Good bye, 2006

This was such a relaxing weekend to end the year (and of course, I'll be relaxing tomorrow, too)! I just goofed off and enjoyed my Christmas presents - I watched DVDs, read books, studied Japanese, and played lots of Nintendo DS. I'm really enjoying Pokemon Ranger, though I'm stuck on a fairly difficult challenge now! I also had lunch with my pal Melinda, and then I decided I needed a new LEGO set to finish up the year, so I got a cool Ferrari racer to build. I also watched the latest DVD from the Extinct Attractions Club about Pirates of the Caribbean (which I bought a few weeks ago), and it was pretty good, but it's a bummer that their great documentary skills are marred by such terrible home video work. Oh well! Of course, I took a little time to sit and think about 2007. I don't really make solid resolutions, but I definitely like to have a few ideas in mind for the new year. I think generally I just want to focus on always working toward a small goal, since I have lots of ideas (both creative and practical) that I never get started on. Maybe this year I can make some great changes while continuing my life of geeky leisure! Well, it's time to go play with the Greatest American Heroes for our New Year's Eve show. Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!


Looney Tunes / Golden Collection Vol 4 : 5 of 5

I've already finished the first of many DVD sets I received for Christmas, starting with another spectacular set of Warner Bros cartoon genius! I've enjoyed these collections for four years now, and it seems like they could keep making them forever - I have no idea when they will run out of cartoons. This year the set begins with the usual focus on Bugs Bunny, and finally includes Knighty Knight Bugs, with Yosemite Sam as the hilarious Black Knight. The second disc contains shorts directed by Frank Tashlin, with lots of commentary on his cinematic style, plus the only cartoon with Porky's brothers. The third disc is a real treat, completely filled with Speedy Gonzales cartoons in all of their Mexican stereotypical glory! I loved laughing at all of the drunken songs in Spanish, and it was cool to see the very first Speedy with a much different character design (he even had a gold tooth!). The final disc is all cat cartoons, but not as much Sylvester as you would expect. There are lots of great one-shots and other secondary characters here, such as the adorable kitten who sleeps on the big bulldog's back, and even a weird cat that was voiced by the actor who did the original voice of Goofy! The bonus documentaries are pretty good, but I didn't really care for the old one narrated by Orson Wells. The newer one about Friz Freleng was excellent, though, along with the many Behind the Tunes featurettes. Sixty cartoons later, I'm even more impressed with Looney Tunes, but now I have to wait a whole year for the next set!


Brain Boost: Gamma Wave / Nintendo DS : 3 of 5

I really didn't know much about the new Brain Boost games when I put them in my Amazon Wish List, but I always love thinking games (second only to rhythm games!). My pal Dae saw my list and sent me this game (plus a great CD) for Christmas, and I started playing it right away on the way to visit my parents for the holiday! This game is designed to develop your right brain, specifically your "photographic" memory, through five different activities. The idea is that images, colors, or numbers are presented to you at a speed that's too fast for your left brain to process them, so your right brain has to just "feel" what the right answer is! It's definitely interesting - at the slower speeds I tend to come up with a mnemonic (which is kind of cheating), but at the higher levels I have to try to do the right (pun intended) thing. Memorizing numbers is easiest (because I type a ton of ID numbers at work) and faces are fun, too, but color patterns can be tough! All of the games are presented with a little story including well-designed cartoon characters - they definitely add to the urge to keep trying to see how the game's story ends. Gamma Wave is a simple game, but still pretty interesting and fun - I wonder if my memory will really improve?


Manga Mentions 12.06

Before my Christmas vacation, I had read four new volumes, and I've finished a fifth volume since I've been back (since it's almost time for another batch to come out), so it's time to mention some manga! Dr. Slump Vol 10 was really funny, especially since a new Chinese family has moved next door to Senbei and the gang (it's strange to see Chinese stereotypes in a Japanese manga!). Kaze Hikaru Vol 3 was wonderful, and I'm really ready for the next volume since the story is moving past where it ended in Shojo Beat. My cousin Clinton got me Kingdom Hearts Vol 3, which was cool to read - seeing Disney characters interact manga-style was really interesting! Genshiken Vol 7 wasn't quite as enjoyable for me as the earlier volumes - now that the club is mostly made up of new members, the tone of the story is really different (but it's still worth reading!). Finally, Monster Vol 5 continues to be one of the most fascinating dramas I've ever read, but it goes by so fast! This volume focuses on Johan's sister and other characters as well as Dr. Tenma, and the split-personality plot is really heating up. It can be a bit gruesome at times, but it's better than any movie I've seen in this genre!


Max Rebo R.I.P.

One of the last things I watched before my Christmas adventure was the original theatrical DVD of Return of the Jedi, finishing my nostalgic look at Episodes IV - VI. I really liked seeing the old silly Ewok victory dance at the end! Even though the Special Edition is much more appropriate, I always enjoy a little "Yub yub!" I also liked the old version of Jabba's band, no matter how goofy those creatures are. This was the first time I realized that Jabba took Max Rebo, the blue keyboard player, out on the sail barge to execute Luke and Han, which means that when Luke blew up the barge, Max Rebo was killed! Poor Max Rebo - he was just a little blue musician trying to make a buck, playing for a gangster mob because the money was good, but he paid the price for getting mixed-up with criminals. I still have my Max Rebo action figure, so his memory lives on!


Christmas magic

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! The final days of my Christmas vacation were simply wonderful. On Christmas Eve, my parents opened the rest of their gifts from me (and loved everything), and then we watched A Christmas Story together just like we have for the past few years. On Christmas morning I opened all of my presents, and I couldn't believe how much Santa brought me this year! I got enough DVDs, books, and Nintendo DS games to keep me busy until June! After all the unwrapping, we watched the Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade and ate candy, and after that Dad and I watched some Disney True Life Adventures while I drank wine until I needed a nap. When I woke up, it was time for Christmas dinner, and Mom cooked everything perfectly as always! My entire vacation was really incredible and so relaxing, and Mom and Dad gave me another magical Christmas just like they have for the past 39 years. Enjoy the final group of Christmas photos, or take a look at all of them together in the complete set!

View photos: Christmas 2006 Part 5


Christmas Eve-Eve

It's amazing how fast vacation days pass - it's already Christmas Eve-Eve! My parents and I are still having lots of fun together, and I'm still enjoying tons (literally!) of holiday food. We went to see another movie and made a quick stop at Crossroads Mall, which is always fun to see since I went there a million times when I lived here. We've still been playing games in the evening, and now we've added Derby Day to the mix, so we can bet on virtual horses and scream at the TV while they race! Yesterday I had a nice surprise visit from my old high school friend April, who stopped by for some fun conversation. We caught up on lots of stuff, and it was wonderful to see her again! It won't be long now before I'm ripping all the rest of my presents open!

View photos: Christmas 2006 Part 4


Night at the Museum : 3 of 5

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it looked pretty silly and had too many stars in the cast to actually be good. But, this definitely seemed like a perfect movie to enjoy with my parents for the holidays. It turns out I was right all around - Night at the Museum definitely has a really silly, even stupid plot, but I still laughed out loud for the whole movie! If you've seen a commercial then you know the plot - Ben Stiller is the night guard at New York's Museum of Natural History, and at night everything comes to life, including wax figures, miniature dioramas, and even a dinosaur skeleton (which shows off some excellent animation when these huge bones take on the character of a playful dog!). Lots of really goofy things happen, but I can't be critical because they all made me laugh! I liked watching the miniature cowboys fight with the miniature Roman Empire, but I probably cracked up the most when Ben consoles the raging Attila the Hun by understanding his childhood and giving him a big hug - completely ridiculous, but still funny! My parents and I had a great time during the whole film and spent a fun day at the theater laughing together, so in my book that makes this a great holiday movie!


Disney Comics / 75 Years of Innovation : 4 of 5

Although I'm not so thrilled with modern Disney comics, I really love the older Disney classic strips! One of my Christmas gifts this year was this excellent collection, cleverly designed in the same style as the Disney Treasures DVD series. There are tons of great stories here, all printed perfectly and ready to enjoy (which I have been doing for the past several days)! I like how the book includes historic moments like the first visit from Huey, Duey & Louie, but also more obscure characters like Ellsworth, Goofy's bird friend (that I had never heard of). Speaking of Goofy, there are even some really old strips where Goofy is still called Dippy! I like the stories where Mickey is on a big adventure like climbing a mountain, since he always stays positive no matter the circumstances. The book also has a nice introduction about the history of Disney comics, which talks a lot about the international success of Disney magic in comic form. This is a fantastic collection of great Disney stories and a nice overview of Disney comics in general!


More Christmas highlights

Christmas fun continues! Dad and I finished our yearly puzzle, which was a personalized map of the surrounding miles with our house at the center - it was much more difficult than I expected, but we did it. We've also been really enjoying challenging each other with Clubhouse Games on Nintendo DS - Dad is really skilled at darts! We kept our tradition of watching the Christmas home movies (this time on DVD!), and we also watched The Polar Express, which Mom & Dad hadn't seen before (they really enjoyed it). We also have been playing some DVD games I bought for them - we each played Deal or No Deal (and I'm the current record holder!) and a few rounds of Trivideo, and both are pretty cool games. Finally, we went to Sears to buy my parents' "big gift" this year, which was a new fridge, we ate out at a couple of our favorite restaurants, and we had a second day of Vegas fun at Riverwind. The time sure is flying by!

View photos: Christmas 2006 Part 3


Elite Beat Agents / Nintendo DS : 5 of 5

Since I've played the amazing Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! for hours, I was thrilled to find out that a version was being created for the US called Elite Beat Agents. Of course, Santa gave it to me early for Christmas, and I've been having a blast playing it. I think they did a fantastic job completely re-imagining the game for American gamers, since the entire storyline and all of the graphics are completely new (along with all the songs, of course). Even though everything is new, the short manga-style stories still keep a nice Japanese feel (with super-deformed expressions and so on), but that's probably because 95% of the names on the credits are Japanese. The overall gameplay experience is great - I will always love rhythm games more than any other kind, and Elite Beat Agents is one of the best! The American song selection is pretty cool, and even songs that I'm not a big fan of are tons of fun to tap and drag with (Jumpin' Jack Flash in the game's finale is so fun!). The new characters are stories are nice and quirky, and include some cute anime girls, too. So far I've finished all the songs on the super-easy level, and I'm looking forward to playing the harder modes for more rhythm fun!


Casino adventure

My parents and I love to play slot machines, so for the last few visits together we've gone to the Remington Park casino and had a fun time. But today we decided to check out the new Riverwind Casino, which is brand new and the largest in Oklahoma! The building is really massive, and the interior is pretty cool - it definitely feels like Vegas, but the decor is nice and tasteful. Of course, there are thousands of slot machines, each with it's own plush chair in front of it, and they have several restaurants and a food court, too (just like a mall). We found one of our favorite games, Super Jackpot Party (which is so much fun because of the bonus games), and spent several hours playing nickels and pennies. We discovered when you play pennies that the machines are rigged to pay off a lot more often, and even with pennies I was able to finished the day with $45 bucks in winnings!

View photos: Christmas 2006 Part 2


Eragon : 3 of 5

When I saw the trailer for this movie, I never thought I would be going to see it, but since my parents and I love to go to the theater a few times during the holidays, it seemed like it might be fun to check it out. It turned out to be a surprisingly great time, and we all enjoyed it! I've never heard of the book this story is based on, but the plot is so much like Star Wars that someone should be ashamed! A farm boy meets an old former knight and they go rescue a princess - there's even a Han Solo kind of character. But putting that aside, Eragon is a nice fantasy adventure to just sit back and enjoy for a while. There are plenty of cliches and nothing is super original, but it's exciting to see a dragon in action! The effects were much better than I expected, especially during the flying sequences (and of course, no can resist a cute blue-eyed dragon hatching from an egg). The acting is decent enough (especially from Jeremy Irons), but John Malkovich is kind of silly as the evil king with 10 minutes of screen time (just a setup for the sequel, really!). So, I'm glad this was one of my holiday movies this year, and now I'm a dragon fan!


Here comes Christmas!

Christmas has officially begun! I always look forward to spending the holiday with my family, opening presents every single night. This year I started my parents off with some personalized Disney Santa hats, so all three of us can look extra festive for all the gifting! The Christmas eating has started, too, with plenty of cookies and some of my favorite foods (like salmon patties and homemade potato chips!). I'm trying to counteract the calorie onslaught by doing a few exercises each day, but other than that my only activity will be ripping wrapping paper and shoving cookies in my mouth. I'll try to make a WEBmikey post periodically, but it may be hard to interrupt my busy schedule of relaxing!

View photos: Christmas 2006 Part 1


Carols via satellite

My pal Ryan has become addicted to XM satellite radio lately, since it came with the new car he bought a few months ago. On Thanksgiving weekend he found a great deal on a portable XM device, so we've been listening to it at work in our shared office. There are lots of cool channels like the Cinema channel, which plays movie soundtracks (complete with audio clips of dialogue), but of course we've been listening to the several channels of Christmas music for the past month. Sometimes we hear some really obscure songs! The other day there was a version of Andy Williams doing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and we think it was from a TV special since we can hear people clapping. Anyway, right in the middle he says, "And then a reindeer came in and began to dance." It just sounds so silly that we both started laughing!


Old-school Star Wars

I finally watched the recent theatrical-cut releases of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back (and I'll check out Return of the Jedi soon). It had been a long time since I had watched Episode IV all the way through, and it really gave me a nice nostalgic feeling! It was cool to see the non-Special Editions, with everything the way I remembered it from all the times I saw it at the theater back when all I could think about was when the next Kenner figure was coming out. It definitely made me think that Lucas just went a little crazy with the prequels in the CG special effects department. As much as I like Episodes I-III, I would much rather watch "imperfect" miniatures than "perfect" CG models. The whole revolution of Star Wars was partly because everything looked homemade, and using CG in every single shot just ruins that feel. I also realized that the transition from Episode III to Episode IV is a little shaky, mainly when I think about Obi-Wan's reactions to meeting Luke and the droids on Tatooine. The audience has to believe that Obi-Wan is faking the whole thing, because he's got to know who Artoo and Threepio are. Anyway, I don't mind so much, but this was the first time I thought about it!


Perfect presents

I've received some really amazing Christmas gifts from my pals this year! This weekend I gave everyone this year's video project (which was a big success, judging by the laughter!), and they went together to buy me a fantastic new gig bag (for my drum kit hardware), since my old one was a serious pain. The new one is totally amazing and has wheels on it, so it's going to be so convenient! Then tonight, my pal Melinda and I exchanged gifts, and she gave me a beautiful Snow White figurine (part of the Disney Traditions series by Jim Shore)! It has a great folk-art style to it, and looks wonderful with my other Snow White sculptures. She also gave me a little LEGO set to add to my growing collection, too! Christmas is so much fun! Be sure to take a look at my latest Flickr photos, since I just got up-to-date with my latest toys, PEZ, and collectibles.

View photos: Disney Collectibles
View photos: PEZtastic
View photos: Toys on Stage


Not worth reindeer poop

Since I love all of the Rankin-Bass classic Christmas shows, I'm a fan of The Year Without a Santa Claus (from 1974). Practically everyone loves the Heat Miser and Snow Miser songs, and of course the animation is brilliant for the medium. Unfortunately, this holiday classic was given the live-action treatment, and as expected, it was a disaster! If all I could watch was this show, then I really would wish for a year without a Santa Claus. Not only was everything ultra-updated to the point of stupidity, but they couldn't even put a decent beard on John Goodman (it looked like it came from a cheap Halloween store)! The only things I liked were the fact that they used real reindeer (much better than the ugly animatronics in The Santa Clause 3), and the segment about the "retirement community" called Mythopolis with Jack LaLanne playing Hercules (which was pretty funny). The Miser brothers were just OK - not horrible, but so low budget. I guarantee you I won't be watching this one next year!


Christmas editing

This weekend I put together a DVD of bunch of my family's home movies of Christmas (14 holiday seasons!). My parents and I always watch them every year, and now we'll finally be able to see them on DVD. These were originally old Regular-8 and Super-8 films, which Dad had transfered to VHS, then I transfered them to MiniDV, and finally into iMovie. It was fun editing them all together, but it wasn't as smooth as I expected. I did a little digital clean-up (which was semi-successful) and then added enough music to cover the full 1:45 hours, and finally started up iDVD. Later I found out (from reading Apple's support discussions) that iDVD takes forever to encode the audio for so much music - it took over 12 hours to process! I'm just glad it's finished, and I'm looking forward to watching it with Mom & Dad!


The Santa Clause 3 / The Escape Clause : 3 of 5

I knew this movie was going to be goofy from the moment I first saw the trailer a few months ago, but since I like seeing holiday movies of almost any kind, my pal Melinda and I decided to go. The good news is that The Santa Clause 3 wasn't as bad as I expected, but the bad news is that they should have stopped with The Santa Clause 2! For me, the charm of the original movie (one of my holiday favorites) is discovering that Santa Claus is a real person, and how his magic can do wonderful things at Christmas. So, when you set the whole movie at the North Pole, and throw in all the silly other legendary characters (like the Easter Bunny and even the Tooth Fairy), it definitely becomes less special. In fact, the whole thing felt like a made for TV movie, or even something that should have been animated in stop-motion! But I have to say, I did have a fun time with the story, especially when Santa and Jack Frost travel back to the moment when Scott Calvin first wears Santa's coat in the original film. Even though Martin Short can be painfully annoying, he actually fits the Jack Frost character perfectly, and I kind of enjoyed his bizarre performance. So, I guess I don't mind too much that Disney is squeezing the last dollar they can from this 1994 hit - I just like watching Christmas movies at Christmas time (but any other time of the year, I would definitely give this a 2 rating)!


Pirates of Silicon Valley : 3 of 5

I've been a kind of Steve Jobs fan from way back when I used to go to the Apple World Wide Developer Conference each year in San Jose, because there's just something exciting about hearing him speak. Of course, there's always a dark eccentric side to genius, but even though I know about the "bad Steve" I still admire him. I watched this TV movie many years ago when it was first broadcast, which follows the early lives of Jobs (played by Noah Wyle, who was complimented on his performance by Jobs himself) and Bill Gates (played by Anthony Michael Hall, who looks pretty scary at times!) as they shape a new industry on their separate paths, but cross when Microsoft steals all of Apple's ideas. Essentially, all of the events talked about in the Computer Chronicles show I watched a while back are retold in dramatic form, which is both fascinating and funny (since a few scenes are just over the top). It's fun to see them working in the Apple garage, but sad to see Steve's abusive outbursts at the Macintosh group. It's also amazing to watch Bill sell DOS to IBM before they had even started developing it (and then bought it from some other poor guy for 50K!). The movie ends in 1997, so none of Apple's recent success or the iPod is covered at all, but overall it's cool to watch a 25-year soap opera unfold about the computers we all use today!


The new old Trek

I've been enjoying checking out the new remastering of Star Trek: The Original Series, even though I'm not exactly sure how this project got approved (probably so they can resell everything on DVD again!). Since I only recently finished watching all 79 episodes, I'm not actually sitting through them again - I just fast-forward with TiVo and stop and the scenes with new effects. The results are pretty interesting - all of the space exteriors are now CG, which means the ships can make more complex maneuvers and the camera can shoot from more dramatic angles, plus the "planet of the week" actually changes in each episode. These shots look cool, but they are still a little jarring, only because I know there's no way these effects were possible back in the 60s. For interiors, most of the changes involve windows (adding moving stars and so on), and generally they have left phasers and the transporter alone (though I'm sure they were tempted!). Sometimes the windows are really impressive - in The Menagerie, the main window on Starbase 11 features a beautiful view of the skyline that actually moves in perspective as the camera pans. Pretty impressive!


Morning Musume Sakura Gumi / Hare Ame Nochi Suki : 3 of 5

Since I recently enjoyed checking out the second singles from Morning Musume's subgroups of the past, I decided to take a look at the first singles, too. Sakura Gumi definitely was on the mellow side, since Hare Ame Nochi Suki shares a similar tone with Sakura Mankai (though this first single isn't half as good as that magical second single!). The melody is really nice, and I love the super-high notes at the end of the chorus (which means only the best singers get a shot). The video is totally pink-ified and filled with falling cherry blossom petals (I guess it has to be!), and the minimal dance moves aren't very interesting, but the costumes are kind of cool (as long as you ignore the crazy hairdos that some of them had to endure). This single was released while Natsumi Abe was still in the group, so she looks great during the close-up shots. Yossie looks like an entire different person with much softer features - the difference between then and now is really incredible. My favorite shot in the video is the use of rack focus between three girls standing at different distances, so they come into focus just in time to sing "suki suki suki". The DVD also has a close-up version and a really funny making-of segment, which has lots of goofing around scenes (which are always the best part!). I'll be checking out Otome Gumi's first single soon!


BoA / Winter Love : 3 of 5

For as long as I've been a BoA fan, I've loved listening to her ballads. I'm sure I've listened to Jewel Song hundreds of times, and the same goes for Everlasting (of course, I've watched the videos for both of these over and over, too). So, it was an easy decision to buy BoA's latest winter-themed single, which came with a DVD. Winter Love is a really pretty song, but I have to put it in third place behind BoA's other ballads. I like the instrumentation, which has just enough bells and other effects to sound like winter, and her singing is fantastic, of course. The video, while not overly impressive, is still beautiful. The whole thing takes place in a kind of igloo with massive ice-block walls and doors, and it really looks cold! Effects have been added so you can see BoA's breath when she sings (I hope they were effects, otherwise it was freezing when they were filming!), and the loose plot has a guy trying to give her gifts or cheer her up who ends up with snow on his face from her refusals (ouch!). BoA looks lovely as usual, and shows some great emotion on the chorus. The end of the video is really cool - BoA blows into the camera to ice up the TV screen. So although it's not spectacular, I'm still glad I got this single while I wait for her new album!



This weekend I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 4, and it was a great experience! It was nice to have a pal like Dae to drive me to the USC campus, and it was really easy to find the building and my classroom. There were tons of test-takers of all ages, including some older guys like me, and even several really young kids with Japanese mothers dropping them off for the exam (and there were plenty of cute Asian girls, too!). On the first section the 25 minute time limit was barely enough, so I paced myself better from then on. One question had to include the one kanji that never showed up on any of my sample questions, of course! Next was listening comprehension (via CD), which was really tricky - I think it was more difficult than what I studied, but I guessed when I had to. Finally, reading comprehension, which is usually tough, turned out to be the easiest for me. There were definitely questions that I had trouble deciding between two answers, but maybe I picked the right ones! Anyway, it's over and I'm glad that I took the exam - now I just wish the results would be announced before March (such a long wait!). I'm definitely going to take Level 3, and I'm looking forward to studying next year!


Happy Feet : 3 of 5

I'm always glad to go to the theater to support any animated feature film, and Happy Feet was a fun movie to see, and quite interesting for many reasons. I was a huge fan of the trailer, because seeing penguins sing is just inherently funny, so I was thrilled when the movie began with tons of penguins hanging around and singing. The opening act has so many pop songs intertwined (with excellent arrangements, by the way), that I was instantly reminded of Moulin Rouge, and at first I though this would be the whole movie - one long musical. The plot is that Emperor Penguins are born to sing, but poor Mumble is born to dance, so he becomes an outcast who can't get a girlfriend and so on. That would have been enough for me, but instead, Happy Feet transforms into an entirely different movie in the middle, where Mumble tries to discover why "aliens" (humans) are stealing their fish, and even ends up trapped in a Sea World kind of exhibit, which is depicted kind of like an asylum! The tone change is really kind of jarring, and then resolved far too quickly with a montage. However, these scenes are pretty innovative, since they use live-action humans along with the CG penguins, which was a surprise! The musical first half of Happy Feet definitely gets a 5 rating, but the too serious second half gets a 2, so the whole film gets a 3 from WEBmikey. I still recommend seeing it for a fun movie time!



Today I decided to pretend to be Amish for a couple hours, since I had two power outages today! This morning I was up early to work on some things, and since it was garbage day I moved my car out of the garage so I could put out the garbage can. Right after that, everything went dark with an hour before I had to go to work! So, I just did another Japanese test by candlelight (and scored 98%). Since my car was already out, I didn't have to worry about not being able to open the garage. At lunchtime, I ran a couple errands and came home, and the power was back to normal. So, I popped a Lean Cuisine into the microwave, and about 30 seconds later there was another outage! So, I had to eat yogurt instead, and I worked on my Christmas cards and read some magazines. I called work to tell them I would be late, since my car was trapped in the garage this time (since I don't know to detach the opener!), and finally everything came back on an hour later. What a crazy day for electricity!


Cool Christmas cards

Every holiday season I always enjoy picking out Christmas cards. I only send out about 30, so it's not that much of a chore, and it's fun deciding which ones to buy. For some reason, I really like cards that are smaller than the standard size - something like note card size is nice. This year I found a cool set that not only was a nice size, but each card is a popup work of art! It's a set called Christmas Alphabet Cards which has 26 different amazing designs in a nice metal tin (and I got a great deal at Barnes & Noble with my discount). It was cool to open each one and watch trees, snowflakes, candles, doves, and every other Christmas symbol you can imagine appear before my eyes! It's going to be fun deciding who gets each design and sending them out, and I can keep the tin to put Christmasy things in. I definitely recommend this set if you like to send something unique for your holiday greetings!


Study week

In a few short days I'll finally be taking the JLPT in Los Angeles, so I've been setting aside lots of time this week to get some final studying in. Mostly I'm just re-taking the Level 4 tests from 2004 and 2005, and so far I've been doing well! My latest scores (for portions of the test) are 100% (for kanji, which is pretty easy in a multiple choice situation), 88% (for particles, which always drive me crazy), and 95% (for grammar and reading comprehension). Later this week I'll use my CDs to practice listening comprehension a little more, and then I think I'll be ready! When I get back from LA and it's all over, I'm going to be so excited about my upcoming Christmas vacation! The timing of the test is a little weird, but it will make relaxing at Christmas even more relaxing.

On a completely unrelated topic, I finally posted some photos of the last LEGO set I built, the Batmobile! This was an incredibly satisfying set, since it was fun to see how the working gears fit together (since the turbines and engines spin as the wheels roll), and the final car is really sturdy and solid. I had to backtrack a little bit after getting lost in all those black bricks, but it was worth it!

View photos: LEGO Batmobile


Gatchaman / Collection 9 : 5 of 5

I can't believe I've finished all 105 episodes of this anime classic - it seems like I was only just recently excited about buying the first DVD set, and now I have nine of them on my shelf! I was filled with anticipation when I started the first disc, but then I was surprised that these episodes didn't really lead up to the big ending - they were the typical plots that could have fit anywhere in the series (but still great!). But the second disc delivered completely, quickly getting into Joe's tragic health problem, the big mystery secret behind the identity of Berg Katse, and the ultimate Galactor plot (orchestrated by Leader X, double-crossing Katse!) to destroy the world! Along the way there's plenty of emotion for everyone, even though a couple of the episodes are a little goofy (especially when Galactor tries to convince Ken that he's awakened 20 years in the future). You've got to love a mecha with a name like Grape Bomber, and there's also a cool giant catfish to battle, too! The bonus disc has some interesting material on the various releases of the series in Japan, as well as a great list of the various Science Ninja techniques, but also has a real snooze-fest with the American voice actors, who just bore me to tears (sorry, ADV!). Gatchaman has been so much fun to watch - nothing else can capture the drama and excitement of 70s anime for me!


Amazon emails

It's no secret that I do a lot of shopping at Amazon. I like using them as my giant superstore that has nearly everything, and the gift certificates I get from using my Amazon VISA can't be beat. So, I don't mind getting Amazon marketing emails, which usually use their recommendations feature to suggest cool things based on stuff in my Wish List or past purchases. Every now and then, the results are pretty hilarious, though! Here's one I got recently:
We've noticed that customers who have expressed interest in Star Wars Episode IV have also ordered Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Film Collections on DVD.
Finally, millions of Star Wars fans can admit that they secretly love Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton! What a relief!


The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King / Special Extended Edition : 5 of 5

I've just completed a major milestone in Operation DVD Catch-Up by finishing this massive four DVD set, which I've been watching for the past few days as breaks between video editing sessions. I absolutely loved the previous two Extended Editions, and Return of the King is no exception, although I will say that this extended cut seems just slightly more disjointed than the other two. Besides enjoying an over four-hour long movie, the two discs of bonus material are simply amazing, containing the same quality of incredible documentaries as the previous releases. For some reason, I really enjoyed the segment on costume design, and was impressed by all the intricate detail that never even shows on film - Ian McClellan comments that there's absolutely no reason to create all that detail, except to make the actors' feel that it's real (and I'm sure the Tolkien devotion of most of the staff didn't hurt either). I also found myself getting miffed at Peter Jackson as everyone went on and on about how he continued to make changes that kept all departments (effects, sound, even scoring) working all hours until the last possible moment. Sure, the result is fantastic, but you eventually have to call it finished! Watching four DVDs is quite a journey, and I feel like I've been to Mordor and back, but now that it's over, I have the strange urge to watch Fellowship of the Ring over again!


Soup and pudding

Yesterday was another incredible Thanksgiving dinner at Chris & Eliza's, who always work so hard to cook an incredible feast for our happy group of pals. This year we were joined by Baby Sofia (along with parents Kristin & Carlos, of course), who is growing up so fast, and I had a great time crawling on the floor to get some fun pictures of her. The meal was fantastic, with two special bookends - Eliza made a delicious butternut squash soup (because I am always raving about her past soups) to get things started, and Bernadette made some excellent banana pudding, which is one of my favorite desserts! It was nice to get stuffed and sit around listening to music, or watching Baby Einstein via Chris' new 40-inch LCD HDTV. The whole day made me happy and thankful to have such great friends, and gave me the energy I'll need to finish my Christmas video project!

View photos: Thanksgiving 2006


Thanksgiving morning

Happy Thanksgiving! This morning I got up early, talked with Mom & Dad on the phone, then watched the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with my pal Tom, who came over with some breakfast for us. This year's parade was a little low-key because of the rain and winds (it was strange to see the balloons flying with their feet practically dragging), but it was still wonderful to watch as always! I knew there was going to be a new Snoopy balloon, which was pretty cool, but I was surprised by the new Pikachu balloon, which was my favorite of the parade. The pose was really cute and active (much better than the old one), and I loved how they made his electric cheeks light up! (I can't find any photos of the new one yet, but this is what the old Pikachu looked like.) The worst balloon was Humpty Dumpty, which has such a terrible pose - it looks like just his butt flying down the street, since his face is tipped over so far. Watching the parade was a great start to my Thanksgiving holiday, and I'll be feasting with my pals soon!


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe : 5 of 5

I'm still making a valiant effort to watch old DVDs before the Christmas gifts start rolling in, and it was great to see The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe again (which I bought so long ago). Of course, the movie itself was fantastic (as I've said before), and it was fun to watch it with the special Narnia Fun Facts on, which pop-up at various times during the story with trivia about CS Lewis and Narnia in general. I enjoyed all the material on the bonus DVD, mainly because I learned so many new details about the movie. Did you know the carvings on the wardrobe itself tell the story of the first book, The Magician's Nephew? I didn't even realize that Jadis wears Aslan's shorn mane into battle, either! The behind the scenes coverage was nice, too - it was interesting that they shot the film in continuity, and used different techniques to get genuine reactions from the children (Lucy was blindfolded so when she first steps into the snowy woods of Narnia, it's really the first time she has seen it). There are several nice documentaries of different lengths, but unfortunately the biography of CS Lewis is unbelievably short. Watching this movie again really makes me want to continue with the books (I only got halfway in my re-reading), and now I want the next Narnia movie to be released quickly!


Ringo ga ikutsu desu ka?

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is just around the corner! Lately I've been so busy with Christmas stuff that I haven't really been studying, but I'm reserving lots of time next week to take the sample tests again. Tonight I had a lesson with Mikie, and we concentrated on some sample listening comprehension questions. She read a script from one of my study books, while I listened and answered the questions in the same way I will during the actual test. I was really happy that I got almost all of them right! There were a few words I didn't know, but I was able to guess from the context, so I feel good about it. I need to watch out for tricky math questions ("I bought ten apples. Yesterday three friends at one each, and today I ate two. How many apples do I have?"), because my translating ends up falling behind and I miss the next important detail in the question! After Thanksgiving weekend is over, I'll be ready to really study again - I'm looking forward to the feeling of accomplishment!


Madame Butterfly / Austin Lyric Opera : 5 of 5

As this opera ended, I commented to my pal Melinda (who went with me) that this was one of the best performances I've ever seen. At the same time I was thinking, I'll bet I said that the last time I saw this opera performed! Thanks to a much older (and shorter) WEBmikey review, I see I was right, so maybe I just really enjoy this Puccini masterpiece! From what I remember, this production was far more amazing, however. The set with it's Japanese sliding doors was wonderful, especially the large painting of the sea and mountains that seemed to change color with the time of day, thanks to the incredible lighting (which really impressed me during the long interlude between Acts 2 and 3). The singing was wonderful, although Pinkerton's tenor didn't project very well - I enjoyed the voice of Sharpless much more. But it was Jee Hyun Lim as Butterfly who completely impressed me in every way - not only was her soprano fantastic, but she was definitely one of the best actresses I've seen in opera in a long time! Her delicate movements, her joy at seeing Pinkerton's ship in the harbor, her tragic death - everything was full of emotion that completely won me over. A performance like that can make me forget that I know the story, and start hoping that somehow Butterfly's dream of love can come true!


Mastuura Aya / X3 : 5 of 5

After falling in love with the video for The Last Night on Mastuura Aya's Single V Clips, I absolutely had to buy the song. Rather than getting the CD single, I decided to just buy the whole CD that includes The Last Night, and I've really enjoyed it - I even think it's better overall than her Best 1 CD! So, now I can listen to The Last Night whenever I want, and it's definitely one of my favorite songs now. I just like sad ballads sometimes, and the lyrics and melody are so beautiful - my heart melts everytime I hear "Fuyu ga hajimaru". The rest of the CD includes several other hits like Good Bye Natsuo and Ne-e? (which means now I've bought that song about four times!), but I was also excited to hear a few other familiar tunes that I knew from seeing them performed on shows like Hello Pro Hour. There's something about the way Ayaya sings Kanousei no Michi that I really like - in fact, her voice is becoming one of my favorites more and more each day. Unfortunately, there's a horrific remix of Yeah! Meccha Holiday that is completely out of place, but I can forget about that blunder by looking at the amazing cover photography, featuring three lovely Aya's in various styles. Even though this is kind of an old CD, it's one of my favorite Jpop purchases in quite a while!


Manga Mentions 11.06 Part 2

It's already time for another Manga Mentions post, since I've finished five more volumes of fun stuff (since I've been reading to escape reality when I should be working on all the stuff I have to do from yesterday's post)! I finished xxxHolic Vol 6 and Vol 7, and every time I read it I'm glad I started this series (which was just on a whim during a lull between other releases). So many of the stories introduce me to cool Japanese superstitions and legends, which of course are all real in the manga world. The style of the artwork is really beautiful, and I typically read these cover to cover quickly since I can't help myself! I discovered yet another manga version of Densha Otoko, this time called Train Man: A Shojo Manga, which tells the whole story in one volume. I have to say this is my least favorite of the three versions, but it was still kind of fun seeing another take on the story. Kaze Hikaru Vol 2 was really enjoyable, even though I'm still just re-reading chapters from Shojo Beat - I'm hoping the next volume will get into some new plot twists. Finally, I''s Vol 10 finally allows Ichitaka and Iori to confess their love, but everything goes downhill from there (just what I expect from a high school soap opera). This volume has some great artwork of Tokyo at night during Christmas time, and I can't help enjoying this over-emotional plot, even if 90% of the dialogue is in thought balloons!


Holiday crunch

My calendar looks like a battlefield! This weekend I'll be in Waco for pre-Thanksgiving with Mom & Dad, so I've been planning out the next few weeks, and I can't believe how busy I am. First, I'm working on my annual "Christmas project", since I have a tradition now of making some kind of video for my pals, and I've been a bad Mikey (which means I waited way too long to get started this year)! Next, I'm traveling to Los Angeles in a couple weeks to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and on top of that, I have a couple band gigs coming up in the next few weeks, too. It's all going to work out somehow - it always does! I've started listening to Christmas music, and thankfully I've already finished my Christmas shopping. Ho ho ho! (That's either Christmas cheer or nervous laughter - I'm not sure yet...)


Pocahontas / 10th Anniversary Edition : 4 of 5

I had recently watched Pocahontas just before this DVD came out, so it's taken me forever to actually take the time to enjoy this special edition, but since I've been catching-up on lots of Disney DVDs lately, I made the time. As always, it was wonderful to see such a Disney masterpiece again. Even though Pocahontas often gets criticized as the start of Disney's recent animation slump, I still think it's full of fantastic emotion, music, and beautiful animation. I've always loved the initial meeting of Pocahontas and John Smith, and this time I was really amazed at how skillfully she's animated as she sneaks out onto the rocks - those are some incredible movements! This special edition includes the song If I Never Knew You, which was cut from the theatrical release, and I really enjoyed it. The animation was already complete, so the scene only looks slightly different from the rest of the film (it's just rendered a little too clearly to match the older artwork). The song really adds a lot to the movie, especially during the short reprise at the end of the film. The bonus DVD includes an old documentary that was made for laserdisc, but the content is still fresh and interesting (narrated by the girl who voiced Pocahontas, who is seriously gorgeous). Tons of still libraries are included as well, and thankfully there are several model sheet close-ups that are always interesting to me. I had a great time revisiting this Disney classic!


The Fast and the Furious / Tokyo Drift : 2 of 5

I haven't seen any of the other Fast and the Furious movies, but when I saw the trailer for this one, I thought it would be fun to see Tokyo scenery and some cool drift racing (which I learned to appreciate from Initial D). I missed it in the theater, but I think it was kind of more fun to watch on DVD at home anyway, since I could laugh at loud at some of the bad acting and goofy situations. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the movie, though - the action scenes are definitely cool, especially the big chase scene through traffic and right through Shibuya's famous intersection (although it was interesting to learn later that Tokyo itself was completely computer-generated during car scenes!). Of course, there are plenty of stupid gaijin moments that are all too predictable, but those are offset by some funny lines such as "Why don't you fine a nice Japanese girl like all the other white guys?" I was really pleased with myself that I spotted the actress who played Rei in my beloved Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon - she's in several scenes, but doesn't have a single line! This is definitely a fun action movie with some nice Japanese flair thrown in (even if some of it is fake), so check it out if you're looking for some low-IQ fun.


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan : 3 of 5

I'm one of the few who haven't seen a single Borat segment - I don't know how I completely missed them, but I never would have even known about Borat if my pal Chris wasn't always talking about him. In fact, I probably wouldn't even have heard of Kazakhstan if my pal Tom hadn't done his Peace Corps work in Uzbekistan next door. Anyway, the trailer for this movie looked great, so I went with my pals Ernesto and Jonathan, and we all laughed our heads off! Generally I'm very sensitive about humor involving racism, but for some reason, when it reaches the point of being so outrageous that it's impossible to mistake it as genuine, I think it can be hilarious. The fact that Borat can say some of the unbelievable things he does with straight face is pretty amazing - you will either laugh it off, or be terribly offended. If you can get past all of that, the movie weaves together several different segments nicely by turning the story into a road trip, with the ultimate goal of meeting Pamela Anderson. Part of the fun is figuring out what's scripted and what's spontaneous, and believe me, most of it seems real! If you're looking for a few big laughs (or if you're hoping to see nude men wrestling), then Borat should be just what you need.


Lady and the Tramp / Platinum Edition : 4 of 5

Yes, I'm incredibly late watching this DVD, but this weekend I made some time to really enjoy this heartwarming classic again, as well as all the amazing bonus material. Lady and the Tramp was the first animated feature in CinemaScope, and every time I watch it I'm surprised at just how wide it is, which makes the backgrounds so spectacular. I'm always amazed at the beauty of these paintings, and every time the scene changes (frequently!) I think about the hours of hand-painting that went into each one. I've never really liked Lady's voice (I wish it were more pure and girlish), but that doesn't stop me from crying during the romantic moments with the Tramp. The bonus disc starts off with a great hour-long documentary that spins the movie as a tribute to Walt's nostalgia for his boyhood home of Marceline. There are lots of great interviews, and they even touch on the subject of what happened between sunset and sunrise after that famous spaghetti dinner (which makes the neighbor dogs' proposals much more interesting!). There's a great segment on storyboards and film making in general (including discussions of their use in other genres such as Hitchcock movies), and the well-known Disney TV show episodes that discuss the movie (and several times walk through the entire plot, giving away the whole story!). Lady and the Tramp is always a joy to watch (even if it doesn't move me as much as other Disney classics), so once again these Platinum Editions are entirely welcome!


A musical day

Today the Ernesto Marquez Sextet put in a full day at the studio recording for our first CD (basically a five song demo). We decided to try The Brain Machine after a great recommendation from another musician friend (and a nice special price), and every went incredibly smoothly! The band was really prepared, and Ernesto really outdid himself with some fantastic arrangements and horn lines for himself and Jonathan. Bernadette really sold the vocals, Steve sparkled on the keyboard, Chris was amazing on bass, and I had fun playing a combination of my drum kit with some of the studio's higher quality equipment. Tomorrow everything will be mixed, and we're all looking forward to hearing the result! After a great day at the studio, I've been relaxing with some manga (yes, more manga!) and Scotch - I wonder if that's a popular combination anywhere other than my house?


Manga Mentions 11.06 Part 1

No matter how busy I get, I still find time to keep up with my manga reading - seems like addictions always take priority! Anyway, I've decided that I'll make a quick WEBmikey manga post each time I finish another five volumes, just to keep things current with what kind of stuff I'm enjoying. So, welcome to the first Manga Mentions post! Besides enjoying the first volumes of two Densha Otoko series, I also finished Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix Vol 8 in record time, which was the second half of the Civil War chapter. This particular story was incredible as always, and now I can't decide which half of the saga I like better - the Japanese historical stories or the futuristic ones! Speaking of historical manga, I've read Kaze Hikaru Vol 1, which is about the famous Shisengumi, where a young girl pretends to be a guy to avenge her family. I started reading this every month in Shojo Beat, but then they dumped the series! Thankfully I can still get the collected volumes and see what happens (but I'm starting over at the beginning anyway). Midori Days Vol 8 finishes the complete series, which turned out to be really special, regardless of it's completely crazy subject, and Hikaru no Go Vol 8 continues with more action-packed Go matches (yes, that's a little sarcastic). This used to be my favorite series, but lately it's become a little dry, although I'm convinced things will get more exciting once Hikaru gets to face Akira again!


Flushed Away : 4 of 5

It's great to see Aardman Animation bringing their claymation expertise to the CG world, and it's really an amazing combination. Aardman has developed software that gives their work the feel of real claymation (most obvious in the mouth movements), and of course the character designs all have that signature Wallace & Gromit look. The story is about Roddy, a pet rat who gets flushed into the sewer, where he finds a complete miniature London (creatively built of all kinds of scrap parts) full of sewer rats and their frog enemies. Along the way he meets Rita, who has a crazy boat that she uses to navigate the sewer waters kind of like a pirate. All of the voice acting is well done and the characters are really likeable (even the bad guys), but the slugs steal the show! Yes, there are little slugs everywhere (after all, this is a sewer) who show up from time to time and sing appropriate tunes in hilarious harmony. The pacing of the movie is really well-done, focusing nicely on character development (for Roddy and Rita), and finally revealing the evil frog plot at just the right time. I definitely couldn't count the number of laugh-out-loud moments, which were well-divided between visual jokes and clever dialogue. All in all, it was incredibly fun to see another great Aardman movie produced in a new medium, and I hope it's successful enough to keep the ball rolling.


Magnetica / Nintendo DS : 4 of 5

I'm a sucker for puzzle games of almost any kind, especially if they look really cool, so I was ready to try Magnetica the moment I saw a few screen shots. I've read that this is a just a variation of a similar puzzle game, but it's definitely new to me! Basically, colored balls snake their way down a pathway, and the object is to fling other balls at the chain to keep them from reaching the end of the path, since groups of the same color go away. The "magnetic" idea comes into play because balls of the same color attract each other, so you can force portions of the chain to retreat if you plan things correctly. This all happens really fast, of course, but it's fun and addictive - at first it seemed nearly impossible, but soon I got the hang of it and started really enjoying myself. There's a basic Challenge Mode, where you have to complete 99 levels in a row, and also a Quest Mode, where you complete successive games, each with different pathway patterns and so on. Finally, there's a Puzzle Mode with specific mental challenges that really take some thinking. I really like the look of the game - it may be simple to animate colored balls, but the playfields have a cool metallic look. The music is nice, too, and doesn't get annoying (even when you are attempting to finish the same level over and over and over). Any game that makes me want to keep on playing it "one more time" is great, and that's a nice description of Magnetica.


The Little Mermaid / Platinum Edition : 5 of 5

Of course, I bought this DVD on the day it was released, but I only recently watched it, and of course, it was sheer joy to see such a spectacular Disney animated feature again! There's not much more I can say about one of my favorite movies of all time, except that I'm always breathless during certain moments when Ariel is animated absolutely perfectly, such as when she's singing on top of the rock, or when Eric wakes up to see her backlit face, or when she turns over during Part of Your World and her hair effortlessly floats down at half-speed. OK, I could go on and on! Since this is a Platinum Edition, the bonus features are amazing! There's a nice 45-minute documentary that really highlights how this movie saved Disney animation from its mini "dark ages", and it definitely made me realize how the combination of talent and timing created such a miracle. There are also mini-documentaries about effects animation (with some awesome scenes of the animation archive, which I always love to see) and Hans Christian Andersen, plus a beautiful short of The Little Match Girl, which may be the quickest way to cry in under seven minutes. My favorite bonus feature is the inclusion of a virtual theme park attraction, which was actually developed by Imagineer Tony Baxter and others to be a real ride (and it would have been so cool!). Overall, this is a fantastic DVD set of an incredible movie, so it's pretty close to perfect!


Gatchaman / Collection 8 : 4 of 5

I can't believe that this epic anime series is almost over - there's only one more Gatchaman collection to go! I really enjoyed this set of episodes, since the plots seem to be getting more dramatic leading up to what I hope to be a spectacular finale. The biggest edge-of-your-seat action occurs when Galactor actually succeeds in a full-scale attack on the Crescent Coral Base, eventually leaving the Science Ninja Team homeless! This story takes a few episodes to complete, and each one was full of excitement. The Berg Katse mystery is almost revealed, too - I actually don't know what the big secret is, but I'm pretty sure he's a shape-shifter of some kind (I know I could dig up the answer somewhere, but it's more fun waiting to find out!). There are plenty of emotional episodes in this set, too - Ken is getting more and more discouraged with life in general since Galactor always comes back, and Jinpei has a cute first-love romance (with a surprising accidental shower peeking scene), but realizes that as long as he's a Science Ninja, there's no room for anyone in his life (poor Jinpei). The coolest mecha this time around could be the giant crayfish (giant claws!), or possibly the line of cop cars that form into a huge Mothra-looking caterpillar. Overall, this was an amazing set, and all of the episodes flew by - I can't wait to get my hands on Collection 9 (but then I will be sad when it's over)!


Morning Musume no Musical / Morning Town : 3 of 5

Since I had never scene a Morning Musume musical before, I got this DVD without really knowing what to expect - it was really fun to watch, though! This is a full stage production from 2002, live on stage with a cool rotating set, plenty of costumes, tons of acting and dialogue, and of course, lots and lots of singing (although the songs are strangely short most of the time). There are two acts, each with a different story, although both of them are a little hokey and involve restaurants! The first one is about Abe's dream to have her own cake shop, and her friends help her convince her mean father by means of a crazy bake-off (yes, that's really the plot). The second act is about a burger joint, where Konno is the clumsy employee who wins in the end because of her kindness to strangers. Both of these acts actually have some emotional scenes, and the girls really do perform well - they often have long conversations that really seem natural, considering all the lines they had to learn. I really liked Konno's character the best, and she has a nice love duet with Goto Maki (who is the only girl playing a guy). Overall, the show music isn't that great, but when it's all over there's a bonus Morning Musume concert of the usual hits. There's a quick behind-the-scenes segment that highlights how nervous everyone was - it definitely made me appreciate all the hard work and rehearsal that went into a show like this!


Clubhouse Games: 5 of 5

I heard about this game several months ago when I was searching for new Nintendo DS puzzle games, so I've been waiting quite awhile for this one. I like to play quick card games on my Palm, so I thought it would be cool to have a collection of them for my DS, too. But soon after I started playing, I discovered that Clubhouse Games is so much more than I hoped for! This little cartridge has over 40 games on it, including lots of fun card games (of course), but also board games like chess and checkers, and also simple action games like bowling and billiards! The selection of games is really amazing, and it's fun to learn entirely new games (which is easy since the full rules for every game are included on-screen). Just about every little diversion game you can imagine is here, plus games that are "similar" (meaning knock-offs!) to other popular games. Besides having all these fun games available to play, there are also other extremely addictive ways to enjoy them by playing the Stamp and Mission modes. I absolutely love Stamp mode, which makes you play each game a certain number of times to earn stamps before you can continue to the next one, which is a great way to experience everything that's available. Mission mode has some difficult tasks to complete that unlock various icons in the game for some additional challenge. The graphics are really rich and fun (though these games aren't very fancy by nature), even though things seem a little small sometimes. For someone like me, Clubhouse Games is a Nintendo DS essential!


DS is master

I really like posting something on WEBmikey everyday, but I have to confess that sometimes I get lazy, which means I end up skipping a day or two and then "cheating" by back-posting to the days I missed. I'm only mentioning it now because I'm making up for three-days of missed posts (including this one)! What happened to that time? Nintendo DS happened, that's what! I recently took advantage of a great 3-for-2 sale on video games at Toys-R-Us, and the games I ordered arrived on Halloween night. Since then I've been playing in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening, completely neglecting everything else - I'm a total addict when I have some new games. I've been playing Star Fox Command, Magnetica, and Clubhouse Games, which are all really fun. I never dreamed I would be so obsessed with Clubhouse Games, but the "Stamp Mode" has really sucked me in, since I love to work through things sequentially toward a finish. Yesterday I forced myself to go without playing so I could catch-up on life a little, and I'm going to try to at least vary my activities today. Then I can get in some solid playing time guilt-free!


LEGO bounty hunter

My new LEGO love is still going strong, so it's about time that I posted these long overdue photos of my third project, Boba Fett's Slave One ship. This is a fantastic set, since the design of the ship itself is so fascinating, which means there are tons of cool custom LEGO parts to put together. They really went all out with features, too, since there are great hidden missiles and a kind of rubber-tipped dart that actually fires, too! The Minifigs are cool, especially IG-88, who is made of non-Minifig parts. This is a really solid ship, too, so when you pick it up to watch the wings swing into position you don't have to worry about it falling apart (unlike the Star Destroyer, which is extremely fragile). In other LEGO news, I recently built the incredible Batmobile, which may have been my favorite set to date (so you'll have to wait for photos of that one)! I have no idea what set I should buy next, but I think I better figure out where to put these in my house first!

View photos: LEGO Slave One


Robot Vol 2 : 4 of 5

After being so impressed with Robot Volume 1, I decided I'm going to have to collect this series of super manga/graphic novels, so I got the second book in the series right away (although it appears that Volumes 3 and 4 are going to be harder to find, so we'll see what happens). This book is just as beautiful as the first, filled with many continuations from the same artists who contributed before along with several entirely new pieces. I think Volume 1 had a few more brilliant segments, but this volume is certainly fantastic and kept my complete attention, so overall I enjoyed it even more! I would say there's a little less adult content this time, but what remains is a bit more intense. It's tough to pick single stories to mention, but I really enjoyed Delicious Adventures, which is about three young ants (who happen to look exactly like young human schoolgirls) venturing out of the anthill into the real world, and Sedouka, which is a fascinating continuing story with amazing traditional Asian art scenery and costumes. There's also another "storybook" tale called Eventyr that I really enjoyed, as well as several pages throughout the book that just require long moments of viewing to really appreciate. This experimental series is such a great idea - it's amazing to see manga artists stretch out into unexplored medium and genre!


The Prestige : 4 of 5

I first heard about this movie when I saw the trailer before The Illusionist (which is pretty funny, considering they are both films about magic in roughly the same time period), and I was intrigued right from the start. This movie is really difficult to write about (even for a short and sweet WEBmikey review!), because almost anything could end up revealing some of the many plot twists, and believe me, there are a lot of them! The Prestige (which refers to the final act of a magic trick) is about two magicians who work together at first, but later become involved in a bitter and sometimes violent rivalry, mostly focused on Hugh Jackman trying to discover the secret to Christian Bale's ultimate illusion. Because of the way the story is revealed, there's quite a bit of time-jumping in the movie, but it does a great job of using this device to make the plot extremely fascinating, and even to lead the audience into solving puzzles (which is always fun when watching a movie like this). Everyone gives fine performances (even David Bowie as Tesla, which at first made me groan), and the pace of the film is just perfect. I really enjoyed watching this movie, which has just enough "real magic" to go along with the reality. Once again, a fantastic story proves to be the essential ingredient to a really entertaining film!


Nana : 5 of 5

During my 2005 trip to Japan, I saw lots of posters advertising this movie, and I had only just read about the popularity of this story (which was originally a hit manga). Since then, I've been reading the manga in Shojo Beat every month, and since I enjoy it so much, I decided to break down and buy the DVD of the movie - my first Japanese movie purchase without English subtitles! Since I already know the plot, it wasn't difficult to follow the movie at all, and I could actually understand a good bit of the dialogue, so it was a ton of fun to watch. This is a really well-made movie with great acting, awesome music, and of course, a wonderful story. It's about two girls both named Nana, who happen to meet on the train when they're both moving to Tokyo. One is a cute, dreamy-eyed, emotional girl, and the other is a hardcore rocker, but they become the closest of friends when they end up as apartment roommates. The movie is really faithful to the manga, although some of the characters are kept in the background to keep the plot flowing smoothly. I though it was great how the Nana/Ren relationship was told completely via flashback (unlike the manga), and they picked a nice place to end the movie (even though the manga keeps going). I decided to get the special edition DVD (since I can't resist!), which has a bonus disc of behind the scenes clips, plus a cool mini-photobook. I really enjoyed watching a Japanese movie completely in Japanese!


Yet another Heroes Halloween

Happy early Halloween from the Greatest American Heroes! Last night we played our annual Halloween show at the Carousel Lounge, decked out in costumed craziness. I decided to go simple this year with a Fred Flintstone outfit (which was really comfortable, except for the stone underwear), which turned out great since Wilma & Betty showed up! Francis was a nice Clark Kent/Superman combo, Kirk was Mork from Ork, and Chris resurrected his Greatest American Hero costume from a few years back. Ernesto was by far the star, though, taking Chris' dare to go with an I Dream of Jeannie ensemble (and Jonathan was Major Nelson to go along with the theme)! Plenty of folks in the crowd were dressed up, too, which made for a great costume parade during our third set. It was a really fun night, but don't take my word for it, take a look at the photos!

View photos: Heroes Halloween 2006



あめ なら、そとに でかけません。
レッスンに ぼこの しゃしんを つれて くる。
ディズニーランドに いく とき、いつも カメラを つれて いく。
ぼくは しょっぱい たべものと チョコレート いっすおに たべるのが すき。
とっくに にほんごを べんきょう して いる。

Tale of two denshas

Since I enjoyed the Densha Otoko series and movie so much, I was really happy to see that two different manga series have finally been translated, and the first volumes from two different publishers are out now! I read them both back to back, and it's really fun to compare the two (just like it was fun to compare the series and the movie). The first one I read by CMX Manga has really cute artwork (which I love), so Densha and Hermes tend to look really young. There are a few changes to the story, too - Densha has a simple job stocking in a bookstore, for example. This version is also integrating the other netizens well (for example, one of them turns out to be the stylist who ends up cutting Densha's hair). The second one from VIZ Media took some getting used to, because the artwork style makes everyone tall with pointy-noses. However, the story is much closer to the drama I already know, and they seem to be using the original BBS posts much more closely (and do a great job of explaining Japanese emoticons!). The VIZ version gets all the way into the second date, but the CMX version ends right as the first date is beginning. I think I like the CMX version better, since it's a little more fresh, but I can't wait to keep following both of these!


Tons of photos

As you probably know, one of my obsessive habits is taking close-up shots of new toys and PEZ dispensers, but I'm often lazy about getting them uploaded to Flickr. I always think it would be cool to upload one or two each day to keep things fresh, but actually I just end up forgetting about shots I took months ago. So, I decided to just catch-up with tons of older photos, so this is a good time to remind you about my ongoing photo sets! Most of the new shots are of PEZ, especially Japanese Mini-PEZ (since I've been buying lots of the sets I missed on eBay lately), but there are also some new toys to see, too. As always, I'm still working on my "technique" - I really want to capture the personality of each toy!

View photos: PEZtastic
View photos: Toys on Stage


The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D : 5 of 5

One of the best ways to start getting into a holiday mood is to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, since it does such a great job of making Halloween fun and beginning Christmas anticipation! My pal Melinda and I were really excited to hear about the new 3D re-release, and it was a blast to see again - I couldn't even remember seeing it on the big screen back in 1993, since I've watched it a million times on DVD since then. The added 3D effects are really subtle, probably because transforming an existing movie into 3D has got to be a new and bizarre process (I can't even imagine how they do it), and also because most of the scenes weren't really designed with depth in mind. It's still very immersive, however, and some sequences have many distinct layers (especially Jack's solo in the graveyard, since the many tombstones provide lots of depth opportunity). The songs are all just as wonderful as the first time, and I'm always impressed by what a fairy-tale quality story it is - it's really like a modern mini-opera! It was fun to see all the crazy monsters again, too - I always crack-up at the roly-poly kid with his eyelids sewn shut (what's up with that?!). As an extra bonus, the movie begins with a super-3D version of Pixar's classic short Knick Knack, which looked fantastic in spite of it's ancient graphics technology!