Culture clash: Fans fight for J-Rock
Japanese punk ambassadors, Shonen Knife.
June 29th, 2012
01:46 PM ET

Culture clash: Fans fight for J-Rock

Editor's note: Zac Bentz has been writing about the fringe of modern Japanese music for many years, covering hundreds of bands both in print and on the web, including his own ZB’s A-Z of J-Music. He’s also a musician, graphic designer and pet owner. Bother him on Twitter

Being a film geek is easy. Being a comic book geek is easy. These days, even being an anime geek is easy. But things start to get a bit tricky when it's bleeding-edge Japanese indie rock that you're after.

Sure, you might get a taste now and then if you're a hardcore anime otaku, but even then you're not getting an accurate feel for what's going on in the sweaty back alley clubs of Tokyo or Osaka. For that, you need to dig deep and have a passion for chasing down the ghostly hints of guitar feedback humming just beyond the horizon. Word of mouth from fellow fans is stronger than any billion dollar PR machine when that machine speaks a foreign language.

For many people, the first taste of what Japan has to offer came from the band Shonen Knife. The all-girl punk rock trio has been not only rocking non-stop for over 30 years, but they've also been touring the world for most of that time. They sing in English and are the perfect blend of foreign and familiar.

“I first got into Japanese music via a discarded Shonen Knife CD, Let's Knife, in maybe 1996 or so. I fell in love with them, because that is the correct reaction to Shonen Knife” says Daniel Robson, a Tokyo-based writer, event organizer and host of It Came From Japan. “After that, a Japanese college friend started recommending some other cool bands to me and I fell in love with some of them, too.”

Robby Takac (of the Goo Goo Dolls) founded the American label Good Charamel Records, which took Shonen Knife into their roster. “Once we began working with Shonen Knife we began to discover many other original and exciting bands in Japan and began courting female fronted rock bands to release to North American audiences...Each time we are introduced to another act, we are blown away by the originality and the unique angle the bands approach their music from.” FULL POST

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Anthony Bourdain swears he's a nerdy fanboy
Jiro is the chef at the center of Anthony Bourdain's graphic novel.
June 28th, 2012
11:45 AM ET

Anthony Bourdain swears he's a nerdy fanboy

Editor's note: Aaron Sagers is a New York-based entertainment writer and nationally syndicated pop-culture columnist. He has specialty knowledge in "paranormal pop culture," has lectured at conventions nationwide on the topic and is a media pundit on supernatural entertainment. He covers pop culture daily at and can be found on Twitter @aaronsagers.

Throughout the years, Anthony Bourdain has been cast as a punk-rock chef or as a food snob who will say anything to stir up a controversy.

For some he is the taste-making adventurer behind Travel Channel’s “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” the eight-season strong series where globetrotting is experienced through a cinephile’s eye, an audiophile’s ear and a gastrophile's stomach. Still others just think of him as that dude who ate warthog anus that one time.

But actually, Anthony Bourdain is a nerd.

Just as a comic book nerd can obsessively debate the merits of publishing companies, artistic elements, story arcs and creators, Bourdain is a food nerd who knows his restaurants, ingredients, dishes and chefs. He is a collector and communicator of food data, and you can add movie, music and, yes, comic book nerd to his list of labels as well.

This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news. Bourdain uses his literary confessional “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” and “No Reservations” – along with his blogs, essays, books, writing gig for HBO’s “Treme” and presumably his upcoming weekend show on CNN – as a playground to sate big-kid wishes and hang out with icons like Alice Cooper and Harvey Pekar.

Now he is finally able to pursue a successful fanboy’s dream of writing a graphic novel for DC Comics. Published through the Vertigo imprint, Bourdain’s “Get Jiro!” is a satirical thriller set in a “not too distant future” where master chefs are mob bosses who pull the strings of power in Los Angeles.

(DC Comics, like CNN, is owned by parent company TimeWarner.)

The comic's two ruling “families” are the food-savvy but withholding “Internationalists” (led by an Alain Ducasse-meets-Robert Irvine kingpin) and the hypocritical locavore “Vertical Farms” (led by a pretty obvious Alice Waters stand-in). While the outer rim of the city is loaded down with obese, fast-food-gorging denizens, the inner rim is a place where a reservation at primo joints is a sign of influence. Then there’s Jiro, a mysterious sushi chef who wishes only to serve his culinary craftsmanship without getting caught up in the politics of the kitchen crime world.

Co-written with Joel Rose (“La Pacifica,” “Kill Kill Faster Faster”) with art by Langdon Foss (“Heavy Metal”), “Get Jiro!” is like “Ratatouille” meets “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” where deliciously gratuitous violence is juxtaposed with painstakingly accurate food nerd details. And Bourdain’s commentary about celeb-chefs and our food culture is about as sharp as Jiro’s tanto knife. FULL POST

If aliens attack, this is who you want fighting on your side
Watch out "skitters," here comes Noah Wyle.
June 26th, 2012
04:35 PM ET

If aliens attack, this is who you want fighting on your side

Editor's note: Aaron Sagers is a New York-based entertainment writer and nationally syndicated pop-culture columnist. He has specialty knowledge in "paranormal pop culture," has lectured at conventions nationwide on the topic and is a media pundit on supernatural entertainment. He covers pop culture daily at and can be found on Twitter @aaronsagers.

Don't panic but our planet is in dire need of saving – from alien invaders. At least, that's if the impending summer blockbuster movie season is any indication.

The immensely successful super hero supergroup movie "The Avengers," directed by Buffyverse maestro Joss Whedon, was not only the beginning of the 2012 summer movie season, it also signaled the potential end of Earth unless a super-powered resistance can fight off godlike aliens. Then Peter Berg’s "Battleship" – an alien invasion flick based off the board game and starring Liam Neeson – came ashore on May 18. Memorial Day weekend unleashed Barry Sonnenfeld’s "Men in Black III" with Will Smith before Ridley Scott’s "Alien"-esque prequel "Prometheus" opened up on June 8. The fallout of the alien invasion on "Falling Skies" is particularly nitty-gritty: The post-apocalyptic world of the 2nd Massachusetts human resistance regiment returned to the airwaves this month with the show's second season.

So what does all this potential destruction of humanity mean? Well, we humans certainly love to watch films and television shows where our lives and planet are put in danger, but the appeal goes deeper than that. Audiences can deal with humankind on the verge of an extinction event as long as there a few good men and women willing to put up a fight to the finish. We love to watch a kick-ass leader emerge even if his efforts don't ultimately stop an invasion. To borrow from Bonnie Tyler, we need a hero whose got to be strong, sure and larger than life – and being smart and funny also helps to cope with the stress of saving the planet and inevitable whining of weaker characters.

With those characteristics in mind, we give you Paranormal Pop Cultures' best human resistance leaders to face off against otherworldly threats. FULL POST

The best comic convention you've never attended
The floor at last year's HeroesCon.
June 22nd, 2012
04:50 PM ET

The best comic convention you've never attended

Editor's note: When he's not teaching the Internet how to fist-fight, why being weird is awesome or how to self-publish your own books, Joe Peacock tours the world, showing his extensive "Akira" art collection. He's on his way to HeroesCon right now.

This weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, there is a comic book convention. It's called HeroesCon, and it's unlike any modern con you've ever been to.

There are no massive halls filled with video game companies hawking their latest wares. There are no movie studios promoting the latest summer and fall releases. There aren't any barely clad booth babes, and the volume of bandwagon cosplayers who don't actually read the material they draw their costumes from is kept to a minimum - and what cosplayers you do find there are high-class, high quality actual real life comic book fans.

Oh, and just about every single artist, writer and editor in the comics industry will be there.

I first heard of HeroesCon in 1994, during Dragon*Con in Atlanta.

It was my senior year in high school, and I was told by an artist in artist alley that if I loved comics, I needed to see HeroesCon. My convention buddies, Mike and Jay, hopped in a car with me that summer and we made the four-hour trek to the con. Once we got there, I was in heaven. HeroesCon was everything it was promised to be.

"HeroesCon is like the comics industry's family reunion," says Dexter Vines, inker for Marvel comics and a fellow member of Studio Revolver in Atlanta. "Heroes is a perfect storm of comic book convention and hanging out with friends. Every pro I know goes every year. You have editors from Marvel and DC driving and flying down on their own dime just to hang out. No other show I know has that."

A quick search on Twitter for #heroesCon finds hundreds of this year's attendees counting down the minutes until the con starts, and several dozen who can't make it this year lamenting that fact. FULL POST

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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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