A little more progress

Here we are at the end of July - it feels like 2007 is really flying! Now I officially have four more months to study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level 3, and I also have to really get moving on my usual end of the year video project at the same time. Today I took half of the 2004 Level 3 exam, and I did pretty well, but I think I need to specifically study whatever vocabulary I don't already know (rather than the complete word list). I'm going to start focusing my studies on sample exams for the next month or so, so I can start to judge how I'm doing! Besides studying and staying busy with my bands, I did manage to completely finish my Astro Boy 8-DVD set (yatta!). I also hit a nice milestone with my de-cluttering project - I've now been through each and every room, closet, cabinet and drawer in the entire condo, getting rid of everything I don't need and organizing the rest! I think I need to make another pass at the garage, but it's still a wonderful feeling. There are other goals that I wanted to accomplish in 2007, and I'm not sure if I have the time, but at least every day brings a little more progress, and there's always 2008 ahead of me!


The Simpsons Movie : 4 of 5

I'm really only a semi-fan of The Simpsons, since there are hundreds of episodes I haven't seen, but I still love the show enough to know that I had to see this movie right away (and now that I've seen it, I want to start recording the show again)! After so many episodes, I'm sure it was next to impossible to come up with a plot, but the writers did a great job of including everyone's favorite characters (I love the Comic Book Guy, who shows up just long enough for some choice hilarious lines!). The first half of the movie had me roaring with laughter - the pace is really fast and the jokes keep coming. I really loved seeing a few things they could never show on TV, especially Bart's nude skateboarding, with the outstanding sequence of things coincidentally hiding his little yellow privates, until suddenly... well, you just have to see it! Of course, the Spider-Pig song was great, and the big finale is pretty exciting and funny, but unfortunately there's definitely a slow section of the film where things get kind of gooey and emotional (but I guess that happened on every TV episode, too). The animation is certainly "Simpsons style", although the backgrounds and environments are CG, which makes everything feel a little more like Futurama. I had a great time at the theater, and I definitely recommend The Simpsons Movie to anyone, not just fans!


Astro Boy 1980s Japanese opening theme

Lately I have been watching a ton of Astro Boy (already four episodes today!), since I realy want to finish this DVD set before I move on to other things to watch. The show is really fantastic, as I've said before, and it's kind of cool absorbing each episode one after another, since you can really watch the characters grow and see all kinds of connections. There are so many great stories, such as the Greatest Robot in the World saga, all of the Atlas episodes, and even some guest appearances by other Tezuka characters, such as Black Jack and Princess Knight! Of course, now I've heard the theme song a billion times, but strangely enough, I couldn't find the actual Japanese lyrics with translation on the web, so I just did my own. I tend to translate more literally than poetically, since it helps me learn vocabulary, and it's amazing how even a simple song like this can contain idiomatic phrases and things. By the way, Astro's "real" name in Japanese translates to Mighty Atom. So, here's the Astro Boy opening theme from the 1980s anime!

sora wo koete ra ra ra
hoshi no kanata
yukuzo atomu
jetto no kagiri

kokoro yasashii ra ra ra
kagaku no ko
juuman bariki da
tetsuwan atomu

mimi wo sumase ra ra ra
me wo mihare
sou da atomu
yudan wo suruna

kokoro tadashi ra ra ra
kagaku no ko
nanatsu no iryoku sa
tetsuwan atomu

Passing through the sky, la la la
Far off in the stars
Go, Atom (Astro),
To the limit of your jets!

His heart is kind
He's a child of science
He has 100,000 horsepower
Mighty Atom (Astro Boy)

Listen carefully, la la la
Be amazed!
That's Atom (Astro)
Don't be unprepared

His heart is just
He's a child of science
He has seven powers
Mighty Atom (Astro Boy)


Focusing on finishing

I've still been working on de-cluttering my house (I recently made another pass through my clothes and got rid of some old stuff), and now I have the urge to de-clutter not only my physical environment, but my mental world as well! When I stop and think about it, there are a lot of things that I have started doing that just crawl along at a snail's pace, and I think having too many of those long term tasks cooking in my brain isn't such a good idea. So, my new obsession is finishing things! I started Rosetta Stone Japanese Level 2 so long ago, and I've only been working on a lesson when I felt like it, but now I really want to complete it. Now that I've started moving my Kodak Gallery photos to Flickr, I really want to finish the job. Similarly, I'm concentrating my money into an early loan payoff. I guess what I'm doing is focusing my efforts on a few things to actually finish them before I move on to other things. However, I decided to see what's ahead of me and how long it will take - I have to finish 91 Rosetta Stone lessons and move over 186 photo albums, both of which will take a few months. Oh well, I'm committed!


Ernesto's historic solo

The Elephant Room is widely regarded as the best, most "pure" jazz club in Austin, and I've spent many evenings there with my pals, enjoying the fantastic tunes played by incredible musicians (usually on Monday open jam nights, when the music gets better and better the later you stay!). Even though all of my musician friends love jazz, and we even play it in public, we've always been too scared to step up on the Elephant Room stage. Everyone there is just so good that we just don't have the guts, so instead we just order another drink and watch what musicians can do when they practice eight hours a day! But this weekend, history was made! My pal Ernesto was invited to sit in with Paul Klemperer (his sax teacher, an incredible horn player), and he took him up on the offer! Matt, Jonathan and I cheered Ernesto on as he blew a magnificent solo on Saint Thomas (which coincidentally we had just played the night before in the Ernesto Marquez Sextet), and it was a sight to see. Ernesto is one hard-working musician, and he deserves the props. Way to go, Ernie!

View photos: Ernesto at the Elephant Room


The Day Jobs: more memories

I'm continuing to move old photos to Flickr, and now it's become kind of an obsession, since I know I will have a nice feeling of accomplishment when it's finished! Since I'm starting with photos taken in 2000, there are plenty of shots from the last few gigs of my old swing band, The Day Jobs. It's been a blast seeing these old photos again! One of these gigs was way out in the boonies (complete with flatbed trailer), and the other was on the Flagship Texas, a cool boat on Lake Travis that people rent for parties. I've also been converting my old video clips to YouTube, so I figured now would be a good time to upload some Day Jobs video! This is a performance of Mopac Bounce (an original by our guitarist Dae) from Austin Music Network, which we appeared on live. It was pretty exciting at the time! The quality of this clip is definitely lousy - I can remember that Barron helped me rip it from VHS so many years ago, and we had to make it a little postage stamp sized video in order to get decent sound (now replaced with higher quality version!). Still, it's better than nothing, so enjoy the memories!

View photos: Gig in the Boonies
View photos: Flagship Texas Gig
Watch video: Day Jobs / Mopac Bounce


Manga Mentions 7.07 Part 2

It's manga time again! First up is Yotsuba&! Vol 4, which I was completely shocked to discover, since after the first three volumes were published in English, this title completely disappeared for months and months (I was even desperate enough to buy the next couple volumes in Japanese, but I'm really happy to have English translations to compare them with!). As usual, Yotsuba is completely laugh-out-loud funny, and in this volume she does some shopping, goes on a fishing trip, and gives some hilarious heartbreak advice! Densha Otoko Vol 3 finishes up my favorite version of the popular story, with a nice sub-plot about one of Densha's net friends being real-life friends with Hermes' sister, and the actual end of the story is really sentimental and well done. Buddha Vol 4 gets even more interesting because of some fascinating side characters, such as the wise yet goofy Assaji and the misunderstood giant Yatala, and Siddhartha finally achieves enlightenment at the end of this volume. I''s Vol 14 focuses mostly on Aiko (the girl next door) who is developing a crush on nice guy Ichitaka, while Iori's manager keeps sabotaging things (causing me to yell at the manga while reading it!). Finally, Death Note Vol 11 moves slow (certainly the norm recently), but is definately heating up for the final showdown in the very next volume! Light and Near are ready to face-off, now that they have discovered practically everything about each other. There's nothing like a huge cliffhanger to keep me interested!


Honor Among Thieves revisited

Having my pal Matt back in town got me thinking about my early days in Austin, which prompted me to start moving all of my old Kodak Gallery (which used to be Ofoto back when I used it) photos over to Flickr. I decided to start with my oldest albums, and I'm trying to preserve the way they were on Ofoto, so I'm including all the pictures (even though some are so bad I would never upload them today!) with my original captions. Since I'm starting with my oldest photos first (back from 2000), the first batches have to do with my pal Tom's movie masterpiece, Honor Among Thieves! The making of this 90 minute feature (way back before I ever dreamed of video editing myself) and the huge premiere party event is legendary in the history of my Austin pals! The first short set of photos is the final night of editing, where I watched Tom finish the movie on his slow PC until about 4:00 in the morning, and the second huge set is the premiere party itself, which was held in a rented art gallery downtown. I also recently converted the funny trailer for the movie into an official WEBmikey Clip for YouTube, so you can enjoy an extremely low quality (sorry, VCRs and QuickTime were pretty crappy seven years ago!) taste of the film. I remember I was so excited about the movie being finished, that I even showed it to my fellow Works.com employees at lunch one day! Memory Lane sure is a fun place to visit - I'll be uploading hundreds more ancient photos in the days to come!

View photos: Editing with Tom
View photos: Honor Among Thieves Premiere
Watch video: Honor Among Thieves Trailer


Astro Boy Complete Collection : 5 of 5

I've only watched about a fourth of this series so far, but since it's eight DVDs long I decided I should go ahead and write about it! Since I really love Astro Boy, I want to see all three animated series eventually, and I really enjoyed the most recent one, so I was happy to snag this set at a discount price. This is the second of the three series, broadcast in Japan in the 80s in color, and it was Osamu Tezuka's (the creator of Astro) favorite. In fact, he actually wrote all the scripts for the series, which is wonderful since the stories closely follow the original manga (even complete subplots like the heartwarming Robio & Robiette)! The animation is colorful though quite simple, but every now and then features some incredible space ship or robot designs, and of course the characters are completely true to Tezuka's artwork (then often even do the funny walk with outstretched legs that Tezuka fans will recognize right away!). The music has lots of cheesy 80s synth sounds, but the opening and closing theme songs are fantastic (and I hum the all the time, since I haven't found the Japanese lyrics yet). It's so cool to see Astro being built and coming to life for the first time, as well as the introduction of Astro's robot parents and cute sister Uran. Seeing these shows in the original Japanese is great, and I love hearing the cute things that Astro says when he fights (plus he's pretty handy with his "ass-guns" that you definitely never saw in the US!). So far this is just about as perfect as an Astro Boy cartoon can get, and I'm certainly going to enjoy watching the rest of the series!


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix : 4 of 5

Since this is the 5th movie in the Harry Potter series, Harry has now caught up to the Planet of the Apes in length, and it still has two more movies to go (which will both be hits, I'm sure)! Even though I haven't read a word of the books, I'm really a fan of these movies, though it helped to have my pal Melinda with me to fill me in on some details (by the way, the good ol' IMDB has a nice FAQ that explains some things). This is a fast-paced movie with a much different feel than the earlier films, since there isn't much comedy relief, and it's really depressing to see Harry so angry and outcast most of the time. There are some great action sequences, especially the wizard battle at the end, and watching Dumbledore and Voldemort fight was really thrilling (with awesome special effects), even though I kept flashing back to Jedi battles! The story is definitely one of those "in the middle" plots, so most of the events are just setting up what's coming in the next movies, but I definitely had a great time watching it! Of course, the kids are really grown up now (which I've mentioned before) - there's a quick scene of Harry from the first movie, and it was such a shocker to imagine that little bowl-haired kid is only supposed to be five years younger! Oh well, maybe they can finish the next two movies before the actors go grey or bald (or both!).


Okaeri, Matto-san!

It's finally time to start blogging again! I took a little WEBmikey break since I was busy having fun with my pal Matt, who has just moved back after seven years of living in Japan! Matt stayed with me for a few days, and I had a blast catching up with him and introducing him to my favorite cartoons that he hadn't seen before. We've been shopping together and eating plenty of good food that he's been missing (mostly giant American sandwiches!). He also got to sing a few tunes with the Ernesto Marquez Sextet, and even went to Bernadette's baby shower where he hit it off with all of his new and old friends. Matt's been getting his life in order really quickly, and now he already has an interim apartment, an iMac, a cell phone, and a car! It's so nice to have another one of my close friends back in Austin, and I'm also looking forward to October when Matt's wife Kumiko joins him here! I can't wait to have another Japanese teacher, and all of my pals are looking forward to welcoming her. I didn't take any photos last week, so here's a picture of Matt just before he moved away seven years ago (which reminds me I really want to move all my old Kodak Gallery albums over to Flickr!).


Invasion of Astro Monster : 4 of 5

With the first King Ghidorah movie fresh in mind, I couldn't wait to check out this next Godzilla masterpiece from 1965, better known in the US as Monster Zero. This is the first of many plots to involve aliens from space controlling the monsters, starting with the race of people from Planet X (actually a moon of Jupiter). It turns out Ghidorah is attacking their planet, so the X-ians ask to "borrow" Godzilla and Rodan to fight him off. Eventually this turns into a plan to take over the Earth, of course! There are some great flying saucer effects (with excellent tractor beam animation), and the three monster battle on Planet X is short but cool (even though it includes the first controversial Godzilla "victory dance"). Later when the monsters battle on Earth the excitement is even greater, although some of the footage is borrowed from previous Toho movies. This film features a mix of Japanese and American actors, who were filmed speaking in their native language (so the English lines are dubbed in the Japanese version and vice versa), which is pretty fascinating. The commentary track is much better than last time, since it actually comments on the movie, but it still gets a little bogged down in lengthy biographies of some of the actors, even ones with small roles. I really enjoyed Invasion of Astro Monster, and the time just flew by while watching it - I'm really looking forward to Classic Media's next DVD releases! I need more Godzilla!


OKC jetting

I really enjoyed my four days in Oklahoma City with my parents! We had a great time losing money at the casino, going to a movie, eating wonderful food, and playing lots of game shows together on TV. Even though I'm a fairly loyal American Airlines flyer, I decided to try out the relatively new ExpressJet airlines this time, since they have the only direct non-stop flight from Austin to Oklahoma City. The flights went well and on-time, and it was so nice not stopping in Dallas to switch planes! On the way back I even gate-checked my bag, which made things even faster. Even better, when I was at the airport to catch my return flight, I heard the American travelers were all delayed an hour due to weather in Dallas, but I was able to get home on time. So far the convenience has me sold, so I think I'll keep ExpressJet in mind for my Christmas flight!

Transformers : 4 of 5

I was never totally into Transformers as a kid (since I preferred Micronauts!), but I still enjoyed the cartoon every now and then (and I even had fun watching the animated feature in my adulthood), so I knew this movie would be cool. Unfortunately, Michael Bay turned it into the typical cheesy Michael Bay movie, but the outstanding CGI effects outweigh his sappy directing to give this film a decent WEBmikey rating! To get the bad stuff out of the way, there are so many moments of manufactured, unreal emotion that it's unbelievable, and besides using the original voice of Optimus Prime, there are far too few fan moments, in direct contrast to movies such as Spider-Man, which was filled with fan details. It would have been so easy to keep the "wonk wonk" transforming sound (which I definitely missed), or let The Touch be heard on a radio for a few seconds, but I guess that wasn't considered important. But enough complaining - the effects are truly fantastic, and the battles are awesome! I especially enjoyed the Starscream scenes with their incredible aerobatics and mid-air transformations, and Optimus himself was majestic and powerful, especially when using his sword-arm. The acting is fine for this kind of movie, except for the over-the-top Sector 7 Agent Simmons who made me cringe (but I think it's more the fault of the script). Wow, I've said so many negative things, but Transformers is still a fun movie with some incredible geek-out sequences!


Manga Mentions 7.07 Part 1

I got a little confused with my last Manga Mentions post, since I had forgotten to write about some other volumes that I had read previously. Anyway, this is kind of a catch-up post, since the manga just keeps on coming! I'm still enjoying the saga of Ichitaka and Iori in I''s Vol 13 (though it feels like it should finally end soon), and it's been interesting comparing it to Video Girl Ai (by the same mangaka). Sticking to romance, Kaze Hikaru Vol 5 reslly starts developing since Saito realizes he loves Sei (setting up a love triangle), and continues with more historical information, including katakana techniques this time. Kaze Hikaru is a brilliant story, and it's tough to keep waiting on the next volume! Death Note Vol 10 starts off a little boring, because the rules are getting a little ridiculous at this point, and too much time is spent in long thought baloons, but things get better at the end with the introduction of some new characters to help Light. Buddha Vol 2 (yes, I have already mentioned Buddha Vol 3) was spectacular not only because of Tezuka's incredible artwork, but also because of the emotional situations of young Siddhartha's princehood, resulting in his rejection of his family to become a monk. Finally, I broke down and read Nodame Cantiable Vol 1, both because I enjoyed the Nintendo DS game and because Mikie is such a fan, and I really enjoyed it. All of the classical music mentions really make it interesting for me, and following the lives of music students is a great change from the usual high school romance!


Ghidorah / The Three-Headed Monster : 4 of 5

I just can't get enough Godzilla lately, and Classic Media has definitely come through again with this wonderful DVD release of another essential monster spectacular, including both the original Japanese version as well as the American dub and re-cut. This movie represents an important turning point for the Godzilla genre, since this is the first film where he becomes a kind of "hero" that helps save the Earth by fighting off another giant creature, in this case, the huge flying dragon from space, Ghidorah. He's joined by both Rodan and Mothra (still in caterpillar form), after Mothra convinces Godzilla and Rodan they should join forces in a famous scene that really humanizes these characters. Mothra's tiny princesses sing another cool song, Ghidorah's lightning mouth effects are really cool, and the huge battle at the base of Mt. Fuji has such an amazing set (reported to have took nearly a year to build, and even containing real bonsai trees!). On the other recent Classic Media releases, the informative commentary track has been my favorite feature, but this time I can't say the same, since they used a different Godzilla scholar with a much different style. While he does provide some interesting information, he almost never directly comments on what is happening on-screen! Instead he presents a kind of documentary, and even includes stories about his kids that get a little annoying. It's still a pretty good commentary, though, and it definitely doesn't overshadow the enjoyment of this monster classic!


Rainy holiday

Happy 4th of July! I'm enjoying this rainy day off with lots of studying, de-cluttering my bathroom and washroom cabinets (if anyone needs some anti-itch cream that expired in 2004, let me know!), shooting a few toy photos, and taking breaks to watch anime. Tomorrow I'm off to Oklahoma City for a short vacation with Mom & Dad, but I think I'll still make a few WEBmikey posts, so stay tuned.

I've finally took some shots of my finished LEGO Y-Wing fighter, which I built while watching Episode 4 (and drinking beer) as my own little Star Wars 30th anniversary celebration. The Y-Wing design is really cool, and it actually took just about the exact length of the movie to complete!

View photos: LEGO Y-Wing

BoA the Live : 4 of 5

I've been terrible about keeping up with Jpop DVDs that I've bought in recent months, but I finally took the time to enjoy BoA's latest concert DVD. This is the first BoA concert that I've watched - I've heard that her past concerts were much more focused on dancing, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching BoA let her backup dancers do all the moves while she focused on her singing, which was truly amazing - definitely one of the best voices in my Jpop library! BoA is accompanied by a huge band with multiple percussionists, backup singers, and everything else, and they are all great, especially the keyboardist, who kicks out some really tasty licks that give these familiar songs a wonderfully different live sound. Speaking of sound, the quality of the recording and camera work is fantastic (much better than the usual H!P release, actually), and the stage and lighting is really nice (though the geek in me couldn't stop thinking that the abstract backdrop looked like a bunch of TIE fighter wings!). BoA makes three wardrobe changes, and even though I wasn't too fond of her hat for the opening numbers, she more than makes up for it with the gorgeous fringe on her second outfit! But above all, the best aspect of the show is BoA's performance itself - seeing her really pour on the emotion in songs like Your Color is a real treat, and I don't think I've ever seen a live song better than her rendition of Moon and Sunrise with solo piano. BoA the Live is an incredible concert with a very mature tone, extremely enjoyable by pure music lovers and enthusiastic Jpop fans alike!


Maiasa no benkyou

I have about five more months of study before I take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level 3, so I'm starting to get a little more serious about how I spend my study time. Recently I've got kind of a morning routine going that takes up quite a bit of my free time before work, but I think it's worth it (even if I do have to get up early!). First, I go over a few new points from my grammar book and answer a few sample questions. It seems like there are so many new constructions in Level 3, and many of them blend together to confuse me, so this is really important! Next I work on my kanji, which I'm studying two different ways. I've started working through Heisig's famous book Remembering the Kanji, because I really want to just get all 2,000 essential characters out of the way. So far I'm really enjoying the method (even though some of the memorization techniques are a little goofy), and I've using some new flash cards to work through 100 characters a day, rotating 10 new characters in and out of the group. In addition, I'm using the awesome Speedanki.com website to go over the specific Level 3 kanji combinations, and brushing up on Level 4 kanji at the same time. Finally, I've been making tons of computer flash card sets (using iFlash) of Level 3 vocabulary, studying them in groups of 30 words. I think if I continue with this routine for a couple months before practicing with more JLPT sample exams, I will really see a difference! Hontou ni ganbarimasu!


Ratatouille : 5 of 5

Writing this short review is really a joy, since I'm always happy to report on fantastic examples of the art of animation! In this case, Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille is much more than just an incredible animated feature, since it's a wonderful film with a story and characters that literally anyone will enjoy. My pal Melinda and I loved it (of course), but it was great to hear so many adults in the theater laughing right along with their kids (and often more than their kids!). The story of a rat with a passion to be a gourmet chef in Paris is already genius, but Pixar takes that story and weaves it together with romance, family situations, and some inevitable thoughts about following your dreams (but it never gets preachy). There are too many spectacular visuals to mention - the realistic hair, the even more realistic wet hair, the truly exciting scenes following Remy as he scurries through walls (it really gives you a rat's experience!), the beauty of Paris, and once again, Pixar's magnificent character design that will always be 1,000 times better than any over-human approach. Even the food looks amazing - this is a cartoon that will make you hungry! I think my favorite scene is when the bitter food critic Anton Ego takes his first bite of Remy's ratatouille dish - he is whisked back in time to his mother's kitchen and her home cooking, and the emotion packed into that brief moment was enough to make me misty eyed in only a few seconds. Ratatouille is beautiful, brilliant, and of course, entertaining. It's definitely the kind of movie that makes me proud to be a Disney/Pixar fan!

Trying to wait

I guess I have to make a brief mention of the big iPhone launch that happened on Friday. So far the majority of the reviews and buying experiences have been amazingly good - I'm really impressed that so many iPhones were available that people could easily get them at Apple stores on Saturday. I made up my mind a while back to hold off on buying one right away, but I have to confess, the waiting is difficult! Both Austin Apple stores had them in stock yesterday, so I could have just walked right in and got one, and believe me, I thought about it! The more I read, the harder it gets - my past reservations about an all-in-one device are definitely gone now. I know for a fact that I will definitely have an iPhone by Christmas - maybe by then there will be a small drop in price, or more memory available or something. Anyway, I can barely wait. I really hope no one I know gets one, because the moment I see it in person, I'm going to break down!

A really long novel

I don't write very often about spirituality, since I kind of keep that on the personal side (although I did go through a list of my various phases a long time ago), but recently I've really been enjoying being spiritual in a new way. I've been going to Gateway Church now for almost a year (pretty sparsely at first, but now regularly), and even though they use many different Bible translations in the service, one time they mentioned a modern language paraphrase called The Message that I had never heard of. Even though I've read through the Bible at least a couple times in my life, I thought it would be fun to explore it again. I bought the "remix" version, which has everything portioned into daily readings, and I've made it through 60 of them so far. A few things are really interesting. First, the presentation is meant to be read like a story - there are no verse numbers, and no long footnotes with scholarly commentary. This is just about absorbing the Bible as a whole and understanding it in your own way. Second, the readings are not in the usual Bible order, but this actually makes a lot of sense - Leviticus is one of the most boring books, but when you read part of it along with part of Hebrews, the parallels are fascinating! Overall the modern language is very cool - I think it's the most understandable version of Romans I've ever read. If you're ever thinking about checking out scripture with a new twist, I would definitely recommend giving The Message a try.