31 December 2016

A Fun Box of Stuff from Amazon Japan

I made my first order from Amazon Japan recently. The main thing I was after was a 2017 wrestling photo book, but I caved in and decided to order a P★League Bowling DVD, too. I figured I ought to watch some bowling if I am going to collect bowling cards.

Here's what greeted me when I opened the box. Pretty much exactly what I ordered. The surprising thing was the shipping speed. Shipping from Amazon Japan is pretty expensive, but it gets where it's going quickly. I think it was delivered within two or three days of me placing the order.

The DVD is formatted for non-U.S. markets, but I have a video player that gets around that. There are three discs in the set. Apparently the DVD sets contain tournaments that are especially made for the DVDs, rather than being reruns of televised tournaments. 

Inside the case I found the discs, a lanyard, and a booklet that was sealed with a sticker.

Mariko Nakano, Yuka Ohshima, Hiromi Matsunaga, Yoshimi Kabayashi, Natsumi Koizumi
The booklet contains pictures of each of the six teams that compete in the tournament. There are five bowlers per team. Those little graphs on the side show their relative strengths in categories like power and precision. The 30 bowlers almost match the 30 bowlers in the 2016 P★League trading card set. The captain of the Black team, Miki Nishimura, doesn't appear in the trading card set. Shoko Furuta does appear in the card set, but doesn't appear on the DVD. Other than that, the rosters for the DVD and the card sets match.

I'm not 100% sure what this page is all about. Selfies are involved, along with some stuff along the bottom that looks like bowler names in the format of the YouTube logo. It might have to do with one of the DVD segments, which I'll probably discuss later.

And here's the DVD directory. I can't read it, so I just had to click the buttons on the menus to see what started playing. The tournament starts out with something that looked like a draft, with team captains drawing slips of paper out of hats. I have to admit that I didn't watch a lot of the draft because I didn't understand what anyone was saying. As the bowlers were selected for teams, they walked across a catwalk stage and do a spin while a couple of announcers talked about them, like a fashion show of sorts. I couldn't tell what they were saying, but one of the commentators had a pervy tone to his voice that kind of creeped me out. I could have done without that portion of the DVD.

Then the tournament started. The first round was made up of matches between three teams. Each group of three played two games to see which team would advance. First place earned 3 points, second place earned 1 point, and third place got 0 points. At the end of two games, ties were broken with a sudden-death game of bowling for strikes. Once one team from each group advanced to the second round, the four remaining teams played a quick-elimination game to allow one other team to advance.

The second round was another 3-team game, with the two top scores advancing to the final. The final round was a series of games between the two teams, with each team selecting fewer and fewer players from their ranks to participate. It was all relatively entertaining. I found myself rooting for some teams and against other teams. I was surprised, as based on the trading cards I had some idea of who I might be a fan of, and watching the DVDs completely changed my mind.

One other feature the DVD set had, which might be related to the selfie page in the booklet, was a short feature on each bowler's personal life. They show their home bowling alley, and usually their pets. Most of them also wind up cooking and/or eating some food during their clip.

Was the DVD set worth the purchase price? I don't know. Once you watch the bowling tournament one time, there isn't a whole lot of drama to it. I will probably watch it a couple more times. I haven't watched all of the bowler profile videos yet. It was probably worth the pickup just to get some connection with the trading cards.

Next up was this 2017 wrestling photo book. There is another similar book that releases a little earlier in the year, but that one just features portraits. This one features 824 pictures of wrestlers. Most are from various Japanese promotions, but there are several pages of WWE wrestlers included, too. 

I am not that familiar with the male Japanese wrestlers, but there are plenty of entertaining photos from their ranks. I'm pretty sure I never want to visit 'The Gate of Destiny.'

The Joker made an appearance, as did Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman. That guy in the middle must be related to the guy on the right. The resemblance is striking, but they have different names. Google tells me that they are not actually the same guy. They are twins, though, who wrestle as The Brahman Brothers. One cool thing I learned about from Twitter was that you can use the Google Translate app to scan and translate text from photos.
So if you've got some text you need to translate and a smart phone, I would recommend this method. It worked out really well for me.

I had to take pictures of some blog favorites, like Command Bolshoi in the middle there. She and Cassandra Miyagi (far right) were featured heavily in a documentary I watched today about a wrestling tournament here in the United States, CHIKARA Pro's King of Trios event.

I may actually have to purchase the DVD of that event, if only because it features some of my favorite Japanese wrestlers in an English-language event.

Here are a few more favorites, in Ayako Hamada, Makoto, and Ray. I don't have a lot of news regarding Ray and the tumor they found in her head, but she is fairly active on Twitter and the Joshi promotions continue to promote Ray Aid events. I imagine she is going through treatment and hoping for a good prognosis.

Like I mentioned earlier, there were a few pages in the back devoted to WWE properties. I grabbed a few pictures of wrestlers I am paying attention to. I guess The Rock has moved on from wrestling, but he is one of the most famous names out there. You might as well get him in the magazine.

Also in the WWE section are a couple of Japanese transfers who are making big waves in the promotion lately, Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura, who currently hold the Women's and Men's championship belts in the WWE's developmental NXT promotion.

These wrestling catalogs are some of my favorite non-card releases each year, and the 2017 version didn't disappoint. Overall this package from Amazon Japan was a pretty good one. Shipping can get pretty expensive when bringing stuff across the ocean, but you can't get this stuff here. Actually, sometimes you can. This catalog and the headshot only version are currently on sale from The Puro Central Shop if you want one, but don't want to deal with a foreign website.

30 December 2016

The UFC Rewards Program's Last Gasp

The UFC had a pretty decent rewards program, where you could earn points for things like visiting the website, reading articles, posting on Twitter with their hashtags, and stuff like that. I enjoyed the program, and usually made sure to get my points each day. There were various rewards available, usually a range of tickets to events, memorabilia, and digital subscriptions.

Shortly after the UFC was purchased by William Morris Endeavor-International Marketing Group, I got an e-mail that the program was closing down and that any points earned needed to be used by a certain date.

I hadn't accumulated many points yet, so I was limited mostly to autographed 8" x 10" photos of fighters outside of the top tiers of popularity. Out of the choices available in my points range, Felice Herrig seemed to be the best of the bunch. The site said it would take several weeks to process the order, and it did take about two months to ship out from Fanatics.com. It's got a nice big signature in silver ink and a hologram sticker with a number that can be input on the Fanatics website for verification. It's probably not something I'd go out and purchase on my own, but it's pretty cool as a free reward. Herrig has a fight coming up in February against Alexa Grasso. A win might put her into the Top 15 in the Women's Strawweight rankings.

I was kind of disappointed to see the points program go away. I'm sure they had their reasons for it ($), but for me the points program did the job of keeping me engaged with the UFC's online presence. I don't visit their website as often anymore, and I am not usually motivated to Tweet or read their articles. Maybe I am an outlier in that regard, but they lost my attention a little bit by taking those little rewards away.

Tonight is UFC 207, with the much-hyped return of Ronda Rousey to the Octagon. I will be watching to see how she does against current Champion Amanda Nunes. A fighter whose cards I collect, Neil Magny, is also on the fight card, so I am excited to see that fight. There are a few other good bouts on the card. Hopefully it will be a good event.

29 December 2016

Some Holiday Sketches by Kate Carleton

One of the artists I follow on social media, Kate Carleton, offered up discounted sketches in her webstore during the holidays. I already had a couple of her licensed sketch cards in my collection, but I wanted some art from her for my two main sketch collections, Princess Leia and Power Girl.

She made these while streaming on Facebook Live and I happened to be logged in at the time, so I got to watch the process. They were originally supposed to be smaller sketches, but she said she ran out of the smaller stock and wound up upgrading them to 5" x 7" illustration board, which is a bonus because artists usually scale up prices based on the size of the work. Watching the art being made is pretty cool, and it gives you an idea about the amount of work it takes to get these things done. Each of these sketches took 40-50 minutes from start to finish.

When I watched the video, my own personal hangups led me to misinterpret a couple of things that Kate said, and I wrote about it here. She contacted me with some clarification and I hope that I haven't soured her on selling art to me, as I am a big fan of her work. I put my foot in my mouth from time to time, and I feel bad about passing judgments on someone I don't know well based on a few minutes of video. Artists are people, too, and I am sorry that I jumped to conclusions. I am quite happy with the finished sketches, and I am glad to have Carleton art for both of my primary sketch card collections. I feel weird deleting my grouchy rant completely, but I did make it harder to read and I would encourage you not to read it. I hope that Kate Carleton will accept my apologies for writing it.

If the video has sound, you also learn what the artists think of your requests. It sounded like Kate was kind of disgusted by people who request Power Girl sketches, and she was a little burnt out on Star Wars. I could be reading too much into it, but I felt a little insulted. I know that people tend to view me as kind of a negative or slow person because of the way I speak, so I could also just be reading her voice and phrasing wrong, just like people do with me. There are plenty of nasty trolls in the fan bases of both characters. She doesn't know me personally, and maybe her interactions at conventions or online have created a certain impression in her mind. Most of us at least occasionally spend time complaining about our customers and/or our work. I just do my complaining squirreled away in a government office building, while artists doing videos are kind of out there in the open. As an art consumer, I just interact with the art as an excited recipient. For the artist, it is just work, like me grinding away at writing a contract. It was just a couple of comments that I could be overreacting to, but watching the rest of the videos is pretty neat. I don't want this to turn into a negative review, but that stuff has been stuck in my head and I needed to get it out. I am happy with her artwork and generally enjoy her posts.

I think these sketches turned out very nicely. I like Kate Carleton's work, and she is on the list of artists I regularly search out on eBay. She's also got some licensed and unlicensed sketch cards on her webstore in a variety of price ranges, so if you like what you see here there are a couple of venues to get your own Kate Carleton original artwork.

28 December 2016

Pack of the Day 151: One Pack of Captain America from Upper Deck e-Pack

The day before I left Utah, I was considering going out to find a card shop. There were a couple in the area with mixed review online, and the snow was bad enough that I didn't really feel like venturing out into rush hour in search of a card shop that may or may not have been any good. So I ordered a pizza and decided to see what I could see online. Eventually I wound up on Upper Deck's e-Pack site. I had logged in and grabbed free packs a few times, but I hadn't ever made a purchase from the program before. None of the sports packs appealed to me, so I thought I would try a pack of Captain America 75th Anniversary cards. These cards aren't cheap per pack, but I figured just one wouldn't hurt.

The base cards appear to all be covers from various Captain America comics throughout the years. It looks like there are subsets for each decade. The border around the covers seems pretty busy to me.

Here are a couple more base cards. It is weird to me to be paying money for pictures of cards. Supposedly if you collect enough base cards you can exchange them for real cards.

One of the digital cards that came out of the pack I opened had a red flashing border. It was pretty obvious that this was a special card. I managed to pull a sketch card out of my first pack of digital cards from Upper Deck e-Pack. This happens to be a dual-card puzzle featuring the core group of Avengers that appears in the Avengers film. The artists on this puzzle sketch are Arturo Ramirez and Daniel Benitez. I am assuming that one of them draws and one of them colors the sketches.

Sketch cards and inserts can be shipped to your COMC account for free, or transferred and shipped to you for an additional fee. I opted to have the sketch shipped to me. This was a pretty good pick-up for me, and I was excited to pull a sketch out of a single pack. I think the odds on sketches are 1:40 packs, so I definitely beat the odds with my purchase.

A week or so later I tried two more packs, I think one was Dr. Strange and the other was Goodwin Champions. The results of those packs were more in line with my expectations. I got a handful of worthless pictures and a sick feeling in my stomach in exchange for my money. It was fun to try a few packs of digital cards, but it's not something I can see myself doing often.

27 December 2016

Carrie Fisher - The Worst Day Since Yesterday

In many ways, 2016 has felt like a bad day that just keeps getting worse. It hasn't all been bad, but there are times when it feels that way. Today was one of those days, as it was announced that actress Carrie Fisher died a few days after suffering a massive heart attack on an airplane. Any regular readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of Carrie Fisher, especially in her role(s) as Leia Organa from the Star Wars films. I thought we were about done losing beloved celebrities this year, but then the universe reached out and took my favorite one. I'm not really prone to wailing and hysterics, but I have felt pretty gloomy about it today. Obviously, her family and friends are suffering the most from this loss, but the news has got me down. I thought this would be a good time to go through and put my Leia collection all in one post.

I may go light on the commentary as I work to get through all of the scans, but up first are the two Carrie Fisher autographs I have acquired for my collection. The first is from Topps Star Wars: Jedi Legacy. The second is from 2014 Leaf Pop Century.

I have two relic cards featuring Princess Leia. One is a Shield Bunker relic from 2015 Topps Star Wars Masterwork, and the other is a hard-to-find Jabba's Sail Barge relic from Jedi Legacy.

On the left is a stamp relic from 2016 Topps Star Wars Masterwork, and the card on the right is a 5" x 7" sticker card that I believe was sold on the Topps website.

This is the run of Leia base cards from 2016 Topps Star Wars Evolution. It's a good overview of the Leia character.

These are my Leia inserts from the Evolution product. On top is a Blue parallel, and on bottom is a Stained Glass Pairings acetate insert of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.
These two cards came from a Throwback Thursday Star Wars set based on the 1980 Topps Basketball design. They were sold as part of a set on the Topps website.

This next grouping of ten over-sized cards was a 2015 San Diego Comic Con exclusive, but Topps made their remaining sets available on their website, which is where I purchased them. I would love to attend the San Diego Comic Con, but I am afraid it might be too big for me.

The card on the left is a short-print photo variation from Topps Star Wars Galactic Files. On the right is one of the base pattern variations from 2015 Topps Star Wars High Tek.

These are Bikkuriman stickers from Japan. Each of the stickers comes from a different series.

On the left is a 1983 Return of the Jedi Sticker, and on the right is a sketch on a USPS Priority Mail label done by John Soukup aka Kettle. The rest of the collection is all sketches.

Left: John Soukup. Her head is a piece of wood glued to the card. The set is Topps Star Wars Illustrated: The Empire Strikes Back.

Right: Karen Hallion. 2015 Topps Star Wars Masterwork.

Left: Mary Bellamy. 2015 Topps Star Wars Masterwork.

Right: Bianca Thompson. Personal Sketch Card.

Left: Tim Proctor. Personal Sketch Card.

Right: Jason Keith Phillips. Topps Star Wars Galactic Files.

Left: Angelina Benedetti. Topps Star Wars Illustrated: The Empire Strikes Back.

Right: Chris Henderson. Topps Star Wars Galaxy.

Left: Emily Riggsby. Personal Sketch Card.

Right: Tanner Padlo. 2015 Topps Star Wars Chrome Perspectives: Jedi vs. Sith.

Left: Charles Dowd. 2015 Topps Star Wars Chrome Perspectives: Jedi vs. Sith.

Right: Dan Nokes. 2015 Topps Star Wars Chrome Perspectives: Jedi vs. Sith.

Left: Jon Morris. 2015 Topps Star Wars Masterwork.

Right: Robert Teranishi. Topps Star Wars: Journey to the Force Awakens.

Left: John Soukup. Topps Star Wars: Journey to the Force Awakens.

Right: Martin Hsu. 2010 Topps Star Wars Galaxy.

Left: Kate Carleton. Personal Sketch.

Right: John Soukup. Topps Star Wars: Journey to the Force Awakens.

John Soukup. Topps Star Wars: Journey to the Force Awakens.

That is every card-related item in my Carrie Fisher / Leia Organa collection to date, outside of cards that I never scanned as they are part of base sets. It's not a huge collection, but I am pretty proud of it. I will continue adding to this collection when I can. As far as celebrities go, this is about the worst loss possible for me personally. I can't think of a celebrity whose life and work had more impact in my life than Carrie Fisher. It sucks that she is gone now.