Review : My Japanese Coach.

Title: My Japanese Coach
Genre: Learning Software (English to Japanese)
Platform: Nintendo DS
Developer: Ubisoft
Price: Ranging from $15-35 US, retails for $25-45 AUS.

I know technically, it's not a manga but obviously being able to read Japanese would open the door to a lot more manga titles that never end up being translated to English.

Without a doubt, learning Japanese is a long and hard road, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Normally the best way to tackle this task is to enroll in Japanese language classes, which is not always an option due to availability, cost, or just being too busy. The second best route is to use a text book or internet site, but text books don't provide any interactive or verbal training and internet sites are only available whilst sitting in front of a computer and are often just supplements to their text book counter parts.

Luckily Ubisoft have bridged the gap between language classes and text books with My Japanese Coach for the Nintendo DS. Giving your the ability to learn Japanese words, sentence structure, draw kana and use a variety of soloable mini-games to help you remember. All this without having to pay a high price or hassle someone to help you with your flash cards, as well as providing portable access so you can get some practice in on the bus or during a break at work.

Starting it up you're tasked with setting up a personal profile. The game allows a total of 3 separate profiles, so family members or friends can share the same individual software. You are then given a quick multiple choice quiz to see how much you know. Don't worry if you know nothing, the game was designed for someone with no knowledge of the language, this quiz is merely so the people who have already studied Japanese can skip the earlier, easier lessons.

Lessons are organized into segments consisting of 10-15 words or characters that are related. For example, a, i, u, e, o, ka, ki, ku, ke, ko in hiragana (the Japanese alphabet), or Konnichiwa, Ohayoo, Konbanwa, Sayoonara (Greetings). The lessons contain all kana, romaji readings and Japanese verbal pronunciation for the words and characters. Lessons are small and bite size, containing brief, but well written explanations. The Estimated total of lessons would be around 200, which can be revisited and revised at any time. Once a lesson has been read through, you are required to gain 25 points for each word or character before the next lesson can be unlocked. Points are acquired through the mini games. Obviously sometimes you will need to go over a lesson multiple times, just looking at the lesson once will not be enough, remember learning Japanese is still a hard and long process, you need to stick with it and repeat the exercises until you remember.

There are 12 entirely different games all up, including whack a mole, word search, multiple choice and flash cards. The word(s) you are asked to identify in these mini games are sometimes written in romaji, sometimes spoken and sometimes in kana, obviously to begin with most is in romaji (that's Japanese with english letters) as to make it easier for new comers to the language. There are games like fading characters and write cards which are used to assist with drawing characters by writing on the DS screen with the stylus. There is also a few games that help the user by getting them to arrange words to make specific sentences, helping greatly with sentence structure. These mini-games really give My Japanese Coach a big edge on all it's competition.

If the above features haven't already sold you this piece of software, it's also an electronic dictionary and phrasebook. You can type any word in english or romaji and the translator will show you it in romaji, kana and english with a description. It will also provide a verbal pronunciation of the word. If you own a DS, don't know Japanese and are going there for a holiday or work, this feature would be your best friend.

My Japanese Coach is probably the best Japanese solo-learning tool available, obviously, a class room environment is still preferable, but then this would also be the best supplementary study tool available, so purchasing this title is win-win for anyone who is keen to learn the Japanese language.

News : The communist manga of World War II.

In light of the fact that it's ANZAC day, here's a little bit of a historical lesson for you.

In 1937 when Japan first entered the world war II, the government forced artists and cartoonists to join a government trade organization, known as The New Cartoonists Association of Japan, which published the only manga magazine amidst the wartime paper shortages.

The manga authors drew comics following the governments guidelines, usually having family-style humour as well as making light of the wartime shortages, glorifying the war effort and demoralizing the enemy. Manga was used as a propaganda tool with illustrated leaflets used as an attempt to undermine the psych of allied soldiers.

But the allies also had a manga artist who had left Japan earlier named Taro Yashima, who created a book called "The Unlucky Soldier". Which tells a story about a peasant dying in service to his corrupt leaders. The book was often found on corpses of the Japanese soldiers, showing the strong emotional effect it had on its readers.

Still interested? feel free to read more about the history of WWII/Post War manga here.

Review : Blood+

Saya is a seemingly ordinary girl with a large appetite, living with her foster family on the sunny coast of Okinawa, Japan. She just has one little problem, she can't remember anything from more than a year ago.

When attacked by an inhuman beast, known as a Chiropteran, memories start slowly coming back. After surprisingly regenerating her wounded legs, a tall stranger appears and hands her a blade. Seemingly in a trance, Saya takes the blade, trickles her blood over it and slices the beast in half.

Afterward an organization named Red Shield make themselves known to her. Their objective is to destroy the Chiropteran threat. But the only way they can do that, is with Saya's help, as her blood is the only thing that can defeat them. Obviously not having much of a choice Saya is thrust into an underground war between Red Shield and The Chiropterans, but coming to terms with what she is and what she must do, weighs heavily upon her mind.

The design and flow of the narrative is simple and well paced, making the story easy to follow. Saya's psych is also well represented by her facial expressions, it's easy to tell when shes acting on instinct, rather than rationally. The art is faultless, but generic, drawn in the usual anime style. There is blood, gore and strong horror themes, so it's probably best kept to a slightly older audience.

Blood+ is a good, modern vampire story, full of action, comedy and a lot of gore. Saya's inability to remember her past, keeps the story interesting and the reader guessing. It's a pity it isn't as in depth as it's anime version and only lasts five volumes.

News : Star Trek manga?

Looks like more and more companies are following the new trend of releasing manga series with their US movie tie-ins. The newest abuser is of course, Star Trek, the manga. For those 'in the know' with the Star Trek scene, I'm told it will be based on The New Generation series from TV.

Something just doesn't feel right about all this though, but I guess, it must have a market, or else they wouldn't make them, right?...

Which leaves us asking, what's next? Terminator Salvation? Angels and Demons? Fast and the Furious? Only time will tell.

Review : Special A

Hikari is a girl with a curse. To always lose to her male rival Kei, in both sport and school. It's not just a recent thing though, it's a mission shes been on for over half her life, since she lost to him in a wrestling match when they were six.

Kei and Hikari are part of the elite class of their school known as Special A, made up of the top seven students. Each student has relatively rich or powerful parents, except for Hikari, and all have oddball traits and personalities. Amongst others, there's a guy who randomly wanders off from time to time, an overly controlling angry girl and a mute who writes what she wants to say on a sketchbook.

Hikari is determined to beat Kei and never gives up. Unfortunately for her, things never seem to go her way. If she gets 100 on an exam, Kei manages to find a fault in the test and receive 105. Even in team based games like basketball, Hikari's team will always lose to Kei's. She just keeps on losing, but she never stops trying. It's also plainly obvious that Kei has a huge thing for Hikari, obvious to anyone else that is. Hikari doesn't see Kei as anything more than an ignorant, pompous, jerk who she must beat at all costs, but luckily, Kei doesn't give up and keep's striving for Hikari's affection, although, he still never lets her win at anything.

Special A features a slightly girly style of art. Although, it's not over the top like some manga are and can still be read rather comfortably by the opposite gender. Although the general quality of art is rather high, sometimes the pages feel a little busy and it's hard to keep up with the dialogue. Hikari isn't the average heroine of Shojo manga either, she's not a pushover and stands up for herself when she needs to, including beating the hell out of some fellow male students giving her trouble. Violence is minimal and there is seemingly no smut, which makes it easily fall into the all ages category.

Special A is a nice, clean, funny, high school romance story with a twist that will appeal to both a female and male audience.

News : Supanova Brisbane this weekend!

Just a heads up for anyone living in Brisbane, Australia. The Supanova Pop-Culture convention is on this coming weekend, 4-5th of April at the RNA showgrounds. Ticket price is $25 dollars for a day. Lots of big comic and manga stores will be there, as well as distributors like Madman. Usually selling a huge variety of manga at a very low price. Last year Madman was selling their titles at $10AUS each and some of the other comic stores were doing a 'buy two, get one free' deal. So it's worth the money at the door to get in, even if you're only going shopping and not attending any of the events.

As far as events go, the writer of Invader Zim will be there and Madman are steaming an english subtitled premier of the new Full Metal Alchemist series on Sunday night, there's also cos-play competitions if you're into that sort of thing.

Update - You can now watch the first few episodes of the new Full Metal Alchemist : Brotherhood series in Madman's online Screening Room for free (with english subtitles) here.