Thursday, November 13, 2014

My new toy from Japan

I'm still planning to write something of a trip report from my latest sojourn to my favorite island nation in the Pacific - I've just been a little preoccupied lately, mostly with work but a little bit with this:

A couple of the kids in my wife's family had PS Vitas when we were in Japan, and after seeing them playing, I couldn't resist. I am just a 40 year old kid, after all. (And I've been a gamer all my life.)

I hold weird allegiances when it comes to games, and I never even considered buying a PS Vita before. I've always owned Nintendo handhelds (up to the DS), and it pissed me off to an irrational degree when Sony announced the original PSP. The PS Vita I just wrote off as soon as it was released. But seeing people actually playing games on the system in Japan, along with the huge displays they have for Vita games and accessories at places like Bic Camera and Yodobashi (in contrast to the tiny little single shelf GameStop might devote to the system here), I just had to have one.

I picked up Powerful Pro Kun Baseball 2014 and Puyo Puyo Tetris while I was there - two franchises I know well. Puyo Puyo is usually sold as "Puyo Pop" here, and Powerful Pro Kun Baseball is the big-headed but surprisingly realistic baseball franchise that had one US domestic release on PS2, but is a long-running series in Japan.

I've since picked up Hot Shots Golf and have Persona 4 Golden on order - one nice thing about the Vita in the US is that the games are ridiculously cheap. And I'm far enough behind that I can buy all the older games that are even more heavily discounted.

But this is a fantastic system. It's well on its way to being my favorite portable system ever, already. I'm neither ready nor willing to trade physical controls for a phone's touch-screen, and the Vita's dual analog stick controls are the best ever in a handheld. Ditto for the screen, ditto for the graphics, which are easily at PS3 level quality in a freakin' handheld system.

Oh, btw, with the yen now at 115 to the dollar, it didn't make sense not to buy a system in Japan. And they have it in funky colors! (Mine's a new "Slim" model, though it's in a clear case in the photo above that makes it look chunkier than it is.) We just have boring black over here. No wonder the system's not doing well in the US.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Japan 2014!

Did I mention I was in Japan? The trip's basically over and I'm no longer in Tokyo, but I'm just now getting a little time to write even this introductory post. My wife and I have done a lot of stuff this time even though this trip was pretty disorganized from the start and most of our original plans fell through (again). It just seems impossible to exhaust all that even just Tokyo has to offer. And there's always fun stuff we can do again even if we've done it before.

Some of the highlights of this trip that you may be reading about here soon:
  • SCANDAL at Fujita University (already posted!)
  • Kimura Kaela at Yokohama Arena (her 10th anniversary show!)
  • Sega Joypolis - they've updated a lot since we were there last, and I won a Sonic!
  • Nagoya
  • Kit Kat Chocolatory
  • Tsukiji Fish Market (after 14 years of visits, we finally made it to the last tourist spot we wanted to try)
  • Hakkejima Sea Paradise
And tons of little things I might either put in some quick read posts or just my traditional random picture dump.

I'll be posting more shortly!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

X Japan at Madison Square Garden NYC 10/11/2014 Show Report

A few days ago my wife and I saw X Japan at Madison Square Garden. They're one of my wife's favorite bands, and I like them too.

Japanese music is like an alternate universe so near and yet so very far from our own. Imagine if Nirvana and grunge had never happened, and glam metal just kept right on going. That's the state of Japanese rock right now.

X Japan is like Motley Crue, Yngwie Malmsteen and Dokken put together. Definitely a virtuoso band in terms of musicianship, but with a lot of drama mixed in with party beats. They're massively popular in their home country, where they still sell out stadiums on a regular basis.

We were in section 107. Our section was kind of lame and the people in it pissed me off. The show started right at 8PM with no opening band (cheers to X for bringing this custom over from Japan!), and the people in front of us all just sat there. They didn't even clap, they sat completely motionless through most of the concert. I wondered why any of them were there. I would have loved to have gotten some closer seats if those people didn't care!

I tried sitting for a few minutes of the first song because I'm 6'4" and the tiny Japanese girls behind me probably deserved a chance to see (or maybe not, I don't know them), but it's just kind of rude to a band to sit there like an idiot. So I got up. This was a special show for them; I didn't want any small part in spoiling that.

The show itself was the mix of bombast and drama that you'd expect from an X Japan show, with plenty of pyrotechnics, a massive light show that the crowd ended up being part of (through electronically controlled LED bracelets), and a stage that extended all the way to the back of the arena. One thing I will say about X Japan is that they're pretty dynamic, and there was a good mix of soft and loud, slow and fast - that's all part of the drama, after all.

They sounded pretty good too, although they started off pretty quiet at first (and not just in quiet songs). We had a bank of speakers pointed directly at us and initially I was still able to talk to my wife at pretty normal volume - it was sort of like talking at a bar. This may have been calculated to make the crowd sound bigger for the upcoming DVD, though, because they actually got louder as the show went on. By the second encore, it started to get kind of ear-splitting - which is what you want from a show like this.

Of course there were the requisite solos, including a Yoshiki drum solo that took up a big part of the encore, during which his drum kit floated out to the edge of the extended stage pier and then rose up into the air. It was Tommy Lee-esque.

The band played two encores that ended up being about as long as the main show. To be honest, when they left the stage the first time I actually said, "that's it?" I checked my watch and it was 9:15. With a "normal" encore it'd still have been a very short show, but, you know, drama! A short show followed by two long encores makes for more of it... and they even played one more song after their announced "last song".

They played all the material you'd expect, plus two new songs from their newly-announced new album (it's new!), which, if I remember right, were called "Beneath Your Skin" and "Hero".

At the start of the second encore, Yoshiki played the American national anthem on piano, which made me strangely emotional. I'm not very patriotic and I text and Facebook my way through the boredom of the national anthem at baseball games, but something about this Japanese band coming to America and playing the American national anthem, and the crowd all singing it, got me a little verklempt.

They closed things out with a Yoshiki monologue about the band's history and a dedication to Taiji and Hide, their former members who died. Some American fans probably didn't get this (the Billboard show report thought it was just "schmaltz"), but this band's really been through a lot more than most. No, they didn't use the Hide hologram that they've employed at Japanese shows in the recent past, but they showed many pictures of the band's earlier days with him during the final encore. As a new fan of the band I might find this exploitative. But think about being a fan of a band from their early days, and one of your favorite members of that band dying. Wouldn't you want the rest of the band to pay tribute to that person any chance they get? So I understand it. It's different if you've been with them from the start. And Hide has ended up being sort of the Randy Rhoads of Japan.

Oh, and be sure to watch for the Yoshiki stage dive in my video above! I think he meant to crowd-surf but the crowd didn't quite know what to do! It was a very surprising moment - you can see my camera shake a bit because all I could think was "what?!"

Sunday, August 24, 2014

To those of you commenting here using the old Blogger system

This is just a heads-up for those of you who have been commenting recently. Somehow it seems like some of you are seeing the old standard Blogger comments, which I haven't used in maybe 5 years, and in fact I can't even reply to them. So if you've written a comment to me using this system (which just looks like a standard text box with a submit button, from what I remember), I unfortunately have no way to respond to you. I can see your comments but I just can't answer the questions you've asked or thank you for any of the kind words some of you have left.

I've been using Disqus as my comment system for a long time, and it's worked well. I don't get a lot of comments but I do get some and I'm still seeing Disqus comments come through. I also see the Disqus system when I view my blog posts as a reader. So I'm not sure exactly why some people are seeing the old system. I'll have to look further into it. But in the meantime, if you're *not* seeing Disqus comments at the bottom of a post and want to ask me something, please email me instead.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.

About Me

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I'm married. I like to travel. I have no kids. I have a house... that I'm bad at maintaining. I used to collect classic video games. I'm the proud owner of two Fender Jazzmasters, a Gretsch G5422DC, and a Fender Twin Reverb amp - all musical equipment far better than my ability to use it. When I was younger, I was in a band. I like gadgets, and I'm an Android guy. Someday, I would like to go to outer space.


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