Archive for the ‘j-pop’ category

The Splendid Spy

July 21, 2009

For the past year and a half, there has been a steady stream of J-doramas focusing on special police forces and terrorism: Special Police, Koushounin, Kiina, Bloody Monday, BOSS, Mr. Brain. They were interesting at first, but they started to get into a rut. By the time they got to Mr. Brain with KimuTaku of SMAP fame, I was getting tired of all their tech gadgets and super intelligent heroes. This summer season, they have another one. Karei naru spy 華麗なるスパイ–The Splendid Spy.

It stars Nagase Tomoya’s, but that’s not what makes it interesting–although M will watch anything he’s in.  It’s actually a spoof of the spy genre. It has all this funky music from old spy movies, some of it sounding like James Bond background music, some similar to the riff of the bongo drums when the tension is high (like Mission Impossible). The opening credits seem to come to come straight out of a 60s Japanese gangster flick with a steel guitar playing in pseudo-Hawaiian mode and the sound of bullets firing–pthew!–every time an actor’s name appears on the screen, a la I Spy.

The main character, Yoroi Kyousuke (Nagase), is a convicted con artist, but his government calls on him to help the badly dressed special terrorism force–well except for Dorothy played by the always delectable Fukada Kyouko–fight terrorism across Japan, especially against Mr. Takumi (Mr. Scheming), who has oily black hair and a short comb-tooth moustache like Hitler. Hmmm. He even wears a khaki shirt. On his first day, Kyousuke wakes up to the ring of the phone and is surprised to find that the phone is in the sole of a shoe–sound familiar, Chief? Then he goes to the office but first needs to step into a locker that promptly drops through the floor, hits the bottom, after which he enters a hallway with sliding double doors in which, of course, he gets his foot stuck–Missed it by that much. As you might imagine, I am paying attention as to not miss any references to the spy genre.

The first episode centers on a lackey of Mr. Takumi who attempts to kidnap the Prime Ministers grand daughter, played by Inoue Mao, and Kyousuke’s con-artist talents help rescue her. But this is when I begin to think that this 90 minute first episode should have been edited more aggressively: The last half hour dragged out just a bit too long. There were were some funny jokes, but the pace slowed to a crawl.

Still, for a summer season in which I have yet to see a single interesting drama–Oh nooooooo! What am I to do?–I will keep my hopes up that the following 46-minute episodes will by as sharp and witty as it promises to be.

Dragon Bombed

June 29, 2008

I took the “how much do you now about dragon ball z and dragon ball gt” quiz and I totally bombed it. I got 42% out of 100. Of course, I didn’t review the material before taking the quiz, but I didn’t think I had to. Let this be a lesson to all my students: Always review, regardless of how much you think you know.

Anyway, Dragon Ball was one of my favorite manga. It started to drag on a bit towards the end. And personally, I’m not sure how necessary Dragon Ball GT was. But Dragon Ball up to Majin Bu was fun, and I always looked forward to the next issue. I first picked up a copy of the book back in the summer of 1986. As many of you probably know, Japanese comic books are usually a compilation of the comic that appears in the weekly magazines, like Jump or Magazine. Each weekly carries dozens of titles, each episode ranging anywhere from 12 to 24 pages in length, just long enough for a middle school student to read from one trains station to the next. After about two or three months, when there are enough pages, the publisher compiles them into book form. I don’t read every title in any given weekly, so I appreciate the book form. the first title I ever started to collect was Hokuto no ken (Fist of the north star), a great manga if ever there was one. In fact I still have the complete set and I still read them once every 7 or 8 years.

But I digress….

At a glance, Dragon Ball looks like a kids manga. Indeed, the creator previously created the equally childish looking Dr. Slump. But Toriyama Akira is a satirist and loves to play with words. No more so obvious than in the nameof characters in Dragon Ball. The most obvious are the main characters. Son Goku is an orphaned kid who has extraordinary strength, speed and agility, like a monkey. Indeed, he has a tail like a monkey. For the Japanese reader, the name is immediately associated with the Chinese legendary tale, Saiyuuki (Notes of an Excursion to the West), whose main character is a monkey named Son Goku, who is on a journey of self-redemption. Dragon Ball‘s Goku is also on a journey, his of self-discovery–who he is, where he came from. He soon discovers that when the moon is full, he turns into a humongous monkey that turns ferocious, wild and deadly. Goku has no memory of his transformations until a group of new friends who survived his attack tells him, and he realizes that it was he who made himself an orphan by killing his grandfather. This sounds like serious fare for a manga, but it is told in a light-hearted manner, both sad and joyful, thoughtful and funny, which probably explains Dragon Balls longevity.

But again, I digress…

Goku gains strength only by fighting those who are stronger than him, but he recovers his strength by eating a lot of food. Which would explain the name of his son, Gohan, which means “meals”. Gohan can also mean rice, which would then explain Gohan’s daughter’s name, Pan, the Portuguese word that the Japaense adopted for bread.

Many of the first characers had names that reflected their characters place in the story. The young and teasing female is named Buruma, which is the Japanese pronunciation of the word “bloomer”, the female undergarment–indeed, Kuririn once called her Pantsu (panty) by mistake. The characters that were Goku’s initial rivals represented the Chinese flavor of the story as represented by the name Son Goku and the dragon in the title. But they were all named after foods: Yamucha (dim sum) and Oolong (oolong tea).

Most of the other names involve transpositions of syllables or an alteration of letters. But the names identify each character with a specfic group. We find later Goku was originally from the planet Saiya. If you transpose the syllables, you get the word yasai, which mean vegetables, explaining Goku’s real name, Kakarotto (carrot), his brother Raditchi (Radish), his partner Nappa (the cabbage) and of course the Prince of Saiya, Vegita. Another example is Ginyuu toku-sentai (special battle unit Ginyuu). When twisted a bit, the name gi-nyuu becomse gyuu-nyuu, Japanese for “milk”, which then explains the twisted and transposed name of the captain Ginyuu and the members: Rikuum (cream), Mr. Gurt (yogurt), Bahta (butter), Jiizu (Cheese).

Yes, this all sounds a bit childish and all, but it did make for a lot of fun while reading it. Which still doesn’t excuse me for not having reviewed the material before taking the quiz!

Quiz:

A major villain in the Dragon Ball story was Majin Buu (demon Buu). (Again, the name Buu, can be transposed to spell “ubu” which means infantile.) He was created by Bibidi and his dead brother, Babidi. The easy question is, what Disney tale is this supposed to evoke? The more difficult one might be: Why did Toriyama make this association?