Friday, 29 February 2008

Credit crunch: UK & USA comparison

The credit crisis from the American housing market is starting to effect customers both here in the UK and over in the USA, today's blog is about how the credit crisis will effect you:

Credit Cards - Many people are speculating that the era of cheap credit is over, banks on both sides of the Atlantic are hiking up their interest rates passing on costs to their own customers or cancelling cards of customers who they deem to be too high risk.

Mortgages - Again, mortgages are becoming even more expensive, but here in the UK banks have decided to curb back on their 100% or more mortgages which means if you are trying to buy your very first home, it will be harder to get on the property ladder.

Savings - Surprisingly this is one area where interest rates are falling, I was surprised to receive a letter from my ISA provider recently saying the interest rate is now lower keeping in line with the Bank of England's cuts, so savers will need to search around to get the best deal for their money.

When an anime/manga series is about to end

It was with much happiness and sadness that I bought the penultimate volume of Hana Kimi this week, this series was one of the very first manga's I bought, back in the day when I knew nothing about Japanese culture.

I know its not the final volume but looking at the stacks of volumes on my bookshelf (there's 22 so far) I can't help but feel just a little bit sad.

It feels like so much has happened since that cold wet day when I trudged into Forbidden Planet to buy this crazy cross-dressing manga and every volume has its own story to tell:

Take volume 1, this was the book I was reading in an old job when a Japanese guy came up to me and teased me mercilessly for liking a 'romance manga.'

The office gossip queens stopped talking and stared at me - why is there never a hole to swallow you up when you need one?

Hisaya Nakajo's commentary panels also introduced me to two wonderful bands, L'arc en Ciel and Malice Mizer and thus began my voyage into the world of Japanese visual kei bands - I can't even remember the last time I bought an English CD.

When Sano says he doesn't want to lose anymore and makes his commitment to return to the high jump again, well... it makes you want to try that little bit harder too.

And that's what I like about manga, one moment you think you're reading a made up story and the next you feel just that little bit stronger, it's that very same quality that has won the hearts and minds of Fruits Basket fans the world over.

Although Fruits Basket has ended in Japan, it will be a couple of years before it ends, but can you imagine a world without Fruits Basket?

I can't.

There are only two anime's that have left me with that rare feeling of, 'what am I supposed to do now?' syndrome, that being Last Exile and Death Note.

It's knowing that you've just seen something so special that you know that you will never see something like it ever again.

So what do you do when something so amazing ends?

Well, for me, I cosplayed!

I dressed up as Light at Japan EX, being my favourite hero/villain for the day as a tribute.

Others write fanfiction, make their own comics or start their own fan groups.

Then began the search to find something that could replace it, but when the standards are so high how on earth do you find something that will match it?

You simply can't, so I stopped trying and it was only when a friend leant me the manga series Nodame Cantabile, did I re-find my love for manga, the story about a genius piano student who is stuck in Japan is a simple one, but if I learnt anything, it is this - sometimes you don't need something amazing to impress you, somehow, without me realising, the manga had moved in to a little corner in my heart and stayed there.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

London women earn 23 per cent less than men

Women earn less than men in London according to latest findings by the Greater London Assembly(GLA).

London has the highest pay gap between men and women in the country at 23 per cent compared to 17 per cent for the rest of the country and are generally employed in lower paid, traditionally female jobs, such as health and admin work.

The Women in London's Economy report clearly illustrates that the glass ceiling still exists with only a small minority making it to the top positions.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Are you a geek?

As most anime fans are wired, I have often found that they are sometimes labelled geeks, so it was with much surprise when reading the latest Heroes magazine I learnt that geeks have their very own magazine.

I kid you not, it's called Geek monthly.

Seriously, I'm not making this up!

Geeks even have their own show, GeeksOn, who knew they were this organised?

So whilst I was killing time on the internet today, I stumbled across a geek test which will determine whether you really are a geek.

I mean, I read manga, own way too much anime and have an anime haircut, surely that would make me a geek, right?

Apparently not - It was with much disappointment that I discovered that I am not a geek after all, even though I like 'graphic novels,' think lightsabers are cool and am always checking my emails.

But according to my quiz results, there's an inner geek inside me that is just screaming to get out.

I recently commented to a friend that I sometimes feel like a geek, just not the cool kind of geek like Hiro from Heroes - but I'm not a geek than what am I?

Even wannabe-geeks can have an identity crisis.

But I'm raising a serious point here, geekdom, has become a very marketable commodity, which means lots of cash, has the true meaning of what it means to be a geek lost it's way?

Who knows, as I'm not a geek I don't think I'm qualified to answer that.

But just as the likes of Freaks and Geeks injected sharp wit and humour into our TV watching schedule, geeks in whatever form they take are very much a part of our society.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

How to beat credit card debt

These days, you can't walk in to a department store or even a supermarket without being tempted to take out a credit card, so today's blog is all about reducing the cost of credit cards:

1) Become a rate tart - If you have a credit card you may have noticed many providers have a 0% interest policy for the first twelve months to attract new customers, but be wary of these offers.

If you already have debt, transferring to one of these cards will keep the costs of interest down while you work to clear these debts.

2) Set a deadline - Give yourself a deadline on when you want to be debt free, but be realistic, if you have more than one credit card, paying off the most expensive card first whilst paying the minimum on the other is a good place to start.

3) Lifestyle swaps - Be honest about why you got in to debt in the first place, was it an expensive hobby? Living a lifestyle you can't afford on your current income? Or are you one of the many people who have fallen for the 'buy now, pay later,' culture?

Make a couple of simple swaps: nights out for more nights in, takeaways for home cooked meals, expensive DVDs and cinema tickets for online rental movies.

4) Use your pay - When pay day comes around, make sure you use your money to clear your credit card payments, or if you can't, promise yourself to use a chunk of that money towards your debt first, before hitting the shops.

5) Cut up your cards - When you have paid off your card, cancel it and chop it up.

If you know having a credit card is too much temptation, stick to paying with cash and learn how to control your money, a little willpower goes a long way.

Monday, 25 February 2008

The day YouTube was brought to a standstill

Okay... only for two hours, but indulge me a little on this one.

If you don't know the story so far, YouTube was temporarily suspended for two hours after Pakistani authorities blocked the website citing anti-Islamic videos as their reason, which inadvertedly led to the site being blocked across the globe.

Living in a wired world has many implications, but just as there is freedom to access nearly anything, we can also loose this resource in a flash.

This also highlights the importance of internet service providers and don't think the web is free, there is a large debate happening at the moment about how ISPs are slowly carving up the web.

Many web surfers are worried that eventually, these ISPs will control what we view, much in the same way DVDs have regions, so will the internet.

But it's not just organisations who can control what we access, governments can also prescribe where we are allowed to surf on the web, or not, in the recent case of Pakistan.

If you think this all sounds like a paranoid conspiracy theory, check out this article in Slate, it's a bit old now, but its reverberations can be felt today.

I particularly find it interesting, if not perplexing, why we would even want 'digital globalisation' surely the best thing about the internet is that its a hub of creativity and just as one shopping mall can look like a clone of another shopping mall, why would we want the internet to be the same?

I will let you make up your own mind on this one.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Cosplay Picnic

Yesterday I headed over to a Deviant Art cosplay picnic dressed as Ritsuka from Loveless.

A friend of mine dressed as Rit-chan's evil brother, Seimei, and a couple of her friends dressed as another Rit-chan, Soubi and Yamato.

There was a mini photo shoot in Hyde Park and then we all trekked over to Tokyo Toys for Pocky and more cosplay madness.

I was given chocolate by the very lovely Finlay who was Haruhi for the day and was seriously glomped by Teal Pirate (which I didn't mind- hugs are nice!) and met a rather wonderfully dressed Neko Naruto a.k.a Battle Royale Girl.

Even met a guy dressed as Yuki from Gravitation and it was the first time I ever met a guy who was into this series which surprised him.

Then we wandered about Chinatown and the dilemma of what to eat where we realised how overpriced everything was and ducked into quite possibly the tiniest Chinese restaurant I have ever been in for some grub.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

My article in The Daily Telegraph

For many months now, I have been blogging about money and today is a special day for me as my journalism debut appeared in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

It's an article about how I paid off my £11,000 student loan in less than two years with my tips on how to pay your loan back faster.

It was hard work but I wanted to show other students that debt is not something you have to put up with and for anyone who is in debt at the moment, student or otherwise, that there is a way to improve your situation.

The other story which ran with my piece revealed that the government is now clamping down on students who are not making payments which is worrying.

It's a lot of money to be hanging over your head when you graduate and I'm sure many students will be bewildered about how they will pay it back.

I recently did some vox pops around campus and many students had no idea the estimated length of time for repayments is predicted to be 16 years for women and 11 years for men.

All had no idea that the interest rate on their loans have recently doubled.

My worry is that today's students will become tomorrow's generation debt.

I'd never imagined I'd see my name in print whilst I was still a student but I'm hopeful that this is a good sign of things to come.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Time Travel TV

It was with much joy and amusement that I read an article about time travel TV shows.

As a kid, I was totally hooked on sci-fi shows and one of my all time favourites included Quantum Leap, where Dr Sam Beckett leapt through time to do right what once went wrong.

He is by far the best do-gooder along with his trusty companion Al, a hologram from his own time.

I have seen all but two episodes, the one where lightening strikes and Al and Sam switch places and one other that I can't remember.

But why does sci-fi have this long running fascination with time travel?

I think it's because we are all human and we make mistakes that we would like to correct, or perhaps we are just nosey and want to know what the future is like.

My current favourite time traveller is Hiro from Heroes, an office geek, who has by far the show's coolest power to bend space and time.

At first thrilled by his ability, Hiro learns the awful lesson that sometimes people can't be saved, but his doubts eventually lead him to become a stronger person and he eventually steps in to the true role of who he has to become.

And that is what makes sci-fi so exciting, the way Sam from Quantum Leap finds himself in often challenging situations and yet he still believes he can make a positive difference to someone else's life.

If more people were like that, then we wouldn't need super heroes anymore, the world would be filled with ordinary heroes every day.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Indian Food in twenty minutes! ... Impossible?

Earlier today my mum was making a fuss about how you can make Indian Food in less than twenty minutes.

I was like: you're joking, right?

Indian food is notoriously known for taking absolutely ages to make and is often complicated with lots of spices, I know this because of the many hours my mum spends in the kitchen making those tasty biryani dishes.

So it was with shock and some surprise that I let her drag me in front of the TV.

There's a series on called Indian Food Made Easy and I was surprised how the chef, Anjum Anand, was able to conjure up dishes so quickly.

I think she will become known as the Asian Nigella Lawson, which is not a bad thing.

Somehow my mum has roped me in to buying Anjum's book, but I think this may be her attempt to pull me away from writing and get me to help her out in the kitchen.

So if I suddenly stop blogging, you will know why - I will be trapped in the kitchen, never to return...

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Student Money Saving Tips

I stumbled across this video recently and I thought I would let more people know about it.

Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert fame gave a talk to students (and their parents) about how to save money.

I think all universities should give this type of lecture to new students to prepare them for the money side of student life.

He runs an excellent website, hence why I have provided a link on the right, but what he does well is explain money matters in a clear and easy way.

The video is just under half an hour, so I will keep today's blog short and let Martin do the talking.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

A day full of surprises

Sometimes being a journalism student can be tough.

Today I had three people rip my work apart, by the time it got to the third person, I don't think I even blinked - there could have been a hurricane in the room next door and I wouldn't have even flinched.

It was mostly about learning a very hard lesson and realising that perhaps there are weaknesses that I need to improve.

So instead of sitting there dumbfounded, I asked why.

And surprisingly, hearing their comments, there was a little part of me that felt, you know what, what they have just said is actually true.

Rejection, disappointment is part of journalism and a teacher had mentioned to me earlier today that you need a very thick skin to survive.

I think my skin grew a little thicker today.

But just as I thought this was the worst day I have had in a long time, I was told some rather surprising news.

And somehow the worst day turned in to the best day.

I can't tell everyone the exciting news just yet, but I will let you all know on Saturday!

That's the only clue you are going to get.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Kosovo and drawing maps

I have always been fond of atlases and it was my fascination with identity and history that led me to study politics as an undergraduate.

Kosovars have recently been celebrating their independence but what price freedom?

Freedom is always costly, paid with bloodshed and war, a longing to have a country of your own is what kept the Kosovars fighting.

Similarly, the thought of their country dividing is what kept Serbians fighting back.

Once again the maps of Europe will be re-drawn but what challenges will a new country have to face?

Watching the news, reminded me of a scene from Kino'o Journey where the heroine visits a country which has no traditions, so they keep creating new one's, unaware that their tradition is to always create new traditions.

So how will Kosovo create their new identity? As it’s a new country, it will not have the long-standing histories or cultures of their neighbours, but I think they have a rare opportunity: the chance to create something new starting from scratch.

A new identity with a brighter direction for the future.

There are not many countries in this world that can have that blessing.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Save money without really trying

A lot of my student friends are counting the pennies at the moment but it is possible to save money without really trying.

If the thought of a budget scares you, try these easy ways to save money instead:

1) Become a swapaholic - If you've been spending too much money lately start saving on everything you buy.

The next time you are in a supermarket and you pick up an item of food, see if there's a cheaper version on the shelves.

Making simple swaps on every day items can save an extra 10% on your shopping bill.

2) Never pay full price - With the internet only a click away, it's become that much easier to find the cheapest CDs and DVDs, so always check out price comparison websites such as Kelkoo and PriceRunner.

3) Make the most of free entertainment - A friend of mine borrows DVDs from our university which costs nothing to hire or if a friend of yours has bought the latest blockbusters, be cheeky and ask if you can borrow them.

If you live in a big city, there is usually something on that's free, for example the Metro newspaper in London always has a small section on a free thing to do in London every week day.

4) If you can't buy it, win it! - I have recently become addicted to entering competitions and sites like Loquax make finding the prize you want that much easier.

I'm currently on a mission to win an iPod nano, wish me luck!

5) Return unwanted goods - We've all done it, bought something because it looks cute or cool.

Everyone falls prey to the 'I want it!' syndrome, but honestly ask yourself, do you really need it?

If the answers no, pack it up and send it back, I recently returned a top and my bank balance is £30 happier for it.

For more tips, check out this article on painless ways to save $1,000.

'Gas' explosion in pictures

Fourth storey flat blown apart in suspected gas explosion in Annan Court, Harrow yesterday.

Six fire engines arrived on the scene around 8.00am, but up to 30 fire fighters remained hours later.

View from behind the flats: collapsing tiles, structural damage including what's left of the roof.

What you first see as you approach the residential area which was cordoned off by police and up to 40 people were evacuated to a nearby community centre.

Friday, 15 February 2008

'Gas' explosion in Harrow

I was on my way in to university this morning but I never made it to my shorthand class, I was stopped by students from my course on the main road just before the campus.

Apparently there had been a suspected gas explosion in south Harrow and students from both the print and broadcast pathways were going to cover the story.

Jumping on a local bus, all we knew was that at around 8am this morning an explosion had gone off at some flats, the roof had been blown off and the street had been cordoned off.

40 people had been evacuated, one badly hurt and 30 fire fighters had been on the scene earlier that day.

This was my first piece of live local reporting.

The first challenge was finding the right road and armed with an A-Z we trudged along in the biting cold to find the place.

Getting on the scene, we smelt the smoke before we saw the rubble, there were lots of fire engines.

While the broadcast students interviewed the lead fire-officer, me and my classmate Victoria went to get eye witness accounts.

The first person we spoke to was an old man who claimed not to have heard anything, which surprised us, but heading over to the community centre we spotted a man outside and interviewed him, he actually lives under the apartment that was blown to bits.

Next Victoria went in to the community centre hoping to speak to a family, but she only made it to the front desk and was told journalists are not allowed in and told not to interview the local residents.

It was a good job we had already spoken to the resident earlier.

We then met a couple who live in a nearby road and the husband had been praying when he heard the explosion.

There were a couple of other journalists on the scene, all in all, people were generally helpful and the locals were helping each other out.

It's good to see community spirit isn't dead.

I took lots of pictures and was amazed at the damage, I will upload photo's on to my blog tomorrow.

The write up of the story will appear on Westminster News Online, my university's journalism website on Monday.

Today was a great experience of really working out there in the field, we were totally frozen by the time we left but it's good to be writing about a story that is appearing in the national news.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The hardest part of being a journalist

This thought has been in my mind for a while lately.

I recently interviewed a cancer patient and it was hard interviewing him, but I decided to do it precisely because I knew it was going to be tough- I wanted to see if I could do it.

I wanted to know where his hope comes from but I knew that I would have to ask some difficult questions, but of course these questions often bring about difficult answers.

As I'm still young, I naively asked if anything good has come out of his situation and he replied no, apparently in most cases, cancer has torn many families apart.

This was hard for me to take, I still believe in the world, but what do you do when you can do nothing?

Afterwards when I got home I pretended that everything was okay.

But this act only lasted for two days.

I was watching a sad film, Babel, and I think I just needed an excuse to cry.

For the next few days, I avoided my notebook; I think my heart was saddened.

But yesterday I took a deep breath and typed up the interview.

It was only when I treated it like a normal piece of writing that I could express his words on the page and it was then that it hit me that he had been so open to me and it was my duty to write his words as best as I could.

An old journalism teacher of mine who I greatly respect, worked on the news desk of a national newspaper for many years and day after day all he covered was murder and rape.

He once told me that eventually it had an effect on him and he knew he had to change something so he decided to leave.

I have always admired his honesty and frankness when he spoke to me, because this is the side of journalism that even journalists don't talk about.

I kept thinking, if I was less human, maybe it would be easier to write this. But don't you need to care about the world, in order to write about it?

Empathy is perhaps my greatest strength and my greatest weakness.

But just like there is sadness in this world, there is also hope.

Don’t you need testing times like these in order to know what's worth believing in?

I choose hope.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Could you survive on a state pension?

As a young person, retirement feels like something far away but today I was intrigued by an article about one women's challenge to live on a state pension.

Reading the account really made me realise about the poor lifestyle many pensioners are facing, their pension is barely enough to live off, but just imagine what it will be like when the younger generation will eventually grow old, we will barely have anything, one thing's for certain we can't rely on the state pension.

Walking around town it made me look at youth differently, seeing women with shopping bags in their hands, I never really thought it possible, but maybe you can shop your life away.

My mum once volunteered at a day centre for the elderly and after a week it brought her to tears: seeing the elderly lonely and essentially abandoned, she told me one story about a man who was put in a nursing home and his son bought him a mobile phone to stay in touch but he never visits.

Crying he told her all he wants is to see his son's face.

Seeing this, my mum was worried that this could be her one day, but we assured her, she's stuck with her kids whether she likes it or not!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Beauty solutions without the high price tag

Looking beautiful can cost a lot of money but sometimes the cheap products can work just as well as the more pricier ones so today’s blog is all about cheap beauty products and other surprising tips:

1) Blast away acne - Most of us thought we would escape spots after our teen years but adult acne is on the rise, so instead of buying expensive spot creams dab on a tiny bit of toothpaste and leave it on overnight, but as this can be drying only do this occasionally.

Other things to try include a deep cleansing face mask, but don't fork out a lot of money, buy a cheap 99p face mask from the chemist, mud masks are good at drawing out impurities and anything with tea tree or witch hazel is good for blemished skin.

2)Taming frizz - Has your hair suddenly gone frizzy just before you step out the door? Rather than buying an expensive hair serum, using a little leave in conditioner, warm between your hands and pat over your hair.

Frizzy hair tends to lack moisture, so once a week use a deep conditioning hair mask but instead of spending lots of money head to your nearest Indian grocery store and pick up a bottle of almond oil.

Deeply nourishing, I have found this works better than expensive hair products, massage a small amount into the scalp half an hour before a bath, or if you can leave on for up to an hour to get the most benefit and shampoo and condition as normal.

I have found oils are more moisturising than creams and doing this once a week keeps my hair in tip top shape.

3) A soak in the tub - Bath products can be really pricey but you may not know that foaming bubble baths use detergents and can actually strip moisture away from the skin, so instead switch to herbal bath salts which last a long time, or alternatively, use a few drops of an aromatherapy oil such as lavender into a warm running bath, both are a good way to unwind after a long day.

4) Body moisturizers - Classic brands such as Nivea or Vaseline are just as good as luxury brands, its worth giving yourself a body massage with baby oil once a week letting the oil sink in before a bath.

5) Face moisturizers – Adverts may try to convince us that the latest creams can work miracles but really it’s about finding products that works well for your skin but as long as you use a face cream that protects against the sun during the day, and a nourishing night cream as the skin repairs itself when you sleep, you really can’t go wrong!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Valentine’s Day on a budget

We will spend £38,000 in our lifetimes chasing love according to a recent YouGov survey, which means if you are planning to buy a present later on this week, you may be left with an empty wallet.

So for today’s blog, here are my best tips on how to cut the cost this Valentine’s day:

1) Say it with flowers – Roses are the traditional flowers of love but have you asked your girlfriend/wife what’s her favourite flower? If its not roses, find out what is and buy those instead as the price of roses will quadruple in the run up to the big day.

Or even better, do you have roses in your garden? Snip the flowers, wrap in a sheet of tissue paper and tie with a bow you can buy at any haberdashery.

2) A romantic meal – Eating out can cost a lot, so why not make a meal at home, there are plenty of good websites out there for tasty meals with step by step guidelines so try these Valentine’s Day’s recipes.

3) Something sweet – Chocolate is another gift exchanged at Valentines but why not try this instead: Buy good quality cooking chocolate from the supermarket, break into pieces into a bowl and melt the chocolate by placing the bowl over boiling water.

Dip your favourite fruits into the chocolate and place on greaseproof paper to cool, cherries and strawberries are especially good.

4) Alternative gifts – If you are really strapped for cash consider alternative gifts:
- Give your partner an aromatherapy message
- Run a bubble bath, with fresh towels and light a few tea lights in the bathroom
- Bake a cake or novelty cookies
- An I.O.U booklet with simple suggestions, such as a secret date on the weekend, indoor picnic or a blank cheque which the recipient can fill in

5) There are all kinds of love in this world – Lastly, I wanted to mention although it’s romantic love that is celebrated on Valentine’s day, don’t forget there are different kinds of love in this world and what’s more important than having a big wallet is an even bigger heart.

So think of small ways to show you care to family and friends and here’s how:
- Send an e-card to your friends to say you think they are great mates
- Ring your parents or send a thank you card for being great parents, they won’t expect it so it will be a nice surprise
- For one day donate the spare change in your pocket to charity

Everything I have learnt from manga

I have learnt a lot about life by reading manga, so today's blog is a collection of quotes from some of my favourite characters:

1) Just like there is darkness in the world, there is also hope

"Back then, I pretended not to understand you... but deep down inside I knew. Really. I knew. Just like there is despair in the world... there are people... who will hold out their hand to you."

Kyo Sohma, Fruits Basket, Volume 11

2) One day your flaws will make you a strong person

"There aren't any real 'strong' people in the world. If you can see those parts of you that you find lacking, and accept them as a part of you..., in a way, that's being strong."

Yaya Higuchi, Othello, Volume 7

3) Sometimes you have to fight your battles alone

"What good is worrying gonna do? People have to overcome their obstacles on their own. Isn't that when they really need a person by their side to support them?"

Hokuto Umeda, Hana Kimi, Volume 2

4) Life is... I'll let you make your own mind up about this one

"Life is about the struggle before you disappear. It's about striving. You're not the only one who will eventually disappear Ritsuka-kun."

We will all eventually disappear.

Katsuko sensei, Loveless, Volume 2

5) The world isn't perfect, but there is more than just darkness

"It's true. This isn't a world enveloped in light, And yet... there's more to it than that. The world is more than darkness, it isn't only black."

Yuki Sohma, Fruits Basket, Volume 15

Saturday, 9 February 2008

The boy who could fly

I've recently become hooked on Air Gear, which has surprised me as its a boys manga, but once you get past the fan service, it's actually a really good series.

Tearaway punk Ikki is the kingpin in his neighbourhood gang but menacing cloaked figures look as if they will steal his glory and his patch.

Introduce a pair of Air Treks, a cooler version of roller blades and Ikki can now take to the skies, seriously, only an anime could make inline skating cool.

If only they could do the same for ice-skating.

But watching Ikki soar through the sky makes me want to spike my hair and get a cool pair of sunglasses, somehow his brat-ish nature appeals to me and he's the kind of lovable tyke you both want to kick and hug.

Reading the manga and Ikki's own observations that he can now fly like a bird, reminds me of the opening sequence to I.N.V.U and it got me thinking about freedom, in the classroom Ikki is, frankly, not too bright, but put on a pair of cool skates and he's the local hero with that cheeky smile.

I would love a pair of magic shoes like that.

Which reminded me, when I was little there was this advert for these black and red trainers which could make you go faster, all to the funky song which goes, "You've got the power..." - Okay, it may sound naff now, but I really believed it, whenever I put on those sneakers, to me at least, I felt I could run faster than any kid in my class.

Oh, the power of advertising!

I still miss those trainers, if there were a pair of shoes that could make me fly the way Ikki does, I would buy them.

Friday, 8 February 2008

J - dramas: The crazy world of Hana Kimi

Bored of TV? Try watching a Japanese drama instead.

I recently saw Hana Kimi, a J-drama about a girl from America, Mizuki, who goes back to Japan so that she can meet her favourite athlete, Sano, but there's a catch, he goes to a boy's school.

Cue lots of cross-dressing, an awkward love triangle and what you get is probably the craziest show that I have seen in a long time.

I mean, how often do you see boy cheerleaders?


If it all sounds silly and highly irrelevant, it is - but that's what makes it so much fun, watching Mizuki trying to keep her gender secret unaware that Sano already knows, is half the fun, the other half of comedy comes from a great supporting cast including the gay school doctor and the other school kids themselves.

It's not intelligent, it won't change your life, but it is funny.

The story focuses on Mizuki as she discovers that Sano, once the top youth high jumper in Japan has given up the sport he loves, so its up to Mizuki to change his mind.

Hana Kimi is about friendship, love, overcoming obstacles in life and well... just having more fun!

Adapted from the manga, I've never figured out why this series was never turned in to an anime, but this drama more than compensates, it is shamelessly bishonen, brash but forever entertaining.

Hana Kimi was one of the first manga series I started reading and with only two volumes to go in the West, it will be sadly missed, but not all manga needs to be philosophical or earth shattering, sometimes, cute and silly is good enough.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Catboys and cosplay

Okay, it was going to happen, I've been blogging about J-Culture all this week so the catboys/shonen-ai/Boys Love post was bound to happen.

Two years ago my world was tuned upside down by one manga, Loveless by Yun Kouga, I bought the first volume not really prepared for what was inside, reading it I noticed that half the cast had cat ears and tails, I mean - what the heck?!

It was the first time I was introduced to the Neko concept, where manga characters have cat like characteristics but in the Loveless world it represents something else too: the role of sex in society – those without the ears and tails are no longer virgins and considered to be grown-ups, so it becomes a telling sign of the characters love lives, especially the 23 year old teacher, Hitomi, who still has her ears, which causes much gossip and mocking.

Ritsuka, Loveless’s leading cat boy, although still a child is more grown up than most of the adult characters, traditionally the feline features accentuate his child-like nature, perhaps indicating innocence, but the Loveless world is a dark one, Ritsuka is suffering physical abuse at the hands of his mother, so perhaps his cat ears might symbolise innocence in a world where there is none.

Loveless is a shonen-ai/Boys Love manga, not to be confused with the more graphic yaoi, critics could easily write off Loveless on this basis alone, but this is easy labelling, and if it wasn’t for the dark complex storyline, I would be inclined to agree, but so far I have been kept at the very edge of my seat, with Yun Kouga’s clever storytelling.

Feline characters are quite common in manga and there is a growing fascination with catboys/catgirls by the manga reading community in the UK.

I asked my cosplay friend who dresses up as a catboy just why she does it and her response was because, “being neko is cool.”

From my own observations at anime expo’s, females often cosplay as male characters, to better understood this I asked one of my female friends why she does this and her response was:

“Women like to create the ideal, ‘I-wish-he-existed,’ guy thus role plays/cosplays as them. Then we can totally recreate our moe 100% rather than look at a real guy and go, ‘Oh if only he was....,’ It's kinda like recreating a fantasy.”

And it is perhaps the fantasy element that makes cosplay so popular, thousands descend on the London anime expo every year wearing their hand made costumes bringing their favourite characters to life.

Going Harajuku...

Recently my style is going all Harajuku, so today's blog is all about Harajuku fashion and the culture that has emerged from that area.

Back in the 90s the photographer, Shoichi Aoki, started taking pictures of young Tokyo urbanites in Harajuku and noticed that instead of following Western fashions these kids were taking traditional Japanese elements and re-inventing their own look and these photo's led him to creating FRUiTS, the seminal street fashion zine.

That was the 90s and fast forward to today, where Harajuku is more known for Gothic Lolita's, Visual Kei and the more outrageous cosplay styles, but having a flick through, The Tokyo Look Book, I began to realise there is so much more: music, culture and a different way to live.

Whilst the fashion element of Harajuku has been well documented, there isn't much out there about understanding Harajuku which is the other reason why I'm jumping on a plane to Tokyo later this year, to find out for myself, just why these school kids are one person six days a week but someone entirely different come Sunday.

But despite this, speaking to other anime fans, all of them have admitted that a little bit of Harajuku has invaded their daily lives, whether you spike your hair that little bit more than usual or dress in DIY customized fashion, the influence of Harajuku is being felt over here.

My own wardrobe is now a mix of customized clothes from Uniqlo with a slightly anime edge and even I'm not entirely sure how I got there!

But for those of you who are interested in developing your own Harajuku style, check out this wikihow guide on how to dress Harajuku but above anything else it's about being an individual and creative with your style.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Anime Music Videos

As much as I love anime, how could I not resist anime music videos?

For those of you who don't know what these are, it's usually a fan made video with images from a popular anime sliced up with music and it's a way for fans to show their appreciation for the series they love.

Above is one of my favourites from a series called Fruits Basket which conveys the sadness and hope in the series so perfectly.

This video is made the traditional way, whilst below is a special treat for all you Furuba fans out there, a fan has made their own version of the opening with a little twist.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

An Cafe and the J-rock explosion

For one week only, my blog is going all J-rock, kicking off with the rather awesome An Cafe, I've just bought tickets to see Miku & Co. in March, so this video is a little reason why I like them so much - special thanks go to TRASHBAT for giving me a nudge in the right direction.

Over this week, I will be looking at some of the fun things I like about Japanese culture, with more multimedia clips so expect some noise!

Lately, more and more J-rockers are playing over here and I think their unique musical styles are a welcome change to the unsuspecting British public.

Whenever people ask me what bands I like, I now narrate a list of J-rock bands that they have never heard of and the reaction along with a blank face is now always, "Who?"

I can't even remember the last time I bought an English CD, but seriously, who needs Britpop when you have Gackt?

Watching the video I realised I've got the same kind of palm warmers that Miku wears and lately my style is going all Harajuku, but I'll talk about that in another blog this week.

The other J-rockers I go weak in the knees for are the mighty L'arc en Ciel, I still haven't heard their new album, but I've been a Hyde fan for a while now and it was their Awake album that got me into Japanese music.

Why Kino's my hero

Many of you will already know that I love the anime, Kino's Journey, but I decided to do this post because people don't seem to have heroes any more, everyone seems to like a crush, celebrity, or miscellaneous other and although she might be a hero of the animated kind, please indulge me as I explain why Kino is so important to me.

First off, she's a butt-kicking girl who rides a motorcycle, hell, I can barely ride a bike! I discovered this accidentally, when I decided to dig out the old bike in the shed last summer and to my horror realised my sense of balance was, how do I put this mildly... non-existent?

She's a traveller, so she has my dream job, okay, that's a lie, my dream job is to be a journalist, but traveller comes a close second- how many of us dream to just quit our lives, let alone our jobs and drift wherever the road will take us?

I know this all sounds like a romantic notion, but in an age where you can just jump on a plane and go anywhere, travelling has kind of lost it's nostalgic appeal and speaking Kino's own words: "Whenever I see a bird, I feels like going on a journey," and since hearing this phrase, it's a sentiment that I also feel.

But lets not dwell too much on this notion because the world where Kino travels in is a harsh one, full of tragedy and cruelty, but somehow despite all this she continues, to see the world in all it's ugly beauty.

I think Kino represents something important, that the world isn't perfect and the journey you take may change you, but if life is like a road which curves towards hope and away from sadness, then like Kino, I think we are all travellers.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

What to do in a recession: UK & USA analysis

It's been in the news that the economy may be facing a recession this year, jobs are being cut both here and in America and whilst it's early days and some critics are being sceptical saying, "What recession?" I feel it's never too early to save a little bit more money.

So today's blog is all about practical steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:

1) Top up your savings - Start putting more money into easy access savings just in case you need to get to your money in a hurry.

If you have money tied up in long-term accounts, check with your provider to find out if there are any penalties for taking out money early and jot all of these details in a file.

2) Have an emergency fund - Normally people suggest keeping three months wages in an account as a back up but newspapers are now suggesting stretching this to six months to be on the safe side.

3) Do you have mortgage/job protection cover? - What would you do if you lost your job tomorrow? I know this is a hard question, but this is something everyone needs to think about and make preparations for just in case.

4) Save money by spending less - If you don't have emergency savings start saving today and the most easiest way to do this is to spend a little less on the every day things, here are some of my tips below:

- Use a weekly grocery shopping list to do your food shopping, write everything you buy, now cut out all the frozen food you buy, any luxuries that you can do without and look for deals in the supermarket, this is the quick way to save £15 a week.

- Stop buying new clothes for one month, chances are you already have all the clothes you need, buy accessories instead, which will modernise any outfit.

- Sell your clutter, everyone has stuff lying around the house they don't use, either sell it online or at a car boot sale.

- Only buy toiletries when you need to, especially make up, use a make up palette to mix shades to create a new colour instead of buying a new one.

- Give up one hobby for a while, such as clubbing or going to the movies and put the money in a jar to see just how much you have really been spending.

For more advice check out this article on how to survive a recession, and for those of you in America, here is one woman's tips on how to save more money.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Behind the scenes at a magazine

For the last three weeks I have been on a work experience placement at Zest, a health and fitness magazine, so today I thought I would blog about my experience and some of the amusing things I did:

· I got to try on this summer's designer sunglasses and I'm happy to report that tinted shades are very much back in fashion, along with bug eyed sunglasses(?)

· Handled some extremely expensive jewellery, I was horrified at the price tag and no I'm not going to tell you how much it was worth, I will leave that to your imagination.

· Interviewed a hypnotherapist and a life coach, which was both fun and very interesting.

· Researched topics about the brain and picked up some tips on how to remember names.

· Even wrote about a super famous celebrity, Heidi Klum.

· Discovered the book I had been kicking under my desk for the last three weeks was in fact a money saving book for women - I think there's irony in there somewhere...

· Nibbled on healthy munchies, my favourite being vanilla flavoured pumpkin seeds.

· Given this amazing goody bag as a thank you for all my hard work, which was a lovely surprise.

For those of you who would like to read my work, my stories will be appearing in the May issue of Zest.