Rocky Mountain Anime High

Denver's Nan Desu Kan 2005 had everything that a fan could desire -- ramune, Pocky, scantily-dressed cosplayers, educational and fun panels, dealer's room goodies -- except for singer Kumiko Kato. Oh well. Maybe next year.

by Janet Crocker with photography by Matt Houck

When the leaves start to turn on the trees, it's time for Nan Desu Kan, Colorado's premiere anime convention. Held this year at the Marriott Hotel in the Denver Tech Center, Nan Desu Kan 9 boasted a lot more space and more panels than last year, spanning from dolls and crafts to make-and-take cosplay. The Comic Market (otherwise known as Artists' Alley at other conventions) was situated in the atrium of the hotel, instead of being crammed in the dealer's room, and the art and model show was on the second floor. Spacing out the convention like this meant a lot of walking, but it cut down on lines and hallway traffic. With an attendance of just under 3,500 people, this convention is slowly growing each year, especially amongst the high school crowd. The hotel was very clean and beautiful, and the staff made sure to have water and plastic cups widely available in hallways. Easy access to free icy water is just one of those things that immediately puts me in a good mood at conventions. I may have to wait in lines and eat whatever is nearby whenever I have the spare time, but at least I can always be refreshed!

Last year, we attended the convention on Friday and Saturday, but due to out-of-country visitors, financial constraints (but who are we kidding? If we had more money, we'd just spend more in the dealer's room), and my really pregnant state, we only attended on Saturday.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

Parking was a little bit of a hassle in finding a spot, but it always is on Saturday at conventions. Our first visit after registration was the dealer's room, which had its shares of merits and flaws. On the one hand, they had a lot more space than in previous years, making for easier walking in the aisles and easier shopping at booths, as it seemed that the dealers had more booth space. However, it seemed as if there were fewer vendors than last year, and less of a selection of offered goods for sale. You actually had to look for Pocky, as opposed to the usual open shelves of those fan favorite snacks. As it was, we only saw regular (classic), dark chocolate (Men's), caramel and strawberry flavors. However, we did get a good deal on a large box of regular Pocky at a manga booth, oddly enough. We noticed a huge jump in the popularity of Ramune drinks, to the point where some vendors were completely sold out by the end of Saturday. Evidently, American otaku tastes are evolving beyond chocolate and pretzels.

I noticed a huge change in the amount of doujinshi available, in particular yaoi, yuri and hentai. Last year, only one booth offered doujinshi, and that was two boxes where the books were treated with the same disregard as the dollar give-away bin at your local comic book store. However, somewhere over the past year, this attitude changed. Now there were two booths almost solely dedicated to doujinshi, and many of the other booths had a small selection on their own tables. Let me just say that people (mostly females) were constantly filing through these bins and buying multiple books, each of which were averaging around twenty dollars.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

Picking up a doujinshi book was on my to-do wishlist, so I found a reasonably priced Final Fantasy X shonen-ai with a beautiful sepia-toned cover of Tidus and some fish. Originally, I had wanted something from the realm of Final Fantasy VII, as I figured that there isn't a better way to celebrate Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children than seeing some creative pairings of Tifa, Aeris, Cloud and Sephiroth in no particular order. However, let's just say that this intellectual property has taken a steep increase in price since the movie came out. I can safely conclude from this experience that doujinshi collecting is a lot like figurine or cel collecting: a very expensive hobby not intended for the average cheapskate fan like myself. However, I don't regret picking up the comic. I'm Japanese illiterate, so paying fifteen dollars for some pretty artwork is fine by me.

Hentai in general has really emerged from the paperbag of shame. Out on public display were DVDs, manga, posters and dating sims, which you could try out on a laptop before buying. Since Nan Desu Kan prides itself on being a family-orientated convention, I was surprised to see adult material right out in the open. Then again, if the attending parents were easily offended by fanservice, as most hentai cover illustrations are, then they wouldn’t be at an anime convention.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

Matt bought two T-shirts, one featuring a tentacled Cthulhu fish eating a Jesus fish, the other with the motto: "Knowledge is Power. Power Corrupts. Study Hard. Be Evil." He also picked up two volumes of Battle Angel Alita manga. I think he got somewhat fleeced at paying eight dollars each for a rather old series (I would have bartered for seven dollars), but he was happy, and I guess that's what matters at the end of the day.

I had some cause for celebration; after three years, I finished collecting all of the Haibane Renmei DVDs. The last two DVDs were in the clearance bin at one booth for $19.95 each. Sure, that's probably comparable to most online stores, but I like the satisfaction of helping to fund the industry through smaller and local vendors. I didn't end up buying any manga for myself. I had intended to pick up the second volume of Amazing Agent Luna and a few other titles from the series that I’m currently following, but frankly, there were no real deals, and the selection at many of the booths were limited to TOKYOPOP and VIZ Media titles, manga that I can pick up easily at Borders at a discount. (Yeah, I know that I just contradicted myself, but anime is an enjoyable luxury item, manga a monthly necessity.) Then again, I suppose that I'm not the targeted audience for dealer's rooms; they want the younger impulse buyer, overwhelmed by the sheer number of titles and volumes. In any case, our major shopping finished, we left the room to sit in a few panels and to expand our minds.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

We split up at 11:00 AM. I went to the Shinto panel, while Matt went to learn about the history of English and Japanese comics. He didn't say too much about the panel once we regrouped, but I guess that it was informative, but full of a lot of things that he already knew, being a comic geek. I already knew a little about Shinto; it comes with watching a lot of anime, but I like to educate myself about other people's beliefs.

The panel was held in a rather small room that got crowded very quickly. Chris, the presenter seemed to be rather happily surprised. Most of her lecture was taken straight from notes sent from her priest, but I think she did a good job fielding the rather bizarre and technical questions about demons from anime fans, something that as an average practitioner, she was not familiar with at all. To paraphrase Chris, daily Shinto practices don't make good anime. I enjoyed the panel, as I did learn some tidbits of trivia. For example, the reason why vintage kimonos are so readily available outside of Japan is that Shinto teaches that items gain negative spiritual baggage as time goes by, so new clothing must be bought regularly, especially for special occasions. There is only one shrine in the US, and that is Tsubaki Grand Shrine in the state of Washington. I knew beforehand that Shinto and Japanese culture are closely entwined, but the panel made me realize just how so.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

After our panels, we met up for lunch. I must give the hotel staff praise for opening a lunch and dinner snack bar in the middle of the atrium that offered sandwiches, cheeseburgers, chocolate bars and drinks at a reasonable price, as well as having a coffee bar. This made our con meals so much easier. Trail mix was also on sale by the registration desk, giving attendees a lot of somewhat healthy dining options. During lunch, we heard a rumor of a blue Twi'lek selling bootlegs of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children for five dollars. Matt decides that we need to find the Twi'lek and buy a copy. I tell him that we can download it for free if he can't wait two months for the DVD to deter him, as I think this is an incredibly stupid idea, especially at a convention as strongly anti-bootleg as Nan Desu Kan is. He gives me five dollars. I pocket the money and use it for Pocky. I see no Twi'lek. This event takes the prize as being the most surreal moment at Nan Desu Kan.

At 1:00 PM, the two-hour anime music video contest was set to begin, so we got there early, as this is a very popular event at Nan Desu Kan. Happily, this year they had an auditorium to show the videos in, so last year's debacle with overflow video rooms and technical difficulties was a thing of the past. I was disappointed with last year's videos, but this year was great! With thirty-three entries, most of them solid videos, we had a hard time picking favorites. Matt voted for Shining Finger Studio's "A Very Bootyful Christmas," which is a total fanservice video to Sir Mix-A-Lot's classic manifesto, while I picked Shining Finger Studio's "Azumanga DIE-OH," a great lip synching songfest featuring artists such as Rammstein and Animaniacs, and of course, Azumanga Daioh. Other videos of note include Millennium Actress paired with Five For Fighting's "100 Years" (it made me cry), and a mashup of Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and Oasis' "Wonderwall" -- "Boulevard of Broken Songs" -- to Naruto. Neither of us are Naruto fans, but that was a really good mashup song.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

Afterwards, we split up again. Matt wanted an hour to visit the dealer's room and relax, and I had a choice between two panels. One was on crossplay (men cosplaying as female characters, women as male characters), the other was a panel featuring Hiromi Matsushita and Kazuko Tadano, Nan Desu Kan's special guests from Japan. I figure that I'd be a fool to miss the opportunity to meet the animator director and the character designer of Sailor Moon, so I went to their panel. Held in the same auditorium that had been packed only minutes before, there were perhaps twenty people at the panel. I'm not sure why the numbers were so low; I'm guessing that the majority of people were either getting lunch, socializing in the halls or getting ready for the cosplay contest. Regardless, it was both a good thing, having such an intimate panel, and rather sad that so few showed up to see such talented people.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

In any case, the latest project for Studio VIEWN (of which they are members) is an anime series called Origami Warriors, which will shown in Japan this fall. From Tadano's description, it's based on a ten year old manga with origami-like characters. They didn't show any pictures; I'm guessing there's some confidentiality agreements involved, but Tadano said that she made one of the monsters scheduled to die early on in the show too beautiful, so the director revived the character later on in the series as the younger brother or twin of the original character. She also told us a funny story about how the sponsor wanted a character like those in Pokemon, and how the sponsor didn't understand how out-of-date that sort of character is in the world of animation. Finally, she drew a pikachu-like character, but that was rejected as too much like Pikachu of Pokemon. So she went back to the sponsor with her original idea of a gross, yet cute character (I'm guessing that this is the 'in' character design type in Japan at the moment), and it was approved by the original mangaka. Since the mangaka approved it, the producer and director had no choice but to go with it. Matsushita and Tadano later told us that the mangaka's permission is always required for character designs in anime, which struck me as being rather unusual, but empowering, being that English-language authors rarely have that authority in film adaptations.

Other recent and upcoming Studio VIEWN projects include an image for Kumiko Kato's debut CD and the graduation of the first class of students that Tadano has been tutoring online in illustration. Matsushita is working on the Keroro Gunso (Sgt. Frog) movie due out in March in Japan, and he hinted at a new Gundam series from Sunrise, as well as new Crayon Shin in 2006.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

After their panel, they took questions from the audience. They recommended using plastic models over how-to-draw books, as it gives you a 3-D perspective, and for fans of Sailor Moon to check out Digimon: The Movie, or more specifically, the Digimon: Our War Game movie, which is part of the official English movie release. Tadano said that she has always been a fan of anime, but she started her professional career at the age of twenty by drawing realistic guys, not bishonen. Matsushita said that he didn't like anime when he started in the industry; he only took the job because he could draw manga daily, which he loved. However, drawing for anime is very different from manga. You have to draw movement and sounds.

Tadano finished the session by holding a paper-rock-scissors contest for some original artwork. Unfortunately, I lost both rounds, so no exclusive sketches for me. Oh well. I enjoyed the panel in any case. It was now 4:00 PM. Matt was at the "Inking Your Art" panel, so I went to do some browsing in the dealer's room, and to check out the Art and Model Room. There were some really nice paintings and cels on the walls, but I found the models this year to be lacking. I guess not too many people submitted models.

It was around this time that I made a resolution to not take our daughter to Nan Desu Kan until she is at least ten years old. The parents that I saw pushing strollers and bobbing around with babies in slings looked so stressed, and the children were little better off. We will definitely need a babysitter for Nan Desu Kan 2006.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

In any case, I finally found the room where the inking panel was being held, and I arranged to meet up with Matt afterwards in the atrium, as he was having a great time hanging out with fellow artists. Times goes by... I finally call him on my cell phone. He's over at the booth in the atrium, so I go over to drag him out of his art geeking session. I arrive to find him with an audience, and Jason Martin, professional artist and the presenter at the aforementioned inking panel, nodding along as Matt speaks the gospel of getting your work published. Who is this man, and where is my husband? I will say that he did give out some really solid advice in marketing your comic once you're inked and ready to go, and I pitched in with some publishing company names, but still, it felt odd, giving advice to people my own age or older, but we did acquire some good artist karma.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

We ended up talking with Jason and his wife and fellow artist, Heather until almost 6:00 PM, when I pleaded the need for dinner before the marathon event that is known as the cosplay and costume contest. I bought a print from their booth and got it autographed (I need to find a frame now), and then we ate dinner: a ham sandwich for Matt and some trail mix and lemonade for me. Before we finished eating, the line for the cosplay started to move, so we cut our meal short by a few bites to enter the auditorium. At times like this, having a press badge and being really pregnant is a good thing.

In the background was Kumiko Kato's debut single, "Thinking of You" as we took our seats. Upon recognizing her voice, Matt began to get excited, thinking that maybe Ms. Kato was waiting in the wings, that we would have a surprise performance from her as we had at last year's cosplay contest. Unfortunately, I had to burst his bubble and let him know that she probably wasn't here, seeing as her CD came out just last month. Matt was sad, but soon the show started, and memories of Kumiko Kato faded away.

There was a lot of cosplay this year at Nan Desu Kan! We were in the minority in wearing jeans and T-shirts while walking the halls. Besides the sheer numbers, there was a great deal of variety, ranging from the really obscure to the popular, from the elaborate to just cat ears. Fortunately for Matt, Inu-Yasha cosplay took a dive (condensed version: they freak him out), while Naruto has become the easy and popular costume of choice. Just add headband. I was happy to see the Final Fantasy franchise bobbing up in popularity with the release of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Not that it ever goes out of style, but we had costumes this year covering all of the console games, including Final Fantasy XII. I had missed seeing in recent years Tifa and Aeris, who were quickly becoming characters as cosplay clichéd as Sailor Moon.

Nan Desu Kan 2005

There were six cosplay group skits in the running for the top prize, ranging from short and simple to elaborate props. One skit simply had Squall and Cloud kissing, while another was essentially a Dir en Grey music video, complete with screaming cosplayers with white pillow cases stained with blood over their heads. For a second, I could see why so many people enjoy visual kei so much. A pair of gentlemen from Here is Greenwood did a song and dance skit that invoked memories of the yaoi manga Selfish Love, leading up to a kiss -- that never came. Teases.

The Master's category (cosplayers who have won previously at various conventions) had seven entries this year. The Count costume from Rose of Versailles was a masterwork, with hand sewn individual crystal beads and made from various fine wedding dress fabrics. When you're that good at your hobby, I think you need to start looking at making it a job and earning some money from your talent. In full body costume was a scythe-wielding minotaur monster from Ragnorak Online, Gir from Invader Zim, and Sly Cooper from the video game series of the same name. We had Meryl from Trigun, complete with a cape loaded inside with thirty small water pistols. Link from The Legend of Zelda video games also made an appearance; I was impressed with the fact that her entire costume, from chain mail to ears was handmade, and yet it looked so professional. Last but not least, the Predator (from the Predator movies) came onstage in a costume that looked exactly like the character from the movies, with real laser beams and human skulls. (Okay, so maybe the skulls weren't real...)

Nan Desu Kan 2005

Shiva from Final Fantasy X and X-2 won for Best Video Game Costume, while a Hello Kitty kimono won for Traditional Costume. The award for Best J-Rock Costume went to a silver-clad Malice Mizer group, while the two children who won multiple awards in last year's contest gave a special award to a pair of Fruits Basket cosplayers in full body costumes of Yuki and Kyo in their animal forms. Judge's Choice awards went to the aforementioned Fruits Basket and Shiva costumes, a group from Paradise Kiss (Tadano drew a sketch of one of the members, as she loves cosplay), Virgil from Devil May Cry, and the Countess Carmila from Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust received two awards.

The Dance Dance Uber skit won for Best Cosplay, while the Predator costume won the Master's competition. The Prince from Katamari Damacy took third place, the Fruits Basket full body costumes took second place, while Countess Carmila took first place in the costume contest, along with the Audience's Choice award. She really deserved it; I heard her saying before the contest that the costume, which required at least another person to carry the huge train at the back, took eleven months to complete. Now that's dedication!

Around this time, we were both getting tired, so we headed home to sleep and to enjoy our goodies. Nan Desu Kan is always a great time, and this year was no exception. I'm already looking forward to next year!

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