Long before I arrived in Japan, the publishing arm of the Kriasho Corporation redesigned some of its older textbooks so they no longer resembled brightly-colored workout tapes from the 1980s. Though the new textbooks are sleeker and easier to use, the lessons chronicle the exploits of characters so absurdly two-dimensional that I can no longer restrain myself from making fun of them. Were I in charge, the textbooks would be about Japanese salarymen searching for lost Viking treasure, or a bumbling band of college students on a cross-country road trip to locate a mythical Kentucky Fried Chicken that had successfully merged Original Recipe with Extra Crispy. Maybe someday.
Take Off (Even Days): Surpassing the Love of Men
Take Off follows the everyday adventures of Meiko, a smartly dressed anime character, and her redheaded shoulderpad-wearing American co-worker Amber. Meiko bears the distinction of being the only character in the Kriasho universe with an even remotely sexy voice, though Amber's slow drawl evokes the painful lethargy of a soap opera-watching housewife. In the first Listening section, Meiko is devastated when she fails to score a date with the narcissistic Jules (who, though he is American, has adapted the Japanese men’s habit of carrying a purse)—however; after fifteen units of restaurant visits, cooking classes, and weekend trips with Amber; Meiko turns down Jules’s invitation for a romantic ski weekend because there isn’t enough room in the car for her very special friend.
Rating: 4/10. I give this story extra points for its daring lesbian undertones and a circular arc worthy of Strindberg; though that damn actress playing Amber prevents it from scoring any higher.
Gear Up (Odd Days): A Boy and His Trains
Katherine is a flaky eighteen year-old on a homestay with the Kobayashi family in Tokyo. Her host brother Hiro is a twenty-three year-old introvert who still lives at home even though he works for an international bank, and whose defining characteristics are his crippling shyness and his obsession with trains. Many an astute Gear Up reader has noted that Hiro seems to love trains a little too much—to the point where his idea of a fun weekend is riding the rails to Shizuoka and impressing upon his blonde companion the finer points of rack-and-pinion locomotion.
Rating: 3/10. Though Hiro’s train fetish and social awkwardness are good for a few laughs, this story’s lack of tension will leave readers falling asleep. Even a nerve-wracking moment when Katherine runs out of money at the mall is easily resolved when Hiro rushes to her rescue with her forgotten ATM card.
Breakthrough (Odd Days): A Narrative of the Life of Chris Quimby
Chris is the token black character of the Kriasho universe, and the Breakthrough editors—in an unprecedented display of social daring—push the bar even further by making his wife Haruka Japanese! Unfortunately, instead of speaking out against America’s narrow-minded views on interracial marriage, Haruka spends the majority of the book volunteering at animal shelters, fussing over her dog, and generally being as annoying as possible.
Rating: 1/10. This story is saved from a zero only by Haruka’s adventure-seeking father Toro, who backpacks across South America and serves as an inspiration for travel-junkies everywhere.
Breakthrough (Even Days): Why America Hates Vegetarians
This saga centers around Takashi, a physical therapy student (already I loathe him) from Japan attending college in San Francisco. We also meet Jake the pretentious art gallery owner and Jill the yuppie lawyer—though they both pale in comparison to how irritating Takashi is. In the first Dialogue, Takashi proudly announces his vegetarianism and strict abstinence from alcohol, and later—in a particularly horrendous example of sarcasm—makes a painful speech about the merits of organic vegetables. The actor playing Takashi has a voice like a rhinoceros dying of prostate cancer, and I feel the cringe of fingernails on a chalkboard every time I play the Breakthrough CD. Takashi spends the second half of the book in pursuit of an unnamed female Friend (whose voice, if I may be so bold, is almost as annoying as Takashi’s), whom he finally gets alone on a bluff overlooking the Bay in the final lesson. Sadly, Takahashi’s date comes to an embarrassing end when he prematurely ejaculates all over the backseat of Jake’s car and has to spend his New Years Eve wiping semen stains off the leather interior.
Rating: -12/10. Not even a reference to Where the Red Fern Grows can make me give this hunk of crap a positive rating.