Blogs update and Challenge

Hello all. FYI, I should be posting more often over the summer than I have been recently. Right now, I wanted to briefly point out that I’ve updated, organized and added to the blogroll on the left side of the screen. I’ve divided the links into a general blogroll and a list that’s useful for studying anime. The anime section includes blogs about non-anime topics which are useful for scholars of anime, such as a blog about women in the American film industry that has often inspired me to look at other media in different ways.

I’ll probably add a few more links, and maybe divide the general section into several sections. Eventually, I’ll build up a list of useful articles, webpages and so on for your perusal. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend, and don’t forget to thank any service members in your acquaintance. If you’re doing the challenge, why not help someone specific – send a care package to some our soldiers overseas. You can get an address and suggestions for what to send through Any Soldier. I like to send a mix of fun stuff (games, magazines, crossword puzzles, candies) and nicer necessities (handy wipes, sunscreen, lotion, fancy chapsticks [with sunscreen], those expensive hiking socks that keep your feet cozy through anything, gourmet coffees and teas).

Learning Languages for Life: the FLAS Fellowship

Sorry for not updating more recently – between midterms, getting sick, finals and what I’ll be writing about today, I haven’t had the time or energy to flesh out any of the things I’ve wanted to write about recently. With any luck, things will settle down soon and you’ll get a rash of posts on slightly old topics shortly. Today, however, I thought I’d write a bit about that which is currently consuming this grad student’s life: summer plans.

The vast majority of the people pursuing Ph.D.’s do so with the help of fellowships, a certain kind of scholarship. These come in a variety of forms, but the aspect that concerns me at the moment is the summer. Some fellowships cover an entire year, but some only cover the academic year. That can leave you scrambling, but it also opens up other opportunities. (To be honest, in practice most people seem to be more irritated at the scrambling than thankful for the flexibility.)

For an area studies scholar like myself, the government runs a program called FLAS, or Foreign Language and Area Studies. FLAS fellowships are designed to ensure that the United States has a pool of people trained in speaking various languages in case a need arises. The academic-year fellowship also have an area studies component, in addition to language classes. You can use a FLAS fellowship to study Arabic, Chinese, Korean and a number of other languages deemed both important to the United States and understudied by Americans. The fellowships are administered by various colleges and universities and come in 10-month and 2-month strains. In other words, a fellowship covers either an academic year or the summer. Each one has two parts: a set amount of money for tuition, and a set amount of money for you to live on. If you’re a grad student, your school may add in some extra money if it’s in a city with a high cost of living.

There are several tricks to the summer FLAS which complicate matters. First, summer classes have to be intensive – 120 hours is the minimum, and that’s only for advanced language learners. Then you have the double bind of the spirit versus the letter of the fellowship. For my own purposes, because it is best for me, I want to be as fluent as possible. The Program wants me to be as fluent as possible. Ditto everyone else on the FLAS. However, the best way to gain that fluency is often to travel to a nation where your language is actually spoken to take your intensive class – a $1,000+ cost that is not included in your fellowship. In addition, you most likely have carrying costs in America during this time – a year-long lease you can’t sublet, car insurance payments, cable/gas/electric bills – which you have to cover out of an already-small stipend.

It’s hard. Figuring out the details and trying to get additional funding so that I can do this right has occupied a lot of my time, a lot of my advisor’s time and a lot of our local FLAS administrator’s time. To some extent I’ve had to recover lost territory – I couldn’t buy plane tickets until getting the details of a certain kind of funding set, but by the time that was settled, a sale I had found was gone and tickets had gone up $500. I got $600 in another kind of funding explicitly for tickets around the same time, but now tickets are up $600 from when I first looked for them.

It’s complicated. It’s a bit unwieldy, as a system, since you have to apply for funding and programs separately, and can’t guarantee either until you’ve heard from both. This summer, lingering effects of the earthquake in Japan got several summer programs cancelled, and even more were considering until very close to the deadline by which the FLAS administrators needed to know where I was going. (Past, actually. They have been extremely understanding and helpful throughout.)

All that said, I’m going to attend the premier Japanese-language program in the world this summer, and I will be far more fluent in August than I am today. At this point in my career, I need a great honking shove in the patootie to get over that next major hump in learning Japanese. This is it.

Having this opportunity means that next year, if all goes as planned, I will be able to start learning Korean. Learning these languages helps me do my job, but it also helps the nation. We’ve seen what happens when we’re suddenly thrust into an engagement with a group whose language we hardly understand twice now. FLAS is intended to protect against that by ensuring that languages which people wouldn’t necessarily study on their own get studied and that people who might study a language a little bit in high school or college and then forget half of it are able to take the extra steps to become fluent for life.

Book list

I’ve added a page with various book recommendations. It’s divided into fiction, non-fiction and poetry right now, but I’ll probably shift it into more specific lists as I add more books. (Well, except the poetry. I’ve pretty much topped out on that list already.) This was just to get started, so feel free to suggest more in the comments. I’m not just looking for good books though, I’m looking for good books that offer something a little different. If you look at the books already listed, you’ll find that many were authored by women or the Japanese, in contrast to a lot of reading lists which mostly contain books by white men. In a similar vein, if you look at the non-fiction, you’ll see books about jobs in America, getting along with people, food safety and a little-known minority with a long history of interaction with the United States. Important topics, all, but topics it’s easy not to pay too much attention to. This list should help get you started if you decide to try the challenge.

Three Challenges for the Sputnik Moment

President Obama used his 2011 State of the Union address to remind America that, well, we’re not doing so good right now.  I agree that we need to do better, which seems to be the common opinion.  I was struck by the responses the President suggested though.  They were all about infrastructure, clean energy and education, and they were aimed at a rather grand level.  Great businesses will build high-speed train lines and invent better green technologies – which other companies will then use – while Congress passes laws aimed at improving education.  It’s a State of the Union address, so that’s to be expected in some ways. People like me and you don’t have much of a place in that.

However, most of us do seem to feel the need for America to do better.  Why not take those feelings and do something ourselves?  I can’t create a tax cut that will help millions of people afford college, but that doesn’t mean I am totally impotent.

Thinking all of this to myself, I decided to create a set of challenges.  Three things to do this year.  Three small things, things I can fit into an already-hectic life.  Three low-cost things, since money is tight.  But three things that I hope will help America become a slightly better place.

I got to thinking that, since my challenges will involve small things that won’t require too much money, anyone could do them.  They’re flexible challenges; I’m not even sure how I will carry them out yet.  So I am formalizing my challenges and posting them here.  If you are reading this now, and you’re worried about America, why not do something to help it?  My actions for these challenges will not turn around the entire nation, but my aim is much smaller than that: I just want to do my share.

Let me preface the challenges with a few notes.  The goal is to stretch, to do something that you aren’t already doing.  For example, I give some money to certain charities.  Not a lot, but some all the same.  That won’t count for any of the three challenges, because the goal is to do more, to expand yourself and your actions beyond what you are and what you do now.  Consequently, even if you aren’t doing something, but it’s exactly the sort of thing you might do, it wouldn’t count (more on this in the first challenge).  The challenges are written so that they can be interpreted for anyone’s life, which is another way of saying “vaguely”.  That’s intentional.

If you decide to take the challenges, I’d love to hear what you end up doing or plan to do.  Comment here, e-mail me, whatever makes you feel the most comfortable.  Throughout the year, as I meet each of my challenges, I will post updates.

On with the challenges!

1. Read a book

I know, I know, it’s anticlimactic, right?  But there’s more to it than just reading any old book.  This particular book needs to be one that you wouldn’t otherwise read, not because it’s bad or in a genre you don’t like, just because it is not your cup of tea.  I did something similar two years ago when I was taking the Foreign Service Officers Test.  The test was supposed to be about politics, cultures… and economics.  I was good for a lot of the material, but economics?  No.  So I picked up an Idiot’s Guide and – without even finishing the entire book – suddenly understood a LOT more about the economic meltdown and the various proposals being offered to fix it. It wasn’t my intention, but I’m much better informed as a voter now than I was before.

This challenge was originally going to be a lot narrower: to read a nonfiction book about science, math or technology.  I was imagining it that way because when we talk about (the lack of) education in America we often default to talking about science and math. Those aren’t the only areas we need to work on. And frankly, for all that I have two-and-a-fifth degrees about Japanese culture, I’m one of the best-educated people my age I know of as far as science and math are concerned. (Not economics, luckily, even with my Idiot’s training.) I’m not sure what book I’ll stick in this slot yet, but it may end up being a piece of literature about Russia or China, or a history of the Middle East or Africa. Something about contemporary Egyptian politics would be timely. Remembering that the goal is to stretch your horizons, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Do you tend to read mostly books by male authors? Female?
  • Does your education tilt towards a specific area on Earth, such as Europe or North America?
  • Have you read books by authors of many ethnicities? Even if you have, is there a notable group that is missing from your personal reading history?
  • We could all use a little more tolerance. Have you ever read a book about the trials and wonders of autism? Post-traumatic stress disorder?
  • No education is perfect; everyone’s education has a few holes that could be filled in. The nature of our educational system right now means that most of us don’t learn all that much about some of the most important issues of our day – or even the basic information necessary to understand those issues! How is your knowledge of economics? Personal finance? Public education funding? Drug law?
  • And the big one, science and technology. You knew it was coming. Both are advancing by leaps and bounds, so your education is out of date. It just is. Even if you are in school right now, you are not using or learning to use the absolutely latest technology, because that is being tested in a lab somewhere. Pessimistic? Yes. But true. If you haven’t done more than take an occasional glance at a popular science column in awhile, why not try a book about biotechnology, the invention of the internet or undersea exploration?

You can combine these suggestions, for example by reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a book about an African-American woman and biomedical research that was written by another woman. Just educate yourself a little more. (I’ll post a book list with examples of all of the above in the coming days.

2. Help someone specific.

Finding an outlet for this one may take some work. On the other hand, if you can read this, you can help someone who can’t learn to read. Find a way to make one person’s life a little better. Just remember that this is supposed to be something you wouldn’t normally do. For example, when a car broke down on the way back from a group trip last week I picked up the stranded students. I’d do that anyway, so it doesn’t count. Unlike the first challenge, this one’s pretty easy.

3. Help everyone.

This sounds harder than it is. Got books in good condition? Your local library or high school will thank you for the donation. Their book-buying budgets have dried up, but demand is soaring. If you live in an area known for low air quality, you could pick a patch of abandoned-looking plants and water them every so often. Extra points if the plants are near a heavily-used road. Triple-extra points if, instead of watering what’s already out there, you plant a little garden or install a few pots on your balcony. On the other hand, maybe you have some time on your hands and would prefer to join a creek/highway clean-up or pick up some trash on your own one evening. Find something that no one at all may notice you doing, but that a lot of people benefit from, at least a tiny bit.

2010 in Review

I thought about writing a best-of list towards the end of the year, but it didn’t seem quite right.  Between leaving my job, moving across the country and starting grad school I had a pretty topsy-turvy year, and that would be reflected in any list I came up with.  Still, I’ve been thinking about all of the things I watched, read and did over the last year, and some kind of review is in order.  Here are the things – TV shows, books, movies, activities, whatever – that gave me peace on those evenings in 2010 when I was still not packed/hadn’t finished finals but was sick again/was sick of looking at mattresses yet another time.

1. NCIS: Los Angeles

No surprise here, I love my NCIS:LA.  Totally aside from the characters, writing and other aspects of art creation that the creators can actually control, over the course of the first season I went from thinking about maybe applying to grad schools… somewhere to deciding on a university in LA.  NCIS: Los Angeles was there the whole time, and occasionally suggested neighbourhoods I should not live in.

2. Jellyfish Princess

This is a new series, with new episodes posted to Hulu on Fridays as they air in Japan.  It’s sort of like The Big Bang Theory, at least in its broadest strokes, but in reverse.  A house full of female otaku becomes enmeshed with a super-stylish cross-dressing guy with predictably hilarious results.  Through the laughs though, I’m reminded constantly of some of my best friends – in a good way.

3. Butterflies, Flowers

An over-the-top romance comedy that teeters juuust this side of horrificly insulting by Yuki Yoshihara.

4. Inception

The big-budget Hollywood action flick that got people all across America arguing about what reality is, this movie just warms my little, post-structuralism-infused heart.

5. Alice in Wonderland

I loved the book, so I would probably have liked this adaptation regardless of how it was done.  But then they went and turned it into an action film bildungsroman with a heroine as the lead… and I love it!  The movie topped a year where Alice references were everywhere, and it just warmed my soul.

6. Vibrator by Akasaka Mari

I read this one for a Japanese literature class the past semester.  I don’t particularly like a lot of modern Japanese literature, but this one knocked my socks off.  Briefly, it’s about a female reporter as she takes off on a trip with a trucker she picks up in a convenience store.  She may be going insane, regaining her sanity or something else entirely.  I’m not going to spoil it for you.  Michael Emmerich is an experienced translator, and his skill is evident in the way the text sings.

7. RED

It looked like a fun action flick, and it was, but it also surprised me by failing the reverse of the Bechdel test.  Since it’s the only action movie I can think of that would fail such a test, I’m rather pleased with it for stretching the genre.

8. Fried Green Tomatoes and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

The movie and the book made me happy in a variety of different ways, and the post I made about them shot up to be my most-viewed post by far, which made me happy in a whole new way.

9. Basic Kanji Book, Vol. 1

The more I study in school, the more apparent my academic weaknesses become.  One of those is reading ability.  In the course of clearing my stuff out of my parents’ house, I came across my old (old, old oldoldold) copy of the Basic Kanji Book.  Even back when I bought it, its contents were mostly review for me, but I swallowed my boredom – at least for a little bit.  In the ensuing four or five years I developed a pattern of doing some chapters and then dropping it for months or even years.  I finally decided to finish it so that I don’t have to tote it to California and I don’t feel like a failure over a really basic kanji book.  I’ll finally be done sometime in the next week or two.  However, this book has served as a way of judging my progress over the years, so it is reassuring now to realize just how far I have come, even if I’m not as good a reader as I should be.

The B-word

There are four films out this week. Film A looks like a decent way to pass two hours, but I don’t want to see it because it’s an effects-filled extravaganza with little in the way of plot, and I’m in the mood for something with a bit more heft. Film B looks like a decent way to pass two hours, but I don’t want to see it because it’s a horror film and I think it’ll be too scary for me. Film C looks like a decent way to pass two hours, but I don’t want to see it because its female characters are all scantily-clad idiots whose only aim in life is to find hot guys, all of whom are smart and fully dressed, and I find that personally insulting. Film D looks like a decent way to pass two hours, and I end up seeing it.

I tell Random Man why I didn’t see film A, and he says okay.

I tell Random Man why I didn’t see film B, and he says okay.

I tell Random Man why I didn’t see film C, and he incredulously bursts out, “You’re boycotting it?!?”



I’ve had this conversation many times. I have, as yet, restrained myself from pointing out the sheer idiocy of comparing my not wanting to use my limited funds and time to buy something I’m not interested in to the great boycotts so well-utilized by the twentieth-century civil rights movement. But I may, next time, respond with my own incredulous outburst.

Actually Reading Charts

One of the great benefits of a good education that you may only rarely realize you’ve received is a careful cynicism where new information is concerned. Not a knee-jerk, anti-whatever response but the measured withholding of judgment for those precious seconds it takes to double-check that the writer’s conclusions line up with what, in fact, the survey/experiment/analysis found out.

What brought this up is the new Experian survey of Republicans’ and Democrats’ favorite TV shows. Various stories are leading with this graphic:

… follow up with titles like “The Reign of Right-Wing Primetime“, and then proceed to say things like “viewers who vote Republican and identify themselves as conservative are more likely than Democrats to love the biggest hits on TV”. (That’s a typical article, by the way. I’m not trying to pick on it, I just figured it would be easier for all of us if there was only one link.)

So, holding judgment, we look at the list. And what is actually on there? First off, we don’t have any idea what the numbers mean. The list was apparently compiled based on the percentage of viewers who identify with each party, but Glenn Beck’s audience is not 238% Republican. Regardless, the numbers given suggest slim-to-non-existent differences by party in the Republicans’ list (with the exception of political pundit Glenn Beck’s show) and generally larger differences in the Democrats’ list. Additionally, the cutoff number for the Democrats’ list is 117, while the Republicans get 112. Finally, there is some cherry-picking going on here. The Good Wife‘s 124 (Democrat)/119 (Republican ranking should get it on both lists, but it only shows up on the Democrats’. The articles I’ve seen analyzing this study also discuss more shows that don’t show up on these top ten lists, which suggests even more, mmm… selectivity was involved in creating the lists.

Ultimately, what I get out of this list is that, outside of Glenn Beck’s show, Republicans watch popular TV shows. Democrats are likely to watch popular TV shows and also watch more niche programming. Because Democrats are also watching a fair amount of niche programming, it makes sense that they would be less likely to watch the popular shows at the rates Republicans do. From the 30 shows on the two lists, if we take the Republicans’ 112 rating as the low mark, both Democrats and Republicans are watching How I Met Your Mother (113R/112D), Desperate Housewives (116 even), Dancing with the Stars (117R/112D), The Mentalist (119R/116D) and The Good Wife (124D/119R). If I wanted to throw a gross generalization on top of that, I might add that since Democrats have a much lower median income than Republicans they probably have more familiarity with community colleges and therefore a community college-based comedy like Community might be more likely to appeal to them (122D/75R), but that qualified statement is about as far as I’d be willing to go based on the results as given. I kind of want to know how NCIS: Los Angeles did now…

H/T: News for TV Majors

Hobby or Profession: Translating Less-Popular Manga

Digital Manga Publishing has announced a new publishing scheme called Digital Manga Guild. The idea is that none of the people involved in producing DMG products – translators, letterers, editors, Digital Manga Publishing or the original license holders – will take any upfront payments. Everyone will take a percentage cut of sales (what percentage has yet to be stated; I’m assuming “pretty small”). DMG works will be sold as electronic files (i.e. no hardcopies, at least according to the plan as announced so far).

On the one hand, plans like DMG could lead to manga translators (and anime subbers?) having a similar problem as college professors (more on that below). On the other hand, I wonder if this signifies a realignment of the industry. The manga and anime audiences have not been expanding for awhile now, meaning that economies of scale aren’t going to kick in and knock DVD/book prices down any more to open up a bigger, more frugal audience. At the same time, the recession has made many people reconsider how willing they are to regularly spend $10 or more on a book that they might finish reading in twenty minutes. On top of that, five or ten years ago the market was more unified in its interests than it is today. A lot of the consumers who bought Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura when they first came out are now interested in josei or seinen works like Butterflies, Flowers or Emma, but the newer, younger audience that became interested in Naruto and Fruits Basket isn’t necessarily ready for works that mature. (This is not to say that no one will read all of the above; I have. It’s just that there aren’t enough of us to sustain an industry.) The industry is at a crossroads. It could try to grow its audience more, although how is not clear and there haven’t been any big titles out of Japan to spark interest like Sailor Moon or Naruto. Alternatively, it could focus on retaining its current audience, but the pitfalls of that approach are apparent from looking at the American comics industry, whose struggles are legion and whose most recent successes lie in the movies, not comics. Given the major problems with both of these options, companies like DMP are getting creative.

That brings us back to the Digital Manga Guild, which is an attempt to monetize something that already exists. Whether it succeeds is, as I see it, entirely dependent on whether it can get people to pay for scanlations. Personally, I wouldn’t, but I’m a bit of a Luddite in that respect – I don’t use Itunes, and I’ve been known to pay extra to have a hardcopy of a software program mailed to me after I downloaded it just in case. (Actually, I’m a bit surprised they’re trying to get people to buy the files instead of having them ad-supported. If they were ad-supported, they could snap up OneManga’s and MangaFox’ users like that. Of course, there is no proof that anyone behind either of those sites ever made any profit.)

But I digress. The manga-reading audience seems to be divided into two groups: casual readers, who will follow one or two series on their own, might pick up more volumes at their local libraries and occasionally go to a convention or dress up as a character for Halloween; and the more hardcore fans, who will follow many series over the course of years or even decades, go to multiple conventions regularly or one (preferred) convention religiously, join clubs, make art, learn Japanese – and translate or edit manga for scanlations. These fans often spend a lot of money on manga and anime, and rarely see any money come in for all of their efforts. Fans also have more particular interests. Every so often they are chastised because their consumption habits are supposedly destroying the anime and manga they love. They’ve seen dozens of high school romance comedies with pretty art and cute leads who initially clash but eventually blah blah blah, so they need more intricate plotting in order to get behind a series.

The Digital Manga Guild says two things to these fans. First, it values their work. Some commentators and some members of the industry have openly derided scanlators for low-quality translations and argued that scanlations hurt legitimate sales (with little and contradictory proof). By embracing scanlators, DMG is also getting seriously good press as far as a portion of its audience is concerned. Second, it sounds like DMG titles will be precisely the sort of little-known, smaller audience works that the current publishing scheme simply cannot adapt to America. Publishing them would require too much outlay with too small an audience to make a profit. By going digital-only AND paying everyone based on sales, DMG simultaneously widens the pool of potentially-adaptable works and lowers the price-threshold for publication. This is an interesting and canny move, even if it ultimately doesn’t work out.

What caught my interest about DMG, though, is that this move keeps reminding me of the rise of adjunct professors at colleges in the U.S. For decades we’ve been over-producing Ph.D.’s, so colleges moved to paying incredibly low rates to “part-timers” to teach classes and thereby combat steadily decreasing state and federal subsidies. This had the effect of making the higher education industry appear healthy on the surface despite deep and long-standing problems. In the manga translation industry, I think it might have the opposite effect.

To be clear, in both cases these developments are negatives for the people being adjuncted. The difference is that I am not persuaded that adjunctification of some kinds of manga translation would necessarily be a net negative. When you adjunct-out your professoriate, you lose a lot of the less-tangible benefits of full-time professors that only become obvious when a student wants to meet with a professor who is only on her campus for the hour before class every week, or when a student who graduated a year ago needs recommendations from professors who are no longer working at that campus and didn’t leave forwarding addresses, or when new curricula need to be designed but only one, overburdened full-time professor knows what the new transfer requirements for English 101 are. Professors also need to be extremely timely on a regular basis. Given forty homework assignments, they must grade and comment on them all quickly. Someone fitting a class around their own job, or trying to fit five classes in at once, will have trouble with all of that.

In contrast, part-time translators, given the large number of capable translators we already see doing it on a regular basis, merely bring the problem of continuity.* That is, if we translate oshare ningen as “Stylish” in episode/chapter one of Princess Jellyfish, we need to make sure that it’s that way in the next chapter/episode as well. However, in the past, the assorted hardcopy publishers haven’t exactly set a pristine example here either, so I don’t see this being more of a problem in the DMG model.

Absent the problems I’ve pointed out with higher education, a supplemental, online manga translation industry driven by part-timers could open up new manga possibilities for older readers who want more mature works as well as other niche groups (like those interested in BL, horror, pornography and yuri) who would not likely see many manga in print that fit their interests. This would entice those groups to continue or even deepen their involvement with manga, in turn opening up new revenue possibilities for manga translation companies like DMP.

It all turns on the fact that this variety of manga consumption is a hobby. Some hobbyists are incredibly keen on it, it’s true, but it is a hobby, in the same vein as model trains or the Society for Creative Anachronism. It is very, very rare for people in this sort of hobby to make a living on their related activities, and those that do (such as costume designers who sell at Renaissance Fairs) rarely make princely sums. Those who have managed to create or work in companies like Viz and Tokyopop can attest to how difficult it is to get such a career – but they also make decisions about what manga to translate based on print audience considerations. The sort of translation that we’re talking about here involves little-known works that only dedicated fans would search out – and that is very definitely “hobby” territory. Since it seems that the initiative is aimed at those works which would not otherwise be published, I’m inclined to view this new initiative as an innovative way of returning some money to those hobbyists whose work contributes to the hobby. The trick is how it develops from here. If we start seeing the further adjunctification of those translators working on bestsellers like Alice in the Country of Hearts then I’ll start to worry.

*Before anyone argues, my opinion about the quality of scanlation versus hardcopy translations is that there are good and atrocious examples of both, but that the best scanlation translations are usually at least as good as the published versions, if not better.

5 Anime to Help You Get in the Mood for Halloween

The past week or so hasn’t been particularly spooky here on the West Coast, so I went through some of the anime I’ve seen to come up with a list of mainly “oldies but goodies” that can help you get in the mood for Fright Night. Some are spooky, some are comic, but they all get that good ol’ ghosty spirit going. To mix things up a little, I’ve avoided some of the classics that you might expect to see on this sort of list – no Blood: The Last Vampire, no Hellsing, no Vampire Hunter D… You might notice that these are all vampire series. I thought it might get a bit boring to see vampire after vampire after vampire on this list. I might do a vampires-only list at some point. For now, here are some of the less-known (albeit still pretty popular) works out there:

1. Haunted Junction

This was licensed awhile back, though I think it has since lapsed. It’s hard to find, but hilarious if you can. Set in an unusually-haunted high school, this 12-episode series follows the members of the Holy Student Council, who manage the school’s plethora of ghosts and other spirits. Naturally, the members of the HSC themselves have their own magical “blessings” – one has the ability to be possessed (and frequently is), one can exorcise spirits (usually by beating up the person who was possessed) and though the third can summon spirits, he would really prefer to lead a quiet life in a normal school. My favorite part of this series is its incorporation of Japanese urban legends set in schools. Our heroes’ school is haunted by a set of benign spirits who are straight out of these tales: toilet Hanako, the buxom girl who haunts the boys’ restroom to assist with whatever they might be doing there; Red Mantle, the dashing young man in a red cape and mask who exists for the girls at the school; the skeleton in the science lab who moves on his own; and so on.

2. Ghost Hunt

A collection of investigations by a psychic research center, this series is seriously spooky by the end. The center’s staff is composed of experts in a variety of paranormal fields, ranging from a shrine maiden to a priest to an onmyōji. One of my favorite aspects of this series is that it has a character type that I hate – the girl who is depicted as the only one in the whoooole group who feels for people, who consequently always argues against what other people are trying to do because someone might feel hurt – but it, unlike many other series with this character, highlights that other characters are often just as caring as her, and even more thoughtful. In other words, people lay the smackdown on the brat. I like. This anime is based on a series of light novels by Fuyumi Ono, the author of the Twelve Kingdoms series, another excellent set of books and anime.

3. Yami no Matsuei

About a standard of Japanese death folklore, the shinigami, Yami no Matsuei organizes the underworld as a giant bureaucracy, but one whose workers have superpowers. You’re already interested, right? The anime follows two shinigami, people who died with so much weighing on their minds that they couldn’t pass on and so became staff for the underworld bureaucracy. Tsuzuki and his new partner Hisoka as they try to clear up mysteries surrounding people’s deaths. The half-season (13 episode) anime gives us four mysteries which slowly tie together to reveal Tsuzuki’s secrets, Hisoka’s past and a horrifying serial killer who is obsessed with Tsuzuki. Beautiful and twisted, this is a great series to enter into the Halloween spirit with. Incidentally, the manga was put on hiatus some years back and some chapters that were never published in tankōbon or book form are finally scheduled to publish in January. Perhaps the mangaka will begin drawing the series again soon?

4. Mermaid’s Forest and Mermaid’s Scar

These two are OVA’s, or Original Video Animations (which is to say, direct to video) based on a short manga series by Rumiko Takahashi, the famous artist behind Ranma 1/2, Inu Yasha and loads more. Featuring among her darker works, the Mermaid set proposes that mermaids do exist, and that by eating their flesh some humans may gain immortality. The rest turn into horrible monsters. Of course, mermaids aren’t merely victims here. They also capture and eat immortal human flesh to maintain their youth. Into this setup are delivered Yuta, a fisherman who ate part of a mermaid captured by his fellow fishermen five hundred years ago, and Mana, a young girl who was raised by mermaids to serve as their anti-aging snack. The two travel around Japan looking for a cure for immortality and helping others caught in the mermaid snare.

5. Witch Hunter Robin

How could we have Halloween without witches? Robin is a young woman working in a secret organization like those we’ve seen in La Femme Nikita and Alias. Setting this series apart is the purpose of its secret organization: the tracking of those who may manifest witch powers, and their capture and containment should they so manifest. Many of the organization’s workers have powers themselves, including Robin, a pyrokinetic. As Robin learns more about witches and delves further into her organization the question of who can be trusted arises. One season long, this series has been lauded by basically every anime critic out there as a fantastic example of the medium. Watch it… if you dare.

Happy Halloween!