9.29.2008

Death Note Vol 6 : 4 of 5

Lately I've been writing anime reviews two volumes at a time, but since I'm totally caught up on Death Note DVD releases, I have to write about this one now (since the next DVD doesn't come out for a month). This volume contains some of the more intense plot developments in the story, including the huge build-up to the capture of Higuchi as the "third Kira". It's cool to see Misa and Light regain their memories just as planned - this particular point is so complex that they take the time to go over all of the notebook swapping in detail via a flashback, and it's amazing how everything was thought out. There was some nice animation this time, especially during car chase scenes (the reflections are really cool), and I also noticed a nice touch with both Light and his dad refusing to use a handgun (which shows how both of them cherish justice, but with much different outcomes). After watching the new frenetic opening and closing sequences a few times, I've finally decided I like them (regardless of the intense music), since they both have awesome images and color (and Misa looks really hot, too). This DVD has the standard voice actor interview segment, which is pretty boring, but it was interesting to hear how the voice actor for Rem tries to duplicate the Japanese actor's voice. I'm looking forward to the next volume and seeing more of the story - it doesn't matter that I already know what happens!

9.28.2008

Morning Musume Concert Tour 2008 Haru Single Sai Shugo! : 4 of 5

Once again I'm way behind the times Jpop-wise, since this DVD came out such a long time ago, but I still have to say a few words about this cool concert, which is at least twice as great as Morning Musume's previous disappointing show! The theme for this concert is to perform every single, so this show is wall-to-wall music, with very little talking segments (which is fine with me). I love seeing the current line-up perform older songs like Morning Coffee (which was actually sung with harmony, and the girls look great in their skirts), and squeezing everything in means the arrangers had to get creative with medleys. Sometimes these are awesome - the transition from Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago to Memory Seishun no Hikari was fantastic, but some of the other transitions were absolutely terrible. I really liked the new piano arrangements for a few of the songs (especially Sayumi's unexpected Furusato solo!). The camera work was nice this time around - I liked the long shots (rather than all the usual quick cuts), and the on-stage low angle camera was interesting, too. Jun Jun did a great job with her solo lines, but Lin Lin needs to stop smiling on serious or sad songs. Gaki-san was brimming with confidence, and Koharu was just embarrassing as usual (yuck). Sayumi was sweet and cute (but didn't get enough camera time), and Reina's longer hair looked nice (but I could do without that weird fake shoulder tattoo). Most of the outfits were too frilly, but things got skimpy near the end! I'm glad Morning Musume recovered from their last effort with such an awesome concert - this is definitely one I want to watch again soon!

9.26.2008

Batman Chronicles / Vol 3 : 3 of 5

I'm still enjoying the Batman Chronicles series, although this volume lost a little of the charm of the previous books (maybe I'm just getting used to the old 1940s style, or maybe I was in the mood for something more modern). There are a couple good Joker stories, and I like how he always seems to die at the end (and then they show how he survives at the start of the next story). All of the other villains are just normal crooks, except for Clayface (although he's still just an actor with make-up at this point), but there are a few crazy stories with plots like fighting pirates at sea or teleporting into a fairy tale book to rescue a scientist's daughter (that one was particularly goofy). At first the Batmobile is still a red car, but finally gets a new paint job and bat head towards the end, and we also get to see the Batplane (which actually transforms into the Batboat at one point). In one story, Batman surprisingly uses a gun to disarm a villain, but they are careful to note that Batman would never carry a gun. Speaking of the narration, I still like the melodramatic stuff, but sometimes it gets a little annoying, since they describe every detail of each fight. This volume is pretty thick at 200 pages, but it barely covers a year of publication (ending in the middle of 1941). I'm not sure how long this series will go - I don't think I have the stamina to read it all, but I'm sure I'll hang on for a few more, especially since I want to see more super-villains emerge!

9.25.2008

Godzilla vs King Ghidorah : 3 of 5

It's time to get started with the Heisei era of Godzilla movies! Unfortunately, the first two films in this second series aren't even available on Region 1 DVD, so I can't rent them (looks like I will have to buy some cheap Hong Kong versions), so I had to begin with the third movie in this set from 1991. Godzilla vs King Ghidorah has one of the most bizarre plots every conceived, filled with time travel craziness! People from the year 2204 return to present day Japan to tell people they need to stop Godzilla from being created, so they go back to World War II when Godzilla was just a regular dinosaur who happened to be living on an island during nuclear testing. So, they transport him away, but leave three little creatures behind, which end up turning into King Ghidorah from the same nuclear power! Yes, we've been double-crossed by these future dudes, who really just want to prevent Japan from becoming too powerful in the future! There's too much more to go into, but it's enough to say that Godzilla still gets created, and he's so mean that they have to travel into the future to resurrect Ghidorah this time, who returns as a half-machine, mecha-Ghidorah, complete with pilot! It was fun recognizing some actors, including some from the original Ultraman and more recent Japanese dramas. This DVD is pretty lousy, though - no full widescreen and one of the worst English dubs ever (but totally hilarious!). This new Godzilla is definitely not cute - he's all teeth and rage with blinking eyes, and the costume is pretty stiff. The rest of the effects are cool, though, especially Godzilla's atomic breath and Ghidorah's rays. The Heisei era has a much different feel - I think I'm going to miss those heroic walks into the sunset of the Showa era!

9.24.2008

Appleseed Ex Machina : 4 of 5

The first Appleseed movie was one of the most unexpectedly cool anime movies I had seen in a long time, so I didn't expect to enjoy this sequel as much (but of course, I had to buy it). But director Shinji Aramaki (known for his detailed mecha designs) and producer John Woo (who collaborated on the staging and awesome gunplay action) completely surprised me by creating something even more spectacular! This time they're calling their animation technique "HD Animation", since it uses the motion capture technology from the first Appleseed, but they really enhanced the level of detail and subtle movements, which allows for full 3D modeled faces, rather than the "cels on top of CG" look from before. Thankfully, they still take care to give the characters a cartoon look (gotta avoid that uncanny valley), while at the same time bringing incredible detail to the screen in the form of beautiful cityscapes and fantastic computer displays. The plot concerns an entity called Halcon who wants to bring the world together as one machine (nothing too original there), but there is some wonderful character development as Briareos' DNA is used to make a kind of clone Bioroid, which brings up lots of emotions in Deunan (who looks totally cool and beautiful in her updated character design and designer outfits). I was amazed to hear animation expert Jerry Beck doing the commentary track, but unfortunately it wasn't super-interesting (too many silent moments). The second DVD in this set has a couple of documentaries on manga in general and Japanese culture, which are actually pretty lame, but the brief background on Appleseed's creator was fascinating (and now I definitely want to check out the manga!). I really had fun geeking out and watching this awesome movie with all the lights out - Appleseed Ex Machina really satisfied my recent craving for cool futuristic anime!

Three Small Things 9.08

Often I think of little things that make me happy, but I never mention them on WEBmikey because I feel funny about writing short posts. So, I've decided to just save these thoughts and mention them three at a time - hopefully this will turn into kind of a series!

Before my parents came to visit, I decided to buy some new home stuff, which I hardly ever do. I got some new sheets and pillows for my bed, and I'm amazed at how much I'm enjoying them! The pillow is especially cushy and feels so nice as I drift off to sleep. I also got new bathroom items (tissue dispenser and trash can), and they are much better than my old ones that I had for so long - I should have replaced them much sooner!

When I took my parents to IKEA, they bought me a couple coffee mugs that I noticed. I'm really picky when it comes to mugs - the size has to be just right (big enough to hold enough to drink, but not so big that it gets cold before I can finish) and I like a certain feel to the handle. These are perfect, and I've been enjoying some Swedish coffee in them - it wasn't too fancy or expensive, but the flavor is so rich!

When I got my Apple TV, I was only thinking about watching downloaded video, but lately I've been really into using it to listen to music! It's so convenient to flip it on and enjoy the cool display of album art while I'm reading or something, just like a big iPod in my living room.

9.23.2008

Gokusen / Season 3 : 3 of 5

Since I enjoyed the first two seasons of Gokusen so much, I was super-excited to watch this third season (which I plowed through while I was sick with a cold!). Let's get my only complaint out of the way - as the first few episodes passed by, I was surprised at how much this show felt like a total rehash of everything that had happened before! Of course, once you have a hit show and the formula is set, you shouldn't deviate from it, but after seeing some of the same situations and hearing all the same music and sound effects, I felt like I was watching reruns! But even with that in mind, I still totally enjoyed this drama, which is funny and heart-warming as it should be. Yankumi's class has two rival gangs this time, led by Ren and Yamato, which seemed like a nice plot, but of course, Yankumi turns them all into friends by Episode 3. There are essentially six main guys this time, and each of them get an episode to focus on their big problems, most of which end with Yankumi kicking some butt (I still love to see her throw her glasses aside before she fights). Episode 6 was one of my favorites, since one of the guys has a little love story with one of the girls from AKB48, and actually the tone of the whole series improves after this episode. There's a big dramatic fight that ends with Ren in the hospital, but when the series was over it felt kind of unsatisfying to me. Of course, there's never a resolution to Yankumi's typical love triangle, but it was neat to see Kuma from the first season return (and have a baby with his wife). There were definitely some tender moments and I certainly wasn't bored, but overall I really wanted more out of this season of Gokusen. I still completely recommend it though, since you can't really really go wrong watching a hit drama like this!

9.22.2008

Igor : 3 of 5

It's always interesting to see an animated feature by a studio I've never heard of, so my pal Melinda and I had fun watching Igor, animated by Sparx Animation Studios (based in Paris, although there were tons of Vietnamese animators listed in the credits!). While this movie won't win any awards, it has three great things going for it - a quirky, original story, off-the-chart character design, and fantastic voice work! The plot is really clever, set in the Kingdom of Malaria where the economy is based on evil scientists getting the world to pay them not to unleash hideous inventions. Igor is treated as an "Igor", but when his scientist boss is out of the picture he gets the chance to create life, which ends up being a hulkish drama queen (in the literal sense!). Igor's friends Scamper (who is immortal but keeps trying to kill himself) and Brain (who is a brain in a glass jar with less than stellar intelligence) are hilarious, and the interaction between everyone has some great comedic timing! (I should also say I really enjoyed the invisible man who never wears pants - so funny!) The character designs are truly imagination run amok - everything is stretched to the extreme, from outlandish noses to pointy boobs. The only unfortunate design is the king, who is an obvious rip-off of the mayor from The Nightmare Before Christmas (Melinda and I both recognized it immediately!). The voice work is really funny, too, with Eddie Izzard delivering the best performance as the villain Dr. Schadenfreude. He definitely gets all the best lines, and delivers them with awesome dynamics and skill! Even with all these good points, Igor is still missing something, and it's difficult to say if a studio like Pixar could create something better with the same material. But if you're looking for a good laugh and some "out there" animation, give Igor a try!

9.21.2008

Austin Symphony / Leila Josefowicz : 4 of 5

At the last minute I decided to treat myself to the Austin Symphony's season opening concert, and once again I realized how much I love going to the symphony! This was the first non-opera event I've seen in the Long Center, and I was really amazed at the acoustics. I always enjoy people watching at arts events - I was inspired by an elderly woman sitting next to me, since I hope I'm still going to see concerts when I'm her age! The guest artist was violinist Leila Josefowicz, who played Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major with flamboyance and energy. She really stood out from the orchestra in her blue and gold, gypsy-like dress, and she even wrote her own cadenzas (even including tympani in one of them). The concert also included the world premiere of Field of Infinite Forms, which is a combination orchestral and electronic work that was commissioned by the Austin Symphony. I have to say this was a really bizarre piece, but the use of speakers throughout the hall was very cool (I just had a problem with all the Doctor Who synthesizer sounds!). The finale was Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, which I have listened to a million times, but it was absolutely incredible to hear it live. I'm always astounded at how much it sounds like a movie score - modern films really owe a lot to Stravinsky's groundbreaking work. I was also struck by the thought that audiences back in 1919 probably thought The Firebird sounded just as weird as the electronic piece I had just heard - maybe that's why it was chosen for the program! There's absolutely nothing like hearing a live orchestra - I think everyone, regardless of how they feel about classical music, should go at least once!

Review mania

Somehow I've been watching and reading a lot more stuff lately, and getting further and further behind on writing reviews for WEBmikey! I mainly write them for myself - it gives me a weird sense of accomplishment to know that I've absorbed so much entertainment, and I really do refer to them years later to see what I thought about something. Anyway, I was getting sick of being behind, so for the past couple days I got up early and cranked out about 13 reviews (I scribble a few notes when I'm watching something for exactly this reason)! It feels great to be caught up, and I'll be posting these over the next several days. I've almost decided to give up reviewing things several times, but it's fun remembering my feelings and thoughts about things - I guess they are remembrances more than reviews, really. So, I'm sticking with it, and I'm going to try to do my writing as soon as possible after watching or reading from now on!

9.20.2008

Music Moments 9.08

Eisley / Room Noises: A long time ago I downloaded a free iTunes track of Telescope Eyes, a truly fantastic song that I've listened to a million times, so I finally bought the complete CD. Eisley has a really unique sound featuring three female voices that blend incredibly well, and the harmonies are so much fun to sing with. The instrumentation is cool, too, although I wish the guitars were a little heavier at times. Most of their songs have a bit of a melancholy to them, but sometimes that fits my mood exactly!

Nami Tamaki / Don't Stay: I really didn't like Nami's last single Gokigendaze, but I decided I had to be a loyal fan and buy her latest album, and I'm glad I did - every other track is better than that goofy song! This CD also came with a great DVD with lots of cool videos, though I still like Nami's dance moves from when she was younger better (and has anyone noticed her adult face isn't as cute anymore?). Brightdown is such a cool track - high emotion and high energy!

High King / Cinderella Complex: Of course I'm still buying CDs featuring members of Morning Musume, and Cinderella Complex is definitely a cool song with the voices of Ai-chan and Reina. I really like the pseudo-latin feel to this song - it definitely gets my drummer reflexes going!

High School Musical Soundtrack: Being the Disney fan that I am, I eventually had to succumb and buy this CD. I was in the mood for some positive, upbeat music, and High School Musical definitely delivers. The production values are great on this CD, and I love the harmonies - Zac is really a pretty awesome singer (and I can say that even as a guy)!

The Best Of Godzilla 1954-1975 Original Film Soundtracks: After watching so many Godzilla movies, I had to urge to hear some theme songs in my iTunes mix, so I discovered this amazing collection of all of the best music on one CD! Along with the Akira Ifukube's fantastic theme, there are plenty of sound effect tracks, and of course the awesome original Mothra song!

9.19.2008

いい パーティーの ホストの じょうけん

パーティーの ホストを するのは たのしいですが、ときどき ストレスに なります。ぜんぶ やるのと なにも やらないのと バランスを とりにくい です。私は パーティーの ホストを するのは むずかしいと おもいますが、この じょうけんの リストは やくにたつ かもしれません。

きゃくが のびやかな ふんいきを たのしむ ことができた ほうが いい です。ホストの 家が びじゅつかん みたいに かんぺき なら、きゃくは たのしい きもちに なれません。私の 家は この じょうけんに あいません ですが、やはり だいじ だと おもいます。

きゃくが ついた とき、ホストは きゃくの うわぎと かばんを あずかって、ほかの へやに あつめった ほうが いい です。

ホストは きゃくに さいしょの のみものは とって あげる べき ですが、あとの のみものは きゃくが じぶんで とった ほうが いい です。

パーティー中、ホストは 一人一人の きゃくと はなす べき です。きゃく ぜんいんが じぶんは 大切だと おもって くれた ほうが いい です。

パーティーが つまらなく なったら、ホストは おもしろい なにかを する べき です。たとえば、あたらし おやつを だして みます。

きゃくが かえる とき、ホストは ちゃんと「ありがとう」といって みおくった ほうが いい です。

なにより、ホストは たのしむ べき です。ホストは うれしくない なら、きゃくも うれしく なりません!

Bangkok Dangerous : 2 of 5

While my parents were here for their recent visit, we decided we should see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse just so we could eat lunch and have an Austin experience. We really didn't care what we were seeing, but since Mom likes Nicolas Cage and Dad likes action movies, we ended up watching Bangkok Dangerous, which I would have never gone to otherwise. Actually, it was much better than I expected, and I wasn't bored at all! The main character Joe is a cold-hearted assassin who takes on a series of jobs in Bangkok, and while he's there he begins to feel compassion and become a "real person" again, mainly through his love for a beautiful deaf girl who reminds him what peace and kindness can be like. The action sequences are pretty good (even though there are a couple of instances of unnecessary gore), and it was cool seeing the Bangkok sights, since Dad has been there and could tell me about seeing things like the floating market and the Reclining Buddha! My biggest complaint is with the narration - I never like it as a rule, but it's even worse when the narrator dies at the end of the movie! When is he supposed to be narrating? Bangkok Dangerous was good enough for a lunch movie, but I wouldn't really suggest rushing out to see it (especially since I just gave away the ending anyway).

9.18.2008

Quick trip to Austin

My parents' recent visit was one day shorter than we planned, but it turned out even more fantastic than usual! I rented a car so I could chauffeur Mom & Dad around in comfort (rather than squeezing them into my tiny Acura), and we had so much fun going to places all over town. After visiting the Apple Store to upgrade to an iPhone 3G for an early birthday present (thanks, Mom & Dad!), our first evening was spent at Matt & Kumiko's big housewarming party, and my parents had a great timing meeting and re-meeting all my friends and their kids. The next day the weather was so wonderful that we went to the Zilker Botanical Garden to checkout the Dinoland exhibit, but they had to remove all of the dinosaurs because of the hurricane. We still got to see a few up-close, though, and we really enjoyed the cool breeze and the nice walk through the gardens. Next we saw a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse and had lunch, and then we went to IKEA since my parents had never been to one before. Finally, we had dinner at the Oasis, and the food, wine, and view were all spectacular. Mom & Dad had to leave the next day, but we still had a nice Kerbey Lane breakfast, did some shopping, and even played some fun games at Dave & Buster's! We really made the most of our short time together, and as always, I'm so thankful for my parents and their fun-loving spirit!

View photos: Matt & Kumiko's Housewarming
View photos: Parents Visit 2008

9.14.2008

Rain-less Follies

Hurricane Ike didn't bring a single drop of rain to Austin, but my parents' flight from Oklahoma City was still cancelled, since Southwest Airlines decided to stop all their service in Dallas yesterday. Luckily I was able to change their flight to Sunday, so they will be arriving later today, but it's going to be a really short two-night visit for them. We're still going to have a lot of fun and make the most of it, though!

I had already bought tickets for Esther's Follies for my parents, but of course they weren't here to use them, so I took Matt & Kumiko instead - it was the first time for both of them! I had seen the show several years ago, but I had forgotten how absolutely hilarious it is! The performers and the music are fantastic and so clever, and the magic acts were pretty astounding, too. We had great seats up front and laughed our heads off non-stop! I've definitely got to get back to Esther's Follies more often.

9.12.2008

This Ugly Yet Beautiful World / Vol 1 - Vol 3 : 3 of 5

I decided it was time to start a completely new anime series, so I chose this one since it was only 12 episodes (so I could finish it quickly), plus I remember reading about it in Newtype since it was made by the same people who created my beloved Mahoromatic. I finished this show in no time at all, so as a whole I can say this series gets a solid "so-so" from me - I don't really have anything negative to report, but this story didn't scratch my itch for a cool show to get into. The plot has to do with Hikari and Akari, two mysterious and cute girls who arrive from space (along with giant monsters that appear and try to destroy them), and a group of friends (including the main character Takeru) who teach them about the world in which we live. The episodes range from the typical learning about school life and going to festivals to much more serious topics like dealing with death and loss. Of course, the plot takes on huge significance when the true nature of Hikari is revealed, and along with the expected semi-understandable cosmic storyline, some wonderful feelings about discovering and enjoying the small blessings of life are expressed. Even though the girls are cute (with lots of almost clinical fan service) and the situations get serious, I never really bonded with the characters, so this was a tear-free show for me. Each DVD includes some nice translation notes that I enjoyed reading, and the theme song was pretty cool, too. I might have thought this series was better if I had been in a different mood - I just wanted something with a little more futuristic action. It's not even close to Mahoromatic in emotional impact, but This Ugly Yet Beautiful World is still a nice series if you're looking for a short anime time commitment!

9.11.2008

iTunes 8 obsession

I love music, and I love obsessing over my music library with iTunes! The latest version of iTunes has some really cool features that I've really been enjoying lately - last night I was up until 4:00 AM just tinkering around with it and having a great time! I have always thought album art was cool - long ago I went crazy and tried to get images for all of my songs, scouring the web for the right covers, but even though I liked seeing them when songs were playing, I wanted to see them even more. Now with the new grid view, I can see album art all the time! I love looking at everything grouped by album or artist, and it's really made it easy to find things in my library I want to clean up (hence my obsession!). With all the Jpop I have, there are lots of cases where I have an artist tagged as "first name, last name" in one place and "last name, first name" in another, so it's been cool to straighten that out. I also want to organize all my obscure Disney theme park audio so it makes sense - it's like a new decluttering goal! The new Genius playlist feature is awesome, too - I'm always wanting to hear songs to fit to a certain mood, and now I can just find one song that fits my emotions and instantly generate a playlist with similar songs. So far it works great! For some reason it's so much much fun for me to start some tunes playing, and then sit there rating songs, fixing tags, and even getting rid of tracks I don't really need (since I download so much on a regular basis). The new iTunes gives me another way to completely enjoy my music (in an obsessed neat-freak kind of way)!

9.10.2008

Cirque du Soleil / Delirium : 3 of 5

I saw this movie several weeks ago, so please bear with me as I try to review it from memory! Over the years I've become a pretty big fan of Cirque du Soleil, since I've seen most of the permanent shows in Las Vegas and Walt Disney World, as well as a few traveling shows, but all I knew about Delirium was that it focused on music. Somehow I discovered this movie of the Delirium performance was being shown in Austin as a one-show-only limited run, so I decided to see it with my pal Melinda (who is also a Cirque fan). I wasn't sure what it would be like watching a movie of a Cirque performance, but once the show began it was amazing how easy it was to forget it wasn't live. Delirium features non-stop music sung by several talented performers who are visible onstage, along with lots of dancing and some smaller-scale acrobatics. The songs are knit together with Cirque's usual concept of regular characters - there is a guy hanging on a balloon to travels from "song to song", plus a bizarre devilish character who is tormented by another loud clown character. The singing was fantastic (I really enjoyed hearing some songs from Alegria), and there were some awesome physical performances, such as a beautiful hula hoop girl and a group of incredible balancing bald guys! Of course, I think it would be more fun to see Delirium live, but this movie experience was really nice and I'm glad I had the opportunity to see it.

9.08.2008

Star Trek / Year Four : 4 of 5

Every fan knows that the original Star Trek was supposed to be a five-year mission, even though the show was only on the air for three seasons. This comic book series continues right where the show left off (even referencing Turnabout Intruder, the last episode of the TV show) and continues the journey of the Enterprise and her crew! Although I was tempted to buy the individual comics, I decided to wait for the trade paperback (I just don't collect individual issues much anymore), and it's a nicely bound book with a fantastic cover. Speaking of covers, each issue's amazing cover painting in also included, spotlighting different characters, and they look incredible! The stories themselves really keep the spirit of the original series (although some of them are way too short), with disembodied creatures traveling home, black hole experiments, gathering Dilithium crystals, and even an "entertainment planet" that wants to put the Enterprise crew on TV. The artwork changes from story to story, but even the worst of it is still enjoyable (and interiors such as the Enterprise bridge are all drawn to perfection with exact colors!). Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest of the crew are all here, and they even included Mr. Arex from the animated series, which was a surprise. I had a fantastic time reading these six stories - I love the concept and I totally can't wait for more!

9.07.2008

Remembering Uncle Don

This weekend my Uncle Don, husband of my dad's sister Mary, passed away. As a child, I didn't get to play with him as much as with my other uncles, but I always admired him as a person. I thought it was amazing that he was a podiatrist who worked at home, with a complete doctor's office in their basement, and my cousins and I would look at his examination table and all of his equipment with fascination. He was a kind and relaxed person, so I'm sure he was a great doctor, but he really enjoyed life, willing to do something as crazy as skinny dipping at night in their pool with my dad, my cousins, and me! When he retired, my Uncle Don and Aunt Mary moved to Florida to live their dream life by the water, and even owned a pontoon boat. I never had a chance to visit them in Florida, but I loved watching my parents' home movies of all them laughing and having fun on the boat together.

Uncle Don was healthy and fit, but unexpected cancer ultimately took him rather suddenly. Of course it's sad and everyone will miss him, but I know that times like this cause me to be thankful for every moment of life. Each day is a treasure, and I know Uncle Don appreciated each moment. I'm happy that the love and memories we will always have serve as a reminder of the blessing of life.

9.06.2008

The end of Money

Yesterday I reviewed my finances and paid bills like I do every Friday, but for the past two weeks I've only had to spend a few minutes doing it, since I've finally decided to break my addiction to Microsoft Money. I've been using Money for longer than I can remember (at least the past ten years or so), and in the beginning it was the only way I could feel organized. It was kind of cool to have a history of so many transactions, so I diligently typed in each and every one. That was before so much of my financial life was online, though! Now all of my accounts are accessible online, and I pay all of my bills online, so I started to feel silly copying transactions from a website into Money all the time! I have nothing against Money (I even bought Windows XP just to run it via Boot Camp on my MacBook), but I just don't need it anymore, especially when there are websites like Mint, which allows me to look at all of my accounts in one place. I'm really addicted to Mint - I like to look at it everyday to know exactly what transactions have cleared and so on, and it's helping me in ways that I never had the patience to setup in Money, since Mint is almost totally automatic! By giving up Microsoft Money and using Mint, I've definitely decluttered the time I spend thinking about my finances. I feel like I have a better picture with a lot less work!

9.05.2008

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla : 4 of 5

I've been looking forward to watching Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla for a couple reasons. First, I really enjoyed the sequel (which I watched quite some time ago since I bought the Classic Media release), and second, because after watching this I've finished all of the original Showa era Godzilla films! This 1974 film is full of different areas of Japan, opening in Okinawa, with scenes in Hokkaido and even Mt. Fuji. Mechagodzilla first appears wrapped in a Godzilla skin, so everyone is fooled for a little while (except for me, since I kept wondering why all the sound effects were wrong). When Anguirus (who also seems like Godzilla's little pet by now) comes along and starts fighting him, the truth is slowly revealed as his skin is torn to reveal Space Titanium underneath! Finally, the real Godzilla faces Mechagodzilla, and the secret is out - Mechagodzilla has been built by aliens (who turn into apes when they're killed!) so they can take over Earth, of course. Mechagodzilla's introduction is kind of funny, with lots of quick cuts to show all of his different weapons and his big "MG" logo, but the battle in the middle of the film is excellent! During all of this action, the various characters (such as a scientist and a pretty girl archeologist who wears a cute cap) try to return an ancient statue to Okinawa in order to awaken King Caesar, another cool hairy kaiju who joins in the final battle. Unfortunately, the big finale doesn't begin until the last 12 minutes of the movie, but it's a great fight (including some gross blood spurting for Godzilla!) that ends with poor Mechagodzilla's head being ripped off. Although there are some weird aspects to the film (like long sections with no musical score), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla was still lots of fun to watch, and it had all the elements that make Godzilla movies strangely comforting to me.

9.04.2008

Erin's Challenge! I Can Speak Japanese Vol 2 : 4 of 5

I'm glad I bought all three volumes of this series when I heard about it, because I'm really enjoying it! I may not be learning tons of new stuff, but it's all excellent review on many levels, including tons of reading practice. It's also cool to read explanations of Japanese grammar in Japanese, and some of these are really well done (the discussion of the dreaded -n desu that confuses so many people actually made sense!). The DVD includes 25-minute shows for each of the eight lessons, and they are even better than the first volume. The animation has a little more variety and jokes, and the culture segments are really interesting. This time they include typical subjects like festivals and riding trains, but also more unusual cultural aspects like cell phone emoticons (emoji and kaomoji) and even nail art! I really get a lot out of watching the video after I've read the complete lesson, and it's satisfying to watch cartoon Erin make the same conjugation mistakes just like every beginning student. In the live action world, it's nice how there's just enough overall story to keep the characters interesting - there are even a few romances getting started! As I said before, these books might be difficult for a total beginner, but the combination of video and text is worth if if you really work through it. I'm going to enjoy the next volume - I hope there are some new concepts for me to learn!

9.03.2008

The Last of the Jedi Vol 4 / Jude Watson : 4 of 5

My favorite volumes of any Scholastic Star Wars series are always the ones with strong ties back to the movies, featuring characters, planets, or mentioning events that are already familiar. With that consideration, this is the best book of the Last of the Jedi series yet! After Ferus escapes from prison, the plot returns to Inquisitor Malorum and his ongoing investigation of Padme's death, which actually brings him to Naboo and the capital city of Theed. All of the scenes here are fantastic, giving some insight into Naboo culture, and we even get to meet Padme's grandmother (although her moments with Malorum come to a chilling end). When Ferus, Solace, and the rest of our heroes arrive on Naboo, the Gungans become involved (it's always fun to have Boss Nass in the mix!) and suddenly a huge battle is planned, which unfortunately goes by too quickly at the end of the book (I was sure they were going to save it for the next volume, but the author squeezed it in). However, part of the action is a cool fight that takes place in the same location where Qui-Gon fought Darth Maul, and it's interesting to read Ferus' thoughts and emotions during this intense scene. I love how this storyline follows Episode 3 so nicely, while using so many cool elements from Episode 1 - I hope they can keep up the good work in the next book!

9.02.2008

Nana 2 : 3 of 5

I really like the first Nana movie, so I was definitely interested in seeing this sequel, regardless of the so-so reviews I had read, so I bought this DVD soon after it was released. I was also a little worried about all the cast changes - I've never heard of a sequel where so many main characters are played by different actors! The new Hachi isn't as cute as the original, but she's still a great actress and does a fine job of crying and showing emotion. I didn't really like the new Ren, since he just didn't seem compassionate at all, but the new Shin seemed like a much better match to the manga character to me. The plot was really interesting, since it went way past the point that I've read in the manga (since Shojo Beat stopped running it), and things get really intense with some dramatic love entanglements, emotional emptiness, and even surprise pregnancy! Although the first movie is better overall, I thought Nana 2 really expressed some points skillfully, such as how both girls inspire each other in their own way. Hachi (like all of us at some point) is looking for something be passionate about in life, which is a quality she admires in the other Nana. Ultimately, she finds understanding in another "empty" person (Takumi), but eventually the movie ends on a fairly positive note. I didn't think the music was as cool this time around, although the big Black Stones debut concert was awesome and full of energy! Now that I've seen both movies, I really want to read the entire manga, which means I want to start over again from the beginning. I guess I better finish one of the other series I'm reading first!

9.01.2008

にほんご のうりょく しけんの よいてん、わるいてん

毎年 世界中で 日本語の がくしゅうしゃは 日本語 のうりょく しけんを うけっています。私は よんきゅう と さんきゅうを うけって、いい けいけん でした。日本語の がくしゅうしゃは ぜんいん この しけんを うけるのを かんがえる べき だと おもいます。

日本語 のうりょく しけんは よいてんが たくさん あります。しけんを うける ことは べんきょう ほうほうが はっきり します。それぞれの きゅうには ぶんぽうの ポイントが わけられています。とても やくにたつと おもいます。毎年 てんすうの ようやくが だされているので、じぶんと ほかの がくしゅうしゃを くらべるのが おもしろいと おもいます。

しかし 日本語 のうりょく しけんは わるいてんも あります。それは ちょうかいが むずかしすぎること です。ちょうかいは せいかいの へいきんりつが 50パーセント しか ありません。ちょうかいと かんじは ひっかけ もんだいが たくさん すると おもいます。しけんを うけた あと、けっかが くるのが 四ヶ月も かかります。ながすぎると おもいます!

にきゅうは すごく むずかしい ですが、2009年の にきゅうの しけんに うかるのが わたしの ゆめ です。これから もっと べんきょう しなければ なりません!

Three-day sick weekend

On Friday, I started getting a sore throat, and by the evening, I knew I was actually sick with some kind of cold. Thanks to perfect timing, I knew I had a three-day weekend to recover, but also thanks to perfect timing, I had to play two gigs while I was sick! It was strange to realize how "off" I could be - I haven't made that many mistakes during a gig in a long time! Late Saturday night was the worst, since I had a little fever, so I decided I was going to totally rest on Sunday. I had to cancel plans with my pals, but the rest was worth it, since I feel about 90% better today!

It was kind of nice to have a do-nothing day, because most of the time it's actually hard for me to do nothing - I'm always thinking about stuff on my To Do list! But yesterday whenever I had the urge to study or organize something, I just blew it off. I spent almost the entire day watching DVDs, which is something I don't recommend on a regular basis, but I really enjoyed it. I got to finish a Japanese drama (that was about 8 hours of watching right there!), watch another Godzilla movie, and even catch up on Jpop videos! My usual "sick ritual" is to eat applesauce and watch Mary Poppins, but I guess applesauce and Godzilla will work, too.

Speaking of eating, I made an emergency trip to the grocery store for "sick supplies", but I ended up craving kiddie food, so I ate Kraft macaroni and cheese and Spaghettios yesterday! Today I'm having chicken noodle soup, which is essential for me when I'm sick, as well as constantly drinking hot tea. I like all kinds of tea, but the best sore throat tea is Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger!