7.30.2008

Manga Mentions 7.08

Lately I've been pretty focused on five or six series, which I'm hoping to finish before I give in to temptation and start some new ones!

xxxHolic Vol 11: It seems like this story is starting to approach some kind of finale, since Yuko keeps dropping more and more cryptic hints. There's a nice semi-contained plot about a girl trying to get rid spirits in her house (only to discover that she's the spirit herself!), and I wish there were more of these short ghost stories to enjoy.

Monster Vol 11: The plot and artwork of this manga is still amazing, and this volume is particularly chilling since the evil Johan begins to disguise himself as his sister! There's a mysterious tape recording of Yohan when he was a child at 511 Kinderheim that begins to put some puzzle pieces together, too.

Nodame Cantabile Vol 6: In general, this manga is a super-quick read, but I still enjoy finding the new scenes that weren't in the drama. This volume includes a stay with Chiaki's uncle and cousins, who have a nice time playing with Nodame, and we get to see Chiaki undergo some hypnotherapy (slowly unraveling his fear of flying).

Kaze Hikaru Vol 9: I love this manga since it's so detailed and takes a long time to read (exactly the opposite of Nodame Cantabile!), and it even includes background information on the historical research behind the story! There's a great episode about an organized duel for Sei's affections that reveals lots of emotion for Hajime and Soji, which is pretty touching once you get past the fact that these are all dudes (even though Sei is a girl in disguise!).

Video Girl Ai Vol 7: It looks like a second plot arc is beginning since Ai is allowed to come back and start over with Yota (though she can't reveal her motives). Moemi becomes central to the story again and stirs up anger between Yota and Takashi, with some really dramatic and tragic events!

7.28.2008

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team / Nintendo DS : 2 of 5

Even though I pretty much know the kinds of games that I will enjoy the most, I still get tempted to try new things that look cool or interesting. Since I was crazy about Pokemon Yellow back in 2000 (wow, that was a long time ago!), I thought it was time to try a new Pokemon game, and the concept of this game was intriguing. In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, you actually become a Pokemon yourself, which is selected based on a little personality quiz that made me a Bulbasaur. Then you pick your companion (I chose Squirtle, since I'm totally old school when it comes to Pokemon!), and the two of you setup shop as a rescue team for other Pokemon that end up lost or in some other kind of trouble. There is a loose story going on that drives different missions you take, and you meet up with rival rescue teams and so on, but most of the game is lots of wandering around (using the nice automatic mapping feature) and battling with other Pokemon. Of course, you have several different fighting and defense moves, and you get to level up and learn new things on the way, but I was kind of surprised and just how much battle there was. It seemed funny that Pokemon "in the wild" would be beating up on each other so much - pretty different from the spirit of the show I remember! I thought the game play was pretty fun, but the huge number of menus and options and so on were a little mind-boggling. I guess I just don't want to worry about what kinds of berries are the best for certain kinds of Pokemon and all of that stuff anymore! There's nothing wrong with Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - it's just not really the kind of game that gets me addicted, although I certainly had fun with it!

7.27.2008

Peter and the Starcatchers / Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson : 4 of 5

It's been lots of fun making the commitment to read all the unread books I have, because I can finally get around to enjoying great stories like this one! The authors decided to take on the daunting task of writing a series of prequels to explore the backstory and origins of Peter Pan, and I have to say they met the challenge and did an amazing job. The plot begins with Peter (simply an ordinary boy at this point) and his fellow orphans being sent away on a ship called the Never Land, which happens to also be carrying a mysterious chest full of treasure. The chest is full of "starstuff" (which we know as pixie dust), under the protection of a girl named Molly and her father (who are part of the Starcatchers in the title). Captain Hook is known as Black Stache (since he has both hands!), and his dialogue with Smee and the other pirates is hilarious and well written. There are some great sea battles (with interesting naval strategy explanations), but the real fun begins when everyone ends up on an island where lots of familiar components of the Peter Pan story come to life! It's fun reading about Peter learning to fly, seeing the creation of the mermaids, experiencing the actual battle where Peter cuts off Stache's hand, and finally, the creation of Tinker Bell at the very end of the book! The story moves along really quickly, especially since it's organized into super-short chapters, and although this is definitely a children's book, the action gets surprisingly bloody at times. Since this is the first book of the series, I'll probably continue reading these adventures of Peter Pan from the days before Wendy, John & Michael. It's really fascinating to read "how it all began", and if you're a Peter Pan fan, I recommend that you do the same!

7.26.2008

The Dark Knight : 5 of 5

Until now, Batman Begins was the best Batman movie ever made, and now it's been topped by this incredible sequel! All of the fantastic dark, serious, and realistic elements of the first movie are back in full-force, completely embracing the nature of Batman as merely a human who constantly must keep his own sense of justice in check. This is exactly why the Joker is such a perfect villain, since he represents an even darker side of the Dark Knight, and this film's new version of this classic character is sheer genius. Heath Ledger's development of the Joker is so perfect, since his voice and mannerisms transform him into a deranged nerd gone wild - even though no true backstory is given (since the Joker's own story telling changes on a whim), you can almost imagine his personality and events that might have lead to his crime spree. The musical score really adds to the Joker's scenes as well. At certain moments a long, slow crescendo begins that keeps rising until a dramatic moment explodes on the screen, and it certainly adds tension and apprehension that something is about to erupt! As soon as I heard the name Harvey Dent in the trailer, I knew there was a second villain in the mix as well (minor spoiler!), but it's a shame that a cool character like Two-Face has such a short time in the movie. Actually, my only complaint is The Dark Knight really seems like two movies pushed together, which could have easily been made into separate normal-length films (although I'm sure the director must have a had a reason, which will probably come out in the third movie!). Of course, the action and effects are incredible and the Batpod is really cool, but they don't overshadow the actors or take over the story at all. I can't decide if The Dark Knight is the best super hero movie ever, but there's no doubt that it's earned the title of "best Batman ever"!

7.25.2008

Kikaida 01 Complete Box Set : 5 of 5

For the past several weeks, I've been back in Kikaida fan mode, watching all 46 episodes of the fantastic Kikaida 01! This 1973-74 sequel of the original series is available on an awesome DVD set from Generation Kikaida, which includes beautiful menu artwork and excellent bonus material, such as incredibly detailed factoids about each episode. I wasn't sure how I would feel about Kikaida 01, since I was so devoted to the original Kikaida, but I was excited to discover that Jiro (Kikaida) fights along with his brother Ichiro (01) in many episodes! There's too much plot to cover in this brief review, but at least I can mention some cool characters. Ichiro follows Jiro's lead by announcing himself with music (he plays a trumpet, rather than a guitar) and rides the cool Double Machine (cycle with sidecar). While fighting the evil organization SHADOW (featuring Hakaida from the original series, but with Professor Gill's brain!), he protects Akira and Hiroshi (who turn out to be Gill's sons). Along the way he meets Bijinda, a girl robot with laser boobs (no kidding!), who is wonderful to look at as Mari, her human form. I also thought Waruda, a Samurai robot who yearns to learn right from wrong, was really cool, and added some nice emotional touches to the later episodes. Of course, the effects are hilarious, and the costumes are mostly recycled from the original series - some of them really cracked me up (watching Blue Dragon swallow people was a riot). But the action is still super-exciting, and the music is completely fantastic - the kind of stuff you can only find in an old TV show like this! I still prefer the original Kikaida because Jiro's inner conflict was so interesting, but I'm definitely an official Kikaida 01 fan now. Tokusatsu shows are so much fun to watch!

7.24.2008

Burning less time with Apple TV

My HDTV just got one more set of inputs filled in this week, since I finally got an Apple TV! I've been thinking about buying one for a long time, and now that I'm enjoying it, I can't believe I waited so long. Even though I think the iTunes Store integration, YouTube and Flickr access features are really cool, my main purpose is to watch all the Jpop video that I download all the time. Until now, this has been my weekly routine: download the latest episodes of Haromoni@, Berikyuu!, lots of music videos and other random stuff, then use VisualHub to create DVD images, burn the DVDs, then watch them on TV when I have the time. Each week I've been spending time burning several DVDs that I typically watch once and then store in a box, but now my video life is a little easier. I'm still using VisualHub to convert everything to Apple TV format, but then iTunes automatically transfers everything so it's only a few clicks of the remote away! The best part for me is each video file maintains its true aspect ratio, which would sometimes get messed up when I would combine different ratios on one DVD. I discovered that I can browse everything on Apple TV easier if I tag everything as a TV show (which I can do easily via AppleScript), so I can categorize video however I like (plus I can remember what I've watched since there's a handy indicator). Using the Apple TV menus and browsing everything is lots of fun, and I love seeing my latest Flickr photos as a screen saver! I'm really happy with Apple TV so far, and I'm enjoying my weekly Jpop fix in style now.

7.23.2008

Nana : 4 of 5

Even though I already bought the Japanese special edition DVD of this movie back in 2006, I really wanted to get this new release so I could enjoy the official English subtitles, as well as support new Japanese DVD releases in the US! Nana is kind of special to me since it's the first thing that really made me feel plugged-in to current Japanese culture, since I was already reading the manga when the movie was released to theaters in Japan. You can read most of my gushing comments in my original review, but although Nana has its flaws, I really enjoyed watching it again, and it was even better than I remembered! Just like the first time I saw it, I loved the expert use of flashbacks to reveal the backstory without weighing down the main plot, and once again I thought the music was awesome! Hachi (the cute Nana) is so beautiful (I love watching her in the audience in the concert scenes), and Mika Nakashima (I listen to lots of her music now) does a great job in her role. Now that I have a few more Japanese dramas under my belt, I'm also starting to recognize more actors! Hachi's bad boyfriend Shoji is played by the young doctor from First Kiss, and the girl he cheats with was the bassist from Nodame Cantabile. Now that the story is fresh in my mind, I'm really starting to consider buying the manga volumes to read it again (and to make it to the end, since Shojo Beat stopped carrying it when the story got too racy). I'm also looking forward to the sequel film (even though I have read mixed reviews), which is finally coming out soon on DVD in the US!

7.22.2008

The Mickey Mouse Treasures / Robert Tieman : 5 of 5

I can't believe it took me so long to find the time to read this book! I completely enjoyed Robert Tieman's previous books, The Disney Treasures and The Disney Keepsakes (which I totally recommend!), so I definitely made sure his latest book, The Mickey Mouse Treasures, was on my Christmas list. Well, six months later I can say this book is just as wonderful as the others, and I had a fantastic time enjoying it! Just like the other books, nearly every page contains a reproduction of a priceless collectible that slips out of a pocket for you to examine and marvel over, all themed to the history of Mickey Mouse this time. There are some incredible items, many featuring Walt's own handwriting - I really enjoyed the gag payment sheet (where Walt tallied up who submitted jokes, which earned them a few extra bucks). There's also a small black & white animation cell with background, plus a sample pop-up page from a vintage Mickey book (and I learned that the term "pop-up book" was coined for a Mickey publication!). The text of the book was enlightening, too - I had never heard of the live Mickey stage show from 1931, and reading about Mickey's bizarre family tree (as established in comics and other sources) was fascinating. Studying Fred Moore's incredible sketches of Mickey in my own hands made me feel like I was in Disney's animation archives, and holding vintage Disneyland postcards was like a dream, too! The concept for these books is simply fantastic, and I certainly hope that Robert Tieman (who works in the Disney archives now, I've learned) creates more of them. The Mickey Mouse Treasures belongs on every Disney fan's bookshelf, along with the other books in the series!

7.21.2008

Love*Com The Movie : 3 of 5

The title of this movie has nothing to do with a website, since it's short for Lovely Complex, a hit romance manga series. I haven't read the manga, but I always enjoy the Japanese films that VIZ Video subtitles for US release, and I had a great time watching this one, too! The story is about a short guy and a tall girl who both have romance troubles because of their height. They become friends to support each other, but of course, they are totally destined to be boyfriend and girlfriend! The plot compresses lots of events (which must have happened over several manga volumes) into one movie, so things get crazy pretty fast. The ending is completely weird, when a new handsome teacher shows up as kind of rival, ending in an insane basketball challenge match! The style of the movie is a little surreal - everything is coated in super-bright colors, and everyone's acting is purposely over the top, even speaking directly to the viewers at times. This is especially true of the girl Koizumi (who is meltingly cute!), who screams and pouts with great comedic timing (but certainly not realism!). The guy Otani is played by a popular actor (who was also in one of the Gokusen dramas), and the Jpop artist Nami Tamaki even has a role, which was a surprise! Speaking of Jpop, there are lots of great tunes on the soundtrack (much like an American teen flick), including a great Puffy AmiYumi song I knew, and the centerpiece of the film is a goofy Japanese rap video spoof by the fictitious band Umibozu, which was hilarious! The DVD has some long extras, including an entire subplot that must have been cut out of the film. Although I don't have the urge to buy this DVD or read the manga now, I really enjoyed Love*Com and I'd recommend it for a fun night of Japanese comedy.

7.20.2008

Erin's Challenge! I Can Speak Japanese Vol 1 : 4 of 5

Now that I'm in between Rosetta Stone Japanese levels, I've finally started studying with a new set of books that I bought last year. I've always thought it would be cool to use DVDs as a study method, so when I heard about this series I was pretty excited, even though I knew these would be beginner books teaching me stuff I already knew. Actually, this series is kind of strange - although each lesson teaches a simple language concept, all of the explanation is in somewhat advanced Japanese! If a complete beginner tried to learn from these books, I think they would be totally lost. But for me, I had a great time studying "around" the actual lesson! Each lesson consists of a chapter in the book and an accompanying show on the DVD, which features both animation (including your yellow blob teacher named Honigon) and live-action skits. The skits follow the lives of several high school students, including Erin, who is supposed to be an exchange student learning Japanese, but of course she already speaks well. Each DVD lesson also includes culture segments such as Let's Try and Let's See, as well as a discussion of the grammar concept (all in Japanese). Only the skits are subtitled, and the book is completely in Japanese, too (except for scripts of the skit subtitles). I decided to read through each lesson in the book first, which gave me some reading practice and an overview of what I'd be watching, and then I enjoyed the DVD and did my best to follow along (I can understand about 90% of what's being said). I showed this book briefly to my tutor Kumiko and she was impressed with the natural speaking style, which is really fun for me to learn. Overall, I'm pretty happy with this book (though I'm not sure I would recommend it to a total beginner), since it's such a refreshing change from my other study methods, and I'm really looking forward to continuing with the next volume!

Simple days

Sometimes when I hear about what my pals did on a Saturday, I start to think that my day has been a little boring. But truthfully, often those simple days are the best of all, since they make me feel so relaxed, peaceful, and positive about life! Yesterday was one of those days - in the morning, I finished some laundry, downloaded a batch of Jpop videos, and converted them to Apple TV format (since I have an Apple TV on the way!). I had my usual fun weekly phone call with my parents, then did a cool Japanese lesson. After that I enjoyed a long, sweaty walk around the Arboretum, which felt so great - I was completely in the moment, loving the sunshine and the good music playing on my iPhone. The heat was so nice that I decided to stay outside on my patio when I got home, so I had a beer and finished a fantastic book I've been reading, which always makes me feel good. Also during the day I caught up on several reviews for WEBmikey and read a couple volumes of manga! In the evening, I burned a ton of CDs (with Japanese Pod 101 lessons to listen to in the car) and thoroughly enjoyed an art book that I bought ages ago, reading about Pollock and Rothko, then I topped off the night watching DVDs. All during the day I felt really nice - I caught myself smiling and laughing, proof that I just felt wonderful. It might not have been a day that other people would call special, but simple days will always be special to me!

7.19.2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D : 3 of 5

It was such a coincidence that I saw this movie with my pal Melinda so soon after enjoying the original film on DVD, and it was lots of fun to compare the two and see how they handled different parts of the story. This version is quite a bit campier and light-hearted, and actually is kind of a sequel or retelling of the original Jules Verne story, since they use the book itself as a reference in the film. The use of 3D (which is totally spectacular and lots of fun) adds to the goofiness, since they decided to go all-out and throw every 3D cliche in the book at the audience! In only the first five minutes all kinds of things have been pointed at the camera, and Brendan Fraser even spits out his toothpaste directly in your face. After some quick background story about Brendan and his nephew (played by Josh Hutcherson, who I've enjoyed in every movie he's done), the story moves to Iceland very quickly and gets the guys (plus their cute Icelandic girl guide) into spelunking mode. There's a fantastic roller coaster sequence where they ride old mine cars over some completely crazy tracks (which looks a lot like some simulator rides I've experienced), and a pretty funny long fall as they actually descend into the world within the world. The scenery of what they find is spectacular, and I enjoyed seeing everything from the jungles to the huge ocean, which is filled with both giant-toothed fish (that jump at the camera, of course!) and massive swimming dinosaurs! The dramatic escape has the characters riding a dinosaur skull on a column of steam until they are shot out of a volcano in Italy, and I loved the tension beforehand as the lava was rising, which was an excellent twist on what I had watched recently in the original film. Overall, this version of Journey to the Center of the Earth really doesn't take itself seriously. Instead, this is just an action-packed, 3D-infused, Saturday morning adventure, and if that's what you're looking for, you'll love it!

Journey to the Center of the Earth : 3 of 5

My pal Matt bought me this DVD as a surprise gift, knowing it would fit nicely with the other movies in my DVD collection, and I really enjoyed it! I'm a big fan of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and I thought it was interesting that another Jules Verne movie was made with James Mason in the leading role only a few years later. Hilariously, Pat Boone is the co-star, who seems so out of place speaking academic lines as a budding scientist, and of course we get to hear him sing during the film's long pre-adventure sequence. In fact, this movie is well over two hours, mainly because it takes so long to get the cast underground where they belong! But once they do, it's very well-made and exciting, with interesting sets (some of the rock work is obviously crumpled paper, but generally looks fantastic) expertly combined with on-location footage shot in Carlsbad Caverns, which really looks spectacular! Eventually the scientists are attacked by dinosaurs, which in this case are live lizards with attachments to make them look like Dimetrodon. Even though the lizards are slow-moving, the sequence is still pretty cool! I really enjoyed the huge mushroom forest, the underground sea, and the eventual discovery of Atlantis (I have no idea if that's in the original Verne book, but it worked well in the movie). The pacing of the film is a little strange, since the huge climactic escape scene, where the group is literally shot out of a volcano, is crammed into the last eight minutes of the movie! I really enjoyed seeing this classic from 1959, and it made seeing the new 3D version of this story even more interesting.

7.17.2008

Geek novels

While I was visiting my parents in Oklahoma City recently, my dad showed me a box of books he discovered in the garage, which contained quite a few that I really enjoyed as a child. My old Dungeons & Dragons books were there, along with some superhero books, plus several paperbacks. I decided to take a few of the paperbacks with me, because I thought it was cool that I had read the novelizations of three of my top childhood movies! If you asked me to name a few movies (besides Star Wars) that I was totally crazy about when I was a boy, I'm pretty sure that Tron, The Black Hole, and Clash of the Titans would be some of the first titles out of my mouth. I'm sure I bought these novels after I saw the movies, and I really don't remember reading them, but I think it's nice to have something that I know was special to me then, since those movies (no matter how great or bad they may be!) are still special to me now. Although I tried to make a "serious" Top 10 Movies list in 2004, now I have the urge to make a special Top 10 Childhood Movies list sometime soon!

夏休み の おもいで

私にとって 1995年の 夏休みは とても とくべつ です。1994年に りこん した ので、新しい なにかを さがして いました。1995年に 私と しごと なかまの トレーさんは カリフォルニアしゅうの サンノゼに ある アッペルしゃの ねんかいに さんか しました。サンノゼの あたりを たのしむ ために、ぜんじつに つきました。

まずは オープンカーを かりて、「PCH」という ゆうめいな こうそくどうろを うんてん しました。おおきな おとで おんがくを ききながら、つよい かぜ と うみの いい においを たのしみました。すばらしい きもち でした!

そして、スチンソン ビーチへ いきました。その とき、ほとんど 人が いなかった ので、そこで じかんを おく かけて、なみを みながら じんせいに ついて はなしました。トレーさんが やさしい 人 なので、はなしやすかった です。

そのあと、バークレーで さんぽ したり、本やで かいもの したり、ビールを のんだり しました。新聞を よんで いた とき、フォークの コンサートの じょうほうを みつけました。すごく ぐうぜんに おたがいに この バンドが 好き だったから、コンサートを みに いきました。とても もりあがりました。

1995年の 夏休みの ー日は 私の たからもの です。そして この けいけん について たくさん しを かきました。この できごとを ぜったい わすれません。

7.15.2008

Duck Amuck / Nintendo DS : 3 of 5

Since I'm a Warner Bros. fan and Duck Amuck is one of the greatest cartoons ever, I knew right away that Duck Amuck the game would be fun! Just like the cartoon, you get to drive Daffy Duck crazy by messing with his surroundings, slicing him in half, or drawing new body parts, with the ultimate goal of making him so mad that he blows his top. The game play is a little strange, since Daffy just stands there waiting for you to do something (like bonk him on the head or rip holes in the background), and depending on what you do, a different mini-game is introduced. There are tons of games, but it can be tricky to discover them all! Some of the games are pretty amazing, with terrific images, music, and sound effects, especially ones that are directly inspired by other famous cartoons (such as Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century). Some are even spoofs of video games in general, such as the fantastic 8-bit Atari-esque masterpiece, which is actually one of my favorites! One of the games makes you close the DS and press the corner buttons based on Daffy's spoken directions, which is sheer genius. On the downside, it can be confusing to figure out some of the games, since sometimes you want to play to win, but other times you have to make Daffy lose, since the ultimate goal is to make him mad. Since you have to experiment to find all the mini-games, it can be frustrating to have to play some of the same games over and over. But with all that aside, Daffy's animation and voice work are absolutely perfect, and it's almost like you really do have a little Daffy trapped in your DS! Listening to Daffy's lines definitely made me laugh out loud more than once while playing Duck Amuck, and you can hardly ask for more than that from a video game!

7.14.2008

The Star Wars Vault / Stephen Sansweet : 4 of 5

It takes me forever to get around to reading coffee table books (mainly because they just aren't portable), but I've finally started on a few giant books that I got for Christmas! The first was The Star Wars Vault, which is filled with reproductions of paper memorabilia from all six Star Wars movies (much like the Disney Treasures books that I enjoy so much). The items are concealed in pockets in the book's pages so you can take them out to examine them, and it was so nostalgic to hold things that I remember looking at over and over again as a child! My favorite was the original Kenner toy catalog (which only had things like the board game and puzzles), and I also loved the old Star Wars Fan Club newsletter called Bantha Tracks - I remember the exact issue they reproduced! I had even saved some of the Star Wars newspaper comic strips that were included, which was such a coincidence. The book itself has some fantastic photos and interesting text, which is much more fascinating when discussing merchandising and promotion rather than the making of the movies, which is covered much better in other books. I enjoyed seeing the incredible swag items that the crew members received, and it was so cool to look at photos of T-shirts that I used to wear - they even included a reproduction iron-on (although I don't know if it can actually be used)! As a nice bonus, the book also comes with two CDs of interviews and rare material (including Leia's song from the Holiday Special!), and listening to this stuff was pretty exciting (especially the making of the NPR radio drama). I'm not sure if younger fans would enjoy this book, but if you're my age, then The Star Wars Vault is definitely a nostalgic trip!

7.12.2008

Treasured images

Generally I don't mind growing older, since there are a lot of positive things about it, but unfortunately as time goes on we all have to say goodbye to some of our loved ones. Although that's sad, I find that the memories of family members that I miss become stronger than ever, and I often feel closer to them now than I was able to as a child. For the past several years I've started to cherish old family photos more and more, and my parents have been so generous in giving me some truly precious ones to keep, since they know I treasure them! Along with some fantastic albums full of great pictures, Mom will sometimes frame some priceless portraits for me as a gift, and I have been setting them up on the dresser in my bedroom. On my recent trip to Oklahoma City, she gave me a great picture of my parents that was taken during a trip to Vegas before I was born, and I love seeing them full of the same excitement they have about each other that fills their hearts today. Mom also gave me another amazing gift - a framed photo of my Grandmother (Mom's mom) looking truly beautiful! I was surprised Mom gave it to me, since I thought she would want to keep it herself, but I'm so thankful to have it since now I kind of have a "complete set" on my dresser. I'm proud of my family, and I'm glad I can look at them each day and remember them always!

View photos: Family Photos

7.11.2008

Scott Pilgrim Vol 1 & Vol 2 : 3 of 5

I first heard about Scott Pilgrim on Pulp Secret's The Stack podcast (which I watch on my TiVo), and then later I read some other positive reviews, so I thought I should check it out (using a gift certificate from my pal Jonathan!). I considered reviewing it as part of my Manga Mentions series, since each volume is the same size and length as a typical manga, but since I only read manga that was actually written in Japan, I decided against it, so here we are! Scott Pilgrim is hard to describe, but hilarious enough to hook me into the series! The story is like a sitcom about hip twenty-something Canadians, with a healthy dose of superhero fantasy thrown in for fun. Scott is a somewhat average guy who is dating a cute Asian high schooler named Knives Chau, and trying to break up with her to date Ramona Flowers, a cool Amazon delivery girl. Ramona happens to have a "League of Evil Ex-Boyfriends" that Scott must defeat one by one, while also dealing with Knives' jealousy (oh, and he's in a band, too!). The artwork is really cartoony and crazy, but still reads well, and there are loads of comic book and video game references (when Scott wins in a fight, the bad guy disappears and leaves coins behind!). Along with the unique story, the dialogue is fantastic, filled with clever jokes and believable speech patterns. I especially love poor Knives' conversation with her friend about Scott's breakup with her, which is both sad and cute (of course, I think Knives is cuter, so I'm already rooting for the wrong girl). These first two volumes are definitely a great start to the series, and I'm sure I'll be reading the whole thing!

7.10.2008

Roller-rama

On Sunday, my pals Matt & Kumiko decided they wanted to go see the Texas Rollergirls for the first time, so I went along just to see what it was like. It turned out to be an action-packed evening of screaming and fun! The Texas Rollergirls are a group of several Texas teams who are members of the Women's Flat-Track Derby Association (WFTDA), which was only formed a few years ago to establish roller derby played in a regular skating rink (flat-track instead of banked). So, the local Austin matches are held in a regular skate center, but with the entire place filled with excited fans, it becomes an entirely new experience. First, we had to learn the rules, which were explained in the program, and once we figured out who the jammers were and how they had to break through the pack to score, we really got into it! Part of the fun is the hilarious team and player names - we saw the Hell Marys and the Hotrod Honeys both win. The competition gets pretty fierce (we saw some bad falls and minor injuries), but these girls are serious athletes! It was amazing to watch them skate full-speed around corners and sometimes jump and fake to get through the pack. It was also fun to drink Lone Star, listen to the half-time band, and scream my head off, too! The bouts we saw determined who will play in the championship next month, and I'm rooting for the Hotrod Honeys, since they have some really cool players!

7.09.2008

Jam Sessions / Nintendo DS : 2 of 5

Playing guitar used to be a huge part of my life, and I even took guitar lessons, practiced all the time, and wrote songs. That phase ended many years ago, but when I heard about Jam Sessions, I was pretty interested, since it's essentially a guitar simulator for the DS! The touch screen has an area that you can "strum" (up and down strokes even sound different), while you use the buttons on the DS to change chords - it's actually a lot like an autoharp. There's a mind-boggling set of options available, including cool effects like distortion and delay, plus several ways to customize how you "play" the instrument. The sounds are all actual guitar samples (they recorded all those chords with different sound possibilities), but of course the tiny DS speakers can only do so much. There are quite a few licensed songs included so you can strum along (with the chords shown on the upper screen), but I wasn't really a fan of any of them. Truthfully, my one disappointment with Jam Sessions is that it's not a game at all - it's just a guitar. There are some great tutorials to follow, and a fantastic ear training section (which was my favorite thing to try, since it's the most like a game challenge), but in reality you are left with a tiny guitar to strum on your own. I also think it would have been cool if there was a way to play power chords, rather than only full open chords, since they would sound much better using the effects. Jam Sessions is definitely a unique achievement, but I don't think I'll find myself using it to make music very often. But if you're interested in learning the basics of guitar and how chords work, I would definitely give it a try!

7.08.2008

Son of Godzilla : 3 of 5

I have to admit I wasn't really looking forward to this particular Godzilla movie, but since it's the 8th film in the series (made in 1967), I had to watch it. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised! First, this DVD is another Sony release, meaning it includes the original Japanese voice track and fantastic widescreen that looks great upscaled - I'm starting to think I should collect these Sony releases now. Second, the monsters that Godzilla fights are incredibly cool, since they are giant insects created with realistic marionette techniques! The first is Kamacuras, which is a trio of huge mantis creatures, and they are really creepy looking with their giant eyes and moving mandibles. They can also fly, and burn particularly well when Godzilla uses his atomic breath (something they certainly couldn't do if there was a suit actor inside). The main enemy is Kumonga, a giant spider that uses even more complex special effects (of course, you can see the strings sometimes, but that's part of the fun!). Unfortunately, we also have to deal with Minilla, Godzilla's wimpy little "son", who hatches from an egg (which is discovered by Kamacuras). The classic scenes of Godzilla teaching Minilla how to roar and use his atomic breath are kind of funny, but the major battles with the insects are much more exciting. The characters (most played by well-known actors from other Godzilla movies) are interesting, too, such as Professor Kusumi trying to control weather for the benefit of mankind (and ultimately freezing the island with Godzilla and Minilla left hibernating), and Saeko, the daughter of another scientist who has grown up on the island, is cute and spunky, even when she's throwing fruit into Minilla's mouth. I'm glad that Son of Godzilla was much better than I expected, and the next movie is just around the corner!

7.07.2008

Searching for Mickey

I always get a laugh by checking out some of the searches that bring people to WEBmikey, and since I've written a lot of Disney posts, many of those searches are for Disney topics. But the Disney search that I see the most is pretty hilarious, because it's totally based on a misspelling! Nearly everyday I see a search for "Mikey Mouse", because apparently there are lots of people who don't know how to spell "Mickey". (Of course, if you are one of these people, you may be reading this and feeling embarrassed right now!) The funny thing to me is that every Disney fan knows the words to the Mickey Mouse March, which spells M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E over and over again. I'm always glad to get more hits on my website, but if you're looking for more general Mickey Mouse info, take a moment to sing before you type!

7.06.2008

WALL-E : 5 of 5

There is absolutely no doubt that Pixar is the new Disney - of course, they actually are Disney, but you know what I mean. No other animation studio, including Disney's own, comes close to creating the brilliance of the Pixar films, and WALL-E is no exception! Director Andrew Stanton has definitely taken his place next to Brad Bird as one of the most amazing storytellers in the business - Finding Nemo and WALL-E are such fantastic original stories! There is so much to say about this movie that I don't know where to begin. The plot is wonderful, combining science fiction, romance and comedy into one beautiful package, and there's almost no need to even mention the animation, which is simply top-notch (the effects animation is particularly superb, rendering everything from dust storms to fire extinguishers in space perfectly). The character design is fascinating, since every robot is filled with emotion, but also seems to be mechanically feasible (no bendable metal, like in Cars)! WALL-E himself is filled with emotion, EVE is beautiful and can express so many moods, and all of the other designs are simply cool (I really want to collect some WALL-E robot toys now!). There's little voice work to comment on, but I have to say that Ben Burtt's sound design for the robot voices and sounds is fantastic (Of course, that's just what you would expect from the creator of R2-D2's language!). I only have one complaint, and this is true of most Pixar movies - I wish they had turned up the emotion just a little bit more. I really want to cry during touching scenes, and while I did let a few tears fall towards the end, the moment was cut a little too short for me. Movies like WALL-E are showing the world what a fantastic experience an animated film can be, and I'm thankful Pixar is around to do it right!

7.05.2008

Frugal scheming

My latest habit is finding new ways to be frugal and make a little extra money, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately! It's just another decluttering obsession to me, except this time I'm decluttering financial stuff (and replacing it with better decisions and so on). I've sold three items on eBay so far (and I'm hoping the fourth item goes soon!), and I was able to get some great cash for my bike and my wool rug (that I stopped using a long time ago since it interfered with DDR) on Craigslist. The people who bought my things were really nice, and paid in cash with no hassle - how cool! Recently I also decided to totally get rid of my home telephone, since I only make about one call a week with it - I haven't cancelled it yet, but I can't wait, since the savings will be nice. At the same time, I also decided to check out some insurance quotes online, and I'm totally going to get rid of State Farm and go with GEICO. I'm excited about dealing with my policies online (instead of calling my inept State Farm agency), and that's another huge yearly savings for me. Finally, I've been in the habit of putting my loose change in a cup in my pantry for a long time, and when it fills up, I take it to the Coinstar machine at HEB. Usually I get cash, which carries a transaction fee, but this time I realized I could get an Amazon gift certificate with no fee at all. So, my cup of change translated in $60 bucks at Amazon, and I know I'll have no problem spending it!

7.04.2008

Brain Age 2 / Nintendo DS : 3 of 5

Can you believe I'm just now writing about this game I got for Christmas? I've just been doing a lot of other things lately rather than playing my DS, but I'm starting to get back into gaming mode! Actually, I've been playing Brain Age 2 every now and then for several weeks now, so I've pretty much got a taste for the whole thing. It's a lot like the original Brain Age, with an identical interface, but the challenges are all different. The new voice recognition game is a variation on Rock, Paper, Scissors, where you have to say the winning (or losing!) move, which can be really tough to do quickly. Actually, I got tired of this one pretty quick, so I just kept opting for the "I can't speak" selection. Of course, there are various math games which are fun, and I was surprised how good I got at making change (since in my only retail experience the register always did that for me!). I really liked the Piano Player game, since I'm good at music and rhythm, and Word Blend (which plays voices saying a few words simultaneously for you to guess) was pretty cool, too. There's a ton of Sudoku puzzles available (just like on the original game), but I get annoyed when the professor character makes you do some silly connect-the-dots game just to move on to what you want to play! My best Brain Age Check was 30, which isn't too bad I guess, considering my actual age. If you enjoyed the original game, Brain Age 2 is definitely more of the same fun, but right now I'm ready to move on to some other Christmas DS games!

7.03.2008

Wanted : 3 of 5

While I was in Oklahoma City, my parents and I decided to experience a movie in the plush Warren Theater balcony, so we saw this comic book adventure film together. Wanted isn't the type of movie I would normally see, but when I found out it was based on a graphic novel, I was intrigued, and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit since the entire movie really does have a superhero style. The story is about Wesley Gibson, a wimpy guy with a terrible job, cheating girlfriend, and a life going nowhere, who suddenly finds out he's the son of a master assassin. These assassins are in an ancient order called the Fraternity, who take their orders from "fate" (dealt out by weaves of a mystical loom), and have almost superhuman powers that allow them to heal quickly and even bend the path of bullets from their guns! Angelina Jolie plays the Fox, who becomes Wesley's mentor, and I was glad to see she wasn't the main character, since I'm not much of a fan. James McAvoy was fantastic as Wesley, and his range from anxiety attacks to bad-ass fighting really made the movie enjoyable. I loved the over-the-top touches, such as deflecting bullets with other bullets, or the incredible scene where a train falls off a bridge into a mountain gorge - the more spectacular, the better! There's definitely plenty of blood (including scenes like bullets exiting head wounds in slow motion - yuck!), but since it's all presented with almost a fantasy feel, I didn't mind it too much. Wanted turned out to be a great action movie with a well-written, interesting storyline, and I'm glad I got to see it from my huge, comfy balcony seat!

7.02.2008

Summer trip to Oklahoma City

Last weekend I made my usual summer visit to Oklahoma City to spend a fun long weekend with my parents. Of course, we made some trips to Riverwind Casino, and I always have fun playing the slots with Mom & Dad! On the first day I came out ahead, but lost a bunch on the second day, but I still came away losing much less than I planned. We had a great time playing the Star Wars and Indiana Jones machines - I love all the authentic graphics and sound effects! Our next activity was seeing a movie at the incredible Warren Theater, which is pretty spectacular. The interiors are amazing, from the cool artwork to the giant red curtain that lifts before the movie begins, and all the employees have bow ties and white gloves. We paid extra for the balcony treatment, which is like a deluxe version of the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin, with full food service during the movie in giant plush seats! Next, we visited the Oklahoma City Zoo (which I hadn't been to in many, many years) and had a great time viewing all kinds of animals (my favorite was the red panda, which I had never seen before). The tram ride was especially good, since the narrator really knew his stuff and told us lots of fascinating facts. It was really a nice visit - it's always fun to spend time with Mom & Dad, eat Mom's delicious cooking, and help Dad hook up another HDTV (his third this time)!

View photos: Oklahoma City 2008