6.27.2008

Ninja Nonsense / The Legend of Shinobu Vol 1 & Vol 2 : 3 of 5

I've been on a good anime rental streak lately, so I thought I would check out this animated series based on the manga Ninin ga Shinobuden (that I've been enjoying). This show is completely crazy, fast-paced, cute, and filled with semi-adult humor just like the manga, so it's hilarious to watch, as long as you aren't expecting any serious character development. The animation style is very clean and bright, and definitely matches the source material, and it's fun to see Shinobu the female ninja in training come to life, especially when she's doing cute things like fawning over Kaede! Onsokumaru is particularly funny, too, because his voice is so bizarre! The theme songs are pretty frantic, but the closing credits are over an interesting stop-motion sequence that's really cool. The first volume follows the manga very closely, with Shinobu meeting Kaede and her first visit to the ninja school, and then the pace picks up since Shinobu's sister Miyabi is already introduced in the very next episode. The second volume begins with a hilariously perverted summer swimming party, and also includes the weirdest episode where Onsokumaru goes to Hell, tries to overthrow Heaven, and gets kicked out, which brings him back to life! Another episode has some wild Bon Odori hijinks, plus a sing-along segment with dance steps you can follow. There are a few hints at a larger story brewing after Izumi (the master of the other ninja school) shows up, but I can't imagine the plot getting too serious. Even though this anime is completely silly, I really enjoyed it and laughed like crazy - I'm definitely going to watch the rest of the series (and finish the manga as well)!

6.25.2008

Death Note Vol 4 & Vol 5 : 4 of 5

I somehow got out of the habit of watching Death Note on Cartoon Network, so I enjoyed these two DVDs of the series even more. I'm a bigger fan of the first arc of the plot (before L is killed) than the second, so these episodes (four per DVD) are really cool. I should also mention that since Death Note is presented in widescreen, I can upscale it to use my full HDTV screen! Volume 4 includes the first meeting of Light and Misa, starting with her interesting way of spotting him with her Shinigami eyes (which are presented in an eerie red color), and later her dramatic conversation when Light finally embraces her. This volume also begins Light's incredible plan to give up the Death Note (one of the most incredible parts of the story) and his long confinement. In Volume 5, the confinement finally ends and the Yotsuba Corporation segment begins, which includes some tense (but funny) scenes with Matsuda as Misa's manager. I'm still enjoying the way this series keeps presenting interesting images to go with long conversation or thought sequences, such as the symbolic Light and L standing on skyscrapers, or slow pans across L's endless supplies of sweets while he talks. A new opening and closing theme begins on Volume 5, which has a fantastic visual look, but the original theme song is a million times better! Both DVDs contain interviews with voice artists used in the dubbed dialogue, and I enjoyed seeing Misa's actress (who was cute and quirky), but of course I would never choose their performance over the original Japanese. Unfortunately, now I have to wait until the end of August for the next DVD to be released!

6.24.2008

ゴジラ・エビラ・モスラ 南海の大決闘(なんかいの だいけっとう)

ゴジラの映画が すき? ぼくは かいじゅうが かっこいいと おもうから、ゴジラの映画が マイブーム なんだ! 今週「ゴジラ・エビラ・モスラ 南海の だいけっとう」を みた。この 映画は ゴジラのだい7かい、1966年に つくられた。ぼこが うまれる まえの 日本の とくさつの 映画は すでに すごいね!

南海の ふしぎな しまで、「あかい たけ」という わるい そしきが げんばくを つくっている。それに、インファント アイランドの人を とらえていて、どれいに している。かわいそうな げんじゅうみん だね。インファント アイランドは モスラの うち だって している? しらない? もっと もっと ゴジラの映画を みる べき だぜ!

さらに、エビラという かいじゅうが いるから、この ふしぎな しまは そごく きけん だ。ぐうせんに、おなじ しまの山の中で ゴジラが ねていた! ゴジラが おきると、やっと たたかいが はじまる! エビラは でかい えびのよう だから、大きい はさみが ある。この はさみで 石を なげるん だけど、ゴジラが あたまで 石を サッカー みたいに かえしていた! すごいね!

その あと、インファント アイランドの げんじゅうみんは モスラを よぶ ために うたを うたいはじめた。ところで、メインの げんじゅうみんは ゆめいな とくさつの やくしゃの みずの くみ だ。ほんとうに びじん だね! とにかく、しまの人を たすける ために、モスラが きた。ゴジラは アトミック ブレスで エビラを りょうり する ように ゆであげたが、まさに この げんばくが ばくはつ する! モスラは 大きい あみで げんじゅうみんを ぜんいん つれだした。とびながら、人たちが「ゴジラ! にげて!」とさけんでいる。ぎりぎりセーフで、ゴジラは 大丈夫だった!

「ゴジラ・エビラ・モスラ 南海の だいけっとう」は ゆうめいな ゴジラの えいがかんとくの 本田 いしろが いないけど、それでも すごい 映画だと おもう。でも、しまで すべての たたかいが あるから、まちを ぜんぜん こわさなかった! ざんねん!

Screenfuls of fun

I've really been enjoying my new HDTV, now that I've got everything setup (at least temporarily)! I haven't been shopping for a new TV stand yet, so I'm using my old coffee table to hold my TV, with the rest of my components on the floor. The TV is a little low, but it doesn't look that bad. I finally got a cable card installed in my TiVo HD, and it's so nice to get rid of the separate cable box. The new TiVo is working great, but I'm even more excited about my upscaling DVD player (which I bought quite some time ago). Since most DVDs are presented in 16:9 (even if it's letterboxed), when the DVD player upscales them it fills the entire HD screen in the correct ratio! This also works great for the Japanese TV shows I download, which are mostly in HD. Of course, it's nothing like Blu-ray, but just seeing widescreen shows on an actual widescreen is amazing to me! (And yes, that's the adorable Michishige Sayumi on my TV, via an upscaled Morning Musume concert DVD.) My Nintendo Wii is hooked up via component cables (so it's 16:9 as well), and my old PS2 is connected via standard AV hookups (I have to keep it around for DDR emergencies). Right now my TV itself has everything hooked up to it, so I have no need for an AV receiver - eventually I will upgrade to a better sound solution, but for now the TV speakers are doing a fine job. I'm really happy with my purchase, and it's definitely improved my butt-numbing sessions!

6.23.2008

Godzilla vs the Sea Monster : 4 of 5

I'm still enjoying my new Godzilla movie obsession, and I thought this 7th movie in the series (made in 1966) was incredible! This particular DVD version was released by Sony, so it's a little higher quality than some of the other movies, and thankfully included the original Japanese language version, which was a big surprise. It was also a blast to watch on my HDTV, since this movie was filmed in Tohoscope - I love seeing my wide TV screen put to good use! In this movie, all of the action takes place on a remote island, so unfortunately there's no cool city destruction to see, but the monster battles are still fantastic, featuring Ebirah, a giant shrimp monster with huge claws that actually looks pretty frightening. Ebirah wanders the ocean around a small island that's being used by Red Bamboo, an evil organization making atomic bombs, and capturing natives from Infant Island (the home of Mothra, of course) to force into slavery. Three young guys and a thief on the run steal a yacht and wind up shipwrecked on the island (thanks to Ebirah), where they discover Godzilla sleeping inside a mountain! They wake him to shake up the bad guys, and the fight with Ebirah is really cool, with lots of rock throwing and thrashing around in the ocean. When it's discovered the island is set to explode, the natives call Mothra to save them (the tiny twins are played by a different set of girls this time), and even though Mothra doesn't really fight, she looks fantastic as she carries everyone away in a giant net. Godzilla makes it off the island in the nick of time before the destruction, thanks to everyone screaming at him to run away to safety. Even without the city destruction, the special effects in this movie are particularly good, and the action scenes are exciting (although they are sometimes accompanied by goofy surf music that shatters the mood). I'm starting to recognize all the recycled actors in the Godzilla series, and it was nice to see Kumi Mizuno as one of the natives, looking beautiful as usual. Godzilla vs the Sea Monster was so much fun to watch - Godzilla movies are such a fantastic escape for me, so I'm looking forward to my next rental!

6.21.2008

Manga Mentions 6.08

Manga is still my favorite thing to read in all the off-moments of the day. There's nothing like enjoying a few pages when I have a spare ten minutes here and there! Here's what I finished this month.

Ninin ga Shinobuden Vol 3: I'm still enjoying this completely crazy series, which continues to remind me of a MAD Magazine parody of ninja shows! This volume introduces Izumi, the master of an all-girl ninja academy near Onsokumaru's school, and keeps the pervy humor going strong (the suggestive shadows while Shinobu plays with her pet elephant are priceless!).

Hikaru no Go Vol 12: This volume finally starts looking into the character of Sai (the ancient Go master who possesses Hikaru) a little more, since he begs to play a special game with Akira's dad, who discovers their imaginary handicap scheme. I'm hoping future volumes will have more character development and a bit fewer straight Go playing scenes!

Video Girl Ai Vol 6: I took a break from this series for a while, but it was easy to get back into the story with this volume. Yota runs into a childhood friend named Natsumi, who ends up helping him in a big battle with Ai's enemy video girl who is determined to erase her! (All the VCR talk is funny - I wonder how they would write this series today?)

Dr. Slump Vol 15: This hilarious series is coming to a close, so I'm glad there were finally a few more funny Peeping Tom moments for Senbei! Suddenly, the doctor is a daddy with the birth of baby Turbo, who has a quick alien abduction that allows him to speak and fly. Suppaman also makes a brief funny appearance!

Nodame Cantabile Vol 5: This volume mostly covers the big S Orchestra costumed concert, so there are lots of wordless pages where the reader has to imagine hearing the classic music being played (it's definitely helpful to know the pieces, or to watch the drama, first!). There's also a great bonus story about Chiaki's childhood, which is much more dramatic than I expected!

6.20.2008

Where's my Rosetta Stone diploma?

The only good thing about waking up on the couch at 5:00 AM is that I have an extra long morning to get lots of stuff done! Today I realized I only had two lessons left to complete Rosetta Stone Japanese Level 2, so I decided to do them both in a row, and now I'm totally finished! This is a pretty big deal for me, since Level 2 encompassed over 200 individual lessons! I completed Level 1 way back in 2004, and then started Level 2 sometime after that, but I only worked on it sporadically because of my JLPT studies. But for the past few months I have been working on it daily (as a way of focusing on specific goals), and it finally paid off. For me, Rosetta Stone has been a great way to get a broad exposure to tons of Japanese vocabulary, and a nice overview (and sometimes review) of grammar concepts. I don't claim to have very much retention of the words that I've studied, but I know that when I encounter them again in other studies that a lightbulb will go on and I'll remember seeing them before! Sometimes the lessons were too wordy, but other times just right - I really enjoyed the series of comic strip lessons (guessing the cartoon panel that goes with the spoken sentence), and the several thematic vocabulary lessons were pretty interesting. I also love having a prepared lesson given to me - I would rather have a computer program tell me "you will learn this today" rather than deciding what to study on my own. Back when I started Level 2, Rosetta Stone didn't make a Japanese Level 3 product, but now they do (and it uses a new improved software engine), so I'm sure I'll dig into it sometime, possibly later this year. For now I have some other study materials that I bought a long time ago to check out!

6.19.2008

Star Trek / The Key Collection Vol 2 : 4 of 5

I really enjoying reading this collection of Star Trek comics from the 1970s, even more than the first collection that I got for Christmas! This volume includes the next eight issues of the series, and the writing is really excellent. There are much fewer totally ridiculous lines, and the stories themselves really have the feel of the original TV show, because even though there are goofy plots about space buccaneers and so on, there are many original episodes that were just as silly. Of course, it's fun to spot all of the bizarre visual mistakes - Scotty is still blonde at first (they finally correct this in the later issues), Klingons are often shown as bald, one story has an Enterprise shuttlecraft looking like a ship out of Buck Rogers (and then in another story it's drawn perfectly), and the bridge interior is so inconsistent that it's hilarious. I also love reading anachronisms, such as when an evil scientist claims he has "captured the thought waves of history on punch cards"! The covers of each issue are fantastic, too, since they switched from using publicity stills from the show to amazing color paintings, depicting awesome Star Trek action in a pulp sci-fi style! At the end of the book, there are a couple bonus short features, including Captain Kirk's "psycho-file", which is like a Starfleet account of his career and history. The best part is a recollection of his first meeting with Scotty, who he wins over by knowing how to fix their broken down vehicle! I can't wait to get the next volume of stories - there's nothing like cheesy (yet honestly great) Star Trek comics to keep my fandom alive!

6.18.2008

Full Metal Panic Fumoffu Vols 2, 3, 4 : 3 of 5

I watched the first DVD of this fun series way back in 2006, and now two years later, I suddenly decided to watch all the remaining volumes quickly to finish it off! I wouldn't recommend taking such a huge break in the middle of a series, but with a light-hearted comedy like Full Metal Panic Fumoffu, it wasn't a problem. As you may know, the original Full Metal Panic (which I loved) was a much more dramatic story about Sosuke the soldier and Kaname, the girl he must protect. Fumoffu is like a collection of short in-between stories, focusing completely on the comedy of Sosuke's undercover work at Kaname's high school. I finally learned what "fumoffu" means - it's the sound that Sosuke makes when he talks inside a huge Bonta-kun suit, which is the cuddly bear mascot of an amusement park (and Sosuke converts the suit into a battle mecha!). Each DVD only has three episodes, so watching them goes by quickly, but there are plenty of laughs in each story! There are some crazy storylines such as the haunted hospital and the ponytail pervert, but the best by far is when Tessa (from the original series) returns to visit as a two-week student at the school, starting up all kinds of jealousy between her and Kaname (and it just wouldn't be anime without an extended hot springs sequence!). The final episode was especially weird, about a biological weapon that eats clothing, but of course that fits the tone of this series nicely. Although I really enjoyed laughing at this series (and the theme song is excellent, too), there's really nothing special about it. But if you're a Full Metal Panic fan, it's a great way to spend some additional fun time with these characters!

6.17.2008

Selling, sweating, sleeping

I think I'm ready to get back in the swing of posting again after some crazy days recently! I lowered my prices for the items that I had on Craigslist, and I finally got some emails about my old TV. After answering several questions, I sold it to a guy and his family on Saturday, so I've completed my first successful Craigslist sale. I didn't hear a thing about my entertainment center, though, but I discovered that one of my work pals was interested, so he came over on Saturday also, and now both of the huge items in my garage are gone! I sold both items for a steal, but I don't mind at all - it's just nice to park my car in the garage again. On the same day, though, I discovered my condo air conditioner was acting up, and the timing is terrible since we've been having 100 degree days! I thought it was the ant problem again, but yesterday I found out that I need a new fan motor, which I have to wait on. Right now when it kicks on it may or may not work - last night it decided to not work, but this morning I got it going again. Anyway, I hope I get the new motor really soon! On Sunday, I had a cable appointment to install cable cards in my TiVo HD, but I was so tired from the baseball game that I took a nap after going to church and making my Father's Day phone call, and I ended up completely sleeping through my appointment! Of course, I forgot that I had the ringer off on my iPhone and that was the number they called, so I missed it. Now I have to wait another full week for the next appointment. Oh well, I'm still enjoying my HDTV anyway, especially watching upscaled DVDs!

Back to Minute Maid

On Saturday, my pal Barron and I went to see our yearly baseball game! This year we went back to Minute Maid park in Houston to see the Astros play the Yankees, which was a crazy sold-out event. It was fun to be in the noisy crowd, listening to all the cheering and booing, and even though the Astros lost, it was still a great game, since we got to see so many famous players. Our seats were way up towards the top of the stadium (since this was such a popular game), but the view was still fantastic since you could see the whole field like it was a video game or something. The drive both ways was really nice in Barron's new Prius, too - it was cool to play with the navigation system and watch the incredible MPG readings!

View photos: Baseball game in Houston 2008

6.16.2008

The Last of the Jedi Vol 3 / Jude Watson : 3 of 5

I haven't given up on this great Scholastic series - it's just taking me forever to start reading the next volume after finishing the previous one! At first I was a little disappointed that this story has almost no Obi-Wan in it, but the plot turned out to be so interesting that I didn't mind the focus on Ferus and Trever. This volume takes place entirely on Coruscant, as the former Padawan and his streetwise friend sneak into the old Jedi temple in hope of rescuing other Jedi. These scenes are fascinating, since they describe not only images from the movies, but also rooms and events from other Jude Watson books. There are several flashback sequences since Ferus grew up in the temple, now defiled and taken over by the Empire, and certain moments, such as finding a room full of discarded lightsabers, are just incredible. There's also a brief encounter with Darth Vader, which has even more impact since Ferus knew Anakin when they were both Padawans, but of course, Ferus doesn't know he's hiding from his old friend. The story moves to the deepest levels of the huge cityscape of Coruscant, providing some cool background information about how levels of the city were built, and Dexter Jettster (another character from the movies) makes an appearance. Eventually they do find another living Jedi, and they all return to the Jedi temple for another skirmish with the Empire, but then the book ends with a huge cliffhanger as Ferus is captured! Hopefully I won't wait too long before moving on to the next volume this time!

6.13.2008

In the Shadow of the Moon : 5 of 5

I've always been fascinated with space exploration and especially the Apollo program, so I would have loved this documentary regardless, but I actually have a special connection to the film. Back in his Air Force days, my dad knew Charlie Duke, one of the Apollo 16 astronauts, and since this film features lots of interview footage with Charlie (as well as lots of video of him in his younger days), I was definitely interested to listen to his first hand experiences! That's exactly the purpose of this film, to look at the Apollo moon missions completely through the eyes of ten living astronauts, entirely through interviews and tons of incredible mission footage. There's no other narration (except a few titles on screen periodically), and it's incredible to get to know these men by their own words alone. Michael Collins from Apollo 11 does the most talking, probably because he's so animated and articulate, but the film also features Jim Lovell (from Apollo 13, of course), Buzz Aldrin (who reveals he was the first to pee on the moon), and many other incredible personalities. Even though most of the focus is on the early Apollo 1 tragedy, the successful Apollo 11 landing, and the Apollo 13 problem and rescue, I learned so many things and thought about so many emotions that I hadn't considered before, such as the astronauts feeling guilty that they weren't fighting in Vietnam. The most amazing discovery for me is that Charlie Duke was CAPCOM (or Capsule Communicator, directly to the astronauts) for the historic Apollo 11 landing, so the voice of Houston on the recordings I've heard so many times is actually someone my dad knew! I was completely immersed in this documentary for the entire running time, and the DVD also includes an additional hour of great footage that wasn't used in the film. I'm always amazed by the accomplishments we can achieve (from the Apollo missions to the recent Mars lander), so watching a movie like this gives me a wonderful feeling!

6.12.2008

How to Be Like Walt / Pat Williams : 3 of 5

Even though I've read so many books about Disney animation, history, and theme park details, I've never actually tackled a biography of Walt Disney. This is mainly because I've already absorbed most of the details of his life by all of the books and DVDs I've already been exposed to, and also because I'm sure it's hard to find an honest biography that isn't too harsh or too forgiving. How to Be Like Walt is much more of a biography than I expected, but it also tries to combine elements of Walt's life with self-help style lessons. The author Pat Williams (who is the president of the Orlando Magic basketball team) is a serious Walt Disney fan, and his writing makes it completely obvious that Walt is his hero (which I can certainly understand!). As I expected, there weren't many Walt facts here that I didn't already know, but there were some great anecdotes that I enjoyed reading. My favorite stories are about Walt digging through the animation department trash cans at night to recover discarded gag ideas that he thought would work, and I love Walt's technique of going to Disneyland, buying a hot dog, wandering around until he was finished, and then making sure a trash can was put on that spot! The chapter on Walt's last year was especially poignant, and reading about Chuck Jones' visiting Walt in the hospital was interesting. Each chapter sums up a particular character trait that we can learn from, such as Walt's constant love of learning or his persistence, but even though it's all good advice, the writing style was a little too motivational for my taste. My only other complaint is that this book could use a little more editing. I know that the author interviewed hundreds of people, and his love for Walt made him want to make sure everything was in the book, but there are definitely long portions that seem to ramble a little. But overall, it was fun to read a nice long timeline of Walt's life and achievements. There's no doubt he had a huge impact on this world (and certainly me) that will never die, and taking a closer look at Walt is always inspiring!

6.11.2008

Selling update

I have to say it was pretty fun selling my first item on eBay! It took forever to get any bids (which I understand, since I would never bid on anything until the last day of the auction), but I could tell when people were watching my item, which was kind of exciting. I finally got an opening bid, and then in the last hours there were a couple more bids to bring the selling price up above where I expected, so I did pretty good! So, I'm definitely going to keep it going with the same formula, and I already have some watchers on my Frontierland Pewter Miniatures Set!

I'm also trying to move the aftermath of my new entertainment setup by listing my old furniture and TV on Craigslist. Truthfully, I thought I would be contacted right away, but so far I haven't heard a peep, which is a bummer since I want to get the things out of my garage! I guess I'll wait a couple more days and then lower the price. In more selling news, I got rid of some really old video games at GameStop and Planet Replay today. I was really impressed with the cash I got at Planet Replay, but they would only take a few of my games since I didn't keep the case for most of them (I usually toss it to make storage easier). But GameStop took everything else for a chunk of store credit, so I'm all set for a new DDR game or something later this year. I'm also hoping to sell a chunk of my comic book collection, too - I might get an offer from a comic book shop soon (although it's taking quite a while). All this selling won't make me rich, but it's a fun project to work on!

6.10.2008

The Bat / Austin Lyric Opera : 4 of 5

When I first heard that Austin Lyric Opera was closing their season with a special "Keep Austin Weird" version of Strauss' Die Fledermaus (The Bat), I was pretty skeptical. I can understand the obvious temptation, since Austin is home to the world's largest urban bat colony, but I thought I would rather see the traditional opera, since I hadn't seen this piece before. I decided to go with a positive attitude with my pal Melinda, and the production was surprisingly wonderful! I was expecting to hear the original German libretto sung in Austin settings, but ALO joined forces with Esther's Follies comedy troupe to actually re-write the entire thing! So, everything was sung in English, with some of the most ridiculous (and hilarious) lyrics you can imagine. I'm pretty sure you won't hear warnings about bending over for the soap in prison in any other opera experience! Actually, that's my one complaint about the production - if this was someone's first opera, they've been a bit cheated out of the "real thing" (but the crowd certainly loved it all!). Strauss' waltz-filled music was wonderful and somehow appropriate to singing about bats filling the skies, getting drunk, and loving Luckenbach. The main action of the story takes place at a costume ball, and the party-goers were all Austin references, such as the capitol, the UT tower, hippies, rollergirls, Lance Armstrong, and even restaurants like the Mangia Godzilla and the Hyde Park Grill fork (I'm glad I've lived here long enough to recognize them!). Since this is a short opera, they extended the show by inserting local musical acts into the party - I got to enjoy a spoken word performance (with harmonica) by Wammo, which was fantastic, but still pretty weird in the middle of an opera! Finally, all of the performers were wonderful, especially the maid Adela, who's comic timing was incredible. The Bat was certainly a unique experience, but I'll be looking forward to a return to normalcy next season.

6.09.2008

Good yet exhausting weekend

This weekend was pretty crazy for me, so I haven't had the mental energy to write anything for WEBmikey for the past few days! On Friday I played a gig with Casa del Swanko, which was fun, but afterwards I was tired and fell asleep on the couch, so when I woke up at 5:00 AM, I just stayed up since I was wired for my HDTV delivery. So, I spent the morning getting my usual weekend chores done, and then started attacking the entertainment center. I unplugged all of my various components until my floor was a sea of cables, and then I moved what I could into the garage. The delivery guys were right on time, and the HDTV was in perfect condition, so I spent the rest of the day hooking up things. I don't have HDMI cables yet (since I ordered them and they are arriving soon), so it was kind of a bummer to hook up things analog, which means I couldn't fully enjoy the HD beauty yet, but it still looks great! After all of that, I took my pal Melinda to the opera, which was fun, but I was so tired after I got home again. On Sunday morning I was in a daze of fatigue, but then I discovered that my programmable thermostat touch screen was broken! There was no way to adjust it, and it was getting hot, so I had no choice but to go to Home Creepo (which I hate to do) and buy a new one. The installation wasn't too bad, and I think this new thermostat is better anyway. By now the mess in my condo and my garage was starting to drive me nuts, so I had to move all the other stuff into the garage and organize everything, which meant making a Goodwill run, too. By then I was feeling a little better, but my mind was drained and I couldn't even do my Japanese homework. Hopefully I can get back to feeling normal this week - it's amazing how changes, even positive ones like this, affect my mental peace. I still think there's lots to do, but at least I can relax a little now!

6.05.2008

Biyuden Single V Clips 2 / Arigatou Biyuden Debut Kara no Dai Zenshuu : 4 of 5

It's a shame that I really didn't get interested in Biyuden until after they called it quits, but at least they released this great collection of all of their videos to say good bye! I was surprised that I had seen almost all of these videos before (I somehow assumed the Biyuden had a much longer career), but I always enjoy having a full set on DVD, and it was especially fun seeing the videos that were new to me. The videos all seem to have a slightly higher budget than the usual Hello! Project stuff, and it's kind of nice to enjoy a slower editing pace since there are only three girls to focus on. Of course, part of Biyuden's appeal is their sexiness, which certainly can't be mistaken in songs like Aisu Kuriimu to My Purin (I think every outfit should have a belly button peephole!), but I was really impressed with their elegance in Kurenai no Kisetsu, and I love the hilarious cardboard cutout scenes in Issai Gassai Anata ni Ageru (yes, I know they're dancing in slips - is there a problem with that?). Although I'm already a Rika fan, seeing all these videos together made me appreciate Yui and Erika much more. Yui is totally cute and can hit a harmony note every now and then, and Erika can really be beautiful (although her speaking voice is so unappealing to me). I'm glad this DVD included the video for Biyuden's farewell single Nanni mo Iwazu ni I Love You, which is not only a great song, but skillfully shot in just the right way to make you feel sad that you'll never see this group again! Along with the ten official videos, the DVD also includes alternate versions of everything, plus a nice Making Of segment. This DVD is definitely a nice parting gift for Biyuden fans, and it's going to get a lot of repeat viewing from me!

6.04.2008

Please buy my stuff

I'm not sure if it's related to my big spending recently, but I suddenly have the urge to make a little money by selling some things, and doing a little decluttering at the same time. During the 50th anniversary celebration of Disneyland, I went a little crazy buying limited edition collectibles. Most of these I have displayed around my condo, and I totally cherish them, but I also bought a few things on impulse that I've only looked at once. I bought all of the sets of pewter miniatures that were available at the time, and they are really cool, but they're kind of too small to display nicely, so I've just had them in their boxes for the past few years! Although I've bought lots of stuff on Ebay, I've haven't sold anything before, but a couple days ago I decided to give it a shot. So, I put my set of Disneyland Main Street Pewter Miniatures up for auction! Now I keep wanting to check to see if I have any bids (none so far, but hopefully someone will snag it when the auction is almost closed), and the suspense is driving me crazy. I have no idea what I'm doing or if my pricing is competitive, but I'll just try again and adjust my strategy as needed - I plan on selling my other pewter sets eventually, too. If that goes well, I'm hoping to sell a Disneyland train set that's become a really hot item! I've also decided that I need to sell my bike soon. I really loved it for a couple years, but it's been unused in my garage every single day since I moved to my current condo, so by my definition, it's just clutter now. Sometime soon I think I'll try Craigslist to sell it!

6.03.2008

Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party / Nintendo Wii : 3 of 5

Since I'm always excited when a new version of DDR comes out, I traded in some old PS2 games and bought this in 2007 for my Wii right away, even though I knew it would be a bummer to play with the included dance pad (since my cool PS2 dance pads won't work with the Wii). But when I started playing, I was totally disappointed - Hottest Party just didn't feel like DDR! It's hard to explain, but it seemed like the original Japanese fun had been stripped from the game, so I immediately wrote it off and didn't even review it. But recently while I was trying out older DDR mixes, I looked at the Wii dance pad and decided to give it a fair chance, and now I'm really enjoying the game! I still have plenty of gripes, so I'll get those out of the way first. I really hate the look of the characters (I don't mind giant heads, but at least make them cute!), most option settings don't get saved, so I have to reset them every time I play (since I just want to play classic DDR, without all those bombs and crap in my way, and even though this is a Wii game, I don't give a flip about using my hands), and the annoying two second pause at the end of each song is a bummer. And don't get me started on the missing Endless Mode! But there's a lot for me to like, too! This DDR mix is almost entirely new songs, so I have tons of fresh material to experience (but not a single Jpop tune, unfortunately). The Groove Circuit mode that you play to unlock new items only requires you to dance your best - thankfully it doesn't want to you do any unnatural things like avoiding a certain arrow or whatever! So, I'm definitely going to give this game (and my feet) a workout, and if I like the next Wii DDR being released later this year, I'll even buy a better third-party Wii dance pad. I'm still not thrilled with the "tone" of Hottest Party, but I'm glad I decided to play it again and keep it in my regular DDR rotation!

6.02.2008

Music Moments 6.08

My latest music purchases have all been Jpop (surprise!), so here's my quick thoughts on five cool CDs!

BoA / The Face: I tend to get so obsessed with Hello! Project artists that I forget about the spectacular BoA, then I see her again and suddenly she's my absolute favorite! Her latest CD is fantastic, filled with beautiful ballads and dance-tastic tracks like Lose Your Mind, and of course I had to get the deluxe version with a DVD of all of the videos (simply breathtaking!) and a second DVD of over an hour of great concert footage, plus a long TV special with lots of interviews and Making Of segments.

Kumi Koda / Kingdom: Although I'm not enough of a Ku-chan fan to keep up with all her singles, I'm still devoted enough for full album releases, and just like BoA, this CD came with two DVDs as well! The DVD of videos is great (and includes an interesting genre breakdown menu), and the concert DVD is fantastic. This CD has an incredible production mix (sounds great in my car!) and my favorite track is More, since Kumi's voice can really sink into those bluesy notes.

Namie Amuro / 60s70s80s: I had to buy this release after I had already seen the videos, because they're just that good! Each song and video has the style and feel of a particular decade (and samples appropriate songs like Baby Love and What A Feeling), and these are big budget productions that are a blast to watch (especially Rock Steady, with it's hilarious English dialogue and subtitles).

Utada Hikaru / Heart Station: I'm always amazed at Hikki-chan's sheer talent and the deep emotion and thought that goes into her songs, and her latest CD is fantastic. The title track is really addictive, and I'm happy that Flavor of Life (from Hana Yori Dango 2) was included (although the non-ballad version isn't so great). I also have to mention that Boku wa Kuma is such a cute tune thats really fun to learn if you're studying Japanese!

Morning Musume / Resonant Blue: I'm sure I'm the last fan to express my feelings about this single, but I don't care - I love it! This is the first time I bought both versions of the single to be sure I had all the incarnations of the video, and truthfully, I was totally moved the first time I saw Another Version, thinking about how hard these girls work to make their fans happy (which includes me!). I love songs with this kind of emotion, and even though I hate to see Sayumi pushed to the background, Reina and Ai-chan sound great to me!

6.01.2008

Spending frenzy

One of the positive side-effects of all my decluttering efforts has been a change in my purchasing habits. I used to view buying things as one of my hobbies, but lately I've been much more frugal, trying to buy fewer DVDs and books, for example. I've also been saving more and monitoring my savings closely. So, feeling weird about spending a lot of money is a relatively new feeling for me! Last month I had a lot of expenses converge so it felt like I was bleeding cash. I had to pay for the rest of my Las Vegas vacation, buy a new suit for a wedding, and my car needed some semi-major maintenance, all at the same time. I could afford all these things, but I was only able to save half of what I usually do - no big deal, but I decided I would take a break from buying anything for this month. However, this morning I did the exact opposite - I just ordered an HDTV! And now you get to hear me justify my huge purchase!

Switching to HDTV was actually one of my goals for this year, along with replacing other furniture like my computer workspace and my rocking chair. So, I was already committed to getting one sometime this year. Last Christmas I got to setup and experience my dad's new HDTV, which has been fueling my desire for months! The only thing holding me back was the amount of change involved, since I'll have lots of things to get rid off (my old incredibly heavy TV, my old AV receiver, my entertainment center) and I also knew I would need a new TiVo for HD recordings. Well, that's what pushed me over the edge - Amazon is having a special right now (for about a week) on Samsung HDTVs (which I had already chosen as the brand I wanted) with a completely free TiVo HD box! Since I'm a TiVo addict, there was no question that I needed the box, and now I'm getting it free and saving around $225! The model I ordered is the Samsung LNT4071F, which is similar to my dad's, but a little newer with a higher contrast ratio. In a way, all of this is becoming a decluttering project, too, because with the new TiVo I can get rid of my cable box (along with my receiver and speakers I already mentioned), so eventually my AV world is going to be nice and tidy. Of course, I have no idea how I will begin the transformation once the new HDTV arrives, but I'm sure it will be a fun adventure!