Dark Grape Man and the Mold Zombies – Ichigoman & Funny Kuromi-chan, Part 2

That post title sounds like a good name for a local garage band, doesn’t it?  Today I’m going to continue reading the new Sanrio webcomics “Ichigoman” (イチゴマン) and “Funny Kuromi-chan” (おかしなクロミちゃん).  The webpage the manga are published on is still actively tweeting and releasing some new chapters, and they had this adorable tweet a few days ago:

Ichigoman 2

We pick up with chapter 5 in “Ichigoman,” which also is rather light on dialogue.  It starts with Ichigoman flying through the air after truck hits her bike.  She kind of floats through the air for awhile, wondering if she’s dead.  Then we get a color splash page introducing a “new” hero who will start working with Ichigoman, and it looks like Chococat in a hero’s suit!  She must have fallen into his motorcycle sidecar.  He asks if she is okay, and she says yes.  He drives her around, dodging more big trucks along a narrow cliffside road.  This time, the truck grows huge mechanical lobster claws as it pursues them.

Finally after a scary few frames, they drive off the road into a forest to get away from the truck. They think they are safe, but the truck plows through the trees after them.  Realizing the forest isn’t safe, Chococat directs his motorcycle toward a narrow path through some cliffs, which they hope will throw off the truck, but the truck transforms into a clawed UFO!  It can fly over them now.  Chococat ejects from his seat and flies up through the air to meet it.  They fight, and it explodes, while he returns to the ground safely in a cool superhero pose.  Ichigoman learns his name is…Dark Grape Man.  Did I read that right?  Dark Grape Man?  Oh, wow.  This manga is too hysterical.  Ichigoman calls him Dark-san.  They also talk about a hero named Garbage Man who I think is the originator of Dark Grape Man’s fighting technique.   The chapter ends with Dark Grape Man riding off with a not quite exact double of Ichigoman riding in his sidecar while Ichigoman is left behind.

Between chapter 5 and chapter 6 is a special chapter with no number.  It opens with a shot of earth from space, then the silhouette of the city at night as it contrasts the concepts of love and hatred in the narration of each scene.  We then see a soldier from behind who sees a flying saucer in the night sky.  A beam hits him from the saucer, and he is engulfed in fire, and he transforms into a horned devil kitty with three eyes and a skull tattooed on his forehead.  There is strong emphasis in the way he’s drawn on his eyebrows, which look like one really dark, black M.  His military uniform is torn, but he’s still wearing it.  We get a full color shot of his final form next before the story turns to the cute girls again, who may be the same ones in the prologue.  The one girl’s name is Sakura.  They are taking a photo with their cell phone and talking about birthdays, presents and someone named “Kitty-chan.”  I guess she’s a Hello Kitty fan based on the way that page is drawn; it shows the traditional Hello Kitty in that block.  The girls are standing behind a house near a bench where someone is sleeping under a newspaper.

While they are talking about Kitty-chan and how girls like cute things, the person sleeping under the newspaper sits up and interrupts them.  It’s the soldier who had been transformed into the alien kitty monster!  The creature confronts the girls, who are shocked by the sight of him.  They talk further about cuteness and kitties until the monster soldier demands to know the name of the person who appears in the shadows during their discussion.  It’s Ichigoman!  They fight.  The monster summons a whole cadre of look-alike alien fighters who startle and charge Ichigoman, knocking her dead.

Immediately, a beautiful human fairy girl wearing a Hello Kitty patterned dress and carrying a Hello Kitty wand appears in the sky and introduces herself as Yuko Yamaguchi!  (Note that Yuko Yamaguchi is the designer of Hello Kitty at Sanrio and is known as Kitty Mama.  Her name is all over this manga project.)  Yuko Yamaguchi waves her magic wand to revive Ichigoman, who rises to fight the crowd of monsters with renewed strength, which freaks out the soldier.  Later, Yamaguchi-san talks with Ichigoman about having a cute heart – the fairy even is wearing a Hello Kitty plush backpack between her wings! – then she uses her power to turn the monster soldier back into a more natural, cute kitty soldier instead of the alien kitty monster, though he keeps his weird eyebrows.  He was actually human, not cat, before the UFO ray hit him. Chococat as Dark Grape Man makes a quick appearance at the end of the chapter.

Chapter 6 resumes our main storyline and begins with Ichigoman out in a windy desert, carrying a torn banner and wearing a ragged, hooded cape that is flapping around her.  She collapses in the desert, but in the next frame, we discover that she has actually collapsed in front of the two girls on the sidewalk!  After memories of her boss and Dark Grape Man flit through her mind, she wakes up to find herself bandaged up in bed in a luxurious house where Sakura Miyama lives.  This is the girl we have seen in the previous chapter.  Sakura has prepared quite a repast for her to eat when she gets up, which looks very appetizing.  They eat together, talk about Ichigoman spending a few days there since her collapse, then soak in the bath together with the little squirrel Jam joining them in a soap dish. Sakura suggests they watch a DVD featuring Kitty-chan. They get dressed and goof around a bit.

A full color page pops up here with Ichigoman holding her flag and taking a selfie in front of mountains, echoing the first few pages of the chapter, before returning to her visit with Sakura.  Her flag says “mountain climbing success.”  Ichigoman sleeps over at Sakura’s but wakes up in the middle of the night to reflect on her hero status and consider the problem of the aliens.  The next day, she and Sakura plan on looking for the aliens’ base.

Chapter 7 starts out with a couple of shots of real-life buildings or monuments that I can’t identify, then it shows Sakura and Ichigoman in front of the door to the aliens’ base, which appears to be a somewhat camouflaged facility.  We get some background on how the UFO appeared in the sky about ten days earlier.  Sakura wants her to punch the door open.  They enter and find large glass cylinders each with a hooded alien suspended in them.  Both Ichigoman and the girl are terrified by the sight.  There’s something off about Sakura and her unseen parents, though, and she murmurs something about mama and papa here while looking at these aliens.  Somehow she whips out a pink chainsaw she calls Exalibur to break through the glass and release one of the aliens!  Weirdly, this is the only block on these pages in color, so maybe they wanted to emphasize the pinkness of the chainsaw.

The glass shatters, water spills out, and the girl goes on to the next glass cylinder, releasing all of them.  Next, they get attacked by a giant purple robotic alien, and unsurprisingly, a vision of Dark Grape Man is not far behind.  Ichigoman sits by a shattered glass case and weeps, hoping someone will save them.  As Sakura cries out her name, Ichigoman rallies and decides to punch the robot like she punched the door open earlier.  A lot of fighting ensues, and Ichogman saves the day.  Sakura declares their mission a success, and the final shot is of a security camera in the facility labeled “Freeze.”

Chapter 8 begins with a color page of Jam the squirrel.  This chapter takes us back to Sakura’s place where she and Ichigoman talk about Ichigoman taking care of the housework while Sakura goes to school.  Jam is more active in this chapter.  That night, Sakura tells her she wants to sleep with her plush of Kitty-chan instead of Ichigoman, so Ichigoman and Jam have to set up a futon in the other room to sleep on together.  But Sakura wakes up in the middle of the night after a bad dream and joins them on the futon anyway.  This chapter is kind of light on plot development and ends there.

Chapter 9 starts out with a shot of an auditorium, the Tokyo Dome, where a kitty idol is performing.  I was going to put a photo of the real Tokyo Dome here but got sidetracked in my search by Kawaii Metal, which is apparently a thing in Japan that I obviously need to look into more since I prefer heavy metal to pop, but let me put a video here of Baby Metal’s “Megitsune” from their official channel to illustrate the point instead.

We’re going to get very deep into the cult of cute in this series, so it’s very appropriate, and even better, fox themed.  They just need to recruit girls about ten or twenty years older than these to make it perfect.

Getting back to our story, this chapter is where the tweet picture I took a screenshot of above appears with the kitty dressed in a traditional style outfit, so it has to do with this super idol kitty’s performance, though the idol kitty wears a much more girly kitty-print dress in red and pink with lots of frills and bows.  The playbill has her down as Hello Kitty for real, so I don’t know for sure who is who, but it seems they are different kitties, and Ichigoman is there as herself too and is NOT Hello Kitty.  This is where we are introduced to a third kitty superhero in addition to Ichigoman and Dark Grape Man who becomes prominent in chapter 10.  The tweet above calls this traditionally-dressed kitty Honeymomo, or Honey Peach.  I think the way to tell them apart is Ichigoman has strawberries for ears, Hello Kitty has regular cat ears, and the third kitty superhero has peaches for ears.

honeymomo

Honeymomo

There’s an explosion at the event, and the third kitty transforms into her superhero costume.  As she tries to get a handle on the situation, she runs into Ichigoman, who remembers seeing Honeymomo in the sidecar of Dark Grape Man’s motorcycle!  Next time, we’ll find out more about this mysterious hero.

Now let’s get caught up on the other webcomic we were looking at.  For “Funny Kuromi-chan”, I’m going to pick it up with chapter 2, which has only 9 pages, and this is where the elegant cake fairies starting with Chocolate Opera make their appearance at the shop.  He walks in the shop in human form and is looking for Kuromi and the others.  No one seems to be around, but he hears noises coming from the kitchen.  When he goes in, he sees Kuromi and Strawberry Shortcake are upset and quickly shoots three blob-like monsters with his slingshot.  I think the monsters are called “カビゾンビ,” but I can’t get a good definition of what those are.  Mold zombies maybe?  They decide they need to use some other method to get rid of them, and Opera goes to turn on the pipes to spray them with water, which works to melt them away.  They also discuss having some wine or brandy, and the chapter ends with a color page showing them hanging out in a sake bathhouse, soaking in an outdoor tub together.  This chapter ends with a warning to beware of the mold caused by Japan’s rainy season!

Chapter 3 is another 9 page chapter that revolves again around Sweety’s, this time centering on a little girl and a birthday cake.  A little girl is crying as Strawberry Shortcake walks by in his human form on a hot day, and she explains she wants a birthday cake for her father.  He takes her to Sweety’s kitchen and begins to make a cake when Kuromi walks in.  Kuromi tells him he has a good heart and calls for the other cake fairies to help out.  They get in a debate about whose special cake they should make, though the girl requests a shortcake.  When they make it, Strawberry Shortcake takes it along with the girl to her house.  Her father answers the door, the little girl immediately disappears, and it turns out the little girl isn’t really still alive!  A flabbergasted Strawberry Shortcake and Chestnut realize that she was a ghost wishing her father a happy birthday from heaven.  That’s actually a pretty heavy storyline for this set of webcomics, and it ends with a poignant drawing of the ghostly girl holding the cake.

It looks like the rest of the chapters are all 9 pages or less.  Chapter 4 takes us to a beach house with more food porn appearing in the story, this time actual entrees, and it ends with a full-color bathing suit beach scene. Sweety’s is collaborating with the beach house to come up with a menu for visitors to the beach house.  They talked with the beach house owner and are thinking of what to serve when college students come in the summer for vacation.  For example, Strawberry Shortcake comes up with a strawberry ramen dish, which is shown in a manga block.  Kuromi envisions the customer response and doesn’t think it will work.

The next suggestion is frozen Mont Blanc, which is also shown as they imagine it in a separate block.  However, this is made with cabbage and meat.  Next, they have to determine whether sweet chocolate and savory curry flavors are a good match as Opera makes his suggestion.  This one Kuromi finally approves.  Lastly, they come up with yatsuhashi dumplings skewered on a stick like roasted squid, but it seems to melt off after cooking it over a charcoal grill.  They also discuss serving wine and cheese.  We never actually see them serving anything at the beach house, however, and the group is shown on the last page lounging at the beach and swimming in the ocean.  Kuromi is drinking a special drink and laying on a recliner while Strawberry is running in terror from the sea screaming about a jellyfish!

Chapter 5, the last I’m covering this post, starts off with the forecast for a big thunderstorm on TV.  When Kuromi hears about it, she’s really excited.  The cake fairies are watching it start to rain from the window, and they are surprised when Kuromi announces she needs to go outside to take care of some business.  They just look at her as if she’s crazy as she instructs them to lock the door behind her.

The next page is full color and shows Kuromi playing out in the rain in some fashionable raincoat with the shocked reactions of each of the cake fairies surrounding her.  The chapter title is “Love’s Storm,” which is pretty provocative. She encounters a strange, masked human man wearing bunny ears and a jester’s costume who seems to be flying through the sky using an open umbrella.  He is calling her name, and she is shocked to see him.  His name is Usamimi Kamen, or Rabbit Ear Mask. This is some terrible disaster for her to encounter him.   Kuromi declares herself to be an angry young girl!

She rips her raincoat off, which Strawberry Shortcake observes from the shop window.   The cake fairies watch her through binoculars as she runs up the hill in the rain.  She’s yelling up into the sky at Rabbit Ear Mask, saying derogatory things like how he’s causing trouble.  The cake fairies can’t figure out why she’s screaming at the sky and discuss how it’s foolish and dangerous to be outside in the storm.  Then they are dumbstruck when they see Kuromi flying in a cloud.

Kuromi is muttering about how Rabbit Ear Mask is her love…she seems to be asleep or in a trance, but the cake fairies are relieved since the weather is now clear.  She starts to fall to earth, and Rabbit Ear Mask catches her and delivers her, still asleep, back to the shop to the astonished cake fairies! Unlike the other chapters so far, this one ends abruptly with no resolution or color final page.  I wonder if the storyline continues later.  The cake fairies merely note he’s a man and a mascot character.

Since I’ve never heard of Rabbit Ear Mask and don’t know his history with Kuromi, I dug around and discovered he is a character in the Sanrio universe.  Here is his theme song:

They even have a rabbit car in this.  Pink, of course. Doing a little research, he seems to be the love interest for both My Melody as the masked rabbit hero and Kuromi as his human alter ego, the violinist heartthrob Keiichi Hiiragi.  This storyline appears in the TV show “Onegai My Melody.”

http://onegaimymelo.wikia.com/wiki/Keiichi_Hiiragi

These stories are so complicated and interesting.  This is one of the Sanrio series I haven’t seen, and it looks like it could be as fun as Ichigoman.  Did they ever release this one in the US?  It looks like Funimation only queried fans to see if they should license it, but as far as I can see, it never was picked up for US release.  That’s a shame, because it looks like a scream.

I have watched  a lot of Hello Kitty properties over the years since I speak regularly about the franchise, and I have to say this “Ichigoman” webcomic is so far the wackiest, most awesome vehicle I’ve seen Hello Kitty in ever.  What a fun, lighthearted manga.  Hopefully the ending of both comics are as exciting as the chapters so far.  Next time, we’ll find out for sure.

Part two of a three part series

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A Kitty Mecha and A Cake-Loving Biker Bunny Go Wild – Ichigoman & Funny Kuromi-chan, Part 1

Sanrio published a new manga of its reboot of Hello Kitty called “Ichigoman,” or “Strawberry Man,” so I want to review some of that along with their new webcomic, “Funny Kuromi-chan.”  Here is the link:

http://comip.jp/15/

They actually have more than just “Ichigoman” and “Funny Kuromi-chan” at this site.  There are two other comics focusing on the characters Keroppi the frog (“Completely Gutsy  Keroppi” – ど根性けろけろけろっぴ) and Pompopurin the dog (プリンあらどーも).  The webcomics feature some bishonen “beautiful boy” characters, so fans of that style may want to check them out.  The length of the chapters vary, depending on the central character, so some are rather short.

“Ichigoman” (イチゴマン) has 15 chapters with an introductory chapter zero.  I’m only going to go over about five chapters a post here.  “Ichigoman” opens with shots of crowded city streets where two cute girls are taking a selfie.  Suddenly they notice something behind them in the sky in their photo.  There’s no dialogue at this point in the manga, so we see through the pictures that they first think that there’s an angel in the sky.  But their welcoming turns to fear as a very sinister shape overshadows the city.

When the creature turns out to be a huge, phoenix-like mecha (robot), the scene turns chaotic as the inhabitants go running about in a panic.  A couple of hot guys join the cute girls just as Hello Kitty appears as an Ichigoman mecha to fight the phoenix.  Of course, the city is in ruins since Hello Kitty bursts out from underground and the phoenix is already knocking buildings down.  Their eyes meet, and the tiny Hello Kitty mecha gets in a fiery battle with the phoenix as the four humans in particular watch.  Hello Kitty’s bow doubles as some sort of weapon or light beam, and there’s a great shot near the end of the chapter of Hello Kitty standing in a small bow-shaped halo over the silhouette of the monstrous phoenix.  As she blows the phoenix to smithereens, the humans watching are elated to see Hello Kitty save the day.

Moving on to chapter 1, which is 21 pages, it starts off with a very cutesy shower scene at a swank apartment with Hello Kitty and her pet looking over the city on a calm morning.  I’m guessing the pet is a squirrel, and its name is Jam.   Then we get the opening color splash page showing Ichigoman in costume kicking butt before launching into the story.  In the next sequence, we see Hello Kitty dressed in her hero costume riding her bike with Jam, musing about how she’s a hero looking for evildoers.  But everything is peaceful…Until finally someone has their briefcase snatched by cute-looking hooded ghost.  Ichigoman goes into action!

After a preforming a sequence of superhero poses, she chases the thief and runs into a voluptuous blonde wearing butterfly sunglasses named Lady Swallowtail (as in the butterfly), who looks like all of the superhero herself!  She asks Ichigoman to explain her hero status and introduce herself, which she does.  She suggests Ichigoman may be a criminal for not having a hero’s license, which sort of confuses Ichigoman a little.  She insists Ichigoman must get a license, which costs money.  Ichigoman feels stressed by this since she thought being a hero was an act of service to humanity and philanthropy.  She wonders if there is a professional warrior company, and Lady Swallowtail ponders aloud whether she is a pro or amateur.  Ichigoman decides she needs to get some money to get a hero’s license and be considered a professional hero instead of remaining an amateur as Lady Swallowtail suggests she is.  It ends with Ichigoman leaving Lady Swallowtail on her bicycle with Jam.

Chapter 2 has 23 pages, and it continues with Ichigoman returning to talk with Lady Swallowtail about getting a hero’s license.  This time Ichigoman brings her bank book and bank seal to buy a license off of her, which is just a handwritten note that Lady Swallowtail scribbles up on the spot.  Ichigoman is a bit flabbergasted by the informality of it and questions it.  Then Lady Swallowtail asks about Ichigoman’s lack of a mask; telling her it has something to do with increasing a woman’s self-confidence, Lady Swallowtail then puts magic makeup on Ichigoman.  The page where she puts it on is a full two-page spread with cosmically drawn flowers and Ichigoman floating in space. When she’s finished, Ichigoman looks positively garish, but Lady Swallowtail enthusiastically declares her kawaii!

Then Ichigoman takes her new found confidence and tries to go after the hooded thief, but she can’t catch him.  Lady Swallowtail still has Ichigoman’s bank book that she takes to go get an expensive meal, and Ichigoman is forlorn at the end of the chapter since she has been swindled and lost her apparently apartment. She sits on the sidewalk with Jam and bursts into tears over her predicament.  The last scenes show elegant boys noticing Ichigoman’s plight via a drone camera, and they wonder amongst themselves about her desire to save the world.

Chapter 3 introduces the story’s characters formally, including four handsome guys, with a full-color page.  Here Lady Swallowtail is described in more detail as the world’s female phantom thief.  The one thing I don’t like about the otherwise really awesome manga page setup is that you can’t zoom in and look at the text in detail, so I’m losing a few of the kanji or furigana that are too small to read.  It’s not very user-friendly for Japanese-language students.

Next the story turns to some place named Freeze where these four bishonen boys are members, and it’s revealed that the thief she followed earlier is an alien from outer space, one of a whole group of similar-looking aliens whose earth invasion Freeze is set to fight.  Freeze is then described as a global defense organization against aliens.  The boys’ names are Shinobu Sawada, Kirari Suetomi, Mako Yanagiya, and Takeru Hira.  They are identified as elegantly dressed warriors, and they each have a different colored hair, not that it matters on the monochrome pages.

The boys are interested in Ichigoman, observing her from Freeze’s secret base since she has some of the special energy that Freeze has harnessed in its fight against the aliens.  They discuss whether Ichigoman is male or female, which is a little controversial because she looks a little girly and uses the word “man” as part of her name.

Finally they go to the sweets café where it happens that Ichigoman works as a waitress.  She wears a kimono at this establishment, which looks typically Japanese, and is dispatched to bring them all tea.  The story gets sidetracked on their food, and we even get some color pages thrown in, which includes a nice full-page of all four boys eating.  I’m not sure they ever actually notice that it is Ichigoman waiting on them.  When they finish eating, they leave the restaurant, and Ichigoman watches them walk down the street with some interest.

Chapter 4, the last chapter I’m covering in this post, has 22 pages and much less dialogue than earlier chapters.  We see Ichigoman at her day job again, this time delivering takeout sweets on her bike and getting into a bunch of scrapes with trucks around town.  It ends with her bicycle getting hit, her flying through the air with the food spilling out everywhere, and her kimono ripping off to show her Ichigoman costume underneath!

Here’s a screenshot from “Ichigoman”:

Ichigoman Screenshot

Sanrio’s Ichigoman Screenshot

Although I wasn’t able to capture it with my screenshot, the cursor turns into a bright, hot pink strawberry when it hovers over the screen on any chapter of these webcomics.  I just wish it did something other than move the pages.  They really need a magnifying glass feature.  However, Sanrio really didn’t leave any detail to chance, and the webcomics are worth a look even if you can’t read Japanese.

Next we move on to “Funny Kuromi-chan” (おかしなクロミちゃん), which has 15 chapters, too, and it looks like this webcomic is still getting new chapters posted.  (I’m not sure which others are still being published and which are complete.)  I’m only going to cover the first chapter in this post since the other chapters are much shorter.  While Hello Kitty is very well-known, Kuromi is a more obscure Sanrio character that requires some introduction.  Here is her profile:

http://hellokitty.wikia.com/wiki/Kuromi

So Kuromi is a white rabbit in a jester’s hat with a punk/goth vibe, and she’s into food.  She’s even the leader of a biker gang.

Kuromi Bikers

Kuromi’s Biker Gang

It should be a fun webcomic then.

The opening chapter, which has 21 pages,  starts with a character introduction page showing five other characters besides Kuromi, all rather elegant-looking humans. Unlike “Ichigoman” where the boys all had Japanese names with kanji, this one has all of the supporting characters with names written in katakana, indicating foreign names.  Their names are all cake names.  For example, the first male character who wears a brown top hat and suit is named Chocolate Opera!

DCF 1.0

Chocolate Opera Cake, Photo Courtesy of http://www.sugarbutterflour.com

One boy is named Strawberry Shortcake, one woman is Cheesesake Rare, another is Mont Blanc Chestnut, and the last one has the Japanese name Niki Yatsuhashi.  But Yatsuhashi is a type of Japanese pastry usually folded around red bean paste filling:

yatsuhashi_dish_medium

Yatsuhashi, Photo by Jim Beno

We start off with two kids playing tennis, a boy and a girl who are not listed on this first character page.  Kuromi is serving elegant, single-serving cakes at a place named “Sweety’s” that is in a European-style house that looks a little like something out of a fairy tale.  The pastries on her tray all seem to be of the very sorts that the characters’ names reference.  At this point, it seems there can be an alternative translation of the manga title since おかし can also refer to confections!

The girl watching her classmate play tennis runs into this cake shop crying, and Kuromi confronts her when the girl mistakes her for a plush toy.  When she has settled down at one of the tables, Kuromi brings her tea.  The girl explains how she was upset watching her senpai (older classmate) Ikazu play tennis.  I think the reading of her name is Imuzu, but the furigana is a bit small on both of them, and I can’t zoom.  Then Kuromi suggests that she select one of the five cakes from her tray, and the girl picks the strawberry shortcake.

When Kuromi serves the slice of shortcake to her and she takes a bite, it turns into the human character by that name, in this case the little blond boy.   He introduces himself and suggests he can help her since she was so upset.  The girl is astonished.  Kuromi explains how he is a cake fairy.  We see Imuzu picturing him going with her when she’s running and working out, acting like he was her coach or cheerleader.  Then he goes with her to cheer Ikazu on at the tennis court.  Somehow there is a misunderstanding with Ikazu, and Imuzu runs from him, but he catches up with her.  He asks her to be his girlfriend, and they call each other by name with hearts in their speech bubbles and walk off together hand in hand!

The action returns to the sweets shop with the other cake fairies sitting around talking.  It ends with a color shot of the shop.  I actually didn’t know that much about Kuromi before reading this, and she’s quite adorable.  Don’t let the goth profile throw you off, she’s whole-heartedly Sanrio sticky-sweet.   She wears a little maid costume as she serves cakes at work, and even with the pink skull on her jester hat underneath her maid cap, it still looks quite cute.

I think that’s plenty for an introduction to Kuromi.  Here’s a screenshot including all of the cakes in their prosaic forms:

Kuromi Screenshot

Sanrio’s Funny Kuromi Screenshot

You can see why I found these webcomics too irresistible to pass up.  Shintaro Tsuji, the Sanrio founder, is a genius at promoting the kawaii “cute” culture, and I think the value of its psychology is hugely underrated.  It’s also interesting because Japan was once the most warlike of the East Asian nations, with their military leadership and samurai then later a military dictatorship in the early 20th century.  More strongly Confucian East Asian countries didn’t value the military to the same degree as the lightly Confucian Japanese.  Then after WWII when they were stripped of their right to a conventional military, their culture turned so warm and fuzzy across the board as Hello Kitty and other cute characters’ popularity soared.  In a way, that weirdly echoes the desired post-war perception that they were now harmless to the world.  But I personally think kawaii culture is a fun and useful export that I’m happy to promote.

More goofiness as we continue with these webcomics next time!

Part one of a three part series

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The 2017 Silk Screen Asian Film Festival Is Set To Launch!

I have some of the upcoming Silk Screen schedule as the September film festival approaches. Tickets for the launch party at Wigle Whiskey Barrellhouse can be purchased here:

https://www.showclix.com/event/silk-screen-launch-party80146

The event is scheduled for August 31st at 5PM and includes dinner, a tour, and viewing some of the film trailers for the upcoming festival. I don’t think the list has been finalized for what we’re showing, but I’ll let everyone know once that is announced.

The Red Carpet Gala will be held on Friday, September 15th at 6PM at the Fairmont downtown. Tickets can be purchased at this link:

https://www.showclix.com/event/red-carpet-gala6914474

It’s still time to get the earlybird rate on the Gala ticket for a few more weeks yet.  That event will kick off the week of films around town. Silk Screen’s site is here for people who want to check regularly for the film announcements:

http://www.silkscreenfestival.org/

Hope you can make it!

 

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Pure Yields to Foul and Foul to Pure as Fate’s Wheel Turns – Journey to the West, Part 3

In this post I will cover volume 3 of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West in my edition, which includes chapters 34 through 50.  The story arc where we left off in volume 2 with Monkey stuck under a mountain continues in chapters 34 and 35 of this volume; it ultimately ends up becoming a scuffle between Monkey and some devils over the magical items he stole from them.  One fun moment in this when a magical gourd sucks Monkey in at the behest of one of the devils:

The Great Sage [Monkey] found it pitch-black inside the gourd.  When he tried to raise his head he could not move it at all, so tightly was he squeezed in it.  He now began to feel very anxious. “The two little devils I met on the mountain,” he thought, “told me that any one put in the gourd or the vase turns to pus in three and a half hours.  Perhaps that’s going to happen to me.”  Then he started on another line of thought: “No problem.  I won’t turn into pus.  When I made havoc in the Palace of Heaven five hundred years ago Lord Lao Zi put me in his Eight Trigram Furnace and fired me for forty-nine days, and this gave me a heart and liver of gold, lungs of silver, a brazen head, an iron back, eyes of fire and golden pupils.  I couldn’t possibly be turned to pus in three and a half hours.  I’ll let him take me inside and see what he does.” (p. 1133)

Using his magical hair, he disguises himself as a bug and flies out of the gourd when they look in the gourd to see his progress.  The hair he left behind fools them into thinking they still had his body dissolving into goo.  Meanwhile, Monkey turns into a dragon and waits in their path for them.  Drinking with them in disguise and switching out their treasures, Monkey escapes with the goods.  Monkey then goes to rescue Sanzang, leaving the devils to weep over his plundering.

When they move on to the next mountainous region in chapter 36, Sanzang is apprehensive about going through it.  Finally they come across a Buddhist monastery, The Imperially Founded Precious Wood Monastery, where they hope to spend the night.  When Sanzang seeks alms, he is soundly told to go away.  The head monk tells a subordinate that Sanzang looks poor and they only attend to the needs of the gentry.  Sanzang overhears and, hurt by this assumption, he tries to talk with the head monk personally.  The old monk finally gets angry and tells him how he was taken advantage of by a band of poor monks he helped who overstayed their welcome by 8 years.  Trying to hold back tears on the way back to his disciples, Sanzang’s reaction angers Monkey:

“Master, did the monks in there beat you up?” “No,” replied Sanzang.  “They must have done,” said Monkey, “or why else did I hear sobbing?  Did they tell you off?” “No,” said Sanzang.  “They did not tell  me off.”  “If they didn’t beat you or reproach you, why look so upset?” asked Monkey.  “Don’t tell me it’s because you’re homesick.”  “This is not a good place,” said the Tang Priest.  “They must be Taoists here,” said Monkey with a grin.  “You only get Taoists in a Taoist temple,” retorted Sanzang angrily.  “In a Buddhist monastery there are Buddhist monks.”  “You’re hopeless,” said Monkey.  “If they are Buddhist monks they’re like us.  As the saying goes, ‘All in the Buddhist community are friends.’ You sit here while I take a look around.” (p. 1187)

Monkey storms into the monastery, makes a threatening prayer to the sacred statue there which the lower-ranking monks overhear, scares the head monk into receiving them and asks the monks to leave their own monastery!  Sanzang is scandalized by his uncouth behavior.

Monkey laughed inside at this, then escorted them all out through the gates to kneel down.  The abbot kowtowed and called out, ’Your Grace of Tang, please take a seat in my lodgings.’ Seeing all this, Pig said, ‘Master, you’re completely useless.  When you went in you were all tears and pouting so much you could have hung a bottle from your lips.  How come that only Monkey knows how to make them welcome us with kowtows?”  “Ill-mannered idiot,” said Sanzang.  “As the saying goes, even a devil’s afraid of an ugly mug.” (p. 1193)

These exchanges emphasize the satirical nature of the novel and  the contrast between the unearthly, even wimpy Sanzang and his practical, demonic disciples.  But the story arc that starts at this monastery is quite intriguing.  After dining with the monks who live at the monastery, the three disciples head for bed while Sanzang stays up alone in the meditation hall to review and memorize the sutras.

Just when he was about to go to bed he heard a rushing noise and the whistling of a fiendish wind.  Fearing that it would blow out his lamp, the venerable elder shielded the lamp with his sleeve as quickly as he could.  To his consternation the lamp kept going on and off.  By now he was so tired that he pillowed his head on the reading desk and took a nap.  Although he had closed his eyes and was dozing, his mind stayed wide awake as he listened to the howling of the devil wind outside the window. (p. 1203)

After awhile, Sanzang is wakened by the apparition of a drowned man, whom Sanzang doesn’t hesitate to threaten with his heroic, demon-bashing disciples. The apparition protests, explaining he is from the state of Wuji where the Quanzhen Taoist wizard came to his palace and brought them torrential rain after a severe drought.  The wizard stayed and cultivated his connections in the palace, only to betray the king, kill him and take his place as a shapeshifter, effectively stealing the kingdom from him.

After the civil and military officials had returned to their offices and the royal spouses and concubines gone back to their quarters we were strolling hand-in-hand with the wizard in the palace garden.  When we reached the eight-sided well with a glazed-tile top he threw something in the well – we don’t know what it was – that made it shine with golden light.  Luring us to the edge of the well to look at this treasure he had the murderous notion of pushing us in the well with a splash and placing a flagstone over the top of the well.  He piled earth over this then put a plantain on top of it.  So we have already been dead for three years, alas. (p. 1209)

The murdered king heard that the Tang Priest’s elder disciple was Monkey, whose reputation as the Great Sage Equalling Heaven has brought the king there to ask for Sanzang to allow his disciples to intervene and get rid of the Quanzhen wizard.  However, Sanzang is concerned they will be charged with high treason if the impersonation by the wizard is too perfect.  They come up with a scheme to get Sanzang to talk with the Crown Prince, whom the ghost determines should still be loyal to him, and show him the king’s scepter that the Quanzhen wizard had not been able to counterfeit, which the ghost gives to Sanzang.  Monkey comes up with his own crazy version of the plan, and this results in another one of his fun transformations:

As Brother Monkey looked down from mid-air he was delighted.  “It goes without saying that he must be the crown prince.  I think I’ll play a trick on him.” The splendid Great Sage brought his cloud down to land and charged straight through the soldiers till he was before the crown prince’s horse.  Then he shook himself and turned himself into a white hare that started to run around frantically in front of the prince’s horse, to the delight of the prince when he spotted it.  Fastening an arrow to his bow, he drew it and hit the hare with his first shot.

Now the Great Sage had deliberately made the prince hit him, and with the quickness of his hand and eye he caught the arrowhead, dropped its feathers on the ground beside him, and started to run.  Seeing his arrow hit the jade rabbit, the crown prince gave his horse its head and galloped ahead of the field in pursuit.  He did not notice that when his horse galloped fast Monkey went like the wind, and that when the horse slowed down Monkey slowed down too, keeping only a little distance ahead. Watch as he leads the prince for mile after mile until he has lured him to the entrance of the Precious Wood Monastery.  (pp. 1123-1225)

This story arc continues through chapter 40 with the Crown Prince retrieving the scepter from Sanzang at the monastery and going back to the palace to consult his mother who had been kept at a distance from him once the Quanzhen wizard took over.  However, nothing and no one is what it seems in this story arc, and there are some wild surprises as Monkey and Sanzang help the Crown Prince deal with the Quanzhen wizard.  Guanyin has a few tricks up her sleeve here, too.  Finally, monks from the Precious Wood Monastery arrive at the palace in Wuji with the king’s accoutrements and give them to him along with the scepter.  The king is now back on his throne, so Sanzang and his disciples move on.

The next story arc starts in chapter 41 and ends in chapter 43.  A month later, the companions approach a mountain range again, and Sanzang is feeling apprehensive about what they will encounter there.  It turns out an evil spirit in the form of a red cloud rises into the sky and forms a ball of fire.  The story shifts to the perspective of the evil spirit, who recalls the stories he has heard about the Tang Priest, including the magical benefits of eating his flesh!  The spirit sees Sanzang but is a little discouraged by the scary appearance of his companions.  Therefore, he turns himself into a helpless, bound little boy screaming for help to lure the party to him.  Soft-hearted Sanzang insists on rescuing the boy, but Monkey isn’t fooled.  Still, the evil spirit makes his move and whisks Sanzang off in a whirlwind with plans to cook and eat him back at his lair.  The others go in search of him and discover the monster is Red Boy who lives in Withered Pine Creek.  Monkey starts a fight with him, which gets wilder and wilder with more reinforcement and deception.  Finally, as has often been the case, Monkey must appeal to Guanyin to intervene to help them save Sanzang and resume their trip.

A short adventure occurs in chapter 43 when Sanzang gets carried off along with Pig by the Monster of Black River, but this is quickly resolved with the help of the Dragon King.

Chapter 44 begins a new, longer story arc.  The company comes across a walled city where crowds of Buddhist monks are building a monastery, but Monkey notices Taoists seem to be threatening them.  He disguises himself as a Taoist and goes to get the scoop.  The country is Tarrycart, and the king is a devoted Taoist due to three weather-controlling Taoist masters who saved the country, echoing the Quanzhen wizard in the earlier segment.  The king decides the Buddhists have no supernatural powers and begins to oppress them, destroying most of their monasteries.

Monkey then goes to interview the Buddhist monks on the pretext he is looking for a relative among them.  He discovers Buddhist monks are being arrested throughout the country, even any man who looks like a Buddhist, and that many enslaved monks have died due to harsh conditions.  Monkey tries some tricks to have all of the monks released, but the Taoist overseers balk at the scheme, so he kills them, which alarms the Buddhists who are afraid it will get them in trouble.  Monkey then reveals his true identity and explains that he came to rescue them.

When Sanzang is reunited with Monkey and hears the story, he becomes upset.  The monks invite him to stay at the remaining Buddhist monastery, where they encounter the three Taoist masters performing a ritual.  Monkey decides to deceive the Taoists, and when the king is forced to turn to Monkey to provide rain through his prayers, this brings about a showdown with the Taoist masters, a rainmaking competition that Monkey ultimately wins through trickery.  The competition continues in different phases.  This story arc is probably one of the goriest stories in the book so far with some gross-out humor that I’m not going to detail.

When the Taoists are executed and revealed to be animals, a tiger, deer and antelope, the king dissolves into tears and reverses his decrees against the Buddhist monks.  The party moves on, and almost a year passes before they encounter another challenge.  The come across another river that they need to figure out how to cross.  Monkey goes to investigate.  When they can’t see the other side, they investigate a fisherman and religious feast further down the river bank.  They come to a house and decide to ask if they can spend the night there.  An old man and group of monks welcome them, though the disciples give them quite a scare.

They share a meal with their benefactor and hear about the situation in the village where they live, Chen Village still in Tarrycart.  Human sacrifices offered to the king regularly, which has the old men of the house sad since their young children will be offered for the king to eat.  I guess this is a different king than the Tarrycart king we have been introduced to so far.  When the old man they are staying with laments that he will have to sacrifice his only little boy to the king, Monkey suggests after a demonstration of his shapeshifting magic that he will impersonate the boy so the man’s son will be spared.  The man’s brother is also worried that his only daughter will be eaten, too, so there is some friction with Monkey as a result until Monkey suggests he could turn Pig into her double to save her, too.  Pig balks, but Sanzang also encourages him to do this good deed.

“There’s the girl,” said Monkey.  “Make yourself like her at once.  We’re off to the sacrifice.” “But she’s much too small and delicate for me to turn into, brother,” said Pig.  “Hurry up if you don’t want me to hit you,” said Monkey.  “Don’t hit me,” pleaded Pig in desperation.  “I’ll see if I can make the change.”

The idiot then said the words of a spell, shook his head several times, called “Change!” and really did make his head look like the little girl’s.  The only trouble was that his belly was still much too fat and disproportionately big.  “Change some more,” said Monkey with a laugh.  “Hit me then,” said Pig.  “I can’t change any more, and that’s that.” “But you can’t have a little girl’s head on a monk’s body,” said Monkey.  “You won’t do at all like that – you’re neither a man nor a girl.  Do the Dipper star-steps.”  Monkey then blew on him with magic breath and in fact did change his body to make it look like the little girl’s. (p.1565)

The old men prepare the children on serving dishes for the king to eat and wait.  A monster who has been pretending to be king comes to question and eat them instead!  A fight ensues, and Pig and Monkey change back into themselves.  Planning on smoking the monster out of his suspected lair in the river later, Pig and Monkey return to the monastery and the old men with the news.   Meanwhile, the monster allows one of the female river denizens to try to lure the Tang priest and his party into the river using an illusion of ice.

When the companions wake up, they see the riverbank covered with snow.  As people began to use the ice bridge crossing the river, the ruse created by the monster’s minions, Sanzang asks about it and is told the other bank is Womanland, which is a tradepost.  They decide it is safe to walk across, but when they do, the monster is waiting beneath it, and it begins to crack as planned.  Only Monkey and Sanzang had no history with water or swimming, so the other three are able to quickly cope with the situation.  Monkey jumps onto his cloud, but Sanzang is lost beneath the waves.  The disciples decide to return to the old men at the monastery and figure out what to do next.  Finally, they realize they have to turn to Guanyin, and Monkey finds her casually dressed while spring cleaning and peeling bamboo, which takes him aback.  It is through her intervention yet again that they are able to save the Tang priest.

The final chapter of this volume starts off with the party encountering another mountain in the depths of winter.  Monkey goes to look for a place where they can be fed and sheltered for the night and happens upon a farm.  He takes so long, however, that Sanzang and the others continue to a compound with high towers, and he sends Pig to look around.  Pig sees a bedroom with a bed piled high with skeletons and is moved to sorrow since it seems no living creature lives there.  Before returning to Sanzang, he takes some brocade clothing they can use to keep warm, but Sanzang rebukes him for stealing and demands he put them back where he found them.  Pig refuses, and their quarrel wakes a demon living there.  The compound was wholly the magical illusion created by this monster.  The monster captures them, and when Monkey returns, he must go on another search and rescue mission.  This story arc carries over into volume IV.

I didn’t have time to watch any of the anime version I have, so I’m not posting any screenshots at this time.

Part three of a six part series.

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Angry Teachers and Bawling Students – The Dim Sum Anthology, Part 2

This time I will finish my look at The Dim Sum Anthology, by Nong A (阿濃的“點心集 ”).  We’ll cover the last half of the book, which encompasses essays on educational writings, lifestyle writings, nature writings, and art & literary writings.

Part 5, “Educational Writings,” has 39 essays.  A few essays refer to presenting specific, famous books in class, such as criticizing a special note-taking method of teaching the Confucian Analects in “Notes” or how frightening it is for students to encounter Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World with its test tube babies in “A Frightening Book.”

In the essay “Brushing One’s Sleeves” Nong A discusses how even well-cultivated teachers still have times when their tempers flare up.  When a male teacher has a bad moment, his voice gets stern, and he even scolds the students for ten full minutes, leaving everyone awestruck.  When a female teacher gets angry, she cries in the classroom, leaving the boys ashamed and the girls empathetic.  If the teachers injure a student in a moment of anger, they risk a lawsuit, but even without injuring any student physically, it can leave an impression of cruelty and lack of civility.  Throwing things also can injure and leave a terrible impression.  The essay wraps up by recommending brushing off one’s sleeves and leaving the room to cool down first before returning to class and apologizing.

“Crying” explains the reasons why teachers don’t like students who are habitual cryers.  At the elementary level, these bawlers cry at the drop of a hat, making a terrific commotion, then other students bully them.  The teacher lets it go and doesn’t feel like dealing with it.  Other students are disgusted by the weepy faces, and their long crying jags hamper effective teaching.  Students who hold back and force themselves not to cry don’t really get more sympathy from the teacher, however.  When they get scolded, they look like they might cry just enough to make it obvious that the punishment was effective.  Bu teachers like the perpetually smiling student.  When they get scolded, their eyes get red and a few tears fall quietly, which immediately softens the teacher’s heart to give some words of comfort.

In “Fearing Disgrace,” Nong A notes that there are fewer students these days who are afraid of looking bad in public.  If the teacher asks “who is willing to participate in a speech competition?” nearly everyone volunteers.  Only two students in the class don’t dare respond.  Or if the teacher asks “Who is willing to be the class leader?” a forest of hands go up.  Again, only the same two don’t volunteer.  Nong A sees these two as having a hard shell that they don’t have the courage to come out of and explains how it is the teacher’s responsibility to help those who are afraid of looking stupid to take risks.

The essay “Chewing Wax” describes how hard it is to pique students’ interest in their Chinese language lessons.  All teachers have experienced using excellent content to get the students involved in their classes, but at some point, such as introducing sentence patterns, it becomes boring, like chewing wax, and students lose interest.

Moving on to the next section, part 6, it is titled “Lifestyle Writings” and has 82 essays.  This is by far the largest of the eight topics the essays in the book are sorted into.

“Two Eyes” is about the eyes of animals.  It starts off with the flatfish, or flounder fish, which lives on the ocean floor in the silt and has two eyes that can slide from either side of the fish.  The facial structure of the hippopotamus with its eyes on its forehead is considered next.  It soaks in the water with only the top of its head exposed to the air.  These two animals are held up as examples of animal eyes in general, considering that there are two types of face structure.  Eyes are either on the same side looking in the same direction, or they are on opposite sides of the face looking in opposite directions.  It generalizes that the animals with divided eyes are typically weak and helpless, such as deer or rabbits that need to be able to see more of the area around them to detect predators.  Animals with eyes in the same place looking the same direction are typically strong, like the lion or tiger, who don’t need to see the totality of their environment for the sake of safety.

In the essay “Sweet Potato,” it starts with an image of smelling the scent of baking sweet potatoes in a cold wind.  The outside of the potato is burned black, while the inside is uncooked.  Nong A describes some of the village food during winter, such as roast wheatgrass or sweet potatoes that mother made.  Kids ate baked sweet potatoes when they came home from school and warmed their hands with them, too.  The potatoes were also barbecued in wet newspaper wrappers buried in charcoal, which caused more uneven cooking.  Now Nong A buys the children sweet potatoes on the streets today, too.

I wasn’t sure what wheatgrass was, so here is a description:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheatgrass

According to the essay “Another Group,” Easter holiday is also the day for sweeping the ancestral tombs.  Some children visit businesses, watch movies, eat a big holiday meal, while some groups of children go to the tombs to clean them.  They take writing brushes, lacquer varnish, and a weeding sickle to straighten them up.

https://www.thoughtco.com/tomb-sweeping-festival-687518

In the essay, “Making An Apology,” Nong A starts out discussing how it can be seen on Japanese TV that every time the Japanese make a mistake, they get on their knees and acknowledge their mistake, feeling very badly.  In contrast, chinese people love keeping face and maintaining their reputation, so when they make a mistake, they are generally shy about acknowledging it, don’t want to kneel or ask for forgiveness.

“Snacks” explains more about street food in Nong A’s childhood hometown, such as the way children would buy sweet porridge that was just simply white rice gruel with red dates added.  In Hong Kong, street food includes types of beef, fish eggs, fermented tofu, stinky tofu, cold fruit, coconut water, chestnuts, etc.  Schools also have many types of snacks around.

Dim Sum 2

Cartoon Page from The Dim Sum Anthology

The essay “Boiling Water to Make Tea” begins with Nong A drinking tea in a teahouse with a friend.  They steep some tea, but it’s so light that it tastes nearly the same as plain boiling water.  The author goes on to explain that with work becoming busier, there is less time to read books, and one’s circle of friends gets narrower.  It gets into the finer points of boiling water for tea and how fragrant and pleasant it is.

The second to the last section, “Nature Writings,” has 15 essays.  “Little Dog” describes the author seeing a little dog playing outside the school doors some mornings.  It comes down the road beside some of the students and gets honked at by cars.  Nong A explains that some immature animals are looked upon with great affection, such as kittens, little monkeys, baby tigers and lions.  The essay compares older animals with baby animals, then looks at how human children are similar.

The final section, “Art & Literary Writings,” has 19 essays, but I’m going to skip this part and not look at any essays from it since it is a little more abstract.  On the whole, this is a cute book that has some light, student-friendly content.

Part two of a two part series.

Next time:  We will look at new Sanrio webcomics, Ichigoman and Funny Kuromi-chan!

 

 

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2017 July-August Schedule

I have been notified that the following week on July 15th at Anime Mini I will be presenting two panels “The Tale of Genji New Reader Introduction” and “Godzilla, Kaiju Eiga and the Amazing Toho Studios.”  Exact speaking times are still to be determined.  Details on the event, which will be held in Greensburg, can be found here:

http://www.animemini.org/

The tentative schedule for Confluence has also been circulating.  I am scheduled for six presentations on Friday August 4th and Saturday August 5th.  Friday evening I will be sitting on panel discussions for “Canines & Civilization” and “Who Will Colonize the Solar System?”  Saturday I kick off the day with a solo presentation “The Great Asian Space Race,” then I’ll be holding a kaffeeklatch/joint author meet and greet with Larry Ivkovich discussing the topic “Asian and European Fantasy Worlds.”  You can read about Larry’s writing career at his website:

https://www.larryivkovich.com/

He’s promoting his new installment of the Spirit Winds novels.

Then I will be on a panel discussion for “So What Am I Missing By Not Watching Anime?”  My final presentation for the weekend will be a joint book reading with Michael Arnzen, a multi-award winning Seton Hill creative writing instructor/horror author.  I’ll be reading from my novel The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, and he will be reading selections of his horror flash fiction and poetry.

http://michaelarnzen.com/
http://gorelets.com/

It should be an exciting month!

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Short Readings for Students from a Hong Kong Newspaper – The Dim Sum Anthology, Part 1

After that long series on the Korean martyrs, I’m going to do a few short series to get back on schedule.  First up is a collection of stories from the 1980s focusing on light, mundane topics such as school children, The Dim Sum Anthology, by Nong A (阿濃的“點心集 ”).  Reading a little more of the background to this collection of short essays, I’m not sure the title of the anthology is actually referring to desserts, but it’s the best I can do.  Nong A wrote for a time on the education page of the Hua Qiao Ri Bao, 華僑日報, a newspaper dedicated to high school and college news.  When a new editor came to the helm of the paper, Nong A was then asked to write short, education-focused essays.  These essays were later published in at least three anthologies since they were so popular, the first of which was compiled and published in 1980.  Selling over 200,000 copies, these anthologies are often read by middle school children in Hong Kong.

This particular anthology I am reading was published in 2012 and runs 262 pages with a very cute cartoon cover sketches and some sweet paintings on a few of the interior pages. A copy can be purchased here:

http://www.yesasia.com/us/dian-xin-ji/1031224691-0-0-0-en/info.html

Dim Sum Cover

Cover Art for The Dim Sum Anthology

The anthology is split into 8 sections of single page essays running about 5 to ten paragraphs in length, and each section is color coded on semi-glossy paper with beautiful calligraphy and lightly printed hearts and cartoons softly framing the text on each page.  It’s a very high quality publication; the section title pages and table of contents are very beautifully colored and arranged, so the book is clearly meaningful to the reading public for such effort to be put into the design.

This time I’ll cover the first four sections: school writings, student-teacher writings, mother & father writings, and son & daughter writings.  Part 1, “School Writings,” has 18 essays and opens with the essay “At the Window.”  This essay is about a student who is sitting by the classroom window, not listening to the teacher’s lecture.  The unnamed student is lost in his daydreams and is distracted by things outside of the window, such as bugs and firetrucks.  The teacher tries calling on him, but the entire class’ attention is now drawn out the window too!

In the essay “Morning,” Nong A describes a rainy morning where the elementary school age children come in and are afraid that traffic will delay them arriving back at home on time after school.  The school decides to let them out early due to the weather and the crowded transportation system.

Dim Sum 1

An Interior Cartoon in The Dim Sum Anthology

In “Eradication,” the author describes a time when they were a young child during a dangerous epidemic of cowpox and maybe smallpox too.  Two students suffering from these illnesses were in class, and everyone curiously examined their symptoms, though Nong A tried not to be so insensitive and embarrass the ill students.  Later when becoming a teacher and relating this epidemic, Nong A was also wary of the possibility that someone in the class might be ill with these diseases and didn’t want to cause them lose their dignity through careless discussion.  However after decades of teaching higher level classes, she never encountered more students with these diseases.  She reads in the newspaper that smallpox took ten billion lives, but now it has been eradicated around the globe.

The essay “The Staircase” shows teachers gathering up their stuff and going out to the staircase after the class period ends, describing how the staircase connects the playground to five other stories; most of the essay describes how the age of the teachers makes taking the stairs more challenging for them and that they have to pause often on the way to the top floor because they are easily out of breath.

The last essay I’m going to review out of this section is “The Beard.”  It describes a holiday TV item on the school switching to a new educational method that has created a lively situation there.  The headmaster, teachers and students all appeared on the spot, and the big news is that the headmaster has grown a beard.  The essay gets into how stylish his beard is and how only some of the teachers and students who had beards wore them in such a fashionable way.  The students tell Nong A that they really liked the atmosphere of the school because of this new freedom.

Part 2, “Student-Teacher Writings,” has 32 essays, and the first we’ll look at titled “On Stage” kicks off this section.  This essay is about student participation in the school choir, the harmonious impression the students give that can’t easily be attributed to things like the music or teaching alone, and the happiness of parents and teachers after watching the students perform.

In the essay “The Gift,” the day before Christmas, the students decide they don’t need to bring their bookbags because there will be a carnival at school.  On the day of the carnival, every student looks in their gift envelopes, which are given to them to motivate them to work hard.  However, the teacher doesn’t give envelopes to class troublemakers.

Another interesting essay, “Tears and Mathematics,” starts off describing what time Nong A rises and goes for the train to make the first class and what time Nong A goes to bed in order to get a full seven hours of sleep at night.  However, Nong A’s oldest son regularly has a substantial amount of math homework that delays Nong A’s bedtime, which gets them both upset since Nong A isn’t in a great mood that late at night and can’t seem to get the oldest son to comprehend any explanations Nong A might give.  The son can’t make it through about 20 of the 100 questions assigned as homework and needs Nong A’s help to complete.  Nong A ends up shouting at and scolding the son, which makes him burst into tears.

The last essay I want to look at in this section, “Enemy,” mentions how on the first day of class, Nong A unknowingly makes enemies of some of the students.   These kids don’t listen to the lesson and disrupt the class so others can’t either.  The teacher wants to punish them, and the kids always seem on the verge of a fistfight, though one never starts.  On the day of an examination, Nong A comes to appreciate these students better.

The book’s next part, “Mother & Father Writings,” has 17 essays.   The essay “Loss” is about parents enduring the birth of their daughter and seeing it as a sort of liberation.  Each of the child’s milestones, like starting to walk or crossing the street, is also seen as liberation.  However, when their daughter is old enough to be independent and work a job, the parents feel a sense of loss.  More fierce emotions are stirred as the father gives away his daughter in marriage.

“Rough Hands” talks about a small conflict between a friend’s wife and young daughter that pops up when they go with a neighbor’s wife to shop at the market.  When the little girl is very interested in their trip, the neighbor takes her by the hand.  After they return home, the little girl comments how much she liked the neighbor’s hand since it was soft, unlike her mother’s rough hands, which she doesn’t like.  The mother tries to explain how her hands became rough after years of work, but she ends up thinking back to her own childhood about the time when her grandmother tried to warm her during cold weather with her rough hands.

The last essay in this section that I want to look at is “Manners.”  This essay notes that everyone scolds children who lack manners, yet there seems to be an observable difference between what is considered bad manners in children when compared with adult behavior.  The example it gives is the use of the phone word for “hello,” wei (喂).  Children say it to each other, adults say it to other adult friends, adults say it to children, all with no problem.  But when children say it to adults, it is considered impolite.

The last part I want to cover this time is part 4, “Son & Daughter Writings,” which has 15 essays.  “Fathers” relates how as they enter school young children see their fathers as important personalities that they adore, especially young boys.  Their father is their role model.  As the school years progress, the father’s position starts to decline until he is despised and his opinions are considered “old.”  Only when the children themselves have their own children does their opinion of their father take a turn for the better.

Nong A does talk some in a few essays here about classical and popular writings.  In this section, the author references Dream of Red Mansions, and two of the essays in this section reference the holiday for Wang Sima and his work, the four-panel manga Niuzai which ran for a ten year period.  I’m not going to delve into those essays, but here is a link showing some of Wang’s work on Niuzai:

http://daaaer80.blogspot.hk/2013/12/blog-post_15.html

Next time I’ll finish up this compilation.  It really seems to be a nice, light selection of readings that would be good for intermediate level Chinese language students.

Part one of a two part series

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Summer Appearance Schedule for 2017

My summer schedule is shaping up to be very busy.  I just had confirmation that I will be selling my books and artwork in Artist Alley at this year’s Anthrocon, in addition to speaking there for the first time on July 2nd at 1PM on Hello Kitty.

https://www.anthrocon.org/node/36149/2017-schedule-online

That event runs from June 29th through July 2nd.

I will be appearing and probably reading at a Confluence promotional event on July 8th at Nine Stories Bookstore from 2-4PM.

http://ninestoriespgh.com/

July 15th is the summer conference for Anime Mini in Greensburg this year:

http://www.animemini.org/

I’m waiting to hear back on whether I’ll be speaking at that event too.  My Korean class project, the Enlightened Rabbit Scholastic Society, is now a sponsor of their events.

Later in the summer, I’ll be speaking at Confluence, the local conference for science fiction and genre writers held August 4-6, 2017.  Right now the schedule is being put together, so I will have a complete list of presentations and panels that I will be participating in soon.

http://parsec-sff.org/confluence/

The following weekend, I’ll be selling my books at Steel City Con, which already has a nice line-up of appearances by stars of classic TV:

https://www.steelcitycon.com/

More details will be forthcoming!

 

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After Several Lives in the Sea of Suffering She Had Purified the Waves – Journey to the West, Part 2

Now that I am finished working on my Korean textbook, I can catch up on the Literati corner as well.  This post will cover volume 2 of Journey to the West in my edition, which includes chapters 16 through 33.  I apologize for being so late, but I had a couple of delays with my workload, and a few unexpected opportunities to develop my overflow blog came up that took more time than expected.

Picking up with chapter 16, we launch into some of my favorite parts of the novel.  Sanzang and Monkey arrive at the Chan Monastery of Guanyin and greet the crowd of monks coming out to the gate.  Sanzang explains his task in going to the east and asks if they can stay the night because it’s getting late.  The strange monsterly aspect of Monkey startles the monks as Sanzang hastily explains Monkey is his disciple.  While Sanzang goes in to pray to Guanyin, Monkey sees to the horse and luggage then acts in more inappropriate ways that upsets the monks further.

After dinner, Sanzang meets the elderly head monk and admires the lavish accommodations.  Monkey pipes up that they also have a special treasure, a cassock that they were taking with them to the east.  Eyeing Monkey greedily, they get him to agree to show it to them as they display their own collection of cassocks made with brocade and silk with gold embroidery.  Sanzang is appalled by the show:

Sanzang drew Monkey aside and whispered to him, “Disciple, never try to compete with other people’s wealth.  You and I are alone in this foreign land, and I’m afraid there may be trouble.” “What trouble can come from letting him look at the cassock?” Monkey asked.  “You don’t understand,” Sanzang replied.  “The ancients used to say, ‘Don’t let greedy and treacherous men see rare or amusing things.’ If he lays his eyes on it, his mind will be disturbed, and if his mind is disturbed, he’s bound to start scheming.  If you were cautious, you would only have let him see it if he’d insisted: but as it is, this is no trifling matter, and may well be the end of us.” (p. 541)

The description of the cassock Sanzang is carrying is indeed splendid, and it is purported to have supernatural powers:

If it is worn, all demons are extinguished;

When donned it sends all monsters down to hell.

It was made by the hands of heavenly Immortals,

And none but a true monk should dare put it on. (p. 543)

JTTW 1

Chinese TV Version of Journey to the West

As Sanzang fears, the head monk covets the cassock and schemes to steal it, and his monks decide the best way to get it is to kill Sanzang and Monkey in their sleep.  One comes up with a plot to burn them to death by setting fire to the hall where they are sleeping so their deaths could be blamed on their own carelessness.

Although Sanzang and he had gone to bed, the magical Monkey’s spirit remained alert and his eyes half open even when he was asleep.  His suspicions were aroused by the sound of people moving around outside and the rustling of firewood in the breeze.  “Why can I hear footsteps in the still of the night?” he wondered.  “Perhaps bandits are planning to murder us.”…he used his miraculous powers to turn himself into a bee with a shake of his body. (pp. 547-8)

Monkey notices the monks’ activities and rushes to see a few denizens of Heaven whom he can appeal to for aid.  Borrowing a magical cloak, he rushes back to save Sanzang.  A monster, a Bear Spirit, living nearby is disturbed by the fire, but when he arrives to help put it out, he sees the cassock, is enthralled with it, and flees with it immediately.  The temple has burned to the ground by morning; only the few rooms around Sanzang remain intact.  The head monk kills himself, while his disciples are terrified of Sanzang and Monkey.

Meanwhile Monkey discovers the Bear Spirit monster in Black Wind Cave nearby is a potential culprit in the theft of the cassock.  Monkey goes to Black Wind Cave to retrieve it, and spying on the fiends who live there, he confirms that they have it.  Monkey immediately attacks them but doesn’t succeed against them in spite of his attempts to use his favorite magical tricks.  Frustrated, Monkey goes to seek out Guanyin herself where she resides in the Southern Sea to appeal to her directly.  The Bodhisattva is less than moved by his entreaties for help.

“What nonsense, you ape,” the Bodhisattva retorted.  “Even if a bear spirit has stolen your cassock, what business have you to ask me to go and demand it for you?  It all happened because you wanted to show it off, you big-headed and evil baboon, in front of petty-minded people.  On top of that, in your wickedness you called up the wind to spread the fire that burnt down my monastery.  And now you have the nerve to try your tricks here.” (p. 595)

However, she agrees to go help Sanzang.  After some discussion, Guanyin disguises herself as an evil spirit with her powers to go ahead with their plan and trick the Bear Spirit.  It works, and Monkey returns to Sanzang with the cassock.

They next day they resume their journey and come upon a village Old Gao where they plan to look for lodging.  Monkey encounters a man there who explains the plight of his clan member whose daughter was forced to marry an evil spirit.  The spirit now has her in captivity.  Monkey offers to help.  Sanzang and Monkey pay the father a visit and hear the story of how his daughter Blue Orchid became the wife of a monster.

JTTW 2

Monkey rescues Blue Orchid and uses his magic to disguise himself as her and waits for the monster to come home.  When their confrontation comes, the monster’s true heavenly identity is revealed, and he explains how he was punished as pig-monster Zhu Ganglie as a result.  He has been adding wealth to his in-laws, which Monkey cannot argue with in spite of what the Gao’s have said about him.  Monkey realizes the Gao just want to get rid of Zhu for the sake of appearances and that their position is unjust.

Finally, the situation is resolved when Pig reveals that Guanyin has converted him and asked him to wait for Sanzang to come along.  He is to accompany Sanzang on the way to fetch the scriptures in the West.  Sanzang formally accepts him as a disciple, and they move on, meeting a hermit and various monsters that the two disciples have to fight off. Monkey does more of his famous magic transformations:

As Monkey wanted to win glory he used an ‘extra body’ trick: plucking a hair out, he chewed it into little bits, blew them all out, and shouted, ‘Change!’ They turned into well over a hundred Monkeys, all dressed like him and wielding iron cudgels.  They surrounded the monster in mid-air, and in his fright he countered with a trick of his own.” (p. 699)

Monkey has to visit the Bodhisattva Lingji to get control over one of the monsters holding Sanzang in captivity.  When the company encounters an evil spirit in a very wide river they can’t figure out how to cross, they have to appeal to Guanyin for help, and they add another, final disciple to their group, Friar Sand.

Their next adventure is precipitated by Pig’s inability to forego any comfort when they try to find somewhere nice to sleep.  This leads them to a mansion where a widow lives with her three unmarried daughters, and the widow decides the four monks in their company would make good husbands for all of the women in the household!  As expected, Pig falls into their trap and discusses with the widow privately which of the daughters he should marry, and when he can’t decide, he offers to marry all of them!  This offer also emphasizes his greed, but before they settle the marriage question, Pig finds himself hog-tied in a trap!  However, it all proves to be an illusion, Guanyin’s test of their resolve in the religious vows they made.  The companions wake up to find the mansion gone, replaced by a grove of trees.  Alarmed, they go in search of Pig, and when they find him, they continue on to a Taoist temple in the mountains.

This temple is renown for its miraculous tree where manfruit grow and ripen every 10,000 years.  Shaped just like human newborns, the tree only produces a limited number at any time, and when the companions arrive, it only has 29.  The fruit bestows tens of thousands of years of immortality on anyone who eats or smells it.  However, Sanzang and his disciples are unsure what sort of temple this is at first, and the immortal who is its head is away.  He leaves his attendants instructions to serve Sanzang two of the manfruit, and when they try, Sanzang mistakes them for human babies and is outraged at the suggestion he should eat them.  The attendants take the manfruit back to their rooms to eat before the fruit goes bad, but Pig overhears them and suggests to Monkey they get some of the manfruit to try for themselves.  Given Monkey’s trouble-making past full of stolen magical fruit, he quickly comes up with a plan.

When he had crossed the vegetable garden he saw yet another gate, and when he opened it there was a huge tree in front of him with fragrant branches and shade-giving green leaves shaped rather like those of plantains.  The tree was about a thousand feet high, and its trunk was some seventy or eighty feet round.  Monkey leant against it and looked up, and on a branch that was pointing south he saw a manfruit, which really did look just like a newborn child. The stem came from its bottom, and as it hung from the branch its hands and feet waved wildly around and it shook its head.  Monkey was thoroughly delighted…”. (p.813)

JTTW 3

Once he gets the knack of harvesting them, he brings down three and summons Friar Sand to join them.  Pig eats his too fast and causes such a commotion trying to get the fruit from the other two, the attendants overhear, and suspicious, they discover the theft and insult an oblivious Sanzang.  Monkey finally admits to the crime, but when the attendants get too abusive, he angrily goes out and destroys the tree, losing all of the manfruit remaining on it.  The attendants are terrified at the sight of the ruined tree.

JTTW 4

The Intact Manfruit Tree

Sanzang and his disciples flee before they can be arrested by the attendants, but when the immortal returns and hears what happens, he pursues them and forces Monkey to try to make amends.  Monkey has three days to find a way to heal the tree or else Sanzang will be harmed.  As it is, the immortal has Monkey flogged and attempts to boil the disciples in oil.  Monkey appeals to Guanyin for help when his other immortal friends tell him they have no cure whatsoever for the tree.  After he admits he destroyed the tree in a fit of anger, she offers him her vase of dew that can knit the tree back together.  Arriving back at the temple, they go through a ritual and restore not only the tree but also the remaining manfruit.  Everyone is so happy that they have a banquet, eating more manfruit, including Sanzang who finally understands what they are.

The next story arc presents a conflict between Sanzang’s ethics and Monkey’s immortal perceptions.  As they attempt to cross another mountain, the local evil spirit decides to toy with them by appearing as a beautiful girl offering food to Sanzang, but Monkey sees through her to her true identity and kills her, but Sanzang is unconvinced she isn’t human.  As the spirit’s antics get him into more and more trouble with Sanzang, he is thrown out of the group and returns to his mountain to save his former monkey subjects from Erlang.

Meanwhile, Sanzang gets into a lot of trouble that Pig and Friar Sand can’t save him from.  The monster that holds him captive to eat has also kidnapped a princess from a nearby kingdom and forced her to be his wife.  She sends a letter with Sanzang when she helps him escape, and back at her father’s court, Sanzang gives him information that he can use to rescue his daughter.  Aggravated by his wife’s apparent betrayal, the monster gets the idea he should transform into a handsome man and present himself to his father-in-law to gain his acceptance.

Even though his father-in-law knows he is a demon, the monster confuses everyone by suggesting that a tiger demon has killed Sanzang and taken his place, and it is now at the court deceiving the king!  The king believes him, imprisoning Sanzang, but during a banquet, the demon loses him composure, gets drunk, and starts eating one of the female servants.  Pig and Friar Sand can’t help Sanzang, but the rumor about Sanzang being a demon reaches the White Horse tethered outside, who is actually the dragon prince.  Angered by this lie, seeing that the other disciples haven’t been able to save Sanzang, he transforms himself into a beautiful woman to confront the demon, which results in him becoming seriously wounded during the confrontation.  The White Dragon sends Pig to fetch Monkey since the three of them have failed.

The last few chapters in this volume shows Pig trying to convince Monkey to come back to serve Sanzang, save Sanzang from the monster, and continue along their journey.  The final chapter shows Monkey trapped again under a mountain, waiting for Prince Nezha to rescue him.

Part two of a six part series.

 

 

 

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New Korean Language Guide Available for Purchase

Finally, I finished my new project, my first non-fiction language book, Lady Xiansa’s Guide to Beginning Korean, which is now available in paperback on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Lady-Xiansas-Guide-Beginning-Korean/dp/1542522234/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496408800&sr=8-1&keywords=lady+xiansa%27s+guide+to+beginning+korean

 

Koren Guide Cover Copy

My Korean Language Textbook Cover

I could have named it just Beginning Korean or something equally utilitarian, but I thought this had more pizazz and stood out better using my Lady Xiansa handle to reference this blog.  This book is available to the public, not just to my private students, and I hope it will be a valuable resource.  I wrote the textbook using an inductive language learning method instead of a more popular format –  after 12 years of teaching ESL I have a particular hatred of cloze exercises – and I tried to avoid putting together a book that would make my eyes glaze over.  My new book isn’t really a self-study textbook but more of a reference that should give students a good foundation.  I will use a lot more supplemental materials in my classes.  Right now, I have four classes available, and I’m going to be starting to prepare my class on North Korea next.  Like my Korean history class, this one will be heavy reading, but if you want an in depth look at the wild and wacky history of the world’s most notorious totalitarian society, this class will be right up your alley.

Additionally, I am planning a new project that I hope to start publishing on my class blog soon at the Enlightened Rabbit Scholastic Society site, and that will be a bilingual Korean-English novel delivered in microchapters called Sohyeon After Midnight (소현 자정이 지나면).  It’s shaping up to be a horror-fantasy novel with some Lovcraftian influence, and since it will be in two languages, it will be a little something for everyone.  For monolingual English speakers, you can just read the English; for Korean language students, you can look at the parallel construction of the novel and decide if it works; and for Korean language natives, you get the added entertainment value of watching a foreigner struggle to write in your language.  I don’t pretend that I’ll get it right all of the time, though I will strive to do a good job.  I want to have a good time with it.

There is actually some good pedagogy behind this bilingual novel project.  One exercise they recommended when I taught ESL was student-produced texts, which made room for student errors as part of the process.  So I’m going to lead by example here, though creating a bilingual novel from the ground up isn’t the same as just translating a novel into another language, not by a longshot, so it is an interesting project to tackle.  Details on that will be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, I’m pushing ahead on my webcomic related to The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak on my overflow blog.  That story will shift in another 20 pages or so to the next ghost story in the series of four stories that the webcomic will encompass.  The current one is exploring a major character’s reaction to the aftermath of the novel’s historical massacre, but the next ghost story will shift to a creepy, gothic stepwell.  For those who are unfamiliar with Indian stepwells or my novel, I have a whole mythology in my novel built around one that is based on this famous structure in Gujarat and others like it around India.  Here are some photos of it:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/922/gallery/

1024px-rani_ki_vav_02

The Rani Ki Vav, Photo By Bernard Gagnon

I intend on getting caught up again on this blog in the next month or so, too, because I want to be in a certain place with it when I speak at Anthrocon during the Fourth of July weekend.  You can get details for the event here:

http://www.anthrocon.org/

This will mark my first year speaking for their event, and my topic will be Hello Kitty.  I will probably also have a table in artist alley where you can get my books and some of my artwork.

I have a number of other events in the works coming up this summer, so stay tuned!

 

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