No doubt after reading just the title of this article, you’re probably wondering what something like high school could have to do with reviewing an anime convention. Well, first of all, allow me to sum up my entire four years of high school in a single sentence—“Fuck all of that shit.” My high school experience was a journey of suck from beginning to end. When given any kind of reminder of that time, be it people, places, things, tropes related to high school, I have a deeply negative reaction, and generally disassociate myself with it at all costs.
But then again, you’re probably still wondering what any of that has to do with the report on an anime convention. Well keep calm and read on, because I’m about to get into that.
Kotoricon 2012 took place on the 6th and 7th of January 2012, and much like the previously reported on Castle Point Anime Convention, it was held by a local college’s anime club—in this case, the collage was Gloucester County College.
And right about here is where I tie the exposition on the convention itself to the previous two paragraphs. The convention was set to be held all day both Friday and Saturday. However, with my job being what it is, I was scheduled to work in the afternoons of both days, meaning I’d be missing out on a lot of the fun. Journalistic integrity aside, I’ve been unemployed and collecting a pittance from the state government for almost 2½ years, and have had my current job for about two months, so needless to say I had to make sure my priorities were in order. Each day, once my shift ended, I’d go straight from work to the college campus.
I arrived at the college around 5-ish on Friday night. I found the first guard shack I came across and asked them where the events for the convention were being held. Fortunately, they didn’t react to me like I was some loony who wandered in off the streets. Unfortunately, I learned that the events of Friday had been moved to a nearby high school.
Even with the reasons they eventually gave me, it didn’t really make any sense. The official reason was the stage for the concert wasn’t big enough at the college, so they had to move it to nearby Pitman High School. I still have trouble wrapping my head around that. An older high school having a better facility than a comparatively newer college? Even for New Jersey, that’s a bit of a stretch. It might not have been my high school, but setting foot inside a high school brought on a rush of bad memories that turned me into the sharp-witted, articulate, neurotic and disenfranchised man that I am today.
My arrival couldn’t be any worse timed, because the concert wasn’t scheduled to begin for another two-and-a-half hours after I arrived. So I had plenty of time on my hands to sit around and do next to nothing. The staff, fortunately, lent an understanding ear as we spoke, and they were able to get me my press pass with little hassle. About half an hour before the concert began, they ran a sound check, with Johnny Yong Bosch’s band Eyeshine tuning up. There seemed to be plenty of technical difficulties, most of them due to the clash of the house sound system with the band’s. There’s something about a high school gymnasium’s stage that sucks the professionalism out of any kind of activity (I still thought they turned in a great performance; I just think the venue vastly understated them).
Uncle Yo was pulling hosting duty, which it seems is starting to become his thing. The first gig to play was a local band called Mesquite Honey, a local band that, while talented in their own right, played mostly covers of Rolling Stones, Green Day, Michael Jackson songs, among others. They even got a fan from the audience to come up and play keyboard for a song. Said fan had no keyboard experience—but that was a deliberate choice on the band’s part. The act that followed was Ichi-P, a dance troupe that used J-Pop and anime songs to wow the audience. I was surprised to hear they almost didn’t make it due to traffic issues. The next act was a demonstration from Samurai Dan and Jillian, an Iowa couple who has been married for ten years and are masters of Japanese swordsmanship. They would have a panel the next day at the campus. The youngest act on the card was a girl group called the Promise Sisters. They had their own original material to work with, which was good, but their performance came off as a little melodramatic. Bill Rogers and Michelle Knotz would exchange some banter with Uncle Yo, but a lot of it was drowned out by local screaming and overly loud laughter. The comedy troupe Underbelly made an appearance, plugging their “Pokéholics Anonymous” panel the following day. The last act before the main event was an appearance by +2 Comedy, with Noah claiming only he was doing the bit before Will and TJ came in and argued otherwise.
The main event of the concert was a half-hour set put on by Eyeshine, a.k.a. “that band Johnny Yong Bosch is in.” I wish I would’ve had more than a week’s notice about this convention, as well as the concert; that way I could’ve done a little more research on the band and their catalogue. Their music was great and they tore the house down, but I felt rather dumb not knowing what the song titles or their lyrics were, or which songs were more renowned than others. Still, they had an incredible sound, aided by the school having fixed the audio issues (mostly). I also got to talk to Bosch out in the auditorium’s lobby during intermission. The first thing I noticed about the man, this being the first time meeting him, is that the man was much smaller than I originally imagined. Granted I’m only about 6’2”, maybe, and my eyes were level with the top of the man’s head. Maybe it’s because after years of watching Power Rangers, I had an idea of him falling into the “larger” than life category.
In any event, I did get a picture of the man…on my 3DS, which was the only picture-taking gadget I had on me at the time with any battery power left.
The second day went a little more smoothly for me, even though a) work came first, and I arrived a good halfway through the con itself, and b) I was given conflicting information on where you could and couldn’t park for the convention. Still, I did manage to take in a few good panels. “Ninja Sword Class with Samurai Dan and Jillian” sounds a little conflicted, since it’s ninja techniques discussed by a couple clearly labeled samurai. Their demonstration was an extended version of their skit the previous night, only with a larger stage (outdoors) and a lot more and better banter between the two. I arrived at the last fifteen minutes of the panel, so I’m sure I, sadly, missed out on a lot of good stuff.
The game room was boiled down to its very precise definition—a single classroom with a few game stations set up. It was nothing to write home about. I don’t have anything to say about the Artists’ Alley or Dealers’ Room; since I spent all my time covering panels, by the time I could visit them, they were closed.
I attended a performance of +2 Comedy, and they had a full hour to play with (minus a few minutes due to Mesquite Honey’s concert running a bit long). I wasn’t in the auditorium when I realized what a crock the move to Pitman felt like. The GCC auditorium was much better put together, and the crowd looked to be bigger than the crowd for the night before. You honestly mean to tell me you couldn’t have fit Friday night’s crowd into the Saturday auditorium? I’m not convinced. Anyway, the guys from +2 flowed a lot better than they did the night before, and each of the three had their own solo acts to perform. They were funny, but I did miss a few jokes due to—again—localized screaming and chatter. Among the standout jokes were a scathing satire of George Lucas, a tramp stamp tattoo that has Speak “Friend” and Enter, thus making it the best tattoo ever, and cooking up the logical inverse of an anime convention in the West—that somewhere in Japan, there are Western Animation lovers planning or holding their own fan conventions (the name suggested for the trend: “Mation”).
Another guest was holding a Q&A panel, and once I learned it was voice actor Stuart Zagnit, I made sure I would not miss it. Zagnit, you’ll recall, was the original voice actor for Professor Oak in the Pokémon anime. Now, some voice actors have lived to regret some of their roles, while others embrace them wholeheartedly; if you wonder what category Stuart fell into, consider this—he did the panel while cosplaying as Professor Oak. He enjoyed the role very much, and he loved doing the “Tall Grass PSA” made by Underbelly. He also was fully aware of the various memes surrounding both the anime and his character. And when asked about his grandson’s name and he answered in Professor Oak’s voice, “Is it Dicks?” that’s when someone from maintenance had to be called in to squeegee the chunks of my brain from the walls as a result of having my fucking mind blown. He also had nothing but positive things to say about his coworkers, especially Veronica Taylor and Rachael Lillis. And then he called his replacement the New Coke of Pokémon.
The last panel I attended was called “Crash Course in Voice Acting (for fun)”. It was run by a man named Scott Melzer of Non.D.E. Fan films. He said very plainly at the beginning that this was for amateur voice acting, and quite frankly counterintuitive for VA work. They got their start in 2001 doing fan parodies. He explained that voice acting’s appeal is giving something human to something artificial. Sounds garner reactions from people sooner and faster than visuals, and that you had to play off existing visuals and make what you are seeing believable. You also couldn’t just “wing it” when creating a voice. Even voices that were odd or crazy need emotion and s sense of diction, otherwise the suspension of disbelief is broken. Once I was done with that it was time for me to leave, as I had work the next morning and had to be up and ready for it.
The students responsible for putting together Kotoricon did a pretty good job, but it was hard to come back from having their first night’s events moved to a nearby high school, especially since the pretense for doing so came off as rather flimsy. Still, I fear my overall opinion of the convention is hampered by both my inability to fully enjoy the full duration of each day, and having part of it take place at a high school dredged up a lot of bad memories. There are some similarities between it and Castle Point, but there were two distinct advantages—1) the parking was a huge step up, and 2) it wasn’t in fucking Hoboken.