Behind the Wheel: 2010 Chrysler Town & Country

Recently I had a chance to spend some extended time (nearly 2 weeks) driving around the desert southwest (Nevada, Arizona, Utah) in a 2010 Chrysler Town & Country (with the Touring package).

Now, I’m not normally very fond of minivans personally, but I can appreciate them for what they are – very practical vehicles. And in this case, a minivan was exactly what we needed.

We had 4 people, two of whom had just flown in from Australia, so they had all of their luggage for a 6-week stay in the US with them. So we needed a car that could fit all of that luggage, as well as seat all 4 of us comfortably for the very long drives between various national parks we’d be visiting.

So, it was with all that in mind that I rented a minivan, and the 2010 Chrysler Town & Country is what we ended up with.

Now, on paper it seems like this should be a very respectable vehicle – but, as is so often the case, reality turned out to be somewhat different.

Now, in the sense of giving us plenty of room for luggage and people, the Town & Country did not disappoint. We easily fit 4 huge suitcases in the back (the 3rd row seats fold flat into the floor, a very neat trick) along with 2 big carry-on bags and various other stuff we picked up along the way (e.g., a huge pack of bottled water to keep us all hydrated in the dry desert). There was also plenty of space for the 4 of us, and we each got captain-style chairs which were very comfortable.

However, the driving experience was less than I expected – and I didn’t expect too much, given that this is a minivan, after all.

For one thing, the engine seemed to be a very bad match for such a heavy vehicle (4,507 pounds). While it was a 3.8L V6, it only put out 197 hp and it only reached that maximum horsepower at a very high 5200 RPM.

The transmission was also a source of frustration the whole trip – it was a very nice 6-speed automatic, but the V6 engine has such a narrow power band that even on the mostly flat roads we drove on, it was constantly switching gears, just to keep us moving at a constant speed.

And although the engine delivered impressive power, it did so when we least needed it – for example, at very low speeds. It was very easy to “surge” forward when pulling away from a stop, but on the highway when you needed to pass a slow-moving trailer (as you often do on the long single-lane state highways out there) you really had to mash your foot down into the floor.

And speaking of the long drives we had to make – although the passengers were very comfortable, as a driver I found it a bit annoying that all you have is the little captain’s chair-style armrests. You can’t even really lean your arm on the window – the van is so wide that the door is just too far away from where you are sitting in the driver’s chair.

All-in-all, although the Town & Country had the space we needed, it was not in any way a pleasure to drive. It really seems to have been designed to appeal to people who don’t like driving, rather than people who do. So, I guess if that’s you, then you’ll be happy with this minivan.

Keith’s Anime Reviews: Samurai Champloo

fuu from samurai champlooSamurai Champloo: a samurai-style anime with 2 insanely powerful swordsmen, a cute girl (and her cute pet squirrel), filled with (sometimes not-so-subtle) modern-day references, set to rap and hip-hop music.

This is a show that is made of awesome and win.

Samurai Champloo alternates between hilarious and fun and deadly serious and action-packed, sometimes in the very same scene! It is quite literally one of the most enjoyable anime series I have ever watched.

Surprisingly for such an action-packed show, Samurai Champloo also has its moments of depth – the characters all have complicated lives that brought them into the situation of the show, and throughout the series these back-stories are explored bit by bit… but never too much at once. You only really learn all about the characters at the very end of the series, when all the pieces fall into place.

But don’t let the exploration of the characters back-story distract you from the fun, often odd-ball quirkiness that this series is just chock-full of. From the goofy Dutch guy to the bunch of teens doing graffiti to the game of NINJA BASEBALL – this series loves to let loose with some truly entertaining insanity.

That said, the plot does move a bit slowly in this series, so casual viewers might feel a little lost by the end. So while I wouldn’t recommend this series to absolutely everyone, it is a superb show that I think anyone can (and probably should) enjoy.

p.s. If you enjoy Samurai Champloo, you’ll probably also enjoy its spiritual sibling, Cowboy Bebop.

Keith’s Anime Reviews: Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop - See you, space cowboyCowboy Bebop: an anime set in the future, with a sort of sci-fi/western thing going on, set to jazz music.

What more could you want?

How about beautiful animation that completely fits with the tone of the story? Or characters that seem “real” instead of just cardboard-cut outs of your standard character archetypes that are so common in lots of shows and movies? Or a truly fascinating story that explores the backgrounds of the main characters, as well as dipping into some truly deep and thoughtful territory?

Maybe the fact that this is set in the future has scared you off, or perhaps you just don’t like sci-fi. Well, don’t let that stop you from enjoying this anime – you could just as easily set this story in the old west and it would (largely) hold up just as well.

Oh sure, there’s a few downsides – the “fan service” we tend to get from Faye Valentine can kind of seem out of place at times, and a couple of stories don’t hold up as well as the others, but honestly these are very minor quibbles.

All-in-all, Cowboy Bebop is an immensely enjoyable show, which I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone, whether they be a fan of anime or not.

p.s. If you enjoy Cowboy Bebop, you’ll probably also enjoy its spiritual sibling, Samurai Champloo.

Keith’s Anime Reviews: Macross Plus

Think of this as being like Top Gun, but… IN SPACE!!! (Actually, very little of the show takes place in space – it’s more like Top Gun with planes that ALSO TRANSFORM INTO ROBOTS!!!) Given this description, how can you not think this is awesome??

Macross Plus is a little bit odd in that it’s not really a series, but not really a movie either. Perhaps you would call it an OVA? Released on 2 DVDs and covering 4 episodes, it sort of straddles the line between a feature-length movie and a TV series. Be that as it may, it’s still an incredibly good show.

There is a much larger mythos surrounding the “Macross” name which I only understand in the most general sense. However, understanding that mythos isn’t really necessary to enjoy Macross Plus.

The basic premise is easy to understand: in the future, on a different planet, the military is testing two new prototype fighters. The two test pilots turn out to know each other – they grew up together – but there is some sort of bad memory between the two that causes them to be very competitive with one another. On top of that, there’s their love of the same woman – a love triangle which is also complicated by their shared past.

Although set in a fictional future on a fictional planet, you could almost ignore the futuristic setting of the story and set it in the present day and it would still work just as well (though probably with less of the cool fight scenes and awesome special effects). Because of this, it’s the story itself which carries this show rather than the setting – and that speaks volumes about the quality of the story.

It’s because of the strong story that I highly recommend Macross Plus. It is a fantastic action movie in its own right, beautifully animated and highly entertaining, with a strong story and just the right amount of mystery and romance mixed in to make it appealing in the same way as many summer blockbuster movies. Unless you have an aversion to action films, you should give Macross Plus a try – it’s well worth it.

Keith’s Anime Reviews: Eureka 7

I’m very conflicted on how I feel about Eureka 7 – I’m not sure if I love it, or if I hate it.

On the surface at least, it seems TOTALLY AWESOME. I mean, c’mon, giant robots (that transform!) and also can fly/surf in the sky, a huge cast of colorful characters with enigmatic back stories, and a mysterious girl. What more could you ask for?

Actually, come to think of it, this plot seems oddly familiar:

  • Ragtag bunch of people
  • On a ship
  • Frequently living on the edge (no money)
  • Taking somewhat shady jobs (crime)
  • Evading the military/government
  • Captain of the ship is ex-military
  • 2nd in command is also ex-military, and used to serve with the captain, and is also a girl
  • Slightly odd young girl with mysterious past on board
  • Slightly naive boy who wants to protect the girl

Hmmm, yeah, where have I heard this before? *cough* Firefly/Serenity *cough*

Anyway, as I was saying – on the surface, this show seems like a total winner. It also doesn’t hurt that it has some absolutely monumental music – the theme music for the “Nirvash” (one of the big robots) is absolutely epic.

Once you get a little bit deeper into the show, however, things become a little less awesome.

Renton our main character is frequently a bit whiny and awkward and at times you just want to reach through the screen and slap him (hmmm… again, this sounds really familiar… *cough* Shinji from Evangelion *cough*).

Near the end of the series things also get a bit weird – as in, totally off-the-rails weird. At least in my opinion, the believability of the story takes a hit very near the end of the series – as if the writers were just more interested in making bigger, weirder, more unexpected things happen, rather than actually having a coherent story.

Although I think the show suffers for it, and it may leave you feeling a bit disappointed by the time you get to the end, there are other moments that do redeem this series. It has its share of truly heartfelt moments, and the characters really are quite colorful and interesting – undoubtedly at some point you will wish you could live on a big flying ship/plane/thing like the Gecko!

So, in the end, Eureka 7 is a show that gives me mixed feelings – but that doesn’t mean I won’t watch it again. And I guess that means I recommend you give it a watch as well.

p.s. Even though I know the character Eureka’s name is pronounced in-show as “el-wreck-ah,” instead of “you-reek-ah,” I still pronounce the show’s name as “you-reek-ah” 7, and nobody is going to stop me. So there.