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Drinkin' Buddies – Ninja Consultants

Ani-Gamers presents... Drunken Otaku: Drinkin' Buddies, featuring The Ninja Consultant PodcastThis Drunken Otaku is late because of an epic party. If you noticed the blackout-induced time lapse, you can have your money back, or perhaps I can repay you in awesomeness:

This month, marking one full year at Ani-Gamers, Drunken Otaku is doin’ a little something different. Evan and I caught a comprehensive panel given by Erin and Noah (of Ninja Consultant Podcast fame) on alcohol in anime and manga a while back at Genericon 2012, and Evan suggested a reunion-soiree of sorts. So we poured our drinks one morning, and then Erin and Noah tolerated my continual questions about drinks and drinking culture in Japan as well as their favorite moments of drinking in anime and manga. We only spoke for about 30 minutes, but there’s a lot of insight and humor, some interesting epiphanies, and more than a few recommendations for drinking-themed manga and anime throughout the Q&A, which you can find after the break. So grab a glass, sit back, and drink your fill.

Most important question of the day: What are you drinking?

Noah: Freedom & Friendship – Prosecco & Sorel & St. Germaine

Erin: Prosecco and St. Germaine (an elder-flower liquor). It’s a breakfast-y drink.

You’ve traveled to Japan. Have you lived there for any extent of time, or were your trips more vacations or work-related?

Erin: Just vacations. Longest was 15 or 20 days?

Noah: It was the better part of a month but we never lived there.

When you were there, what were the attitudes towards the consumption of alcohol and any specific behaviors you noticed?

Noah: Japan has a very strong and distinct drinking culture, where salarymen are more or less required after work hours to join their colleagues in drinking parties. Apparently, now it’s a little more voluntary than it used to be as that culture is breaking down as it becomes more international. But it’s kind of required, because the work culture is so conservative that the only time you can tell your boss what you think of him is when you’re drinking after work. And that allows people to be super serious and super hierarchical the rest of the time. So we were certainly aware of that.

Erin: On one of the trips, when we walked around on a weeknight, there would be groups of coworkers out, sort of drinking, and a lot of restaurants in Tokyo are set up in this way where your table is sort of private … there are a lot of spaces set up for groups in this manner. It’s almost at this stage of transition in in any walk of life, after you’re over the legal drinking age of 20, there’s always some kind of party or something like that. If someone joins your company, you have a welcome party. If someone’s leaving the company, you have a going away party. If a student in your group of friends is going to study abroad, you have a going away party. If they’ve just returned, then you welcome them back with a party.

One of our friends who works at a car company, one of her first jobs as a new employee was to plan the parties. The major part of her job as a freshman employee is just to plan drinking parties — you’re the one calling the restaurant to make sure there’s space. They collect money from everyone. Everyone pays about the same amount, and sometimes non-drinkers will pay to come out. The other important part about this is that there’s this gene that a lot of Asian people have that makes them completely allergic to alcohol, so a certain percentage of the population — and Caucasian people have the gene too, but it’s just not as prevalent — can’t really drink, or it’ll make them pass out or they’ll become really sick…

Noah: …violently ill

Erin: Yeah, it’s called the Asian Flush, where they’ll turn completely red if they take a sip of alcohol. But for some people that doesn’t mean that they’re that drunk. In my research on this, it turns out Caucasian people have this too, but some of them just drink through it, in spite of the illness, and they’re more prone to a certain type of cancer that this gene helps prevent.

Noah: Worth it.

For Erin, did you notice any difference in attitudes towards female drinkers as opposed to male drinkers?

I didn’t really drink with Japanese people. I drank with American people in izakaya, where we were also eating … so not really.

Noah: That’s in her personal experience. Now there’s plenty of media — I’m trying to think of all the different anime that feature drinking parties.

Erin: Honey & Clover has a lot of them.

Noah: Nodame Cantabile, they have a number of drinking parties…

Erin: She’s a ridiculous drunk.

Noah: In Eva, of course, you have…

Erin: Misato

Noah: Misato is a drunk. Azumanga Daioh?

Erin: No … they’re too young to drink.

Noah: No, no … the teachers!

Erin: Oh, the teachers! She doesn’t hold her alcohol very well.

Noah: Yeah, doesn’t she end up just vomiting outside the izakaya?She makes that sleepy barfing noise in Japanese, which is “waaaaaaaaaaaaay.” So I think in general, it’s accepted and acceptable and indeed expected.

Erin: Yeah, I don’t think in America… We had prohibition, and before prohibition, women weren’t allowed to go to bars — they were drinking establishments for men. But then thanks to prohibition, women and men were equally drinking at illegal places. And then after that, women were allowed in bars. But Japan didn’t have that.

On your travels, what did you notice as the most popular beverage. Has it changed, or does it differ by age group?

Erin: In the research I’ve done, it used to be beer was more popular than sake for a lot of the 20th century. Before that it was sake. But most recently, there’s a lot of… Japanese tax beer based on the amount of malt in the beer. So in order to avoid tax laws and make beer that’s cheaper, they reduce the amount of malt in the beer. As such, you wind up with really gross, beer-like beverages that are a few cents cheaper and widely available. So young people these days don’t like beer very much, but I think it’s because the beer is gross now. Unless you’re buying the authentic, 100% malt beer it’s not great. There’s a lot of stuff on Mutantfrog Travelogue about it, because he’s really obsessed about the legal aspects.

Noah: And I think it’s on there that you can actually see Patrick Macias and Matt Alt and a couple of people. They try a bunch of these different beer-like beverages. And ALL of them, they’re just disgusting. You can tell — the look on their faces, it’s priceless — and it makes me very happy that I did not have to endure whatever taste test they put themselves through.

Erin: I drank a bunch unknowingly on my last trip, where I was like “What the hell is 0% beer? I’m just gonna try…” It turns out it’s non-alcoholic for one thing, but there were a couple of things like “free” beer or some kinds of weird-labeled beer that I tried. They had this watery awefulness. Anyway, there’s something in Oishinbo, about soju becoming more and more popular… Soju is a kind of Korean vodka, but it can be made of different things. It’s a clear alcohol, but you can mix it with a bunch of flavors. So a lot of the really popular drinks are something like “something”-hai, like calpico-hai and chu-hai and things like that, where you add a fruit favor with the soju and it’s like this girly drink. And that’s very popular.

Noah: And of course in Japan, you can purchase these things from vending machines. So you can get a can of chu-hai or whisky and water, which is not recommended; you get what you pay for.

Erin: You can get them at 7-11 and stuff too.

Noah: You can also buy a large carton of sake from a vending machine…

Erin: Like a milk carton…

Noah: Also not recommended.

Erin: Mostly there are little boxes of sake, the 100-yen juice box of sake. It’s gross, and then the other hobo drink is Sake One Cup, where it comes in its own cup with like a paper cover. Some of the glasses are really cute – they have pandas on them or whatever – and they’re like two dollars. But Sake One Cup is disgusting. And sometimes you can find it in New York as a novelty beverage, and it will cost five dollars or seven dollars. They’ll sell it at some sort of dive-y izakaya-type place. It’s like “Oh, check it out, Sake One Cup: seven dollars!” DON’T PAY SEVEN DOLLARS FOR SAKE ONE CUP!

Noah: Well, it’s worth pointing out that it’s a self-heating can.

Erin: No, no. That’s different. That’s the really high-end… You can get a self-heating hobo can. We tried it. We think it’s the future, right, when you can come up with cans of self-heating ramen that would be amazing? But not yet. There are self-heating cans of sake though, so we bought one to try on our trip. They get really hot. There’s this little thing that you press that makes it heat up. But then a friend of mine, he wanted to try them too, because he’d heard of them. I’d heard about them from an interview with the Foo Fighters, the band, where they were on tour and heard of this self-heating sake cup. So they asked their tour manager, “We really wanna try this self-heating sake. Can you get us some of this for the band?” And the tour manager, who was Japanese, looked really put out, and he was like “That is a drink for homeless people.”

Noah: Right, that’s why they’re so fancifully decorated. It’s to distract you from your miserable life.

Erin: So a friend of mine, when he went to Japan for the first time, he really wanted to try the self-heating sake can too. So he and his girlfriend bought some but then they forgot to drink them. So then they were in the lobby of the airport before they check their bags and they’re like, “We gotta drink this! It’s liquid; we can’t…” So then they’re standing in the airport lobby with steaming cans. It’s too hot to drink, and they wind up throwing most of it out.

Noah: Funny thing is, it probably happens every day.

I’ve actually heard the rants against some of the juice box sake in the panel you gave about alcohol in anime and manga at Genericon, and I was wondering what was it that made you want to put that all together. Because it was a fantastic panel and exposed me to a lot of manga featuring or based around and exploring the drinking culture in Japan. Was that prevalent a theme in teh material you were reading and watching?

Erin: When I do the Unusual Manga Genres panel, some of the categories wound up being so big that I spun them off in their own panel. So I spun off the cooking manga from Unusual Manga Genres panel, because the food section was so overwhelmingly large that it could be its own thing. But then there was a large alcohol section in the cooking manga panel, and I’m like “Well, this might be enough material for its own panel.” And it kind of is and kind of isn’t. It wound up being a much bigger scope panel, because I didn’t come up with as many titles as there probably exist about just drinking and bars and stuff. I did wind up finding a lot of material about… I realized there was a lot of things to cover about sake and beer production, and laws, and the culture of drinking in Japan and how it’s different from America. So that kind of wound up being its own thing. But I’ve only really ended up giving that panel a couple of times — once at Genericon and once at Anime Boston.

Noah: You can learn a tremendous amount about a country…

Erin: Oh, I did it at Anime Weekend Atlanta too! Yeah, I think I may have given it for the first time at Anime Weekend Atlanta. Anyway, you can learn a lot about a country through their alcohol.

Noah: Especially if you’re someplace like Japan, where drinking culture is central to business culture and has a long and storied history. Their sake is the Japanese national liquor. And as Erin describes in the panel, there’s a lot of national pride and national shame attached to sake production and consumption.

Erin: Right, especially post-World War II. If you’re gonna read just two volumes of the six or seven Oishinbo volumes that are in English, I’d recommend the sake and the rice one. They’re so filled with nationalism and pride and shame and rises and falls. It’s really a lot to learn about Japan. The rice one is almost like … I think I almost cried at one point. They make a big deal about how rice used to be a currency for part of Japan’s history and their national food. In the sake volume, there’s a lot of stuff about the post-World War II sake production and how, in an industrial revolution kind of way, they added other kinds of alcohol to it and sped up the process but also it made the sake taste gross.

What are some of your favorite portrayals of alcohol and drinking culture in manga and anime and what are some of those for which you have a lesser affinity?

Noah: Bartender, the manga, is a portrayal of what drinking culture should be, where they spend a great deal of time on the sort of alchemy behind mixing drinks, and how the way a liquor tastes will sort of conjure up associations and have a comparative effect. It’s notable, because Daryl Surat of Anime World Order, believes the bar in Bartender is pure fantasy.

Erin: Right, he’s only been in sports bars. He doesn’t believe that a quiet bar that’s classy exists.

Noah: A brief summary of Bartender: this bartender mixes drinks, and with these drinks, solves people’s problems … whatever it is. People who come into this quiet bar called Eden Hall…

Erin: They don’t even have to order; the bartender knows.

Noah: It’s a very sort of sublime take on drinking culture and its place. So that’s something we really like. I’ll tell you that, personally, in harem anime, something I don’t typically care for is the kitsune type girl.

Erin: Like in Love Hina?

Noah: Like in Love Hina, but in many.

Erin: But she’s the really good example.

Noah: That type is based on the mischievous fox spirit, who in Japanese folklore … I don’t remember the way the tale goes precisely, but the fox spirit essentially pretends to be to be this guy’s fiancé, and then they have the big wedding and she drinks all the sake and eats all the food and then turns back into her fox … her true form, and she’s like “wow, thanks for that. That was awesome.” How this morphed into a girl type, and she’s just standard, it’s kind of weird. But you find this character in practically every harem.

Erin: Yeah, I think even in Sekirei there’s one character who always carries around a giant sake bottle and is always trying to drink with everyone.

Noah: And it’s kind of pointless.

Erin: Yeah, it’s just like a trope, like any other trope. I fondly recall that in Tenchi Muyo, when it was on Cartoon Network, where there are scenes of everyone drinking together, and they try and play it off in the dub like everyone’s drinking tea. Which doesn’t really work. They’re blushing heavily, turning red, and passing out from drinking all that tea.

Noah: In El Hazard, Fujisawa-sensei. He’s a high school teacher. They’ve all been transported into this mystical land. He’s kind of a lousy teacher and a drunk, but in this land, every time he drinks sake he gains super strength.

Erin: One of my favorite scenes from drinking in anime is from Irresponsible Captain Tylor OVA or maybe it’s just the Christmas episode, where he drinks on these tarps with hobos or with homeless dudes. He buys some bottle of sake. I forget if it was for some in, like he had to get information from them.

Noah: No, it wasn’t. He was killing time. He was waiting for his date to show up. Which apparently is very romantic in Japan.

When I say drinker, who’s the first character from anime or manga that comes to mind?

Erin: Misato

Noah: In Project A-ko, the captain of the alien ship, all throughout, is drinking Captain Harlock style, ‘cause Harlock always has his little wine goblet. But because A-ko is a parody, it turns out that the captain is always drinking wine, not to look cool, but because he’s a horrible alcoholic. So when he runs out of sake, he goes nuts and starts shooting up the bridge. Since this is one of the first anime that I ever saw, at least one of the first I saw subtitled, when you say drinker in anime, that’s what comes to mind. Possibly because it made such an impression on me at a relatively early age.

Erin: Oh, but I think that character and that archetype are very important. Because the bad guys in so many anime are constantly swirling red wine in a glass, and I don’t know what it is about red wine; if that’s because it’s a foreign alcohol; that they don’t really produce wine in Japan that way … that that’s what makes bad guys bad. That good guys drink sake and bad guys drink red wine. The point where in Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom there’s an evil organization of bad guys, like a bunch of mini-bosses, and they all have to drink their own kind of alcohol, and none of it is sake. There’s a guy who drinks champagne, the top old bad guy who drinks whisky, there’s a chick who drinks red wine — they each have their signature non-sake alcohol that they’re toasting to evil. Something definitely to watch for in anime: bad guys are drinking wine … unless you’re watching Drops of God, which isn’t an anime. Oh, I also really love the portrayals of drinking culture in Moyashimon. I think that’s super-realistic. It’s actually a series about a college student and how to make sake.

Noah: It’s a story about an agricultural school.

Erin: The first season of the anime’s really good. I don’t like the live-action series. There are two volumes of the manga out in English, but the manga’s not drawn that well … well, the molecules are super-cute, but the human characters…

Noah: Yeahhh, yeahhh…

Erin: They’re not pretty.

Final question: If you could have a drink or go out to a bar and have many drinks with your favorite character, who would it be?

Erin: I wanna drink with the Drops of God guy and go to the bar where he … in the live-action series, he keeps going to the same bar and this really nice bartender serves him a bunch of really nice wines so they can figure out which one is best. And sometimes the other character wakes up with a hangover, but that’s the kind of … that’s what I would want to … I mean it’s easy just to be like “Oh the Bartender bar,” ‘cause then all my problems would be solved. But I wanna also really go to the Radio Club … the one in Paprika, where it’s like a dream bar. That’s not in the book. I don’t think it existed that way in the book. Like the orgy scene…

Noah: I think the dream bar in Paprika is probably just Satoshi Kon projecting; he’d probably wanna go to that bar.  I think I’ll throw sort of a curve ball. The anime character I’d probably most want to drink with, like once, would be Kaiji.

Erin: You’re gonna drink gross beer with Kaiji?

Noah: Yeah! Like squatting on the sidewalk, drinking a Sake One Cup. Like this is gonna be so great! These great plans… God, it’s gonna be so awesome! Once … I could do that once. Wacky misadventures without losing my limbs, digits, ears, extremities…

Erin: …or just dying.

Noah: Wouldn’t that be fun?! Don’t you think that would be fun?

On the first Friday of every month (or occasionally on the hazy, hung-over Saturday directly following), Ani-Gamers blogger Ink tackles an anime, manga, or video game through the theme of alcohol in our column “Drunken Otaku.” Look out for “Beer Googles” (reviews), “Great Drinkers” (character profiles), “Drinkin’ Buddies” (interviews), and “Great Moments in Drinking” (more or less). To read previous entries, click here.

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