I’d never been to a proper anime convention before this weekend. But, a few months back I was feeling terrible about everything and wanting to get out more, so I agreed to go to Fanime, in San Jose, with a few friends. It says it’s “by fans, for fans,” and I’m a fan, so why not? Suddenly, months later, I caught a train to San Jose. Here’s a few stray thoughts about the weekend:
-My first impression was that Fanime is pretty poorly run. There was only an online-only tentative schedule available going into the con weekend, and that schedule went up on Wednesday, one day before the con got going. I’m used to being able to check out the panels and coordinate meetings with friends weeks before the con. It gives me something to look forward to and helps make sure I see everything I gotta see. I’m not really sure where the difficulty would come from in assigning panels times and rooms, either. When I got the program book, all the panels were listed in alphabetical order… and that’s it. That’s pretty near useless, isn’t it?
I ended up catching one panel, the Shonen Jump one on Saturday, and I only knew when and where it was because manga super-blogger Deb Aoki let me know. Sorta sucks that I couldn’t depend on the program to get around.
The registration was similarly harder than it had to be. I walked into the convention center and got in line to register. This meant that I wrote my name and address on a computer, ignored the request for an email address, and then hit save. Then I had to write my name and a number from the computer on a piece of paper. Then I was told to go around the corner, past the sign that said no admittance, and line up again. I did that, and they let me pay. Then I was supposed to go to another table, in a sea of tables, to get my actual badge.
C’mon man. Registration should be one step. Shell out eight bucks for an extension cord and move the printer to where it should be.
-What is with all the Nazis? I saw cosplayers in Nazi uniforms within about two minutes of scaling the stairs to get to the con. There weren’t a lot of them, but seeing three Nazis in, say, a lifetime, is six too many. But what really got me, though, was the dude who was wearing an incredibly accurate full Nazi get-up. It looked like a fairly accurate SS uniform, and sure, they have a neat logo, but they’re actual Nazis. Terrible costume, terrible choice.
But but but, this guy was not a cosplayer. He was a vendor. He wore a red armband, and instead of a swastika, the word YAOI was in the white circle. He was selling dude-on-dude porn for girls by co-opting some of the worst bastards in history. I actually noticed the black SS caps he was selling first. There were three on the table, and I thinking that it was weird, and maybe it was some Hetalia thing, but then I realized that the death’s head on the cap was the symbol of the actual Death’s Head. And then I saw the guy. And then I kept walking before I asked him why he thought his costume was a good idea. I walked by again on Sunday with my friends, and he was wearing a green SS uniform and his armband said SEME.
(I assume it’s because being eye-catching results in sales, but it also makes people want to stomp you out on sight. Did you know it’s legal to slap anybody rocking Nazi gear in the face? True story. Check the Constitution.)
Anyway, you look like a moron when you go outside wearing Nazi gear. Even if it’s your ~beautiful cosplay~.
-I came up with some jokes about Herr Moron of the SS. I tweeted some of them while I was at a bar, but here they are again: “This ain’t yaoi manga… this is genocide!”, “Welcome to Heinrich Himmler’s Hentai Hut! May I take your order?”, Pol Pot’s Porn Lot, Josef Stalin’s House of Ballin, Mussolinilingus, etc
I also liked this one from Chris Sims: “I don’t know about you, but MEIN kampf is with these unbeatably low prices!” because I can hear the voice they always give Hitler in my head (whiny, impotent)
-I thought it was interesting how there were precious few publishers present at the con. A ton of artists, and plenty of dealers, but I think only Media Blasters and DMP had significant presence. They were the only ones I noticed, anyway, but Funimation, Viz, Vertical, and basically every other anime/manga pub that I can think of weren’t there, except maybe to do a quick panel or show a marathon.
-A couple weeks ago, I read David Cabrera‘s “A Dissection of the Media Blasters DVD Table At The Average Dealer’s Room”. I liked it, because he did a great job of illustrating this very specific thing in a funny way. What really, really cracked me up at the con was walking past a table and thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of cartoon porno!” I meant that in terms relative to the rest of the con, too. It was a lot of porno. I kept walking and saw the Asian live action discs, anime faux porno, and then a crappy little box full of movies like Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (or maybe a remake–it had the same title, but the spine design was very modern) and trashy gorehound stuff. Cabrera nailed it.
-Are publishers not really present at Fanime because of the bootlegging? I’m used to bootleg booths at comic conventions. It’s always one or two dudes hawking the Brazilian import of the Gen13 movie or suspiciously affordable boxed sets of awful cape cartoons from the ’60s or ’80s. They’re obvious, and I’m not sure why cons keep letting them in.
But the bootleggery at Fanime was a whole other thing. There was a whole room dedicated to playing fansubs, for one thing. I caught a couple of shows in the nostalgia video room, and between showings, it was very obvious that they were bootlegged off the internet, too. It’s one thing to pirate for yourself, but I feel like if you’re going to pirate on such a painfully obvious scale and doing public showings… you’re kind of a dick? Stealing and stealing while rubbing someone’s face in it is two different things. It was weird sitting in the Shonen Jump panel while they bigged up Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece knowing that later that weekend somebody’s crappy fansub of One Piece: Strong World was going to be played for a hundred people.
-The Shonen Jump panel was pretty great. I sat in the front with Deb, who knows everyone there, which was cool. Less cool was the loudmouth (and sorta fragrant) Misty-from-Pokemon cosplayer who kept interrupting the panel to ask about Tite Kubo’s Bleach. Chill out and enjoy the panel. They’ll get to it.
The SJ team were pretty great, despite the constant outbursts from Misty. I somehow managed to forget all of their names because I’m terrible (save for Alexei, because he edits One Piece and I think he gave an interview I read once), but I liked them a lot. The MC was rocking a costume I couldn’t quite figure out (it was bosozoku-y? It put me in mind of Tohru Fujisawa’s GTO), and she was not just funny, but knew how to keep the panel moving. There were a lot of jokes, and the trivia questions were geared toward both emphasizing new announcements and hooking a bunch of fans up with free stuff. A grand ol’ time, basically. I’d see another panel with that crew any day of the week. Probably fun to interview, too.
-I didn’t plan to buy a lot of stuff. I basically went because I had no good reason not to. I got out of the city for a weekend, had a fun time, and hung out with good friends. I’m basically on a book-buying freeze anyway, since I’ve got so many left unread, half a dozen of which are 600+ pages. (I’m an idiot, but a literate idiot.)
But with that said, I did want to get a little something. I keep meaning to start Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk, so I wanted volume one of that. I used to own the first couple volumes of Hirohiko Araki’s Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, back before a move, and I keep wanting to check that series out again. Finally, I really dig Dragon Kid from Tiger & Bunny, so if I could get a little statue or toy or something for cheap, I’d go for that.
Everybody had Slam Dunk 4-12 or 3-1X. Only one booth had volume one, and they didn’t have Jojo. So, whatever, six bucks later I got my book and declared the weekend a success. I had a good time, made a few reckless decisions, and got the book I wanted. Pazow. Easy, breezy, beautiful.
-Dealers have no idea how to handle shoplifters. The lady I bought the book from didn’t give me a bag. It was no big deal, and she was eating a donut anyway so I felt like I was intruding. I mention the bag thing as foreshadowing. It’ll pay off in a paragraph or so.
I mentioned I didn’t plan to do a lot of shopping. I wasn’t shopping and I wasn’t taking pictures, so I left my bag in the hotel room. Why carry it if I won’t need it? So I walked around with my (shrink-wrapped) book, spinning it between my middle fingers because it’s awkward to walk around with a book that won’t fit in your pocket. My friends were cosplaying Black Butler (which I’ve never read, but they looked nice, so I assume it’s a very fashionable manga). They retreated to the hotel to change out of their cosplay right before I went a-shopping, and we met back up after. We walked back to that booth because 1) I was still on the same aisle/general area (actually pretty close to the Nazi yaoi dude, come to think of it) and 2) 20% off, c’mon.
We were looking at some DVDs (Katanagatari, which has an ill title but is apparently weak) when a guy walks up and asks if that’s my book or theirs. I say mine, and because I’ve worked retail before, I tell him who I bought it from, and even mention her donut. Dude takes my book out of my hands, waves at the lady all the way across the booth (they had several shelves on one side, tables full of cardboard boxed manga next to that, and then smaller tables for DVDs), points at me, does a thumbs up/thumbs down motion, and asks if “he’s okay.” She says yes, I guess, but I can’t see her because someone was in my way. He brings my book back and is like “okay.” I wanted to black out on him, but I also wanted to continue my nice weekend without any stress, so I just walked away with my friends, who made a joke about how awkward that whole situation was.
The weekend’s over now, though, so: that is not how you deal with customers. I’ve worked retail and dealt with shoplifters. That’s not how you do it. What that guy did is called being a dick. I don’t mind being asked if I bought a book, and I was making it a point to stay away from the books just to avoid that type of confusion. But you don’t get to take it out of my hands, you don’t get to point at me like I’m a sucker, and you don’t get to treat me like a criminal. Never. I wish I remembered that booth’s name, because that guy was such a huge dick that I wanted to get my money back for my little six dollar book and just retreat to Amazon.
Put differently: what kind of thief would steal the first volume of a twenty-two year old manga that is still widely available elsewhere, leave it in the shrinkwrap, and then loiter around that same area, spinning it around his thumbs and looking for attention? Answer: no kind of thief, because that series of events doesn’t even remotely make sense. That’s a terrible master plan.
And if I was going to steal, the entire front of the booth was unprotected, two girls were guarding six shelves, and dropping a book in a plastic bag held below eye level is awfully easy.
You should think before leaping to the thief card. Otherwise you just look like a sucker.
-The cosplay was bomb. I saw ill Weskers, a couple nice Dragon Kids (casual and caped up), a Male Shepard/Female Shepard couple from Mass Effect, a lot of Korras (a lot a lot, actually), and a couple Ramonas from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. There were also a lot of Homestuck characters I’m not familiar with, a couple Hellsing characters, and even a few Ikki Tousen girls (I think) who definitely got a lot of semi-surreptitious looks from the staff when they went to the hotel bar. All the costumes that caught my attention were high quality or clever in some way. Very cool to see. Oh, and no Slave Leias. Wait, hang on:
-No Slave Leias. You go, anime. Good work. I’m proud of you.
-Cosplay still screws up travel, though. Hordes of people clogging up an aisle to take a photo… dang, man. Annoying each and every time.
-The video marathon rooms were a very cool idea. I don’t usually like to go to a con just to do stuff I could do at home (like drugs, drinks, anime, books… huh.), but I thought it’d be neat to drop in on the nostalgia anime room for both a rest and to see what was up. I saw a few old episodes of Voltron (or whatever it used to be called, it had the dang lions) with some truly atrocious dubbing and eps of a more recent Giant Robo series. I was a little disappointed — I’ve never seen the ’60s series — but it was still some pretty decent giant robot action. It had a similar visual style to Batman: The Animated Series, which had me trying to figure out a Giant Robo/Batman: The Animated Series/The Big O timeline. (I was wrong, by the way. Giant Robo and Batman started the same year, much too close for either to influence the other.)
I’d like to see more marathon rooms at cons, or one dedicated room of nicely curated content. I think with a strong panel line-up, a marathon room would be a huge bonus to curious people. “Here’s a 45 minute presentation about classic tokusatsu and mecha shows, and tonight, I’m doing a two hour set in the video room.” They should definitely ease back on the AC, though. The nostalgia room was freezing cold. Positively sleep-inducing.
-I had pound cake and two shots of whiskey for breakfast on Sunday. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Turns out it was a fantastic idea. I wasn’t drunk, obviously, but it made the weekend feel more like a vacation. You have to make dumb decisions for good reasons on vacation, right? I’ve never been on a vacation, I dunno.
-I bailed out of the con on Sunday to catch the Thunder/Spurs game. I hit the hotel bar, Affinity, and had a good time. The bartenders and staff were funny and split about 75/25 Thunder/Spurs fans. Told a lot of jokes, had a lot of laffs. The staff took the con and costumes well in stride. A dude dressed as the bad guy from Rumiko Takahashi’s Inu-Yasha watched the first quarter of the game before leaving, and other costumes came and went. That’s where I saw the Shepards, too.
-Real quick: the guy in the green Lupin costume was on point, sideburns and everything. He ruled.
-The staff only cracked when somebody stole a table from the bar’s outside area. Me and the manager (he seemed managerial, at least) were talking about how dope the Thunder are when a waiter came over and whispered in his ear. They stormed outside, and then I could hear the gossip making its way to the front of the bar via the staff. It was this weird mix of anger, shock, confusion, and good humor. I mean, how are you supposed to react when somebody yaps a table from a restaurant? Who does that? The table was secretly returned an hour and change later, and the staff laughed about it some.
-I was surprised at the total lack of bar-con. Comic-cons finish and you go to the bar to try and rub shoulders with comics creators. Anime cons and… no? You do something else? Affinity was never even remotely full, and the bar was only full for maybe thirty minutes while I was there. Very strange.
I think a side effect of there being no established bar-con etiquette is that people suddenly had an excuse to be doggone terrible at the bar. Coming up and asking for water and then micromanaging the amount of water you get (no joke: at least 15 people over the course of the game, sometimes in groups), whispering to the waiter to see if they serve just coke with no alcohol, and just blowing past the “Please wait to be seated” sign and bogarting a booth… c’mon, y’all.
The one that got me the most, that turned me from observer to participant, was a guy who rolled up with his friend and stood past the bar and toward the restaurant, well away from any bar seats. Which, sure, rookie mistake, that’s cool. But the bartender was working solo, and he was handling several orders at once, so the guys start talking about how long it takes. Also fair, though rude: he maybe should’ve had a barback. But then the one guy who ordered alcohol (his friend ordered water in a “to-go glass”) was like “Oh, you just gotta wave them down with money” and started waving his wallet at the bartender. It was super rude, and the bartender was a couple people down, so I dunno if he even saw it or not. But I caught that guy’s eye, looked at his wallet, and looked him right in his eyes and he quit it. I was appalled, man. Who taught you how to order drinks?
But whatever. My burger was good, I had several Stellas, and had a great time watching the game and shooting the breeze.
-There were like nine tables full of advertisements and cards. As a result, there were cards and ads for you to slip on all up and down the entrance to the con. Seemed like overkill.
-Fanime reminds me of Artist’s Alley at a comic convention. The lack of publishers contributed to this, and maybe the floors at the San Jose Convention Center are the same shade at the Javitz or something, but that was my first thought when I hit the dealer’s room. It’s not a big press affair, nor a big publisher event, so the people who show up are artists, fans, and dealers: artist’s alley folks, basically.
It was kind of cool, actually. The con had a tangibly different feel from every comic con I ever went to, and was quieter. Other than a pianist in the dealer’s room, I never noticed one booth’s driving bass making your eardrums shatter. It wasn’t quiet, but it was about as quiet as a room full of a few hundred people can get. You could carry on basic conversations… other than the insane crowding at certain points, it felt like a very intimate con, like you could get away with chit-chat with someone manning a booth without really screwing up their cash flow.
-It’s bigger than APE, but smaller than Wondercon. If that helps you figure out the size of the con at all.
-The age limits were confusing. There were a lot of kids at the con, probably more than tend to go to comic cons. I didn’t notice many families, but lots of clouds of teenagers. It was a different proportion than what I’d see at comic cons, but still very cool. It’s hard to believe the sky is falling in whatever industry when you’re surrounded by people who are incredibly into it.
Some of the panels at Fanime were 18+, though, which is fine because I guess they also screen porn at these things, but the My Little Pony panel was 16+. The target audience for that cartoon is what, ten years old? What’s up with that? Obviously I didn’t do any investigation and maybe the answer is really simple, but I hope it isn’t “Bronies ruin everything.”
-There was a “Broniez Before Hoeniez” shirt on sale. Bronies ruin everything.
-There was an enormous diversity of merch. My Little Pony tees abounded, but so did FLCL, Adventure Time, that one cartoon with the blue bird and the raccoon (I think?), Avatar, and your usual anime fare. It was sort of interesting and I’m not sure what it means or if it means anything. But for American cartoons to be shelved and rocked right alongside anime stuff is pretty interesting. I hope it speaks to the diversity of the fanbase for both or something, I dunno. “People like cartoons,” discovers blogger.
-I had trouble finding any non-corny Dragon Kid merch. I looked at statues, model kits, t-shirts, pretty much everything but the body pillows and found basically zilch. She’s such an ill character, too, from design to gimmick to concept. Bummer. Plenty of Tiger, Bunny, and Blue Rose, though. Even the wack ninja dude was better represented than ol’ Dragon Kid.
-The Kuwabara (YuYu Hakusho) cosplayer at the Shonen Jump panel was fantastic. He didn’t stop at coming in dressed to the nines, pompadour and all, either. He had the voice down, the old dub voice that’s half-growl and half-roar. He rocked it. He won the impromptu cosplay contest and was given a body pillow of Ichigo from Bleach, another red-haired angry dude. He yelled “What is WRONG with you people?!” after that. A+.
-I can’t think of the name Kuwabara without immediately hearing the “Kuwabara, Kuwabara” speech from Metal Gear Solid 3. Sorry if that ruins him for you.
-Fanime feels like a two-day con to me at most. If APE is one day and Wondercon is two days (who wants to wake up on a Sunday?), then Fanime is a little under two days. I saw basically everything three times while I was there, and the lack of panel times meant I missed anything else I wanted to see, like Mazinkaiser SKL on a big screen. (I’ve got the blu-ray, but that experience is different, and SKL is just nuts enough to make it worth it.)
But at the same time… I’m not as into anime as most of the con-goers were. My friends had cosplay photoshoots, fan gatherings (I’m still not sure what that is, but I assume like a fanclub thing), two different costumes to wear, a bunch of different friends to meet, and a lot of stuff to do. I got my shopping done in like twenty minutes, half of which were spent walking to the next spot. They did a lot more shopping than I did, saw more, and probably got more out of the whole weekend than I did. They did four days, even.
Which is cool. I like that we can all have different experiences and neither of them is necessarily correct. I had a nice weekend with friends, anime, and basketball. They had all types of costumes and esoterica of their own.
My feelings on cons have been evolving since a couple San Diegos ago. I decided I was only doing local cons this year, barring a jaunt to Emerald City Comic-con. I’ve flown around a lot in a calendar year to take comic book vacations, and I decided to cut back in favor of real vacations. I don’t have as much fun at cons as I used to, especially if I’m actively working the show, so why not cut back and concentrate all that fun in one weekend a year and save some money and stress? I think it worked.
Fanime was a chance to test my boundaries and try something new. It’s not really my thing, but I had fun. More fun than the complaints & jokes up there would suggest, probably? It was a very smooth weekend, not even remotely a rager, and I appreciated that. It was nice to just get out of town and chill out away from the troubles.
-Speaking of trying new things, I saw Adventure Time for the first time. The ~entire internet~ was right. That show’s pretty funny. It vibes [adult swim], circa 2003, and now I’m convinced that a good 75% of y’all out there smoke a whole lot of weed. I know stoner shows when I see them. You don’t fool me or your parents.
I was surprised to see how often they said “kill,” too. One episode I watched featured like twelve ghosts getting decapitated and disappearing in a wail of anguish. Wild stuff. I really liked the episode where Marceline convinced the two main guys that they were vampires and then had to stop them from being murdered horribly.