Exotic thrills from your local news agent.

*I sure love the weekends that wind up being busier than my full-time job. A particular highlight this time around was driving 130 miles through sheets of rain, high winds and patchy fog, with moments of total blindness whenever a tractor-trailer passes you, thanks to splashing water that's like a hose against your car. But I survived, much like I did in the dream I had last night about a botched heist at the Vatican.

*I didn't think it was due out this early, but the other day I ran into a big stack of the debut issue of the new magazine Otaku USA at my local chain bookstore. It's kind of a general nerd-about-Japan kind of deal, with stuff on anime, manga, model kits, video games, toys, etc. I was mainly interested in the people behind it, including Editor in Chief Patrick Macias, Manga Editor Jason Thompson, and contributing writer Shaenon Garrity, all of whom you might recall of the pages of VIZ's beloved manga magazine Pulp. In addition, there's a print column version of Ed Chavez's MangaCast, which will be devoted to interesting Japan-only material (I use the future tense because, like some other material in the magazine, the first outing is spent on introductions and plans), and a rather large amount of the anime coverage is provided by the crew from Anime World Order (and that would be Clarissa Graffeo, Gerald Rathkolb and Daryl Surat). And I'm just naming folks I recognize right off the top of my head.

In some ways, it seems like a familiar magazine. It's got the same slick, bright art direction that tends to mark most contemporary anime/manga/whatever magazines, and it struck me as bearing more than a slight similarity in design aesthetic to Newtype USA, which I guess is still #1 among this type of thing. I haven't read Newtype in an awfully long time, but this new magazine mercifully declines to emulate the all-hype, all the time content direction that I associate with it. No, I don't consider it much of a leap forward that Otaku USA's review section contains (*gasp*) actual criticism, but I do like that even the heavily-illustrated 'feature' stories on various hot shows and properties retain a certain critical outlook, and a willingness to trust the writers' impressions of much-hyped material, rather than simply imparting basic information and breathless summary.

But the real character of this magazine doesn't quite emerge until you get toward the back of the first issue, and Macias and others begin turning in reports from Japan's nerd heart, from first-person impressions of video game console launches to secret invitations to assemble a five foot high Gundam model in the company of a colorful masked man (that would be Masked BAKUC, who also contributes a short bit of writing).

The tone gets quite bubbly and fannish, though not to a distracting degree - anecdotes featuring the authors gushing over veteran molding supervisors for robot model kits are balanced to a degree by somewhat more cerebral pieces, like Tomohiro Machiyama's piece on history and 'meaning' behind the fandom supporting Gundam model kits (or: Gunpla). Is it an elaborate means of constructing a fictional military nostalgia for a nation with no 'good' wars to reminisce about? The notion is delivered, along with the irony that the brooding themes of the original Mobile Suit Gundam television program were essentially ignored by its fandom in order to to focus on an obsession with technical background detail and gleaming hardware, an arguably superficial fixation that eventually transformed an unsuccessful anime show into one of the mightiest franchises.

It's this mix of appreciation for fannish spirit and an overt awareness of the limitations of such that I like most about Otaku USA, and I hope it's something I see more of in the future. I haven't read any magazines of this type on a regular basis for a while now, so I can't make any declarations about its relative quality. I can say it's a good magazine, good enough to keep me reading bimonthly for a while.