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FROM A-Z IN THE SUSHI ALPHABET: Report From Tokyo Game Show

Gonzo, continent-hopping, oblivious-to-peril kind of guy that I am — I mean, just look at this haircut — I am running the truly nad-shrivelling risk of Harlan Ellison eating my soul when he discovers that I have, once again, ‘borrowed’ one of his more useful framing devices.

When it comes to cranking out from-the-road narrative dispatches (I can’t quite bring myself to utter anything that sounds like ‘blog’ unless I’m actually, you know, ‘talking to God on the big white iPhone‘), I’m just not all that hot and sweaty for the traditional linear approach. It’s not necessarily the manner in which I perceive or reflect upon events — particularly when I’m on the other side of the planet — striking a keen, wobbly balance between jet-lag, high-functional alcoholism and good old-fashioned sleep deprivation, and writing articles from 16 hours into the International Date Line future (that will likely end up posting a day or two after the fact in any case. God, only two paragraphs into this thing, and I’m exhausted). It was the late great Douglas Adams who said that ‘time is an illusion; lunchtime doubly so”… and within the neon gravity-well of Japan’s annual Tokyo Game Show, all temporal bets are off like sandwiches at Apu’s Qwik-E-Mart.

Zest Cantina

If North America’s annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) can be thought of as the pumping heart of the video games industry, then Japan’s annual Tokyo Game Show might be thought of as something more akin to its soul: A multi-day convention for developers, publishers, reviewers and consumers of all the new video games soon to hit the scene on both sides of the Pacific, usually split into two distinct sets of days. One of them is strictly for professionals and media, the other is open to any member of the public who wants to pony up the modest price of a general admission ticket. Unlike America’s E3, Tokyo Game Show is also routinely swarmed by droves of ‘cosplayers’ (video game enthusiasts who also happen to have a keen interest in dressing up in elaborate costumes based on their favorite game/anime characters).

A-Z in the Sushi AlphabetThe unique spectacle and experience of visiting both TGS and the greater environs of Tokyo in general are almost inextricably intertwined. In fact, I’d say you’re better off not even trying to disentangle them. If you come all the way to Tokyo only to schlep yourself around a show-floor full of video games and badge-wearing media dorks for a few days without ever experiencing the people, places and palette of Tokyo itself… well, that would be a self-inflicted cultural crime, if such a thing can be said to exist. Plus, you simply haven’t lived until you’ve squelched the post-midnight Tokyo munchies with a squid-burger.

Without further ado, I give you A to Z in the sushi alphabet, for 2009’s Tokyo Game Show:

A is for Akihabara: Colloquially known as Tokyo’s ‘Electric Town,’ Akihabara is where the wallets of visiting round-eye geeks like Yours Truly go to implode and die. Whether it’s a laptop computer, camera, video game system, watch, phone or any other kind of gadget you most treasure at home, you can rest assured that some 14-year-old girl in Japan already has a better, smaller, cooler one… and this is where she probably got it.

B is for Belly-Dancer: If you’re gonna get pulled out of some crowded alley and into an underground Tokyo drinking establishment, this is the person you want to make friends with first. She knows everybody, including the owners and the guys who pour the drinks (both at the current locale, and at other establishments entirely), and that means you soon will, too. At least, that’s how it worked out for me.

A-Z in the Sushi AlphabetC is for "Cosplay Alley": While the first two days of the Tokyo Game Show are restricted to media and games-industry professionals, the next two see the doors flung open to the general otaku public; in addition to the expected straight-up game-nerds, TGS sees a massive annual influx of so-named cosplayers — enthusiasts who create, buy and/or wear costumes fashioned after their favorite characters from anime, manga and, of course, video games.  They take over an entire open courtyard between main halls at the Makuhari Messe convention center and range all the way from badly-wigged, sweaty guys (who definitely should not be dressing up as hottie female fighter Cammy from the Street Fighter game series) to garden variety hot Tokyo girls who, God bless their conflicted little hearts, just need an excuse to rock the ‘Loligoth’ look down in Harajuku, and on to beautiful, eerily-serious method-actresses with elaborate, painstakingly-crafted, Hollywood-period-drama-level costumes (and perhaps even an actual career in the business of cosplaying, writing about cosplay, and/or making paid cosplay appearances).

D is for Dead Rising 2: Game giant Capcom threw a massive hands-on party and game-competition at the Zest Cantina in Ebisu for their forthcoming zombie-apocalypse, videogame-gorefest-cum-Western-society-critique Dead Rising 2. Whereas the original Dead Rising was an almost blatant homage to mall-zombie shenanigans in both George Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead and the remake, DR2 takes place in casino-studded “Fortune City” styled on Reno. Nothing quite like going on a zombie-killing rampage amid banks of slot machines, craps tables and gaudy casino bars, wailing on hoards of the shambling undead with common or outrageous weapons that come to hand — golf clubs, light machine guns, bar stools, decorative swords, electric guitars, twin chain saws mounted on a pole Darth Maul style, and even, in one memorable case, a wheelchair jerry-rigged with multiple full-automatic weapons. The game itself, the raging all-night booze-fueled event surrounding it and the subsequent multiplayer gaming competition by event attendees employed the conceit of a flashy, over-the-top, wrestling-entertainment styled ‘reality TV’ show called Terror is Reality XVII (wherein the human survivors of the zombie apocalypse compete in televised, competitive mass slaughter of the undead in various creative ways for the purposes of pay-per-view entertainment which is probably where our post zombie-apocalypse society would go, right?). Speaking of WWE-style blinged-out absurdist ostentation, there are two of the tallest, hottest Japanese ring-girls I’ve ever seen showing off the videogame competition’s grand prize (a custom leather jacket, painstakingly modeled on the one worn by the zombie-slaughtering, in-game hero). Would somebody please tell me if I should be enjoying this or not?

E is for Electronic Arts: Possibly but not necessarily going to Hell for making a videogame out of it — based on Dante’s Inferno, to be exact. Yes, you’ll be making your romp through Danteland Circle by Circle using your Scythe and Cross to either punish or absolve the various entities you encounter. Here I’m thinking of the game level representing the Second Circle of the Lustful where the mammarial and vaginal imagery runs wild,and fresh enemy combatants are spawned from the oozing nipples of a gargantuan Cleopatra.

F is for Fire Alarm: If you’re in a Japanese drinking establishment and you don’t know what the funny exposed switch is for, don’t fuck with it.

A-Z in the Sushi AlphabetG is for Ghost Trick: In this strange little Capcom game for the Nintendo DS, layers take the role of a main character who is murdered right from the outset of the game. You play as his ghost, a ball of spectral energy that can influence objects and events within a certain radius around it. Drop a crossing-gate, strum a discarded guitar, possess a nearby cat — do whatever you have to do in order to cause chain-reactions of events to influence the material world and investigate your own untimely demise.

H is for Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! Time to Tighten Up the Security!: Obviously, it’s a follow-up to Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do to Deserve This? With a game title like that, it’s got to be from NIS America (see Nippon Ichi Software, below)

I is for International Incident: This is what happens — or damn sure feels like it’s going to, for a while there — moments after you, the only foreigner present, have, through no intentional effort on your part, managed to cause a domino-effect, twenty-patron, chain-reaction tumble on a jam-packed Shibuya dance-floor.

J is for Japlish: This typically occurs in Japanese T-shirts, product slogans and video-game press releases. It is usually intended to be completely comprehensible English… and is occasionally the best possible entertainment-value bang for your yen, bar none.

K is for Kabukicho: A famed red-light sprawl of nightclubs, shops, ‘hostess bars’ and general potential trouble in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, known for among other things its Yakuza infrastructure (tellingly, its name refers to a culturally-enlightening kabuki theater that was planned for the area, but never actually built).

L is for R — at least, here in Japan: You know what I’m tarking about?

M is for Microsoft: The Evil Empire has gotten at least a dozen major publishers on board with their Project Natal. Based on an add on peripheral for the Xbox 360, Natal lets users interact with their game console through gestures, spoken commands, and other elements… basically, anything except a standard videogame controller. Porno and military applications soon to follow, in that order… or am I just being cynical?

A-Z in the Sushi Alphabet

N is for Nippon Ichi Software:  Purveyors of some of the more oddball, anime-influenced and relentlessly-goofy videogames, they’re known in the States as simply NIS America. Of late, they have a propensity for giving their products longish, unwieldy, or just plain calculatedly funny-sounding titles. (Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?). They also, happily, seem to operate under some company-wide policy that tends toward the hiring of hot women. Go figure.

O is for Ochanomizu: It means ‘tea-water’ in Japanese, and it’s also the name of both a Tokyo neighborhood and the train-station serving it. If you have found a black shoulder-bag there containing a three bottles of Suntory whiskey, a Japanese throwing-star, a pair of really expensive sunglasses and a flash drive containing what appears to be nothing but a shitload of passwords, I would like to have a word with you.

P is for Peace Walker: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, that is, for the Sony PSP — the newest in the venerable and oft-eclectic game series from famed (and also oft-eclectic) designer Kojima Hideo. This one is set between Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. Players take the role of Naked Snake, only this time in 1974. Having founded a merc army of his own, he’s tasked with freeing Costa Rica from unknown invaders. Great controls, a present but less-prevalent stealth element, and more context-sensitive scheme for the series’ patented Close Quarters Combat.

PlaystationQ isn’t for shit: If you’re in Japan and come across anything starting with the letter Q, you’re probably best off avoiding it.

R is for Resident Evil: Sure, two-thirds of the live action movies have been crap, but the games that inspired them are still holding up fairly well. Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles goes back to the disaster at Raccoon City and is a one or two player first-person, zombie-killing action game.

S is for Silent Hill — Shattered Memories: It’s not only a reimagining of the creepiest survival-horror game series out there, it’s the first appearance of the game series on the Nintendo Wii (usually better known for its rather more harmless, family-friendly titles). Per its name, it involves the recollections (from a psychiatrist’s couch) of the original game’s protagonist about the events of his first terrible night in the doomed town of Silent Hill. Armed with only a flashlight and a cell phone camera that can catch awful digital glimpses of a haunted alternate reality, players confront a nightmarish world that can morph and distort on the fly without warning, in the manner of a dream going bad.

T is for Tesla: Remember all those ships and planes that went missing in the Bermuda Triangle? Yeah, it turns out they ended up in an alternate world… a world that is gearing up for a fresh attack on our world. Tesla himself appears as a supporting character in Dark Void, a game from Capcom that puts players into said other world, combining the exploration and cover-fire mechanics of games like Uncharted and some general retro, Rocketeer-esque sensibilities.

U is for Ueno Park: A spacious public park located in the Ueno section of Tokyo, it is populated by many of Tokyo’s homeless as well as a considerable contingent of sketchy gaijin (non-Japanese, foreigners) offering still other, passing gaijin a variety of sketchy items, services and "information." They usually start their approach/spiel by making a stab at your nationality, getting it completely wrong (one Persian guy persistently asked me if I was Italian or Israeli in apparent, utter failure to recognize the big fucking bright American flag patch on my left shoulder), before finally breaking down and just asking you, before proceeding to offer you said variou, sundry and often illegal aforementioned sketchia. When in doubt, it is best to say “fuck no” in clear, firm American — not English mind you, but American — to any given 7 of 9 propositions these glaringly non-Japanese wannabe hucksters may propose to you.

V is for Valkyria Chronicles 2: SEGA’s original, critically-acclaimed tactical combat game for the PS3 (set in a radically alternate-world sort of World War II) played like an action-point-based board game brought to digital life, and looked like a watercolor painting in constant motion. Its sequel is coming for Sony’s PSP/PSP Go handhelds, and is slated for a 2010 release in North America. Terrific—now this game is going to rule my life even when I’m sitting in planes, trains and sketchy bars.

W is for Wasabi: Placed in food where it’s not typically found, this stuff can be the Holy Grail of weapons-grade practical joke fodder.

A-Z in the Sushi Alphabet

X is for X-Ray: If your scouring of all the nifty little Japanese toy shops have led you to buy anything that even remotely resembles a machine-pistol, remember to take it the fuck out of the bag that’s going through airport security with you, unless you really value being the center of attention.

Y is for Yakuza (see ‘Kabukicho,’ above): As we have our Grand Theft Auto and Godfather anti-heroes, the Japanese occasionally like to put themselves in the virtual world of modern organized crime. Yakuza 3 hasn’t even come Stateside yet, but SEGA is already working on Yakuza 4. Now, if they can only get just a little more clever about what they actually name these games after four incarnations or so.

Z is for ZZZZZ: Means ‘sleep’…and man, it just ain’t happening in Tokyo this week; not enough for me, anyway.


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