Thursday, 23 July 2015

Post-Apocalyptia: Fragile, Metro, and Fallout, Part 1 - Introduction

Post-Apocalyptia: Fragile, Metro, and Fallout, Part 1
Introduction

What would you do if the world ended tomorrow?

What can you make? What skills do you have? Can you sew? Are you trained in first aid? Good at hunting? Can you fill out document requisitions in tripli – oh, wait, no.

To whom would you offer those skills? Your friends and family? A hardened corps of survivalists? Go it alone? Settle down in a frontier boomtown where you can trade meat for a new shirt or sex for some potatoes?

Would you lie to survive? Steal? Kill? Betray a friend or benefactor? Are some things more important than survival? Would you rather debase yourself and survive like a rat, or die with a shred of dignity? Would your moral code change to reflect your new circumstances, or is morality immutable? What should you try to accomplish? And what should humanity?

I love post-Apocalyptic fiction. Like cyberpunk, it combines high-pitched action with compelling philosophy. For whatever reason, three that stand out to me are the Fallout series, the Metro series, and the game Fragile (known as Fragile Dreams in the English translation). I was reading, playing and thinking about all of them around roughly the same time, and suddenly it all came together. Maybe it's a little strange that of all the post-Apocalyptic fiction in the entire world, I should draw a connection between these three in particular, but it somehow makes sense in my mind. The clincher is that each has a different country of origin, and appears to be among the best that country has to offer, so we can imagine that they represent each country's perspective on the genre. And since one of those countries is Japan, it luckily fits with my Japan-themed blog.

This series will explore some of the issues these works raise, comparing and contrasting their responses. If the fact that we're 308 words in and still doing the introduction hasn't given it away, I'll warn you now that this is going to be a dense, lengthy treatise. I'm still going to try to make it fun though, so if I haven't lost you yet, I think it's going to be a great ride.

Spoilers are unavoidable, but I will do my best to avoid major ones.

I hope this topic is as exciting for you as it is for me! Let's get started. In this first post, we will introduce the three franchises we'll be discussing.

Plot and Backstory

A Veteran Ranger of the New California Republic
Fallout takes place in the future, but not our future; history diverged directly after World War II. Instead of computers, science turned most of its attention towards the nuclear. Though weaponry was the obvious point, nuclear power made rapid strides, soon bound in reactors small enough to power a car, a suit of power armour, or even a rifle. This was all very nice until 2077, when, for reasons lost to history, the United States and China unloaded their missiles on each other. In a matter of hours, the two greatest civilizations on earth were destroyed, and possibly so too was the rest of the world; there's no way to know. The immediate damage was catastrophic and the long-term effects just as deadly, but pockets of humanity persisted through quick thinking or flukes of geography. Others took shelter in massive Vaults, supposedly designed to house a thousand residents until it was safe to emerge (though their true purpose was very different). Some Vaults re-opened just a few years later, others remained locked for a century or more, at which point Vault dwellers emerged into an unrecognizable world. The technology is a combination of Used Future and whatever can be cobbled together from any random materials at hand. In the new order, it's hard to say which is more dangerous: The environment, the mutated wildlife...or the survivors.

A heavy assault squad from the Fourth Reich braces
 for an attack by the communist Red Line faction
The world of Metro suffered a similar nuclear event in 2013, only this time people took shelter in the Moscow Metro, either fleeing there when they heard the sirens or having the good fortune to be commuting when it happened. The world above is now uninhabitable, the pollution making it impossible to traverse without a gas mask, and the monsters making it inadvisable to do so without heavy weaponry. By 2033, outside threats are legion, resources are drying up, and yet all we want to do is fight and kill each other. On top of this, inexplicable supernatural forces run through the length and breadth of the Metro, and we are fast approaching a pivotal point in history that may decide whether the human race continues to scrabble onward or is extinguished once and for all.

The mysterious girl gazes at the moon
Fragile's apocalypse is a little more fantastical. Intriguingly, it came about from efforts to end war and misunderstanding. Using an invention called the Glass Cage, a mad scientist planned to form a psychic link between all human beings – similar to the “human instrumentality” concept in Evangelion. In this case, a single young girl, imprisoned in the Glass Cage, was to act as the conduit for all human thought and emotion, disseminated instantly across the world. Language, the scientist claimed, is insufficient for true understanding (an interesting point, and one that I also touched on in the Evangelion post), so this was the only true solution. But the results didn't mete out the theory, as instead of ushering in a golden age, the activation of the Glass Cage instantly killed nearly every human on earth. The plot concerns a handful of survivors and their need for human contact.

In exactly 10 words

Fallout: Wander the wastes and kill everyone – or don't.

Metro: Life underground, the cost of hubris, and agony of survival.

Fragile: The haunting beauty of what's left behind. Also, hitting things.

The coolest part

Fragile – The art direction. The small number of other characters to interact with forces the game to show, not tell.

Fallout – Besides the oddly appropriate mix of camp and dead seriousness, the ability to take sides. Nearly every major mission allows you to do the total opposite of what you're asked to do; if contracted to kill someone in a typical mission, you could instead warn them off, extract a bribe in exchange for letting them go, or even join forces against their enemy.

Metro – Daily life in the Metro. Fallout lets you visit shantytowns and whatnot, but Metro does a far better job of depicting the desperation, boredom, and sheer ingenuity that would really be in the offing in a situation like this.

A brief release history

This section is going to feel a little like filler, but I think it's important to do a quick rundown of the franchises we'll be dealing with, just to make sure we all know what the hell we're talking about.

Fallout 2 cover art
Fallout is a series of mainly PC games going back to 1997, when the first installment came out. Next year, Interplay published the sequel, Fallout 2. Fallout 3, however, did not come out until 2008, after Bethesda purchased the rights. Bethesda subsidiary Obsidian developed a sequel, Fallout: New Vegas, released in 2010, and Fallout 4 was released in 2015. These five games comprise the U-canon of the Fallout franchise, but there are two others considered to be “broad strokes canon.” The first is the original version of Fallout 3 developed around 2000 by Black Isle Studios, known coloquially by its working title, Van Buren; if you hear people talking about the “real” Fallout 3, this is what they mean. There is also a game called Fallout Tactics that lies in this same category, as well as a couple of other titles that are non-canon and which we won't be taking into consideration. Many of the games take place decades apart, with a 116-year difference between Fallout 1 and Fallout: New Vegas, so the world's history has developed along with the franchise's.

Metro: Last Light cover art
Russian author Dmitri Glukhovsky first published the novel Metro 2033 in 2005. In 2009, he released a sequel, Metro 2034, which takes place in the same universe but features mostly different characters. Metro 2033 was adapted into a video game a year later, published by THQ and developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games; a direct sequel to that game, Metro: Last Light, was released in 2013. Glukhovsky wrote the story for Last Light, and in the process found he had more ideas than could be contained in a game, so he took the plot, added to it, and wrote Metro 2035 for 2015. So, yes, 2035 is a direct sequel to 2033, but it's also a book based on a game that was a sequel to a game based on a book. Brilliantly, it was also first serialized in a newspaper that is only sold within the Moscow Metro.

Fragile cover art
Fragile is a video game developed by tri-Crescendo and published by Bandai Namco, released in 2009 for the Wii. So that one's easy.

(This information accurate to 2015. More stuff may have been released depending when you're reading this. I'm sure not updating the post every single time something new comes out.)

Gameplay

Fragile is arguably the simplest game we're looking at here, but only because the focus is on exploration above all else. Actually, the main mechanic is just stalking around the ruins of train stations and hotels, waving your flashlight at things (in a nice touch, the Wii remote is your flashlight, so you just point where you want to look, allowing you to survey your surroundings on the fly). There is some amount of combat, rather more than I would have liked, actually, but it's pretty crude. Your character carries a weapon in his left hand at all times, and it can be either a melee or distance weapon, and is basically anything he can find on the ground, like a stick, or a slingshot, or a bug-catching net. They have various properties, such as power and durability, and you can perform a Spin Attack-like charged strike, but it boils down to running up to something and whacking it. It's hardly a deep combat system, but perhaps that was intentional, as it's also rather easy, allowing the player to focus on the visual experience.

Fallout is notable for its extreme open-endedness in regards to problem-solving. If called upon to get past a guard in order to enter a building, you could simply murder him, but you could also bribe him, intimidate him, trick him into thinking you're his boss's boss, pickpocket his key, or find an alternate entrance, to name one example. The RPG elements aren't terribly robust, but they're strong enough to add some interest, as you gain new skills, equipment, and selectable “Perks” (for example, one Perk improves your shooting and another makes you more popular with the opposite sex...or, if you prefer, the same sex, or both!)

Metro is a first-person shooter. There is a heavy emphasis on stealth; although you can attempt to outgun your enemies, you are liable to become overwhelmed, and sneaking through an area without leaving any sign that you were ever there is far more satisfying. From time to time you'll holster your weapon to scurry around a town, interacting with the townsfolk and buying supplies for the next leg of your journey.

Characters

Seto and his companion Sai
Fragile casts you in the role of a 15-year-old boy named Seto. He was born into the post-Apocalypse and has lived his entire life with his grandfather in a stellar observatory, but when his grandfather passes away he is forced out into the world. Though understandably rather naiive, he is also both friendly and brave.

Artyom
Metro puts you in the shoes of Artyom, who lives in a small backwater station of zero interest to outsiders. Although Artyom's character arc is fairly simple, it is kind of fun to observe through the course of the two games. About 21 in 2033, he is sheltered and inexperienced, and can see no resolution with the dark ones except violence. In the sequel, however, he has become a skilled soldier for a major faction, and ends up on something of a quest to rectify his mistakes of the previous story.

Fallout 4's character creation
Fallout is, um...it's a little more complicated, because there are so many installments. Plus, your thinking and behaviour are thoroughly up to you, so it's hard to say what is or isn't true about the Fallout protagonists. However, each one has a definite overarching goal. It'll quickly recede into the background in the face of the reams of other plotlines and assorted distractions, but you never quite forget it's there.


That about wraps it up for the introduction. Next time we'll actually dig into the meat of the subject, as we discuss some of the major themes of these works.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Wired: "There will never another Kojima"

Yesterday Wired published an opinion piece on the state of the Japanese videogames industry, or as it used to be known, the video games industry. Primarily it's a reaction to the impending departure of Kojima Hideo, father of the beloved, decades-running Metal Gear series, from his patrons at Konami. The divorce has been in progress for a while so it's not new news, but the editorial is about Kojima's stepping down possibly signalling the end of an era in which Japanese video games were dominated by uninhibited auteurs whose vision dictated every new product. It's also wrong.

Ok, not completely. The cowboy era of video games has been over for a long time now, because it was the 1980s. Back then we weren't even sure of what a video game was, so experimentation wasn't just encouraged, it was unavoidable. The gradual transformation into a business model of high-budget, low-risk repeats, with a slew of barely distinguishable annual releases (looking at you, Call of Duty and Battlefield), has been thoroughly discussed, and in light of similar developments in other art forms, shouldn't have taken us so off guard. The parallels with, say, the film industry are pretty clear; you could make a case for both Citizen Kane and Ocarina of Time being titles that codified significant innovations that we now regard simply as fundamentals of the craft, with each occupying, on the macro scale, a similar spot in the timeline of the industry's maturation. So it follows that video games might echo film's trends towards the lowest common denominator.

This shift, of course, is precisely what has led to many big-name developers feeling creatively stifled. Most gamers' thinking seems to be that creativity is simply incompatible with corporations who care about nothing but the bottom line (as though corporations should be focussed on making charitable donations to struggling artists instead). To some extent maybe this is true, because business is about selling a lot of product, not birthing a high-quality product. Do you think the producers of Furious 7 are hanging their heads in shame because they made the horrifying mistake of greenlighting a movie in which Vin Diesel drives a supercar through a penthouse window, blasts through the sky and crashes into an adjacent building? No, they're congratulating themselves on an awesome job, because Furious 7 made 147 million dollars on opening weekend.

On the other hand, I don't think it has to be this way, either. I think a business is much stronger when its employees are proud to be a part of it, and when management truly believes in the company's mission and the product or service it offers. Plus, if we're trying to move as many units as possible, it makes sense to develop a high-quality product (especially with a video game; unlike quality parts in a machine, which cost more to manufacture, an engaging story or interesting art direction need not affect retail price).

Trouble is – every single time a developer tries something new, gamers ignore it. Every single goddamn time. People complain about how samey games are nowadays, and then when something different comes out they're not interested because it's too different. This is what has led to the current state of the industry, and it's really no surprise that many of its pioneers are striking out on their own. The editorial says, “Capcom's powerhouse producers Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil) and Keiji Inafune (Mega Man) are long gone. Tomonobu Itagaki (Ninja Gaiden) is no longer with Koei Tecmo.Castlevania chief Koji Igarashi left Konami last year.”

The article wants to point to this as a sign that the age of the Japanese auteur is over – but uh, no it's not. If anything this demonstrates that the age of the Japanese auteur refuses to die. When the creative types find themselves in an environment no longer conducive to what they want to do, instead of rolling over and churning out soulless remixes of last year's work just to cash a paycheque, they're changing the game...so to speak. One guy not mentioned is Sonic co-creator Naka Yuuji, who left Sega to form a studio called Prope. Its first game was a Wii title controlled solely by placing the Wii remote on a table and tapping it. The second one was about playing catch with strangers. These projects would never have seen the light of day at a big company, but by breaking off, Naka was able to dispense with the business management that had come to dominate his day-to-day, and get back to actually making games – and making the games he wanted to make.

We're walked through the recent director shuffle for Final Fantasy XV, which “previously was the domain of Square Enix's last remaining Big Name Director, Tetsuya Nomura. But after years of development hell, he quit (or was asked to quit) the project and replaced by upstart director Hajime Tabata.” It goes on to describe the tentative, almost crowdsourced development path he took, asking fans to review the demo and responding to their feedback.

This sounds like he's listening to his audience, but really it's a hesitance to take decisive action. I submit that this lack of a strong voice is something that has plagued the franchise for years, and it's a big part of why recent entries have been poorly received. Ok, yes, Final Fantasy fans are implacable hipsters who believe that the only “true” Final Fantasies are the ones they happened to play as a kid, but you kind of have to admit that the recent games are kind of a homogenized mess. They're so wrapped up in trying to recapture the spark of the old days that they verge on ripping themselves off. Ironically, Final Fantasy XIII seems to have been so polarizing because it did have a strong voice, owing to Toriyama's puppy love of protagnist Lightning. You could love it or hate it, but other recent Final Fantasies have tried to cater to the old fans and created only bland, sanitized imitations of the real deal. The editorial is absolutely correct in the claim that Final Fantasy is throwing away its top-down approach, I'm just not sure that's indicative of a trend. The only way for the franchise to survive, creatively, is to start taking a stronger stance again, even if some people won't like it.

But it's not just all that, though. The main thrust of the article is patently ridiculous. “It may not be a stretch,” it says, “to say that there will never be another Kojima, no one creator who holds such sway over a massive big-budget gaming enterprise. It's too expensive, too risky a business to be left up to the creative whims of a single auteur.” What? No. It is definitely too much of a stretch to say that, and for one very, very big reason. I'll get to him in a minute, but before I explain why the Japanese auteur is not financially dead, I'll give you an example of why he isn't spiritually dead, either.

That example is Suda51, not only one of my favourite creators of all time, but possibly the most auteur auteur, ever. His breakout hit, kil – well actually breakout isn't such a great word for it, because it was a commercial disaster. But the game that first brought him significant attention was killer7, in which you play as a disabled old man who physically transforms into his seven alternate personalities, all of whom are assassins. You get a new weapon from an angel, witness a lethal game of Mahjong, and fight a mutated cult leader whose weak point is his afro.

That was in 2005, and he's still making games. Actually, if you ask me his fame has worked against him – I couldn't possibly explain killer7 adequately, and if you're interested then you should play it blind anyway, but I'm trying to make it clear here that it was just an absolute peyote safari through the anime halls of government. Anyway, killer7 was known for being both weird and difficult to understand, and while he hasn't yet made something as complex, Suda51 has carried on with the weird. If you take a look back at his older projects, even the ones over which he had free reign, you can see that they were much more restrained. You could see this as him coming into his own and slowly overcoming a latent fear of breaking boundaries, but I'm not so sure.

I have a feeling that it may be a response to an expectation for weirdness, and that he couldn't make something more normal again even if he wanted to, because it would compromise his Suda signature. I'm still loving his work, I just fear he's accidentally typecast himself. Which is exactly the opposite that a creator known for breaking boundaries should be. John Grisham writes legal thrillers, and then one time he wrote a novel about a guy who goes to Italy to play American football. That's the kind of move I'd love to see from Suda51 – peculiar has become the norm for him. I'm not saying that he now needs to do a “normal” game just for balance, but it would be awesome to see him do something truly unexpected once again. Either way, even for the more standardish Suda titles, you can still hear his voice in every detail. The instant I boot up a new Suda game, I know it's a Suda game, and I feel as if we are having a conversation, as if, somehow, I have the slightest idea of what's on his mind or what he's like outside of interviews. That is an auteur.

So as to the claim that nobody can entrust the success of a product line to one single person?

The piece concludes: “To the extent [that third-party publishers] produce massive blockbusters at all, expect them to be designed by committee, crafted to alienate as few people as possible. If you want to be an auteur, you can do it on your own dime.” In other words, Nintendou and Sony can take creative risks that a company like Capcom just can't afford. The editorial mentions Nintendou's new relationship type deal with Tecmo Koei, but neglects to point out that it does, in fact, have at its creative helm the undeniably greatest video game creator to ever create video games. It's Miyamoto Shigeru, the father of Mario, Zelda, a dozen other series, and arguably the entire video games industry, because he was integral to the success of the NES and the NES saved gaming when everybody else had abandoned the “fad.”

Even if you've never played one of his games (unlikely), you've played one that's been influenced by them. That's because every game owes something to the progress he made, singlehandedly, back in the 80s. This is a man who built the fortune of a massive international company on the back of a plumber saving a princess from an ape. He took his childhood memories of exploring the woods behind his house and turned it into an epic quest to explore a mystical land and vanquish evil. He was gardening one day and thought, “Know what would be great, is a game where the whole thing takes place in a garden, except you're a crash-landed astronaut, and you grow an army of aliens who help you get things done.”


Sorry. Miyamoto has shown no sign of leaving Nintendou, and Nintendou is still going strong. As long as that's the case, I'd say the age of the Japanese video game auteur is in no danger.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Canyon

During my high school exchange, I saw some people online talking about the first Iron Man movie, which had recently been released. And my first thought was, “Iron Man? I don't even remember seeing trailers for – oh, right.”

Similarly, in a once-recent post by Stupid Ugly Foreigner, he laments the disconnect from English-language popular culture he suffers while living in China. This phenomenon is exemplified in Pharrell's “Happy,” of which he was utterly unware until long after it had already become entrenched in our cultural constitution. Now that I'm back in Canada, I'm facing kind of the opposite problem, and when I get back I'm going to have to relearn everything.

An example: The first time I heard Kyari Pyamu Pyamu's seminal "Pon Pon Pon," it had already been popular for months. In fact it's almost strange to me now to think that there ever was a time when I'd never heard it – it's so clearly ingrained in the cultural landscape of its era. To not know at least that much was to have no idea what a certain type of Japanese person was listening to at the time, and that shit was important to me. I leaped aboard that particular ship as soon as I saw it, and then throughout the rest of the year I managed to catch everything new as it bubbled up into the cultural consciousness of Japanese young people. Unfortunately I've now effectively lost all knowledge of what's trending back there, and it's going to take time to get back up to speed.

I can use the Internet to keep abreast of the latest vicissitudes in television and idol gossip, but that's a poor substitute for everday immersion because it's all through my own filter - limited, not "off the street," not necessarily bearing any relation to what's actually popular. Metroid, for example, is more popular outside Japan than within it. In the Korean's account of his tour of the South by Southwest music show in Austin, I read that he saw a relatively new Japanese loli group called Starmarie, who were supposedly the most popular Japanese singers going. Except that my immediate reaction was “Who the hell are Starmarie?” Sure enough, it turns out that they are indeed a popular Japanese idol group – in America.

So what, you may say. It's just movies and music and other meaningless bullshit. You might have a point. A mild de-syncing with cultural developments that will no longer be relevant a year from now might seem like a fairly minor loss. But remember that anime and music and dramas and everything else are all things I have a certain dependency on, because they're my primary means of studying the language. I am constantly on the hunt for new material to consume, integrating its knowledge into my biomass, mining it for not only new vocabulary and grammar but cultural tidbits and talking points. Without the constant, effortless exposure you get in Japan, I am forced to subsist on what I can scavenge from YouTube or d-Addicts.

Access to this stuff also affects my studying habits. I've always been a proponent of self-motivation – that is, if you really want to learn another language, you just do it, every day, or else adjust your expectations. That means that on a day when you come home from work or school, exhausted, depressed, and without the slightest desire to study, you clench your teeth and do it anyway. So it'd be idiotic to say that lack of access to Japanese pop culture adversely affects my study regimen, but easy access to it does positively affect it. You should always be able to force yourself to study, but a spoonful of heroin makes the medicine go down.

Also, though I have no pedagogical training, I feel like all the studying I do while in this “engaged” state is more effective. Perhaps I am simply more receptive at such times, and thus better able to absorb new vocabulary and constructions. Or perhaps even more simply, I just pay closer attention when I'm interested. Or maybe it's just my imagination. Anyway I'm not going to stop.

Finally, a big part of a country's contemporary cultural identity either stems from or is resolved in its media trends. I don't think that's too grandiose a statement. The plot twists in big TV shows get people talking. Artists use their media to communicate a deeper message. People will resort to the refrain of “relax, it's just a movie” for as long as movies continue to be made, but that's utterly and obviously wrong. Our art, even our for-profit art, is both informed by our shared cultural experience, and adds to it. It's important. It's not World War II-level historical significance, but you can't just discount it.

And again, for me, soft culture is a part of how I connect with Japanese people - knowledge of what's trending in their pop music and television is often a good ice-breaker. And how many friendships are born from mutual interests? The early conversation of practically any first encounter is spent searching out common ground. Obviously don't hinge your identities on what anime you like, because if you want to be interesting you have to be interesting in and of yourself. But I can't count the number of times I've inspired shock and delight for merely having heard of something Japanese. If nothing else it shows that you're receptive.


On the other hand, I guess if not being quite up on the latest moves and grooves is my greatest concern, as compared to somebody arriving with no knowledge of Japan or Japanese, maybe I'm doing all right. There'll be a brief period of adjustment, but in no time I'll be slinging timely observations and relevant pop culture references like anybody else. Now all I have to do is find a job, win the lottery, or earn the favour of the yakuza, and I'll be good to go.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

How to shower and bathe at other people's houses

I think we've all been there at some point or another. You can try to delay the deed until you're able to retreat to your own abode, but from time to time, you're gonna have to clean yourself at somebody else's house. Now if you're a foreigner in Japan, you could be spending a lot of time living off the kindness of people you know, like host families, friends, one-night stands, maybe even dinner hosts, and possibly whoever they shack you up with until they get your actual accommodation figured out.

Fortunately for you, I have a lot of experience living off others people's kindness. Here are some handy tips I've picked up over time.

Towels

You want to get this one out of the way right off the bat. Ideally, your host will think of that beforehand, but if not, you'd better ask before you shower, because afterwards you'll be naked and wet and not in any easy position to ask, especially if they're somewhere out of earshot. You have the option of just grabbing a hanging one at random if you like, depending on how close you are with the person in question and whether or not any old people live there too.

If you do forget and are left without recourse, you can use an item of clothing as a makeshift towel, especially if it's not something immediately necessary to your wardrobe, like if you've layered a couple of shirts or something. If it's winter, definitely use a shirt because you can keep it under your jacket and it won't freeze. If it's summer and you're in a dry climate, you can pretty much just put your clothes back on normally if you really want and they'll dry soon enough, but if it's humid, don't even try – you'll be sopping all day. Actually, you will be anyway, but this way it'll be even worse.

Taps

Again, preparation – remember to figure out how they work before you strip. That way, if you're absolutely baffled, at least you don't have to get dressed again before you can go ask for a demonstration. Once you've got it all worked out, you'll be ready to get naked, crank a knob until a stream of hot fluid bursts over your face and cascades down your chest, and exhale in ecstasy.

Some Japanese baths have an electronic control panel for the bath itself. You maybe shouldn't touch it. And actually it's probably set to the preferences of the owner(s), so you shouldn't touch it anyway.

Japanese bathing

As I'm sure you know, Japanese families all share a single dispensary of bathwater amongst them, which isn't emptied until everybody is done. Some people find Japanese bathing to be one of the best experiences available to humanity, but I've always been a little iffy about it, not because I have to bathe in other people's filth, but because I don't want to make them bathe in mine. You're not supposed to go in until you're spotlessly clean, and I just don't trust myself to be able to do that. Worse, as a guest you may be afforded the respect of bathing first.

Luckily, there's an easy fix: Just say that you would prefer a shower. Basically, you're just skipping the second half. You'll be clean, so it's not like you're being rude, and you can even invent a cultural explanation if you want. I've never had anybody insist I actually bathe, because that would be crazy. How would they check, anyway?

If you do decide to take the plunge, so to speak, obviously just be very thorough. Wash everything twice. Wash all the places you usually don't bother with (you have some, don't lie to me). When you're done the bath should be a basin of crystal clear water and nothing else. In practice even the Japanese sometimes accidentally shed detritus, but if you do, you just know it'll be because you're a foreigner and not because you're a human being, so scan carefully for any stray dirt or hair and scoop it out with your hand. There's a grate in the floor you can drop it down.

The bucket

You can use this to pour water over your head, or as a little stool. I like to just sit on it and douse myself with the jet.

Shampoo and soap

One abiding principle: Honestly, they're letting you use their shower. You really think they're gonna get offended if you swipe some of their shampoo?

On the other hand, if you're having trouble with the shampoo, you don't have to wash your hair, you know. And also try to be at least a little careful that you're using your friend's (or whoever's) stuff if possible, rather than their roommate's or something. That's just called respect.

However, the preceding rule can be safely ignored if there is both bar soap and liquid soap. In that case use the liquid no matter whose it is, because which would you rather be rubbing all over your body? Liquid is better for everybody. If there's only bar though, it's not a big deal, it's not going to hurt you, because, you know, it's soap. It does the opposite of that. But! If you're still not comfortable, check to see if there's a liquid hand soap you can grab off the sink. Works fine. I only ever used hand soap during my last study abroad. Cologne once said “I picked up some more hand soap for you to shower with.”

In a pinch, shampoo or conditioner can also be used as soap – it's not as effective, but it's all cleaning agent. Just make sure to wash it all off or it can dry out your skin and leave a painful rash.


These are just a few simple shower hacks to help you with your stranger showering experience. Got a tip of you own? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Kanadajin Tales! Everyone Rude Boy knows is inappropriate

Cute upbeat smiley young blonde Mormon missionary: Do you have a belief in Jesus Christ?
Rude Boy: Uh, no, I haven't.
Missionary: (ridiculously perky) Why not?!

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History teacher: And another theory is that neckties are supposed to point the way to your crotch. I purposely wore a necktie today, and you can see how it does, in fact, point to my crotch. Now in case I get in a car accident today, I don't want your last memory of me to be of me talking about my crotch, so I'm going to say a couple more things.

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Rude Nephew: So I think my friend Jim knocked some girl up again.

*

History teacher: There are so many ridiculous kitchen gadgets in this day and age. You don't need an avocado peeler. I got news for you, you already have an avocado peeler, it's called a knife.

*

Stopping for gas late one night, I noticed a bunch of thuggish young men surrounded by the type of young women who hang out with thuggish young men, crowding around the door. Then I got closer and heard them speaking in Russian. My kneejerk reaction was to calm down immediately, because, oh, foreigners, ie harmless and friendly. Not sure what that says about me.

*

Female friend: I feel like I'm banging my head against a concrete wall. Except the front instead of the back, you know?

*

Chinese Politics teacher: I have a YouTube video here, let me just show you a little of what Macau is all about.
*loud Beyblade commercial plays*

*

Politics teacher: Of course, France has a long history of acculturation. No matter where you were born if you learn to speak French and learn French culture and can, you know, identify 24 different types of cheeses by smell, then you're French.
Hot French girl: (laughing in delight)

I thought it was pretty stunning in comparison to Japan, where if you're not born Japanese you will never be Japanese.

*

Rude Boy: Hey, if there's grass on the field, play ball.
President: What if there could be grass, but it's mowed?

*

President: Well, I guess I should start getting ready for my rope-bondage thing pretty quick. I'd say “wanna come,” but I don't think it's quite your thing.

Later:

President: Sorry about that, couldn't text for a while
Rude Boy: Oh yeah? Were you...a little tied up?

And the next day:

President: Oh, when you come over, I need to show you something I learned last night that's like, super quick and so damn handy. You can restrain a girls hands in like 10seconds
Rude Boy: Best text message ever

*

Remember how President and I have a running joke that every time we have a History class together, something terrible happens in Japan? The first time, we took a course together and the 2011 earthquake happened. Then last year, we took another one together and Kyouto flooded.

Then last semester I decided to sit in one of her History classes, just for fun, and that very fucking day Juuso Eki caught the fuck on fire.

*

Jugs: Last week Valentino said “Yeah, there was a whole episode of Dr. Oz about that.” It was the gayest thing he's ever said, and he talks about making out with dudes.

*

I gave both President and Jugs white chocolate for White Day. I wasn't dating either of them, but in my mind it's not just about that – in my interpretation, it can also be a day to just generally appreciate all the women who make your life that much better.

As if you need a reason.

*

30's white girl's shoulder tattoo: 性的

(Maybe she meant “sexy?”)

*

President: Great, so on Monday night we'll come back here, fuck, and then figure out something for dinner.

*

Jugs: “This cabinet requires two people to assemble.”
Jugs's sister: Challenge accepted.

*

Rude Coworker: (teaching Rude Boy how to do temperatures) So yeah, then you basically just go around sticking it in all of them.
Rude Boy: That's how I've lived my life so far.
Rude Coworker: (slowly raises fist for pound)

*

Rude Boy: Not sure I can stay. I don't have any clothes.
President: If you were a girl and we were lesbians, you could just borrow some of my clothes!

*

Driving through a rural area, I suddenly came upon what looked like an enormous black dog, walking down the road away from me. With no time to slow down but with plenty of room, I thought I'd just cruise past it, when for no goddamned reason it swerved towards me and I saw that it was actually a young black bear. I tried to get away but it impacted with a thunk.

I loosed an articulate “Grrrwuuughhhh!” and then, like a responsible, moral human being, continued driving. Well, if it was injured, what the fuck could I have done? More importantly, what if wasn't, but now it was pissed off because it had just been hit by a car?

By some miracle, it impacted right between the headlight and the wheel, so the car was fine, and I was fine, and I don't know whether the bear was fine, because they're pretty tough, but it also got hit in the face with a 1500-pound bullet travelling more than a hundred kilometres an hour. But I got the vehicle's first dent, with kind of a cool story to go with it, because everybody's hit a deer (I haven't, actually), but how many people can say they've hit a bear?

*

President's gay co-worker: (about Lock-Up) So who was that hottie you were with?
President: Oh, that was my really good friend from Japan.
President's gay co-worker: Really good friend?
President: I wish.
President's gay co-worker: Aww, why not!

*

Rude Right-Hand Man: (dating pulls) And these are good for two days...
Rude Boy: You're good for two days.
Rude Right-Hand Man: I expire after 24 hours, actually.
Rude Boy: Oh.
Rude Right-Hand Man: It's good though...it means I contain less sodium, so I'm better for you.

*

Lock-Up: (in English) Whaaaaat? Germany was in both wars? And it lost twice? Poor Germany!

*

Rude Grandfather: ...I think it would make more sense if they legalized marijuana, and criminalized Brussels sprouts.

*

President: Lock-Up's going over to Hiro's to play Mario Kart.
Rude Boy: Right...she's going over to Hiro's to “play Mario Kart.” At 10 o'clock at night.
President: Nooo! I don't think she's as slutty this year!

*

Co-worker: Me and (other co-worker) are going out again tonight.
Rude Boy: I thought you vowed never to go out with him again after he fell asleep in the bathroom at Denny's for three hours.
Co-worker: We decided not to go to Denny's this time.
Rude Boy: I think you might be missing the point.

*

President: One of my staff told me today that his most disliked word is “cunt,” and another one told me her most disliked word is “moist.” So I kept going around saying “moist cunt” to both of them.

*

President: What's the point in playing a female character if you can't admire the womanly curves?

*

President: Japan's population fell by a record number this year.

Rude Boy: Hm...well I don't think I can solve that problem by myself, but I'm willing to try.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Working at working

I was clicking around my university website, trying to find the on-campus job postings. Somehow I found myself in the co-op section and then, like tripping over a gold dubloon in the jungle and falling onto the secret button that opens the gates to El Dorado, I found a page that said, hey, Did You Know that you can totally do co-op in other countries, such as, to pick one totally at random, Japan? Like seriously, Japan is the one that we're going to highlight in particular because there is actually a whole section of the programme devoted to just Japan?

My first reaction was: Holy shit!

Second one was: What the hell? Just 'cause, like, how was I only just finding out about this. Every goddamn person on campus who knows me knows that I'm the Japan guy, and I'm known to all manner of teachers, advisors and administrators, spanning practically every discipline and area of the institution because when it comes to plotting out an academic career I apparently have as much foresight as Christopher McCandless. So if any of these people had even the slightest inkling that such a thing existed, you can be your prized harmonica that at least once or twice somebody'd have said to me, "Hey, you ever thought of applying to that Japan co-op thingamabob?" So what the fuck kind of advertising are they doing with this, exactly? As my eventual co-op advisor put it, "Yeah, we're probably not doing as much to push this one as we should be." No shit?

Anyway, as soon as I saw that this was even a thing I felt like I'd found it, the final winning lottery ticket that would get me out of Canada forever. Of course a co-op is only for one semester to a year, after which you must return to your point of origin and complete your remaining schooling (or, if you are a normal-ass co-op student instead of one trying to jump on the wagon at the eleventh hour, complete another semester before alternating back to a semester of co-op, and so on), but there was more to consider. In that time, I'd be able to cultivate two things that would prove absolutely critical to my career.

The first was solid work experience. Being able to prove that I had survived and thrived in a Japanese company, under Japanese customs, in an all-Japanese environment, would go a long way to assuage any future employer's concerns about my ability to integrate into their team. Second, it would be an incredible opportunity to network with Japanese businesspeople, and if you ask a hundred people to have sex with you, one of them's going to say yes. Hell, I thought, maybe I'd even sign on for a year of co-op, and do such a damn good job that they'd take me on as a full employee! It's rare, but I can dream.

So I marched myself right down to the co-op office and tried to get myself signed up. Unsurprisingly, this signalled my entry into the kind of bureaucratic labyrinth that I have become resigned to navigating, but still cannot say I enjoy in any way, because I have not yet abandoned my humanity. It seems like for these kinds of things, I'm always cutting it right down to the wire; rarely do I have a comfortable amount of time to make my preparations. It was no different here, and I encountered problems immediately.

There's a very persnickety immigration law that stipulates all co-op students must be full-time students both immediately before and immediately after their work term(s). Years ago, this would have been no problem at all. I'd just wait for everything to fall into place and then I'd go, and then I'd come back, and then I'd continue. Work a year of study abroad in there somewhere as well and man, I'd be just golden! Unfortunately by the time I found out about this, I was already right on the cusp of goddamn graduating. In other words, I might not have enough credits left to form a full semester following my internship, which would disqualify me. So somehow I had to delay my own graduation, the very thing I'd been deliberately working towards for the last like six years.

The solution I utlimately came up with was to tack a minor in Political Science onto my Philosophy major. Basically, I was set up so that I could graduate with just one more class's worth of Science (with some reservation, I went with Biology because it's the easiest, although I think Chemistry would have had more real-world applications, for things like Breaking Bad and Fullmetal Alchemist). I already had just enough Political Science credits that I could conceivably finish out a minor in one more semester, allowing me to do a year of co-op, polish that off, and be ready for graduation. BUT – if co-op didn't pan out, I could just straight graduate. I'd have already satisfied the Philosophy major, so I'd just un-declare the minor and suddenly I'd be good to go.

So I felt pretty devious for setting into motion a plan that covered all possible scenarios, and it was good enough for the co-op office, who approved my entry into the programme. Of course that was just the first step, and I still needed to be accepted into the Japan-specific programme, and even then they'd still need to find a company who would take me. This left me in a slightly detached state academically, not knowing if any of this was even going to work, but in the meantime I just kept pressing forward, necessarily on the assumption that everything would fall into place at some point.

As another requirement for participation, I was compelled to take a 100-level career education course. Not for credit, not graded except for a completion mark, and only 90 minutes a week. I went into it assuming it was going to be a bit of a joke, and in terms of workload it totally was. Our first assignment was filling out a ten-page worksheet; the teacher asked if one week would be sufficient, or if we'd need two.

But while it may not have been academically strenuous, it turned out to be surprisingly helpful. It started with the most very basic stuff like resumees and job interviews, which, sure, I covered back in Planning 10, but I gained access to several career-building professionals who helped reformulate my resumee from something amateurish and vague into a pretty solid little document deliberately tailored to the types of employers I wanted to target. The course went on to opportunities I'd heard about but never actually considered taking advantage of, like career fairs, which sounded lame to me but which I'd learn to like. I was taught new techniques for selling myself, skills I didn't know were transferrable, the importance of networking, and the importance of constantly being pursuing some better opportunity, all the time. If you're already a shakaijin or even just a particularly ambitious student then maybe all of this is obvious to you, but it was pretty eye-opening for me.

In fact, I ended up feeling a little inadequate next to many of my classmates. Most of them had at least a job of some kind, usually someplace classy and/or in a management position; I was unemployed at the time and had been for most of my university career. They had all meticulously laid out their academic and professional futures, with clear goals and action plans; I went to university because I had no idea what to do after high school, and stumbled directionlessly through a liberal arts education until I lucked into something I liked. In fact the majority of them were first-year, and already formulating some idea of how they wanted to go through university and how best to tailor that experience to their careers. Good God! I barely knew my dick from my asshole when I was that age. But then Jugs told me that a lot of them are probably just as intimidated of me and the experiences I've been lucky enough to have, and for that matter probably have very little idea what the fuck they're doing, either. When you're uncertain, remember that everybody else is making it up as they go along too.

But after Spring 2014, the whole process kind of went dark. Yeah, sorry to end abruptly like that, but that's how it happened. I went back and forth for months with the office, apparently my profile was even shopped around to a few companies, but it looks like I didn't get any bites, because in principle I would have started at the beginning of September, which I'm 90% sure is too late now. So I guess my efforts ended in failure this time. What's important, though, is that I tried, and that I keep trying. Co-op is just one possible route to Japan. I might end up having to attempt several, much as you have to send out several resumees just to get one job. Of all the lessons I learned over the course of this whole thing, that one might be the most important of all.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Sack of garbage is worthless, spreads hate speech

I wasn't gonna do this post. Wasn't gonna draw any more attention to it than it deserved. I'm not even naming that putrid little cockgobbler, because I wouldn't want to inadvertently give him traffic, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky. But I just have too much material now to not sling words at the Internet, because even if I don't have much to add to what more socially active bloggers and vloggers have already said, I could use the catharsis.

So we've gotten the revelation that he has recently been officially banned from immigrating to Japan for all poison-vomiting activities. (He also seems to have had several venues rescind offers to host him, although MRA rallies somehow seem to keep finding niches to carve into, so I don't know how much that means.) So he'll either have to give up on any Japanese endeavours, or lie about the purpose of his trip, which would then get lanced the second he set foot in a presentation venue, and his sexual assault-promoting ass would be ejected from the country for at least ten years, I'm guessing. I'm no expert in immigration law, but that's how long you're barred from entry if you overstay your visa. So kudos to everybody who stepped forward to try and take down a true real-life villain.

The premise of the lecture (if you can give such a puerile heap of human garbage such a dignified descriptor) is to treat women as worthless, which is an absolutely fantastic shortcut to not getting laid. He garnered the wrong kind of attention when a video of one of his sessions surfaced, showing him spewing bile that comes dangerously close to advocating rape. He describes the winning technique for getting women in Japan to be grabbing a woman's head and thrusting it towards your crotch, yelling “Pikachu!” It then showed footage of him doing this to a bunch of Japanese women that he then did not have sex with. Incredibly, he states that this is all a-ok because they just giggle. Which is what people do when they're uncomfortable, you insane fuckwad.

Question: Doe he buy into his own bullshit? The attendees at these kinds of things are the loneliest, most desperate men on earth. They're looking for a cheat code for instant sex because they're either too chickenshit to go up to a woman and start a fucking conversation, or they're so atrociously bad at it that they legitimately believe that the only reason for their failure is that they haven't yet found exactly the right combination of insults and vulgarities that would push her buttons ooh just right, baby, call me a fat ugly whore again, it gets me so hot. I actually feel a little sorry (but not too sorry) for the guys who go to stuff like this, because it's a pretty shitty business model. I don't mean shitty as in it's ineffective, it actually seems to work pretty well unfortunately, I mean shitty like “that's a shitty thing to do,” in that it openly preys on the deepest insecurities of the weak.

Iirc, the guy who invented invented peacocking – always pictured surrounded by a crowd of adoring men but rarely any women, for some reason – privately admitted to this, and said that he knew there was no way it would work in real life. This guy (trying to avoid naming him, I want to call him the Beast, which would suit him, but I don't want to associate him in my own mind with anything as high-quality as Transmetropolitan) might be the same. Or he might actually fully believe in every vile piece of rancid fungus that sloughs out of his mouth. I'm not sure which is worse.

One more thing, this footage was shot in Toukyou, right? Like Roppongi maybe? Cause there are definitely parts of Japan – certainly in Oosaka, and even then the rowdier corners of Kyouto – where doing that shit will get you fucking stomped. Or maybe I'm wrong. Go try!

There is one thing I believe I can contribute to discussions of this instructive failure, which is to mock him further. He does most of the work for me, but I can't resist, so here's my reactions to some quotes from his Twitter, now removed but thoughtfully archived by Tinder's Finest Bachelors.

“I like my women like I like my cell phone. Broken.”
What? That's not how you do that. Take the joke, “I like my women how I like my coffee: Black, hot, and all over my junk.” It works because it makes sense for both women and for coffee. I get that if you're a loser, an emotionally broken woman sounds like a ticket to an easy lay, but why would you ever want a broken cell phone? Because you know you're a poison to society and wish to expose yourself to as few people as possible?

“I always just assume that any girl who sleeps with me is a slut and any girl who doesn't sleep with me is a cunt.”
As far as I'm concerned there's nothing wrong with being a slut, but I guess the logic there is that she'd damn well have to be a slut to sleep with you.

“My favorite sexual position is the one where I cum and she doesn't.”
When it's with you, I'm guessing that's all of them.

“I'm too in love with myself to love my girlfriend.”
Is that why you don't have one?

“That warm load of sweet cum you just viciously gulped down has a thousand calories. In case you're wondering why you're still single.”
Take note, ladies, he's encouraging you to not swallow his cum. In case you needed convincing.
Also, fucking is pretty good exercise, so the joke doesn't even work.

“Girls, could you please save me the effort and roofie your own drink? #JustKidding”
Just kidding, he'll do it himself.

“No means no. #JustKidding”
What the fuck.

“Dear girls, you should be blowing me every time you change positions. #JustSoYouKnow”
For most men, this would be considered too time-consuming.

“I'm running out of reasons to wear a condom.”
The number of women willing to sleep with you is shrinking even further?

“Show the back of your girlfriend's throat just how much you love her.”
Oh, please; never mind the back of her throat, you couldn't even reach the tip of her tongue.

“#LOL at guys who need to use roofies...”
Like you, a few Tweets up?

“Vodka and cum. #MyGirlfriendsDiet”
Are you trying to mock her? Because that's kind of hot.

“Sometimes you fuck them, other times you jack off on them.”
You may someday find one willing to do it for you.

“Safe sex but without the condom.”
What? It's not safe sex then.

“You had me at: 'My last three boyfriends were assholes...'”
So you figure you'll fit right in?
I can't imagine fitting in has ever been a problem for you.
Yes, that was another dig at your penis size.

“A relationship with me might only last a night but the emotional damage will last forever.”
Now you're just stating obvious facts.

“My favorite sex toy is my girlfriend's mind.”
I.e. sexual satisfaction for a woman is heavily mental, and that the key to satisfying one is therefore all in her head. But I don't think he has this much knowledge of sex. Though it's not his fault, he just hasn't had enough of it yet.

“When does no mean no?”
TFB says: “EVERY.SINGLE.FUCKING. TIME.” To which I would add, “Obviously.”

“Another girl, another infinite amount of lies.”
Well it's obvious you'd never get one on your own merits.

“The hottest women are often the most insecure, so don't forget to treat them like trash. #JustSoYouKnow”
He not only summarizes his own lectures so you don't have to spend the time or money to go, but at the same time helpfully explains why everything he expounds within them is completely wrong.


You get the point. This isn't a man, this is a child, one who desires women so badly that he's come to hate them. Either that or he's a cynical bastard making bank on misery. Doesn't matter. Japan's banned him, Canada's Minister of Immigration has promised to do everything he can to block him, Australia kicked him out, Brazil and the UK are working on it, probably a lot more by now, I can't keep up with this story, I'm too worried I might get infected. But we're off to a good start, so I'm hoping that the matter can be settled quickly and this motherfucker forced to seriously reevaluate some things.