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Zac Bertschy: Unfashionable American Tourist

by Zac Bertschy,

Day Four: Tokyo Anime Fair Part Two and the Invasion of Otome Road

So the cat's out of the bag at this point: there really wasn't all that much to see and do at Tokyo Anime Fair this year. That's not to say it was a bust, or anything – there just wasn't exactly something new around every corner. I took a handful of photos on Day 2 of the fair's business day schedule (which explains why there's hardly anyone in these pictures; I avoid Tokyo Big Sight like the plague on public day, which according to show officials did break attendance records, so hey, good for them).

Toei trotted out the Luffy & Goku mascot characters so businessmen could have their photo taken and presumably sent back to their children just to screw with their heads. “Daddy got all As in school and never talked back to his father and HE got to hang out with Monkey D. Luffy! Now what are YOU going to do?!”

This giant booth was promoting Garo The Movie 3D: Red Requiem, a franchise I am not familiar with but will make the unfair assumption that it's the usual subpar Japanese sentai action movie with questionable special effects. Maybe I'm wrong.

Kinda hard to look menacing when your armor has a permanent goofy grin plastered on.

I took a quick trip through the TAF Shop, which is next to the ‘Anime Bazaar’ on the south end of the exhibit floor.

I thought this little guy was cute until I discovered his name was ‘Rascal’, which means he's probably the star of some godawful series of unfunny shorts about a troublemaking tanuki.

There was a modest cel shop in the back, chock full of stuff from the 90s. Here's Black Jack, who looks like he's thinking “Really, lady? A blue turtleneck?”

I would not at all be surprised if it suddenly became fashionable to drive one of these annoying pink mini cars around Shibuya.

Takara Tomy had a booth for the new Transformers: Animated series in the back, and we'll probably see this Optimus Prime statue at every American comic book convention for the next year. Good for him, though; that diet really seems to have paid off. He's lost so much weight, and just look at those abs!

So the next day we decided to head to Ikebukuro, which is a neighborhood people have been telling me to visit for ages. It's also the home of the famous ‘Otome Road’, also known as ‘Fujoshi Mecca’, or ‘yaoi paradise’ for those not familiar with the lingo.

For those REALLY unfamiliar with the lingo, what I am saying is that there are supposedly a cluster of stores here that specialize in gay porn comics based on Japanese cartoons and the sizable female fanbase for that sort of thing flocks here. OK? Everyone get what's going on here?

Here's the main drag. There are some massive entertainment centers here and a whole bunch of fast food joints, a Sanrio store, some dessert places, you know the drill.

This is the first public advertisement I've seen for the Trigun movie since we showed up. I know the franchise is more popular in the States than it is here, but still.

I cannot think of anything worse than sitting through this effing movie again except this time in a language I don't speak.

So here we are at Otome Road. Alright, it's more like Otome Cul-De-Sac. Or Otome Stoop. In any case it's a tiny little area. Here's the local Mandarake, which specializes entirely in girls’ comics, yaoi manga and doujinshi and other Fujoshi goods.

Some gay divers welcome you to Otome Road Mandarake. Insert snorkeling joke here!

Naturally the lot of us thought it would be a REALLY GREAT IDEA for four big honkin’ white male gaijin to go wandering into this store. I sort of wish I'd been taking video just so you could see the reactions we got. We were extremely out of place and clearly Did Not Belong.

I wasn't kidding when I said the clientele was 100 percent female and looked upon us as usurpers. I'd feel bad about invading their bubble (not to mention taking photos in a clearly prohibited area), but hey, someone needs to soberly and seriously document these important social trends!

Across from the Mandarake is a K Books, which is basically more of the same plus a character goods shop.

Then there is this, THE WORLD'S MOST CROWDED AND CRAMPED ANIMATE STORE. It is wall-to-effing-wall teenagers and squealing girls in this joint. ABANDON ALL HOPE.

It's like this coffee machine was trying to warn me. “Don't go in there, Zac,” it said. “Look how ridiculous I am. I'm just a coffee machine, but look – they've filled me with Hetalia-themed drinks. If that isn't a warning sign to not enter whatever building I am in front of, then you deserve whatever fate befalls you.”

Alright so this is a crappy blurry photo in an area where photography was probably restricted but this gives you an idea of how crowded it was inside this place and it was like 8 solid floors like this. Hellacious.

Up next we hit Sunshine City which is – you guessed it! – an upscale mall. Well, maybe not so upscale; it's almost exactly like any given mall in any town in America. There's an Eddie Bauer and a Gap and some ice cream places.

This is the mall's one unique feature, Namco NAMJATOWN, which is kind of a fantasy cat-themed mini amusement park inside the mall. There are apparently rides and desserts within. My party was a bunch of Mr. No-Funs so we didn't pay the 3 bucks to get in and check it out. Perhaps we were all exhausted from being ridiculously unwelcome and out of place in one too many locations for one day and didn't feel the need to pile another one on.

But then something magical happened.

We spotted this place.

It's a kitty petting lounge. Oh sure, they call it a “cat café”, but let's call it what it is – kitty petting lounge. You pay a fee (in our case, around $2 for every 10 minutes spent with the kitties) to sit in this relaxing lounge space – complete with wi-fi, board games, a sizable selection of comics, books and magazines to read – and hope that one of the 10 or so cats they have roaming around decides it wants attention from you.

This is a genius business idea. Although maybe I wouldn't advertise the place with this particular sign. “Aw hello there kitty I am paying 10 bucks an hour to enjoy your fuzzy presence I OH GOD WHAT WHY ARE YOU A HISSING MONSTER NOW”

When we showed up it was around mid-afternoon on a surprisingly brisk day and so naturally it was pretty much naptime inside.

As you can see, it's a very relaxing space. It was just the right temperature and everything was very plush and calm.

There are plenty of comics to keep anyone busy while they sit and wait for a cat to wander by and taunt them with the possibility of attention. Notably, and thankfully, you're not allowed to pick up the cats; you have to wait for them to come to you. Speaking as an animal lover, that's cool.

Anyway here are a few more sleeping kitty pics.

Overall it is kind of hilarious that people will pay so much just for the chance that a cat might want to select them as designated ear-scratcher for a few moments, but then there was this one guy who had fallen asleep while reading some manga and two cats had curled up next to him, and then it all made sense.

I will say this – there is a bunny version of the cat café in Nagoya. One day I shall make the holy pilgrimage there, for it is calling to me. It is my destiny.

Anyway to close it out for the day here is a duck stacked with breakfast sandwiches.

Tomorrow: Final Blog!

Day Three: Tokyo Anime Fair, Part One

It's that time again: Tokyo Anime Fair! This time even more modestly budgeted! I'm on a pretty tight schedule so let's just get right to it.

Last year Bones had a little version of this plush dog from Sword of the Stranger. I think that one was cuter than this bigger version, who's sitting idly at the corner of their little booth. No offense to this guy, although someone did stick a weird face on his head.

I have no idea why the Hanamaru Kindergarten kids have been stuck to the side of the Tezuka Pro booth.  “Hey Otaku no seriously we have stuff for you! For reals!”

“Hi everyone! It's me, the mayor of Failuretown!”

Marionettes creep me out. I have no idea what this rat puppet is doing here nor what was going on in this booth, but I'm pretty sure I saw this little bastard following me home on the train with a murderous glint in his eye. Surely I will see him on the wing of my plane home.

Check out all the bustling action at Tokyo Anime Fair 2010!!

This is apparently a thing – cars all made up to look like SUPER ACTION MANGA CAR. I think if you're driving this thing at anything less than 100mph while blasting Initial D soundtracks they'll pull you over and ticket you for criminal lack of awesome.

I don't really have anything to add to this. I don't really think I need to.

Usavitch is really popular here; they have their own store in Harajuku and the merchandise is everywhere. I believe they started out as MTV Japan mascot characters and have since blown up into something more than that. Being a fan of rabbits in general though these weird-ass things don't really do it for me.

This sheep with a hula hoop, though – SIGN ME UP!!

This is an ad for a K-ON! trading card game wherein I assume you tap 4 moe to play the ‘cute girl does something cute’ card and your opponent just opens up his wallet and gives you all of his money, and then you keep doing that same thing over and over again and your opponent keeps falling for it for some reason.

I watched this 3D presentation of “Hipira-kun” at Sunrise's booth and while the 3D itself was pretty nifty the animation was really weak; it's nice that they're diving into the whole 3D TV thing but let's put some effort into the production itself, shall we?

Big Windup! is back for a second season! I'm predicting this time they wind up in an exhibition game on Fire Island… with sexy results!

I didn't realize Heroman was such a patriotic figure. His color scheme is the American flag. I wonder if he occasionally has trouble coming to the beck and call of the kid who summons him because he's busy fighting two wars and trying to revive the job market.

I think this was produced by a tremendous sparkly pink magical cake fairy from magical pastry fairyland popping a magical pixie dust dreamland squat.

These things were set up in the kids’ play area which generally isn't in use until Sunday, which is family day. That said, I have no idea how these are supposed to work; the only entrance is a hole in the top and there's like one layer of balls in there. Do they drop the kids in and just forget about them? How are they supposed to extract the children? Maybe they just leave them in there and eventually they become members of AKB48.

Hey look it's the white dudes booth! Featuring my boss Christopher Macdonald, who is French Canadian, which means he out-whitedudes even the Otakon staff purely by birthright.

This is a game where they show you a clip from a famous giant robot battle (in this case from a Gundam series) and you have to perform the dramatic dialogue and shout the attack names with BURNING PASSION, karaoke-style. It's pretty rad and I really hope they decide to adapt this idea for the west. If there's ever a karaoke videogame where you have to recite lines from The Breakfast Club, I am going to rock that machine.

Stay classy Gonzo!

This is just kinda sitting in the middle of the hall. It's a big robot cat as designed by Yoshitaka Amano. I really have no context for it and surely someone will fill me in on what this is, but all I could think of was that this is probably what Battle Cat would look like if Amano redesigned him and how cool would it be if Amano decided to redesign the entire cast of He-Man and how  much would I pay for that artbook probably a lot.

I ran up and licked this guy and suddenly my indigestion went away.

Tomorrow: Tokyo Anime Fair Day Two plus some other stuff!

Day Two

Today turned out to be a bit of a free day – Tokyo Anime Fair starts tomorrow, and we didn't have a boatload of prep work to do, so aside from a few short meetings I had time to spare and the city to run free in. Which might've resulted in a GRAND ADVENTURE ON THE SHINING STREETS OF TOKYO but it was wet and rainy and miserable out and thus it became what you're about to read, which let me tell you, it's thrilling.

Jetlag hasn't really subsided yet and it was another early morning so I took a stroll around Shibuya again to find some breakfast and ran right into this area, which is known as “Love Hotel Hill”.

That's about 30 bucks for 90 minutes inside “Hotel Casanova”. Something tells me most people staying here do not use the full 90 minutes.

This tasteful display lets you know what awaits inside. I like the State Fair Attraction Building color scheme.

Is there a law on the books that dictates how sleazy places like this are supposed to be designed? Because there's no way anyone would mistake this façade for anything other than a place where there might be prostitutes.

Having some more time to kill, I decided to head on down to Shinjuku, which is where the gigantic government offices are and a few outdoor parks. It was still pretty horrible outside but I simply cannot resist the call of adventure promised by monolithic municipal buildings!

Caught this poster on the train platform. Notice that fresh-faced white lad in the upper right? That's Anton Yelchin, who you probably remember as Chekov in last year's Star Trek movie. Maybe he's shaping up to be a Japanese heartthrob. Or maybe they needed an affordable Russian to fill the role of handsome exotic love interest. Who knows?



Shinjuku Station is massive and, like most other large train stations, is jam-packed with high-end shopping malls which are next to other high-end shopping malls which are stacked on top of a high-end shopping mall and then if you go down to the basement level, there's a high-end shopping mall. This is a line of people waiting to get into this ornate elevator, guided by that pleasant woman and her pleasant uniform. It's like Japan's economy never burst!

This particular bit of wall art is right at the entrance to the really, really long tunnel that leads to the big government buildings. Subtle symbolism? You decide!

This is the first part of the big tunnel. This is already the most exciting photo blog you've ever read, isn't it?

And here's the second part, which definitely feels municipal. Side note: Japanese government buildings smell just like American government buildings, if you know what
I mean – libraries and court houses all kinda have this particular smell. International conspiracy? You decide!

Cocoon is that way. Interestingly, walking down this giant endless hallway with no chances for exploration is just like playing Final Fantasy XIII! (rimshot!)

Alright folks here is where this shit gets REALLY EXCITING! My amazing day-long adventure on the streets of Japan's futuristic metropolis has lead me to the JAPANESE DMV!

There's a big tourism center right in the lobby of this building where they have helpful signs like these that inform you about Tokyo's many manufacturing concerns, including liquor, more liquor, and things you can drink liquor out of.
So the big attraction here is an observation deck that's 45 floors up and supposedly you can see Mt. Fuji from the top. Good thing I picked a rainy foggy overcast day to check this place out!

The view was still pretty cool.

This is a shot of the big park that's right behind the government buildings and from this angle you can see the blue tents where they hide a bunch of the city's homeless population. It's as if the front of this massive government skyscraper is saying “Ahem, nothing to see here, move along…”

More skyscrapers. If this were an anime I'd have long white hair and a white suit and I'd be sipping SUNTORY whiskey and you'd see the reflection of my one red eye in the window. And I'd have some sort of a tortured past and a weird, mildly incestuous relationship with the hero.

So on the way back to the train station from my amazing adventure to the place where people pick up census forms and pay traffic tickets I saw this sign, which instantly intrigued me.

A bunch of zany Japanese cartoon characters seemingly acting out the horrors of post-WWII life in Japan, and then some photos of – GASP – museum dioramas! I had to find out what this was!

Turns out there's this little museum on the 48th floor of this highrise right next to the government buildings that focuses on what I think is life in Tokyo immediately after the war – there is not a single word of English in the entire place (not even on the exit signs) so I couldn't really tell exactly what it was covering, but there were depictions of ships full of soldiers coming into the harbor, period military uniforms and accessories, and a bunch of these fairly crude animatronic dioramas depicting life at the time (most of which were obviously really depressing, as was pretty much the entire affair). I was, naturally, completely out of place, baffled that this would exist on the 48th floor of a corporate skyscraper and in general a little freaked out. I wasn't allowed to take photos inside, but I did get a pamphlet that had some pictures in it.

So I wandered out in a little bit of a daze and then on the way out these two happy chaps reminded me I'm in SUPER FUN TIME TOKYO YAAAHOOOOOOOOO!

Tomorrow: Tokyo Anime Fair Day One!

Day One

So the Anime News Network crew is back in Japan for Tokyo Anime Fair 2010 (our normal coverage begins on Thursday, the first press day of the show), and I figured what better way to kill time than write up another photo blog? This is my second time in the country and while coming in was a little ho-hum, I remembered we were staying in Shibuya this year.

Right next to the famous Hachi exit, where I hear an adorable dog once waited for a deceased Richard Gere to show up for like 9 years.

We only spent maybe an hour in Shibuya last year and my impression of it then was that it was where most of the “FUTURE ROBOT CITY TOKYO” stuff came from, since it was all extremely modern and there were giant buildings plastered with huge video screens featuring Japanese pop idols hawking stuff. That impression was largely true, but what I somehow missed then was that the population of Shibuya is composed of approximately 95 percent squealing Japanese supermodels.

Seriously, pretty much everyone you pass on the street is wearing some cutting-edge haute couture outfit that looks like they literally stepped right off the cover of Ludicrous Japanese Fashion Weekly. Hey, that's fine – these are clearly the cool kids – but it's a little tough to not feel completely out of place. If you're not wearing a $30,000 outfit, sporting a $3,000 hairstyle and carrying a sugar daddy worth at least $2 million in credit-default swaps around, you do not belong here, get on the train back to normalsburg.

Not only that, but Shibuya is also famous for being REALLY CROWDED ALL THE TIME, especially when we arrived; we could barely move around. I woke up around 5:30 am (thanks jetlag!) and decided to take a walk around to see the place when it isn't mobbed.

This is the famous intersection everyone's familiar with, except there isn't a giant ocean of pencil-thin Vogue hopefuls filling up every nook and cranny. Sometimes it helps to wake up early.

I think The Weinstein Company is hoping to sell this terrible, terrible movie to Japanese women by making it look like it's a feature-length cosmetics ad.

Here is a photo of the Hachi statue, which is required by law to appear in any photo journal about Shibuya. Feel free to scroll down to the next thing.

The anime series based on this statue is all set to be the next big late-night hit!!

That's a billboard for Hey! Say! JUMP which I'm told is basically the male edition of AKB48, the pop group that has like a million little girls doing choreographed dance numbers and they're all split up into teams based on which demographic they appeal to most. You can find many of their least popular members in the adult video section of your local otaku hole.

Justin told me this building was blown up in Megazone 23. I trust him. Here it is. Thrilling, I know.

We were a little hungry, so we decided to find some rugged, piping hot authentic cuisine, the kind only seasoned travelers and locals really know about.

The waitress did not listen to my demands for SUPAA BIRDO.

This is the Tobacco and Salt museum, which sounds like it is the least interesting place in the history of boring places. Unless there is a Nail Clippers & Bus Seat Ashtray museum out there somewhere.

They're obviously trying to offset how incredibly boring the place is with this exhibition by a guy who specializes in adorable photos of adorable animals. A smart move, if I do say so myself. You win this round, Tobacco & Salt Museum.

Yeah yeah I know LOL ENGRISH but come on. Who wouldn't venture up to the 3rd floor just to see if it's really him?

This is literally what the women you see wandering around Shibuya are wearing. Oftentimes in American department stores you'll have a display like this intended to sell accessories and maybe one or two pieces but they're obviously overdone a little bit and nobody really dresses like that on a regular basis; here, this full costume can be seen on any given roaming girl. It's unreal. Oh, and the “little dog that functions as a fashion accessory” thing is really catching on too.

I love this sign. More restaurants should have signs like this. “What?! These tacos are amazing!!”

Most train cars have this special seating area where you give sitting preference to the elderly, the infirmed, the pregnant or those with babies. They say Japan has a real problem with its birthrate, and yeah I've barely been outside of Tokyo but I have yet to actually see a pregnant woman or anyone with a baby. So what I'm saying is maybe rejigger that birthrate by threatening to take away their train seat privileges. That'll get people in the mood again.

Naturally being the dorks we are we just HAD to go back over to Nerdtown aka Pervtown aka Akihabara on our first day back (We Were There to get discounted SD cards, I swear to god). The place really hasn't changed much. Or so I thought.

The very first thing I ran across were these absolutely f*cking terrifying doll heads in a window outside an otaku sex store. They are unbelievably creepy and will likely haunt my nightmares for many days to come.

I tried SO HARD to get Justin to put his face in this thing and for the life of me he wouldn't do it. It does make me wonder  - is there an otaku out there who gets his picture taken with his face in this maid standee and then goes home and beats off to the photo? If so, would that qualify as the world's strangest fetish?

This is the spiritual successor to the weird Columbo warning sign I found last year. I think they dovetail nicely.

This particular store has five floors of solid porn. Five floors. I wonder what the turnover rate on janitors is here.

There's a small but merchandise push for Megaman 10, the 8-Bit style sequel that just came out. These are little sweet bean cakes with 8-Bit Megaman sprite wrappers.  They also have this extremely awesome energy drink:

Admit it. That's rad.

The big videogame release right now is some Hokuto no Ken game that is advertised very nearly everywhere and I have absolutely no idea what it is or what it's about. Surely someone will race into the forums to let me know and I will forget shortly thereafter.

Normally I'd say “only in Japan can you find things like this” but I think this would probably sell pretty well in the US.

Last year we arrived right in the middle of a dead zone for popular anime but this time it's K-ON! everywhere all the time in every store. I'm sure the Japanese anime industry is crossing their fingers and waiting with baited breath that another merchandising cash cow comes along this year. Look at all that falderal.

Nearly every store that specialized in American films (and I saw a lot more of them this year than last) has a giant display counting down until the barebones bluray release of James Cameron's non-Best Picture-winning opus. I have no idea how popular the movie was with the Japanese, but I suspect the whole “evil humans destroying nature” thing caught on given that's the plot of pretty much every Hayao Miyazaki movie.

Dear American Anime Fans: here is a shot of a typical Japanese bluray shelf. That is the first bluray for Chu-Bra!!, a show that makes my flesh crawl and my soul hurt, but that's not the point; it's 70 f*cking dollars and has a whoppin’ 3 episodes on it. You have it good. Stop complaining so much.

You should buy this for your girlfriend and surprise her with it by setting it on the night table on her side of the bed while she's sleeping so when she wakes up HI THERE!

Nope, I don't think I'll be going up there.

That about does it for today. Later in the week I'll have the usual TAF photos and some stuff from Ueno and Ikebukuro, and throughout the days I'll be posting some fun photos to my Twitter account, @ANNZac. For now, the Japanese beer sirens are calling me and their lure is irresistible…

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