Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Scary Pokémon Halloween website features Gengar, Banette, and... Junji Ito?

The world of Pokémon has always been a slightly sinister place, from the designs of some of the Pokémon themselves (Mr. Mime for all you clown lovers out there), to Pokédex entries that reveal a darker side to the otherwise adorable little creatures. In fact, the Lavender Town tower cemetary in Pokémon Red/Blue is so infamous that it was the first example on the subject of death in Japanese popular media that Harvard professor Alexander Zahlten mentioned it at the beginning of a talk of his I went to earlier this year!

The creepier aspects of Pokémon have never really been directly discussed, and certainly not promoted, by the creators of the games themselves, but this year the Pokémon Company is fully embracing Pokémon scare potential with the Hontou wa kowai? (Actually scary?) Pokémon website. Just in time for Halloween, the Hontou wa kowai? website celebrates all ghost and dark Pokémon that have the potential to send a chill down your spine. A variety of scary Pokémon, or KowaPoké (an amalgamation of kowai, or scary, and Pokémon) grace the site, and there are a number of informational pages, activities, and more. 

The website plays the eery Lavender Town theme, of course... 
The frustrating thing about many Japanese holiday tie-in events is that they only occur in Japan, but in the case of this website, anyone in the world can join in the fun! Even if you don't understand Japanese, there are plenty of things to see, such as the scary Pokémon minigame, festive wallpapers for smartphones and computers, coloring pages, and even some short manga.

"You're so wonderful..." 
The site is being regularly updated throughout the month with tons of information on scary Pokémon in the various Pokémon games themselves, as well. One such update, however, revealed a very surprising collaboration... 

full image
Master of Japanese horror Junji Ito himself is doing a series of collaborative illustrations for the website! The above image depicting the evil plush Pokémon Banette is the first of two illustrations that will be released on the Hontou wa kowai? website. There will even be a special t-shirt giveaway featuring Junji Ito's Banette illustration for 100 lucky fans, but it's unfortunately limited to residents of Japan only.

Junji Ito is famous for his twisted horror manga, including Gyo, Uzumaki, and Tomie. Regarding the Banette illustration, he says he drew a Banette that was searching for the child that threw it out. Since Banettes are born from the grudge they hold against their previous owners for abandoning them, you can only imagine how it must feel to see a child doting on a brand new toy...

I'm not sure how I was ever able to sleep at night after playing Pokémon! Junji Ito's second illustration has yet to be revealed, but I can't wait to see what scary Pokémon he draws next... 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Swooning Over: Gina Gallaway's Videogame Customs

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of game critic and author Brad Gallaway, who is by far one of the most passionate and opinionated game writers I know. While Mr. Gallaway is loud and proud about his likes and dislikes on numerous corners of the internet, his wife, Gina, is slightly more subdued but none the less an avid video game aficionado. She's taken her passion for all things gaming one step further, however, and combined it with her crafty talents to whip up an array of classic game inspired trinkets, primarily shirts and coffee sleeves!

Lagombi and Kushala Daora coffee sleeves
Here are two Monster Hunter-inspired coffee sleeves Gina made for me and Mr. Sushi in a recent gift exchange. All of her items are cross-stitched, which is the perfect way to translate the Monster Hunter monster icons into wearable art. It totally brightens my day to see an adorable little Lagombi peering up at me as I sip away at my morning drink of choice (usually coffee, if you're curious).

But more along the lines of actual wearable art, Gina can also translate said cross stitch into t-shirts! Here are just a few of her recent designs:

Edgar from Final Fantasy VI
Iconic Mario jump tee 
Tigrex from Monster Hunter
While Gina has previously showered her amazing video game designs on family and lucky friends, she's finally opened a site to take custom orders from anyone who would like a special piece of game-inspired handiwork. Her shirts start at $25 and coffee sleeves at $15, but since she does everything by order on request, she'll make any custom pixel designs your heart desires!

Head over to her site to see more of her past designs and get information on how to place a custom order of your own. I know it may be a little early to start thinking about holiday shopping, but wouldn't these would make great personalized gifts?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Apricotsushi Reviews: Betoyo Bento

When it comes to Japan-related subscription services, there is no shortage of options in the candy/snack department, but if you want to venture into the realm of collectables and other knickknacks, there are considerably fewer services available. Luckily, the folks at Betoyo Bento seek to fill that void by offering monthly boxes of toys, candies, and any other "Japanese pop culture items" they come across!

One look at their website shows that Betoyo Bento is looking to appeal to the more hardcore anime/manga crowd by offering collectables that tie into popular series such as Dragon Ball, One Piece, Madoka Magica, and more. Subscriptions start at $38 for a single month, or $110 for three months (which works out to $36.67/month), including international shipping. While this is significantly higher than the usual $25/month for Japanese snack subscriptions, any collector will tell you the cost of these kind of items is going to be more than a box or two of Pocky. With 5 to 6 items coming every month, Betoyo Bento tries to cram in as much value into each box as it can. 

I was really happy with the packaging and how fast the box arrived at my door in Australia. Unlike most subscription services I've received so far, the Betoyo Bento box was nicely wrapped with a ribbon and sticker and then shipped in a plastic shipping bag, which added a great personal touch. 

It's worth noting that Betoyo Bento is located in Hong Kong, rather than Japan, which could be to their detriment as they may not be able to get items as cheaply as other companies. Because of this, and since I've received a lot of questions as to whether this subscription box is worth the relatively high price of admission, I'm going to include a more comprehensive price breakdown than I usually do in my subscription box reviews. I hope it's useful! 

First off, we have these two gachapon items – a super saiyan Vegeta keychain from the "Dragon Ball GT UDM the Best" series, and Sailor Mars from the Sailor Moon desk figure series. These kind of gachapon items are relatively hard to find online, particularly individually, unless you want to order directly from Japan via a proxy service. I was able to find Vegeta on his own for $6.89 (on sale from $7.49), and Sailor Mars is available in the full Sailor Moon desk figure series for $25 at Jlist. Keep in mind that both prices do not include shipping. 

I used to love Dragon Ball when I was very young, but I haven't been on that bandwagon for a very long time, so I'll probably use Vegeta in a giveaway at some point. Sailor Mars, on the other hand, was a very pleasant surprise! I have her sitting on my bookshelf right now. 

The sole food item in the box were these Corn Potage chips that have some very adorable pot mascots, if I do say so myself! I tend to not like corn puff-style chips, but they really did taste like corn soup. You can purchase these for just $2.19 at Mitsuwa

I've saved the best for last – a Rilakkuma Re-Ment blind box and a Miku Hako Vision box! It's great to see Betoyo Bento include some new items, as I know the Miku Hako Vision boxes only just went on sale in August in Japan. You can buy a set of two on Ami Ami for about $25, or $21 on Amazon with free shipping in the US. I don't want to give away too much about the Miku Hako Vision box, since I'll be doing a video on it shortly, but basically it works with your cell phone to create a mini 3D theater where Hatsune Miku preforms two songs for you! 

Finally, the Rilakkuma Re-Ment box contains a random adorable miniature food item delicately fashioned after everyone's favorite relax-loving bear. These can be found at various prices all over the net, but Modes4u has this particular one for $6.10

If you add together the cost of what it would take to purchase everyone one of these items online separately, it would be right around $25. Of course, this doesn't include the extra shipping costs you'd incur from buying the items from separate sites, nor does it factor in the cost of having to purchase a whole set if the item isn't available individually. Still, I must admit that some of the items, particularly the gachapon (which can be bought for just a couple dollars in Japan) and the corn chips, felt a little lackluster.

Betoyo Bento is an extremely fun box to receive as a fan of Japanese collectables, but I couldn't help but feel that it wasn't quite as good value for money when compared to some of the non-collectable subscription boxes out there. But, if you've got the cash to spare and would like to treat yourself to a special surprise, I can't deny that Betoyo Bento offers a lot of fun items for Japanese pop culture enthusiasts such as myself.

Note: A sample box for August 2014 was provided by Betoyo Bento for the purpose of this review. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Announcing the Horror Community Game-Along

When deciding October's Community Game-Along, I'll admit I was a little selfish. Halloween is up there with my very favorite holidays, and I love nothing more than an excuse to cover my apartment in creepy cute bats, pumpkins, and ghosts. How, then, could I turn up the chance to tie the October Game-Along in with the holiday festivities?

Corpse Party
As such, October is going to be all about horror games! Japanese games, western games, console games, freeware PC games – everything's included, as long as it falls under the horror umbrella. Now, I understand that not everyone can handle a good scare (including yours truly on most occasions), so in the interest of getting anyone and everyone to participate, games with Halloween-related themes and aesthetics are also acceptable!

The "rules" of the Horror Community Game-Along are the same as always: pick a game (or games) that fit the theme to play, and share your experiences however you see fit. On social media, please use #horrorgemonth to tag your posts so everyone can see! For the curious, "horrogemonth" is what you get when you take "horror geemu" (Japanese pronunciation of "game") and smash "month" on the end. Do you know how difficult it is to create a unique horror-themed hashtag to use during the month of October?

Here are a few titles to get you started if you're stumped with what to play:

Corpse Party
Corpse Party series (PSP, iOS) – I had to include Corpse Party on the list, as it's the series that really got me into horror games after I told myself I couldn't handle playing them for many years. The visual novel style of much of the game, combined with some pretty brutal puzzles that almost necessitate using a guide, may mean that the original Corpse Party might not be for everyone. I'll be the first to tell you, though, that the game's story and sound design is more than worth the game's lack of polish in other areas. I suggest playing the original on the Vita, but if you don't own a Vita or a PSP, there is also an iOS port of the game (that unfortunately had its fair share of technical issues which may or may not be resolved at the time of posting). XSEED Games announced earlier this year that they would be bringing over the original PC version, so hopefully that comes out in time for the October Game-Along for those who want it!

Japanese freeware indie games (PC) – Okay, this isn't one suggestion, but I really wanted to highlight a category of horror games many people overlook. Not only are they free (legally) and available in English thanks to fan translators, but I have it on good authority that many of them are actually quite good! Definitely check out Memories of Fear and the horror section of Games vgperson Translated for a whopping 24 games to play for the wonderful price of nothing. My sources tell me Ib and The Witch's House are two standout picks, but if you want to check out some Corpse Party spinoffs or the infamous Ao Oni, Memories of Fear has you covered. Be warned – while many of these games have a "cute" graphical style, that doesn't mean they don't tackle some pretty brutal themes!

Penumbra (PC, Mac, Linux) – Almost everyone who calls themselves a horror fan has played Amnesia, but what about Frictional Games' episodic horror title Penumbra? All three episodes are available together for only $10 on Steam, and while it suffers from the kinds of control issues that tend to bring down a lot of horror games with combat, Penumbra stands out among fans for its tension, Lovecraftian premise, and focus on stealth to survive.

Cursed Mountain
Cursed Mountain (Wii, PC) – Cursed Mountain shares some similarities with Penumbra: both take place in snowy settings (cold locations are always good for a spook), and both feature a protagonist who is searching for a relative. Cursed Mountain sets itself apart from other horror games, however, by its focus on Buddhist Culture and desolate Himalayan setting. The game was panned by many for its waggle controls on the Wii, but considering it can almost always be found in bargain bins at game stores, it's definitely worth checking out. The PC version is available for $10 on GamersGate and should satisfy those allergic to Wii motion controls.

Of course, there are many classics that I haven't mentioned here, such as Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, Siren... or even more recent offerings such as Dead Space and the Silent Hills teaser PT (I know, I have a bit of a Japanese horror bias). The possibilities are nearly endless, though the horror genre often gets a bad rap for having poor quality games, so be sure to choose wisely!