Post-Event! Art at Waku Waku +NYC


In our desire to bridge various aspects of Japanese pop culture, Waku Waku +NYC worked to celebrate the efforts of artists in New York and Japan. We hope you had the chance to see all of the wonderful artwork on display, but if you didn’t get the opportunity here’s a handy summary of all of the art-related goings-on at our event!

Time After Time Capsule


Perhaps nothing embodied the philosophy of “Play with Japan” more than our guest Sebastian Masuda. A Japanese artist that challenges the borders between fine, popular, and commercial art, Sebastian brought with him a large, adorable teddy bear sculpture as part of his “Time After Time Capsule” art project for display at Brooklyn’s Transmitter Park. Overlooking a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline, the idea behind the Time After Time Capsule is that people from around the world can write messages to place into the time capsules, which will be sealed and then re-opened for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. To help attendees create kawaii art for the capsule, Sebastian also held workshops for attendees, and artists young and old participated. Perhaps we can say that kawaii transcends generations.


The Power of Kawaii

Sebastian is also known worldwide as an ambassador of “kawaii culture,” joining Misha Janette for the panel “NHK WORLD Kawaii International: Kawaii Beyond Cute.” While kawaii fashion is often associated with an image of safety and innocence, there is also a strongly political component underlying the movement whereby “kawaii” becomes a political defiance of the status quo. An enlightening panel to say the least!

Local Artists + Mascot Contest

Art wasn’t limited to just our guests, however. In addition to our artist alley, featuring awesome artists from all over the US, Waku Waku +NYC also held a mascot drawing contest prior to the event, with the goal of giving artists the opportunity to have their work displayed at the Brooklyn Expo Center. Creating renditions of our resident mascot Tucker the dog, large banners could be seen all around, showing to Brooklyn and the world the creativity of our local artists. We’d like to thank the winners for providing some incredible and fun art, and we hope that they’ll be proud to have Waku Waku +NYC on their list of accomplishments.

Tucker of course loved the attention, and many attendees could be seen taking photos with him.

What did you think of the art at Waku Waku +NYC? Did you check out the artist alley in the Exhibitor Hall? Are there any other artists, be they gallery or otherwise, that you’d like to see? Did you take any photos with Tucker? We’d love to know!


Post-Event! Food at Waku Waku +NYC

Post-Event: Food at Waku Waku +NYC

If there’s one thing that set Waku Waku +NYC apart from the typical Japanese pop culture festival, it was the food. Sure, there are plenty of general Japanese culture events that serve samples of Japanese food, but we brought in some of the best restaurants around to give a taste of Japan.


Hot Dishes

Two varieties of ramen were available from two of New York’s most popular ramen restaurants: Kuro-Obi/Ippudo NY and Totto Ramen. While it might have seemed redundant at first glance, in fact the two shops provided unique experiences because of the differences in their broth. Kuro-Obi/Ippudo NY used a combination pork and chicken broth, while Totto Ramen went with pure chicken, allowing more people to taste the joys of ramen. Kuro-Obi/Ippudo NY also served roast pork buns that were a kind of cross between Japanese chashu, Chinese char siu, and peking duck. Some might say that the weather was too hot for ramen, but true ramen lovers knew that it wouldn’t be the case.

If you were looking for less soupy affairs, curry from Curry-Ya was another one of the sit-down specialties, and possessed a sweeter flavor that worked well for the summer.  BentOn also provided delicious yakisoba that was fun to slurp up.

On-the-Go Street Food


Bowls and utensils might have been too unwieldy for some looking for a quick bite to eat, but fortunately Waku Waku +NYC provided lots of dishes that were perfect for eating on the move. Chief among these were the delights from Dotonbori Kukuru. The restaurant’s Takoyaki Meisters showed what authentic takoyaki from Osaka, the birthplace of the fried octopus dumplings, was all about. Complementing the Osakan street food was daigaku imo from La Poppo, which finds its origins not in Osaka but in Tokyo, as a classic snack for hungry college students.

Even “handier” foods were also available for attendees, namely yakitori from Teriyaki Boy and both katsu pork cutlet sandwiches as well as katsu skewers from KATSU-HAMA. Both yakitori and katsu are increasingly common foods, but many restaurants shortcut the process, resulting in mediocre takes. Teriyaki and KATSU-HAMA, in a delightful contrast, use authentic cooking techniques for their signature dishes, and you could of course literally taste the results. KATSU-HAMA provided both pork and chicken katsu, which allowed a greater variety of people in a city as diverse as NYC to enjoy Savory Square. BentOn accompanied their yakisoba with gyoza.

Toeing the line between grab-and-go and sit-down was the rice burger from Yonekichi. Providing a fork just in case the “bread” got to be too unwieldy, the highlight of Yonekichi had to be their salmon burger. Rice and fish are long-time partners in history, and this was an exciting take on the combo.

Drinks and Dessert


For tea fans (and if you’re into Japanese food you’ve probably noticed that tea is a big deal), ITO EN and MatchaBar were in full force, bringing a variety of tea brands. MatchaBar made their signature matcha fresh on the spot, while ITO EN’s bottles were not only very convenient but also incredibly refreshing. Coffee fans weren’t ignored, however, as Hi-Collar showed Waku Waku +NYC the world of Japanese coffee. Stronger than American coffee, it was a must-try brew.

And what better way was there to end (or indeed begin) Savory Square than with some delicious dessert? Beard Papa’s signature creampuffs came in a full plethora of exotic flavors (Calpico stood out the most!), and you could see them making the cream right on the premises. For something lighter, BentOn provided shaved ice. If your willpower didn’t waver from all of that, then you had to face ice cream from ITO EN (if the tea hadn’t gotten you already), as well as taiyaki from Otafuku x Medetai. Red bean paste received many converts on that day, while adherents to the popular Asian dessert filling came away satisfied. The last leg of the dessert temptation gauntlet was the luxurious flavor of ROYCE’ Chocolate, whose matcha chocolate seemingly transformed people’s views of the world. Suddenly there was BR, “Before ROYCE’.”

So, what was your favorite food at Waku Waku +NYC? What foods would you love to see next year? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

Post-Event! Anime at Waku Waku +NYC

When people think Japanese pop culture, anime and manga immediately spring to mind. In this respect, Waku Waku +NYC sought to have anime and manga-related content for our event, but we also wanted to give our attendees some rare opportunities. Between our incredible guests, unique performances, and rare screenings, we hope you had a wonderful time.


Waku Waku +NYC featured such popular anime as Kill la Kill, Sword Art Online, and Dragon Ball Z (with Dragon Ball screenwriters Takao and Makoto Koyama doing Q&A afterwards!), but there were a couple of very rare and special works in our lineup. The first was a screening of the 1000th episode of Chibi Maruko Chan, the long-running show featuring Japan’s favorite snarky little girl. Showing what happened the day Maruko Chan was born, the audience was full of people who had heard of Chibi Maruko Chan and its popularity, but had yet to see what the show was really like. During the event we gave out surveys asking what they thought of the anime, and the response was overwhelming: “We want more Chibi Maruko Chan!” We hope we can answer your requests for next year!

This crowd is PUMPED for Chibi Maruko Chan! #wakuwakunyc #chibimarukochan

— Waku Waku +NYC (@wakuwakunyc) August 29, 2015

The second was a new remastering of Sanrio’s 1970s stop-motion film The Nutcracker, directed by artist and Waku Waku +NYC guest Sebastian Masuda. The only one of Sanrio’s 1970s major animated films to not be licensed for the US, Sanrio fans and fans of classic animation could see the film in exquisite quality. To call it “restored,” would not be doing it enough justice, because it looked even better than it did when it originally showed decades ago!

Voice Actors Justin Cook and Max Mittelman

We also brought two voice actors to Waku Waku +NYC, Justin Cook and Max Mittelman, though it might have been a little unfair to call them only voice actors. After all, both have experience and talent in other areas. Justin Cook began working as an ADR Engineer for FUNimation, helping to record the sound used for dubs, and eventually found himself behind the mic. Max Mittelman’s panel also involved teaching attendees how to beatbox, and if we see a generation of beatboxing voice actors, we’ll know how to thank. One thing that was really great was how willing they were to talk with their fans. I happened to catch Justin Cook waiting for the bus, just chatting it up with a few attendees, including Android 17 and 18 cosplayers!

Takao and Makoto Koyama

As mentioned above, Takao and Makoto Koyama were guests at Waku Waku +NYC, which was their very first event in the US. Takao Koyama is renowned throughout Japan as one of its most celebrated animation screenwriters, with credits on Dragon Ball Z, Saint Seiya, Might Gaine, and more. His son Makoto, who also works in anime and games as a writer, is building up quite the resume himself.

At their panel, Takao talked about some fascinating aspects of anime writing and production, but what perhaps surprised the entire audience was the fact that Takao Koyama explained how he got his first writing job at the famed Tatsunoko Pro anime studio: he lied. Straight from the horse’s mouth, a young Takao told the studio that he had experience writing scripts when the very opposite was true, and after getting hired took a crash course to learn. However, it soon became apparent that he was in way over his head, and it was only through continuous on-the-job training that he got to where he is today.

Another interesting bit of trivia from Takao was the fact that he had written many scripts for the anime Don Dracula, which was canceled after 4 episodes. Based on the work of “god of manga” Osamu Tezuka, the entire series was actually pretty much completed before the sponsors pulled out. However, Takao also had this to say: if Don Dracula hadn’t died, then he probably would have never written for Dragon Ball Z! After all, most of the staff that worked on Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z were alumni from the previous Akira Toriyama anime, Dr. Slump, and Takao only got that opportunity because Don Dracula got canceled. Talk about a twist of fate!

After the event, Makoto Koyama commented on Twitter that he was surprised how much New York anime fans love Android 16 from Dragon Ball Z! What do you think might explain the characters’ popularity? Anime News Network Panels Speaking of Osamu Tezuka, he was one of the many subjects covered by our educational programming track, courtesy of Anime News Network. Author, scholar, and journalist Roland Kelts gave a fantastic presentation about the life and work of Tezuka, about his historical context growing up before, during, and after World War II, and his connection to both classic Japanese art and modern anime and manga. It was a great panel for those who might have heard of Tezuka. Quite helpfully, someone’s uploaded the panel to YouTube for you to watch!

The other panels included one on journalism and anime, one that went through the anime production process from beginning to end (SHIROBAKO fans take note!), one about studying and writing about anime and manga in an academic setting, and a panel titled “Anime that Time Forgot” by popular writer and presenter Mike Toole. In this age where information is at our fingertips and records of anime are easy to find, it can be easy to forget how some things can simply get shelved away, never to return. Notable “forgotten anime” included Eagle Sam, based on the 1984 Olympics mascot, and Penguin Memories, a gritty, realistic war story where all of the soldiers are penguins. There weren’t any indications that anime based on birds tend to get forgotten more than others.


If we’re talking about the biggest anime-related surprise at Waku Waku +NYC, however, it might very well be Shinkansen Robo SHINKALION from East Japan Marketing & Communications. Based upon the ubiquitous bullet trains of Japan that allow commuters and travels to get from one side of Japan to the other in mere hours, SHINKALION is an awesome media property with animations, toys, and more. Waku Waku +NYC attendees were given the opportunity to meet SHINKALION in person, and even though they might not have known who he was before Saturday, they jumped at the opportunity to pose with the mighty robot, including Anime News Network’s Mike Toole, and a certain flute-playing hero in green!



So what was your favorite anime event at Waku Waku +NYC? What screenings would you love to see, and what guests would make your day? This year was awesome, but we want to make things even better for next year!

SHINKALION is One Awesome Bullet Train Robot

B0(+50)_0302_入稿_ol© East Japan Marketing and Communications, Inc.

Trains and giant robots are like chocolate and peanut butter, and Japanese popular media is filled with cool locomotive mecha (Might Gaine, Gaogaigar, ToQ-Oh from ToQGer), but also their transformations sequences.

In terms of not just train robot morphing but also combination and transformation scenes in general, East Japan Marketing & Communication, Inc.’s SHINKALION is top tier.

Obviously there’s no criteria set in stone for what makes a good or bad transformation sequence, but there are a couple of things in particular that I think really stand out.

First, is the fact that the primary combination point is the coupler, or the hook that connects two train cars together. This emphasizes the train-like qualities of SHINKALION and further emphasizes its association with railroads.

Second, is the fact that SHINKALION’s transformation creatively uses various bends in the cars to make the final form non-obvious when seeing its train form, but also keeps enough of the train aesthetic to make it identifiable as such. This is actually quite a tricky line to toe, as the history of giant robots is filled with designs that look unfortunately like objects with arms and legs. Though, even this is okay sometimes.

Will there ever be a full Shinkalion anime in the future? Would you like to see it happen? Who would Shinkalion fight?

SHINKALION will be at Waku Waku +NYC, the new Japanese Pop Culture Festival in Brooklyn, NY this August 29th and 30th! Combining anime, music, fashion, art, video games and more, tickets are on sale now!

Not Just Tokyo: Regional Diversity in Japanese Popular Culture

This is a guest article by Katriel Page. You can check out more of her writing at Study of Anime.

While we see the Kanto region and Tokyo represented in a lot of manga and anime, from the scramble crossing of Shibuya Ward to the name of the first region in the Pokémon series – Japan is more than just this region. In fact, the second most populous region, Kansai, incorporates not just the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto, but also the high commercial and culinary center of Osaka. “In a country where regionalism remains strong, the two [Kanto and Kansai] stand as shorthand for an internal east-west divide roughly translated as Tokyo and Osaka – the two main economic powerhouses of the nation and the most populous metropolises of Japan” [Christal Whelan, Kansai Coo

But where do we see these?

Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe come up from series such as Azumanga Daioh and Kill la Kill; from school trip episodes to transfer students.

Let’s talk about the two most distinguishing features of any particular region: how people speak, and what people eat.

Each city in the Kansai area has their own slightly different dialect: some cities differ more, such as Kyoto, due to the centuries of heritage and culture there. Kyoto dialect comes up in the series of Bleach, for example: Gin Ichimaru, in the Japanese dialogue, speaks in Kyoto dialect which comes off sounding as a sort of polite, formal dialect. Osaka dialect, on the other hand, is known for being very abbreviated and commercial-based: “mokkari makka”, for example, derives from a phrase “are you making money”, and has come to mean “how are you” by extension. The phrase is not used much anymore due to a variety of reasons, but the expectation is that people from Osaka will at least know it: and people outside of the Kansai region expect these people to speak this way. This is part of the joke of calling Ayumu Kasuga in Azumanga Daioh “Osaka”, because she behaves and speaks counter to the stereotypical expectation of someone from Osaka to behave and speak. If you know a little Japanese and want to experience some Osaka-style dialect, Facebook now has the option to turn the language setting into Kansai Japanese, in addition to “standard” Tokyo-dialect Japanese. The version of Kansai dialect Facebook uses is based on Osaka dialect, so it will give you an idea of how the language changes when in a different area!

As for food, Osaka is known particularly for its food: octopus is a delight there, and so takoyaki is thought of as a stereotypically Osakan style food. Okonomiyaki is also considered an Osakan style food, even though you can get it readily in the Kansai region in general: it’s a sort of savory pancake made with eggs, batter, and sliced cabbage, and you can put all sorts of toppings on it (seafood is a popular choice, but sausage or pretty much whatever you like works too!) – in fact, the name “okonomiyaki” is from “whatever you like” and “frying”, so think of it as a way to use up all that cabbage you may have gotten after watching Persona 4 The Animation! There are more foods, such as kitsune-udon and hako-sushi, but takoyaki and okonomiyaki are seen in plenty of anime and manga and often used as a shorthand for Osakan style food. You also see these foods mentioned along with the mercantile focus of Osaka in the series of Kill la Kill.

Kyoto food is known for being a bit more traditional and delicate – for example, many traditional sweets shops started in Kyoto, and the seasonal kaiseki cuisine comes from the elaborate aesthetics of the old imperial and noble courts as well as whatever was in season. Speaking of aesthetics and art, Kyoto is historically more known for fashion and aesthetics more than food: this comes from the days of Kyoto as being the imperial city for at least a thousand years, and as such, traditional arts and crafts flourished for a long time. In Kyoto also, there are many shrines and temples, which lead to talk about spirits, folklore, and sacred culture that you can spot in series ranging from Yu Yu Hakusho (the sacred mountains of Mt. Kurama and Mt. Hiei are where the characters of Kurama and Hiei get their names), to the newer series Eccentric Family or even Inari Kon Kon.

This just touches a little bit on the subject of regional diversity in Japan – there are of course, other regions such as the Tohoku region with the beautiful “city of trees” of Sendai, and the historic Tono, located mainly in modern day Gifu Prefecture (which you can see echoes of in Pokémon X/Y and in Princess Mononoke) – so here are some more resources for you to find out more about the various cities and regions of Japan!

  • Kansai Cool, by Christal Whelan, available at Kinokuniya and other bookstores

Waku Waku +NYC is a new Japanese Pop Culture Festival in Brooklyn, NY that’s going to be bringing anime, fashion, music, games, and delectable delights from Japan, including takoyaki by master chefs from Osaka! Curious? Tickets are on sale now.

Japanese Culture in New York City is a Train Ride Away

This is a guest article by Linda, a Writer and Contributer at Anime Diet


“Spring Street Mosaic” by HorsePunchKid – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Similar to Japan’s vibrant array of trains and buses, one feature of New York City is its public transportation system. New York City’s subway has the distinction of being the second oldest running subway system in the world, and is one of the few that runs on a twenty four hour schedule.

Waku Waku +NYC is located near the G train, which is the only train line in New York currently connecting the borough of Brooklyn to Queens. With the exception of the G and the Staten Island train system, nearly every other train line has to run through Manhattan for travel between the five boroughs. There is a shuttle running between the convention locations (, but for visitors who want to also see more of New York City before or after Waku Waku +NYC, the subway and bus are great options.

The base fare for the subway is $2.75 and there would be a $1 surcharge for a new Metro Card. While there is no unlimited day pass, there is a weekly pass for $31. Savvy riders should know that you can make one free transfer between bus and subway within a two hour period.

Have a subway map either in paper or electronically, and be aware that on the weekend, New York City has the weekender service ( in effect. The subway system is generally under repair overnight or during the weekend to repair an aging transportation system that sustains six million+ residents and visitors.

If you’re visiting beyond this weekend, and may not want to head to the regular tourist spots, consider these other Japanese/Asian interest spots that entertain the locals.

Lower East Side

Meow Parlour: This is New York City’s first cat café. This place very often does not allow walk-ins, but you can pass by and take a peek in at the cute kitties that reside here. Closest subway station is either F train, East Broadway or D train to Grand Street.

Baby, the Stars Shine Bright/Tokyo Rebel: This is the New York City Location for this sweet Lolita and gothic Lolita boutique. The closest subway to this location is either the F train to Delancey Street or the J, M, Z to Essex Street. If you’re okay to walking, the East Village is within the area. Don’t forget, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright will be holding a fashion show at Waku Waku +NYC!

Around St. Marks, there are plenty of Japanese eateries and ramen spots that include restaurants like Ippudo NY and Spot Dessert Bar.  The closest stop is Astor Place on the 6 train. This area is often referred to as Little Tokyo.


Many places of interest can be accessed by either N, Q, R, 1, 2, 3, A, C, E, 7, and S (the S stands for Shuttle) lines to Time Square, the B, D, F, M, and 7 lines to 42nd Street Bryant Park, or the 4, 5, 6, 7, and S lines to 42nd street Grand Central station. In addition to Midtown Comics (, there’s Muji ( which is a Japanese lifestyle store.

Across the street from Bryant Park, there is Kinokuniya Bookstore, the world’s premiere Japanese bookstore, and within walking distance is Lady M, noted for their lovely Mille Crepes cakes. A couple of blocks away, there’s BookOff, Japan’s largest used bookstore, and walking further north there’s Nintendo World and Uniqlo around Rockefeller Center. Down south in Times Square, there’s a Sanrio Popup store ( around 47nd street as well as the Disney Store, where you are bound to find Tsum Tsum products.

While this list of places is focused more specifically on lovers of Japanese culture, this is only the tip of the iceberg to what New York City has to offer. So enjoy Waku Waku +NYC and travel a bit around New York City if you have the time!

Waku Waku +NYC is a brand-new Japanese pop culture festival in Brooklyn, NY this August 29th to 30th that celebrates video games, anime, manga, music, food, art, and more. Tickets are on sale now!

Collecting Kami: Pokémon and the Crossroads of Pop Culture and Folklore.

This is a guest blog from writer, presenter, and scholar of Japanese culture Charles Dunbar. You can find more of his work at Study of Anime.

I distinctly recall the first time I ever saw the Pokémon Golduck. My initial reaction was “what the hell is that, and how is it a duck?”, because to my teenage eyes, no duck that ever existed had a beak that long, feet that webbed, skin that blue (not to mention lack of feathers), arms instead of wings, and a tail that could trip a human up. Despite having the term “duck” in its name, Golduck was no duck I had ever seen, and I laughed about it with my friends as being another one of those “weird Japanese things” I knew nothing about.

It would be some years before I discovered how wrong I was. While researching a panel on Japanese folklore, I turned the page in one of my many yokai books to find Golduck, or at least something that resembled Golduck, staring me in the face. The same rubbery skin, same sharp beak, same tail and webbed digits. And I did a double take. This creature, the book called it a kappa, was obviously of the same ilk as the Pokémon I had once made fun of. And I did what any curious student of folklore would- I set aside my initial panel research, and began checking to see how many other Pokemon shared traits with these wonderful Japanese monsters.


By myself (Self-photographed) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( ], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the “side effects” of acculturation is that we tend to pepper our creations with nods to the culture we are raised in. For example, when we hear characters say “go to hell,” we have a connotative understanding of what that means, and thus it requires no further explanation. But when those terms and ideas appear outside of our home culture, suddenly they become not-so-subtle nods to the ways in which our own cultures differ from others. And this becomes doubly apparent when we start crafting stories using our own folklore. Suddenly those blood drinkers hiding in the shadows become something alien and terrifying to those who have never encountered them, and that receiving audience can either choose to pursue a better understanding of them, or just accept them as particular to the storyteller’s cultural understanding.

For me, this is one of the great joys found within anime. While I still watch the series and play the games for the joy of experiencing them, at the same time I’ve found anime to be an invaluable tool for discovering new paths into the exploration of Japanese culture. Signposts if you will, pointing me towards new ideas, legends, and beckoning me to dig a bit deeper when the series or game is over. And these inspirations are everywhere once one sits down to look for them. For example the game Okami, while being both beautiful and artistic, also shares its narrative with the story of Amaterasu emerging from the cave and driving off monsters through her light. So too does the series Sasami-san@ganbaranai, which takes that same classic legend of the kami in the cave, and dresses it up as an adorable hikikomori schoolgirl spending her days rejecting the outside world. Pokémon, as previously mentioned, shares a lot in common with the yokai indices that started appearing in the mid-Edo period, while still satisfying the historical urge to discover, collect, and catalogue that many Japanese youths practice to this day. And even more overt properties like Natsume Yujincho and Nurarihyon no Mago [Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan] bring those old legends into the present, challenging classical creatures with modern problems to overcome, or at least weather. They breathe new life into old stories, evolving tales once told by candlelight into mass media properties that astound and inspire new generations to look behind the curtain, and into the hidden world around them.


Pokémon is one of those series that rides this idea incredibly well. For those who play the game without any knowledge of either Japanese folklore or their obsession with cataloguing yokai, the series is a playful romp through catching/grinding pets until they can win fights, with a little plot thrown in to keep the story going. Sure, some of the Pokémon look a little out there, but when a fan discovers that some of those Pokémon share traits with fantastical creatures (as I did with the golduck all those years ago), suddenly the series comes alive with nods to regional legends (like Xerneas, inspired by the shishigami from Tohoku), mighty guardians (Arcanine, taking notes from the Koma-inu), ancient kami (Tornadus, with the same color and disposition as windy Fujin), and supernatural celebrities (Froslass and Mawile, derived from the Yuki- and Futakuchi-onna, respectively). And all the player needs to do at that point is follow the trails deep into the sacred forests of Japanese folklore to discover how far they might lead.

Waku Waku +NYC is a brand-new Japanese pop culture festival in Brooklyn, NY this August 29th to 30th that celebrates video games, anime, manga, music, food, art, and more. Tickets are on sale now!

Ghosts of the Past

This is a guest blog by Alain Mendez. You can check out more of his work at Reverse Thieves and the Speakeasy Podcast.

With Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens less than four months away you can’t throw an IP packet on the Internet without hitting an article or video on the movie. That is a fairly impressive longevity for a series whose first movie came out thirty-eight years ago. The cultural impact of the series is undeniable. If you ask people what films were written by George Lucas, then Star Wars and Indiana Jones will surely come up on most everyone’s list. But I have a fondness for Willow, which he also wrote, and has largely been forgotten by all but a small group of fantasy fans. I think that while Willow might be a flawed movie it still deserves to be remembered. Just because a creator is popular does not mean all of his works get an equal amount of attention. It turns out that even if a work is excellent, a rising tide does not raise all ships.

When you go to Waku Waku +NYC I’m sure a good deal of you are going to ask Keiji Inafune about one of four things: Mighty No. 9, Red Ash, Kickstarter, or Mega Man. In many ways those projects can be seen as his Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but I feel that Keiji Inafune has a Willow under his belt. That is when he was the Executive Producer on Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective. So after you played the Mighty No. 9 demo and got your Red Ash questions out of the way, you might want to ask him about this overlooked classic.

The plot of Ghost Trick revolves around the recently deceased Sissel. He dies in the middle of the night and it seems to have scrambled his brains, so he can remember his murder but the “who, what, when, where, and why” have vanished from his memory. In fact he can’t recall much about himself other than his name. He quickly learns from another ghost that he has until sunrise to find out who killed him and why. As a ghost Sissel has three main powers: The ability to possess inanimate objects and manipulate them, the power to possess corpses, and ability to travel back in time four minutes in hopes of saving anyone he has possessed. He then has to use this tool set to save others and learn the truth of both his life and death.

The interesting limitation is that, being a weak ghost, Sissel can’t jump too far. This means he has to jump from object to object to save the last person he leaped into like he was Dr. Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap. A simple example of a puzzle in Ghost Trick might be saving someone from being killed by a bowling ball. The bowling ball is on a high shelf so it is too far away to interact with directly. Sissel might start by jumping to a power cord for an air conditioner. He then turns on the air conditioner to open up an umbrella. He can jump into that umbrella and then bump into a jar full of marbles which knocks it over. He can then jump from the rolling marble to a precariously placed bust. Then if he times the fall of the bust correctly it can hit into the bowling ball so it does not hit the person he is trying to save. If he goes down a dead-end path or misses the timing of any of the chain he can rewind time and try again. This leads to Sissel creating complex Rube Goldberg devices to save the people capable of discovering what happened to him.

You thought Sam Wheat had it hard.

I think the game has a triumvirate of strengths that really made it stand out. First of all, the writing was fantastic. It had some really snappy dialog, vibrant characters, and some amazing plot twists I would never dare spoil. Suffice it to say, the journey (especially the ending) is well worth the trip. The second was a very innovate set of gameplay mechanics. The puzzles really take advantage of the very unique but intuitive power set of our poor ghost.  It makes the game feel very fresh and special. Lastly, it just has colorful and fluid animation. The bright colors, memorable character designs, and expressive rotoscoping make the game striking and impossible to forget. It is a powerful combination that really makes it a game that stand alone in the best way possible.

Much like Willow I feel Ghost Trick never got its time to shine despite the fact there was so much to love about both of them. Then again, who knows? As Mighty No. 9 has shown us, the world of Kickstarters has opened up a new avenue for neglected and overlooked ideas. Maybe Ghost Trick will get the second chance it deserves.

Waku Waku +NYC is a brand-new Japanese pop culture festival in Brooklyn, NY this August 29th to 30th that celebrates video games, anime, manga, music, food, art, and more. Tickets are on sale now!

“Don’t Let Your Fear of Failure Hold You Back.” An Interview with Smasher Max Ketchum


Super Smash Bros. is a beloved video game franchise where players can battle each other using Nintendo’s most famous characters, but it’s the competitive community for Smash that’s been getting more and more attention over the past few years. Waku Waku +NYC recently had the opportunity to interview Max Ketchum—New Jersey and New York Gamer, pro Smasher, tournament organizer, and commentator—to ask him about what it’s like to be in the Smash community.

Follow Max on Twitter @juicedoom

Introduce yourself!

I’m Max Ketchum. I represent Team Smash Hub, IQHQ, and Juice. IQHQ and Juice are like family to me. The Smash Hub is a website I recently started with some other players, DKWill, JTails, False, and Dire, as well as two friends in web design who are getting into Smash now. We made the site to serve a function similar to Melee It On Me: news feeds, community updates, a well-documented archive of highlights videos and matches, and articles.

First and foremost I’d say I’m just a Smasher overall. I don’t have a single, specific role within the community because I love doing everything. I play in tournaments, I commentate, I sometimes stream tournaments and my own gameplay, and I even run my own tournaments. I’ve also represented the community at events such as PAX, speaking at panels on behalf of the Smash community. In general, I like to do as much as I can, and I don’t want to waste any time bringing Smash to the forefront of entertainment.

What tournaments are you involved with?

The primary tournament I run is called Smash Attack at Next Level Arcade in Brooklyn. It’s a joint venture with the fighting game streamer Team Spooky. I also help run tournaments such as KTAR and Apex, as well as other tournaments in my area. I recently started Smash 4 Collegiate, a kind of NCAA for Smashers.

A lot of our attendees might not be familiar with competitive Smash or competitive gaming in general. They might know Mario or Pikachu but not Smash Bros. How would you explain it to a complete newbie?

At the very basic level, Smash Bros. is like Street Fighter with platforms, and the focus is to outsmart your opponent. When either player is knocked away, you try to extend your advantage in order to win. Competitive Smash may seem strange to casual players, but we’re putting ourselves to the test, and seeing how we stack up to our peers. We take it more as a craft or a lifestyle.

So it’s very much about self-improvement then.

Certainly, both inside and outside of the game. It’s an ongoing pursuit for knowledge.

What was it like growing up in the NY/NJ area as a gamer?

When I was a kid, I grew up in a small town called West Milford, NJ. It was a fairly remote location, even though it’s only 45 miles from New York City. I was the best player in town, and I had been aware of the competitive scene. I wanted to take it a step further but couldn’t because of my location.

When I entered high school and my friend had a car, tournaments became a lot more accessible for me. After that, living in the New York/New Jersey region, the world was my oyster. All of the tournaments in my area were immediately accessible. After I came to New York for college, I benefited from public transit.

New York is a top area for Smash and always has been. It’s quite fortunate for me, because playing more top players pushes your own rate of improvement. When it comes to the general trend of the game, the best players for the most part come from the most densely populated regions.

How has the landscape for Smash changed in New York since you first began?

Now you have everything at your fingertips, but that wasn’t nearly as prevalent in the older days. You had to go on Smashboards or GameFAQs, and YouTube didn’t even exist when I first started. I learned how to Wavedash [a special movement technique in Melee] from a sticky post on GameFAQs! Back then you had to really dig for information, go onto online file sharing communities, and even videos were VCR rips because that’s all anyone could afford. Everything was a lot quieter, and there were fewer players, but everyone was very motivated.

I really got started with Brawl, and back then there was the feud between Melee and Brawl. There was no respect between the two communities, but now that Smash 4 [Super Smash Bros. for Wii U] is out everyone is realizing that we’re all in this together. Back then, nobody even thought that there would be 2,000-man tournaments at EVO [the largest fighting game tournament in the world]. Nobody was thinking they could make it their life, but now people are a lot more committed to it and ESPORTS in general. There’s more new blood too, so the growth rate has gone through the roof, as well as actual money, actual sponsors, and real venues.

What is your proudest moment when it comes to your work in the NY/NJ Smash community?

If I had to pick just one?

Everyone who knows me is aware that, even though I’m a commentator, I’m also very hungry as a player. Back in the early days of Smash 4, I took a set off of [Top 3 player] Nairo. It was like a combo video, double dunks and all that. Nairo was Apex champion [in Brawl] that year, and was always the best player in our region, so being such an underdog and beating such a legendary player was amazing.

The match was actually featured in the highlight trailer for EVO, and actually my proudest moment might actually be seeing that match in the EVO trailer.

Another moment: At EVO I had a money match with Fatality, who was making videos showing off Falcon combos, and receiving a lot of praise. I challenged him to a $100 money match, and he accepted. We played at EVO off-stream at a quiet time of day, with not a lot of people watching, but a representative from Nintendo was there. It was a best of 9 and I ended up down 4 games to 1. Fatality says to me, “I’m the best Falcon in the world.” Then I won four straight games in a row. I completely downloaded him, calmed myself down, and figured him out. Then I said to him, “You may be the best Captain Falcon but I am Captain Falcon.”

What are your goals for the future?

As far as my goals, I have them in every area, but I want to be the best Captain Falcon, and even one of the best players in the world. I don’t think Fatality is the only Captain Falcon. There are players in Mexico, Japan, and more, and I have a long way to go.

I also want to be one of the main representatives for Smash. I have a positive attitude and I want to push people forward. I see myself as a valuable commentator, and I’d like more opportunities to work to back that up. As a Tournament Organizer, I’m looking to do bigger events, including more high-stakes invitationals for the best players in the region (I believe I’m the first to do it) and the collegiate league. I want to show people what’s possible for the Smash Community; it doesn’t have to always be a Saturday tournament at $10 a pop. I want people to see Smash as a sport because there’s almost no difference between the two, except that one is more of a physical activity, which is a pretty minor thing. There’s competition, and someone puts in a lot of time and wants to see who the best is. On even a non-competitive level, there’s a lot to wanting to just get together and have fun. I want to see it be like the next NBA, or like a real-life Pokémon.

My secret, top goal, however, is to be involved with the design of Smash as a game. I think I really have some great game design ideas for Smash, and I wish I could at least get an ear. That’s actually the one area I’ve never been able to get into. Sakurai, he burned the hell out of me at the last E3. I’m the guy who asked him, if I beat you at Smash Bros. would you let me balance the game, to which he responded, “Have you ever made a game?” I’d like to be a creative force in Smash, just like how companies like Capcom and Namco get pros to work with them.

You’re a Captain Falcon player in Smash 4. What draws you to the character?

I love playing aggressively in every game, and Captain Falcon is both strong and fast. I’m someone who plays based on reads. I’ll try to condition you into doing something predictable, go for that hard read, and finish you with a Rage Forward Smash [a type of powerful attack in Smash 4] or something. He’s my ideal character, except for being so heavy. I usually prefer the pixie characters* (Sheik in Melee, Meta Knight in Brawl, Pikachu in 64), the light, in-your-face characters.

Also, Falcon is iconic. When you see Falcon, you know it’s going to be a hype match, and I love being a crowd pleaser and a hype man. Captain Falcon is the essence of fun in Smash Bros. and even non-Smash fans know him. Everyone knows what a Falcon Punch is. Beyond that, he’s just good.

What inspired you to write the “Call to Arms” for the Smash 4 Community?

I looked at the Melee scene, and they’re getting the crowds and the cheers and the hundreds of thousands of views, and I thought, why don’t we have that? I did some research and found that the Melee scene really has it together. They have Melee It On Me. They have articles on who are the Top 100 players, what the top players think matchup-wise, and how they’ve been doing at recent tournaments. Beyond that, you have guys like Scar and later D1 and Crimson Blur working at, creating opportunities. It wasn’t sheer luck. They laid the groundwork, and were really passionate about the game, and thought about what they could do for the community.

I asked Melee leaders like Prog and Tafokints (big shout-outs to those guys for being such inspirations and mentors), and they told me why Brawl suffered for non-gameplay-related reasons. It could have been the best game in the world, but no one was reaching out trying to get larger venues or larger sponsors. I thought Brawl was a great game, but it didn’t have that community pressure to get it to the next level. The passion wasn’t there.

Smash 4 came out and I saw the same things happening, even though I think Smash 4 improved on a lot of things from Brawl. I looked back, and thought about ways to bring the scene up, and determined that we need to have something like Melee It On Me. We need to have a Collegiate League.

Even before I wrote the Call to Arms, people were really motivated competitively, but I felt that they were squandering their potential by going on Facebook and complaining. Put yourself out there! Post some videos, make a Twitter account. Even if there are trolls, if you make the game look so fun and amazing, then they’re not going to have much to stand on.

A lot of the Smash 4 community came from Brawl, and I feel like we were kicked around back then. In the last year of Brawl’s life, people were afraid to be passionate about it, and I never wanted the Smash Community to be a place where you felt like you were lesser for playing a certain game. I think we need to show everyone what a great product and what a great community we have.

Are you a fan of anime, manga, or any other part of Japanese pop culture? What are your favorite titles?

I’m very under-exposed to Japanese pop culture, but it’s more that I don’t watch much television in general. I’ve been very behind the curve, and I just watched my first anime ever a couple of months ago, Death Note, and I loved it. I’d give it a 13 out of 10, and I hear it’s not even the best anime out there! I just saw Ping Pong, and thought it was really good too. Japanese culture is really awesome and I’d love to go to Japan.

I also see that you’re a fan of Pokémon and its own competitive scene. What’s your favorite generation of all time, and what’s your favorite Pokémon for battling others?

I used to play a lot online, and I will money match anyone in Pokémon.

As for favorite generation, it’s tough. I like different generations for different reasons. In terms of actually playing on the cart, Gold/Silver/Crystal. 16 badges! They broke the mold! I love the Pokémon added in Generations V [Black/White] and VI [X/Y]. A lot of older fans of the first generation complain about the new Pokémon designs, but good and bad designs have always been around. I also actually love the battle dynamics they added in Generation IV [Diamond/Pearl/Platinum] when they split physical and special [Pokémon’s way of determining the damage an attack does to an opponent]. In terms of competing, Generation VI is the best.

As for favorite Pokémon, I really like Vaporeon, Exeggutor, Cacturne, Magneton (more than Magnezone), and Lampent. I tend to like middle-evolutions more than final forms.

Do you have any words for others aspiring to contribute to their own communities, Smash, or otherwise, as well as any shout-outs?

Apply yourself! Don’t just be a wallflower. You can be the coolest kid in your high school or the least cool one, but everybody at tournaments can get together. Just do it, full Shia LaBeouf. Most people I’ll see at a tournament for the first time, I’ll see them again for years on end. There’s no reason not to go. Foster yourself and your community, make some friends. Most of my friends I’ve made through video games, and you can improve your skills, find yourself, self-improve, there’s a lot to Smash.

Even if you’re the worst player, go anyway. Otherwise you’ll never improve. Even if you don’t end up being the best, it’ll be a hell of a journey and you’ll have great times and great memories. Don’t let your fear of failure or falling short of expectations hold you back.

I’d like to shout out everybody who pushed me in the Smash community. I was a random back in the day, reading GameFAQs and Smashboards, slipping things I learned into conversation with better players so I could appear educated. People have helped me along the way, and I’m not wholly responsible for where I am. Almost every person I’ve met in the Smash community has helped me to learn that I can always get better.

As for specific shout-outs, I’d like to shout out the OG bros: Toronto Joe, Rapture, False, D1, and all my Canada and New York homies. You helped me through the thick and thin and pushing the Smash community. Nobody does it alone.

I thought I’d go to college and get an office job, but this is my true calling. Shout outs to the Smash community. This is my dream.

Waku Waku +NYC is a brand-new Japanese pop culture festival in Brooklyn, NY this August 29th to 30th that celebrates video games, anime, manga, music, food, art, and more. Tickets are on sale now!


We All Dance to the Same Beat


☆Taku Takahashi, the world famous DJ, producer and maestro of Japan’s electronic music scene, will team up with Wyatt Bray, the 2015 American World Champion of Japan’s classic sport Kendama, for an evening of collaborative pyrotechnics at Brooklyn’s Verboten on Saturday, August 29th.

☆Takahashi, well known for his multi-sensory DJ extravaganzas back in the Motherland, will bring a taste of Japanese electro house and hip-hop to NYC, while creating a rhythmic soundscape for Bray to showcase his acclaimed Kendama tricks. This is a first for the Japanese DJ and American kendama player, and we can hardly wait for what’s in store.

☆Takahashi embarked his musical career in the late 1990s, as part of the Japanese hip hop group “m-flo”. Founding members DJ ☆Takahashi, emcee Verbal and vocalist Lisa were influenced by Japanese hip hop’s nascent days, adapting the same Old School flow and aesthetic as their 1980s predecessors. Though part of a larger cultural movement that began from the underground—virtually ignored by major record labels—m-flo burgeoned into a critically acclaimed pop sensation, enjoying mainstream success all across Asia.

While m-flo began weaving in pop, jazz, R&B and electronica into their sound throughout the 2000s, ☆Takahashi loosened his full-time activities with the group, focusing on his own side projects – like his self-produced Orthosync events, his record labels Tachytelic Records and TCY Recording, and his own radio station Block.FM, Japan’s first and only radio station dedicated to electronic music. Over the decades, ☆Takahashi has brought sounds, concepts and culture from overseas to eager Japanese audiences.

Wyatt Bray, of Portland, Oregon, picked up his first Kendama on a whim. What started as just a boy with a quirky hobby, turned into a young man with professional-level skill. Kendama may appear to be simple game of catch-the-ball-on the-stick, but with enough dedication and patience, it offers its players boundless creative freedom. Bray found his passion in the Japanese toy—a passion that would bring him half way across the world to compete with the best.

Japanese culture is a mash up of fierce Japanese tradition and nuanced Western imitation. ☆Takahashi and Bray are vehicles of this cultural overlap. Whether it’s ☆Takashashi bringing the sounds of America’s EDM to his loyal electronic music fans, or Bray teaching his Kendama skills to aspiring players across the world, the cultural exchange between the shrinking borders of the East and West is what makes us Waku Waku (excited!). August 29th will be a memorable night for Japanese culture, as two residents of the opposite sides of the globe unite to speak a universal language through music, sport and creativity.

-Kaya Sabo

Waku Waku +NYC is an upcoming Japanese pop culture festival in New York City this August 29th to 30th, celebrating the intersection of Japanese music, anime, manga, food, fashion, art, and more. Tickets are on sale now!