Upskirt umbrellas are now a thing in Japan

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RocketNews 24 (by Oona McGee):

We thought we’d seen everything from Japan, but this is one thing we never saw coming.

We’ve come across a lot of unusual anime merchandise aimed at the otaku geek market in Japan, but it turns out there’s one product that’s been three years in the making, waiting to surprise us like no other. It’s the “umbrella of your dreams” that keeps you dry from the rain while giving you the warm, fuzzy feeling of taking shelter under the skirt of a wide-eyed anime character.

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The “Un-burera“, a play on the words “underpants” and “umbrella”, has been produced by the Million Girls Project, a group of designers who aim to send out whacky products into the world to promote the theme of “Crazy Japan”.

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They’ve nailed the brief with the upskirt umbrella, which comes in two designs. Representing the vast majority of female anime characters in Japan, these two are joshi kousei, commonly known as JK, or high school girls.

▼ It’s said that the striped blue pattern will remind you of a bright and cheerful blue sky.

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▼ The swimming costume umbrella is for shy users who aren’t ready to peek at underwear.

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The products come with warnings that the umbrella will cause extreme embarrassment for the user and that the owner uses the item in public at their own risk.

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For a list of stockists, check out the official website. It’s certainly a controversial product that some will love and others will love to see taken off the market.

Lone Wolf and Cub creator Kazuo Koike says being an otaku for life is his key to happiness in old age

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RocketNews 24:

Although he’s one of the most respected figures of all time in the manga industry, Kazuo Koike isn’t typically associated with the otaku subculture. When his most popular creation, Lone Wolf and Cub, was translated into English it attracted as many international fans from among Western comic readers as from those who favored Japanese manga, and in general his works have a gritty, somber tone to them, unlike the brightly colored daydreams and self-insert power fantasies that are often associated with otaku-pandering fare.

There’s also the fact that Koike was born in 1936, and being old enough and of the corresponding gender to fill two-thirds of a “grumpy old man” bingo card, you might expect him to have harsh words for Japan’s legions of hobby-obsessed individuals, like those that often sputter forth from Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki.

But it turns out that not only is Koike accepting of the otaku life, but he thinks that being an otaku from the cradle to the grave makes for a beautiful life.

In another twist, it turns out Koike is quite the social media master, with a massive Twitter following of over 140,000 fans. Recently he shared his thoughts on the otaku condition, and whether or not it’s something that people ever really grow out of.

“I’m 80 years old, so I’m just going to come out and tell you guys. People who are born as otaku are otaku for life. You can’t quit it! Natural Born OTAKU!!!” (Kazuo Koike)

“I’m always saying ‘I am the greatest otaku,’ but when you take a look around,senior citizens who are enjoying their lives are generally some sort of otaku. Truly, being an otaku until the end of your days is a wonderful thing. Live as an otaku, die as an otaku. It’s the greatest.” (Kazuo Koike)

If you’ve got the cash, you can pre-order this stunning Ghost in the Shell ukiyo-e print

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RocketNews 24:

Ghost in the Shell may well be one of the most beloved anime in history. Its compelling story, engaging characters and beautiful art all combine to make one of the most exciting franchises we can name, so it’s little surprise that 25 years after its release, the film remains a fan favorite to this day.

In celebration of the first film and the entire franchise, a special product has been announced: a limited-edition series of ukiyo-e prints featuring images from Ghost in the Shell! But when we say limited-edition, we really do mean limited — only 300 copies will be made!

And they won’t come cheap either…

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Pictured above is the first ukiyo-e to be produced by OtakuWorks Inc., based on the poster for the original Ghost in the Shell movie directed by Mamoru Oshii. The image will be printed on Japanese paper produced by “living national treasureIchibe Iwano, a ninth-generation master of Echizen paper. The prints will also bear the signature of Hiroyuki Okiura, the artist who created the original poster.

Only 300 copies will be made, and you can pre-order one of your own right now for only 43,200 yen (US$370 for pre-orders for those living outside Japan). Pre-orders will be open until the end of November or until all 300 prints have been claimed. We have a feeling they won’t make it until the end of November…

The next image in the series will be of the poster for the most recent film, Ghost in the Shell: The Movie, which was released in Japan this June. Pre-orders for the second ukiyo-e print are expected to be announced soon.

It seems both odd and yet somehow fitting that such a futuristic series is receiving such a traditional treatment. If nothing else, it reflects the very human mind wrapped up in the cybernetic body of the original film.

Anime pillow responds to your rubbing with moans and groans, gets angry if you get too grabby

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RocketNews 24:

A proper anime character huggy pillow seems to have become a critical component of the full fetish and fantasy regalia of a well-rounded otaku, but there are certain things you just can’t do with such a 2-D crush. Sure, anime girl pillows will let you squeeze them and passionately insert your sweet nothings into their non-existent eardrums, but no matter how fervently romantic you become, you can’t expect any sort of pillow talk from your pillow.

Unless, that is, you’re curled up beneath the sheets with the Ita-Supo, the first talking huggy pillow that responds to your touch with verbal responses, including angry outbursts if you get too grabby.

Developer Koichi Uchimura used to be a researcher at Kyushu Institute of Technology. While we’re not sure what precise field of academia he was involved with at the Fukuoka Prefecture university, his current mission in life is developing new technologies with which to “support people’s otaku life.”

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No stranger to the allures of anime huggy pillows, or dakimakura, as they’re called in Japanese, Uchimura nonetheless was feeling unfulfilled. “When we’d sleep in the same bed, I’d start to think, ‘I wish she could talk,’ so I wanted to make that a reality.”

The result was Rina Makuraba, whose family name is a pun on makura, the Japanese word for pillow.

 

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The Ita-Supo isn’t as rudimentary as a button-activated speaker inside a pillowcase, though. As Uchimura explains in the product’s introductory video, “If you don’t rub her, she won’t make any sounds. You have to rub her.”

▼ The inventor is happy to demonstrate his technique.

 

You can probably already see where this is going: straight to the breasts, which in this instance are accompanied by Rina meowing like a pleased kitty cat…

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…followed by an excursion in Crotchland, which elicits a breathy, “No, not there,” but capped with a telltale heart mark to show she’s being coquettishly consensual.

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“For otaku, this is the dakimakura of their dreams,” asserts Uchimura. But while that claim might make you imagine that Rina will let you do whatever you want with her, that’s actually not how the system works.

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As shown in the video, the sensor responds differently to different kinds of stroking. Mash your palm over Rina’s chest, and she’ll get upset, saying, “Hey, that hurts!” and “Hey, hands off!” Uchimura even alludes to a cumulative effect, where a continual lack of gentleness will put Rina in such a bad mood she’ll stop talking to you altogether.

On the other hand, a smoother, more measured groping will instead produce a string of increasingly positive reactions.

“What’s gonna happen if I start to love you even more than I already do?”

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Otaku who’re worried about a limited phrase set ruining the mood by making it feel like they’re making out with a 1994 Sega Genesis sports game announcer will be pleased to know that the Ita-Supo comes preloaded with over 500 speech patterns. Uchimura says that expansions are also planned, which can be downloaded to your smartphone, then transferred into the pillow.

Despite proudly referring to Rina as his wife in the video, Uchimura seems to have no qualms about sharing, or even selling, his anime spouse, and his campaign on Japanese crowdfunding site Makuake has already raised 302,000 yen (US $2,560) of the 500,000 yen it’s seeking. 20,000 yen will get you your very own touch-responsive dakimakura, featuring either Rina or alternate Ita-Supo stars Shion Kamitsuki and Shiho Natsuki.

▼ Shion and Shiho’s family names aren’t as pun-tastic as Rina’s, but they do both contain the kanji character for “moon,” keeping with the nocturnal image of pillows (and bedtop hanky-panky).

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If you’re feeling like your bed is both too lonely and too quiet, you can throw some cash at Uchimura right here. Who knows, if the response is positive enough, maybe for his next project he’ll equip that giant six-meter (19.7-foot) anime dakimakura we saw last month with a megaphone.

Historical Japanese swords turn into battle-hardened Blade Boys in new mobile game

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RocketNews 24:

These days, one of the quickest and most popular methods for stocking a video game with a cast of attractive anime-style characters is to pick a class of item and anthropomorphize the heck out of it. There’s currently no hotter mobile game than Kantai Collection, in which players command a fleet of pretty girls who’re all modeled after World War II-era Japanese warships. If naval history isn’t your thing, you can also find titles featuring comely cars and moe mushrooms.

There’s a new entry in the subgenre though, and judging from its all-pretty boy roster of characters, it’s been designed with female otaku gamers in mind. As such, it’s no surprise that the men of Touken Ranbu are all based on something long and hard…plus sharp, as they’re all anthropomorphized swords.

Smartphone game publisher DNN released Touken Ranbu, or Violent Blade Dance, on January 14. With such a warlike title and development being handled by Nitro Plus, the same unit behind busty anime mascot Super Sonico, you might expect Touken Ranbu to be a testosterone-dripping smorgasbord of boobs and swordfights, but the truth is very different.

In recent years, there’s been a surge of interest in historical samurai among young Japanese women, who find themselves drawn to their old-school stoicism and gallantry. More than anyone else, it’s for that demographic that Touken Ranbu’s cast of dudes with smooth facial features and elaborate hairdos was crafted.

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The game’s plot actually starts in 2205, when historical revisionists stage a literal attack on the past in order to alter Japan’s history. The player steps into the role of the saniwa, an entity with the power to awaken the souls of inanimate objects and imbue them with fighting strength. As such, it’s your job to transform the swords of Japan’s feudal era into an army of Touken Danshi, or Blade Boys.

▼ Mikatzuki Munechika, the Heian Era sword (left) and Blade Boy (right)

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Early reviews describe the game as easy to pick up and play, with a streamlined system for equipping characters with special items and simple combat system. While the player assembles squads of up to six members and issues commands to advance or retreat in battle, the Blade Boys will do the rest of their fighting more or less automatically.

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Female otaku in Japan are generally drawn to male characters with tragic pasts, and Touken Ranbu’s theme gives the creators ample sadness to mine. Since the cast all started as inanimate killing instruments, they’ve seen numerous deaths, oftentimes including those of their owners. A few were even used for seppuku, the samurai act of ritual suicide, and carry the psychological burden of having been party to the act.

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As a result, gamers can expect plenty of scenes in which they try to help the Blade Boys work through their emotional baggage. But while many games would use this as a springboard to a romantic relationship, Touken Ranbu keeps such rumblings of the heart low-key, which should help it appeal to the widest possible female fanbase in Japan.

By never definitively stating who the characters have a crush on, Nitro Plus can simultaneously appeal to the three major groups of pretty boy game fans, the fujoshi(who want to see the guys hook up with other guys), the danjo kapu mono (coming from danjo kappuringu mono, or “heterosexual coupling fans”), and the “dreamers”(who’d like to imagine themselves as the object of the affections of the hot guys on screen).

▼ Mixed in among the 19 sword-based characters announced so far is Otegine, who’s actually a Muromachi Period spear.

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The lack of explicit romantic content means that as long as they can get past the female-oriented character designs, heterosexual male gamers should be able to get some enjoyment out of Touken Ranbu’s story too. Serving as world view director and main writer is Yuri Shibamura, who wrote the script for video game-tuned-anime Gunparade March.

Also contributing to the project is Norimitsu Kaiho, whose previous credits include a handful of Guilty Gear games and episodes of mecha anime TV series Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet.

Regardless of which facet of the game strikes your fancy, Token Ranbu can be downloaded here directly from DMM.

X Japan plays in front of 70,000 people at home. Now they’re slumming it at Madison Square Garden

X Japan at the Summer Sonic festival in Japan, 2011.

New Yorker:

 

As one of the world’s biggest rock stars, Yoshiki Hayashi is at his most comfortable playing stadiums, basking in the adoration of tens of thousands of screaming fans. On a scorching-hot day in August, though, a thousand or so curious folks at the Baltimore Convention Center would have to do. Yoshiki had flown from Los Angeles, where he lives part-time, to perform at Otakon 2014, the country’s second-largest anime festival. The event was an opportunity for attendees to promenade in costume as their favorite fictional characters and for the Japanese musician to chip away at the tough-to-crack American market.

Wearing a gray frock coat and leather pants, Yoshiki, 48, strode onstage at the center’s drab ballroom a little after noon, taking a seat behind a piano. The audience, teeming with girls dressed as sorceresses and boys decked out as inter-dimensional manga ninjas, sat politely attentive as he and a string quartet performed selections from his recent highbrow foray Yoshiki Classical. The album had gone to No. 1 on iTunes’ classical charts in ten countries, none of them the United States—not bad, but ho-hum for Yoshiki, bandleader and drummer for X Japan, a heavy-metal group that’s sold 30 million singles and albums worldwide (and a mere 3,500 or so here). There was pleasant applause for the song he’d written at the request of Emperor Akihito and the romantic tune he worked on with ex–Beatles producer George ­Martin. Then Yoshiki raised his hand for silence. “X Japan,” he said in his high-pitched voice, “have decided to rock ­Madison Square Garden.” Fans shrieked as X Japan rhythm guitarist Pata and bassist Heath, fresh in from Tokyo, both resplendent in ruffles and studs, walked onstage. (Singer Toshi and lead guitarist Sugizo were at home dealing with other promotional duties.) Three-fifths of X Japan unleashed a few minutes of bombastic hard rock, a teaser for their October 11 concert at the World’s Most Famous Arena, the 32-year-old outfit’s biggest-ever U.S. headlining performance. As Pata and Heath took their bows, Yoshiki made the kind of request he wasn’t used to making. “If you’re around,” he said, “please come to our show.”

I live a double life,” says Yoshiki, sitting in his dressing room later. “It can be very strange. Though I like having a country to go where I can buy groceries and no one notices.” The quantitative facts of Yoshiki’s career are irrefutably impressive—he and his band have sold out the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome 18 times, for example—but to an American interviewer, it’s still cognitively wonky to hear this unassuming guy in lipstick and a leather jacket say things like “I remember asking David Bowie about the best way to draw the line between real life and onstage life” and “I tried to book a studio but I couldn’t do it because Metallica was using it, so I bought the studio for several million dollars.” In Japan, “it’s a Michael Jackson level of insanity around Yoshiki,” says Guns N’ Roses guitarist Richard Fortus, who has played with X Japan. “It was shocking to witness.”

Yoshiki is used to his humbler status on this side of the Pacific—sort of. “I was at the Golden Globes in 2012,” he says, waving away a handler’s offer of a sandwich wrap (he’s on a no-carb diet). “One of the red-carpet interviewers said, ‘Who are you? I don’t need you.’ ” He grins—what a world, right? “That would never happen in Japan.

So why bother with America? The Madison Square Garden show is not part of any larger tour, and while it should satisfy the band’s tiny U.S. audience, it’s hard to see it creating many new fans. (Yoshiki estimates that half of the ticket buyers are Japanese expats living in New York.) Then there’s the music—ridiculously over-the-top heavy metal—which doesn’t sound like anything on domestic radio. And sure, Yoshiki has been called the “Bono of Japan,” but the other Bono—see the underwhelming response to U2’s recent Songs of Innocence—isn’t exactly at a peak of cultural relevance.

Yoshiki knows the odds, and he doesn’t care. “When I was 18, I said we would sell millions of records and fill the Tokyo Dome, and we did,” he says matter-of-factly. “For a new goal, I realized that every band in the world wants to play MSG, so it’s time to do that, too.”

This isn’t the first time the band have tried to break Stateside. In 1992, X Japan signed with Atlantic Records and came to Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room to announce the deal. The press conference was a disaster. “We didn’t speak any En­glish,” says Yoshiki. “We had no idea how to communicate. I like to be mysterious, but no one cared.” A planned album was quickly scuttled.

It wasn’t until 2010 that X Japan again ventured westward. But rather than road-dog their way to new fans, Yoshiki & Co. played a mere seven North American cities, all with large, presold Asian populations. So how does X Japan plan to make headway in America when they have no tour dates outside of Manhattan and haven’t released an album of new material in 18 years? Speaking over the phone and through an interpreter, Toshi answers obliquely and optimistically. “We are a band,” he says, “that looks forward to challenges.”

They’ve had plenty. X Japan’s back story is a Behind the Music narrative blown up to epic proportions. When Yoshiki was 10, his father committed suicide. To help him cope, his mother bought him a drum kit. At a record store in his home city of ­Tateyama that same year, he had an epiphany. “I saw a Kiss album cover,” Yoshiki remembers, still lounging in the dressing room, fiddling with his crucifix-and-handcuffs necklace. “I asked the people at the store to play it for me.” He nods. “That was,” he says, eyes gleaming, “my entrance to rocking.”

Inspired by Kiss’s theatricality and the Sex Pistols’ anti-authoritarian sneer, Yoshiki and his friend Toshi formed X in 1982. (The “Japan” was added in 1992 to distinguish the band from the Los ­Angeles punk stalwarts X.) Taking as their motto “the violent crime of visual shock,” Yoshiki, Toshi, bassist Taiji, and guitarists Pata and Hide became, in Yoshiki’s words, “human animation characters,” teasing their hair into elaborate gravity-defying structures, donning makeup and gender-bending outfits. “At the time,” recalls Yoshiki, “cabs wouldn’t stop for me because I had spiked blond hair. Now they would—if I took cabs.”

The band performed pummeling songs with titles like “Orgasm” and “I’ll Kill You” that quickly placed the quintet at the forefront of a flamboyant new movement dubbed “visual kei,” which is essentially Japanese glam rock. “The Japanese can be very conservative,” explains Ryu Takahashi, a former publicist for Sony Music’s Japanese division, “but there’s a long tradition of androgyny and extremism in the culture, and X Japan tapped into that.”

Then—cue ominous voice-over—everything went wrong. In 1997, Toshi left the band and joined a mysterious community called Home of Heart. “I don’t call it a cult,” he says, “but they did brainwash me and con me out of money.” In 1998, the charismatic Hide reportedly ­committed suicide, hanging himself in his apartment following a night of heavy drinking. X Japan split up. “It was too painful to carry on without my friends,” admits Yoshiki.

For a while, anyway. In 2007, he says, “we decided to bring back the dream.” The reunion peaked with concerts at the largest venue in Japan, Nissan Stadium in Yokohama (capacity: 72,327), during which Taiji, who’d been kicked out of the group in part for his alcoholism, was welcomed back. But things took another tragic turn when the bassist was rendered brain-dead after a failed suicide attempt. He died in 2011. “Our band has been so full of drama,” Yoshiki says quietly. “It’s almost like it’s too bad to be true.”

That drama has helped keep X Japan famous at home when most other visual kei groups have faded away. “There’s always some People magazine story with them,” says Takahashi. “The gossip keeps people interested.”

For now, things seem to be trending in the right direction. “Only four years ago we played in the United States for the first time, and now we are playing Madison Square Garden,” says Toshi. “That’s proof we’re rising in popularity.” Yoshiki is optimistic, too. “Fifty thousand people in Tokyo or 20,000 people at MSG,” he says, “the size is not the point.” He leans forward. The point is that “X Japan,” he says, grinning, “must keep trying to rock the world!

Promotion offers perfect one-week living space for otaku: An apartment pre-stocked with manga

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RocketNews 24:

 

The first time I went apartment hunting in Japan, I was shocked by how bare-bones some of them are. The lack of centralized air conditioning means often you have to go to the appliance store and buy your own AC unit, and oftentimes lighting and even a cooking range aren’t included either.

As a result, it’s always a relief to find an apartment that has any sort of amenities already included. And while a mini fridge or ceiling lamp is a nice freebie, neither one is anywhere near as cool as an apartment that comes pre-stocked with a library of manga.

The company Tomareru is looking to blur the line between an apartment and a hotel. By partnering with property owners with empty rooms, Tomareru seeks to provide a service for people who’re looking for a place to stay for a few days, but don’t necessarily need all the service and niceties of a full-fledged hotel.

It won’t be until fall that Tomareru’s operations get into full swing. For now, though, the company’s come up with a unique way to get people talking about it. As part of a special promotion, one winner will be selected to stay from August 11 to 18, free of charge, in an apartment that’s not only got a great location, but shelves full of comics.

 

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Anyone currently living in Japan and over the age of 20 is eligible. The apartment is just a one-minute stroll from Hakusan Station on the Mita subway line, and the Namboku Line’s Komagome Station is also within easy walking distance at just six minutes away. If you’re the kind of person who thinks that filling your living space with manga is by far the best way to decorate it, you’ll be happy to know the apartment’s location is about a 15-minute subway and train ride away from Akihabara, Tokyo’s anime paradise.

 

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Then again, you might not need to go out and buy any more reading material, seeing as how there’s already manga stashed in the main room, entryway, bathroom, and even kitchen of the 29.47-square meter (317.21-square foot) studio apartment. What you might want, though, is someone to share the place with, which is totally OK under the rules of the promotion.

You are limited to one companion though, so if you’ve got several otaku acquaintances, you might want to organize a rock-paper-scissors tournament to determine who gets to tag along, since Tomareru is accepting applications only from now until August 3 on its website here.

 

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