Zenkaikon 2017 — Maple Bacon is Love, Maple Bacon is Life

It wasn’t exactly the Amish Paradise that had been sung about in days gone by, but it was as close to excitement as we were going to get out of Lancaster county, I believed. But then again, my opinion is probably colored by the pop culture depiction of Pennsylvania Dutch country, so maybe I’m not the best judge.

Zenkaikon returns to the Lancaster Marriott and the Lancaster County Convention Center for another year of cosplaying and anime related shenanigans in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. It was a pleasant late April weekend, the weather much better and not nearly as bad as it was last year.

I got a start on the convention weekend directly after work on Thursday afternoon, having loaded up my car the night before and keeping everything in the trunk of my car and making a stop at a nearby Dollar Tree to get rations/sustenance/foodstuffs for both the trip up and for the room in general, to help everyone save on eating over the weekend. The drive over was peaceful and calm, even if I did get shafted driving along the stupidly expensive Pennsylvania Turnpike. That said, it wasn’t long before everyone got settled into the room and chilled out to get ready for the con coming up the next three days.

Since I knew the farmers’ market would be jumping all this weekend (though some of the vendors assured me this was nothing compared to some of the other events they come across), I made a point to get up early and go over there to get some breakfast. Particularly, the donuts at the Shady Maple bakery. Even more particularly, the maple bacon donuts that the rest of the adventuring party went nuts about years before. With a piece of chocolate covered bacon on top, they’re always a huge hit. I managed to get one of the last ones while I was there, much to the consternation of the rest of the room; apparently, at some point earlier, one of the staffers came over and bought as many of the maple bacon donuts as they could.

The first panel I ended up taking in on Friday was one about Cosplay Bullying. In it, the panelists explored the pathology behind why people bully or go out of their way to degrade anyone else’s cosplay, and as I could’ve predicted, all the various -shaming suffixes were hit on (fat, race, slut, etc.). There were also stories shared about others being bullied, but it was a generally positive mood, and people were encouraged to keep cosplaying regardless. A second panel about an hour or so later, “Confidence in Cosplay” touched on more of the same, but left the nonsense about people bullying others to the side, in favor of, again, creating a more positive and uplifting environment. There was special mention of cosplayers doing their characters so well that they just seem to come right out of the games themselves…and while the panelist was describing just that, another cosplayer pointed directly to me as an example. How flattering!

The highlight of Friday was a Pokémon photoshoot held out by one of the fountains across from the convention center and hotel area. Aside from everyone having fun and their costumes being incredible looking, the Giovanni cosplayer got into a promo-cutting fest with DJ Ranma and I (dressed as Brock and Ash, respectively). We had come up with this storyline that we were Pokémon Tag Team Champions, but since we couldn’t come up with the physical belts themselves, we spun it as Team Rocket stealing our actual physical belts—but not the championships themselves. Whether or not this angle would play out is anyone’s guess.

We also got a nice interview with the husband-and-wife voice acting duo of Ellen McLain and John Patrick Lowrie, who are always glad to see us, as well as glad to see the Lancaster area for Zenkaikon. Amidst talking about their work, solo or with one another, they were also happy to share some of their music with us as well.

I took a little while to go back to the pool at the hotel, and it was just like I remembered it last year…with one major change. The hot tub, which I and about four other fat bastards ended up almost completely draining, was gone. A big, wooden block was placed over where it formerly was, with a cheap fake plant atop of it. Aside from being a small, cold pool, there was nothing else inspiring or interesting about it. I didn’t stay long.

I scrounged around for dinner within town, and later came across a panel called “80s Cartoons and Why They’re Still Epic.” It was an hour of (mostly) showing show openings from 80s cartoons, but the panelists also detailed why they were so renowned…or why they ended up fading into obscurity. Merchandising was inevitably one of the reasons, as lots of these cartoons were, and let’s not kid ourselves, glorified toy commercials. They may have been cheap plastic, but they were mainstays of our childhoods, after all.

There wasn’t much of anything going on after that, with the exception of intermittent trips to the game rooms—video and tabletop—and occasionally hanging out in the dealers’ room. I didn’t buy anything, as my budget was incredibly tight (again), but the vendors and the cosplayers wandering around made for an interesting diversion.

The first panel on Saturday took me to a little café just outside the convention center that was being used as an auxiliary panel room. The subject: “The Fanperson’s Guide to Dead Fandoms.” It was an hour-long discussion about fandoms for video games, cartoons, anime, what have you, that have since concluded or were cancelled and don’t have anything else going for it save for the occasional piece of fanart floating around the internet. And of course, there was a roll call of various dead fandoms from the panelists and the patrons about fandoms they loved but dropped off the face of the Earth.

The next panel I attended was one that really caught my eye; it was called “Foreign Anime Openings.” If you think it was just them showing anime openings from different dubs and countries, then…well, you’re partially right. They also talked about some of the conventions for openings in other countries, such as, in Italy, a lot of the openings will put emphasis on the outfits and/or transformations. It was also strange seeing the comparisons to the American openings, which have used often wildly different songs, some of which go completely counterintuitive to the plot of the show itself. And I’d be lying if said there wasn’t at least one foreign opening theme that wasn’t insanely catchy…

As it was another topic in my wheelhouse, “Fanfiction for Fun and Profit” was right up my alley, and it talked about how (if possible) to make money writing fanfiction. Sure, there are tricks like using your fanfic as a blueprint or template to make your own works, but sometimes it can come just a little too close to copyright infringement. So, the utmost caution is advised.

The last panel I hit up Saturday was “Into the Temple: Lucha Underground’s Mythology examined.” It talked about the booking and mythology of the Lucha Underground wrestling promotion…and how little it’s like American style pro wrestling. For one, the championships are treated as much bigger deals than on the rest of the continent, and the champs were most definitely fighting champions; none of this Brock Lesner garbage would fly in LU. They tried to show matches from recent LU events, but the guy’s equipment was acting up, and the video he tried to show crashed and hung on the loudest and most hilariously appropriate note in the video, causing the entire panel to break down laughing.

Sunday was more on the reserved side, especially since our dinner and hanging out in the room later that evening were the most relaxed parts of the con, as we ended up doing little more than taking pictures and attending the Cosplay Wrestling event. If you’re picturing it as an indie-level promotion where the wrestlers are dressed up in costume…then you’d be right. At least the matches are entertaining and the performers athletic and, for the most part, botch-free. Of course, the best part came at the end when Giovanni (the same one from the photoshoot on Friday) crashed the main event and it turned into an all-out brawl. Good times.

After that, there was little else to do except get in the car and drive home. And speaking of wrestling, there was a WWE pay-per-view event, Payback, that was going on that Sunday night. I went over to a friend’s house to watch it, but since I don’t have cable, forget to put on Hulu and watch WWE programming when I miss it on Mondays and Tuesdays, it becomes difficult for me to pay attention to the storylines going on…even if it is a “minor” and rather predictable pay-per-view.

I’ve come to love coming to Lancaster for Zenkaikon these past few years. It’s a great not-too-big-not-too-small convention, the surrounding locale is great and wonderful to look at, and the con itself just makes you feel welcome. It’s not so small as to see the same handful of people literally everywhere you go, but it’s also not too big as to outgrow its venue and feel cold and imposing. We’ll definitely be going back next year. And perhaps we’ll be a little quicker on the draw to get those maple bacon donuts. No promises, though.

Ari Rockefeller

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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