Maburaho Vol 2 : 3 of 5

After the frenzied beginning of this storyline in the last volume, this set of episodes is much calmer, featuring simpler stories. Kazuki manages to use his rapidly depleting magic a few more times (always to help others), so by the end of the DVD he's only got three uses left! In fact, he's getting weaker, which makes him collapse so the girls have to take him to the nurse's office to rest, which gives them time for some loving flashbacks - all three girls are starting to fall for him now (rather than just his super-magic genes!). There's a fun episode where Rin (who is the athletic tom-boy of the bunch) tries to be feminine, so they teach her to cook and have a cosplay fashion show (with hilarious stereotypes!). When Kazuki thinks his parents are coming to visit, everyone tries to create the best eel dish possible to impress them. There's some really funny innuendo when Yuna tries to get over her eel-phobia! Overall, this was a fun set of episodes to watch, but nothing really grabbed me emotionally. I think the characters all have potential, though, and they're definitely cute enough. It looks like Volume 3 (which hasn't been released yet!) involves some sort of scary curse, so maybe a little adventure will make things start to click.


Muzukashii desu ne!

Tonight I had my first session of Japanese conversation practice, and it was fun and mentally exhausting! I found several tutors on the web, and I picked this guy Kazuki because he's a native speaker. He's a really nice guy, and he regularly does Japanese to English translation for anime series (he's working on Hello Kitty and Mega-Man right now!). He did a fantastic job of asking me tons of questions and keeping things flowing, but I was embarrassed at how difficult it was for me. Even though I can understand all the stuff I read in books and ace all the lessons I do on my computer, right now I just can't put it all together yet. My listening skills were good - besides asking about some vocabulary I didn't know, I pretty much could follow it all. I just get hung up when I try to make an actual sentence myself! I'm not feeling discouraged, though - I'm going to try doing this weekly until my mouth catches up with my brain. I've been wanting some "talking practice" for such a long time - now I realize how desperately I need it!


Howl's Moving Castle : 4 of 5

Miyazaki films always stir up a lot of hype on the web, since they are released so much earlier in Japan, so I had seen lots of images of this great film to build my excitement! My pal Barron is a big Miyazaki fan, too, so we went to a late showing almost as soon as it opened. Much like Spirited Away, this film is a treasure chest of beautiful images, all filled with imagination and detail like you've never seen before! Howl is a wizard who lives in a bizarre home that not only can walk around on robot chicken legs, but also has dimensional doors that can open up into different kingdoms. Howl tries to prevent war between two kingdoms, along with his servant Markl (a funny boy), and Calcifer (a cool fire-spirit with a hilarious attitude!). Along comes Sophie, who is cursed by the Witch of the Waste so she becomes an old woman, and she ends up as Howl's cleaning lady. Of course, she loves Howl, and ends up saving the day in the end. The main complaint that every reviewer has made is that the pacing of the plot is extremely unbalanced. The first two-thirds of the movie unfold perfectly, with just enough time spent to feel comfortable in this world and enjoy the mystery of figuring stuff out. Then suddenly, everything goes berserk and the final half hour is stuffed with so many twists that it doesn't make much sense (but to be fair, I need to see it again since I was getting sleepy!). The look of the film is so spectacular that I can overlook the story flaws a little, so any animation fan is required to see this movie and be amazed!


More tees, please!

I've kind of been going T-shirt crazy for the past couple weeks. Since I've been exercising more, I feel a little leaner, which makes me feel more comfortable in T-shirts, so I'm wearing them pretty much everyday now. Plus, I've also been discovering there are so many incredible designs out there if you really dig around! Of course, I have tons of Disney T-shirts and still love them, but I've started wanting to wear more obscure things on my chest. I'm drawn to things like retro video games, obscure cartoons or movies, and just about anything with fun Japanese kana on it (as long it's not just stupid!). Besides the shirts I bought at A-Kon, I've ordered several fun shirts on the web, too, from places like Giant Robot and Super7. I just got three in the mail today! Two of them are Kikaida designs (I'm psyched about the show again since my pal Dae and I watched it while he was visiting), and one has graphics from the arcade game Dig Dug. I think I could buy a T-shirt everyday and still have fun shopping for them!


A Cinderella Story : 1 of 5

The moral of this story is Hilary Duff's mom sucks. Not only did she sever her relationship with Disney, but she even helped produce (i.e. pay) for this heap of a movie! I avoided this in the theater since the trailer looked so lame, but I stuck it in my Netflix queue just because I was curious. The plot is exactly what the title says - Hilary is stuck with a step-mom and mean step-sisters, and she meets her handsome prince at the Halloween Ball. Of course, when she leaves, she drops her cell phone! It doesn't get much better from there. To be fair, Hilary really does do a good job of acting - she can cry convincingly, and all those years of Lizzie McGuire experience really gives her believability. It's not her fault that the story is so incredibly mediocre (no, that's her mom's fault!). I hate it when teen movies are filled with one-dimensional characters. For example, if the "mean girls" were really as mean as they are in these movies, they wouldn't really have any friends, would they? To add to the insanity, there's also a music video of Hilary and her sister singing Our Lips Are Sealed - the song is fine, but the video is a bunch of super close-ups of Hilary wearing enough make-up to max our her pimp's credit cards. Maybe someday she'll start being herself again!


Cool and free, a perfect combination

Time to mention a couple things I use everyday that are totally cool! The first is a free Mac OS X application called Remote Remote. I have all of my MP3s stored on my iMac which is upstairs, but I like to sit downstairs and use my iBook wirelessly. So, I've tried lots of ways to control iTunes remotely, including the easy solutions like VNC, plus many other custom apps built for this exact purpose, but none of them is as good as Remote Remote! It uses remote AppleScript and Rendezvous to find iTunes running anywhere on your network, and then lets you control it with a fantastic, compact interface. I love rating my MP3s, and it even lets you set the rating as well! It's a great example of doing something simply, elegantly, using existing features (like AppleScript) instead of inventing something complicated.

The next thing is a web service called Mobile RSS. As you know, I read tons of blogs via their RSS feeds on Bloglines, but I also like to use AvantGo on my Palm to read stuff on the go. Mobile RSS lets you setup which feeds you want to read, then formats them for a Palm screen and allows you to suck them into your handheld with AvantGo. It's fun to see my latest WEBmikey postings on my Palm, too (yes, I'm vain enough to read my own blog)! Mobile RSS is amazingly free, just like AvantGo, so try it out!


Daft Punk / Human After All : 3 of 5

The whole concept behind Daft Punk is repetition - once they kick into a groove, it loops over and over while it washes over you, gets you moving, and sinks in until you start to listen for the subtle differences in sound as the song progresses. On their album Discovery, they did this with a disco feel, and I doubt they will ever top it. On Homework, everything was electronic and experimental, and now on their new CD, it seems to be a nice compromise. There are some really awesome stand-out tunes, such as Technologic (used in iPod commercials), and the title track Human After All. Both of these feature fun electronic vocals that are more of an instrument than a form of communication, and I love it! Some other good tracks are Robot Rock and Television Rules the Nation, but there are some experimental failures, too. The Prime Time of Your Life starts out as a great song, but then becomes a white noise festival with an accelerating drum beat that's only interesting the first time. Make Love seems to try to capture the feel of Something About Us from Discovery, but doesn't quite make it. Still, it's awesome to have new Daft Punk to listen to, and the great tunes far outweigh the bad.


Tiny Trek

Lately I've been moving through Season Two of Star Trek (the original series) on DVD. I just watched one of my favorite episodes, The Trouble with Tribbles. It's so ridiculous and full of comedy, and I met Bill Campbell (who plays the Klingon commander) at a Star Trek convention when I was just a young Trek fan. I also bought my own tribble that day! On my recent trip to Oklahoma City, I was able to watch three Star Trek episodes on the flight there and back, thanks to the incredible Pocket DVD Studio, which is software that rips DVDs into Palm-sized files that you can watch on the go! I can fit about four hours of video on a 512 MB SD card, and the quality is excellent! The sound is great, too, especially with headphones. Carrying around a Palm full of Star Trek episodes can come in handy - yesterday I was stuck in a car wash line for almost 20 minutes, but I was able watch a third of The Gamesters of Triskelion while I waited!


Full Metal Panic Vol 2 : 3 of 5

The second volume of this series is almost as great as the first, though the first three episodes are mostly filled with action (and I like a little more character situations). Still, the plot is really moving along, and some interesting things are being revealed. After Mithril (the secret organization that Sousuke works for) saves the airplane hostages, Sousuke and Kaname are on the run, because a giant Arm Slave (which is what they call the mecha suits in this one) is after them. Kurz (another Mithril guy) shows up, and they fight the bad guy, but only win because Kaname starts to remember secret things about weapons systems and such (because she is one of the mysterious Whispered, which is why the enemy is after her). Anyway, Kaname and Sousuke really start to get close, and it's cool to see Kaname start to fall for him, even though he's so bizarre with his military ways. The last episode on the DVD is my favorite, because it's back to high school and funny situations! This time Sousuke tries to learn how to date, starting with failing a dating simulation game (because he keeps trying only wartime negotiation tactics). I can't wait to see these characters grow in the next few volumes! By the way, I also think the CG animation of the Mithril submarine is really cool!



I don't really have a topic for tonight's post, so here's some randomness. I TiVo-ed an episode of the Ellen DeGeneres Show just so I could watch Hilary Duff lipsync again, but as a bonus, she did some trampoline gymnastics - she can totally backflip like crazy! My evenings after work seem like they go so quickly - I come home, catch some rays with a beer (usually reading a magazine or a comic book), play some DDR (or In The Groove, which I need to review), eat some dinner and watch some TiVo or part of a DVD, and suddenly my evening is over half gone. Yesterday I went manga shopping and tried a new Jamba Juice flavor, but it wasn't thick enough for me. Last night I took a few more macro shots (though I really need to improve my "set") and went to a late movie with Barron. I also watched some episodes of Justice League Unlimited and The Batman, both of which have really hit a nice stride and are excellent shows. I just now downloaded the latest free stuff from the iTunes Music Store, and now I'm listening to the soundtrack of the Country Bear Jamboree and drinking coffee. Man, I haven't written a rambling post like this in a long time!


Batman Begins : 4 of 5

I was pretty excited about this film from the moment I heard they were making it, since the previous series of Batman movies had tanked so terribly (thanks a lot, Jim Carrey). I think Christian Bale is an excellent choice, since he wears the billionaire role well (just like his suit-wearing killer in American Psycho), and he looks pretty natural in the Batman costume, too. When I first saw pictures of the Batmobile, I was worried, though - all of the sleek styling was gone! But after seeing it in action, I think the tank-style vehicle is pretty believable. That's what really sets this movie apart from the other Batman tales - it's the first story that all seems believable, or at least it's presented in such a non-camp way that everything is taken seriously (except for a few well-paced one-liners). I can definitely say that it's the best Batman movie ever! Still, there are a few flaws. Even though Katie Holmes is nice to look at, her character is completely invented for the movie (though the other characters, even minor ones, all have comic book roots). I also thought the editing was a little too MTV (quick cut city) - it's a fine style for action scenes, but they keep up the crazy pace even during slower dialogue moments. But overall, there may never be a better Batman presentation, so get to the theater and enjoy!


Summer visit at home

I just spent a wonderful relaxing weekend in Oklahoma City with my parents for my traditional summer visit. On the flight to Oklahoma City, I got to ride the new Skylink service at DFW airport. I was always a fan of the old American Airlines TRAAIN (they have to put two As in everything), but Skylink is way cooler. It's completely elevated like a monorail, and travels just above all the gates, so you get to look down and see all the aircraft parked below. It's also really fast (hang on tight)! It was nice to be home for Father's Day - I bought Dad a new DVD player and hooked it up for him, and we used it to watch a DVD and play Scene It, which was lots of fun! While I was there we also went to see Batman Begins (review on the way) and a cool IMAX film at the Omnidome. I also did some treasure hunting and found some fun childhood treasures, such as my Pinewood Derby cars from Cub Scouts, a tribble key-chain, and best of all, my Sinclair ZX-81 (my first computer)! I took some macro photos that I'll be putting on Flickr soon. One of the best parts of the trip was Mom's banana pudding. Wow, it was so good! It just keeps getting better as the vanilla wafers dissolve in the yellow yumminess.

View photos: OKC Visit


Team America / World Police: Uncensored and Unrated / 4 of 5

From the moment I left the theater after seeing Team America, I knew I had to buy the DVD. Of course, the main reason was because there was such a fuss about the portions of the sex scene that had to be removed for the theater, and they're included in the DVD (which is why this version is unrated). There are about three new two-second segments (involving bodily functions, of course), and they are pretty darn funny! Besides the complete sex scene, the DVD includes lots of other goodies, mainly in the form of short documentaries (I wish they would have cut it all together into one "making of" feature, though). It's fascinating to see the marionettes themselves (which were about two-feet tall) and how they were controlled, including all the servos in their heads that allow their facial expressions to be manipulated by remote control. The sets are really huge (large scale miniatures), and they show how they did lots of crane shots that would be impossible in the "real world" because of the scale difference. I have a greater appreciation for this amazing spoof of the action film genre - it's pretty cool how they really duplicated so many of the cliche things you see in Bruckheimer films! From the awesome music to the hilarious dialogue ("I promise I will never die!"), I'm glad I have Team America in my collection.


Secrets of the Jedi / Jude Watson : 4 of 5

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Jude Watson really understands the Star Wars universe and its characters, and tells simply incredible stories! After finishing the Jedi Quest series (starring Obi-Wan and young Anakin), this novel came out as a special book before starting the new Last of the Jedi series (which I can't wait to get into). It's similar to Legacy of the Jedi in the way it follows several generations and weaves a single thread through a long timeframe. This time the topic is forbidden Jedi love! It begins with some of the heartache Qui-Gon feels after the death of Tahl (which was told in the Jedi Apprentice series), and then surprisingly moves to Obi-Wan's relationship with Siri, who had always been kind of a rival character in his youth. They make the right decision and push away their love for the sake of the Jedi, which stands in stark contrast to Anakin's secret wedding with Padme! The third part of the book involves Anakin and Padme, of course, and it's fun to see them in other Clone Wars action. The long action plot that pulls all of this together is pretty interesting, but truthfully it's the Jedi character interaction that makes this story so cool. Please ignore the fact that these are Scholastic kiddie books and just read them all!


Azumanga Daioh Vol 2 : 3 of 5

Once again, this simple anime amazes me by its celebration of everyday life! I'm enjoying following the mundane lives of these schoolgirls without being bombarded by mystic technology or demonic creatures popping up. Instead, we have stories about the school sports fest, where the semi-pervert teacher declares the girls must tuck in their shirts! Next is the culture fest, where the girls' class decides to create a "fairyland class" full of stuffed animals. For new year's day, we get to see several of the girls' dreams (which are really bizarre!), and then my favorite episode so far, following Sakaki. She's a tall girl that everyone thinks is cool, but deep inside she really wants to be cute, and is obsessed with cats (but her parents won't let her have one). She wins some stuffed cats from a crane machine for Chiyo-chan's birthday, and everyone is surprised when she has names for them and explains they are sisters. (By the way, it was her secret idea to bring stuffed animals for the culture fest, too!) I'm beginning to really enjoy the relaxed pace of the show, especially when it seems to let a joke linger for a few minutes, keeping peaceful and fun music playing in the background. I sure hope this anime keeps its charm for the rest of the series!


WEBmikey on PSP

When my pal Dae bought his Playstation Portable while he was visiting me, I remembered reading about how to hack the game Wipeout Pure to reveal a hidden web browser. So, he bought the game along with the PSP, and we tried it out! Since the PSP has built in wireless networking, it was a cinch to get it to connect to my wireless router, and suddenly this magic game machine was on the web! Of course, I had to check out WEBmikey first, and here's a photo to document the incredible event. It was pretty easy to scroll around to see the whole page, and all of my little pictures looked cool, too. I can't wait until they actually release a true, full-featured browser (of course, I need to buy a PSP for myself first!). Anyway, at least I can say WEBmikey is PSP-compatible!


The Princess Diaries 2 / Royal Engagement : 2 of 5

I really liked the original movie, so I had to rent this sequel just because it's a Disney movie and because I missed it at the theater. The plot picks up a few years after the first one ends, when Mia graduates from school and returns to Genovia (the made-up country) to start her royal duties. Actually, I was surprised at how boring this movie was - it's a full two hours, and there's just so much dead weight that it seems like the director just couldn't bear to cut any ideas. For example, there are tons of scenes of royal servants doing something goofy - sneaking an hors d'oeuvre or doing a little dance when no one is looking. All of these scenes add nothing to the plot and aren't even very funny. Anne Hathaway is terrific to look at, although she's less exciting in all her royal clothes - there's only one good jeans and T-shirt scene. The whole story seems weird - Mia is supposed to get married so she can become queen, but she dreams of true love, which she finds in a suave guy who is also in line for the throne. Of course, she is madly in love when she barely knows the guy, and the whole thing seems hypocritical. The acting is fine - Julie Andrews is always good, and John Rhys-Davies is loud and pompous (although he will always be Gimli to me now!). Without the transition from nerd to princess, this movie is just too much royal paparazzi fluff.


Parties and Playstations

This weekend was a fun-filled time with my pal Dae, who flew in from Los Angeles for Tom's first official party since his return from the Peace Corps. Tom's known for throwing interesting parties, and this one was a spelling bee (with a vodka shot penalty for wrong answers!). I made it to the second round, but I blew it on "accordion" (I was sure it ended in "-an"). The finalists were pretty darn amazing with what they could spell! Besides the party, Dae and I went to Stella's birthday party at the Carousel, where we ran into some old Merchants of Venus pals, and also walked Town Lake, went shopping (Dae gave in to his fever and bought a PSP!), and even played "glow golf" at Main Event. The indoor black-light craziness was pretty fun, but Dae beat me at just about everything all weekend, even my new Godzilla fighting game on PS2. Weekends with good friends are so great!

View photos: Dae in Austin

Today's photos are presented as a Flickr set, rather than the usual Ofoto (now called Kodak EasyShare Gallery) album. I'm experimenting to see if I like using Flickr more, even though I still think both services have their benefits. I don't like how Kodak really tries to get you to sign-up to view shared pictures, so maybe Flickr is the way to go (I'll still use Kodak for prints, though).


Maburaho Vol 1 : 3 of 5

I got to see the first episode of this newly released anime on the free Newtype DVD from a recent issue, and I quickly decided that I needed to rent the series! Just like most shojo anime, there's always a geeky guy that somehow becomes the target of tons of hot girls, and Maburaho is no exception. This time, the story is set in a world where everyone has magical ability, but with a limited number of uses. Our hero can only use his magic eight more times (five by the end of the DVD!), but he's the descendant of many famous and powerful magicians - this means his genes guarantee a powerful offspring, so all the girls want to get all up in his DNA, so to speak! There are three main girls - a young cutie that he's known since childhood, a bouncy sex pot, and a warrior chick who would rather kill him because she's disgusted that he's such a loser. Each episode is filled with fan service, which is simply hilarious when it's presented with the right touch. This DVD also includes a great interview with the translator for the series, who talks about the process and how they translate various Japanese phrases that really don't have English equivalents. I'm looking forward to seeing how this story progresses, and seeing which girl will come closest to her goal!


Going Solo / Roald Dahl : 4 of 5

I truly loved this book, which is the second part of Roald Dahl's selective autobiography (I also loved Boy, the first part!). The first half of the book talks about Dahl's experiences working for Shell in East Africa. There are tales about encounters with snakes, a lion attack, and his involvement with rounding up Germans once World War II was declared. Each story is an adventure, which Roald tells in such simple, yet vivid terms - I loved reading about his different friends, how they would have evening "sundowners" (drinks), and so on. In the second half, he tells about his life as an RAF fighter pilot! After describing his training (on a Tiger Moth), he goes into detail about crashing in a forced landing, flying his Hurricane into battle against German bombers, his participation in the Battle of Athens, and finally ending up in Syria before going home to England. Excerpts of letters to his mom are included throughout, which keeps reminding you of the strong relationship he talked about in Boy. When he finally makes it home and rides the bus to find his mother standing outside their cottage, the moment is spectacular and touching (and also a great end to the book). I haven't read many autobiographies, but I can't imagine a better one than this!


Godzilla : 3 of 5

Sometimes there's just nothing better than a rubber-suit monster movie, so when I saw that the newly-restored original Japanese version of Godzilla was playing at the Paramount, I had to go! Most people know that when Godzilla was released in the US, several scenes were cut and replaced with new scenes of a young Raymond Burr as a reporter narrating things. I had never seen the true original, and it's definitely much better without the editing! I liked the stark opening credits (all kanji!) that roll over nothing but several minutes of Godzilla roars, and then the cool music kicks in (definitely a good score). I think Godzilla looks a little funny here, because sometimes his head seems a little squashed, but overall the effects are pretty cool considering it was made in 1954. Of course the miniatures look silly, but they are still super-detailed, and I also like the way Godzilla glistens in the moonlight. Some of my favorites scenes are when hundreds of high school girls sing a song for peace, and another when some guy says "Kuso!" ("Damn!", or worse) about seven times in a row while he's watching Godzilla trash things. This movie actually shows Godzilla die, since he's turned to a skeleton by the amazing Oxygen Destroyer (whose creator kills himself so it can never be used for evil), but then the main scientist gives the moral - if we keep testing H-bombs, another Godzilla will appear!


Microwave magic

Being a non-chef who tries to eat low-calorie meals (lately, anyway), I used to buy lots of Healthy Choice frozen entrees. They're pretty good, but so many of them end up tasting like the same thing, and they always seem kind of heavy and cheesy in spite of their small portions. About a month ago my pal Eliza mentioned that I should try the new Lean Cuisine meals, because they recently took on an "upscale" image and have a wide variety of foods to choose from. I tried the Thai Chicken first, since that was her recommendation, and I was really impressed. Now I've been buying up to eight at a time at the grocery store and I love them all! They have lots of different Asian food, including many Chinese dishes (like pot stickers and egg rolls) that are really yummy. Many of them include rice, and I'm amazed at how the rice manages to stay fluffy after microwaving! The best part is they really taste like fresh food - even the veggies are crisp. Right now they are pretty much my standard dinner (and it feels more like "real food" if I serve myself on a plate!). Nearly every meal is around 300 calories (one of them was only 260), so combining that with a nice dose of DDR in the mornings has me feeling pretty healthy recently!


Nextworld Vol 1 / Osamu Tezuka : 3 of 5

Since I finished the Astro Boy series, I wanted to start reading Black Jack to take on more Tezuka, but the first volume was unavailable on Amazon for some reason (it's back now), so I ordered Nextworld instead. The story starts out right away with Mustachio and Kenichi from the Astro stories - it's fun to see familiar characters in a new setting. I have to say that I had trouble getting into the book - the plot involves lots of characters and moves really fast, so things aren't clean-cut like an Astro story. The artwork is also pretty rushed - no detailed cities or anything (though there are some awesome crowd scenes with a million things going on!). Still I had a good time reading it, and I'm going to have to buy the next volume since the story isn't finished here! The story involves atomic testing that has created a new species called Fumoon that are superior to humans (though only a few inches tall), set against the backdrop of several counties (one is the Uran Federation, which sounds funny to Astro fans!) who go to war over whether nuclear weapons should be regulated or not. I guess my main disappointment is that the story moves so quickly that you never get to know the characters (at least not yet). The Phoenix series is much better at that, but maybe Nextworld Vol 2 will be better.


Madagascar : 3 of 5

I think animation usually falls into two categories: stories that pull out your emotion and make you feel for drawings as if they were real, and truly hilarious, goofy stories that wow you with clever jokes. Madagascar is definitely in the goofy category, but I really had a great time seeing it - I like both kinds of movies! The story is about a group of Central Park Zoo animals that end up in the wild, where they have to deal with survival, and worst of all, fighting their natural instincts (since one of them is a lion!). This is a fast-paced movie, and anywhere that a joke could be squeezed in, consider it squeezed (including lots of movie references, including Planet of the Apes and American Beauty). The main characters are all pretty funny (though I didn't completely buy the hypochondriac giraffe), but I think the penguins and lemurs totally steal the show (the lemurs song had kids singing "I like to move it, move it" all the way out the theater). DreamWorks does a fine job with the animation, especially the awesome textures, such as water glistening on the hippo's skin and the amazing silky surface of the penguins. I can't say this is a breakthrough in the art of animation or storytelling, but nothing's wrong with a hilarious cartoon that made me laugh my head off!

Big fig casuality

You may know that I have several Disney big figs (giant resin character statues), and I've put them in various places around my condo because I'm out of shelf space. One of them was a Jiminy Cricket that's always been a bit unstable (this isn't the Jiminy Cricket in rag clothes that was my first big fig, but a second one that I got later). He was posed holding his top hat in the air and leaning on his umbrella, so he was definitely wobbly and top heavy (in fact, he had fallen over once already on the carpet - actually a pretty bad design stability-wise!). Well, I've had him on a ledge by my staircase for at least six months, and last night he finally decided to wobble too far! I was just sitting upstairs when I heard a huge crash - Jiminy had fallen about ten feet to my hard tile floor. Poor cricket! He's definitely a total loss, but I'm not too sad - I still have another Jiminy, and I'm just glad it didn't happen in the middle of the night (because I would have totally pooped my PJs!). So, raise your glass to a fallen big fig - I'll just have to buy another one in his honor!


Disney's Animal Kingdom / The Complete Tour : 5 of 5

I'm a big fan of fan-produced Disney DVDs, and nobody does it better than good ol' Ted (creator of the fantastic Tokyo DisneySea and Disneyland Paris DVDs I've reviewed in the past). This time he looks at a local park, but his excellent eye and editing skill captures it in an entirely fresh and creative way, with so much material that this is a full double-DVD set! Ted covers each land of Disney's Animal Kingdom in amazing detail along with excellent music choices and perfect sound effects. Wherever possible, Ted goes for a pure sound, meaning almost no actual camera sound is used, but rather original Disney ride soundtracks or other mixed source. In fact, he truly goes above and beyond by completely re-creating the speils for Kilimanjaro Safaris and the Jungle Cruise (included for its Animal Kingdom inspiration) with his own acting skill, and the results are amazing! His attention to editing detail is phenomenal - for example, he includes every single number of Festival of the Lion King, and actually syncs the recorded soundtrack to the mouth movements of the live performers! Everything is simply beautiful, and edited with tasteful transitions and effects - I especially love the use of "moving through the brush" to convey that jungle feeling. Ted's work deserves my complete recommendation, so you've got to contact him and order his DVDs!


A-Kon was a blast!

I'm back from A-Kon 2005, my first anime convention, and it was a totally fun, geek-tacular experience! There was so much going on all the time that it was hard to choose what to do, but Chris and I both found things that we were really interested in and managed to see a lot. The Adams Mark hotel was completely booked for the convention, so it was wall-to-wall fans and plenty of craziness. Here's a few awesome highlights:

  • The opening night concert was great! They had three acts: Dream (who has done a few anime themes, and were totally energetic with their synchronized dance moves), ZZ (who has also done a few themes, and were really cool with their turntable guy in the mix), and Kumiko Kato (who doesn't have her first CD until August, but has been making the convention circuit). Kumiko Kato was a super genki 22-year old cutie pie, so I had to go to her Q&A panel just to watch her talk, then I waited in line for her autograph (scanned for your viewing pleasure)!

  • Of course, there were costumes everywhere, and all of the cosplayers were always willing to stop and do their pose for a picture (be sure to check out the View Photos link below). The big cosplay event and contest was pretty hilarious, even though it was rough to get through an hour of semi-lame skits.

  • The dealers room was full of really cool merchandise, with so many T-shirts I wanted to buy (I ended up getting three). There were plenty of Japanese snacks for sale, so I had a few bottles of Ramune and lots of Yan Yan, too. We didn't even eat dinner both nights, even though we were up until 3:00 AM.

  • The arcade was always packed, even with three DDR machines! It was always fun to watch people playing ParaParaParadise, especially with 4 or 5 other people on the sidelines who had all the moves memorized. I also thought the J-Pop room was great, where they had 24-hour videos playing (I wish I had a channel like that I could watch!).

  • The Saturday night dance was fun - after a few martinis, it was great to dance non-stop for about an hour, watching everyone go nuts with their glowsticks (I got to see Chris pull off his break dance moves, too)!

    View photos: A-Kon 2005
  • 6.03.2005

    The Concretes : 3 of 5

    My pal Dae is my source of cool music recommendations, so when he mentioned this band, I put their self-titled CD on my wish list right away. I've been listening to it for about a week now, and it's definitely a unique sound - right from the moment the old-school organ comes in on the opening track (appropritely named Say Something New), you know this is going to be a different kind of CD. It's hard to describe their sound, but I would say it's really 60's, both in instrumentation (with things like tambourine, horns, and of course the organ) and in production value (much of it sounds live, especially the drums, which sound like a single mic garage set!). There are plenty of great tunes - Seems Fine is my absolute favorite (since it's the most pop), and Warm Night has an infectious melody (and adds a mandolin to the mix). I think most of the tunes would do better individually on a mix CD than they do as a complete collection, but that hasn't stopped me from listening to it over and over in the car! If you love female vocals (as I do) and an authentic retro sound, you will definitely enjoy The Concretes.


    Full Metal Panic Vol 1 : 3 of 5

    Full Metal Panic is an anime that I've read about hundreds of times. Most anime fans really love it (so much that it's sparked a sequel series), and now that I've checked out the beginning of the series, I can see why! It's a great combination of action and romance (of the high school variety, of course), and jumps from serious to hilarious in the blink of an eye. Sousuke Sagara is a young anti-terrorist military guy who is assigned (along with two other team members) to protect Kaname Chidori from possible kidnapping. She's a beautiful high school student, so Sousuke goes undercover as a transfer student. The problem is all he knows is military life, so he sees nothing wrong with walking into class with a machine gun or something. Most of the scenes have to do with Sousuke mistaking an everyday occurrence as an attack on Kaname, with really funny results. Predictably, Kaname starts to kind of like Sousuke, even though he's a military otaku in her eyes. The production values are really great - excellent animation, wonderful character design, and great Japanese voice acting - you can just tell when anime creators are really trying to create something special. This first volume ends in a big cliffhanger, with Kaname's entire class on a hijacked plane! I'll definitely be renting this entire series!

    Getting schooled

    Last night I did some reading at Barnes & Noble and then headed over to Main Event around 9:30 to check out the night-time DDR scene. The place was really crowded, with lots of high school kids hanging out in the parking lot and filling up the arcade. There were some true DDR masters doing their thing - these kids were blazing through 9-footers with ease, and even accessing different options on the game that make the arrows move other speeds or react differently. It was amazing to see them play! When I got up there and played my 7-footers, I felt like I was moving in slow motion! Watching them was good, though, since I learned some lessons about staying loose, plus how to get to tons more songs that are kind of hidden in the game. There was also a guy playing doubles (both dance pads) on Pump It Up, and he was really dancing (doing some arm movements and stuff). It's like a whole new level I have yet to attain - maybe someday!


    Around the World with Disney : 3 of 5

    This is another hardcover book produced for Disneyland's 50th anniversary, but available at Walt Disney World as a celebration of all the Disney parks in general. It's much like the other hardcover souvenir books sold at the parks, except that it's grouped differently since it covers so much ground. Instead of the usual chapters for each land, they chose to go with loose themes, such as water, speed, flying, and so on. There's not a lot of text, so there wasn't much new to learn for me here, but I did enjoy some of the great photos (all color and many full spreads). My favorites were a great Epcot entrance panorama with Monorails on both tracks, and an interesting overhead shot of the Dumbo ride showing the detail of the central fountain. Some of the photos are pretty weird - there's a shot of Storybook Land that's so old there's still a hint of the Skyway in the background, plus an interior Star Tours photo that must have been from the safety movie (since there are guys in giant Ewok costumes in it!). The choice of photos leans heavily on Walt Disney World, though there's a few nice Tokyo and Paris images, too. Though I own many better Disney photo books, I still learned an important fact - I had no idea that Fantasmic was named that because the "mic" is for Mickey! I can't believe I never figured that out.