Picture conan_lupin_sansei.jpg When I last wrote that entry on the many shortcomings of Japanese mangas, my original intent truly was to follow it up shortly with my own recommendations, or at least observations, as a skeptical, yet sincere newcomer to the genre…

The fact that it took me three months to get to it, is a testament to the sad state of affairs of this industry (and my own sorry ass’ inability to get anything done when not threatened at gunpoint). Actually, the decision to start reading mangas is an old one, one that arose around the time I woke up one day and realized I could suddenly understand Japanese (すっげぇ〜!日本語を喋れるよ!さああ、僕は貝が好きなの・・・). Well, alright: understand might be pushing it a bit, but I’ve been known to conduct reasonably flawless weather-related conversations with my neighbours: a major improvement from my arrival on Japanese soil, where my vocabulary was essentially limited to three Japanese words, one of which I cannot repeat on this site unless you can testify you are over 18 and click here.

Thing is: drunken conversation with Samurai friends did and still does wonders to my verbal skills, I can pull off a semi-decent everyday-Japanese provided it stays on the topic of whose turn it is to pay the next round, or monosyllabic expressions of my appreciation for miscellaneous types of music or other artistic works. Anything slightly off the beaten path usually gets me nodding complacently until I somehow manage to catch a few words that could clue me in on whatever it is we are talking about. Similarly, that whole level-of-speech issue has not been getting any better: you know things are bad when your friend – who has just chugged half a gallon of rum directly off the bottle – kindly worries about your use of excessively colloquial expressions.

Horizons have to be widened and grammar needs improving dramatically.

Hence: Mangas

First, because books are convenient: you can study them anytime, anywhere and by yourself; they do not require a language exchange partner who will be either convinced you are hitting on her, or actually hitting on you (and yea, the feminine form here has a purpose: just check the number of candidates for language exchange in English or French out there and their repartition by gender).

Also because, taking my cue on the local upcoming generations, I cannot read kanjis for shit. Which rules out most magazines and daily newspapers. Some magazines are not that hard – possibly even below my level – but there are only so many times you can read about the latest news on panty thieving activities, detailed voyeuristic recounts of schoolgirl groping-related arrests or nampa tips, straight from the pros (the gist of which can usually be found in all its quaint alliteration-riddled English translation glory on the Mainichi’s website).

As for regular books, real literature, eternal classics of the Japanese masters: try opening an original Mishima volume for laughs, just once. I swear, that guy uses kanjis even my dictionary has never heard of.

Mangas, on the other hand, rarely make use of overly elaborate kanjis, yet can cover a wide array of situations and lexical fields, all along offering saucerplate-eyed visual clues of the ongoing story. Additionally, most have furiganas for part or all of the kanjis used (depending on the target age for the series).

Let’s stop here for a slightly tedious digression that you may want to skip if you know anything about the Japanese language and the black magic art known as reading it:

As you may know, Japanese is written using both kanjis (roughly 1000 to 2000 different ones for basic books and newspapers) and two syllabaries known as kanas. A syllabary is similar to an alphabet, in that each character represents a sound, but unlike, say, the latin alphabet, Japanese kanas each match a full sound (“ma”, “mi”, “mu”, “mo”, “ra”, “ri”, “ro” etc). Each syllabary contains 80-some characters and is usually the first thing anybody will learn when studying Japanese.

In theory, every Japanese word could be spelled using only kanas (and thus easily readable by anybody with reading abilities above kindergarten level). This is quite convenient in cases like computer interfaces, where words are typed using kanas, before being turned into kanjis through some menu selection or such. In practice, though, most people (yours truly, included) will find it incredibly tedious to read a text written entirely using phonetic kanas (remember that Japanese doesn’t separate words either). For texts meant to be readable by kids or sufficiently important not to take a chance with the odd illiterate countryman, a compromise is found by writing both the kanji and its kana spelling alongside. These kanas are usually written in a smaller font above (when writing horizontally) or to the right (when writing vertically) of the kanjis they explain. They are called furiganas and will make the most arcane reading accessible to the casual reader.

One important reason to love furiganas, especially for foreigners, is that if you encounter a kanji you are unfamiliar with, you will probably want to look it up in a dictionary… Which is infinitely easier to do if you actually know how to pronounce it.

It is still possible to look up both meaning and reading of an unknown kanji by using a method known as “multiradical lookup”, relying on the number of strokes and a few recognizable components of the whole ideogram. Even if with a bit of habit and the right tools, multiradical searches can be done fairly fast, they are considerably more annoying to conduct than regular phonetic lookups.

End of digression

Finding readable materials…

First off, let me officially declare Geek Week closed for good: no more stuff about databases, microformats and other cool pet projects, for a while.

Instead, I’m gonna bring a crowd pleaser to the important part of my readership who is currently saving on their weekly imported Poki consumption, to fulfill their teenage wet-dream of a pilgrimage to the fantasy land they have come to associate with Japan in their head. I know they’ve been reading ever since their google search for “japanese upskirt pictures” or “pokemon furry porn” got them here.

Today’s topic is: Manga.

Mangas can be summed up approximately thus: they suck. They suck big hairy giant mutant robots balls.

Now I know I’m causing a lot of grief among the otaku crowd here. At least those who haven’t already gone back to humping their pillows dolls or building that lifesize gundam robot…

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Nevermind that he wrote the all-american novel and was the icon of a generation…

One, and only one thing makes F. Scott Fitzgerald the coolest writer there ever was:

He married a girl named Zelda.

If anybody reading this was legally given the name Zelda at birth, please contact me: I think I may have to marry you right now.

I thoroughly hate internet “memes”. In fact, I even hate the cheap bastardization of an interesting, yet mostly unrelated, word in order to give some sort of legitimacy to what is, in fact, nothing more than a 21st century take on the braindead chain letter thing, mixed in with a bit of “glad you asked, let me tell you all about myself” blogger hubris.

However, Bunny asked. Soon to be joined in the peer-pressure effort by our favorite bible-reading cosplay freak. And I can’t decently turn a cold shoulder on them without justifiably being labeled a stuck-up killjoy. Plus I do need a diversion from coding and who can resist a bit of self-serving writing every once in a while (all right: not like this whole blog is anything else in the first place).

So here goes… Expect a rather freestyle approach to the whole meme-answering thing, though.

Since this one was asked in French and it’s been a while: I doubled the effort and made a bilingual post.

Je hais profondément les “mêmes” internet. En fait, je déteste même la récupération douteuse d’un terme au sens complètement différent, pour désigner une tradition qui doit beaucoup plus aux stupides chaînes de lettres du siècle dernier, doublées d’une bonne dose de narcissisme, qu’à une quelconque transmission dans l’inconscient collectif de concepts auto-propagateurs.

Néanmoins notre Bunny helvète préférée a gentiment demandé, suivie par un certain geek neurosé. Je pouvais difficilement refuser sans passer pour un pisse-froid…

Je cède donc à la pression, et vous présente en exclusivité le premier et dernier “même” à jamais paraître sur ce blog. J’ai néanmoins pris de grandes libertés avec le format.

Vous noterez aussi, je l’espère, l’effort inhabituel pour répondre en français.

There is only one thing on which I really stock up while in Europe: Books.

Everything else, albeit at ludicrous prices, can be found in Tokyo.

All right, maybe not exactly everything else, but I keep a wild ferret and two gerbils on crack sitting by my computer, specially trained to go straight for the groin and bite off my nuts in a split second, were I ever to stoop low enough to make a single joke on the size of Japanese prophylactics on this blog, so we’ll leave it at that.

In fact, even foreign languages books are easy to come by in Tokyo. Some for less that Japanese ones; as German, French, Italian and Spanish books can all be borrowed freely at their respective cultural embassies. Ironically, most of the books I buy here are by Japanese authors.

If you think about it, it’s easy to see why: my current level of written Japanese barely allows me to decrypt my emails (painfully so, when the witch sending them has drawn some evil glee from purposely using utterly rare kanji forms wherever english katakanas would have done just fine). On the other hand, attempting to read Mishima and his astronomical kanji vocabulary would be as entertaining as taking on the dictionary in alphabetical order.

Busy is a pale euphemism to describe the current chaotic state of my life right now.

If I tell you I am currently a full-time music producer and arranger, full-time VoIP server architect and full-time applied mathematics student, you might get an idea of what I mean. And there is no mistake in the previous sentence: the word full-time is purposely used three times because I am very much supposed to be doing each of these occupation full-time. Which is kind of a problem given that Earth rotation period seems to be stalling around 24 hours these days. Factor in my current involvement with WordPress development as well as my attempts to keep an appearance of social life by making regular expeditions with friends to nasty local watering holes where we proceed to get absolutely plastered on cheap sake… and you have a mathematical impossibility the likes of which even Gödel would give up on.

Since there are only so many hours of sleep you can remove from your daily schedule before permanent psychosis sets in (I mean, real psychosis, not the milder form of borderline psychopathic behaviour I usually retreat to on a good day), and since I also decided that food could not safely be removed from my daily essential needs, I had to cut down on other activities. As a result, my news readings has long fallen from many hours of intense paper scrutinizing, down to a 30 second scan of my RSS feed list and a few occasional glances at online news articles, every other week… As for TV: I have barely ever watched it in my life and the only TV set of the house is currently stored in my roommate’s room where neither of us ever turn it on, so it isn’t much of an issue.

So we can safely say that I know close to nothing about the big (and small) events of the world these days, except for the rough outline (Bush has not yet declared martial law in the US, Ishihara still hates foreigners and Tokyo maintains a precise average daily temperature of: “very hot”)…

Hell, for all I know, the War of the Worlds has already begun and I am talking (writing, really, but anyway) for a bunch of unmanned computers sitting atop the ashes of what used to be the proud western civilization, while Godzilla is busy fighting evil alien spaceships off the coast of Japan.


The French tend to consider that, in order to become a talented writer, one has to spend their days in smoke-filled cafés, possibly while drinking oneself blind on exotic liquors.
Americans think the secret to becoming a good author lies in bullet lists of writing techniques and prestigious writing classes.

I am no writer (understatement if there ever was one), but something tells me they are both dead wrong.

Then again, I do not think Dan Brown is much of an author, to say nothing of the hordes of navel-gazing, bored & boring, Parisian writers who persists in trying to give their worst second-class Bret Easton Ellis rendition every single year… So what do I know…