Just a couple of brief pop culture updates.
The other day, I had the pleasure of reading The Crystal Shard, the fourth in a series of comic book adaptations of R. A. Salvatore's "Drizzt do'Urden" fantasy novels. I read one of the prose books a few years ago and it pretty much left me cold -- lots of action and adventure, but not much substance, more or less the literary equivalent of Independence Day. Ironically, it's this same quality that lends the story so well the comics medium. Why spend five days reading through a fairly shallow novel when you can read the same story in a matter of hours -- and in color! It's a rip-roaring ride through the Forgotten Realms with a colorful cast of characters (Regis is my favorite) and more excitement than you can shake a knucklehead trout at. Highly recommended.
On a much lower key, I've also had the opportunity to watch Friends -- not the American sitcom, but a four-part 2002 miniseries created as a joint venture between Japan and South Korea. It's awfully touching; I'm usually more into action and adventure, but I'm a sucker for a good romance. The plot, in a nutshell: Ji Hoon is a film school student from Seoul; Tomoko's a department store worker from Tokyo. They meet by chance in Hong Kong, hit it off, exchange e-mail addresses, and discover the hazards of long-distance relationships. It's the first time Japan and Korea have collaborated on a TV series, and I must say it works out pretty well. One thing I like is that it doesn't skirt too far around the issue of ethnicity. One of Tomoko's friends is the daughter of two Korean immigrants, and she speaks candidly about the prejudice that's often leveled against Zainichi Koreans, and how she's studying Korean to get in touch with her heritage. Given Japan's history of denying its non-Japanese residents a voice, I think that's a step in the right direction. On the other hand, when Tomoko goes to Seoul to look Ji Hoon up, she doesn't show any difficulty at getting along in South Korea; maybe it's just too alien a concept for Japanese to think of themselves as foreigners in other countries. I dunno. Anyway, it's the sweetest darned thing I've seen in quite a while, and again, highly recommended.