Saturday, May 7, 2011

Japan: Day Nine

Today was like many days similar to it but in reverse: I started with otaku business and then ended up someplace semi-cultural.

Denden Town Continued
At the beginning of my time in Osaka, I was worried about going to Denden Town too early, feeling it would "spoil" lesser areas of the city by being too awesome. Of course, I couldn't resist, and I went right away, and now I have a different concern: even if I spent the next two weeks there 24 hours a day, I wouldn't be able to see all of it. Seriously. That is not hyperbole. I've spent a good chunk of the last few days going from shop to shop here and I feel like I've seen less than one percent of one percent of it. That is hyperbole. Probably.

It's like, the more I see of it, the more I realize there is to see. I knew that there was like, one big street and then one side street next to it. Only today did I realize that a third street running parallel also had some pretty cool shops. Like, a lot of really cool record stores. Like, the sort of record stores you spend a day on each. Argh. It got to the point where I was spending only a minute or so scanning for really notable things, or even skipping them altogether(!), and it hurt me deep.

As far as record stores go, my favorite two were "Eight Beater" and uh, something really plain like "Import Records". The former is named after my favorite Number Girl song and had all sorts of "merch" of the band, made me wish I had bought the Number Girl albums I had bought in Tokyo there instead. Oh well. I got a Mudy on the Sakuban CD and The Beauty and the Beat by Edan. Now some folks might be like "woah man Edan is an American rapper, why you buying his stuff in Japan?" And that's a good question and I did feel a bit weird, but it was SO CHEAP and geez I had never seen that album "in the flesh" (itf) before. And I'm glad I did because it came with this little insert that the importing company added that had all the lyrics transcribed in English and Japanese. How cool is that? At the other record store I had a disjointed conversation with a old guy in a Neu! shirt as I browsed his amazing collection of Krautrock and other more esoteric 60s music. I bought a really cool record here for my dad that I will not mention the title of for "suspense", but it was only like 500 which impressed me to no end.

Anyways after that I hit yet another street full of good shops that I'd call the "Doujin Street", using the traditional usage of the word (fan-made) and not the specific common usage (fan-made comics based of anime series). There was this incredible Touhou shop there that completely destroyed my worries about a lack of Touhou content thus far in Denden Town. I bought my favorite IOSYS and generally my favorite Touhou record, 東方萃翠酒酔. When I looked at the selection, that 800GB Touhou music torrent seemed too small if anything.

Uh what next... oh yeah, arcades. Arcades! I saw the most impressive arcades yet. One in particular was just dropping. Lemme give you the breakdown:
-Floor one was all UFO catcher games, claw games, etc. Ones where you can possibly win a bit of anime goods if you can do it right.
-Floor two was all rhythm action games. Now, I knew Japanese arcades were pretty hardcore. And yeah, I'm pretty bad at rhythm action games, sure. But I do know some good players for them, I can tell when things are impressive. I am sorry to all my ITG and Bemani and such playing friends: this probably comes as no surprise, but you are not in the same league as the Japanese players that frequent arcades in the middle of weekday afternoons. These guys were absolutely nuts. A guy doing what seems like the equivalent of a 13 footer or something, didn't recognize the song, with no bar. Two guys playing Pop'n with all the dramatics that seem necessary for good Pop'n players: wild swings of the arms, spins, etc. Next to them were Beatmania players standing absolutely robotically still except for their blurred hand movements. Guitar Freaks players that would make any so called "Guitar Hero" weep. Drummania players that could probably actually play the drums by this point. Jubeat and uh, that new one where you hit the note when it bounces down to the line, Beat Richochet or something, players doing absolutely incomprehensible things with their hands, like, fingers seeming to just separate and act independently. There was even Project Diva, with someone nailing some other crazy fast Miku song that wasn't the Disappearance or Two-Faced Lovers. Every single game there had someone playing it at an incredibly high skill level. They didn't have Taiko, which is a shame, 'cause I would have liked to see someone play that well. I've been playing it whenever I see it for 100 a play, and I'm getting "okay", like I can clear 7s now. I think seeing someone do like, a 10 on both drums would probably be enough for me to either quit forever or spend all my time trying to match it, so maybe it's better that they didn't.
-Floor three was uh... Gundam I think. Like maybe 25 machines all networked together playing this game that looked like Gunz with crazy robots. It seemed like the people had a persistent ID and such and there was a big ranking board and it looked like you could customize your stuff and such. Honestly though even with all these complicated elements I still would feel more comfortable playing this with these strange mecha but not buying figures but playing games but not Super Robot Wars but action games otaku than playing the fighting games on a few floors up. Ahh get hype!
-Floor four was quiz games, mahjong games,  shogi games, etc, etc. At this point I knew there were fighting games to come and I had seen this sort of thing at arcades before and I really had no way of knowing if they had a good selection or good players or what, so I kept going.
-Floor five was FPS games largely, either on-rails shooters or even just cabinets where you played like Modern Warfare or something that looked an awful lot like it. Weird. I took a quick glance for the oft-spoken-of Half Life 2 arcade version, which I figure would be pretty cool to see, but wasn't all too interested when compared to the next floor which was uh:
-FIGHTING GAMES. Honestly yeah the rest of the selection was great, skill level good, sure, yeah, yeah, but so far in Japan I had yet to see the legendary arcade fighting game scene. It had this mystique of THE BEST PLAYERS PRACTICE HERE and like THIRD STRIKE TOURNAMENTS STILL HAPPEN IN JAPAN and like EVERYONE WILL KILL YOU, FIRST IN THE GAME, AND THEN IN REAL LIFE IF YOU DO THIS WRONG, and like ALL THE PLAYERS HERE ARE IMMORTAL AND HAVE SPENT THEIR WHOLE LIVES PLAYING THEM BUT HAVE ALSO SPENT THEIR WHOLE LIVES BEING SUCCESSFUL AND INTIMIDATING and HERE IT WAS. The first thing I saw was someone playing Melty Blood: Actress Again at a pretty darn high skill level. Well, my reference for this is that he was getting a whole bunch of links that I'm pretty sure are one-frame. Impressive, right? Here's where it gets crazy. Even though his fingers are a blur, his concentration intense, his combos perfect, he's losing. Losing to someone on the other side of the row. Right. Two rows of Melty Blood machines. Eight in all. Eight Melty Blood machines. Next to them was BlazBlue. And Arcana Hearts. And some Third Strike. And some Tekken. Yup.
-Oh and what is on the next floor? More fighting games. Yeah. Tons and tons of MVC3 and SFIV. They were actually hosting an MVC3 tournament when I went up there. I watched it for a bit. Now, I don't know a whole lot about MVC3, but I did watch a lot of EVO sets for it and such. All I can say is this: if these guys were much worse than the EVO players, they didn't show it. Glorious.

There were tons more arcades pretty similar to this, but this was the best one and I felt I needed to give it due diligence.

Anyways yeah, Denden Town. I have a tourist pamphlet that says "Let's Explore Otaku Culture in Denden Town!" I would say a better translation is "Let's Become Overwhelmed and Confused in Denden Town!" Okay so I have a pretty good resume as far as these things go. I can recognize a lot of anime characters, I know Touhou, I know video games in general, I know a lot of music, I know a lot of manga, etc, etc. Maybe this knowledge actually makes it worse what with the flashes of recognition etc but when I start to feel completely overpowered by the place, which happens inevitably after a few hours, it's really just because it all starts to seem like chaos, like, just way too much stuff, like something that couldn't be sustainable, like something that just shouldn't exist. It's an otaku mecca, a place for people who shouldn't have money to spend their money on things they are as far as possible from actually needing. It's hobby worship, it's a place that demands expertise and patience. It is a beautiful and terrible thing. I try to picture what it would look like to someone who doesn't really know about the culture and such and I honestly can't. Even to me it seems so alien and fantastical.

But yeah, if I could continue along some sort of tangent here, I have to say, although I'm making it out to be this huge overwhelming ordeal, it's also just a really fun place. I love exploring through the stores and just marveling at what old things they still carry, what new things I didn't even know existed and what rarities I'd never imagine I'd see (so far I have seen three more copies of Radiant Silvergun itf that I'd ever expect I would in my lifetime, that is, three). It's only when I try to get my head around just how much of this stuff there is and try to work out the logistics of who is buying this and how and how they're staying in business, and thinking of them organizing and transporting and pricing everything, and trying to decide which stuff I want, trying to remember where I had seen something cheaper, weighing price and weight and size, that's when it gets a bit much. But yeah minute by minute it's absolutely wonderful. I love seeing the other people shop, too. As my favorite Day9 quote goes or is paraphrased by me in laziness, "The coolest thing in the world is being passionate about something". Businessmen squatting in an aisle and comparing train models. An old man chewing the fat with an employee painting some military figures. Two guys in their mid 20s fine tuning their custom-build RC cars. One teenager excitedly pointing out a new doujin comic to his friend. A guy trying to win an Index-themed clock in a UFO catcher for his excited girlfriend. A couple of kids looking at every single one of the capsule machines in this huge underground bank of them and arguing about which one to spend some change in. An older businessman staring wistfully at a glass case filled with toys from the sixties. People in their early fifties with some lingering hippie DNA digging through import records. The shouts of tournament commentators as a Wolverine player makes a big comeback and links into an X-factor super. The clacking of Beatmania keys. Row after row of people totally absorbed in flipping through old manga. Someone playing a Super Mario Kart display while their friend rifles through a wall of Saturn games, calling out titles for comment. People playing Yu-gi-oh or Magic or other card games I hadn't even heard of or arguing about trades. People cosplaying just because they're more comfortable that way, I guess. Audiophiles demoing headphones that cost more than my round trip plane ticket. At least 10 people every day with 3DSes in Street Pass mode that will now have my eyeless Madotsuki in their roster. A crowd of teens crowding a glass case with some new anime figurine in it and whispering "sugoi!" or "kawaii!" or "moe!". People squatting next to a case and reading tons of fine print about its various fans and such. I could go on all day. It's amazing.

Anyways that's enough about Denden Town (for now)
After that I went up north to where I had gone with my family to what I would describe as a "hipster bookstore". I had asked Hox, who I scan manga for, if he had any stuff he wanted me to look for when I was here. Since his tastes (and mine, for that matter) usually skew literary, I figured I'd probably have a better chance finding that sort of thing in a store like this, which had a really wonderful spread of Asano manga, than a store where they might have a better selection (like, two floors just dense with floor to ceiling rows of manga) but not really this sort of thing. Plus, it's a pain to find stuff when you can't read the language. They sort stuff by publisher, and then author, and then series, so it's not too hard if you can like, drill down like that, but I always get paranoid that I've actually missed something when really it's more likely that I'm just looking for obscure stuff. But the store has SO MUCH STUFF, it has to be here SOMEWHERE. This is the dilemma.

More on the hipster bookstore later. What matters now is HOW I FOUND IT aka "A Weird Coincidence in Osaka" aka "I have seen 60% of everyone I know in this city today" aka "The Rivalry May Yet Be Reignited In This The Final Battle Across The Globe". So I'm wandering around roughly where it is but there's tons of side streets in this region and I know I could be here all day looking for it when I happen open a white dude and his girlfriend exiting an apartment building. Now, where I'm mainly hanging out, white tourists are sorta rare, like, today I saw one group that I think were tourists, but that's it. So for me to see another guy that prolly speaks English is an opportunity too rare for me to pass up, even if I wasn't like, hopelessly lost yet.

Another white guy that I had become acquainted with was the owner of this video game bar that I mentioned we had gone to awhile ago. It had just opened, so he was still in the phase where he was really making sure to get to know all his customers well and such, fishing for regulars I guess. If I lived here I'd definitely be a regular.

I bring this up not just to explain how few white people there were that I could remember like all of them, but because BAM this guy was the same guy. PRETTY BIG COINCIDENCE, am I right? Anyways I asked him where it was, he didn't know but on his handy iPhone he looked it up, and since they were sorta heading that way anyways he showed me the way. Nice guy, am I right? We talked about video games and such. I mentioned that he ought to get Super Smash Bros. for the N64 in there, since me and my cousin have had a rivalry in that game that goes back as far as it's like, release. It's bizarre. In that time we went from both sort of having a mild interest to me going like full-out advanced techniques, tournaments, online stuff, etc. with him still pretty much only playing it with me, and yet we're still even most times we play. Something about how he plays I just can't get around, and if I'm not really on point, I have a hard time beating him. Anyways he says he actually just got it, so sometime soon we'll have to have this crazy halfway around the planet grudge match. Swag.

Standard Bookstore
Was pretty good. I got two of the manga that he was looking for and I also just straight up took pictures of all their manga 'cause I figure there might be other interesting series in there that he could recommend. I guess that's about all I can say about that.

Some sort of rich sort of place?
After that I ended up in some sort of neighbourhood that was pretty different from anything I've seen. All the houses had tall walls surrounding them with gates. You could see like really traditionally designed and really nice looking houses through the gates, surrounded with like palm trees and gardens and such. They were all connected by these really nice winding roads. I took a few pictures, I'll put 'em in the album. Seems like everyone here is like mad rich though.

The Adventure Home
So at this point it's like midafternoon. I ate some lunch-type meal at Subway and was like "hey maybe I'll take the Subway home" (ha?). I have some money on my card that I needed to use up, plus I wanted practice riding it by myself. Most importantly, though, is that I had no idea where I was. I mean, usually that's sort of the case, but I can at least judge if I'm north or south of home or whatever. Usually this is as easy as finding out what district I was in and then figuring out where that is relative to other districts. This time I didn't know and couldn't really tell which district I was in and had, after forgetting how many times I had crossed the river, not even a rough sense of where I was on a grand geographic scale. The subway, in these cases, is my trump card, or perhaps just second to the ultimate financial pain of a taxi.

At this point I make several strange decisions that result in me getting much more lost than I was before. I pop into the station. Wait no that's a lie. I make a poor choice in which entrance I take and end up walking down like five flights of stairs into the station. I then realize that the stop I want is one stop away. This bugs me, of course, because it means I wasn't really lost or anything, I was like, right there. But I'm not about to go back up after coming all this way. Nor am I about to ride the subway for just one stop, that's uh, silly for some reason that I can't think of now. I have to get my money's worth, even though you pay when you leave and the price is based on how far you go. No. That's silly. So I ride it for like a few more stops and then get off in some random spot and immediately wander off in the exact wrong direction that I was supposed to. Aha. To make a really short story only somewhat longer than it needs to be I ended up finding a subway station somewhere around there and riding it all the way back. Fun times.

Hey this blog post is long when usually such updates are short what is it that gives
I dunno, I felt like I really should try as best I could to explain what Denden Town was like and how I felt spending time there, and once I had gotten started writing a lot it seemed right just to continue.

But yeah that's it for now.

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