2.29.2008

Nerima Daikon Brothers Vol 1 : 4 of 5

I saw an episode of this series on a Newtype preview DVD, and it was so wacky that I actually remembered to put it in my Netflix queue, and I received the first DVD recently (apparently the next Death Note was unavailable!). This is one of the craziest anime series I've seen in a long time, but I have to say I thought it was fantastic! The main characters are Hideki, his cute cousin Mako, and Ichiro (oh, and there's a panda who follows them around, too!), who dream of being a popular band performing huge concerts. Unfortunately, they're poor, so they live next to their daikon field, apparently their only source of income, and somehow end up fighting against injustice in their town (though always hoping to steal a little cash along the way). But the real concept of the show is that every episode is a musical! That's right, each plot is wall-to-wall songs, and they are totally hilarious! There are several themes that are repeated often (with lyric alterations) - Mako's sexy song, the money-lender's song, a fight introduction song, and so on. It's too bizarre to believe, and it's so much fun to watch! Of course, this show is one of the biggest subtitle challenges ever attempted - it's really fast-paced (tons of quick lines that only appear on screen for a second), and on top of that, there's a second set of subtitles to explain all the cultural references and humor. The explanations are super-interesting, but you need to have the pause button ready at all times! As expected, there are lots of raunchy jokes and adult humor (in a funny, PG-13 style), and the plots on this first DVD are pretty good, involving everything from Korean pachinko parlors to sexy nurses in a scam hospital! I don't know how they can continue filling each episode with songs for the whole series, but I definitely intend to find out!

2.28.2008

Meet the Robinsons : 3 of 5

It was really nice to watch this Disney CGI animated feature again, and of course, I enjoyed it more the second time around, especially after watching the bonus documentary (only 20 minutes long, but well done). I thought the discussion about the original book was interesting, and I really appreciated the director's intelligent comments about how the story became personal for him since he was an adopted child. Amazingly, this entire film was created as a story reel from start to finish to see if it would fly, and could have been shot down before actual production began! I still think the character design could have used more work (Lewis' head to body ratio really bugs me), but I noticed many more things to appreciate, such as the incredible future-world sequence after the bowler hat takes over! I also enjoyed the writing during some of the tender moments - the part when Lewis accidently says "mom" is a particularly subtle, yet touching, scene. My favorite sequence for laughs is the big Robinson food fight, with the great color palette change and all the Asian cinema cliches. I still think the frogs are ridiculous, but I suppose I can overlook them! I was really impressed with the music this time around, too - I had forgotten that Rufus Wainwright had some songs in it, and I completely forgot that Danny Elfman did the score, which is pretty spectacular (I might have to buy the soundtrack now!). Disney's CGI work will never capture the magic of traditional animation for me (and Pixar will always do it better), but Meet the Robinsons is still a fine movie that I'm glad to have in my Disney DVD collection.

2.27.2008

Batman: The Animated Series Vol 3 : 5 of 5

For the past couple years I've been enjoying this series as one of my Christmas DVDs, and this year is no exception! This set once again proves that the amazing talents of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini produced the best version of Batman ever created, and it was fantastic to watch these episodes toward the end of the original series run. Once again, there are lots of introductions, beginning with the two-part Shadow of the Bat which contains Batgirl's first appearance, as well as the original episode featuring Scarface (the Ventriloquist). Speaking of Batgirl, I've always loved Batgirl Returns, since I have a limited edition cel from that episode, so I loved seeing this classic Catwoman/Batgirl team-up story again! There were even a couple episodes that I'm fairly sure I hadn't previously seen, including the hilarious Harley's Holiday, as well as Showdown, with an interesting appearance by Jonah Hex. It was sad to see the show change to The Adventures of Batman and Robin near the end, since they switched to a new opening title sequence that wasn't nearly as effective as the original. There are fewer commentaries on this set, which is a shame, although one episode includes a "video commentary", which is kind of silly, since there's nothing special about watching people talk in a small inset box! As always, I really enjoyed learning new things about the show - my favorite fact this time is there was a rule to never have background music in the Batcave (even though the show is fully scored), and the ominous ambient sound effect used was recorded inside Hoover Dam! I may not be able to wait until Christmas to check out the next DVD set, since my Batman fandom has been kicked into high gear!

2.26.2008

Lazy-itis

I don't have a good excuse for the lack of fresh WEBmikey, except to say that I've been super lazy lately! (It's true - I'm not always productive!) For some reason, I snapped on Sunday and did nothing but drink coffee all day and watch DVDs (before watching the semi-boring Academy Awards with Matt & Kumiko), and that started a trend of just goofing off this week. The only news I have to report is my DVD player finally broke (it had been making funny noises for several weeks), but my trusty PS2 came to the rescue so I've still been absorbing DVDs. I already have a new Philips player on the way (I like Philips since they are so easy to region-hack so I can play all my Japanese DVDs), and this one will do HD up-converting so I'll be ready whenever I get around to replacing my TV! I am now eight reviews behind, so I better get my WEBmikey butt in gear pretty soon (but tonight turned out to be another anime-fest instead)!

2.23.2008

Cereal with beans

Since childhood, I've always been a cereal fiend. It doesn't matter what kind of cereal - from the super sweet Cap'n Crunch to healthy stuff like Grape Nuts, I love it all. Of course I ate it all the time as a kid, but I kept on eating it (for breakfast, snacks, and even dinner) into adulthood, until a few years ago when I suddenly discovered I had become lactose intolerant (yuck). I tried special milk like Lactaid, but it still affected me the same way. So, I sadly gave up my cereal habit, only breaking the rules every now and then (and facing the consequences on the toilet). Sometimes I would eat cereal dry, or sometimes with just a light mist of milk, and in recent years I've been using yogurt as a milk-replacement (pretty goopy, but good). I always thought soy milk was gross, so I never gave it a try, but recently I happened to see a commercial for Silk, which stirred up my cereal cravings. So, I bought some, wondering what that brownish weird stuff would taste like, and on cereal, I have to say that it's delicious! Actually, I can' even remember what real milk tastes like now, so Silk tastes like the real thing to me. I tried it on some Grape Nuts Trail Mix Crunch, which was ultra-yummy, and with regular Grape Nuts, and it was so good that I ate cereal for all three meals that day (which I don't recommend, since I was so full)! So, I think cereal is back in my diet, as long as I can keep it under control. Today I bought some Raisin Bran (on Mom's suggestion), and it was fantastic for lunch! I'm so happy I can enjoy cereal with milk again!

2.22.2008

Robot Vol 3 : 3 of 5

It's been a very long time since I read the previous volume of this "super color comic" manga series, but since I enjoyed the previous two books I thought I should keep going, especially since it took so long for this one to be published in the US! Unfortunately, Volume 3 isn't quite as good as I had hoped, but I still enjoyed studying the artwork, which is filled with detail. Robot allows manga artists to really stretch out and create things with quality they could never afford on a regular manga series, so sometimes they just produce beautiful paintings with hardly any story at all, such as a beautiful fantasy look at life in a fishbowl. My favorite story this time is about a dream-seller who helps a lost girl find her father by trading his services for her dream, which has a nice touching plot that's a welcome contrast to some of the other bloody and gross stories in this volume. I remembered the Hemohemo characters from last time, and enjoyed more of their frightningly cute meaningless adventures, but I had forgotten some of the other plots since it had been so long. It would have been nice to follow Sedouka better, which seems like a great story (of course, I could read it again since I still have the other volumes, but I'm lazy and I want to move on to other books!). Although Robot has been fairy successful in Japan, I'm not sure how it's doing in the US, based on how far behind the publishing schedule seems to be. It's definitely a completely adult experience full of bizarre situations, so maybe American audiences don't quite get into it. I suppose I'll try out another volume someday to continue with my set!

2.21.2008

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End / Two-Disc Limited Edition : 4 of 5

There was never a question that I had to have the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie in my DVD library, even though it was my least favorite of the trilogy. But as usual, I actually enjoyed the film much more this second time around, and I even understood many of the more subtle plot points (although I think it's hilarious that the DVD insert actually has a "Top Questions" section to explain some of the story, which is a sure sign they just made the thing too confusing!). I had kind of forgotten about the beautiful slow-motion destruction of the Endeavor, and I really appreciated the significance of the Hoist the Colors song (which is woven throughout the soundtrack if you listen for it), and it definitely gave me the urge to watch the first two movies again! Strangely, there's no commentary track at all (shameful!), but the second bonus DVD contains some nice material (though it still seems a little short for a limited edition). There's a great mini-documentary about the filming of the maelstrom scene, which included full size ships on giant gimbals in a huge studio - I had no idea it was such a spectacle! I enjoyed the Masters of Design section, which covered important props in detail, such as the rotating map and the cool pirates code book, and there's also a nice quick look at each of the pirate lords, who have interesting backgrounds. I definitely had a lot of fun experiencing this movie again and appreciating the filmmaking process, and of course I'm thrilled that my favorite ride at Disneyland inspired such a popular series of films!

2.20.2008

Guitar Hero III / Nintendo Wii : 5 of 5

Even though I love my Nintendo Wii, I actually don't play very many games with it, since I'm either spending time with DDR or my Nintendo DS. But since I went so crazy for the original Guitar Hero on my PS2, my pals Chris and Barron knew I would enjoy this latest version of the game for the Wii, so they got it for my birthday! As expected, Guitar Hero III quickly took over all my free time, and I spent several days in a row playing until after midnight! I really love the wireless controller - it's cool how the Wiimote fits inside so I can rock out in my rocking chair with no cords to bug me. This version has lots of great songs (although I don't really know many of these rock anthems), plus a new battle feature that forces you to complete against some famous guitar players (such as Tom Morello and Slash, who actually wrote and recorded their battle music for the game) and even Lou the devil! Some of the songs are unexpectedly great - it may not be everyone's favorite, but it's really fun playing with Black Magic Woman, since the subtle licks really feel authentic on the guitar controller. It's funny how much brand sponsorship appears in the game (a testament to how popular this franchise has become) - even the store when you can buy new goodies for the game is a Guitar Center! So far I've completely beat the game (every song to the end) on Easy mode, and I only have the final battle left in Medium mode, and there's still plenty of unlocked lesser-known songs for me to play. Thanks to Guitar Hero III, my Wii has been getting a great workout again!

2.19.2008

Endless fun (and exercise)

DDR Supernova is notorious for being difficult to unlock, since you have to be able to buy every single song before you have access to Endless Mode (which is always my Holy Grail when it comes to DDR). Since I've been playing more recently, I decided to read up on the game and get some tips, so I was able to get much further on Stellar Master Mode than I had in the past, which got me a few songs. I really didn't think I had them all, but a couple days ago I realized that I had actually done it - Endless Mode was finally unlocked! I was totally surprised and excited, and I've been playing it ever since then and really enjoying it! I've got a new DDR game on the way, so I'll be playing that one soon, but I think I want to have some epic Endless sessions with this game for a while longer to celebrate!

2.18.2008

The Gremlins / Roald Dahl : 3 of 5

A few years ago when I was reading all the Roald Dahl I could find, I remember reading about this story and its Disney connection in Dahl's wonderful biographies, Boy and Going Solo. The Gremlins was one of his first works, drawn from his experiences as a World War II pilot, combined with imaginative fantasy, of course! This edition is a reproduction of a Disney-published story book, originally produced when they were planning on creating an animated feature of the tale. There's a fantastic introduction by Leonard Maltin (Disney fan extraordinaire) explaining the history of the project and Walt's connection with Dahl. It's a shame the movie was never made, but it's interesting how Disney convinced other studios to rename cartoons because of it (most notably the great Bugs Bunny short Falling Hare), since the concept of "gremlins" as creatures who make mischief for airplanes wasn't something Walt could claim as his own. The story itself is fun, though a little cruel - I don't think Dahl had found the right combination between mean and nice in his early work. It gets a little confusing keeping track of which characters are gremlins and which are human, but the excellent illustrations by Disney artists help out quite a bit. The character designs are really fun, and they actually appeared in lots of Disney marketing materials. Since I had already read the story, I mainly wanted this book because of its place in Disney history, but I'm sure any Dahl fan or Disney fan would enjoy it!

2.17.2008

Garage lessons

There are lots of inspiring things being written about decluttering these days, but I enjoy adding my own words at times, especially when I face up to a particular experience myself. Lately I've been working on a second round of garage decluttering, since when I did it the first time I managed to get everything in nice, neat storage containers, but I still kept a lot of things that I really didn't need. This time around I decided to go through my paper containers (where I actually had every last note I took during college) and my souvenir/memory boxes.

It was kind of fun to actually see all these items again, but ultimately a little melancholy since I knew there was absolutely no need for me to keep most of them. I would never again be looking at these Large Scale Scientific Computing matrix equations, if it wasn't for the fact that I was going through them to throw them out! It's been good for me to reassess the value of "things", since I often equate the physical thing to a memory. I had to remind myself that my memories are never going to change if I don't have this Shakespeare exam buried in a box in my garage - I will still remember the class fondly! So, I was able to reduce three giant boxes of paper down to one giant box - I had to keep just a few favorite projects and all of my journal notebooks (since I may read them when I'm 75 or something!).

I went through the same emotions with my other old items, and even old clothes. It may be difficult, but I found it really liberating to "detach" from things, and now I've reduced my box of "treasures" by 50%, too. I'm sure someday even the items I'm keeping now will mean much less to me than the memories I have of them - and the memories can be stored in zero physical space!

Now I can say my garage is totally complete! After round two and a trip to Goodwill, I can fit everything I need on my shelves without having other storage containers lining the walls, and it feels great!

2.16.2008

Porgy and Bess / Zach Scott Theater : 3 of 5

Everyone is aware of this famous Gershwin work (sometimes called an "american opera"), mostly from the many jazz standards in the show (Summertime being the best known), but strangely, actually seeing Porgy and Bess is a rare opportunity. My pal Tom found out about this Zach Scott production (which only played two weekends at Austin Music Hall, even though it was funded with an NEA grant), so we took in a Sunday matinee. Overall, I had a great time and enjoyed the show, but let's get the bad stuff out of the way first! Austin Music Hall was never designed for this kind of show, and the lobby was completely overflowing with the will call line, stupidly intersected by the entrance line for ticket holders! The theater also has terrible sound, which made the drums (especially the cymbals) sound like crap. My only other dislike was the bizarre Stomp percussion rip-off number, inserted into Act 3 for no good reason - it was completely out of place and embarrassing. But now on to the good points! All of the singing, dancing, and acting performances were wonderful, and the actors were really able to pull me into the story. The sets were large and interesting - I especially liked the rooftops that everyone sat on after the dramatic hurricane scene. Gershwin's music is really amazing, combining everyday jazz singing with film scoring techniques, although the story is a little strange, especially because it just ends without any true resolution (though I'm not sure if that's the fault of Gershwin or the original book). Even considering my pet peeves, I really enjoyed the show and I'm glad I got to experience such an important musical work!

2.15.2008

Instant MacBook repair

A few weeks ago my precious MacBook developed a crack in the right palm rest, just above the sleep light. It wasn't too bad, and a small piece of tape held it together nicely, but I thought I would check out the Apple support forums anyway. It turns out that lots of people had this same crack develop, and when I read that Apple would repair it under warranty, I decided to have it fixed (especially since my warranty is only good for another two weeks!). So, last night I got everything prepared (backing up, moving things to my iDisk and so on), and made an appointment at the Genius Bar of the Apple Store at the Domain. After work I showed up for my appointment, and as soon as the guy saw the crack he recognized it and started writing up the repair. I was sure they would need to ship it to a repair center, but surprisingly they said it could be fixed in-house, right away! They said it would be ready in a couple hours, so I figured I would pick it up tomorrow, and left to do my grocery shopping. Before I could even get to the checkout line, they called me and said it was done (in less than an hour!). So, I just went right back to the store to get it, and now I'm happily typing away on my "new" MacBook! I'm pretty sure they replaced the entire case/keyboard/trackpad assembly, because my keys and trackpad both feel fresh. The whole experience was incredible, and as always, I couldn't be more amazed at Apple service!

2.14.2008

Traveling technician

Last weekend I went to Oklahoma City for a quick visit with Mom & Dad, which was a lot of fun! As I predicted, after becoming enamored with the small HDTV that I got them for Christmas, Dad couldn't wait very long to get a huge HDTV for the living room, so after a lot of research, he bought a fantastic 40-inch Samsung LCD and timed it just right so I could hook everything up during my stay. The setup was a cinch (HDMI cables sure make things easy), and the results are beautiful! We watched lots of cool shows on the various HD cable channels, plus broadcast shows like the Grammy Awards (which really made us feel like we were in the audience, thanks to great camera work and the incredible picture). Besides TV watching, we made our usual casino trip, and I was able to play all day for only $5 bucks (thanks to winning a huge bonus on an Alien vs Predator slot machine)! I usually make these quick trips on a Thursday through Sunday, but because of scheduled gigs I decided to try Saturday through Tuesday, and I was amazed at how less busy the airports were (so there's a travel tip for you)! Of course, the visit went by super fast, but I always love spending time with Mom & Dad!

2.09.2008

Back on the arrows

Lately I've been starting to get into Dance Dance Revolution again, since it's probably the best form of exercise that I've ever done regularly. I love walking, but when it's cold or windy (or my allergies are getting to me), it's much easier to play a few games of DDR, which usually makes me sweat more than walking anyway! Since I've played the game for so many years, I've been a little burnt out - you can only listen to those songs over and over so many times! I actually bought DDR Hottest Party for the Wii, but it was incredibly disappointing (I didn't even review it here since it was so craptacular). So I decided to brush off the old PS2 again and see if I could get my interest back. Since I've been on hiatus for a while, it actually seems a little fresh. Of course, I had lost my stamina (but not my technique!), so I played through every single song on DDR Supernova in Beginner mode, which was boring, but improved my timing. Since then I've done the same thing for Easy mode, and now I'm almost through with Expert (I still prefer calling that Trick mode like the old days!). My old RedOctane Afterburner dance pad is still hanging tough, even though the down arrow sensor is going bad - it really only affects freeze arrows, though, and I'm not as obsessed with perfect scores since my main goal is working out. I guess pretty soon I'm going to have to buy DDR Supernova 2 (and maybe the Disney Channel version, too), which is exciting since playing a new mix is always cool!

2.07.2008

Animaniacs Vol 1 : 5 of 5

I hadn't watched an episode of Animaniacs in years, so it was so great to see this fantastic show again! I think I appreciate it even more then I did back in the early 90s, now that I'm more of an animation buff and I can appreciate the way this series really captured the wacky style of the classic Warner Bros cartoons. Each episode is made up of smaller cartoons featuring a huge cast of original characters, so besides Wakko, Yakko and Dot (who are hilarious with their enthusiastic "Hello Nurse!" for every hot girl), there are also stories featuring Slappy Squirrel, Runt & Rita, and of course, Pinky and the Brain (who later got their own show). There are so many inside jokes written just for animation fans, covering everything from Popeye to the Jetsons, but my favorite was when Slappy sits down to watch the "Wonderful World of Walnuts" and the theme is a parody of the old Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (I'll bet not many kids picked up on that one!). Speaking of music, this was the only series to be using a full orchestra at the time, and it sounds utterly incredible and the scoring is perfect. Of course, everyone knows some of the amazing songs from the series, such as Wakko's World (where he sings all of the nations of the world), and Bernadette Peters sounds great singing Rita's heartfelt tunes (I wanted to use subtitles so I could sing along, but unfortunately they didn't include them in English!). One of the DVDs includes some nice interviews with the actors, and it's really fun to watch them speaking with their character's voice! Animaniacs was actually a big budget production, especially with Steven Spielberg producing, so they were really able to create a truthful tribute to the genre, and I had a wonderful time becoming a fan all over again!

2.05.2008

Cheek beep

It's no secret that I love my iPhone, but I do far more web surfing, video watching, and music listening than actual talking on the phone. But when I do actually use it to communicate, I've noticed that my face sometimes hits buttons on the phone while I'm talking! Sometimes I'll accidentally activate the speakerphone, or even bring up the keypad and start beeping random numbers, all by mistake. I guess I'm holding it too close to my face - either that, or my cheeks are too chubby! Actually, this is an extremely minor peeve that hasn't ever caused me any real trouble - I'll just work on holding it against my ear and not flat against my head. I'm still a complete iPhone fan, and I'm happy that Apple released a 16GB model today, because eventually I'll upgrade and truly replace my iPod for good. But for now, my 8GB of memory has been plenty to keep me occupied on trips - I couldn't be happier!

2.04.2008

Manga Mentions 2.08

Even though I'm reading more non-comic books lately, it's always nice to fill in the gaps with some of my favorite manga! Believe it or not, I actually started out this round re-reading Phoenix Vol 2, because a few years ago it was only available in an extra large book format, so I wanted to get this volume in the standard size to match the rest of my collection. I know, that's a little crazy, but I loved re-reading this story again, and the love of Tamami the Moopie is still so moving! Since I can never get enough Osamu Tezuka, I made my way through both Buddha Vol 6 & Vol 7, and I'm still amazed by the incredible storytelling and artwork, as well as the inspiring plot and characters. The main introduction this time is Ananda, a thief who kind of has a deal with the Goddess Mara (pretty much the devil), and Buddha confronts her to save Ananda's life, after which he becomes a monk (who is always plagued by his evil past) and eventually Buddha's trusted disciple. The story of Prince Ajatasattu is also amazing, and both volumes contain fascinating illustrated sermons with beautiful imagery. I'm totally in love with this series, so it's going to be sad to finish up the next and last volume! Hikaru no Go Vol 11 was refreshing, since I had been away from this story for a while, and it was nice to see Hikaru pass the pro test after his big battle with Ochi, and there are some nice intellectual interludes with Sai. Finally, I enjoyed Nodame Cantabile Vol 3 - I'm reading this series slowly, even though each volume goes by so fast! The main plot involves the S Orchestra's rehearsals of Beethoven's Eroica symphony (this series is great when you enjoy classical music as I do!), and Chiaki finally learns a lesson about personal expression in performance - not much romance this time, but the story is still really engaging!

2.03.2008

Tons of birthday fun

I've really had a great birthday this year, with plenty of surprise gifts and fun with friends! My pal Melinda bought me dinner (plus a birthday cake), and then gave me a cool Star Wars LEGO set, as well as a fantastic Mickey Mouse figurine with small snowglobes that re-creates a scene from the 1932 Disney short Mickey's Nightmare! I found the original short on my Disney Treasures DVDs so we were able to watch it right away, too (it's nice to have all those Disney DVDs in my library!). (By the way, this image is the original movie poster, and I just realized that the figurine is an exact replica of this illustration!) On Friday, Chris & Eliza hosted a little combined birthday get-together (it was Eliza's birthday recently, too), and along with a "Happy Birthday Old People" cake, there were more presents! Tom gave me a huge bottle of Grey Goose vodka, Shawn & Bernadette gave me some vintage Disney comic books, and Matt & Kumiko gave me one of the new Indiana Jones LEGO sets (I have some fun building ahead of me!). Chris & Barron went together to get me Guitar Hero for the Wii, and I had a blast playing it yesterday (the wireless guitar controller is so nice)! I'm so amazed at how incredible all of my friends are, and how lucky I am to have them. It definitely makes it easier to be a child trapped in an old man's body! It's been a busy weekend, so I haven't had time to take photos of my awesome presents, but don't worry, you can be sure I'll get around to snapping some pictures eventually!