This week has been hectic.
The program I'm in (Children's Entertainment) is putting together a half-hour webisode (I know that sounds rather uncommon but there's a long story to it) to be released every week, for a total of 5 episodes.
Filming for Episode 1 just finished today, and by golly was it one heck of a roller coaster ride for everyone.
More notes about that sometime soon.

So, today let's talk about a little bit about Nintama Rantarou.
Nintama Rantarou is a long-running 10minute short tv animation series that's been around ever since I was little. It focuses on three 10-year-old boys who are ninjas-in-training at a school specifically for training ninjas. It's very kid-friendly, and the original comics are also running to this day and are popular as well.

It can be cheesy, it can be corny, but there's a lot of heart and good morale, thanks to NHK (Japan's public broadcaster). I mean, it's a very solid show, so well-loved by a wide audience range with a secure fanbase (child and adult alike).

I stumbled upon the opening credits video on the internets a while back and I've been hooked since. Well, back to it after a long hiatus. I grew up with it, then I was too cool for it, then for some reason in my senior year of high school I fell for it again, then forgot about it through my university years.
Now, I have remembered my love for this series.

What really appeals to me (and to the general audience, I believe,) is the never-changing child perspective. Of course there are a few adult-centric episodes, but the majority of them are focused on the child protagonists and their mishaps or troubles or adventures. They are never vessels for an adult agenda (or at least, it's very well calculated). And because it's an NHK program, there's that sense of security and safety, especially for people like me who grew up on NHK shows like Nintama Rantarou.

A unique thing is that this show is set in the Muromachi period, a time in Japan feudal wars and such were not uncommon - the school for ninjas indicate a demand for ninjas who infiltrate and take down enemy bases. Essentially, a school for violence (as North American ethics would put it). Kids handle firearms and blades and stuff themselves - the younger students will have teachers supervising, but many of the upper-years will be seen walking around with guns and snakes and shuriken (throwing knives). This would never be seen in North American TV...
As a child-oriented anime series, battles are depicted in ways that makes it clear they are 'dangerous', but not so to outright threaten the audience. But through the episodes that deal with the ongoing battles all over the place (which are sparse and far-between), it tells a story about ethics and morale and good character without being overbearing or patronizing.
On the other hand, one of the protagonists, Kirimaru, is clearly stated that he is an war orphan, and that he stays with a teacher during the holidays. But rather than making his story sad and melodramatic, it shows Kirimaru always very positive and very eager to live through anything (portrayed through his intense and excessive obsession towards money).

The series is actually very layered (moreso in the original manga) and sometimes even quite challenging, but overall it is very safe and appropriate for children (5-10) to watch.
I really think this show is a gem. It's such fun to watch, and really, isn't that what's important?


What spring means

I've been thinking lately about spring. Yes, it's getting warmer and the days are longer (curse you, daylight savings thing that makes us lose an hour).

But it's more than that.

I mean, firstly, there is the earthquake from 2011. March makes us feel (well, I feel) very somber and conscious about life.
The theme of life and death, sadly enough, fits in with the season.
Japan has the tradition of ending the school/fiscal year in March, and so spring is associated with the end of something as much as the start of something new. It's when everything changes. Graduation season starts around late February, and schools and new recruits in companies start their year in late March-early April. Sure, there are happy things like cherry blossoms, the flower viewing parties (called ohanami), and the sudden increase in pastel colored clothing on girls.
Spring is, in the end, a bittersweet season.

But here, in Canada, I feel something upbeat.
To roughly sum up what I've heard or overheard, spring is the anticipation of more warm weather, which means you can drink beer outside and do campfires and have barbecues. It's much more straightforward in enjoying the season and what it offers.
There's also Easter, which I don't get.

I don't even really know anymore what I wanted to say.
What I meant, I guess, is that spring isn't necessarily always a joyous thing. It makes you think, it can make you sad, it means the end as much as a start.
And maybe Japan has this thing about seeing beauty in sadness. Spring and cherry blossoms aren't just pretty, they're also inexplicably melancholic.

Maybe I'm just missing home, and the complexities and subtleties of the world I grew up in.


Some Sumo Rambles

I'm having a great time - it's March break - sleeping in a lot and playing semi-violent video games on my PSP for hours on end. By golly, I needed that time off.

Anyway, since I have this time, today I'll ramble a bit about sumo.

It was May of 2010, I was back in Japan for the summer, and I happened to be channel-surfing on the TV when I came across the sumo broadcast on NHK. And just like that, I was hooked.
(I was able to see that tournament just before it finished).
My relatives make this weird face and ask 'why do you like sumo so much when you're a woman in your 20s (apart from the fact that you're the family oddball)?'. And I can never succinctly say why or what really draws me, in Japanese. It's really weird, what I can express in one language but not in the other.

What draws me isn't just the homosocial, sexist, super closed-minded nature of the Sumo world (sorry, not hating on it I swear - it's just that kind of problematic tradition and culture...). It's more about the philosophy and abstract spirituality that grounds the sport, as much as it is about the live people who embody it in this age and time.
I guess it boils down to the spiritual. It's very fleeting, it's limited to that specific moment in time, between two people that an outsider can never truly understand. It's the performance, the art of playing the role that is a wrestler. And because it has such a spiritual (religious) backbone, the wrestlers at that moment is like a living representation of that spirituality. And I think that's fascinating.
Oh, and it's just really exciting, to see this one-on-one battle of wits, speed, and strength unfold right before your eyes. It's about two individuals, and the rest of the world does not matter to them. There's something so intriguing about a world you cannot enter.
Plus, I have got to admit, there's something beautiful and majestic in the whole ritual and performance surrounding the sport. It really is a big, wonderful performance.

What this all means is that I'm super jealous I can't go see the Osaka tournament. My recent favorites are Takayasu and Houmashou and Ami-tan (Aminishiki), but it's not for any real reason (I just happened to see them on TV or on the official internet streams). I JUST REALLY WANT TO GO SEE OK?
I'll get in to how it's awesome that sumo is getting back on track and stuff, but that will have to wait for another day.