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Saturday, June 21, 2008

This Blog is Going on Hiatus [EDITED]

NEW YORK, June 21 — This blog is going on hiatus, and I don't know how long. I had a lot of fun writing this blog, and I hope you guys enjoyed reading it. I shall return to this blog with new posts about New York City, Asian American culture, otakudom, and other random crap.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Modern Ukulele Alt Pop: The Jack Lords Join Forces With The New York City Ukulele Meetup

The Jack Lords at Waikiki Wallys

NEW YORK, June 13 — The Jack Lords played the back room of Waikiki Wallys (99 East Second Street), a Hawaiian Tiki joint. It was a tight and crowded little venue, but the Jack Lords still manage to rock some big tunes.

The Jack Lords perform an unusual mix of hawaiian folk, pop, and alternative rock. Riley, the band's drummer, and I tried to encapsulate their sound in one phrase. After many failed attempts, we settled on "modern ukulele alt pop".

They sang all of their great songs like "Molokai", "Rayd", and "Mr Malaise". In addition, Christine, one of the band's vocalist, rocked a tune of her own. Her vocals sounded great.

The Jack Lords also performed a tradition Hawaiian hula song. This prompted the Waikiki Wally's waitresses to stop their service and perform a tradition hula dance for the audience. The waitresses were also joined by Carol, a good friend of the band. It was a pretty awesome impromptu dance performance.

The Jack Lords share the stage with The NYC Ukulele Meetup

After a few songs, the Jack Lords brought The New York City Ukulele Meetup Group onto the stage. They played a couple of songs together including an amazing rendition of "To The Stars".

The night was filled with fun "modern ukulele alt pop" music.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

MoCCA Art Festival 2008: Plympton, Tomine, Bruce Lee vs. Jesus, and Freddie Mercury's Gravity

First Floor of the MoCCA Art Fest

NEW YORK, June 7-8 — The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art’s Art Festival is one of the biggest gatherings of independent comic book creators in the United States of America. The festival is professionally sponsored and run by the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA). Except for the programs, most of the festival was held at the Puck Building (295 Lafayette Street), which is around the corner from the actual museum (594 Broadway).

The MoCCA Art Festival is difficult to describe to the uninitiated.

If you have anime con experience, it kinda like an anime convention, but the emphasis is largely focused on the huge dealer’s rooms. This year’s festival filled two floors with dealer’s table. It was pretty massive and packed to capacity. The festival organizers did schedule a decent program of events at the museum, but most people don’t attend this festival for programs. They go mostly for the dealer’s room.

In some ways, it’s like Comiket. All the tables are filled with comic book circles, small press, and individual comic book artists. They sell everything from quirky t-shirts to photocopied comic books zines.

Unlike Comiket, most of the independent comic books are original works with original characters, and only a small percent of the material is outright pornographic.

Most of the merchandise is humorously clever and very appealing to the young hipster zeitgeist.

Bill Plympton

As soon as I paid my admission, the first table I notice was the great Bill Plympton. I’ve been a big fan of Plympton since watching his cartoon shorts on MTV’s Liquid Television (1991). His humor was eye opening in the early nineties. At the festival, he had a small white table with his books and DVDs. He took the time to sign and sketch something for each fan. I’m not an autograph collector, but I let him sign my graphic novel anyway. At first, I didn’t know what to say… I was at a loss for words. I just said, "I'm a big fan." It was just awesome to talk to him.

Adrian Tomine

I walked around the first floor for a bit, and I recognized Mister Adrian Tomine, comic artist for the New Yorker Magazine. He was at the Drawn and Quarterly table. I got a chance to talk with him. I immediate apologized for missing his gallery show for Shortcomings at the Giant Robot store in New York. He was totally cool about it. After a few minutes of talking, I discovered that we shared some mutual friends at Giant Robot Magazine.

I picked up a few issues of Tomine’s Optic Nerve (Issues 9, 10, and 11). I love his art style. He has very clean line work. If you get the chance to pick-up Optic Nerve and Shortcoming, definitely buy it. It’s a good read.

While at the Drawn and Quarterly table, I also picked up the hard cover printing of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old in Tokyo. WARNING: Tatsumi was the godfather of Gekiga, therefore it might not be appropriate for children or the weak-at-heart.

Anime World Order’s Daryl Surat did an excellent review of The Push Man and Other Stories in his podcast. I picked it up based on Daryl's recommendation. You can find his review here.

After I bought a few more comics, I headed upstairs to the seventh floor of the Puck Building. I immediately saw the hand drawn sign, "Bruce Lee vs. Jesus". Peter Quach, the creator, was selling You Don’t Know Much About Jesus. The book was an eight page photocopy comic, and it prominently features a fight between Bruce Lee and Jesus. The mere concept of Bruce Lee fighting Jesus was pretty awesome. The comic was only a dollar, so I had to buy one.

Peter Quach and his "Bruce Lee vs. Jesus" sign

Right next to Quach, a table was selling pretty awesome t-shirts. I didn’t pick one up because I wanted to save my money for actual comics and graphic novels. But, I did take a few pictures:

Left: Bruce Lee T-Shirt, Right: Star Wars Stormtrooper T-Shirt (made up of tiny TIE Fighters)

I walked around the floor and picked up a few more comics and graphic novels. I took the elevator back to the ground floor and made another sweep of those tables.

I was near the Freddie and Me table. Come to think of it: I should have picked up a Freddie and Me book. It looks awesome. I didn’t buy it. Anyway, I was pulled by the gravitational force of the Freddie Mercury’s statue. It was like a beacon calling me home.

The gravitational pull of Freddie Mercury

As I got closer to Freddie, I bumped into the goddess of pop culture journalism, Whitney Matheson. Whitney writes "Pop Candy", which is a popular column/blog in USA Today. She is also frequently quoted on television and in-print. I’ve been reading her column since the late 90s, and I hold her opinion about pop culture in the highest regard. She continues to be one of my top three favorite bloggers.

Whitney mentioned that she was going to be at the festival on her blog, so I e-mailed her about it. When I ran into her, she had an arm full of comics. We talked a little bit about her blog and about the festival. The conversation strangely segued into a conversation about her footwear. She wore her signature Chuck Taylor All Star Low Top Converse sneakers. She said that they were a bit uncomfortable. I thought they were completely "punk".

(Post-Editorial Note: Whitney Matheson interviewed Mike Dawson, author of Freddie and Me. Podcast: A glimpse inside 'Freddie & Me')

Whitney Matheson and me

Due to a scheduled dinner and a greatly weakened bank account, I had to leave the MoCCA Art Festival. I said goodbye to Whitney and left. It was totally awesome to meet her. She is one of the coolest chicks that I’ve ever met.

Partial List of Comics that I Picked-up at the MoCCA Art Festival:
Casson, Ronnie. Claviger (Issue2)
Del Rio, Tania. Knit Wits.
Epic Proportions. Burn
McMurray, Mark. Dumb Jersey White Boy (No. 1)
Plympton, Bill. We Eat Tonight
Quach, Peter. You Don’t Know Much About Jesus
Student Press Initiative. Manga Mania
Tatsumi, Yoshihiro. Abandon the Old in Tokyo
Tatsumi, Yoshihiro. The Push Man and Other Stories
Tiede, Dirk I. Paradigm Shift, Part One
Tomine, Adrian. Optic Nerve (Issues 9, 10, 11)
Ward, William. Fablewood Anthology

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Black Saturday: Lolita And Maid Fashion Day At Kinokuniya

NEW YORK, June 7 — On a hot and humid Saturday (94 Degrees Fahrenheit), Kinokuniya (1073 Avenue of the Americas) hosted Lolita And Maid Fashion Day. Only the most dedicated loli-goths and maid enthusiasts would wear long black dresses in ninety degree weather, and they did. They showed up in huge numbers. I was a little surprised at the dense crowds.

Lolita And Maid Fashion Day was sponsored by Kinokuniya, Del Rey Manga, New York Anime Festival, Samurai Beat Radio, and Viz Pictures.

I only stayed in the morning, therefore I can not comment on the afternoon programming. I can only blog about the cosplay costumes in the morning, which is mostly a visual exercise. So, here's a thumbnail gallery of some cosplayers:

While enjoying the cosplay atmosphere, I ran into Peter Tartara, Programming Manager for the New York Anime Festival. He was working the crowd and playing the Master of Ceremonies role. It was really cool to see him at work. I also talked to the ever lovely Petrina, Peter's girl. She was really chill.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Up Late with Budo Grape

Quminco Grape and Nagai Grape

NEW YORK, June 5 — I had a late meeting at work, which ended at 8:45 PM. As soon as I got out of the meeting, the only thing on my mind was the Budo Grape performance.

Budo Grape is a Japanese electro-pop band from Nagoya. They are best known for their sugary electronic dance beats and the hi-octave vocals provided by Quminco Grape. They were performing to support Juice!, their greatest hits album.

Budo Grape was playing at the Knitting Factory (74 Leonard Street), and doors opened at 6:30 PM. They were on a bill with several other bands, and I figured that they were going to play closer to the end of the night. I had a slim chance of catching their performance.

I rushed down to the Downtown Express 1 train with Yan, a coworker. We got off at the Chambers Street Station. After a few blocks of walking, we made it to the Knitting Factory. I asked the door man if Budo Grape finished their performance. He told me that they just started playing. My gamble paid off...

Left to Right: Matsui Grape, Midori Grape, and Quminco Grape

They were only into their second song as I entered the small room. There were about twenty people in the audience, but the crowd was filled with die hard fans.

Budo Grape played a lot of their poppy hits with vigor. They are a fun band to watch live. The band exuded a fun and wacky sense of humor. The whole place had a positive fun vibe.

Quminco, the lead vocalist, was very entertaining. She had a very distinctive high pitched voice. It was even more distinctive live. She was also jumping around the stage like a crazy racquetball. Her bouncing was incredibly infectious. After a few songs, I was even hopping along with Quminco.

Midori, the band's self-proclaimed Mushroom alien, wrestles some great synth-pop sounds from her keyboards. Budo Grape's song are straight pop, but Midori's synthesizers added a wacky fun texture to the entire sound. Her playing creates a kinda of vocal harmony with Quminco's high pitched voice.

The rhythm section, Matsui Grape and Taichi Grape, were very good. In some songs, they even got a little funky. They were very cool.

However, the hardest rocker was Nagai Grape. The man can wield an axe. He tore through the entire set with sheer force. He was definitely the power behind their live show.

The highlights for me were: "Rescue Rescue" and "Penki Nuritate".

Budo Grape, Yan, and me

After their short set, the band spent some time with fans. They were willing to autograph anything including arms and legs. I'm not a big fan of autographs, so we just hung out with the band. They were awesome.

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Japan Day 2008: A Celebration of All Things Japanese

Main Stage, Central Park

NEW YORK, June 1 — On a beautiful spring day, the Japanese community of New York ran an amazing Japan Day Festival in Central Park. The festival was an all day event with tons of cool activities.

The festival began with a four mile race at 8 o’clock in the morning. I did not participate in the run. Now, I like running. On a normal day, I would have run the four mile race, but it was Sunday morning. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not religious, but Sunday mornings are sacred to me. I cherish my quiet Sunday mornings with late wake-ups and slow brunches.

At about noon, I lazily made my way to Central Park. I missed a lot of the morning programming, so I made a quick tour around the perimeter. The festival consisted of a main entertainment stage and activity booths encircling the audience area.

Go and Shogi Booth

The first booth was the Go and Shogi booth. There was a decent line of people waiting to play. I was amazed that there were a number of kids waiting to play traditional board games. I figured most kids were surgically attached to their Nintendo DS. It was cool to see young kids playing against older and more experienced players. Maybe, the popularity of Hikaru no Go (ヒカルの碁), manga and anime, has inspired younger people to play tradition board games again. I watched a few games before moving to the next booth.

Robot Battle Booth

The next booth was the Robot Battle booth. In this tent, they setup tables and small remote control robots (about 6 inches in height). The line was almost exclusively kids, and they absolutely loved it. Some of the robots were insect-like. They look very similar to mech designs by Masamune Shirow (士郎 正宗). One spider robot looked very similar to a Tachikoma (タチコマ). The line for the Robot Battle booth was pretty big.

After the Robot Battle booth, they placed a small tent with Actroid, a life sized (1:1 for you Gunpla builders) android. The robot was dressed in a kimono. It was supposed to be a very life-like human robot. Noah, host of the Ninja Consultants podcast, didn’t think it was really life-like. It was very similar to animatronic puppets found at major theme parks. Some people said that the innovation was the voice recognition and response system of the robot. The crowd of adult male geeks made it difficult to get close to the robot. I couldn’t get a good picture of it.

I continued to the last two activities booths.

Kimono Booth

The most popular booth was the Kimono Fitting booth. Women were measured and dressed in traditional kimono dresses. The line was monstrous. A festival staffer had to close the line. He held a simple cardboard sign that read "Line Closed". I guess the attraction is getting a photo in the full kimono. The kimonos were absolutely beautiful.

Hello Kitty Booth of Doom

The last booth was the most frightening sight ever. THE HELLO KITTY PHOTO BOOTH. The horror of Sanrio has a traveling road show. This line was also pretty big. It was pretty scary to see someone professionally cosplaying as Hello Kitty (ハローキティ). I will only refer to it as the Hello Kitty Booth of Doom. "CHIIZU" (チーズ)!

The main stage had some amazing acts scheduled. There were many cool acts such as Gaijin A Go-Go, Happyfunsmile, and HALCALI.


The highlight for me was the Happyfunsmile set. Their shows are always filled with fun positive energy. They never fail to get a crowd excited and dancing. Their eclectic mixture of traditional Okinawan and modern pop music is infectious. Rodrigo Morimoto, a vocalist for Happyfunsmile, was noticeably absent from the line-up. However, the remaining vocalist (Brian Nishii, Akiko Hiroshima, and Kaori Ibuki) still managed to put on an amazing show.

Kaori Ibuki leading a dancing line

They were followed by HALCALI (ハルカリ), a Japanese pop/hip-hop duo. HALCALI is best known for their unusual mix of old school hip-hop and pop styling. I know them from their freaky music videos such as: "Strawberry Chips" (ストロベリーチップス), "Twinkle Star", and "Baby Blue". Most of their American anime fans know them for "Tip Taps Tip", a catchy pop song on the Eureka Seven (交響詩篇エウレカセブン) Original Soundtrack (OST). Most of the anime fans were waiting for their performance. They seemed a little nervous at first, but really hit their groove with “Tip Taps Tip”.

During the HALCALI performance, I ran into Erin and Noah, the Ninja Consultants. They were chillin’ with the some folks on the grass. It was the first time I got a close look at Erin’s famous bronze Byzantine engagement ring. It was very cool. Erin also introduced me to Carl, the creator of the Ogiue Maniax blog. He was a completely cool cat. We hung out for a little while before getting stuffed into the Downtown 6 train.


I also ran into some Metro-Anime folks such as Willow, Dan, and Charles. It was good to see them again.

Japan Day was a pretty cool and laid back afternoon in Central Park. It was good to see the Japanese community showcase their amazing culture in the heart of New York City.

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