7.31.2009

Beginning iPhone Development: Exploring the iPhone SDK / Dave Mark & Jeff LaMarche : 3 of 5

Since I stare at code all day at work, usually the last thing I want to do during my free time is look at more code, but since I’m such an iPhone fan, of course I’m interested in how things work beneath the surface. Although I’ve only actually got my hands dirty with iPhone development for a few hours, I’ve been studying via various websites and the excellent Stanford University iPhone Development course via iTunes. I noticed several mentions of this book, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. Since my office work has been a little light lately, I had some time to really read this book and walk through the code samples in my head, and I feel like I really learned quite a bit (which I will soon forget if I don’t do some development soon!). Each chapter does a nice job of explaining what you are going to learn and what kind of sample application you will be building (with plenty of screenshots), so you never have to go into any concept blind. All of the basic facets of development seem to be covered (at least to a novice like me), including more “exotic” things like using the iPhone’s camera and GPS capabilities. There’s a nice progression as the author begins by detailing every single step of using a tool like Interface Builder, and then later changes to quickly summarizing tasks you already know how to do. I really only have one complaint – in several cases the book takes great pains to walk through a task that in real life is something you will almost never do, thanks to the various Xcode application templates. I realize the importance of learning the foundation of things, but I think they could have found better methods than by demonstrating something that is essentially done for the developer by Xcode itself. Of course, this is the only iPhone book I’ve read (and it's already been revised for iPhone OS 3.0), but I’ve definitely read my share of programming books in general, so I can recommend it as an excellent beginner’s overview, which should provide enough information to help someone build tons of apps (if they aren’t lazy like me!).

7.30.2009

Planet of the Apes Chronicles / Paul Woods : 3 of 5

I guess I won't ever get tired of Planet of the Apes stuff (I just watched all the sequels again recently on Netflix), so I was really happy to discover this book on PaperBack Swap while I was just browsing through thousands of titles at random! The Planet of the Apes Chronicles was published in 2001 around the time of the Tim Burton re-imagined release, but 95% of this book focuses on the classic movies that I know and love. It's actually a collection of short essays and interviews by a variety of authors, combined into nice sections on each of the five films. This format made for perfect reading in short bursts, and I really enjoyed the interview snippets with various directors, authors, actors, and even Pierre Boulle himself (author of Monkey Planet, the original inspiration for the film). In fact, there is a fantastic overview of Boulle's own attempt at a sequel called Planet of the Men, which sounds like an awesome story (involving Taylor educating the savage humans so they can rise up against their ape oppressors), but of course, the story for Beneath the Planet of the Apes won out in the end. Other great sections of this book include episode guides for both the live action and animated apes series, as well as an incredible timeline that attempts to make sense out of all five films, both TV shows, and even comic book storylines! Unfortunately, there isn't a single photo or illustration in the entire book (which makes Planet of the Apes Revisited a much better overview book), but I still had a wonderful time reading this collection. It even made me want to check out the Tim Burton film again, which is saying a lot!

7.29.2009

Zettai Kareshi : 4 of 5

Since I read the entire Zettai Kareshi (or Absolute Boyfriend) manga in Shojo Beat (I’m so glad they finished it before the magazine was canceled!), I thought it would be fun to see how this story translated to Japanese drama. The basic idea of the plot is a girl with a robot boyfriend, but other than the character names (which remain the same), the drama decided to completely change the story, morphing it from a high school romance (which was pretty goofy) into an adult office environment. But as soon as I got used to this big switch, I was quickly addicted to the show, and watched all 11 episodes in record time! I was amazed with the characterization of Night (the robot boyfriend), who is often hilarious (I enjoyed the little servo motor sound effects at times), but also an entirely sympathetic character. He’s a lot like Pinocchio, in a way, since he does his best to learn about love and how to make Riiko (his owner/girlfriend) happy as he starts to become "real" (or self-aware). Riiko works at a dessert-making corporation (her dream is to become a famous sweets chef), so there is a nice love triangle between her boss and Night, and there are plenty of other characters to keep things interesting (such as Riiko’s backstabbing “friend” Mika and Riiko’s crazy landlady who keeps hitting on Night). It’s so hard to explain how such a completely silly show could capture my emotions, but by the 10th episode I was literally sobbing! There’s something so bittersweet about Night’s love for Riiko (which of course goes beyond his original program) with its star-crossed, unrequited quality. There are some wonderful moments when Night is happy only because he has made a new memory with Riiko, and I just found these times so emotional that I broke down (but it was kind of fun to cry so much!). It’s hard to compare Zettai Kareshi to other dramas that I’ve seen, since it’s really a comedy at heart, but I can definitely say that something in the story flipped my switches more than they’ve been flipped in a long time!

7.28.2009

Fanboys : 2 of 5

Since the characters in this film are all Star Wars fans, I was really excited about this movie as it was being made and looking forward to seeing it when it finally was released, and then I somehow didn't even go! Movies like Fanboys which both celebrate and spoof geek culture are either awesome (like Free Enterprise) or lame, and I'm afraid this one is more of the latter in my opinion. The simple plot is about a group of friends who decide to break into Skywalker Ranch to see The Phantom Menace before it is released, spurred on by the fact that one of the friends has cancer and not much longer to live. It's a nice idea, but most of the movie ends up feeling like a so-so Mel Brooks film, especially by opening with a stupid spoof of the classic Star Wars text crawl. There's also an incredibly dumb drug-induced hallucination that really cheapened the whole film! Still, there are some funny moments, including some Star Wars vs. Star Trek fan battles (Seth Rogen plays a brilliant double role as the ultimate Trekkie and a Star Wars loving Las Vegas pimp!), and a few good cameos from William Shatner and Harry Knowles (Ain't It Cool News geek extraordinaire). There's also a good bit of trivia thrown around (easy stuff for fans like me) - my favorite was the reference to parsecs being a unit of time (thanks to Han Solo's famous line about the Kessel Run!). Thankfully, the movie really brightens up when the group finally makes it inside the Lucasfilm facility, where all the guards are dressed like the THX 1138 police robots and tense standoffs involve possible damage of priceless Star Wars props (which are all over the place!). I liked the brief messages of the film (such as "Find your Death Star"), but overall I was pretty bored by the end of the movie, and I doubt I'll ever have the urge to see it again.

7.26.2009

The Day Jobs on Austin Music Network

During my last visit to Oklahoma City, I used Dad's old VCR to dub some VHS tapes onto MiniDV, which included some old footage of my swing band, The Day Jobs. During our days of being "famous", we appeared on Austin Music Network in 1998 on a show called What's the Cover?, where we had a short interview and played four songs live on the air! The studio gave us a tape of the show after the filming, which has been packed away in my garage all these years. Over the past few weeks I've been editing our songs into individual videos on YouTube, and here they are for your nostalgic enjoyment! The first two are originals, starting with our "hit" song Mopac Bounce (I had a low quality version of this one on YouTube already, but I've replaced it with this new source), followed by Get Go Getter. We also did two standards - Puttin' on the Ritz (please notice my whistle skills!) and Dream a Little Dream of Me, one of our best fast numbers. I have lots more Day Jobs footage coming when I get around to editing it - I like "preserving" our band on the internet!

Watch video: Mopac Bounce
Watch video: Get Go Getter
Watch video: Puttin' on the Ritz
Watch video: Dream a Little Dream of Me

7.24.2009

Netflix One-Liners 7.09

It's no secret that I'm totally addicted to Netflix Watch Instantly on my TiVo, and I love to use it while I'm waiting for a new DVD to arrive (or just to see some semi-favorite movies again when I'm bored!). I like to use WEBmikey to remember what movies I've seen and when, but I've just been watching so many over the past few months that there's no way I can cover them all in detail (and I totally abandoned my Netflix Novelties attempt as soon as I started!). So, my next idea is to write a single sentence about each thing I watch on Watch Instantly, and post these in groups of 10 each month or so. Of course, I have a backlog to get through, but I'll catch up eventually. Anyway, here we go with my first Netflix One-Liners!

THX 1138: George Lucas' first movie is an awesome dystopian treat, which I had to watch again since he pulled his "special edition" trick and added new effects shots (which were pretty cool, I have to admit).
The Tick: Although the animated series was funnier, Patrick Warburton is totally hilarious as the big blue superhero in this short-lived TV series, and Bat-Manuel is one of the best parody characters ever!
1984: Still on my dystopia kick, this modern film version of Orwell's classic story is disturbing yet compelling, and I love the fact it was filmed on some of the actual dates and in the actual places mentioned in the novel.
In Like Flint: Matt and I watched this together on a whim and had a great laugh at all the girls fawning over James Coburn in this spy parody.
Superman: The Movie: I had to watch this one again just for my favorite scene, when Superman dons his costume and flies out of the Fortress of Solitude for the first time!
Spaceballs: Not one of Mel Brooks' best movies, but I just had the urge to rewatch this Star Wars/science fiction spoof to see if it was funnier than I remembered (it wasn't).
The Omega Man: Still feeling dystopian, I had fun watching Charlton Heston's performance and comparing the story to its modern remake, I Am Legend.
Altered States: I love this totally bizarre, quasi-scientific, evolution regression movie, which features some of the best psycho-babble dialogue ever written (and cool effects, too).
2001: A Space Odyssey: Even though the Watch Instantly version wasn't widescreen, I was still mesmerized (as always) with the epic film, which reignited my interest so much that I spent the next day reading about the ground-breaking effects (and I just bought the DVD so I can watch it again properly!).
2010: The Year We Make Contact: Although the feel of this sequel is completely different from 2001, it's still awesome to see HAL redeem himself (and the exact reproductions of the 2001 sets and models are stunning!).

7.22.2009

Q.E.D. Shoumei Shuuryou : 3 of 5

I can't believe this is the first Japanese drama I've watched since January, but I'm glad I finally took the time to watch this light-hearted mystery series. Of course, the main reason I chose this show is because it stars current Morning Musume leader Ai Takahashi, who is also a fine actress that can produce the most awesome tears on command. Although Ai-chan is a mature 22-year old, she does a great job at playing 17-year old Kana Mizuhara, a somewhat spaced-out high school girl who is a kendo champion, thanks to being raised by her single dad who happens to be a police detective. Kana soon meets Touma, a genius kid straight from M.I.T. who has returned to high school in Japan, and they suddenly become friends and solve a series of mysteries together, always ending with Touma saying "Q.E.D." (used when a mathematical proof is complete). Some of the cases are really interesting (I especially enjoyed the creepy doll museum episode, as well as the one told from the student thief's point of view), but a few episodes are definitely bizarre (I about fell over when they discovered a time machine that transported Kana back to solve a mystery in the Showa era!). The supporting characters are fun (Makoto Ogawa, former member of Morning Musume, has a small role as a teacher), but my favorite is Kana's dad, who has a cool detective questioning style and a totally funny, boisterous side, too. Although Kana and Touma are good friends, there's not much romance going on, unfortunately (I think the source manga must have really been aimed at younger kids), but that doesn't mean there aren't some emotional moments that give Ai-chan a chance to really perform. Overall I really enjoyed this series, but I'm not sure how compelled I would have been to watch it all if Ai-chan wasn't there. I'm still glad I finally finished another Japanese drama, though, and I've already started another one!

7.21.2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince : 3 of 5

Even though I'm only a casual Harry Potter fan, I still get excited when a new movie is released, and I enjoy seeing them with my pal Melinda since she has read all the books and can fill me in on all sorts of details! I've already made so many jokes about how old the actors are now (and they still have two movies to go!), but this time I have to say that they somehow did a great job of making them seem young enough for their roles. I think the introduction of some romance and heartbreak really helps, too - not only to reinforce the characters' growth, but also to provide a few lighthearted moments in this otherwise dark movie! I really liked Jim Broadbent as the new Professor Slughorn (he's good in just about every role he plays, and he fits this one perfectly), and I thought it was cool that much of this movie focuses on "physical" magic (like potions), although of course there is plenty of wand-play. Speaking of play, the Quidditch scenes are better than ever and they were a blast to watch as a break from the rest of the story (it seems like it would be so difficult to balance on a broom, even with those foot stirrup devices!). Besides the major plotline of Malfoy's attempts to kill Dumbledore, there is the additional mystery of who the Half-Blood Prince really is, since Harry discovers an old textbook filled with the Prince's notes and spells. The pacing of the movie isn't too bad, since the action sequences are fairly well-spaced, but it still takes a while to get through the two and a half hour story, and even then the ending felt a little rushed to me. In many ways this movie is just a giant setup for the final two (both of which make up the last book). Of course, I still had a great time at the theater, but I think the next film in the series will blow this one away!

7.20.2009

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Vol 7 & Vol 8 : 4 of 5

It's so great to get back to this awesome anime series, and I watched both of these two DVDs really quickly (usually in one five-episode sitting!). This show was already incredible, and now the story is even more interesting, so I can't wait to watch the rest of it (two more DVDs to go). Kira and Athrun finally face off in a huge battle, leaving both of them wounded and recovering in unusual places - Kira ends up at ZAFT under the care of Lacus Cline, and Athrun is back at Orb with Cagalli. Both of them have some dramatic scenes as they brood over the fact that they tried to kill each other, which is the kind of emotional moments that this series does so well. There are some tense scenes involving some hatred of a ZAFT prisoner, but these are soon interrupted by ZAFT's huge "Operation Spit Break", which unleashes a horrible betrayal on both sides of the war! Now the main characters rightfully question the judgment of those calling the shots in the military, and a new kind of alliance against the war itself begins to form. The best part of this is that Kira and Athrun slowly end up on the same side, and when they are fighting together and protecting each other the action is so awesome! Of course, they both have new Gundam suits now (called Freedom and Justice), which are equipped with N-Jammer Cancellers that allow them to be nuclear powered. A nice side effect of this is that La Flaga gets to pilot Kira's old Strike Gundam after it's repaired! These volumes complete the long arc of battles on Earth, since at the end the neutral nation of Orb returns to space, setting up the last set of episodes. During this exodus, the truth about Kira and Cagalli is revealed (not what I was expecting, but a nice turn), so I'm looking forward to seeing how this affects what happens next!

7.19.2009

Moon : 4 of 5

This is a small independent film with a limited release and practically no marketing, so I only heard about it by browsing the listings of my local art theater. Over the past few months I've been re-watching several science fiction classics, which was the perfect background for the genre of Moon, some of the best "true" science fiction I've seen in years! Moon pays homage to iconic films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running by telling a story that's actually science based, focusing on characters and humanity's interaction with technology, and doing it all with low-budget (yet incredibly realistic) flair. The moon base sets and computer displays are all fantastic (everything looks authentic and lived in), and I absolutely loved the fact that the exterior moon rover and mining shots were created with miniatures (I will always enjoy old school effects over pure CGI)! But above all, the plot is incredibly well constructed, and quickly becomes an intriguing mystery (on the same level as the best Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episodes) that kept me guessing and fully attentive until the end. Sam Rockwell does an incredible job as the lone maintenance man nearing the end of his three-year contract on the moon (and slightly going crazy because of it), and Kevin Spacey is great as the voice of GERTY, the AI robotic support system on the moon base. Of course, comparisons with HAL are inevitable, but GERTY's ability to reason allows him to help Sam even when it goes against previous programming, which is a wonderful twist. Speaking of twists, Moon has a huge one that I won't completely reveal (although when I read other reviews after I saw the film, about half of the reviewers told it all!), but I have to say that the plot gives Sam a chance to play multiple simultaneous roles, and the interaction between these parts is one of the best examples of this technique I've seen. I'm thrilled that Moon is keeping alive this particular genre, and it was a joy to see a movie that wasn't all CGI action and explosions for a change! Moon proves that excellent storytelling is the true core of intelligent science fiction.

7.16.2009

Wall-E / Three-Disc Special Edition : 5 of 5

I can't believe it took me so long to get around to watching Wall-E at home, especially since I loved the movie so much and remember thinking to myself "I can't wait to see this on DVD!" But finally I took the time to truly enjoy this spectacular special edition DVD set, which has some wonderful bonus materials, starting with director Andrew Stanton's excellent commentary track. He's so articulate when he describes the filmmaking process (and does a nice job of commenting on the actual scene), which only proves his brilliance as a director (since communication seems to be such a huge part of the job). There are tons of great short features (selectable from cool Buy-N-Large menu screens) that taught me so much about this film, such as how hard they worked to simulate actual motion picture camera lenses to properly recreate rack-focus and other effects. They even studied with a real cinematographer to properly use lighting and other techniques to a degree never before attempted in animation. A few more cool things I enjoyed were the weird "gel" designs for humanity, the nice deleted scenes (including one fully animated masterpiece that was re-done so Wall-E and Eve could switch roles), and the in-depth look at Ben Burtt's (of Star Wars and R2-D2 fame) sound design. The bonus materials don't stop there, because the complete hour and a half documentary film The Pixar Story is also included (such a bargain!), which covers the fascinating history of the company from its origins as a division of Lucasfilm, to the purchase by Steve Jobs, and finally to the Disney merger. Every bit of this material hammers home the point that Pixar is a company who cares about creativity and simply will not compromise, and it's always shown in their work so far. It's estimated that it would take one person 442 years to create Wall-E on their own, so that should give you an idea of Pixar's commitment! Of course, the movie is fantastic and everyone should own this DVD, but for me, it's all about studying this new "golden age of animation" that's going on right now!

7.15.2009

Manga Mentions 7.09

This month's manga mini-reviews are one volume short, but I thought I should go ahead and write them since this is a special all Monster edition! Since I was so close to the end, I decided to finish up the final four parts of Naoki Urasawa's manga masterpiece, and now that I've read all 18 volumes over the past two years, I can easily say this is the best non-fantasy (meaning no science fiction, magic, or anything supernatural) series I've read so far. Because of the incredible suspense/mystery storytelling, the wonderful cinematography of the artwork, and the fantastic attention to character development and backstories, I'd recommend Monster to anyone, whether you're a manga fan or not.

Monster Vol 15 really gets into Eva's (Tenma's ex-wife) story, while exploring Nina's (Johan's sister) memories at the same time. At this point in the story, I fell for a false clue and suspected something about the twins that I can't tell you (but of course, I was wrong!).

Monster Vol 16 leads up to a pivotal moment when Nina finally faces her brother Johan, then ends with a huge cliffhanger that made me fire up Safari to buy the next few volumes immediately! There's also some fascinating detective work to link a series of unrelated murders to Johan's past, as well as some rare flashbacks of the mysterious experiment.

Monster Vol 17 is much more fast-paced paced than before and starts to bring back important characters from previous volumes (such as Inspector Lunge and Grimmer) to prepare for the finale. The story was pretty intense for me at this point, but there was no way I could stop now.

Monster Vol 18 is a really thick volume, which ends the series with lots of moments that readers have been waiting for - Tenma meets Lunge, Lunge meets Grimmer, and the final confrontation with Johan himself. There's a nice epilogue to show how the lives of most characters turned out, and then a somewhat ambiguous ending, but Monster is far too amazing to let a little frustration spoil it all!

7.14.2009

Secret Origins Featuring the JLA : 3 of 5

I love finding graphic novels on PaperBack Swap, since I know I'll enjoy just about any DC Comics edition I can find, and it feels like I'm getting them for free! This particular book isn't quite as slick as other comic collections (the pages are basic newsprint rather than glossy paper), but it's still a nice long set of seven stories that I found pretty interesting. The first story features the entire Justice League facing yet another alien invasion, but the rest of the chapters all focus on the origin tale of each hero. Of course, some of these have been told a million times - it must have been really rough to figure out yet another way to relate the Batman story, but I think they did a nice job with Batman himself somewhat narrating at a crime scene similar to one that took the lives of his parents. A few of the origins are extremely complex and complete, covering the full history of the character (including previous Golden and Silver Age versions!). Things move a little too quick just to fit everything into the book, but I still was totally fascinated to read classic facts I never knew before, such as the final end of Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern, all the different versions of the Flash, and especially the sweeping tale of Aquaman, which is definitely long enough to be it's own book (and it probably is!). Since Superman's story is so well known, the angle this time involves Bruce Wayne going undercover to talk with the Kents, which was pretty cool. Some fans might be disappointed in the "rush job" these stories get (admittedly, a few are so compact they read like an encyclopedia entry), but I had a great time reading this book!

7.13.2009

Ice Age / Dawn of the Dinosaurs : 3 of 5

Even though I'm only a casual fan of the first two Ice Age movies, I definitely wanted to check out this latest installment with my pal Melinda. The film gets off to a rocky start, since the first several minutes are identical to the trailer that I had seen a hundred times already (Scrat fighting with his new girlfriend over the elusive nut)! Then there's about a half hour of warm-up stuff, re-establishing character relationships and such, that I just found a little boring. Thankfully things start to pick up when Sid discoveres the underground tropical world, and when the rest of the gang set out to rescue him, the action really takes over. The best part of the movie is Buck, a crazed adventuresome weasel with an eye patch who is obsessed with finding and battling the huge dinosaur known as Rudy (most definitely modeled after Captain Ahab and Moby Dick!), and I loved everything about him from his hilarious dialogue to his character design with the funny under-bite. Sid has some funny scenes with his baby dinosaur "children", as he tries to compete with their real mom for affection, but I didn't get much out of the other characters at all (which didn't matter much, since the rescue takes care of most of the plot). Although it's a big change for Scrat to have a female interest/antagonist, I think he's much funnier all by himself (but I have to say that the "lonely nut" musical montage was genius!). Animation-wise, everything pretty much duplicates the style of the previous movies (the 3D is well-done, but definitely not overused), though there was one splash when Sid lands in some water that really impressed me! Overall, I don't really think the Ice Age gang is interesting enough to keep this series going, but if you can make it past the first 30 minutes, you'll have a great time meeting Buck and enjoying the action!

7.12.2009

Puzzle fun with Square Scramble

Now that I've finished up my Los Angeles trip posts, it's time to mention some other cool news about my pal Dae. A while back he released his first iPhone application on the App Store called Easy Finance, which does all kinds of cool calculations and what-if scenarios, but now he's breaking into the puzzle game market with Square Scramble! The game actually became available while I was in LA, so I got to be his first sale, and it's a really challenging game to play. Square Scramble is easy to learn, but it takes quite a while to develop a strategy, and there are so many levels that I'll never finish them all. My favorite thing about the game is it's totally original - I love how Dae came up with something so classic, yet totally new! It was fun talking with him about the coding and internal details, and I like how he created his own sound effects and everything. It was also cool giving demos of the game at the 4th of July party - judging from people's reactions, it definitely has that puzzle quality that makes you want to figure it out. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next, so keep an eye on his website and check out these apps!

7.10.2009

More fun in Los Angeles

I have a few more memories to write about the Los Angeles trip, mostly not Anime Expo related, except for this first one! The Toshiyuki Morikawa panel (which I saw by "accident" while waiting for the Morning Musume panel) was thoroughly excellent, and Dae and I both enjoyed it. Morikawa is a tremendously famous Japanese voice actor, who has hundreds of credits to his name, not only in the anime field, but also live-action dubbing (he is even the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the dubbed Star Wars films). He is best known as the voice of Sephiroth, the ultimate evil villain in the Final Fantasy series of video games, and he definitely has a huge fan base! The crowd was absolutely enamored with everything he had to say (one girl sitting next to me was so excited that she felt she needed to translate everything to me as he said it, even though there was a professional translator doing the same thing). The fan questions were great, since they were mostly requests to do voices. My favorite was a girl named Daphne who asked him to use the voice of Sephiroth and ask her to marry him. Morikawa loved the request, and did his evil laugh with a sinister "Daphne! Kekkon shite kuru!" It was pretty awesome!

In addition to all the time with Dae in Anime Expo lines, we had a fun time in Little Tokyo after the concert. We got to shop around a bit (I bought a cheap Godzilla toy) and listen to a live sax/keyboard combo, then we had some great sushi (including some incredible hamachi sashimi with shiso leaf, plus plenty of sake!). Also during the trip we got to hang out with Ernesto two nights, and had a wonderful time drinking and catching up! On the 4th of July, Ernesto got us into a super-fancy party in a neighborhood near Hollywood, since his sister's friend is married to a rich (and generous) lawyer. The house was built in 1935, and the interior decorating looks like a magazine (I should have taken photos inside, but I didn't want to snoop!). The backyard has a beautiful pool, tons of Adventureland style plants, and the place was buzzing with caterers delivering hors d'ouvres, as well as serving a full dinner and dessert, and of course an open bar with expensive Balvenie scotch! I got to talk with Ernesto's dad and sister, and we all had a blast watching the fireworks (from a nearby country club). I always have so much fun with my LA friends - it's no wonder I'm always ready to make the trip!

View photos: Los Angeles Pals 2009

7.09.2009

Momusu at Anime Expo Part 4

Welcome to the last part of my Morning Musume encounter at Anime Expo, my final chance for autographs (using my priority ticket from the Q&A panel)! The session was scheduled to start at 11:00 AM, so Dae and I decided he would drop me off around 8:00 AM. I actually woke up about 3:30 AM feeling anxious and excited, and drifted in and out of sleep, checking the web on my iPhone the whole time. After I got dressed, at 6:20 AM someone posted on Twitter that the line was starting and 50 people were already there! When Dae jumped out of the shower I told him the news, and he was nice enough to get me to the convention center in record time. The line started outside, and I was really worried that I was too late, but soon as it became more organized and we moved inside, things started looking better and better. Finally we got official line place numbers, and since I was hoping for something lower than 150, I was thrilled to get number 83! All that was left was two more hours of sitting on the floor, playing with my iPhone, talking with Dae (who wasn't waiting in line, but came to visit me), and getting nervous!

Finally the magic hour arrived, and they started taking two people at a time from the line - it seemed to move at about two people every minute and a half, so I had lots of time to freak out before they got to 83! Everyone was getting nervous and taking deep breaths, but before I knew it I was entering the room and there was Morning Musume, sitting at a long table in their "official order", wearing a different set of outfits (just like the one Sayumi is wearing in this photo), and waving at me while I waited in line! It was so unreal that the tears started falling right away - totally happy, crazy tears (and believe me, I was not the only one who cried!). I tried to pull it together so I would be able to talk while I waited, getting my Platinum 9 Disc CD booklet ready to go.

Before I go on, I have to say that the most amazing part of this experience was how incredibly warm and giving everyone was! I had expected them to be a little timid or overly polite, but they instantly reacted like best friends. The only way to describe it is that they made me feel like they had been waiting all day just to meet me (even though it was the other way around)! Although some of this is playing the part of perfect Jpop idols, I know their appreciation for their fans is genuine, and they were actually having fun meeting everyone!

Suddenly it was my turn, and Ai-chan just lit up in front of me! I stepped forward and got a handshake right away. (I had read comments from previous autograph recipients about forgetting to shake hands, so I made a point of shaking everyone's hand twice - once before the signing, and again afterward! All of the girls did that nice two-handed clasp, too!) I was able to say something in Japanese to everyone (there was a translator, but she didn't have to help!), of course starting with a big hello and ending with thank you. I told Ai-chan that I cried when I watched her fantastic performance in Cinderella The Musical. She looked right up at me with the brightest face and said "Oh thank you!" It made me feel like I was the only one who had ever said that, although she has probably heard it a million times - that's how gracious everyone was!

Next was Risa, and I told her that I'm a huge Disney fan, too, so she replied "I love Disney", which was cute. Eri was a little quiet but very warm, and she made a point of asking if she should sign over her photo or on top of the lyrics on the next page. Next was Sayumi, who was too cute for words, energetically shaking my hand and saying hello! I wished her a happy birthday, she said thank you and that she was turning 20 and becoming an adult. I replied "But Sayumi will eternally be the cutest!" She knew what I was going to say halfway through my sentence, since she starting giggling and twirling her fingers on her cheeks, looking up at me with those giant eyes! I thought I was going to die, but I had to move on to Reina, who was also full of energy and happily said hello, although while she was signing, she was pretty focused (since her signature is complex!). I told her that I always listen to Five Stars (her radio show) and she thanked me. Next in line was Koharu, who was beautiful and fun, but when she turned the page in my CD booklet and started signing, I somehow looked down and thought she was on the wrong page. I made a kind of gasp and Koharu stopped signing, then I realized I was nuts and said everything was OK! She was a little confused, but it was no big deal. Aika was very polite and has such tiny teeth when she smiles.

Only a few minutes had gone by, and I was already up to Jun Jun, who is amazing looking in person, and she reacted like she just couldn't wait for me to get there! In case anyone doesn't know, Jun Jun and Lin Lin are both Chinese and had to learn Japanese when they became members of Morning Musume. Because of my own struggles learning Japanese, I mentioned her Japanese and English were both very good, and she seemed excited about the compliment. Lin Lin was sweet as she signed my booklet, and I had to make a joke and ask if she was bacchiri (back when she didn't know much Japanese she would always say she was bacchiri, or perfect), and that got a nice laugh. For the entire autograph session I was totally focused on the member in front of me - there were assistants and cameramen and once the translator asked me if I was crying, but I was almost oblivious to it all!

I left the room feeling on top of the world, looking around at all the other stunned fans, and called Dae to let him know my dream had come true! We had a quick sandwich while I told Dae all of the details (probably over and over again). The rest of the day was spent at a wonderful 4th of July party with Ernesto, but I'll save those details for another post. Although I've been a Morning Musume fan for a long time, I never dreamed I would ever have this opportunity, and I still can't believe the whole thing happened - from the airport, to the concert, to the autographs! Now when I watch them on TV shows and concerts it feels completely new knowing that they actually talked to me and held my hand. I don't care how crazy that sounds, but it was definitely a memory I'll cherish forever, and I'll always be a Morning Musume fan!

7.08.2009

Momusu at Anime Expo Part 3

At last it was Morning Musume concert day! Even though Dae and I already had our tickets to reserve our row, I still wanted to get there early to try for a good seat in the row (and also because I was so excited that I just wanted to be there waiting). So we showed up to the familiar line-up in the sun for about an hour, talked with several fans we had met on previous days, and watched all of the glowstick trading going on. (Glowsticks are a tradition at Morning Musume concerts, and the color of the glowstick signifies which member you're cheering for. I asked Dae to take me to Party City the night before to buy pink glowsticks for Sayumi!) We were all talking about the autograph situation yesterday, and Dae had decided not to suffer through a long line again (since he was only there to support me, after all), so he mentioned he had a priority ticket that he wasn't going to use. Immediately people started bidding (up to $40, even though the ticket was only a chance at an autograph), but Dae ended up giving it to a young guy who was in the Army, who used his two-week leave just to come see Morning Musume!

Soon they let us in for seating, and we ended up only a couple seats from the end of the row (it really didn't matter at all, since the whole row was a great view). It was still two hours until concert time, but we had fun watching everyone get their glowsticks going and chatting with this guy from Seattle who knew all the dances to Morning Musume's songs (he played them on his phone, and both of us sang along while he performed the moves). The time passed really quickly!

Finally the lights went out and the crowd went nuts (on their feet for the entire concert, naturally)! I was excited that they began with a special introduction video on the big screens (just like I've seen in all of their Japanese concerts), and then the girls took the stage. They started the show with Mikan, which has the lyric "Life is one time" and the message about living life to the fullest - that was all it took to start my eyes tearing up, since seeing this concert was something I never thought I'd be able to do, and I felt so happy that I was actually there making a dream come true! They did lots of recent songs, some cute introductions, one fast costume change, and an incredible medley of the past 12 years of Morning Musume hits. I sang along with every song, screamed my head off, and kept my arm in the air waving glowsticks the whole time! There's no way to know for sure, but I think one of Sayumi's waves was directed at me!

After a solid hour of music, they had to announce the winners of the Morning Musume video contest (which had been going on for a few weeks), so as an added bonus I got to see former Momusu leader Hitomi Yoshizawa and Tsunku, the creator/producer of Morning Musume, on stage! Truthfully, the announcements went a little long and kind of brought down the energy of the concert, but it was still great to see more Jpop personalities. Thankfully, Momusu did a quick reprise at the end, but unfortunately there was no encore (definitely due to Anime Expo time constraints). Even though the concert didn't have the huge sets and lights like the arenas they play in Japan, it was still an incredible show! The girls' energy was at 150% the whole time, and I thought their singing was excellent (usually when I watch a concert DVD there is at least one moment when I realize someone has missed a note, but I didn't notice a single mistake this time)!

After the show, Dae and I went for a beer, and a few fans that had been sitting behind us complimented me on knowing all the lyrics, which was cool. Then we headed to Little Tokyo for some great sushi, sashimi and plenty of sake, ending a totally fantastic day! I went to sleep anxious about the possible autographs the next day, which I'll write about tomorrow.

7.07.2009

Momusu at Anime Expo Part 2

On with more Anime Expo details! The next day was the official start of the convention, so Dae and I arrived early for opening ceremonies, since we knew Morning Musume would be there. At first we thought there was no line at all, but we soon realized that almost all lines at Anime Expo were outside in the sun (because of fire code/traffic reasons inside), so we worked on our T-shirt tans a little. We got pretty good seats (around Row 15), and took a couple naps since it got started 45 minutes late. It was worth the wait, though, since this was my first glimpse of Morning Musume (un-masked) on stage, wearing their frilly outfits from Shouganai Yume Oibito! Non-flash photos were allowed (the only exception for the "no Momusu photos" policy at the convention), so I took a few grainy shots at max zoom. All of the honored guests were extremely impressive and interesting, but truthfully I spent the whole hour looking at Morning Musume and waving if they looked my way!

Immediately after opening ceremonies, the next job was to try to get one of only 300 guaranteed autograph tickets from buying Momusu merchandise. We got there as fast as we could, but soon realized the line was already over 500 deep (we later found out it had started at 4:00 AM!). I was a little bummed about missing out, but decided to use the time to start waiting for the Momusu Q&A panel, even though it was three hours away. Of course, there were already lots of people in line! After lots of confusion, the staff eventually decided to move us into the panel room for the previous guest (who was the immensely entertaining Toshiyuki Morikawa - I'll write about him later!), and when he finished, Dae and I were able to jump up to third row for Morning Musume!

When they first walked in I couldn't believe how close we were, since I could smile at them all and there was no doubt they were actually smiling back at me! The crowd went crazy, and listening to the girls (in both Japanese and adorable English) was fantastic. My selfish fanboy strategy was to try to get the attention of the members who weren't currently talking, so they could smile and wave back at me (I got the best reactions from Reina, Jun Jun and Lin Lin)! I was totally on the edge of my seat for the whole hour - it was such a great time.

After the Q&A, they handed out 500 non-guaranteed "priority" autograph tickets, and since we were up so close, Dae and I got them! Then they announced the location for autographs, so we ran (along with everyone else) to the exhibit hall, only to find the information was incorrect. Fans were wandering around everywhere, asking staff questions, and finally we got the correct answer and made it to the actual location. By that time, other people that solved the mystery first were lined up, but we were still feeling hopeful. Unfortunately, after the hour and a half was up, they closed the door while we were about 100 back in line. That door closing was a depressing sound, but we were told our priority tickets would still be good on Saturday. (Even though I was bummed, I felt better when I met the guy who was only 7th in line when they closed the door!)

After using up all of our adrenaline that day, all we could do was get some food (and ice cream!) and crash at Dae's condo. At least we had plenty of rest before the concert the next day!

View photos: Anime Expo 2009
Watch video: Morning Musume at AX Opening Ceremonies

7.06.2009

Momusu at Anime Expo Part 1

It's time to begin my Morning Musume at Anime Expo story! I'd rather write impressions instead of a journal, but I guess chronologically is the only way to tell everything. Right away I discovered that the key to this whole trip was staying up-to-date with my iPhone - without constantly checking Twitter and forums I would have missed so much! The first bombshell happened while I was still in the Austin airport, since someone found out Morning Musume's flight number from Japan, and fans started preparing to meet them at the airport. Although I was worried about being late to the convention center, I decided I had to take the chance, since the airport would be kind of a guaranteed way to see them from 10 feet away. Dae and I hung out in the terminal with about 100 or so other fans (who had a big welcome sign), and after waiting forever for them to get through customs, we finally saw them walking our way! Everyone was screaming, and the girls looked so cute (even though some wore face masks) and waved to us as they walked by. Dae shot a great video, and for some reason Reina appeared to point right at Dae's camera! (Soon my pal Ryan discovered someone else's airport video online and could hear my voice in it.)

My first impression of seeing them was that they are much smaller and delicate than I imagined. Of course I was looking for Sayumi, and she seemed so much shorter than she looks on TV! It was fun to see their different reactions - some seemed pumped about being in Los Angeles, some seemed a little timid or scared, and I think some were surprised to see American fans waiting for them. But they were generally bubbly and all smiles, and it was cool to know they had seen us. There's something awesome about knowing that at some level my fandom was now known by the artists themselves - like a small personal connection!

After calming down from the awesome airport sighting, we went to the convention center for the first of many huge lines (mostly outside in the sun). After extra waiting because of computer problems, we finally got our badges and immediately went to the concert ticket line, which was huge - I thought for sure we would have bad seats for the show. But when we finally got to the front, they gave us Section C, Row 7 - I couldn't believe it! So the first day was a huge success, and Dae and I celebrated by meeting Ernesto for mohitos, then Mexican food with flaming margaritas. It was a great start to my Jpop adventure! (I only have video posted today, but I'll work on getting photos up tomorrow.)

Watch video: Morning Musume at LAX

7.05.2009

Shinjirarenai daiseikou

I'm home from Los Angeles and Anime Expo, and the trip was better than I ever dreamed! I have so many details that I want to write about, but it's going to take me a few days of posts to get to it all. For now I'll just say that I got to be part of the screaming fans to greet Morning Musume when they arrived at LAX, I got to wave and smile at them from 3rd row seats at their Q&A panel, I had amazing 7th row seats to their first concert ever in America, and then I actually got their autographs (shaking each of their hands twice and saying something to each of them in Japanese)! It took about 20 hours of waiting in lines (over four days), but it was worth it and I would do it again! It was such an emotional, uplifting, dreamlike experience, and now I'm a bigger Morning Musume fan than ever! My pal Dae was the most incredible friend, since he drove me around and waited in all these lines just as a favor to me! It was awesome to see Ernesto again, too - the three of us shared fantastic dinner and drinks, as well as the ritziest July 4th party you can imagine. Enjoy my precious autographs and keep reading this week for more WEBmikey fanboy stories!

View photos: Morning Musume autographs