Roughing it, Con style
Or how to enter a dealer's room and leave empty-handed
After a half-hour drive through Denver's notoriously slow traffic, I arrived at the Holiday Inn hosting Nan Desu Kan, Colorado's premiere anime convention. Now, in its eighth year, the convention has a projected attendance of 3,250 and its program including: comics, kimonos, Japanese drums, karate, plus con staples like cosplay and AMVs. However, these things would have to wait for me because the press passes were in possession of the one man off-site right now; could I wait?
I have been to conventions before. I opened my book and found a nice corner to read in. At the very worst, I could write about life in the con ops room. Besides, these were my sort of folks, so much chuckling was had while waiting. Finally, I received my pass and went on the offensive. I had two hours until the opening ceremony, so I thought to take in a seminar on tea, and maybe watch some Nuku Nuku Dash in the video room. Fate thought otherwise; the tea class was cancelled (no one was there at fifteen minutes after the scheduled time), and the video screen was mysteriously blank. One other guy entering the room gave me the same look that I gave him; we immediately left. Seeing this as God's way of telling me to take in the Art and Model show, I went there.
It was rather quiet, but it was still very, very early at the convention. Artwork ranged from the professional art major level to sophomoric middle school doodles. The models -- which always impress me since I'd never have the patience (or skill) to make and paint one -- were just plain awesome. There was a particularly excellent one of Lilith from Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito, a newer series covered by Animefringe last year. As photography is forbidden in the art and model show (copyright of the artists), you'll just have to take my word for it or pray it wins a show award and gets featured on Nan Desu Kan's website.
I allowed myself to enter the dealer's room. The set-up looked pretty much the same from last year. I snagged a bag of freebies from Dreamworks' booth, where they were promoting: Shark Tale, Madagascar (an animated film with zoo animals coming out 2005; visually parallel to Father of the Pride), and, of course, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which opens in Denver tonight. One booth was having a 50% off manga sale (Patrick would have either dropped dead or charged his credit card to the limit); another had a 20% off manga and anime sale (quickly amended to 10% off new manga and anime). I might return to that stall on Saturday; it had several titles I wanted. In any case, I obeyed Matt's order of not to buy anything except Pocky. He knows me way too well... Furthermore, he wanted to have a look too. We both know that tomorrow and Sunday will be the big sale days. Today is mostly for the early birds and very otaku.
In any case, I was slightly peck-ish and went out to my car for dinner (I save money by making bagged lunches, though I'm not usually that meal-bound at cons). Next, a quick call home to let Matt know that I made it alive to Nan Desu Kan, and no, I did not crack down and go on a spree in the dealer's room. Call made, I waited for the opening ceremonies. Playing inside was Mirai Daiko, a Japanese drum group composed solely of women. Their first piece sounded akin to something would be played before the clash of battling armies. The second piece was more of a folk tune with dancing movement that reminded me of morris dancing. I guess the more cultures you see, the more they seem to be alike. They played a jazz piece that had a distinct driving rhythm, which I never expected to hear from Taiko drumming. Excellent drumming, overall.
Thus the ceremony began. It started off with a warning on wearing signs. Apparently, some underage kids decided to wear 'free kisses' signs; not a good idea at all. Also, some lazy or spur-of-the-moment cosplayers were wearing notebook paper signs saying, "This is a Backpack", et cetera. I'll admit that it takes away from home-sewn costumes. Yet, it was neat to see signs the first couple of times. After that it is merely a weekend fad.
The central part of the ceremony, however, was the introduction of convention guests. I will now conclude that all voice actors are insane, though I found the three Dobson brothers to be rather sexy. Too bad it looks like they are all taken. Alexandra Carter (who looks very different from her press photo), the only female voice actor present, told us that she just finished work on Trolls, an animated feature (not anime though), so keep your ears peeled for her!
Immediately afterward was the AKINA concert, opening with Kumiko Kato. During the rules reminder portion of the opening ceremony, the staff announced that all photography was forbidden, which made me feel sad, as I really wanted to takes some photos to accompany this article. Dejected, I took my bag (camera inside) back to the car and locked it up, keeping with me only my car keys, notepad, pen, and wallet. No use hauling stuff around that I cannot use. I had to smile when I walked past the dining room, where over-sized Wolfwood crosses and scythes stood propped up against their owner's tables. Where else would you see sights like this?
Naturally, during my absence, someone has taken my seat, so I found one near the back. While people fill up the room, I watched security personnel keeping the first three rows free of people (said rows reserved for dealers and special guests). I look at my press pass badge, and then look at security. Screw it! Can't hurt to try. I walk up and ask if press can sit here. No problem, and he steps aside. I plop down in a row entirely to myself, and, as Fate would have it, directly behind the Japanese management of AKINA and Kumiko Kato.
Now I must pause to confess that I love accessories. It's only the fear of looking un-cool that stops me from piling on some bling-bling. Therefore, having watch and cell phone envy is quite natural. I swear that whenever I find a way to Tokyo, I will go on the mother of all accessory-shopping trips. The woman in front of me looked like she had walked off the set of a live action Gravitation; she was that beautiful, stylized and sophisticated in her black dress with belts as sleeves and dyed red-blonde hair. She must be either a record label executive or AKINA's manager. My Gravi-loving heart demands it. During this waiting period, they announce a few times that no photography is allowed... except for pre-approved press. Well, shit. Now I know next time.
Finally, the concert began. Kumiko Kato came out wearing black pants, white go-go boots and a t-shirt with shoulder cutouts. I was instantly smitten by her charm and thought it was a shame Matt had to work and could not see her perform because he would love her too. Kumiko Kato is extremely perky, smiling constantly and psyching up the crowd in accented English. The skeptic in my brain kept telling me that she's only being a good singer, faking love for Denver and everyone there, but I really didn't care. I now understand how boys feel when they see a woman too beautiful and sincere for everyday reality.
Her beginning song, "I Feel the Same Way (Too)", was a happy and largely energetic number accented by a strong beat. Her second song -- if I understood Kumiko correctly -- is called "Summer Breeze" in Spanish, another upbeat love song. She has a smooth voice but projects rather strongly. Her dancing felt a little overdone at times, kind of creepy in that internet porn, glassy-eyed way, yet the crowd loved it. I was happy to see (and hear) that Kumiko can carry a sad, pleading love song just as well as a happy song. The crowd called for an encore, but sadly, opening acts don't do encores. I decided I must buy her album. Kumiko deserves to be an artist on her own right. She really connected with the audience, something that I look for in a good singer. Just about anyone can sing, but to touch other people... that is a professional.
After a brief intermission, AKINA came onstage with her two backup dancers. AKINA had a rather ...interesting... wardrobe, consisting of a navy blue corset top with black lace, black sweatpants with a silver stripe down the legs, a dark blue kilt, and she wore low pigtails. The backup dancers were in gangsta style, complete with bandanas and baseball caps. AKINA may be an acquired taste, since I did not enjoy her opening song. Then again, I don't like techno much and her voice, after Kumiko Kato's, sounded grating. I was able to deduce that the Gravi-savy lady in front of me (and the men on each side) was connected to AKINA by the fact that they kept doing the hand motions in synch with AKINA, as well as shouting encouragement. AKINA is tiny, but her voice is very loud, almost drowning out the music. I get a J.LO vibe from her, crossed with Gwen Stefani and a snobby Madonna. Unlike Kumiko Kato, I did not encounter that feeling of connection; it was closer to watching a video, not a good thing to feel at a live concert. I'd listen to a song by AKINA, but I wouldn't buy the album. She seems to have only one song style -- loud, pumping her fist in the air, forever accompanied by guitars, drums and synthesizers. I did like her last song, which had a Europop feel to it. For her encore, she sang an arrangement of The Beetles' "Come Together" that sounded really snazzy. However, AKINA and the dancers lose points because they return for the encore in slightly different outfits. I don't think singers should really plan for an encore, you know?
That was the end of day one, as it was now 9:00 PM and I knew tomorrow would be full for both Matt and me. On top of that, eating Pocky while getting a foot massage seemed highly appealing. I ended up devouring an entire packet of Pocky, but I figured that I deserved it.
After a detour to Matt's parents' house (they wanted to snap a photo of me with the eight foot tall sunflower I planted a few months' ago), we made it to the con a little after 10:00 AM, and took in the remaining half of a panel titled 'Japanese in 1 Hour: No Really'. I enjoyed it; said panel was being taught like a lecture, stirring memories of college. I'm afraid that I can speak no more Japanese than I did before, but I gained a feeling that I could one day. Japanese reminds me of Latin and French in terms of grammar and sentence structure. I guess they are right when they say that learning languages just gets easier the more you acquire.
We could have gone to a panel on E3 and what was announced there, but Matt had not been to the dealer's room yet and my wallet was feeling too full. We stopped in at the Art and Model show, where I was mildly annoyed that now we must turn in all bags, whereas yesterday, it was all good. I understand why, but I don't like it. (To stop thefts and accidental breakage.) At the dealer's room, I was surprised that no one had made any new deals. I guess business is so good that you don't need to put things on sale. We ended up buying a manga each: Matt his Samurai Executioner Vol.1 ($10.00, including tax), and me Comic Party Vol.1 ($7.50, including tax). Personally, I was disappointed at the prices of DVDs (import CDs are always expensive. So are book bags and t-shirts.), which were set at the usual price that you pay online. Yes, you do save with the lack of shipping required, but it is not that much in savings as to entice me to buy right there, right now, particularly when I'll be asked to pay extra if I use my credit card. Nevertheless, the dealers seemed to be doing very well.
At noon we decided to split. Matt went to see the AMVs. I went to have some lunch and then attend Anime News Network's panel at 1:00 PM where some great industry news would be revealed. My lunch was cut short, however, by a pair of annoying cosplayers at the next table over, the type that do it purely for attention and they must be identical copies of their source character. Everyone else must be put down. Having to listen to a constant barrage of costume criticism and why no one understands your own costume does nothing for my appetite. They left, but I could not take it anymore.
I headed over to catch the remaining half an hour of the voice-acting panel, 'Finding Your Inner Voices', a group Q&A, where questions were rewarded with Pocky. I learned that phlegm is a voice actor's worst enemy, and they are paid at a set price per line. They recommended impressions as a good start, but not great for progressing into voice acting. After all, there's already at least one person who can do that voice perfectly. Instead they recommended doing versions of voices, and you must go out and audition. They warned, however, that you do run the possibility of being blacklisted for five to six years if -- once hired -- you fail to perform on demand, so to speak. Workshops are great for checking yourself against your potential competition in auditions. If everyone says you're talented at a voice workshop, chances are that the directors will think so too. Versatility is the key. Actors come from wide backgrounds, and voice acting includes doing voiceovers, dubbing for live action actors as voice doubles, and video games. They all emphasized that voice acting is a growing field, paralleling the CG industry, and that new (and unique) voices are always in demand. Then, I had to leave to ensure that I arrived at the Anime News Network panel on time and with a good seat.
I ran into Matt on the way, who I was not expecting to see until 2:00 PM. There had been a video malfunction in the screening room and they were going to repeat the AMV contest at 2:00 PM, which was perfect because the both of us could see it. We entered the room where the announcement was being made and sat in the second and third rows. While we waited for convention staff to set up a projector, Bamboo and Chris from Anime News Network had an impromptu Q&A session, giving out freebies for good questions. Some freebies were good, like the Stellvia DVDs and the anime guide. Others were not so good, such as the Read or Die paper cubes. (Though personally, I wouldn't mind a paper cube. Paper is always useful.) Matt asked a question about ANN's coverage on the current state of the industry and won himself a copy of Stellvia Foundation 1. It is little things like this that may make him more otaku-ish in the future. Please encourage him. The only other tidbit I learned in the Q&A was that contests will be occur less frequently because ANN has had problems with distributors getting the promised goodies out to contest winners in a timely manner.
The lights dimmed and, then, the announcement was made... Anime News Network acquired Protoculture Addicts, the oldest anime magazine publication. The January issue will bare the new title, Anime News Network's Protoculture Addicts, and be available exclusively through Diamond Distributors (essentially, your local comic and anime store). I'll save more details for my article on this exciting news.
After that we hung around, chitchatting with Chris for a bit, and left for the AMV screening room. The end of the line was halfway around the hotel and Matt steered us to the front of the line. Whipping out our press passes, we got first dibs on the sectioned-off rows for dealers and special guests... I think I will take Matt again next year, purely for his line-cutting abilities.
Out of the thirty-one AMVs being shown, I liked perhaps only five of them. The rest were either: too serious, not original (please, the world does not need a five minute retelling of Evangelion), or just plain old crappy. I don't demand much, but I do want to see some synching of mouth flaps to the music, especially if you've submitting your piece to a con. Anyone with Premiere can add music to a bunch of spliced together clips. Another annoyance was the abundance of very short AMVs; I'm talking commercial lengths here. If you're going to be making a commercial AMV, it better be really funny; and sadly, these weren't. They were the Quiznos rats/hamsters of AMVs.
I did enjoy Golden Boy being set to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", because the creator put a lot of effort into matching scenes and mouths to the lyrics. I liked one video that used Final Fantasy VII FMVs and the scant released clips from the FFVII Advent Children DVD. It takes guts to use CG that is literally one console generation old. I enjoyed 'Man, I Feel Like A Bishie' (Shania Twain's "Man, I Feel Like A Woman" to never-ending clips of bishounen, young and old). Matt and I found the audience yells at every single clip incredibly annoying. I know you love Fruits Basket, but do you need to express it for every single clip of a character? [Matt: So what's so hot about him? Janet: He turns into a big black dog. (Matt raises eyebrow.) Janet: I'll explain it later.]
Once we were let out, Matt complains that he would die if he didn't eat something. I contemplate just letting him die, but offer to pay for dinner at the KFC across the street. We eat and peruse our respective mangas. Then Matt wants to hang out in the hotel lobby and look at cosplayers. Matt lasts a mere ten minutes before he wants out. Snobby cosplayers irritate him too, it seems.
We retreat to a seminar called 'Ghosts, Gods and Demons', which despite it's neat-sounding title, is a dry philosophical lecture on Ghost in the Shell. Matt is clearly into it. I am not. Claustrophobic visions of my frosh year 'Introduction to Philosophy' class begin to rise. I tell him that I'll go monkey around in the dealer's room and later meet him at the cosplay contest. There is nothing really neat that I can buy with the three dollars I have in my pocket, and there's no way in hell that I am paying a credit card fee of 5%. No one at the Yaoi booth offers to spank me with a paddle, yet unmarried and equally pretty women are getting lots of offers. Disgruntled, I leave and go to find the cosplay line.
The queue is awe-inspiring. It actually reaches halfway around the outside of the hotel, and it is an hour and a half before the contest actually begins. I make my way to the end of the line and pull out Comic Party Vol.1. It's warm out and the sun is still shining, so I really don not care. One of the convention staff walks down the line, making sure that no one suffers sunstroke or heat exhaustion. I ask him if a press pass gets me to the front of the line; hey, if Matt can do it, why can't I? He takes off to check, and I continue reading. Within ten minutes, I'm at the front of the line.
I finish Comic Party Vol.1 while waiting (I think I'll be collecting this series), and the doors open at 6:30 PM. I plop down the third row. Matt slips in around twenty minutes later. Supposedly, the Life Drawing session that he was intending to attend was not up to par. I read -- and end up finishing -- Samurai Executioner Vol.1 before the lights dim. The contest has three events: costume contest, cosplay skit contest, and the Masters Competition, exclusively for previous winners, something that I think is a good idea for balancing out the playing field.
This year seems to be the Year of Naruto. That's only natural because ninjas are innately cool. Chii is still a popular pick for girls who want to be seen, and so are Yuna and Rikku (FFX and X-2 versions, in various dress spheres). I'm still undecided if this is a good thing or not, but Sailor Moon and her cohorts are now officially un-cool. The gentlemen seem to still find Hellsing's Alucard an easy and fun costume, as well as the usual assortment of male Final Fantasy heroes and villains. Of the cosplay costumes, three definitely stood out for us. A cosplaying family dressed their son as Vash and their daughter as Milly. The girl took the mike and holding a donut out to her little brother, says, "Wanna donut?" He, being a smart kid, went running out to her. They ended up winning the Under 13 Award, Audience's Choice, First Place Costume, and one of the Judge's Awards.
The second costume was a woman dressed as Seung Mina from Soul Calibur 2, our favorite character from that game. We had seen her earlier in the day and took a photo of her, since her costume was exact and she looked good -- and confident -- in it. (Trust me, if I was wear that, I would be feeling a little bare and anxious.) She went on to win the Video Game Award.
This third set just cracked me up, mostly because someone did something that I have pondered more than once. The guy dressed as Cthulhu with pool noodle tentacles. The girl dressed as a generic schoolgirl. Just picture that. No, they did not win any awards, but it was a great sight for a hentai lover.
It was great when one of the cosplayers proposed onstage to his (female) partner in costume. I had to give Matt a hug.
Only one of the five cosplay skits stuck in my mind. It was a parody of The Full Monty, with Wolfwood, Kenshin, Rufus, and a country yokel (probably a character I don't know). The sight of them stripping down to precisely positioned Dragonballs was great, and only naturally, they won for Best Cosplay.
There were five contestants in the Masters Competition, which was determined by the audience's cheers and claps. One was a giant paper-maché moogle; I'm talking sports mascot sized. Another was a gun mage Rikku, who had obviously put a lot of sewing and wig-making time into this costume. Yet another was Kimahri of FFX/X2, and a picture-perfect female Vash. The final contestant was Witch Hunter Robin herself, or rather, himself. He had done such a good job; I couldn't tell he was a he and not a she. Even the breasts looked right!
While the judges' votes were tallied, Kumiko Kato made a surprise appearance to sing a few songs while we waited. She wore a Denver Nuggets jersey, Kumiko's attempt at cosplay. I was happy that Matt could see for himself how awesome she is. She sang as well, if not better than, at Friday's concert. She also gave out her website's URL (http://www.kumikokato.com) and invited us to leave a message on the board or email her. I really, really must get her CD when it's released. She's so cute!
Judges Awards went to an Excel Saga group of Il-Parazzo and Great Will of the Universe, who gave birth onstage to a Menchi plushie; the roller-blading main character of Alien 9; a little girl in a Rei outfit (who also won Second Place Overall); and No-No from Spirited Away. The traditional/authentic Japanese costume went to a girl in a kimono with green hair and a bird on her finger from Yu Yu Hakusho. (No, I've never seen that anime.) Third Place Overall went to a large and nearly complete group of FFIX characters. All of the participants in the Masters Competition got certificates and free registration for NDK 2005, which will be held at a larger location (and closer to me, yay!). The winner, Kimahri, got a Ghost in the Shell DVD autographed by Mamoru Oshii.
And that was our evening, as it was now 10:30 PM.
There is no way we're making it for the final day. I can hardly move my legs, whereas Matt refuses to get out of bed. He needs a day of rest before going back to work. My eyes are so sore from the two late nights in a row, which not even wearing glasses is helping, and I'm tired. However, there really isn't anything big that we are missing, except the closing ceremonies. Judging by the opening ceremonies, we're not losing out on. We're also being guilt-tripped by our cats, which never helps. Thus yawning, I'll end this con report of Nan Desu Kan 2004.