Monday, 13 December 2010

Hot Chocolate Adventure in London

With Christmas right around the corner, I decided to escape the present buying frenzy with a much welcome distraction – of the chocolate kind. The Chocolate Festival was on at the South Bank, with a wide selection of chocolate covered everything. Two of my friends from Japanese class joined me on what has now become known as the ‘hot chocolate adventure,’ but more about that later. Our first stop was the festival where there were many stalls selling chocolate beer/champagne, cakes, pastries, chocolate dipped fondue to DIY chocolate making kits.

We started off at the Rococo chocolates stand, trying out the chocolate coffee beans. I have previously bought boxes of their distinctive fish patterned gift boxes as presents for friends but I suddenly realised I have never eaten any of their chocolates myself! So it was time to break that tradition. Next my two friends tried drinking Chocolate stout, which had a surprising reaction. We then went from stall to stall tasting the various samples. It took me a while to realise my friend had a clever plan, I would be the guinea pig trying out the samples first before she ate them. (I might add that said guinea pig, had no idea she was the guinea pig at the time.) Blissfully ignorant, I ate whatever I was handed. The strangest tasting item was the chocolate bean, chocolate on the inside, but looked a bit like an almond on the outside.

It was then on to the DIY chocolate making stall. Here I tried raw cacao, the natural form of chocolate, which was surprisingly not as bitter as I had imagined. My highlight of the festival had to be the chocolate covered pretzels. Tiny savoury snacks dipped in milk and white chocolate. Seriously moorish. We then headed over to a tent which housed chocolate ‘art’ including a mini steam train made of chocolates. If Willy Wonka was ever let loose on the set of the Railway Children, this is what he would make. Alongside the train were equally edible looking high heels and a candle! The last item I ate at the festival was a chocolate heart, which as I later discovered (to my peril) was mixed with chillies. Oh my God, now that was certainly a surprise! It tasted like ordinary chocolate at first, but 30 seconds later I was hit by a burst of chillies. I now fully understood my friends’ guinea pig strategy.

Afterwards we headed over to Artisan du Chocolat, a speciality chocolate shop which make a seriously good hot chocolate. We wanted to try the matcha hot chocolate but it had already sold out. Ever since I started Japanese classes, me and my classmates have been trying out various Japanese inspired things. The matcha green tea hot chocolate had been a big hit with my friends from class on a previous visit receiving a big thumbs up. This time we opted for the regular hot chocolate, a deliciously rich concoction which comes with choccie nibbles which you can sprinkle on your drink and two chocs which you select from the display. As I have been reading up on the Victorian era lately, I opted for the flower infused chocolates of Violet and Rose which were popular at that time. They also do a chocolate version of the Japanese tea ceremony for two, but this will be explored on another visit. We left feeling blissed out on chocolate. Death by chocolate has never been this tasty.

Special thanks go to Wenting-san for photography and to Jugjit-san for the hot chocolate recommendation.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

An Ouran story...

My very wonderful manga-partner-in-crime, Sarah, recently told me the news that Ouran High School Host Club will soon begin its final story arc. "Oh no!" was my initial reaction with my hands at the sides of my cheeks in true Twins fashion. Anyone else out there who is a long time manga addict will openly admit that the thought of a favourite series ending will often grip said fan with feelings of sadness. But even good stories must come to an end, and this reminded me of a surprising 'Ouran moment' that I had earlier this week.

I walked into a department store on London's Oxford Street on the hunt for a new bag for work. You know how women sometimes squeal at the sight of a new coveted designer handbag - well, that's not me. My squealing only happens in a manga shop. Normally, I bypass the whole handbag section but necessity is a fine beast. My favourite piano bag has finally fallen apart - manga and Japanese drama fans might have already picked up on the little clue in the last sentence, but it was the bag from the Nodame Cantabile series. I have had it for years but its beyond repair now and is resting in Handbag Heaven. It was so a part of me that my dad could spot me from far away and whenever I remarked that he has good vision, he would smile and say that whenever he saw a piano bag, he would always know it was me. But anyway, I digress, back to the story...

There was me in said department store and I was looking at the 'flashy' (or should I say normal designer handbags) to see what all the fuss was about. But I have a confession to make. Sorry girls, but I just don't get it. Designer handbags all look the same to me.

I then looked at my H.Naoto bag and I thought of Tamaki and I realised what the problem was: they all lacked character. It reminded me about the story from Ouran when the Twins, Hikaru and Kaoru were fighting and trying to er... not be twins. But Tamaki (who is normally an idiot)said that their contradictions were okay because they had character. And I had never realised how important such a thing was until now.

Which made me even more happy with my punk rock bag that I walked out of the shop proud to be just that little bit different. Nevermind the handbag, I was amazed that something Tamaki said actually had some wisdom in it (for once.)

Monday, 7 December 2009

Studio Bones: Sword of the Stranger interview with Masahiro Ando and Masahiko Minami

If you are an anime fan, than studio Bones will need no introduction. But for those who don’t know their Naruto from their Bleach, this is the anime studio behind Darker Than Black, Cowboy Bebop and the phenomenal Fullmetal Alchemist. A little while back I interviewed Masahiro Ando, the anime film director behind samurai flick, Sword of the Stranger, to find out about the new movie. I also had a quick chat with Masahiko Minami, the head of studio Bones to find out how the internet is bringing anime studios and foreign fans closer together. Below is a sneak peek at what they had to say:

Talking about the movie Ando said, “ I really wanted to get across the world of the middle ages, I wanted to create that world on screen- The way of living and the way of dieing.” But making his directorial debut was no small challenge. He went on to say:

“It was the first time that I had directed so everything was a challenge for me. It was pretty nerve wracking! It’s much harder to make a film because with a TV series you’ve got 26, 52, or in my case, 13 episodes to get it right. You can try things, if it doesn’t go right, you can try it again. There’s trial and error involved. But with a film, if you get one shot wrong, you’ve spoilt the film really, so you have to concentrate a lot more on the background animation and be a lot more careful with a picture film.”

Although studio Bones is more well known for TV anime, the head of the studio, Masahiko Minami, has said he will be involved in the live action movie adaption of Cowboy Bebop (which will star Keanu Reeves.) Here, he talks about how the internet is changing anime and the reason behind simulcasting FMA Brotherhood:

“It’s a good project for us as creators to get everyone watching it through a simulcast. In the case of FMA it was previous work so it was easier to do it that way but I think it will be harder with an original work. For a new work, it would be more challenging but we would like to give it a go and get everyone all over the world watching.”

Minami did indicate at London Expo that the studio is working on a new robot anime with an American producer but the details are yet to be officially revealed. You can read the full interview on the Anime UK News website by clicking here.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Miyavi rocks London

There are gigs and then there are GIGS, and leaving the Islington Academy on Tuesday night, I felt that I had just seen and been a part of something special. Rewind a few hours earlier and I had joined the long queue of j-rock fans, dressed in punk rock and Gothic Lolita gear to see Miyavi. Picture neon pink, gothic fashions and amusingly, even steam punk anime kids wearing vintage oversized goggles. His fans are as diverse as the man’s music himself.

When Miyavi appeared onstage later that evening, at first all we saw was a geisha’s pink parasol. A quick flip around revealed Miyavi hidden beneath, mixing traditional with modern, which is what makes him so interesting. Launching into some of his classic tunes and awe-inducing guitar solo’s, the samurai rocker was on a mission to rock London. It was the anthemic songs like Freedom Fighters and tracks from This Iz Kabuki Rock that got the kids (and grown ups) jumpin’. I was squished into a 20 row moshpit, but it was ace! Miyavvi knows how to rev up a crowd, his poise and swift hand movements were more reminiscent of a traditional Japanese dancer than a rocker. It’s near impossible not to fall under such a magical spell.

One surprising element to the show was the fact that he spent just about the same amount of time talking to the audience as he did singing. You get the feeling that things have changed for Miyavi. Gone are the once famous dreadlocks and piercings’, but the person standing before us still embodies that punk-rock spirit. The move from a big label to going independent has been hard, but despite the challenges he said:

"Even if my wings are clipped, even when it’s tough, I won’t give up my dream"

And I must confess, this admission of his made me like him just that little bit more. Nobody ever talks about the other side of dreams: that times can, and will be, hard. Often, this is something that is left unsaid, but here was Miyavi admitting these things, openly and honestly to his fans. And I found this admirable. If I learnt anything from Miyavi that night, it’s to keep believing in my dreams, no matter what life may throw at me. Miyavi has this incredible fighting spirit, if he’s going to fight for his dreams, then I will too!

Married life has changed him, he says he can no longer go clubbing. Surprisingly, he even tells people that they don’t have to join his fan club, whispering that it’s expensive. He would rather people come and see him live. Later on he says that it doesn’t matter where you were born, it doesn’t matter the colour of your skin, music can pass any barrier. And it shows. In the audience that night, along with us Brits, were many people who had travelled from across Europe just to hear him sing. A love for music had brought us all together. Miyavi rocked London, and London most certainly rocked back!

Friday, 24 July 2009

From FMA to Ouran Host Club, Vic Mignogna talks about playing the Host Club king

Last weekend I attended the London Film and Comic Con and was lucky enough to interview FMA's Vic Mignogna about being Edward Elric and playing the delightful Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club.

In the interview he talks about FMA (Full Metal Alchemist), an anime show which has been hugely successful the world over. There was a comical moment in the interview where I asked about how he felt about the transition from playing an alchemist to suddenly being the Host Club king.

That was when Vic told me the surprising story about how his best friend had seen Ouran and told him that he is Tamaki, pictured above. This made Vic curious about the character and he then went on to check out the show - however, he didn't know whether to be flattered or offended! For those who haven't seen Ouran High School Host Club, the character Vic play's, Tamaki is er... how do I say this... a bit of an idiot. (But he is a lovable idiot.) I have been reading Bisco Hatori's manga for a very long time and somehow Tamaki has won me over. He is kind and loyal and protects his friends, even though he also gets them into all sorts of foolishness too. But from just talking with Vic, it was clear just how much he cares about Tamaki.

He did make the surprising revelation that he doesn't think he is as smooth as Tamaki, which made us both laugh. Whether you are an FMA or Ouran fan, please do check out the article here

Thursday, 4 June 2009

London anime expo: Code Geass, gaming and Take That karaoke! (Naruto style)

How on Earth do I describe this year’s London expo? Picture a car crash scene of gaming cosplayers. Imagine a walking Death Note. Chuck in a troupe of all-singing, all-dancing Naruto fan boys doing Take That karaoke, and you have the most surreal expo I’ve ever been to!

I would like to say this was a one off occasion, but anyone who is a regular at expo will tell you, this all passes off as worryingly ‘normal...’

The day really started for me when I met up with my friend Meg, a J-rock cosplayer. Last year I bought a Gackt CD in Tokyo but due to my journalism commitments, the CD has been gathering dust for the better part of a year. This meant Meg had the great honour of being the first person to hear the music direct from Tokyo. As she returned it to me, I casually asked who she was cosplaying as. She gave me a big hug and put her head on my shoulder. Turns out she was Gackt. Oops, my mistake! My excuse was I haven’t seen Moonchild. I really am a bad fan girl. Sorry Gackt....

So here is a picture of Meg dressed as you-know-who getting cuddly with Miyavi. The Kabuki rocker acquired a large army of fangirls throughout the day.

Forget the free huggers, this year I even spotted a ‘free kisses’ sign. On another note, even anime fans are feeling the credit crunch pinch. A Light cosplayer manged to halve the cost of a Death Note wallet with some very clever haggling. I had only done a little bit of Pocky shopping before I was, rather unwittingly, kidnapped by the Gothic Lolita group. It happens...

Escaping into the hallway, I came across some rather surprising cosplayers. Proving you can cosplay just about anyone or anything (phone box, anyone?) I stumbled upon no other than J.D and Turk from Scrubs. They were my favourite cosplaying duo this expo.

As I'm still suffering from the shock ending of the anime Kuroshitsuji, here's a picture of Grell, the chainsaw swinging Grim Reaper of death.

After taking some pictures of Code Geass cosplayers, (the top photo), I narrowly escaped being run over, when a runaway Dalek zoomed past. Doctor Who wasn't joking, they really are dangerous! Out in the forecourt, the largest gathering of people dressed as games characters took place, with 376 games fans dressing up as Lara Croft, pointy eared elves and every one's favourite plumber, Mario!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Code Geass: Friendship, betrayal and the end of Rebellion

It took me a long time to decide on a picture that represents Code Geas: Lelouch of the Rebellion, despite a huge cast, I wanted to select an image that represented what the show meant to me. In the end, I choose this simple image of the two best friends turned enemies, Lelouch and Suzaku, because despite the epic storyline about justice and politics, Code Geass for me, was fundamentally a story about friendship, betrayal and atonement. This post will look at the friendship between Lelouch and Suzaku and asks the question: Can enemies ever become friends? It will also contain spoilers for the ending, so if you don't want to know how the series ends, turn away now.

Code Geass follows the story of Lelouch, a high school student in Britannia who inherits the power of Geass from a mysterious witch called C.C. Lelouch uses the power of Geass, the ability to control others, in order to create a peaceful world in which his sister Nunnally can live. In order to do this he becomes Zero, a masked hero (or villain, depending on your interpretation), the leader of the Black Knights, a rebellion group who are trying to reclaim Japan from the clutches of the Empire of Britannia. Doing so, however, brings him up against his childhood friend Suzaku.

As young boys, Lelouch, the thrown away prince from Britannia, vowed to destroy the empire whilst Suzaku wanted to change the world from within, by joining the Britannian army. Years later the two become enemies, as they are not always aware that they are in fact fighting each other.

But the path of friendship is never a smooth one. Lelouch, as Zero, offers Suzaku a chance to join him but their conflicting ideologies mean fate takes them down different roads. It's not until the start of the second season, R2, that we learn that Suzaku sells his best friend to become a knight of Britannia. But sadly, this becomes the first of many betrayals for Lelouch as the series progresses.

So what is the meaning of friendship if it only leads to betrayal? Lelouch begins to loose his faith in people, seeing them as pawns for battle. However, in a touching scene further into the series, Lelouch asks a young C.C how to heal the pain one feels inside. And her surprising response is with the help of allies, her alternative name for what we would call friends.

In a heart breaking telephone call, Lelouch calls Suzaku and begs him to protect his sister when he realises he cannot, and despite the increasing space between them, he agrees if Lelouch meets him in person. But this encounter leads to another betrayal, Lelouch betrayed a second time no longer believes in friendship and with a fierce determination finally conquers Britannia but at a price- losing the trust of his sister. Alarmingly, Lelouch becomes Emperor after killing his own father, but instead of creating a better world he appears to be following in the footsteps of the father he despised, making a world full of fear.

But it's not until the shock ending that the truth is finally revealed. Emperor Lelouch has ordered the execution of his former Black Knights, but before this can take place a masked man appearing as Zero kills Lelouch. In flashbacks we find out the truth- Lelouch tells Suzaku that in order to create a unified world, he must become the enemy of the world. Only after he is gone will there be the peaceful world that he wanted to create. With tears in his eye's, Suzaku, dressed as Zero, kills his best friend. Lelouch's final words to his friend are that Suzaku can no longer exist, he must live on as Zero.

The series in no small way, blew me away: The bond of friendship that bound Lelouch and Suzaku to the tragic end. Suzaku's struggle to isolate his conflicting feelings for his childhood friend, as he tries to stop feeling nostalgic about Lelouch. Of hope and of sacrifice, and Lelouch's realisation that he must sacrifice himself to create the better world that he wished for. That even when he was feeling hurt, the one person he could talk to, was his sworn enemy.

Lelouch and Suzaku are only one small part of the Code Geass story, but over the last few days watching this series has made me rethink about the nature of friendships. Friends do betray each other and the longer two people know each other, the more they will know how to hurt the other and be hurt themselves.

But it's that basic understanding that can change a friendship, in essence change enemies and save friends even if you can't forgive. Although much of what Lelouch did would be considered unforgivable, the showdown between the two at the temple, saw an angry Suzaku demand that Lelouch continue until the very end, which he does. No one would want their best friend to become their enemy, but Code Geass paints an interesting portrayal of how two best friends who walk down opposing paths can one day become friends again.