Free Dark Helix Press Books this Weekend!

This weekend I’m a guest at Anime North! The events page has the list of panels I’ll be speaking at.
To celebrate, Dark Helix Press has set up free book downloads for anyone interested in Japanese/English books along with otaku sci-fi romance!
Have a great weekend, should be sunny!

Ghost In The Shell Movie is like a Sub-Par Hamburger

This is an excerpt from a talk I’m preparing for Anime North about the Ghost in the Shell Controversy on May 28/17.

Last week I had a debate about the Ghost In The Shell Movie with a friend who was born in Asia. I’m born in North America, so I knew from the start that our views would be very different. She said that she didn’t see any problems with casting in the movie because once an American company buys the rights to a Japanese product, it becomes American. Since the majority of the population is Caucasian, why wouldn’t they cast a Caucasian person? I told her that it really bothered the fans who expected the studio to make better choices with casting Asian actors and keeping the story close to the source material. The debate went no where so we agreed to disagree.

It got me thinking as well, how do I explain this controversy to people?

The best way I decided, was to talk about food. An American restaurant owner goes to Japan and tries the best teppenyaki dish in a restaurant. He falls in love and decides to buy the recipe to bring back to America. Teppenyaki fans in America are super excited that this dish is coming! Chefs who specialized in teppenyaki in school want to cook this dish, but never have because the restaurant owner never had it on the menu. There is a lot of hype and the marketing people go nuts.

On opening night, critics come to the restaurant to discover that they are being served a hamburger with teppenyaki sauce. The owner didn’t employ the chefs that knew how to cook teppenyaki to help because he didn’t think the dish would be suitable for Americans. Instead, he called in the hamburger chefs who decided to just take the teppenyaki sauce and cover a hamburger with it. After all, hamburgers always sell, right?! Teppenyaki fans refuse to go to this restaurant because they know that they are only going to be served the sauce and not the actual dish. The critics shake their head at this missed opportunity at being served a real teppenyaki dish in America and that regular hamburgers tasted better without the sauce. Teppenyaki chefs are disappointed that their skills are being wasted. The owner defends himself by saying that teppenyaki can be cooked by anyone and they made a good choice by selling the sauce on a hamburger which always sells.

There are many sides to this story and at the end of the day, the owner missed a chance to distinguish his restaurant from other restaurants by serving a dish people were craving for. Of course, the teppenyaki in America was not going to be the same as the one served in Japan. It was going taste different and new. People in Japan would never see the teppenyaki in America as being “real” teppenyaki…ever…so why should they care that it be done properly or not?

Ghost in the Shell is a product just like teppenyaki which Americans tried to import from Japan. As Asian people continue to grow up outside Asia, this debate will happen again and again. The new generations of Asians want to contribute to the society they are living in currently, not the one in Asia which their ancestors left behind. They want to see themselves represented in the media they consume and believe in the fair, just society that they supposedly live in.

Avatar, Dr. Strange and Death Note all had opportunities for studios to touch base with audiences, but they blew their chances. The only thing for certain is that dollars matter. If more money can be made with changing casting choices and hiring writers that understand the original material, I’m sure things will happen. Until then, the internet will just keep exploding with disbelief!

 

What Manga Heaven Looks Like!

Yesterday I was with a friend who told me about a new manga cafe called Akiba Kissa in Markham, near John & Woodbine (7634 Woodbine Ave). I was actually super tired and full from eating too much beef brisket noodle, but we stopped by this cafe anyways.

I was blown away by the wall to wall shelves of English manga! For a few seconds…ok, minutes…I thought about how I would want to visit every night if I didn’t have a son and husband. Alas, the joys of being a single otaku! Anyhow, the cafe had all my old school favorites – Fushigi Yuugi, Kenshin, Inu Yasha, Uzumaki as well as newer stuff such as Blue Exorcist or  Rin-ne.

The front of the cafe had a huge space for cosplayers and tables for special events along with murals of Akira among other titles.

When you enter, you will see large sofas in front of a large screen broadcasting anime (they had The Devil is a Part-Timer when we entered) and tables for people to snack, lounge and read. There is a large dressing room for cosplayers to get ready and the cafe also sells lots of limited edition figurines imported from Japan.

Here you can see walls of manga and the back room had rows of arcade machines and video game setups.

Snacks available for purchase includes ramen, pocky, fancy Japanese pop, hot/cold tea and cute cakes in the shape of Totoros, rabbits or bears. Full hot and cold menu of drinks listed here. Along the walls there are displays by local vendors who display their wares such as 3D printed anime masks or original origami Sailormoon art cards.

If you have an afternoon/evening free and want to relax by reading manga, this is the right place to be!

Hitting No. 1 in Asian Fantasy & Asian Fiction on Amazon Kindle

Today is the first day I’m doing a quick promo to give away a few e-books for free in exchange for reviews. Also, I’m at a Japanese Animation convention, Anime North, doing a few panels on publishing and Asian vampires.

After a long day of chatting with friendly people dressed as Sailormoon, Naruto and other fabulous creatures; I came home to do a quick check to see how the downloads were going. Surprisingly I hit number one in Fiction/Asian American and Fantasy/Asian!

Admittedly these are very niche categories,  but hey, No. 1 is better than No. 100 at the moment! Here’s hoping that I’ll find a great audience who likes to read things from a different perspective!

Meanwhile, greetings from me and a plant lady at Anime North (pic below)!

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Anime North prep

I am a panel guest at Anime North, so I didn’t expect any big announcements. But wow, there was a big Anime North blast on Twitter and on the website announcing me as a writer guest, so I feel super honoured.

Anime North is Canada’s largest Japanese animation convention and it is a not-for-profit with funds going to Sick Kids Hospital. I’ll be there with my Viking husband on May 24-25, Sat & Sun to do lots of panels on Japan, Asian vampires, writing and publishing. As well, in the dealers room I’ll have a table so I’ll be giving out limited edition art cards and selling my book. I had hoped to have more books finished, but alas, marketing activities has been taking up much of my time.

Here is the announcement pic and the art cards I’ll be giving out. See you soon!

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Tokyo Part 4 Shopping & Anime

Shopping, Geeking Out on Anime Stuff & some Videos

Generally, shopping in Japan is pretty awesome.  There is incredible customer service and everything is so damn small and cute!  There are lots of pictures in other posts about retail at Skytree and the temple already.

One of the anime cons I volunteer for asked if I could look for “Attack of Titan” buttons. There was an anime store at Skytree, but they didn’t have any merchandise for this series. So I dragged my Viking to Akihabara, the anime central of Tokyo to look for stuff because that’s where Reddit people recommended that I go.

Here are some picks on Harajuku where there were lots of Lolita clothes I couldn’t afford and Akihabara, the place to geek out for anime stuff.

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Evangelion & Japanese Swords Exhibit

At the Mori Art Museum in Ueno, Tokyo, the “Evangelion and Japanese Swords Exhibit” ran from Nov 23 to Dec 23, 2013. I went on my own for this one as my Viking husband went to another museum nearby. Indeed, there were many otakus at this exhibit!

Sword masters were recruited to create weapons based on  the Evangelion movies and Japanese swords in the image of the characters using traditional techniques. There was a second exhibit as well with scenes from the anime recreated with figurines. They were pretty amazing!

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Videos

Prince Park Tokyo Tower Hotel Toilet

I miss my heated toilet! Here I show its covers opening up automatically. My husband thought I was silly for shooting this…

Prince Park Tokyo Tower Hotel Christmas Light

This is outside the hotel and so pretty!

Garden Eels at Skytree Aquarium

Cute and creepy at the same time. I think they are Nature’s snacks for other animals!

Swimming Penguins at Skytree Aquarium

I was surprised to see so many penguins!

Toy trains at Skytree

This would have been difficult to carry back, I could watch it all day!

TV movie

My favorite space hero dubbed in Japanese!

Subway Train Coming!

Why can’t we also have barriers and warnings like this?

Floor mini display at Edo Tokyo Museum

This was suppose to be a miniature English Garden estate, but underneath your feet!

Tokyo Part 2 – Food & Lodging

Eating in any Asian city is superb since there are so many people and it is super competitive for businesses. Many restaurants have signs or “plastic food” on display to attract patrons and sometimes a mall will have giant displays to let you know of the many restaurants on each floor.  All the food I had in Tokyo was excellent, in particular, the Family Mart sushi was better than in the restaurants we visited!

If you have dietary restrictions, I would recommend using Google Translator to list out all the items you can’t eat ahead of time and show the service people to avoid getting killed by allergic reactions, etc.

The hotel we stayed in (Prince Park Tokyo Tower) had a lot of Western guests, so the staff spoke English.  My favorite thing about the room was the toilet, it was amazing and I am sad that I could not bring it back!

Pictures below are separated into general food, breakfast, lunch, dinner and lodging.  Each pic has some notes to let you know what the heck is going on…

General food – pics of menus, advertisements and plastic food

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Breakfast food

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Lunch food

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Dinner & Dessert food

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Lodging – hotel and my beloved hotel room toilet!

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Tokyo Part 1

In December 2013 I spent about a week in Tokyo, Japan before heading for a wedding in Seoul, South Korea.  We took thousands of pictures, so sorting through them will take a while.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be dividing my trip into the following blog posts for both countries:

Part 1 – Surviving or aka how to survive with language barriers

Part 2 – Food & Lodging on my trip

Part 3 – Sights, cultural stuff we saw on the trip

Part 4 – Shopping, retail and what to expect

 

Post release dates:

Japan posts
Jan 6, 2014 – Tokyo Part 1
Jan 13, 2014 – Tokyo Part 2
Jan 20, 2014 – Tokyo Part 3
Jan 27, 2014 – Tokyo Part 4

Korea posts
Feb 3, 2014 – Seoul Part 1
Feb 10, 2014 – Seoul Part 2
Feb 17, 2014 – Seoul Part 3
Feb 24, 2014 – Seoul Part 4

Now let’s start with a post about Tokyo, an amazing city!

 

Tokyo Part 1 – Surviving!

As with any Asian trip, there is always some culture shock upon arrival because…well, everyone looks Asian!  Also, for some reason, people think I am Japanese or Korean although I’m Chinese.  My Viking husband was amused that people always seem shock when I open my mouth and then I start getting the “she must have a mental issue” looks.

I knew some basic Japanese since I studied the language 10 years ago, but it really wasn’t enough to get by with any conversations.  I could ask a question, but would pick up only 10% of what people responded with.

Anyhow, there were a few things that made our trip a pretty good one even though we didn’t have much language sills and below are a few tips I compiled that would help anyone with no understanding of the Japanese language.  We relied on the Lonely Planet guide book which was pretty good and they have a website with lots of basic info: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/tokyo/

Pictures at end of blog post (scroll down).

1)      Wi Fi hotspot & Google Maps

Prior to leaving Canada, my Viking had made arrangements for a Wi Fi hotspot device to be delivered to the hotel upon our arrival.  It’s basically a portable internet wi-fi spot which we used for our phones.  This was a life saver as all the street signs are in Japanese, so we relied heavily on Google Maps to tell us where we were going.

Sometimes we didn’t know how much a fare was on the subway system, but Google Maps would tell us the amount and list all the stops before we were suppose to get off as well.  Also, just on the street, with Google telling us, turn left, right, etc., it was enough for us to avoid getting totally lost.  Amazing technology!

Cost of Wif Fi hotspot – about $5/day

2)      Cash

While many places use credit cards, the basic denomination taken by all vendors is still cash.  So carry some around and look for international bank ATMs to get more cash if required.  We found such ATMs in post offices around Tokyo.

3)      Plugs

I travelled with my laptop which has 3 prongs.  In Tokyo, things only have 2 prongs, but the hotel was nice enough to lend me an adaptor.

4)      Google Translator

On our 14 hour flight, my husband offered to buy me diamonds as he realized he had forgotten our Studio Ghibli tickets at home.  Like any good anime fan, I said I didn’t want diamonds but wanted to see Totoro and the Cat Bus.  Since the Japanese travel agency took our names down, I decided to write a short message with google translator to see if we could talk our way into the museum.  It turns out we had to buy another set of tickets, but having a translated message made things a lot less confusing.

It cost money to print out the message as we didn’t have a printer, so I just emailed it to myself and used the wifi hotspot we were carrying to let people see the email that was already translated into Japanese.

5)      Buy a subway card

There are 5 lines in the subway system owned by different companies.  The first day we were schooled when we kept buying wrong tickets as it was confusing which machine we were supposed to buy for.  The “THIS MACHINE IS IN ENGLISH” announcement was super loud every time we used a machine in English and it was a bit embarrassing because people would look at us oddly.

Anyhow, to save a lot of grief, please buy a subway card as you just load it up with money and all the lines will take the card.  There are a few kinds such as PASMO or JF IO card which are interchangeable on the lines.  We bought the PASMO and beeped our way through instead of trying to figure out how much we needed to pay for a ticket per every trip as the price depends on distance.

The subway maps are all in Japanese although when you get on the train, the stops are sometimes announced in English.  There is also a little tv above the doors which has the stop names in English and katakana as well.

6)      Hotels are big enough for big people

Prior to visiting Japan, I had lamented on Facebook about the size of my husband and how I worried if he would fit into the tiny hotel rooms in Japan.  Someone recommended The Prince Park Tokyo Tower hotel to me and I booked it.  The rooms are huge!  Bigger than some NYC rooms we had stayed in.  OK, fine, my husband’s feet sticks out a bit on the double bed, but 98% of the length of him fits on the bed, so it’s good enough!

Before going, do take a look at travel review websites to see pictures of the room and to make sure they are big enough for your use.  My husband is 6’4” and he was fine with the size of the hotel room.

7)      Basic Manners

My Viking husband likes order in general, so he was pleased that people followed the rules in the city:

  • Walk on the left – If you want to avoid being run over by bicycles on the sidewalk, pedestrians should walk on the left.  My husband watched in amusement as I was like a deer in the headlights, uncertain which way to dive to dodge the bikers.
  • No garbage cans – After attacks from over a decade ago by terrorists, there are no garbage cans on the streets or in the subway.  People are expected to carry their garbage until they reach a bathroom.
  • No eating or talking in subways – the subways are super quiet and clean.  People don’t talk and are usually on their cell phones texting.
  • Follow arrows on subway stairs and platforms – yes, there are lots of arrows for up/down in the stairwells and arrows to let you know where the doors will open to board the train.
  • No tipping – restaurants & taxis do not require tipping.  They will run after you if you tip and give back your money!
  • Bow a lot – it’s a sign of politeness to nod your head and bow when you greet someone or thank someone.  They will be bowing back at you too.

8)      What else to expect:

  • Super service – we had never experienced such fantastic customer service before!  People will go out of their way to help you and thank you, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Use Google Translator to ask for more complicated things and they will do their best to solve your problem.  Although had to re-buy my Studio Ghibli tickets, the guide at the museum called the Lawson (convenience store) ahead of time to make sure there were tickets available and gave me dates to chose from before directing me across the street to make the purchase.
  • Amazing retail – Just Skytree (tallest tower in Tokyo) alone has 33 floors with most of them retail.  There are convenient stores everywhere open 24/7 and you can buy anything you want with a hundred styles to choose from.  Even my Viking husband who hates shopping, was tempted to buy stuff.  The several food floors alone in Skytree amazed him as he had never seen so much food in his life and they all looked so good!
  • English brochures – at our hotel there were stacks of brochures in English. If you are not staying at a hotel, you can visit one as local brochures often includes coupons and other tips to help save money.

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Conversing with a Manga Artist Part 2

This is Part 2 of a conversation with Eri-Chan, a super talented manga artist from the Philippines…Part 1 of our Q &A is here.

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If I were to commission you for a manga, what kind of information do you need?  A script of some sort, I imagine?

A script is okay, but a novel-like format works better for me. I love reading novels, and as such, I tend to get a better image of the scenes in my head compared to script-like stories. 🙂

What is your favourite manga?  Why?

I don’t have a certain top favourite (since I have lots of favourite manga and anime), but for the shoujo-type manga, I fell in love with NANA, Card Captor Sakura, Kareshi Kanoujo no Jijou, and Zettai Kareshi. For the shounen, I’ll always love Naruto and Death Note, and am currently getting hooked with Shingeki no Kyoujin. I also liked horror and suspense manga like Goth and Jisatsu Circle.

I don’t really like manga and anime for the art style or what~ usually; its impact on me while reading it is what I look into. Did this manga tickle the imagination in a way that either I relate so much to it, or that it leaves my brain thinking about it for a few days or even weeks?  I guess I love series that leaves my mind in a deep thinking state after I read it.

What is your dream job?  Well, you are already living it – or perhaps better way to put it – dream commission?

I’ve always wanted to work on published love story or horror/suspense manga. I’m also working on my own title, a comedic love story, and I may be releasing it by next year. (im currently writing the story J) Other than that, I still want to pursue my studies and go for a multimedia art school (once I get me enough funds for it) so I can learn all sorts of stuff to become a professional all-around artist and illustrator. 😀

Have you ever turned down a commission? 

Oh yes, a lot of times. And it breaks my heart to turn down offers of illustrating beautiful stories just because the client wants a rock-bottom price for the art, I mean, I would definitely love to draw for them, but of course, I have bills to pay too, right? Aside from that, there are a lot of stories that didn’t suit my style, (like shonen stories, sci-fi, action, sports), and I always try my best to be honest with my clients if I know that my art style isn’t gonna be the best one suitable for their kind of story. I don’t want to accept a request if know that I can’t do my best on it.

For people who want to become manga artists, what tools would they need?  Do you use tablets or certain software?  What tips do you give in general?  (Eek!  I know one is to backup stuff as there was a huge issue when her computer died…damn electronics!)

Yes, having backups of your files would be one of the most important ones, if you’re going for drawing manga digitally (especially after what I’ve been through with my pc when it broke down on me since I do everything on my PC~ haha..😀 I use a graphics tablet, and Paint Tool SAI + Photoshop CS3 for drawing. I can’t give that much advice for traditional mediums in manga, since I do stuff digitally, but I do believe that investing time to study the art and everything about it that you use will be very helpful in the long run. . Also, take in mind that there will always, and always be people in the industry that are better than you, but don’t let that get you down. Lastly, always be open to new ideas, like what my artist friends are always telling me.

I’m still starting up, and I’m looking forward to learning more as well.

This conversation continues onto Part 3…

Conversing with a Manga Artist Part 1

Originally I contacted Eri-chan because I wanted some manga style portraits and was collecting quotes.  I narrowed it down to a few artists and chose her because her style looked the most professional out of all the portfolios I looked at.  Her art can be seen here at https://eribloodberry.blogspot.com or http://www.erikatsuona.deviantart.com .

Eri-chan is from the Philippines and she is a young independent manga artist.  She currently has several projects on the go at once so she is a busy woman!  She is also very brave as she is involved with cosplay activities which I often want to do, but I feel too old…

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Hi Eri-Chan, thank you first of all helping me out with my project.  It’s been a blast and a lot of fun.   So can you tell me a bit about your background and how you became a manga artist?  What inspired you to become one?

Thanks, Jean~ I had fun drawing your characters as well. You have such a very nice imagination to come up with such interesting and diverse characters. 😀

About your question, I was originally in college, taking up Hotel and Restaurant Management. I felt that it wasn’t for me, and that it’s just not what I wanted to do. I’ve been living alone since I was 12 (so that makes it 8 years ago), and been paying for my studies since then, and happiness means everything to me. So I dropped school and worked as a call center agent as I tried to rebuild my first love, which is anime and manga art. When I’ve got the beginning equipment I needed to start as an artist, I left my (really toxic) job and stayed home to draw all day for people who found my art fascinating for their projects. It was something I really liked doing, although I tend to get picky with the projects’ genre, since my style most likely suit shojo and love stories. I never really imagined myself doing this when I was a little girl, I mostly thought of myself as someone who might be a businesswoman in the future, but I guess it’s just that this was what I loved doing, and I love seeing my completed works.

My dad used to be an assistant comic book artist during his teenage years. He was my first idol when it comes to art, and he taught me the basics when it comes to drawing. My dad was a kinda boastful guy, and at first I just wanted to prove him that I can do better than him… and suddenly I just got hooked with drawing. I fell in love with seeing what I created, and that wonderful feeling of “Oh god… I made this artwork?!Wow.”, because honestly, up to now, I still can’t believe that I can draw like this. 😀 So yeah, my dad was pretty much mostly the one who inspired me. 

I don’t really know how to draw, seriously, but I love anime very much. When I was in my first year in High School, there was this girl classmate of mine who draws anime really, really great and I was so amazed that I asked her to teach me how to draw. She said no in a really disrespectful way, and I got kind of pissed off and frustrated. Back then, I drew like a 5 year old! I know how to draw some forms, but it was like a kid’s drawing compared to this classmate of mine. That summer break, I locked myself in my room with a cheap book on how to draw manga that I bought, and practiced day and night while watching animes. I guess that was the time that I started to learn and improve. I was driven by frustration and the will to draw better that that girl who embarrassed me. When classes started again, she was very surprised by the improvement. I continued drawing during classes and my spare time (eventually got better than that girl, haha), until the only thing that’s driving me to draw is my love for what I’m doing itself, and my love for the characters that I draw. 🙂

Is it difficult to be a freelancer?  I mean, lots of people dream about being their own boss!  Although most of the time I saw my husband filling creating lots of paperwork (taxes, invoices, etc) when he was freelancing…

Yeah, it’s pretty difficult, especially when people don’t really acknowledge that you actually work. In my case, my relatives think that I’m just playing around. I’m still young, after all. The most difficult part for me, I guess, is when clients undervalue your art for something cheap and “just a drawing”. I put my heart to what I do, and it really hurts me when people don’t give enough credit to the work. It’s like being stabbed face-to-face.

Another thing is marketing yourself. There are LOADS of great artists in the Philippines, and most are being overshadowed by the popular mainstream ones. Finding a place where you can find clients who may be interested to have you illustrate their story is a bit of a problem, especially for a young, starting up artist like me.If we put up a blog or site, exposure is a bit slow. So we tend to go to freelancing sites like Fiverr, of which even though it kinda lowers the value of the artworks, the exposure to possible clients is good.

Do you usually draw manga for Asian countries?  Or is there demand in other countries?  Also, do the publications do well?

Most of my clients are from America, Europe and Australia. 🙂 There are just so many talented writers there, and they all want to see their works fleshed out in a Japanese-style manga. I don’t have many Asian clients at the moment, and here in the Philippines, the manga industry and publications is just starting up. Most of the few manga being published are cheesy love stories, so I guess it might take a little more time and market tests before other genres make it big here. 

Continues onto Part 2…