2017 Fall Announcements!

I’m a little behind on making my announcements ever since the film festival last month and the last minute Greensburg Anime Festival went forward under difficult circumstances, but I do have some news to share.  This week on Tuesday, October 17th at 7PM, I will be presenting “Noir East and West” at the Monroeville Library in Monroeville, PA, which is one of my usual places.

Looking further down the road, I’ll be at the Sangawa Project in Greentree again in December, and more details will be forthcoming on that schedule in the next month.  In January, I will be speaking at Parsec on January 13th, 2018 at 1:30PM at the Squirrel Hill Library on “East Asian Archaeoastronomy.”  Details on Parsec can be found here:

http://parsec-sff.org/

I recently rolled out my North Korea online class for anyone interested and still am hoping to get my Korean War class ready to go by year’s end.  That will make it six classes on Korean language and history that I have prepped and available for private students to sign up for.  Details can be found here:

https://enlightenedrabbit.wordpress.com/

I also have plans to publish another interview with a prominent translator on my other afilliate blog, The Sun Rises in the East, around the holidays or new year, so be on the lookout for that.  I will try to keep this blog on target so I can start the new year with my fresh schedule, so I plan on doing a book a month in my cycle and not including December in the Literati Corner like it normally is.  I got a bit behind preparing my courses this year, and that threw me off schedule more than usual.

 

 

 

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Memories of Grandfather and the Garden Pine Tree – Year of Impossible Goodbyes, Part 1

The next book I’m going to look at is The Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sukryeol Choi (최 숙렬의 떠나보낼 수 없는 세월), which I believe has also been translated into English under that title.  The literal translation would be something like The Time When You Can’t Let Go, so the official title is a pretty close approximation of the meaning.  Of course, I’m reading the Korean language original since that serves the purposes of this blog better.  This book was originally written in 1991, and it is 253 pages long.  It looks to be a young adult novel based on her own family history fleeing what later became North Korea.  You can get a copy here in Korean (I think they also sell the English translation somewhere at this site, too):

http://www.hanbooks.com/yeofimgo.html

The book is split into ten chapters with numbered titles only and has some front and back matter, too, along with some really nice black and white illustrations.  In the preface for Korean readers, the author notes that her American students in a class she taught twenty years ago asked about her life in Korea.  However, she had fearsome memories of barbed wire that made it too painful to discuss.  Although her students demanded she write about her life, she only started writing this book after her husband died suddenly.

Chapter 1 begins in the spring of 1945 in a garden with an old pine tree.  We are introduced to the author’s grandfather and a mention of the sound of gunshots and the Japanese in Pyongyang’s Kirimri district.  The inhabitants of this area have a fiercely cold winter in their hearts in spite of spring’s coming because of Japanese oppression.  At this point in Korean history, Japanese colonialism was only about four months away from ending.  The Japanese would surrender to the Allies in August of that year, effectively ending their rule in Korea.

YOIG 20001

The author explains her brothers’ names all include the character for “spring” using the Chinese pronunciation in Korean for the word – like Japanese, Korean has a parallel system to pronounce hanja: the hun (訓) pronunciation that is a native Korean word, and the eum (音) pronunciation that is borrowed from Chinese.  She has three older brothers, Hanchun, Jaechun, Hyeonchun, and a younger brother, Inchun.  She describes all of the different types of spring they are named after.

The men’s quarters of their house looks out onto the walled garden.  The author’s grandfather invites her to go sit under the pine tree and meditate with him, but her mother wonders why he wants to all of the sudden since it’s cold out.   Her grandfather says his idea to go out into the garden isn’t something sudden, he has been thinking about it awhile, and today the Japanese soldiers can’t lock him in. Then he goes out to sit under the pine tree as planned.

The next few pages describe the tranquil scene with her grandfather sitting under the tree in the sunlight-filled garden.  The author watches him as he conducts his Zen meditation there.  She eventually goes out to sit beside him under the tree.  The village ladies call her grandfather “the patriot grandfather” or “the scholar grandfather.” He wrote letters and poetry in Chinese characters, which the author studied with him.  He also owns very old Chinese classical books.  Her mother works in a sock factory that is apparently in a wooden building near their home, and she would send word to her grandfather if the Japanese police were coming around since it was illegal for them to study hangul and Chinese characters.  When the author was eleven, she was forced to go to Japanese school.  Her family was waiting for the war to end so they could stop sending her there.

While the author and her grandfather are in the garden meditating, the head of the Japanese police named Narita enters the garden since the door is open.  His manner is cold and arrogant.  He asks why they haven’t yet gone to pay their respects at the Shinto shrine.  Her mother answers him in Japanese and promises they will go immediately.   One of the factory younger women Hyewon comes by every day to talk with the family early and is there shortly after the soldier.  Hyewon and the author’s mother discuss the Japanese and their odd belief that their emperor is a god.  They are interrupted by an older woman named Tiger who talks about how the war will be over soon and the Japanese removed.  A younger woman named Okja arrives and sits down with them.

When the bell rings at the factory, the author goes with the women to work, feeling a bit of resentment toward her younger brother for the time he gets to spend with their grandfather.  The women at the factory tell her stories, and the factory engineer is the only male among the workers.  The engineer is rather young and handsome, while the author’s mother is considered one of the village beauties.  He acts as a father figure for their household since their father is absent.

This chapter is a mix of nostalgia for the past and a portrait of the tight-knit village community with acknowledgement of the oppressive tendencies of the Japanese colonial soldiers, who trample her grandfather’s flower garden.  The author spends her time reading her grandfather’s traditional Chinese books while her younger brother studies his mother’s fairy tale books.  At one point, the author and her mother contemplate her grandmother’s silver hairpin, and the chapter ends with them anticipating the end of the war.

Chapter 2 skips ahead to June when the author goes with Tiger and her mother to a convent where her sister Teresa lives.  Teresa was the firstborn among the children of their household, and she became a nun when when the author was very young.  The author is eager to meet with her and the other sisters at the convent, which is a little dangerous since the Japanese police issue very harsh punishments regarding participation in their Shinto rites.  The women ask the prioress to pray for the defeat of the Japanese in the war.

Back home, the author and her family have a small birthday party for Hyewon.  The first half of this chapter paints a warm portrait of the family living day to day.   Then Officer Narita intrudes on this domestic scene by stopping off on his patrol with his men during dinner.  After disrupting the birthday party, Narita sends two Korean collaborators to the house the next morning to chop down their favorite pine tree.  The chapter ends with a scene of the author sitting in the garden by the pine tree stump with her younger brother Inchun.

YOIG 10001

In chapter 3, the story continues the next morning  when the children go with their mother and Tiger to see their grandfather, who is sick and has taken to his bed.  He hasn’t gone out to the garden to meditate and looks gaunt and pale.  When they go to his room, he tells their mother to take out his box of old photos to teach the children about the past.  They look at black and white photos showing how he was a scholar decades before and studied in China.  They also learn that when the Japanese took over that he was forced to cut off his topknot.

In other photos, the children learn that their grandfather was part of the independence movement in Manchuria, which was where their parents married.  The family produced a newspaper in Hangul there.  Her mother and father were also photographed with a number of people dressed in Chinese clothes.  Her mother points out a Chinese friend named Ling who taught her Chinese.  Other photos show their first four children born in China, including Teresa and the family’s three older brothers, Maryknoll priests and going caroling.  Some of the children were baptized there.  They had to leave China when the war started, though they didn’t really want to.  Here is a short history of the Maryknoll order’s activities in the Far East:

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

Specifically, the author’s parents and grandfather left Manchuria after the Japanese burned their house down.

Her grandfather remains bedridden through the end of the chapter due to some problem with his legs.  Everyone is angry and crying, particularly at the Japanese soldiers and Officer Narita, and the old pine tree stump becomes a focal point.  As the story creeps toward the war’s end, we’ll see how their family’s fortunes change.

Part one of a two part series.

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Even the Vegetable Spirits Had Taken Him Along For a Night of Elegant Conversation – Journey to the West, Part 4

In this post, I will cover volume 4 out of 6 of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West in my bilingual Chinese-English edition, which includes chapters 51 through 67, translated by W.J.F. Jenner.  Before I get back to the story, I have a page scan of the text for people who haven’t ever used a bilingual edition of any foreign language book to see how it is laid out, at least in this edition.

JTTW Page Scan

Page Scan of Bilingual Edition from Hunan People’s Publishing House

Some bilingual editions have them side to side like this so you can do a text comparison, while others have whole chapters presented first in one language, then in the other language directly behind it, alternating between languages.  That’s what I’ve seen for Chinese bilingual texts.  Some popular dead languages also present them as interlinear texts, with the original language in the top line and the translation in English in the line directly under it, usually out of grammatical order.  It’s not a bad way to study languages, and it can be quite helpful for people who want exposure to the original text in another language without being overwhelmed by it if their skill level in reading is still low.  This text, of course, is in simplified Chinese since it was published in mainland China.

We pick up in the middle of the story that ended volume 3, but I’m going to skip that to get to the next, really interesting story arc in chapter 53.  This story arc ends with Monkey going to Heaven to get reinforcements to free Sanzang from yet another group of demons, and this time he is also summoned to a brief audience with the Buddha.

The next story arc that starts in chapter 53 is their spring journey.  I don’t think I pointed out before that the pace of the story seems artificially frenetic because it covers the conflicts during their journey.  Between each segment, the author describes in a few short sentences how much time has passed uneventfully.

It starts off with the party accepting a ride across a clear river by an old ferrywoman.  She offers them a drink, which Sanzang and Pig take her up on, but they develop stomach aches by the time they reach the shore, and their stomachs are swelling.  They stop at a cottage where another old woman clues them in to their predicament:

“This is Womanland of Western Liang.  All of us in this country are female, and there isn’t a man among us, which is why we were so pleased to see you.  It’s terrible that the reverend father has drunk from that river, which is called the Motherhood River.  There is a Male-welcoming Post Station outside our capital with a Pregnancy-revealing Spring.  In this country we only dare to drink of the river’s water when we reach the age of twenty.  After drinking it we feel the stomach pains of pregnancy.  Three days later we go to the Pregnancy-revealing Spring at the Male-welcoming Post Station.  If we see a double reflection in the waters we give birth to a child.  Because your master has drunk from the Motherhood River he’s pregnant. He’s going to have a baby soon.” (Journey to the West, p. 1747)

The old woman tells them they have to go to the Miscarriage Spring to drink the water that will abort the babies.  However, a Taoist immortal has taken up residence there and requires anyone who wants to drink from the waters to pay an exorbitant fee.

They send Monkey to approach the Taoist immortal, but he doesn’t get what he wants since he hasn’t brought any of the rich items the immortal wants in exchange for the water.  He returns to Sanzang empty-handed, hoping to take Friar Sand back with him to steal the water while Monkey fights the immortal.  Sanzang objects to them leaving him and Pig in such a vulnerable state, but their host suggests they are safe in this household, even if other households in the city with younger women would have subjected them to rape.

After a scuffle, Monkey and Friar Sand return with the water, and Pig and Sanzang drink it and go through physical agony.  The old woman keeps the rest of the water from the Miscarriage Spring and buries it.  Meanwhile, the men leave the cottage and continue through the country.

They approach another city full of women, who stop and stare at them since the travelers are all men.  Sanzang and Pig are in a panic at the sudden interest from the crowd of women.  An official from the Male-welcoming Post Station stops them and brings them to a safe place while she goes to their queen to inform her of their arrival.  The queen, it turns out, has had a dream, and she decides that Sanzang should marry her and become King of Womanland.  She tells her to send his disciples on their way.

When the official relays this message to Sanzang and his disciples, Sanzang objects, but Pig offers to stay and marry her.  However, Monkey agrees to the official’s request, explaining later to an upset Sanzang that they have to play along for awhile at least to get their traveling papers back.  For once, Monkey has to lecture Sanzang on why it is inappropriate to kill all of the people here, people who unlike Monkey’s earlier victims are not demons at all but who are human!  Monkey explains how they will use the marriage ceremony to make their getaway once they get their travel papers back.

The queen agrees to prepare the banquet first but wants Sanzang to ride in the carriage with her.  Sanzang is turned into a frightened jellyfish in her presence, however, after they feast, he requests that she delay no further in stamping their papers and returning their passports.  She bids him to introduce his disciples and wonders why their names aren’t on the documents.  Then she delays again, which gives a random woman in the crowd the opportunity to grab Sanzang and transform herself into a whirlwind to carry him off without a trace.  The disciples immediately go after the whirlwind on their floating clouds to save him.

When they reach the cave where Sanzang has been taken, Monkey turns into a bee to spy on them, but he gets chased out.  Sanzang then is forced to confront the she-devil who decides she wants to marry him, too, and takes him to her bed chamber.  Later, Monkey turns back into a bee to see how Sanzang is faring, but ultimately Guan Yin has to intervene to make things right again.

The next story arc runs from chapter 56 through 58.  They are traveling toward the mountains in summer this time, and when Sanzang rides ahead of his disciples, he comes across a small battalion of armed men.  Sanzang is terrified by the sight of them and nearly falls off his horse.  They try to rob him, though he warns them they’ll be sorry when his disciples catch up with him.  There is a lot of bickering when they arrive, but ultimately Monkey kills a few of the bandits and scatters the rest.  Sanzang and Monkey then bicker about Monkey’s behavior.  This sets the entire company against one another as they continue to travel.  They end up meeting one of the bandits’ parents, which brings up the possibility that Monkey killed their son.

It turns out that the son is alive, and when he brings the bandits there, his parents encourage Sanzang to flee before he is discovered.  The bandits, however, catch up with them.  Monkey kills enough of them to get Sanzang angry at him and throw him out again, and Sanzang tightening his band around his head exponentially tighter.  Monkey stomps off and decides to put in a complaint with Guan Yin about this mistreatment, though Guan Yin agrees somewhat with Sanzang since Monkey is only allowed to kill demons and spirits, not humans, even if they are bandits.

The scene shifts back to Sanzang, who has another attack of thirst, so Pig goes in search of water, aided by Friar Sand.  When they return, they find Sanzang on the ground, injured, and the horse roaming around without their packs.  Sanzang says Monkey attacked and robbed him.  Furious, Friar Sand goes in search of him at the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, where he is holding court with his little flock of monkeys.  They have a few words, and Monkey says he went back to beat up Sanzang and get his passport since he now works with a different priest to get the sutras.  He even trots out doubles of the entire company in front of Friar Sand.

Friar Sand goes straight to Guan Yin to complain, but he discovers Monkey is still there making his complaint to her!  He hasn’t left her for four days.  She sends both disciples back to the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit to deal with the imposter.  As the two Monkeys fight, no one can tell them apart, not even Guan Yin, so she sends them up to Heaven to discern who is truly Monkey.  Meanwhile, Friar Sand reports back to Sanzang what has happened.  As the epic battle continues, the two Monkeys end up in the Underworld for the kings there to try to figure out who is who.  Guan Yin is finally forced to have an audience with the Buddha himself to resolve the problem.

The next story arc starts in chapter 59, and they approach a farm in late autumn.  It should be cold, but it’s scorching hot instead.  Sanzang sends Monkey to a house they pass on the road to find out why the seasons have switched places.  The old man who lives there invites them in for tea and explains this region is hot all year and doesn’t have seasons.  He also mentions they can’t get to the west from there since the mountain range nearby is made of 250 miles of flame: “Even if you had a skull of bronze and a body of iron you would melt trying to cross them.” (Journey To The West, p. 1939)

They find out that the only reason why the locals can grow anything is because of an immortal who lives nearby that has a magic iron fan.  The immortal will only help if he is given a certain gifts when the locals visit.  Monkey goes immediately to Mount Turquoise Cloud to see who this immortal might be.  It turns out to be a woman, Princess Iron Fan, also known as Raksasi.  She is the wife of the Bull Demon King.  Monkey reflects on his history fighting with this family, since Raksasi is also Red Boy’s mother, and despairs of ever getting his hands on the fan.

As expected, Princess Iron Fan goes ballistic when Monkey’s presence is announced, and she prepares to fight him.  She tells him she plans on getting revenge for what he did to her son.  However, Red Boy has been turned into a page in Guan Yin’s service, hardly a horrible fate, so Raksasi requires Monkey to bring the boy there for her to see in exchange for the fan.  They fight, and finally Monkey leaves for a monastery nearby where a different Bodhisattva lives who can aid him.  He returns to fight with Raksasi some more, finally entering her body in the form of a tiny insect hiding out in her cup of tea.  That gets her attention, and she gives him her fan.  However, she gives him the wrong fan, and it makes the fires worse!  Monkey has to enlist the help of her husband, the Bull Demon King, to make things right.

Another story arc begins in Chapter 62 in late winter when they approach a walled and moated city, a royal capital.  When they enter the city, they see a group of Buddhist monks in chains and cangues.  Concerned, Sanzang sends Monkey to question them and find out what is going on.  They lead them to their monastery to explain.  After a terrifying portent of blood rain that contaminated the monastery and a sudden end to foreign tributes to their nation, and the king had the Buddhist monks arrested and tortured.  Some of the older monks had even died during their persecution.

Monkey volunteers to go with Sanzang to clean up the place and see what kinds of spirits are around.  On the 13th story of the pagoda, Monkey finds a few evil spirits and confronts them about the trouble they’ve been bringing the monastery by stealing their treasure.  The next day, Sanzang and Monkey prepare to present themselves and their travel papers to the royal court.  When they arrive, they explain that they have confined a few spirits back at the pagoda, and the king sends guards to fetch them so they can be interrogated.  The story then turns to a number of animal spirits in the Green Wave Pool; the two guilty spirits are catfish and a snakehead spirits who live here.  This gets Sanzang and his disciples embroiled in a dispute with the dragon prince of this pool over the monastery’s stolen goods.

The final full story arc in this volume begins in chapter 65 with the party approaching a mountain in the spring where they find another splendid monastery.  However, when Monkey goes to investigate it, he feels there’s something evil about the place.  Sanzang wants to go in, but Monkey is insistent that it’s sinister and dangerous.  When they go in, they are captured by a band of demons.  Monkey is imprisoned in a set of cymbals where he would die according to the demons’ plan, but he recites a special summoning prayer that brings some guardians that have been assigned to them to Monkey in person, and they report back to the Jade Emperor in Heaven to get the Twenty-eight Constellations to come down and rescue Sanzang and his disciples. When Monkey is freed, he must lead dragons and generals against the demon king who held them.

The last chapter begins with the party looking for a place to spend the night in late spring.  They come across a farm and approach the owner for help.  An old man who lives there tells him his next leg of his journey will be difficult for him to complete because of Runny Persimmon Lane and Mount Seven Perfections.  He notes that Runny Persimmon Lane is a place where over-ripe, rotten persimmons fall, making it a “mass of putrefaction” that smells horrible.  They stay with the old man for a meal and overnight, though Monkey is a little suspicious since the old man wasn’t willing to put them up at first.  The old man then explains to them that the village had been destroyed by an evil spirit.

“We had long lived in peace and prosperity here till a sudden, strong wind blew three and a half years ago.  Everyone was busy at the time threshing the wheat on the threshing floor or transplanting rice in the paddy fields.  We thought it was just a change in the weather.  We never imagined that when the wind had blown by an evil spirit would eat the horses and cattle that people had put out to pasture as well as the pigs and the sheep.  He swallowed hens and geese whole, and any men or women he found he devoured alive.  Since then he’s come again each of the last two years to murder us…”. (Journey to the West, p.2207)

They tried to hire other Buddhist and Taoist priests to stop the monster, but they were killed in their attempts.  Monkey offers to try to get rid of the spirit, and he talks to it when he finds it.  The monster fights with the disciples while Sanzang continues his visit with the old man.  Once the monster, a snake spirit, dies at Pig’s hands, they return to Sanzang and continue on to Runny Persimmon Lane.  Pig turns himself into a giant hog and wallows in the rotting fruit to clear a path for them to continue their journey.  The story continues into volume 5, which I will look at next time.

I didn’t get back to my CCTV animated version of this series again, so here is one of the illustrations that are published at intervals through my edition.

JTTW Frontspiece 1

Illustration from Journey to the West

 

Part four of a six part series.

 

 

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Talking Roses and the Superhero’s Secretary – Ichigoman & Funny Kuromi-chan, Part 3

This post is the last in my series covering “Ichigoman” (イチゴマン) and “Funny Kuromi-chan” (おかしなクロミちゃん) at Sanrio’s website, though the comics look like they are still being published. I think they started publishing them last year, and they were publishing a new chapter a month for awhile, but I’m not sure if that’s still the schedule.  I’m not going to try to keep up here but only will give an introduction and highlights.  If you have enjoyed them as much as I have, you may also want to go back periodically and see what’s new.

“Ichigoman” chapter 10 features Ichigoman and Honeymomo joiningf orces, which continues into Chapter 11.  The new chapter begins with Ichigoman and Honeymomo meeting face to face, and Ichigoman remembers she saw Honeymomo riding with Dark Grape Man in his motorcycle’s sidecar once.  The next page is a nice, full-color splash page of the three superheroes standing dramatically on a cliff with an explosion going off behind them.

Momo explains that she is Dark Grape Man’s secretary, but Ichigoman doesn’t understand why he would need a secretary until Momo explains that he runs a detective agency.  They also debate whether Ichigoman is really a big fan of Hello Kitty’s.  When Ichigoman suggests they go looking for the bomb together, Momo gets incensed since Dark Grape Man is her partner, not Ichigoman, and she keeps getting her name wrong, calling her Ichiboman.  However, they do search the building together looking for the bomb. After searching through a lot of boxes, they see a bomb openly set up at the end of the hallway attached to a timer showing only 15 minutes remaining.  Ichigoman and Honeymomo run for it.  Momo wants to try to stop it early, but they run and get caught in a blast since it seems to go off before the timer runs down.  Honeymomo gets a fire extinguisher, announcing this is a trap.

Chapter 11 picks up immediately with Momo and Ichigoman realizing they have been caught in a trap.  This chapter is full of dynamic, stunningly drawn pages depicting more blasts, a page with Honeymomo and Ichigoman dancing together to the Hello Kitty theme song, frames of them fighting a huge mecha that seems to be connected to the alien invasion, and finally a shot of Honeymomo wearing her original pro-Hello Kitty garb at the concert with a frame showing Hello Kitty herself, who is supposed to be performing at that venue.

Ichigoman 4

Ichigoman and Honeymomo Dancing

Chapters 12 and 13 feature Sakura and Freeze again.  Chapter 12 starts out with Ichigoman’s attempts to practice sparring using logs on ropes hanging down from tree trunks.  She practices her “strawberry punch” on a rock nearby, too.  Sakura appears in the next frames, and Ichigoman explains how she wants to go to a gym and work with a trainer.

The next page shows some of the Freeze guys working out at the gym, the little blonde boy Kirari Suetomi and the redheaded bodybuilder Mako Yanagiya.  Kirari and Mako discuss how much they can bench press and their training in general.  Mako shows off his muscles with his shirt off in a full color frame, explaining how much protein Kirari should eat to build up his muscles.

There are a couple of pages where the story returns to Sakura and Ichigoman, showing Sakura pushing Ichigoman to work out her latissimus dorsi muscle.  Ichigoman is splitting wood with an axe and carrying a log on her back at Sakura’s direction.  Then the story goes right back to the Freeze guys, with Kirari showing Mako some special dance steps he uses for his workout.  Freeze’s white haired pretty boy leader Takeru Hira arrives and explains how he is more interested in training the mind, then he strikes a gymnastics pose.  The three talk briefly about the aliens before the next page shifts to the scene of a huge mecha wearing the alien symbol crashing down the city streets.  Freeze goes into action.

Ichigoman 3

Ichigoman Screenshot

Chapter 13 begins with these three guys in their showdown with the mecha.  Meanwhile, Ichigoman is with Sakura having a spiritual moment under a waterfall as part of her training as a superhero.  She’s sitting under the water with her hands folded and eyes closed as if meditating while Sakura stands nearby watching, a flame of passion for justice burning in her eyes on the next page.

Ichigoman 5

Ichigoman Screenshot

The fourth Freeze member, black-haired Shinobu Sawada, finally joins his friends in the fight, bringing their eapons and uniforms.  He interrupts Hira’s attempt to stave off the mecha.  They put on their uniform jackets, take out their weapons and finally have a chance at an even fight.  There’s something special about Hira’s weapon, because he calls it a combination something, the something being actual Greek letters with furigana so small I can’t possibly make them out.  I need that zoom feature at a time like this.  It looks like sigma-pi with the furigana just sounding the Greek letters out, but I have no idea what weapon that refers to.  It looks like he’s using a bow and arrow of some kind.

After they’ve dispatched the alien mecha, the Freeze boys talk amongst themselves, mentioning Ichigoman is the one to save the world.  The word they use does seem to have religious overtones, but in this context, that may be kind of overblown.  She’s going through some sort of physical and spiritual preparation for her superhero work, but that’s really about all it seems to be so far.  In the last scene, we see Ichigoman and Sakura appearing at near the mecha’s body not far from the Freeze boys.  The final color page before the ending has Ichigoman working out with two tires tied to her arms, a large cricket behind her and tag lines about a “hero’s passion.”

I’m going to stop there since I’ve covered quite a lot of the series.  Chapter 14 resumes the story with Dark Grape Man and his secretary Honeymomo; they go to a costume party and meet up with Ichigoman.  Chapters 15 and 16 continues that story arc.

Resuming “Funny Kuromi-chan,” chapter 6 shows Kuromi and Strawberry Shortcake decorating for a Halloween party making Jack O’ Lanterns together.  Kuromi makes one two pumpkins tall that looks just like herself, wearing the jester hat and collar.  The rest of the cake fairies admire it, but Kuromi gets upset when Strawberry moves it and the head falls off!

Chapter 7 starts off with Kuromi sitting by a fireplace and an old fashioned record player playing music, reading a book and having tea and cookies.  A ruckus downstairs sends her out to see what the cake fairies are up to.  The uproar is over a kitten in their midst.  The cake fairies fawn over a kitten until its owner shows up and takes it home.  It’s a very simple, slice-of-life episode.

Chapter 8 is really long and is all about Christmas and UFOs.  It takes place on Christmas Eve, and the cake fairies and Kuromi are caroling outside of Sweety’s in Santa costumes, giving out Christmas cakes to a crowd.  They hear a loud noise behind Sweety’s and discover a UFO has crashed into a tree.  The hatch opens, and a young girl dressed in a Santa dress jumps out.  Kuromi asks if she’s okay.  The girl is Santa’s helper, and she’s distributing Christmas presents.  Two of the cake fairies are turned into centaur-like reindeer to lead the UFO through the air like it’s Santa’s sleigh.  She tells them that last week Santa hurt his back, so she wanted to deliver presents in his place.  They deliver presents to the sleeping children and then return to Sleepy’s for a Christmas Party with Santa Claus himself!

Chapter 9 is also really long and is about a freaked out girl who visits Kuromi and the cake fairies.  The chapter title can be translated “The Epic Valentine War.”  The distressed girl is watching a group of boys walking down the street, and apparently one of them is the object of her affection that she is upset about.   One of the cake fairies, Cheesecake Rare, comes up behind her and addresses her.  When she sees him (did I say he was a woman before?  I couldn’t tell from the character intro page head shots), she is terrified of him and asks if he is a foreigner due to his old-fashioned European dress.  He takes her back to Sweety’s.

Kuromi and the other cake fairies look on from the hallway while Cheesecake talks with the girl and drinks tea with her. Kuromi bursts in and suggests that the problem is the girl needs Valentine’s chocolate for him and doesn’t have the courage to risk his rejection.  The girl cries harder, and Kuromi is moved.  Since this is her cake shop, the crew decides to help the girl make a special chocolate cake to give the boy of her dreams.  Opera and Strawberry Shortcake get to work on the chocolate.  The cake they end up with looks like a chocolate ganache heart adorned with strawberries, something very elaborate.  Kuromi boxes it up for the girl, and the girl leaves the shop happy.

Chapter 10 is also very long and has the Yatsuhashi cake fairy visiting a shrine with Kuromi.   It looks like all of the chapters are now at least 21 pages, equal with most of the Ichigoman chapters.  Yatsuhashi and Kuromi meet a young girl who is at the shrine to pray for school success.  Yatsuhashi mentions she is there because she thanks God daily, while Kuromi asks the girl why she’s troubled about school.  She explains she is concerned about an upcoming entrance examination and introduces herself as Miko.  She hangs up a wooden prayer tablet for her petition, and they invite her to Sweety’s.  Back at Sweety’s, Yatsuhashi serves Miko her namesake pastry with strawberries.  Miko thanks them and goes on her way.

In the next frame, we see her running in regular clothes from the shrine.  She meets a little boy who is crying, and then Kuromi and the cake fairies appear a few minutes later.  Kuromi ends up in a fight with wild dogs, but Miko runs crying down the street and encounters an old woman crouched on the sidewalk as if she needs help.  Later, Miko sits with Kuromi at Sweety’s and explains how she didn’t pass the exam.  Instead, she stopped to call an ambulance for this old woman to go to the hospital, then she had to wait for her.  She starts crying, but the door opens, and the old lady she saved comes into Sweety’s.  She’s there to thank Miko for her help and gives her the business card for a school director to make up for the fact that the whole incident messed up her entrance exams.  Miko is now exempt from the exam, and the chapter ends on a happy note.

Chapter 11 starts off with a pretty gardener talking to her flowers, particularly a beautiful bud that she calls “older sister” and seems to be thanking profusely.  The cake fairies Cheesecake and Mont Blanc appear and ask her to recommend to them what they should buy, and she suggests they buy the plant with the bud.  They take it home to Kuromi as a get-well gift since she is ill in bed with a fever.  Strawberry and Opera are with Kuromi in her room when the fairies arrive with her gift of the plant and some canned peaches.  As Mont Blanc feeds her slices of peaches, Kuromi is quite happy, but their attention shifts to the wrapped flower on the table.

Cheesecake rips off the wrapping paper, revealing the delicate bud.  They water it, and Kuromi goes to sleep for awhile.  When she wakes up, she gets out of bed, hearing someone calling her.  It seems to be coming from the plant, which now has taken on a monstrous cast with an exaggerated human mouth.  She wakes up a second time to find Yatsuhashi bringing her a tray of food for dinner.  She realizes then that she had a nightmare about the flower talking.  However, Cheesecake laughs, and they discover that within the petals of the bud is the face of a beautiful fairy girl!

In the next block is a color picture of the fully human fairy sitting among the rose petals.  The girl introduces herself as Princess Pink Rose.  Kuromi is amazed she can talk.  Her appearance inspires the group to make a very elaborate cake with rose decorations, which makes the Rose Princess happy.  They take the cake to the gardener they bought the flower from.

Chapter 12 is titled “Kuromi Versus Mecha-Kuromi,” and though it starts off with Princess Pink Rose making a quick appearance as menus are distributed to Sweety’s customers, the focus of the story quickly changes.  The page shows a strange set up where each of the cake fairies has a customer come to their table to talk with them, while the rest of the spectators or customers sit in rows of chairs set up like an audience or line to wait their turn.  Kuromi is overwhelmed with work with such a crowd but goes to investigate some strange noises that lead to a large wooden crate with the label “test model” on it.

Kuromi excitedly unveils it, talking about how it’s a maid robot!  It is an exact metal version of Kuromi herself, complete with goth black rabbit eared hat.  She turns it on and calls it Mecha Kuromi.  I’m having a bit of trouble reading the dialogue that the robot speaks since it is mostly written in katakana instead of more normal Japanese hiragana and kanji; writing Japanese words instead of only foreign loan words in katakana is a technique used to emphasize heavily accented Japanese speech in fiction.  The style of the type there is also very blocky, which makes it hard to distinguish between katakana letters.

Kuromi unleashes the Mecha Kuromi robot on the crowd in Sweety’s, but it only causes confusion and scares the customers away.   As the cake fairies talk with the mecha, it twists its hands, which have three spikes in place of fingers with caps on each spike, and the caps flip open, shooting something out at the fairies.  At first they don’t know what it is, but it turns out to be chocolate.   Princess Pink Rose pulls the mecha’s plug before her next attack, sending her crashing to the ground.  The chapter ends oddly, I think, with the final shot of a hand-written note.  I know I’m missing some details since I have no idea how to interpret the sound cues scribbled in the frames and can barely read most of them to make the attempt.  Any help would be appreciated; please give us your interpretation in the comment section.

Chapters 13 and 14 feature a group of very stylish customers who stop by Sweety’s. In chapter 15 Kuromi and the cake fairies return to the beach with these customers to soak in an onsen and engage in some beach fun.  This one has a few of the cute girls featured in bathing suits singing at the beach.  So far, the series ends with chapter 16, which was just published.  Its title is “Kuromi’s Ghost Hunters,” and it ends with a color page showing the cake fairies dressed in Ghostbusters costumes.

I really am fascinated with this Rabbit Ear Mask character, aka Keiichi Hiiragi, whom we looked at in the chapters I covered last post.  I think the webcomic needs to step it up with the hot romance between him and Kuromi, though the fact she is normally a magical talking stuffed animal does complicate matters.  The webcomic also seems to be rehabilitating her from the more villainous role she was known for, but Hiiragi is probably more evil than she is from what I’ve been able to discover.  I think they need to do more chapters with him in it though.

Kuromi & Keiichi 4

Keiichi Hiiragi aka “Rabbit Ear Mask” and Kuromi as a human girl

He’s very complicated, but that’s a plus.  It’s probably what you’d expect from a guy who wears a pink bunny ear hat.

Keiichi & My Melo

Rabbit Ear Mask and My Melody, Kuromi’s Rival

The fun is hardly done when I close this series, so be sure to stop back and see what else is added later. Now I should mention that the page where you find these webcomics itself is really interesting and has the Twitter feed linked, and yes it is updated regularly too.  here’s the link again:

http://comip.jp/15/

One thing that popped up on the Sanrio webcomic Twitter feed this last time I flipped through it is Kerokerokeroppi Café in Yokohama, and I dug up this fun photo-filled post on the crazy food served at that location and other adventures.

http://naominikola.com/2017/07/kerokerokeroppi-cafe-chinatown-kawasaki-warehouse/

Another twitter post shows some pom-pom chrysanthemums in an arrangement made by Sanrio designer Yuko Yamaguchi!

Sanrio Twitter

Sanrio Twitter Screenshot

The page also has a bookstore link, but I don’t know if they ship to the US or if they have these webcomics in book form:

http://margaretbookstore.com/

This next page shows a poll of fans’ favorite Sanrio characters for 2017.

https://www.sanrio.co.jp/special/characterranking/2017/en/result/characters/

There are 100 characters overall, with My Melody at #3 in popularity, Kuromi at #11, and Hello Kitty at only #4.  I didn’t realize Cinnamoroll was so popular; I know nothing about their #1 character.  Charmmy Kitty is at #28.  Ichigoman hits #39, with Honeymomo and Dark Grape Man much further down the list at #61 and #79.  I didn’t realize they had so many characters and don’t recognize half of them, but they sure are cute and fun.

Now I’m a big Kuromi fan after reading the webcomics.

Part three of a three part series

Next time: We get more serious with Korean author Sukryeol Choi’s The Year of Impossible Goodbyes!

 

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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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