Monday, April 30, 2007

Just another Wonderful Birthday Week

I haven't been posting much this past week because the penultimate week in April (which T.S. Elliot called "the cruelest month") is traditionally the hustle and bustle week of my birthday, which was Tuesday.

On Tuesday night, Amy and I went to the wonderful La Cachette restaurant in (sorta) Century City.

This is the sort of French restaurant where they pile on the sauces, where you can have sauteed frogs' legs as appetizers and a "hearty" multi-meat cassoulet as the main dish, where the waiters are obsequious and the chef works the dining room, autographing his cookbooks. We had a great time.

The rest of the week was a blur of court appearances and party preparation. At last, we had folks over on Saturday for the birthday party proper. Guests came from as far away as Santa Maria. This party was quieter than some (the guest list of my 40th birthday party was exploding, but the guests were choice.

Eureka! We're Idiots!

While I have to tender kudos to Adult Swim/Cartoon Network for airing the exceptional anime SF series Eureka Seven with, on the whole, few edits, the channel had to forfeit a bunch of those kudos based on its inept handling of the final episode of that series' 50-ep run early Sunday morning. The creators of the series designed the ending episode with a touching epilogue that provided an emotional payoff for an often intense series.

Adult Swim cut the coda.

Clumsily, too. They sliced it off right after a card that read (in Japanese, granted) "One Year Later . . . ."

They also cut a monologue at the beginning.

All of this was after the standard warning card the network ran at the beginning of the series, warning about the "extreme violence" in the episode, and bragging about how they were running the episode "uncut" because "we are American cowboys."

Their definition of "uncut" appears to differ from mine.

So I did what, likely, numerous viewers did: I went to YouTube and watched an illegal, fan-subtitled copy of the episode. Coda and all.

Adult Swim made me do it.

****Update on 5/1/07*******

Adult Swim says it will re-run the episode on Saturday, May 5, with the cut bits restored. A representative called the cut "not intentional." How you inadvertently cut several minutes out of a TV show is unclear to me.

Dreamy Sundays

I had the strangest dream on Sunday.

I was back at UCLA, walking into a lecture hall at Young Hall. I was late. The class was in progress.

Except, instead of a professor, there were a bunch of pundits sitting at the table in the front of the classroom. And sitting among them, speaking as if he were their leader, was my cousin, Tod Goldberg.

As I walked down the aisle, Tod worked me into his opening remarks. He directed everyone's attention to me.

Then, after the lecture, he took me to this table just below Janss Steps. There, they sold me a literary journal with a cover story by Tod. The story was written from the viewpoint of a possibly psychotic young man who opened a Starbucks franchise in his home.

Oh. Wait.

That was the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Wi-Fi Watering Holes Can Be Treacherous Waters

The LA Times today ran an article about the hidden dangers of using public wi-fi spots without adequate security. It isn't all that scary -- basically, if someone hacks into the spot's router, they can see a list of sites that you visit. Still, anyone using a computer that isn't hard-wired into a wall should be aware of the potential of having your little packets of info snatched from the air.

Walla Walla, My Sweet

My brother Mike posts on his blog that the Walla Walla Sweet Onion has been declared Washington State's official vegetable. The governor has apparently realized that an onion is a many-layered thing. All I can say is, "Sweet."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Magicplay is Dancing

Excellent news for folks who, like me, are fans of 1980's anime from studio TMS: Imaginasian TV (Channel 157 on our cable network) has announced that beginning in June it will begin broadcasting a daily block of three subtitled TMS shows from the '80's. Best of all, one of those shows will be my all-time favorite TV anime series, CAT'S EYE. It will also be selling the three series as subtitled DVDs.

That CAT'S EYE is being picked up for broadcast and video is something of a minor miracle. Even though the series was broadcast through most of the rest of the world in the '80's, it was never picked up here, so most anime/manga fans have never heard of it. (By contrast, another anime series based on a manga by the same creator, CITY HUNTER, has had numerous episodes issued on DVD in the US, through ADV.) Actually, TMS tried to market the series to American TV in the '80's, even taking out ads in Variety and Hollywood Reporter; but for some reason, the syndicators weren't too eager to broadcast an animated series in which the main characters are, well, thieves.

Further, the commercial prospects for CAT'S EYE seemed dim now, 24 years after its debut, since (a) the series doesn't have giant robots, ninja, samurai, or magical-powered high school girls, and (b) the fashions, hairstyles and music are all extremely early-'80's vintage. Plus, while the series is delightful, funny, and exciting, with engaging characters and great art, one has to deal with the obviously-silly aspects of the plot. In a nutshell, three sisters find out that pieces from their artist/art collector father's collection have been showing up in the hands of various ne'er do wells. So the ridiculously talented ladies set out to steal all the items, in hopes that they will provide a clue as to their missing pop's whereabouts. Do they do so surreptitiously? Do they keep a low profile? Of course not. In the tradition of "gentleman" thieves, they brashly leave metal cards announcing their next heist. Sometimes they shoot the cards into police headquarters. And they call themselves (or at least, middle sister Hitomi) "Cat's Eye." Further, they maintain a coffee shop -- across from police headquarters. And the coffee shop is named -- uhm -- Cat's Eye. And sister Hitomi's boyfriend is -- wait for it -- a police detective. The one whose primary case is, yes, tracking down Cat's Eye.

Sure, it's a high-concept series that Aaron Spelling would have loved, but it's great. Trust me.

Another one of the TMS series being broadcast/sold is ORGUSS. (No, it's not what you think.) This series holds a place in anime history not only as a neat science fiction/time travel/giant robot series, but also as an unofficial sequel of sorts to a much more lionized series from that era, MACROSS. Although MACROSS was produced by another studio, Tatsunoko, ORGUSS ended up with much of the same creative personnel -- most notably, character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto. ORGUSS, unlike CAT'S EYE, was partially released in the U.S. back in the early '90's, under the auspices of U.S. Renditions (whose principals included an old acquaintance of mine, David Riddick); but that was when the U.S. anime market was in its infancy, and only the first 17 episodes were released, with a fairly disappointing dub job.

I can only hope this new incarnation, and its sister series, have a better fate.

The images (if they ever appear above) are copyrighted by TMS and Tsukasa Hojo/Coamix.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

One Piece Salvaged

Once upon a time, in the mid-nineties, a manga called ONE PIECE debuted in Japan, and was wildly popular. A couple of years later, a TV anime series adapting the manga debuted, and its popularity knew no bounds. Both are still going strong today in Japan -- supplemented by original animation videos, theatrical movies, and more merchandise than you can sail a ship at. When I visited Japan three years ago, there was a whole chain of mall stores devoted solely to One Piece merchandise; and convenience stores in small, rural towns were stuffed with One Piece plushes and manga volumes.

The manga begin selling in the US, in translated form, in 2002, and has been fairly successful. Then 4Kids Entertainment brought the One Piece anime to American Sat-Am TV -- and it tanked. It was cancelled from Fox after a few months, and moved to Cartoon Network. Eventually, 4Kids, which had translated up to Episode 144 of the series (although it did not show all the preceeding episodes) stopped translating new ones.

A big reason why it tanked was that 4Kids slashed it to pieces. Although it is aimed at all ages, it has more blood than one is used to in American animated shows. Lots of that was axed. Characters drink and smoke. All that was taken out -- sometimes mysteriously (for instance, a character who smokes two cigars constantly had two plumes of smoke suspended before his face; the cigars were digitally removed). Voices were often wildly inappropriate and grating. Worst of all, deaths crucial to the plot were written out (even though the prologue to each episode spoke of a pirate being hung from the gallows). A main character's central motivation was the murder of her foster mother before her eyes. The American version showed the foster mother's gravesite; yet in it the villain simply consigned her to a dungeon for the rest of her life.

The general consensus was that the American version of the One Piece anime was doomed. Who'd want to pick up a property that had bombed commercially?

Fortunately, Funimation -- one of the best American licensors of anime -- has announced it has picked up the license. It will be producing episodes for Cartoon Network beginning where the 4Kid episodes left off. It will use a new voice cast, and will avoid grating voices. Although the TV version will still be edited (Cartoon Network rules), they will purportedly cut it with a lighter hand. And best of all, Funimation will be selling unedited translated episodes on DVD.

Sometimes Neptune smiles on sailors and pirates alike.

Wi-Fi Watering Holes: Java Man

I had a surprise lunch today with two friends who were in the neighborhood and decided to kidnap me for a nosh. I mentioned that I planned to go to a WFWH in the South Bay today; and they referred me to Java Man Coffee House in Hermosa Beach. It's within a short walk of the beach (which would be even better on a day that isn't as cloudy as today); and is ensconsed in a homey-looking green house-like diner on Pier Avenue, with lots of bumper to curb parking in front. (Alas, it's meteredand limited to three hours; and the restrictions are enforced until 10 pm.) The free wi-fi is courtesy of the City of Hermosa Beach, which has blanketed the area near the ocean with wireless Internet. The drink menu is large, and the cappucinos are pretty good.

My friends were concerned that if I reviewed this place I'd "give away the secret." Judging by how packed the joint is on this Saturday afternoon, I don't think there's a secret to give away.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sakura-Con Wrap-up

Sakura-Con is obviously long over. I was going to post a con report right after getting home; but as usual, life got in the way. Or more precisely, illness got in the way -- a sore throat and a 100 degree temperature as soon as I got back. I dealt with the fever by spending a day home from work -- and incidently working over eight hours that day. (Hey, it wasn't physical work, so technically it was relaxing.)

Anyway, Sakura-Con. At 10,000 attendees (about), it was much bigger than Anime Vegas or Anime LA, and much smaller than Anime Expo. There was no shortage of stuff to do, and everything was on the whole neatly organized. (This was the first time I'd seen one video room devoted entirely to subtitled videos, another to dubbed videos, another to movies, and a fourth to anime music videos.)

The attempts at organization fell down sometimes, however, and one of the most egregious examples was on the last day. Japanese manga creators Kohta Hirano and Yasuhiro Nightow were offering autographs/sketches. A sign advised that prospective recipients of sketches would be given lottery tickets to determine who would be able to go into the undisclosed locations and obtain the sketches. It also said that there were no lineups before 2 pm. (You might see where this is going.) Staffers, alas, advised fans to, yes, line up before 2; and issued them lottery tickets. Shortly before 2, however, a rather loud and rude staffer chewed out the line occupants for lining up before 2 pm; and made them give back their tickets! (You can imagine the calm with which a couple hundred tired, low-blood-sugar-afflicted, hyped up young people took this information.) The atmosphere got sufficiently threatening that security guards or police officers were called. Worst of all, when the new tickets were being brought out for distribution, someone yelled, "Go! go!" The fans began stampeding toward the ticket bowls; and I, observing from the sidelines, began to get that sick feeling of watching a train wreck in motion. Fortunately, a loud-voiced burly staffer stopped the mayhem before anyone was (physically) hurt.

Below is video of the more orderly aftermath, with the still-peeved fans being chosen by lottery for sketches. Alas, Amy was not one of the chosen; but she high-fived the thirty who got sketches.

One of the delights of the convention was meeting veteran Japanese voice actress Sumi Shimamoto, pictured below. Ms. Shimamoto has done numerous voices for Hayao Miyazaki movies, including Clarice, the heroine of his first full-length movie, Castle of Cagliostro; and his (and anime's) most famous female character, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. I also captured some video of Ms. Shimamoto's panel.

I asked her if she had noticed any changes in voice actor styles over the years she had worked. She replied that the cadence of acting had speeded up; that more voice directors were using overlapping dialogue, and background/foreground voices; and that some casting directors were hiring voice actresses more for their looks than their ability.

The final video I'll post from the con is the intro to the dub voice directors panel, with Johnathan Klein and Taliesin Jaffe:

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Moving Hellsing

Here's the result of an experiment using my new Pure Digital cheapo video cam and Photobucket's video feature: Video of yesterday's Hellsing Ultimate panel at Sakura Con, from the front row.

The first video is an intro of the panel participants. When the editor of Young King Ours was introduced, Amy held up her copy of the most recent YKO, which she got through her subscription at an LA Japanese bookstore. You'll see the editor look surprised, and bow in appreciation.

In the second video, Trigun creator Yasuhiro Nightow has joined the panel, and he fields questions along with his fellow Young King Ours manga creator Kouta Hirano.

Photos from Second Day of Sakura Con are Up

I hope to have video up from the Hellsing Ultimate Panel shortly. Meanwhile, here's a photo of the panel.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Photos from the First Day of Sakura-Con Are Up

I'll post a con report later, when I had the time. Best experience so far: The panel for the US premiere of the anime adaptation of Tsubasa:Reservoir Chronicles. Downtown Seattle in April is great, too.

Friday, April 06, 2007

And Not a Drop for Drink

I'm posting this from the lobby lounge at the Seattle Hilton. I'm writing from the lounge because the in-room high-speed Internet does not look. Yes, I can get in-room Internet in any hotel room in any off-highway inn; but here I am in one of the most wired (in every sense of the word) cities in the world, in the very shadow of Microsoft, and I can't access the Web in my room. Wi-fi, wi-fi, everywhere . . . .

(Of course, the in-room Internet costs $10 a day, and the lobby wi-fi's complimentary, so I shouldn't kvetch. But I will.)



The Hilton's tech-guy couldn't solve the wired Internet problem -- so he set up a wireless connection in the room, and didn't charge for the Internet. Very classy.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

What's That Now?

From a Japanese file case I picked up in an import shop.

I'm thinking of making it my personal mission statement.