Saturday, February 19, 2011

Otakon 2008: A Belated Retrospective

A good story is worth telling more than once. Or, if you prefer, a story you've already told is a perfect candidate for an easy blog post. In either case, I wanted to share with you the story of my trip to Otakon, the yearly anime convention held in Baltimore, MD, PhD.

This story was originally told on Facebook in 2008, just after the convention had ended and just barely two weeks before Alex and I started this blog. I've adapted the tale slightly for reasons too inconsequential to discuss, and I've changed the names of my friends to protect them from the shame of being associated with me.

Those of you who've been interested to know what my fiancée looks like after all that talk about an engagement will be pleased to find a picture of her here. However, she will be in disguise and referred to as neko-chan to be protected from the shame of being associated with me. You may recall neko-chan as an occasional guest contributor; if you've read her post about the New York Anime Festival, then you've already seen her costumed as Yomiko "The Paper" Readman from the anime Read or Die. Actually, she'd be the first to tell you that the costume was an excuse to be herself in public, what with the book reading and the life-sized paper airplanes she flies around in.

...But I digress.

It's a long story (as far as individual blog posts go) that's best read in one big sitting, so settle down for a spell and enjoy yourself.


THURSDAY: Neko-chan and I both took the day off from work to get to Baltimore in time to pick up our badges at preregistration. However, because we decided to do this last-minute, and because all our plans fell through at the last minute for staying with people we knew who lived close by, we booked a super-cheap hotel about 20 minutes from the Inner Harbor. But more on that in a minute.

The drive down was a little slow because of typical traffic on the George Washington Bridge, and we continually ran into the same two trucks hauling manure ("I hate manure!") about every time we got back on the highway after stopping for something, but we made it there in decent time, got our badges quickly, and then ate dinner at Tir Na Nog, an Irish pub-type-place; that was the best meal I've had out in I can't remember how long. Perfect Roy Rogers, potato leek soup with cream, crisp Caesar salad, Drunken Beefsomething entree, and a Boston Cream Cheesecake shared with neko-chan...Yeah, the trip was worth it just for that. So then we turned around and drove home.

Wait! No! We didn't! We drove to our hotel, a Red Carpet Inn that I believe had merged with an Econo Lodge. The hotel staff was very pleasant, but the hotel itself was...sketchy. The two buildings that housed the rooms were positioned around what probably used to be a swimming pool, but was now filled in with dirt and a few random dead plants. A shady guy was digging through garbage cans. No cars or other people passing by along the road or the buildings around us. All of three or four cars parked, and lots of empty rooms and parking spaces.

The hotel room itself was decently spacious, but the lone ceiling light was pretty dim; a wall panel was open, revealing exposed wires; the bathroom, despite its brand-new towel rack, had grunge stains on the sink and severely cracked wall tiles; and neko-chan found a cockroach in her hair not long after entering. Lesson #1: Take the hit to your wallet. Invest in a two-star hotel.

FRIDAY: We had stayed up late figuring out what we wanted to do at the convention, and neko-chan had been doing the last of her costume preparation, so we were already looking at maybe 5 hours of sleep. However, I got up earlier than anticipated because neko-chan had become seriously ill overnight (I chalk it up to prolonged exposure to me), so I dashed out to find a place that sold medicine.

There was a gas station around the corner, and I rushed in wearing yesterday's rumpled clothes and with my hair completely disheveled from sleeping and begged the man there for drugs as I darted over to the fridge to grab some water. I asked him how much for everything, and he took one look at me and what I was buying and said "Two dollars," despite the fact that such money wouldn't even cover the two waters, let alone the medicine. I thanked him profusely and sprinted back to the car, my faith in humanity a little bit restored.

The rest of the morning was spent lugging things out to the car and assembling my costume, and by the time we got to the convention, neko-chan was already feeling better; perhaps it was the medicine, or perhaps it was sheer willpower of wanting to attend the con and feel good that prevailed. We were late, so we showed up in the middle of an episode of Steam Detectives, which we walked out of after about two minutes for various reasons.

Neko-chan and I spent a lot of the convention apart, so I'll leave her to probably not tell about the things that she went to. As for me, here's a glimpse at what I attended:

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG PANEL: I was hoping for something like a retrospective video of the evolution of Sonic, with fun facts and informativity and whatnot. Instead, we got two girls raving and ranting about various Sonic games, roughly in order of their release. Having only played the ones for the Genesis and having a little bit of exposure to Sonic Heroes, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, and a few other titles, it was hard to follow along.

Fortunately, the girls were amusing enough to listen to:

[Audience Member]: Sonic was originally supposed to be named "Needlemouse." If that had happened, would you still have played all the games?
[Girl 1]: Sure! (Blah blah, something about stupid names don't matter, blah.)
[Girl 2]: Yeah. "Needlemouse." And, "Tails-On-Butt."

GETTING HOME: A Chinese live-action black comedy about a man who is trying to bring his dead friend back home to be buried properly. This was everything I had expected and hoped for: a lighthearted, slightly predictable buddy comedy (though one of the buddies is dead) with just enough seriousness to provide interesting conflicts and thought-provoking meaning. One of the best things I saw at the convention.

LUCKY STAR: I blame this one on my one friend, the same guy who introduced Alex to anime. I popped in to see what this so-called "Lucky Star" was all about, and because I couldn't get a seat with a clear view of the subtitles, the best I can figure is that the show is about a bunch of girls who sit around talking about phallic things in a way that seems innocent enough but is actually dirty when you think about it. Or maybe they're Russian spies. I really don't know. I left after about 10 minutes.

LUNCH: Lunch was awesome. A bacon-onion-lettuce-mayo-BBQ-cheeseburger of joy at a burger joint called Five Guys, along with a chocolate malt shake of bliss from the Marble Slab Creamery across from it. Both the burger and shake are easy contenders for my Top 10 list for burgers and shakes, respectively, and possibly even the Top 5 for the shake. It was worth coming down to the convention just for lunch. Satisfied, I got in the car and drove home.

Wait! No. I didn't do that.

DIRTY PAIR: PROJECT EDEN: Girls. Guns. Exploding mutants. Need I say more?

FRIDAY NIGHT FAN FILMS: Technical problems with the VHS player caused the show to start late, so we watched a short, hilarious, and completely not-safe-for-work DVD while they tried to get things working: HERE COMES DR. TRAN!

DR. TRAN saved Friday Night Fan Films! DR. TRAN blew away the sad-sack competition! Only the long fan video that officially kicked off the event could truly compete with DR. TRAN! The movie trailers were fine, but probably illegal, and nobody knows illegal like DR. TRAN!


(Dr. Tran!)

Some time during the day we had transferred our stuff from the car into our new hotel, the Brookshire Suites; the room wasn't quite as swanky as it had looked online, but it was still very comfortable and pleasant. We left the car parked in a parking garage a few blocks away, and hoped that it would still be there on Sunday when we left.

SATURDAY: ...Started off much better than Friday did, except Midori Days, which they promised would be showing at 9 AM, was replaced by Teeny Witches for some reason, which I wasn't going to watch. Fortunately, DR. TRAN set them straight with a good, hot...

GAOGAIGAR: There was nothing else during that time frame that I was really set on watching, so I decided to join neko-chan for an anime that was two parts Transformers and one part Power Rangers.

Pretty sure that's Duo from Mega Man 8 on the right.

We technically watched two episodes, but if you take into account that the second half of each episode is exactly the same with the transformation sequence and the big robot almost destroying the mysterious sphere and the angel boy appearing at the last moment just long enough for people to wonder who he is before the episode ends (and everybody seems to forget about the angel boy by the next episode), then we really only watched an episode and a half. It's not a show I'd probably ever watch again without coercion, but it was nice to spend some time attending the same show with neko-chan; we didn't spend nearly enough time together during the weekend.

[NOTE]: There was a lot of shopping and browsing in the Dealer's Room and the Artist's Alley, but I'll leave those out. Aren't I sweet? (And then I looked at a funny shirt, and it was funny, but I can't remember the punch line, but it was funny, and...)

AMV CONTEST: When I was at Otakon in 2005, I really loved the anime music videos. For some reason, I wasn't as psyched for them this time. Neko-chan and I watched the first two categories—Serious and Action—and then left for other things we wanted to see. They were enjoyable, but I really wanted to see the comedy ones; I was so disappointed by the majority of the supposedly-humorous fan films that I was craving something fan-made that was funny.

RAKUGO PERFORMANCE - KAISHI KATSURA: Rakugo is a very old Japanese form of performance in which a single actor takes the stage and tells a story by taking on the roles of the various characters involved, aided by nothing more than a folding fan and, I believe, chopsticks. There are no costume changes; the performer changes his or her voice, gestures, posture, etc. to distinguish between characters. It requires a lot of imagination and attention to watch, but it's fascinating.

Kaishi Katsura is a tremendously famous Japanese Rakugo practitioner, and the show alternated between an amusing video teaching about the history and culture of Rakugo performance and Kaishi Katsura's stories and interactive Rakugo lessons. Fun, educational, and fascinating.

CASSHAN: ROBOT HUNTER OAV: The plot of Casshan is all but identical to the plot of Mega Man X, which means that I started liking it right away. No doubt Capcom "borrowed" a great deal from Casshan; just replace X with Casshan and Sigma with a not-racially-insensitive-in-any-way robot named Black King Boss, and you've got Casshan (also known as Casshern, depending on which show you're watching).

Pretty sure that's the Falcon Armor from Mega Man X4.

Super-cool, but neko-chan and I were physically incapable of staying completely awake to enjoy the show, so we decided to leave and watch it another time when we could give it the attention it deserved.

DINNER: After waiting in line for the Rakugo performance forever, I wasn't feeling up to waiting in another interminable line for the OC Remix panel, which I would have liked to have seen (along with the Mega Man panel on Friday), but things just didn't end up working out that way, for better or for worse. J. Paul's was, I believe, the name of the restaurant we went to instead; absolutely everywhere was jam-packed with people on a dinner rush, and we went to the place that looked like it had the least amount of people that wasn't too far away.

I wanted a sit-down restaurant, and boy did we ever sit down. Neko-chan noted that her salad was "very comprehensive." I had salmon and grits fries, which are pretty much what they sound like. I had my heart set on clam chowder or lump crabmeat of some variety, but it was not to be. Weep...

They promised us GREAT TEACHER ONIZUKA: ...but we got The Melancholy of Harui Derui & Liui, or whatever the name of that show is. I've heard good things about it, but my experience doesn't match up with what I've heard. It might have been okay if we could have watched it from the beginning, and if it weren't running late, and if we weren't so eager to watch what was promised us, but we waited through the end of an episode, thought Onizuka would start, and watched in horror as Harui just... kept... going.

That's okay, though. 'Cuz we made it to something awesome:

BLACK LAGOON: A girl. Guns. Exploding helicopters. Need I say more?

PANEL SUPPOSEDLY ON THE LEGACY OF PIRATES IN ANIME: Neko-chan, who loves pirates, was rather excited for this. I was excited, too. We stayed long enough to realize that it was going to be one big fan discussion about One Piece, which we hadn't seen. Oh, and one or two fleeting references to Captain Herlock. Which we had seen. Boo.

SUNDAY: We brought just about all of our bags back to the car, which was thankfully still in the parking garage. Of course, I realized too late that there were two other garages right in front of the hotel, but oh, well.

PANDA-Z: I managed to rope neko-chan into seeing this, and it was one of the highlights of the convention for me, in part because neko-chan and I got to sit through an entire show together and just relax for a change. Panda-Z, created by the same person responsible for Ranma 1/2, is this cute, simple anime/computer-animation show about a robot panda and his robot friends and the big mecha robot battles the panda has with his enemies. The episodes are just barely longer than the theme song and end credits combined, so we got to watch 10 of them. Hooray for simple fun.

HOTEL CHECK-OUT: Officially checking out of the hotel was quick and painless, but I estimate it took 20 minutes for me to get to the lobby from my room on the 7th floor. The hotel is something like 10 stories tall with maybe 10 rooms per floor, and the two elevators would not stop on my floor. I was waiting there for quite some time with a mother and daughter. Eventually we got impatient and took the stairs, but discovered that the stairs lead to an alarm-rigged emergency exit and went as far down as the floor above the lobby, but not to the lobby itself. Whaaa???

AMV CONTEST, TAKE 2: After finishing up my shopping in the Dealer's Room and having a quick lunch (oh, and I forgot to mention the hot dog I got off the street on Saturday—that was yummy. No, silly. Not actually off of the street itself. There was a man on the street with the hot dog. Ah, forget it), I headed off to catch the AMVs I had missed.

I walked in at the beginning of the Action section, and I didn't feel like waiting through it (plus, it felt a little empty without having anybody I knew to sit next to, even though almost every seat in the auditorium was taken), so I wandered for a while, sat down in a cozy chair for a spell, and returned in time to catch the Comedy videos, which were entertaining, but not as funny as the ones I remember from 2005, and relied more on the audience having seen the shows used in the AMV to get most of the humor. Having seen a bit of Harui actually came in handy here, as I was able to get the punchline of the Yaoi-type video they showed for that show. And if you need to look up "Yaoi," then you really don't need to look up "Yaoi."

Neko-chan and I met up, took a few pictures of folks and finally had a picture of us together on our own cameras (neko-chan was something of a minor celebrity, and I actually had a few people recognize me and ask for pictures this time around!)—we cosplayed as Lucca and Gaspar (the Guru of Time) from Chrono Trigger. (Quote of the Day: "Wow! Somebody remembers Chrono Trigger!" -Some Dude)

Then, finally, we went home. Or... at least, we tried. MapQuest says is should take about 4 hours to get home.

Try 8 hours.

We were OK for a little while, but the New Jersey Turnpike was all but completely stopped. When we finally reached an exit that wasn't another highway or downtown Whoville, we stopped for dinner at Burger King (at 8:15, having left Baltimore at 4 PM), and found a glorious map of New Jersey posted on the wall on the way out. With the help of the manager and the Burger King Janitor (I think), we mapped out a better course back home that would be a bit out of the way but ultimately faster, on roads I was actually familiar with.

I dropped neko-chan off at her apartment. The drive home was so satisfying that I got in the car and drove home. I walked into my room just after 12:30. I had anticipated something like this happening, so I had already arranged to have Monday off from work. Good thing, too: I was almost incapable of walking after all the walking and driving I had done over the weekend.

Overall, the convention was a great success, I think. We both had a lot of fun, regardless of the grumpy and unpleasant times along the way. I ended up buying a few gifts for people as well as a Portal turret sticker, two t-shirts, a some-assembly-required Mega Man X action figure for my office, and all of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Panda-Z (note the contrast) on DVD for myself; neko-chan also got me one or two items of wall art from the artist's alley. I also got to see two friends who were unexpectedly there, and I met a surprising amount of people just due to talking to strangers.

To sum everything up in one word, Otakon 2008 was pretty much mostly...

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's work to be done. The world doesn't save itself... unless the world is told to do so by DR. TRAN!

No comments: