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Yearly trip to Solebury

Last weekend Z and I went to Solebury Orchards for our annual fix of fuits and veggies and cider doughnuts. We’ll of course go again soon for the apple picking season. Right now, it’s all about fresh peaches and blueberries. I decided to get some cherry tomatoes this time too. Cherry tomatoes pan cooked with oil and fresh garlic over pasta may be dinner tonight.

These photos were taken with my new-to-me camera, the Canon Rebel T2i. I’ve not used the camera too much since I got it, but I am amazed at the quality. I guess most anything would look good over my old Rebel XT though. I’m still trying to get used to the video function. I need to read the manual again about focusing while filming.

Running running running. I ran 12 miles this past week. I do need new shoes though. Deciding on what new running shoes seems to stress me out more than other clothes shopping. I suppose because I know that whatever shoes I choose will affect my performance to a degree so I don’t want to make a poor choice. Constantly reading reviews, but trying to keep in mind my specific running style (moderate pronator with knock knees and a transitional foot strike b/c I’m trying to move from heel to mid-foot strike) has my head spinning a little. Talking to a runner friend at the bar last night helped a bit. She’s much more familiar with the shoes than I am.

Animes seen lately: Gosick (cutesy Sherlock-esque mystery), Night Raid 1931 (getting very bored with this), Say I Love You (cutesy romantic), Gintama (hilarious), more Attack on Titan (completely addicted).

Animes: Fate/Zero, Chevalier D’eon, Chobits, Wolf’s Rain

Due to the extreme heat wave we’ve had over the past week I’ve been watching a lot of anime. Some I watched many  months ago and need to write up my thoughts about them before I forget completely. I won’t call these reviews because I’m not good at reviews. These are musings about the shows I’ve seen so SPOILERS ABOUND! If you haven’t seen the shows and want to, you may not want to read my spoilerific blathering. Now, I’ll start with the oldest one first…

Wolf’s Rain: This is an early Bones production so the animation quality was pretty good considering its age. The dub cast for this was also really good. Veteran Steve Blum did the voice of Darcia and Crispin Freeman voiced the character I found most amusing, Tsume. Notice how I didn’t say my favorite character – because I didn’t have any for this show. So the 26 episode plot takes place in the future when mankind dies out via the end of the world (because that’s how it does) and wolves will reign supreme because Paradise will open. Wolves are feared and hunted by humans so they evolved by taking human shapes to blend in with society and survive. Enter the coming together of a rag-tag group of wolves who all have different personalities and don’t get along with each other but feel the need to stick together to A. find some girl called the Flower Maiden and B. get to Paradise – wherever the hell that might be.  The most I remember of this show was liking the minor characters much better than the majors – if any at all because ALL of them were rather bleh and…. how utterly, awfully depressing this show was to watch. Seriously, this was the show of mega SADNEZ. I trudged through this series. I could only watch one, maybe two episodes at a time because it was so full of despair and misery it became too exhausting to watch. The dearth of happy or even upbeat moments kept it from being a lot better. Death abounds and characters die constantly. There’s no silver lining, no happy ending, no glimmer of hope, no tiny dot of light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to. Death, chaos, and then… rebirth…. ? … ended the show. All the characters come back in some alternate reality on a rainy day with subdued colors, making it all look slightly depressing despite meaning to be a moderate “life goes on” sort of ending. Only… not because it just makes life look really boring and rainy. The end. Um… yay? I could’ve cared less about the main character Kiba and I might incur a lynch mob for this (you know, if anyone actually read my blog), but I hated Toboe. He’s the young wolf cub/human of the group meant to be the naive but optimistic character who brings that one itty bitty teensy weensy strand of Hope to the show. Only he was too damn annoying to do even that. I don’t know if it was the voice actor or just the character itself that made me roll my eyes whenever he was on screen, but I was so annoyed by that character that his oh-so-sad demise, which was meant to be Really Powerful And Emotional had me feeling: yawn, ugh FINALLY. NEXT! Also, the main theme was very…. bleh. Some people love that opening song, but I couldn’t stand it. It sounded like some awful 80s monstrosity eerily similar to Journey.

Tsume, in all his emo punk rock pony tail glory.

Tsume, in all his emo punk rock pony tail glory.

Chobits: I was so frustrated by Wolf’s Sadnez I needed a pick me up – fast. I think I started watching Chobits the same day I ended WF. (Yep, WF was that bad.) WOW was Chobits ever a total 180. It felt a bit jarring going from a super depressing show to a super upbeat happy show. What was even more jarring was the fact that Crispin Freeman, the gruff and deep voice of Tsume (above) and so many other manly gruff heroes and deep voiced villains, was now…. an 18-ish year old boy?  Um… WHAT?

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And yet… it worked. It worked so amazingly well. Crispin Freeman as the voice of Hideki was amazing. He was grave and thoughtful and cheerful and even got a few good squeaks out in some hilariously terror stricken scenes of absurdity. He added the perfect amount of warmth and charm to Hideki’s character making him one of my favorites. Basically, I love Crispin Freeman. Anyway, so the show is about Hideki, a late teen country bumpkin, moving to the big city to attend cram school so he can get into college. He’s clueless about city life and especially things computer related. However, he’s surrounded by Persacoms. Persacoms are human looking robotic things people can purchase to do EVERYTHING for them. They can cook, clean, check email, answer phone calls, become sex toys and everything else you can think to program or teach them to do. Of course they cost a ba-jillion yen, which Hideki doesn’t have, but guess what! He finds one – IN THE TRASH. He gets his persacom working and the hilarity begins. Most persacoms have some sort of initial software giving them an idea of how to do basic stuffs, but Hideki’s persacom doesn’t know how to do ANYTHING and is a giant teenage girl sized infant that can only say “Chi”. Oh, and guess what Hideki names her? … Yeah. So Chi and Hideki have all sorts of daily adventures, but Chi has a secret – she might be an all powerful super Persacom called a Chobit. It’s mostly a slice-of-life episodic series until the end when Chi’s Chobits history gets more interesting and dark. In general, the series basically tells us  humanity will continue to crumble by being so dependent upon AI and robots/electronics/mechanical sciencey-things if we don’t watch out. Must we further disconnect ourselves? When will we stop and face the reality of how we never truly interact with each other anymore? Etc…. Although all that sounds like doom and gloom the series was absolutely hilarious. Hideki is a randy fellow so of course sex is on the brain quite often and his responses to things are laugh-out-loud-until-you-nearly-cry fantastic. Despite his anxiety about being able to afford porn magazines and feed himself and Chi, he’s still a very well grounded character with a strong moral backbone. Now the bad part: the show ended rather weakly. After all the preaching and teaching of people losing their sense of reality by being so dependent upon their persacoms, Hideki is faced with the choice of losing Chi and facing that reality head on – or keeping Chi and falling down the rabbit hole. In the end, I was a bit unnerved by the deus ex machina explanation for everything. However, the show is clearly set in a specific genre that’s well known in Japan – Magical Girlfriend. I might have the name wrong, but there is a genre of anime/manga where guys, whether deserving or not, get the amazing spectacular completely unrealistic girlfriend of their dreams. Chobits is one of those. Oh and a note about the opening song: Zach hated it. It’s very poppy and catchy with a chorus of what sounds like a bunch of 12 year old girls singing, “Doot-doo, Doot-doo, yeah, let me be with you.” I actually liked it a lot because it was so hilariously cute and matched the show very well.

There's even a stereotypical beach episode the Japanese love to make in EVERY SERIES.

There’s even a stereotypical beach episode the Japanese love to make in EVERY SERIES.

Chevalier D’eon: Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont, or Chevalier d’eon, existed. He is in the history books. He was part of the secret du roi (secret agent police type unit that took orders directly from the king) during the reign of Louis XV. So what makes him interesting, other than being a secret agent and awesome swordsman at the time? He’s also known as one of the first people ever to be openly transgender. He spent the first part of his life as a man and the latter part of it dressing as a woman until his death. So, you’d think that an anime about this guy would be pretty darn cool, no? Actually… it wasn’t. The anime took a turn for the supernatural and told the story of D’eon de Beaumont in a rather ridiculous way. The secret du roi still exist in the show and D’eon is part of it. He investigates the mysterious murders of women when he finds out his own older sister was one of those murdered. He then goes on a mission with a few chivalry minded friends to find out who murdered his sister, and find out about the royal Psalms, which happen to be biblical verses naughty magician types use to make everyone else do their dirty work as silver ooze spitting zombies. I think they call them gargoyles in the show. How does the cross dressing come in? Oh, you know, D’eon becomes possessed by his dead sister Lia’s soul. Oh. Ok. *face*palm* Apparently Lia had more balls than her living brother because when she takes over her bro’s body, shit gets real. She kicks ass and takes names. When D’eon is in control of his own body, he mostly looks pathetic with a long pony tail and constantly questions himself. The plot got a bit muddled and confusing, but worse yet, it dragged on. There’s a lot of talking and little resolving going on. I don’t need every episode to be jam packed with action and awesome… but it helps. Lots of ideology speak, old ways versus new ways, and general discourse on whether or not kings are necessary when people no longer give two shits take up most of the series. It’s not bad per se, but there’s nothing that really grabbed my attention and made me want to continue watching. In fact, I took a month long break from it because I got so bored with it and for a while I thought of dropping it completely. It’s a rather poor way to commemorate the life of someone so interesting.

Dude looks like a lady.

Dude looks like a lady.

After D’eon de Boring I re-watched lots of old favorites like Kuroshitsuji, Fullmetal Alchemist and Natsume Yuujinchou. I also signed up for a subscription service so I can use an app on the Xbox to watch ALL the anime I want, when I want. Ok, maybe not ALL of it, but it’s got a decent selection. The only problem is the server, which has been pissing me off lately. It skips 20 second intervals in the shows and even boots me off mid episode and won’t let me back on to watch the rest of it. Dunno if I’ll stay with it, but I do have quite a queue of stuff to watch. One of the shows I did watch on it last week was….

Fate/Zero: This series has a lot of hype surrounding it. It was made as a prequel to the Fate Stay/Night series and was made after(?) the Stay/Night series. I’ve not seen the Stay/Night series and don’t really know that much about it. From what I read, Fate/Zero could be watched alone and I wouldn’t have too much of an issue, especially since it is meant to be a prequel. For a 26 episode series, it packs quite a punch. It’s got a huge cast and each character has his/her own agenda. 7 mages are chosen by the The Holy Grail to fight in the Holy Grail war, which takes place every 60 years. There are old mage families who believe the Grail should only belong to them because They Be Old Mages and of course Old means Best. Right? Anyway, you also have some fledgling mages and some that aren’t mages at all but just happen to be psycho enough for the Grail to want in the war… probably for entertainment purposes. Who knows. Ask the Grail. So the 7 mages are given 3 Command Spells and conjure up the Servant of their choosing. This servant is usually some heroic hero/heroine of yore from either legends or history. 7 mages controlling 7 servants (lancer, rider, archer, berserker, saber, caster, assassin) of kick-ass powers meant to beat each other up Battle Royale style all to get a hold of the Grail that will grant a wish to the Mage/Servant team that wins. Sound awesome? It was. Mostly. The animation was mind-blowing incredible. I don’t know what studio made it, but they must’ve broken the bank (or robbed it) a few times in order to make the show because the quality is just fantastic. If anything, the show is worth watching for the animation alone. The music is good as well. I really liked the ending song To The Beginning by Kalafina, who also wrote Lacrimosa, which was the ending song of Kuroshitsuji and is one of my favorites. The characters were all fascinating, even if I didn’t always agree with what they said. So many ideologies clashing together and fighting to find out which one will win made the show engaging. And then the ending sorta pooped all over all that awesome. I’m guessing because it’s meant to be a prequel, there could really be no true ending. But to take so much amazing and give it such a mediocre ending of mind fuckery was quite disappointing. The Grail is supposed to grant any wish, but apparently you can’t wish for it if you don’t have an understanding of a reality based on that wish? I think? I’m not quite certain I got it entirely and may need to watch the last few episodes again, or read some sort of cliff notes on it. But a wish was sorta granted and ended up going explodey and granting two wishes of two mages, but one wasn’t the kind of wish he meant, but the other was all – dude, I’ll take it. But that guy was dead beforehand…. and…. eh? Then life goes back to normal. Kinda. The …. end? Hmmm…

Servants up top. Corresponding mages below.

Currently I’m watching Attack on Titan, which is airing right now in Japan. I watched Fate/Zero with subs and must watch Attack on Titan with subs as well. I’m finding I really don’t mind it as much as I thought I would. Granted, I do miss out on some of the action because I’m reading text at the bottom of the screen, but that’s ok. Fate/Zero actually has a dub cast and I think is in the process of being dubbed now, so I’ll most likely watch it again with the dub cast, which I’ve heard is amazing (Crispin Freeman!). Anyway, Attack on Titan is just… WOW. I really hope this show gets a longer running than the typical 24-26 episodes that tend to be the norm these days. It’s so good I’m even tempted to find the manga it’s based on. More on that later.

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Joshua Tree National Park

One of the “must see” stops for us on our vacation was Joshua Tree National Park. Before our trip, I was excited at the prospect of visiting yet another park and spending all day tromping about it.

Yeah….

And then the reality of tromping about in 113F weather put a drastic stop to my playful daydreams of what it would be like to visit there. I was still somewhat suffering from heat stroke the day before at The Living Desert, aka Heat Stroke Zoo. So taking long interesting hikes in a barren, rocky, and extremely hot landscape was a definitive NO. Z said, “Car tour!” and that’s pretty  much what it was.

Two of our friends, who also ventured all the way from Philly to CA for the wedding and shared our amazing rental house, were just as excited to see the park as we were. Having friends was a definite plus to the very short trip. They knew I wasn’t in the best of shape and made sure I wasn’t pushing myself too much. At the same time, I felt having them around kept my extreme grumpiness in regards to the heat down to a minimum. Listening to everyone talk about the freaky Joshua trees, try and make figures out of the weird rock formations, and generally share in the misery that was the hot desert made for a highly entertaining visit to the park.

And as you may have noticed from the photos, one of them tried to climb a Joshua tree. He thought the fuzzy outer of the tree would make it easier to grab onto and climb up. Not so much. Instead he slid down rather fast, declared Joshua trees as terrible things to climb, and then made jokes about his splinters for the rest of the day. We also had an amusing discussion on how everything in the desert actively tries to kill you. If it’s not the heat, then it’s the animals and even the plants. Because everything is pointy in the desert! Oh and did I mention I almost drank ALL of our water supply alone and if you don’t have your own water at the park you may as well consider yourself dead? Yeah, drinking fountains aren’t happening there. I remember when we left the visitor’s center the ranger mentioned there’s no places for water – AT ALL. And of course we decided to take a mile long hike. Genius!

Despite the horrendous heat and my perilous condition after the mile hike (I’m amazed I made it that long) we did manage to have a good time there. I would visit the park again – in the dead of winter. It was definitely worth seeing, but Z and I agreed we much prefer places with lots of lush greenery and water around us.

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The Living Desert and heat stroke

San Diego weather constantly stayed in the mid to upper 60s – even at night. The 3-5 degree difference between night and day temperatures there confused the crap out of me. It was weird. What was even more bewildering was the fact that one can drive 2.5 hours away and experience a 40 degree difference. Palm Springs was HOT. Since it’s in the desert that makes sense, but I really was not prepared for it. Everyone says “Oh, but there’s no humidity!” Yeah ok, I get it. No humidity means it’s a bit easier to breathe and being in the shade is a teensy bit more tolerable that being in the sun but when the temperature rarely drops below 108 during the day it makes no difference. You’re still HOT and MISERABLE. It gets to a point where it just doesn’t matter. I was sweating just as much with no humidity there as I do here with humidity. The danger of sweating there is the fact that you get dehydrated VERY quickly and if you’re not careful, you end up like me – suffering from heat stroke.

Cue our day hiking about outside with very little shade, no water, and 108F weather…. at The Living Desert. The place was quite interesting, but I was so mind-numbingly miserable from the heat I didn’t really get as much out of it as I could’ve. I hardly took any photos of the animals there and mostly b-lined for any area with shade. Zach handled it better than I did and managed to get some more animal shots. I was so tired and hot lifting my camera to my face felt like The Worst Chore In The Entire Universe. That being said, I really did like the place and wish I could visit there again – in winter.  I was beat and ready to be done half hour before everyone else was so by the time they decided we should go my friends clearly saw I wasn’t doing well. I had to hold Zach’s hand as we walked in the parking lot to the car because I forewarned him, “I might pass out.”  I came very close to doing so, but managed to keep it together for the ride back to our rental house where I promptly drank water and slept.

As I write this Zach looks over my shoulder and says, “Writing about Heat Stroke Zoo?”  Yeah…..

For those interested in seeing Zach’s photos of our trip, look at his flickr set here.