Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Marching Laika Lying

It's the start of a new month, and depending on where you're living, the weather is either unseasonably warm, or still freezing cold, leading to all kinds of various mood swings. These Spring fevers can be the result of the shifting temperatures playing havoc with your body temperature, causing lethargy and drowsiness after dealing with long winter months in the cold.

Here, we also see the first character design of April before she developed the style we would become more accustomed to. Her hair is more wilder and brown compared to how it would be lower and fuller. (I suck at naming hairstyles)

What do you call that spiky hairstyle where the hair sticks out at an appealing pointy angle? You see this kind of hairstyle covering the eyes and foreheads in protagonists in various Manga and BD titles all the time, yet I have no idea if it even has a name. Any takers?

Another rarity - Elly indulging in something that's not housework, while April attempts to impress her mother with a display of musical prowess.

Since Elly was very obviously the avatar for Lynn Johnson, this is clearly another reference to how the creator felt about having children who were constantly invading her "private time" by demanding her attention by making noise. Think I'm exaggerating? There are various strips that show Elly being interrupted while working and reacting appropriately, and could also explain why she identified with Mike running back inside a burning house to retrieve a manuscript he'd been working on at the expense of his wife and kid. The job is the one defining element in their lives, and without it, they have nothing.

Referring to the previous case of Spring fever, these shorter days can bring about cases of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, where people can become depressed due to lack of sunlight.

Lately, there have been recent studies that show that there are people who suffer from the opposite ailment, and become depressed from too much sunlight (like yours truly), and prefer working in the dark. This is why some of us become night owls - it's the only time when we're able to feel in our natural habitat with minimal distractions, and are forced to cope with a workforce that insists on working when it's light out.

On the bright side, there's still Spring Break to contend with. If Japan's Golden Week wasn't an absolute necessity that needed editorial notes to explain, Spring Break would be an acceptable alternative. Though apart from Mardi Gras, there's very little similarity between the two. However, if you don't celebrate a week off where you live, then you're plumb out of luck.

Sorry for the segue into a non-sequitur, but it was the only way to make the text fit the theme for these pictures.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Never Encountered Encounter

When Raijin Comics was first founded at the start of the millennium, it introduced a wide range of Mangas, none of which really clicked with their intended audience. Like so many anthologies, it failed from an attempt to appeal to every possible demographic, and as a result, wound up alienating their customers. Their results were too scattershot instead of focussed, and could've benefited from a more consistent theme throughout their titles.

But all this has already been mentioned before. It recently got a memoriam from Jason Thompson, which outlined much of the history and their bizarre competition with Shonen Jump and trying to get the attention of the typical comic-book audience. My favorite part is the description of Grappler Baki, "a martial arts Manga so bizarre it's beyond my ability to describe without contorting my body into a pretzel-like shape with a sickening crunching sound." That's pretty much what trying to copy any of the double-page spreads in the Manga are like.

However, there was one particular Manga that was given a 4-page preview in a Raijin Manga supplement issue that caught my eye. Most of the other titles were mentioned, such as Revenge of Mouflon, First President of Japan, Slam Dunk, and even the much-loathed Bomber Girl. This title certainly got my attention with the second page which... well, I'll let the page below speak for itself.

Basically, any story that has a rash of unusual suicides and inexplicable deaths is certain fertile grounds for being a page-turner. However, despite it's strong premise, it never wound up showing up in the pages of the magazine. There also were single-page ads for Bow Wow Wata right next to Wild Leaguer (a Seinin baseball Manga by Watanabe Yasuhiro) Maybe the rights fell through? It's disappointing that there's never been any word of a follow-up, let alone an explaination for Encounter's disappearance from the Raijin lineup.

Apart from the Manga having won an International Manga award (with a cash prize of 100 million yen) and being part of a wife/husband team, I can't find anything else out about the story. Konohana Sakuya (the pen name of Nishino Megumi and Nishino Kohei) claimed to be breaking new ground with their releasing their Mangas simultaneously on the internet, but this is laughably out-of-date nowadays. Amusingly enough, their Cyber-Manga page opens up with the sentence, "Bland-new CYBERMANGA for you". They have a webpage, but very little information on what their Mangas are about. There's not even a scanlation of it, when pretty much everything else has been given a shot. Sure, I could look it up on a wiki page, but getting the plot summary in text form loses some of the magic somewhat.

If there was a Gutsoon title that deserved more attention, this would probably be it. The closest we ever got to a Manga like this was Alive the Final Evolution, which started out strong, but fell into mediocrity. Hopefully, Encounter didn't meet this same fate.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Adam's Babysitting Endurance

Adam's next-door male chauvinist neighbour, Walter, continuously teased Adam for being a househusband, often in the form of outright mockery for doing activities that would otherwise be thought be only suitable for the "weaker sex". However, Adam was also had another miniture nemesis in the form of a woman named Alison who would drop off her baby while she went off to do some chores.

Adam would start out the day intending to do nothing but relax, and be constantly foiled by a little kid whose only impulse was to cry all day long once he was out of his mommy's reach. In future strips, Alison devised more elaborate ways to convince Adam to keep looking after her kid even when he had no desire to do so. This is the kind of trickery that rival brothers or sisters would resort to in order to tease their younger siblings.

At this point, it's clear that Alison's sadism is intentional. The woman doesn't even have to leave the room for her baby to start crying. To be fair, that open-mouthed position is the only way readers would even remember the kid in the first place. Quick question - without looking at the pictures, what is Joseph's hair colour? Chances are you couldn't even remember. That single-toothed black entrance is the most defining image of the baby.

Once baby Nick joined the household, Joseph dropped out of the picture, since it would be redundant to have two screaming kids.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Origins of Red Ketchup

When certain breakout characters such as Popeye show up and become more popular than the main character, it becomes an exercise for the creator to justify their existence. They can either downplay their usefulness or play up their appearances for all it's worth. If their story is at the risk of floundering under obscurity, usage of these madcap characters becomes more important for saving them from cancellation. The general consensus is that once a character gains popularity through public opinion, an elaborate backstory is then created for them once they've generated enough popularity. Similar to how Wolverine was supposed to be a one-off character, but eventually wound up becoming the most iconic X-man member ever.

In Red Ketchup's first story, he was given an origin that was condensed into four short pages. His childhood is mostly defined by an abusive father, and as a result, is more sad than funny. (More details at the end of this post)

However, Red Ketchup's first true appearance was in Black and White, and is just as crazy as the man's colour adventures. He showed up 2/3rds of the way in the 2nd Michel Risque book. Michel Risque is notoriously difficult to describe without sounding completely insane, since so much of what happens seems to be a rambling stream of consciousness where a single man gets involved into more and more outlandish situations that he has no control over. They're very much a style of this happened, then this happened form of storytelling. It could best be described as an adult Canadian version of Tintin. The influences are certainly apparent there, especially since the story is told in 3-4 page chunks, allowing for plenty of variation between chapters. If you divide a typical Tintin volume, you'll often find that where the boy detective starts out is a very different place from where he eventually winds up at least halfway through. So too is it with Michel Risque.

Red Ketchup gives an air of menace by quoting that he "always gets his man!" (The actual Mountie motto is "Uphold the law") The implying threat is that eventually, Michel Risque and Red Ketchup will eventually meet up, reaching towards a common goal. From these panels alone, you'd be hard pressed to know that Red Ketchup was a pasty Government albino. Red Ketchup starts gathering information by touring the streets with his effective negotiation skills. This tactic works effectively until he meets a suspect who likes getting hurt.

"Talk first, then I'll hit you." (BTW, if the concealed nipples bothers you more than the implicit violence, you might want to reconsider your values) After going through several informational dead ends, he finally hits upon the location of a link to said drug runners who just happen to be on the very boat that Michel Risque is unknowingly helping.

Once Red Ketchup catches up, there's a shooting match between the criminals and the authorities while Michel is totally oblivious to the overseas gang warfare happening behind his back. He's looking for an antiseptic in a medical box when the other one was stuffed with handguns.

Meanwhile, the druglord, Raoul Escobar takes an immediate liking to Michel Risque's girlfriend Poupine. To get a better idea of this vision of loveliness who's stolen his heart, here's a side-by-side comparison with her love interest. He conducts an elaborate kidnapping scheme to have her by her side, while Michel embarks on a crusade to find out where his girlfriend's gone.

However, Escobar shouldn't stay confident for too long, since Red Ketchup hasn't exactly gone down with the ship. Keep in mind that this is only the end of the second book, and he has yet to ingest drugs at an alarming rate. He was already crazy long before he even took his first snort.

At the beginning of the third book, Red Ketchup is reviewing his mission from his chief back in Washington after failing to catch Escobar and surveying the amount of damage he's done, as par for the course. To put the extent of his actions in context, all of the below took place over a period of only nine pages, not counting when he was swimming for shore.

"Eight destroyed Government cars, a coast guard boat annihilated with the crew, a hotel and three private residences dynamited, eighteen deaths, forty people injured and maimed and eleven charges against you for breaking and entering, damage to property, cuts and wounds, rape, torture, etc..."
"But chief... You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs!"

In all fairness, The hotel bombing is the only thing Red Ketchup wasn't directly (or indirectly) responsible for, though he was there when it happened. The scene then shifts to a bordello house where perversions of every kind is tolerated. Raoul Escobar has a dialogue with a man who has some truly weird fetishes of his own.

It isn't until he goes home and cleans up that we discover this man's true profession.

With the Commissioner's permission, Red Ketchup hopes to find any trace of Raoul Escobar by casing out the usual joints with his typical interrogation techniques:

Upset with not finding any leads, he confronts the Commissioner because he's beginning to feel like he's being led in circles and not getting any closer to his target.

However, Red Ketchup isn't the only major worry that's hanging over the Commissioner's head. A mook gangster who's part of Escobar's crew is also tired of Red Ketchup's interference, and wants the Commissioner to have him taken care of. In a state of ethical integrity, the Commissioner objects to the gangster using language that would offend his mother.

Said gangster decides to make things easier by blackmailing the Commissioner by threatening to show his kindly old mother incriminating photos of his little pastime activities with children unless the Red Ketchup problem is resolved.

This page is particularly noteworthy, because it's the first time that this comic has shifted away from the main protagonist and focused on a cliffhanger for a secondary character. Quite naturally, Red Ketchup manages to get out of his predicament. Somehow, this random murder is newsworthy enough to get an article in the paper, further scaring the crooked Commissioner.

Seeing himself backed into a corner, the Commissioner decides to go to more desperate measures and just have Red Ketchup killed by less conventional means.

Miraculously, Red survives the grenade attack, and it's only after he gets back to his apartment that he realizes that he's still in shock.

Under his current condition, he's in no shape to continue without help. It's at this point that he decides to take a little sniff from a pack of cocaine to boost up his strength and starts down a slippery slope that he'll never be able to back up from now on.

The man does not know the meaning of restraint. (If he ever did, it was deleted from his memory)

After killing the crooked Commissioner, he finds the first lead he's ever got on finding Raoul Escobar - an invitation to a costume party. Once he arrives at the party grounds, Red rushes into the scene guns akimbo, then stops just long enough to put on an inconspicuous disguise.

Inside the mansion, after spending months of resisting her capturers, Michel's girlfriend, Poupoune is starting to develop Stockholm's Syndrome and worrying about Raoul Escobar who's come down with love sickness. Meanwhile, Red ketchup helps himself to the contents of a snuff box.

In a contrived coincidence, Michel Risque has also somehow managed to make his way into the Escobar estate through a series of events too complicated to explain. (That's him in the bunny suit. Don't ask - it's the most normal thing he's worn in a long time) At the costume party, the two men only narrowly miss each other, and engage with a certain Escobar through a case of mistaken identity through different methods. After realizing that the shot man isn't Raoul Escobar, the party devolves into a shooting match between rival gangsters, the gatecrashers and innocent bystanders.

In the confusion, Red Ketchup manages to make his way up to the bedroom where Poupoune and Raoul Escobar are, leading up to an inevitable conflict between between the naive Quebec hero and the FBI agent...

...only, that's not what happens. Red Ketchup quite literally throws Poupoune into Michel's arms, since she's "getting in the way", and he's more concerned with killing Escobar than their romantic reunion.

In a way, this was kind of a fitting exit. Red Ketchup was threatening to take over the Michel Risque comic, and thus was subsequently given a spin-off title under his own name. The differences between the two men could not be more obvious. While Michel Risque was something of a reluctant hero, Red Ketchup was something akin to a force of nature.

I've been collaborating with LeChatVert in an attempt to translate Red Ketchup for the masses. This'll continue until I either get a restraining order from Réal Godbout and Pierre Fournier, or my upload site gets cancelled. Whichever comes first. If our luck holds, I'll be able to add Michel Risque to the list once Red Ketchup's over with.

You can download the first two stories in English here:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Restaurant Experience Points

On Valentine's Day, I celebrated by having a eat out meal with my family. We don't get much of a chance to get together, so when the opportunity comes, we take advantage of it. In this case, we went to a buffet-style restaurant known as Vichy's.

Once we got some food on our plates, we started talking, which wasn't easy with all the noise, since everybody else was celebrating too. My sister compared the current meal with a bad restaurant experience she had. (Reminiscent of a horror story) She and her husband's side of the family had dinner reservations at 7:00, and sat down ready to order. Only, they had trouble getting the waiter's attention. Every time they waved at anybody passing by, they would either ignore their raised hands or have their backs turned.

An hour later, long past their breaking point, a waiter finally noticed them, and was in the process of taking their order. My sister had long since memorized which parts of the menu she wanted, having had puh-lenty of time to think about what to eat. Then only thirty minutes later, the waiter came back and asked "what did you order again?"

Her husband was upset with the waiter's ineptitude and demanded to see the manager immediately. (his sister was equally furious, because she was paying for a babysitter on an hourly rate) After meeting with the man in charge and giving his complaint, the manager apologized profusely, had their meals served immediately, and gave them a 50% discount to make up for their discomfort.

So they finally got their meal an hour and a half after they'd first arrived at a price reduction. The food was delicious, but the service was atrocious. Their only saving grace was that they filled up the guests with plenty of bread & butter and refilled their water glasses. Compared to that, Vichy's was a Godsend.

I can understand their frustration, since I've had bad experiences with restaurants as well. For my last birthday, I was given a surprise for going out to eat with a friend of mine. However, the location that was chosen just happened to be the one day that all the nearby restaurants were closed. Finding a nearby alternative wasn't easy, since I'm quite finicky about seating and lighting conditions, and can be quite unpleasant and grumpy if things aren't to my satisfaction. But since it was my birthday, everybody was willing to give me benefit of the doubt. I finally settled for a place that had lamb chops on the menu, since I'd never had them before. However, this turned out to be a poor choice, since there were more bones than meat on the plate. I could barely take a bite without risking denting my teeth.

In addition, the waitress was quite rude with her service, demeaning our menu selections, and venting barely repressed hostility at our reasonable requests as torturous labors that had to be done against her will. (I had to have this pointed out to me, since this flew over my head unnoticed) Despite the letdown, I didn't feeling too bad about it. I'd already braced myself up for disappointment, since the days of my birthdays have regularly become less than enthusiastic rituals where I just have to survive throughout the day. However, things might be different this year, since we may be going back to Vichy's.

Normally, buffets are looked down upon because the quality of their food and selection is inferior and sub-par at best. But Vichy's is different. They have a wide range of choices and multiple varieties of multiple meals. And such choices. (There's a partial list of what's available further down) In addition, the trays are constantly rotated so that the food is always steaming and fresh. Most other buffets just leave their foods lying under the lamp until the supplies run out and are replaced with a newly cooked batch, but Vichy's doesn't even bother to wait until the trays are empty. Sometimes they'll be replaced even when they're not even half-eaten. In addition, there's a section devoted to slabs of meat that can be sliced with the help of a nearby assistant who's always on hand to peel off a thin layer for your convenience. That's not even counting the desert side, which has a variety of cut cakes on allumnum boards or single-serving plates, cartons of ice cream, jell-o bricks and chocolate and vanilla mousse.

I prefer going to buffets instead of restaurants for several reasons. One is that I don't have to wait for my turn in line for a waiter to come and take my order, then wait again while my meal is being prepared - I can just simply walk up and pick whatever's to my liking. Two - continuing off from the first one, I don't need to concern myself on the name of the food I'm eating. One of my
in trying new things on the menu is that I'm always worried that I won't like what I ordered. I could be choosing something that SOUNDS tasty, but because menus don't have pictures of the foods they're offering, and assume their customers are knowledgeable about their choices, I always wind up chickening out and choosing something that sounds safe and familiar to me. Why waste perfectly good money on something I won't like? (I once ordered rigatoni, thinking it was ravioli, but it turned out to be the round noodles, instead of the stuffed noodles I wanted)
But with buffets, I can choose any food from the tray without having to worry about paying a full meal for a sample that I might wind up hating in the first place.

Of course, this brings the downside of having such a large selection of food - I'm spoiled for choice, and I want to sample everything, so I usually wind up throwing up because I've eaten too much. (Having desert doesn't help either) In the past, I tried to limit my barfing rituals outside, but continuously failed. I've been told multiple times to "slow down and enjoy your meal", but I find it so hard to implement this seemingly simple method of cleaning my palate.  I simply eat whatever looks good until my stomach feels full, then wash it down with a little water, walk around a bit to get the ol' circulation going, and go to the bathroom to burp in peace. Once I start feeling a little better, I make room for chocolate mousse. This usually has the result of reguriating the contents of the meal in the car or on the restaurant floor, where I try to look as inconspucious as possible, and failing. Especially since my hands can barely contain the amount of chocolate-covered tasty puke that pours out of my mouth.

Lately, I've tried to keep a handle on my eating habits so that instead of taking large portions of every tray, I instead took maybe one or two samples of each, piled them up on my plate until it was full, then ate them one at a time while mentally registering which items I liked, which items I really liked, and which ones to avoid.

On that day, I had the following (in no particular order);

Slice of pizza
half a lasagna
two tortellinis
two small sausages
one large sausage
crab cream sauce, combined with
linguini noodles
onion rings
squid rings
fried potatoes
fried shrimp
veal (I think)
chicken leg
prime rib (damned tasty!)
french fries

Once I'd tasted everything that I was interested in, I went back and had larger portions of the stuff that caught my attention. Even though I tried to keep my pace, I practically inhaled the contents down my mouth. I'm constantly being told to slow down and enjoy my food, but I find it so difficult to take my time. The only exceptions are where I've got something to read, or when I'm employing the Counselor Troi method of eating chocolate.

However, when it comes to slow eating manners, my dad is the King of that particular realm. His breakfast rituals are a lesson in zen patience. First, he'll take out his various fruits out of the refrigerator, then cut them up into a bowl, while having coffee brought to a boil. Then he'll select various sections arranged precisely onto a bowl, which he'll laboriously custom to his meticulously designed pattern to be positioned while poring over a newspaper. This usually takes several trips from the kitchen to the table before he feels satisfied. Finally, once everything is in place, he'll sit down to eat.

Then he'll go back to the microwave, because his coffee's gotten cold.

This happens ALL THE TIME. It's not unusual for a typical breakfast to take over two hours (or more) to complete. Longer if he's poring over the newspaper, since he'll read a sentence, take a bite of toast, re-read the sentence to make sure he didn't misread anything, then start chewing his toast. Then once he's finished, he'll get up and rinse his plates or bowls, then sit back down to eat another item on another plate. It wouldn't be so bad if he stayed in one spot to eat his meal, but rather, it's his constant getting up and adding new items that infuriates me. I'm like, "why don't you get all your stuff ready and eat everything in one go?" It would normally take me half an hour or less to go through what the man does, and I'd get to finish the paper even faster.

As much as it infuriates me, it's actually kind of admirable. Taking your time to taste the food you're chewing (which is the proper way to eat food) is something of a lost art. Especially in a culture that emphasizes shoveling portions down our throats as fast as humanly possible, and slow cooking meals are dismissed in favor for fast foods that're easier to consume.

But it still drives me up the wall.