The jump from J-drama to K-drama
Lee Min Yung, left and Gong Yoo, right, star in the Korean romcom, "Big." The show is based on Tom Hanks' hit 1988 movie.
June 22nd, 2012
02:29 PM ET

The jump from J-drama to K-drama

When I became a hardcore fan of Japanese dramas, I thought I'd discovered the alpha and omega of Asian entertainment.

Crammed with manga-esque storylines, good looking pop stars, and dream romances, J-drama was perfect. When friends mentioned Korean drama, I turned my nose up at them, uninterested in anything that didn't stoke my Japan-centric obsession.

Older, wiser and having developed an insatiable appetite for Asian idol culture, I've now warmed up to Korean media.

Korean pop music was my gateway drug - I couldn't resist the catchy songs. Google reinforced my new interest not long after that, promoting an all-Korean concert at their headquarters and pushing the trend called "Korean Wave" (also called Hallyu) to a whole new audience of potential fans. By that time, I was completely converted when it came to the music, even finding indie Korean acts such as Guckkasten and Glen Check to fall in love with. Fully enticed by these Korean stars, I was ready to find out why Korean dramas inspired equally devoted fans.

"The Korean entertainment industry has grown immensely over the last few decades, and dramas are now being produced with enormous budgets,  aimed for export more so than ever before," said Girlfriday, writer for the highly active drama community Dramabeans.

"They're produced slickly, enough to compete with American entertainment, and tend to be romance-centric. They also tell a complete story in 16 to 20 episodes, so its just long enough to get you addicted to something and just short enough that you don't feel burdened by picking up a show," Girlfriday said.

Like the Japanese dramas I'm used to, K-dramas are broken into subcategories by genre. The most popular shows are referred to as "trendies" in fan circles, and usually feature popular casts with young protagonists. There's also "ajumma" drama, which feature older or divorced female characters who find new love, "sageuk" drama, which plays out fictionalized versions of Korean history, and "makjang" drama, which is the closest thing to the American soap opera, traditionally taking a sensational approach with lots of absurd twists and turns. Korean dramas also include thrillers, action/intrigue and procedural genres.

But for all their similarities, K-drama has some major differences from J-drama. For instance, Korean shows air two episodes a week, whereas Japanese shows only air one. The biggest difference of all, however, is a key one: availability. While Japanese shows are rarely licensed for the American market, Korean shows are readily available through American-based services such as Hulu and Dramafever. Therefore, audiences outside of Korea can get their hands on them sooner. FULL POST

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Fifty Shades of Confused: Why do people like this book?
June 15th, 2012
10:47 AM ET

Fifty Shades of Confused: Why do people like this book?

A few weeks ago, I heard the sort of whispered murmurs in my local bookstore that are reserved solely for people who want to buy books that they don't want other people to know they are buying. Furtive glances and giggles echoed back as happy customers walked out the door, peering into the brown paper bags containing such worthwhile literature.

Interest piqued, I asked the clerk what book the women had purchased.

"Oh, 'Fifty Shades of Grey,'" she replied. "You don't know about that?"

I was a bit late to the party, admittedly. The novel came out last year and has since drummed up a tremendous amount of attention. A British author named E.L. James penned it as "Twilight" fanfiction at first, then rewrote it with original characters. It tells the story of  a young, inexperienced woman and an older man with a taste for whips and chains. It's like the "Twilight" craze all over again, but with less supernatural creatures and more bondage gear.

I thought I got why everyone wanted to slink out of the store with this book. I spend plenty of time appreciating Japanese and Korean male idols, and I love their sexy photo shoots. "Fifty Shades of Grey" has lots of titillating themes: hot people having hot sex, wish fulfillment, virgin and master. What's not to like?

But I read it. And I just don't get it. FULL POST

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The 'Diablo' blues: When the games don't change, but we do
June 4th, 2012
05:51 PM ET

The 'Diablo' blues: When the games don't change, but we do

The word "Diablo" is magical to me. Before 2000, it just represented a Spanish word that I was largely unfamiliar with other than seeing it on bottles of hot sauce.

Then I discovered "Diablo II," and hit me so hard, I couldn't go a day without playing. The recent release of "Diablo III" had me panting for more.

I stayed up until 2 am the night of the release of "Diablo III," watching the game slowly download onto my computer and feeling a nervous, celebratory brand of glee. The first week of play was just like what I remembered, except with more social connectivity than ever before. Within seconds, I could be in a full party, enjoying all the blissful memories of the past, and finding it all fit so well - like a pair of jeans you've had since college and furtively sleep in from time to time because they're so comfortable.

It knows you, because it's been with you for so long. And you know just what to expect from it.

I wasn't much of an MMO gamer before "Diablo II." (Thankfully, the black death known as "Everquest," kindly passed me over - which kept my sanity intact while my friends quit college to make a living hoarding platinum.)

When I looked at these games, I saw gamers as rats in a wheel, running an endless race. I was the type of gamer motivated by stories with a beginning, middle and an end. It made no sense to me to pour so much time and effort into something that essentially had no real finale.

Why did "Diablo II," break my habit? I'm not sure. Truthfully, at first it was fun to play with friends - that held some novelty for a primarily solo gamer. Soon enough, the game became a familiar face. It always felt good to run through those memorized levels or kill that miniboss yet again (Hello, Rakanishu!). No matter how many times I played through the acts of "Diablo II," I never lost my appetite for it.

But after that first week of jumping back into the world of "Diablo III," I realized something was different. FULL POST

Toonami returns – but can it succeed again?
Toonami mascot, TOM, then (left) and now (right.)
June 1st, 2012
02:18 PM ET

Toonami returns – but can it succeed again?

When Cartoon Network's Adult Swim recently announced the return of Toonami, a long running programming block  dedicated mostly to Japanese animation, anime lovers took notice. With classic titles such as "Bleach," "Casshern Sins," "Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood," and "Ghost in the Shell," on the slate, fans of high quality anime knew a soothing balm was in store for them in those late hours of the night when sleep doesn't quite come. (Disclosure: Both Cartoon Network and CNN are owned by the TimeWarner company.)

But some anime fans are less than excited about the new programming block. They think the titles Toonami offers are stale, re-aired episodes of old shows – a notion Cartoon Network Vice President of Marketing Jason DeMarco passionately sought to clarify on his personal Twitter account.

"SPEAKING OF WHICH," he tweeted, "Something you should know about THIS Toonami: We have very,very little $. This experiment will need ratings success....to receive more funding for new shows, more Tom animation, etc. I'm thankful for the $ we've gotten, but it isn't a lot.

DeMarco also hinted that other popular series like "Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt" and "Fairy Tale" could be in the program's future if it performs well. FULL POST

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How a Swedish teenager brought Japan to its knees
YOHIO debuted "Reach the Sky" last month.
May 29th, 2012
11:27 AM ET

How a Swedish teenager brought Japan to its knees

A few weeks ago, a memorable video made the rounds of the usual Internet hangouts. It featured a pale, beautiful, blond-haired singer named YOHIO with huge dark eyes, wearing pigtails and a Lolita-style ensemble and playing a white guitar.

The song, called "Sky*Limit," is a full-on Japanese rock ballad, evocative of a musical subgenre called visual kei that celebrates dramatic fashion and a androgynous look not unlike that of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust.

However, YOHIO is not Japanese. In fact, he's not even female.

Raised in a musical family, the Swedish teenager was already in a visual kei band called Seremedy at the age of 14. After making the rounds at several conventions, the band signed with Nintone Records/Universal Music Japan in 2011. And this year, YOHIO released his solo debut album, "Reach the Sky."

To promote the album, YOHIO appeared at Shinjuku Station Square in Tokyo and drew a crowd of 6,000 [Japanese website]. He's also appeared on several Japanese television shows.

YOHIO proudly describes himself as a "bishouen" – a Japanese word that literally translates to "beautiful youth." The trend of men toeing the line between masculine and feminine looks has long existed in the culture, as evidenced by the popularity of male idols with distinctly feminine stylings. FULL POST

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