Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2012: What Is Really Going to Happen?

On December 21, 2012, the ancient Mayan "Long Count" Calendar comes to an abrupt end. There are many scientific theories and historic prophecies that claim this will be the end of times (apocalypse), galactic alignment of the planets and stars (cosmic shifting), or the beginning of a new cycle for humanity (genesis). According to USA Today:
But scholars are bristling at attempts to link the ancient Maya with trends in contemporary spirituality. Maya civilization, known for advanced writing, mathematics and astronomy, flourished for centuries in Mesoamerica, especially between A.D. 300 and 900. Its Long Count calendar, which was discontinued under Spanish colonization, tracks more than 5,000 years, then resets at year zero.

Part of the 2012 mystique stems from the stars. On the winter solstice in 2012, the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years. This means that "whatever energy typically streams to Earth from the center of the Milky Way will indeed be disrupted on 12/21/12 at 11:11 p.m. Universal Time."

What is really going to happen at the end of the calendar 2012? Only time will tell.

The buildup to 2012 echoes both excitement and fear. I compiled a short list of websites that discuss the 2012 phenomenon in greater detail below:

Besides the U.S. presidential election, I believe 2012 will be a fascinating year filled with suspense and drama. This is the final post of 2011. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Family captures 'Ghost of Christmas Past' on cell phone video

A friend found this video in a town outside South Bend, Indiana. Some people are calling it the Ghost of Christmas Past!

This video demonstrates that our loved ones always visit their families during this special holiday season. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: Blue Exorcist (2011)

Blue Exorcist (2011) is a Japanese fantasy anime about two twin brothers who are the sons of Satan. Unaware of their birth origin, Father Shiro Fujimoto raises the boys as their guardian. The series contains 25 episodes plus an upcoming movie (December 2011 release).

Humans and demons live in two dimensions that are not meant to interfere with each other. Despite this rule, demons from Gehenna (hell) still enter and possess creatures and objects in Assiah (earth). Humans who fight these demons are known as exorcists, professionals trained in the art of combat and holy scripture.

The story revolves around Rin Okumura, the older teen brother who possess abnormal strength. Despite his aggressive behavior and clumsiness, he is a good kid with a strong sense of justice. When his younger brother, Yukio Okumura, leaves the monastery to study at the prestigious True Cross Academy, the monastery is attacked and Rin discovers he bears the curse of Satan (blue flames). Father Fujimoto sacrifices himself to save him from demons. To avenge his guardian's death, Rin ends up doing what his guardian asked him never to do: he draw the demon-slaying blade Kurikara, which restrains his demonic powers, from its scabbard. He not only gains demonic physical features (fangs, pointed ears and a tail), but also the power to ignite himself into blue flames that can destroy anything they touch.

From this moment forward, Rin decides to follow the path of an exorcist in order to defeat his father, Satan. He meets Mephisto Pheles, the preceptor of True Cross Academy, to enroll in the school. Much to his surprise, he finds that Yukio is already a veteran exorcist and will be one of his instructors. Rin will face many trials to control his blue flames and protect those he cherishes.

Initially, I had low expectations about this show because I am generally not a fan of demon shows. However, I became instantly hooked with the plot. Each episode made me more curious; I had to know what would happen next. Rin Okumura is a male protagonist that makes you want to like him for his courage, tenacity, and will-power. He cares deeply for his younger brother (although Yukio does not realize this until the end) and the well-being of his friends. Although he is the son of Satan, he manages to persuade others that he still has a human soul. Other common themes throughout the show were the importance of teamwork and trust.

The plot was invigorating and fun to watch. The action was solid, and the pacing kept me interested for more episodes. In my opinion, Blue Exorcist was one of the best supernatural anime shows in 2011. If you have not watched it, I highly recommend this show. For serious fans, the manga is still ongoing if you desire more stories about the twin brothers.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Review: A.D. Police (1999)

A.D. Police ~To Protect and Serve~ (1999) is a Japanese science fiction anime about a police squadron who must battle boomers (i.e., robots in rogue) before the entire Genom City (formerly Tokyo) falls to these devastating machines. There are twelve episodes in the two-CD disc case.

Based upon earlier popular police-crime drama shows, such as NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues, this police squadron use futuristic high-tech weapons to destroy these machines. Genom City, after a major earthquake that shattered almost the entire city, used robots to rebuild its city infrastructure and public works. However, if these robots go in rogue (lose their internal capabilities to function properly), they become psychopathic boomers and destroy/kill anyone or anything in their paths. This is where the A.D. Police come where the traditional police cannot handle these situations.

Genom Corporation, which has a major influence in Genom City, develops military and construction robots, who eerily resemble the Terminator film series. The A.D. police monitors illegal sales of Genom robots and rush to the scenes. Two major characters in this story are Kenji Sasaki, an aloof, quick and ambitious bad-boy cop who always does things his way and his new partner, Hans Kleif, a light-hearted but serious German pretty-boy transfer to help the squadron after Kenji loses his former partner in a boomer accident. Hans has no recollection of his childhood memory and has a bomb fragment in his head. The audience will see the events in this series mostly through Kenji's eyes although the director does consider Hans' perspective as well.

Boomers (rogue robots) were a popular story device back in the 1990s. Many animation producers were creating Bubblegum Crisis investigative spin-offs to ride the hype. The last few episodes reveal a detrimental climax not only for Kenji but also for people close to Hans. This is where viewers would find this series the most interesting. However, It leaves little behind to appreciate once it ends. If you are a Bubblegum Crisis fan, you may want to keep this in your video library. Is it original and innovative? Not really, this is its weakness. However, the soundtrack is very nice to listen. Overall, it is a good show to watch if you have nothing to do. The Bubblegum Crisis series is much better for serious watchers. This show is also available on DVD.

A.D. Police Trailer

Friday, December 16, 2011

Paranormal News Central: Top 10 Signs Your House Is Haunted

Have you ever wondered if your home was haunted by ghosts? Paranormal News Central lists ten signs everyone should know so that they can take the proper next steps. Sometimes, you may have friendly spirits who are harmless and eventually move on. It is the angry and evil spirits that trouble most people and can cause emotional and physical harm.

10. Strange smells

9. Odd dreams of people or places you don't know

8. Feeling of being watched

7. Heaviness in the Air

6. Noises

5. Changes in air temperature

4. Things moving around

3. Being touched

2. Sudden changes in mood or behavior

1. Seeing is believing

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review: Les Miserables - Shoujo Cosette (2007)

Les Miserables - Shoujo Cosette (2007) is a Japanese World Masterpiece Theater anime based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo. The plot is set in nineteenth century France, and the show contains 52 episodes. Unlike the novel, Cosette is the protagonist in the anime. Through her eyes, the adptation has a more vivid, thrilling and heart-warming take on the nature of good, evil, and law around familial and romantic love.

A young Cosette is traveling with her mother, Fantine, through France as she tries to find stable employment. However, few employers would hire a single mother. When Fantine is promised with the prosperity of working the big city, she hires a caretaker, the Thernadiers, to watch over Cosette while she earns some money. Unfortunately, this arrangement was a trick: the Thernadiers were a couple family who turned Cosette into their own indentured servant. Here, Cosette is exposed to the worst kinds of child labor (see Little Princess Sara). Nevertheless, Cosette has close friends who keep her spirit strong so that one day she can reunite with her mother.

Meanwhile, Fantine’s health and her own lodging debts worsen while the Thénardiers’ letters continue to grow and their financial demands become more costly. Her overworking causes her to become sick with a cough and fever (later diagnosed as tuberculosis). She is fired from her job when news spread that she is an unwed mother. The kind and just mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer discovers her body in the streets, and takes her to the hospital. There, she hears her last wish to reunite with her daughter, Cosette.

As a former ex-convict who lives in secrecy from the law, the mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer, also known as M. Madeleine, feels determined to find and update her daughter. He also realizes that French social norms failed Fantine. He sees how winds of change are so detrimental for disadvantaged children and families, and decides to do something about it. When he discovers Cosette with the Therandiers, he is surprised how badly they have mistreated her. He decides to adopt and raise Cosette as his own daughter so that Cosette can become the educated and beautiful lady that Fantine always desired.

I really enjoyed this adaptation of Les Miserables. The novel is actually written from Jean Valjean's perspective and his struggles with redemption. As a historical fiction, it takes place during the June Rebellion, an unsuccessful, anti-monarchist insurrection of Parisian Republicans—-largely students—-from June 5 to June 6, 1832. It is also a social protest novel because it focuses on major themes, such as justice, morality, self-sacrifice, social transformation, and even the plight of orphans within French society. Nevertheless, many readers will find this anime delightful and thrilling.

The two-disc OST soundtrack is also excellent. The songs sound jovial, mysterious, and revolutionary. For instance, I could sense the students' courage and spirit as they protest the French government in the songs. Overall, I highly recommend this anime to all audiences. The World Masterpiece Theater did a great job with this adaptation, and will always remain one of the most popular novels of all time.

Opening Theme:
"Kaze no Mukou" by Yuki Saito

Ending Theme:
"Ma maman (Watashi no Okasan)" by Yuki Saito

Friday, December 9, 2011

Review: Daddy-Long-Legs (1990)

Daddy-Long-Legs (1990) is a World Masterpiece Theater Japanese anime based on the 1912 novel by Jean Webster. It follows the young female protagonist, Jerusha "Judy" Abbott, through her high school years. She writes letters to her benefactor, a rich man whom she has never met, and thereafter addresses him as "Dear Daddy-Long-Legs" in the series. It contains 40 episodes.

Judy Abbott is a cheerful and intelligent orphan at the John Grier Home. Her parents died when when she was an infant. The children are wholly dependent on charity and must wear other people's cast-off clothes. She has been given the opportunity to study at the prestigious Lincoln Memorial High School by a mysterious benefactor whom she only knows as "John Smith". She has only seen his shadow once, and because of his long legs, she calls him "Daddy Long Legs". He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance. Judy must write him a monthly letter, because he believes that letter-writing is important to the development of a writer. However, she will never know his identity. The only payment she is to give her benefactor is that she write him letters every month but he will never reply.

In high school, Judy thrives as an imaginative student. Her roommates, Sally McBride and Julia Pendleton, also enjoy her whimsical and sincere nature. She also learns etiquette and social norms among New York high society. However, she never confides with anyone that she is an orphan. Since Daddy Long Legs is the only family she has, she gradually becomes attached to him through her letters.

Daddy-Long-Legs was an entertaining show that delighted me. Set in the early 20th century, young women from elite and well-established backgrounds attended private schools and eventually enrolled in private women's colleges like the Northeast's Seven Sisters (e.g., Wellesley, Smith, Radcliffe, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Simmons, Vassar, Barnard). Many young women were exploring their options, and the anime (and novel) discuss typical young adult issues. As a coming-of-age story, Judy knows her orphan status makes her different and isolated from her rich classmates. Nevertheless, she enjoys school and gradually gains self-confidence.

It is also a surprising love story. Judy is intrigued and desperate to know more about this mysterious benefactor who suddenly shows interest in her education and well-being. Over the years, Judy grows up to be a lively and attractive young woman with a vivid imagination who takes delight in the pleasures of ordinary life. It is no wonder that her friends and benefactor (none other than Jervis Pendleton) find her company enjoyable. Jervis, who finds high-society life mundane and unbearable, likes her free-spirited nature and eventually falls in love with her.

Of course, over the years of her study at college Judy grows into a lively and attractive young woman who takes enormous delight in the little pleasures of ordinary life. It's easy to see why Jervis Pendleton, her rich room-mate's uncle, finds her company so enjoyable.

The themes of the book also reflect upon Webster's Progressive-Era interests in social work and women's suffrage. Webster insists that American society pay attention to child welfare issues (in this case, orphans), and access to a quality education should not be reserved to the privileged few. As an early feminist piece, it is also promotes that women can become independent thinkers and their voices should be heard in public. In the anime, Judy Abbott loosely resembles Pippi Longstocking (who, in other children's tales, is also very intelligent and imaginative with a strong sense of justice) as a tease, revealing how both share similar personalities.

Young adults will easily relate to Judy Abbott. I highly recommend this story.

Opening Theme: "Growing Up" by Mitsuko Horie

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: Little Princess Sara (1985)

A Little Princess Sara (1985) is a World Masterpiece Theater Japanese anime based on the popular English classic children's novel, A Little Princess (1904), by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It contains 52 episodes.

Sara Crewe, the daughter of a rich miner from India, is an intelligent, polite, and creative young girl. She is brought all the way to London in Victorian-era England for a formal education. The teachers and students learn she is quite advanced for her age. For instance, she speaks French perfectly and immediately becomes the top student. She helps everybody and loves everybody, from little Lottie who is too young for school and desperately needs a mother, to the child servants, Becky and Peter, who are often ignored and mistreated. But the most important thing is Sara's wealth, which make her Miss Minchin's student representative, evoking the mortal jealousy of Lavinia, the ex-favorite.

When word spreads about her father's death and bankruptcy on her birthday, Sara becomes a penniless orphan. Miss Minchin, scared that throwing the girl out will ruin her school's reputation, lets Sara stay, but makes her life impossible. Sara humbly accepts her new fate and is subjected to servitude of the worst kind. At the upscale boarding school, Sara is forced to tolerate the haughty, disdainful headmistress, Miss Minchin. She has to do the hardest work in the kitchen, sleep in a dilapidated attic, and goes to bed mostly hungry, with all of Lavinia's hatred and Miss Minchin's despisal now released at her. Despite her misfortune, Sara's spirit is not broken and proves that anyone can be a "little princess." She remains proud and imaginative as ever as she masters her new life, and her true friends never let her down.

This is one time I will say that the Victorian era (both American and British) produced many classic novels that are still enjoyed by readers a century later. A Little Princess is one of them. Originally a novella, Burnett was inspired by Charlotte Bronte's unfinished novella, Emma, which features a rich heiress with a mysterious past who is apparently abandoned at a boarding school. Fortunately, Burnett expanded the novella to a full-length novel after much success as a Broadway play. When I first heard of this story, I saw the abridged film version, A Little Princess (1995), which takes place in late nineteenth-century New York City. Although I enjoyed it, I felt the story had to cut many memorable parts of the novel to fit a small two-hour window. Thus, I was so delighted to see how the Japanese brought this story to life which no other film company has been able to accomplish.

Since this novel was written during the Progressive Era, Burnett inserted many social protest moments that would make viewers question societal norms, particularly child labor (servitude). Although we have rules and regulations for minors in the workforce, such laws did not exist in the 19th Century. It is hard to fathom that it was once legal for poor children as young as eight years old to work 12-hour shifts. Poor families were dependent on their children for income, and the working conditions were often unbearable. It would take years of progressive social reforms, both direct and indirect like this novel, to expose the magnitude of the social problems to governments. By the 1930s, most Western nations passed labor protection laws for children.

I love this anime because Nippon Animation did an excellent job highlighting both Sara's tenacity and the child labor practices of the time. Although it is underrated, I recommend anime fans with a taste for historical fiction to watch this show. I will hint that good fortune does come her way in the end. It is definitely worth the entire 52 episodes.

Opening Theme: "Hana no Sasayaki" by Satoko Shimonari

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Review: Twice Bitten (Chicagoland Vampires #3)

Merit, Chicago's newest vampire, is learning how to play well with others. Other supernaturals, that is.

Twice Bitten, by Chloe Neill, is the third novel in the Chicagoland Vampire series. Shapeshifters from across the nation are convening in Chicago to decide whether they should remain or move back to their ancestral land in Alaska. Cadogan Master vampire, Ethan Sullivan, has offered Gabriel Kenne, the Apex (alpha leader) of the North American Pack, his very special bodyguard, Merit, to protect him during this significant event. Although tensions are high between the shapeshifters and vampires, the two groups ultimately desire peace and alliances.

Merit accepts this important missions even if she lives to regret it. Someone is trying to assassinate the Apex. It is her duty to investigate and track down the culprit -- even if guns are flying. Meanwhile, another Master vampire, an old love whom Ethan created prior to turning Merit, makes a surprise visit to Cadogan House. Moments of jealousy and shame frustrate Merit. Can Ethan and Merit settle their romantic feelings for each other even when their positions come first?

This series continues to become more thrilling. The last half of the novel was excellent. Niell knows how to merge different subplots smoothly into one impeccable ending. I am starting to like Merit (hint: her real name is revealed!) as a protagonist because she is smart, funny, loyal, sexy and, more importantly, badass. This novel officially proves why she is the Sentinel of Cadogan House. I cannot wait to read more adventures about katana-swinging Merit and Chicago's supernatural world.

Stay tuned for the next novel in the Chicagoland Vampires series, Hard Bitten