This weekend, Aaron and I took a trip down to Columbus for our first anime convention in over a year. Honestly, it was nice just to get out of town for a weekend. The convention, however, was a great time, as always.
Anime Punch has been one of our favorite conventions the couple of times we’ve attended, just because they a.) stick to actual anime themes, instead of being an all-encompassing anime / gaming / J-rock convention; b.) insert their collective sense of humor into everything; and c.) include intellectual and intriguing academic panels alongside the typical fan panels. This year was no exception.
We arrived at the G&R Tavern in Waldo well after lunchtime, since we hadn’t left Toledo until after 1:00pm. Luckily, the service is prompt and friendly at the G&R, so we had our bologna sandwiches in no time. As a matter of fact, it’s a good thing I had already decided what I wanted to try on my sandwich this time, as I didn’t really have much time to mull it over before the waitress came to take our orders. (For the record, this time I tried mine with jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Next time, I’m going to go with jack cheese, pickle and mayo.)
After our sandwiches, we split a piece of banana cream pie, which was quite possibly the best banana cream pie I’ve ever had. All it lacked was a few little chunks of fresh banana… but I guess that would make it not strictly a cream pie.
Anyway. Off to the con.
We arrived at the Crowne Plaza, checked in, and headed upstairs to our room, where I realized I’d lost my $30 pedometer in the luggage shuffle in the lobby. We ended up asking about it at the front desk three times over the course of the weekend, to no avail. I only hope that whoever picked it up actually uses and enjoys it (and knows what it is), instead of being a typical teenager and kicking it across the floor until someone threw it away.
Next came a trip to Con Ops, where we were met with blank stares as we asked about our complimentary con badges. The nice staffers took our names and affiliation and gave us gopher badges, which we promptly modified into WARP Anime Podcast press badges with the addition of Aaron’s business card.
Cool thing about the badges: they were tagged with RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips, so people couldn’t make their own badges. Staffers with RFID scanners were placed in the hallways by the panel and video rooms and the dealer room, to verify (and record, I presume) the con-goers entering and exiting.
Even though we had a late lunch, we went to dinner with Eric and Jess around 6:30pm. They picked us up at the hotel in their new-to-them car, and we went to the Cap City Fine Diner for dinner. It was a little more highfalutin than we were anticipating — if my mother thinks I’m a yuppie, she hasn’t seen the clientele of this place. The food was delicious, for the most part, although Jess was underwhelmed with getting shredded lettuce on her meatloaf sandwich. After dinner, we went to Sonic (a new experience for Aaron and me) for dessert: malts and shakes.
We got back to the con in time to check out the Otaku As Viewed By Media/Normals panel. Unfortunately, it seemed that the panel’s topic had already been hijacked and gone awry only 20 minutes in, so Aaron and I ducked out and made ourselves scarce until the Drinking Songs panel started. I honestly don’t remember what we did for a half hour, but it mainly involved hanging out in the hallway and watching the cosplayers go by. And photographing Cloud Zoidberg:
The Drinking Songs panel was actually pretty fun, even though we sang songs from Pokemon and Sailor Moon. We also got to sing Starblazers (aka Space Battleship Yamato) and Captain Harlock. Only Harlock was in Japanese; the rest were the English versions. After trying the one in Japanese, when I’d never even heard the tune before, I can see why they went with more English songs. The best part? They gave everyone a free drink coupon at the end of the panel, which Aaron and I ended up using on Saturday night instead of immediately after the panel with everyone else.
Between the Drinking Songs panel and the Evangelion Puppet Show, we got to talk to Kentucky John, a staffer who stopped us and introduced himself as a fan of Aaron’s podcast. It’s always awesome to be recognized by someone, although it’s a little weird to realize that other people feel about Aaron the way we feel about some con guests and minor celebrities. We had a great conversation, mainly about Japan travel.
I ended up videotaping the entirety of the Evangelion Puppet Show — which, yes, is an attempt to encapsulate an entire series into a one-hour puppet show. The English voice-actor who played Gendo Ikari was in attendance as the voice of Gendo, and he really made the show, in my opinion. That, plus the awesome “pew! pew!” sound effects.
By midnight on Friday, we were pretty much done for the night, so we went up to the room, marked our schedule for the next day, and set the alarm for 9:30am, so we could make it to the Japanese Religion panel by 10am.
We were awakened more than a half-hour before our alarm by some otaku trying to wake up his friends by knocking on their door and calling, “Room service!” in some fake Asian accent over and over and over.
After about five minutes straight, Aaron yelled, “Shut the fuck up!” When they did it twice more, Aaron bellowed twice as loud, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
That shut him the fuck up.
So, we were awake in plenty of time to go check out the Japanese Religion panel. It had so much potential, and the presenter, Jason, obviously put a great deal of time and effort and research into his presentation. Unfortunately, it came off as information overload. Aaron and I consider ourselves fairly well-read, but Jason used terminology with which neither of us were familiar. Some of the words and concepts I only knew because I’ve been studying Zen Buddhism for the past several months. He tried to go into the specifics of various flavors of Buddhism and how they intertwine with Shinto, but I was expecting more of an overview than what we got.
Plus — and I hate to mention this, but it’s a big part of our reaction to the presentation — Jason had a bit of a nervous vocal tic, and cleared his throat about twice per every sentence. I know it couldn’t be helped, but it was a touch distracting. Also, when he went over his allotted time, instead of touching on the remaining important points and wrapping up, he trooped through the rest of his presentation as prepared, going over by a full 20 minutes. We were somewhat of a captive audience, as we were interested in the Required Reading panel following in the same room.
Turned out that we bailed early on the Required Reading panel, anyway. There was apparently a good amount of time put into the list of anime that any self-respecting otaku should familiarize him- or herself with, to understand parodies and turns of phrase by other otaku… but there was no multimedia presentation associated with the panel, and if the previous panel had seemed like overkill, this one seemed to suffer from underpreparation (outside of the actual compilation of the list).
We then found ourselves with some time on our hands, which was unexpected. So, we left to get lunch. We started at the hotel restaurant, which was overpriced and had very little of interest on the lunch menu. Then we struck out to find the local Japanese restaurant, only to be told that they aren’t open for lunch on Saturdays. Finally, we located an excellent Chinese buffet for an equally excellent price, and got back to the con in time for a string of great panels:
- Lawrence Eng‘s Otaku Studies panel was, as usual, interesting and informative. We’d attended the panel before, but he had added new material to his presentation (and would have enjoyed seeing it again even if he hadn’t). Aaron won a Lupin III figure for being the only otaku in the room to own anime laserdiscs.
- Lawrence asked Aaron to join him as a panelist on the Anime and the Internet panel, since his co-panelist (the con chair) was apparently busy with running the con. I hadn’t ever really contemplated the history of the internet, since I remember a good deal of it myself (well, not ARPANET), so even just reminiscing about such things as Gopher was a fun time. Add in the history of anime communities and sites online, and it made for one intriguing panel.
- The Classic Anime panel showed me some anime I’d never even heard of, and some I’d only heard references to. More than one were pre-Ghibli Takahata and Miyazaki ventures, which I found interesting.
- The Anime in Asia panel explained the influence of Japanese anime on other east Asian countries, and detailed their attempts to strike out on their own, rather than continuing to adopt Japanese anime and manga as their own. Professor Lent of Temple University showed us some Chinese animation in the style of brush paintings; Aaron has already scored a copy of the Te Wei DVD the Professor showed us.
Finally, our afternoon panel block was over, and we had time to take a spin around the dealer room again before dinner. We also had time to realize that we missed the Anime in Academia panel, because we’d overlooked everything in Main Programming the night before, as we planned our day. That was a major disappointment, because we’d been looking forward to hearing about what academics are studying in the world of anime and manga.
(Another panel I’m sorry we missed is Professor Torrance’s talk on Kodan storytelling and its evolution into anime. I believe this is the same professor who introduced us to Ge Ge Ge No Kitaro two years earlier, and I’d been looking forward to hearing more of what he had to offer. Although, now that I look at the schedule, Professor Torrance was scheduled opposite Anime and the Internet, which is why we missed him.)
For dinner, we went back to the Japanese restaurant, Otani, and had the only real ramen we’ve found outside of Japan:
After dinner was Lawrence Eng’s Lain panel, which basically served to remind us that we really need to watch Lain again. I’d forgotten how awesome (thought-provoking, intriguing, and deep) that show is. Following the Lain panel was the Gender and Fandom panel, which could have gone several ways, but ended up as a lively discussion about gender/age stereotyping and sweeping generalizations as key to marketing an anime to American audiences.
By this point, it was 10pm. We wandered about the con for a while, peeked in on the concert, and eventually found ourselves redeeming our free drink tickets in the hotel bar. We also ordered the sweet potato fries mentioned in the con program, but our order got confused with another order, and we ended up waiting nearly an hour for our fries. They were good, sure, but not an hour’s wait worth of good. I’ve had better. What irritated me the most was that, when I paid for our fries, I tipped the bartender 50% to help offset the lack of a tip for our free drinks. At least the free drinks were yummy, I guess.
By 11:30, I was turning into a pumpkin, so we headed up to the room and called it a night. We’d planned to go back downstairs at midnight for the Con Stories panel, but we never made it. Am I a lamer? Maybe.
Checkout was at noon on Sunday, and there wasn’t really anything else going on at the con that we wanted to do. Surprisingly, the hallways were still full of con-goers, which is unusual for a Sunday.
Lunch on Sunday was at Buca di Beppo, home of the giant freaking tiramisu. And cheesy garlic bread with big honkin’ slices of garlic. And unexpectedly-filling stuffed shells with spicy Italian sausage. Oh, yes.
Overall impressions of the con: Even though we opted out of most of the big events, the academic panels made it worthwhile for us. I think this con really does have something for everybody: fan panels, quality anime in the video rooms, academic panels, goofy events, a sense of humor, and the expectation that people can police themselves and not be complete asses.
We didn’t take very many pictures, since we’re really getting jaded to the typical cosplay. There were a few we saw that we wish we would have gotten pictures of, like Princess Peach and Bowser, but for the most part, we’d seen it all before.
Still, though, I love this con. It’s consistently awesome, and I’ll keep coming back.