Manga Mentions 10.07

Wow, it's been a long time since my last Manga Mentions, but I finally managed to squeeze five more volumes into my schedule recently, so here we go! As promised, I focused on "serious" manga this time around (no high school romances!), starting with Hikaru no Go Vol 10, which was mostly filled with the series of games needed for Hikaru to become a pro, as his confidence is lost and gained again, while Akira decides to tutor his opponent as a way of learning more about his rival. xxxHolic Vol 9 had some nice culture references about New Years dreams, and a spooky girl who sees spirits in a cherry tree, but unfortunately didn't have the philosophical edge I've enjoyed in past volumes. Kaze Hikaru Vol 6 was bursting with Japanese history, including the incredible battle at Ikedaya that was better than watching a movie! The combination of romance and history make this manga something I can see myself reading again when it's all over. And now for two more Osamu Tezuka masterpieces! Buddha Vol 5 skillfully weaves the tales of many characters from past volumes (such as the warrior Tatta), while also focusing on the now-enlightened Buddha's sermons, even illustrating their stories with great impact! Finally, Phoenix Vol 11 is the bittersweet final volume of the greatest manga series ever written, weighing in at 400 pages, even though this story is a continuation of the previous volume! There's quite a bit of future/past jumping this time (all executed with brilliant cinematography), with an incredible message about religious conflict. I will definitely be reading the entire Phoenix saga again someday!


Editing obsession

Since 2007 is really starting to wind down, I'm into full-blown editing mode for my yearly holiday video project. I've been filming tons of stuff for the past several weeks, and now it's time to get serious with iMovie and crank it out! In fact, I've pretty much been doing nothing but editing for the past few days now. On Saturday I edited 10 hours straight and even got a crick in my neck from my overworked mouse arm. I really love making this video, but I have a problem with getting obsessed by it! Once I get into creative mode, I have trouble shutting it off - every free cycle of my brain starts planning the next shot, and ideas start coming to me in the shower or when I'm trying to go to sleep. On one hand, I love this kind of creative obsession, and it makes me feel good to make something cool for my friends. But on the other hand, it totally disrupts the beloved routines of my life, so I haven't been studying Japanese or writing for WEBmikey (hence the lack of posts!). Unfortunately, creative bursts also make me eat pizza (or maybe that's an excuse!). Anyway, I'm having fun experiencing new styles of editing - now I have some sympathy for what the editors of reality TV shows much go through. I just need to work on keeping my life in balance!


Super-fun Disneyland weekend

Last weekend I had a fantastic time in Los Angeles with my pal Dae, the best host on the West Coast! We went to the Disneyland Resort for two days, starting with Disney's California Adventure (which I hadn't been to in over a year). We had a really leisurely time at the park, taking a long lunch break with a couple glasses of wine just before riding Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue (which was even more fun after the wine!). It's a cool little attraction with fantastic theme details in the queue, and so much better than Superstar Limo was! After riding all the major attractions, we hopped over to Disneyland the same evening to take on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage! We had to wait about 75 minutes, but it was worth it! Just seeing the subs in action was incredible, and going through that hatch and down the spiral staircase brought back a flood of memories. Who knows, I may have been sitting on the same seat I was in around 30 years ago! The new effects on the attraction are wonderful, and I was glad the shark scenes weren't too scary. I can't wait to ride it again each time I visit the park! We also rode Space Mountain that night, so we could avoid the biggest lines the next day.

The next morning we hit Disneyland right at opening, and we were amazed at the crowds - definitely more than the average October attendance! But since we're Disney pros, it didn't matter - we still got to ride everything, including Haunted Mansion Holiday twice! I really enjoyed the new Pirate's Lair theme on Tom Sawyer Island, and it was fun watching watching an excellent Jack Sparrow actor stealing kids toys, looking through women's purses, and generally being a pirate. To top off the day, I beat Dae at Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (which hardly ever happens), thanks to a tip I read earlier in the week - go for the diamond-shaped targets!

Our last day was a little rainy, but we had a nice lazy day anyway. We started with hitting some golf balls at a driving range, which was fun since I'm such a novice, and then we played cards at a coffee shop. Next we shopped Toys R Us, where Dae bought an RC helicopter, which we flew (and crashed) around his condo! Next we went to the movies, and finally we had our usual "break the budget" meal at a four-star restaurant called Nico's, which was pretty incredible! As always, it was a fantastic trip, and I'm already looking forward to doing it again!

View photos: Disneyland 2007
View photos: Disney Pals 2007
View photos: Los Angeles 2007


The Heartbreak Kid : 2 of 5

I probably wouldn't have seen this movie, but since my pal Dae and I were having a nice lazy Saturday in Los Angeles last weekend, we decided it would be fun to see a comedy. We definitely had a great time, but that doesn't mean the movie was that good. The Farrelly brothers did their best work with There's Something About Mary, and I think they've been trying to top that ever since, mainly by trying to shock the audience with jokes that seem totally out of place for this type of comedy! While the famous "hair gel" scene was outrageous for 1998, it doesn't compare to the raunchy jokes this time around. Seriously, who goes to see a Ben Stiller movie expecting to see a donkey show joke, or even a glimpse of full frontal female anatomy? In between those wild gags there's a pretty funny story about a guy who quickly marries his dream girl only to find she's a completely different person, then meets the girl he really loves while on his honeymoon. There's some funny interaction with the girl's family and some nice misunderstandings to keep the plot going, but it's a shame this movie can't figure out if it wants to be a romantic comedy or a farce, so it ends up screwing up both genres. Ben Stiller does his best as usual, but this movie still needed a little more charm. Of course, I have to admit I laughed a lot, so it was definitely a nice Saturday movie choice, but if you decide to check it out, don't expect too much!


The Kingdom Keepers / Ridley Pearson : 3 of 5

It's been quite a while since I enjoyed a novel, so it was nice to read a good long story again (even if this one is written for young adult audiences!), especially one set in Walt Disney World! The Kingdom Keepers has a pretty interesting plot revolving around the idea that when enough people believe something, it can actually become reality. Since Walt Disney World is filled with kids who believe in Disney characters, it only makes sense that they would come to life, right? It turns out Walt knew this would happen all long, and so he hid clues and riddles throughout the parks to help handle this problem, and so a group of kids (with the help of an Imagineer) work together to solve this mystery, fighting off a real-life Malificent and her minions on the way! I loved reading descriptions of places and attractions that I know so well, and it was especially cool when totally unexpected things happen, such as the children figures on It's a Small World coming to life and swimming after the boat with their mouths chomping away (actually, I was a little surprised that Disney would let the author get away with something like that)! Thinking about what it would be like to swim through Splash Mountain, or sneak around in the exhibits of One Man's Dream, really made the book a page-turner for me, but without all the Disney references the story wouldn't have grabbed me nearly as much. Still, the writing is fast-paced and descriptive, and since this book is most likely starting a series, I can forgive the lack of character development. If you've always wanted to sneak around the Magic Kingdom at night and visit attractions in a whole new way, I definitely recommend The Kingdom Keepers!


Single device trip

I'm off to Los Angeles tomorrow, which means visiting my pal Dae and going to Disneyland! I'm really excited about hitting the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage for the first time, and of course I'm been going nuts trying to plan my strategy, which all the fans online seems to be divided about, but I know I'm going to ride it no matter what! I'm also pretty excited that this will be my first "single device" trip! I always used to take my cell phone, my Palm, and my iPod (and sometimes my Nintendo DS) on a trip, but this time I'm only taking my iPhone! I've got plenty of video podcasts loaded up to watch, plus a half and half mix of Disney music and Jpop to keep me going. And of course, if I need to look at my schedule or contacts or make calls, it's all there, too! It's so nice to be going with only one charger as well. Disneyland, here I come!


Photos on Schmap

I think it's so cool that people have found various photos of mine on Flickr and asked if they could use them in various projects. It's just one of the reasons why Flickr is so cool! Anyway, recently a couple of my photos were used on Schmap!, a website with maps and travel information for various places. They wanted to use one of my shots from my Niagara Falls trip (of the famous floral clock), plus a picture I took of the carousel inside Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City (I couldn't believe that one!). They're just a tiny little photos, but it's still fun to see them on the site. You can check them out using these links!

Visit site: Schmap Niagara Falls
Visit site: Schmap Oklahoma City


Hana Yori Dango / Season 1 : 4 of 5

I haven't had the time to watch a Japanese drama series in ages, but now that I'm enjoying being caught-up on the DVD watching, I finally got around to checking out Hana Yori Dango, which I downloaded a million years ago! Unlike the series I've watched in the past, which sucked me in within the first few minutes, I actually didn't care for this show at all after the first episode. The storyline, about a poor but spirited girl trying to survive in an elite school basically run by four super-rich brat guys (the "Flower 4"), was just a little out there for me, and the boy characters were so evil that I just hated them and all the trouble they were causing poor Tsukushi! Thankfully things recovered very quickly in the second episode, once they did a little character development on the boys, and I really enjoyed watching Tsukasa and Tsukushi getting stuck in the elevator. The love triangle involving Rui was fun (and I found myself rooting for the wrong guy), and the whole subplot with the insane ultra-cute girl was interesting and bizarre! So once things got moving, it didn't take long for me to get caught up in all of the characters, their friends, and their families (Tsukushi's family is especially warm and entertaining!), and the big finale with the Teen of Japan competition is pretty exciting. Of course, I found myself crying out of the blue - maybe it's just the music, but Japanese dramas are so skilled at digging out the emotion! It was interesting to see Matsumoto Jun as Tsukasa, since to me he will always be Shin from Gokusen (since that was his first role for me), but I can't wait to see Inoue Mao in another role - her eyes are so expressive and amazing! Hana Yori Dango isn't the best drama I've seen, but it was so great to be watching any Japanese drama again that I loved it!


DHL sucks

Yes, DHL really sucks. This is my own little rant, but I'm hoping that at least one person Googles "DHL" and finds this post someday. DHL is the absolute worst shipping carrier on the planet, with terrible web feedback and customer response. My story begins with a photo book from QOOP that was shipped using DHL's "guaranteed by 3:00 PM next day" service. My package arrived in Austin around 9:00 AM, but was still not delivered by 5:00 PM (so much for the 3:00 PM time). With absolutely nothing updated on their tracking website, I called DHL and spoke to a representative, who said they would page the driver and call me back. Forty-five minutes later, after no one called, I called them again and got the same story. Finally, the place with my personal mailbox (where the package was going) closed, so that was it. The representative called me back and said it would be delivered the next day. Of course, still no response from the driver, and no updates on their website. Today I kept waiting for something to change with the tracking status, but of course, nothing had been updated (it still says it will be delivered yesterday!). I just called them, and now they tell me the suite number was wrong on the address! I know for a fact that the address was correct with QOOP, so I'm guessing the label was truncated by some 1970s mainframe hillbilly computer that DHL is using. Now I have to wait until Monday for delivery, and I'm furious. Of course, they weren't going to give me any updates on the situation, and their tracking system is a complete joke. There's nothing I can do but write them a scathing email (which I did), and write this post, so please heed my warning. Never use DHL. DHL sucks.

Update: I'd like to add that QOOP had nothing to do with this problem. In fact, they actually contacted me after reading this post, which is amazing customer service! QOOP's photo books are simply fantastic, and I highly recommend them!


Instant enlargements

When I used to work at Eckerd's (way back in ancient history), one of my jobs was camera clerk, so I had to help people fill out their photo orders and deal with people who were upset because sometimes it took forever for processing to be finished. I can remember that enlargements were an especially big chore (and expensive!), since you had to find the right negatives on your strip, fill out the form, wait about a week or more for them to come back, and then hope they didn't get dog-eared when they were being sent to the store. It just hit me yesterday how times have changed! I needed a few enlargements yesterday morning, so I uploaded a few digital images to Walgreens, clicked a few buttons, selected the store that practically sits in my backyard, and by the time I got to work, I had an email saying they were ready to be picked up! So basically in about 20 minutes with almost no work on my part, I had enlargements ready to go less than a mile from my condo, and they were cheap, too! I know, this kind of technology has been around for years now, but yesterday was the first time I tried it out, and I was pretty amazed.


Super snooze

At the end of last week my allergies transformed into a little sinus infection, and I've been fighting it for a while now. Since Claritin doesn't seem to work for me, I'm normally fine with taking regular Benedryl and just struggling with being sleepy for a few hours. I took one in the morning yesterday, and for some reason, it hit me like a super-duper extra strength dose! I was so tired all day long, and when I got home from work, I hit the couch right away and slept three hours straight, then opened my eyes for some TV, and then went to bed and slept another eight hours, for a total of eleven full hours of sleep! I usually sleep only 5-6 hours a night, so this was double rest for me. I'm pretty amazed that I slept that much, but I'm sure I needed it. Today I skipped the Benedryl and felt really alert (even though I had to blow my nose), and I just scored the best I ever have on a JLPT listening comprehension test at my Japanese lesson with Mikie, so maybe all that sleep made me smarter!


Gigs with Ernesto

Both of my bands played gigs this past weekend, and both of them were the last public shows we'll play with Ernesto, who's moving to Los Angeles in less than two weeks. Ernesto wants to be with his family because of his mom's health, which is totally understandable and admirable, but all of his pals here in Austin are so sad to see him go! On Friday, the Greatest American Heroes played out usual show at the Carousel Lounge, and there was a nice crowd with lots of our friends there, plus plenty of cute girls filling the dance floor. I think we all did our best to make it a great show (I came up with some new fills on a few songs), and it was so much fun! The next day on Saturday the Ernesto Marquez Sextet played at the Treehouse Italian Grill, just barely dodging the rain. We had to start a little late because of the weather, but somehow there was still a nice crowd eating outdoors and we all played well (and Bernadette was back to join us on a few tunes). Now all that's left is one private party gig, and of course we'll be throwing a big going away party (combined with a book signing for Tom's book). I know I'll miss Ernesto a lot, especially on Sunday TV nights, but I also know that there's no way we'll lose touch. Since I try to get to LA a couple times a year to visit Dae, it will be cool to have Ernesto there, too! I think that's one of the wonderful things about close friendships as an adult - realizing that friendship is so important that there's no way we could ever let it go.