Sunday, June 22, 2014

I almost forgot Godzilla was from Asia!

A few weeks ago, Chloe and I went to watch the new Godzilla, which our parents had already seen and liked.

If you aren't familiar with Godzilla, it is a giant, dinosaur-like monster that first came about in Japanese films in the 1950s.  It has since become an international popular culture icon, becoming the star in numerous film adaptations, comic books, TV shows, and video games.  The premise of the new film: two ancient monsters called Mutos are awakened and begin wreaking havoc around the world in order to accomplish their main goal of reproducing.  Godzilla is supposedly the heroic, god-like creature meant to come in and take these Mutos down for the purpose of restoring the natural balance of the world.  Ford Brody, the main human protagonist, takes it upon himself to protect U.S. from the Mutos.

The funny thing here is that the franchise originated in Japan.  I actually haven't seen any of the old movies, but I'm going to assume that they—at least the Japanese ones—don't use Japan and its people as merely the backdrop against which white protagonists can shine and save the day.  And that's essentially what the new film does: the main character, Ford Brody, is a white man who heroically fights to destroy the Mutos.  He knows a little more about the Mutos because his father was obsessed with researching them, but where are all the Japanese characters who researched them, too?  Nonexistent, really—except for Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, one of the members of a monster research group.

The funny thing about Dr. Serizawa is that he doesn't really DO anything.  He says some of the key lines in the film, like: "[Godzilla] will restore the balance," and "The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around," and "Let them fight" (referring to Godzilla and the Mutos).  I honestly think I might have heard those lines in Avatar: The Last Airbender—that's how much they seem like the stereotypical "Asian words of wisdom."  Except that's basically all Serizawa's character does.  He doesn't even really contribute anything substantial to the research about the Mutos.

None of this is to say the film wasn't enjoyable to watch—it was.  I will say it was kind of sad that the Mutos died, because they were actually pretty cute when they weren't viciously attacking Godzilla.  And there were a lot of things that didn't make sense.  But if you're looking for a fun science-fiction movie to watch, this is a good one.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Our First Pet Rabbit Jason Sr.

Around 10 years ago, we found Jason hopping on the street and brought him home. Later, we placed flyers all over the neighborhood and found his owner, but she decided that she didn't want him back after all, so we kept him. He was the best pet bunny.

Jason had a strange un rabbit-like habit of rolling the beach ball around.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Blood Moon aka Tax Day Lunar Eclipse

I don't know about you, dear followers, but I'm really excited about this lunar eclipse. It's going to be the first total lunar eclipse in a while and frankly the first one I'll ever see in the young 15 years I've been alive. While kids my age are freaking out about Coachella, or just recently getting back from the hectic music festival, my friend and I are researching charts and articles to send to eachother and basically anything else having to do with this "Blood Moon". (I know, we're pretty nerdy) I'll be able to see the eclipse tonight (April 14) to early morning (April 15). If it's cloudy outside, NASA will have live coverage during the eclipse so you can still watch this rare event! IT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW SO GO WATCH QUICKLY. THE LIVE STREAM IS EQUALLY COOL AND THEY'rE PLAYING RAD MUSIC TO GO WITH IT if YOU FEEL like you're missing out!

I'm sorry this is really spazzy and most likely badly written, but I need to go watch the eclipse now. Basically the the moon will be covered by the Earth's shadow/umbra and the United States won't be able to witness this again until 2019. I'll update this more after the eclipse and fix anything later!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hot Pot!

Dad’s been on a business trip in Taiwan since last week; he’s been sending us pictures of all the delicious food he’s been eating!  We were getting a little jealous, and finally my mom decided to take us out to dinner at a Taiwanese restaurant she’d heard about in San Gabriel Valley.  After driving around and using my phone’s GPS to find the place, we arrived to discover that it was...closed.  

My mom decided to try a different Taiwanese restaurant nearby that she remembered going to.  It was located in a plaza that we go to all the time for vegetarian Chinese cuisine, but we hadn’t really been to any of the other restaurants there in a while.  As it turned out, the last time my mom had been to the Taiwanese restaurant was years ago—and the restaurant closed down recently.

As we were headed back to the car, we noticed a Mongolian Hot Pot restaurant called Little Sheep.  I’ve always been a fan of Mongolian BBQ, and we occasionally make our own hot pot at home, so we decided to try it out.

I can assure you it tastes a lot better than it looks.
Basically, you order a bunch of meat and vegetables to be cooked in a giant pot of hot broth; everyone has a bowl to mix their own sauces in (I like to mix hot sauce, soy sauce, and garlic sauce), and then you dip the meat/vegetables in the sauce.  My new favorite is taro—it takes a while to cook and soften, but it’s delicious.

Taro (yum!) and some other vegetables to cook in the hot pot.
At the end, you can even mix some of the broth in with your sauce and drink it that way.  It’s a fantastic way to enjoy a meal with a group of people.

...Not so much with just 3 people (me, my mom, and my sister).  We ate a little too much and spent a little too much.  Still worth it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Introducing Visual Novels!

My sister and I have always really enjoyed video games.  I'm by no means a gamer girl, but I can be sucked into the worlds of League of Legends (biggest time-killer ever) and Super Paper Mario (my life in middle school) for hours at a time.

While I do love me a good action role-playing-game, I've recently gotten into visual novels.  Popular in Japan, they haven't really made a big splash in the U.S. yet.  Visual novels are basically a cross between choose-your-own adventure books and video games, so I get the satisfaction of reading a book and the fun of playing a video game.   They're usually narrated in first-person perspective.  The artwork is often done in an anime-style, but that's not always the case—especially in the visual novels that are being produced by western indie developers.

Read on for a list of some of my favorite visual novels by genre, which I'll probably add to in the future:

Area-X - a science-fiction/mystery visual novel by Zeiva Inc., a game developer that was founded and is run by two people (they're awesome and I'm jealous of their artistic and programming skills).  Area-X is about Elcia, a time-traveler from the future, and her efforts to unravel the mystery of her past.  Along the way, she meets and interacts with various characters from different time periods, and depending on your choices throughout the story, the plot varies tremendously.  The plot is well-written, incredibly complicated, and well-thought out; you get a lot of twists and turns, and it keeps you on your toes.  I love the artwork and the music, too.  

It's a little pricey at $25, but you can play the demo here. 

Screenshot of the main menu from Zeiva Inc's Area-X.

Dysfunctional Systems - Another science-fiction visual novel about Winter, a student mediator who travels between worlds and planets in order to restore peace to them.  It's a pretty unique story that's broken up into episodes.  So far, only the first episode is released, but it's only $5 on the iTunes store and the graphics and interface are well worth the cost.  Check out the ridiculously awesome video intro below:

Isn't the animation great?  And that music!

Bionic Heart 2 - A visual novel set in the future that switches between the perspectives of four different main characters: Luke Black, Tanya Vanic (a cyborg!), Tom Sparks, and Tina Gomez.  On Mars, you follow Luke and Tom as they try to live as fugitives on the Mars colony.  On Earth, you follow Tanya, an outlawed cyborg, and Tina, a police officer, as they work together to bring down Nanotech, a research company with a diabolical leader.  The game was produced by Winter Wolves, one of the leading western visual novel developers.

This would be a lot easier to explain if you knew about the first game, Bionic Heart, which I haven't even played.  I probably should get around to doing that—but Bionic Heart 2 is a great game on its own.  The free demo is pretty lengthy and should give you a good idea of what the story and gameplay are like.

A screenshot from Bionic Heart 2.

Jisei - The first of a series of mystery visual novels, Jisei follows a male protagonist who has the ability to experience the death of any corpse he touches.  When he accidentally comes across a dead woman, he's suddenly framed for the murder.  The story is about his efforts to prove himself innocent by tracking down the real murderer.

Jisei was produced by Sakevisual, another leading visual novel developer in the West.  It currently has two sequels, Kansei and Yousei.  

Poster from Sakevisual's Jisei.
X-Note - also by Zeiva Inc., X-note is set after Area-X (the prequel) and follows Essi, a young girl with psychic abilities, who is recruited to help investigate a murder and a number of disappearances at the Xen Institute, a local school.  As Essi learns more about the history of the school and the disappearances, she also uncovers information about her mother's death.  Along the way, she encounters a number of different characters.  Depending on the route you choose and the choices you make throughout, you can reveal different pieces of the mystery.  

Promotional artwork for Zeiva Inc's X-Note.

Nicole - another game by Winter Wolves but entirely different from Bionic Heart, Nicole is about college freshman Nicole as she meets guys at school and attempts to investigate a number of students' mysterious disappearances around campus.  While its central plot is about the mystery, Nicole is arguably just as much a dating sim as it is anything else (meaning you have to raise different stats to pursue different male characters).  Still, the story is interesting and I think it's worth taking a look at before you dismiss it as a typical dating sim.

You can try the free demo on Winter Wolves' website or buy the game for $20.

Screenshot from Nicole.


In case you don't mind playing a few visual novels that involve actively pursuing romantic interests (don't worry, I picked ones with good plots), you can try these out.

Summer in Fairbrook - yet another game produced by Winter Wolves!  It's about Steve McFarland, a young college student whose grades, love life, and general approach to things are kind of a mess.  His dad sends him to work on his uncle's farm in a small town called Fairbrook, where he's supposed to build character.  While he's there, he ends up meeting a bunch of different pursuable girls.  The artwork is adorable (and the artist is the same person who did the art for the Jisei series).

This is definitely a stats-based dating sim, so it can get a little repetitive.  Depending on the choices you make, you can unlock different scenes and endings for each character.

You can download the demo for free or buy the game ($20 for Mac, Windows, and Linux, $6.99 for Android).

Promotional image from The Flower Shop.

Winter in Fairbrook - set in the same town as Summer in Fairbrook and including a few of the same characters, Winter in Fairbrook is about Natalie, a college student who needs a summer job and ends up working at a flower shop in the town of Fairbrook.  There, Natalie meets a number of different pursuable guys.  Like Summer in Fairbrook, this is more a dating-sim than it is a visual novel, so it involves raising stats more than it does making choices that alter the plot.  Depending on the choices you make and the stats you raise, you can unlock different scenes and endings for each character.

I personally thought this game was adorable—the character designs are great, and the music is very relaxing.  The way the story is written makes it very cozy and enjoyable, and the characters are all very likable (I love Natalie; she's hilarious!).  It's written by Ayu Sakata, founder of Sakevisual.

You can download the free demo from the website or from the Google Play Store, or you can buy it ($20 for Mac, Windows, and Linux, and $9.99 for Android from the Google Play Store).

Illustration from Winter in Fairbrook.
Free Games

A lot of Western indie visual novel developers break into the business by releasing some free titles, and a lot of them are very good.  Try these out if you want to get a sense of what visual novels are like without having to purchase anything.  You should also try demos of commercial games.

RE: Alistair++ - A short, fun visual novel by Sakevisual about Merui, a girl who loves playing an online RPG called Rivenwell Online, where she meets an obnoxious player under the screen name of Alistair.  When she figures out that he is a student at her school, she winds up betting him that she'll be able to figure out who he is.  Throughout the story, she interacts with 3 male characters, each of whom could be the mysterious Alistair.  It's more a dating sim than it is a true visual novel, but it's quirky, cute, well-illustrated, and well-written.  It's worth trying out.

Promotional image for RE: Alistair++

The Dolls' Stories - a very short visual novel with a unique premise: you live in a world in which soldiers can raise and train ceramic, humanlike dolls to help enforce laws and keep the peace within the city.  Playing as a soldier, you can choose to raise either a male or a female doll, each of which has a different route.  The artwork is gorgeous and the story is both action-packed and dramatic.

Main menu of The Dolls' Stories
That's all for now!  I'll come back to update this at some point.