure, broken! Luckily I only spent about $35 on her rather than the retail price of $90, or I probably would've burst into tears on the spot. After having a minor freak out, I read up on figure fixes and went to the store to find some super glue. Luckily, with a little elbow grease to hold the piece in place, it stuck! (Almost) good as new! 

Since this was my first scale figure, I don't really have any bases to compare with, but I was pleasantly surprised by the paint job. More importantly, I love that she doesn't connect to the base with pegs – while it does make it easier for her to slide off the base if accidentally bumped into, it also means she can be posed in other settings without having to worry about pegs at the bottom of her feet. 

Considering how hefty the figure itself feels, it's a bit odd that the base is such comparatively flimsy plastic. But I'd say it does the job pretty well: 

Since I haven't played Code of Princess, I'm not sure what setting to imagine her in, but the base feels very castle-y to me. It's hard to make out in the photo, but her right hand doesn't quite touch the base, which may seem counterintuitive at first. However, I think it really helps to enhance the movement of the piece! I can totally imagine her quickly crouching and drawing her sword in a preemptive attack. 

If I were a seasoned figure reviewer, I might have taken pictures of all her parts separately, but after breaking her once, I've decided not to mess with it any more than I have to. Her sword originally came in two pieces, with the hilt removed so it could be placed in her hand. It actually really difficult to slide it through her hand! It's barely noticeable, but I think I scraped off a little paint on the hilt when squeezing it in. While the the sword itself definitely isn't a highlight of the piece, I do like the crescent moon and star detail on the hilt. 

Her neck also separates from her body so her scarf can be removed, but it doesn't look like a complete piece without it, in my opinion. I love how it's not a single color, but rather fades to a pale blue at the end! I don't know if it's normal for scale figure heads to be removable, but if they wanted to add flexibility to the figure, I would have preferred an alternative facial expression over the removable scarf. 

The real attraction of the figure, though, is from her torso down (don't get any funny ideas!). I love her belt/key ring/sash things, and something about the way her feet are positioned make her boots really appealing, as well! The belts in particular have some really nice details, like the colored tassels along the bottom. 

Look at those keys! The way they're spread out really makes the figure feel so dynamic. 

What I don't understand is why they made the belt section separate from the rest of her body. The tassels mysteriously disappear from the area around her left leg, as well, which doesn't make much sense when you scrutinize it up close. 

No matter how I move the belt portion around, there's always this weird gap from where the tassels disappear! In a figure that is so well designed overall, it's such as shame that they didn't fix this detail. Since the torso can't be separated from the body to remove the belts, I don't know why they didn't make it all one piece... 

My only other critique is that there are a few instances where paint is where it shouldn't be. The paint job overall is very well done, but there is this mysterious dark line on her arm, which is unfortunate, but it's not too noticeable. Her white pants also have a few minor blemishes on them, but its hard for me to tell if that's from me scraping her when I took her out of the packaging or not. 

Even with the minor paint and design flaws (not to mention the flimsy hair piece that I broke), I am still utterly thrilled with my first scale figure. From what I've seen, her design and color scheme is quite unique, and while I don't think I could ever bring myself to spend upwards of $100 for a hunk of plastic that I can't even pose, she was a total steal for $35 at Plamoya

I didn't think I would be ordering any other figures for a very long time, but it just so happens that one I've been eyeing went on sale for just over $35, as well, so of course I had to bite. I guess $35 is my scale figure sweet spot! I just hope for my wallet's sake that I don't start getting eyes for anything too expensive... 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

4 visual novels I have to play before 2015

I have been monumentally busy lately. Terribly, soul-crushingly busy to the point that I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to fit in everything I want/need to do. On top of that, my monthly Community Game-Alongs keep me acutely aware of exactly how much time I have left in the year... And it's not a lot.

So, how can one ever hope to manage one's time?! With a handy list, of course!

There are tons of games I want to play over the next few months, but I had to narrow things down for the sake of this post, and my sanity. Since I'm on a major otome game/visual novel kick lately, I figured that was as good a place to start as any, and I also wanted to use it as an excuse to cover some games that may not be talked about very often. And thus, I present to you: four visual novels I have to play before 2015!

Clover Toshokan no Juunin-tachi (release date: September 26)

This is one otome game that I absolutely did not have on my radar until I happened to see it pop up for preorder on Ami Ami (that site is going to be the death of me). My interest was piqued for purely superficial reasons – the game has the word "library" in the title, and the art was appealing, albeit a little generic. But this game isn't just an otome game that features a library! The male suitors are literally books. That's right, the books in the library have come to life, from the cutesy picture book to the wild-looking travel book. Even though this game is for PC and I generally prefer to play games on consoles, I will readily admit that the prospect of dating books completely sold me on the title.

Nekketsu Inou Bukatsu: Trigger Kiss (release date: October 2)

I have a feeling this list is going to quickly make me sound very shallow, but there was only one thing I knew about Trigger Kiss before I started writing this post, and that was that there is a mechanic in the game that actually has players kiss their Vitas. I literally needed no other information before placing my preorder. I figure if games like Monster Monpiece with its erotic Vita-rubbing gameplay mechanism can be popular enough to have an English release, then I'm going to do my very best to make sure everyone knows about what else is out there! Apparently the mechanic is rationalized by the fact that all of the characters have special powers... and the heroine's is that she can increase the powers of others by – you guessed it – kissing them. All right, sign me up! 

DRAMAtical Murder re:code (release date: October 30) 

DRAMAtical Murder is one of those games that I really should play, but have never gotten very far in, largely due to the fact that it's PC-only (that doesn't bode well for Clover Toshokan no Juunin-tachi...). Now that the ages18+ BL visual novel is getting an all-ages Vita release, I have a feeling I'll finally be compelled to go through and finish the whole thing. I just love the game's cyberpunk-like aesthetic and focus on things like games and technology (so meta!), and I can only imagine how great it's going to look on the Vita's OLED screen! Just a warning, though: if you find yourself interested in learning more about DRAMAtical Murder, I would suggest staying away from the currently-airing anime. It's a good laugh if you don't take it seriously, but the low production values really aren't doing the series any favors. 

Code: Realize - Sousei no Himegimi (release date: November 27) 

It's high time an otome game tackled a steampunk setting, so I am 100% on board with whatever Code: Realize plans to throw at me. Taking place in London and featuring bishonen versions of famous literary characters such as Van Helsing and Frankenstein, everything about this game says that I'll love it... aside from the premise. Apparently it features an amnesiac heroine who has some kind of disease that causes everything she comes in contact with to rot. After my experience with Amnesia, I think it's safe to say I'm extremely wary of an otome game that uses amnesia as a plot point, but I can't help but be drawn in by the gorgeous art, characters, and setting. I hope it doesn't disappoint! 

There are so many other games I could have included, but alas, any more than four and I doubt I'll be able to make good on my word to play them before 2015. As it is, I still have piles of visual novels I've purchased and still haven't touched! 

Visual novel or not, what are you looking forward to playing for the rest of the year? 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Japan Envy: Baskin Robbins Halloween Ice Cream + Mister Donut Orange Chocolate Series

Is it too early to start talking about Halloween? Never, I say, and apparently Japanese Baskin Robbins feels the same! Though their limited-run Halloween ice cream specials won't be going on sale until September 26th, they've already unveiled the upcoming festive line of treats:

The cat and ghost pictured above are my favorites, but you can see images of the whole lineup over at Zigg. I just love all of the care put into the details, from the purple witches' hats and special Halloween cups that unify the designs. After some quick Googling, it's become apparent that Baskin Robbins brings out similar Halloween designs every year in Japan, including some pretty amazing looking sundaes!

Over at Mister Donut, things are all about the classic orange and chocolate flavor combination. Who doesn't love orange and chocolate? I've always found it somewhat exotic for whatever reason, and the words "orange" and "chocolate" immediately conjure up memories of the chocolate oranges I used to get for Christmas.

All of the donuts look so decadent! I think it's the advertising... Still, I would definitely give that orange chocolate Pon de Ring a taste if I happened to be in Japan during this campaign. While it's not explicitly Halloween-related, the orange does give it a sort of "mature" Halloween feel, don't you think? I can't wait to see what Mister Donut whips out for an actual Halloween-themed donut series!