My New Webcomic: Toki no Tanaka

I’ve been kind of neglecting this blog this month, and for that, I apologise. But there is a reason, I have been very busy setting up a website of my own to host my brand spanking new webcomic, Toki no Tanaka; which can be visited at www.tokinotanaka.com (please visit). I launched it properly just over a week ago and four pages have already been posted thus far.

If you’re worried about what you might be getting yourself into after clicking that link, allow to explain. Toki no Tanaka is a comedic episodic series (the comic is to be split into different self-contained “episodes” of thirty pages a piece) set in the fictional Yakushi Town in Japan that follows the escapades of the Tanaka family: mother Himiko, teenage son Satoru and younger daughter Sakura (the father is away on business). Expect bright colours, thick outlines and a slew of references to Japanese pop-culture (particularly Nintendo games). If you’re still unsure, here’s a sample:

Not a full page.

What’d you think? Good? Then why not click that convenient link I provided and give the rest of it a try? And if you didn’t like it, why not do that anyway? The rest of it might surprise you, after all. Here, I’ll even provide another link here, set at the first page so you can easily start at the beginning. There, you now have no reason not to check it out.

And for anyone that might be wondering. Yes, this pretty much counts as the death knell for Road to Nowhere, although, to be fair, it was pretty well deceased already anyway. Oh well, it had a good (if short) run.

Thought for the Week: …And a Happy New Year?

Today is New Year’s Day. The calender has reset and we now find ourselves in the unfamiliar territory of 2014. This is all well and good, but am I the only one who doesn’t consider the New Year that big of a deal? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it well enough and my family has it’s annual traditions just like anyone else’s: we invite everyone we’re acquainted with over for dinner, play a few rounds of the Alphabet Game (Scattergories, for any of you brand-name fanciers out there) and suddenly pay attention to Jools Holland when it gets within ten seconds of midnight. All good fun, yes, and I would probably miss it if it were gone, but honestly, I could take it or leave it.

Eh.

Considering my fondness for Bonfire Night, this might seem a little bit contradictory, but I think there’s a good reason for my ambivalence and that reason comes six days earlier. Christmas, you see, is easily my favourite of the holidays and it comes just less than a week beforehand. It’s also a very big deal amongst my family, with the entire day being one big celebration, with New Year’s being a comparatively sedate and ordinary 48 hours, it just can’t compete. The Christmas mood doesn’t dissipate after the passing of the day itself either. In fact, it seems to continue right through to the “Twelth Day” on the 5th of January. This, of course, means that New Year’s lands when we’re still sort of celebrating Christmas.

Auld Lang Syne’s got nothing on this.

Of course, this issue is entirely unavoidable, New Year’s Eve must by definition take place six days after Christmas day, but it is a bit of a shame, because I’m sure that if that weren’t the case I’d be much more proactive about celebrating the latter date, rather than viewing it a Christmas’ less interesting cousin. On the other hand, though, the proximity of the dates could be a good thing, as it helps to maintain the festive momentum through the week, rather than it fizzling out on Boxing Day. We do say “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”, after all.

Perhaps that is the quality of New Year’s Day/Eve, the maintaining of the Christmas festivities; helping keeping people feeling happier and celebratory straight through into January. That can only be a good thing, can’t it? And besides, there is one New Year’s tradition I’m particularly fond of (besides the bagpipers playing Auld Lang Syne at midnight): the telling of lame jokes after midnight on New Year’s Eve about what we haven’t done since last year. Those I would certainly miss if I ever failed to observe it.

Thought for the Week: It’ll All Be Over By Christmas

I set myself a task this year, to complete the DS game Pokémon White 2 before Christmas Day. Earlier today, after roughly 63 hours of in-game time, I accomplished this goal. This being Christmas Eve, I was cutting it very fine, but I did it and I’m satisfied with that; and now I can go into the big day tomorrow with no regrets over what I didn’t get done.

But why did I insist on Christmas as the deadline anyway? Well, in this case, the answer is that I may potentially receive a copy of the new 3DS Pokémon game as a present tomorrow and, in that case, I’d rather not still have the old one on the go at the same time. But that’s neither here nor there, really, as the point I’m trying to make is that December 25th always serves as a milestone before which whatever needs doing must get done. Just last week, my Dad repainted the entire kitchen for that very reason and the most famous example, of course, was the idea that the First World War would “all be over by Christmas”.

For some things this makes perfect sense. Christmas-related things, that is. It wouldn’t make much sense to get your tree or finish your Christmas shopping on Boxing Day, would it? Perhaps it’s this feeling, of being busy with preparation anyway that seeps into the rest of your to-do list. By focusing your attentions on a single, major date, then it only makes sense that anything else on your mind would suddenly gain urgency to be finished by that same date. Advent calenders could well feed into this as well. They have us literally counting down the days until the 25th, which could well create an impression of a finite amount of time in which to get done what needs to get done.

Time. It’s running out!

Of course, it might just be the case that we need to have some kind of a deadline in order to motivate ourselves and Christmas, as potentially the major day on the calendar, offers a nicely convenient one. It would either be then or the New Year, I suppose; and let’s face it, anything not done by Christmas is not going to get done before January. And maybe it’s just that, since Christmas is, for most of us, such a big day, we like to tie up any of our loose ends so as to better enjoy the festivities with as unaddled a mind as possible when they come. Getting everything nice and ready for Father Christmas, as it were. That’s certainly the motivation behind my Pokémon mission, anyway.

Whatever the reason, the Christmas-deadline just seems to make sense and I’m sure that I’ll be here at the exact same time next year, desperately trying to finish some self-imposed task in advance of the day itself. But, for now, my annual quest is complete, my Christmas shopping is done and I’m just finishing up this festive post, so I think I’ll go, put my feet up and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas for the third (fourth?) year in a row and I recommend you all do the same. Merry Christmas!

Me in Official Nintendo Magazine

I haven’t been too good at keeping up with my Thought for the Week posts lately (blame uni and Christmas) and for that I apologise. Our regularly scheduled programming will resume on Monday the 23rd of December, but until then, with the subsequent issue now on shelves, I present this little snippet from last month’s issue of Official Nintendo Magazine UK (issue 102, to be precise):

Click for bigger.

That, dear reader, is me; arguing the the case for linearity in computer games under the pseudonym TravelHobo with a cute little self-drawn avatar of Maya Fey from the Ace Attorney series (I like how it fits the more argumentative mood of such discussions). This was taken from a post I made on the magazine’s forums which was chosen – along with a number of others’ – to be featured in an article about whether The Legend of Zelda should or should not go open world. It’s only a little thing, but it’s always nice to see anything I’ve written get published anywhere in any capacity. This being especially nice considering it was only the second comment I’d yet made on their website.

Thought for the Week: Girls Only Want Girls?

This last Friday marked the release of Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U, and there was much rejoicing. I haven’t played it myself yet (I’m saving that for Christmas), but I was reminded of this old interview with the developers, specifically this comment from producer Yoshiaki Koizumi:

And now that Peach has been included, I’m also hoping that people will be able to play the game with their girlfriends. Perhaps some of their girlfriends will find Peach as a more appealing character to play – or your wife, of course.

For those who don’t know, Mr. Koizumi is referring to one of the key new features of this game – the inclusion of four different playable characters in both single and multiplayer modes: Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach. I find his comment to somewhat misguided, though, as he seems to be insinuating that are potential female Mario gamers who have been put off by the male player-characters.

Far too rugged and masculine to be controlled by delicate female fingers.

Isn’t this nonsense? Despite ’90s-based stereotypes there are a large number of female gamers out there, despite the fact that the majority of computer games feature male protagonists. We can safely assume then, that any fair-sex game fan has played through quite a sizable number of games with male characters and has no problem with that fact. Also consider the astronomical sales figures of previous Mario games, with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, for example, having sold 26.26 million copies as of March last year. These numbers are simply too high to have been bought solely by men, and therefore – despite there not being a female playable-character in sight – we must conclude that there exists a large number of women who are happy to save the Princess rather than play as her.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility that, no matter how many there are that aren’t, there may be a number of girls out there who are put off by a lack of feminine heroes. In my experience, however, this just isn’t the case. I’ve played multiplayer games with female family members many times, all of whom are not big game-players, and they have never shown any kind of predisposition towards the female characters on offer. It is very true that, in such games, many boys will outright refuse to play a girl, but the reverse is untrue and girls seem completely un-gender-biased in their choices. Indeed, in a game of Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart, Peach seems a rarer pick from the girls, with characters like Yoshi, Toad, Kirby and Mario himself proving more popular. So, when given the choice between Mario and Peach, girls actually seem to favour Mario, which flies in the face of Koizumi’s statement.

The only women who seem to outright favour characters like Peach are little girls, under the age of ten who are the midst of “princess phase”. So, yes, such people may be incensed into playing this game by the ability to choose her; but they are very different demographic than the “girlfriends and wives” Koizumi suggested, who would be at least teenagers, and would, by that point, be long over their princess fascination. Besides, even these tiny children show no gender bias in their media consumption, I’ve seen boys that age refuse to watch a children’s show that’s too “girly” (starring a female protagonist), but I’ve yet to see a girl dismiss a similar show as to “Boyey”. What’s more, these are children that are too young to attempt to sell computer games to, they probably wouldn’t even be able to lift the Wii U GamePad.

Too big for tiny hands.

Don’t think I’m being vindictive towards Mr. Koizumi though. I’m aware that it’s just something he said during an interview and probably didn’t mean too much by it, I just though that it was a statement that made an interesting starting point for discussion. I get what he’s trying to say, that the introduction of a female player character makes the multiplayer experience more inclusive, and he may be right. I just don’t think that it was at all alienating beforehand.

Which brings us to the question of why include Princess Peach to begin with? If her presence is unnecessary to attract the female punters, why not stick with the tried and true formula of having her act the damsel in distress and have someone else take the fourth character slot?

Nobody loves me… *sob*

Because including her is a great move, regardless of whether she attracts new players or not, that’s why. After two games where the fourth character-slot is lamely handed to a second Toad it’s a godsend to see anyone else fill the position, variety is the spice of life, after all. As for why Peach as opposed to say, Wario, it makes for a nice throwback to Super Mario Bros. 2, which starred the same playable cast as this new game, all with the same unique abilities. The Princess is also fun to play, with her floating ability being a genuinely useful asset. And, if nothing else, I’m really quite fond of her myself (I believe I made that quite clear in my Smash Bros. post) and am always happy to see her pop up in a playable capacity.

Yay! Everyone loves me!

Thought for the Week: Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

Perhaps starting this “Thought for the Week” feature when I did was a bad idea, considering that I went on holiday the very next week. Oh well, I’m back now anyway, even if I did miss my Monday update window. That was deliberate, however, for a reason that should be fairly clear if you look at the title.

Today is one of my favourite days of the year: Bonfire Night (or Guy Fawkes Night, if you prefer). I love the huge, roaring fire in a cold field, the endless procession of fireworks, the hot dogs. It’s great fun and has a wonderful atmosphere to it.

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

But I do worry for it. Not in the sense that the health and safety brigade, or the political correctness bunch do, that is. Indeed those are two of my chief grievances on this topic. No, I worry that the Fifth of November may eventually end up not being remembered any more. Maybe I’m just being slightly paranoid and over-protective of our quirky tradition, but I am noticing some slightly disturbing trends of late.

First off are the actions of the two groups I’ve already mentioned. The political-correctness peddlers don’t worry me too much, there’s always someone ready to denounce just about anything as inappropriate and offensive, after all; and those declaring Bonfire Night “anti-Catholic” are no different, their complaints falling on just as deaf ears as those who claim Christmas is too Christian. But there’s always a slight concern that someone might actually listen to them and try morphing the event into a sanitised, devoid-of-feeling husk of its former self, or cull the tradition altogether. We can but hope that never happens.

For the record, I don’t think that the night is in any way anti-Catholic. Yes, the Gunpowder Plot was a Catholic conspiracy, but it’s not the act of executing some Catholics that we celebrate, it is the foiling of what would have been a horrendous act of terrorism. The faith of the perpetrators is entirely irrelevant, all that matters is that a group of very bad men were stopped. If the architects of 9/11 were stopped in their tracks on the very brink of fulfilling their scheme, wouldn’t there have been much cause for celebration? And would you have deemed such celebrations to be anti-Islam? Yes, I know that 9/11 is a lot more recent than 1605, but if we’ve celebrated it all this time, why stop now?

Besides, over 400 years later, isn’t it almost irrelevant why we celebrate this day (not that we should fail to remember of course)? But I digress, let us get back to more pertinent issues, namely, those overly concerned with health and safety. I am sure that there are many who would conspire to end Bonfire Night on grounds of it being too dangerous and, too their credit, this is a holiday who’s two main ingredients are a massive fire and an arsenal’s worth of explosives; not exactly things that you’ll find topping any “approved activities for children” lists. But that doesn’t mean that we should end it, or restrict it in anyway at all.

Yes, there are always horror stories about a rocket going off into a teen’s face, and so forth, and that truly is terrible and should be prevented at all costs. But that doesn’t mean it should be spoiled for the rest of us. A little bit of caution and common sense goes a long way, and so long as sensible people are present to watch out for anyone who may end up getting hurt, it should all be okay. Safety cannot be absolutely assured, of course, but then, when can it ever be? There’s no need to do what some event organisers have been doing, like forcing people to keep within a certain distance of the fire. The feel of the bonfire’s heat on your face is a defining aspect of the night, after all; so to remove it is the kind of killjoy policy that sucks the fun out of the whole thing, causes people to get bored with it and eventually end up dropping it altogether. That would be a real danger.

But more than this, I can’t help but notice a steadily growing, more blasé attitude towards the whole thing. Perhaps I’m being overly-concerned by this, since it’s probably a good thing that the holiday is still being celebrated at all in these cases, but there is a growing trend of forgetting the Fifth of November itself – various places choosing to hold their celebrations on nearby dates, before and after. I can sort of understand choosing to forego the actual date in order to hold the event on the preceding/following weekend. I don’t agree with it at all, but I suppose that attendance may be higher, people can stay out later and so on. But I really can’t get my head around missing the 5th and holding it on another weekday instead. My cousin tells me that a local fireworks display is going to take place on Thursday the seventh, what the hell is that about? It’s a meaningless date that misses the actual date by two days for no good reason that I can possibly imagine.

No, I cannot condone the holding of Guy Fawkes Night celebrations on any other night than November 5th (you know, Guy Fawkes Night itself?). Perhaps a small family affair if you really, truly cannot attend the night proper for whatever reason. The date is an integral component of any holiday, it is part of what defines it in the public consciousness and helps make that one day in which it does happen feel more special. To approach the event with such apathy towards the date could eventually lead to a dilution of the holiday itself. If the 5th is ignored so, Bonfire “Night” itself could disappear, being replaced instead with the start of November just being the time fireworks are available for some reason. If you could help it, you wouldn’t have your Christmas dinner on December 28th, or go trick or treating on October 30th, would you? It would just be silly. In fact, that last example is a good way to lead into what I believe may be the greatest threat to the continued observance of Bonfire Night.

http://jakeysaunders.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/9da76-jacko27lantern.jpg?w=374&h=331

Trick-or-treat! Trick-or-Treat! Give us something nice to eat!

That’s right, Hallowe’en. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with All Hallows’ Eve in and of itself (although I do still find the concept of a day to celebrate all that’s bad and scary a bit bizarre), even if it is a holiday I don’t personally celebrate in any real way (besides watching a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode or two), but it does have a terribly unfortunate placement in year. Within a week of Bonfire Night. Back in the day, this wouldn’t have mattered, I can’t remember Hallowe’en as being anything more than a small-scale curio as a kid, marked by nothing more than American cartoons and maybe one trick-or-treater at your door. The day was barely observed and so the two holidays could coexist easily, with Bonfire Night being the key event for that time of year.

But the tide seems to be shifting now, persistent exposure to American pop-culture and growing annual marketing campaigns from the supermarkets have ingrained the modern, Americanised Hallowe’en much more firmly into the British consciousness. I’d still argue that, despite what the retailers and media seem to want you to think, the holiday still hasn’t really taken off in any major way – there’s still a complete dearth of tricks-or-treats going on, jack o’ lanterns are still relatively few and far between and the whole day seems to have taken off most amongst young adults who use it as nothing more than an excuse to get drunk in fancy dress – but it’s undeniable that it has definitely grown in popularity in recent years, never before had I seen Hallowe’en specials on CBeebies, for example. It is certainly true, at the very least, that it’s marketing push is as big as its ever been and only seems to grow by the year.

This is dangerous for Bonfire Night, since the two days are so close together, as one gains popularity, the other may lose it; and I worry that this may be beginning to take hold. Hallowe’en is first, of course, which means that the shops focus selling the various bric-a-brac relating to that ahead of Guy Fawkes Night’s, which ends up only really being pushed for four days on the first to the fourth of November. I understand why the shops would do this, there are simply more saleable items relating to Hallowe’en than Bonfire Night, which only really consists of fireworks, sausages and bread rolls; and, that being the case, perhaps the “coming second” thing is actually a blessing in surprise, as it may not actually get a look in at all under the weight of devil costumes and monster mash CDs. More worrying is the fact that after reveling all through the 31st, people may simply be too partied out to bother doing anything on the 5th as well.

Hallowe’en, then is a real worry, and I can but hope that the two holidays will continue to exist separately. I really would hate to see one of our long-standing traditions – over 400 years in the running – disappear for the sake of an American-commercialism import. So I plan to keep the flag flying the only way I can, by getting myself down to that field later tonight, to stand beside a huge, roaring fire and watch an awful lot of fireworks being detonated, and I’d urge all of you (in the UK, at least) to do the same. I will continue to largely ignore Hallowe’en, myself, but you don’t have to. Just remember to be safe, enjoy the evening and, above all, please continue to always remember the Fifth of November.

london-fireworks.jpg

Thought for the Week: Who the Hell is a Hipster?

That “Thought for the Week” you see in the title marks this post as the very first in a new series I hope to implement regularly here on this blog. It’s no secret that I haven’t been posting here too regularly lately – so to combat this I devised this as a new weekly feature to keep the content coming, whilst any updates about my writings and the like (which is ostensibly what this blog is about) will remain being posted as anything happens.

As for what this feature is, it’s the new home for my musings – posts on any topic that’s been playing on my mind (think the Super Smash Bros. Rant, or the thoughts on coming home posts I’ve already made). The original intention was to post anything as it came to mind, but that clearly isn’t working out, so I decided to organise it a bit more. Expect to see a new entry every Monday (what better time for a week’s thought than at the week’s beginning?).

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And now we can get to the matter at hand, and that matter is “hipsters”.

Hip cool, daddy-o.

Okay, that’s a beatnik, but therein lies the problem. Of all the images I could have chosen to represent hipsters, the one that jumped out as most appropriate was one that can be quite conclusively defined as representing something else, but a beatnik. Yet somehow it remains appropriate, doesn’t it? That may be because beatniks were perhaps the hipsters of their day, I don’t really know either way on that, or maybe it’s because of the common link in the word “hip”, but I think it’s neither. I think it’s because so-called “hipsters” are the most amorphous, shifting and impossible to define group on the planet and if I saw a guy on the street dressed like that (probably ironically), I’d have no qualms labeling him as one.

So, how does one begin to define the word “hipster”? Let’s start with what seem to be the universally accepted facts. First: everyone seems to hate them; seems harsh, but can you blame them? After all, who’s more annoying than that guy who thinks he’s better than you because his iPod’s full of bands you haven’t heard of? And Second: they seem to like enjoying everything “ironically” (or at least, claiming they do). And that’s about it. Everything else one person may claim of hipsters can be easily refuted by someone else. A very common idea, for example, defines them as exclusively liking the most obscure music, films, books, etc. and being deadset against anything that is in anyway “mainstream”. And it’s true that many we would identify as hipsters are in this mindset. But, if a hipster, claims the “irony clause”, as it were, then they can – and do – partake in the most mainstream of entertainment (listening to whomever’s occupying the no. 1 spot in the singles chart, for example) without losing an ounce of their hipster cred.

This makes things tricky, if one of the defining traits of a hipster can be ignored by virtue of another of their defining traits, then how are we to possibly pin down who they are? Those two accepted facts I mentioned earlier do not a comprehensive picture make. And not only can we not pin them down on their media preferences, but, by the same merits, we cannot identify that other key signature of subculture, fashion (as a hipster can pull of whatever look they want, from a formal suit to beatnik attire, should they do so with sufficient claims of irony). Alternative-ness, then – despite the common association – is clearly is not a reliable indicator of hipster-ness; and besides, someone who likes obscure things may just be that, someone who just happens to genuinely like those things which are obscure – it doesn’t mean we have to tar them with the hipster-brush.

And maybe that’s the problem; that being tarred with the hipster-brush is a negative thing. After all, with such a universally-disliked group as the hipsters, no-one, not even the perceived King of the Hipsters, is going to accept be labelled as one, let alone label themselves as such. If no-one is willing to identify as one, then, how is a common identity going to be fostered? Like-minded people may band together and swap their hipsterish ideals, to form little hipster-pockets (quite possibly of the literal variety, as well) but there is no uniform ideal to conform to, as with other subcultures. No set, “good” music, no sense of a uniform fashion identity, et al, and therefore any one individual or group of hipsters may well be outwardly unidentifiable with another.

So perhaps the solution doesn’t lie in the external, as it may when dealing with the goths or the hippies, but in the internal. I think this is the answer, that the state of being a hipster is a state of mind, rather than a defined state of being. Anyone who feels the need to justify watching the newest summer blockbuster because it’s “ironic”, who smugly listens to bands that no-one they know have ever heard of, before abandoning them – decrying them as having “sold out” – when they meet with an inch of success, or someone who watches the most obscure movies they can find, not because they enjoy them, but simply because they are obscure and therefore “cool”. These are the telltale signs of a hipster to me (not that anyone who displays them will ever admit to being one, of course).

But maybe I’m wrong, since if there’s one thing I think I’ve proven here, it’s that hipsters are impossible to pin down. Maybe that’s it: that vagueness and inability to be defined could very well be the defining trait itself. Who can say? They certainly won’t; the topic’s probably to mainstream or something.