Japan Days 11 and 12: Ikebukuro and Akihabara

I’m going to combine some days of exploration (mainly places like Akihabara and Ikebukuro) because it’s difficult to separate them.

First there was breakfast at the host family’s house.


And then waiting for the bus.


We started with Ikebukuro, and we were there early but on Saturday morning–and that was our first mistake. There were huge crowds everywhere, of the teenaged variety.

But at least they lock their smokers together in cages:


It’s a forward thinking place with loads of American food…


Ikebukuro houses Sunshine 60, a huge shopping complex with 60 floors. The 60th floor is a 360 degree observatory area that you can pay to look out from. But the elevator…it’s the Shinkansen of elevators. Our ears popped as we rode it!


Aubri was asleep, so we didn’t actually go out on the observation deck. We just rode up and down.

Once back down, we set out to the task for which we were in Ikebukuro…the giant An!mate store that is possibly the largest anime store in the world, and also a couple of manga stores specializing in doujinshi (fan drawn manga).

From An!mate we acquired a huge headache, two hours of losing each other, and a couple of boxes of Final Fantasy Creatures. I got Alexander. Twice. The FFVIII version and the FFXIII version. Seriously.

It took us a bit of wandering, but we finally found Mandarake, our favorite store. It’s actually just a few doors down from the old location of the An!mate store, but it’s hard to locate because it’s inside a basement floor reached only by a deep winding staircase. Seriously. We spent a good amount of time perusing, but we could barely breath inside because of all the teenaged girls. They have lots of quality items from 200jpy, though, and by far it’s the cheapest place to go.

Nearby is KBooks, but we were afraid to venture in with the crowd. We DID make it to An!mate (the big one), though.

Nearby, a few quirky signs:

(RolePlaying Cafe)


(Japanese Grumpy Cat Cafe)



And Aubri met some mascots:




We had some kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi, but Jamie and Aubri weren’t impressed by the selection. The place we will go later, in Minami-Senju station, is much less expensive and much tastier.

We also passed some BakudanYaki!


After sheer exhaustion settled into our feet, we headed back home for the night. The next day we ventured out into Akihabara…which might seem like madness on a Sunday (and actually is, if you think about it). Akihabara is home to Electric Town, a place where you can find parts and gadgets for maybe less than they would be normally. It’s like Made In China Ebay, but at a flea market. But Akihabara also is internationally famous for all the anime shops.

On Sunday they close some of the streets to cars so that only pedestrians can cross. The result is a swirling vortex of mostly non-Japanese Otaku mixed with lots of Lolitas and other craziness… All concentrated in a 6 block by 6 block radius.

The last time we were here we got REALLY lost looking for a host club targeted toward girls called Queen Dolce. This time we found Queen Dolce while looking for a used cosplay store called Jupiter.


Jupiter was OK, but very creepy and packed with almost strictly obscure female costumes (not just for women, but female characters). Add to it the very creepy old guy working there who looked pretty annoyed to be seeing us, and it wasn’t someplace I would recommend for the sewing disinclined.

However, beneath it is a collector store with old figures and sets. I got the Secret of Mana for PS1 collector set (sans the game, alas) for 300jpy. The figures and music box are cool.


We wandered into a department store afterward and found these essential convention survival kits:

Also this was in the window of an Adult Shop, being advertised as extra sexy. Wait, what?


Oh, and this thing…


We went inside virtually every anime and hobby store in this 6 block radius, seeking Final Fantasy action figures among other things. We finally found *one* Lightning from Lightning Returns, and wound up acquiring it. I probably could have paid the same $80 (7910 yen, to be precise) on Amazon, but I can’t tell if the one they carry is the big size.

I also picked up a couple moreĀ Final Fantasy Creatures packs. I got the Bomb and another Alexander, alas.

Aubri decided we needed more pictures of her…


We found a duck while wandering around the Electric Town area looking for friends…


Gave up on the friends and went back to Queen Dolce (which doesn’t open until 4pm). Basically it’s a small, quiet little place where the girls wear men’s clothes and talk in their version of deep voices instead of high pitched “cute” voices. To be in the cafe you have to buy at least a drink an hour. We ordered their “original blend” tea and a caramel latte, as well as waffles with ice cream.


Aubri proceeded to adopt one of them and ran her ragged for the next 50 minutes or so. It was adorable, and we talked her into letting us take a picture (normally not allowed)


We trudged back toward the station, feet aching. Aubri wanted another cameo.


We found a “Victorian pub”



And then we stopped by the Gundam Cafe on our way out.


Fist bump the Gundam…


Had to get a Gundam-shaped taiyaki of course.


And then it was time to go home…seriously. And for the next day: Tokyo Disney Sea!




Relationships and Video Games And Women in Both

Today’s post has a more roundabout path to relationships, because it’s going to be a lot more about the game I am playing right now than relationships, at least in the beginning. I’ll get to the point, bear with me.

Remember Me is a new (ish) game released by Capcom for PS3, Xbox and PC (the last via STEAM). It came out in June and, despite being a Capcom game, I heard absolutely nothing about it until another friend pointed it out to me. GameSpot gives it 7 out of 10, and I’m actually offended by those reviews, for reasons I will get to. Spoiler alerts for some of the game, by the way…

The game is set in 2084, wherein the currency is memory and people have been trussed up with devices that allow others to “tap in to” (or exploit) their memories. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the Matrix, except everyone knows it’s happening and the memory alteration is causing a lot of people to become vicious menaces to society. The star character is Nillin, a woman who has lost all of her memories but used to be a total badass and gradually remembers that badassery as the story progresses.
Now, I am only about 1/3 of the way through the game. It has a play style very similar to Uncharted, with lots of jumping and solving weird little puzzles (except so far, the biggest puzzle is how to defeat certain enemies). Unlike Uncharted, the fighting is almost 100% martial with a few gadgets on Nillin’s arm to make fighting robots easier.

Nillin herself is like if you crossed Kate Beckett from Castle with Chloe Frazer from Uncharted(including the gorgeous accent)–except that she has yet to express any interest in the hoards of male characters who seem determined to woo her, direct her, or just generally degrade her image by calling her all kinds of disturbing things while you fight them. On the other hand, Remember Me has several female villains, including one Madame who dresses like a NeoVictorian supervillain in a postmodern era, carries a walking stick and says soothing things like “Worship me!” “I am your goddess!” “I’m so glad you came back to me!” and so on… Aside from having a clear goddess complex, the character obviously has bisexual tendencies (she says these things to everyone) and really wants Nillin back–of course, Nillin’s not big on captivity.

In general, the game itself is beautiful. Nillin wears an interesting costume that is mostly jeans with some cyborg boots and an arm graft, but aside from insanely tight pockets across the butt, it’s way less high fantasy/sci-fi than your usual awkward clothing. And for the record, the male characters all wear either creepy coats or skin tight getup a la Avengers.

Which brings me to the real point of this review, and the reason I’m frustrated with Gamespot (and Capcom). I never heard about this game, and it got consistently bad reviews, because it stars a female character in her own right. Even the super villains (so far) are a married couple, and the wife is the CEO. He just fiddles with gadgets like a kept man. Gee, that sounds like a recipe for some role reversal. So why aren’t we hearing about this game? By contrast, Uncharted 2 scored 9.5. The play style is extremely similar, and frankly Remember Me is more challenging because if you lose health you actually die. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Uncharted. But Remember Me is also more seamless and virtually bug-free so far. The combos take a little getting used to, but they are customizable and totally fun to play around with. So why the low reviews? Why do the reviewers complain about the restrictive environment in one game when they had no complaints about it in the other game? Uncharted doesn’t let you wander around, get lost, go anywhere they don’t want you to go. And both games are relatively short (although I think I have more play time on Remember Me)…

The Guardian had a fabulous write-up recently on women in video games. The Mary Sue also had an article on selling to women. My theory is that our game companies (except maybe Square with Lightning in the latest Final Fantasy games) have failed to recognize that women want the same things men want–we want cool games, we want strong characters with some kind of guiding strengths and compass, and we want them to have similar body parts to our own. We want to be excited to let our daughters play video games.

For the record, Aubri usually doesn’t like watching me play the more gritty games–they aren’t colorful enough for her. But the sound track and voice acting for this one are compelling enough to keep her attention in my lap.

Now, on the actual relationship part of this… I really have to portion out my gaming time because Jamie hates it when I spend hours playing video games. If Aubri will play with me, though, it really helps. Maybe this is part of the reason fewer women play hardcore games–their spouse expects them to be taking care of everything at home instead of playing games. Thoughts?