Anime review: Kaiji

Status: watched 3 episodes (of 26)


So Kaiji once co-signed for a buddy who took $300 dollars from a loan shark. Eventually, his buddy ducked out, leaving Kaiji on the hook for the dough plus interest. Interest of almost $40,000. Kaiji is small time and just doesn’t have that kind of cash. His way out? Get on a boat with loads of other losers like him and risk it all on a game of chance. He can come away with the debt paid and a lot of extra money for himself. Or, he can become the indentured slave of the shadowy organization behind this whole racket. But when you’ve got nothing to lose, those seem like pretty good stakes.

I started playing Texas Holdem a few months ago and I love the game. The strategy. The bluffing. The feel of the chips in my hand. And of course, the winning. The most intense moments I have during the game are when I’m betting high, even “all in”, without knowing if my cards are enough to beat my opponent. But you get this sense of purpose, of destiny, that you must win, that you will win. That doesn’t keep my heart from beating hard, and on more than one occasion, making my hands shake as I moved the chips into the center of the table.

That feeling is what propels Kaiji. This poor son of a bitch lives in this world constantly, and watching this show, you can’t help but feel that sense of fate.

There are so many wonderfully unique things about this show. First, the fact that it went from a manga, to a pachinko game, to an anime. Yeah, a story about a problem gambler who gets roped into a do or die gamble was turned into a… gambling game. Welcome to Planet Japan.

Then there’s the very simple plot with an even simpler game at it’s core. I’m only 3 episodes in and really wonder how this stretches out to a full series.

But the aspect that people probably notice right away is the unusual animation style – extremely heavy lines around the characters’ faces. I’ve never really seen anything like it and it looks both retro and kinda grotesque, but I’ve gotten used to it and it seems to fit the crude and intense style of the story.

Highly recommended for gamblers and anyone else looking for anime that’s just a little bit of the beaten track.


Building a tiny Japanese town – step by step

Day One
After picking up a 40″ x 20″ sheet of chipboard earlier in the day, I began the hard work of planning out my first proper diorama. As you’ll see from reading on, this was the fun and relaxing part of this process, but it still offered a fair amount of challenges. I’ve collected all my buildings haphazardly with no plan for this diorama. That means I have to make everything fit.

For inspiration, I spent a while looking at Google Earth images of Japanese towns. First thing I noticed: almost no grids. Streets flow in every direction, like someone threw spaghetti at Japan. So I abandoned my original plan and instead put a train track angling right through the diorama, forcing streets to change course. To make the layout assembly easier, I marked all the building and track locations in pencil.

I think what I have envisioned, although not a replica of any exact place in Japan, will serve my giant monsters and robots well as I’ve tried to leave lots of empty space. But trying to plan for how all the street markings and signs will line up, that has me a little nervous…

Day Two
Today was pretty straightforward – painting the asphalt. I had practiced on the backside of the board and discovered that if I first did a coat of grey acrylic paint, it would help to seal the chipboard and create a more even surface.

For the asphalt, I used Woodland Scenics Top Coat. Lovely stuff that goes on smoothly and evenly. And since the grass and buildings should cover the edges, I didn’t have to be too careful. Hopefully…

Day Three
Today was all about grass and tracks. Fun but very, very nerve wracking. Again, I had practiced a little on the underside of the board, but large areas are another matter.

The grass, more Woodland Scenics stuff, goes in layers, each separated by a mist spray of Scenic Cement. It’s tricky, trying to add just the right amounts of “burnt undergrowth”, “weeds” and “grass” but also kinda fun playing God.

The tracks presented their own challenge. I had originally planned to attach them to the board with putty, so I could reuse them later. Unfortunately, the putty doesn’t hold that strongly, and the ballast didn’t fully cover it, leaving nasty white blobs every track length. So I’ve gone with Super Glue. At least nothing should shift. Ballasting the tracks was fun, spilling piles onto the tracks and then dry brushing it all just how I like it…

Day Four
Placing the buildings is the beginning of the hard work of figuring out the details, like which ways will the streets run and do those make sense – ok, I know no one will actually drive through this town, but I just like knowing that if I was shrunk to 150th my size, I could actually live here.

I’ve decided to only putty a few of the buildings down to the asphalt so that I can move the other ones around as I sticker on the road markings and start erecting sign posts and such…

Day Five and Six and Seven and…
I have new-found respect for city planners. Even though my town’s layout is tiny and contained, it has taken me hours and hours to figure out not only how traffic will flow, but how to sign it. I’ve even had to re-arrange some of my buildings so that traffic moves in a logical way. Plus, there’s the fact that they drive on the left in Japan, giving my brain an extra workout flipping everything “backwards”.

I’ve also spent countless hours so carefully studying Japanese road markings on Google Maps that I am convinced I could pass a driver’s test in Tokyo.

But there is still so much work to do that I will have to blog about it all later, when I have time to actually finish this town properly. I still have to put up more road signs, telephone polls, traffic lights, lamp posts, commercial signs, catenary polls, electrical towers, trees and so on and so on.

It’s going to take far more time than I had planned, but my god, it’s going to be beautiful…

Google Street View Tokyo!

We can now walk the streets of Tokyo from anywhere in the world thanks to Google Street View Tokyo.

I am never leaving my computer again.

Movie review: Lupin III – Dragon of Doom


Many stories were lost with the Titanic, including that of Arsène Lupin who – according to Dragon of Doom – died trying to steal a mysterious and powerful golden statuette. Now his grandson has been hired by a Hong Kong crime boss to complete the mission by diving down to the recently discovered ship. Little does Lupin III know that capturing the dragon is only the beginning of an adventure that will eventually pit him against his oldest and most loyal friends.

I’m not a big Lupin head – even though I’ve cosplayed as him a couple of times. I’ve only seen Castle of Cagliostro and a handful of episodes of the show, so I didn’t have many expectations for Dragon of Doom. My only concern, actually, was that since this movie is so recent – 1994 – they were going to do one of those “re-inventions” of the character, where they try to find deeper emotional motivations and backstory explanations. I’m looking at you, Dr. Who.

Thankfully, Dragon keeps it simple. It’s a thrilling heist movie with twists and turns you don’t always expect. The characters are true to themselves, fitting into their traditional roles with aplomb. The only disappointment is Zenigata, the bumbling Interpol inspector on a life-long mission to capture Lupin, who is used solely as comic relief. If he was a real threat to stop Lupin, he could have added another layer of tension to the film. Thankfully, there are enough challenges for Lupin to deal with that the movie moves along briskly and is tonnes of fun.

Another reason to watch Dragon is because it holds a special place in the Lupin universe – it is the last performance of Lupin’s classic voice actor Yasuo Yamada, who died less than a year after the film’s release. In my limited experience of his work, this is a fitting testament to his legacy.

Highly recommended for fans and newbies.

Anime review: Moyashimon

Status: watched 9 episodes (of 11)


Tadayasu Sawaki can see microbes. And not just under a microscope, but floating around in the air all the time. Plus, he can hear their conversations and even – occasionally – get them to do his bidding. But when it comes to superpowers, there’s not much you can do with this one, unless your archenemy is really prone to athlete’s foot. So, Tadayasu enrolls in an agricultural university in hopes of using his powers for good – well, actually, his family forces him to go so he can look after the family business – The Sawaki Yeast Shop.

Sometimes I look at all the new anime releases of the season and think “do we really need more moe/harem/magical girl/recycled mecha shows?” And then something like Moyashimon comes along.

This show is very, very odd on a number of levels. The obvious one is a main character who can interact with microbes. I’m also going to guess this is the first anime ever set in an agricultural university. Then, there’s the obsession, that runs through all the episodes, with fermentation. Before this show, I really never put much thought into it, but I am now fascinated by the thought of millions of unseen – and incredibly cute – little bastards flying around helping to perfect everything from soy sauce to cigars. There’s also an occasional scene right out of a high school biology class, which I found a little tedious. And then there’s the “slice of school life” with all the relationship problems and usual challenges, like fighting a huge ninja-wrestler hell bent on keeping you locked into the campus.

All of this, packed into 11 episodes. This show is remarkably efficient – ideas and concepts aren’t dragged out – with so few episodes, there’s no time for wistful looks and tiresome montages. And by choosing a small cast, only about 7 main characters, you really get to know them and, like Genshiken, wish you could all drink sake together.

One more odd thing I will point out is the flag of the university which looks almost identical to the flag of Portugal. Turns out the similarity is not a coincidence. According to Wikipedia, the Department of Agriculture building is a replica of the University of Coimbra (which I’ve visited!). Is it a stretch to assume that one of the manga/show’s writers studied biology in Portugal? This show just gets more and more interesting…