Do you know what sucks about not having a phone with GPS, or rather, getting driving directions from a computer and printing them out? Aside from trying to read them while bombing down (up?) the New Jersey Turnpike and having to switch your attention between the road and the paper – made especially difficult with unexpected traffic – there’s also the shocking surprise that the directions you’re given could be completely fucking wrong. I might as well have been wandering around the woods with a map, trying to bullshit my way away from the inevitable to my adventuring party before finally giving up and saying, “Yeah, we’re lost…”
It doesn’t make things any better that MangaNEXT 2010 is held at a Hilton hotel, which is world famous for not really being concerned with their hotel guests. When I attempted to check in with a friend’s reservation (my name had been placed on the reservation list), Hilton had made the decision that my name was not on said list. It wasn’t any fault of my friend’s; it was just the decision of the hotel. And they didn’t bother pointing this out to me until I tried checking in. Oh, and if I wanted to check in with my friend’s reservation, they expected me to pay the entire cost of the room (almost $400!) right then and there…which I was under the impression that it had already been paid for beforehand.
Thirty minutes into the con and I already wanted to reduce the Hilton Hotel in New Brunswick to ashes. By about four o’clock, it was abundantly clear that this weekend would not end without one or more (most likely all) members of our adventuring party getting smashed.
My journalistic duties would not wait for the room to be cleared so we could check in, so I could not sit idly by and not report on anything. So my first stop was at the panel entitled “Chinese Martial Arts in Manga and Anime.” There’s a nice, simple sounding panel I could get behind. Immediately upon hearing the title, I presumed there would be frank discussions on the likes of Ranma ½ with some Dragon Ball series references made. The panel opened with what was essentially Chinese Martial Arts 101—northern and southern styles, with both types being stereotyped (northern having longer reaching attacks and higher kicks, while southern uses shorter and more blunt techniques). There was also a divide between “external” and “internal” philosophies—external is more towards physical development, while internal involves spiritual emphases. But they have a lot more in common that you’d originally believe. There were several videos shown depicting various types of forms and combat. The panel host pointed out that girl!Ranma was doing Tai Chi in the opening to Ranma ½…but it seemed like he knew little about the series besides that. The Chinese also believed that, through things like Wu Xing, that they could create an elixir of life and achieve immortality, similar to the Alchemist of the West. Neji and Tenten from Naruto are highly influenced by Chinese martial arts; one of the translations for Neji’s attacks is an explicit reference to Ba Gua (as if the Ba Gua diagram during one of Neji’s attacks wasn’t a big enough clue).The jin (straight sword) dao (scimitar) and gun (bo staff) are especially prominent, especially in larger martial arts demonstrations, such as the Peking Opera. Chinese martial are popular in video games, especially fighting games such as Tekken, Soulcalibur and (not the best example) Dead or Alive. Interestingly enough, not a single reference made to Avatar: the Last Airbender were made, despite the most obvious reference – the Air Nomads are based on the Shaolin – was right there.
Once our adventuring party finally got settled in our room, I began to take a good, long look at the convention. This is my first time attending MangaNEXT, and it’s considerably smaller than any of the other conventions I’ve been to. Another phrase I’ve heard floating around to describe the event was “Detox-con.” There wasn’t very much going on in the way of parties, but that didn’t stop us from making our own alcohol-laced fun. So we decided to get drunk and spend an hour and a half or so meandering around our hotel room drinking rum, vodka and tequila. I actually made my way to the Burlesque show that MangaNEXT was hosting. Unfortunately, I found the entire experience…underwhelming. The girls that were performing in the various skits were average at best. The girls were all wearing pasties, to be in step with various decency laws with the convention and, to be honest, weren’t all that exciting. I have more intense action in my own collection. Plus, to rub salt in the wound, there was only enough people in attendance to fill 1/3 of the room. Needless to say, going back to the room and drinking with my good friends was much more appealing.
In typical karmic fashion, the show apparently got better after my adventuring party left. Ru-mors abound of a gear-changing stand-up routine by Uncle Yo, as well as a bit of audience participation thrown in for good measure. I’m not sure if I’d go back and change that night or not.
A funny thing happened when I awoke the next morning…I felt just fine. Usually when I’m on the road and end up staying at a hotel or a friend’s house, etc., I have a great deal of trouble trying to fall asleep, and getting very little sleep if any at all. Compound this with the fact that my adventuring party and I were drinking enough booze to fill the hotel pool’s hot tub, and the more I drink, the earlier I end up waking. But on Saturday, I woke up at a decent hour after getting plenty of sleep, and I wasn’t hung over. Not exactly the norm for me, but I’m not complaining.
I got breakfast at one of the restaurants in the hotel. This was not a very good idea in retrospect. One of them had a breakfast buffet, but it was passable at best. Sure, there were the usual breakfast assortments (eggs, sausage, bacon, cereal, etc.), but the food was a little bland. Even more unusual was that there wasn’t an omelet station or even a waffle iron, things I’ve come to expect at these kinds of buffets. The $15 I spent on it could’ve been put to much better use.
The first panel I made my way to was “Anime Match Game.” I doubted it would be like the old Match Game from the seventies, what with the blatantly risqué remarks and equally blatant boozing by the panelists (they filmed five episodes per taping, one for each night of the week; in between the Tuesday and Wednesday taping, they’d break for lunch and get very drunk, and it showed), but it would still be a fun adventure. As it turns out, the Match Game aspect had been modified a bit until it became “Anime Win, Lose or Draw.” Amazingly, I found myself as one of the contestants. It didn’t matter if any of the contestants could draw or not (most of us couldn’t). The other team stole a critical puzzle and took a big lead, which my team couldn’t come back from.
After a brief appearance in a Super Street Fighter IV tournament in the game room, I took some time to relax in the hotel’s pool and aforementioned hot tub. The hot tub was nice and relaxing. The pool, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. The maximum depth was about four-and-a-half feet. Shallow ends of residential in-ground pools are that depth. It was also a liner style pool, which was in a bit of disrepair. The liner was not fully sticking to the hole dug out for the pool, almost floating free, like the lining of the roof of a really old Cadillac; this isn’t that big of a problem, considering the pool is indoors and surrounded by concrete. Outdoors liner pools, on the other hand, are a massive hassle. Between exposure to the elements and the fact that they’re more susceptible to damage (tearing, ripping, etc.), they can turn the yard into a smelly, unusable mess. Something like that happening to the Hilton’s pool would lower my opinion of the place, especially considering the day before.
A little more about the gaming scene: there was the typical video game setup, with a few games from the NES and Super NES era, and some Xbox DLC games such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. They even had a Tetris setup, wherein you can win a free pass to AnimeNEXT 2011. You had two minutes to score as many points as you can on Level 8 on Type-A. I got somewhere in the 30,000 points range, and I could’ve crushed the then-high score of around 37,000. Sadly, my time expired, and the I-block needed for a Tetris came three pieces too late. There was also a room dedicated to tabletop gaming. Munchkin was always good for a loud, chaotic laugh, while Carcassonne became so big, it took up most of the big, round table we were playing on. Even the last place player managed to score over 100 points.
Our adventuring party then went out to a diner known for having really good food. It was the Seville Diner on Rt. 18 in East Brunswick. The diner was absolutely packed; virtually every space was taken, and it took a few minutes of circling the lot to find a spot. Every table, but the food came relatively quickly, and was pretty good to boot.
When our party got back to the hotel room, we couldn’t really come to a consensus on what to do. Some of us stayed into the room. A few of us decided to go to the dance. But after a few minutes, a handful of drinks, and not wanting to deal with the dread I usually feel from going to the rave, I decide on…well, not going to the rave. Instead I dropped in on the panel, the conveniently titled “Anime Worth Watching.” If you would ever wonder what the panel is about, just look at the panel title. The panel is run by the creator of FAKKU! (an Engrish pronunciation of “Fuck!” or “Fuck you!”), the world’s largest English porn site on the internet. There are two main points they wanted to convey—one, all porn is not tentacles, bad dubs (Bible Black) and humanoid animals (Wordsworth) , and that hentai is just another form of pornography, and there isn’t any need to feel bad about having it. The two praised the artwork of several artists, including Tony Taka, Kome Sato, and Satoshi Urushihara, and ran down a bunch of recommendations, including Resort Boin, Love Selection, and Another Lady Innocent. They also glanced over the stories, stating that they’re there, but people aren’t watching hentai for the storyline. In the hands of a talented artist, hentai can be very beautiful and very put together, regardless of whether or not it’s “fappable.” They even treated the audience to a trailer for a new anime (title shortened to) Becoming Your Lover. They weren’t kidding about how beautiful the artwork was. By contrast, they had seen more than their share of hentai that you cannot un-see. They plugged their website, and the community they started, and I personally signed up for the site during that panel (I had my computer on me, writing this review on the spot).
Sunday came, and after a night of drinking (not as much as the previous night) came the ardu-ous task of packing everything up for the trip home. To add to the list of shortcomings of the Hilton hotel that hosted MangaNEXT, the check-out time was 12:00. It’s not that big a deal if it’s one or two people, but the more people in the room, the bigger the scramble to get out the door. One woman, who was part of a large group, mentioned about how they, in a similar incident, got a (one hour) later checkout time with all the grace and delicacy of pulling teeth.
Whenever there is a writing panel at the convention, you’ll find me there. It doesn’t matter if it’s about fanfiction, getting legitimately published, or the typical writing workshops, you can find me taking it in and soaking up all the information I can (this is the first time I’ve actually had my computer up and running, firing on all cylinders). Thus, I found myself sitting in on the panel, “How (Not) to Get Published.” There are two extremely important skills you have to have when getting published. They are networking (making a good impression, etc.) and having good social skills, which, apparently, was not an issue as recent as ten years ago. Apparently the advent of the internet has lowered the bar for writing quality as well as social interaction (no doubt due to the G.I.F.T.), and the ability to take criticism. Also, don’t send out your most beloved piece; you’ll be rewriting it hundreds of times. When you’re famous, that’s when you loose that manuscript upon the world. You need to know who your potential publisher is, and what they sell. Smart people get ideas all the time, but not all their ideas are revolutionary. Originality doesn’t sell, but what makes it unique and special does. There’s also the “elevator pitch” to worry about. When offering up your work to a publisher, you only have about two minutes to pitch your work. Introducing yourself is also very important; otherwise your work will be discarded without a second thought. By the way, do not wait for publishers to discover you. If you can put your work up on the internet, like in webcomic form, just do it. There are fewer barriers than ever to getting your work out there.
We meandered around the convention a little while after that, before one by one, our adventuring party disbanded, going their separate ways. I was the last to leave, seeing two of the other three off, then wandering around the game rooms for about another hour before ultimately departing. Overall, it was a good convention. Not great, there were more than a few problems, but it didn’t have a downer ending. Since it wasn’t a big convention like the last few cons I covered (AnimeNEXT, Otakon and New York Anime Fest/Comic Con), those problems were easy to get over. While there wasn’t as much to do (only two panel rooms and workshop rooms), I didn’t feel overly rushed to get everything done; had this been one of the three aforementioned cons, I’d be furious for the entire weekend. But the laid-back attitude of the convention, plus eating, drinking and being merry with the rest of my adventuring party made this an apposite end to the 2011 convention season. I look forward to the conventions I’ll be attending next year.
When Ari isn’t writing for Anime Jam Session or catching Pokemans, he’s writing for the Philadelphia Examiner, swing by and take a look at his reviews.