Book Review: The Monster Book of Manga Steampunk

Disclaimer: Harper Collins sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

So lately I’ve been getting into drawing artist trading cards for swaps on Swap-Bot and Instagram. I’ve been making ATCs with scrapbook materials for over a year now, but now I’m branching out and drawing them by hand instead. It’s a great way to work on something quick and creative when I get home from a stressful day at work, and now that I’ve just bought my first set of Copic markers I want to step up my game even more.

I happily accepted Harper Collins’ request for a review of The Monster Book of Manga Steampunk because it was timely with the art I’m doing, I draw in a manga style, and love me some steampunk. Now that I’ve received the book I’m a little conflicted on how I feel about it, but let me give you a few things to keep in mind as you read my review.

I’d never heard of The Monster Book of Manga series, but evidently this is the newest installment. The rest are also themed, including Fairies and Magical Creatures, Boys, Girls, Gothic and more.

For starters, I’ll be completely honest here: I very much judge whether or not I’ll read a manga based on its art style. My absolute favorite manga-ka is Arina Tanemura (Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, Full Moon wo Sagashite), who draws in a gorgeous shoujo style:

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CLAMP is a close second for me:

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And as far as steampunk goes, my favorite manga isn’t actually of Japanese origin, but is instead based on The Infernal Devices series (prequel to the more well-known Mortal Instruments) by Cassandra Clare.

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As you can see, my favored manga style is fairly predictable: pretty hair, gorgeous eyes, and a lot of bright, blended colors.

Unfortunately, Jorge Balaguer, the illustrator and editor of The Monster Book of Manga Steampunk does not share this same art style. I don’t blame him for it, especially since it’s not The Monster Book of Pretty Shoujo Steampunk, but it’s not my style.

I liked this guy.
I did like this guy, though.

I want to reiterate here that I’m not a great artist by any stretch of the imagination. When I draw I don’t start with stick figure outlines, opting instead to start with the head and work my way down with pretty solid lines. I like to copy poses of drawings or people I find online since proportion isn’t my strong suit. I also know nothing about what pencils to use or proper inking and making some lines thinner than others… so I don’t find the page-by-page instructions for each character design all that helpful. Here are some of the ATCs I’ve created recently, just to give you a benchmark (they’re for a seven deadly sins swap; I’m drawing 7 versions of envy):

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Getting back to the book, there are 39 different character designs with 8 pages for each:

  • Page 1: Character Name and Description. Characters range from Galactic Hero, to Female Inventor or Ninja, and all have a one paragraph, 2-3 sentence backstory. For example, the Victorian Lady is a “great lady, much respected in court and held in high esteem by the Queen of Needles.” The attractive and mysterious woman is always seen at festivals and other events and rumor has it she’s a double agent.
  • Page 2: Outlining: the stick figure frame that I’ve never really used before, as explained above.
  • Page 3: Sketching: there’s a lot of detail here, and if I made my frame and copied the busy sketch phase I might begin to appreciate the outline stage a bit more.
  • Page 4: Penciling: this is a more detailed, cleaned-up version of the sketching phase.
  • Page 5: Inking: I wish there was some sort of tutorial on how to ink in this book, even if it was the same overview that could be included in the beginning of every Monster Book of Manga, but the inking in this doesn’t look any more advanced than my attempts anyway.
  • Page 6: Lighting and Shading: here they show, in black and white, the colored version of the drawing so you can better see where the light source is and how it casts shadows over the design.
  • Page 7: Layers of Color: suggested ways to color the sketch. The colors in this phase are mostly flat witht he exception of hair shinies.
  • Page 8: Finishing Touches: oh, boy… finishing touches indeed. In this final step more layers of colors, textures, and gradients are added, as well as steampunkiness aplenty. Photoshopped gears, bolts, and rivets– because that’s what you need to make a character steampunk, after all– are placed in every possible spot Balaguer could find to stick them on.

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I do wish the steampunk elements in the final character designs were more subtle, but overall I appreciate Balaguer’s different characters and how much their clothing, accessories and weapons vary from one to the next. With this book as a guide you can find a lot of inspiration for a variety of different characters, but I strongly recommend trying to tone down the amount of gears you add to your own characters. Maybe most people appreciate a Space Soldier with a dozen gears on his spacesuit, but instead of putting 4 gear stamps on his right shoulder I think it would have been nicer to make the whole shoulder piece a gear and actually draw it out instead. He added a lot of gears over buttons to cover them, but why not draw them that way from the get-go? Sometimes they weren’t in the right perspective and the same gear was duplicated 4 or 5 times in a row, giving the rest of Balageur’s hard work a cheaper feel to it.

I liked the overall design of this character, but his buttons annoyed me with the gears that were seemingly slapped on.
I liked the overall design of this character, but his buttons annoyed me with the gears that were seemingly slapped on.

The only other complaint I have is in regard to the coloring of each drawing. Balageur must have colored his characters in the same layer he inked them on, because in many of the corners of the characters there are white specs where the paint bucket tool didn’t know to fill in. As an art reference book, I feel like simple touch ups like fixing these corners should have been addressed.

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I’m nit-picky with this sort of thing, so if this doesn’t bother you, please ignore my ramblings.

Now let me give credit where credit is due: Balageur did a lot of research on these characters and came up with very clever, good-looking designs that are a good start for any steampunk-inspired character you’re looking to draw. I don’t know about you, but if someone said to me “hey Allie, please come up with 39 different characters in different settings, write a short backstory, and come up with entirely different steampunk costumes and elements for each,” I wouldn’t be able to do it. Would I have spent a little more time on the coloring and hand-drawn the gears and rivets I wanted to incorporate? Yes, but I can certainly appreciate the thoughtfulness Balageur put into each and every costume design; all of mine would have looked very similar to each other and his are far from the same. From his suggested themes and variety of clothes, accessories and weapons, you can make an endless amount of steampunk-inspired characters for any world.

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If you like steampunk and are looking for inspiration for your drawings, you can check out the first few pages of the book on Amazon and see if it’s a good reference for you! I hope you found my review helpful, but either way, let me know what you think in the comments!

Crystal Kay’s New English Single – Busy Doing Nothing

As you all know I loves me some Crystal Kay, and her latest Japanese album is my favorite J-Pop album of all time. I saw on her Instagram that she’s been spending a lot of time in NY making music, and, evidently, shooting a music video for her new song entirely in English! Here is Busy Doing Nothing, directed by Benny Boom and show in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. You can also download it on iTunes!

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Taiko Show at the Day of Dance for Your Health

Brookhaven Memorial Hospital here on Long Island had its annual Day of Dance for Your Health event at a mall in my town, and the taiko group I perform with was asked to play some drums! I missed last year’s event, but was happy to make it this year. It was cute to see the kids in the audience do the Festival Hat Dance along with our drumming.

My husband grabbed a few shots of our performance. Here are some snaps!

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I took a hiatus from taiko when I was planning my wedding and off gallivanting around Japan on my honeymoon, but it feels great to be back now. Nothin’ finer to get your stresses of the week out than striking a drum as hard as you can and watch the audience be blown away by the sound. My hands got soft while I was away, though! It didn’t take long to get some blisters, and burst blisters, on my hands where the drumsticks (“bachi”) rub. Just a matter of time before my hands are callused and rough like before… :)

20+ Useful Japanese Phrases for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Other Social Media Sites

Social media is a great place to practice Japanese, but while things like “nice to meet you!” and “it was raining out today” are easily found in Japanese phrase books, social phrases like “thanks for the like” and “please follow me” are not. Here’s a list of social phrases that you’ll need on sites like Facebook and Twitter!

Bookmark this page because this list will grow as I think of more useful phrases to add. If you have a specific phrase you’re looking for or have one to contribute, please do so in the comments below!

Japanese Phrases for Twitter

Please follow me – 私をフォローしてください – Watashi wo FOROO shite kudasai

Thanks for the follow! – フォローありがとう! – FOROO arigatou!

I followed you back – 相互フォローしたよ – Sougo FOROO shita yo

Same to you, thanks for the follow! こちらこそ、フォローありがとうございます。- Kochirakoso, FOROO arigatou gozaimasu.

Thanks for the RT! – リツイートありがとう! – RITSUIITO arigatou!

Thanks for all the RTs! たくさんのリツイートありがとう! – Takusan no RITSUIITO arigatou!

Thanks for tweeting me back – つぶやきのお返事ありがとう – Tsubuyaki no ohenji arigatou

Long time no tweet! – 久しぶりのつぶやきです! – Hisashiburi no tsubuyaki desu!

Japanese Phrases for Instagram

Thanks for the likes – いいねありがとうございます – Ii ne arigatou gozaimasu

Please follow me – 私をフォローしてください – Watashi wo FOROO shite kudasai

I love your pics! – あなたの写真ていいね! – Anata no shashin te ii ne!

Would you mind looking at my pics? – 私の写真を見てくれませんか? – Watashi no shashin wo mitekuremasen ka?

Please like many of my pictures – 私の写真をいっぱいライクしてください – Watashi no shashin wo ippai RAIKU shite kusadai

Thank you for the comment – コメントありがとう – KOMENTO arigatou

Bonus: Japanese Hashtags for Instagram

Follow – #フォロー

Follow Me – #フォローして, #フォローしてね

Followers – #フォロワー

Like – #いいね

Insta – #インスタ

Japanese Phrases for Facebook

Thanks for the like (lit. ‘thanks for pressing the like button’) – いいね!ボタン押してくれてありがとう – Ii ne! BOTAN oshite kurete arigatou

I’m back on Facebook – Facebook再開しました – Facebook saikai shimashita

I’ll send you a message on Facebook – Facebookでメッセージを送るよ – Facebook de MESSEJI wo okuru yo

Would you mind joining Facebook? Then I can add you as a friend. – Facebookに加わって頂けませんか?そうすれば、あなたを友達として加えることが出来ます。 – Facebook ni kuwawatte itadakemasen ka? Sou sureba, anata wo tomodachi to shite kawaeru koto ga dekimasu.

Generally Useful Japanese Phrases for Social Media

I updated my blog – ブログを更新しました – BUROGU wo koushin shimashita

Thanks for reading my blog – ブログを読んでくれてありがとう – BUROGU wo yondekurete arigatou

Thanks for checking out my website – ホームページを訪ねて来てくれてありがとう – HOOMUPEEJI wo tazunete kitekurete arigatou

Thank you for your quick response – 迅速なお返事をありがとう – Jinsoku na ohenji wo arigatou

I’m grateful for your kind words – 親切なお言葉に感謝します – Shinsetsu na okotoba ni kansha shimasu

Do you have any useful Japanese phrases for social media that you would like to share? Please comment with them below!

“Make Your Move” Starring BoA & Derek Hough in US Theaters April 18th

BoA has been my favorite J-Pop/K-Pop performer since “Listen to My Heart” came out in 2002. She released a self-titled English album in the US in 2009, and I even went to see her MTV Iggy special in NYC when it debuted here. Now, she’s trying to break into the US again with “Make Your Move,” a dance movie directed by Duane Adler who wrote the script for “Save the Last Dance” and “Step Up.”

BoA, taiko drums, Romeo & Juliet-inspired story… what’s not to love? Here’s the official trailer:

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I mean, I don’t expect this movie to win any Oscars or anything, but it looks fun and I can’t wait to see it!

This movie was originally titled “COBU 3D,” presumably after the New York-based taiko & tap group of the same name. Some of the members are in the movie.

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Yeah, taiko! Yeah, BoA!

You can follow Make Your Move on Facebook and Twitter.

I’m just going to BoA fangirl for a second in case some of you don’t know who she is.

This is the music video for “Listen to My Heart,” when I first really started liking her. I had a nerdy fansite about her and everything!

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She was always a role model for me because she was learning Japanese, had great style and could dance like a mofo.

Here’s my favorite Korean song of hers (coincidentally, the music video takes place in Shibuya):

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The first time I saw her live was in New York for a concert celebrating Korean immigration to the US. I was very interested in a lot of K-Pop artists at the time and it was an amazing concert! Lee Hyori and a few of my other favorites were there as well.

The second time I saw her was at the aforementioned MTV Iggy special. Some of the segments can be found on YouTube. She did an interview and a mini concert for her US album:

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Me and Adam behind Su Chin and BoA, no big deal.
Me and Adam behind Suchin Pak and BoA, no big deal.

I’ll leave you with my favorite BoA song of all time:

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Just know that BoA rocks and you should definitely check out her movie “Make Your Move” when it hits theaters on April 18th!

Very Cool High-Speed Video from Shinjuku Station

How long does it take for a train to reach the platform, slow down, and open its doors to let people on? I’ve never timed it… a minute or so, maybe? What would it look like if that minute was stretched to eleven? Well, it would look something like this:

It looks like time stops, but the train is still moving. A few people are making actions fast enough to look like they’re somewhat animated, but a second in high-speed time is just a blip in real life… so many people look frozen.

This is ‘Stainless,’ a video made by artist Adam Magyar. “The stainless video project is located on the borderline of still photography and motion picture,” he says in the video description, “An endless row of living sculptures brought together… All their motions slowed down, they are graceful and stainless holding their breath waiting for the train to pull into the station.”

Knowing how crazy Tokyo can be and everyone, especially at train stations, rushing to get to where they need to go, this is an incredibly rare glimpse at the lives of these people at this pace.

via Spoon & Tamago

Getting to Japan and the Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel in Shibuya – Honeymoon Recap Part 2

My husband and I took ANA via their Star Alliance partnership with United Airlines from New York’s JFK airport to Tokyo.

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Adam and I traveled to the airport in style; his boss got us a huge limo to JFK! We actually went to work for half the day before heading to the airport around 3 to catch our 6pm flight. We kept our work clothes on hoping to play the “we’re on our honeymoon and we’re dressed nice!” card to try and get upgraded to first class… but it didn’t work out. But that’s okay! Adam and I had taken an ANA flight once before and we really loved their coach class. They offer a ton of movies (English and Japanese… even Hindi, Filipino, etc.), their service is great and the food is pretty good as far as airline food goes. I was really happy that they served curry for the dinner meal.

At this point I have traveled to Japan four times. The first time was on American Airlines (it was okay), the second time was United Airlines business class (obviously awesome, especially since Adam’s uncle is a pilot so we got the tickets for super cheap), and the past two times on ANA. If you’re flying to Japan and taking coach, try to take ANA when you can! I’ve always wanted to try JAL too, but their prices always seem to be a bit high compared to the other airlines.

After all of the wedding planning and work being incredibly stressful, I was really excited to get on a flight and basically sit and zone out for 14 hours. I bought soft fuzzy socks in the terminal while we were waiting and was thrilled to put them on once I got to my seat. I watched a few movies, ate some curry, and then tried to go to sleep… but this flight was much harder to sleep on than usual! I think I was really excited to be on my honeymoon and get to Japan.

Once we were in Narita, we went through security and got the NEX/Suica pass, as always. I did make a mistake here. The next train was in 2 minutes so we were rushing to buy the tickets, and I opted for the round trip package. Unfortunately, the return tickets you get are only good for 14 days and we were staying in Japan for 16, so I eventually had to go to a JR office, explain the situation, and exchange the tickets at the airport once we got there again. Be careful when you’re getting a round-trip NEX/Suica pass and be conscious of how long you’ll be staying! If you’re staying for more than 14 days, just opt for the one-way pass.

Anyway, we boarded the Narita Express and off we were! We got off at Shibuya station and headed for the Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel.

The hotel was beautiful and the service was excellent. Many of the staff spoke English, which was helpful after being up for more than 24 hours at that point and being completely exhausted from the trip! We also got a nice upgrade, I assume because we were only staying for 2 nights and came very late on a Saturday… we were upgraded to a Tower’s Floor room! These are rooms on the 33rd and 34th floors and are just one step below the Cerulean Floors, 35 – 37. They offer some of the greatest views from the hotel, which is the largest skyscraper in the Shibuya Station area. We were all fancy and had to tap our room key in the elevator to even gain access to the floor.

Once we got into the room, the views were really breathtaking, especially since it was our “welcome to Tokyo!” moment. In the first shot, you can see Tokyo Tower on the left:

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Mount Fuji is waaay back here somewhere:

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One of the things I love about Tokyo is that the city seems to go on forever. It really makes New York look ridiculously small. I’m a sucker for cityscapes at night, so this was such a treat.

After ooing and aahing at the view for a bit, we were able to check out the room. This was our second favorite “welcome to Tokyo!” moment.

You can tell how tired I am after the trip!

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One of the big advantages to this room also was that it offered free wifi, which is rare in Japan right now and our wifi hotspot we ordered hadn’t come in yet (it was SUCH a great thing to have… I’ll blog about that separately!).

There were a lot of things I liked about this hotel. The rooms are much larger than you expect to see in Japan and it has a much more Western feel than other hotels, which can be a nice comfort. You can’t beat the location, especially if you’re out sightseeing for the day and need an easy place to go back to. The Cerulean is about a 5 minute walk from Shibuya station, and the station is very easily accessible. I could do without the hill getting to it after a long day of walking, but it really wasn’t bad and that’s just me whining. I also LOVED that there was a 7-11 conbini right on the second floor, which helped my onigiri addiction every morning. My nickname isn’t “onigiri-chan” for nothing!

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We booked all of our hotels through Expedia and I really think we got a great deal. If you can afford the Cerulean Tower, definitely give it a try!

See you next time for part 3 of my honeymoon recap!

I’ve Been Playing Puzzle & Dragons!

Puzzle & Dragons is a puzzle/dungeon crawler/monster collecting mobile game developed by GungHo Online. It’s basically Bejeweled meets Pokemon… and it’s incredibly addictive, especially if you’re a hoarder like me (I love collecting things!). This game is incredibly popular in Japan and has seen over 20 million downloads there alone. It’s also the first mobile game to generate over $1 billion in revenue.

I haven’t spent any real money in the game, but I’m having a good time collecting, powering up and evolving monsters as I trek through Bejeweled dungeons. The strategy, lore and details in the game are QUITE extensive, but even though I’m not diving all that deep into it, it’s a game i can recommend.

Here is my current Monster Box of little creatures I’ve collected:

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I don’t think I have any crazy rare monsters or anything, but I like these!

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Puzzle & Dragons is available for iOS and Android. If you decide to download and start playing, add me as a friend! My code is 322 997 245.

Puzzle & Dragons Official Site

Japan Honeymoon Recap, Part 1

I got married in September!

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From my pick profile… follow me here! :)

Everything about the day was perfect. My hubby, the weather, our friends and family… it was really the best day of my life.

To top it all off, we honeymooned in Japan for 16 days!

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Me at JFK airport in NY, looking forward to sitting on a plane for 14 hours with my new travel pillow!

It was my fourth time to Japan and hubby’s third. Packed with Japan Rail Passes (which we actually almost left at home!), a wi-fi hotspot for our smartphones (more on all of this later), and a list of places to go/people to see/things to eat, we had our greatest trip ever.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be breaking each of these days down with exactly what we did and some awesome tips we picked up along the way that I’d like to share. This was my first time traveling to Japan since I started this blog, so I was keeping you all in mind while documenting everything!

Here was our basic itinerary:

  • Day 1 – 3: Tokyo (and a typhoon!)
  • Day 4 – 10: Osaka with day trips to Nara and Miyajima/Mt. Misen
  • 11 – 16: Back to Tokyo with a day trip to Yokohama

Keep in mind that we have already been to Kamakura, Nikko, Kyoto, etc. on previous trips, so definitely build them into your itinerary if you haven’t been to those areas around Tokyo and Osaka yourself. We took it easy this trip, but saw a lot of amazing places. I can’t wait to share it all with you!

All of these posts will be tagged under honeymoon if you would like to filter out the rest of the posts on this site (*sniff*) and just follow these. Click on the honeymoon tag link below to follow along!

Next time: Our amazing hotel in Shibuya with this view…

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Finally, a J-Pop Radio Station in the US!

korl-971Being in the US, listening to current J-pop hits has always been a struggle for me. Online Japanese radio stations frequently play video game soundtracks or anime theme songs with just a smattering of J-pop songs (not many of which are current), I’m not able to stream pop radio from Japan without a VPN, and Japanese music isn’t like Spanish music here… it’s a lot more difficult to find stations who play anything Japanese. So it dawned on me recently… what markets in North America actually WOULD have Japanese populations large enough to warrant their own J-pop radio stations?

The answer? Hawaii. Enter KORL 97.1 FM. This station is streamable via their website, TuneIn Radio and iHeartRadio (which is great for smartphone users like myself). I’ve been listening for at least an hour a day in my car on the way home from work! Apparently it was founded in 2011 so I’m a little late in my discovery, but I’ve been really enjoying it and wanted to share it with all of you!

This radio station is great for Japanese learners because a lot of their commercials, which play over and over throughout their broadcasts, are in Japanese and in a skit format. Not only are you listening to the same dialogue again and again, but it’s spaced out and in between English commercials (a welcome break!) and J-pop music, so I feel like I absorb them better over time than focusing on the same dialogue as a drill and listening again and again in one shot. They also do traffic reports and other commentary in Japanese.

For you K-pop lovers out there, they also have KORL 107.5 FM for K-pop hits. I’ve also branched out a bit and have been checking out NATIVE FM, local island music, which has just been a huge tease since we’re gotten nothing but extremely cold temperatures and a ton of snow here in NY this winter. As I’m writing this blog it’s snowing with at least 5 inches on the ground now… and I’m listening to all this music from warm, sunny, beautiful Hawaii…

How do you listen to J-pop online? Are there other resources you know of that you can share? Let us know in the comments!

A nerdy girl's musings on everything Japanese culture, video games, fashion, food, crafting and more!

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