Little things that can make a world of difference, part 1

I never really thought about this until I ran across someone who mentioned that the Cross Game characters are now into their second year of high school (anime obviously, not manga). The truth? They’re only about 5 months into their first year!

Why the misconception? Well, the answer lies in a difference between the schools in Japan and those of certain other countries. Schools in the U.S., Britain and Australia all begin the school year after the long summer vacation. Students typically do not have any summer homework (because their teachers are changing anyway!), and they happily while away 2-3 months at the beach, shopping centres and movie theaters, or perhaps in a darkened home at room etc etc. Wonderful childhood, really, and of course it makes sense to have arrange the school year such that kids get a nice long rest after all their hard work, right?

Perhaps surprisingly, Japan doesn’t subscribe to that particular philosophy. Instead, the school (and working) year is designed around the seasons. Spring (April) marks the new beginning of the year for all layers of society, from kindergartens to companies. For the Japanese mind (and heart), it is fitting that this bright season, floating in sakura petals, marks the new beginning of just about every stage in a person’s life.

Quick summary: the Japanese school year is divided into three terms, with the corresponding “holidays”: Spring-Summer term – summer vacation (about 6 weeks from late July-early September) – Autumn term – Christmas/New Year break (about 2 weeks) – Winter-Spring term – Spring vacation (about 2 weeks in late March/early April). The exact timing of the breaks differs from region to region. In Okinawa, summer vac is unusually long, whilst the winter break is obviously longer in Hokkaido. edit: and in case there are people who don’t know – lots of subbers change the year level into the respective American grade, after all – the Japanese education system sends children through 6 years of elementary school (小学校), 3 of junior high (中学校) and 3 of senior high school (高校), with normal graduation at the age of 18. I might make another note on this at a later date.

The other thing that might confuse foreigners, especially those from Australia, is the fact that the 3rd year students stopped playing just 3 months into the year, when the preliminary tournaments are over. That’s because the rest of their year will be devoted to studying in order to get into their desired colleges or universities. Of course, those who win the prefectural/regional tournament will be representing their prefecture or region in the national tournament, which is held over the summer. The younger students will either be enjoying their one and only summer vacation (Haruhi and co.) or busting their asses to get to the respective national tournaments in their last two years. There should be another regional tournament towards the end of the Autumn term, where the teams will show the fruits of their summer labours, but the summer prelims around May will always take precedence.

Well, this particular difference probably wouldn’t affect your understanding of any show or manga with a school setting, but it might be interesting to know.

Review: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

aka 時をかける少女

Konno Makoto, a teenage girl leading an ordinary life, suddenly finds herself able to leapt through time after a small accident at school. Excited, she starts exploring the possibilities, from ‘cheating’ on tests to trying to matchmake one of her close friends. She soons finds, however, that playing around with time can have some disconcerting consequences.

Read more of this post

Review: 西の魔女が死んだ

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, 「西の魔女が死んだ」tells of the relationship between a young Japanese girl and her English grandmother. When Mai decides to stop going to her Junior High school, her concerned mother decides to take her to live with her grandmother for a few months. There, Mai learns how to become a “witch” by learning to take care of household necessities such as cooking and laundry, and in the process, learns to control her own life…

I’m no expert on the technicalities of film, so I’ll just say that the technical aspects (music, direction) all seemed fine to me. The characters were, for the most part, believable and realistic, though I really don’t think Ryo looks like a half Japanese-English woman. What interested me more was what the story said about Japanese society.

Read more of this post

Quick Impressions (since I don’t actually want to review them…)

Once again, I caught a couple of movies on the flights to and from home. I’m sure I’m missing a couple of Western ones, but I remember seeing One Million Yen Girl (百万円と苦虫女) and Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro (ゲゲゲの鬼太郎).

The latter was fine…a little bit B-grade in the special effects department, but can’t expect a Titanic budget for everything. It was a pretty fun movie to practice my Japanese listening skills on, although subtitles were provided anyway. I also liked one of its messages: don’t do things for a reward, or avoid doing them because you get no thanks; rather, do them for yourself, because you want to. That is a lesson that not only the Japanese, but many of the youth around the world would do well to learn.

One Million Yen Girl left me with a deeper impression. I don’t like people who run away from their problems, but the idea of flitting from town to town and experiencing new things in each place is quite tempting. However, the ending where the viewer is left to fill in the final scene(s) (which I’m fairly certain no American filmmaker would have considered doing in this kind of story) really gave me the impression that the story does not end with the movie, which is really what happens in life. Whether Western audiences will appreciate this kind of ending remains to be seen.

Review: Death Note & The Last Name

Ok. I finally got round to watching Death Note: The Last Name – around a year after seeing the first movie. Read more of this post

Quick Reviews: Various movies

I don’t really have that much to say on these three, which is why they’re being lumped here under one entry.

Made of Honour is apparently the reverse version of My Best Friend’s Wedding (I can’t say anything simply because I haven’t seen it). I suppose it’s worth seeing if you love romantic comedies and/or Patrick Dempsey.

Crows Zero was another movie I decided to see based solely on the actors in it…well, specifically one, Oguri Shun. The characters are based on those of a manga by Takahashi Hiroshi. It was basically a "let’s see how much we crap we can beat out of the characters without killing any of them." Oops, gave that away…but seriously, what did you expect?

I finally saw Gedo Senki…and frankly, I can see why it got lukewarm reviews at best. Unlike all the Miyazaki Hayao films I love, it didn’t really have that magical feeling. It isn’t just about the story (which I felt didn’t make sense given that the main character is meant to be Ged!), but also that the visuals just weren’t as magnificent as what I’ve come to expect from Studio Ghibli. I skimmed the plot on wikipedia, and it’s been changed quite heavily too…I’ll read Earthsea one day, but I don’t think I’ll ever see this version of it ever again.

Review: Vexille

Whilst Vexille is named after its main character, this isn’t a story about her, but rather a futuristic vision of a world wherein Japan’s scientists have outstripped the world in the field of biotechnology, paving the way forward for possible extensions into human cybernetics and robotics. Fearing the ethical consequences, the UN banned further research. Opposed to the restrictions, Japan responds by sealing itself off from the world via a high-tech surveillence net. Following suspicious events involving the only Japanese company that provides a link to the outside, a team is sent to infiltrate the web of secrecy, but what they discover is beyond anything they could have expected.

Read more of this post

Reviews: Shinobi and Honey and Clover (movie)

Shinobi: Heart Under Blade

Quick Reviews: J-drama

Briefly, Densha Otoko is alright…way too painful to watch sometimes (k_chan, is this really what some otaku are like?), and I don’t really like Itou Masaki, but I was watching it for another reason altogether…  Gokusen wasn’t bad, but a bit repetitive after a while…there’s only so many times you can watch Nakama Yukie win in such a cliched manner. Kimi wa Pet is, to me at least, more enjoyable than the other two – but that’s probably because I absolutely love the manga, which, other than the ‘pet’ thing, addresses some really pertinent subject matter wrt women and equality, especially in Japan (and maybe in other Asian countries?). Momo was really close to the manga character (I’ll admit – MatsuJun did well in achieving that), but Sumire and Hasumi-san were changed perhaps a bit too much. Finally, Summer Snow isn’t exactly the most original drama, and suffers from the ‘exactly how many tribulations can one family go through’ syndrome, not to mention the acting being somewhat forced half the time, but, well…Oguri Shun did really well in his role there.

Quick Review: Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shambala

I finally saw Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shambala on Friday…eschewing far more important priorities to do so (although…I did sign up in O-week…which I don’t think I’ve done since my first year…). Anyways, I don’t really know what I was expecting…but this wasn’t it. Read more of this post