3.27.2011

Chobits manga

Chobits, Volume 1 (v. 1)Back in 2004 when I was really starting to go anime crazy, I fell in love with a series called Chobits. I was intrigued with the idea of a world where personal computers were built in the form of people, I laughed at the slightly pervy situations, and I swooned over the heartwarming dialogue of Chi, an adorable computer who falls in love with Hideki. I rented all of the DVDs so I could watch every episode in Japanese, bought a couple soundtrack CDs (that I still listen to), and even picked up a Chi figure at an anime convention. Years later I even bought a DVD box set of the series and enjoyed watching the whole thing again! Recently I was digging through PaperBack Swap (since I have so many credits burning a whole in my pocket), and I realized that I could get all eight volumes of the original manga in a snap for free! It's always interesting to compare manga and anime and discover the differences, which were surprisingly few in the case of Chobits. There were a few short manga scenes that had been extended into complete anime episodes, and the ending was a little different, but in general the plot was the same. Actually, the manga made some of the confusing aspects of the story much clearer to me! Of course, I still found myself crying while I read the last volume and Chi and Hideki finally confess their love. The artwork (by the CLAMP group) is beautiful and frilly to the N-th degree, and now I really want to watch the anime again!

3.26.2011

Godzilla-mania

A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series, 2d ed.My Godzilla fandom has been at an all-time high lately, since I just completed my DVD collection of all 28 Godzilla movies in the original Japanese! I always loved watching giant monster (kaiju) movies on TV as a kid, but my adult interest really began a few years ago with the incredible DVD releases by Classic Media. Those "scholarly" DVDs really opened my eyes to the art of the kaiju film, as well as exposing me to how much better these movies are in Japanese. After buying all the Classic Media releases, I rented every other film (with the exception of a couple movies that were never released on DVD in the US, which I bought after searching the web for various sources). After watching all 28 movies (and completing my Godzilla review index), I thought my interest would fade, but then I received A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla Series for Christmas. This fantastic book has a detailed chapter on almost every movie, and as I read the synopsis of each plot, I immediately wanted to watch them again! Since my favorite Godzilla movies are the Showa era films (1954-1975), I decided I would buy these on DVD, which didn't take long since I had several already. But then I couldn't stop, so I moved on to the Heisei era (1984-1995). I decided I didn't want to get any American DVDs that didn't include the Japanese audio, so I stumbled upon a great site called SumoGorilla that has these rare Japanese language versions available. Finally, I finished buying the few films of the Millennium era (1999-2004), so I was able to complete my dream Godzilla DVD collection!

You would think that would be enough, but I simultaneously started getting hooked on kaiju toys, thanks to the incredibly detailed Revoltech figures made by Kaiyodo in Japan! These are some of the most detailed and accurate toys I've ever seen, so I had to buy Godzilla's friends and enemies like Mothra, Anguirus, Rodan, Gigan, and even an awesome maser cannon (the iconic weapon used against Godzilla in most of the films). I've also bought lots of Bandai figures, starting with the ones available in the US (you can still find them at Toys R Us) and later ordering some imports from Japan. The Bandai figures are really simple with only a few joints, but they still look incredible on my toy shelf! Finally, although I already have a couple CDs of Godzilla movie soundtracks, I just ordered a CD of more theme songs, plus another filled with sound effects. I have no idea why I want a CD of a bunch of kaiju roars and growls, but I can't help myself!

3.19.2011

Samurai 7

Samurai 7: Box Set (Viridian Collection)Although I much prefer watching anime in Japanese, the convenience of having so many shows available on Netflix streaming has lured me into watching a few complete series in English! Recently I finished all 26 episodes of Samurai 7, which I've often heard discussed as an amazing anime, since it's a sci-fi/steampunk version of Kurosawa's classic Seven Samurai. Unfortunately (and even unbelievably) I've never seen Seven Samurai (although I plan to remedy this situation soon!), but I still really enjoyed the interesting characters and fascinating settings combining traditional Japanese culture (like rice farming) with incredible technology. In fact, one of the samurai named Kikuchiyo is himself a mechanical man, lumbering around with incredible strength and even blowing steam when he exerts himself! He's definitely the comedic character of the group, but I really loved the emotion between him and Komachi, one of the little girls of the village they are protecting. From what I've read of the original movie, Samurai 7 really expands upon the plot to fill out all those episodes (and manages to drag a little towards the middle), but the entire arc of the series was quite satisfying. Of course the many fighting scenes are incredible (I always love seeing swordsmen going up against huge flying machines), and the soundtrack is great since it primarily uses traditional Japanese instrumentation (shakuhachi, koto, and so on). As expected, the English dub had some terrible voice choices and lots of moments that made me cringe, but I won't complain too much about it!

3.17.2011

Instagram

I love taking and sharing digital photos, but over the years my perfectionism and my laziness have been in a constant battle, especially when it comes to shooting my toys. Recently I started becoming aware of activities that had become habitual for me that were in reality hindering enjoyable experiences (which is why I stopped blogging for so long), and taking toy photos is a great example because of this perfectionism/laziness conflict. The solution for me was Instagram, the insanely popular social camera app for iOS. The iPhone 4 camera is really nice with decent macro capability, but still not flawless enough to make me completely happy "as is". However, when you make these photos artistic by using Instagram's cool filters, they become passably creative! Combine that with the ease of sharing these photos on Facebook, and you definitely have a winner. I have been trying out new styles of shooting, often using very low light and holding a flashlight to get certain effects, and then choosing the best crazy filter to enhance the look. I've also started photographing some of my vintage Kenner Star Wars action figures on weekends, and adding the previous week's images to my Flickr photostream. Since my pictures also get posted on Instagram's own servers, it's nice to receive some comments from other fellow Instagrammers. This also allows them to be accessed by their new API, which has been put to great use on Instagrid!

3.16.2011

Exploring TRON

Tron: BetrayalI'm pretty happy about the way Disney's TRON universe has been expanding lately! I saw the original film back in 1982 when I was first learning computer programming, and I remember getting so excited not only because it was a cool movie, but also because I understood some of the silly technology jokes. Of course, I was thrilled when I first heard about TRON: Legacy, and had a fantastic time seeing it twice in the theater (though I wish I would have gone one more time). I've listened to the soundtrack many, many times (I was already a Daft Punk fan, so I love it), and I've pre-ordered both films on Blu-ray. Unfortunately the new toys don't excite me that much, though I did buy a great set of Japanese Kubrick figures of the original Tron and Sark. I also decided to check out TRON: Betrayal, a really cool graphic novel that covers Flynn's creation of CLU, the birth of the Isomorphs, and the beginnings of the Grid's downfall. The artwork is really great (lots of beautiful neon effects) and the plot is well-constructed (and I guess it's "official", since this is a Disney Press book). I can't wait for the new animated series TRON: Uprising to begin (the trailer looks pretty awesome), and I'm definitely hopeful for future TRON films, especially since there's a great teaser called TRON: The Next Day which even features RAM from the original movie!

3.15.2011

The Spectacular Spider-Man

Spectacular Spider-Man: Complete First SeasonA few weeks ago I decided to start watching The Spectacular Spider-Man on Netflix, since I completely blew off this series back when it was on the air in 2008. I wasn't too thrilled with the human character design (totally round eyes and an obvious attempt to look anime-ish), but now that I've given the show a second chance, I'm completely into it! The plots are surprisingly complex, weaving together elements from the original comic book, the live-action movie trilogy, and even the Ultimate Spider-Man re-imagined books (which I'm currently reading). Although the animation style isn't my favorite, I can't deny that the action sequences are really exciting, and it's great to see a full arsenal of Spidey villains (not only the usual suspects like Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus, but even guys like Mysterio and Kraven the Hunter), who are nicely tied into a larger scheme involving some mastermind criminal! The voice acting isn't bad either, which really helps establish Peter's inner dialogue as he worries about Aunt May and tries to choose between Gwen, Mary Jane, and even Liz. Netflix only has the first season available for streaming, but thankfully I can rent the second season (which I just started watching) on DVD. Unfortunately, the series was cancelled before a third season could be produced, which is really a shame. I'm glad I decided to take another look at this show!

3.14.2011

Marvel Masterworks

The Avengers, Vol. 1 (Marvel Masterworks)During my decluttering frenzy of the past few years, I decided I wouldn't buy any more individual comic books, focusing only on trade paperbacks (collections of several issues in a single book) instead. Since then I've enjoyed all kinds of stories, but my favorite thing has been experiencing the original beginnings of classic superheroes that are so well-known today. It's funny how my comic loyalties have flip-flopped between DC and Marvel over the years, but lately I've kind of been on a Marvel kick (probably due to the Iron Man movies and getting into the Ultimate universe, thanks to PaperBack Swap). I decided it would be cool to check out the first volumes of a few titles in the Marvel Masterworks series. Each book presents ten original issues reproduced in glorious color, and the quality looks amazing to me. I loved reading the first issues of the Fantastic Four, and now I'm enjoying The Avengers! These old 1960s comics are such a treat, not only because they have spectacular artwork by legends like Jack Kirby (along with refreshingly simple panel layouts), but also because the dialogue and villains are so cheesy, thanks to Stan Lee (the more ridiculous the better, I say)! It's cool to think that these heroes that are such a mainstream part of pop culture today came from such humble beginnings.

3.13.2011

Jazz evening

Last night I played with a jazz trio (my pals Steve on keyboard and Jack on bass) at a nice wedding party held at Steiner Ranch Steakhouse. I haven't had the opportunity to play much jazz lately, so I really enjoyed myself! Recently I've been looking for creative outlets, so I decided to really pay attention to the music and stay in the moment, and it was a wonderful experience. We did lots of trading fours, which was interesting since for the most part were playing quietly for dinner music, so it was cool to figure out ways to solo with brushes without overwhelming guest conversations.

I played with Steve and Jack several years ago in our jazz band called Stella, which made the evening a little nostalgic. The folks at the wedding definitely enjoyed the music, and it was nice to see some old folks singing along with the standards were playing. Steiner Ranch Steakhouse has a spectacular view of the lake that looked beautiful at sunset, and although we had to play while everyone else was digging into steaks, the staff made up for it by treating us with fantastic Scotch (Oban and Lagavulin, my favorite). Oh yeah, we got paid, too!