Monday, February 27
It was at the recommendation of anime friends and travelers that I gave Osaka a try the second time I went to Japan, all the way back in 2008. Having spent my first trip only in Tokyo, it was a fun adventure that put my traveling skills to the test. finding the right train, a hotel near the areas of interest, learning where the treasures lay in wait…it all paid off when I got there and found that I liked the place instantly. It’s way less crowded and more laid back than Tokyo. It’s the sort of place you wouldn’t mind living.
An ice cream/coffee shop at Osaka Station. I was sorely disappointed not to see a giant, hairy barbarian behind the counter.
Daniel, JP and I had secured our shinkansen tickets a couple days earlier, so all it took was an early packout to Tokyo station and we were soon in comfortable seats for the 3-hour stretch. Having seen the landscape many times, I unbuckled the laptop to start making a dent in the work of prepping all those recent online interviews for translation. As much fun as this trip was so far, I couldn’t lose sight of the irony: enjoying a Yamato premiere week in Tokyo for a week was stealing time from writing about it for Cosmo DNA. I have four weeks between updates, and all four are needed. Losing one leads to heavy duty crunch-time.
Awesome name for a vehicle, still working on the name of that bookstore…
I’d last been to Osaka a little over two years ago (Yamatour 2014), and was astonished to see an immediate change; the charming but rough-around-the-edges Osaka station had been completely redesigned and rebuilt into an ultra-modern behemoth, a palace to the gods of public transport. I recognized none of it, not even the basic floor plan.
Left: The contest is over, and the best name for a record store has been taken.
Right: I bet you know someone who needs to shop here.
The subway, on the other hand, was as well-worn as always, and soon delivered us into the depths of the city. The targets there are always the two Mandarake stores, some amazingly good okonomiyaki, and whatever else time allows.
The first Mandarake store, appealingly named “Grand Chaos” is in what I can only refer to as an “artisinal” neighborhood, populated with boutique shops of all stripes. For instance, if you need to bedazzle your car, fill out your vinyl LP collection, and grab some ice cream on a hot dog bun, one visit is all it takes.
Obscure finds at the first Mandarake store. Scoring stuff like this makes me ridiculously happy.
Somehow, perhaps due to its distance from Tokyo, this particular Mandarake always manages to serve me up with something delightful that I didn’t know about. Today it also gave me a chance to buy every version of Blade Runner on one Blu-ray for less than 10 bucks. How was I supposed to walk away from that?
Yamato model kits new and old. Some may outlive us all.
Ready for lunch, we threw caution to the wind and just started walking in a random direction. As I mentioned in the previous part of this travelogue, I’d intentionally left some blank spaces in the schedule just to see what would happen. In this case, our path lead us to a charming rooftop restaurant that served the best pizza I’ve ever had in Japan. The owner appeared to be Italian, but so what. Now I can finally stop berating Japan for not knowing what pizza is.
Food challenges met and conquered on the mean streets of Osaka.
Around mid-afternoon Dan finally hit the end of his rope after four and a half days of non-stop physical activity and decided the best thing for him was to snooze away the afternoon on a comfy shinkansen back to Tokyo. Set loose on our own, JP and I went hog wild, tearing through the city like rutting mandrills, flipping cars, biting the limbs off pedestrians, and discovering what it was like to truly live as MEN.
Actually, we just ambled around in a mall for an hour. HEP is a series of high-end malls in the Umeda district of Osaka. Hep Navio was the one I wanted to see, since I’d only glimpsed it from outside on past visits. Those intriguing glimpses had stuck with me: a life-size red whale and a rooftop ferris wheel. Any mall that would install two things of that description was worth a closer look.
A ferris wheel. On the roof of a mall. I like to think somebody won a bet over this.
It soon became evident that Hep Navio was a “lady mall” since it offered floor after floor of nothing but women’s clothing. I had hoped to do some clothes shopping today, but it obviously wasn’t going to start here. Finding the ferris wheel lead us to a game arcade that was even more female-oriented than the stores. We weren’t the only males there, but we were utterly alien. Try as I might, I just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to go crane-arming for a pink plushy anything. Having a Japanese girlfriend seemed like a prerequisite, and we were only in town for a few more hours.
We spent some time in Umeda’s Mandarake store, which is just as much fun as any of them. It turned out to be non-productive, but it got us closer to opening time for Hirokazuya, source of the aforementioned okonomiyaki. I learned about it from a hotel clerk back in ’08 and have made it a regular stop ever since. JP and I were the first ones in at 6pm opening time.
We managed to down half of our respective meals before we bolted at 6:30 for the train back to Tokyo. Since there was a refrigerator waiting back in our Nakano kitchen, we took the rest to go. We carried it all the way back with us, placed it lovingly in that fridge, and never looked it again until we had to toss it out on the last day. That, my friends, is freedom.
Yamato 2202 newspaper spotted at Osaka station on our way out.
Tuesday, February 28
With the Osaka day trip as a midpoint for Yamatour 2017, I now eased into the second half. The big event for today was going to be the one I hadn’t planned for, a lunch meeting with the director of Yamato 2202, my friend Nobuyoshi Habara. I hadn’t dared ask for such a thing, but it was freely offered and you bet I grabbed hold.
Therefore, it was only proper that I start the day with a refresher course by seeing 2202 Chapter 1 again. On previous trips, it became customary to see every new movie three times over the course of the week. Since this one was under an hour and the Blu-ray had already been obtained, two screenings felt like enough.
Hello, beautiful! This would be my last viewing of the 1/100 Yamato model; it would be removed the next day. At right: LOTS of movie goods were sold out after the weekend. But the “Yamato bridge” T-shirt and the Hero’s Hill pennants were still piled high. There’s always a misfire in every round…
Dumb luck found me once again as I purchased my ticket at the Shinjuku Piccadilly. It was a morning show on a weekday, but the theater was surprisingly crowded – a very good sign for the future. I’d have to remember to tell Mr. Habara about it. As I looked up from the seating chart, my eyes landed on the name badge of the cashier: MORI. Spelled with exactly the same kanji as in “Yuki Mori.” I looked at her and said “Mori-san des’ka?” (It’s Ms. Mori?) She looked slightly surprised and smiled. “Yes.” I did what any red-blooded Yamato fan would do at that moment; threw her a salute.
Seeing Chapter 1 again was enlightening. The first time through a non-subtitled screening, you’re absorbing one surprise after another. You don’t start to pick up language cues until the second viewing, and I picked up plenty. More of the story revealed itself and I marveled at how densely-packed it was. A four-episode bundle would have been great, but I’d already decided that I was going to have to write a synopsis for Cosmo DNA and two episodes with this much information was an ample workload.
Left: my morning screening of Chapter 1. Right: Blade of the Immortal live-action movie coming soon!!!
Please be good, please be good, please be good…
Afterward, I had some time to spend in Shinjuku so I crossed over into pachinko land. Some of the city’s biggest casinos can be found across the street in Kabukicho, and I was still hoping to find one of the new Yamato 2199 games. To my perpetual disappointment, this was the one mission I could not complete. The online promo art we’ve seen for the game has been stunningly good, but that’s as close as I ever got.
Godzilla looms large over a new theater in Shinjuku, and also works at an open-flame grill around the corner.
On the other hand, making my way back toward Shinjuku station I stumbled upon the happiest find of the day: a 40th anniversary shop for my favorite comedy anime series: Dr. Slump. I’ve been a fan since the mid 80s, and have yet to find anything else to compare it with. Even if you mashed The Simpsons together with Toho Monster Movies, Popeye and Power Puff Girls, you still wouldn’t get an entire episode about a talking poop. Guaranteed.
The hero of the series is a little robot girl named Arale, who looks quite a bit like my daughter back when she was a miniature. Dr. Slump is the inventor who built her. They each have their respective caps, so I was 100% on board with getting one each for the two of us. I also had the unique pleasure of holding poop on a stick, something you can only get away with in the show itself.
I only had a few minutes before catching a train to lunch, but they made it easy to keep moving – the theme song to the anime series was on a constant loop at high volume. I don’t mind hearing it in the context of an episode, but having to listen non-stop would make me homicidal. I have nothing but respect for the employees who were subjected to it for an entire work day. They must hear it in their dreams now.
My lunch destination was the business district of Asakusa where I would be reunited with the lovely and charming Rina Lee. We first met in the spring Yamatour 2012 where she became my translator for three consecutive interviews. She knew very little about the world of Yamato at the time, but got interested and stayed involved. She’s now working for an entertainment company that participates in the voice recordings for 2202 and she’s in regular communication with the production side. This, naturally, made today’s meeting with Mr. Habara possible.
Possible, but – as it turned out – not guaranteed. Rina found me outside Asakusa station but she was there solo. Habara couldn’t get out of a morning meeting in time for lunch. That was sad to hear, but it had been an unplanned bonus to begin with, and it would still be fun to catch up with Rina. As those thoughts finished rolling through my head, her next sentence came out: “But he said you can go visit him at Xebec Studio tomorrow morning.”
Instant flashback to 2010: Sword Takeda tried to arrange a dinner meeting with Leiji Matsumoto that fell apart at the last minute. The consolation prize was an invite to his home instead. We can’t give you this candy bar, so take a bag of them instead.
As you can guess, that put a very positive spin on the rest of the day. Lunch was lovely. Rina is delightful company and knew exactly what kind of cuisine I was ready for after five days of food on the run (steak). She’s also mind-numbingly pretty and surrounded, according to her, by men who are too shy to speak up. If she lived anywhere else in the modern world, she’d need a bodyguard.
She’s been in the studio with Yamato voice actors (also working with Daisuke Ono on an unrelated project) and even made a contribution to the series in Yamato 2202 Episode 2. The English inscription on Captain Okita’s monument was translated into English by her. So now I can say I had lunch with a Yamato writer.
As we talked, she lamented about needing half a day away from her office so we agreed to team up for the Xebec meeting the next day. She gave me instructions on how to find the studio (in a neighborhood I’d not been to yet called Tanashi) and generously paid for lunch. Even without the promise of a landmark day to come, that lunch would have been a highlight of the trip.
Amazing cels spotted at Anime World Star in Nakano Broadway mall. Thanks to my posting these on the Cosmo DNA
Facebook page, the one on the right was purchased and now belongs to friend-of-the-website Patrick Bleakney.
Heading back to Nakano for a respite, I took another spin around Nakano Broadway and realized again what a privilege it was to call this my home for a week. Next stop was the Harajuku district for a tour of the numerous boutique clothing stores. The only Japanese clothing I’d bought on previous trips were anime-related T-shirts at Cospa and they always had to be extra-large. Some of them STILL didn’t fit when I got them home. This time I had the new pleasure of tearing through a “normal” store in search of wardrobe-fresheners. I found plenty, and they all fit. Physical fitness. Who knew?
The last item on Tuesday’s agenda was to meet up with Gwyn Campbell and Adrian Lozano again for a quick ramen noodle dinner (far tastier than I’d anticipated) and an “evening in” for some top-notch geek talk. For the past several years, they’ve regularly recorded the Macross Speaker podcast to keep the English-speaking world updated on Macross news. At the start of 2017, they decided to drop the word Macross from that title and expand the content to SF anime in general. They’d all seen Yamato 2202 Chapter 1 and were keen to get our mutual thoughts recorded.
And thus, if you care to hear exactly what we talked about – with no spoiler left unspoiled – click here to listen to Speaker Podcast Episode 76.
Click here for the climactic chapter of Yamatour 2017: a visit with Nobuyoshi Habara at Xebec Studio! You know you want to.
If this is the only trace of our existence after we have gone extinct, at least future beings will know we were civilized.