Though you could make the argument that a majority of 21st-century kids (or adults, for that matter) couldn't find Japan on an unlabeled map of the world, that doesn't stop them from looking to the East for their animation. The popularity of anime, the Japanese form of animation influenced by the comic genre Manga, is something of a phenomenon among American teens. And whether you're late to the party or fully up to speed, Japan's hottest export of the moment awaits you at the Stars and Stripes Animefest, taking place from 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, July 29, at Atomic Comics' Metrocenter location, 10215 North 28th Drive. Anime will be featured on the big screen all night long, but this is an anime-fest, after all, so the fun only begins on-screen. Try your hand in a drawing competition, or suit up as your favorite anime character and vie for the top spot in a cosplay (costume play) contest, worth $100 to the winner. Admission is free. Call 602-395-1066 or visit www.atomiccomics.com. -- Craig Wallach
Exhibition of auto drawings
Few things are more American than the need for speed. Of course, a healthy imagination is one of them. And on Thursday, July 28, Mesa's Into the Bean Coffee Shop at 1710 West Southern puts both on display with an exhibition of graphite renderings by Karl Miller -- a man so freakin' American, he left his mother's womb on the Fourth of July, 66 years ago. Miller's show, "A Century of Acceleration," includes drawings of "high performance vehicles that made the world's heart race," including a 1925 Model T, a '63 Corvette, and "the latest in heart-pounding modern street machines." A meet-and-greet reception with Miller begins at 7:30 p.m. The show continues through August 24. Call 480-890-0579 or see www.intothebean.com. -- Joe Watson
Feels like the first time
If you hear the term "standup" and walk out, maybe it's time for a different kind of comedy, one that caters to short attention spans and celebrates spontaneity. Every week, the nine players in The Originals, the Valley's newest improvisational comedy troupe, walk into Mardi Gras Comedy Club in Scottsdale without the faintest idea of what they're going to do. "The audience really dictates what we do during a given performance," says artistic director Stacey Reed. "We ask for suggestions, interview audience members, and sometimes even bring them up on stage." The troupe takes the audience's suggestions and molds them into short-form improv (à la Whose Line Is It Anyway?), long-form improv (similar to HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm), and edgy comic sketches in the spirit of Saturday Night Live, to produce what founder Matt Rosin calls "smart, powerful, uncensored comedy." Wing it with The Originals every Sunday night at 8 at 8040 East McDowell in Scottsdale. Admission costs $8. Call 480-970-5707. -- Niki D'Andrea
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Puttin' on the Ritz
Forget jockeying with other drivers for parking spaces that offer but a thin wisp of shade. The best way to cool down this summer may well be to crank up the heat by attending the "Sizzlin' Salsa Party" hosted by KJZZ-FM 91.5 on Thursday, July 28, at the Ritz-Carlton, 2401 East Camelback. The fiesta features the Latin music of the Pan American Salsa and Merengue Orchestra, a 10-piece jazz band heavy on brass and percussion that promises to send the heat index soaring starting at 7 p.m. Don't fret if your knowledge of salsa doesn't extend beyond a jar of La Victoria; the party features free dance lessons and demonstrations by a professional dance troupe. Tickets cost $25 to $30. Call 480-774-8450. -- Douglas Towne
Go for the record
Sometime in the '80s, cassettes did what the eight-tracks failed to do: They started replacing vinyl records in our music collections. Now, CDs have monopolized the market, but out of all the archaic audio formats, the vinyl record endures for music enthusiasts and collectors. Some people just like holding a record, dropping the needle and hearing the crackle of days gone by. And whether you're looking for some old, slightly worn jazz records at a penny a pop or expensive first-pressings, you'll enjoy rummaging through the discs at the RARE (Really Avid Record Enthusiasts) Record Swap Meet, taking place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, July 30, at the Arizona American Italian Club, 7509 North 12th Street. Admission costs $5 the first half-hour, and $2 after. Visit www.rare-az.org. -- Aaron Burckle