Solving unrealistic murder mysteries in Japanese

So you’re a mystery writer, or a private detective, and you’ve been called to Japan to solve the harrowing, grisly, impossible murder of a rich and powerful politician, Yamaguchi-san, during a party at his home. But where do you begin?

You begin, of course, by learning all the important mystery and forensics terminology.

First, you have to know how to introduce yourself. You’re not a “mystery writer”; you’re a 推理筆者 (すいりひっしゃ). Or, rather than a private detective, you’re a 私立探偵 (しりつたんてい) who works for (or perhaps operates) a 探偵事務所 (たんていじむしょ, detective agency or consulting firm). Maybe you’re even a 名探偵 (めいたんてい, great detective), your exploits known throughout the world, but it would be impolite for you to say so.

The 警察 (けいさつ, police) have called you because of the 怪しい (あやしい, suspicious) nature of the death. The 事件 (じけん, incident) was, as far as anyone can tell, a 密室殺人 (みっしつさつじん, “locked room murder”)–a 不可能犯罪 (ふかのうはんざい, impossible crime). It would have been ruled a 自殺 (じさつ, suicide) if not for an apparent ダイイングメッセージ (“dying message”) left by the 被害者 (ひがいしゃ, victim). Unfortunately, the message is unclear–it may be some sort of 暗号 (あんごう, code), or it may be some other sort of indirect reference to the 殺人犯 (さつじんはん, murderer).

Now it’s up to you to double-check the work the police have done. Assemble all the 手がかり (てがかり, clues) they’ve noted so far, and start keeping track of your own. Talk with the 客人 (きゃくじん, guests) of the パーティー (party) and analyze their アリバイ (alibis). Go over the 犯罪現場 (はんざいげんば, crime scene) for clues that may have been missed. Talk with 鑑識 (かんしき, forensics) about the tests they’ve done and order more if necessary. Based on what you’ve learned, you may want to order a ルミノール (luminol) test somewhere on the scene…the killer may have cleaned up some 血液 (けつえき, blood), but you’ll still be able to get a reaction if you know where to look.

Once you’ve figured out what really happened, it’s time for your 推理ショー(すいりショー, literally “deduction show”, where you present your findings). Have the police help you set up a demonstration of how the 殺人 (さつじん, murder) went down. There may be a grumpy inspector who complains a little about this, but you’ll also usually find at least one very willing detective to be your errand boy. He’ll also sit in as your victim if you want! Just try not to bump him off in your excitement to reveal the killer’s トリック (trick).

Make a big show of demonstrating the trick first. Once you’ve impressed everyone with your reasoning skills, start eliminating suspects. Ticking them off one by one adds to the サスペンス (suspense). Finally, lower your head, close your eyes dramatically, lay out your best 証拠 (しょうこ, evidence), and then say the following line:

山口さんを殺したのは… (“The one who killed Yamaguchi-san…”)

Then snap your head up, point straight at the killer, and say:

…Xさん、あなただ! (“…was you, X-san!”)

And with that, you’re ready to be a 名探偵 in 日本. (Just watch out for 黒ずくめの男達 [men in black] with 実験的な薬 [experimental drugs]!)

I wrote this in 2012 and never posted it. It is, rather obviously, inspired by Detective Conan.

Fun with pretend government offices from 19th century Japan

Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi title imageSean and I recently went back to Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi, a show I started watching via fansubs in 2006 but never got around to finishing. Now the whole series is on Crunchyroll.

The fansubs always translated the name of the agency the Arashi worked for as the “Occidental Investigation Office,” so I was surprised to see it called the “Office of Barbarian Knowledge Enforcement” in the official translation.

Transliterating what they’re saying, you get “Bansha Aratamesho”. I put this phrase into hiragana, ばんしゃあらためしょ, and googled it. The official page for the series came up, as did the official kanji for the name: 蛮社改所. Obviously, since this group was made up for the show, this term doesn’t appear in dictionaries. Here’s how it breaks down:

蛮: ban, “barbarian”

社: sha, “association, society, etc. (or the counter for those things)”

改: this kanji can be part of a verb meaning “to inspect”, which I’m guessing is the intended meaning here.

所: this is just weird; alone and pronounced sho, it only appears in dictionaries as the counter for places.

Searching the phrase in compounds yields better results. According to this page, 蛮社 is short for 蛮学社中, bangakushachuu, which refers to the Western learning done by samurai attendants. Meanwhile, I found the compound 改所 along with a different starting phrase. 貫目改所, or かんめいあらためしょ, refers to an office under the Edo shogunate that tracked the weight of shipments moving along highways, according to this page. Since 貫目 means “weight”, you can infer the meaning of 改所 to be something like “inspection office”.

Based on this, I’d say 蛮社改所 could be translated as “Western Learning Oversight Office.” I can see where the translators got “Office of Barbarian Knowledge Enforcement,” though, given that there’s no distinction between “barbarian” and “Western learning” in this time period.

(Fun side note: Here is an article about 蛮社の獄, or “Jailed for Western Learning,” that mentions Takano Chouei, who happens to be one of the many historical figures featured in Ayakashi Ayashi.)

The main cast of Tenpou Ibun Ayakashi Ayashi
Abi, Yukiwa, Atl, Yukiatsu, Saizou, Ogasawara, and Edogen

Another fun Japanese pun

I love puns, as you may know. This morning I spotted one on Twitter:

What did the Japanese person say about British food? 馬そう。 –@tokyorich

Reading phonetically, うまそう or “uma sou“, it would seem like the Japanese person is simply saying that British food looks delicious. The joke is in the kanji.

そう/sou means “looks like”. うま/uma can mean delicious. But the kanji 馬 means horse.

You may have heard about horse meat found in beef products in Britain; here’s an article excerpt from CNN:

First UK tests reveal scope of horse meat contamination

Over the past week, unauthorized horse meat has been discovered in a variety of products labeled as beef that were sold in supermarkets in countries including Britain, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland.

… The meat industry was first thrust into the spotlight last month when Irish investigators found horse and pig DNA in hamburger products.

So as you can see, the joke is hilarious.

A pun like this was actually used in Yakitate!! Japan, when Azuma and Kawachi meet the manager of Pantasia’s southern branch for the first time and he demands they bake bread a horse will like. When the horse is satisfied, it cries out 「うま!」, uma! However, instead of the proper kanji for delicious, 美味, 馬 is shown.

Traditions and willpower

In the course of rearranging and organizing everything in my life, I’ve dusted off some goals and study materials that have been foundering or never even used and started making clear plan lists for using them. My Japanese language plan is the most robust so far; it includes steps for my WaniKani reviews, TextFugu, the collection of study materials I purchased from TheJapanShop, and reading and translating various Japanese-language manga and short stories I own. When I logged back into TextFugu for the first time in months, it reminded me that I had purchased the 30 Day ebook, a system for making oneself a better Japanese learner. So I added that to the list too and read Day 1.

The first day’s assignment is to make a task I dislike into a tradition rather than a chore. The idea is that if you have to force yourself to do something, you’re using mental energy that could be used elsewhere, and the more you can turn tasks into traditions, the more you’ll be able to achieve. I find this extremely interesting.

Since willpower is a finite resource (meaning the batteries only have so much juice before needing a recharge), being able to not use willpower becomes very important especially over time. If there’s a task you do every day with your Japanese, creating a tradition for it will essentially allow you to use your finite willpower to do something else, increasing the amount you can do and get done. Over time this adds up, so there’s no better time to start than now.

The mission is to pick any distasteful task, Japanese-related or not, set a time for it, and make it happen. I’ll probably go with “When I get up, I work out.” I don’t have a problem with doing laundry or the dishes these days…I just sort of do those things. (They’re already traditions!) But working out has always been a struggle. If I can turn that into something I just do, I bet I’ll feel a lot better about doing it, and I’ll have mental energy left over for other tasks.

I hope I haven’t chosen too difficult a task to turn into a tradition.

The Feigning Innocence Grand Prix

I set my Twitter to Japanese some time ago, and since then I’ve developed the habit of saving each new Japanese ad I see in the sidebar. Some of them are really cute. I enjoy it when I can read some or all of the text without looking it up, too.

Today I spotted one ad that included the phrase グランプリ (Grand Prix). This phrase is often used in marketing to mean “campaign”, at least if Twitter ads are to be believed. For those of you unfamiliar with katakana, the romanization is guranpuri.

I posted on Twitter, “I wonder if any Japanese marketing campaign has ever used the phrase 知らん振りグランプリ…”

知らん振り is a phrase I learned from Detective Conan. It means “feigning innocence” and was used to great effect to determine who the native Japanese speaker was in a group of three Western-looking people. They were all told to stand in front of chairs, and then the police inspector said “知らん振り”…and two of them sat down. This is because 知らん振り is roughly pronounced “shiranpuri”, which to a Westerner might sound like a Japanese person trying to say “sit down, please” in English. The native speaker of Japanese didn’t sit down because he knew what 知らん振り meant.

Since “shiranpuri” totally rhymes with “guranpuri”, it’s a natural fit!

After wondering whether any marketing companies used the phrase I’d come up with, I googled it. While I didn’t find any ad campaigns in the first few results, I did find videos and articles using 知らん振りグランプリ as a tag, and blog posts with 知らん振りグランプリ as the title. Score.

Categorized as Japanese Tagged

Getting more Japanese language input with Flutterscape

One of the most important factors in learning a new language is getting good input. Interacting with other speakers of Japanese, watching Japanese-language videos, reading Japanese-language books and websites, and listening to Japanese music are all ways you can ramp up your learning.

There are lots of free resources out there for Japanese input. One simple way to find Japanese language content is simply by searching the web for keywords in Japanese.

But sometimes you want something you can hold in your hands, or something that isn’t available digitally. If you’re lucky enough to live near a Kinokuniya or a Japanese specialty store that offers more than groceries, you might be able to find what you’re looking for there. But let’s say you’re really interested in a certain band, and you want to find all their CDs. Or you used to read a translation of a certain manga, and now you’d like to give the original a shot. It’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to walk into a store and find exactly what you’re looking for.

Enter Flutterscape.

Flutterscape is kind of like Craigslist for Japanese media. The site connects people outside Japan who want Japanese products with people living in Japan who have better access to those products. Often the sellers will already have items posted for sale, but what I’ve found most useful is Requests, where buyers can post exactly what they want and then let different sellers bid on the sale. So far I’ve used Requests to purchase two artbooks and two complete sets of out-of-print manga.

The buying process is simple and secure and guaranteed by Flutterscape. Your personal information is not sent to the seller; instead, the seller sends your item to Flutterscape’s Tokyo location, and Flutterscape ships the item to you. You can find more information on buying here.

Obviously, ordering items from another country is going to be a little pricey, especially when you add shipping. Unfortunately, Flutterscape does not currently have a way to combine multiple orders to lower shipping costs; each requested item will be shipped on its own. (I ordered my mangas in sets rather than volume by volume, which would have been cost-prohibitive.) If you like the idea of having media direct from Japan to consume but are leery of the cost, you might consider sharing the cost of materials across a group of Japanese-learning friends in your area.

Regardless, having the option to import items you wouldn’t normally have access to really opens up your language-learning possibilities.

If you are actually in Japan, you can earn a little extra money by being a seller on Flutterscape. You won’t make anything on shipping, but you can (and should) charge the buyers a little more than what it costs you to purchase the item they want. You then get the satisfaction of sharing Japanese language and culture with people around the world while accumulating a tidy little sum for yourself. There’s more about selling here.

As interest in Japanese language and culture continues to grow, Flutterscape has emerged to provide a much-needed conduit for obtaining raw materials. For the right price, you can snag the original manga for that show you were obsessed with as a kid, or out-of-print CDs from that band you heard the first time you started getting into Japanese culture. If there’s something out there you know will keep your interest, it’s excellent fodder for Japanese language study. After all, if you like it, you’re more likely to consume it, which means you’re maximizing your Japanese input. It’s win-win.

My new anime love: Kids on the Slope

Kids on the Slope坂道のアポロン (Kids on the Slope) is a story about jazz-loving high school students in Kyushu in the 1960s. I’ve been watching it on Crunchyroll. The series is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who you may remember from the fabulous Cowboy Bebop, and the music is by Yoko Kanno, whose amazing music is everywhere–Bebop, Macross Plus and Frontier, and Escaflowne, just to name a few. (There’s even an iPhone alarm clock app from UNIQLO featuring original Yoko Kanno music now.) The art is nice and the animation flows well, and of course the voice acting is top-notch.

The show’s got plenty of the pieces I look for: an interesting setting, believable characters with pasts that are revealed as the story unfolds, a purpose bringing the characters together. I love that it’s not set in Tokyo. I love that it’s the past, and that it feels so well-researched. I love that everything is infused with jazz music. I love all the “love” relationships that at first seem so simple and then get more and more complex, just as real relationships do.

And I love that this is a show that is unafraid to go there. In the fourth episode, our heroes are playing their first live concert, and they’re really getting into it, when all of a sudden a surly drunk American soldier starts yelling at them to “stop playing that [expletive] music and play white jazz”.

Of course that would happen. It was completely realistic. And the characters’ reactions are just as realistic. Sentaro, the drummer, who is half white, half Japanese, is extremely sensitive to this sort of issue. He yells something like “Fuck that segregationist shit!” and storms off the stage. Another character, Jun, calmly rallies the piano player, Kaoru, and the two of them perform a soft jazz tune, which placates the drunkard.

I feel sort of bad for being so surprised at the scene. I’m just not used to seeing racism so blatantly portrayed in anime–especially with Japan as the setting. In an imagined setting, you can more safely explore this sort of theme without implicitly accusing a culture of bigotry. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Japan is by and large a homogenous country, and racism does exist there, as you can see in the story of what happened to a guy today on a train in Nagoya. Having racism as a story element is an extremely brave thing to do because it’s going to make people uncomfortable (as it should). You could argue that having the racist be a white American absolves the Japanese characters, but he’s just the loudest example of racism. You see plenty of quiet, cruel racism towards Sentaro from his own family members in flashbacks. I think putting in the soldier, having him be blatantly racist, makes the other racism more obvious, and makes Sentaro even more relatable.

It’s rare for me to have such a strong reaction to a show after only having seen four episodes. It took me a long time to process how I felt about that last episode in particular. I love that this is a show that takes the time to do character development well, but doesn’t actually waste any story time. Plenty of stuff happens; time seems to pass quickly. But at the same time I feel like I’m slowly untangling a glorious mess of thread and seeing how it all ties together. This is not shut-my-brain-off entertainment; this is the kind of engagement that comes from true storytelling. And I love it.

Goldfish Salvation

My friend Matt recently linked me to a blog post introducing “Goldfish Salvation”, an exhibit in London by Japanese artist Fukahori Riusuke. That one link sent me off on a web surfing expedition, culminating in a read through Fukahori’s own words on his original inspiration.

A Cup of Flower, Riusuke Fukahori - Goldfish Salvation
A Cup of Flower, Riusuke Fukahori - Goldfish Salvation (Photo by Dominic Alves)

Fukahori paints acrylic pictures of goldfish in containers between layers of resin, creating a lifelike 3D effect. His work is beautiful and powerful. Here’s a blog post detailing the setup of the exhibition, and here is a wonderful collection of photos of the various works. The exhibit’s official site unfortunately tells me that it’s over as of tomorrow. (Will Fukahori show his work elsewhere? Atlanta maybe, hint hint?)

I was interested to see if I could find out whether or not “Goldfish Salvation” was a translation of 金魚救い (kingyo sukui), the Japanese festival tradition of plucking goldfish out of a tank with a circular paper scoop. You have to swoop down just right in order to avoid the scoop getting too wet and breaking, letting the fish fall through it. 救い literally means “help; aid; relief; salvation”, so it’s like you’re saving the goldfish when you manage to do it right and take one home.

On Fukahori’s official page, I discovered that “Goldfish Salvation” does indeed make that direct reference…but it has a double meaning.

Fukahori had been thinking of giving up on art. Try as he might, he couldn’t find inspiration. He slumped across his bed in defeat, and as he lay there, he happened to see his pet goldfish Kinpin. He’d scooped her at a festival seven years prior. Staring down at her from above her tank, he thought about all she’d endured, and yet she’d kept going, kept living, growing to 20 centimeters in length. At that moment she was beautiful and strange to him.

He started painting, using her as a model. And when he was done he’d painted so many goldfish. “This is it,” he thought.


The answer I’d been searching for wasn’t in Europe. It wasn’t in America. It was right here in this room.

Since then, I’ve held precious the events of this day, calling them 金魚救い.

The goldfish he’d “saved” seven years ago at the festival had now saved him.

Goldfish Salvation.

I love Rikaichan.

Rikaichan is a Firefox plugin that acts as a Japanese reading aid; I hover to the left of a word or phrase I don’t know, and possible definitions pop up. While I may be using it a bit too much as a crutch, I’ve found it really helpful with quickly confirming that I’m reading something right or in deciphering kanji I don’t know without copying and pasting into a dictionary.

One of the big reasons I love Rikaichan, though, is that it is totally up with slang. For an excellent example, click the image below!

Screenshot of Rikaichan use in Twitter trendsOh, Rikaichan. ワロタ indeed!

Conrad’s cold pack

I just discovered that someone sold Conrad-branded cold packs with his cringe-inducing pun, そんなはずがアラスカ, printed on them. Here is a picture from an eBay listing for the item:

Photo of Conrad cold pack from eBay
This line, そんなはずがアラスカ, is a play on the phrase そんなはずがあるっすか?, which basically means “That couldn’t be the case.” Literally, it’s more like “Could you really have that expectation?” What Conrad is doing is changing the very last part, the part that asks the question. He leaves the introduction of the topic, “the case” or “that expectation”, and then changes the question part to–wait for it–ALASKA.

For those of you who don’t read Japanese, here’s a romanization that will make everything clearer.

The original phrase: sonna hazu ga arussuka?

Conrad’s version: sonna hazu ga arasuka.

Just a slight sound change, and the whole meaning is different! Yet similar enough to be punny.

Of course, this joke fails, because it doesn’t make any sense. Alaska? What? When Conrad makes this joke in Kyou Kara Maou, Yuuri is horrified that such a cool, handsome guy like Conrad would make such a terrible pun…

Conrad is pimp.
…but he reminds himself that everyone has to have a flaw somewhere.

Here’s the kicker, though. In Japan, when a joke falls flat, people basically respond by going, “Brr! It’s cold!” I don’t know why this is, but in my head I equate the cold, frosty scene after a bad joke in Japan to the crickets and tumbleweeds we evoke here in the US. And this, my friends, is why it’s so hilarious that Conrad’s terrible pun is printed on a cold pack.

Conrad’s jokes: guaranteed to cool you down.


Some time ago, I attempted a fan translation of the bland anime-original Detective Conan episode 439, そして誰もいなくなればいい. Work went slowly because I found the story so boring. Not being a 推理オタク (mystery geek), I didn’t even realize the plot was a blatant rip-off of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None until a friend pointed it out later, so when I submitted my translation, I had a title like “And It’d Be Great If Everyone Disappeared”. While this works as a fairly literal translation, it’s obviously not what the writers were going for with the title. They very clearly meant to refer to Christie’s work.

そして誰もいなくなった is the Japanese title of And Then There Were None. Changing the verb ending to なれば makes it conditional, and then adding いい indicates that the preceding is the desired situation. This results in something like:

If (And Then There Were None), Good!

So, how to reference Christie’s title while keeping the conditional intact and using English that doesn’t sound ridiculous? Obviously “It’d Be Great If and Then There Were None” is out. But that was the best I could come up with for months and months. This morning, lying sleeplessly in a bed hundreds of miles from home, a solution finally occurred to me. Here are some variations.

And Then There Were None? That’d Be Great!
And Then There Were None? That’s My Preference
And Then There Were None? If Only

The question mark handles the conditional and maintains the flow of the original title. Then it’s up to the following phrase to drive home the murderous point.

I think I like the last one best.

Meeting goals by having fun

I used to believe that to accomplish anything, I had to create an elaborate system, planning for every contingency in advance, and then strictly hold myself to that system, meeting a long string of minigoals on my way to the main goal.

Trouble is, that method has never worked for me.

I’ve never been able to create and stick to a menu plan. I’ve never charted out long-term projects for school or work and then adhered to a granular schedule.

What works for me is doing what I feel like doing when I feel like doing it. This goes for anything. Some days I feel like being creative; other days I feel like doing mindless “it has to be done” tasks. If I try to do creative tasks on days I’m feeling mindless, or I try to do mindless tasks on days I feel creative, I usually end up in a sour mood.

Sometimes, of course, it can’t be helped; there’s a project that has to be done now, no matter what mood I’m in. I have built up enough maturity since college to force myself through such blocks and get the work done. But when it comes to my interests outside work, things I don’t have to do, I find that the second it starts getting tiresome, I quit.

For example, my Japanese self-study progressed very slowly once I was out of college. And even when I was in college, I barely studied. At the time I thought something was wrong with me, that I was just lazy, that everyone else was working hard and I wasn’t, and that those were the reasons they excelled and I didn’t.

I purchased Japanese textbooks but stopped short of using them; I amassed flash cards but never took them out of their boxes. I bought a workbook and only filled out a few pages.

However, I also continued watching anime; I purchased Japanese-language editions of my favorite manga, and muddled through at least parts of them; I followed translators and other Japanese-speaking native English speakers on Twitter; I installed a Japanese dictionary browser plug-in; I listened to Kyou Kara Maou radio dramas. I kept in contact with the language.

And then, through my Twitter/blog friend Harvey, I discovered AJATT.

AJATT stands for “All Japanese All the Time”. It’s a language-learning philosophy created by a guy calling himself Khatzumoto, who taught himself Japanese in 18 months without attending any classes. The idea is that keeping in contact with your target language is enough to continue your language learning…and the best way to stay in contact is through fun things you’d already be doing.

It took weeks, maybe even months, for me to truly grasp the power of this approach. During that time I followed Khatzumoto (@ajatt) on Twitter and just let myself absorb his mindset. His tweets vary from inspirational quotes to his own observations on language learning to links to various interesting readings and videos in Japanese. Some samples:

“西暦1491年―先コロンブス期アメリカ大陸をめぐる新発見” (original tweet)

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” | Nelson Mandela (original tweet)

サイロン・レイダー – Wikipedia “宇宙空母ギャラクティカ” (original tweet)

Where is your ownage? Still below the surface, where it’s supposed to be. Now shut up get back to watching cartoons! :P (original tweet)

You’ll often find that it’s more important to get things started than to get them right. (original tweet)

That first link is to a Japanese-language book on Amazon about new discoveries about pre-Columbus America. This would be a great tool for a history buff to practice reading Japanese while enjoying an interesting historical topic.

The Nelson Mandela quote is pretty self-explanatory.

The third tweet links to a Japanese-language Wikipedia article about the attack craft used by the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. Yes!

The last two are examples of Khatzumoto’s thoughts on language-learning, which are great motivators to keep yourself in contact with your target language.

He’s constantly posting stuff like this, such that I’m inundated with plenty of fun things to do in Japanese. For a time, while I was letting the AJATT philosophy sink in, that was enough…but then I started wanting more contact.

Eventually, someone somewhere linked to a blog post that recommended five iPhone applications for learning kanji. Based on that review, I ended up getting iKanji Touch and Kanji Flip. I had previously purchased several of Harvey’s iPhone apps. Khatzumoto linked to some live streams of Japanese television, so I ended up adding the MoSS app, a free live stream player. And Harvey linked to a couple more apps: one that lets you practice inputting Japanese without using romaji on the iPhone, and one that has Japanese-language news headlines in comic book format. Now I have one screen almost completely filled with Japanese apps:

iPhone screenshot

I’ve actually found myself using Kanji Flip the most. It uses the Spaced Repetition System, or SRS, which I had never heard of before I started following Harvey and Khatzumoto and Bret. With Kanji Flip, I very quickly learned to recognize about 100 kanji–by very quickly, I mean about one week. And this was just using Kanji Flip during any down time, such as waiting for food at a restaurant.

Using Kanji Flip gave me a sense of accomplishment–I could see how well I was doing at all times–while still being fun. I started recognizing those 100 kanji in Twitter posts, and relying less on my plug-in to read Japanese text.

I also changed my iPhone and my Facebook account’s default language to Japanese. This puts me in constant contact with my target language. I’ve started to recognize words I never knew the kanji for before, like 自分 (-self), which is used in Facebook Notifications such as “Heather commented on her own status” (or, “Heatherさんが自分の近 況についてコメントしました。”).

The bottom line is I’m having fun, using Japanese in my daily life and making sure to come in contact with it a lot.

It occurred to me the other day that this sort of mindset should be able to work for pretty much any goal. If I want to be a runner, for example, I should run as much as possible. If I want to be in shape, I should engage in physical activity as much as possible. If I want to eat healthily, I need to keep healthy foods around me as much as possible. If I want to save money, I need to make smart financial choices and think about how to cut out costs as much as possible.

It seems like a no-brainer writing it out like this. But what I’m coming to realize is none of that’s going to work if it’s not fun. If I don’t have fun with these things, I’m not going to keep in contact with them enough to have any impact on my life. In other words, I’ll know what I should do, and I’ll force myself to do it for awhile, and then I’ll start to think of it as a chore, and soon enough I’ll quit. That has been the story of my life. Literally, where my extracurricular activities are concerned.

I don’t have it all figured out yet. I don’t know how I’m going to make everything I want to accomplish fun. But I do know I can’t approach this the way I’ve approached pretty much everything else. I can’t put off getting started while I try to figure out how to create a “system”. What I need to do is just jump in, see what works, see what doesn’t, and, ultimately, enjoy myself.

I’m feeling a lot more hopeful about accomplishing things now.

Kyou Kara Maou OST 3

I’m a big fan of the music of Kyou Kara Maou. Youichirou Yoshikawa expertly weaves together Baroque, pop, acoustic, keyboards like something out of The Princess Bride, and swelling orchestral movie soundtrack styles for an eclectic blend worthy of the cultural mishmash that is the universe of Shin Makoku, Dai Shimaron, et al.

The actual name of the third soundtrack is 今日からマ王! ユーリ陛下・生誕記念!? 想い出のアルバム, which means “Kyou Kara Maou! King Yuuri’s Birth Commemoration?! Memory Album”. I’m guessing the “birth commemoration” thing is a reference to Yuuri’s coming-of-age ceremony, which occurs early on in season 3.

The album came out in July of last year(!), but due to the odd name, which is a far cry from the easily comprehensible “Kyou Kara Maou OST2 + D“, I didn’t realize it was a soundtrack until a couple weeks ago. Perhaps this is why the album is also referred to online as 「今日からマ王! 第3シリーズ」O.S.T.&メモリアル・ダイアローグ, or “Kyou Kara Maou Third Series OST and Memorial Dialogue”.

Regardless, I was very excited when I realized what this album was, I ordered it immediately, and I’ve spent the past couple of weeks listening to it over and over. Like the other KKM OSTs, it’s got some great pieces, with a few disappointing and surprising omissions. Here’s the rundown.

1.      閃光~魔王のテーマ3 – “Flash ~ Maou Theme 3”

This is the spooky new Maou theme that made me wonder if Yuuri was going to turn evil. It first appeared in episode 81 and was used to great effect in episode 99, when Saralegui uses Yuuri against Dai Shimaron for the first time. Though the piece initially seemed to foreshadow a moral fall, Yuuri’s purity was ultimately incorruptible, and it was Geneus and Saralegui who ended up bringing forth Soushu-like energy in the end. This theme faded out as the series progressed and Yuuri matured; it stands as a testament to what can happen if Yuuri lets his emotions rule his powers.

2.     切願~ジェネウスのテーマ – “Supplication ~ Geneus’ Theme”

This theme truly serves its purpose of representing the tragic character of Geneus. It’s sad, wistful, filled with longing, quiet, despairing. It’s the theme of a man who’s been cowed, a man who acts out the wishes of another, a man with an impotent will. There’s calm but sorrowful chanting, sad strings, and then the echo of Shinou’s theme to represent Geneus’ true desire–the very thing he can’t have.

3.     神謀~サラレギーのテーマ – “Divine Strategy ~ Saralegui’s Theme”

There are two three themes used for Saralegui, both involving Asian-style string-plucking music. (I should probably know what instrument that is, but I don’t. Some kind of lute, perhaps?) This is the more evil of the three. While I’m glad to have this creeping, calculating, overconfident theme, I wish I could also listen to the piece used at the end of episode 84 or 85, when we first see Saralegui. That version is more gentle, and I think it represents the part of Saralegui’s soul that is drawn to Yuuri. When the episode first came out, I made a .wav file from my fansub so I could listen to it. The piece can actually be heard in track 26 on this album, but Yuuri’s talking over it…I wish I had a raw version, without talking or episode sound effects. The third Saralegui theme can be heard in track 25, with Saralegui talking over it. It’s kind of between the other two; not sinister but not gentle, it’s more of a general theme.

4.     神剣 – “Divine Sword”

We first hear this piece when Shori uses the Divine Sword in episode 105(?), and it comes out again in episode 111, when Alazon appears at Blood Pledge Castle and Beryes reveals his true shinzoku appearance. It’s strikingly different from most other background music in the series, powerful, with strong, eerie organ, the low tolling of a bell, cymbal and gong crashing, and chants that seem swept along by the sheer might of the shinzoku. It’s the music of the “gods”.

5.     雄飛 – “Embarking”

When I first heard this piece, in the OVA, I was irritated. The main melody is pretty much a rip of “Fireworks” from the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix OST. However, as time has passed and I’ve listened to both pieces, I’m starting to like this one a little better. Where “Fireworks” is pretty repetitive (other than a weird guitar solo that wasn’t used in the movie), “Embarking” has interesting variations and eventually goes into a different theme. It’s kind of like Yoshikawa heard “Fireworks” and said, “I bet I could do that better!”

6.     夢現~アラゾンのテーマ – “Sleepwalking ~ Alazon’s Theme”

We first hear this piece in Saralegui’s dream/flashback about his mother. It’s a very pretty, slow and dreamy piano solo. I think it represents the more innocent time of joy and love in Alazon’s life, before the Divine Sword was stolen. If back then she was “sleepwalking”, the theft snapped her awake and hardened her resolve.

7.     襲来 – “Attack”

This is the new, oft-used fighting music. It’s similar to the old standards 戦闘 (“Battle”) and 厳峻 (not sure how to translate that one!) from OST 1–lots of drums and strings all over the place, with horns heralding the encounter.

8.     反撃 – “Counterattack”

More battle music! This slower piece is used a lot with the White Ravens and includes plenty of strings and horns. Sharp bursts call to mind running and ducking behind trees, and then the slow, charging strings and horns hail the coming onslaught. The horns do something similar to what they do in 襲来, but slower and in a diminished 7th (I’m pretty sure, anyway…I’d need to check it on a piano).

9.     試練 – “Ordeal”

This piece was used when Shinou flew up to help Yuuri at the end of episode 115 and beginning of episode 116. The low, rumbling intro and  triumphant horns call to mind a warring army, a crisis, and then a regal figure appearing to bring new hope.

10.     勇姿 – “Hero”

This piece was used for Alford and for episode previews. It’s a little more simply heroic than most of the series music–there’s no gray area, no emotional crisis, just a hero doing his thing. I like it though; it’s soaring and passionate.

11.     風の子守歌 – “Lullaby of the Wind”

This is the song Greta’s mother sang to her in the magical flashback in episode 93, which shares its name with this piece. Since this song is only used in one standalone episode, I was surprised to see it included on an album. It’s okay, but I would have rather had the Latin-inspired instrumental piece from episode 89, 花嫁はアニシナ!? (“The Bride is Anissina?!”).

12.     希望 – “Hope”

This is the quiet, gentle piece that serves the same purpose for season 3 as 追憶 (“Reminiscence”) did in the first season: it gives you warm fuzzies. It’s pretty and soothing. It’s used for episode denouement and for quiet times at the palace.

13.     架橋 – “Bridge”

This is actually a variation on 邂逅 (“Chance Meeting”) from OST 2. The tempo’s the same, and the left-hand piano is identical, but the piano right hand is an octave higher doing a pretty little theme that would probably act as a good harmony to the original piece. The strings come in later, swelling to support the right hand piano theme. It’s a nice variation, but I think I prefer the original.

14.     宿運 – “Destiny”

This is the spooky piece that’s always associated with Murata/Daikenja and Shinou. It’s often played in the Shinou Temple. The theme is actually a slow, more haunting variation on 畏敬~眞王のテーマ~ (“Reverence ~Shinou’s Theme~”) from OST 2.

15.     帰還~ジェネウスのテーマ2 – “Return ~ Geneus’ Theme 2”

This is a vocal version of the music played in episode 116, when Yuuri saves Geneus’ soul and all the dark power is transformed into beautiful energy snowflakes. I do enjoy the vocal, but I prefer the instrumental and really wish it had been included on the album. It can be heard in track 25, with Saralegui talking over it.

The next eleven tracks are the individual voice actors performing lines from throughout the show–or, in Conrad’s case, paraphrasing, since much of Conrad’s character development didn’t occur in easily-recognizable dialogue.

16.     ユーリのメモリー for コンラッド – “Yuuri’s Memory for Conrad”

17.     コンラッドのメモリー – “Conrad’s Memory”

18.     ギュンターのメモリー – “Gunter’s Memory”

19.     ヴォルフラムのメモリー – “Wolfram’s Memory”

20.     ユーリのメモリー for ヴォルフラム – Yuuri’s Memory for Wolfram”

21.     グウェンダルのメモリー – “Gwendal’s Memory”

22.     村田のメモリー – “Murata’s Memory”

23.     ユーリのメモリー for 村田 – “Yuuri’s Memory for Murata”

24.     勝利のメモリー – “Shori’s Memory”

25.     サラレギーのメモリー – “Saralegui’s Memory”

26.     ユーリのメモリー for サラレギー – Yuuri’s Memory for Saralegui”

27.     大切なもの(TVsize) – “The Important Thing (TV Version)”

This is the light pop song played in episodes 92 and 117. It’s kind of cheesy, but nice.

One piece I was very sorry to discover was not included at all, not even as background music for a memory, was the Latin-influenced instrumental from episode 89, 花嫁はアニシナ!? (“The Bride is Anissina?!”). The piece is played when Gwendal drags Anissina away from the castle and everyone (even the audience) thinks they’re eloping. It isn’t used anywhere else in the series. It’s just lovely, and I’d like to listen to it on repeat. There were also several pieces used as background music in the Memory tracks that I’d like to have clean.

In all, though, I’m pretty pleased with this album. It’s great to have so much more of the music I love, and the memory tracks provide good Japanese listening practice. Maybe in a future post I’ll break down what’s said in each of the tracks.

Fun with phrases

In Japanese, you can string phrase upon phrase upon phrase, and then at the very end have everything you just said modify a noun. For example, here’s a line from Detective Conan:

watashi wa jishu wo susumetai no…goshujin wo kousatsu shita Yuuko-san, anata ni ne

[I] [(topic particle)] [surrender (n.)] [(object-identifying postposition)] [advise*] … [husband] [(object-identifying postposition)] [strangled] [Yuuko] [you] [to]

This has the dramatic effect of hiding the true subject of everything you’re saying until the very last moment. It’s often used in Detective Conan to make the unveiling of the murderer a surprise.

Unfortunately it’s difficult to do this in English. Here’s the most literal translation I could think of:

I’d advise surrender…husband-strangling Yuuko, to you.

Of course, no one talks like that. So maybe:

I’d advise surrender to the one who strangled her husband…you, Yuuko.

* Susumetai has an ending, –tai, that indicates the desire to do something. I could have translated it as “like to advise”, but for the sake of simplicity I did not.