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Monday, December 7, 2015

Cowboy Bebop Top 5 - No. 1 - Real Folk Blues

I can't believe it's been more than six months since I've last added to this list.  I mean, I knew it would take time to write these posts, but Jesus Christ.... I'm sorry readers.  I guess that means I've had six months to decide my all time favorite Cowboy Bebop episodes.


Not like it's any surprise as to what's number 1.  Real Folk Blues is a true finale for Cowboy Bebop.  Even for a series that has so many stand alone episodes, Real Folk Blues nicely ties everything up.  There are a lot of cool moments sprung throughout the last two episodes.  Sadly, Ed's arc is done, but seeing Faye cruise around with Julia was pretty cool.  And watching Jet was the Bebop in darkness was touching.

In the end, this episode was about Spike.  It's always been about Spike.  I'm writing this from the stance that I assume you've already watched it, so I won't get into details of the episode.  However, my thoughts are it's the perfect Spike episode.  If the first episode tells you who Spike is, then this episodes tells you what Spike is all about.  At his core, he is a romantic.  Despite what he answers to Jet, it's always been about the girl.

There's some ambiguity to whether Spike is truly dead.  I think the answer is pretty obvious though, even if that means it kills any chance for more episodes.  Spike is dead.  He was dead long before his final battle and raid on Vicious.  He died the moment Julia died.  Steven Blum plays Spike so well in this episode, because the moment Julia dies, you can hear it in Spike's voice that he's dead as well.

It's the subtle changes in his voice that make me think this.  Spike was already a wanderer before, going about life so carelessly, but those scenes after Julia's death, it's as if his soul is gone.  He has a light hearted story with Jet and shares some secrets with Faye.  These are sad times as the characters know that Spike's fate leads to one road, but they let him go that way because they know deep down inside, there's nothing left for Spike to live for.

When Spike died, I was sad.  Spike was the epitome of cool, and to see a character you've attached yourself to die in such a way, it was like a gut punch even though you saw it coming.  Yet in the end, I knew it made sense.  But that's what a great series can do to you.  It makes you accept the tragic even if it's not what you want because it makes sense.  And for a series that dealt far into the imagination of sci fi, where stories could be farfetched and odd, it made sense.

So until then...

Monday, June 1, 2015

Halfkinds Volume 5: Grey Is Officially Published!

Hello Readers!

After a good year in the works, Volume 5: Grey is officially released.  While not as long as the other volumes (running a little over 300 pages), it's much more action packed and sets a perfect build up for my planned, last volume.  I don't really have much to say right now other than to check it out as I
relax and prepare to write the last chapter of my saga.

Here are the links to Volume 5:

Of course, though, I'll continue to update this blog as I move through the motions.  I still have to finish that Cowboy Bebop Countdown!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Introducing Volume 5 of the Halfkinds Series....Now Available to Pre Order!

Amazon recently re-vamped their KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) service, and now, they've FINALLY allowed pre-orders to happen.  Check out my fancy schmancy preorder page here:

Coming out June 1st......

They still have a few kinks to work out though.  First of all, you'd think changing the description or formatting it would be easy, but no, it's quite a tedious task.  You create your entry on one website then modify it's page on another.  Quite cumbersome.  It's also not an instant update, so I'm trying to make the page a bit more presentable.

Oh and here's the cool new cover!

I might be tweaking the titles of my books a little too.  I always wanted to finish all of my books first before focusing on the marketing aspects of things, but I figure it's time for a change since Volume 1 has been on the shelf for so long.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with how things are going.  It's been an odd (sub) career arch filled with ups and downs.  At first I was a bit bummed out about the lack of response and sales.  I think it was because I was just so excited I finally published something that I was waiting to see readers skyrocket to the moon (HAHAHAHAHA, what a dream).  Now that I'm a back on Earth, and I'm so deep into writing the story of Iris Lawton and her genetic misfits that I look forward to telling what happens to her next.

The next book will be my last one and it's a bit bittersweet.  I've already outlined what happens, and I feel the conclusion will be the perfect ending for this saga I've crafted.  However, I start to think, what do I after that?  Write some more?  Market the heck out of my completed product?  Guess I should just focus on writing the next one.

To anyone who reads this blog, I still highly encourage you to check them out, even if reading isn't your cup of tea.  I think you will find the first one interesting at the very least.  It's certainly not lacking action.  It may be a bit hard to follow with time jumps and many characters, but I hope you will be entertained.  Looking back on the first book, I feel it's really different from the rest of the series.  When I was writing it, I was hoping to reel the reader in, but now looking back, I wonder if it's done the opposite since it's so different from the rest of the series.

Volume 2 and beyond is much more grounded in structure, so if you get turned off by Volume 1, just know that the rest of the series is probably better in my book.  Other than that, I'll keep you posted as I continue to edit!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cowboy Bebop Top 5 - No. 2 - Ballad of Fallen Angels

Between all the lists out there that exist on the internet, Ballad of Fallen Angels is often regarded as the best in the series.  The first few episodes of Cowboy Bebop are fine and dandy, but none of them really give it that statement that Cowboy Bebop needed at that point.  Ballad of Fallen Angels is that statement.  If you were to sum up Cowboy Bebop in one episode, this would be it.

It also was a complete about face from the previous episodes.  While the previous episodes were light hearted, even goofy affairs (dog chasing, humans turning into monkeys kind of stuff), this one was dead serious.  The tone, imagery and violence were turned up a notch.  If the previous episodes are Better Call Saul, this episode is Breaking Bad...Season 5.... Part 2.

Admittedly, I didn't really like the episode upon first viewing.  I thought it was slow, long, and there was just too much being thrown at me.  At that point in the series, there was no mention of Spike's past.  This one was full of it, and a bit confusing too.  Who was Vicious?  Who was Mao Yenrai?  Who was Anastasia?  So many new characters, important ones, were introduced in this episode, and it made it hard to figure out who was who upon initial watching.

The pace was also different.  The other episodes were pulpy, fast, and full of witty one liners.  This one was darker, and the first dark episode, and pulled you in slowly with mystery and suspense.  As with my number 3 choice, when Cowboy Bebop goes dark, it does it well.

I initially wasn't going to put it on this list, but since it was so critically applauded, I watched it again.  After viewing the whole season, I was able to pick up on things that happened in this episode.  Then I realized how great it was.  The characters were fleshed out for me now, not blobs that I had to figure out.  Spike's struggle and the fragmented past introduced were clear as day.  I not only understood Spike better, but also his enemies.

And let's talk about that action.  Though not up there with the best "action" episode (Pierrot Le Fou), it's pretty good. Shootouts are grisly but slick.  And Spike's duel with Vicious is better than any other battle he's had with him.  I don't want to give away the plot too much, so I won't get into that.  Just know that this episode deserves all the praise it gets.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cowboy Bebop Top 5 - No. 3 - Pierrot Le Fou


Pierrot Le Fou is best categorized as an episode that is remembered for its style, mood, and action sequences rather than its plot.  I feel that's a constant theme in the top episodes of Cowboy Bebop, but it's also expected.  There's only one true continuous plot while most storylines are episodic.  However, the great thing about Bebop is that it takes advantage of the space setting while mixing it in with genres you wouldn't think mesh with sci fi.  Jazz, mystery, and humor all blend well within the world of the Bebop Crew.

As I said before, Pierrot Le Fou is very minimal on plot.  Mad Pierrot is an unstoppable hitman, Spike walks in on one of his hits, they have a fight and Spike survives, now Pierrot is on a vendetta to kill him.  There's also some backstory for Pierrot about how he came to be so unstoppable (the standard sci-fi staple of "experiments") and how it caused his mind to regress to that of a child.  But all that jazz isn't really that important.

What is important is how unstoppable Pierrot is.  He's probably the best fighter in Bebop, giving Spike a run for his money.  I could even see Pierrot wiping the floor with Vicious.  No one comes close to his unstoppable-ness.  He can float in the air, is an expert with firearms, and even with his obese appearance, he's as agile as a cat.  In fact, throughout all their fights, Spike doesn't even land one hit on him (except for the end).

He's also the scariest of the Bebop bad guys.  Bebop isn't really that heavy on horror, but if I had to categorize this episode, it's certainly the scariest.  A look into Mad Pierrot's face, and you get chills.  The hollow eyes paired up with that eerie smile rocks you to the core.  He's the perfect enemy for this kind of episode.  And they have their fight in a Disneyland type rip off, which just adds to his devious child-like killer persona.

I praise the episode's well animated fight sequences, but this one is all about mood.  There's a minimal soundtrack.  No catchy jazz riffs here.  Instead, you're treated to the background noise of a "it's a small world" like carnival song as Spike literally fights for his life at an amusement park.  It's the perfect juxtaposition for his battle.  On one hand, he's essentially fighting someone with the mentality of a child, on the other he's taking on one of his blood thirstiest opponents.

And spoiler alert, Pierrot dies.  But it's the way that he dies that is so unsettling.  He cries for his mommy, the truest display of lost innocence, only to be crushed by a giant furry robot that he probably loves.  However, you feel exhausted after the fight is over.  Spike has gotten his ass kicked, twice.  Usually, Spike offers a moment of recollection in the end, but this time, he's disgusted at the messed up situation and what humans are possible of doing.  As he best puts it, "just forget about it".

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cowboy Bebop Top 5 - No. 4 - Waltz For Venus


When I first started watching Waltz For Venus, I had a feeling I was going to hate this episode.  It starts off with a simple bounty where Spike shows off why he's a bad ass by beating the crap out of some targets.  That's all fine and dandy until we meet Roco Bonnaro.  He's a plucky guy with a plant that can cure his sister's blindness.  He also comes off like an annoying Jar Jar Binks type side kick.  I mean just look at this guy.

When Spike first meets him, Spike is understandably dismissive.  And then he slowly takes him in as a student, with Roco calling him master.  The reason I didn't like the start of this episode was that I thought it was going to be predictably.  Lovable (if not annoying) goof gets brushed up by tough mentor, only to win his respect, blah blah blah.

But then we're introduced to Stella, Roco's sister who has been blinded thanks to the effects of living on Venus.  Stella has a genuine kindness about her that shows with her interactions with Spike.  However, it's not her kindness that shines in the episode, it's actually Spikes.  Up until this point, five episodes in, you never really get a sense if Spike is a "good guy."  You get the sense that he's charismatic and a bad ass, likable, sure, but you don't get the sense if he has any morals.  All of that is taken up by Jet up until this point.

It's in this episode that you see a sympathetic Spike, a Spike that does the right thing.  He's given seedlings that could be sold for ten times the bounties that he normally takes in, but in the end he throws it away in order to help Stella cure her blindness.  It's these rare moments that you see Spike's humanity when you think it's been taken away by Vicious.

Roco is also another key point in the episode.  Although he starts off on a bad foot, eventually you start to sympathize with him.  I'm normally not a fan of feeling bad for people who cause their own rotten situations, but with Roco, you get the sense that he is a good guy who just has some bad luck.  He wants to help his sister.  He's a grey character who wants to do the right thing, and he could have easily fit in with Bebop's band of misfits.

Alas, it's not meant to be.  I'm not going to say what happens, but this episode ties up nicely with some really lasting shots accompanied by a great score behind it.

I think in the end this episode sums up Spike as a character well.  His conversation with Stella and ambivalence afterwards is a good characterization of what he's about, a flawed hero who understands his lot in life but is willing to do what he can to stay away from the dark past that follows him.

Until then...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Actual Cowboy Bebop Top 5 - Mushroom Samba


In my last article, I gave an introduction to Cowboy Bebop and my favorite episodes from the series, specifically my top 5.  I'm going to have to backtrack a little and remove "Asteroid Blues" from that list.  While it is a groundbreaking episode mainly because of what it is (first in the series that sets the tone of the show), I wouldn't say it's one of my favorites.  Important, yes.  Memorable, sure.  But not in my top 5.  If I'm going to through my actual top 5, I'm going to go with ones that I could watch over and over regardless of it's contribution to the show.

That's why of my actual top five, Mushroom Samba is in there.  I can't say it's really that important of an episode to the series.  Some might think it's actually pretty stupid.  The plot centers around the Bebop crew running out of food and crash landing on Io.  They send Ed to find some food, and she comes back with hallucinogenic mushrooms.  Hilarity ensues.  Kind of a silly plot compared to Bebop's usual serious faire.

However, comedy works pretty well with Bebop, and this is one of two episodes that's a straight up comedy story (the other being Cowboy Funk).  It's a nice change of pace from the darker episodes (like Sympathy For The Devil) or the heavy Vicious storyline that runs throughout the show.

What I enjoyed about the episode is Ed.  She makes this episode.  She hasn't really gotten an episode of her own other than Jamming with Edward, which was her introduction episode.  She's always been relegated to a support character as opposed to Jet and Faye, who gets entire episodes catered to them.  Most of the time, she's used as a convenient way for writers to move along the plot with her technical prowess.

However, other than Spike, she's probably the most interesting character of the crew.  She's the perfect comic relief compared to the rest of the Bebop crew whose storylines are heavy.  And the best thing is, the writers never "make it serious" with Ed.  There's no back story to weigh her down, every interaction the crew has with her pretty funny.  I kept waiting for there to be an episode where ED GETS SERIOUS, like a messed up back story or something, but that never happened.  And I was glad it never did.

That being said, there certainly are flaws, the obvious one being the over exaggerated caricatures of those on Ed's pursuit.  It's almost cringe worthy, but then again, you have to take it in for what it is.  But then again, everything is pretty over the top in this episodes, from the hallucinations to the bad guys.

The small things also make this episode great.  From Ed's first attempt at wearing socks to the way Ed tricks her crew members into eating the mushrooms.  Again, this isn't really an episode for everyone, but if you watch binge watch Cowboy Bebop, it's really a much needed break from the doom and gloom of humanity that the series sometimes focuses on.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cowboy Bebop Top Five - No. 5 "Asteroid Blues"

I was never really into anime growing up.  The extent of it was Dragonball Z, and that was a longgggggggggggg time ago.  It's only until recently that I started picking it up again, and that mainly started with my consumption of Cowboy Bebop.

Cowboy Bebop is long considered a "gateway" anime, which I agree and disagree with.  I agree because it's pretty good for Western audiences with it's faster pace, crisp action sequences, and clever dialogue.  The fact that the dubbed voice acting is superb (Steven Blum and no one else is Spike) doesn't hurt it either.  It's probably as close to a "Western" cartoon that happens to be an anime.  And the fact that a lot of its influences are from Western pop culture (the use of Jazz and it's heavy references to Blade Runner), it makes it perfect for people like me who haven't watched anime that much.

However, for the same reasons, I disagree with the notion that it's a gateway anime because it's style and storytelling is different from common genre staples in anime.  Instead of episodes being long and drawn own, each is episodic and often wraps up nicely in the end.  Things move quick in Cowboy Bebop, with the story jumping from scene to scene instead of the slooooooowwwww pace I've seen in other animes.  And, most importantly, the plot moves on its own.  I've noticed after watching other animes (like Death Note....ugh) there's A LOT of exposition.  Sometimes I'm sitting there for minutes while the main character describes every meticulous detail of his plot.  Cowboy Bebop rarely does this, which is nice.

When thinking of my favorite episodes, Asteroid Blues (the first one in the series), didn't even come across my mind.  However, as I watched it over again, it made me realize that it's the perfect introduction to the world of the Bebop crew.  It's hard to understand things at first.  There's little set up to the future world Cowboy Bebop has created and little explanation.  Instead, you simply jump right into the action, picking up on things as you go.

The episode centers on a drug called red eye, a hyper steroid of some sort that makes Bane's venom look like child's play.  After a demonstration of its power, we follow Spike and Jet on their quest to get the bad guy and collect the bounty.  It's pretty straightforward plot wise, but it's the small things that show why this episode, and the series as a whole is so great.  It paces back and forth between the comical and serious, and that's thanks to Spike.

He is the reason you watch the show.  Between his good guy vibe and his lethal skills, you couldn't ask for a more bad ass hero.  Spike is a bounty hunter, a good one, but he doesn't come off cocky or sadistic.  He just seems like a nice guy who understands his role in life and goes with it.  Charming is the best word to describe him, and it comes across when he interacts with his target, Katrina.  And as the chase continues, and the situation looks more bleak, Spike continues to realize that this is his job.  No matter how ugly it gets, he has to do what he has to do.

I won't go into great detail about what happens, I'll let you decide that for yourself.  But all I can say is that when Katrina utters her last words and the battle is over, you can't help but feel the way Spike does.  He's ambivalent about his lot in life, but like a spoke on a wheel, he continues because he knows that's his role in life.  Few shows, let alone animes, can pull you in so closely and leave such an impression with it's opening episode.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Travel Logs: Washington DC - 2007

Note: I've traveled to a lot of places post college, but never have had the time to write my thoughts about them.  Now I have the time to do so.  If you enjoy these travel logs, feel free to click this link to check out the others.

I've been to our nation's capitol twice in my life.  The first time was right after I graduated from college, visiting a friend who was doing an internship there.  The second time was five years later, after seeking refuge from a Hurricane Sandy plagued New York City (which I will get to in the future).  For the first part in this travel log, I'll focus on my first visit and the send log will focus on how the same experience felt different thanks to video games of all things.

The first time I went to DC, I was a bit overwhelmed.  I had seen pictures of the National Mall, but I never knew how massive it was.  It took a good twenty minutes to walk from the museums to the Lincoln Memorial.   The architecture of the mall was beautiful as expected.  The clean white buildings were so crisp that it made you wonder how some of theses buildings had been standing for well over 100 years in such pristine condition.

The thing I loved most about DC was the history.  I'm a big history buff when it comes to US history, and while the mall is probably viewed as a tourist trap among locals, I certainly enjoyed it.  My favorite museum there has and still is the National Portrait Gallery.  There's a designated wing where you can go through the presidents chronologically.  It's pretty interesting, especially the Lincoln area where you can see artifacts from his term.

Other parts museums of the National Mall were so so.  The Air and Space Museum seems a bit outdated.  At the time of their creations, space travel was a big deal, but it's kind of loss it's relevancy.  And the other museums seem a little out of place in the Mall.  It's not because they aren't rich or lack interesting exhibits, it's just that the Mall screams history and patriotism.  You have all these famous monuments and buildings (the Capitol Building, the White House, the Washington Monument) and in the middle of them are some science and art museums.

We also stopped by the IRS.  I remember in the Simpsons when they visited DC and Homer booed the IRS.  I did the same thing.

I wasn't much of a food guy right after college, so my friend took me to all the local east coast things that I couldn't find in California, stuff like Pot Belly Sandwiches and some local bars.  I also had pizza in rainy weather which was nice.  This was my first big trip on my own away from California, so the small observations highlighted the differences in this part of the country.  The houses had brick in them, and really felt as if they were made back in colonial times.  Not sure if they actually were though.

It was just different compared to back at home, which I guess really highlighted my ignorance at the time.  Though I'm sure 10 years from now, I'll look back on these blog entries and think the same thing about my 2015 self.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Vietnamese Cooking

Sometimes I feel like my own culture is a ghost to me.  Born in the USA to parents who immigrated here as teenagers only to be Americanized, I worry that when I have kids, they're going to know less about Vietnam than I will.  It's sad in a sense, to see first hand your own cultural knowledge slowly die inside you as the years pass, but at the same time, it's inevitable.  Sometimes you just don't have the focus to work on everything you want to.

However, if there's anything I want to instill in the future generations I may create, it's at least their appreciation of Vietnamese food.  It's actually kind of funny.  I can't speak much Vietnamese, but of my limited vocabulary, probably more than ninety percent of it is dedicated to food related words.  I suppose that's something I take for granted growing in the largest Vietnamese community in the US.  I speak English with my parents, but I speak Vietnamese only when I'm put into a corner and forced to, and that place would be at a Vietnamese restaurant.

Sometimes I have a desire to move away from the Bay Area.  Housing is just so damn expensive.  But among the top reasons that would keep my to stay (other than friends and family) is the food.  Where else am I going to get good Vietnamese food?  (I'm talking about REAL Viet food, not stuff like Pho or Spring Rolls).  Even cultural meccas like NY are hard pressed to have good Vietnamese options.  Living in the Bay, (specifically San Jose), means living in a place that probably has both the best and most abundant Vietnamese offerings.

The only thing I could do if I moved away would be to cook it myself.  However, my Vietnamese cooking skills are pretty low.  I'd say I'm a good cook.  I cook every meal for me and my girlfriend, and over the years, I've improved greatly.  My greatest skill is how resourceful I am with food.  Vietnamese food should be a natural fit for me because A) I'm Vietnamese, and B) Vietnamese food requires using everything you can.  Sadly, my skill doesn't match up to expectations.

I try to pry my mom for recipes, but she's pretty hard to get info from.  She's the best cook I know (and I'm not just saying that because it's my mom, many other people agree).  However, that skill has given her a sense of over zealous pride, meaning her cooking secrets can't be trusted to anyone else.  That includes me.

Until I can get info out of her, I'll have to rely on what I can get fro the internet.  Normally, my cooking usually depends on what the rush is, but overall, I've grown accustomed to cooking American style food (grilled stuff, soups, casseroles, "Italian") and Chinese stir fry for those quick and easy meals.  Vietnamese cooking is simple, yet complex at the same time.  I've tried it a few times, and it hasn't been up to par with my mom's stuff.  I don't think it ever will.  It makes me a little sad knowing that as I get older, my exposure to Vietnamese food, good quality Vietnamese food, will decrease more and more.

And in a sense, as silly as it sounds, that's what food can do to you.  It's makes you ponder the deeper mysteries of life as you chow down on a bowl of noodles.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Back From Hiding - Volume 5 Release News

Hello everyone!

After a long hiatus from blogging, I'm kicking off the new year with some updates regarding the status of Halfkinds Volume 5 - Grey.  Here are a few tidbits:

- I'm about 85 percent done with the writing, then it'll go through a rough read through.  After that, it's off to the fine editors of Gathering Leaves Editing
- Schedule wise, I'm hoping to get it back from the editors for a March release
- During the time at the editors, I'll update the Halfkinds Wikia up to Volume 4
- I'll also do a little publicizing, but this has never been my forte.  I feel that after I'm done with the series, then I can promote it as a whole
- Speaking of the series, Volume 6 will probably be released at the beginning of 2016, or end of 2015.  It's too early to tell.

Blog updates:
- I'm going to try to update this blog more often.  Bear in mind, it'll not always be about blogging, just updates on stuff I find interesting, but with a main focus on sci fi media.

During my time away from blogging, I've been doing a lot of writing and soaked up a good share of pop culture.  I'm hoping to do this at least once a week but... promises.

Until then...