Archive

Tag Archives: Wasabi

Big Hero 6 (2015)

big-hero-6-poster

Direct by Don Hall and Chris Williams

So after a couple of articles all about Big Hero 6, the comic, and my thoughts on the possible ways Disney could adapt it I finally got a chance to watch the finished product.

And it’s pretty fantastic.

But what did I think about it as an adaptation?

Big-Hero-6-Characters-

Well, despite that being the topic of all my previous posts on Big Hero 6 when I got to see the finished film it quickly became apparent that this is one of the loosest adaptations of any property ever. I kind of suspected as much once we started to get some character and plot details, and also from the total lack of any acknowledgement that this is a Marvel property but the main things the film and comic share are some names, some powers (loosely), a few design elements (even looser) and a sort of Japanese feel.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. None of the original characters are particular winners (well, maybe Sunfire but he’s originally an X-Men supporting character/anti-hero) and nobody’s powers had an amazing unique concept (although I do like Fred and his Kaiju monster aura). There isn’t a great definitive Big Hero 6 story that everyone loves so, yeah, as long as you keep the high concept of super-heroes but vaguely Japanese, change whatever you want.

So how is the film itself as its own beast?

(Spoilers, sort of, most of this is set-up)

big-hero-6-tadashii

Well, the film tells the story of Hiro (Ryan Potter who is Japanese/American, which is fantastic), young orphaned genius and his older brother Tadashii (Daniel Henney and FYI Tadashii is not a name. Is it so hard to ask a Japanese person if the word you’re using for a character name is a real first name of total gibberish? Well, not gibberish since it does mean right or correct but it isn’t a first name) who is similarly a genius. Hiro spends his days hustling illegal street bot fights for cash, Tadashii spends his days at University in a specialised programme for geniuses where they get to work on whatever interests them. Tadashii is dismayed at his brother’s lack of ambition and brings him to his school to see his latest project, Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflatable medical robot that will live in people’s homes and help them with psychiatric and physical medical assistance. There Hiro also meets Tadashii’s friends who are all idiosyncratic geniuses with their own interests and personality quirks. And Fred (T. J. Miller), who is the school’s mascot.

Hiro is inspired and desperately wants to join the school but to do so he needs to demonstrate something impressive. So he starts working on some micro-bots, think a cross between nano-bots and lego. They’re finger sized magnetic robots that can be mentally controlled to re-shape and build larger structures. He shows them off at an expo and everyone is suitably impressed leading to Hiro getting his school placement. He doesn’t get to enjoy it though because a fire starts at the expo, destroying his work and killing Tadashii.

Hiro, understandably, falls into a depression after this as his brother and best friend is dead and the only thing that snaps him out of his funk is the accidental discovery of a mysterious masked figure using his micro-bots to commit crimes. Well, that and Baymax who is programmed to try and treat his depression. With the help of a modified Baymax and Tadashii’s friends Hiro sets out to catch the thief.

big-hero-6-villain

The main strengths of Big hero 6 are the writing and the characters. This is a Disney film that, despite all the fantastic elements, feels very real and honest emotionally. Hiro’s personal arc is both engaging and really feels like something a teenaged boy would go through, and it’s paced marvellously too. And at the heart of that arc is the relationship between Hiro and Baymax.

I said in the build up that there’s a lot of potential in “ a boy and his….” Narratives. From Old Yeller to Iron Giant to How to Train your Dragon there is something about the relationship between teenaged boys and non-human friends that is really effecting and Hiro and Baymax are another highlight in this tradition. Baymax in particular is wonderful. Equal parts hilarious, caring, warm and adorable with a smidgen of badass. He’s the big brother everyone wishes they could have. He’s also just a great comic creation and Scott Adsit’s measured delivery of every line delivers some really great deadpan humour (if you’ve seen this film, you did a fist bump and went fa la la la la la la la, do not deny it).

greetings-from-san-fransokyo

The animation is, of course, spectacular. The flying and chase scenes have a sense of thrill and danger to them that puts most live action films to shame and the big action sequences with the team showing off their powers and fighting the villain are everything I want in super hero movies. Bright, colourful characters using their powers in creative ways and teaming up to look cool and kick ass. Much like Incredibles before it Big Hero 6 is so confident and creative in showing off super powers that it just highlights how limited and boring the action scenes in the Marvel movies, Man of Steel or the X-Men franchise have been. There’ so much invention in the fights and they’re choreographed so clearly and fluidly that my main complaint with the action is that there isn’t nearly enough of it.

The animation really soars in the details though. San Fransokyo is a masterful creation, it feels really lived in and is full of details that make it both aesthetically interesting and are really fun for a nerdy otaku like me to spot. Fred’s room in particular is one for the super nerds. He has a statue of sleepwalker in there! He has a statue of Black Talon. Black Talon, the guy who dresses like a chicken and fought the avengers once in the 70’s. Black Talon made it into a film before Wonder Woman!

big-hero-6-black-talon

San Fransokyo was one of the elements I was most worried about mostly because in the trailer it came off as more Chinese than Japanese. However, the creators have explained that the concept is that in this reality Chinatown has expanded to encompass the whole of San Francisco, so this is an American city with very obvious Chinese and Japanese elements. That makes a lot more sense and really comes across in the design. Stuff like Hiro’s robot anime posters, the cat named mochi or Honey Lemon pronouncing “photo-photo” with a really good Japanese accent make it feel Asian in a subtle and all-encompassing way that’s more effective and markedly less offensive than the original comics. Plus it just feels cool. It’s all the really iconic and awesome parts of modern Japanese culture nicked and combined in one sleek package.

BH6_Team_Transparent

My main complaint is that the other 4 team members get very little screen time or development. This is a story of 4 characters, Hiro, Tadashii (who dies), Baymax and the antagonist (whose identity is a secret). And that’s fine, there isn’t anything wrong with telling a focused narrative with a few side characters. Indeed, the narrative is stronger for its tight focus and excellent pacing.  But the film is called Big Hero 6 not Hiro and Baymax and we have 4 other guys who get very little to do. And that wouldn’t be so bad except that I really like these other characters and want to see more of them. Wasabi no Ginger becomes Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), nerdy black guy (I bring it up because I’m super happy he isn’t a horrible Asian stereotype like the comics character) with OCD and laser knives. Go Go (Jamie Chung) keeps her rebellious snarky personality but trades in bouncing like an egg for skating on frictionless magnetic bike wheels. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is the complete opposite of the sexually dominating flirty comics character and is a shy, slightly clumsy but very sweet and caring typical girly girl with a purse that’s also a chemical factory. Then there’s Fred, who is pure unbridled fanboy excitement in a rubber monster suit that lets him jump high and breathe fire.

Fred could so easily have been annoying but I love him. He reminds me of me.

I like these characters, a lot. They’re fun, they have clear well defined personalities and they have wonderful chemistry together. And they have cool and varied powers. My favourite moments in the film (aside from just, everything Baymax does) are their training montage and the fights where they get to show off their skills. I just wish we had more time with them in costume fighting guys. I understand that in the original concept there was more of this but it got cut to tighten the focus. Hopefully we can get a sequel or a TV series to flesh these guys out more.

So in summary Big Hero 6 is a classic family film narrative enlivened by an imaginative setting. great characters and some clever jokes. It’s not ground breaking in any way but it’s hard to find fault in it really.

It isn’t better than The Lego Movie though.

It’s all coming together.

Last year I wrote a piece explaining why I thought Disney had chosen Big Hero 6 as their first Marvel property to turn into an animated film and highlighting some of the issues in adapting the comic in a racially and culturally sensitive way.

I’m pleased to see from this trailer that a lot of what I talked about has come to pass. However, Disney have opened up a whole new can of worms with some of their decisions.

Let’s start with the good. I love the tone this trailer gets across. The low key slapstick, the mixture of humour with a genuinely threatening villain and the easy going heart to it. I wish more Super-Hero stories in any medium had this tone and it certainly gives me Incredibles vibes.*

They’ve also chosen to focus on ” a boy and his robot” as their main story telling angle which I think is a good choice. Big Hero 6 is not a thematically dense concept, it basically amounts to “Hey Japan is different, lolz” so grabbing onto something in the property that shows more promise for exploration is a good idea. A boy and his (insert noun here) stories work well for animation and children’s cinema and some of the greatest animated films of the past 20 years (The Iron Giant, How to Train your Dragon) have used it as a basis.

The animation is good, as to be expected of Disney, although you can now add me to the chorus of people who are getting a little sick of how samey Disney’s character designs are getting.

Also is that Lord Deathstrike?

Lord Deathstrike Big Hero 6

I mean, I know that the odds that a character named Lord Deathstrike will appear in a Disney movie are about as likely as me voicing him but he sure does look like him doesn’t he?

big hero 6 lord_deathstrikeWhere this goes wrong is San Fransokyo. Oh my, San Fransokyo.

When it was announced that this film would be set in an amalgam city of Tokyo and San Francisco I thought it could go one of two ways. Either it could be clever and cute, a good way to point out cultural differences and make some gentle jokes about them, or it could be horribly, horribly offensive combining every stereotypical Japanese thing the creators could think of.

What I did not expect is that they would get the wrong country. Because San Fransokyo looks great, it it’s meant to be San Beijing.

Seriously, those “Japanese” touches like the lanterns and the roofs that flare up at the corners. Those are Chinese. You will find them in Japan, in fact they’re not uncommon but that’s because China has had an incredible cultural impact on Japan. But in the style and colours used in this trailer they feel way more Chinese to me than Japanese. And even then they’re a touch that goes back to the pre-Meiji era and are only seen nowadays in temples and other historical buildings. There are so many icons of modern Japan you could include and other than some Katakana and Kanji Disney simply hasn’t!

What San Fransokyo really looks like is the China Town in San Francisco expanded out to encompass the whole city. And while I know a lot of Japanese people live in the San Francisco China Town, guys the clue is in the name as to which country it more closely resembles.

Here’s hoping the trailer just gives off a wrong impression and the film gets it better.

The stripping out of Japanese culture though continues onto the characters. Big Hero 6 is a team composed of 1 robot and 5 Japanese people or Japanese-Americans. Big Hero 6 in the movie? 2, maximum. That’s a big cut Disney. The premier Japanese super-hero team now has Japanese members as the minority. I know why you’ve done it, the setting demands a mix of Asian and Caucasian people to reflect the mixed up Asian and Western architecture and you don’t think an all Asian cast will fly for American audiences. In fact you’ve actually increased the team’s diversity in one way by adding a black man to the mix, which I applaud, but, I still feel like it has missed the point a little bit.

In fact let’s dig into the characters a bit more. Starting with our hero, Hiro, and his pet robot Baymax.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-baymax

big-hero-6-character-rollout-hiro

Here’s what I wrote about Hiro and Baymax in my original piece.

Big Hero 6 2

Hiro and Baymax are clearly affectionate homages to a number of Japanese characters. Hiro is a super-genius kid who builds a robot protector for himself. That’s an idea that mixes bits of Getter Robo, Tetsujin 28 and even the Kenny’s from Godzilla.

And here is some info from screencrush.com

Ryan Potter portrays Hiro, a robotics prodigy who has “the mind of a genius—and the heart of a 14-year-old. His state-of-the-art battle-bots dominate the underground bot fights held in the dark corners of San Fransokyo. Fortunately, big brother Tadashi redirects Hiro’s brilliance, inspiring him to put his brain to the test in a quest to gain admission to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. When a tragic event changes everything, Hiro turns to a robot named Baymax, and they form an unbreakable bond—and two-sixths of a band of high-tech heroes on a very important mission.

It sounds to me like Hiro is largely unchanged from his comic incarnation of “boy genius.” I suspect that Hiro is the character that Disney saw the most potential in, making him the hero and basing the film on him. To that end he is basically the same character. Baymax however has been tweaked considerably.

Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit) cares. That’s what he was designed to do. The plus-sized inflatable robot’s job title is technically Healthcare Companion: With a simple scan, Baymax can detect vital stats, and, given a patient’s level of pain, can treat nearly any ailment. Conceived and built by Tadashi Hamada, Baymax just might revolutionize the healthcare industry. But to the inventor’s kid brother Hiro, the nurturing, guileless bot turns out to be more than what he was built for—he’s a hero, and quite possibly Hiro’s closest friend. And after some deft reprogramming that includes a rocket fist, super strength and rocket thrusters that allow him to fly, Baymax becomes one of the Big Hero 6.

Baymax in the comics was designed and built entirely by Hiro. However, when Hiro’s Father died he used some of his Father’s brain engrams to program Baymax. That makes Baymax a combination of Hiro’s friend, his bodyguard his father and his nanny. Disney however have switched the tragic death from Father to Brother and also made Baymax a construction of Hiro’s Brother. This simplifies the relationship considerably emphasising that Baymax and Hiro are in effect brothers. It’s a bit more conventional than the comic’s version but riffs on many of the same emotions and probably works better in the limited running time of a film.

Next up is our only other remaining Asian, Go, Go Tomago, played by Jamie Chung.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-go_go_tomago

 

She’s tough, athletic and loyal to the bone, but not much of a conversationalist. Popping bubble gum and delivering well-placed sarcasm are totally her speed. The daredevil adrenaline junkie is at her best on wheels, and when Go Go joins forces with Big Hero 6, she rolls like never before, using maglev discs as wheels, shields and throwing weapons.

Big Hero 6 Go Go Tamago

Wild rebellious Go Go was the Wolverine of the group, the bad ass outsider who don’t take no bull. She’s been de-aged and her criminal past is gone but her personality and team function are largely the same. Also her name is still misspelt. She should be Go, Go, Tamago i.e. the Japanese word for egg. Although considering they changed her powers the egg joke doesn’t work any more anyway. I dig the new costume too, it’s both more sentai than her original sentai inspired outfit and more modern.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-fred

Fred, voiced by T.J. Miller, has been de-aged, gone from Asian to White and gone from having a Godzilla shaped ki aura to just turning into a Monster.

Big Hero 6 Fred

Other than that he’s mostly the same, a stoner in a hat with badass monster related powers. He’s the comic relief of the group and it looks like he’ll continue to be playing that role. Also, I like his new Monster design. It does feel quite Asian without specifically referencing a particular monster design I can think of. I will miss his Devil Dinosaur t-shirt though.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-honey_lemon

So that is what Honey Lemon, who will be voiced by Genesis Rodriguez which is a Super-Villain name if I ever heard one, looks like in the film. Here is what she looked like in the comics.

Big Hero 6 Honey Lemon

…..

…….

That’s, um, that’s quite the change.

Honey Lemon was a play on Cutie Honey, a popular anime character who is mainly famous for being full on naked during her magical girl transformations. Honey Lemon the comic character is consequently, sexy, confident and playful with some stuff from other anime characters (most notably Doraemon) thrown in.

From the character design alone it’s clear that Honey Lemon in the film is not going to be the same character. Other than a power-set and a name they have nothing in common. Problem being that now Honey Lemons’s power-set and name don’t make sense. She’s called Honey Lemon as a play on Cutie Honey, a character she now no longer resembles. And her power-set is grabbing things from her purse, not exactly the most subtle of satirical jabs.

That said I am not surprised they changed her. Whilst Honey Lemon was hugely inappropriate for a kid’s film the bigger problem is that she’s a parody character, not a character intended to work on her own merits and she needed something done to her to appear in this film.

Finally we get to Wasabi, formerly Wasabi no Ginger.

Here is what Wasabi no Ginger looked like in the comics.

Big Hero 6 Wasabi No Ginger

And here is what I wrote about him.

Finally there’s Wasabi-no-Ginger which is a name that is simply unacceptable. Honey Lemon is stretching it but Wasabi-no-Ginger isn’t a clever pun so much as it is the equivalent of a Japanese comic introducing a morbidly obese character in a cowboy hat called Burger McRanchdressing. Try and count the stereotypes in this short character description guys. He’s a sushi chef (1) but also a samurai (2) who fights by using katana (3) and sushi knives (4) that he makes from his body whilst wearing wooden sandals (5) and a Hawaiian shirt (6?). Whilst the other characters are a spin on existing Japanese characters Wasabi-no-Ginger is the result of throwing everything Chris Claremont knows about Japan (sushi, samurais…Hawaiian shirts?) into a blender and calling the result a character. You know in the Super Friends how the Native American guy who grew got called Apache Chief rather than something that described his powers like Giant Man, or Gigantor. That is the level of patronising we’re dealing with here in Wasabi-no-Ginger.

I hate, Wasabi no Ginger.

Now, here is what he looks like in the film.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-wasabi

Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans Jr.) is committed to precision. He’s super smart and just a touch neurotic, but the big and burly neatnik can’t help but join the cause when Hiro needs him most. As part of “Big Hero 6,” Wasabi amplifies his martial arts skills with jaw-dropping plasma blade weaponry. Sharp doesn’t even begin to describe this guy.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

He’s not a sushi chef. He’s not a Japanese stereotype, he can’t be because he’s not Japanese. He doesn’t wear geta, he doesn’t fight using katana and he has a personality beyond “everything Chris Claremont knows about Japan.” Even his name makes more sense since both wasabi and plasma are hot. Plus, he adds further diversity to the team and avoids being a black stereotype too! It’s such a low bar to hurdle but thank you, thank you so much Disney for doing it.

So based on all this info I’m still looking forward to Big Hero 6 and cautiously optimistic that this will be another Incredibles. I’m nervous about San Fransokyo but Disney’s last 2 films have really clicked for me and I’m hoping they continue on with their mini renaissance.

 

*The Incredibles is in my top 5 favourite Super-Hero films and until Marvel got their shit together was basically number 1. It still remains the best Fantastic Four film ever made too.

 

Big Hero 6

When Disney bought Marvel a few years ago one of the first things fans wanted to know was when we’d get a Marvel property animated by Disney. It’s not that people don’t love the live action films but moving into animation grants a much wider and grander canvas to play with and would allow for properties that would be difficult, or at the very least expensive, to do in live action (Eternals, Warlock and a decent Silver Surfer for example).

I do not think anyone thought that the first Disney/Marvel animated film was going to be  Big Hero 6.

Since approximately 10 people know who Big Hero 6 are here’s a brief explanation. Initially spinning out of Alpha Flight (yes, these guys are less famous and popular than Alpha Flight, the super-hero team whose high concept is, we’re Canadian) and a 3 issue mini in the late 90’s; Big Hero 6 are the national super-hero team of Japan. The team is composed of a mix of established Japanese characters like Sunfire and the Silver Samurai and some newer oddball creations like Go-Go Tomago. They later got a mini by Chris Claremont in 2008 and bar a few cameos that’s it. That’s pretty much all you need to know.

Why then would Disney want to make a film of this?

Well because Disney is very interested in Japan right now. Japan wasn’t as badly affected by the recession as America and Europe (don’t get me wrong, it was affected, the but the economy was still fairly flat from the mid-90’s Japanese recession and so it was a smaller dip than experienced in the west) making Japan the largest and most attractive non-China market out there. And since there are plenty of reasons Disney expanding in China is a problem (that we won’t go into today) it makes sense that they want to expand into Japan. It also helps that Disney is already huge there, in fact it’s easily the biggest non-native cultural force in the country, with two Disney theme parks and merchandise is as seemingly omni-present as it is in Orlando. Licenses for things like Stitch and Winnie the Pooh are huge.

And if you know anything about Japanese culture you’ve probably spotted some attempts to make Disney products more palatable to Japanese consumers recently. Take Wreck-it-Ralph. As well as including numerous cameos from Japanese characters (Bowser, Sonic, Pac-Man) it prominently featured the mascot of a Japanese cream puff company, Beard Papa, and even a song by idol group AKB48. This is the most Japanese film Disney has yet released.

And yet Wreck-it-Raph wasn’t so Japanese that it alienated domestic audiences either. Partly that’s because guys like Sonic are well known to U.S. audiences already but also it’s because Japanese culture is more widely known in America these days anyway. Disney may have missed the anime and manga bubble by a few years but Japanese culture has impacted western culture in a way that isn’t going away any time soon. You only have to look at Transformers or Pacific Rim or the upcoming Godzilla to see that Hollywood still sees a lot of potential in repurposing Japanese ideas.

So coming out with a super-hero animated movie with a distinctly Japanese feel makes a lot of sense. It has the potential to sell well back home, sell hugely in Japan and leave a licensing legacy Disney can exploit for years to come.

But.

Big Hero 6 may not be the best characters to do this with.

And it’s not because they’re lesser known characters. Iron Man was widely considered a second string super-hero prior to the first Robert Downey Junior film and he’s now one of the biggest and most popular supes in the wider pop culture consciousness. And let’s not forget Blade, the film that started off the current Super-Hero movie era. Nobody outside of comics, and most people who do read comics, had heard of Blade, and for those that had he wasn’t exactly their favourite character. But there was enough potential there to make a very competent action film and the rest is history.

No, Big Hero 6 has the potential to be a great film, but there’s also the strong potential to be an offensive one. That’s because the characters in Big Hero 6 walk a very thin line between affectionate homage to Japanese icons and a patronising joke about how stupid and silly those characters are.

Discounting Sunfire and the Silver Samurai, because they’re mutants and so tied up with the X-Men rights and setting and probably won’t make it into the Big Hero 6 film, you’re left with Hiro, Baymax, Honey Lemon, Go-Go Tomago, Wasabi-no-Ginger and Fred.

Big Hero 6 2

Hiro and Baymax are clearly affectionate homages to a number of Japanese characters. Hiro is a super-genius kid who builds a robot protector for himself. That’s an idea that mixes bits of Getter Robo, Tetsujin 28 and even the Kenny’s from Godzilla. However it’s also a strong idea without the Japanese elements.  A boy and his pet robot? You can easily imagine that as an animated film *cough* Iron Giant *cough*

Big Hero 6 3

And then there’s Go-Go Tomago who, aside from Hiro, is the only character to have much of a personality. She’s a former biker gang member and criminal given a second lease on life by volunteering to pilot a suit of armour that lets her bounce around like a human pachinko ball (a kind of Japanese version of pinball that is the most mind numbingly boring activity a human being can possibly engage in) and makes her look a little bit like a Power Ranger. Again she’s a combination of Japanese concepts but one that is played straight and still works as a straight super-hero.

Unfortunately her name is wrong. She’s called Tomago because she’s supposed to resemble an egg but the Japanese word for egg is tAmago, not tOmago as the Official Hand Book to the Marvel Universe would have you believe.

And then with Honey Lemon it starts to get silly.

Big Hero 6 4

Honey Lemon (a play on long running Japanese superhero Cutie Honey) has a purse that allows her to draw weapons and devices from other dimensions (shades of Doraemon) which is really pushing what you can get away with in a straight super-hero story and is verging on parody territory.

Big Hero 6 5

Fred is just some guy in a t-shirt and hat, but when he fights he manifests his ki, or spirit energy, in the form of a giant ghostly dinosaur that’s not unlike Godzilla. It’s kind of a silly concept but I like Fred for just how oddball he is and the interesting visual he offers.

Big Hero 6 6

Finally there’s Wasabi-no-Ginger which is a name that is simply unacceptable. Honey Lemon’s stretching it but Wasabi-no-Ginger isn’t a clever pun so much as it is the equivalent of a Japanese comic introducing a morbidly obese character in a cowboy hat called Burger McRanchdressing. Try and count the stereotypes in this short character description guys. He’s a sushi chef (1) but also a samurai (2) who fights by using katana (3) and sushi knives (4) that he makes from his body whilst wearing wooden sandals (5) and a Hawaiian shirt (6?). Whilst the other characters are a spin on existing Japanese characters Wasabi-no-Ginger is the result of throwing everything Chris Claremont knows about Japan (sushi, samurais…Hawaiian shirts?) into a blender and calling the result a character. You know in the Super Friends how the Native American guy who grew got called Apache Chief rather than something that described his powers like Giant Man, or Gigantor. That is the level of patronising we’re dealing with here in Wasabi-no-Ginger.

So it’s a concept that can easily go either way. Played straight it can be an affectionate pastiche of Japanese super-heroes but one that also functions as a proper super-hero narrative with good strong character hooks such as boy and his robot or former criminal seeks redemption. Play it for laughs though and it could quickly lapse into a series of embarrassing stereotypes.

What we’ve     heard so far from Disney doesn’t really help us know much either way. The concept art looks amazing but the setting, San-Frantokyo, sounds fairly hokey.

Oh, and for those that might be interested in tracking down the original comics, don’t bother. The original 3 issue mini has never been collected and whilst it’s okay it isn’t worth the effort to find it. The later Chris Claremont mini is aggressively terrible. Not only does it feature trademark tedious Chris Claremont mind control (editors, please, please stop letting Chris Claremont write mind control stories) but the characters all get turned into his stock types too, that’s if they’re not reduced to boring ciphers. The plot is so thin as to be barely there and it spends most of two out of its 5 issue run focused on our heroes infiltrating an American high school and taking part in an American football game for absolutely no reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG4410

The end is nigh my friends, here we have the last two Kit-Kat flavours from my massive Kit-Kat box. It has been a long strange journey, we’ve had green tea and roast green tea. We’ve had two cheesecakes and some traditional Japanese sweets, We’ve been to a place that technically doesn’t exist and ignored some that do. And now we’re ending it all with some wasabi and some bright purple potatoes. Never let it be said I don’t end with a bang.

Shizukoa Kanto Wasabi

CIMG4421

I have had Wasabi before. I was not best pleased, my reaction was basically, this is unpleasant, no, actually it’s creamy, no wait it’s unpleasant, wait, no, creamy again, no, wait, unpleasant. Not impressed.

I am pleased to find out this comes from Shizuoka prefecture though. Last time I got these I bought them from Tokyo, hence I naturally assumed they were a Tokyo thing but actually they come from Shizuoka, that makes a heck of a lot more sense as Shizukoa is up in the mountains and wasabi roots grow in the mountains. I’m still baffled why the wrapper looks so tropical and Okinawan though. It is an attractive wrapper at least with a strong design that’s aesthetically interesting and a nice colour balance.

The Kat still stinks, and still triggers my desire to vomit before I even eat it. I’m not sure why as the smell isn’t really all that unpleasant in the manner say, a fart or garbage is but it does something to me that triggers my gag reflect straight away. It also doesn’t smell of wasabi.

I think this time around I can taste the wasabi slightly more strongly but it still isn’t very strong and it still lacks the fire and heat. Well not totally, but it isn’t the heat one expects of wasabi. I don’t find it unpleasant though just, bland. Wasabi promises a fiery and unique chocolate experience but it’s mostly just creamy white chocolate. The aftertaste is horrible too, really very bitter. If anything, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, this could stand to be a bit sweeter.

 

Okinawa Beni-Imo 

CIMG4426

This is one most people will probably raise an eyebrow for but that I am very enthusiastic about. Beni-Imo are purple fleshed sweet potatoes and they are amazing! Some people are probably aghast at potato flavoured sweets but the clue is in the sweet part guys, sweet potatoes are sweet and make a great flavour for all sorts of puddings, drinks and ice creams. They also have caramel notes, nutty notes and earthy notes. If you like cinnamon, toffee or butterscotch sweet potato ice-cream will probably suit you quite well.

And purple sweet potatoes even more so. Have you heard of bubble tea? Bubble tea is a milk and tea drink filled with tapioca bubbles that is popular across all of Asia. Here’s a photo for the uninitiated.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

In one shop in Kobe they would make you bubble tea in a multitude of flavours. Everything from apple to strawberry to green tea to banana to sweet potato. I went to this shop fairly early on in my time in Japan and long before I learnt how to read Japanese so I just pointed and guessed at a flavour. I though purple was grape or blueberry and was very surprised when a friend pointed out I had ordered sweet potato. However, I was delighted. Beni-Imo bubble tea was one of the most amazing drinks I had my whole time there and is one of my favourite things in the world, hands down.

Beni-Imo are common to all of Japan but are especially cultivated in Okinawa, a series of small tropical islands hundreds of miles away from the rest of the Japan. Okinawa is pretty much its own place with its own culture, cuisine and even a dialect that is very distinct from normal Japanese. It even has unique ethnic groups not found in the rest of Japan. It’s similar to Hawaii in terms of its cuisine and culture and also in that it is swamped with Japanese tourists every summer. Consequently it is full of people needing to buy Omiyage and nestle have seized upon this ruthlessly.

The packet is fun, the illustration isn’t of a purple sweet potato but rather a Beni-Imo flavoured dessert of some kind which I feel is a bit of a cheat. It is a nice looking dessert though. This is also one example where it has lots of different colours but it works, mostly because the main colour is white. That means the pinks, purples, greens and blues pop more without clashing with something else like they do on the brown sugar wrapper. It’s also redolent of the Okinawan art style and patterns. It’s ultimately just a bright fun wrapper and that kind of fits Okinawa too, a sunny resort kind of place that’s also bright and fun.

The Kat is a disappointingly pale purple since Beni-Imo are usually so rich and dark but it smells very strongly of Beni-Imo.

It’s a bit disappointing actually as it’s quite bland. Usually my first bite gives me something, a flavour or at least sweetness but this is just an empty nothingness on the tongue. It’s not overly sweet at least but it mostly tastes of the wafer and that’s a big no no. As you chew flavours do develop and they’re absolutely sweet potato flavours. We have sweetness, nuttiness, earthiness, even fruitiness peculiar to purple fleshed potatoes. It’s a very complex and adult flavour and it hits every part of your palette beautifully. It also has a nice after taste with the earthiness lingering in your mouth long after the sweetness has passed. This isn’t the best sweet potato Kit-Kat I’ve had (now there’s a sentence most people can’t say) but it’s still a very good and very adult flavour. A touch bland to start with it eventually blooms into a complex variety of tastes that is really satisfying and delicious, a great way to end this box.

I’m back guys and by back I mean back in the U.K.

The plan for this blog going ahead will be to do some retrospective posts about things I did in Japan and places I went to that I never got around to covering. Mostly because I was too busy doing stuff to have time to write about the stuff I was doing.

But the first order of business is to deal with what this blog has become famous for.

That’s right. Kit-Kats.

This is the last batch of Kit-Kat’s I will be reviewing for the foreseeable future as being in the U.K. I don’t have access to all that many Kit-Kat flavours.

So without further ado.

Fruit Juice

Released all the way back in May in honour of Children’s Day. Children’s Day is a festival in Japan that celebrates children, in particular young boys. Kids dress up as samurai, parents fly koi carp shaped streamers and some special food is eaten.
Nestle has decided to cash in on memories of being a child with a vaguely nostalgic looking packet. The girl drawn in an older style of advertising art and in historical clothes is the main sop to this idea along with the almost sepia yellow tone used for the background. Then we have some childlike drawings of fruit and that’s it. Frankly I think more could have been done to match the theme but at least the packet isn’t crowded and over designed. It’s very colourful too with lots of differently coloured fruit and a lot of colours used for the banner reading fruit juice. Again these colours evoke childishness and fond memories as well as tying into the idea of mixed fruits.

The individual kat wrapper is more subdued but considering the size available I don’t think using lots of colours would have worked. Instead we have yellows and browns, the colours of old photos and stylised fruit drawings. Simple but effective.
One thing to note about the packaging is the presence of bananas. As has been established on this site I loathe bananas. I loathe them with every fibre of my being. Not only are they disgusting but they have an annoying habit of inserting themselves into things completely unbidden. Many is the time I have gone to drink a smoothie or fruit juice and immediately gagged on the horrible and unmistakeable taste of banana. Banana that hasn’t been advertised on the packet! Grrr, horrible, evil, stealthy things. So whilst I appreciate the fact that nestle has been up front about the presence of banana I am not looking forward to this kit-kat.

The chocolate is coloured, never a good sign but it does smell nice. It’s hard to pick a distinctive not in the aroma but it is fruity. Which is to be expected I guess.

It doesn’t taste very nice though. The main problem is that it tastes really waxy. Upon biting in you aren’t hit by a strong flavour but rather by an absence of it. A sort of waxy coating surrounds your tongue and blocks out all flavour. Then you crunch down and some of the flavour comes through. What does come through isn’t banana-ey (thankfully) but it isn’t particularly fruity either. It’s not too sweet but it is just kind of generically sweet. If it tastes of anything it tastes of peach but even then it’s a really faint peach.

The aftertaste is bitter and tart and sits in your mouth like a bad smell going off. Ugh, not a fan. So waxy, flavourless and tart at the end. A poor effort.

Blueberry and Strawberry

Bought as part of a mixed packet containing regular kit-kat’s, strawberry and blueberry. The main packet has become lost in the move from Japan to the U.K. but from memory I know that it was an uninspired and messy design.

The individual designs aren’t messy but they’re certainly uninspired. In fact I think they may be the laziest effort I have reviewed so far. The strawberry one’s are okay, if a bit dull. Pink in colour (even though strawberries are red, but then so are regular kit-kat’s) with a picture of a strawberry. No thought has gone into their design but it works. However the blueberry wrapper is so boring it makes me a bit sad inside to eat it. The sole effort to distinguish it is to turn it blue and write blueberry at the side in a dull font. It isn’t even written in Japanese! Rather than entice me in or sell a theme it just makes me depressed and put off. This is chocolate for the desperate, chocolate for those with no friends, no taste and no hope.

The strawberry kat is regular chocolate and smells divinely and strongly of strawberries. Even sitting down the table from it I can get a strong whiff of strawberry filling my nostrils. In fact it’s making my mouth water a little bit.
Eating it has the exact same texture and mouthfeel of a regular kit-kat (complete with a little grittiness) but with a slight tang and a hint of strawberry. It’s nice, subtle, not too sweet and with a nice complexity that hits all the parts of your mouth with a burst of flavour. Then the aftertaste comes through like a punch to the tongue. After the chocolate taste dissipates it begins to really, really taste like strawberries. Your whole mouth gets taken over by a spreading wave of strawberry flavour complete with the tart notes and sourness of an actual strawberry.

This may not be the most exciting kit-kat ever but it sets out modest aims and more than fulfils them.

The blueberry also has regular chocolate and also has a nice strong aroma but nowhere near as strong as the strawberries. That’s fair though because blueberries aren’t the strongest smelling fruit to begin with.

Much like the strawberry the mouthfeel is like a classic kit-kat however it does have a certain waxy quality that spoils it. Unlike the strawberry though there is nothing at all subtle about this flavour. The blueberry comes out as the first note, overpowering the chocolate and everything else straight away. Blueberry fills your entire mouth and tries to escape out your eyes. These pack quite a kick for a chocolate bar, in fact they’re really quite sour. Nice though, the wrapper only promises you blueberry and blueberry is indeed what you get.

Bitter Almond

First up, that wrapper is absolutely horrible. There are way too many colours on it and they clash horribly with the kit-kat logo. The repeated diamond pattern clashes horribly with the picture of the bar and with the kit-kat logo and it just looks like a busy mess. There are at least 7 fonts used on the front and none of them compliment each other. My cat walking across a keyboard could produce a more attractive image. Actually my cat shitting on a keyboard could produce a more attractive image.

And yet the wrapper on the individual kat whilst haing many of the same problems works much better. The shiny foil makes the diamond pattern pop more and the colours are more subdued and complimentary. The logo is reduced in size and gives the patterns room to breathe and make an impression. Although still spoiled a bit by the logo it gives an impression of style and classiness. There’s an art deco feel which suggests a bygone era of style, sophistication and carefree pleasure. Considering bitter almond is an altogether more grown up flavour it’s a strong choice. This wrapper says not for kids and that can do a lot to draw my interest.

The smell is almost like coffee but it mostly chocolatey. No almond notes come through at all however it smells like a much richer and darker chocolate than a regular kit-kat. It looks darker too with little flecks of a lighter brown that is probably nut.

The texture is absolutely god awful. On the bottom it tastes and feels positively chalky, a horrible bitty, gritty waxiness. Almost like a piece of paper. Based on mouth feel alone this would be an absolute stinker.

However it tastes absolutely wonderful. Once you get past the first bite the texture settles down into a more standard kit-kat mode and one can start to think about the flavour. And what flavour! It’s definitely nutty, with some sour notes, some sweet notes and some really strong bitter notes. In fact I think there are actual nuts in it. It’s strangely not all that almond like. It tastes more like coffee if anything. But it is a deliciously complex flavour that stimulates your whole mouth. If the texture wasn’t so crap this would be a real winner of a kit-kat.

The aftertaste is a bit unpleasant as it leaves behind all the bitter notes without the sweetness to cut it. However I think this would compliment a coffee or tea very well and that would deal with the problem of after taste.

Coca Cola and Lemonade

Wow, that’s a busy packet! Not only have we got a picture of a big glass of cola, and another of lemonade but we also have hands, the logo, a blurb, another blurb, a diagram on the bottom of the packet and a joke on the top! But it’s done so well that it works! None of the elements crowd any other elements and each stands on its own as well as complimenting the others. The use of angles, spiky writing and geometric shapes imparts it some energy and an almost graffiti like feel to it. This is a kit-kat for kids and it has all the fun and energy it needs to do so. I also like the zippatone dots in the background suggesting fizziness as well as fitting into the youth/graffiti theme. Even the gradient from red to yellow is well done. This kit-kat is, dare I say it, funky!

The individual wrappers are less well done but are still okay. We get nice strong colours to denote which flavour is which and we get more of the same elements that made the main packet work so well, dots, angular shapes, etc but with addition of shiny and eye catching foil.

The lemonade kat has pale yellow chocolate, not a good sign, and even smells soapy. It also smells exactly like lemon vinegar, which was quite a nice flavour, and so this is a good sign. You really have to get a good whiff of it to get the smell though as it’s quite subdued. Interestingly you can even smell how fizzy it will be.
The initial taste is a bit bland, somewhat waxy, quite a bit soapy and even a little creamy. It doesn’t taste a huge amount of anything really, let alone lemon or lemonade. But then the fizz comes in the form of tiny dots of really, really, really sour lemon flavour. But the dots are so few that even though they are incredibly sour they struggle to overcome the blandess. I can guess what nestle was aiming for. The fizzy stuff makes an incredibly powerful lemon flavour and to make it palatable they added creamy chocolate. The idea being that the two should even out and the end result would be a pleasing lemonade taste. Instead you get almost painful punches of sourness and then a whole lot of bland soapy chocolate. So bland in fact that it kind of obliterates the aftertaste. A dismal failure.

Cola has cola coloured chocolate which doesn’t fill me with confidence but fairs much better on smell. Before the packet is even open you get hit a burst of unmistakeable cola smell. Not real cola though, this is the smell of rola cola, of the shit cheap knock off cola bought in pubs to entertain bored children and used to flavour all manner of sweets over the years. Again, like the lemonade, you can kind of smell the fizziness. It makes your eyes water a little bit.

The chocolate is horribly soapy and waxy. It has probably the worst texture of any kit-kat I have ever eaten. It doesn’t even feel like chocolate. It’s so insubstantial and waxy that it feels like eating a communion wafer washed with fairy liquid. And it’s bland, so very, very bland. Like the lemonade tiny fizzy dots of cola struggle to flavour the blandness. However it doesn’t work nearly as well as the lemonade. The cola flavour is pathetic, a tiny fart of flavour in a veritable Jupiter of bland crapness. Bland crapness that leaves an aftertaste like toilet cleaner fumes. Utterly appalling!

Strawberry Cheesecake

This is another kit-kat variety that is limited to one place in Japan, specifically Yokohama. Yokohama is one of the most international cities in Japan as it was one of the first cities to establish permanent trading ports with the outside world. Consequently a lot of food associated with Yokohama is a fusion of Japanese and western or just straight up western in nature. Yokohama is associated in people’s minds with history, the black ships (the American fleet that forced Japan to open its ports to foreigners), foreigners, foreign food and foreign culture. As such a strawberry cheesecake flavour is an entirely appropriate kit-kat to symbolise Yokohama.

The box art does a lot to tie into these historical notions. The background is in a cream and red bricks pattern evoking the unusual and exotic brick buildings that foreign merchants built in Yokohama. Prior to this all buildings in Japan were made of wood and stone. It’s also very distinctive and really stands out on a shelf, as well as being pleasing to the eye. And hey, cream and red are the colours of a strawberry cheesecake and of a Victorian building. That’s just too perfect. There’s a nice eye catching and attractive photo of a cheesecake and a friendly warning that this will have coloured chocolate and thus probably won’t taste very nice. The little gold ship ties into the historical theme but looks a little cluttered and busy. The old fashioned maid in western dress also ties into the theme and isn’t cluttered at all but seems a bit pointless. I guess she’s there to counter balance the necessary busyness on the other side of the box, with the words describing the flavour and the picture of the kit-kat.

The individual wrappers are boring beyond all belief, completely dull, flat and uninspired. They consist of nothing more than a cream colour with the logo and red etching with the flavour described. Why would you need to waste space describing the flavour? It’s on the front of the big box. And couldn’t we have had that nice brick pattern back? That was attractive and clever. Oh well.

The smell is strong and really distinct. This is obviously a strawberry cheesecake and nothing else. This is pretty much perfect actually, not too strong and not too weak. However mine are a bit old now and there is a weird element of sweaty cheese to the odour.

The taste is sweet but not too sweet, a touch gritty but not waxy and with a nice mild creaminess to it. Cheesecake definitely comes to mind but it tastes not one iota of strawberry. The strawberry flavour is completely absent. Weirdly there are some weird sharp cheesy notes, like cheddar or something. Not a feature I associate with cheesecake or with kit-kats.

The after taste is ungodly sweet and really harsh. It’s dehydrating and sits at the back of the throat like a cough. That’s not strictly speaking a bad thing though because these are meant to be eaten with a hot drink.

All in all a bland and inoffensive kit-kat that would go well with a hot drink.

Wasabi

Wasabi for the uninitiated is a kind of horseradish grown only in Japan. It is bright green and much, much hotter than regular horseradish. In fact it’s ironic that Japanese cooking, which is usually subtle and a touch bland, would also use one of the hottest ingredients going, quite liberally, in their cooking.

Wasabi is nice though, especially with sushi. Raw fish has a creamy quality to it that cuts the sharpness of the wasabi and the heat and creaminess contrast and compliment each other very well.

But a kit-kat?! This may very well be the strangest kit-kat I have ever eaten, right up there with corn, miso, soy sauce and watermelon and salt.

In fact whilst wasabi may be nice wasabi flavoured things are usually not. I have eaten wasabi flavoured sweets, they were horrible, and wasabi flavoured ice-cream. The ice-cream at first tasted creamy and mild and very bland. Then I realised that actually no, it wasn’t bland at all but in fact my mouth was on fire. After a small panic at my oral conflagration set about looking for some kind of cold creamy substance to soothe my mouth. Luckily I had some ice-cream, unfortunately it was wasabi ice-cream and me and this dessert got into an unpleasant cycle of burning and cooling that didn’t end well for either of us.

So my expectations are not high, let’s see what I’ve let myself in for.

Once again this kit-kat is exclusive to one area, in this case Tokyo. It specifically advertises one wasabi specialist shop in Tokyo but my Japanese is nowhere near good enough to decode the advertising. It does feature a picture of the shop and a website http://www.tamaruya.co.jp/ so go there if you’re interested.

Weirdly the box art features drawing of wasabi in a distinctly Okinawan style. Art comprised of big blocky jagged colourful lines with white fills is often associated with Okinawa, the semi-tropical island at the base of Japan. Wasabi isn’t associated with Okinawa at all though, in fact I’m not even sure if Okinawan cooking uses wasabi. They have a slightly different culture there to mainland Japan and their food is much more like Chinese. It’s very attractive looking and very distinctive but it doesn’t really make any sort of thematic sense. Other than that there isn’t much to say about the box art, it’s green, wasabi is green, the wasabi kit-kat is green. I think they assumed that the curiosity factor alone would sell it. They were right.

The individual wrappers have the same mystifying Okinawan theme along with a big label telling you stuff you already knew because you read it on the box!

So, how is it?

It’s a kind of pale green, like pea soup, or hospital paint, or baby pooh
.
It smells faintly of wasabi and kind of horrible actually. Although you can smell sugar too the wasabi smell is stronger and it’s not a pleasant smell.

And it tastes…

It’s pretty hard to describe actually.

The first thing to mention about it is that it triggered my gag reflex almost before I put it in my mouth. The smell, idea and colour all combined in a symphony of unappealing that made me hesitant to eat it. That gagging motion doesn’t contribute to a nice tasting biscuit. Once I got over the shock and swallowed a few bites that reflex subsided.

The next thing to mention is that it isn’t hot, not at all. There is a slight, infinitesimal heat to the after taste but it evaporates quickly and isn’t that strong to begin with.

It is sweet, and creamy but not too much of either.

Finally it tastes of wasabi, or at least how wasabi must taste without the heat. Which is not very nice actually. It’s kind of herby, a touch lemony, a touch bitter and a touch of something completely indefinable but somehow unpleasant. It’s a tough one to review because the process of eating a wasabi kit-kat is;

“ugh that looks horrible, hey actually it just tastes sweet and creamy, and of something, something else, hmm, oh wait gone, sweet and creamy again.”

It’s disappointing to be honest. If it tasted really strongly of wasabi it would probably be horrible but at least it would be an experience. As it is it’s bland, not as good as a regular kit-kat and not especially reminiscent of wasabi. What a let down.

%d bloggers like this: