A Month of Japan – Silver Spoon

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

TV Rec – Silver Spoon

silverspoon

What it’s all about: The only reason why Yugo Hachiken decided to attend the Oezo Agricultural High School (a.k.a Ezono) was simply because the school had a dormitory. Entering Ezono was a way for Yugo to run away from the stifling academic pressures in the city, however, it didn’t take long for him to realize that life is not that simple. Yugo is soon forced to face more hurdles in his new environment surrounded by all the farm animals and the magnificent Mother Nature. He also begins feeling a different kind of pressure as he deals with his classmates who, unlike him, all have a clear view of what they want for their futures. Even so, as Yugo overcomes one challenge after another at Ezono and deepens his bonds with his classmates, he begins to grow stronger both physically and mentally. This is a coming-of-age story filled with sweat, tears, and literally a lot of dirt!

Why you should watch it: Yugo is a hugely sympathetic protagonist and his classmates at Ezono are a colorful, varied, and entertaining crew. Although this series still has visual gags and over-the-top moments, in general it feels more down-to-earth and real than the average anime show, which suits its subject matter of a boy trying to figure out who he really is and what he really wants out of life perfectly. Every character has hopes and dreams, and their struggles are gradually revealed over the course of the two seasons with a beautiful balance of drama and humor. My only complaint is that the anime appears to be finished, even though there’s more story in the manga it’s adapted from!

What’s your fish-out-of-water story? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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A Month of Japan – Death Note

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Book Rec – Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

deathnote

What it’s all about: Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects – and he’s bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. With L hot on his heels, will Light lose sight of his noble goal…or his life?

Light tests the boundaries of the Death Note’s powers as L and the police begin to close in. Luckily Light’s father is the head of the Japanese National Police Agency and leaves vital information about the case lying around the house. With access to his father’s files, Light can keep one step ahead of the authorities. But who is the strange man following him, and how can Light guard against enemies whose names he doesn’t know?

Why you should read it: For some reason I have a lot of trouble getting into manga. It’s like it’s not wordy enough to appeal to the bookish part of my brain but not visual enough to appeal to the cinematic part. The Death Note series is one of the very few that hooked me and kept me engaged all the way through to the end. I think it helps that the series is relatively light on action—it’s more about the characters trying to outsmart and strategically outmaneuver each other, with lots of intense dialogue and thoughtful moments and intellectual standoffs. The two main characters are supposed to be brilliant, and they manage to convincingly behave that way. There are lots of twists where I wasn’t sure how the story could continue and then one or the other pulled out some unexpected new trick. The moral questions raised—primarily about the sanctity of life and who should be allowed to make decisions about who “deserves” to live or die—give the series additional depth. If you love following super-smart but not always likeable characters like Sherlock and House, you’ll probably enjoy this. 🙂

What’s your favorite manga series? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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The Setting of A Mortal Song

I wouldn’t have felt right writing in depth about a country I’d never visited, so I made two trips to Japan during the writing and revising of A Mortal Song: in April 2011, not long after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami (we’d already booked tickets and accommodations, and it was touch and go for a few weeks whether we’d make use of them or not), and in July 2013, which was also technically my son’s first trip overseas, although he was barely a bump in my belly then. 😉 You can read about those trips and see some photos by following the links, and here are some of the key settings:

Mt. Fuji, Sora’s home:song-mt-fuji

Tokyo’s residential streets:    song-tokyo-houses

Nagoya’s train station:
song-nagoya-station

Tokyo’s Imperial Palace:
song-imperial-gate

Ise’s Shrine:
song-ise-courtyard

To see more of the settings that made their way into Song, check out my Behind the Scenes page. And the digital booklet offered as part of my pre-order gift pack will contain even more photos and lots of commentary!

A Month of Japan: Snakku

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Snack Subscription Box Review – Snakku

snakkubox

What you get: Unlike most of the Japanese subscription boxes, Snakku focuses on traditional treats like mochi and senbei by local snack-makers rather than big name, mass market brands. They offer a tasting box (within the US) to sample but only have a subscription for their one primary size of box, which is $39 (shipping free in the US and more to select other countries) and contains around 1kg of snacks. It ships from the US, but the owner was born in Japan and travels there regularly.

Review of the box:
I was very impressed by the packaging of the Snakku box, which was attractive and fitting with the traditional theme.

snakkuopensnakkuinsertThe box opened to reveal a pretty card and a very sharply designed guide to the snacks, including an explanation of the monthly theme, which was sakura (cherry blossom) season, as well as lots of snacks!

snakkuallAs before, I jotted down my thoughts on each of the snacks as I tried them out and gave them a rating out of 3 (0 = nope, 1 = all right, 2 = quite good, 3 = OMG where can I get more of this?).

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Morihan Roll Crepe (pink = cream and cherry blossom, green = chocolate and green tea) – Both types of crepe had a delicate texture that I really enjoyed. I loved the flowery flavor of the pink ones, but the tea flavor was a little heavier than I liked with the green. Overall a 2.

Sakura Senbei – According to the guide, these crisp wafers were made with sakura, cooking sake, dried squid, and wheat. They were a little on the hard side and saltier than I’d expected, but did have a little of that flowery taste I enjoyed in the crepes, which as quite pleasant once I got used to the texture and saltiness. I could taste a little fishiness from the squid too! 2.

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Kobe Sakura Cream Sandwich – These biscuit sandwiches were nicely sweet, with a subtle cherry blossom flavor I really enjoyed and a good balance of the cookies with the cream filling. 2.

Vegetable Yasai Boro (Spinach and Pumpkin) – Both sets of these little cracker balls were enjoyable crisp and sweet, almost melting in my mouth as I chewed them, but they had a bit of an odd, almost seaweed-y flavor and I didn’t really taste any pumpkin or spinach in them. 1.

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Bourbon Green Tea Cookies – These cookies were like mini Oreos, if Oreos had green tea flavor in the icing. The cookie to filling ration was perfect and the chocolate in the cookies balanced out the green tea flavor (which I often find too bitter) nicely. I loved these! 3.

Baka Uke Sesame Cracker – Crunchy crackers with a good weight to them and a tasty, savory sesame flavor. 2.

Niigata Salt Senbei – These crackers had a nice crispy texture and a good amount of salt, but they were kind of plain tasting. 1.

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Sake KitKat – I was a little apprehensive about trying these because I’m not usually a fan of the taste of alcohol, but while I could taste the sake, the coating was sweet enough to make it an enjoyable tang rather than annoyingly sour. Tasty with the usual KitKat crunch. 2.

Sakura Mochi – According to the guide, these fluffy mochi were hand made. Filled with sakura red bean paste, they had a lovely delicate flower flavor without being too sweet and a smooth texture. Yum! 3.

Kusagai Peach Gummy – These round gummies had a definite peach taste and a smooth chewy texture. I wasn’t sure how much I liked the flavor at first, but it grew on me and left an aftertaste very realistic to real peach. 2.

Overall thoughts: While I appreciated the snacks being so different from the other boxes I tried, the quantity of the snacks (there were both fewer types and they were smaller packages than other boxes) combined with this being the highest priced box even before shipping to Canada would make me hesitate to subscribe.

Overall snack rating: 20/30, 67%

Note: I received this box free in exchange for my honest review.

Join me next week for more recs! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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A Month of Japan – Grave of the Fireflies

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Animated Film Rec – Grave of the Fireflies

gravefireflies

What it’s all about: In the aftermath of a World War II bombing, two orphaned children struggle to survive in the Japanese countryside. To Seita and his four-year-old sister, the helplessness and indifference of their countrymen is even more painful than the enemy raids. Through desperation, hunger and grief, these children’s lives are as heartbreakingly fragile as their spirit and love is inspiring.

Why you should watch it: If you’re unconvinced of the horrors of war, not just on the battlefield but for the civilians caught in the midst, this movie will do it for you. It’s heartbreaking but never preachy, celebrating strength and endurance but also acknowledging that there are situations even those qualities can’t overcome. The siblings’ relationship is so authentic it’s impossible not to get caught up in their struggle to survive and to be there for each other. Warning: This is a total tearjerker, so watch prepared.

What war movie have you found most affecting? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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A Month of Japan – Hana and Alice

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Live Action Film Rec – Hana and Alice

hanaalice

What it’s all about: Hana and Alice are inseparable friends until Miyamoto, a cute boy they spot at a train station, comes between them. Tricking Miyamoto into believing that he is suffering from amnesia, Hana claims that she is his girlfriend. A baffled Miyamoto struggles to regain his memories as he is drawn to the prettier Alice. When the bond deepens, the girls’ lifelong relationship begins to fray… propelling them apart.

Why you should watch it: Despite its kooky premise—yes, Hana does actually decide to convince the guy that he’s got amnesia and has simply forgotten that she’s his girlfriend, and Alice is roped into going along with the deception as it becomes increasingly complicated—which is handled deftly and makes for plenty of humor, this movie is filled with poignant moments and drama that’s wrenching without ever becoming melodrama. The two girls are sharply drawn, and we get to know not only their friendship but their family lives and dreams for the future, which are equally fraught. The plotline will keep you hooked, but it’s the character studies that will stick with you.

What’s the kookiest plotline you’ve ever seen in a movie? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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A Month of Japan – Cowboy Bebop

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

TV Rec – Cowboy Bebop

cowboybebp

What it’s all about: The Bebop crew is just trying to make a buck. This motley lot of intergalactic loners teams up to track down fugitives and turn them in for cold hard cash. Spike is a hero whose cool façade hides a dark and deadly past. The pilot Jet is a bruiser of a brute who can’t wait to collect the next bounty. Faye Valentine is a femme fatale prone to breaking hearts and separating fools from their money. Along for the ride are the brilliant, but weird, hacker Ed and a super-genius Welsh Corgi named Ein. On their own, any one of them is likely to get lost in the sprawl of space, but together, they’re they most entertaining gang of bounty hunters in the year 2071.

Why you should watch it: One of the best blends of science fiction and western I’ve ever seen—with a jazzy flare provided by Yoko Kanno’s fabulous soundtrack—this show and its characters have a lot more going on than the official description suggests. There are lots of laughs and lots of hijinks, to be sure. But as the story progresses, the relationships deepen and complicated pasts are revealed, details that seemed like throw-away gags early on turn out to have unexpected meaning, and you’ll find yourself more invested than you ever anticipated. A must for any sci fi fan.

What’s your favorite genre mash-up? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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A Month of Japan – The Friends

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Book Rec – The Friends by Kazumi Yumoto

thefriends

What it’s all about: Curious about death, three sixth-grade boys decide to spy on an old man waiting for him to die, but they end up becoming his friends.

Why you should read it: The premise may sound morbid, but this story manages to balance darkness and lightness, both poignant and sweet. The boys grapple not just with their ideas about death but also family dynamics, social hierarchies, growing up, and of course their evolving friendship with each other. Each is distinct and believable, and the way they come to connect with the old man feels authentic too. This is a quiet, thoughtful read, and its impact creeps up on you.

What’s your favorite book about a group of friends? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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Picturing A Mortal Song‘s Characters

As always when working on a book, with A Mortal Song I went looking for character “models” early on to give me a solid visual of the major characters. They may or may not be how you pictured them too, but here’s a quick look at four of them through my eyes. 🙂

Sora

sora1  sora2
My model for Song‘s protagonist was originally a different actress, but then I saw Aoi Yu perform in the movie Hana and Alice—particularly this dance sequence—and I knew she was my Sora. I had the picture on the left above open on my computer most of the time I was drafting the book, and it’s part of the reason Sora ends up in a green shirt.

Keiji

keiji1  keiji2
I knew right away that my Keiji was going to be Tatsuya Fujiwara, who I mainly knew from the movie Battle Royale. He spends most of that film looking pretty serious, but you can see he’s got a playful side too.

Chiyo

chiyo1 chiyo2

My “magical girl” was the most difficult character to cast, because I had a clear picture of what she looked like in my head… but she’s a pretty unique figure inside and out, so finding a real life person who matched her was tough. I turned to the JapaneseStreets website for inspiration. The girl on the left has the right vibe and general look (though Chiyo would be younger), and her hair color is like the girl on the right (without the green streak).

Takeo

takeo1 takeo2
And here is my stalwart warrior, represented by Takeshi Kaneshiro. With that intense gaze, he would have fit the role perfectly.

What do you think? Do my models fit the characters as you imagined them?

A Month of Japan – Okashi Connection

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Snack Subscription Box Review – Okashi Connection

okashibox

What you get: Okashi Connection offers three different box sizes, from $14 (5-7 items) for the cheapest to $33 (14-18 items) for the largest. Shipping is included. Each box includes only snack items (no toys or other special items). Their focus is offering a variety of snacks found only in Japan. The company is based on Japan and that’s where the boxes ship from.

Review of the box:
My Sumo box arrived in the very attractive packaging you can see above, which immediately made me excited to see what was inside.

okashiopen
It was fully packed with tons of goodies and a handy guide that gave a brief description of what each snack was, in vivid color. And what a lot of snacks there were! Here’s the full spread:

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I jotted down my thoughts on each of the snacks as I tried them out and gave them a rating out of 3 (0 = nope, 1 = all right, 2 = quite good, 3 = OMG where can I get more of this?).

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Kinoko No Yama Big Size – I don’t know what the small size is like to compare, but these mushroom shaped biscuits had nicely smooth and rich milk chocolate, with the cookie stem adding a great bit of crunch and texture. 2.

Lemon Pocky – I love Pocky and I love sweet lemon flavoring, so you can imagine how these went over. 😉 The icing had a lovely, creamy, tangy flavor and there was lots of it (if I had any complaint, it’d be that I like a tad more cookie in the cookie-to-coating ratio). 3.

okashi1Shuwabo Grape – A long, chewy candy with a satisfying texture, but I’m not a big fan of grape flavoring, so didn’t love this. 1.

Shuwabo Change Cola – Similar to the Grape, but with a supposedly cola flavor and a sour streak down the middle. Sour isn’t my thing, and this was very sour, but that effect faded quickly into the sweetness of the rest of the candy, and otherwise the taste was quite enjoyable. It tasted more like orange and lemon to me than cola, but what do I know? 2.

Pikachu Gum – Mix and match gumballs in four different flavors (as well as another “flavor” for cleansing the palate before trying a new one) along with “recipes” for combining them. I found the flavors didn’t last very long, but I enjoyed most of them. The red had a nicely realistic apple flavor rather than the standard artificial type; the orange tasted like orange; the yellow was vaguely creamy and tangy, more vanilla to me than the yogurt it was labeled as, and the blue was a strong cola flavor. I only tried one of the gray ones and it was kind of horrifying, so I skipped that step afterward. 2.

okashi2
Juu-C Colorful Ramune – These little discs were satisfyingly crunchy and only a little powdery. They had a fruit-gum-like taste, a bit tart but mostly sweet, and a fizzy impression like soda. Would eat again! 2.

Pine-Ame Gummies – The texture on these gummy rings was softer than I prefer in gummy candies and the pineapple taste was pretty thin, only faintly tangy, mostly just sweet. So overall kind of bland. This was the only snack in the bunch I didn’t finish. 0.

Pachi Pachi Panic – The texture of this pop-rock-like candy was a little off-putting to me (the bits stuck to my teeth as I chewed) and the crackling sensation was unsettling, but the strawberry and cream flavoring was so enjoyable I kept eating anyway. 2.

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DIY molded gummies kit – I found it hard to follow the instructions on the package, so I messed it up a bit, but I was still impressed by the smooth, not too hard or too soft texture of the gummies I created. The flavor was sweet but not too sugary, very tasty. 2.

Peroty Hello Kitty Choco Pops – The milk chocolate was enjoyable creamy, but I didn’t really taste the strawberry in the strawberry one. The banana one had a light artificial banana flavor that worked well with the chocolate. 2.

Puchi Busse Tasty Vanilla Cakes – The soft pastry in these layered “cakes” was a little artificial in texture, as with most prepackaged treats like this, but it had a great mix of sweet flavors. 2.

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Pop Zack – These crunchy biscuits had a bit of a chocolate flavor along with a very buttery butterscotch flavor that I wasn’t expecting but loved. 3.

Pototto Plus – With this interesting approach to potato chips, the oil is packaged separately and you shake it into the package right before eating. It definitely gave the chips a fresher, less processed taste. However, all I could taste was the olive oil and salt, none of the supposed herbs, and I like a more prominent flavor in my chips. 1.

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Saku-Saku Panda – These cookies had a good balance of chocolate with biscuit, plus they were very cute! The chocolate was nicely creamy. 2.

Alfort Mini Chocolate Blonde Milk – Another nice balance of cookie and topping. The “blonde” chocolate wasn’t my favorite (I’m more of a dark gal) but I did enjoy how creamy and sweet it was. 2.

Overall thoughts: Lots of different snacks, most of which I wasn’t familiar with, and almost all of them I enjoyed. I do wish there’d been a little more of the salty snacks to balance out the sweet ones.

Overall rating: 28/45, 62%

Note: I received this box free in exchange for my honest review.

Join me next week for more recs! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

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