Friday, October 31, 2014

The Steady March of Japanese Telecos

A couple of interesting Japan-related telecom items:

A foothold in Mexico

Yesterday the WSJ reported that Softbank, one of Japan's major players in telecommunications, is looking at possibly entering the Mexican market.

You may remember that Softbank acquired Sprint last year to enter the U.S. market. Thus far it's faced high hurdles in trying to bring Sprint's mobile network up to snuff and stanch its hemorrhaging of subscribers. It next turned to T-Mobile, and was attempting a deal which would have combined the #3 and #4 U.S. mobile carriers in a bid to challenge Verizon and AT&T.

Source: ATD

Softbank's CEO, Masatoshi Son, promised to bring stiff competition to the U.S. that he said would result in lower prices and faster speeds for consumers. Unfortunately that deal never materialized as U.S. regulators signaled heavy resistance to the idea. Four, apparently, is the magic number of competitors for this administration, even if Sprint and T-Mobile combined still trail AT&T and Verizon individually in terms of size.

Son appears to be shifting his focus, if only for the moment, to another opportunity in Mexico. Dominant telecom America Movil announced that it is divesting parts of its network in order to avoid new regulations. The word is that Softbank is examining a bid for those assets.

Customer choice at home

In other news, Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) is imposing a new regulation on the nation's mobile carriers. Smartphones and tablets will now from next year have to be sold with unlocked SIM cards upon customer request at no additional charge, which would eliminate the traditional two-year contract that usually binds customers in Japan (and in the US, as well).

This move is anticipated to create more price competition among the big three carriers, pushing down prices. With unlocked SIM cards, consumers will be able to easily leave their current network and sign up with a competing carrier.

Although I'd love to see a similar move in the U.S., requiring unlocked SIM cards wouldn't be enough here. There are two major mobile technologies that carriers operate their networks on in the States - CDMA and GSM. In Japan, all (that I know of) the networks are run on CDMA technology.

In the U.S., Verizon and Sprint use CDMA, while AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM. This means that phones sold by any of those carriers is only equipped for one technology - either CDMA or GSM. Even with unlocked SIM cards, consumers with a Verizon phone would only be able to go over to Sprint's network or vice versa. Likewise AT&T and T-Mobile phones would be interchangeable with each other but not the CDMA networks.

So even if politicians in the U.S. had the guts and political capital to require SIM card unlocking (I wonder at the likelihood of this, considering a law legalizing SIM card unlocking was just recently passed), it would mean little unless all phones were also required to carry chips to support both CDMA and GSM technology.

At any rate, "woot" for Japan.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

BrainFlash! 伝えてピカッチ!

I've been subscribing on and off to TV Japan for a couple of years now. It's expensive - about $20 per month, but it's great for trying to keep up with popular Japanese TV shows and news. The main reason I like to watch it is one show called 「伝えてピカッチ」. The English name is "BrainFlash!"

I'm a fan of Japanese variety and game shows. Back when I lived in a Chiba public dorm while I studied abroad at Sophia University in Tokyo, I used to catch part of a kanji-themed gameshow sometimes at dinner. There was a TV in the cafeteria that would have it on. I don't remember a lot about it, honestly. In one segment, contestants would try to guess the proper readings of difficult kanji. I think there may have also been drawing segments. In any case, my ability level wasn't high enough to understand most of what was going on, but it was fun to see anyway.

「伝えてピカッチ」takes two teams - usually men versus women, and pits them against one another in creativity and communication-focused events. One frequent segment is called 「粘土でピカッチ」("clay brainflash"), for example. In this round, one member of the team is the guesser and the others must use clay to sculpt whatever the secret word is. So if the word is "dog," each team member has to make a little dog out of clay. The opponents then gets to choose the order in which the guesser gets to see the sculptures, and the team gets more points the quicker he correctly answers. 

There are also games that focus on drawing, describing words, and more. The games themselves are fun to watch and a great way to build vocabulary, but I love seeing the interaction between the contestants. They're usually all Japanese personalities - comedians, musicians, athletes, etc. Generally 4 or 5 of the contestants are regulars, with the others being guests that are invited onto the show.

I've had a difficult time finding photos or videos of the show; I think the Japanese media companies have been really coming down on copyright violators of late. If anyone knows how I can upload episodes from my DVR to my computer, I'd be interested to know...

Oh, as to what the title means - 「伝える」means "to communicate" and 「ピカッチ」(pronounced "pikachi" is the sound of a flash or spark. "Pikachu" is meant to sound like this, too, incidentally. This has also become a catchphrase of sorts on the show. When someone thinks they know the answer, they will often exclaim 「ピカッチ!」 - "Aha!"

So 「伝えてピカッチ」is literally something like "Communicate and understand."

For now, I did find this video that may be taken down at any moment, but it shows a full episode. The guests in this one are all members of the Takarazuka Revue - an all female theater group that's based in Hyogo. Their home theater was actually pretty close to where I used to live, and I went to one of their shows once. High quality stuff.

Update: Well that video was removed pretty snappily.'s a different one!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Mascot Abomination: Melon Bear

If you're a fan of Japanese pop culture or you've been over there, no doubt you're familiar with the mascots. Regions, companies, airports - there are mascots for this, that, and every other.

Usually these characters are created to appeal to the Japanese love of 'cuteness.' They're silly and/or adorable. かわいい, they say.

Take Kumamon - the official mascot character of Kumamoto prefecture. He's been traveling a lot recently both domestically and overseas to promote his hometown. And boy he is popular. Look at his cute, red cheeks.


You know, there's another famous bear mascot character in Japan. Behold:


"Aww, it's so cute!" you say, in your mind if not aloud. I know your thoughts. And yes, it is a cute little toy. This is Melon Bear, the mascot for Yubari city in Hokkaido, renowned for its delicious melons. Now brace yourself and behold once again:

Direct your blame here.
This is the real Melon Bear biting the sh*t out of Kumamon. Sweet Lord. It's like they figured there was too much competition in the "cute mascot" arena, so they just said screw it and went for "disturbing nightmare-inducing aberration" instead.

I guess the Hokkaido guys get a kick out of it, and to be honest their blatant disregard for what their countrymen find to be appealing or sane marketing might convince me to buy one of their melons if I were still living over there.

Here's a video of him in action.

And don't worry about old Kumamon. It turns out there was a reckoning of sorts. I guess that photo up above must have been a Melon Bear sneak attack. Here's how it turned out:

Gotta love Japan.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ambition of the Slimes Mini Guide

Update (1/13/2015): Feel free to read below for tips and the slime guide, but as of yesterday the developer has implemented English support. I think I'm ready to declare "mission accomplished" and cease updating, as the main goal of this guide was to allow non-Japanese-speakers to give the game a whirl. I hope it served its purpose!

Touch Arcade reported recently on an interesting-looking tactics game currently out for iOS. Strangely, it's available in the US app store, but is almost entirely in Japanese. Finally a chance to put these language skills to use? First a few words about the game, and then a quick and dirty guide for those who may want to give it a shot without entirely understanding everything.

Ambition of the Slimes(iOS/Google Play(スライムの野望) is free to play, though it does offer some IAP in the form of items. Ads run in the upper corner of the screen, but there doesn't seem to be any way to pay to remove them. they can be disabled. See the section on that below.

The premise of the game is that you control a group of slimes that are rising up against the humans, who have conquered the world and brought it to the brink of ruin. Humans attack slimes without provocation. Now, it seems, is the time for payback.

Slimes are weak as poo. When they level up, they gain very modest increases to HP, attack, and defense, but at least insofar as I've played, those numbers are never significant. They can usually only withstand an attack or two before keeling over, and deal insignificant damage.

The slimes have discovered, however, that they can take over the bodies of humans. They do so by leaping down people's throats and commandeering the unfortunate meatbags.

There are many different kinds of slimes, each with a different ability. There are also 3 different elemental types, and every unit has one. Water beats Fire, Fire beats Grass, Grass beats Water.

Deciding which units to enslave, how to properly move and position your units, and what slimes/abilities to use seem to be the cruces of playing Ambition.

For those who would like to give it a whirl without knowing Japanese, on to the useful graphics!


1. Getting Started
2. Slime Basics
3. World Map
4. Battle
5. More Tips and Tricks
6. Slimes and Abilities
7. Items/Ad-Free Version
8. Gems

1. Getting Started

Here we have a basic game menu. Functional.

2. Slime Basics

Here are the basic stats for each slime. I think everything is pretty self explanatory except for "Fatigue." According to my research, this goes up as you use a slime. It will increase quicker as they reach higher levels. 0-99 fatigue have no effect, but once it reaches 100, the slime is too tired to attack. Fatigue seems to decrease over (real) time, by itself.

You can check out all your units from the game menu and rearrange them for your viewing pleasure.

3. World Map

Starting with a tutorial, you'll advance throughout several maps and take the fight to the humans. Each area brings up a screen like the one above. The important-to-note items here are the battle difficult at the top, expressed in stars; the enemy units; what slimes may join you if you win; the difficulty setting (normal or challenge); and the number of slimes you can deploy. One additional note about the difficulty setting - there are different levels of challenge that you can unlock as you beat the stage on easier settings. Harder battles offer better chances of awesome slime allies.

4. Battle

When you start a map, here are the (mostly) relevant items you'll see.

Excuse me for the crazy differences in image resolution. As I said, "quick and dirty."

Units that you take over will gain red eyes and a sick glow.

Just to give you an idea, yes, they literally do jump down people's throats. As pictured above.

Another fact to note - there are two advantages to be considered when picking your battles and positioning. Higher ground means less damage taken and more dished out. Type advantage translates similarly. And yes, you can have both a height and type advantage at the same time. Tons of damage.

A few other things I've learned so far:

- If a slime or its host dies in battle, it will "revive" when the fight is over. It won't gain as much exp, though.

- Slime abilities can be pretty useful. The worm-looking guy can cast "speed" - a buff that increases the target's max movement by one tile. The starting blue slime can cast "slow" and the little red dude has a better chance of commandeering difficult-to-enslave humans.

- Some humans are harder to take over than others. There are armor-clad knights which effectively can't be taken over unless you debuff them first with goo or break their armor. Bosses also appear to be especially difficult to capture.

- If you commandeer a human with the same element type as the slime you're using, the human you gain will receive a stat boost.

- You normally (with a couple of exceptions noted further below) don't keep any humans that you take over. I guess the slimes must make them jump off a cliff or something once the battle's finished...

- I forgot to note that the little yellow flags on some tiles indicate regeneration points. If you stick a unit on one of these spaces, at the beginning of their next turn they'll regain some HP (and certain spells/abilities will be recharged too, it appears). These are pretty important!

- Note that humans you possess who are in their underwear or naked can charm ("seduce") enemies of the opposite gender.

5. More Tips and Tricks:

1. Later on in the game you will get a slime "ヘルメス" (Hermes?!), whose special ability is to keep the human you took over for 1 battle. This means that if you take over an archer's body as ヘルメス (and stayed alive until you won the battle), you will have an archer replacing your ヘルメス within your units at your disposal. The archer's level does not show there because it will change depending on the difficulty of the next battle you bring your archer into (scales with enemys' level).

2. Fatigue does in fact decrease over time. However it is painfully slow, so I'd recommend grabbing a 2nd one if you find a slime that is useful (ワープスライム Warp Slime is a great example, sometimes you need two of them in the same battle anyways) so you can distribute the fatigue count. (Paul: This is a great tip about collecting more than one of a certain type. In fact I've been trying to grind out a second Warp Slime for a while now. =p)

3. During battle, on the bottom left side of the screen you can tap and go through different pages of information. One of the page shows the stats of the unit, and the probability of you enslaving that unit. They give you very useful information in terms of deciding who to take over, and also who to avoid. (If it says のっとり:000% then don't even bother trying) (Paul: An addendum to this is that the little red slime you start with has a somewhat improved chance of capturing some units. This is not reflected in the info displayed here - you have to actually select the のっとり option to see the % chance for them).

(Submitted by 1z2x3c)

6. Slimes and Abilities

Here's a list of slimes and their specials. I'll be adding more as I collect them all. The translations, especially of their names, are approximate and may contain additional notes.

 Little Slimey
Ability: Slow - reduces an enemy's movement by one tile.

Ability:  Take Over Up - has a somewhat better chance to commander moderately difficult to take over enemies.

Speed Slime
Ability: Speed - increases an ally's movement by one tile.

Warp Slime
Ability: Warp - can move anywhere on the map.

Ability: Melt - dissolves an enemy's equipment. The enemy then becomes easy to enslave. (Note: Melt lasts for 3 turns, and then the enemies return to their normal state, enslaved or not. Humans you take over who are still in their underwear can charm enemies of the opposite gender.

Attack Slime
Ability: Attack Up - enslaved enemy receives increased attack power. (Note: These guys also get more attack power than other slimes as they level. I still wouldn't recommend using them to fight, but in a pinch they can do a little damage).

Teleport Slime
Ability: Teleport - can teleport an ally to any tile on the map.

Reach Slime
Ability: Range Up - if used to enslave a ranged unit, extends attack range by one tile.

Guard Slime
Ability: Defense Up - enslaved enemy receives increased attack power. (Note: These slimes get a bit more defense than other slimes. Still can't take a ton of damage, but if you need to spread out some punishment you might be safer letting this guy take a hit rather than most of your other slimes).

Anti-Magic Slime
Ability: Magic Defense Up - enslaved enemy receives increased magic defense.

Winged Slime
Ability: Flying - this guy may not actually have wings, but he can fly. (Note: These slimes can travel over water and ignore the height of terrain).

Magic Slime
Ability: Magic Up - enslaved enemy receives increased magic attack.

Pervy Slime
Ability: Pervy - if enslaved enemy is a female, they gain a large combat bonus. If said female is in her underwear or naked, she gets an even larger combat bonus.

Super Melty
Ability: Super Melt - dissolves all of an enemy's equipment, rendering them naked. The enemy then becomes easier to enslave. (Note: Super Melt lasts for 3 turns, and then the enemies return to their normal state, enslaved or not. Humans you take over who are still in naked can charm enemies of the opposite gender).

Ability: Carry Over - can carry over an enslaved unit to the next battle. The carried over unit can only be used once.

Metal Slime
Ability: Metal - has high defense. Additionally, enemies prioritize attacking these slimes.

Guts Slime
Ability: Resurrection - if enslaved enemy is slain, this slime revives. Works only once per battle.
(Thanks to 1z2x3c for the cap!)

Ability: Resurrection - if enslaved enemy is slain, this slime revives. Works an unlimited number of times.
(Thanks to 1z2x3c for the cap!)

Ability: Sticky - binds an enemy and grants a 100% chance to take over almost any foe.
(Thanks to 1z2x3c for the cap!)

Wizard Slime
Ability: 0 Magic Consumption - enslaved enemy can use magic spells an unlimited number of times.
(Thanks to 1z2x3c for the cap!)

Goddess' Hand*
Ability: Split - if damaged by an enemy, this slime will split into two. Works only once.
(Thanks to 1z2x3c for the cap!)

Super Hermes
Ability: Carry Over x3 - can carry over an enslaved unit to the next three battles.
(Thanks to 1z2x3c for the cap!)

Ability: Take over UP -  can take over enemies that are pretty difficult to enslave.
(Thanks to 1z2x3c for the cap!)

Super Goddess' Hand**
Ability: Split x2 - if damaged by an enemy, this slime will split into two. The resulting slimes can split once more.
(Thanks to 1z2x3c for the cap!)

Neo Teleporter
Ability: Teleport - can teleport an ally to any tile on the map, three times.
(Thanks to 1z2x3c for the cap!)

Sun Slime
Ability: Sun - Has the special sun attribute, which trumps the others (I'm not sure if this carriers over to enslaved units, unlike with other slimes).
(Thanks to floppee for sending this one in!)

(Thanks to RainZ for sending this one in!)

(Thanks to RainZ for sending this one in!)

7. Items/Ad-Free Version

Those pesky ads in the upper right corner of the battle screen can be turned off after one purchases an item. Here's how to do so:

1. First tap "Shop" from the Main Menu.

2. Buy an item. The top one is energy recovery medicine - it resets a slime's fatigue to 0. They come in sets of 5 ($0.99), 15 ($1.99), and 30 ($2.99). The bottom item lets you increase the amount of deployed slimes by 1. Use this item on the slime select screen before the battle begins. These come in sets of 3 ($0.99).

As of 2.0, there are three items for sale - fatigue recovery medicine, deployment +1, and slime boxes.

When you've selected an item, the App Store should prompt you to enter your password to confirm the purchase.

3. Go back to the Main Menu and select "Options." You'll then see the screen below. Select the first choice with the gear icon, which is "Settings."

4. Here you can disable the background music and sound effects, or turn off the ad banners. You can also switch to "Fast Mode," which makes turns go by quicker. Recommended. The last option lets you disable the ads, and the "OFF" selection is grayed out until you purchase an item.

Once you've done that, your game should be ad-free!

8. Gems

Version 2.0 added a new feature - gems. I haven't play around to test these out, but the translations for each gem are below. Sounds straightforward enough.

If anyone has any requests for more info - additional slime abilities or elsewise, feel free to let me know and I can expand this guide. Also submit any tips, tricks, or corrections you'd like to share in the comments below.

Change/Update log:

Update: Changed "Plant" to "Grass" (the kanji is 草, so "grass" is perhaps more literal).

Update: I shared the link to this mini guide with Altair Works, the game developers for Ambition, and they added it to their App Store and Google Play app descriptions! So "welcome" to anyone stopping by from those pages.

Update: Added Slimes and Abilities section. If you'd like to contribute, feel free to leave a comment and/or email me the slime screenshot at blueshoe[at]

Update (10/29/2014): Tweeted a little bit with developer @Altairworks, and they told me that purchasing any item allows one to disable the ads. I'm adding a short section to address that.

Update: (11/17/2014): Reader 1z2x3c sent me screencaps of the last of the slimes and I've added them, so they should all be listed here now.

Update (1/12/2015): Updated the screenshots for the Main Menu, Shop, and Settings pages. Added "Gems" section. Added a note about "Fast Mode" in Settings.

Update (1/13/2015): It looks like the developer is working on has released English support, so stay tuned for that

Update (2/20/2015): I know I said no more updates, but reader floppee sent me in another slime to add to the guide. So, Sun Slime added. 

Update (8/4/2015): A submission from commenter RainZ, adding two new slimes.

* The translation for the name of this slime is not straightforward. See here for more details.
** Before you send me an email about the translation on this one being kind of made up, I named it so because I feel like this name makes more sense in the context of the localization choice I made for the related slime.