8.31.2010

Netflix One-Liners 8.31

Memories: This batch of Netflix streaming is half anime, starting with this really cool triple story film filled with incredible detail and awesome machinery and plots ranging from a garbage spaceship’s encounter with an opera singer’s final resting place to a society completely based around firing huge cannons at an unseen enemy.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days: I’ve wanted to see this movie for years, and I’m glad I finally took the time to enjoy this fascinating sentimental story set in a post-war divided Japan and told via beautiful artwork and character design.
Ghost in the Shell / Individual Eleven: I still have a Ghost in the Shell itch that needs scratching, so I enjoyed watching this movie that compresses the entire main storyline of the second season of the anime series with some creative editing (and of course I geeked out all over again!).
Le Portrait de Petite Cossette: I had never heard of this short three episode series, but this horror story about a girl’s spirit trapped in an antique glass seemed interesting as a Netflix suggestion, which unfortunately turned out to be a little too bizarre and bloody for my taste.
Robotech / The Macross Saga: I’ve always wanted to watch this 85-episode monster series (which was instrumental in starting the Anime boom in the US), so I’m glad Netflix has it available for streaming, since I love the old animation style, cheesy 80s dubbing, and of course the space battles!
In Search of Beethoven: I also checked out a few documentaries, such as this really long (but never boring) look at the life of Beethoven and his fascinating career that changed classic music forever, sprinkled with lots of interesting enthusiasm filled comments from musicians and historians.
The Buddha: This PBS documentary looks at the major events in the life of the Buddha (with a few basic teachings of Buddhism thrown in), told via interviews with modern poets and philosophers and sometimes beautiful animated scenes.
Surrogates: Though I'm technically not a Bruce Willis fan, I actually heard about this science fiction thriller in church, and I enjoyed this surprisingly good story (with plenty of social commentary) about a world where nearly everyone stays at home while their brains are plugged into artificial bodies that they control in the real world.
Swamp Thing: I watched this old light horror flick with the guys (since we all remembered enjoying Adrienne Barbeau's figure as kids), but this DC Comics monster was definitely given the 80s low budget TV treatment (although it's pretty fun to watch anyway!).
Zach Galifianakis / Live at the Purple Onion: I don't watch many comedy shows in general, but since Zach is funny on the Tim & Eric Awesome Show, I thought I would check out this older performance, which had a few great moments but overall needed a lot more refinement.

8.30.2010

Godzilla Returns / Marc Cerasini : 3 of 5

Godzilla Returns (Godzilla Ya Novels , No 1)Since I've seen all the Godzilla movies multiple times and even enjoyed the old Marvel Comics series recently, I'm always on the lookout for new Godzilla material. I had heard about a series of novels (actually for young readers) that seemed kind of interesting, and luckily I was able to get one from PaperBack Swap even though they are completely out of print! I wasn't sure what it would be like to read a narrative kaiju "movie", but Godzilla Returns was surprisingly good and seemed to unfold and slowly build just like a great film. The plot chooses to reset the timeline (much like the Heisei era films) so only the first appearance by Godzilla in 1954 has happened. In fact, the original movie is referenced as a "documentary", and Stephen Martin (Raymond Burr's character) has even written a book about his dramatic experience! The story focuses on a few youthful characters (both Japanese and American) with the often seen mix of ambitious news reporters and disciplined military folk. When Godzilla appears in the 1990s to feed on a Russian nuclear sub, the political battles begin between the scientific community and the military as Godzilla slowly makes his way to Tokyo. The descriptions of action and destruction are really well written, and it was especially exciting to read about the young heroes driving through the streets of Tokyo as rubble (and Godzilla's feet) tumble down around them! The author obviously knows enough about Japan and Godzilla lore to tell a plausible kaiju story (I loved the reference to Cadmium missiles, which are sometimes used in the films as a deterrent to Godzilla's nuclear nature), although there are a few silly stereotyped moments (but of course, this happens all the time in the movies). Overall I enjoyed this Godzilla experience enough to order a few more books in the series, and I'm looking forward to new stories of the King of the Monsters!

8.29.2010

It's easy

After a vacation it's usually difficult to get myself fully back in gear, so this week I've done a little more relaxing than I'm used to. I've actually really enjoyed taking time to escape in my favorite worlds of anime and manga, but I often have trouble with feeling guilty about too much luxury, which sometimes leads to eating ice cream or other things I try to avoid! But over the past year I've adopted an overly simplistic attitude that really helps, which is just to step back, look at what I'm trying to do, and tell myself "It's easy". Obviously this isn't the key to life, but this small adjustment really works for me if I remember to do it! When I'm tempted to order a pizza and the fight feels like I'm going to give in, if I stop and think "Wait a minute! It's easy to win this battle. It's easy to just not order a pizza!", then my new perspective reveals the ridiculousness of my little struggle so I can make the right decision. Sometimes perfectionism keeps me from writing this blog, since I have trouble getting started if I feel like I won't be able to produce something that meets my own standards. But then I think "Writing a blog post is easy. Just write and don't worry about it!" and I'm able to finally get into the habit of posting (which always gets easier day by day). I can even beat some procrastination challenges with this attitude, since usually the things I put off will be over with before I know it if I just actually do them. Telling myself "It's easy" helps me minimize my internal drama, which has a tendency to complain and make things much worse than they actually are. If I can just remember to adopt this attitude at the moment I need it, then I'm able to do things like write this blog post, which was easy!

8.25.2010

Manga Mentions 8.25

Honey and Clover, Vol. 4 (v. 4)Honey & Clover Vol 4: This volume focuses mostly on Yamada and Mayama, who keeps trying to protect her from romantic advances even though he won't return her love himself. Their relationship is so beautifully tragic, and Yamada's personal narrative about the bent shiso plant (which needs to be broken off at the stem so new leaves can grow) is a really moving metaphor. I love all the emotional drama in this manga!

Nana Vol 9: The two Nanas sadly grow apart due to Hachi's pregnancy and marriage proposal from Takumi, exemplified by the touching scene where their beloved matching strawberry drinking glasses accidentally break! This volume is definitely thicker than normal with lots of insight into Reira's background, as well as a bonus story on how Trapnest was formed. It's so sad to see the Nanas living apart in separate places, though!

Black Jack Vol 7: As always, this volume is filled with more fantastic stories of my current Osamu Tezuka character obsession, including a fascinating look at Black Jack's dark past as he tries to get revenge for the death of his mother! There's also a touching appearance of the girl who was the "model" for Pinoko, which shows Tezuka's skill in conveying moving emotion with simple manga technique.

Nextworld Vol 2: On the other hand, some of Osamu Tezuka's early work from the 1940s can be incredibly boring, and Nextworld is a perfect example. I read the first volume of this manga back in 2005, and I never would have bought the second, but I couldn't pass it up for free on PaperBack Swap. The alien Noah's Ark story is kind of cool, but overall I was just glad to get through the book. I'm really glad that Tezuka moved past this style!

Sailor Scout Guide / Sailor Venus: Incredibly, I was able to get all five volumes of this out of print series from PaperBack Swap, and it was fun to read the last one about Sailor Venus! The content is just like the other books (tons of frame captures, episode summaries and crazy tidbits of information), and once again I enjoyed the sappy poetry selections at the end. I really want to watch Sailor Moon again now!

8.24.2010

Disneyland & Los Angeles vacation

Last weekend I spent four fantastic days in Los Angeles with my pal Dae, and we completely filled every minute with fun (and food)! We started off with Disney's California Adventure, which I hadn't visited in several years, so it was nice to experience the cool attractions again along with the new ones, especially Toy Story Midway Mania, which has already been updated with Toy Story 3 characters! I noticed several more details on older rides like Monsters Inc: Mike & Sully to the Rescue (did you know you can smell ginger in the sushi restaurant scene?), and it was great to ride the scary Maliboomer, since it's closing forever soon. The big event was World of Color, the new beautiful fountain and light show, so we had a classy dinner at the Wine Country Trattoria to get special passes (which bypassed tons of crowds). Dinner was delicious (with lots of wine!) and the show was unbelievable (I loved the scenes with Pocahontas, Fantasia 2000, and Pixar characters)!

The next day we hit Disneyland, where we managed to ride everything in sight by getting there at 8:00 AM! The new effects on Snow White's Scary Adventures were great (especially the rain during the finale), and I had a blast finding the new additions to the Rivers of America from the Mark Twain. It was also really fun to watch Michael Jackson in Captain EO on the big screen, which is great no matter how cheesy it is! After dinner at the Blue Bayou (interrupted by a fire alarm episode!), we got to see the new dragon in Fantasmic (huge and awesome), and just made it in time to see Dumbo fly around the castle during the fireworks! I was so impressed with Dumbo, since his kicking legs and flapping ears were so cute!

The next two days were so full of sightseeing that I can barely mention it all here! I've now seen all of the Los Angeles shooting locations for Blade Runner, since we visited Union Station, the Million Dollar Theater (across the street from the Bradbury Building), and the Ennis-Brown House. Dae picked a fantastic Japanese restaurant for lunch, which had an incredible view of the city, and we just happened to arrive during their three year anniversary, so many items were only three dollars (we definitely took advantage of the three dollar nigori sake)! Still downtown, we also stopped in the Biltmore Hotel and rode the Angels Flight inclined railway, and then stumbled onto front row seats for a great Rufus Wainwright concert! The next day we finally hooked up with Ernesto for breakfast and hiking around Bronson Canyon, including the fabulous Batcave (the actual cave/tunnel the Batmobile drove out of on the 60s TV series). Next we saw a few Hollywood things like the Snow White Cafe and Ginger Rogers' gravesite, ate some ice cream at the Disney Soda Fountain, and finally had a great Mexican dinner. This was definitely a vacation for the record books!

View photos: 2010 California Adventure
View photos: 2010 Disneyland
View photos: 2010 Los Angeles

8.23.2010

Gankutsuou / The Count of Monte Cristo : 5 of 5

Gankutsuou -The Count of Monte Cristo (Chapter 1)I first heard about this unusual anime series back when I used to read NewType USA, so when I noticed it was available on Netflix streaming I decided to give it a try. Of course I was hooked almost instantly, but when I was halfway through the series (watching it dubbed), Netflix dropped it. I thought I would have to rent the DVDs, but then I discovered I could watch the rest of the series on my iPad via the Crunchyroll app in Japanese! Although I haven't read the classic Alexandre Dumas novel, I was impressed at how this story was transplanted into the future, where pleasure trips to the moon are common and duels are fought in giant mecha that look like medieval armor. The visual style of this anime takes some getting used to, since everything (from clothing to hair texture to wallpaper) has been digitally filled with elegant and often garish textures, which makes everything look totally bizarre while still nodding to the historical Paris of the original story. The plot is a long revenge story that unfolds beautifully, and it's amazing how the young aristocratic characters (sons and daughters of the families being destroyed) are affected and grow from the Count's evil manipulations. The friendship of Albert and Franz is wonderful, and there are lots of subplots going on at once (which always kept me busy keeping everything straight!). The Count himself is an incredible character, whose story demands sympathy even though he's been overcome (actually taken over by a literal demonic force in this telling of the story) by his need for revenge. Everything about this series has a high-culture feel, including the haunting opening theme leading into the French prologue that begins each episode. Watching Gankutsuou every day for a month was an incredible experience, and I definitely recommend it!

8.17.2010

My Neighbors the Yamadas : 3 of 5

My Neighbors the YamadasWhen Disney signed the deal to dub and release the classic Studio Ghibli movies from Japan a few years ago, I was surprised to see that this film was included, since it's probably the "least-Ghibli" movie the studio has ever made. I recently realized I should get the DVD just to complete my set (even though I had already seen it a long time ago), and I had fun enjoying this unusual (yet creative and interesting) movie filled with Japanese culture. The most striking aspect of My Neighbors the Yamadas is the visual style, which can only be described as comic strip sketching (quite Peanuts-like, in a way), completely different from the realistic fantasy worlds of the other Ghibli movies. Although the artwork is almost childlike, it's also amazing how it uses moving backgrounds and complex camera angles (at times), and I loved how the watercolor feel fades away at the edges of the frame. Similar to the artwork, the structure of the plot (if you can call it that) is also comic strip inspired, since the film is really just a long series of short gags, which seems like it would get old after an hour and forty minutes, but somehow manages to stay funny! The Yamadas are a typical (perhaps stereotyped) Japanese family with a dad, mom, son, daughter, and of course, the live-in mother-in-law, and their lives unfold in hilarious short stories, often punctuated by meaningful haiku verses. There's a fairly-long segment about accidentally leaving the daughter in a department store, a super-funny TV remote control battle (where the dad keeps blocking the mom's attempt to change the channel), and a beautiful dream-like sequence about the family as a whole that contains great cultural references like the story of Momotaro. The movie is mostly wrapped up in a musical number set to Que Sera Sera (pretty interesting in Japanese), and watching the whole thing is really relaxing and fun! Like all the Disney-Ghibli DVDs, there's a short bonus feature about the dubbing as well as a way to view the storyboards, which end up looking like the finished film in this case. My Neighbors the Yamadas is about as far from Princess Mononoke or My Neighbor Totoro as you can get, but it's still a fascinating and heartwarming look at family life from a Japanese point of view.

8.15.2010

Toy Museum acquisitions

Since I don't really have anything left in my house to declutter, I've been spending some time "curating" my Toy Museum instead! I was starting to get a little worried about running out of LEGO space, which got me thinking about all the wasted vertical room on my shelves. Then I discovered these nice clear acrylic risers at the Container Store, and now I can't stop buying them! They come in several sizes, and although they are a little pricey when you need so many, they're a perfect solution for me. Now I can display my LEGO Y-wing on top of my X-wing (for example), and still enjoy both toys in half the space! Over the past few weekends I've been able to open up lots of room for more toys, which is great since I've added a few LEGO sets to my collection lately (which I just photographed today). At the opening of Austin's LEGO store, I bought the new General Grievous' Starfighter, which I've seen over and over recently while watching The Clone Wars. It has a really unique design, solid construction, a cool slide-open cockpit, and some great minifigs (including a new sculpted face General Grievous, of course!). I also had fun building the commemorative bat set that I got for free! Yesterday I put together the Exo-Force Stealth Hunter this weekend, which is so cool that I'm really bummed that the Exo-Force line (inspired by the Japanese mecha genre) was discontinued. I thought this would be a simple set, but it actually took quite a while since there were so many decals! I love the Gundam feel of the finished model, and it looks great on my shelf!

View photos: LEGO August 2010

8.13.2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World : 4 of 5

Fresh after (in fact, the day after!) finishing the fantastic Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series, it was pretty cool to be able to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World on opening day! As a fan of the books, I was definitely skeptical about how this film would work, but although they made some mistakes, for the most part I can say that the movie was close to fantastic! Actually, my biggest complaint is about Michael Cera in the title role, since he just doesn't fit my image of the character from the books. Sure Scott is supposed to be geeky, but not wimpy (at least in my mind), so I feel like Michael Cera is only there to add a name to this risky movie gamble. But I don't want to waste this review griping about the main character, since the other characters are flat-out perfect! Ramona was absolutely too cool, Wallace practically stepped out of the graphic novel, and most of all, Knives Chau (Scott's jilted teenage Chinese girlfriend and my favorite character) is not only adorable, but the plot has been shifted around to give her a bigger role! I loved how they referenced the style of the books by including chapter titles, popups of character names with funny descriptions (taken word for word), and even a few animated flashbacks with the original character designs. The fighting scenes are really great, with tons of video game sound effects and graphic flourishes, all done really tastefully (when it would have been so easy to make them garish and ugly). The soundtrack is also cool, with lots of tunes that are great for action scenes (the Sex Bob-Omb tracks definitely make me want to buy the album)! Of course it's tough to squeeze a six book series into one film, and although they lost some of the nice character development in the graphic novels, they still managed to weave a pretty cohesive (although crazy) story out of it all. In fact, I think they improved the ending quite a bit! If they had just cast a cool unknown as Scott I would have been even happier, but Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is still a pretty awesome movie!

8.12.2010

Scott Pilgrim Vol 6 : 3 of 5

Scott Pilgrim Volume 6: Scott Pilgrim's Finest HourIt seems like forever since I was enjoying Volume 5 of the Scott Pilgrim saga and wondering how long I could wait for the next release, never dreaming it would take over a year! I think some momentum was lost by such a long wait, and although I'm thrilled with the complete story as a whole, the final volume was a little lacking (truthfully, I kind of felt like it was rushed out to beat the release of the movie). Of course, I still really enjoyed reading it, and the artwork and cool characters were all as fantastic as ever! Scott finally faces Ramona's last evil boyfriend Gideon, and the battle takes the story into a surreal direction (inside Gideon's head!) that seemed a little too bizarre to me (but hey, what did I expect in a world where video games intersect with real life?). In fact, this volume seemed a little more gaming-centric than before, with lots of 8-bit text announcements, an extra-life for Scott, and even a funny scene where coins drop on spectators' heads! Thankfully, the final scenes in the story are really great from an emotional standpoint, which is important since these characters actually have feelings, after all. I loved Scott and Ramona's words to each other, as well as Knives' hilarious Clash at Demonhead line (she will always be my favorite character, and I wish she had her own series somehow!). I'm definitely looking forward to seeing the movie, which will be even more interesting now that I've read the whole story!

8.10.2010

The LEGO Book : 5 of 5

The LEGO BookSince I'm definitely a full-fledged LEGO fan (according to my Brickset list, I'm up to 25 sets now!), I'm really interested in the history of the LEGO company and all the trivia I can find about these amazing bricks. The LEGO Book is a beautiful hardback (actually a two-volume set in a great slipcase) that I received for Christmas, and I recently got around to enjoying page after page of lovely photo layout and LEGO facts! The style of The LEGO Book is quite similar to the LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary, but begins with the Denmark company's early wooden toys in the 1930s, continuing in a massive timeline to the advanced sets of today. I learned so much that I've recently been boring my friends with LEGO facts (such as original bricks from the days of the 1958 patent will still snap together with bricks from today, and that the factory in Denmark is so precise that only 18 out of a million bricks are flawed!), and seeing all the original sets in the City, Castle, and Space themes, as well as photos from the cool catalogs that I used to drool over as a child, was really nostalgic. I was fascinated by the early Duplo, Mindstorms, and Bionicle product lines, since there were many items I had never seen, and surprised to see a few Mickey Mouse sets that I never knew existed! There are also chapters on the LEGOLand theme parks and huge models, such as a giant soccer stadium that literally holds 30,000 minifigs in the audience! Speaking of minifigs, the second bonus book is called Standing Tall, which focuses solely on the history of the LEGO minifigure, starting with the early jointed family (that I somehow remember building) and eventually today's licensed figures that have so much detail and custom parts. I completely enjoyed my time immersed in the colorful pages of The LEGO Book, and definitely recommend it to any LEGO fan who loves these incredible toys!

8.08.2010

Two spectacular openings

This week was marked by a couple big events! On Thursday, there was an opening reception for an exhibit of my pal Matt's excellent photography, featuring his images of Japan! The show is displayed at the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic offices and studio, and it's really nice to see his wonderful photos all over the walls. Several people came to the opening and talked with Matt about his art, and we enjoyed some great refreshments and even played some music (Steve brought his keyboard, Jonathan had his horns, and I played an ultra-minimal drum kit). It was a really nice time, immediately followed by a big dinner together at New World Deli, eating giant sandwiches and burgers to sitar music.

Yesterday was super exciting since Austin's new official LEGO Store had its grand opening! I thought I was a little silly for wanting to be at Barton Creek Square right when they opened, but it turned out that every LEGO fan in town had the same idea! They had to make sure the crowd in the store didn't go over capacity, so everyone lined up (several hundred people, nearly the length of the mall) and waited to get in, which was kind of exciting! The store is really well designed and stuffed with merchandise, including all the exclusives that you can't get anywhere else, with some neat areas where you can buy loose bricks or custom minifigs. I was one of the first 300 purchases (I bought the new General Grievous Starfighter), so I got a special commemorative bat set! LEGO was also holding a "building event" to construct a huge Buzz Lightyear, and it was fun to watch kids build sections that were added to the huge model. I have a feeling I'm going to be visiting the LEGO Store semi-regularly!

View photos: Matt's Photo Exhibit
View photos: LEGO Store

8.06.2010

Cats & Dogs / The Revenge of Kitty Galore : 2 of 5

The first time I saw this trailer, I told myself I would never see a dumb movie like this one! But then I heard about the new Road Runner cartoons that Warner Bros. is including with a few upcoming movies, so my pal Melinda and I ended up seeing it just to enjoy the Looney Tunes! The cartoon was pretty good, with some new creative ways for the Coyote to fail miserably, and I thought the computer generated style did a nice job of combining realistic textures with the classic feel of the original animation (although Road Runner's color was a little too iridescent for my taste). Unfortunately, it was much shorter than a real Warner Bros. cartoon (I was hoping for seven minutes, but it was only around three), and once it was over I had to make it through Cats & Dogs! I didn't see the original movie, but I'm sure this sequel is just more of the same goofy jokes that probably aren't funny even to kids. Of course, I had a few laughs (the Silence of the Lambs references were funny), and the action near the end of the movie was pretty good, but overall I was just amazed that movies like this still get made. Some of the characters were vaguely fun (I liked the fact that the dogs were commanded by a fastidious Beagle!) and the CG mouth movement on the live-action animals was well done. Some of the voice work was great (for some reason the insane pigeon was my favorite), but I think the human roles were almost humiliating to the actors (poor Kenneth from 30 Rock must have needed another paycheck badly). At least I stayed awake, and I'm really glad I got to see the new Road Runner short on the big screen!

8.05.2010

Generic groceries

I've always avoided grocery store generic brands, but lately my frugal side has been interested in trying out a few of them, especially where the savings is pretty big (like a dollar or more). It's been interesting to compare the generic to the original, and even though some people swear they are the same, unfortunately I'm discovering that's not the case for a picky person like me!

Cheerios: You would think it would be hard to mess up this kind of simple cereal, and a huge box of generic is so much cheaper than the original. But I realized right away that the generic has almost no staying power and turns soggy the moment it gets wet! My situation may be unique since I eat cereal with juice (strawberry kiwi, to be exact) instead of milk, but I'm switching back to real Cheerios to get the crunch back!

Metamucil: I'm not ashamed to say I like drinking a glass of fiber to keep my pipes running smoothly, so I had to try out the grocery store brand since the savings is giant on this one. However, while name-brand Metamucil mixes up nicely almost like Tang, thie grocery store brand is more like gross sawdust floating in the glass. I'm definitely going back to the expensive stuff!

Kleenex: I can go either way on this one, but the generic brand definitely has some quality control issues on the perforations between each tissue. If you aren't careful, you can easily pull a whole bunch out of the box at once, which is so annoying! It's kind of pain to rip them apart like paper towels.

Floss: At last, I think we have a generic winner! I like Glide floss, which is kind of top-shelf expensive, while the generic equivalent is a couple dollars less. So far I haven't noticed a difference, and the generic even has a little more mint flavor to it, which is nice. This is one of the biggest price differences I've tried, so it's nice that I actually like this product!

8.04.2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars / Complete Season One : 5 of 5

Star Wars The Clone Wars: The Complete Season One (TV Series) [Blu-ray]I've always looked forward to watching Lucasfilm Animation's excellent series on Cartoon Network, so I had to add this Blu-ray set to my Christmas list last year. Now that I've watched every first season episode of The Clone Wars again, I'm even more impressed with this show! Seeing this series in its full aspect ratio with incredibly sharp detail (even skin textures look amazing) is incredible, and I was constantly blown away by the awesome Star Wars action and gloriously-designed vehicles and ships (many of which I have built in LEGO!). The stories themselves are also wonderful, with incredible insight into the characters and attention to their place in the saga (for example, they make sure that Anakin can never meet General Grievous, since their first meeting doesn't occur until Revenge of the Sith). I also love the individuality of the clones, made evident in the very first episode with Yoda's line "In the Force, very different each one of you are" and continuing with awesome clone-focused episodes featuring rookies on a remote outpost and clone commanders hunting down a clone spy. The multi-episode Malevolence and Ryloth sagas are brilliant, and all the cool Jedi Masters (such as Plo Koon, Kit Fisto and many more) introduced in this season are astounding. Every episode includes a short featurette (usually around seven minutes) discussing the development of the story (with lots of mention of George Lucas' involvement) and visual design (with fascinating facts about ships that bridge the two trilogies, such as the Y-Wing bomber), and several episodes claim to be Director's Cuts, although there's no mention of what new scenes are added (not enough to be obvious, anyway). Each of the three Blu-ray discs also has a Jedi Archives section, packed with traditional artwork as well as early CG animation and beautiful rotations of ships and characters. Even the case for this set is cool, since it includes a high-quality mini-book of concept art! The best thing about The Clone Wars is how much the crew really cares about Star Wars and creating an exciting and beautiful experience for the fans, which they have definitely accomplished with this show. I enjoyed every minute of this set, and I'm looking forward to getting the second season set from Santa this year!

8.03.2010

Ghost in the Shell: The Lost Memory / Junichi Fujisaku : 4 of 5

Ghost In The Shell - Stand Alone Complex Volume 1: The Lost Memory (v. 1)Although there isn't much left that I haven't experienced in the Ghost in the Shell world, I was excited to discover this series of novels authored by someone who wrote several actual episodes of the Stand Alone Complex series, and I was even able to get this first novel from PaperBack Swap! I wasn't sure how Ghost in the Shell would feel in a non-manga fiction format, but thankfully this story feels exactly like the show, with the same amount of detail, subtle character interaction, and level of complexity that demands the full attention of the reader. You definitely can't take a break from reading for more than a few days, or you might forget some key plot points! The story involves the memory of a dead boy that is being transmitted via a recorded dream (which teenage kids experience for a thrill) and triggers them to commit terrorist acts, so there's a lot of action and mystery as Motoko unravels the plot. I really enjoyed the way some concepts were described in a way that isn't possible via anime, such as what it's like to use a cyberbrain on the net (like trying to remember something you never knew, since the net becomes an extension of the mind), as well as the stigma of being "cyberbrain maladaptive" in this modern society (in which ordinary people who aren't enhanced with technology are essentially disabled). Of course, there are some great action sequences with Motoko, Batou, and the rest of Section 9, but although they are well-written, I found myself really wanting to see what was going on either as animation or illustration, just because Ghost in the Shell is so closely tied to those formats. But overall, I think the author did a nice job of bringing out the elements of the story that were improved by narrative fiction, and I definitely want to continue this series by reading the other Ghost in the Shell novels. Most of all, I'm just happy to spend some time in this incredibly cool world again!

8.02.2010

The Incredible Hulk : 3 of 5

The Incredible Hulk (Widescreen Edition)Somehow I completely missed this film in the theater even though I love superhero movies, probably because I was so disappointed in the first attempt to capture the Hulk on the big screen a few years ago. But recently it occurred to me that I need to watch all of the Marvel films that are building up to the big Avengers movie in the future, so I rented this DVD to get up-to-date. The Incredible Hulk is so much better than the Ang Lee version that I might be able to finally forget that one was ever made! Edward Norton is simply a fine actor that truly takes his role as Bruce Banner seriously, and I was really impressed with the way he made the character believable. The film bypasses almost all of the Hulk's origin story by presenting a nice credits montage instead (a pretty bold move), and jumps right to Dr. Banner hiding away in Brazil learning how to control his anger and pulse to prevent the Hulk from emerging. There are lots of excellent nods to the classic live-action TV series, including cameos from Lou Ferrigno and Bruce Bixby (via a clip from The Courtship of Eddie's Father), a funny take on the famous line "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry" (which comes out as "hungry"), and they even bring back the sad "walking away" piano music that ended every episode! Tim Roth becomes Abomination, another gamma ray creature that Hulk has to duke it out with while destroying a good portion of New York City! Unfortunately, the Hulk himself is all CG (understandable given his size) which looks pretty cool, but ultimately never fools the audience. I was constantly reminded that I was essentially watching a video game, which is a shame since the other film elements of story and characterization are so great. I enjoyed seeing Robert Downey Jr. show up as Tony Stark at the end, and now I'm pretty excited about the Avengers movie (although it's a shame that Edward Norton won't be continuing his role). I'm glad I finally got around to watching The Incredible Hulk, and I'm hopeful that someday filmmakers will find new creative ways to present this Marvel character!