Holiday Shopping Guide

Japanator's 2013 Holiday Shopping Guide: Music and Misc.

Dec 02 // Jeff Chuang
For all the Miku haters in your life... [embed]30581:3143:0[/embed] Mitchie M - The Greatest Idol (album)MSRP: 3000 yen (~$31 USD) A lot of people think little of Miku because, in the end, she's just a highly mixed, computer-generated set of sounds. Maybe it's more a statement on the heavily edited and tuned pop music of today than anything else, but to my ears, Mitchie M's Miku sounds no different than half of Perfume's library--or most high-energy pop female vocalists out there. While there is still a gap for those with a keen ear for the human voice, I wonder how well songs like "Weekender Girl" can do in a blind A/B test? This is all just to say Mitchie M is one of the best at using Miku as not just another instrument in the mix, but crafting a sound that makes the vocaloid capture some of the warmth of a human vocalist. If you spring the extra 900 yen (~$10) for the deluxe version of this album, it comes in a LP form factor, featuring a bigger version of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's illustration of said greatest idol. Of course, The Greatest Idol is not just good for fooling people about Miku, but it features the best of Mitchie M over the years, including his popular tracks from the Project Diva games. You can check out an abridged sample mix in the video up top, with Miku introducing the tracks herself. For your karaoke friends who like hot blooded, full-metal, screaming encores... [embed]30581:3144:0[/embed] JAM Project - Thumb Rise Again (album)MSRP: 3000 yen (~$31 USD) JAM Project does a lot of theme songs, but in recent years they haven't done a normal, solo album. The anime music power group has taken a lot of the time over the years touring, and while that's a great way to forge a new audience all over the world, they've been doing largely the same playlist. Now, with a new album this autumn, I'm glad they'll have an opportunity to sing some brand new stuff. Thumb Rise Again takes all of what JAM Project stands for, mixes it up and distill it back to its true arena rock essence. I think for anyone who had a great time at a JAM Project concert, this is a no-brainer buy. Just listening to the first track sends chills down my spine, it's so good. JAM Project played a set on Youtube back in October and demoed the PV for the titular track, Thumb Rise Again. Check out the video above to get a taste. For the alternative, fun-loving idol fan... [embed]30581:3145:0[/embed] Momoiro Clover Z - 5th Dimension (album)MSRP: 2667 yen (~$28 USD) Momoiro Clover Z is a relatively new idol act--but in this day and age, it sometimes takes no time for a quality idol group to go from zero to sixty in popularity. I think the group's sophomore album demonstrates the kind of chops that propelled them so far and so quickly; having a couple solid anime music tie-ins also helps, like the ending to Joshiraku and Bodacious Space Pirates. The best thing about Momoiro Clover Z is that they are a group focused on unabashed, full-throttle fun. There's the usual pandering-to-the-lowest-common-denominator going on, but they do it with such panache you're more likely to laugh it off than to find it offensive or awkward. Or maybe it's because the whole thing sounds just a little bit on the ludicrous side of "Oh Japan" that you won't mind too much. This is one idol group that has mass appeal without all of the baggage, and these five ladies sing their hearts out. For those who likes rock music and Psycho-Pass... [embed]30581:3146:0[/embed] Ling Tosite Sigure - i’mperfect (album)MSRP: 2913 yen (~$30 USD) Supercell - Zigaexperientia (album)MSRP: 3000 yen (~$31 USD) Okay, to be honest, for many people who love music, Ling Tosite Sigure may be hit or miss. I think they're definitely a quality alt-rock band who've taken the hard road from indie to major. They have an interesting, if unique, sound, and this album is one way to get a taste of that. What sweetens the deal is all their Psycho-Pass tie-ins. For those who are interested in the always-developing J-rock cycle, i'mperfect is a good start. For those who prefer to stay on the more pop/anime side of things, the new Supercell album is probably what you want. Or both! They both are really good rock music! Supercell's third full album probably doesn't need much of an introduction, but I think the two new vocalists really knocked it out of the park. Just also note that besides the rocking opening number embedded above, Zigaexperientia also features the theme songs to Magi, BRS TV, Nerawareta Gakuen, and Psycho-Pass. For that one disgusting seiyuu otaku in your life... [embed]30581:3147:0[/embed] Kana Hanazawa - claire (album)MSRP: 3000 yen (~$31 USD) Confession: I check out a lot of seiyuu music. Over the years, one constant I found out is that most of it just isn't very good. It's not even because the seiyuu can't sing; quite the contrary (and more and more in recent years), many of them can hold a tune. Rather, more often than not they're just not well-produced. It's not unusual to find a song that doesn't fit the vocal range of the singer, or with poor delivery, or a song that would've sounded much better if it wasn't sung in character. So when I ran into Kana Hanazawa's solo debut, I was definitely surprised by how effective all of those elements came together in order to produce a very listenable product. Granted, this is still all about Kana Hanazawa. Do you like her voice? I think most of us do, given how many popular character she has voiced--although some may be getting a little tired of her, to be honest. But from the addictive vocals of Renai Circulation, there are few better ways sweet nothings can be whispered into one's ears (and not just because it takes a special kind of kimoi otaku to play this with a boombox, in public). If someone forces you with fire and/or poison to pick out a seiyuu album, choose this one. For your friend who never gets tired of "One Winged Angel"... Theatrhythm Compilation AlbumMSRP: 3800 yen (~$40 USD) Some people just cannot get tired of Final Fantasy music. Square-Enix knows this, which is why they came out with Theatrhythm and packaged it with DLC, making a shiny dime on rearranged music from ages ago. Of course, for people who love the music, this means a soundtrack for said Theatrhythm game is now a thing. I've long lost count the number of Final Fantasy compilation-type releases out there (including at least a couple this year), but the Theatrhythm Compilation Album is pretty neat in that it's both a compilation and it has music from a totally new game, as Theatrhythm has its own original compositions. This 5-disc set is also a good value at just a little more than the price of a normal CD album. That's good, because you might be gifting some things a Final Fantasy music nut may already have...not that any of them will mind, from my experience. For those who love bombastic music and Attack on Titan... Attack on Titan SoundtrackMSRP: 3000 yen (~$31 USD) We already know that Linked Horizon is going to perform on Kohaku, so this is a sure way to get a piece of that hot Jaeger popularity and familiar yourself with that catchy line in German before the Dec. 31st TV show. To me, the Attack on Titan soundtrack celebrates not just a popular anime this year, but the body of work of Hiroyuki Sawano. This young composer (only 33 years old!) burst onto the scene and created some really great scores for shows like Blue Exorcist, Psycho Pass, Guilty Crown, Gundam Unicorn, Sengoku Basara, and probably his latest hit, Kill la Kill. I think that alone justifies this gift for anyone who appreciates soundtrack music, even if they don't care too much about that anime with tall walls and giant man-eating monsters. Attack on Titan might be the "biggest" sound that Sawano has produced for an anime, so it's at least sure to amuse. Hopefully it'll be a gateway for people to explore Sawano's other scores, so they'll discover the diversity of his work. Keep in mind, if you know your giftee doesn't love Attack on Titan, the Kill La Kill soundtrack-- also out just in time for Christmas-- makes a great alternative. For the master-grade figure collector... Max Factory 15th Anniversary - Belldandy with Holy Bell (fixed-pose PVC figure)MSRP: 19800 yen (~$200 USD) To celebrate its 25th year, Max Factory decided to release one of their resin kits as a prepainted PVC figure. What you get in the box is a towering 1/10 scale of Belldandy of Ah My Goddess, with Holy Bell coming out of her back. Yeah, Ah My Goddess is not as popular in 2013-2014 as it was back in the day, but for those who appreciate fine craftsmanship, you can't go wrong with Bell. This is simply one of the most amazing fixed-pose PVC figure that you can buy off the shelf, without touch-up, painting and assembly (well, very minor assembly is still required). As of this writing you can actually buy this thing from the usual importers like HLJ, Hobby Search, Amiami, and the like. Each figure of this limited edition release is individually numbered, so when it's gone it is most definitely gone. Sure, it probably won't fit in a Detolf, because it deserves better than that. This is a figure that can anchor or be the centerpiece of a collection, the kind that comes by once every few years, and even among those, few are as classic as this. You can find more pictures and more places to order from via Tomopop. To those well-versed in Tankery... Girls und Panzer StuG III (Team Hippo colors)MSRP: 4775 yen (~$50 USD) You can buy Girls und Panzer on DVD and Blu-ray this Christmas. Great. Now get a tank to go with it. Our own Josh Tolentino recommended it, probably because Team Hippo is great, and frankly a tank with this look is simply the best. By best I mean it will bring your friends and family a lot of laughs, strange stares, and general hysteria (in a good way, surely). That said, this well-modeled StuG III has optional parts you can swap in for a more, shall we say, conventional look. There is even a third option to change the paint job to mirror its later evolution within the anime, once the tankery practitioners realized that tall flags and wild bright colors do poorly in combat. So, yes, the option is there to disguise this very eye-catching conversation piece. On a separate note, if the gift can wait until after Christmas, I would also recommend the ending version of the Team Anglerfish Panzer IV which ships in January. To those who have mastered the digital... Japanese Playstation Network cards, Japanese iTunes cardsMSRP: Varies To some people gifting gift cards may be cold and impersonal, but to some otaku it's a great favor, assuming you give the right cards. Some things are only available as a digital purchase, and some of us prefer to do things the futuristic way-- because the future is, like, now. Last year I recommended the Playstation Store point cards. Confession: I probably spent more than 30,000 yen on Idolm@ster-related digital purchases, just on the Playstation Store. And that is just Idolm@ster. This year we're adding Japanese iTunes gift cards to the list, because regardless of what's happening in the industry, iTunes Japan is simply the best one-stop shop for your Japanese music needs. In fact, probably all of the music recommendations on this list will end up on iTunes, if they are not already there. As usual, the issue of setting up a Japanese account is going to be a barrier to entry, either for the Playstation Store or the iTunes store, but there are a lot of guides online to help you with it. Helping someone set up an account can also be a great gift you can give to your friends or family, on top of obtaining these cards for them. Speaking of which, J-List and Play-Asia are just two of many sites that offer these for the holidays. With that new-found purchasing power, you can buy, say, most of Square-Enix's music library. Most major label (and many smaller label) music publishers also go to iTunes as Japan's biggest digital music shop. You can access the growing number of games on the iOS app store as well, if language is not an issue. On both iTunes and Playstation Store, a ton of raw anime (available to rent or purchase), plus the Playstation Store's game library, is just a few button presses away.  For the stationary otaku with the best handwriting... [embed]30581:3148:0[/embed] Hobonichi Planner 2014MSRP: Starting at 2500 yen (~$26 USD) The concept is simple--combine a planner with a journal, and here you have it. The Hobonichi Planner is a planner that opens up with a page a day, with monthly views and a day-by-day view. You're encouraged to doodle or otherwise be creative with the planner and use it every day. Draw in it, use it as a scrapbook, use it as a diary, whatever you want. The first English-language version of the Hobonichi Planner is now available for 2014, so it makes a natural present. Kristina has reviewed the Hobonichi Planner for us. What's kind of neat are the special covers you can buy and customize your planner with--including two very sweet North Face covers. For those interested, you can order the planner (also called a techo) directly from Hobonichi. More importantly, there's a community of stationary-oriented people around the Hobonichi Techo, which may be helpful to get you (or the giftee) up to speed in terms of what you can do with it. Well, there you have it-- that's all of our holiday shopping guides for this year here at Japanator. We hope you have something special picked out for every otaku on your list, and maybe even some non-otaku. If you're currently scratching your head over what to get the remainder of the folks on your list (should any remain), when in doubt, go with chocolate. 
Shopping: Music photo
Jam some bombastic tunes in your stocking
You've already seen our holiday recommendations for anime, manga, and video games; what could possibly be left? Quite a lot, actually. Not only do we have recommendations for music lovers (and we hope that group includes pret...

Japanator's 2013 Holiday Shopping Guide: Video Games

Dec 02 // Brittany Vincent
For the dark and brooding MegaTen fan in your life... [embed]30590:3164:0[/embed] Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)MSRP: $49.99  You just can't go wrong with Shin Megami Tensei IV. Shin Megami Tensei is a long-running franchise with a colorful, varied past. Where games like Final Fantasy are hopeful, fantastical, and chock-full of Western fantasy tropes, MegaTen is generally more "modern" and comfortable as the dark horse of Japanese RPGs, combining dark, matter-of-fact storytelling with a mixture of mythological monsters and fearsome demons. It's also off the charts on the quirk scale, with plenty of strangeness to go around. The fourth entry in the core Shin Megami Tensei mythos was a long time coming, but it's finally arrived - on the Nintendo 3DS, to boot. The newest entry is an excellent starting point for newcomers, providing tour through the elements that made the MegaTen games great in the first place. It feels great, it's optimized for handhelds, and it's perfect for on the go play. The ever-changing world, morality system, and droves of demons are enough to lure you in and keep you engaged to fight through the difficult sections, so take some pride when doling out this baby for the holidays. If my word isn't enough, check out Tim's review.  Atlus has presented Shin Megami Tensei fans with another great entry to the series with a fresh new look, while keeping the experience familiar enough to entice them. Newcomers should find an intriguing tale, and a unique role playing experience but may be put off by its difficulty. For the hardcore fans, the games does offer multiple endings, as well as a new game plus. Shin Megami Tensei IV presents a grand story, beautiful art, deep dungeons to explore, and hundreds of demons to meet, all set to an amazing soundtrack -- a must have for role playing fans everywhere. For the Tales lover who can't get enough of the grind... [embed]30590:3165:0[/embed] Tales of Xillia (PS3)MSRP: $39.95   With fantastical narratives, whimsical characters, and well-constructed mechanics, the Tales series of JRPGs is generally held in high regard, with adoring fans all over the globe -- and the latest Western release should be right up your alley. Our own Chris Walden reviewed the game for us, and gave it an 8/10, with his ringing endorsement: "Tales of Xillia sets a high bar for other JRPGs entering the western market, as its combination of likeable characters, rich worlds and an enjoyable battle system prove that there's life in this genre yet. Sure, there are some unfortunate blemishes here and there, but if you want to dive into a good old swords 'n' stats JRPG, this should definitely be one to consider. Hopefully the sequel builds upon the successes of the original, so you can colour me excited for the eventual 2014 release. In the meantime, be sure to dig into this gem in preparation." For the budding prosecutor in your life... [embed]30590:3167:0[/embed] Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies (3DS)MSRP: $29.99 (eShop only) The latest entry in the long-running Phoenix Wright saga is a rousing one, with plenty of new cases, laughs, and head-scratching to go around. It just so happens that Dual Destinies could be one of the best Ace Attorney games yet, as Ben scored it a fantastic 9/10. With revamped animations, dialogue with actual voices (!) and other cool surprises, it's no wonder it landed a spot on our list. Ben sums it up like so: "[...] while this is the easiest AA game to jump into cold, I still advise you to play the earlier games in the series first. It's definitely not required, but the experience is much richer if that background is there. If you're a longtime Ace Attorney fan who isn't exactly sure about these new changes, I highly recommend you ignore your reservations and jump in pronto! It doesn't quite reach the highs set by AA3, but it's still an incredibly solid entry. Don't let the digital-only release hold you back -- Ace Attorney 5: Dual Destinies is one of the best 3DS games, and one of my favorite games this year. If you miss out on Phoenix Wright's triumphant return, I must simply object!" For the aspiring pop stars and Vocaloid fans... [embed]30590:3168:0[/embed] Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F (PS3/Vita)MSRP: $39.99   Everyone's favorite Vocaloid has her own rhythm game in the vein of Gitaroo Man, so that's basically a celebration on its own. Even if you're not into Vocaloid, if you dig sugary pop and awesome music games, you owe it to yourself to either pick this one up or surprise that future pop star in your life with a copy of Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F in their stocking. Chris dug it, scoring the Vita iteration an 8/10: "Project DIVA F is another great game to add to the series, with just a few problems holding it back from being perfect. The visuals are fantastic on the Vita, the interface looks great and the song selection is solid for returning players. The addition of star notes is really the biggest issue the game has, as it really doesn't add any positives to the gameplay. I suggest if the thought of them puts you off buying this, you wait for the PS3 version. No touch screen to ruin the fun! The price is also quite substantial, so I'd lean towards waiting for that version if you have to pick between the two. Still, portable DIVA is definitely a good enough reason to pick this up, and hey, nothing wrong with earning a few more trophies either. Just remember that you'll need another memory card if you don't have a Japanese PSN account and want the DLC." For those who want to be the best, like no one ever was... [embed]30590:3169:0[/embed] Pokémon X & Y (3DS)MSRP: $39.99  The games press (including myself) have been singing the praises of the latest Pokémon games for some time, and for good reason: they're awesome. Pokémon X & Y offers a plethora of old and new ideas that work extremely well together, with online trading tools, mini games like Pokemon-Amie to endear your party members to you, and plenty of other reasons to keep playing long after you’ve become a Pokémon Master. It’s the best-looking and most accessible game so far, and this is the direction the series needs to go in in the future, especially since the games seem to have found a meaningful mix of new and old monsters to please all generations of fans.  For Ghibli fans who love a good traditional RPG... [embed]30590:3170:0[/embed] Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)MSRP: $29.99 Fans of Ghibli films and anime will find plenty to love about this old-school traditional romp, and it's heartwarming in all the right ways. It's almost as if you're playing through an actual Ghibli movie, barring some annoying voiceovers here and there. Studio Ghibli could have drawn from any film in its well-established stable, but crafting from the ground up with Level-5 resulted in what is one of the best RPGs available on the PlayStation 3. Children, adults, and the young-at-heart alike should find common ground with Oliver, even if Mr. Drippy is an obnoxious little snit. Chris awarded it a 9 out of 10. "Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is, quite simply, one of the most noteworthy RPGs in recent years. Released in a genre that has grown increasingly stale, it pulls out all the stops to blow away any and all preconceptions and show that there is life there yet. But it's not content with just showing it has a few new tricks, no, it demonstrates to us all that it can rival even the most highly regarded games in the genre. I can count the number of memorable RPGs on one hand, so the beautiful and vibrant world of Ni no Kuni is in sparse but good company." For fans of brawlers that ooze style... [embed]30590:3171:0[/embed] Dragon's Crown (PS3/Vita)MSRP: $49.99 Dragon's Crown is nothing short of gorgeous, from its macabre illustrations to its sometimes hilarious character animations. Luckily, it's more than just a spectacle, combining the addictive nature of a role-playing game with the drop-in and drop-out stylings of a great party game. Though many will of course remain divided as to whether or not a certain bouncing bosom is trying too hard, those who decide to take the plunge will be rewarded with a challenging yet accessible cooperative journey that begs to be played again and again. Josh Tolentino had a look at the game as well, and awarded it a 9 out of 10! Check out his review here. "Despite these fumbles, Dragon's Crown is an expertly-crafted brawler that adds depth, nuance, and freshness to an aging formula, and presenting it in a sublime homage to its genre ancestors as well as classic cliches of sword-and-sorcery role-playing. Hail to the king, adventurers!" For Metal Gear fans who actually liked Raiden... [embed]30590:3172:0[/embed] Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (360/PS3)MSRP: $39.99  This hack-and-slash adventure featuring Raiden wasn't as well-received as it could have been, but it's still an intriguing time for players who dug what they saw of Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Over-the-top boss fights, trademark Kojima action, and more make this an action romp fans will flock to even if to catch a whiff of something other than Metal Gear stealth action. It's not perfect, but it's an interesting alternative to RPGs, fighters, and adventure games.  For gamers who prefer off-the-wall strat-RPG action... [embed]30590:3173:0[/embed] Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness (PS3)MSRP: $49.99  I reviewed this especially wacky entry in the Disgaea series, and I was quite keen on it, awarding a 9 out of 10. Check out my full review here, but the gist is that I found it to be an awesome starting point for those new to the games and an all-around value-packed choice that would make a great gift.  "A slick interface, high-definition models and cut scenes, and a spot-on script work in tandem to keep things up to the level of excellence we've come to expect from Disgaea, and the characters themselves (including some fresh faces) are as charming as ever. When you're not plotting your next move, you'll likely be doubled over with laughter. It's rare that video games exhibit such a rare eye for comedic timing, but this script nails it. The dub is fantastic as well; Laharl still exudes that same plucky confidence, and over the course of the game you start to feel a little of it yourself." For ravenous monster hunters... [embed]30590:3174:0[/embed] Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (3DS/Wii U)MSRP: $39.99  True, the Monster Hunter games can be a little daunting for players who have never experienced the thrill of taking down an especially difficult bounty, but once you take the plunge you'll find it tough to come back to games that don't require you to work at conquering enemies. There's an entire sea of other players out there to work alongside, so you're essentially giving the gift of new friendship to whomever you choose to buy this for. Plus, you can play on a console or opt for the portable version, which is just as good. Still not out of funds yet after perusing all these holiday guides? What are you, Scrooge McDuck? In any case, whether you're hoarding the very last pennies in your piggy bank for something special, or you've been holding out all this time for different sort of gift, Japanator's last shopping guide for the season will cover music and other miscellaneous gift ideas. Get your body ready. 
Video Games photo
Spread some cheer and awesome video games this year
Welcome to Japanator's 2013 holiday guide to excellent video games. Just like anime and manga, there's a seemingly endless parade of titles out there vying for your attention, and we're here to ensure you don't swerve off the...

Japanator's 2013 Holiday Guide: Manga

Dec 02 // Brad Rice
For the mecha fan who needs to read more... Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin (Vertical)MSRP: $29.99 Gundam, love it or hate it, is a hallmark of our fandom. This is the giant robot title that got us all excited for 30-ft tall mechs and the pretty boys who pilot them. Gundam: The Origin takes us back to the beginning -- back to Char Aznable, Amuro Ray, and Bright Noa -- and provides a great jumping in point for new fans daunted by the sheer volume of Gundam stories to get into. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko's art makes it pretty easy to get into, as well. The scenes are beautifully drawn, offering up great detail on the mech designs and the battle scenes. Each volume goes at a killer pace, and leaves you hungry for the next. I'm not even a giant robot fan, but it's been a must-buy title for me with every volume that comes out. Be sure to get the volumes this year, because you never know when Vertical's beautiful hardcover editions will go entirely out of print! Sure, digital copies will exist, but it doesn't match the look and feel of these hardcover editions. For the teenage boy who loves boobs, violence, and boobs... Wolfsmund (Vertical)MSRP: $12.95 If you've got a friend who's interested in action and just loves to stare at boobs, then Wolfsmund is going to be the manga for them! Set in medieval Europe, Wolfsmund is a dramatic version of the story of William Tell, as done by Mitsuhisa Kuji -- an assistant on the Berserk manga. That should give you an idea of where this title will go. It's proven to be one of the more engaging stories this year, as Kuji quickly has you rooting for the downfall of the Castle Wolfsmund. I spent some more time recommending this in my A Look @ Wolfsmund piece, which is worth checking out for more detailed info on the story. This will be right up the alley for anyone who's been interested in violent medieval-era tales, such as Berserk or Guin Saga. For the J-RPG lover in your life... The Sky: The Art of Final Fantasy (Dark Horse)MSRP: $89.99 There's nothing better than a book full of Yoshitaka Amano to class up your coffee table. Amano's art defined the look and feel of the Final Fantasy series, and what better item to give to your J-RPG-loving friends than this tome of Amano's art designs? It's jaw-droppingly beautiful, and something that will be hard to part with when you pick it up in stores. I mean, just take a look at the inside images on Amazon's page. Gorgeous, isn't it? The three-volume slipcase will make a nice gift for anyone who's logged months and months of their lives playing Final Fantasy games. For the person who only reads "indie" titles... Attack on Titan (Kodansha)MSRP: $10.99 If your giftee hasn't gotten on the Attack on Titan bandwagon, it's time to get them hooked. Sure, they might want the "hip" stuff, but Titan is just too good to pass up. Attack on Titan has quickly become one of the hottest titles on the market -- driving up an even greater sales frenzy than typical stalwarts Bleach and Naruto. The story features humanity fighting back from the brink of extinction against a new class of predator -- the monstrous Titans. Not only is there the mystery of where these gigantic beasts came from, but also why one young recruit has a mysterious power that can help turn the tide against the Titans. The series created a sensation when the anime hit simulcast channels, and the manga has been a huge seller ever since. At New York Comic Con, both Vertical and Kodansha Comics announced licenses for several spinoffs and light novels, which means now is a good time to get into the series before the material becomes overwhelming. For the Nintendo fanboy in your life... The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia (Dark Horse)MSRP: $34.99 Before there was Final Fantasy in our lives, many of us first sat down with our NES, SNES, or N64 (youngin'!) to play a Legend of Zelda game. Whether your memories are of the original or Twilight Princess, Hyrule Historia will be a tome filled with fond memories. Containing numerous character designs, release notes, interviews, essays, and manga pages, this book is the edition that deserves to be in the hands of your gamer giftee. Not only are you giving the gift of all that Zelda lore contained within the book, but you'll also light the spark of desire to play the games once again. Before you know it, your friend will be down in the basement, booting up the NES and searching around for that gold cartridge. It'll be a warm trip down Nostalgia Lane. For the ultimate shoujo fan... Sailor Moon Box Set I and II (Kodansha)MSRP: $65.94 Much like Gundam: The Origin, Sailor Moon is another important title in our otaku history. It's the magical girl show that launched a thousand ships and showed all of us that girls can kick our butts (with the power of the Moon). Now that Kodansha is finally done with the run of the original series, you can give the gift of Sailor Moon in two convenient box sets. Then, once your friend plows through all 12 volumes, they can move on and devour all the short stories available. Oh, and they can spend endless hours trying to figure out the ending, too. Even though many of us watched Sailor Moon when it first came out in the west, there's a wholly different -- and wholly necessary -- experience in reading the series. For the friend who already owns a katana... Lone Wolf & Cub Omnibus Edition (Dark Horse)MSRP: $19.99 Have a friend who's big into samurai stories? Lone Wolf & Cub is the classic series for them. Originally released in the US in the '80s, they're finally getting a properly-sized reprint in these omnibus editions. This celebrated title is about the Emperor's executioner going on the run with his three-year-old son after false accusations force him out of his position. Armed with his trusty sword and Battle Carriage, Ogami is forced to be an assassin in order to get through life. Lone Wolf & Cub has seen six movies, four plays, and a TV adaptation, and has influenced artists on both sides of the Pacific since its debut in 1970. Since it's a classic series that hasn't been in wide circulation in recent years, now is the perfect time to make it a gift they're sure to love.  For the friend who spends too much time in the bath... Thermae Romae (Yen Press)MSRP: $34.99 The premise: an unsuccessful Roman builder finds himself time-traveling to modern-day Japan when he falls asleep inside of a hot tub. There, he finds the Japanese bath designs fascinating and brings the technology back to Ancient Rome and wins himself great glory as an inventive bath house maker. That's enough of a hook for you, isn't it? Yen Press pulled out all the stops in their production of this series, giving the title all the same pomp that Vertical put into Gundam: The Origin. And this is a title that deserves it -- the art is rich with historical detail and marvelous to behold. For the friend who loved Satoshi Kon... Tropic of the Sea (Vertical)MSRP: $14.95 Satoshi Kon left a big impact on the world of anime when he died, but now we're seeing more of his early work come out into the light. Tropic of the Sea was Kon's first published manga, and it carries all the hallmark beauty of his later works. It's a classic tale of traditional culture butting heads with the business-minded desires to modernize everything, and what happens when the local shrine's sacred treasure is put in jeopardy. It's a basic story, but the art in this single-volume title is Moebius-quality stuff. To boot, there's an included essay of Kon's (originally written for the Japanese republication of Tropic of the Sea) where he eerily foreshadows some of his health problems. That essay alone is worth the purchase price for Kon fans, and this unusual volume will make a great gift for anyone who loved his works. For anyone who's been through high school... No Matter How I Look At It It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! (Yen Press)MSRP: $11.99 We've all been in Tomoko's shoes: sitting alone all night playing otome games in the hopes of mastering social skills, only to find that once she arrives at high school, she's a total loner. The title then follows Tomoko as she takes a look in the mirror and sees what she needs to change. It sucks. A lot. If you've ever been socially awkward, then this title will speak to you loud and clear. You can feel Tomoko's anxiety and awkwardness radiate off the page, which is a testament to how well Nico Tanigawa tells the story. It's a flip on the slice of life genre, and if your friend liked Lucky Star, this will be an easy transition into something with a bit more grit to it. Those are our manga picks for the season; of course, if some of the people on your shopping list are of a less literary bent (*sniff* *scoff!* Pardon us while we adjust our monocles), Japanator has shopping guides for games and music coming up later this Cyber Monday.
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Keep your friends well-read this holiday season
Black Friday has already come and gone, which means that the days are quickly counting down before you need a gift. Bookstores are still a viable retailer for manga, which saves you with that last-minute gift. Are you standin...

Japanator's 2013 Holiday Shopping Guide: Anime

Dec 02 // Karen Mead
For the casual anime fan... [embed]30645:3182:0[/embed] Akira 25th Anniversary Edition MSRP: $34.98 Some fans don't keep up with current anime, but still have a lot of appreciation for the classics. It's been my experience that among those viewers who enjoy anime as an occasional treat rather than a daily obsession, Akira is seen as the crème de la crème-- and with very good reason. Fortunately, the recently released Akira 25th Anniversary Edition is about as close to perfection as you can ask for; it's the grand dystopian spectacular that made oodles of people fall in love with anime in the first place, with better-than-ever visual quality and audio. Seriously, it's Akira, what more needs to be said? For fantasy lover in your life... [embed]30645:3183:0[/embed] Fate/Zero Limited Edition Blu-ray Box Set I MSRP: $187.98 If you like myths and legends, the whole Fate/Stay Night series is probably your cup of tea. The violence and occasional gore isn't for everyone, but the series' premise of modern-day magi summoning mythical heroes from both the distant past and far future is a lot of fun, with a particularly interesting take on Arthurian lore. Of course, your fantasy-loving friend probably already owns the box set of the Fate/Stay Night TV series (and possibly Unlimited Blade Works, but let's not dwell on that), so Fate/Zero, the recently released prequel, is your best bet. This limited edition comes with the works, including a soundtrack CD, but keep in mind it only contains the first 13 episodes; the second box set is due out on Dec. 31. For the shounen lover who's already seen all of Naruto and Bleach... [embed]30645:3184:0[/embed] Blue Exorcist Limited Edition Blu-Ray Box Set I and II MSRP: $174.98 (each) Blue Exorcist is in a strange category: the under-appreciated shonen series. It's a quality show with great characters and impressive production values that has a good reputation among anime fans, but always seems to get lost in the shadow of the bigger shonen franchises. I reviewed Box Set II earlier this fall and was quite pleased with it, so that's the version I'm recommending; however, if the limited editions are too rich for your blood (which is totally understandable), keep in mind that this show was also released on DVD earlier this year for nearly a third the price. Whatever your price range, the action-packed and often humorous adventures of Rin, the world's cutest devil-spawn, should be more widely enjoyed. For that friend who is kind of getting sick of anime... [embed]30645:3185:0[/embed] Wolf Children MSRP: $34.98 Some people are tired of your little sister romance tales, your vampire warriors, and your feisty magical girlfriends falling from the sky, etc. ; in other words, anime tropes. I can enjoy shows that dip into the trope well at times, but even I start to get fatigued sometimes when it feels like every title is a collection of things I've seen before. For people who love anime, but are also kind of starting to hate anime a little bit (you know what I mean), director Mamoru Hosoda's Wolf Children is just what any jaded fan needs to rekindle their love of the art form. It showcases the best of anime-- an imaginative premise, stellar artwork, and a story that can move you-- with virtually none of the typical drawbacks. Give the gift of Wolf Children and you'll not only give a great present; you may just save an otaku from an existential crisis. For that friend who thinks that moe is the cancer that's killing anime... [embed]30645:3186:0[/embed] Girls Und Panzer: TV Collection MSRP: $69.98 Okay, okay, I kid: Girls Und Panzer isn't necessarily the best gift for your friend that thinks that moe is the cancer that's killing anime. That person probably wants High School of the Dead or something, but I'm not recommending that. However, for any fan that has a low opinion of anime with cute-as-a-button girls at the helm, Girls Und Panzer just might be the title to change their mind. When it was first announced, we thought GUP was going to be another disposable cute-girls-doing-cute-things show, but we were wrong: instead, the show takes it's tank battles incredibly seriously, leading to some seriously entertaining viewing. It's a surprisingly clever series that may charm even the Scroogiest otaku around with it's incendiary moxie. For those with children, or children at heart... [embed]30645:3187:0[/embed] My Neighbor Totoro Two Disc Blu-ray/DVD combo MSRP: $39.99 Recommending My Neighbor Totoro to anime fans is a bit like recommending Oreos to people who like cookies: how could you not already know about it? Still, it's an older film, and you might be surprised at how many younger otaku still haven't gotten around to seeing it...like, er, me. Yes, I realize I that I need to surrender my otaku card after this shocking reveal, but what can I say, the stars just never aligned and I never saw Totoro. However, since it's apparently one of the greatest children's films ever made, I plan to rectify this by buying two copies of this release: one for me, and one for my two-year-old niece. How do you like them apples? Furthermore, if you want to give someone the gift of Studio Ghibli magic but they've already seen Totoro a million times (which is entirely possible), keep in mind that Ghibli films From Up on Poppy Hill and Howl's Moving Castle were also released in Blu-ray/DVD combo packs earlier this year. For the otaku who demands more from their entertainment... Humanity Has Declined: Complete Collection MSRP: $59.98 Honestly, Humanity Has Declined makes for an odd Yuletide gift. "Happy Holidays! Here, have the gift of tremendous cynicism for the future of human life on this planet." However, this snarky 2012 TV series is like nothing else out there, and pretty it's rare that you can say that. For the thinking otaku, this show's post-apocalyptic skewering of culture (both otaku culture specifically and in general) will provide some serious food for thought, as well as more than a few laughs. If you're not familiar with it, think the anime version of MTV's Daria, only with bizarre episodic plots that seem to have come straight out of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's definitely not for everyone, but for the otaku who's tired of happy-go-lucky fare, they might just be perversely delighted that you strayed so far off the beaten path to get them something this weird. For the gamer who wishes they really were trapped in an MMO... [embed]30645:3188:0[/embed] Sword Art Online Blu-ray Box Set I-IV MSRP: $112.98 (each) Sword Art Online is a polarizing series; so much so that I know for a fact that several of you are rolling your eyes just to see it included on this list, like you over there in the black shirt-- yeah, I can see you, deal with it. Still, despite the legion of detractors, it was visually spectacular and offered up some interesting ideas about the future of virtual environments, even if the level of the writing was arguably below where it needed to be to make for compelling viewing. You should probably test out your potential giftee first to make sure they aren't in the "I hate SAO and everything it stands for!" camp before you fork over the cash for this, but if they're going into it unbiased, these sets make pretty snazzy gifts. Even our own Elliot, who doesn't even like the show much, was impressed by the quality of these releases. For your friend who loves the Marvel and DC movies... [embed]30645:3189:0[/embed] Tiger & Bunny Blu-ray Box Set I and II MSRP: $44.82 (each) Superhero anime is an interesting little subcategory. While there's tons of anime that feature heroes with supernatural powers, most shows are very different in style and tone from the exploits of American-style costumed superheroes. Japanese live-action series are another story (see: Superhero Time), but for some reason, the stories of costumed, super-powered heroes feel like a separate entity from anime. Cue Tiger and Bunny, an anime that is unabashedly about costumed superheroes and their exploits. I don't know if this show will convert non-anime fans into otaku-- you never can tell with these things-- but it's pretty safe to say that anyone who enjoys superhero tales will probably get a kick out of the super-polished Tiger and Bunny. For the incurable romantic... Pet Girl of Sakurasou 1 MSRP: $59.98 People kind of flipped when Pet Girl was first announced, since the initial summary made it sound like it was about a guy taking care of a mentally disabled girl. It turns that on this show, "mentally disabled" seems to mean "absent-minded but incredible artistic genius," so the whole idea of spacey Mashiro being the main character's "pet" isn't really the mean-spirited joke that people were afraid it was. That said, if you can get past the questionable title, what you have is a unique and surprisingly moving romantic comedy that deals with the nature of genius; both what it's like to be exceptional, and what it's like for the "normal" people who surround the exceptional ones. It's one of those trojan horse shows that turned out to be a lot more interesting than we thought (see: Outbreak Company), and viewers who enjoy rom-coms and/or shows about art will likely enjoy it. For your friend who likes to keep things old school... Gatchaman Complete Collection MSRP: $149.98 If you know someone who likes seeing the original series that went on to influence other titles decades later, you can hardly do better than this Gatchaman collection. Not only does it include all 105 episodes of the 1972-74 TV series, but it also includes the three OVAs and a slew of special features. Naturally, by modern standards this costumed heroes show is rather corny, but that's part of the charm; it's also significantly darker than the neutered US versions, Battle of the Planets and G-Force, from years back. Also, the good guys are technically called "the Science Ninja Team," and it probably merits a purchase just for that. Don't you want to be able to tell your friend, "I got you the complete adventures of the SCIENCE NINJA TEAM!"? I feel cool just typing it. Now, have you made your picks from this list-- and hopefully, aren't completely out of money? Excellent, because we've got more holiday gift guides coming your way here at Japanator. In the meantime, get back to decking the halls, or trimming the tree, or whatever it is you do this time of year. Or sit back in a comfy chair and watch anime, that works too. Happy Holidays guys, whatever you celebrate.  
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Nothing fills that stocking like a Blu-ray box set
Wondering what to pick up for the otaku in your life this holiday season? Well, you should be. If you give someone a bad anime this year, who knows what could happen? Friendships could be lost over the misguided gift of Rurou...


Japanator's 2012 Holiday Shopping Guide: Goods and Music

Dec 02 // Josh Tolentino
Marcus Speer suggests: For the religious Nujabes / jazz-hop fan: [embed]27301:1865[/embed] Marcus D - Melancholy Hopeful MSRP: $14.99 [USA], $17.99 [International] Aside from having a dope, rad first name, Seattle hip-hop artist Marcus D also makes really awesome beats. Definitely taking inspiration and love from some of Japan's most influential hip-hop artists like Nujabes, Shing02, Uyama Hiroto and Taku Takahashi, Marcus D (who is signed with Nujabes record label, Hydeout Prod.) dropped a bomb this year, his second album Melencholy Hopeful that crosses jazz-hop styles from both the East and West into something fresh and soulful. If you dug the Samurai Champloo OST (which I've been outspoken about in terms of being one of the greatest among anime soundtracks ever made) and find yourself nodding along with the electronic, jazzy beats and soothing piano notes in Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei titles like Persona and the pseudo-SMT game Catherine, then this album is definitely something to look into. It seriously just oozes coolness; there's a flavor to the songs that can get you pumped up for the work day or relaxed for the ride home. I deeply recommend it!   Chris Walden suggests: For the mysterious young girl fan: ClariS - Birthday MSRP: 3059 yen/$35 [USA] This will most likely not be the first time you've heard of ClariS. You may have somehow dodged hearing of them if you've never seen OreImo, Puella Magi Madoka Magica or Nisemonogatari, but the chances are that you will have heard their music. Still, if you've managed to avoid it thus far, congratulations. Now go and give their album a listen, it's pretty good.  All of these songs are on their debut album Birthday, plus a good nine others (or eleven if you find that version with the Nendoroid song plus one other). They don't stray too far from the upbeat and cheerful music they've released before (with perhaps the exception of Connect), but that's far from a bad thing. It is perfect for lifting your spirits, so long as you can get behind some good ol' J-pop.  Plus there's the big mystery about the singers themselves. They've released three popular songs and have done well with an album, and still they've managed to avoid being seen/revealed in public? That certainly takes some skill! Still, it's the voice that matters, so they can take my money and perhaps some of yours too!   For the Kill Bill/catchy rock/curious music fan: [embed]27291:1874[/embed] Tomoyasu Hotei - All Time Super Best Price: $28.99 [USA] I'll have to admit, up until about a month ago my only contact with Tomoyasu Hotei music came from Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2, more commonly known as the second Japanese Elite Beat Agents. It seems crazy that it isn't more commonly known, but this Japanese rock veteran is responsible for a very well known tune from Kill Bill, namely Battle Without Honor or Humanity.  So what changed? Well, he showed up at Hyper Japan here in the UK to announce his one-off December gig. As the gig-lover I am, I looked into whether it'd be worth turning up by listening to his All Time Super Best album. It may be almost seven years old now, but it's certainly sold me on just how special this upcoming gig will be. But aside from this, his music is definitely going to be a good place to point newcomers to Japanese music. With a big hit like the one from Kill Bill adding to a very solid selection of songs (see the video above), this might be what is stopping your friends from experimenting a little with their music library.    Salvador G-Rodiles suggests: For the Super Sentai and/or Power Rangers fan:  Super Robot Chogokin Daizyujin/original Megazord MSRP: $60.99 $52.40, 3,520 yen If there is one thing that most Sentai And Power Rangers fans have in common, it's that both parties got into both franchises through the exposure to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. For many folks in the west, it was the gateway drug that would eventually spark their journey into the realm of tokusatsu. And what better way to cherish your childhood memories by owning the Super Robot Chogokin figure of the Daizyujin/original Megazord from Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger/Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Just look at the GLORIO detail placed into the body of this prehistoric combination, which feels like the actual Daizyujin was standing right in front of you. And not only does it look nice, it also comes with the effect pieces that lets you reenact the powerful attacks that lay waste to Bandora/Rita Repulas's monsters. A piece like this doesn't come by very often, so get your Dino Bucklers/Morphers out while you still can.    Jeff Chuang suggests: For your glee club buddies Tari Tari Music Album - Utattari, KanadetariMSRP: 3300 Yen Tari Tari has one of the best selling anime soundtracks in 2012, and it's easy to see why. The show is pretty much a music show, complete with song and dance numbers. It employed a pretty solid voice acting crew to back the image songs and the ending song, and it hired an award-winning high school choir to sing the choir parts. All of this adds up to a very interesting and competently put-together album. Tari Tari Music Album collects, on 2 discs, all the insert vocals and the key background music pieces from the show. If someone you know enjoyed Tari Tari, this is the perfect way to relive it.    For the extremely practical importer Japanese Playstation Network CardMSRP: 500, 1000, 3000, 5000, 10000 Yen  Invariably for anyone hooked on iDOLM@STER 2, or just want to watch Gundam Unicorn right when it comes out, there's not much you can do but to hit up the respective online stores on the console of choice. For most of us, that would be the PS3. Since the Vita is still somewhat region-free, the PSN point card makes a very shrew gift for people unafraid of setting up that Japanese PSN account. It really isn't very hard, and the reward is bountiful even if just in terms of the free demos you can play.   For those people who still remember the name of the swimsuit they saw that day Max Factory's Meiko Honma Swimsuit ver.MSRP: 7500 Yen I'm generally not a fan of swimsuit figures, but sometimes it's just done so well. Max Factory's Menma is just such a thing. This is entirely separate from my emotional attachment to a great character from a total tear-jerker of a story from 2011. Simply put, it's somewhat rare to see a swimsuit figure that isn't all about body lines and shapes, but balances that with some bold design elements, color choices, and having the right accessories. Kristina at Tomopop agrees as much, if you need more convincing. The tragedy here is that for people that actually like Menma and want a figure of the iconic Ano Hana character, there are several less exciting, but more characteristic, figures to choose from. That makes this Menma just a bit less popular of a choice for the average Menma fan. The silver lining is that you can still pick up this fragment of summer at an off-season price. It's definitely a below-the-radar gem.   Josh Tolentino suggests: For the true Sengoku BASARA fan that demands only the best in thematic madness... [embed]27291:1892[/embed] Abingdon Boys School - Teaching Materials (or Abingdon Road if unavailable)MSRP: EU9.99 (via iTunes), or $22.99 for Abingdon Road Now, these two are releases from 2010 and 2009, but I think it counts in this case since the best song on either album, "JAP", was in 2012's release of Sengoku BASARA: The Last Party. Yes, I'll say it now: Abingdon Boys School's best song is "JAP", at least with regard to Sengoku BASARA. Why? Just as lead vocalist Takanori "T.M. Revolution" Nishikawa wanted to return to his rock roots when forming ABS, Sengoku BASARA's a pretty rockin' show. "JAP" perfectly captures the the blend of lady-fan-baiting fabulousness and testosterone-drenched excess that led Capcom's series to usurp Koei's Dynasty Warriors throne. It's a little ironic that the franchise's best musical encapsulation comes from the anime and PSP spinoff and not a theme to the main games. Fans of anime songs with access to the European iTunes store will get more out of picking up Teaching Materials, seeing as that compilation contains most of ABS' best anison, including "JAP" the inferior "Blade Chord" that they did for Sengoku BASARA's 2nd season., "Nephilim" from Folklore, "Innocent Sorrow" from D.Gray Man, "Strength" from Soul Eater, "Kimi no Uta" from Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, and "HOWLING", from Darker Than Black (aka the "now I've lost it" song).  Folks who pick up Abingdon Road will miss out on "HOWLING", but will get a good number of other songs, and either is better value than picking up the single for their actual 2012 song "WE aRE" (sic), for Sengoku BASARA HD Collection.   For the Busou Shinki anime fan that wants to explore the source material "down to the last screwhole"... Busou Shinki Arnval Mk.2 TempestaMSRP: 5,180 Yen I'll readily admit that my enjoyment of the Busou Shinki anime comes not from being a fan of the figurines but from my nerding out over imagining a world where Shinkis are a real thing.  Well, this here is the real real thing that a Shinki is - an action figure made my Konami. That's not inherently a bad thing, and all things considered, it looks pretty damn cool. This Arnval Mk.2 Tempesta's is good for fans of Ann. The colors may not match, but the original white-colored Arnval Mk.2 model (originally a pack-in for the Busou Shinki Battle Masters PSP game) is now super-limited, and is going for up to five or six times the price of the Tempesta.   At prices like that, I'd only buy a Shinki if it actually is as presented on the anime, i.e. a living, sentient six-inch-tall mecha girl that would love me unconditionally and call me "Master!".   For your lucky lottery-winner best friend... [embed]27291:1893[/embed] A KR-01 Kurata piloted robotMSRP: $1.3 million (minimum) Awww yeah. Now this is some GUNVARREL stuff right here. Yes, you're reading it correctly. It's not a hoax, but a real live pilotable mecha. You can move it by mobile phone or motion control, and it comes with a pair of smile-activated BB Gatling Guns. Yes, smile-activated. I want one. And you should to! Sure, for that kind of money you'd be just short of the scratch needed for a Bugatti Veyron, but a Bugatti Veyron is not a 4.4 meter-tall giant robot. Artist Kogoro Kurata and Suidobashi Heavy Industries' hand-built monstrosities certainly have that going for them.
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Watching you stuff your stocking this year
The time is now, dear readers, as we come closer and closer to the time of gift-giving, and also to the end of Japanator's shopping guide season! We brought you our gift suggestions for videogames, anime and film, and printed...

Japanator's 2012 Holiday Shopping Guide: Manga and Books

Dec 01 // Josh Tolentino
Jeff Chuang suggests: For people who love heavy-looking bookshelf stuffers... Nausicaä Valley of the Wind Box SetMSRP: $60.00 If you know your manga, you probably know that master animator Hayao Miyazaki penned a manga series for Nausicaä, whose first couple volumes reflects the content of the similarly named film that adopted the manga. Miyazaki continued the Nausicaä manga sporadically until it ended in 1994, to a total of 7 volumes. Viz has released a localized version of the manga over the years but that went out of print some time ago. Now, Nausicaä has returned as two really big and heavy collections of the entire series, with an accompanying box. I have it. It literally weights like a brick. And it looks quite impressive on your bookshelves. This collection that Viz released back in early November is selling like hot cakes. If you weren't lucky enough to pick one up before Black Friday, you can still try your luck at various online retailers like RightStuf or among the marketplace vendors for larger storefronts. Be assured that this is one impressive and awesome Christmas present for a lucky manga collector. [Image]   For people who love big and hefty companions... Queen's Blade Perfect Visual CollectionMSRP: $39.95 There's no beating around the bush with this one: it's a heavy, hard cover collection of some of Queen's Blade's most popular visual artwork. In short, this is a book with pretty girls armed with large boobies. Well, it's classier than that--the artbook leads in with a series of tribute artwork from various illustrators, and breaks into promotional artwork for the anime and the franchise in general. The last part of the artbook dives into the characters themselves and is a fairly comprehensive list of all the primary Queen's Blade personas, and it's not unlike what you'll find towards the end of an RPG manual. I never really expected Vertical to release something like this--I guess there's just no limit to the type of things they release. But at the very least, expect Vertical's usual quality on this release; it's 192 pages, full-color on good paper stock, and did I say boobies? There aren't all that many new translated artbooks released in any given year, so that makes this one even more outstanding--as long as Queen's Blade is the thing you're going for.   Josh Tolentino suggests: For the Persona fan who wonders what Teddie could have looked like... Persona 4 Official Design WorksMSRP: $29.99 If there's one thing that's as interesting as playing an awesome videogame, it's learning more about how such an awesome game was made, particularly at that prettiest of phases in a game's gestation, the concept art phase. Persona 4 Official Design Works collects all that visual splendor into a thick, beautiful book, along with designer's notes, marketing and promo material, and an interview with art director Shigenori Soejima, all of it translated into English by Udon Books (who also localized Persona 3 Official Design Works). In the depths of the concept art you'll find all manner of trivia pertaining to Persona 4's visual growth. Things like Yukiko's original hipster haircut, a vision of Chie as Yukiko, Kanji in his original Elvis-impersonator motif, and the nightmare fuel that was Teddie's original character design. Sadly, the book doesn't cover the new artwork from Persona 4 Golden (it was originally published back in '08), but there's definitely enough material to gain insight into the game's inimitable sense of style.   For the true Valkyria Chronicles patriots who joined The Gallian Liberation Front... Valkyria Chronicles 2 World Artworks and Valkyria Chronicles 3 Complete ArtworksMSRP: Valkyria Chronicles 2: $31.49, Valkyria Chronicles 3: $28.11 Even compared with other Japanese game art books, the official art books for the Valkyria Chronicles have always gone above and beyond the call of duty (like true Gallians, one might say!). Always hefty and engrossing from cover to cover, they've been crammed to bursting with content, practically playing a triple role of art book, gameplay guide, and lore bible. In my estimation it's been these books that have shown off how detailed and rich the world of Valkyria Chronicles is best, more than any anime adaptation, side-story OVA, or manga has so far. That was true of the first Valkyria Chronicles art book, and it's true of Udon's localization of World Artworks, the book for Valkyria Chronicles 2, the PSP sequel. It's almost as thick and holds up to the same high standard as the original, packed with sweet artwork from character designer Raita Honjou as well as the game's intricate mechanical designs. Character, gameplay and story notes also abound for the game and its divisive military-high-school take on the Valkyria Chronicles setting. Also worth noting is Udon's upcoming release (set for later in December) of the art book for Valkyria Chronicles 3. Yes, Valkyria Chronicles 3, the game for which the Gallian Liberation Front tried in vain to pull an "Operation Rainfall", only for their cries to fall on Sega's cash-strapped ears. Frankly speaking, this book may be the closest western gamers will ever get to having Valkyria Chronicles 3 in English (barring certain legally gray efforts). That alone makes it worth a look for any proper Gallian.
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Fill your library!
The holiday blitz continues, as does Japanator's blitz of holiday shopping advice! After telling you which videogames and anime to buy for you and yours, today we're getting all "old-fashioned" by making recommendations for (...

Japanator's 2012 Holiday Shopping Guide: Anime and Film

Nov 29 // Josh Tolentino
Brad Rice suggests: For the Creepy Weeaboo in your circle of friends... House of Five Leaves Box Set MSRP:$40 There's always one. You just know he has an extra hard-drive or three of salacious material, and he always shuts down when the conversation doesn't focus on all things Japan. God forbid you talk about sports -- he may as well up and leave at that point. They probably don't spend enough time watching the really good stuff, so it's up to you to educate them. Give them House of Five Leaves, a stunningly beautiful series set in the classic samurai era. It pulls heavily from Natsume Ono's drawing style, and really sets itself apart from most other samurai-era titles. They won't be disappointed once they actually watch it.   For the Editor-in-Chief as Significant Other... AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa MSRP: $319 Let's say you're dating someone who runs a site dedicated to Japanese pop culture. The person's really into all things Japan, and really loves Japanese cinema. Sure, they have some films by Akira Kurosawa on their shelf, but they don't have this entire box set. It has all the important films that he's been too lazy to collect, and will keep him busy for hours and hours! But seriously, this is a great gift for the Japanophile who seems to have it all.   Salvador G-Rodiles suggests:  For the tokusatsu fan that wishes to own a toku series in its uncut form... Ultra Seven: The Complete Series (DVD)MSRP: $49.97 $34.99 Now here's an opportunity that you won't find too often, since you are getting the entire Ultra Seven series in one uncut package. Running at 48 episodes (Episode 12 is excluded from the set.), this is one deal that will quench your love for guys that like to pummel giant monsters with throw-able headgear, hand-to-hand combat, and giant beams that are available in all shapes and colors.  If you are looking into starting a tokusatsu collection, then Ultra Seven is there to help you protect your shelf from evil space invaders. And to those who own Ultraman, Ultra Seven will help you turn your toku collection into an Ultra Combo.    Josh Totman suggests: For the old-school otaku that needs an upgraded edition... Tenchi Muyo!: OVA Series (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) MSRP: $69.98 $43.08 Tenchi Muyo!: Movie Collection (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) MSRP: $69.98 $32.99 If you are any older otaku, or at least old enough to remember this series on Toonami, you will love that Funimation is now bringing back one of the classics to Blu-ray. If you have never heard of this show shame on you! I'll be taking your otaku membership card back and the Letterman jacket! Seriously thou, if you ever wanted to catch up on some classic anime these are the sets for you. The OVA collection that started the whole Tenchi universe(not to be confused with the series). It takes you through all the introduction to the whimsical harem that Tenchi is now stuck with. Along with that, you can also get the movie collection. Three Tenchi movies all rolled up together in a nice neat package. Each of the movies in this set stands alone when it comes to it's take on the universe. Especially the third movie.   And for the old-school otaku for whom anime is serious business... Serial Experiments Lain: Complete Series (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) MSRP: $89.98 $53.99 Another classic that has been brought back to life by our good friends at Funimation is the love it/hate it/what-the-hell-did-I-just-watch Serial Experiments Lain. This show is still on peoples minds on exactly what was going on in that strange wired world. The art style of Yoshitoshi Abe is absolutely stunning in this show. It's hard not to be a fan of his work really. Oh, and let's not forget about the music of Reichi Nakaido. This series did also give birth to everyone at that time calling their computer Navi. If you are any sort of collector of anime on discs, you need to have this one in your collection if you don't have the original Pioneer ones already. Also to note, they did remaster the series for the Blu-ray release. Not upscale, remastered from the original master copy so this thing is going to look beautiful.    Jeff Chuang suggests: For the armchair film critic... Children Who Chase Lost Voices (DVD or Blu-ray)MSRP: 29.98 DVD, 39.98 Blu-ray Makoto Shinkai's latest film, honestly, have a range of reviews both positive and negative. What none can deny, however, is that it looks gorgeous, sounds great, and the film presents your eyes with fascinating visuals. The story is long and a little laborious; the message of the film is earnest if to a fault. But my biggest peeve was how it took me at least three tries to really "get" what the movie was about. That might not sound like a ringing endorsement, but for people who love films that are tough to digest and want to get every single nugget out of something, and also are into anime, this is a must-watch. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is worth your time not only as a way to keep tabs on one very promising young animator in the industry. The convenience of having it to watch on your own leisure should make this film a lot more interesting than the usual spectacle one expects when watching it at a screening or at a con.    Pedro Cortes suggests: For the lover of all things hot blooded... Gurren Lagann: Childhood's End & Gurren Lagann: The Lights in the Sky are Stars  MSRP: Part 1: $29.99, Part 2: $29.99 Compilation films have a pretty spotty record. Films like the original Mobile Suit Gundam trilogy were able to take the source material, present it in a new way and even add to the overall mythos of their franchises. However, for every one of those, you have stuff like the 0083 movie, which was a horribly edited mess.  A lot of people had some reservations about GAINAX going right back to the Gurren well so soon after the show finished, but what we got were a pair of films that took some of the best moments of the show and turned them up several notches. The first half of the first film is a quickly recapped version of the show's first eight episodes. After that, the rest of the first film and important sections of the second film break off into new territory, culminating in a slightly different ending that I felt was better overall. Oh, and more freaking huge robots. That's always a good thing.   Elliot Gay suggests: For the people who have money to spare... Fate/Zero Blu-ray Box 1&2 MSRP: Vol. 1: $369.98 ,Vol. 2: $329.98 Look, as far as I'm concerned, Fate/Zero is one of the best action series to come along in years. Ufotable's lavish production featured sky high production values, an excellent cast, and the musical talents of Yuki Kajiura. As somebody who's never been super fond of the original Fate/Stay night, it speaks to Fate/Zero's strengths that I fell in love with it as hard as I did. That being said, I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I purchased both of the ridiculously expensive BD box sets, and I regret nothing. These are beautiful collections, with a nice variety of extra features, production booklets and other odds and ends.  None of that changes the fact that you'd be paying more than half a grand to pick these babies up, so unless your gift receiver really loves Fate/Zero (and you really love them), I would suggest thinking long and hard about whether or not this purchase is worth it. If nothing else, I can certainly vouch for its super high quality.   Josh Tolentino suggests: For your young scientist friend that secretly nurses a budding seed of madness and paranoia...  Steins;Gate Blu-ray/DVD Hybrid Collection 1 & 2 MSRP: Vol. 1: $41.99, Vol. 2: $38.99 Legions of generic harem romances and high-school love comedies have given the term "visual novel adaptations" a sour ring to it, but White Fox's work animating Steins;Gate is one of the few exceptions. The result is unique tale of madness, paranoia, time travel, and nerd humor, carried by charming cast led by the easily one of the most charismatic anime characters in recent memory: Rintaro "Okarin" Okabe also known as the mad scientist Kyoma Hououin. BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA! Voice actor Mamoru Miyano turns in a career-defining performance as Okarin, and snappy writing and an intriguing premise based on ascribing strangely sinister motives to ostensibly benevolent real-life scientific organizations keeps the show tense throughout its run, making it a worthy purchase for anyone hoping for a break from anime's high-school rut.   For that female friend of yours who's got both supernatural personal issues and an abiding love of school supplies...  Bakemonogatari Blu-ray Complete Limited Edition MSRP: $149.99 Even four years and a whole sequel later, Bakemonogatari remains one of my favorite anime of all time, and is one of those shows that proves you can structure an anime around conversations and dialog without incurring the stigma associated with the likes of Lucky Star and its ilk. Operating at a near-absurd level of verbosity, the show embeds its character development into its voluminous conversations, but rather than relying on snore-inducing exposition, still couches its greatest twists into obscure turns of phrase, throwaway lines, puns and other subtleties, and all backed up by SHAFT's gorgeous sense of style. While on the pricey side, Aniplex's Blu-ray set is notable for managing something I never expected any potential licensor of Bakemonogatari to go for back when I begged for the show to be brought to English: They translated and subtitled the commentary audio tracks! That's frankly incredible, because those commentary tracks are done not by the usual director-and-crew, but by the voice cast, acting in-character. Basically, Koyomi Arararagi, Hitagi Senjougahara, Tsubasa Hanekawa and all the rest comment on their own actions as they watch them, almost Mystery Science Theater 3000-style. It's pretty great, especially if you've always wanted someone to call someone else "Ms. Panties".
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Hello again, and welcome to the next part of Japanator's 2012 Holiday Shopping Guide! The other day we gave you our recommendations for the best videogames, but now it's time to take a look at the latest batch of stuff to pil...

Japanator's 2012 Holiday Shopping Guide: Games

Nov 27 // Josh Tolentino
Marcus Speer suggests: For the unacceptably slow, but curious dating sim customer... Katawa Shoujo (PC) Price: FREE  The first in the long line of "games that you need to play and have no excuse not to" category for the year 2012 is maybe the very first one that blew up: Katawa Shoujo. I mean, it was all that a lot of our editors could help but talk about for the whole month of January, so if our word (along with the rest of the anime fandom) is a testament to the sort of quality you expect to see in the products that come out, then you know that this is a must to try. Not to say the product is without its share of problems... thankfully, Elliot has a whole review to help you decide without my pushy input. Look: all I'm trying to point out is that, given that it has a fresh, Western-spin on the more traditionally Japanese storytelling, as well as its interesting background history, is enough to give this notable title a shot. Should it be mentioned that it's free?! Because it totally is.   Salvador G-Rodiles suggests:  For the friend that loves to explore huge places... Xenoblade Chronicles (Nintendo Wii)MSRP: $49.99 It's not too often that we get a game by Monolith Soft, since Nintendo has yet to localize any of the other titles that they developed. One of Xenoblade's great joys is that you are exploring a breathtaking world that's on the body of a giant colossus known as the Bionis, which is one of the reasons why this RPG is huge. While fans of Monolith's other titles might be disappointed by the change in the battle system, Xenoblade's combat system that revolves around the Monado sword reward players with an engaging system that will keep them on their toes.  But most importantly, the soundtrack creates sweet music to your ears, as you explore every nook and cranny of what the game has to offer. And that's not all, Xenoblade can also be used as a drinking game, which involves taking a shot after you hear the Monado get mentioned. Still not sold on Xenoblade? Well, it's not everyday that you come across a game that rewards you for jumping off a cliff that leads to the inescapable ocean. Sure, there's jumping off a colossus in Shadow of the Colossus, but those guys are ants in the eyes of the great Bionis.    For the friend that wishes for a new season of Durarara... Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (Nintendo DS)MSRP: $29.99 $19.99 Devil Survivor 2 was indeed a big improvement over the first game. The Persona-like social link elements open up a new depth of gameplay that the first Devil Survivor was missing. And who could say no to Suzuhito Yasuda's character designs?  With a team of customizable demons, and different story routes at your disposal, Devil Survivor 2 will keep you hooked for many playthroughs to come. Don't let the two in Devil Surivor 2 fool you, because newcomers can jump in without any prior knowledge of the previous game. And if you still don't believe me, then you can check out my review on the game itself.    For the Touhou fan that loves to get their bullet hell on...  The eXceed Collection (PC)MSRP: $9.99 When you look at it, three games for $9.99 is a pretty good deal. Especially when you get three bullet hell games that play differently. What more can you ask for? Oh wait there's one thing, and I think eXceed has you covered, since you are playing as cute girls that shoot up other cute girls.  If there was one teeny little problem with The eXceed Collection, it's that eXceed - Gun Bullet Children feels like an incomplete game. Before you decide to dodge my bullets, the other two games do justice to the whole package. In fact, you can face the rest of my bullets in my review of the Collection -- Moe Moe Zukyun!   Jeff Chuang suggests: For all the idol producers in your life... THE iDOLM@STER Shiny Festa (PSP)MSRP: 5380 Yen [Groovy Tune, Honey Sound, and Funky Note versions] It's hard to recommend Japanese imports to buy for anyone out west, but among all the games that are likely to be imported, rhythm games are the easiest to go with as they often require just the minimum know-how of Japanese to fully enjoy. And while it's hard to gift a game to a hardcore fan--they would have it already--this 3-prong marketing scheme from Namco-Bandai means the average poor sod/producer would have to buy the same-but-different games three times to get all the content. And most likely, most of them don't have all three yet. On the same note, the three Shiny Festa games are a great way for curious first-time producers to get into the franchise, as it uses a lot of animation and clips from the TV anime while introducing the gist of the franchise, from a gamer's perspective. It's less dull and more game-y than the half-visual-novels the other PSP games were. There are three iDOLM@STER Shiny Festa games: Groovy Tune, Honey Sound, and Funky Note. Each game comes with about 15-20 different tracks and 5-6 shared tracks, so it is worth it to have all three, if any single one doesn't quite satisfy. The 5380 yen MRSP is how much it costs on Japan's PSN store, which might be difficult to set up at first but is by far the easiest way to get and play these games, on Vita or not. For those who want the physical packaging, Amiami has them at 4170 yen a piece, although you'll have to pay shipping. Most likely your lucky producer will know what they need already, and all you should supply are the means.   Josh Tolentino suggests: For that friend of yours who cares at all about playing great videogames, especially JRPGs... Persona 4 Golden (PS Vita)MSRP: $39.99 After claiming that Atlus brought Persona 4 Golden "near the point of utter flawlessness", I could hardly not recommend that you pick this gem of gems up. Heck, as of right now it's the biggest reason to buy - or keep - Sony's beleaguered handheld. Taken piecemeal, Golden's new Social Links, mini-mechanics, difficulty settings, cutscenes, extras and online connectivity are not particularly radical changes in and of themselves. Taken as a whole, though, and they make up a significant new addition, as well as bearing the advantage of being perfectly integrated into the main game, never feeling out of place or tacked-on and filling in gaps that players of the original may never know existed in the first place.  Persona 4 Golden is a true "gold edition" game, and may well be as perfect as the Persona formula may ever get in its current form. It still feels fresh and smooth enough that it could have come out for the first time this year, rather than five years ago, and still handily held its own against today's latest releases. That's reason enough for old players or new to give it a try.   For the Persona player that's already jonesing for a Persona 5... Persona 4 Arena (PS3, Xbox 360)MSRP: $59.99 $29.99 Despite the fact that Persona 4 Arena resides in an entirely different genre than any other Persona game - it's a 2D fighting game, not an RPG - it may as well be regarded, canonically, as Persona 4.5, as it continues the story of Persona 4, introducing characters new and old (plus a nobody named "Yu Narukami" who for some reason looks exactly like Persona 4's lead), as well as setting up some narrative hooks that could lead to interesting developments in Persona 5, should Atlus decide to take their planned-but-unrevealed sequel in that direction. Fans of the fighting genre - and non-fans, in fact - shouldn't worry, either, as Arena happens to be a perfectly competent fighter in its own right. Atlus did the smart thing, handing the mechanical side of the equation to the veterans at Arc System Works, they of BlazBlue and Guilty Gear fame. The result is a reasonably deep (yet accessible), utterly gorgeous 2D fighter with all the right Persona hooks. To be frank, seeing Persona-users battle it out in this genre's context somehow makes the turn-based combat in Persona 4 Golden seem all the more exciting. Also, there is a new android girl in the game, Labrys. Like her cousin Aegis, she also has crazy legs, and happens to wield a jet-powered battleaxe that doubles as a pair of wings. What's not to fall in love with?   For the samurai fanatic that's got swords on the brain, and a good sense of silliness besides... Way of the Samurai 4 (PS3)MSRP: $39.99 [PSN download only] This one comes as a more cautious recommendation, in part because my review was also a somewhat cautious recommendation. Pretty much any game made by Acquire is, to be honest. Way of the Samurai 4 is homely, rough-hewn, stubbornly anachronistic, and a bit touched in the head, but for the open-minded gamer, or simply the one disappointed by contemporary gaming's utter lack of decent samurai games, it offers an experience unlike any other. Whether chopping up (or saving) foreigners in period Japan or secretly sneaking into women's homes (also in period Japan), Way of the Samurai 4 offers all the uniqueness Japan sometimes seems to eager to abandon in its mad rush to appeal to the global market, while leaving aside the more perverse tendencies it embraces in its equally mad rush to pander to the otaku base. It's a game - and a series - between worlds, and folks willing to look past some not-inconsiderable flaw will find some of the best of both in there.  
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Electronical entertainments for your magitechnickal machines!
The holidays are upon us, dear readers, and where that usually means celebrating togetherness and occasionally the birth of a major religious figure, it also means having to shell out tons of monies for gifts to dis...

Japanator's Holiday Shopping Guide 2011: Toys 'n Stuff

Dec 02 // Josh Tolentino
Jeff Chuang suggests: For your 40% wotagei and 60% con rave fashionista / know-it-all: Streetlight MultiXMSRP: $11.95 What is wotagei? It's the slang term for the funky "dance" that anime and denpa music otaku do in front of their favorite utahime's live show. Did I just confuse you more? Anyways, if you ever go to an anime music show (from Japan) and see people waving those light sticks around, that's what I'm referring to. And more importantly, while you can party at a show how you want, there are rules and things-to-do if you want to do it right. Like, for example, turn on your chemical-glowing ultra orange flair sticks when Nana Mizuki's "ETERNAL BLAZE" kicks in, or use the color green when Miku is on stage, or use turquoise glow sticks when it's Azusa Nakano's turn signing her songs. I mean, how do you remember all this? Let alone prepare all the different sticks? You can't. That's why there's the Streetlight MultiX. This LED glowstick is powered by a AAA battery, and it can on-the-fly change into one of many different colors, including all the ones you probably will see during an anison concert. With the right rechargeable batteries you can even make it glow brighter, if that's your thing. When you're done with the show and want to hit the rave? The MultiX can strobe, blink, and even go rainbow! Actually this glowstick was originally designed for ravers in the first place, but the solid-color, non-blink mode happens to work well for wotagei too. Yours truly has actually field-tested an unit for the past year, on the con circuit, and I'm happy to say that they work as advertised. The thing isn't flawless, but I think any wotagei disciple would be happy to receive it as a present, lest they have already a dedicated solution in place. And which raver would say no to free glow? Lastly, there's a great post on the iO9 blog about wotagei if you want to learn more about this growing otaku subculture. If you go to the right club or right concerts, there are some really crazy stuff going on with them lights...   For your friends at the Make-a-Wish Foundation: Kyubey plushMSRP: ¥3800 ($49) How can your Madoka cosplay be complete if you don't have Kyubey perched on your arm or shoulder? Or Mami or Kyouko or Sayaka or Kyoko, for that matter? Or how do you even make your wish come true? How can one learn about suffering without the helping hand of your very own, adorable Kyubey? The Mediacom Toy version of Kyubey may not be as impressive as the 1:1 PVC version that Good Smile Company was selling earlier this year, it's also not going to break the piggy bank. Shop around and you can probably find a discount! Actually there are a few other versions of Kyubey worth checking out, like the freaky pillow version from Chara-Ani, or Cube's "longcat" version, which may double also as a muffler when cosplaying in the cold. Mediacom's version, however, is not only less freaky and more cuddly, most importantly, they're currently in stock.   For the most discerning Goshuujin-sama or Oujo-sama and board game geek: Tanto Cuore MSRP: $49.99 There are a lot of people today playing board games. I remember back a long ways back when people started with games like Settlers of Catan and today I think deck building and drafting games are what's hot, with games like Dominion. Is this right? I'm not in my elements when it comes to this stuff. I am, however, when we're talking about the usual crowd of top Japanese moe illustrators and their drawings of maids. Mix that with a deck building game mechanics and you get Tanto Cuore. Is this a gimmick? Yes. But is this game legit? Totally. I actually had a lot of fun playing with friends dishing out love and serving like nobody's business. It is really painful to think about what you were actually doing (which is trying to be the best master with the most victory points, by employing maids and purchasing more with "love"). If you want to mix up your gaming nights with a lot of laughs and corny groans, look no further. Even if you aren't game for...game, Tanto Cuore features dozens of illustrations from people like Aoi Nanase, KEI, Carnelian and Poyoyon Rock, and other top-tier moe-style illustrators and mangaka. Just for collectible value I think the game is worth it, especially if you can get it cheap. For the truly dedicated masters and mistresses, the second expansion to Tanto Cuore is due out in English late December. We can get a double-dose this Christmas if we're lucky. If you want to know more about the game (including all the illustrators), check out boardgamegeek.com or the game's home page.   For your curry-loving siblings of three: Vinyl Collectible Dolls Mawaru Penguindrum Penguins 1, 2, and 3 MSRP: ¥1800 ($23) each For all the fanfare that goes with Kunihiko Ikuhara's latest big splash, Mawaru Penguindrum, there isn't that much merchandise attached to it yet that is really attractive. I guess it isn't exactly meant for that kind of an audience, but I think a lot of people would appreciate the three penguins from the show, or some representation of them. From Mediacom Toys, again, the three Takakura penguins are faithfully reproduced in soft vinyl. I think they would be really simple and elegant display pieces and fans of the show will definitely be pleased to have them. It would be even more awesome when you give them to a sibling of three (and gender be damned)! The only catch with these three is that they're slated for December, so there's a chance that it won't ship and arrive to you until after Christmas. It's a risk you may have to take, but given how it's relatively affordable and very timely (both in terms of the holidays and given the show will end right around then), it's potentially smart present.   Pedro Cortes suggests... For fans of virtual pop stars... Mikumo #03 Original Collection LOL -Lots of Laugh- Hatsune MikuMSRP: ¥3,752 (AmiAmi | Hobby Link Japan | Hobby Search) Let's start off with the pop star that has infected all three websites on the Modern Method network. That's right, it's yet another figure of the Vocaloid starlet Hatsune Miku. This time around we have Miku in her Lots of Laugh outfit, which has the aqua-haired pop-tart surrounded by various sweets whilst she floats in the center and looks rather disturbed. I too would be pretty freaked out if all the sweets around me started to float.  So why pick this Miku over the cavalcade of other Miku toys and statues? I personally dig the way she's designed here, with the smaller eyes and the ruffles in her skirt/petticoat/thing. I'm also a medium-to-large man who is quite fond of sweets, so when you combine a cute girl and sugar, you've got victory on your hands.   If you like cute cephalopods... Kotobukiya's Ika Musume (Reviewed)MSRP: ¥6,800 (AmiAmi | Hobby Link Japan | Hobby Search) Oh hey, did I forget to mention that I write for Tomopop, Modern Method's toys branch? Well, I definitely do, so please excuse just a tab bit of cross-promotion here. I picked Ika Musume because: a. Kristina reviewed her a couple of days ago and it's a good review. 2. Despite not knowing anything about the show, it's an attractive figure I personally wouldn't mind in my collection. III. I adore cute things and it's hard to beat Ika Musume in that catagory. Besides the corporate whoring, Kotobukiya's Ika Musume is a great representation of the little squid girl that has snatched the hearts of anime populace. She's just so energetic and happy. I definitely could use some of that in my daily routine!   Demon girls can be cute too! Nendoroid Elsie, from The World God Only KnowsMSRP: ¥3,800 (Hobby Link Japan) Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention at least one of Good Smile Company's super-deformed Nendoroids. Cheap, well-made and fairly easy to get, there are enough Nendos out there that you're likely to find one from a series you or a loved one digs. They make great gifts, as they usually come with a bunch of accessories, including alternate faces, arms, legs, tables, chairs, weapons, bottles, that sort of thing. Once again, I'm dipping into personal tastes here with my choice of Elsie. From the excellent comedy The World God Only Knows, this little demon assists the lead character Keima in capturing the loose spirits that have possessed girls in Keima's town. She's a great foil to the dreary and hostile Keima and her Nendoroid catches all the right parts of Elsie's personality. I really wish I had some extra flow so I could add her to my collection, so take advantage of my destitution and snatch her up!   Hiroko Yamamura For that anime fan that just won't grow up Robot Damashi Doraemon (preview) MSRP: ¥3,500 ¥2,540 I buy a lot of posable figures. Surprisingly this year's stand out for me wasn't a figma or Revoltech, but the Robot Damashi version of Doraemon. The figure is conveniently scale with the SH Figuarts version of Nobita, which is actually not all that common. The joints are firm, and have an excellent secure click to them. Those who wrestle with figma joints will definitely enjoy the joints they use here. The toy is just a hoot. From the faces to the accessories I really smile every time I see this figure. The price is excellent for such a great a figure. Since you have some extra cash afterwards, make sure to pick up Noibita as well.   For the practical Madoka fan Kyubey talking pen (preview) MSRP: ¥933 ¥750 I don't know if you caught my preview of this item a little while back, but I cant wait to get this in the mail. Unfortunately it doesn't look  like it's going to ship until January, but this Kyubey pen really seems like it's worth the wait. If stacking up figures on your shelf isn't your thing, perhaps just some really cool anime goods are. What's great about this pen is that' it's so cheap, you can give one and keep one!   For the fashionable Madoka fan (preview) Charlotte Hug Scarf MSRP: ¥3,500 ¥2,840 Yeah yeah, I get it you are sick of Madoka Madoka Madoka! I don't care, I'm not. I freaking love Madoka, and this Charlotte hug scarf is so cute! Is she hugging or choking you? Unfortunately this gift will also be an IOU for after the holidays, but heck, I'd wear it if it was 90 degrees outside. Too bad there isn't a surprise hidden inside that's going to decapitate the lucky recipient of this gift.   For the old school anime fan Hot Toys City Hunter (preview) MSRP: ¥18,858 ¥14,260 Oh sexy Ryo Saeba, the brilliant yet lecherous detective from the popular 80's manga series City Hunter. The figure is priced right outside of impulse buy range, but wow what an amazing gift he would make. The sculpt is perfect, and the accessories are dead on. If there's one figure I would personally be hoping Santa showed up with this year, it would be Ryo. Perhaps not the most popular series now a days, your old school fan would be giddy when they saw this masterpiece.   Get your girlfriend to start building plamo D-Arts Patlabor 2: Ingram Reactive Armor (preview) MSRP ¥1,700 ¥1,200 Building a model kit really is a zen experience. However, getting into a really complex kit can be pretty intimidating for someone not too familiar with process. Kotobukiya really hit a sweet spot this  year with their D-Style kits. Perhaps my favorite was the who Patlabor series that was released this year. Each kit rings in under 20 dollars, is easy to assemble, and has most of the major details already painted. It really is a snap to get your girlfriend addicted to the awesome world of plamo.   Get your favorite Hello Kitty fan hip to Vocaloid Hello Kitty to Isho!: Iroha Nekomura (preview) MSRP: ¥7,400 ¥5,950 Let's mix up some genres this holiday season. Iroha Nekomura is one fo the Vocaloids which were created by an interesting collaboration between AH Software and Sanrio. I actually picked up this figure last week, and am shocked as to how adorable she is. Look at that Hello Kitty helmet! I think anyone who likes Vocaloid, Hello Kitty, or just cute figures would go bannas for this figure. Look at that speaker detail!
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Happy Friday, everyone! Just as Friday brings the end to the week, so does it bring the end of a week's worth of amazing recommendations from our experienced editors. Yes, friends, 'tis sad but true: This is the last installm...

Japanator's Holiday Shopping Guide 2011: Music and Film

Dec 01 // Josh Tolentino
Jeff Chuang suggests: For your denpa trance veteran: KOTOKO - Hiraku Uchuu Pocket MSRP: 3333 yen LE, 2857 yen RE I think KOTOKO is one of the best Japanese acts that anime has brought overseas in the flesh. I say this only because I've been to her shows a couple times, and regardless if she's got a band or just the backing track, her music, delivery and lyrics just go together so well, among other convention acts. And because of how she did flirt with the American market just a little, some of my friends remember KOTOKO from those heated cons of the mid '00s. Hiraku Uchuu Pocket is KOTOKO's first album since her record label switch, and it opens up her usual selection of songs to more producers and composers, making perhaps this album the most diverse one yet. But it is also one of the most nostalgic one, featuring styles from her I've days as well with producers like kz (livetune), Saito Shinya & DECO*27. It'll please old fans and new fans alike with denpa stuff, dark, burning stuff, and a very cool trance track in the middle of it all.    Chris Walden suggests: For those who love a bit of rock: UVERworld - Life 6 Sense MSRP: $22.97 UVERworld have certainly had their fair share of anime openings, so chances are you've heard of them. I had my introduction to the band via the 4th D.Gray-Man opening, and I've been hooked ever since! This year saw the release of their Life 6 Sense album, which features music. Good music in fact! Those of you that watched Blue Exorcist will recognise the opening song on the album as the first... opening song from the anime.  The songs are very upbeat and there doesn't seem to be a bad song on the album. Of course, that's coming from a guy who can't understand the lyrics, but there's more to music than that! The album kept me sane on the bus commute to work over the holidays, so it has my approval! Also they have a giant metal ball thing that may or may not have anything to do with Gantz.    For those who want something a bit heavier: Blood Stain Child - Epsilon MSRP: $13.99 You may remember me talking about this band when I commandeered one of Hiroko's Daily Dose articles a short while ago, but I'm going to harp on about them some more! I stumbled on the band by chance, but they struck me as an alternative to Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas, just with less screaming and English lyrics. This is pretty significant to me at least, as I love FaLiLV.  It has a little bit of techno, a little bit of metal and a little bit of awesome, mixed up with some catchy beats and reasonable lyrics. If you want some songs you can tap your foot to while pretending you're the worlds best drummer, it might be what you're looking for. It might also be what your friends looking for! Want another reason to like the band? Well Ryu, the lady in the black Gothic outfit, loves Gundam, Evangelion and Clannad. Now you know it must be good!   For history and dinosaur nuts: Godzilla (Criterion release) MSRP: DVD: $29.95 $19.99! Blu-ray: $39.95 $27.99! Whatever way you look at it, the original Godzilla film is a classic. Considering the recent events surrounding its release in 1954, the filmmakers behind this certainly had a lot of guts in going ahead with the project. Skip forward over fifty years and it's a hugely recognisable franchise. But have you ever been curious as to where it all started? Criterion are going to be re-releasing the original, uncut film on both DVD and Blu-ray early on in January 2012. If you know anyone who's been even remotely interested in the king of the monsters, grab some mates, a few drinks, sit back and enjoy the film. Then, promptly put of Godzilla: Final Wars and be prepared to complete the rest of the collection!    Marcus Speer suggests: For the biggest Japan cinemaphile you know: AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa (Criterion Boxset)MSRP: $319.00 [DVD] The name Akira Kurosawa alone should be enough to get those who know their Japanese film history curious of this boxset. Inside AK 100 is 25 of some of Kurosawa's greatest films, including my personal favorites of his, as well as award-winning titles like Stray Dog, Rashomon and Seven Samurai. As per Criterion tradition, each disk contains a wealth of special features, documentaries, commentaries and improved subtitles that push the run-time of these classic films to the limit. While not a complete collection (it's a shame that Ran-- an adaption of Shakespeare's King Lear-- didn't make it on here), it is the finest one for perhaps Japan's greatest film director of all-time.   Hiroko Yamamura suggests: For that person that likes to Tootooroo by themselves Layers; Gate  MSRP: Blu-Ray $60 Oh come on now. Don't be shy. Maybe this porn parody is not the gift you might be buying your brother, but I know you are just as curious as me about it. Think of the possibilities with some Gel Bananas! Maybe this is something you might pick up for yourself then. Support your cosplay porn genre this year!   If you want to get into a girls pants: Norwegian Wood MSRP Blu-Ray + DVD: $78.49 | DVD: $51.75 All your hipster friends are going to tell you, "how much better the movie is than the book." Well, they might be right, but you know what? They both rock. Haruki Murakami's book was quite ground breaking, and having it on your book shelf shows your sensitive/ romantic side. Giving this to your girlfriend, or future love slave will show her how extremely intelectual, and forward thinking you are! You will have an amazing night of politically liberating sex, and get to enjoy a really great movie at the same time. I posted links to the Japanese releases, but if you're going on the cheap, and want subtitles, do a little digging for the Hong Kong release.   For the patient Beat Takeshi fan (I guess that means everyone) Outrage: Way of the Yakuza MSRP Blu-Ray: $29.98 $19.99 DVD: $26.98 $15.99 Takeshi Kitano returns to the genre we love him most for, good old fashioned Yakuza movies. He both directed and stars in the gritty action film, which features the standard themes of betrayal and finger chopping. The great thing about Kitano, is that the older he gets, the more bad ass he becomes. Any body would be happy to find this under their Christmas tree. Too bad they won't find it there! Unfortunately the movie does not release until January 31st, but the price difference for the domestic release will definitely be worth the wait. You can just wrap up a chopped off finger witha promise note instead.   For the J-Rock fan thats into the indie sound Galileo Galilei -Parade MSRP: Digital Download: $8.99 I have to admit I wasn't familiar with Galileo Galilei until I heard the song they did for Gundam Age. I have to say that I absolutely fell in love. They reallly have that clean indie pop sound that seems to be losing popularity in the US lately. Parade is not their newest songs, but they are great. You know what's even better? You can download the whole album for only $9.99!  Man I love technology.   For the old school punk fan: Shonen Knife - Osaka Ramones: Tribute to the Ramones MSRP CD: $10.81 | Digital Download: $7.99 It's hard to believe the ladies from Osaka have been in this rock and roll game since 1981. It's only fitting they are the ones to give the Ramones their tribute in the form of Osaka Ramones. They give a nice smooth, pop approach to the hits. If your special person is a Ramones fan, and they don't know anything about J-Rock, this is a great introduction.   For that person that loves female J-Rock: Brand New Idols Society Brand New Idol Society MSRP: CD: $37.41 | Digital Download: $8.99 The lovely ladies of BiS have been causing quite a stir with their awesome new music videos. However it is their full length self titled album which debuted earlier this year that has really rocked my world. The album is really all over the map, and it rules. It's probably my favorite Japanese release of 2011, and that's saying a lot. You know what's even better? It go released digitally domestically at Amazon and iTunes. Get your support on!    For the old school anime fan that has everything: Old anime soundtrack LPs MSRP: N/A Yeah, that's pretty much me. My office is basically the Hades pit of anime goods. You know has got me going again? Old school anime soundtracks on good old fashioned vinyl! The are usually rare as heck, sound fantastic, and are extremely fair priced. Many LPs have exclusive posters and great fun pack ins as well. Plus, you get o show your vinyl hipster tendencies! Many LPs often came with BGM not featured on casette or CD releases as well. Own some history!   For the Japanese music/ movie fan you don't know very well: Japanese iTunes gift cards MSRP: Various Amounts Ok, sometimes you just have no idea what that special some is into! Closet enka fan? Weekend AKB48 cheerleader? Japanese iTunes giftcards are fantastic. Not only can you buy your favorite movies, apps, and music, but also grab all the free goodies. My iPad is full of free Japanese only apps, and the free daily singles doesn't hurt either. You might feel a bit of a bite from the Yen conversion, but just having a Japanese iTunes accounts opens your computer and idevice up to a new world of fun stuff.
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The holiday monster approaches ever closer, and the only thing you can do to slay it is to make sure you've got stuff for all yourself, your friends, and your loved ones! That's why Japanator's Holiday Shopping Guide is here ...

Japanator's Holiday Shopping Guide 2011: Manga and Books

Nov 30 // Josh Tolentino
Jeff Chuang suggests: For your biggest Puella Magi Madoka Magica fan Puella Magi Madoka Magica Production Note MSRP: ¥5600 ($72) Everyone who has been following anime knows about Madoka. It's one of our favorites here and if the conventions this summer means anything, a lot of you also like the show. Shaft has released a "productions material" art book containing a bunch of production material and artwork used for the show during this summer's Comic Market as an exclusive. I guess it sold well enough that now there's a general release of the same book.  And this is no simple artbook. It's got a nice slip case, a "normal" art collection and a loose-bound sketch binder. There's a ton on Inucurry-dan's inventive artwork that has to do with the various battle scenes. That's on top of the postcards and bookmarks. And the word on the street is that this is definitely the book to get and keep, as it is written with "collect me!" all over it. And "while supply lasts," of course: while it is available on CDJapan, you might get lucky with another bookstore of choice; I didn't. If your lucky Madoka-crazed beneficiary can handle some moon-speak with his or her artbook, it's a great choice.   For the new Kindle owner who wants the thickest Japanese SF novel in digital form: Mardock Scramble MSRP: $9.99 (Kindle edition), $17.99 (Hardcover), £6.49 (iTunes) I don't know about you, but I like to curl up to a large tome of science fiction goodness once in a blue moon. It's doubly fun when that book is written by an accomplished Japanese SF author, who has went on and write for a handful of anime like Le Chevalier D'Eon, Heroic Age and Fafner. Haikasoru, Viz's acclaimed line of Japanese SF novels, released this 700+ pages thriller earlier this year. There was the anime adaptation of the first of the trilogy of Mardock Scramble, which is also available on DVD now; with this novel though, you are getting all three parts. The original story was published in Japan in trilogies, in usual light novel fashion. Western readers are spared of that, thankfully, in this combined tome. Or else we would be talking about how there's all this random talk about gambling and not why this is a really good stocking stuffer for the SF fan in your life. The whole thing reads not unlike a nod to good '80s and 90s cyberpunk in the lines of Armitage and BGC, so it should be extra amusing for people who's been around the anime block once.   Kristina Pino Sugggests: For anyone that likes some good drama and mystery centered around conspiracy and hacking (in other words, something a little different in the world of manga and anime): Bloody MondayMSRP: $10.99 each [Buy: Vol.1, Vol.2] [Pre-order: Vol.3, Vol.4] Bloody Monday hooked me from the get-go with all the gore and theatrical drama involved. A terrorist arrives at Tokyo to stop an investigation agency from finding out about the truth behind a bloody incident called the Christmas Massacre which occurred in Russia previously. She's also there to unleash the virus again, this time in Tokyo, and repeat the incident. Takagi, the main character of the series is a hacker extraordinaire who sometimes helps his father at the PI agency, and gets roped in to this mess when his father is falsely accused of murder and taken away. And of course, now it's up to Takagi, who even gets abducted by the terrorist to further her plot, to stop all of this from happening. I am not usually attracted to anime or manga centered around young kiddos as protagonists, but the drama is really good in Bloody Monday. It reminded me (just a little bit, in one small aspect) of Infinite Ryvius, because they really get deep with the psychological aspect of being a kid that's in way over his head. If you're into this modern bloody drama sort of thing, you should definitely check out Bloody Monday. 2011 marks the manga release of the "final season." which is perfect for you all since you won't have to wait so long to read it all the licensed way.   For your nostalgic buddy, or just someone you want to treat to some good old-fashioned magical girl shoujo manga goodness: Sailor MoonMSRP: $10.99 each [buy Vol. 1, Vol.2, Vol.3, Vol.4, Vol.5] Now, Sailor Moon has been my home girl for forever, but with the recent re-licensing of the manga series it's pretty safe to say that our favorite meatball head is now safely back on my list of recommendations! I used to watch Sailor Moon in the mornings before school, but I never did read the manga. Now that Kodansha has awesomely brought her back to the shelves, it's time for us to revisit the magical world of the Sailor Senshi and the dashing Tuxedo Mask. Who knows, maybe there's a young girl in your life that's never known the magic that is Sailor Moon and her life is just that much emptier without Usagi Tsukino (or as I remember her in the old English dub, Serena Bunny). You'll have her dressing in pigtails and waving around magical wands in no time! For all others, it'll probably be more of a nostalgia factor that'll just bring the magic back. One of the things I love most about the re-release after all is the return of the beautiful artwork I had always associated with Naoko Takeuchi.   For the girl (or boy) that loves her boy cops loving other boy cops: Yellow 2 (Episodes 1-3)MSRP: $6.95 each [Buy Ep. 1, Ep.2, Ep.3] I loved the original Yellow series, and when I found out there would be a continuation I was more than ecstatic. The only real reservations I have about suggesting these is, if you haven't been on board with them since Chapter 1 of the series, you might have to pay a little more than you're comfortable with to collect the issues since they tend to get pricey after the initial sale. Yellow 2 continues the story of Taki and Goh, who in the original series met as partners on the job and somehow fall in love with each other despite one being straight and the other bi. (If this sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Fake.) Now, in the headline I did mention "cops," but they aren't exactly cops. They're really drug snatchers with lots of talent to sniff out those thugs. They cooperate and work with cops though, so it's close enough. What I personally like about the story is it's honest romance with some good drama and a little action. It gets cheesy if you think about it too much, but I prefer it over some of the other ridiculous situations that BL mangaka put their characters through. I just kind of wish it would get animated! But, I digress.   For the girl (or boy) who is a lover of shoujo-esque drama in her boy on boy lovings: The Tyrant Falls in Love (Up to 5 Volumes)MSRP: $12.95 each (Buy Vol.1, Vol.2, Vol.3, Vol.4, Vol.5) I'm not even sure why I love this series so much, because it's basically about an abusive relationship between a man that's in denial and another that's suffering from unrequited love. Eventually, all the rage subsides and you could enjoy what turns into a more honest relationship, but until then you'll have to deal with some very shoujo-esque drama. I'm not talking puppy-love comedy sort of gay on straight guy, I'm talking a series that kicks off with drunk surprise sex that leads to much strife. Well, yeah, then it gets funny. Ok, ok, you got me. I still find it charming, though infuriating (the same way that shoujo pisses me off - it's nothing against the series). It's a good series to get into that is currently on-going in releases, though I could honestly recommend at least three other BL that I also like; but there's a limit to my recommendations real estate on this column so I went with the one with the most recent release (December 2011 for vol. 5)! That and, you can't go wrong with guys in lab coats and glasses. [Note: What I said above in Yellow 2's section about BL manga getting expensive after the initial run is not an exaggeration. If you click on Vol.1 above in this section, you'll see Tyrant's first issue is selling for $60. If you're interested in any BL purchases - never hesitate!]   Josh Tolentino suggests: For the friend that's about to join the Gallian Militia: Valkyria Chronicles Design Archives MSRP: $49.99 $27.77 Valkyria Chronicles is a great game. It’s a must-have for any PlayStation 3 owner, as its sequels are for PSP owners. Most distinctive about the series, though, have been its phenomenal visuals, evoking nothing so much as a sketchbook or watercolor painting in motion. And now, thanks to Udon Books, the game’s mammoth 400+ page art book, Valkyria Chronicles Design Archives is available in English. Read it and take in the secrets of series art director Raita Honjou (known to some H-doujinshi connoisseurs as “Zettai Shoujo”), and how he managed the feat of making dozens of characters look unique and distinctive, despite them all having to wear the exact same military uniform. Other design revelations include early concepts (you won’t believe what the Eidelweiss was supposed to look like at first), developer commentary, and the meticulously detailed mechanical designs that you may have missed out on. Fans shouldn’t pass this one up, and true fans might want to preorder the sequel’s art book, Valkyria Chronicles 2 World Artworks, due next February.   For the friend that's about to enter business school: Spice and Wolf Volumes 1-5 MSRP: $58.95 $32.99  This one's a bit of a cheat, seeing as Spice and Wolf has been moving onto shelves since 2009, but now that retailers are offering the latest five volumes in a big ol' bundle, I figure it counts. And the books are well worth sneaking into a gift-buying guide.  Even if you have been watching the Spice and Wolf anime adaptation, I'd still recommend reading Isuna Hasekura's original work, not just because having a look at source material is always a good thing, but because the books are good reads. Too often a light novel reads just like someone's overlong pitch for an anime series, or the stuff that would otherwise be in a manga were it not that the writer sucked at drawing or couldn't find a proper illustrator. The printed adventures of Kraft Lawrence and his divine business partner Holo read a little bit differently on the page than on the screen. The books are more relaxed, taking their time to carefully weave the lessons about economics in fake-medieval-Europe with the development of Holo and Lawrence's relationship.  In short, it's the perfect sort of thing to take the pressure off a harried business student. Plus, at least it's better than daydreaming about being on The Apprentice.   For the Persona-loving friend who pretends he's married to Aegis and having an affair with Chie: Shigenori Soejima's Artworks SC MSRP: $39.99 $24.99  Our second Udon Books-published recommendation this year comes as a last-minute addition to the list, thanks to some wonderful, wonderful news. Yes, the book is coming on December 27th. A little late to sneak under the tree, but still close enough to join in the party. Shigenori Soejima's character designs and artwork were a big part of what helped make the latter Persona games for me, and any chance to see what makes his pretty pictures so pretty is a good thing. I already own the book in Japanese, and I'll tell you right now that the added value of being able to understand his notes is worth the second purchase.  
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Clear your shelves, friends and readers! Gift-giving time approaches, and one must prepare for the tide of sweet, sweet books and manga to come squeezing into your library! Let it never be said that we at Japanator ignore the...

Japanator's Holiday Shopping Guide 2011: Games

Nov 29 // Josh Tolentino
Chris Walden suggests: For fans and newbies alike: Pokémon Black/White (Nintendo DS) MSRP: $34.99 $31.96! I'll admit, I'm a huge Pokémon fanatic. I absolutely adore the games, so I barely managed to live through the period of time when Japan has their hands on the fifth generation of games, while the rest of the world had to sit and watch. I was fully prepared to be dealt a harsh dose of reality when these finally arrived, as my hype levels were so high I could only assume I'd feel disappointed in one way or another. I most certainly wasn't.  I suppose the biggest qualm people have about this game is that the pre-existing pokémon do not show up until after completing the main story. To me, it was a breath of fresh air. If you can remember all the way back to when you first played a Pokémon game, where all the monsters you were encountering were new and unexpected, you'll get an idea of what it was like diving into these games. It also means that they can serve as a solid introduction to the series, without players having to worry about what has happened in the other games, and when Magikarp is going to show up.  This game, at the very least, has my choice for soundtrack of the year. That, added to welcome additions like animations, pseudo-3D landscapes and an actual story, it receives a very big recommendation from me.    For the friend that gets into fists fights and has slicked back hair:   Yakuza 4 (PS3) MSRP: $59.95 $19.98! I'd seen a few videos of this game earlier this year, thinking it looked pretty cool but never getting around to picking it up. After my trip to Japan in August this year, I came down with some hefty withdrawal symptoms and couldn't stop rolling about the floor singing the first Squid Girl opening. I turned to this game for medical advice, and it was certainly the correct thing to do.  If you like a bit of street brawling, enjoy spontaneously making weapons out of street objects and love watching yourself land a critical blow on an opponents face in slow motion, this is the game for you! It's visually stunning and very reminiscent of the Shinjuku area of Japan. Hell, you can even play UFO machines and pachinko should you want to! The story is also gripping, though this comes from a guy who hasn't played any of the previous three games. It has, however, made me a fan of the series. I'll certainly be making my way through the other games in the near future!   For friends stuck in a bullet hell: Dodonpachi Resurrection Deluxe (Xbox 360) MSRP: £19.92 (about $30 plus shipping) It's not often that games like bullet hell shooters make it across the pond as an official release, but damn am I glad they do! The release of Dodonpachi Resurrection Deluxe may have been relative to the sales of Deathsmiles, which was also released last year. If you're a fan of the genre, then do your bit and support further localisations!  Unfortunately, it seems that besides the original Japanese release, this game has only landed in Europe. While an American release doesn't seem to be off the cards, rest assured that if you are desperate for the game, you can import the European version. While most 360 games are region coded, it is confirmed that this one isn't! Unfortunately for us, we aren't in a position to pinch the American release of Deathsmiles 2. Boo!   Elliot Gay suggests: For the friend who misses the golden age of the JRPG: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (PSP) MSRP: $19.99 $14.99! Let's be honest. Lovers of the Japanese RPG have been having a hard time lately when it comes to good, quality games making it over the pond. Trails in the Sky is a criminally overlooked PSP gem that our own Hiroko had a blast with it earlier this year. Little known fact, but the Trails series is actually comprised of my favorite role playing games ever made. The series is now five games in, with this first title the perfect launch point into a brand new addiction. XSEED's localization of this beast of a game (believe me, it's huge) is handled expertly, allowing the characters to truly shine. If you have any friends who yearn for a return to the PSX/PS2 days, gift them a copy of TitS (intentional). I guarantee you won't regret it. And hey, if the sales are good enough we might actually see the next four games in the series! Your call guys. Your call.    For the friend who loves to scream BUSTAH WOLF: King of Fighters XIII (PS3/Xbox 360) MSRP: $49.99 Why don't we all just pretend King of Fighters XII never happened? I think we're all a whole lot better off if we just moved on with our lives and picked up XIII instead. SNK has finally stepped up their game, delivering a solid, beautiful fighter to their fans and newcomers alike. If the crazily beautiful visuals aren't enough for you, stay for the strategic, deep and challenging gameplay. Sure, the netcode isn't fantastic, but there's a pretty decent chance that'll get patched. What matters here is that you can finally play as Mai, swinging boobs and all. Priced $10.00 cheaper than the average PS3 or 360 game, you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. Pick yourself and your buddy up a copy and have fun beating the living crap out of each other while pretending to be Terry Bogard. What could be better?   For the friend who wished that Megaman Legends 3 was still a thing: Solatorobo: Red the Hunter (Nintendo DS) MSRP: $34.99 $19.99! Ok, maybe the caption is a little bit cruel, but as a huge Megaman Legends fan I really do think that Solatorobo is worth looking into. I'm actually playing an English copy of the game now for review, but I own and have completed the Japanese game as well. Needless to say, I really dug it. As one of the many fans who waited ten years for a Legends 3, I found that Solatorobo scratched the right itch for me and made the pain go away a lot more than I expected. The visuals are charming, the characters fun and the music memorable. Sure, the game is a little bit on the easy side, but there is a lot of content here to enjoy. Plus all copies of the game come with a free soundtrack CD! Don't let the animal characters fool you; this is a game filled with a ton of hard work and heart. If you have a friend out there who loved the Legends series or just enjoys a good adventure, gift them this baby.    Josh Tolentino suggests: For the honorable friend unwilling to settle with PUTTING HE GUNS ON, and wanting to serve, for once, an actual OYAKATA-SAMA: Total War: Shogun 2 (PC)MSRP: $29.99 (Downloadable Add-ons priced separately) For all of Japan’s influence on the world of videogames, there are surprisingly few videogames that are really about Japan itself, as a nation, with its own history and iconic culture. And though the likes of Samurai Warriors and Sengoku Basara could technically count as being historically inspired, players with a serious interest in Japanese history, particularly the time of the samurai, are usually left with little recourse but, to place their wishes on Ema and hope for the best while they chip away at the impenetrable Nobunaga's Ambition. Which, of course, is where the British step in. The Creative Assembly’s excellent strategy game takes players on a whirlwind “what if” tour through feudal Japan, stepping into the toe-socks of one the many daimyos that put the “sen” in “Sengoku Jidai”. The Total War series’ trademark fusion of turn-based strategic play with real-time tactical battling is as deep as it has ever been, with beefed-up battle and campaign AI, a spiffed-up interface, and gorgeous, lovingly-crafted visuals. It’s a game made by true samurai otaku, and I mean that in the best sense of the term. Anyone with a PC, Steam, and an interest in strategy games should give it a go.   For the thirty-something in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, who also happens to be a crazy sheep-man: Catherine (PS3, Xbox 360)MSRP: $39.99 For all the (sometimes valid) criticisms of Japanese gaming's creative stagnation, it's heartening to see that one of the bravest, boldest games in years has come out of Glorious Nippon itself. Catherine is a game apart because it's a top-shelf production that's about things that most other games seem incapable of tackling, either due to slavish devotion to being adolescent power fantasies or simple fear. Catherine tackles mature, complex adult relationships, Big Questions about romance, sex, and the horror of being trapped in a nightmare world, climbing up an endless staircase and trying not to be killed by monsters straight out of the almanac of Male Fears. Hey, it's still a game, and still Japanese. Something has to give.   For your otaku friend who's packing for his first trip to Nippon: Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ (PC)MSRP: €9.92 ($13.72) Go! Go! Nippon! is a strange sort of beast, in that at first glance one doesn't know who the game is really for (assuming you haven't read the "for the friend" bit I wrote above the screenshot). Can you really treat it as a first-time visitor's travel guide for a "normal" person? I'm thinking that the sort of person willing to play a visual novel sight unseen would already know a fair bit about Japan, having visited or not. Which brings me to posit that Go! Go! Nippon! is as much for the first-time tourist as it is for the otaku who would fantasize about what might happen on his first trip to Japan: to meet and hook up with a pair of pretty young girls who are all too willing to show him the sights. But don't worry. MangaGamer and Overdrive worked together and made sure that this'll be an all-ages adventure.    For the friend who already owns the other three (five if you count expansions and rereleases) Persona games: Persona 2: Innocent Sin (PSP)MSRP: $39.99 Unless you're an import connoisseur willing to do some shady things with emulators and unofficial patches, this is the release Persona fans have been waiting for: Innocent Sin is The One That Got Away of MegaTen games, rubbed from the American docket out of fear that a game with Hitler in it wouldn't go over so well. Ah, how naive we were. Now it's here, remastered with a new interface, new tweaks, new missions, and a sweet new soundtrack (though the original is available for purists).  And for gamers who came later to the Persona party via the latter two games, Persona 2 is much less jarring a change from its descendants, echoing familiar themes while adhering to the more traditional JRPG structure.    For the friend who has yet to find something that will make her say "Now this is a dungeon!" ClaDun X2 (PSP)MSRP: $19.99 (PlayStation Network Store) Fancy a game bearing the oldest of RPG structures, but bringing it with a decidedly modern sense of humor? Look for ClaDun X2 close to the top of the pile.  Make no mistake: ClaDun X2, like ClaDun: This is an RPG! before it, is a tough "roguelike" dungeon crawler. The difference is that this one recognizes its own backwardness, leveraging it to excellence with smart twists on gameplay and a self-aware, satirical tone. ClaDun says to thee: "Yes, we know you like those old-school games. We do, too! Let's have some fun, yeah?"   For the friend that was at Mikunopolis this year: Hatsune Miku Project Diva Extend (PSP)MSRP: $64.99 (Import) Like Miku? Own a PSP (or later, a Vita)? Hate your (or your friend's) fingers? This is the game for you (or your Mikunopolis-attending friend). It's also a superb rhythm game with a sweet (by my measure) song selection and some pretty great music video bits. If only those button prompts weren't flying all over the screen. But I guess that's what PV mode is for. In any case, it looks like Extend will be the ultimate incarnation of Sega's landmark Project Diva series, at least until the Vita or a PlayStation 3 port comes through. With more songs, more modules (including a Virtual On one), and more kinetic typography (see above), tapping along with a virtual idol is more fun to me than pretend-jamming on a plastic guitar.
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What's up (videogame) players?! Shopping's up, that's what! And we're here to help you with that! Sadly, we can't actually buy anything for you, but we'll be happy to tell you what to buy for your friends this holiday! And re...

Japanator's Holiday Shopping Guide 2011: Anime

Nov 28 // Josh Tolentino
Marcus Speer suggests: For the person who loves Haruhi look-alikes: Angel Beats! Complete SeriesMSRP: $69.98 $27.99! [BD], $59.99 $23.99! [DVD] There's a lot of good examples that point out why Angel Beats! should be passed up as a series that establish the same number of annoying troupes as T.K. has Engrish words in his vocabulary, but this anime really tries to make you stick around for just one more episode. It's a melting pot of an ensemble clash of genres, spouting hilarious one-liners one minute, then throwing in a surprise romantic sub-plot the next. This one here is a no-brainier if they love the kookiness of Haruhi Suzumiya, though with the irreligious underlying tones, make sure they can take it with a grain of salt (especially if they love their precious Haruhi series). Also, as you might remember from this past week, Angel Beats! is on a 60% off sale right now on Rightstuf until 11:59 CST tonight! If you want to save some money while also buying it that special someone, now is the time to do it!   For the anime fan that loves surprising twists: Ga-Rei Zero CollectionMSRP:  $59.98 [DVD/BD Combo] There's a lot going for Ga-Rei Zero: it far surpasses its original source material, forcing future manga chapters to cater to fans of the anime spin-off,. It also came out of left field, shocking viewers with its unforgettable first episode on its premiere. But most importantly, despite its minor flaws, it's a great series that tries some awesome mechanics and amazing character interaction and succeeds in building a show that neither stays too long or comes up too short. Check out our Japanator Recommends feature about it here (SPOILER ALERT for the first few paragraphs).   For the friend who pays attention to each and every pixel: RedlineMSRP: $29.99 [BD], $24.98 [DVD]  You are doing an injustice-- an injustice, I'm telling you-- to not watch this film on Blu-Ray and in HD. It's not a matter of excusing yourself because you don't have a PS3 or Blu-Ray player, no... if you feel that you can afford to lose picture quality to watch this movie, then you are not the right person to receive Redline as a gift. Instead, find that one friend you have who complains about the quality of modern anime and the downfall of traditional animation. Once you pitch down a few bucks on the Blu-Ray and a player, rev yourself back and just bathe yourself in the amazing, glorious 1080p of one of the most detailed and stylistically charged anime of today. With that said, even on VHS format, this movie is bound to please no matter how you watch it. Click here for our Japanator Recommends for Redline.   For your lonely-ass hikikomori friend who sends you to buy groceries: Sleeping with Hinako OVAMSRP: $34.25 [DVD]  Admit it: you're a bit lonely at times. No one would deny sleeping next to someone who truly loved them, but gone are the days where that person is an actual, physical being. Instead, we now have Hinako. For your reclused, shut-in friend though, this is perhaps the greatest gift one could ever receive. Check out Josh's less-than-flattering thoughts on Hinako here.   Elliot Gay suggests: For the person who loves crazy symbolism: Revolutionary Girl Utena DVD Set 1MSRP: 49.99 [DVD] There are shows that screw with your head and there are shows that really screw with your head. You thought Neon Genesis Evangelion had ridiculous amounts of symbolism in it? Try Utena on for size. This one is perfect for the friend that loves to theorize and discuss the deeper meaning in whatever they watch. They could spend hours dissecting the finale and still come up with something completely different than what everyone else did. With the re-release, they're getting the best version of the series to boot! The classy box art certainly helps too.    For the friend in your life who just wants to see people get punched: Fairy Tail DVD/Blu-ray Part 1MSRP: 54.98 [DVD/Blu-ray] Fairy Tail is one of those feel good shows that just rubs you the right way. It's completely inoffensive and seemingly generic, but every so often it has the power to be emotional and moving. At its very core though, the show is about magically powered badasses beating the crap out of each other. What shonen fan wouldn't want that? This is especially great if your friend has only ever had experience with Naruto, Bleach or One Piece. You can help them broaden their horizons! Or just get them more hopelessly addicted to another shonen fight series. Thank me later, after you read Josh and company's weekly Fighting Friday recaps!   For the friend who can't get enough of exploitative horror: Highschool of the Dead Blu-ray Complete CollectionMSRP: 69.98 [Blu-ray] Highschool of the Dead isn't entirely unlike the zombie films of the 70s and early 80s: filled with sex, violence and more violence. If you have a friend out there who loves those old grindhouse flicks, this show will most definitely sate their appetites. Well-animated and consistently entertaining, your gore loving friend will be enthralled for the entire duration of the series. It might be a little pricey, but isn't it worth it to see the deranged smile on their face? Not for those who are offended by big breasts. Lots of big breasts.   Josh Tolentino suggests: For the buddy whose last memory of watching anime was the one about this one kid that was angsty about piloting robots that bleed, and then there was all that Christian symbolism: Evangelion: 2.22 You Can [Not] AdvanceMSRP: $34.98 $16.49 [Blu-ray], $29.98 $10.99 [DVD]  Oh, come now. You didn't seriously expect us to go through this year's crop of releases without at least suggesting a look at the next Evangelion movie, did you? It would be remiss of us not to do so! For many otaku, be they lapsed or active, Evangelion was the anime, the show that proved to pretty much anyone the potential diversity of cartoons. The emotional adventures of Shinji and company were the things to point to when convincing the unenlightened that there were cartoons out there that weren't solely aimed at selling toys to pre-teens.  Though it never really left (Gainax and its merchandising maestros made sure of that), Evangelion is back, for real, as a quartet of films supposedly intended as the true director's cut, as close to creator Hideaki Anno's original vision as he can make it. And whereas last year's 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone was practically a fake-out, a shot-for-shot retread of the early portions of the TV series, 2.22 veers wildly off-course, not least with the introduction of a new, decidedly modern character, Mari Makinami Illustrious. Can an old show throw in some new twists? Evangelion 2.22's answer is a resounding "yes". Check out Crystal's review of the movie here.   For the friend that wants to meet weird people in the big city...and I mean really weird people: Durarara!! MSRP: $42.48 each [DVD, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]  An headless biker looking for her lost head. A sentient, bloodthirsty sword. A bartender with the strength of a thousand men. A sinister information broker. A mob doctor. And above them all, the mysterious street gang, the Dollars. These most uncommon of uncommon characters live and roll in the city of Ikebukuro, their stories swirling around the lives of the decidedly common high schooler Mikado Ryugamine. Or is he really that common? Durarara!!'s about the closest anime has come to a Guy Ritchie-esque fiasco story, with a dozen different characters and their stories intertwining to paint a lively picture of a city where pretty much anything and everything - absolutely everything - happens, both in the shadows and broad daylight. While its relative scarcity and three-part split makes the package a bit of a tough sell, it's ultimately worth the look, a great intro for the lapsed anime watcher looking for a show that shows off class, wit, and genuine craft.   Kristina Pino Suggests: For your friend with a taste for epic cyber adventures and saving the world, whether they're into anime or not: Summer WarsMSRP: $29.98 (DVD) | $34.98 (BD) While Summer Wars isn't even originally from 2011 (it's been released in Special Edition DVD in 2011, though), it's been recommended by not once, but twice and perhaps more by Japanator editors and I'm about to give a mini-recommendation here that would serve as the third. Maybe 2.5. Whatever! Summer Wars is a gorgeous animated film about resolving conflicts among those close to you and then working together for a greater cause: virtually (quite literally) saving the world. Kenji, a misfit dork that loves math gets nabbed by the school's hottie, Natsuki, and taken to her family reunion to pose as her boyfriend (that's the drama part). Then a crazy toon in the virtual world (everyone basically has a second life in OZ) goes sentient and rogue, becoming a threat to the real world (this is the really cool part with battles and action). How does one have to do with the other? Obviously, Kenji is a mathematical genius that mistakenly had a hand in all this, and another big player in this game happens to be in (predictably) Natsuki's family. Epicness ensues. In a way, there is some satire represented in Summer Wars since they portray a world that is engulfed and seemingly dependent on electronics and signals. I don't believe that sometime in the future, robots are going to take over and destroy or enslave human kind; and this movie pulls it off the right way by not going that route. The last point I'd have to make about the movie is that the characters really take you on a ride with them. Kenji is a great protagonist, even if he's been overdone; I totally felt him the entire way through. Trust me: it'll feel great. Just don't stuff your face too much before watching lest you cramp yourself up from laughing. (Note: Being that this article has been published on 'Cyber Monday,' if you click on my links to buy the movie, you'll see some really sweet prices that look lower than the average "our price" on RightStuf. Just saying, though maybe those prices will still look that good tomorrow and next week. It's worth every penny either way.)
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Hey, everyone! Got all your holiday shopping done yet? Regardless of your answer, you've still got more to do, now that we here at Japanator are putting out 2011's Holiday Shopping Guide! Let our editors take you on a whirlwi...

Japanator's Holiday Shopping Guide: Video Games

Dec 12 // Josh Tolentino
Mike's PicksFor those who live to grind, and grind to live:Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger vs. Darkdeath Evilman (PSP) [BUY IT]There isn't much remaining about NISA's wonderful Zettai Hero Project that I have to say after my initial review, other than the fact that since that piece was written I kind of wish that I had bumped up the score to an 8.5--maybe even a solid 9 if you catch me on a good day. The way Z.H.P. takes the often-maligned roguelike genre and paints all over it with a brilliant sheen of expert SRPG appeal is just so thoroughly addicting that it's difficult to find points to select save and walk away. I've played through the game numerous times, relishing in the comedic dialogue every time, amounting to an overall character level of nearly 150k (yes, thousand) and I really can't see myself stopping anytime soon. That is, of course, until Josh begs me for his copy back. Who knows? Maybe Boss Tolentino will allow me to keep it as a Christmas gift. The situation is akin to times when I'm running on 0% EN in a Z.H.P. dungeon with no replenishing items in sight: I press onward with unwavering steadiness and hold out hope for the best.  For the part of you that still really, really wants a Keyblade IRL:Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (PSP)[BUY IT]The best entry in the Kingdom Hearts series since Kingdom Hearts 2 (I think Bob would agree with me here), Birth by Sleep instantaneously quells most of the concerns about how this type of game can be played on a handheld system. Sure, the general PlayStation controllers are ideal for the battle sequences, but I was surprised by how quickly I adapted to the PSP's joystick for maneuverability, the shoulder buttons for camera angle manipulation and the pad buttons for move selection. A description of the control scheme may make it sound like a misstep, but jam out your first legitimate fight sequence and chances are you'll be hooked. One thing that has drawn Kingdom Hearts fans back to the games time and time again is the enveloping story and meshing of Square Enix/Disney characters. While some of the WOW OMG IT'S CLOUD AND OH SHIT THERE'S CHIP AND DALE I LOVE THOSE DUDES factor has warn off since 2002, breaking away from the Sora and Roxas storyline provides even more depth into this expansive universe. Even though Terra, Aqua and Ventus are only moderately interesting characters, playing as all three of them in separate yet aligning quest makes Birth by Sleep amount to something far greater than the sum of its parts.For the person who...well...wait. Hold up. Who doesn't like Kirby? Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii) [BUY IT]For a while people were uncertain if there would be another successful main-series Kirby game. A number of years passed by and all that we received from the overlords at Nintendo were gimmicky racing, party and mini-game style Kirby titles as well as the pink puffball's expected appearences within the Smash Bros. roster. While these doses of the Kirbster are all well and good, devout fans of Dreamland craved a new installment that hearkened back to those classic titles. In a year where gamers were have been up fresh servings of Mario (Super Mario Galaxy 2), Samus (Metroid: Other M) and later Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong Country Returns), Kirby's Epic Yarn stays in league with those efforts by layering on a highly stylized approach to its originating formula; in this case, it's the side-scrolling Kirby platformer. I'm almost certain that most of you reading this have already played the game in some capacity, as it has sold quite well since its release in October. I hardly have to describe how elegant Epic Yarn is in its execution. It's gorgeous to look at, the soundtrack is just lovely and, despite the flaw of one power-up (my loathing of Train Kirby cannot be measured with current English-language adjectives), the controls are effortlessly intuitive. If Super Mario Galaxy 2 had not been released or flopped (like that would ever happen), Epic Yarn could arguably be labeled as the must-have Nintendo/Wii release of 2010.For the Capcom vs. series dope-fiend who can't wait for Marvel vs. Capcom 3:Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars (Wii) [BUY IT]Let's go back in time for a minute to the beginning of the year. It's January. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you with? My answers to these questions are: my apartment, playing Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and my cheap-ass friends who use the Wiimote to lazily lay down special attacks over and over again to my intensifying frustration. Yes, I lost much of the first quarter of this year to countless TvC tournaments that lasted for entire days on end. Tim's review hits on many of this game's strong points, and brings up the notable fact that Capcom was at first unsure if they were even going to port Tatsunoko over to the States. They made the right move with this one, as for the first few months of 2010 this was amongst the most consistently critically acclaimed Wii titles out on the market. This wasn't just a fluke chocked up to people waiting for Super Street Fighter IV, either. TvC: UAS is a stand-alone great fighter. Being familiar with almost all of the Tatsunoko line-up is an extra boost for my enjoyment of the game. There's nothing quite like using Gold Lightan to lay into Roll and her godforsaken broom.For the person who claims they hate puzzle games, yet deep down knows that they just suck at them:Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (DS) [BUY IT]Ah, Professor Layton. You never fail to satisfy the need to work my brain. After Diabolical Box hit the U.S. in 2009, I started a campaign to introduce the Layton series into a local school system. I stood before the education board and played through a few of the puzzles while the images of my DS were projected onto a large screen at the head of the room. There were plenty of sounds of collective delight coming from the audience, and after my presentation the director of the board approached me and said he was sure my proposal would be approved. More than a year later, and I still haven't heard from any of them. I don't know what happened, but I have a theory: the old bastards are playing Unwound Future until their eyes bleed dry. This is my favorite entry in the series so far particularly because it messes around with time-travel complexities. Chronologically, Unwound Future is the last entry in the Layton canon, and there are parts of it that feel like the grand finale. Production values are top-notch, the music is a pleasure as always and the relationship between Layton and Luke is more realized than usual, fueling the desire to push through difficult segments to advance the plot. Level-5 has never made a sub-par game, anything they touch is likely to be exceptional. I eagerly await the forthcoming prequels, Specter's Flute and Mask of Miracle.  Josh's PicksFor the friend who lives in New York city:Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (PS2, Wii) [BUY IT] Five years young at the time of its North American release, Sakura Wars presents a picture of New York at its very best: the late 1920's, when men were men and women were Broadway stars who piloted giant, steam-powered flying transforming robots, defending New Yorkers and the American dream from the ever-present threat of demonic incursion. That New York. Ask your great-grandparents about Sakura Wars' historical accuracy! I'm sure they'll remember a time when the New York Combat Revue saved the city from some great evil, then making it in time to put on a grand show for all the happy people. The game's blend of dating sim mechanics and tactical battling lends it a flavor that no other major title outside the Japan can match, and its feel-good setting and memorable cast give off a colorful, sincere aura amidst an industry infatuated with moral gray and dark, edgy gloominess.It's cheery, fun, and unlike anything you've ever played before. What's not to like?  For the armchair general who needs to stay on the go:Valkyria Chronicles II (PSP)[BUY IT] Whoever said that small platforms can't house big games? The PSP has been home to some of the year's most remarkable titles - of any platform - and Valkyria Chronicles II is definitely near the top of that list. Perfectly adapted, even improved from its big-boy console predecessor, the game gives us a look into the school lives and exploits of Class G, the worst cadets in the Gallian Royal Military Academy. Of course, they're later to be proven the best, but only with you, the player's, help. Now you can prove their tactical genius on the go, and in a multiplayer environment as well. Save the nation, and get good grades, to boot! For the friend who has yet to face her true self:Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable (PSP) [BUY IT] You might be wondering why you should be buying 2008's best JRPG in 2010, except on a handheld. You'd be dead wrong, as Persona 3 Portable is far more than 2008's best JRPG. It's all that, with all the improvements added in from 2009's best JRPG, Persona 4, alongside an entirely new single-player campaign, this time as a girl. New events, new characters, new Social Links. It's like Atlus added a full sequel on top of the already-substantial package.Colette fell in love with it all over again. Chances are you will, too.For the Naru-tard in your life, or anyone who just wants to play a really great anime game for once:Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (PS3, Xbox 360) [BUY IT] "All licensed games are bad." Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 proves that old lesson wrong. It's all the over-the-top superpowered ninja action, pumped up on steroids, and presented in GLORIO with some of the best cel-shaded graphics around. Hell, you'll likely enjoy it even more than actually watching the show it's based on.And if you're still interested in catching up on your hot Naruto action, this is a great primer for all that.  For the person who wants to experience the Tokyo nightlife, seedy underbelly and all:Yakuza 3 (PS3)[BUY IT] When you play Yakuza 3, you are in Tokyo, except without the cost of a plane ticket. Kamuro-cho has all the attractions of the real-life city at night, all the way down to the brands of ramen and drinks at your local convenience store. Well, that, and a healthy dose of gangster drama and brutal violence, starring protagonist and living wall of stone Kazuma Kiryu. It's a virtual tourist experience as much as it is a grand video game. Real Yakuza reviewed this game, and thought it was pretty true to life. What better endorsement do you need?  For the person who, for once, would like to see some good writing come out of a video game:999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (DS) [BUY IT] Video game writing, even at the best of times, is often unfavorably compared to the kind of throwaway narrative found in bad licensed novels or comic books, prompting commentators and "games as art" proponents to declare games as part of a nasty "cultural ghetto".999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors is a lighthouse of mature, refined storytelling in the murky ocean of tired science fiction and fantasy tropes that make up the state of game plots and dialog. That it comes from Japan, a nation stereotyped for producing "only" cliche-ridden juvenile JRPG pap makes savoring Chunsoft's masterpiece all the sweeter, all of it conveyed pitch-perfectly by a superb localization effort by Aksys games. Oh, and you get an intelligent, brain-twisting escape-the-room puzzle game in it to boot, suitable for even the most hardened Layton veteran. If you care at all about getting a good story out of the games you play, you need to try this. If you don't trust us, perhaps you might trust Destructoid's Tony Ponce. See what he had to say about it here.
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Hey! Are you a gamer who's tired of all those jerks on the internet making fun of Japan's game? Or are you the type of gamer who makes fun of Japan's games, but has a weeaboo gamer friend that you need to buy a gift for? Or a...

Japanator Holiday Shopping Guide: Otaku Goods

Dec 12 // Jeff Chuang
Jeff's List: For your moe-obsessed photog with spare desktop real estateThe Nendoroid series (about $35 each) Those of us who collect figures probably know all about it, but for all my homies that like to line their desks and monitors with chibi gunplas and trade figures can look to the Nendoroid series for an upgrade. These super-deformed anime figures are certified money making machines, brought to us by Good Smile Company, and they've been pressing out these way-too-lucrative gimmicks since 2007. And who can blame them? Most of them are so adorable that it boggles the mind as to why I or anyone I know didn't come up with the idea first. Anyways, I'm sure you know all this; Nendos are everywhere this year. While many of the older ones in the series are out of print, you can still find a healthy selection from online retailers like HLJ, J-List, Yes-Asia, beyond the usual marketplace sites like eBay or Amazon marketplace. Your local anime goods store would probably have them, too. As for a full listing of all nendoroids, check Nendoroid.org. I personally recommend Mickey, Churuya, Black Rock Shooter, and any of the Miku Nendoroids. If you really love whoever it is, all of the K-ON! girls are available as Nendoroids, and that'll be quite the set. These are safe bets, cute, harmless and generally inoffensive. For better luck at mahjong, or for those who wants larger breasts Stuffed Etopen (Hobby Link Japan, $39) There are a lot of stuffed plushies coming out of Japan, based on anime, manga and games, all the time. What makes Etopen special (besides that it sits beneath a pair of big ones from the anime/manga Saki)? It's both practical and stealth. A full-size dakimakura from some anime may be comfortable to hug, but it probably won't make you or your family and friends comfortable when they see you with it. With Etopen, none would be any wiser.On the practical side, Etopen is a firm and hefty thing. Hugging the thing would be comfortable and probably even therapeutic. Weather or not its master's luck with mahjong or with upper body growth rubs off on its real life owner is something yet to be determined. At least, no one who's seen or read Saki can bear any ill will against this penguin. For the dirty old man next door Revoltech Woody (J-List, $38) If you read our sister blog Tomopop, you may have noticed that this figure is getting a lot of coverage earlier in the year. Woody's "that face" is probably the most hilarious thing that Japan has made into plastic in 2010. It's disturbing for some people, but it is the funniest thing ever for others. Just make sure who you are buying it for is that "other" kind of people.At the same time, this item is actually from the hit Pixar film series of Toy Story. Unless you follow the figure scenes, you might not know about this other side of Woody, as most don't. Be sure that whoever is getting lucky with Woody this season gets over to Tomopop and look at all those hilarious shots of Woody up to no good. The Revoltech Woody can be found at your usual figure importers, but stocks are limited! And if you're giving a really big gift, you can even throw in a few bishoujo figures in there, you know, so Woody doesn't get lonely. For the figure collector in your lifeIkea Detolf (Ikea, $59.99) All figure collectors eventually run into the same problem: where do I put my figures? And this is true not just for figure collectors. Anyone who collects a lot of geek goods and want to show it off will eventually need more space, need more shelves, and more fixtures generally. For those of us on a budget and would rather spend more money on our collection than on furniture, the Ikea Detolf is a sure bet.For about sixty USD, you can buy a 4-level display case, with safety glass all around. It may not be as pimp looking as some mahogany china cabinet with built-in lighting, but it would also feel less odd filling a Detolf with little plastic girls or whatever you've been acquiring over the years. It's also a reasonable present, given that it is well under one hundred dollars, unlike far most display cases. And you can buy lights for it; the Detolf can be fitted with Ikea LEDs, if you want some top lighting. Bargain shoppers can also look for the deals Ikea otherwise may offer over the holiday season. That is, if you don't mind giving the most practical and most boring item on Jtor's gift list. Kristina's List:Kiki's Delivery Service Schedule Book for the unorganized otakuJ-List ($20.00) I know a lot of you are Studio Ghibli fans in general, but I'm pointing out this item in particular because Kiki's Delivery Service is my absolute favorite of the lot. My mother introduced me to Studio Ghibli with Princess Mononoke back in the VHS days, and then she bought me a VHS of Kiki's Delivery Service shortly after. These were the days I was watching Sailor Moon on TV in the mornings before going to school (aka 13-14 years ago). I guess you could say that Ghibli was my introduction into anime besides the Sailor Moon series gateway, because after that my first anime (and in Japanese) was Magic Knight's Rayearth.  That being said, this schedule book would be a must-buy for me, and I think it's worth pointing out because of the sheer charm of it. I would like to believe that most of us have smart phones and the like by now, but even with all the technology we have today and calendars on the computer and whatnot; nothing really beats writing something down when it comes to me trying to remember something. So, why not write things down in a book I'll want to keep looking at? This beautiful schedule book has anything and everything I'd need to organize my life, while featuring pictures and screen shots from my most-loved Ghibli film. It's the first schedule book I've seen in a long time (8 years) that I actually want to use just because I'd want to look at it all the time. If you wouldn't use one yourself, you probably have an otaku friend that would - and it isn't that expensive.  Microwave Puchi Taiyaki maker for the hungry otaku (or anyone with a sweet tooth)J-list ($12.50) Okay, so whether or not you've seen anime where people are sharing some Taiyaki; you know the one, papa takes the tail so the kid could have the head since it has more filling - you've probably heard of these delicious fish-shaped pancakes. I'm not personally a fan of the anko or sweet bean paste filling, but while I was at Japan I happened to live at an apartment that had a Taiyaki maker across the street - and they had ones filled with custard. I ate at least two a week (I was in Japan all summer).Seeing these online for sale just makes me happy inside. If you've never had one of these before, you're seriously missing out. Think of the average pancake batter, just the way you like it. Then, think of it with your favorite filling. It could be anko or custard, it could be chocolate or jelly as Peter Payne suggests; whatever filling you like. Then think of that hot and in the shape of a fish! In this case a cute, smaller fish than the regular Taiyaki (which is all the same to me, I could eat those all day).Yeah, I'd say this item is pretty awesome. The only real draw back with these is you have to eat them fresh out of the microwave oven. If you leave them for a while or stick 'em in a bag and travel somewhere, they'll get all soggy on you. Granted, it is still going to taste good, but it's much more delicious when it's fresh. Beware!   Hand-made anime-related jewelry for the fancy folkThis is a great holiday category for ANY otaku, because chances are you're looking for some sweet gift for ya girl that is nice, unique and cheap all at the same time. Well, maybe the cheap part is a lie for some of these products, but all of this is worth looking at! If you go on Etsy and just run searches for your favorite anime or video games, comics etc. you're bound to find something you'll like in the "handmade" section. Some pieces I'll point out are Totoro earrings by WTFcharms, Mario Mushroom necklaces by Nelia Tenlion and Kuroshitsuji themed jewelry by KrystalChains, a chainmaille artist that really impresses me with all of her work.Even if you're not looking to find jewelry for other people, maybe you like to cosplay and are in need of jewelry or accessories. There are plenty of Inu Yasha necklaces and Sailor Moon earrings to be found. Whatever the case may be, you should totally support some of these artists!  Peter's list:What to give to the friend who wears absolutely anything in public:Ninja Shoes (J-List, $21.50)Does your friend need new shoes? Do they often sneak into your back yard and try to assassinate you with a rasengan? Then why settle for getting them a pair of normal shoes when you could introduce them to the infinite wonder of ninja shoes? Now, I personally wouldn't wear these anywhere, but if they were given to me as a gift, I couldn't refuse this ultimately comfortable footwear. They can be for cosplay or for regular use, so they don't just have to be for your crazy friend who likes to jump across rooftops by night pretending he's a ninja. They look to me like camel feet or something because the big toe is separated from the rest. J-List have different sizes and colors so check it out.For whoever's an otaku and proud of it:Otaku hat (J-List, $17.95) Some people may not ever want to miss out on a conversation with another otaku. So how could they go wrong if they're wearing an otaku hat? It's plain and simple, it's gotta be a winner. The logo is even a parody of the Oakley logo. It's also fully adjustable so it's suitable for any otaku. For whoever goes that one step to far... and doesn't deserve something expensive:Rubber Ninja Shuriken (J-List, $2.25) So your over-the-top ninja friend doesn't deserve much, so get him a few of these. They're detailed hexagonal "ninja stars" if you will. A shuriken is guaranteed to be the ultimate in extreme otaku gifts... For less than $2.50 anyway. Maybe your first friend has his ninja shoes but now he needs a weapon to complete his cosplay. It's easier than a sword and it won't get stuck in your eye, so it seems pretty suited to the crazy ninja otaku.
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So by now, you've probably seen a bunch of fabulous shopping guides for all kinds of anime and manga, game and movie stuff, even music - but now it's time for all the good stuff. That's right, loyal readers...it's time for th...

Japanator Holiday Shopping Guide: Music

Dec 11 // Tim Sheehy
 Zac's PicksWhat to get for the old-school video game lover:Plugnet - Select (HearJapan, $19.42)This album, more than any other Japanese album, totally blew me away this summer. Sure, we're talking Christmas here, but really this is the prefect album to blast out of your open car windows as you drive recklessly through town. It's got a massive 8bit sound underneath million-words-a-minute rapping from a trio of singers. It's absolutely brilliant and worth every cent.What to get the JRPG lover:  Black Mages III - Darkness and Starlight LIVE (CDJapan, $51.19) If you want to see how the masters work, then this is the DVD for you, (or that certain music lover in your life.) Not only will you get the chance to hear some of the best music from the Final Fantasy series, but you'll get to see Nobuo Uematsu and all of the Black Mages rock their way through every track. It's both inspirational AND entertaining!What to get the art lover:Traveling with Yoshimoto Nara (Amazon, $29.49)This is a fascinating documentary of the artist Yoshimoto Nara. He's been a big name in the Japanese indie rock scene for a long time, and he's been making a name for himself overseas as well. You're sure to recognize his art as soon as you see it, and the doc is full of great music from beginning to end. And oh yeah, just a little bit of art, too.What to get the awesome music video lover:   Supercar: PVD Complete 10th Anniversary DVD (CDJapan, $42.56)When it comes to unique and poignant videos, there are few that can hold a candle to Supercar. Sure, they are no longer together, but while they WERE together they made a large number of really cool videos. This collection is a must-have for any Supercar fan, and for any fan of great music videos in general.What to get the person who always wanted to play Budokan Polysics - BUDOKAN OR DIE!!!! (CDJapan $74.27)OK, maybe this is just for the hardcore Polysics fan in your life, but come on. Who hasn't heard of the immortal Budokan? And who doesn't want to run around on that stage? No one! Plus with this, you not only get a HUGE 42 song show from the always entertaining Polysics, but you get to see it in eye-searing Blu-ray quality! Win/win, at least in my book.   Tim's PicksWhat to give a friend who likes long walks on the beach.Ken Hirai - Aishiteru [Maxi-Single] (CDJapan, $13.73)Ken Hirai has such a lovely falsetto voice, and if I wasn't straight as an arrow, I'd probably make love to it. That said, there's no denying that he's a magnificent musician and this recent single continues to prove just that. Don't let the slightly morbid cover art fool you, the single's a powerful love ballad. The b-sides aren't all that bad either -- a simple pop ballad, a cover of the 50's hit "Unchained Melody," and an interesting remix of his past single "Boku ha kimi ni koi o suru."What to give the friend who likes their rock with some electro-pop. Wow, that rhymed. MUCC - Karma (CDJapan, $35.37) MUCC is an interesting band in the sense that they like to mix their rock with a bit of electornica and funk -- a concept not too uncommon these days. They also happen to write decent melodies from time to time, and despite all of that, they still seem intent on rocking people's faces off. This album contains a rougher, more natural version of their recent single "Falling Down," which had a slightly controversial music video featuring kids in adult situations. Of course, if people understood the lyrics, it probably wouldn't have seemed so wrong -- still the rest of the album is worth checking out. Classic MUCC fans will want to give "Lion" a try. It definitely feels like their older material.What to give the friend who loves a bit of everything with their pop.Flow -Tabidachi Graphiti [Single] (CDJapan, $13.73)These guys really don't need much of an introduction. I suppose they're best known for their pop oriented rock, and have contributed to popular anime series like Naruto, Code Geass, most recently, Heroman. Their latest single, "Tabidachi Graffiti," doesn't have a tie-in to a popular show, and seeing as that's how most of you seem to discover your favorite music, it may have missed your radar. Thankfully, I'm here to tell you it's a great single and probably worth checking out. You can see the PV by clicking here.What to give the friend who likes eclectic game music.Various Artists - Chill SQ (CDJapan, $20.21)If you love Square Enix, you'll love this album. It's loaded with seven fantastic arrangements from Final Fantasy, Legend of Mana, Front Mission, Live A Live, SaGa, and Seiken Densetsu. All of them are masterfully arranged by popular Japanese producers like Hidefumi Kenmochi, Hiroto Uyama and Takashi Kondo. One of the tracks even features vocals by Rin Oikawa, also know as the voice of Q;indivi. Needless to say, the track sounds just something you'd hear from Q;indivi -- take that as you will. Personally, I'm in love with Hiroto Uyama's take on Final Fantasy IV's "Theme of Love." It's a brilliant arrangement and I'm sure you'll love it too.Retro Recommendation: For your friends who want to learn the basics. Hikaru Utada - Single Collection vol. 1 (CDJapan, $30.91)As far as J-Pop idols go, Hikaru Utada is perhaps among the most recognized names in the business. While she may not be as popular as she once was, there was a time when you couldn't walk ten feet in Tokyo without hearing one of her songs. She had already gained a cult following here in the US prior to her involvement with Square Enix & Disney's ever-so-popular Kingdom Hearts franchise, so I'm sure quite a few of you already listen to her on a regular basis. That said, your friends might not and what would be better than getting them started the right way? This singles collection contains a treasure trove of hits like "First Love," "Hikari," and "Colors."
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It's that time of year again, so get ready for our latest Holiday Shopping Guide! I'm not sure how many of you have actually bought a CD in recent years but if you haven't, then you probably have no idea what you're...

Japanator's Holiday Shopping Guide: Anime

Dec 11 // Brad Rice
Brad's picks For the friend who is always going to be alone:Toradora! (Right Stuf - $34.99 for Part 1, $43.99 for Part 2)Let's face it: your friend [insert name here] isn't going to find a girlfriend anytime soon. He's been sitting around, drinking, and probably furiously masturbating at online porn. Why not help him along by giving him the gift of 2-D love with the purest of angels: Aisaka Taiga.By giving [insert name here] Toradora!, you'll not only give them a wonderful story that will surely pull at their heart strings, but also give them an outlet for their misplaced feelings of love. Sure, buying them Toradora! may send your dearest friend down the road of body pillows and figures, but at least they'll be happier, more sober and probably a lot more productive.Just because the other person isn't real doesn't mean their feelings can't be. For the friend who never grew up: Dragon Ball Kai (Amazon - $29.99 for Part 1, $43.99 for Part 2)Does your friend still play with action figures and Transformers, even though he's got an office job and makes three times as much money as you? More power to 'em, I say. Give 'em that extra nudge of support by giving them the best-known shonen series here in the United States, in the best version I've ever watched.Dragon Ball Kai, quite simply, gives all the fun of Dragon Ball Z without the feeling that it'll take forever to finish it. The fights with Vegeta and Frieza come quickly and are incredibly entertaining, since it doesn't take five episodes to make a spirit bomb.Your friend will thank you, and when they invite you to watch it with them, do it. You'll secretly enjoy it. For the guy who likes sports/girl who likes shota  Big Windup! (Amazon - $13.99)I've endlessly ranted about this show, but I'll do it one more time: Big Windup! is a fantastic show that grips you in the episode-by-episode unfolding of the baseball matches. For those who don't know much about the sport, they explain a lot of the strategy behind how pitchers make their decisions, which lets you form a tight bond with Mihashi and the other team members.The show, a great example of the seinen genre, follows a lot of the typical bonds of shonen competition shows, but with a much more serious angle and attention to detail -- they know their fans aren't ten-years-old, and as such there's much more gravity.Oh, and for all the ladies, these boys get really close. So, it's perfect material to keep yourself warm under the covers with during those long winter nights. For your man, to show him the man you wish your man could be like:Gurren Lagann (Bandai Store -$39.98) , the Gurren Lagann movies (Bandai Store - $79.96) A good chunk of our readers are already converts to the cult that is Gainax, and bathe lavishly in the light of Gurren Lagann, the show that takes manliness and the celebration of it to a new level. For those of you who haven't, this show is guaranteed to get yours (and your man's) blood boiling.The show itself smells great and gives you a powerful dose of manliness as you watch giant robots and giant egos duke it out for the future of humanity. The movies, meanwhile, can go into the realm of absurdity for a bit, but overall provide a concentrated shot of manliness that also doubles as perfect odor protection. Nobody will notice that you haven't showered for a week, because the MANLINESS that Gurren Lagann delivers unto you will distract everyone.This post is now diamonds!For the neophyte who's too intimidated to tackle Evangelion: Evangelion 1.11 (Amazon - $16.49)Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of those shows that, understandably, just about everyone should watch. It's a medium-defining piece that is up there with Akira and Cowboy Bebop as a work responsible for bringing in swarms of people to the fandom forever.Evangelion 1.11 is a beautiful re-imagining of the project from the folks at Gainax, condensing the work down into four movies and streamlining the narrative so it makes a lot more sense. If anyone wants to get into Evangelion, this is the most painless way to do so, apart from the "up in the air" future of the third and fourth films.If they decide that they like this show and want to delve deeper into the mindrape that is Neon Genesis Evangelion, it'll be entirely your fault. Merry Chirstmas! Lauren's picks For the musical-theater lover: Nerima Daikon Brothers (Amazon - $8.99) This anime may be a blast from the past with its 2004 original run date, but nothing has replaced it as of yet. While the premise may be a riff on the American Blues Brothers, nothing else can compare to this absurdity. What's most unique about this musical comedy is a dubbed version that painstakingly translates each song in rhyming verses in a way that makes sense! Nerima is billed as a shounen anime but it really has something for everyone. Follow energetic Hideki, unenthusiastic Ichiro and gold digger Mako (yes, one of the "brothers" is a girl) as they farm daikon radishes, sing the blues, fight crime, and try to earn enough cash to build the concert dome of their dreams.For the new anime fan:Soul Eater (Walmart - $11.96)Perfect for your friend or protegee who just got into anime and is still marveling at how it's like no cartoon they've ever seen from America. Soul Eater is a vibrant blend of fast-paced action scenes, in-depth character development, and gorgeous stylized animation to remind us why we got into anime in the first place. If you're low on cash, you can pick up part 1 of the saga for a song. There's no doubt that after 13 episodes with Soul, Maka, Black Star and Death the Kid, your friend will need to coaxing to pick up part 2 him or herself.For the old-taku:Gundam Unicorn (Bandai Store - $34.98) "They don't make anime like they used to in the 80's," your old-taku friend is known to grumble before launching into a "Back in MY day" speech. Luckily, with Gundam Unicorn, director Teruo Sato harkens back to the heyday of the Gundam franchise, from art style to action to plot.However, since this anime came out in 2010, it does the 80's one better. Not only is the art and sound quality much improved, but the movie is available on Blu-Ray for the crispest possible finish. But the new-fangled additions don't ruin the plot -- if your friend has been watching Gundam since the beginning, he or she will see that the story continuity is unmarred. For the M. Night Shyamalan fan:Code Geass (Amazon - $27.99)It's a twist! And then ANOTHER twist! And we're not even at episode three! Code Geass is not for the weak of heart. But if you have a friend who likes that sort of thing...Your friend can follow Lelouch, a high school student with a God complex, through an action-packed psychological thriller that will leave them alternately clutching their head while sobbing and sitting nose to the TV screen offering panicked advice to the doomed characters. Sounds like a good time... if you like M. Night Shyamalan. For the friend who's stuck in 9-to-5:The Legend of Black Heaven (Right Stuf - $24.99) For your friend who frequently compares his or her life to the song "Code Monkey" by Jonathan Coulton, there is hope. Hope that, someday soon, a sexy alien will arrive at their bland workplace to tell them that they're the last hope against evil space forces. And the only way they can save the world is by rocking out as hard as possible.At least that's what happens to the disgruntled salaryman protagonist of Black Heaven. Let your friend take a break from his or her boring job to watch this animated version of their best case scenario.  Ben's picksFor the friend who loves colorful sci-fi action: Birdy the Mighty: Decode (RightStuf - $35.99 for Part 1, $35.99 for Part 2) If your friend is the type of person who prefers TV sci-fi with its fast pacing, Star Wars, or simply loves scantily clad intergalactic police officers, Birdy the Mighty offers something for them.Produced by A-1 with some of the best animation I've seen in a long time, Birdy has a bright cast of characters and a surprisingly good story. Birdy (the character) is fast, often rash, and her mistakes cause earth-boy Tsutomu to get trapped with her in a shared body while still tracking down dangerous criminals. Vivid, friendly, and incredibly fluid, Birdy is the nest new sci-fi release to give this holiday. For the moody, brooding friend who may have accidentally destroyed the world:Casshern Sins (RightStuf - $27.49 for Part 1, $27.49 for Part 2)If you're looking for something for the friend who prefers the darker side of anime, Casshern Sins will fit that bill. Based off of the classic anime series from Tatsunoko, Casshern features and bleak and desolate environment across which soulless robots trek in search of meaning. Highly emotional at times, and surprisingly thoughtful, there is a striking amount of spirit in a world so gray.Beautifully animated by Madhouse, Casshern Sins is a highly recommended piece for any collection. It's a show I'm sure we'll be bringing up years from now. For the friend who loves gangsters, violence, guns, and dames:Baccano! Box Set (RightStuf - $19.99) If your friend fits that description up there, please first take a moment and be sure to check your friend is not Ladd Russo.Baccano! packs twisting storylines, entertaining and lovable characters, and a buttload of bullets. It also has a fantastic dub that fits perfectly with the 1930s New york setting. There's no main character here either, instead it takes more of a Tarantino-style approach to its storytelling and throws a bunch of people into a pot and you get to watch them duke it out.Immortals, train robberies, and bank heists: Baccano! has everything a crime film fan could want!For the friend who wants manly, hot-blooded nonsense in his shows:Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings Complete 1st Season (RightStuf - $35.99 for the DVD or Blu-ray) History is a wonderful thing. You can learn valuable lessons from the past, and the Sengoku era of Japanese history is particularly fascinating, with many political and physical battles being fought, making it a great setting for an anime.And sometimes you just want to throw all that nonsense out the window and scream "ARE YOU READY GUYS" while riding your horse that has motorcycle handlebars mounted on it up a wall. Yes, Sengoku Basara is that kind of show. There is some history involved in the backdrop for the story, but after that you can turn your brain off and just enjoy the manly fight scenes. Swords, flames, screaming out your moves, and burning passion are what will consume your friend after watching this!For the friend who'd rather be exploring mystical lands and encountering strange new creatures:Xam'd: Lost Memories (RightStuf - $34.99 for Part 1, $34.99 for Part 2)Take a little steampunk, add a tiny dash of Nausicaä, and throw a mystical creature or two in there, wrap it all up in some gorgeous BONES animation, and you've got yourself Xam'd. It's a fairly original show that I really enjoyed when it first showed up on the PSN network a ways back, and it has still stuck with me all this time.If your friend wants a fantasy series that steeps itself in mysticism and transformations into odd-looking creatures, then this is the way to go. 
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The hardest part about picking out shows for friends is you're never quite sure how they'll react -- will they absolutely devour it, or will the box set be a poor choice and they'll have to slog through episode after episode,...

Japanator's Holiday Shopping Guide: Books and Movies

Dec 10 // Colette Bennett
Colette recommends... Movies you can't missAir Doll (buy)Director: Hirokazu KoreedaRelease date: 2009You may already be familiar with Koreeda if you've seen his excellent 2004 film Nobody Knows (Dare mo Shiranai). It's hard to see a film like that and imagine that the director can outdo it, but he's done just that with Air Doll, which is based on a serialized manga called Kuuki Ningyo. It tells the story of a single middle-aged businessman, Hideo, and his inflatable love doll, Nozomi.All seems well until Nozomi comes to life on her own and begins to explore her surroundings. As she develops feelings and desires of her own, Koreeda weaves themes of urban loneliness and the meaning of being human in with a stunning, minimal soundtrack from World's End Girlfriend. This delicate, evocative film will leave you thinking for days, and it's just the thing to give to a friend who wants something a bit deeper to dig into. RoboGeisha (buy)Director: Noboru IguchiRelease date: 2009You know how I said up there that Air Doll was a classy, streamlined film? Well here, my friends, we have just the opposite. RoboGeisha was made by the same guys that were involved in Tokyo Gore Police and The Machine Girl, which means you can expect the schlock factor to go through the roof.The story tells a tale of two sisters who are kidnapped by a steel manufacturer. For what reason? Why, to be turned into cyborg assassins, of course. As you can imagine, it only gets more outrageous from there. The region-free Blu-Ray is already on sale, but this film has also been licensed by Funimation, so you can get it just a tad cheaper with their version if you go through Amazon.Love Exposure (buy)Director: Sion SonoRelease date: 2008Simply put, Love Exposure is one of the best Japanese films I've seen in years. From the opening scene where lead character Yu Honda shows off his good Catholic upbringing to the jaw-dropping moment where he becomes a premier panty photographer, this film simply never ceases to astonish. It's a great ensemble piece, with the feel of a Japanese Quentin Tarentino film.The bummer is, Love Exposure has never been licensed for US release, so you can pick up the UK release from Third Window which is linked above and watch it on a region free device, or you can, ahem, go through other, less legal, channels. Either way, watch it. It's incredible.Books you can't miss Norwegian Wood (buy)Written by Haruki MurakamiRelease date: 1987 (Japanese), 2000 (English)If you've never read Murakami. this is a great place to start (or help a friend start, since this is a gift guide). The story is about Toru, a Tokyo college student, and his friend Kizuki. When Kizuki takes his own life, it leaves Toru and Kizuki's girlfriend, Naoko, lost with a need for answers and holding on to one another. It's a wonderful read and possibly the easiest of all Murakami's books, and anyone can relate to a coming of age story.The book is being turned into a film starring Ken'ichi Matsuyama (trailer here) which in fact comes out in Japan today. I have a feeling it will be very popular, but if you haven't read the source material, why not do so before the film gets fansubbed and shows up in the US?Parasite Eve (buy)Written by Hideaki SenaRelease date: 2008 (English)Speaking of Vertical, they've brought us some really lovely publications these last few years. Parasite Eve is one of them, which as you may already know was the source material for the PlayStation action RPG from 1998. It's a scientific take on horror, telling the tale of a virus that originates in mitochondria and takes on an intelligent life form. If you need a gift for the Japanese enthusiast with a flair for science, this is a perfect one. It's not always an easy read, but it's certainly a rewarding one.   Pedro recommends...For the vengeful one in your life... Oldboy (Blu Ray)  $19.49Oldboy is a live action Korean movie that came out in 2003 to much fan fair and critical appreciation. It tells the story of a man forcibly locked in a hotel room for 15 years and his hunt for the man who did it when he's let out. There are several very excellent coreographed fights in the movie but the real highlight are the performances. The lead actor really nails the poor guy who has gone through years of isolation and torture and wants nothing more than revenge upon his release. When you meet the guy behind it all and you find out his story, it'll stick with you in a way not a lot of movies will. Oldboy is not a happy movie, but it's a damn good one.  For the person who uses the power of rock to leave you moist and wanting... Detroit Metal City (DVD) $18.99GO TO DMC! GO TO DMC! GO TO DMC!You may have heard people randomly chanting this at cons this year in the wake of a guy dressed like a KISS reject with blond hair and body armor. Well then, you need to sit down and watch the live-action adaptation of the over-the-top manga about a calm unassuming guy named Negishi who happens to be a death metal god at night. The movie stars Kenichi Matsuyama, the guy who played L in the Death Note movies, and Matsuyama nails Negishi's bizarre dual nature perfectly. The Movie also has a pretty decent soundtrack, so if you're into some heavy stuff it's worth looking for.  For the person who likes synergy... Brave Story (Paper Back) $12.61Brave Story comes in three distinct mediums. There's the PSP game that came out a couple years back, a fairly good movie and the original novel. The tome-like Brave Story tells an entertaining fantasy yarn through the eyes of a young boy who crosses a portal into a new world. It isn't the most original story, but it will keep you reading all the way through. If you have an aversion to huge looking books, the text is a bit larger than standard novels so don't worry so much about it.I also suggest watching the movie and playing the game, if you have patience for old-timey RPG mechanics and a love of cute, bright worlds.  For the person who wants to learn more about the hype... The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Paperback) $8.64The Haruhi anime is arguably the biggest thing to happen to the genre in the last 10 years. It's story structure, it's characters and it's art style has changed how studios market their shows and even how anime is percieved. As many also know Haruhi began as a light novel series. Those books are now availble in the states and are well worth picking up. You'll notice little changes in the character's personalities and maybe have a better understanding on their motivations. They're also pretty short, so people who don't like reading can pick them up and finish them before they get too bored and stop.  For the person who wants to relive a classic... Vampire Hunter D (Paperback) $9.95 The original Vampire Hunter D movie is what got a ton of people into anime back in the day. Like many other shows, it was based on a set of novels that have over 20 volumes in print. If you dug the lanky, bad-ass D, then you'll definitely like the novels that continue his adventures. They're a bit longer than the Haruhi novels but not so much as to be a turn off to people who have an aversion to bound tomes of paper and ink.
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Sure, maybe you've seen our 2010 anime guide, our otaku guide, and our manga guide (or if you haven't yet, you will soon). But maybe you're a little snobby when it comes to your taste. Maybe you prefer live action films. Or m...

Japanator Holiday Shopping Guide: Manga

Dec 10 // Bob Muir
Crystal's PicksWhat to give the friend who Googles cute animal pictures Chi's Sweet Home (Amazon $11.16 vol. 1-6)Chi is the most adorable little kitten ever. While on a walk one day with her family, she becomes lost and begins to cry. Luckily, she is rescued by a young boy named Yohei and his mother. The only catch? Their apartment strictly forbids pets. This manga is great for someone who wants a cutsie excursion into fun. Chi is full of mischief and adorable adventures in the apartment ensue! While definitely aimed at a younger audience, Chi's Sweet Home is sure to please any manga reader who simply wants to put a smile on their face.  What to give the friend who's a girl and likes boys that like boys Black Butler (Amazon $8.79 vol. 1, prices vary on each volume) Black Butler tells the story of young Ciel Phantomhive, an aristocratic young boy with devious and manipulating plans, whether mundane or extraordinary. Luckily for Ciel, his ever loyal butler, Sebastian, is always there to aid the boy. Between the amount of pretty boys and men in this manga, the cross dressing, and the general implication of a butler serving a young boy, this title is sure to please those who just barely want to dance along the line of homoeroticism. Oh and Sebastian? He's got a little secret. He just might not be what he seems.... What to give the friend who likes a heart wrenching taleTwin Spica (Amazon $8.25-$8.76 vol. 1-4)This is a story that will appeal to everyone who is capable of feeling emotions (and that should be everyone). Twin Spica tells the story of a young thirteen-year-old girl named Asumi who lives in the not so distant future of Japan and dreams of becoming an astronaut. This manga is a real coming of age story and deals with Asumi's struggles against competitive classmates and emotional wear as she moves through her training. I know for a fact that Brad himself has sung the praises of this series and if that a recommendation from that sweet, sweet voice of the gods isn't enough to convince you, I'm not sure what will. What to give the friend who enjoys an intellectual discussionSpice and Wolf (Amazon vol. 1-3 $10.39)Spice and Wolf has a long and successful history. The series started out as a group of light novels which were then made into a very well received anime. Now the anime has been converted back into manga format. Almost a little meta, but sure to please! Spice and Wolf has a wonderfully subdued tone, and a good meandering story of a young traveling merchant named Lawrence and a wolf-god-turned-girl, Horo. The manga chronicles their travels and struggles while Horo searches for her homeland and Lawrence makes a living. Be prepared for a practically college level course in economics as Lawrence often informs Horo of the value of trading, guilds, and the price of various merchandise. There isn't a ton of action or evil forces in this series, but the story is definitely compelling enough to keep you reading! What to give the friend who tells racist jokesHetalia Axis Powers (Amazon vol. 1 $8.79, vol. 2 $7.96) You've seen it at conventions, you've heard about it on the Internet. There are Hetalia fans everywhere. They crowd cons while clad in military uniforms and proudly proclaim which country they are. Hetalia covers World War I and World War II and brings the laughs with each country personified. America is an overconfident cad, Italy eats spaghetti all the time, Germany's just a bit too militaristic and aryan for his own good, and Great Britain misses the old days of when America was just his cute kid. If you can laugh about the stereotypes of various countries, you can laugh at Hetalia. It's a fun read perfect for some light fun.   Bob's PicksWhat to give the friend who is an aspiring comic artistBakuman (Amazon, $9.99 vol. 1-2)Death Note creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata are ones to watch. After crafting a tale of the darkness lurking inside us all, they've tackled a new project completely unlike their previous work: Bakuman. It's the story of two high school boys following their dream of becoming manga authors. For central character Moritaka, it's partially about fame, and partially about winning the love of his crush. Obata's art is fantastic as always, and Ohba writes plenty of interesting conflict into the characters. Plus, if you've ever wondered how manga is made, consider this a how-to book in disguise. What to give the friend who loves art house films Ristorante Paradiso (Amazon, $11.04) You know that friend I'm talking about. The one who watches films with no soundtracks, or obtuse foreign films, or quirky French films like Amelie. (Actually, that kind of sounds like me.) If there is such a thing as art house manga, this could be it. Ristorante Paradiso follows country girl Nicoletta's journey to a restaurant in Rome owned by her mother. There, she interacts with the colorful staff and learns the ins and outs of cooking. It's a relaxed series that strays away from the usual subject matter of slice of life stories, and at one volume, doesn't wear out its welcome. This mature drama is sure to satisfy your needs if young, over-enthusiastic protagonists are wearing thin. What to give the friend who loves Gulliver's TravelsOne Piece (Amazon, $7.95 vol. 1-23, $9.99 vol. 24-55)Okay, so this manga isn't entirely new, having released its first English volume way back in 2003. But 2010 was truly the year of One Piece, as Viz released a whopping thirty volumes in six months. But there's a good reason why the series has more volumes than the lengthy Dragon Ball with no end in sight: it's fun. Really, really fun.Luffy wants to be King of the Pirates and, after a Devil Fruit "curses" him with the power to stretch like rubber at the cost of never being able to swim again, he sets out with his supernatural power to assemble a crew to travel the Grand Line, the toughest stretch of water in the world. It sounds like a stereotypical shonen series, and in some ways it is, but as Luffy encounters the many unique inhabitants of the world, some with their own Devil Fruit powers, you realize there won't be any cliche "power level" discussions about who is stronger because everyone's abilities are so unique, you're not entirely sure who is going to come out on top. Instead, you are treated to a colorful world in which snails are used as phones, guns can turn into dogs, and intimidating navy men can turn out to be incredibly silly.Sure, the cartoony style won't be for everyone, but because of it, the series never takes itself too seriously, a danger many shonen shows fall into. It's great to look at a character and think he's amazingly badass, while realizing that some silly part of his body takes the edge off of their personality. And when the series is able to take the piss out of its own characters, you are able to identify with them even more. So while it conforms to the shonen genre, One Piece is a very unique beast, a tale with action, mystery, and a whole lot of heart that will take you to bubble-filled groves, desert kingdoms, and ancient cities in the sky. Get your friend started with the first few volumes, or try the more self-contained Skypiea arc (vol. 24-32). What to give the friend who likes their shojo to be more than sunshine and rainbowsArisa (Amazon, $8.79 vol. 1)The problem with most shojo, at least for me, is that they're far too saccharine for my stomach to handle. I'm not against romance, or even the flowery art style, but it's just so bogged down by sweetness that I immediately spit it out. There are exceptions to that rule - Princess Tutu comes to mind - and Arisa seems like another one of them. Twins Tsubasa and Arisa meet again for the first time in three years, following their parent's divorce. The hot-headed Tsubasa admires her popular sister and they switch places for fun, but soon after, Arisa attempts suicide, falling into a coma. Tsubasa decides to keep impersonating her sister in order to discover the secrets of her life and her school. Underneath the cute artistry lies a dark tale that is sure to draw you in. Retro Recommendation: What to give the friend who digs a deep story, manga or notMonster (Amazon, $9.99 vol. 1-18)If you're looking for a good story, look no further. Naoki Urasawa (20th Century Boys, Pluto) tells the dark tale of Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a surgeon who saves a young boy's life at a devastating cost to his career that is mysteriously solved by a string of deaths. Nine years later, the boy he saved returns, having become a cold-hearted, psychopathic killer. Tenma decides to hunt down and correct the mistake he made years ago, leading to a tale of suspense and mystery through Germany. It's a haunting tale that examines the value of human life, questions the right to live, and analyzes justified killing. The twists and turns in the story will keep your nose to the page waiting to see what happens.
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Holiday shopping can be stressful. You want to get your friends something they'll like, but you're afraid those potential gifts won't be up their alley. And you certainly can't get a gift card, because most people think they ...

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Reminder: Have you gotten all your holiday shopping done?


Dec 14
// Tim Sheehy
We're already halfway through Hanukkah, and Christmas is right around the corner. Have you finished your holiday shopping yet? I know I haven't, and time is really running out. Sure I could be a jerk and forget...

Japanator Holiday Shopping Guide: Anime

Dec 04 // Tim Sheehy
 Danica's PicksFor the friend who’ll give forgive a good anime for having a bad name: Princess Tutu: Complete Collection (Amazon, $33.49)Please, forgive Princess Tutu for its title.  Like many people, I initially didn’t want to watch it because it sounded so . . . er . . . sugary, cutesy and annoying.  Well, I actually sat down and started watching the thing, thinking I’d maybe see an episode.  I ended up watching the whole series and thinking it was great.  Yes, it has ballet, but get over it.  It’s actually in many ways a very mature series with all sorts of dark fairy tale elements.   For the friend who likes strong-willed heroines:The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye Complete DVD Collection (Amazon, $71.99)  The Third impressed with me with its background animation and music, but there’s also the lead girl.  Honoka is smart, sassy and strong, all of which makes her a real role model.  I like stories where the girl takes charge of the situation instead of letting someone else handle it for her.  There’s a mix of humor and drama here, making it all well-balanced.  For the friend who likes bishonen craziness: Kyo Kara Maoh Season 1 Box Set (Amazon, $71.99)Thank you, FUNimation, for picking this series up. It all starts with a boy who gets flushed down a toilet and ends up being king.  If you think that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  Odd as it may be, Kyo Kara Maoh is really fun.  The more you watch, the more things make sense (or maybe you just get used to the oddness).  And did I mention all the men in it are insanely good-looking? For the friend who likes Shakespeare . . . but not too much:Romeo x Juliet: Romeo Collection, Part 1 (Amazon, $50.49)Some people might be offended by anime’s take on Romeo and Juliet.  I, however, thought it was a blast.  Anything with flying horses and swashbuckling heroines is bound to get my attention.  If flying horses and swashbuckling heroines weren’t in the original play, well, too bad.  And, as a shameless self-promotion, did anyone see the review I wrote on this for Play Magazine?  For the friend who likes any good story: Monster: Part 1 (Amazon, $32.99)I strongly feel that Monster has the potential to bring in a wide following, and not just of anime fans. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been glued to the screen every Monday to watch it on SyFy.  Poor Dr. Tenma saves a young boy’s life, only for that boy to be a serial killer.  Ouch, that makes you brain hurt over the moral and ethical layers of it.  Oh, but it’s good fun. The box set is coming out on December 8, so be first in line. Tim's PicksWhat to give a friend who enjoys slightly dominant women and firearms:Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage (Amazon, $36.99)I really love women and guns, and when they're as damaged as Revy, it can get to be down right irresistible. If you or someone you know likes action and hasn't given this series a try, then they really should consider picking it up. While it's entirely possible to pick up the series from the second season on, I'd be lying if I told you that you weren't missing out on something good. Deadly vixens, guns, mercenaries, pirates, yakuza and more. What else could you want?What to give a male friend who enjoys breasts and martial arts, in that order specifically: Ikkitousen Dragon Destiny Vol.1 (Amazon, $25.99)Women again, but this time no guns, unless you count their breasts. I know some of you might be wondering why I'm recommending this, and I know, the story is terrible, but it's not like you'd want to get it for that--at least, I'd hope not. After all, it's basically just fan service, and while it's a bit of a guilty pleasure, I have to admit that it didn't take much else to sell me on the series. If it helps matters any, I think Dragon Destiny was probably the most work-safe of all the season to air so far. For your friend who loved Haruhi, Lucky Star, and still quotes Azumanga Daioh like it aired this season: Kannagi Vol. 1 (Amazon, $26.24)It's moe, but with an actual plot. Amazing right? The story's about a kid who messes with a tree and ends up waking a goddess by accident. After discovering that she actually kind of likes being a human, she goes about trying to cleanse the impurities of the world with the help of the boy who woke her. It's pretty hilarious at times but also a tad sad here and there. Still, if you loved most of the moe or slice-of-life shows, you owe it to yourself to give this a try, and your friends won't be disappointed either.For the friend who enjoys a bit of action, mecha, and a healthy dose of comedy:Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid (Amazon, $27.99)While a good portion of the show is littered with intense action, Full Metal Panic comes with a bit of everything else that makes anime so enjoyable. A little bit of nudity here and there, some comedy, and  even a bit drama. Yes, Full Metal Panic has it all, and best yet, you don't need to see the first season to enjoy The Second Raid. Again, I'd be lying if I didn't say it helps to watch it, but you'd be okay if you didn't. Also. the bonus OAV is amazing and will have you dying of laughter.For the friend who loves his samurai anime, but doesn't want to put up with Afro Samurai:Samurai Champloo: The complete series (Amazon, $44.99) [blu-ray] [DVD]I know some of you think Sam Jackson has no place in anime, and while I tend to agree with you--I love his movies, but Afro Samurai? No--there's only so many Samurai anime to choose from. Samurai Champloo, if anything, does a great job of giving you that experience without having to submit yourself to the Wu Tang Clan. Besides, all the cool kids watched it, so it must be good right? Look at it like this, it's Cowboy Bebop meets Tokugawa-era Japan. If that doesn't sell you or your friends on it, I don't know what will.
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If you're like me, you're probably going to wait until the very last minute to get your gifts for friends and family. I don't blame you. People should be thankful they're even getting gifts, right? Who cares when you buy...

Japanator Holiday Shopping Guide: Odds and Ends edition

Dec 03 // Josh Tolentino
Jon's Picks:For the hikkikomori who unabashedly prefers 2D girls: Megami Magazine Subscription (J-List, $11 per month or $230 annual plus shipping) In my opinion, Megami is the greatest magazine in the world. It does away with all those boring words and articles you find in normal magazines, instead opting to cram each issue with dozens of fold-out pinup posters. These posters, naturally, depict contemporary anime girls, often in suggestive poses and revealing attire. Two issues of Megami were enough to line the walls of my bedroom with moe greatness; just think of the possibilities a one year subscription would provide! Whoever you give this subscription to could cover their whole freaking HOUSE with anime gals. Sure, it would completely ruin their chances of ever having a girlfriend… but they’d be a hero on 4chan. Isn’t that what is really important?  For the hardworking Japanese student: Nintendo DS Kanji Dictionary (Amazon, $118) As a Japanese major, I’m well aware of the most dreaded aspect of learning moonspeak: the kanji dictionary. Having to memorize radicals, compounds and stroke order make using a traditional kanji dictionary incredibly burdensome. That’s why the Nintendo DS Kanji Dictionary is the perfect gift for any aspiring Japanese student. All you have to do is draw the kanji on the DS touch pad, and the dictionary instantly looks it up for you. Sure, your teacher might frown on you for not meticulously memorizing all the radicals and their variations, but Japanese is already difficult enough already, don’t you think?For the Gunpla maniac: Perfect Grade Gundam and Zaku II (Hobby Link Japan, $130 a piece plus shipping) If you’re looking for a gift for a Gundam hobbyist, then Bandai’s Perfect Grade Gundam and Zaku model kits are worth a look. They’re the best Gundam models money can buy… and you’d better be prepared to dish out lots of money, because they cost $130 each, plus around $40 in shipping. Keep in mind that these kits require extensive assembly; they are best gifted to someone who has lots experience building plastic models. If you’re looking for something a little more lightweight (not to mention cheaper), try the Master Grade kits instead.For EVERY GUY ON YOUR LIST: Tenga Onacup (J-List, between $7 and $72) If you haven’t heard, the Tenga is a rather infamous adult product that is best described as an “artificial vagina” or, more colloquially, a “pussy in a cup”. The low-end version, which retails for a paltry $7.50 on J-List, comes pre-lubricated and is only good for one session of *ahem* happy time. However, the $72 Tenga Flip Hole is reusable and even opens up for easy cleaning. (We recommend Lysol… lots and lots of Lysol.) Parents, this is a perfect gift for your sexually frustrated teenage boy, especially if you’re tired of him staining the carpet during his hentai viewing sessions.For the one person you forgot to buy a gift for and only remembered just now HOLY CRAP-: An Anime-themed 2010 Calendar (J-List, $14-$26)Okay, so nobody uses physical calendars anymore. Hell, even those dry-erase whiteboards are on the way out. Still, if you’re on a limited budget, an anime-themed calendar is a great cheap gift for the otaku on your list. It’s like you’re buying them twelve anime posters... one for each month! Just keep telling yourself that to make the guilt go away. Anime calendars come in many varieties; virtually any popular series you can think of probably has one. Naruto calendars can be found in any large bookstore; rarer ones (such as Spice and Wolf or Toradora!) are easily available online. There are even idol calendars, for those of you who prefer 3D disgusting pigs.Josh's PicksFor your weak-sauce shabazo friend who wants to be the most shibui yankii around: Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble for Sony PSP (Amazon, $39.99)Kenka Bancho's about the only game around these days that can call itself a "brawler" without being humiliated. Drenched in the culture and lexicon of the Japanese high school delinquent, Kenka Bancho delivers solid beat-em-up action couched in friendly RPG mechanics, served with a side of badassitude.Anyone who you don't want to end up a herbivore hikkikomori should at least have a taste of the game, as should anyone who played the Ouendan! or Elite Beat Agents games and wished those guys would quit dancing and punch someone already.For the young punk/old veteran who wants to know/remember the "good ol' days" of JRPG greatness:Shin Megami Tensei: Persona for Sony PSP (Amazon or PlayStation Network, $38.92) The Persona series of JRPGs only really blew up in the west with the entry of Persona 3 and 4, but this is the game that started it all. It's just to bad the title had the misfortune of coming out in the time when most publishers didn't really care about faithful (or even coherent) localization. They regularly faffed about with games' hearts and souls in the pursuit of "western-friendly" designs and attitudes.Thankfully, times have changed, and both veterans and newbs can experience a classic JRPG in its original greatness. In fact, this version is greater than ever before, sporting a hip, updated soundtrack, much-needed interface optimizations, and stellar localization, all in the convenience of a portable format.For the art-addict otaku who wants to see old styles blended with new hotness:Muramasa: The Demon Blade for Nintendo Wii (Amazon, $39.99) I'll say it out and out: Muramasa is poetry in motion. It's the poster child for a gaming world where 3D graphics never caught on. It's also a wondrous interpretation of mythical Japan as a place where samurai and ninja really are all they're made out to be, where all the legends are true, where yokai folk monsters walk the land, all in need of a good slashin' up.Plus, George Kamitani's amazing character designs leave Momohime's thighs deliciously exposed.For the gamer tired of same ol' JRPG gameplay, but loves desperately impractical headphones:Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor for Nintendo DS (Amazon, $27.99)Compared even to it's decidedly non-traditional Persona cousins, Devil Survivor is almost a JRPG defibrillator, jolting life back into the moldering conventions of the genre's design. For the first time in a long while, your actions as a player really seem to matter, bearing meaning and even shocking consequences for yourself and the characters around you. It's something that not even some supposedly more progressive western RPGs can lay claim to.Snappy art direction, engrossing-yet-arcane battle systems and a hip real-yet-unreal demon-infested preserve and reemphasize the best things about JRPGs, making them feel fresh, new and wonderful again.Seriously though, look at those headphones. What's with the armature? They'd just fall straight off unless worn with glue.For he who totes a sword, wishing he could live in a world defined by Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai: Way of the Samurai 3 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (Amazon, $46.99) By far the best entry of the obscure Samurai-dou series, this next-gen installment depicts the trials and tribulations of one ronin as he struggles to make a name for himself in feudal Japan...or not.The best part about Way of the Samurai 3 (and the games in general) is that what you do is all up to you. As the player, you're not restricted to shuttling a premade character between cutscenes, all towards a melodramatic ending. Make your own way in war-torn Amana province. Draw your blade alongside one of its struggling factions, or all of them, or none of them: it's up to you.  Did I mention that you can walk around in an afro, wearing a swan-necked codpiece, crowned by a cat-ear headband (with matching paws and tail), while wielding a giant tuna-shaped sword? You can do that, too.
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Still shopping for the holidays? Did you stuff the stockings with manga and film, but find yourself with under-the-tree space to fill? How about tossing some extra-special, somewhat unclassified goodies in there? Or maybe you...

Japanator Holiday Shopping Guide: Japanese films

Nov 30 // Colette Bennett
Colette's PicksWhat to give your spineless friend who secretly dreams of becoming a badass: Crows Zero II (Amazon, $21.95)Oh gosh, Colette is recommending an Oguri Shun film. Big shocker there. Seriously though, the film is a solid action flick with more to offer than just Shun's scrumptiously handsome face. Directed by the well-known Takashi Miike, this is a follow-up to the 2007 film which told the story of rough-and-tumble kid Takaya Genji and he shows up brand new to Suzuran high school, which looks more like a war zone than a place to study. The sequel boasts more fights, amps up the bravado and is all around fun to watch. It's definitely a good choice to get your sense of GAR blasting! What to give the guy who owns every Final Fantasy VII Cloud statue ever made Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete Blu-Ray (Amazon, $21.99) Okay, so maybe the film itself is a little murky as far as story goes, but hey, it's Final Fantasy. And you get to watch Cloud and Sephiroth have intensely awesome fights. In crisp, gorgeous Blu-Ray. Sure, it may not be a deep experience, but man, it's fun, and sometimes that's all you really want is to watch something pretty and sort of mindless.What to give the friend who loves both Japan and rocking out with his cock out: Detroit Metal City (HKFlix, $33.95) If you missed the manga that the Detroit Metal City movie is based on, you missed out big time, because it's absolutely hilarious. However, the film is a great way to catch up fast. It stars Kenichi Matsuyama, who you may remember as playing L in the Death Note films, and he shows his absolute versatility by slipping into the dual roles of Soichi Negishi, the mild mannered quiet type who dreams of becoming a pop star, and Krauser II, the lead singer of heavy metal ensemble Detroit Metal City. Whether you buy this for yourself or as a gift, it's sure to provide plenty of laughter. What to give the friend with the Totoro shrine in her bedroom: Ponyo on the Cliff By the Sea (HKFlix, $14.95) Sure, the US release of Ponyo hasn't hit store shelves yet, but you really don't have to wait. The Malaysian release has English subtitles and is playable in all regions, so you can watch it now if you're in the mood to see Ponyo again. The tale of the adorable tadpole and her journey to the world above the sea is everything beautiful and nostalgic that every Studio Ghibli film seems to effortlessly provide, and I think you might have to be seriously depressed not to enjoy this simple, lovely film. For the guy who likes his dramas bloody and mysterious:The Vengeance Trilogy (HKFLix, $34.95) This is just a deal, plain and simple. For 35 bucks, you get the entire trilogy made by director Park Chan-Wook, which includes Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. In case you aren't familiar, Oldboy is a modern classic about a man out for revenge. All three films are pretty solid and for the price, you really can't beat this. Your friend will thank you for this one. Ben's PicksFor the friend who can't get enough of the Major:Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (Amazon, $18.99) A complete reproduction of the original classic 1995 film, Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is a masterful Blu-ray edition of one of the standbys in anime films. Re-recorded Japanese dialogue, a re-recorded soundtrack, and a few minor changes bring the film to life. Even if you have the original, the upgraded hi-def quality in picture and sound are more than worth the price of entry. A thrilling, action-packed psychological thriller, Ghost in the Shell will not disappoint.What to give the friend who still isn't tired of giant robots and whiny protagonists: Evangelion 1.01 (Amazon, $19.99) Describing Evangelion that way is probably a disservice: the series has had so much impact on anime and manga as a whole, it's hard to ignore it. That said, if you didn't like the original series, you'll probably like Evangelion 1.01, as it takes everything bad and tosses it out, while keeping all the good from the original. The animation is top-notch, and really shows the scale of the story. Retelling the original in a fresh way, 1.01 is a perfect addition to any otaku shelf, and will probably foster new fans as well. For the guy who thinks the Friendship Party is out to get him: 20th Century Boys 1: The Beginning of the End (Amazon, $22.49)20th Century Boys is possibly one the best live-action adaptions of a manga yet: every onscreen character somehow perfectly represents their original, from looks to attitude. The story (of course) is also fantastic, focusing on the exploits of Kenji and his friends as they attempt to save the world from Friend. If your "friend" is a fan of the manga, or simply enjoys thrilling story-driven movies, this film is hard to pass up. The only knock is the occasionally spotty special effects -- but that will hardly bother you once you get sucked into the intense story. For that friend who hates anime:Afro Samurai: Complete Murder Sessions ($34.49)At first the premise of Afro Samurai seemed a tad silly, maybe even ridiculous, but as I heard more and more about it, I realized what a truly awesome concept it was. Samuel L. Jackson as a samurai? Count me in! What was even better was that Afro Samurai really broke into the mainstream and caught the interest of people who never thought of themselves as anime fans. If your pal has a dislike for moe or GAR, just give them a taste of Afro Samurai -- I'd bet it'll convert them pretty quick.Retro Recommendation: for the friend who is living in the past: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Amazon, $23.49) It's no secret that I'm a bit of a Studio Ghibli whore. However, many people overlook some of their older films. Sure, everyone has seen Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, but what about Porco Rosso or this Retro Recommendation: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind? One of Miyazaki's favorite works, the film is a selection from the manga he drew and wrote. Many enjoy it as an environmentalist tale warning about taking care of our planet, but I see it as a much deeper tale, about the princess Nausicaa herself, and her personal journey. Definitely not one to miss for the nostalgic fan.
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The holidays are coming, my faithful Jtor readers, and we know you have gifts to buy. If you follow the same process I do when it comes to Christmas shopping, you buy one gift for a friend, one gift for yourself, one gift for...

Japanator Holiday Shopping Guide: Manga edition!

Nov 27 // Brad Rice
Karen's picks What to give the friend who is smarter than you: A Drifting Life (Amazon, $19.77)I've always been suspicious of the phrase "instant classic" (how would you know?), but Yoshihiro Tatsumi's decade-in-the-making, 800+ page opus about the early days of manga amidst the backdrop of postwar Japan seems like a pretty safe contender for the title. Despite the book's intimidating size and scope, Tatsumi's elegant and charming artwork makes the tome a surprisingly quick read. A slightly fictionalized autobiography of the author, A Drifting Life chronicles the early career of young Katsumi, whose trials and tribulations whilst carving out a career in manga mirror Japan's struggle to redefine itself, culturally as well as economically, after the devastation of World War II. Anyone with an interest in manga, the 1950's, Japanese history, or any of about five thousand other topics I could name will savor this book.I have my doubts about this friend of yours though; how good is his attention span, really? Did he ever finish Tolstoy's War and Peace like he said he was going to? If not, you could just buy the book and give it to someone who already loves it, but had to borrow her copy from the library on account of abject poverty. I mean, just in case you were wondering, there's a gaping hole on my bookshelf now where this book should be...wait, I can't afford bookshelves.  Oh well, I trust you to let your conscience be your guide this holiday season.What to give the friend who likes his beautiful girls wearing actual clothes:  Oh My Goddess COLORS (Amazon, $13.57)After being delayed for a stupidly long time (this book was originally slated to come out early in 2007), this collection of Oh My Goddess in all the colors of the rainbow has arrived, and it was worth the wait. While the book primarily features several fan-favorite stories, with color added to Kosuke Fujishima's already-stunning line art, the fact that it contains a series encyclopedia that covers the first thirty volumes of manga makes it the perfect gift for fans of the series. As the recent 20-year anniversary of this divinely inspired romantic-comedy attests, Oh My Goddess has enough history, lore and just plain minutia to merit this comprehensive, delicious fan's guide. It's also just a beautiful book overall, with a gold-embossed cover and overall presentation that practically exudes class; even someone who doesn't know Oh My Goddess from Bleach might enjoy this book just for the visuals. To tell you the truth, it's so beautiful that your sensitive friend might cry upon receiving it, and you don't want to make your friend cry. I've already seen it, and once held it in my arms all too briefly, so if you give it to me instead, you can be confident that I won't start bawling all over the book...well, probably. For the friend who loves shoujo, but is also SO sick of shoujo Hot Gimmick (VIZBIG Edition) (Amazon, $13.49)The VizBig editions are a fantastic value and make great gifts, but unfortunately, most of the titles currently available will probably be old news to your mangaphile buddies. I mean, the Fushigi Yuugi books look gorgeous and all, and I'm sure plenty of shoujo fans would be happy to receive them, but wouldn't you prefer to give something a little bit fresher?That's where Hot Gimmick comes in; Miki Aihara's tale of maladjusted Tokyo teens is like the shoujo genre crossed with the WTF? did that seriously just happen? genre. For fans who love shoujo but are perhaps a bit fatigued from all of the morally impregnable main characters and cherry blossoms, Hot Gimmick is an addictive treat. Be warned though; some of the bizarre relationships portrayed in Hot Gimmick have apparently led some people to believe that this manga somehow condones rape (uh yeah...riiiiight). I think Aihara has a gift for making potentially disturbing situations hilariously funny, but it should be noted that this manga isn't meant for younger readers or the easily offended.So if your shoujo-loving friend is one of those pseudo-intellectual types who likes to call herself a feminist, but in reality is just a bitch, you should probably pick something else. Come to think of it though, why are you even friends with this person? Don't give this neat manga to her when someone like me would be so much more appreciative. For the friend who loves vampires but hates Twilight: Rosario + Vampire (Amazon, $7.99)Finally, a vampire story that goes light on the angst and heavy on the fun. Akihisa Ikeda's tale of a high school full of monsters, one secretly human freshman, and the schizophrenic vampire who keeps them all on their toes, is a silly harem manga, but it's an unusually clever silly harem manga. In fact, concepts that seem downright dumb in other manga actually make sense in Rosario+Vampire: the entire class is ridiculously horny? Well, it's a class full of DEMONS, why shouldn't they be? There's that one ridiculously busty, flirtatious chick with an inexplicable crush on the scrawny main character? Well, actually she's a succubus who's under tremendous pressure from her mother to be a good little succubus and enslave the entire male student body, even though her natural inclinations are more gentle, and she actually has a lot in common with said scrawny main character. And so on.While the anime is notorious for a ridiculously high ratio of panty shots per episode, the fanservice quotient in the manga is comparatively mild, and at $7.99 a pop, it's a smart buy too. In fact, it's such a smart buy that your vampire-loving friend can probably afford to buy it for herself; why not celebrate the holiday spirit by giving a cash-strapped blogger the gift of monster hi-jinks? Retro Recommendation:What to give your friend who loves guns almost as much as girls: Gunsmith Cats Omnibus (Amazon, $11.53)The "hot girls with guns" idea has been done to death (and in all likelihood revived as an especially nubile zombie, and then done to death again) but Kenichi Sonoda's manga about dusky-skinned bombshell Rally Vincent and her friends has such a unique tone that the idea becomes interesting again. The hard-boiled nature of the story, which concerns a street-smart group of bounty hunters in a somewhat dark version of Chicago, helps Gunsmith Cats stand out from the pack, and with style and panache to spare.Gunsmith Cats was recently re-released in a series of four Omnibus editions, meaning that picking up the complete series has just become remarkably cheap and convenient; you can get about 1600 pages, featuring Rally messing around with her Shelby GT500 and her awe-inspiring gun collection, for under fifty bucks. Especially taking into account the fact that this series was once available only as single-chapter comics, that's an amazing value.Of course, if your friend is such a gun fiend that he would rather have all of his holiday swag come out of the Browning catalog, this would be a great gift for someone else too. Hell, that friend of yours is probably a homicidal maniac anyway, do you really want to give him any ideas? If you give Gunsmith Cats to me instead, it won't result in any needless violence and might even improve my marksmanship. Brad's picks For the friend you never want to sleep again: Higurashi: When They Cry (Right Stuf, $8.24)Nothing ever goes wrong in sleepy little towns. Nope, never. Those stories of murders, disappearances, and missing body parts? Ah, don't worry about them too much. It'll just keep you up at night, and you won't make too many friends asking questions.Of course, the whole story in Higurashi: When They Cry is over in two volumes. Originally based on a visual novel, the manga explores all the different possible story arcs, and takes a much more subtle and nuanced approach to the series than the anime adaptation did.But here's the thing: It's going to scare the living daylights out of you. From now on, you'll be living in fear of the next piece of food a friend gives you and constantly checking under your bed to make sure Mion isn't there. I don't want to put you through that, so let's just take the easy way out: why not give it to me instead? For the friend who's too good to read commoner manga: Pluto (Amazon, $9.35)You want to read one of the most engrossing stories that's been published this year? Look no further than Pluto, Naoki Urasawa's (Monster, 20th Century Boys) adaptation of an arc of the Astro Boy manga. Volume by volume, you'll find yourself engrossed in the series, wondering how the plot will unfold next.For your friend (a.k.a. me), giving them this as a gift means that you know they love titles that prove to be engrossing and that they own enough turtlenecks and berets to qualify themselves as a proper reader for the Viz Signature line. But look, you don't want to insult your friend and tell them that they're a snobby elitist and that they would be burned alive for having "commoner manga" on their shelves. Me, though? I've got plenty of turtlenecks and I think my beret is plenty stylish. I wouldn't mind taking those volumes off your hands. For the friend who doesn't know the value of human life Ikigami (Amazon, $11.04)Maybe you have that one friend who's always just lazing about and who thinks that his life is just pointless. Why not give him a little jolt, a-la A Christmas Carol? Instead of three ghosts, give them three volumes of Ikigami, where they can see how people handle the last 24 hours of their lives.It's not exactly filled with holiday cheer -- what with the people dying and all -- but Ikigami has been one of the most sobering and memorable titles from this year, and it'd be a shame for your friends not to be exposed to it.What? All your friends are motivated, happy with their lives, or already own the manga? Well, you shouldn't let it go to waste, then. Why not drop it off at my house with a little bow on it? You know I'd appreciate it... For the friend who you want to kill with cuteness Kimi ni Todoke (Amazon, $8.99) This is a title that's so sugary-sweet, reading more than one volume at a time is likely to induce diabetes. While not as blatantly "DAWWWWWWWW" inducing as the anime adaptation, Kimi ni Todoke still tells a beautiful story of a girl opening up her personality and her heart to those around her, and the wonderful things that ensue.Colette tackled this heartwarming title when it first came out, and since watching the show, I couldn't help myself but get these volumes just to see how the story progresses. This manga is right up there with Yotsuba&! for a good title to read when you want to thaw that icy heart of yours. It's jam-packed with so many positive emotions that it's a perfect way to convey your feelings of good tide towards someone you care about.But, for your own safety, I don't think you should read this. There really is a strong possibility of death when tackling this manga. Thankfully I, as a seasoned veteran of the industry, have built up a strong tolerance and can handle this material. Retro Recommendation: For your friend with a medical fetishBlack Jack (Amazon, $11.53) Simply put, Black Jack is a phenomenal gift for just about anyone. Each story in this largely serial adventure tackles a fairly straightfoward plot with such deftness skill that it's almost surgically put together. Similarly, the manga has such detail in the art that it's almost photographic.The beauty of buying Black Jack as a gift is that you can pick up just about any volume and hand it off to a friend to read. They won't really miss much, and it won't ruin anything plot-wise.I can't really think of a good reason why you should just give this to me, other than I want it more than you do. Probably. So c'mon, won't you show a little kindness?
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It's that time of the year: to start shoving people aside in order to claim that last item on store shelves so you can give it to someone else. The worst part about holiday shopping, though, is when you get trapped in a store...


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