April 29, 2007
I just finished watching the four-disc series Kamichu!, which is an anime about a junior high school girl who overnight becomes a god. She doesn't know what kind of god though (this is traditional Japanese gods, where there are gods for everything from soy beans to rice to wind and boats, see Shinto), and she has two close friends who end up leading her on fun godly antics. I liked the earlier episodes more than the later ones, because things were more exploratory and oriented around discovery in the beginning. Later on, it becomes more about learning life lessons and stuff like that.
There are a few things which I think really worth mentioning about this anime. First is the artwork. I really liked the art, and the character designs. In fact, some of the more detailed artist renderings are illustrations I'd be happy to pick up and frame. I've never heard of the artist before though. Unfortunately I can't find a reference to him or her right now. The backgrounds and environments are also very detailed. It does not at all feel like a simple or rush job, and everything's wonderful to watch.
The second thing I really liked was the music. Both the opening and closing songs, but in particular the closing song. It's sung by Mako of the Japanese pop group Bon-Bon Blanco, who plays the maracas in the group. The song itself isn't written by her or Bon-Bon Blanco though. The closing animation is particularly fun to watch because it has Yurie dancing with the maracas along with Matsuri on taiko drum and Mitsue on guitar, all to the tune of the song. Yurie is voiced by Mako, and this is a little tribute to that.
April 25, 2007
It's been a long time since I've written anything in this category, but that's primarily because nothing much has been happening with the cats or turtles or fish. However, a couple of days ago Luna went with me to Pet Club to get some more cat food and litter. While we were there, we got three Tiger Barbs and a couple of African Cichlids in addition to a couple more snails. So now there are some more fish in the tank again: two cichlids and six tiger barbs. We got one blue cichlid, which has become the dominant fish in the tank, and also a yellow cichlid.
With this addition, I started reading a little bit about keeping live plants in a turtle tank. All the previous times I've added live plants to the tank, the plants were eaten by the turtles. However, I found an interesting article called Planted Turtle Tanks which is very informative. I've since placed an order for some red flourite gravel. I plan to switch out the pebbles currently in the tank for this gravel, and then after things have settled down to introduce some Java Ferns, Anubias barteri (coffeefolia preferably), and Cryptocoryne plants. Possibly some Java moss as well.
April 23, 2007
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
Boksuneun Naui Geot is another movie by the maker of Lady Vengeance and Oldboy. It's actually the first one of the three that was made. I don't think this film is as good as the others, and in fact the newest one, Lady Vengeance, is the best of the three in my opinion. However, if you like Chan-wook Park's films you'll probably appreciate this one.
All of his films are punctuated by a certain gruesome mentality which is certainly present here, as well as a sort of desperate and emotional motivation that drives each of the normal personalities towards cruel and vindictive extremes. Many more people are victims of that situation in this film than the others, though. Unfortunately, I found parts of this movie a little slow moving and therefore sometimes boring. The intensity was less focused and interrupted on occassion, which actually prompted me to playback at 2x right near the end.
April 19, 2007
Thank You For Smoking
I watched Thank You For Smoking, and tried to get Luna to watch it as well but it did not hold her interest. Before starting to watch this movie, I had some preconceptions about its subject matter. I knew it was a comedy, and figured it was a story that would poke fun at the cigarette industry and all of the things it does to try and increase its market share. But, it turned out to be a much more interesting discourse about the right to persuade, cajole, and argue either side of an argument and pokes fun at everyone involved.
I think the acting is very good in this film, and Aaron Eckhart does a great job as the protagonist whom you are sort of rooting for since he's just a normal guy and decent father, but at the same time represents an industry that the vast majority of people dislike. This presents a very interesting dichotomy which allows for a lot of fun conversation and character interaction, such as bragging rights about who is a target for murder or how many people a product is responsible for killing.
The central theme of the movie seems to be taking personal responsibility for personal decisions, with a "moral flexibility" which is not exactly admirable but is certainly relatable. But one thing many of the advocates of legalization of controlled substances for personal use do not address is the impact of such use on our society's overall health and the economic consequences. Unfortunately, that's not directly addressed in this movie either, but it certainly does argue that as a society we've decided to allow that burden to exist as the trade-off for personal vices.
Overall, I really enjoyed this film and would recommend anyone to see it. It's rated R for language and sexual content, but I think this is an R-rated films which parents should be willing to take their children to see.
April 15, 2007
The Grudge & The Grudge 2
Luna keeps putting scary movies onto her queue, so we watched The Grudge and then right afterwards The Grudge 2, both American remakes of the original Ju-On Japanese horror series. I'm easily scared by these kind of films because of my imagination, and these two movies are no exception.
The first film is more Japanese-like in how it approaches horror, and closely follows the original Ju-On. There is a mystery about why there is this woman killing people, which is gradually unravelled as the story progresses. Things are logical and realistic, other than the supernatural aspect (arguably), which heightens the suspense.
The second film is a little different. Although a little bit more about the characters pasts are revealed, the viewer already knows what's going on and to a fair extent why. The plot jumps around a little more than it should, so the seemingly simultaneous "hauntings" in Japan and Chicago are a little confusing until you piece together the puzzle. But overall this chapter is more about showing Kayoko in action a lot.
I think the creepiest part of the two movies is the audio mix. The dynamic range is very large for a movie, which means regardless of your listening volume the heart-pounding sequences are going to surprise and intensify. Plus, the surround channels are put to extremely good use, with seamless movement and precise location. Which is somewhat disturbing since you don't have eyes in the back of your head, and that's exactly how things are going to get you in the movie.
April 14, 2007
I stumbled across a series of shorts called HellHoles today. There are four episodes. Each is about four and half minutes long. I actually watched the fourth and final episode first, but it's entertaining enough that I ended up watching the first three as well. Despite being a web short, the production quality is very high and I think I recognize the actors. It's not really scary so much as interesting and amusing.
April 13, 2007
Genshiken: Cosplay Confessions
I finally got a chance to watch the final volume of Genshiken. I ordered the three disc set because I like the show so much (I've also been reading the manga) and even though I'd seen the first two discs already, I watched the three discs through again. The TV series follows the manga closely, which is good. I think both the manga and anime have their own good points and are very complimentary to each other, since the presentation formats are each used to their full potential.
There's some narration at the end of episode 11 that hints at the anime being cancelled prematurely. It was a 12-episode run, which is not the 13-episodes of a half-season, and far short of the normal 26-episode season. So the last episode ends when Sasahara becomes chairman of Genshiken and right before Ogiue shows up. Despite this, the anime ends well without feeling forced or incomplete.
It seems that a Genshiken OVA has started showing in Japan. I'm not entirely clear yet on if I will have to purchase the Kujibiki Unbalance OVA to get three Genshiken episodes, in a format flipped from the Genshiken series having three Kujiun episodes.
April 12, 2007
Luna rented another Japanese horror film, Mail, which also stars Chiaki Kuriyama. This time, the main character is a ghost hunter who recites some special mantra and then shoots ghosts who are tormenting the living. The show is a series of nine short episodes, some only a few minutes long while others are much longer depending on what needs to be revealed. Chiaki shows up as his sidekick after a couple of episodes.
Unfortunately, I think the split purpose is a weakness. Some of the episodes are just little ghost hunts that don't have anything to do with the main plotline. They're there to illustrate his job more than anything, and at least they show up in the beginning rather than continually splitting up the real story. But later on it really doesn't matter because the important episodes are the long ones at the end that reveal how he came to be in this situation.
The twist is a little predictable though, and the ending is supposed to be very emotional and smart, but it also happens to conflict with one of the earlier ghost hunting episodes. So having remembered that, suddenly the ending becomes a little disappointing. The story itself is decently written, but nothing great. Chiaki's performance is also okay, but not great. At least the special effects are consistent and the overal production quality isn't lacking.
April 11, 2007
I just finished watching Kizzu Ritan with Luna and although it's a critically acclaimed movie, which Luna likes a lot both for its content and its soundtrack, from a famous Japanese directory, I didn't like it much. At times, it held my interest because I wanted to know what was going to happen next, but most of the time I couldn't even tell what was happening to whom and how much time has elapsed between scenes.
In terms of flavor, this movie feels a lot like those 80's movies I remember of a somewhat stupid but good-looking guy in his mid-20's trying to accomplish something like become the best boxer or fighting champion. But it does actually have a lot more meaning and depth than any of those crappy movies. I think if I could actually figure out what was going on most of the time, I would have liked it better.
The problem is that although the movie succeeds at following a group of boys trying to find their place in life following high school graduation, I wasn't really sure what each of the boys was actually doing. I can tell you where they've ended up, but for example I don't think the shy boy with the doll ended up marrying the waitress Sachiko, even though it seems like it at one point. I also thought Masaru was killed, but then he wasn't, and I still don't know how he became a major Yakuza player. There's also some time spent on other supporting characters which I think resulted in some loss of focus.
Anyway, Luna thinks it's a good film, and a lot of people out there do too. I do like some of the music, and I think Luna likes it too because some tracks have a video game flavor to it.
April 9, 2007
RahXephon (TV series and The Motion Picture)
Some people recommend watching RahXephon: The Motion Picture as a cap to the TV series. I, however, recommend only the TV series if you choose to watch this work, and even then it's not all that amazing. The problem is that RahXephon is someone's attempt to remake Neon Genesis Evangelion in a manner that makes more sense. The RahXephon movie does a better job of that than the TV series, but it's also a chopped up that the plot doesn't make sense. And in both cases the depth and emotional meaning of Evangelion is lost.
It is a little disappointing to be watching something only to think very often "that's from Evangelion". It ruins the whole idea of watching something new. The angels are replaced by Mulians, and Unit 01 by the RahXephon. Ayato even goes through the same sequence of internal conflict and realization that Shinji does. Instead of some complex character dynamics, things are pretty standard fare with the protagonist having multiple love interests, so to speak, and predictable character development.
There are some pretty nice visuals, but the art quality is a little inconsistent. At times, I thought the artist had changed because of the difference in visual depth afforded to characters, and also line quality of character faces. The larger, more complicated sequences tended to look better than the simple conversations with characters in profile. The music is okay for the most part. I found the choral aspect of combat and "tuning" interesting at first, but then a little boring.
The movie makes things a little clearer because it starts out with some explanations of what's going on, rather than revealing them over time as the protagonist Kamina Ayato discovers them. And the ending narrates exactly what's going on rather quickly and concisely, whereas the TV series prolongs the explanation and forces the viewer to figure things out as they unfold. It should be noted that although the meaning remains the same between the TV series and movie, there are significant differences in the plot and the ending itself.
April 7, 2007
Multiple Personality Detective Psycho is a six-episode TV series that Luna wanted to watch because she really liked the manga. She likes this kind of genre a lot; where there's some sort of supernatural death going on and a detective. But MPD Psycho turned out to be really boring, slow, disconnected and strangely pointless, with really poor production quality. Even Luna admits that the television adaptation is boring and not something worth watching.
For starters, most of the time things really don't make any sense. Somehow, things are supposed to be connected and the multiple personality disorder of the detective is a big part of this. But each episode something new happens which doesn't have any logical connection to where things have gone so far, such as deciding to put flowers into the brains of random girls, but then deciding to set fire to a bunch of people. Throughout, there's one antagonist who has the ability to transfer between people, but even then the transfer protocol changes without explanation.
On top of that, the picture quality is bad with poor lighting. It looks a lot like someone filmed things on a consumer-grade camcorder and then used random special effects they found in some cheap video editing software. There were a number of times when it was blatantly obvious the rain was added in post-production even with such low picture quality. Later on they had real water, coming out of a sprinkler. And in the last episode, the fire special effects were just horrible since there wasn't any smoke and the things that were on fire weren't actually burning.
In the end, the motivations are revealed and the big questions are answered, although unlike a good detective story the viewer really has no way of piecing together the answers for themselves. In large part because none of the little questions can be answered since they don't make any sense at all. It's simply too random, illogical, and disconnected.
April 6, 2007
Luna had her biometrics appointment this morning, at a small unassuming USCIS office building near downtown San Jose. The procedure was simple but a little time consuming. We had to fill out a form containing some biographical information (a little strange, considering that is information they should already have) and present her passport as ID along with the appointment notice. Then she waited a while to get fingerprinted. I'm not entirely sure what the next step is, but Luna said we should be receiving something in the mail soon. I believe we just need to wait for her residency card.
I understand why the government wants immigrants to be fingerprinted; it's a simple way of getting immigrants into their identification databases for whatever reason they may need in the future. Criminal activity being a good example. People are also willing to do things like this as part of this sort of process without becoming upset.
But if you really think about it, it's somewhat unfair. In the same way that it's unfair that naturalization requires knowledge of U.S. laws and facts that the majority of people born as U.S. citizens do not know. Since I was born in the United States it is easier for me to get away with a crime than Luna, since my fingerprints are not in any database. Being born within the political map line also means I don't need to speak English to live here. While there are pressures and even some requirements being talked about for immigrants to become fairly proficient at speaking and reading English.
I guess this sort of thing is some burden upon the immigrant to be an intelligent and integrated member of society. But I'm of the mind that people should be treated equally, whereas in this sort of situation they are not. But immigrants have no real say in legal proceedings, politics, or law since they are not citizens. And once they become citizens, it's over with and there's no real motivation for change. Plus there is always the threat of unofficial punishment for anyone who might try to rock the boat.
Luna and I watched Shinobi today. I'd saved it on my queue for a while now, because Tintin said it would be a good movie to see. I thought that while it doesn't have anything particularly special about it, the action sequences are very entertaining and the plot satisfying. Luna was disappoinnted though because she's seen the original and prefers that. A good way of describing Shinobi is as a ninja version of the classic Romeo and Juliet.
Visually, Shinobi is very rich and vibrant. Since it's a modern film, there are a lot of special effects that are well integrated, on a picture that is enjoyable to see. A lot of the movie takes place in various natural settings, such as in the forest, desert, or rocky areas. The audio production is also pretty good, with music and sound effects that accentuate the situation and action sequences.
Unfortunately, Shinobi lacks the depth of story that would really take this movie to the next level. I would watch Shinobi again as a fun movie, but it's not one that I would recommend as there are better choices that are also as visually satisfying and of the same caliber action.
April 4, 2007
It's been a while now, but I haven't written about it, since we actually started having electrical problems at home. Several months ago, there started to be some glitches in the electrical system. The DVD player would reset, and then later on the receiver upstairs would lose power and then turn back on a couple seconds later. It started getting worse a couple of months ago though, with certain circuits in the house losing power for a fraction of a second. And then a few weeks ago, one or two circuits would kick out for a few seconds. Finally, things just went bad and we've lost a number of circuits completely.
We are working with an electrician now, and the conclusion is that the 100A panel needs to be upgraded to 200A. Things like the washer, dryer, fridge, and stove can already put a decent load on the system. And adding idle draw and then active draw from the home theater, computers, and upstairs A/V setup all adds up to some continuous strain on the system. The electrician showed me some ash and occasional arcing and sparking at the main breaker when we performed a load test.
So right now we don't have use of some appliances and lights. Not being able to use the stove is the biggest problem, since it means we can't cook anything. I have also started going to the laundromat to take care of our clothes.
Unfortunately, Pacific Gas & Electric estimates 16 weeks before a line upgrade to the house could be finished, providing enough power for a 200A panel. It'll also be expensive. Plus, the electrician needs to upgrade the panel which is also going to cost a lot of money. But we don't really have a choice about that, so we'll have to get it done.
In the meantime, the electrician says we can replace the worn out breakers in the existing panel to get a little more life out of it, until the upgrade can actually happen.
Luna and I watched Shikoku, a Japanese horror film made in 1999 that features one of Luna's favorite actresses, Kuriyama Shiaki. The story takes place on the island of Shikoku and is about the island's name being "Four Lands" but the pronunciation the same as "Death Lands". I won't go into how the two are related because that would give away too much, but if you like those kinds of Japanese horror films you'll like Shikoku.
Despite being filmed in 1999, the picture looks a little outdated. As if it was made in the 80's. It does have something of a low-budget feel to it, and there certainly aren't any amazing special effects. Everything you see is realistic and contemporary, which heightens the level of tension.
It's also probably better to watch it in stereo, despite the DVD having a DTS 5.1 track, because the surround mixing was not done correctly. There are times when you think something should be in the background but it only comes out the mains, and other times when something comes out of the surrounds but actually occurs in front of you.
April 3, 2007
GloomCookie: The Final Curtain
Just finished reading the latest collection of GloomCookie: The Final Curtain. This volume collects issues 24-28 and also features a new artist, Vincent Batignole. Unfortunately, I wasn't as pleased with this latest set, partly because the story seemed a little thin, and also because the artwork was very flat.
In comparison to earlier GloomCookie issues, these have much less text and dialogue, and many pages consisting of mostly art panels. And while I feel Batignole's characters are very stylish and evocative, I also feel his style lacks depth or detail. There are a lot of solid colors and large blocks, rather than intricate detail or really gothic flavoring. Most everything is mono- or duo-tone. That's certainly his style, and one appreciated by many people, but I find it lacking in comparison to earlier artists.
This set features heavily on the characters of Moon Raven and sort of cleans up where things were left off with Sebastian. But it doesn't have as much development or revelation, or as deep a romantic and moody feeling, as the earlier volumes. I feel as if it's either a transitional volume or a somewhat weak closing just to get things tied up at the end of the series. It could have been a lot stronger, I think, if there was more drama or emotional risk involved.
Things are left unanswered regarding Damien and Chrys though, so I look forward to reading the next volume and seeing how the GloomCookies continue.