Well, here it is, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the start of convention season for 2016. Although I’m hesitant to refer to it as a “season,” since you can find a convention happening in at least one city in this country during any given weekend…at least that’s what it feels like, they’ve become so ubiquitous.
And our first convention for 2016 is none other than Zenkaikon 2016, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which, due to how much the convention has grown on the staff—myself included, I’ll admit—has been labeled our “home” convention. Never mind that the “home” con for two New Jersey residents and one NYC resident is in Pennsylvania Dutch country, which is pretty much the antithesis of what we do.
As always, my convention weekend started the day before the convention proper. With plenty of personal days at work, I managed to get both Thursday and Friday off without any questions asked, allowing me to pack and travel at my leisure to Lancaster. The drive up was simple and uneventful, really. No detours, no incidents, nothing along those lines. I was the first to arrive at the venue, and had little to do except wait for the rest of the adventuring party, at which point I was immediately conscripted into unloading the car when they arrived. We got everything in the room, eventually, and we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening bombing around Lancaster. It wasn’t entirely without purpose, though; we had to get some last minute cosplay repair supplies, food, and alcohol—in that order.
On our way back we contemplated getting dinner. And since there was a Buffalo Wild Wings within walking distance of the liquor store, our first inclination was to stop there. But our collective attention was soon drawn to something very different indeed. “What’s this Tom & Chee place? A grilled cheese and tomato soup specialty? Hmmm…” I personally never understood the how or why those two dishes ended up going so well together, but they did. We talked it over and decided we could get Buffalo Wild Wings anytime, since those were all over and this was the first one of these places we had ever seen. Any thoughts of it being boring sandwiches and soup were dashed as we looked at the menu and all the options available. We enjoyed eating there, no doubt, but it just sucked that there’s no locations “near” any of us—there is a location near us. Huh…
We spent the rest of Thursday night doing our own things, which included boozing around Lancaster, working on cosplays, and—in my case—hitting the pool. The pool was exactly how I remember it last year, only it was a lot more lively that first evening (I don’t know about the rest of the time, as this was the only day I was at it). The highlight of hitting the pool came when I and three other men of considerable size decided to get into the all-too-small hot tub at the same time. Predictably, the water flooded over the top of the tub and all over. But that wasn’t the best part; the best part came when a hotel employee working the pool was using a long squeegee on a stick (like a mop) to push the water back into the pool, and when he tried to do the same with the hot tub, he just decided “fuck this” and walked off. We all had a good laugh over it.
Friday morning started off rather slowly for me, as I spent the better part of the morning wandering around in my Bear Hugger (Punch-Out!!) cosplay and getting and taking a bunch of photos. The first panel I actually ended up attending was “Art of GMing”, a panel intended for people who were the GMs of D&D style tabletop games—not only to provide a what’s what of running your own game, but for the inevitable opportunity to share stories of just how badly a player can fail thanks to rolling 1s on the dice. Ever see someone set themselves completely ablaze and die from lighting a torch? Did you ever think someone would be stupid and/or clumsy enough to do that? Neither did I!
The next panel after that was one that addressed a huge problem in the cosplay community as of late: “Understanding and Dealing with Con Drama.” Yes, as much as we hate to admit it, the cosplay community has been bogged down as of late with egregious amounts of drama. And the “old timers” like me and my cohosts very much remember a time when this wasn’t the case. This panel, thankfully, gave everyone advice on how to avoid it, or if need be, deescalate it.
I was in and out of the game rooms—one for video gaming, the other for tabletop and board games—over the course of the weekend, depending on whether or not I had a panel to go to or was just bored in general. Both were very well stocked, but I didn’t actually play anything in the latter, as I was worried about time constraints between the game and my schedule; the video game room was where I spent most of my time. Fun, overall, but the lack of lighting made everything feel dreary.
Speaking of gaming, probably the most fun I had at a panel Gameshow Impossibru™: Retro Gaming Challenge, hosted by the Manly Battleships. They had a ton of NES ROMs on their computer, and any volunteer could come up and play them, given the time constraints. Each game and challenge in said game was random, and decided by playing card draws. I ended up playing Donkey Kong on the NES, and was tasked with completing that godawful last level, which I did, on my last life. There ended up being three people winning their games altogether, with other players having little to no skill at the games, it seemed. I ended up in the finals, and we ended up playing the Mario Bros. minigame in Super Mario Bros. 3. I won, but the guys running it said you had to kill your opponent to win. So they made us play Balloon Fight. I ended up losing that, and walked off with 2nd place—a can of Surge soda.
I wound up later that day at a panel called “How Fanfiction is Changing the World,” the title of which alone was enough to get my attention. Not only did they talk about how fanfiction has influenced the fandoms as we know them today, but it also looked at its origins—mostly in the Star Trek franchise. See, back when TOS came out, the fans ended up making all sorts of fan zines and the like and sharing them with one another. And the concept of fanfiction really took off around here, with even terms such as “slash” (romantic and/or sexual pairings between characters) and “Mary-Sue” (fan-made characters who are just too perfect) coming into play. Of course without any internet, this meant writing their stories down on paper and reading them aloud in a room with other likeminded people. Make of that what you will.
I spent the time between that panel and the next taking pictures, gaming, and occasionally getting something to eat. I only ate at the hotel’s restaurant once, seeing how it was still on the expensive side. After recording an interview with Cosplay Burlesque, the next panel I attended after that was one that I had been asked to record, and that our other staffers had been asking to see recorded: “The Rufio/Zuko Power Hour.” So named because it was a massive Q&A panel ran by actor and voice talent Dante Basco, who was (among other roles) Rufio in Hook, Zuko in the Avatar series, and Jake Long in American Dragon: Jake Long. It was a typical Q&A panel with all that it entails, but in between taking and answering questions he gave us insight onto his experiences as an actor, starting from way back when he was a street dancer in LA. He has also embraced his fans’ love of his character/s wholeheartedly, especially Zuko. And as a treat for all the Avatar fans out there, he’s on record as saying he’s primarily a Zutara shipper, but is still happy Zuko wound up with Mai. Of course this also guarantees that the shipping wars in the Avatar fan will wage eternal.
Friday night, the lot of us went out looking for some late night grub, and found ourselves at an Asian fusion place a few blocks from the hotel itself. The food was good, though admittedly some of the choices were off the table to us since we were arriving so very close to closing time. After that we wound up back at the room to drink and let the rest of the night dwindle away.
Saturday morning, I got an early start and headed over to the big farmers’ market. It was just a big and spacious as I remembered it from last time I was at Zenkaikon, and I decided to splurge just a little bit. I found the donut shop that made maple bacon donuts—which the rest of the podcast swears by—and a dairy vendor that sold all sorts of different flavors of milk. They were advertising their new crème de menthe milk, so I got myself some of that. The two paired surprisingly well together.
And while this has little to do with the panels I attended, I finally got my newly altered Hoenn!Ash cosplay together and wore it for the first time in a long time. I felt good wearing it, and while I did get my picture taken a few times, I’ll be damned if I can find any pictures of me anywhere.
One of the most interesting panels I visited on Saturday (and during the whole con, really) was “Adapting Video Games to Film.” They talked about not just the adaptations of video game IPs to film, television, etc., but also the many pitfalls that came about adapting them—how much to put in, how much to leave out, making sure the audience knows what’s going on without catering too much to either the hardcore fans or the general populace. They also talked about adaptation disasters related to The King of Fighters and Tekken, lauded the Street Fighter film as being hilariously awful,
Our old friend Greggo was in attendance at Zenkaikon, and he was hosting his anime-inspired versions of classic game shows again—this time around he brought The ¥25,000 Pyramid and later Password. The tryouts for each were held a couple hours before each panel, and sad to say, I didn’t get picked for either one. The second tryout was just as easy, as we were wrapping up an interview with Interrobang Studios so I didn’t have to go very far. Still, each game show was a lot of fun, and everyone involved had a good time. I personally am still waiting on a version of Tic-Tac-Dough, but who knows when/if he’ll adapt it in Flash like he does his other game shows.
I hung around “Dr. Mario’s Horrible Singalong Panel”, but only for a few minutes or so; it turned out to be much less interesting than I had hoped. Instead, we ended up retreating back to the room at different times to drink and hang out with one another, both with old friends and new. I ended up philosophizing with another guy about a variety of topics, and this was with about a dozen drinks in me, which typically makes me chatty and louder than usual…so I only have an idea as to whether or not I knew what the fuck I was talking about.
Sunday was a winding down day, as usual, and to be honest, little ended up being accomplished. Sure I got some more pictures, but I ultimately didn’t stay around for much. The only big thing of note was our interview with voice actor Vic Mignogna. He was interesting to talk to, especially on the topic of Star Trek. But what we were especially interested in was his take on an incident where fundamentalists protested nearby an anime convention and Vic—an actual Christian—took them to task in regards to perverting their religion’s teachings. I definitely had respect for the man after hearing his side of the story, since what he said to the protesters was indeed correct. Vic’s gotten a lot more relaxed about his faith in recent years, but a part of me thinks that it’s at least somewhat due to preserving his reputation and finding work. That and the ubiquity of people with cameras; hell, Vic himself didn’t even know he was being filmed.
I ended up having to leave the convention rather early, compared to usual, because this was also the weekend of WrestleMania, with the (excruciatingly long) event taking place that Sunday night, and I had a WrestleMania party to attend. Sure the event dragged on and on and on, but seeing—among other things—The New Day come out wearing Saiyan battle armor was the perfect capper to the weekend.
We’ve all grown to love Zenkaikon, for a number of different reasons. Whether it be because it’s relatively chill compared to other cons or that its staff are very responsive and professional…but I personally have enjoyed Zenkaikon because it’s one of the few cons that I’ve had both of my other cohosts along for the weekend; usually it’s just one or the other. Having good friends around makes all the difference in the world. I would much rather be at a mediocre con with my friends the whole weekend than be at a stellar con all by myself.