Well, right off the bat, this might make me look like a giant hypocrite. More than once I have lambasted people who spend their every last dime on their hobby/obsession, which includes anime and its ilk. However, I was in the position to do just that for Another Anime Convention 2013, but I’ll be goddamned if it was actually by choice.
For reasons I’m not going to get into here, I ran into a bit of legal trouble personally, which involved some conglomerate I or practically no one else has ever heard of (aside from its employees) going in via a court order and bullshitting all my money out of my accounts. This was about halfway between the preceding paycheck and the following paycheck, and I was very carefully, very meticulously saving up my money so I don’t get stuck with all my money being tied up in gas, tolls and getting out of the parking lot once we checked out. Oh, irony~
This of course led to my immediate and furious reaction of screaming at the banks and the local courts, all to no avail. And as crazy-insane awesome as one-man sieges are, laying one on nowadays just makes you look like something is wrong with you.
Something wrong? With me? Perish the thought.
In the three days leading up to my departure for New Hampshire for said convention, I found myself scrambling to recoup the disappearing several hundred dollars by any means necessary. My parents were uncharacteristically sympathetic to my plight and helped give some of it back, though it wasn’t nearly enough (I was grateful, but still well short of what I felt was comfortable). I was at a loss for people close to me I could borrow from, with reasons ranging from uncomfortably inquisitive to outright blatant hostility. Thankfully one aunt was able to help me out for my trip, and for that I was—or am—deeply grateful. And as a man of my word, I gave back every dime I borrowed.
And it was good showing, too, because I had rigged my schedule to give me the Friday of the convention off (I was fortunate to have the rest of the weekend by schedule fiat). Thursday I took off for New York City like my back bumper was on fire, blazing a trail up the turnpike to pick up DJ Ranma from his newest job. And due to my incredible timing and driving skill, I arrived at his new place of employment just in time to get him. But it wasn’t without incident. You see, New Jersey has a bad reputation as being a befouled, polluted shit-scape. That reputation is only kind-of-sort-of warranted. The state itself is a verdant coastal plane; the northeastern corner of the state, near New York, is where the bulk of the state’s heavy industry is. I got to experience just how this reputation came out on my drive up. I had the air conditioning on, but didn’t have the “circulate the air in the car” function on. I drove by some factories. I breathed through my nose. I felt a wave of nausea that almost made me crash my car.
So, that’s north Jersey for you; wrecking it for the rest of the state.
Newark was no more fun, as people have very little concern/knowledge of the rules of the road. Thankfully I didn’t have to stay in that city any more than necessary. We were off to NYC so we could get the rest of our collective stuff and head off.
Much like Nauticon, the road trip would take us outside of New York in the northeast and through Connecticut and Massachusetts. But unlike Nauticon, we wouldn’t have to travel to the absolute ass end of New Hampshire to get to the con, and would (hypothetically) spend a good two hours less on the road. Which is good, because in my prior state of equal parts panic, disgust and anger, I didn’t have the time to put together a “proper” road trip playlist; I just stuck everything anime or otaku related in a playlist on my iPod and charged onward…and I only got about three hours of music in that sense. And there were more than a few…obstacles to contend with. For one, it was night. This wasn’t that big of a deal, but it also started to rain the closer we got to Manchester. Combined with some unexpectedly curved roads, and I had to make sure we didn’t fly off the road. Second was gas. It’s expensive up in New England, and we both nearly flipped a table at the prospect of paying nearly $4 a gallon. I was coming from an area with the prices at $3.10 and falling. And I was on a tight enough budget as it was. Thankfully I was alerted to an app that scours your environs for the cheapest gas prices. It has been a big lifesaver since then.
We came to the hotel at around 12:30 at night. It was at the Radisson Hotel Manchester Downtown, which was a rather nice place, all things considered. An associate of ours already had their room for the weekend, and were happy to let us crash that night until we checked in the next day. Parking was my biggest issue, as it was over $20 a night. What. The fuck. I was almost certain that the hotel had a special rate for con attendees, and thankfully after some investigation, that was proven true. But more on that later. We found a spot to park, got to our temporary room, and unwound for the night.
Friday morning came and we got our room first thing in the morning. We got one of the rooms in the very corner, which I didn’t think much of…until we actually saw the room. The typical hotel room for a con usually has only enough space between the bed/s and the bureau with the TV on it to walk by; this room had at least four times as much, giving everyone plenty of room to stretch out and spread around. And it wasn’t even a suite! We thought it was a massive boon, and we were very thankful to have it.
I would eventually check out the gym and pool that weekend as well. The gym had the usual cluster of treadmills and weight machines; nothing special. The pool was…disappointing. It was about as big as our room. I don’t know how many other people used it that weekend, but there couldn’t have been more than two or three people in it at any given time. There was a hot tub in there as well, but it was about the size of the bathtub—maybe a little bigger—and about as deep. Furthermore, I almost slipped and faceplanted into the damn thing, but was saved (barely) by the handrail. And it wasn’t even that hot, either.
Before we got into the convention proper, we decided it would be best to stock up on food for the weekend, as we were both lacking in the funds department. We found a Walmart a few miles away and went in. I took one step inside the door and felt another wave of nausea creeping up on me. It took me all of two improperly placed seconds before I realized the source of it—I had forgotten for a second that I was in New England, and that I was surrounded by Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots merchandise. We both swallowed the bile building up in our throats and soldiered on. Now you’re probably wondering aloud how I can possibly eat right on such a limited budget for the weekend minus gas and hotel (the press pass was a huge monetary windfall for me). Short answer: you fucking can’t. Long answer: I managed to snag a box of smores flavored Pop Tarts and a variety 8-pack of Austin sandwich crackers…and that was my primary sustenance for the weekend. I would randomly pop back to the room to snack on some crackers of Pop Tarts whenever I had time. We also picked up a bunch of cups and varieties of (mostly cheap, store-brand) soda to mix with the varieties of alcohol we had brought with us. Because priorities.
At the very least our other two roommates brought food with them and were glad to share. But you know you have hit rock bottom when instant ramen is a fucking delicacy to you.
The first panel I ended up at was a Match Game panel featuring a handful of the guests at the con, chief among them LittleKuriboh. He was around plenty of times throughout the weekend, and they were fairly hit or miss. This was one of the misses. The four panelists latched onto a phrase and crowbared it into about ¾ of every answer following. And it wasn’t just their shortcomings, either; in my experience, just about every single “let’s do an anime version of an old game show” still maintains the aesthetic of the old game show. Not here. Instead of a rendition of the old Match Game ‘7N set—probably done in Flash—on the displays, there was a full-screen Notepad with the questions typed in real time. That was incredibly amateurish. And even worse, they weren’t even using the theme from the Match Game series; they used the thinking music from Jeopardy!. And even worse, for each question the audio guys were finding more and more bizarre remixes of said theme—including a dubstep remix of it. Suffice to say, this wasn’t as fun a panel as I thought it would be.
I had a little better time at the following panel, “Wild Card: A Live Cosplayer Game!” The girls in charge of it said it combined elements of Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Munchkin, among others. While they “played” the game on two tables on opposite ends of the room, the characters on said cards were acted out by other cosplayers. I like card games, and this had a lot of potential, but it fell short a bit. Not only did they not have the mechanics of their own game memorized and ironed out, but the reliance on elements of the aforementioned card games made it look like it lacked creativity. I mean, each one of those games I mentioned has tools that let you design your own fake cards; hell, even I have made my own cards in the past.
That Groose cosplayer was awesome, though.
I would return to the main stage later for the “Anime Password” panel. It was run by the same guy who ran the aforementioned Match Game debacle. It was a little bit better put together at first. Again, no mock-up of the actual game show on the screen; the words were typed in on the big screens on either side of the stage for everyone to see and give clues about. Aside from that, it didn’t really adhere to the formula of the show itself. I actually got to participate in this one as a contestant, but didn’t win. And my game was much closer than the previous complete blowout.
While I was wandering around in between panels I got a good look at the game rooms the con had set up. One was for casual console, retro, and rhythm gaming, while the other was for serious tournament play. The former had a DDR setup, but the pad was prone to breaking down, even with constant maintenance. Throughout the weekend, the tournament play gaming room had both Super Smash Bros. Brawl and an unofficial hack called Project M, which was devised when people who were too dissatisfied/spoiled with Brawl compared to Melee and set about hacking the game to make it look like its predecessor. Their aim was to make each character tournament playable, usually at the expense of making them unique and/or—dare I say it—fun. Not every character was available in Project M, as it was a beta and they didn’t work out the kinks on characters like Kirby, Yoshi and Power Suit Samus. The old “No items! Fox only! Final Destination!” joke never got old, but given the reactions of some of the tournament players, I was starting to believe it was hitting too close to home for some.
At around dinnertime I popped in on a LittleKuriboh panel which better showed off his humorous chops, and it was called “Naruto: the Abridged Comedy Fandub Spoof Series.” Before he got to the main attraction—showing the first Naruto Abridged movie, he got into a discussion about an online chat that at one point devolved into references to female genitalia that was safe to fuck and how it was compared favorably to fish. Yeah; don’t ask. Anyway, as the various comparisons were flying around, he decided to read off a bunch of his favorites in his various abridged voices. And yes, Tristan was among them—hell, thanks to me, he was the first voice used. Once the movie had ended, he also gave everyone a sneak peek of a second Naruto Abridged movie called “Sequel no Jutsu.” The crowd was very excited for it.
At around 10:00, things got a bit strange.
See, I was given the idea by my fellow staffer to go to the Nerdfit Speed Dating panel. While I was abysmal with speed dating and have not had very many successes with it in the past, I figured that I’d have some emotional backup even if we were talking to different people, so I should go for it. I could describe this as a clusterfuck, but it would do a disservice to people having sex randomly at an orgy. See, the first clue to things going south was the very skewed gender ratio. There were about four or five guys for every lady. People who were paired up with someone of the same sex were told to just roll with it and make a new friend. It was the same rules as normal speed dating, but very little got accomplished because everyone was loud, I could barely hear myself talk much less my partner, and at about the halfway point, the amount of guys I was talking to far outpaced the number of girls. The only one who was actually interesting was sitting next to me in our pod, so I didn’t get to chat with her. Funnier still was that DJ was in the other pod—the one that wasn’t shifting every few minutes—so when it finally got to me sitting and talking to him, I had imagined it turning into a race to see which one of us could send the other into a table-flipping frenzy first. But he had the right idea and bailed out about halfway through. Even worse, we were forced to clear out because shit had gone on for too long, and there was no way to share contact info with anyone.
And I had given away so many business cards, too.
The last thing I had attended that Friday was a high-school (ugh) themed dance called “Detention Hall,” another event suggested to me by fellow AJS staff. As I had missed a big chunk of the activities in the comedy of errors that was speed dating, I only caught the last ten to fifteen minutes of it, enough time to see DJ Ranma clean up and win the dance contest and walk away with some prizes. Other than that, I retired to the room for a few drinks before calling it a night.
Saturday saw me getting up at a decent time after getting a good amount of sleep. That’s so not like me for a convention weekend. In any event, I hopped into my Hoenn!Ash cosplay and set about meandering around the convention. Most of the panels started after noon, seeing how it was a 21+ convention and people may or may not be hung over from partying too hard the night before. Or they just don’t want to be up too early to get to a panel. I did, however, mostly because the panel I wanted to attend was relevant to my interests. It was called “Is Marth in This Game? A Guide to Fire Emblem.” The Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in popularity in recent years, and the games are very slowly making their way across the Pacific to the West. What a lot of people didn’t know is that the franchise goes all the way back to the Famicom days. Its main protagonist, Marth, only appeared in three of the games as the main character (there are well over a dozen). The panelists ran down the many games in the franchise, as well as plot summaries for each of them, and answered the question, “Is Marth in this game?”. They also had special reverence for the official art of the first game, which depicted, among other things, Marth in a tunic. Without any real pants to speak of.
There was much ado about very little after that, as I spent time wandering around the convention, even popping in on the combined Artists’ Alley and Dealers’ Room. They had the hotel’s main expo center set aside for them, with artists toward the middle and dealers around the outside. I didn’t spend too long in there, mostly because I had no money to spend in there that weekend.
I found the “Knotz Your Everyday Panel!” panel sometime later, which was hosted by (duh) Michele Knotz, voice actress and friend of the show. The main idea of the panel was “How can you entertain me?” Of course, my imagination being what it was, I almost immediately pictured her as some empress sitting on a throne demanding people in her court dance for her amusement, occasionally cackling like a madwoman. At the very least, she had all sorts of small prizes to give away, mostly from things she had worked on. The acts were of varying quality, but she was a good sport about everything.
I only stayed for a little bit, mostly because it was being recorded for our YouTube channel, and she knew DJ more than me. I made my way over to “The Best of Robert Axelrod.” Robert Axelrod had a bunch of other anime voice acting roles on his resume, but everyone would know him as Lord Zedd from Power Rangers. He loved all his roles, especially that—considering he had several callbacks to go through to finally land that part—and he was upset that they nerfed Zedd’s intimidation factor over the series due to parents complaining that he was giving kids nightmares. But he argued that’s what a good villain is supposed to do…and we wholeheartedly agreed with him.
Once that was over, I found my way over to the main stage for the third time, this time for “LittleKuriboh Unabridged.” The man was in much better form than even his Friday night screening panel, mostly because the festivities weren’t co-opted by a movie. He had plenty of funny stories to tell, especially about how his honeymoon was really just being a guest at Youmacon in Detroit, as he and his new wife—who was the reason he emigrated to the United States, we learned—couldn’t afford a proper honeymoon. He was treated to a roast as one of the main events. This was also the first time he meat Team Four Star, as well, who were the roastmasters. Things took a turn for the crazy-awesome during the roast. See, the newlyweds were given a bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold tequila as a present. Unfortunately, they couldn’t take it back home with them (apparently it didn’t occur to him to simply bury it in his luggage), so they decided, over the course of that day, to down the bottle between the both of them. The entire goddamn bottle. As a result, LittleKuriboh showed up to his roast completely smashed. Furthermore, he had no idea how a roast worked (the guest of honor sits on stage while the roastmaster and guests take potshots at him, leaving him with the last word), so with every barb shot at him, he was all too willing to fire back. He also expressed extreme, heartfelt gratitude to the guys on Team Four Star, citing it as one of the best things that had ever happened to him. He also answered some questions in character.
With no other panels to go to for most of the afternoon, I decided to look around town a bit. One of the things I’ve started to look for whenever I go to a con is whether or not there are any Masonic lodges in the area. I found one in this case, the Washington Lodge #61. It was about a mile down the road from the hotel, but since I wasn’t entirely sure where it was, it took me far longer than I would like to admit to get there…especially since my GPS shat the bed on me while trying to drive around town. When I pulled up to the lodge, I saw banners for an open house. Imagine the look on my face when I saw that said open house was scheduled for that Saturday. From 9 to 3. I was kicking myself realizing I had missed it by about two hours.
I wasn’t too upset when I got back to the hotel and I could just use my room key to swipe in and out of the parking garage. I wasn’t going to take paying out the ass every single time I wanted to leave the hotel. I tooled around the con some more after that, even entering a Smash Bros. Brawl / Project M tournament. I wasn’t too thrilled about the latter, but it was a writ of “any port in a storm.” Also, Ness is overpowered as fuck in this iteration of it.
That evening DJ and I had made it a point to have at least one good, real meal that weekend. We landed at one of the bar and grill restaurants in the hotel, where we just sat at the bar and got dinner. There was also a Snape cosplayer hanging around the bar acting not like Snape but as kind of a fusion of Snape and Alan Rickman. He was most awesome. And he kicked our way a few drink ideas for us to try…which were quite good.
We closed out the night by going down to the rave. I usually don’t do very well at these things, but there was virtually nothing else to do and the handful of games in the game rooms were getting old. The music was good and everyone had fun, but I ended up bowing out early and crashing around two-ish.
Sunday we packed up our stuff and loaded up the car, but not before we recorded a bunch of interviews for the site. Once we were all loaded, up, I dreaded going to the gate to get out, mostly because I knew it would be expensive (given my severely limited cash flow) and I’d have to depend too much on contributions from the rest of the adventuring party to get home. In a bold gambit, I instead went to the automated gate and swiped my room key, holding my breath in anticipation. After a moment, the gate opened, and, wide-eyed, I pulled out of the parking garage and sped off like I was trying to hit 88 MPH and travel back in time.
Our other roommates requested we drop them off in Boston first, which was its own bastion of hilarity. See, the ALCS series had closed the night before, and Boston had secured their place in the thee World Series. As we drove into the labyrinthine network of roads and highways in and around the Boston area, we came across a billboard congratulating the Red Sox on their win, DJ began frothing at them mouth as he reached over the driver’s side to flip off said billboard. Good times. We dropped off our companions, decided to get some dinner at a nearby Applebees, and made our way back to NYC. It was late when our ways parted, and I ended up getting back home nearly at midnight.
Another Anime Convention was one of the most unique convention experiences I’ve ever been to. When I go to conventions that require a 2+ hour drive, I am more used to much larger affairs than this. But this con was somewhere over 2000 attendees, definitely one of the smaller cons I went to. I’m starting to dig our penchant for going to smaller, more local conventions, but I still believe bigger cons have their advantages as well. I do hope to go back again next year, and hopefully I’ll have a much fatter and healthier wallet with me, even if I don’t spend it on anything especially substantial. I would’ve loved to at least come home with some maple sugar products, at the very least.