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Con season is just about upon us, but business at the Ucchan is still slow. I'd blame the economy, but I know better than that: people have to eat, whether in good times or bad, after all. It's just that there aren't the people who want okonomi-yaki around here like there used to be.

Can you tell I'm upset about them moving the venue back to Rosemont from Arlington Heights?

It's Thursday, the eve of the convention, and it's just the two of us. Dan-chan's been bundled off to my parents for the weekend, and the place has been viciously cleaned in anticipation of the crowds, but we know better than to expect much. I suppose that frees us up to actually attend the con rather than hang around the house, so we should count our blessings. But while Konatsu-chan and I favor the social aspect of the event more than the actual screen, we're homebodies at heart; we'd prefer the crowds came here. Granted, my old sempais from college will be coming tomorrow, but that's only half the number of boarders we had last year.

Suddenly, the doorbell rings. Who the heck could that be?

Actually, it might be Kevin, a friend of ours that comes over regularly on weekends when his working hours give him the opportunity. He's one of the reasons I actually favor dubs to subs—being mildly dyslexic, he tolerates anime, but only if he's well-rested. So he's not much of an otaku, despite our efforts.

But the man at the door isn't Kevin, although he does look vaguely familiar. Tall, rail-thin, with thick glasses and a lantern jaw. I'm not the best with faces and names, but I'm pretty sure I should know this guy…

"Ucchan?" he queries, jerking a thumb toward the shop curtain we've once again hung over the garage.

Well! It's unexpected, but I'm not one to turn down a customer. "Hai! Irrashaimase!" So invited, he steps in, ducking his head slightly as he does so. Man, but he is tall…

"What can I getcha, sugar?"

"Do you still have those seafood specials?"

Still? Now I'm really racking my brains. He knows this place, but I just can't place him. I'm starting to feel like a total idiot. But I'm not about to let him know this. "Yeah, sure, we got 'em. Give us a sec', willya?" I head into the kitchen, dump shimp, crabmeat and salmon into the batter along with a fair handful of vegetables, a bit of minced ginger and garlic, and pour it into the pan. American cooking implements aren't quite as showy as the 'live grill' of the yatai, but it works for us. "You in town for the convention, sugar?"

"Mmm, you might say that." His Japanese is flawless, and I wonder if he's one of the guests of honor. But what would he be doing way out here then, a night before the con, all by himself?

I have to ask. "Yer awfully far from the hotel, y'know…"

"That's as may be. But your place has a reputation, so I figured I should drop by." I'm blushing already, but he continues. "Besides, I needed to give you this."

He hands me a sheet of paper, with a large red square hanko (personal stamp) mark at the bottom. No… this couldn't be…

I, Koshi Rikudo
hereby give permission
for Excel Saga
and its characters
to take over this con report
and turn it into
a revenge fic.


ANIME CENTRAL 2002: An Excel-lent Time at the Hyatt

"What?! What the hell's this? I haven't done anything to your characters; why do they want revenge on me?"

"That's just it!" His voice is suddenly a lot shriller than it had been, and his skin starts to ripple and writhe like he's covered in hundreds of living boils. All at once, he simply rips apart, and two girls pop out, one sitting on the other's shoulders.

Okay, that explains his height.

The one on top, a strawberry blond with a thick braid, springs off the other, doing a somersault in midair before sticking a landing that would have made Kodachi Kunou jealous. She jabs a finger right in my face—I'm lucky she doesn't poke my eye out. "You haven't done anything with us! It's been, what? Four months! And after all the trouble of getting Rikudo-sensei's hanko!

"So we went and got his hanko, too! And we're gonna take America by storm, starting right here and right now! Ha-chan!" She turns to her partner, a dark-haired girl dressed in maroon and purple, who's seems to have passed out on the floor. A small trickle of blood is oozing from her mouth. "AHH! Ha-chan! Now's not the time to be dying on me!"

Konatsu reacts with a bit of panic, too. "Not on the carpet!" My kunoichi runs for the stain remover, while Excel (yes, I'm pretty sure that's who I'm dealing with here) leaps over to Hyatt, and begins patting her cheek to wake her up.

Pats quickly turn into slaps, and by the time I move to stop Excel, she's practically slugging Hyatt across the jaw. "Hey, hold it, now, will ya?"

"I'm all right now." I guess I should know from personal experience that anime characters are a remarkably resilient lot, but it's still disconcerting to see Hyatt go from a corpse to practically standing at attention in a blink of an eye.

Excel, on the other hand, is not at all fazed by this. "Right! So, if you're not gonna act on us, then you're not gonna act, period!" And with that, she shoves me into a chair. "Tie 'em up, Ha-chan!"

Damn, but these girls are fast. That, and the fact that I'm not remotely the caliber of martial artist I was back in the days of Takahashi means that in rather short order, I'm pretty securely bound to the chair I've been pushed into. My only consolation is that Ran-chan would fare no better in similar circumstances, especially given that he doesn't fight girls.

Konatsu fares a little better, what with being on hands and knees, cleaning up the stain Hyatt's left on the dining room carpet, rather than already being seated. Both Hyatt and Excel have to wrestle him away from the spot (which is already disappearing under a foam of cleansers) and into a chair before Hyatt can bind him. In spite of myself and the situation, I can't help thinking, 'You'd damn well better not be enjoying this, Konatsu-chan…'

Their job done, Excel strikes a pose, and yells, "On to the convention!" Then they both run out through the front door, the way they came in. It's quiet for about five minutes, and then, the rattling roar of a nearby car engine… in our driveway. That's when it hits me:

"Hey, they're stealing our car!"

Konatsu struggles to a standing position, still fastened to the chair, and hops to the kitchen window. "They're stealing my car, Ukyou-sama," my kunoichi says mournfully.

"Those bastards! How dare they steal… waitaminnit. Your car?"

"That's right, Ukyou-sama."

"The one that got cracked up last weekend?"

"Yes, Ukyou-sama."

"With the busted front headlight?"


"And the deployed airbag?"


As bad as the situation is, I still can't help smiling. "Guess we should call the cops and our insurance agent. It'll at least save us a trip to the body shop."

"And they should be easy to identify, right?"

"Right." Unlike my kunoichi, however, I can't seem to stand up. All I manage to do through my struggles is to tip over my chair onto the floor—with me still tied to it. "Oww… well, whatever we do, it'll have to wait until my sempais get here…"

"Hai, Ukyou-sama…"

Boy, this steering wheel is a pain to wrap my arms around. And the air in here stinks something awful…


See? Even Ha-chan can't breathe this stuff. Well, okay, that doesn't mean a whole lot after all. Still, better roll down a window or two… that's better.

Now to get back to our assignment. I can still remember Il Palazzo's voice as if it were yesterday…


"Hyatt, Excel…"

"Hail, Il Palazzo-sama!!"

"We must not quit, even now. Even now… the world is still rotten!"

"That's right, it's rotten to the core! And I'm not just saying that because you said it, although that should be more than sufficient reason for me to agree with you. I'm saying it because I know it's rotten to the core, because I've been there! So I know it's rotten! I know from experience how it stinks down there! Also, it's really hot."

"Thank you, Excel-kun. In any case, we must redouble our efforts toward world domination."

"And how are we to go about this? *koff*koff*"

"Well put, Hyatt-kun. There is an old proverb that counsels 'if you cannot beat them, join them.'

"And we're gonna beat 'em to a pulp! We'll thrash 'em like an drumset, shake 'em like a rag doll, rip 'em like a phone book, sis boom bah!!"

"Rip them… like a phone book?"

"Ah… heh-heh. Got a little carried away, there…"

"And the Dutch have taken Holland, I understand."

"Really? When did this happen?"

"… anyway, we shall no longer seek to dominate the earth through force. We shall take over through democratic means!"

"YAY! Viva democracy!"

"People are going to vote for ACROSS?"

"Nothing so mundane, Hyatt-kun. Politics is nothing more than a glorified popularity contest. Why go through all of that hassle?

"No, the real popularity lies in pop culture fame. That is where the real influence over individuals lie. People want to be like the rich and famous more than they want to be in government; more than they even wish to participate in government—which merely proves my point further about this rotten earth.

"But if this is human nature, we need to take advantage of it. We need to expand our fanbase. Dramatically. Especially in the one remaining superpower…"

"But, Il Palazzo-sama, you've already sent us to America! Wasn't our report from New York sufficient?"

"NO. Big as it is, it is but one city in one part of America. To succeed in America, one must make an impact in the heartland, too… we have to be able to 'play in Peoria', so to speak."

"So we're going to Peoria?"

"Close… Chicago."

"AHH! Please, not there, Il Palazzo-sama! We had enough trouble with gangsters in New York! How much more trouble could we get into in the land of Al Capone and Jimmy Cagney!"

"Capone is dead. Cagney was an actor… and he's dead, too. You have nothing to fear."

"Oh, that's different, then."

"You have two assignments. First, there is a fanfiction author who requested permission some time ago to use us in a fic…"

"I get it! You want us to stop him! How dare he exploit our good name for his own benefit! Don't worry, Il Palazzo-sama, we'll tie him up, drag him back here, and make sure he's thoroughly sued for it!"

"Let. Me. Finish. She—at least, I think she's a she—has not done anything with us. And that is what you must punish. We need publicity!

"Once you do that, you two, report to this address. There is an anime convention going on there this weekend. It helps that the hotel is named after you, but that seems hardly sufficient. Make noise, spread the word… ACROSS is to be worshipped! And they will worship us, and they will beg us to rule them and… you're still here?"

"Yes, Il Palazzo-sama."

"You betcha! But we're raring to-" *k-chnk*"GOOOOooooooo……"

"Then do so."


Come to think of it, it was yesterday… taking the International Date Line into account.

And it just goes to show that the world is still rotten to the core, just as Il Palazzo-sama said it was. So we must continue on our quest for this conven--

"Ah… sempai?"

Yeah, Ha-chan?

"Where did you get that tape recorder? And are you sure it's a good idea to be talking into it while you're driving?"

Where did I…? Now that I think of it, where did this thing come from? Here? *sqsh* No, there's not much room to hide it there… How about… ooh, that feels nice, but I don't think there's that much room…


Yeah, Ha-AAAAHH?!!


Light pole. Concrete. Oww. Well, I dunno if it's safe to drive while talking into this thing, but it sure isn't safe to be driving while I'm not talking into it, especially if I'm busy patting myself down trying to figure out where I might secrete this thing on my person.

It's dark, it's late, and no one's looking. Even Ha-chan is dead… for now. Oo-kay, let's pull back and drive off as if nothing happened…

We're stuck in these chairs for at least an hour or so before James-sempai rolls in around nine or thereabouts. Shortly after that, Konatsu's on the phone working the particulars (well, it is my kunoichi's car, after all) while sempai and I do a little catching up, including the by now traditional show-and-tell of our more recent acquisitions. Some of this stuff's gonna change hands by the time the weekend's over.

Between his arrival, and the dealing with the paperwork regarding this evening's activity, we don't get to bed until late; I don't recall the exact time, but it had to have been well past midnight. Okay, that may not be late for y'all, but this is con season: there's not gonna be much more sleep to be had this weekend. We gotta catch all the winks beforehand that we can.

And wouldn't you know, sleep winds up being rather elusive tonight. Well, a home invasion will do that, even under such improbable circumstances as these. That, and the fact that it's been ridiculously warm this past week, and tonight is no exception. I guess Al Gore's getting his revenge again, with near 90 degree weather in mid-April.

Not that it has much to do with the convention, but my kunoichi's dealing with the heat pretty well, now that all that hair's been cut off. Yeah, that's right: between the heat, and the fact that you can't brush that much hair when your arm is bruised and sore from last week's collision, Konatsu decided to get a haircut. Even donated all that hair to a place called Locks of Love, a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients—'Natsu-chan evidently heard about it on Oprah (yeah, my kunoichi watches Oprah—what of it?). The short bob that's left almost makes Konatsu look like a real boy. Almost.

Actually, it makes 'Natsu-chan look like a very young boy, which is annoying, since we're both in our early thirties by now, and I’m starting to show it. To go around with someone who looks half my own age, when I'm starting to feel mine, is kind of embarrassing. So, when Konatsu brought up the subject a while back, and asked for my approval, I expressed some concern that my kunoichi was going to lose that one thing that defines bishonen, after all, to sort of dissuade away from this idea. But for once, Konatsu wasn't really asking for permission, just giving me notice that it was going to happen. What could I do but relent? But I threw in a condition: that everything get shaved in the process. Not by the hairdresser, of course, but that it get done.

I really wasn't sure it would. But dang, Konatsu is nothing if not compliant, especially when it involves something my kunoichi really wants.

Of course, now it's my turn to be challenged, to cut off my ponytail. I don't know… maybe… but not just yet, okay?

Here it is! And after all that driving through rain and hail and tornadoes (did I say tornadoes? The radio was beeping in my ears the whole way up about it, but I never actually saw one. Not that that means there wasn't one, anymore than I have to see the core of the earth to agree with Il Palazzo-sama that it's rotten), we've finally made it to the Exel Inn! He said it was named after me, and he wasn't lying!

Now, I gotta talk to the manager about that spelling. I realize Japanese names are hard to transliterate, but mine shouldn't be all that hard, seeing as it's based off of an English word and all that. Come to think about it, is 'exel' a word? My English isn't good enough to tell. I've really gotta talk to the manager.

*bing*bing* Yo, clerk!

"Good evening. Welcome to Exel Inn; can I help -"

Yeah, you better believe you can. I'm Excel. Where's the convention?


Yeah, the anime convention. Where is everybody? There should be a whole bunch of people dressed up like me,'cause folks say we kinda look like cosplayers, even though these are just are standard work uniforms for the kind of job we do, which is taking over the world, but we gotta handle that step by step after all, and anyway, where are the events taking place?

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, miss. Can I get you a room?"

Uh… well, it is kinda late, and we probably ought to get some sleep, although Ha-chan here should be pretty rested already, what with having been dead two or three times already today. But I wanna see some otaku wandering around here by morning, or so help me, someone's ass is gonna be toast.

…mm, toast.

By the way, you guys do know you spelled 'Excel' wrong…

"Miss, I just work here. Was that going to be cash or charge?"

Uhh… Ha-chan? Ha-chan? Did you bring any money?

"Here you go, sempai…" And she collapses yet again.

Huh, didn't know Il Palazzo-sama had one of these. Cool. Here you go… do you guys take JCB?

Well, that was pretty rude, turning us out into the cold like that—well, okay, it's not all that cold, in fact it's pretty damn hot, but it's pretty damp and otherwise unpleasant. How're we supposed to get into the convention if we can't stay at the hotel where it's held? What do you think, Ha-chan?

"I think we may have been at the wrong place, sempai… *koff*kaph*hrgh*"

I'm never gonna get used to that… nor is my dry-cleaners. Wait a minute, I can't afford a dry cleaner… how do I get this uniform clean after all?

*dab*dab* "Sumimasen… but I have the map Il Palazzo-sama gave us…"

What?! When did he give you a map before he yanked the cord on us? Wait a minute, was it really us, or just me falling through the center of the earth? And if it was just me, how the heck did you get here? And what's this about a map?

"Here… it says the hotel is on River Road, and we're on… *koff* Milwaukee…"

But how could it not be here? Il Palazzo-sama said it was named after me, and that was; granted, they botched the spelling, but that's a minor thing, although I guess you're right, 'cause they may have had to use a different spelling 'cause someone else already trademarked the real name, which means… okay, Ha-chan, lead on!

"I'm so sorry about this, Ukyou-sama…"

"This isn't your fault, Konatsu-chan."

We're sitting at the railroad crossing as the train passes by—it knows we're in a hurry. We'd forgotten to get some of Dan-chan's toys and a weekend's worth of clothes over to the folks, so we have to get it laundered and over to them before heading out to the con. Then, we got a call from Paul Corrigan, who's still in Michigan. Apparently, his ride hasn't shown up, and… (why do I think he's gonna ask me to fill in for him tomorrow at the panel?) …would we be so kind as to warn the ficcers at tonight's dinner that he probably won't make it on time-- oh, wait, here's his ride…

It's nice to know he'll make it, but man, that was a bit of an experience.

Getting all of it and ourselves together has taken way too long, and while leaving at 10:30 for an 11:00 opening would have worked last year, it doesn't do us any favors this year, where Rosemont is a twenty-minute drive in decent traffic.

And it's not decent traffic by a long chalk. Between the train, practically every red light and a garbage truck in a no-passing zone making its stop-and-go routes, we're lucky to make it to River Road in forty minutes.

Ne, Ha-chan, did you know there's a hotel here named after you, too?

"That's lovely, sempai *koff*koff*"

What?! There's two of them? And that one's HUGE? How come you get the big hotel, anyway, Ha-chan? Not that I really mind so much, because Il Palazzo-sama said that--

"I think that second one is where we're supposed to go, sempai…"

WHAT?! But Il Palazzo-sama was pointing at me… no, wait, he just gestured at the both of us with his hand, but dammit, I've got seniority in this outfit, I should be one for whom the hotel is named, and you'd better damn well give me a share of the royalties for the usage!

"Sempai, *kafh*hrgh* I'm afraid I don't have anything to do with the name. They've never paid me anything for the name."

Well, we'll just have to fix that, won't we?

We get into the pre-registration line, and are actually processed rather quickly: we're ready to go by 11:30. The at-the-door registration isn't quite so lucky…

Lines, lines, lines! Once ACROSS takes over, I'm gonna have to have Il Palazzo-sama outlaw standing in lines. I mean, some places already have anti-loitering regulations, right? Why should we have to stand in line? Let's shove on up to the front.

Forty-five dollars to get in? EACH?!



Good thinking, Ha-chan—create a diversion, and send everyone fleeing. Why pay money when, in the confusion, I can slip off with a couple of passes for free?!

So, where's the opening ceremony, anyway? Behind the closed doors? They've started already…? Now, that's a first… an anime con that's punctual. And it would have to happen the year we're running late. We grope our way through the dark, and eventually find seats. While we do, Bob DeJesus and Steve Bennett are introduced, so I can't record it for posterity.

Jessie Calvello is introduced to a huge round of applause…

What the hell!? Who is this person, and why is she claiming to be me? Ha-chan, did you hear anything about imposters?

"Well, sempai, cosplaying is a staple of these sorts of things, isn't it?"

Yeah, but she's not wearing a costume of any sort! There's no way you'd mistake her for me; she talks like she's from California!

"She is supposed to be speaking English; she can't sound like she's *koff*koff* from F city, after all."

Crispin Freeman gets a fair amount of applause, too,,, the cheers are pitched a bit higher than Jessie's… gee, wonder why? He plugs his seminar on Mythology in Anime: apparently, it didn't make it into the program. I dunno, I figure it'll be well attended regardless.

Tiffany Grant and Hilary Haag admit to being ACen virgins, while our MC Carl Horn points out that most of the people in attendance are virgins, too. This does not go over well with the audience—nobody likes to wear that shoe, even if it does fit. Even I give the man a bii-dah… but then, I don't need to take offense, as I don't resemble that remark.

When Aoki of Cowboy Bebop is introduced, his first words are 'please treat me nicely' We're getting lines like that a lot today: why are the guests so scared of us? Do they have some warped idea of what Chicagoans are like?

Meanwhile, Love Hina's Ken Akamatsu is rather surprised that there are so many fans here in Chicago, and plans to report back to his publishers in Tokyo about the large market for his (and everyone else's) stuff. Well, this is a step up, anyway… better that he's pleasantly surprised at us than afraid of us…

Kawamoto (CB, GB) actually starts out by greeting us in English, which is very well received. He's expecting to have a good time. Matsubara (OMG, Sakura Wars) is also happy to be here.

The co-chairmen wrap things up by making plugs for the dealers' room (and, curiously enough, Pepsi products), reminding the attendees that the slogan, 'got soap?' is "more than a slogan, it's a way of life." It's enough to make me check myself… and it's not pleasant. Hey, it's still hot out, and we'd been cooped up for forty minutes in a car… we're bound to get a little ripe. I guess we could ask for it to be a little cooler…

Finally, the gavel is handed to the honorary co-chairman, the youngest fan in attendance, who responds to "Can you say 'I declare this year's AnimeCentral open'?" with a refreshing "No." Of course, they can't have this, or the con doesn't go on at all. So Carl brings the gavel down, and damn if the place doesn't clear out in a hurry.

We stick around; they're showing the best of last year's anime music videos. It's kind of weird, seeing stuff again in a different setting. Specifically, on a stereo system that'll make your ears bleed, as opposed to the Ucchan's closed circuit TV setup. Okay, maybe it's just my ears that are bleeding. Perhaps I am getting old, but I can't enjoy it when I can't make out the words of the music—and it's ironic that, despite the volume, I actually can't.

At least there are several AMVs that are pure instrumentals. And one in particular that isn't, has its own text. Basically, Big Big Truck Productions has done a AMV on the making of a AMV—and it's a hoot! It get big laughs. I gotta see if I can't find it out on the Web sometime after the con.

An hour into this, I realize my bladder won't let me stay, and, leaving my stuff with my kunoichi, I head out to look for a bathroom. It takes awhile in that darkened room, but I eventually make a break for daylight, and find myself blinking owlishly in the main hallway.

I should point out that this place is huge. Twelve or fifteen people could walk abreast in this place, and it's a good thing, 'cause they're doing just that. Gaw, but it's crowded. I don't generally consider myself an agoraphobe, but I'm suddenly getting nostalgic for the intimate clubbiness of AnimeIowa. I'm so disoriented that, when I actually do run across a vaguely familiar face—it's Pearson Mui, an ACen fanfiction regular—I wind up greeting him as "Phil" I don't know why. And he doesn't appreciate it.

Meanwhile, the music videos over with, Konatsu joins me at the Ironcat table, where Steve Bennett—obviously more accustomed to these things than I—recognizes us spot on. Of course, we probably merit a higher place in his book than the average otaku, having actually fed him on several occasions. Still, it's a little annoying to have made such a gaffe in the first place. If you're reading this, Pearson, my apologies.

Maybe I can get lost in the dealers' room for a while…

Ha-chan, look!! There we are, on that splash panel! There's Pedro! There's Menchi! And there's us!! uh… why are we naked? And in some kind of meatloaf?

*koff*blgh* "It seems there is some awareness of us here, after all."

You got it, Ha-chan! And there we are on that TV set across the aisle! Why, we're practically set to take over this place, already! Have you got everything together?

"Yes, sempai."

The place may not be quite as big as AI2000's basketball arena, but it's much better filled out. Four long aisles of anime goodness…

"'Scuse me, but do you have…?"

…and yet nobody seems to have the KareKano manga. Well, I understood it was to be released some time this month; but there's still a fair amount of month left, so maybe it's just not available yet. Pity.

So, aside from another deck of cards for Konatsu's collection, we leave with nothing from the dealers' room after an hour of scouring. ADV is advertising Excel Saga heavily, but I warn them airily not to write checks they can't cash: "Are you guys actually gonna put out (ahem!) all the way (aHEM!) through episode 26?" The guy I ask shrugs, and refers me to one of the other guys at the table. He, in turn, admits that he thinks so, but hasn't actually seen beyond episode 17 or so.

I murmur that this may be a dangerous precedent, a company buying rights to a series when they don't know what they're getting into; after all, look what happened between Central Park Media and Utena…

We run across Gary Kleppe, and puzzle over where we're supposed to meet for the fanfic writers' dinner. Ryan used to set the Art Show as the meeting point, but all there seems to be is the Artists' Alley right here in the main hallway—which covers a lot of ground, and therefore seems too vague to be a decent meeting place. There's mention of an Art Show, but no clear mention of where it is. We agree to let each other know if we find out otherwise, but for now, the hall will have to do.


Oh boy, Ha-chan… we gotta get something to eat before I start looking like you. Well, not like you in the dark-haired, pale-skinned kinda way, or the whole coughing-up-blood kinda way, or even in that big-tit kinda way… come to think of it, I ain't gonna look a whole lot like you in any way except for the fact that I'm just dying of hunger, here.

"Sempai, what about up there?"

Café ACen, huh? Well, let's see if we can't liberate a few eats in the name of Il Palazzo and ACROSS!! Whaddya say, Ha-chan? Ha-chan?

Aw, come onnnn, Ha-chan, get up!

As with every other convention we've been to, there are loads of cosplayers swarming about. This year, ACen is apparently having a hall-masque contest as well as the traditional stage cosplay tomorrow night, and a damn good thing, as there's just too many people dressed up—the cosplay show would go until well into Sunday morning if everyone who was dressed up showed. You have your usuals—video game characters who I can't recognize (and never will… sorry if that seems a bit parochial on my part), a number of Inu-Yashas (oh, wait… that guy's actually Red Mantle from Haunted Junction), the Bebop cast (and while I forget the character's name, one fellow is dressed as Spike's older partner, using inside-out pop cans attached with spirit gum for his cybernetic arm and eye implants—very effective, really), the entire cast of Weiss Kreuz, and at least one girl confident enough (and with reason, as it so happens) to pull off Yuri's battle bikini from Dirty Pair. Well, I don't mean that literally

And then there are a few understated costumes. One girl is walking around with hair tied into two ponytails, and if one didn't notice the Babbit-head rap piano she's carting around, you wouldn't realize she was done up as Sana-chan. Then again, can she really be expected to carry off the whole hyper bit for the entire weekend?

There's also a girl dressed up in a perfect model of the Hokuei High School uniform; pleated skirt, thigh-high black socks, dress shirt and blue tie. But something's off. For one thing, the hair's a bit long—it's also black rather than reddish, but this girl is Asian, so that can be ignored as the whole ignoring-the-anime-hair-color thing. But the length is more… Maho, maybe?

"That's right." Wait a minute… did she say that? She walks over to us, and greets us—in a voice that's at least an octave lower than it should be! "Right first time."

Now, you all know about us; we're normally the last people to be stunned by anyone cross-dressing, and that's only fair. We're not being judgmental about this guy's attire. What we are is astonished at how well he does it! But he's certainly got the slim build that one could easily dress in either gender's attire, not to mention a young face with no trace of stubble. This young man is no Sailor Bubba, and it shows. It's also remarkable that, unlike a lot of guys who do female costumes, this outfit is so understated as to fly below nearly anyone's radar. Only when he talks does he give himself away. He accepts our plaudits gratefully, and we go our separate ways.


"You don't need to eat so fast, sempai," Ha-chan nibbles daintily on a pretzel. "The man in the black shirt said it was all free, so we're not going to be thrown out for not paying… *koff*hrlgh!*"

The guy Ha-chan was talking about shoves the bloody bowl at us. And no, I'm not talking with a British accent, though I'm pretty sure I could do it if I was called upon to do so, but I'm not at the moment, so why bother? Anyway, I guess he doesn't want food that Ha-chan's coughed blood on. Well, that's just super-duper… it means more for us!

On our way out of the dealers' room, we run into an old friend from the last few cons. Tony and his friend Phil (oh, hey! I think I know why I goofed on your name, Pearson!) are back in town from Indiana, and Tony hands me a present: last year's ACen AMVs. Makes me feel silly for having bothered to watch 'em in the main ballroom, particularly when it turns out I've missed Jessie Calvello's VA panel. Oh well… arigatou gozaimasu, Tony-kun.

By now, it's three o'clock, and while we're gonna meet the other writers in only another three hours for dinner, Konatsu and (to a lesser extent) I are already hungry. Only one thing to do… head for the con suite!

The con suite's off by itself a level above everything else, and it's huge—Konatsu comments that it's probably about the size of the main ballroom for AnimeCentral98—I don't think I can argue with that. The supplies, however, leave a little to be desired yet. Granted, they've got a soda fountain, and bowls of chips and cookies, but I dunno… shouldn't there be something more substantial? A couple of the bowls are nearly empty, in fact.

Oh, wait… there's more bowls of stuff over here… and there's some fellas coming out of the back rooms to fill the empty bowls… well, it's not too bad, after all. But at this point, Konatsu's getting nostalgic for AI, too. Sure, we'll tide ourselves over, but the size doesn't quite lend itself to socializing the way my kunoichi likes to.

Not that we don't do any socializing. Once the tea ceremony finishes up onstage, and people feel freer to actually talk, we're joined by a fellow named Rick, who proceeds to talk fanfic with us. I accidentally insult a mom whose daughter is dressed as Chibi-Usa (the costume is great, mind you—it's just that I assumed that every SailorMoon fan hated ChibiUsa—evidently I was wrong), and she and Rick get to chatting once they discover they're both from the suburban Detroit area… small world, ne?

Nightman drops by our table, too, to show us the pictures he's taken of cosplayers so far— and in so doing, accidentally erases them from his digital camera's memory. Ouch. At least he's got all his memory free again, and two whole days to shoot in. Gary drops by, too; he's found the art show at the other end of the hotel from the main ballroom and Artist's Alley. Funny, I always thought they were nearby each other.

Anyway, after giving it a go at transcribing my notes up to this point—and it doesn't get far—we decide to head downstairs and prepare to meet for the traditional fanfic dinner.

We barely get off the escalator when one of our sempais spots us, and informs us that Jeanne Hedge, this year's moderator (Ryan's decided to retire from organizing these things), is already waiting in Artists' Alley. Uh-oh… if Gary's waiting at the Art Show…

But he does eventually find us, and the eighteen of us (Eighteen? Wasn't there nearly fifty last year?) set off for Denny's. Yeah, Denny's. When Jeanne first announced the dinner a while back, I actually pled with her to go somewhere else if at all possible. She was quite polite in her refusal though, explaining that with most ethnic foods, there's bound to be SOMEone who doesn't like it. That, and really, there aren't a whole lot of places to go within a short distance of the hotel.

I wind up seated by Paul Corrigan and Douglas Weeks—how do I keep ending up surrounded by Michiganders? Uh… not that I mind… ^_^;;

If I've never said it before, I'll say it now, for the record—Paul Corrigan has got to be the fastest talker in fanfiction. Maybe it's from all the ideas he seems to have in his head; it's like he's trying to let them out before it bursts or something. Practically the first thing he says as he sits down is: "How would you like to see a KareKano Rika/Aya shoujo-ai story?" I hope to hell he's not thinking of writing this as a lemon, but as he explains the relationship between the oblivious but talented Aya and the motherly but vaguely jealous Rika, it begins to make sense.

I ask about lemons, and he seems to agree that Aya and Rika wouldn't work as well as, say, Yukino and Maho and… who? Arima? Yusuke? I can picture Yusuke asking Maho for a threesome, just to try it for once; I can also picture Yukino wondering why a guy would want to piss off two women at once (a comment which get puzzled looks until I explain that it's difficult enough for some guys to satisfy one woman; trying to do two at once is just asking for failure—if nothing else, he's short on bits).

Believe it or not, lemon fics somehow devolve into a discussion of subs versus dubs. The main thrust, if you'll pardon the expression, has to do with hentai, and how it really should not be dubbed into English. I wonder aloud if raw hentai anime sounds as ridiculous to the Japanese ear, and several of the others confirm this. And does anyone know why women moan in such a higher register in the original Japanese? Surely, orgasm is a universal physical phenomenon… why should it sound so different? Paul fields the question as a simple matter of ethnicity: Caucasians simply have deeper voices than Asians. It sounds almost too simple, though…

The thought of shrill female voices reminds me to ask if anyone's seen Excel or Hyatt at the con. Amid much shaking of heads, it's also pointed out that there aren't that many fics out there for Excel Saga…



Several guys toss out ideas for wild crossovers with the Weird Experimental Anime, such as Freakazoid, the Mask, and Monty Python's Holy Grail ("I'm not dead yet!")

"k-shu!" *blrgh*

Looks like I'm gonna have to steal a few towels. I've heard of coughing up blood - I've seen it often enough, haven't I?—but sneezing it up? Ha-chan…

"I'm sorry, sempai… can't seem to help it…"

Somewhere along the way, Evangelion and the End of are brought up. I confess to not having been able to 'get' the movie. Doug and Paul claim that the last episodes of the TV series and EoE are alternate paths for Shinji to choose: the choice between maturity and evil.

A lot of Eva-related fics get thrown about; Doug, a Lovecraft fan, raves about Children of an Elder God, and while I don't recall who brought up Fane of the Firebird, it gets nothing but praise as well.

A younger fellow named Jason mentions the idea of bringing Clark Kent from Smallville to the Tenchiverse, where at least compared to everyone there, he'd be no weirder than anyone else. He also revives the mention of Monty Python, referring to one set to the Black Knight sketch and another to Life of Brian's crucifixion scene.

The latter I don't have (although if anyone knows about it, please let me know), but the former I do, and I show it on my laptop, to much laughter and applause. I do take pains to point out that I am merely a collector, not a creator: this is not my work, though I would that I could claim it. At least I make sure people see it.

And with that, things break up, as the check arrives. Just as well; they've scheduled Anime Jigoku a little earlier this year than last…

…but not early enough. Not that I mind, but I, Konatsu, and my sempais wind up sitting through a couple of rounds of Otaku Big Date, a sort of dating game for anime fans. Take my advice, people: there are easier ways of getting a date. There HAVE to be. Unless you're very very witty, or into humiliation, steer clear of actually participating in this. They punish you for stupid answers, or if you ask for a question to be repeated too many times, or whatever. Guys get 30-second makeovers from the four mascot 'Sin Girls' and end up covered in lipstick and mascara. Girls wind up in a pie-eating contest: and find unwrapped (but hopefully not used) condoms in the whipped cream.

Even the Sin Girls get embarrassed, as one of the punishments is for them to give a contestant a 'blow job'. No, not like that, you pervs—they all get together and blow on him, much to the crowd's irritation at being teased. They get their own back on the MC, however, by introducing him to his new girlfriend: Sailor Bubba. "I feel so violated!" blubbers the MC.

This is not to say that everyone gets it in this game—you just have to be very sharp. In fact, the final question before the game completely breaks up is where a bachelorette is asked what anime character they'd like to be stuck in an elevator with. Eschewing the obvious possibilities of the Ohtori Setokai, she selects Vash the Stampede: "because he's got a big gun." Who needs Freud when you get lines like this?

~~ "Hail, Il Palazzo-" ~~*click*

Hey, we were watching that!

"I'll bet you were… nice costumes, by the way. But the dealer's room is closing, okay? You and ‘Hyatt’ run along and blow stuff up elsewhere."


"Sempai… ?"

ooOOOH!! How DARE they treat us like this, like we're a couple of common criminals, Spanish-walking us out the door by our shoulder bracers!

"Sempai… they didn't do -"

Well, I'll show them… WE'LL show them… if they're gonna treat us like we weren't any different from anyone else here, when in reality we're their future rulers… uh… where'd you get those marshmallows from, Ha-chan? And how'd you get them toasted?

"From the con suite, Sempai… and over your head."


I think I need to calm down.

"Yes, Sempai. Have one?"

Hmm… don't mind if I do…

While they strike the set, and prepare for Anime Hell, we spot Kris Overstreet (a/k/a the Redneck Gaijin) up in front. He'd stayed with us last year, but, being a dealer, needed to be nearer to the con this year. So he's staying at a nearby hotel.

I don't know how much it adds to his tab, but he informs us that his break-even is about $1,800, and he's nowhere near that after one day. Weren't you right at the front door, though? That ought to be a prime location. Actually, he points out that people look at his stuff and pass by, assuming they can do better elsewhere. He needs a miracle tomorrow if he can expect to finish in the black.

And somewhere in his voice, I can hear Juri Arisugawa…

I offer my condolences and return to my seat. At least he can still enjoy himself, as I hear him cheering loudly when the Corn Pone Flicks logo shows up on a trailer. A live-action Dig Dug, huh? Wild…

Apart from that, a lot of the material onscreen looks awfully familiar, from the safety film with the ironic voice-over ("And never drive with a rabid wolverine in the front seat") to the Heino footage (Asuka Langley would be so embarrassed at her countrymen for liking this guy) to the montage of Robert Tilton, 'The Farting Evangelist' (it's like shooting fish in a barrel, but he's a fish that deserves to be shot). All very amusing, but I'm starting to wonder whether or not to call it a night.


"Hey, you… no sleeping in the video rooms."

I was NOT sleeping, okay? Who could sleep when it's this cold in here, anyway? I mean, look at Ha-chan, she's turning blue! Well, part of that's 'cause she's dead and all that, but I gotta tell ya, I don't feel so great myself. And it's not like the place is crowded or anything, what's the harm in us taking up a little floor space for a nappie-poo?

Come on, Ha-chan, let's see if we can't find some place more hospitable…

…like the next room. We can hide under the chairs or something, and maybe we won't be noticed, mostly 'cause everyone's attention is supposed to be on the screen, assuming there's anyone in there in the first place, which is why I don't understand why they got a problem with us dozing off, well, okay, me dozing off, you dying off…

Even Midnight Madness starts off with a familiar anime parody, the Evangelion ReDeath from last year (that Ryan Gavigan never informed me where I could find, despite emailing him several times. I mean, I know he's busy and all). Granted, this is more than worth sitting through a second time, especially when it cuts, right in the middle, to Pokemon footage set to "Big Balls": Misty's got big balls…? Scary thought.

But then, there's an announcement that the next showing is a world premiere of "This is Otakudom" where a relative newbie to anime fandom does a documentary (or, in her paraphrase of Spinal Tap, an 'otakumentary') of her first anime convention, Otakon 2000 (or is it 2001?)

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the sort of thing I stay up nights for. It may not have had all the laughs that Koko wa Otaku did the first time I saw it, but it comes darn close. And it even has the cheek to homage KwO right down to having one of KwO's original actors reprise (and deny) his role. An inspired touch. Of course, using Fushigi Yuugi and its characters as the jumping-off point is equally inspired, and very nearly seamless. It's the kind of thing I have got to get my hands on.

I'm in luck: the creator is here herself, and claims to have 'a very few' copies with her available for sale. Naturally, once the lights come up, I scramble for the projection area, only to find myself among a dozen others already clamouring for copies as well. She admits to not having them on her at the moment, but she'll run up to her room to get them. And she actually runs off, leaving us cooling our heels outside the main programming room. Genki, ne?

It's more than I can say for Konatsu or James-sempai. My kunoichi, despite being the night owl of the family as a general rule, actually fell asleep during the showing, and James admits to having nodded off himself. I understand, what with it being past two a.m. already, but it's strange being the energetic one for a change.

Not as energetic as the girl from Otakudom, though. She barrels down the hall with a backpack full of tapes, and as she kneels to get them out, hands clutching money are thrust at her… it must be a gratifying experience for her. Actually, all she's asking is the approximate cost of the tapes; I manage to drop a couple gold coins in her palm before she's completely cleaned out. She's pleased to hear from Konatsu (who, with James-sempai's assistance, has managed to struggle out of the main room) that we might be able to digitize the show and distribute it on-line, but I fret about not having the hardware up and running to do so… I really don't want to make promises I can't keep.

But we'll worry about that another time. It's late, and we gotta get back to the Ucchan and get some sleep. Still, we check by the video rooms to see what's showing, and whether there's anything we'd like to get back early for. Nope… whatever's there we either have, or aren't interested in. Still, just for the fun of it, I duck into the room where they claim to be showing hentai until 6 a.m. And they're showing… Goldenboy. Goldenboy? I understand it's an ecchi title, but I didn't really think it had any of… that… in it. I don't really think you can, in good conscience (is that an acceptable phrase when talking about this kind of stuff?) call it hentai.

Anyway, we really do need to get back home; Dave-sempai needs to get settled in. Turns out, he took off on his own either before or after Anime Jigoku, so he's been back for hours, but just sat up waiting for us. Granted, he's got his manga and what-have-you, so he's apparently not too bored, but still… I start opening up the sofabed before he makes it plain he'd rather stay upstairs in Daniel's room. We insist it's a mess (and it is), but he assures us he's seen worse.

I don't know whether to feel sorry for him or not.

But he says it's fine, and with everyone settled, we finally turn in at about half-past three.

By the time we get up and cleaned up to go, it's already well into the showing of this year's AMVs. Oh well, we'll just catch 'em either during the encore presentation on Sunday, or somewhere online, eventually. While I recommend car pooling so as not to have to all deal with the $10 parking charge, Dave-sempai wants to check out Mitsuwa first, and James-sempai wants to get to Ken Akamatsu's panel on Love Hina at noon.

So in short order, it's just Konatsu and me in the house. Hm…

[Romantic piano music in the background, successive still shots of an alpine meadow, a cute kitten playing with a ball of yarn, a Christmas tree laden with bright lights and ornaments and piles of anime merchandise at its base—please enjoy these sights and sounds at this moment in lieu of any actual reporting of current events…]

Well, after lunch, we finally get around to heading out. As long as we get there before the fanfic panel at three, I'll be satisfied. Konatsu offers to keep track of the Anime Match Game for me at the same time, as long as I allow a turn in the video game room. My kunoichi has been practicing on a game that we know as Atomic Pop, a similar version of which we've seen at AnimeIowa at least. I have no problem with this; as long as I'm not inveigled into a round of Dance Dance Revolution, I'm cool with it.

Konatsu wonders about the crowds at ACen today; given the fact that Saturday is the time for the local day trippers to show up, the population at the Hyatt may well double.

As we arrive, the exact amount of the increase isn't clear, but I can confirm there are a LOT more people here… the Hyatt parking garages—both of them—are completely filled up. We have to double back and use the main Rosemont convention parking lot a couple of blocks down. Fortunately, we don't have to deal with crossing the streets—we just take the Donald E. Stephens Pedetrian Skyway past the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center to the Donald E.—no, wait, it's just called the Hyatt Regency.

The name of the mayor of Rosemont is as ubiquitous as the Rose motif of the town itself. And why not? Mayor Stephens has ruled Rosemont with an iron fist since its founding way back in the early sixties (or the late fifties? I honestly don't know). Like Mussolini, the man makes the trains run on time, so to speak. It does occur to me that given this, and the roses, Mayor Stephens IS Akio Ohtori! The only difference is that, Kami knows, you wouldn't want to see him with his shirt off.

Later, discussing the Mayor with Paul Corrigan, he asks whether he's groomed a successor like Chicago's Daley did in his son. To be honest, I don't think he ever has; at this, Paul points out another similarity between DFS and Ohtori: 'apres moi, la revolution.' Almost makes you feel sorry for Rosemont.


The line for registration has been kicked in the groin—it's doubled up from yesterday. Hopefully, we can be forgiven a bit of smugness as we head up to the video game room. Yes, up… it's been moved from its original spot above the video rooms to a larger place by the pool.

And it's almost too big for that room, too. Every computer game is occupied, and there's at least twenty of them. DDR is completely packed out, with dozens of people signed up to play and waiting as a pair of dancers duke it out. Most of the other games are your standard-issue martial arts combat deals, with varying (but high) degrees of realistic animation. No Atomic Pop, or whatever it's called by Sony or whoever puts it out in video game console format. Konatsu may be disappointed, but I'm not: the crowds in here make it difficut to even move. We head back downstairs.

There's a lot more cosplayers today; it's enough to make me pity the few mundanes that might be staying here. We see Vash the Stampede carrying several boxes of Krispy Kremes—well, now there’s a celebrity endorsement if I've ever seen one. It's not until the donuts are long gone that we find out he'd been exchanging them for hugs. See? There is a better way than Otaku Big Date.

Mmph, grbl, gahn… Nice fellow, ne, Ha-chan?

"Yes, sempai… though I think we could have found the same thing up in the con suite…"

I know, I know… I'm sure he realizes you didn't mean to do that to him, but hey, it's not like it made a big mess or anything, 'cause after all, his coat's the same color, so it's not like you stained it or anything, although I suppose it may be a problem once it dries, although maybe that'd give it that weatherbeaten lived-in look that a character like that needs, you know, and all you'd really need are bullet holes to complete the effect, and…

"Should I get the railgun, then, sempai?"

No, I don't think that'd be necessary—a RAILGUN? Where the heck have you been hiding THAT?

… I didn't need to see that. Thank you, Ha-chan… you can put it back now…

Konatsu wanders off to the Anime Match Game, while I camp out by the live programming room, waiting for the fanfiction panel in something over an hour. Dedicated, you say? Hardly. I need the time to catch up on my notes, especially seeing as today's notes are gonna be exponentially longer.

I don't get much transcribed, however. Paul Corrigan spots me and points out that the RightStuf industry panel is about to start in the room next door. Not having anything in particular to do for the next hour or so—and frankly, not really looking forward to all this typing—I follow.

Jeff Thompson assures us that KareKano is on the verge of release—after nearly four years, he admits ruefully. He does make it clear that anyone who asks 'when' is in for a world of hurt. But he and Neil Nadelman do have the first DVD—although they're as amazed as anyone that the darn thing works. But work it does, and if you ask me, it's terrific! Yukinon's N.A. seiyuu actually has a greater range than the Japanese one!

Okay, so maybe it isn't worth waiting four years for, but seeing as we've already waited that long, the consolation is that it's certainly a decent product.

Since Paul's in the fanfic panel, and we've seen what we wanted to from the Right Stuf guys, we duck out (after joining in a rousing applause for the KareKano dub) for the fanfic panel.

There's some scuffling to get into the room—the doorway's not made for simultaneous in-and-out traffic—but once the room clears out from the previous panel, the place fills up rather nicely. Jeanne promptly brings everything to order, by pointing out that this is, appropriately, the end of National Library Week, and introducing our panel for today. She also makes it clear that, given the limited amount of time, there will be no discussion of how each of them got into fanfiction in the first place.

The first question deals with reactions to what's referred to as 'fanon': Bert Van Vliet speaks of the issue of whether a character would be in or out of character in an alternate universe situation. Jeff Moore takes a different tack, describing characteristics that have no basis in canon, but after being used in a fanfiction, become generally accepted. I forget the example he gives, but the name Mrs. Kimiko Tendo comes to mind as an example. The consensus has no problem with this, having both created and borrowed from fanon from time to time.

The panel is asked about preferences between one-shots and series. Paul confesses to not having the patience to assemble a series (although his KareKano fics have, in fact, followed a rough sequence). John Biles, on the other hand, claims to be almost unable to write one-shots, as the story quickly unfolds on him. In any case, he sees no reason to avoid one or the other, either as a writer or a reader. Jeff brings up one reason—the dreaded unfinished series—he hates these. He mentions a fellow writer (who's supposed to be in the audience, but must have [wisely] ducked out) who he has sent friendly death threats (is that an oxymoron?) that he believes are the only reason said fellow writer is still working on his fic.

A question about filk (aka, songfics) goes pretty much by the boards, as none of the panel has tackled the subject personally. Bert goes so far as to admit he couldn't carry a tune even if it was on wheels, so…

The whole panel jumps on a question regarding pet peeves. Jeanne agrees with Jeff about unfinished series, especially series that have been moldering in the r.a.a.c. archives long enough that you know nothing's ever going to happen. John speaks of 'character bashing through darkfics': where an author makes their least favorite character so mean and nasty (and OOC in doing so) that the reader has no choice but to hate the character. Jeff, as a longtime fanfic writer (albeit new to the anime fanfic world), speaks of the ease of publishing today, what with the Internet and all. He fumes at authors who preface their work with "I know ths isn't any good, but please be gentle." "For heaven's sake, people, have some pride in your work!" Bert gets annoyed when his own characters are co-opted by another writer, while Paul points out that, if a character is going to be out of character, have a damn good reason for it.

Jeff's mini-rant about the old days brings up a very well-thought-out question about the old guard versus the new school of writers. Paul is a bit astonished; "I'm old guard?" John talks about how real life eventually overtakes most of us—boy, can I relate to that!—so if you last in the fanfic world longer than two years, you're pretty much old guard already. Bert and Paul both insist that old vs. new is (or at least should be) irrelevant: a story should stand or fall on its own merits.

The term "Mary Sues" is brought up, but before the knives can be sharpened, Paul points out how some of the source material has Mary Sues in it: Usagi from Sailor Moon, Tohra from Fruits Basket and the like (I wonder if Evangelion's Shinji is a Mary Sue, by that standard). Jeff mentions that the entire panel is in glass houses on this issue: he unblushingly mentions he met his wife through a Mary Sue story he'd published. John agrees; "Every author's first novel is an autobiography." The trick is to make the self-insertion suitably and realistically flawed, rather than the godlike creatures known and loathed by all.

Have any of them written people out of character? Oh, sure. It takes time to get a feel for the characters, says Jeff. John adds that sometimes you get an idea that you just have to write, but you don't know the characters well enough to always get it right. His recommendation is to go for it in spite of that; let the idea out. Paul, too, admits to having overdriven his headlights. Several of his KareKano fics were based on what he knew of the characters through the (still ongoing) manga; subsequent issues have shown that the characters he had develop one are being developed in a completely different direction by the original author.

On the subject of feedback, Bert admits it takes time on occasion. You just have to be patient: if the readers like it, they will let you know, eventually. John suggests teaming up with another writer in creating fics: that way, at least one other person is definitely reading your material. Jeanne adds that negative feedback is every bit as possible as positive, so you need a thick skin. This is reinforced a little later, as several in the audience apologize for having written fics with severely OOC characters.

How about exaggerating character traits? The response is to simply keep it in-character, but keep the context in mind; how significant is the trait being exaggerated?

Another one of the old debates is brought up: script v. prose? After enduring Peirce-Nieges, Paul is swearing off script format—all those stage directions! Jeff agrees that scripts are hard to write and hard to read, and while Bert and John concur, John points out that when he got involved in Ranma fanfiction, that was just how it was done back then, so he followed suit. Since certain descriptions weren't necessary (venues and physical descriptions would be familiar to the fans of the series already), there was a certain sense to it.

How about lemons? (And I should point out, I didn't ask this question, reputation notwithstanding) Paul shrugs and says that he could never have written the likes of 'Bubblegum Pink'—and Jeanne plugs Kris' booth, for those interested in the fellow who could. Jeff writes steamy emails to his wife that sometimes turn into stories, while John has lost interest: "other people's fantasies don't interest me any more, and I don't see any reason to tell everyone mine." Paul also suggests that the couplings should be reasonable: he has no patience with anyone trying, say, to put Genma and Ryoga together. Personally, I have a hard time thinking about Genma and anyone….

How about dark lemons? Bert murmurs about an author needing counselling if these are their fantasies. John replies that under certain circumstances, horrible things have to happen to characters as they develop: he generally leaves the worst of the rape scenes to happen offstage, as it were. Bitter End is held up as an example; granted, it's not a lemon for the most part (if at all), but it balances the fine line of what to show and what not to.

How about slash? Bert fields this first yet again, with a crack about how 'yaoi' strikes him as a sound effect ("Yowie!"), to some amusement. Jeanne shrugs that a 'market' exists for this type of fic, and so they get written, albeit not by anyone on the current panel. John reiterates that there has to be a reasonable explanation for any given coupling, or you might as well have them abducted by aliens. Well, the anal probes would explain the slash…

Someone brings up the topic of cameos, as opposed to Mary Sues—Hitchcock-like appearances in your own fics. Bert claims no one would ever know if you did one, so why bother? Jeanne, in turn, mentions she's written Bert into a fic, while Paul guesses that he was a drunken bum in one of his fics.

In a similar vein, revengefics are brought up: do you think they'll make a comeback? "Did they ever go away?" replies Jeanne. All of a sudden, I feel a cold chill…

Ha-chan is a veritable tool chest, let me tell you. I don't know WHERE she gets this stuff from… no, wait, I DO know, and I don't WANT to, 'cause it's just really, really disturbing, all the stuff she can hide there, and why was she wondering about that tape recorder the other night anyway, when she can pull goddam PICKS and SHOVELS from her… no, I don't wanna go there.

But I bet that goofy neighbor of ours would… Ha-chan, would you turn off that CD player? If I hear Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' one more time, I'll go insane!! Hold it… was I sane in the first place? Don't answer that, Ha-chan!

"I won't, sempai." *click*

One fellow objects to the number of 9/11-related fanfiction: isn't fanfiction supposed to be a diversion from reality? John responds that reality will intrude from time to time; like all writing, this is in effect a comment on the human condition. On the other hand, what he finds objectionable are holiday-related fic which the characters wouldn't be remotely likely to celebrate, such as St. Patrick's Day. In Japan? Puh-leeze. Jeff, on the other hand, recalls enjoying a fic where all the anime characters pitched in to help out with the cleanup and recovery of the Eleventh.

The panel is asked about dealing with writer's block. John moves on to another story, while Jeff bounces ideas off his wife. Paul can only recall one case of writer's block, when a case of overdriving headlights led to a situation that he considered impossible to resolve happily; hence, his 'Abandoned Fanfic'.

Where do our panelists get their inspiration from? Jeanne considers an open-ended story to be an invitation, while John…

The MST treatment is mentioned, and surprisingly, Jeanne feels compelled to explain it. For good reason, it turns out: apparently, Jeff had not been familiar with the concept at all, until he ventured into the world of anime fanfiction: this, after twenty years or so of writing for Doctor Who, Blake's Seven, and various other sci-fi series. John (and Travis Butler, in the audience) point out that MSTs exist in two forms: as a running form of C&C, or as a rip-the-fic-apart-for-the-sake-of-a-joke flame fest. Both of them prefer the latter by far. It's a different panel from last year, when Megane was here. Of course, very few MSTers are of Meg-kun's caliber, so I understand the ire felt toward the latter category.

The fact that MSTs tend to utilize more of someone else's story flows into a question about plagiarism. Jeff warns us of an incoming rant, then proceeds to lecture anyone thinking of accusing someone of plagiarism to be DAMN SURE they have the goods on 'em. Unless the evidence is ironclad, you run the risk of making a false accusation, which is hardly any better. A girl in the audience makes a public service announcement for the Plagiarism Police Patrol for which she volunteers (although she didn't remember the website offhand); she recalls having to dredge through a pair of awful fics… only to find that both were stolen from the same cheesy teenage vampire anthology elsewhere. There is applause for her (and her group's) efforts as she sits down.

Jeff fields a question about doujinshi—why is it so common in Japan, and so rare in the States?—by brandishing his own fanzine of sci-fi fiction, done a number of years back. Between assembling authors and artists, not to mention costs of printing and bindery, it took over $500 and and roughly a year to produce. Compared to the internet, where a fic can get nearly instantaneous response, and there's no contest. Of course, there are other reasons, too, such as stricter copyright laws and the like.

C&C is the last major topic, starting with sites set aside for this purpose. The panelists have no problem with this: hey, it's feedback. Bert mentions one site, though, that referred to him as a 'purveyor of blasphemous fanfiction,' a title, needless to say, he is quite proud of. Since most of the discussion has been about writers, the final word goes out to beta readers: be honest, and tough. Your writer would rather hear bad news from you than from the general public. Believe it or not, they don't always know best, and a second opinion can be quite helpful. Don't be offended, though, if it's not taken: that's the writer's prerogative.

The wrap-up includes future projects, and some laughter as Jeff tells John about how he came across John's Lovecraft/Scooby Doo crossover. Apparently, his laughter got his wife's attention: "Okay, what dirty pictures are you looking at now?"

As we leave the panel room, we find ourselves pushing past an enormous line of folks evidently waiting for the MegaTokyo panel. They'll never fit even a third of these people in that room. In fact, they might be hard-pressed to squeeze all these people into the mail ballroom. But the upside may be, with all these folks so occupied, they won't be queueing up for the masquerade.

(It turns out that most people do wind up getting turned away, including a girl who's cosplaying as one of the characters from MegaTokyo itself—now, that’s harsh)

Konatsu joins me, and we decide to cool our heels in the con suite (we don't see anything in particular that we'd really be interested in on the video schedule—I think this may be the fourth con in a row where we haven't actually done time in a video room) and order pizza in while we wait to queue for the cosplay. Nightman and Gary join us and chip in some funds as well. Looks like Nightman's made up for yesterday's loss by shooting so many cosplayers already that his camera's full. I'm willing to let him download onto my laptop… but it doesn't have software to recognize the pictures. So he's out of luck.

My kunoichi reports that the line for MegaTokyo may be a non-issue: neither lines nor loitering will be permitted in the lobby, or anywhere near the main ballroom. Okay, that may cut down on people camping out for the cosplay, but the idea of hundreds or even thousands of otaku rushing the ballroom at once does not sound like an appealing alternative. Maybe we can get a least close… as soon as we're done with the pizza, anyway.

Whoa… there's an awful lot of people down here already, not loitering. Somehow, this strikes me as a bad sign. We set ourselves up right by the concierge, and wait. All at once, a well-dressed hotel staffer announces: "The line starts here, behind the elevators."

It would have to be ten paces behind us.

Fine. So we trudge over to the elevator area, and follow the line as it already snakes back to the room under the pool. It takes a while before we begin to move, but it moves relatively swiftly… until we get to the edge of the main hallway leading to the ballroom.

"If you're willing to see the cosplay, you're willing to stand outside." And so we're directed out the door… and halfway again across the front lot away from the main ballroom—they've moved the line on us yet again! And it isn't warm out here like it was on Friday… in fact, it's gotten downright chilly. We're relatively prepared, wearing jacket and sweater, respectively, but there are folks in line wearing costumes, that, to put it charitably, are not suitable for prolonged exposure to 40-50 degree weather.

The line arches in a U shape across the front of the hotel, and there are hundreds of us in it—possibly over a thousand. A rumor goes up that there are some 4,500 attendees at ACen, but the ballroom can only hold up to 1,500. That means… we might not make it in. It's a thoroughly discouraging thought, and one that causes several people to simply desert.

(I discover later that they were better off staying in line. Evidently, most other con activities ceased during the masquerade—the con suite and game rooms shut down entirely, and the artists were evicted from Artists' Alley long before, much to their vocal opposition. What gets me curious is, what were the 2 out of 3 congoers who would get shut out of the cosplay do? Konatsu suggested a closed-circuit television coverage to the hotel rooms, but I doubt that was available. But apart from the video rooms, there wasn't much else.)

Some guys with rooms overlooking the front step out onto their balconies to laugh at us poor saps standing in line… but they do provide amusement to take one's mind off the cold. One group brandishes a roll of toilet paper, and the crowd cheers for him to throw it, but he never does—Konatsu and I amuse ourselves trying to come up with an anime-related equivalent to 'fish or cut bait:' the best I can do is 'Get on the cat bus, or go home,' which doesn't quite feel right.

Even as there are deserters, there are a few last minute joiners, including a Gendo Ikari. You know, if he'd studied his Dead Sea Scrolls a little harder, he would have known to get in line a lot sooner.

Konatsu points out that, even as we finish crossing in front of the hotel proper, the line is as long as is was when we got in line out here—and more people are coming out to join the line: "Hope springs eternal, ne, Ukyou-sama?"

By this time, we're just about inside the building, and I can't help as we pass a security staffer whether we have a snowball's chance. "A snowball's chance? In an iceberg!" It sounds vaguely reassuring, but I worry that he's merely referring to the weather.

Mirable dictu, we're actually in. And we've got an aisle seat, no less. Gives me room to spread my stuff out a little. Lovely. Several staffers have set up the camera right behind my ear, and talk about cosplays of years past compared to this year. 100 entrants! No wonder they're only giving each group two minutes on the outside! They also mention that enough people abandoned hope that they'd make it in that there are still plenty of seats, even as they close the doors.

Guess everything was going according to plan for ol' Gendo…

The lights go down, and the crowd roars as the MC comes out in the style of a gospel preacher: "Can I have an 'ACen' from all of you?"


My folks would have a conniption fit at the sacrilege. But we're eating it up, as are the judges as they're introduced. Crispin Freeman gets 'slain in the spirit' of the con, and first-timer Brad Swale gets baptized, while M Williamson actually sings gospel-style right back at the MC, and sounds better, too! On the other hand, Tiffany Grant is having none of it: "What are ya, stupid?" and MegaTokyo's Fred Perry says "I feel good" with none of the conviction of James Brown—he's more like James White, I guess.

Our hosts come out, the con chairman in Kaga-esque robes (ah, the Iron Guest outfit) and Steve Bennett… in a suit? Oh, that's just a sport jacket. Damn, Steve, you had us worried!

The audience is warned not to chant 'Dance! Dance!' or call for the gong for no particular reason. Hm… let's see if they can manage to hold off. Meanwhile, I've decided not to go through every skit… one hundred of them is just too many to take notes on, and my hand is already cramping up from the fanfic panel.

The True Power of the Revolution: While Anthy waits for her, Utena staggers up the last of the stairs, complaining about the height and the damn music. Anthy points out the elevator, but warns her that Miki installed a Muzak version of 'Zettai Unmei Mokoshiroku' to play in it, so it might not be an improvement. Finally, Utena mentions that she's hungry, and draws a giant Pocky stick from Anthy's chest.

Sailors Mars and Jupiter get catty about the other Senshi, but their little bitch session gets gonged.

Ryoga Hibiki announces, to his great relief, that he's finally made it to ACen98. Once the laughter dies down, he gets serious about a Million Pig March he's leading on Washington to protest the growing problem of porcine abuse.

Vash proves his innocence in a case of stolen donuts, and when he does the usual 'Love and Peace' schtick, Steve responds (tongue-in-cheek, I hope) with "Hate and War!"

The Slayers are on strike, in an effort to get a fourth season. Xelgadis is also protesting the poor treatment of chimeras. Gourry, meanwhile, just wants a sandwich. Xelloss offers Pocky… and we have ourselves a scab.

A sorceress evidently botches her summoning spells, and winds up with Kenshin, Kaji and Gendo. When she asks them for the words of wisdom she seeks, Kaji suggests being ambiguously gay so as to get more chicks, while Gendo is silent, and Kenshin not much better ("Oro?")

A Weiss Kreuz montage, where one of them can't remember what happened last night, and another sings "I'm a little playboy, short and stout…" and stops just when the ditty gets to the part about being steamed up.

The Phoenix from Saint Seiya walks onstage—and it's a mighty impressive costume, indeed. Gold helmet, intricate, flame-like wings… we may have a winner here.

Riding Bean puts in another appearance with the shot-up police car door, but this time Rally's with him, and for whatever reason, she's pissed. Bean hands her his gun, and she actually shoots him: "Y'know, even with the Kevlar, that hurts."

A pair of little boys cross the stage (and even do a number of lines) as Kenshin and his chief rival, to large applause. A little girl follows shortly after as Card Captor Sakura to an equally warm reception.

Revenge of the blue-haired girls: Umi's got Mokona by the ears, but Presea wants to get her licks in on the marshmallow, too.

Another Wiess Kreuz group, showing what happens when an attack goes wrong: the guys wind up in the middle of a fighting video game. As they leave the stage, Steve comments about what a lot of very beautiful men we've seen tonight. Of course, the fact that none of any of the Wiess Kreuz cosplayers are male may have something to do with it.

The con chairman gets in a line or two as well, such as when Belldandy comes out, endorsing Pocky: "Whoa, we went five straight minutes without a Pocky joke. That's gotta be a new record!"

Speaking of records, the crowd hasn't yet uttered the dreaded chant. Maybe being out in the cold like that kinda subdued everyone?

Vash walks out, suspicious that he's being followed, but every time he turns around, the insurance girls scurry behind Wolfwood's cross, so he doesn't see them.

Another girl challenges Kagone for Inu-Yasha: how do you whistle up a demon?

A sketch called Crouching Raven, Hidden Snake takes too long to get started and gets gonged, but our two hosts grant them a reprieve to bring out their piece de resistance: one major badass tank that even shoots (granted, popgun style, but weapons aren't allowed onstage, or at the con. Dunno how Bean and Rally pulled it off, though)

An Anthy in Adolescence Rose-Bride outfit admits to being a guy once, but you might not notice from 'his' voice like we could with Maho.

Sesuka and Susano-o from Orion do an advert for Madame Sesuka's psychic hotline. Being the god of destruction, Susano-o can be… very persuasive… in getting one to call. Of course, the predictions are pretty gloomy, in their own right.

The girl who I'd seen dressed as Chibi-Usa yesterday walks onstage as Mei Lun Li from Card Captor Sakura, does a few turns and poses, and is ordered offstage by her mom.

There are some regular cosplay groups returning this year: the Cosplay Cuties do a schtick on Survivor: the Falkland Islands. The winning Cutie earns a date… with a cowboy? Ewww…

The ACen Girls, not to be outdone, drag a fanboy with them onstage and strip him down to a few judiciously-placed soapsuds before doing a takeoff of the Village People's 'In The Navy' which they call "Get to Bathing": "we want you/we want you/we want you to smell brand-new" Fanboy sums it up by mooning the audience; not to worry, he's wearing a padded bum.

A sword fight is interrupted by… Chairman Kaga and his Iron Chefs? It's the ultimate food fight, complete with colossal boxes of Pocky and Fran (my kunoichi's favorite brand, BTW) duking it out. The audience goes wild and gives the sketch a standing ovation.

The Not Ready for Bandai Players have the Lupin gang hunting for buried treasure at an unlikely place—the springs of Jusenkyou. Hey, it's heavily guarded, there must be something valuable here, right? Jigen falls into Gendoniichuan, Goemon falls into Yoshoniichuan—both complete with fast costume changes. I forget what Lupin turns into, but Fujiko lands in Usaginiichuan, and, from behind the blue screen held up by their own stagehands, she yells "I am not coming up!" The 'stagehands' drop the screen to reveal Fujiko in odangos, crying.

I can't tell what show the next group of characters is from, but in short order, most of them find themselves under the thrall of a would-be fanfic author in their midst. One of them finally manages to confiscate the author's pen. The moral? "Friends don't let friends write bad fanfiction."

When a motley group of cosplayers, one dressed as Zelda, another as Narusegawa, and yet another as Menchi the dog, among others, step onstage, they wind up backing away in a hurry, as the stage begins to shake and bow upwards. Everyone, including the MCs, are nearly offstage when the thing practically erupts from the floor, and two girls jump out from the hole.

Two very familiar girls…

Oh, damn. Well, the other shoe's finally dropped; I was wondering when I'd run into them here.

Excel spreads her arms wide and looks toward the ceiling. "WE'RE HEEERE!!" Her mouth opens so wide to say this, you can't see any other part of her face. It's like she could swallow a melon if you stuck it in there.

Speaking of swallowing, she suddenly looks around and spots… "MENCHI!" and runs over to glomp the poor guy in the dog costume. I realize the costume doesn't permit changes in facial expression, but the look of abject terror the 'real' Menchi usually has goes unnoticed by Excel in any case, so it probably doesn't matter. "You managed to track us down, you dear, sweet, emergency meat supply, you! And you've gotten so much bigger and fatter…" I wonder if the guy takes offense at this. Probably not, seeing as to how a cute girl like Excel is latched onto him—and the way she's petting him probably doesn't hurt, either.

Narusegawa is looking a bit steamed… is the guy in the Menchi costume her boyfriend? Or is she put out about being upstaged? Or is she just acting in character?

It's a moot point as the attention shifts to Jessica Calvello jumping to her feet. "Hey everybody… it's her! Excel Excel, in the flesh!" She actually runs onstage and hugs this girl, while the crowd starts in chanting: "EX-CEL! EX-CEL! EX-CEL!"

"Ohhh, you people are so wonderful to me and Ha-chan, and you've been treating Menchi so well too and it looks like we won't have any trouble taking over this place for the greater glory of ACROSS and Il Palazzo-sama, and I'm pretty sure I won't be needing this for anything…" and she tosses a small metal object over her shoulder. What the hey…?

Suddenly, another one of my sempais, a bearded fellow named John, stands up. He knows what that thing was: "A grenade pin…?!



I can't tell you which is worse about being in an explosion, the pain of being struck by debris and shrapnel, or the burns you get from the blast itself. All I know is that it hurts. Awfully.

And it's dark.

And there are stars all around me… is it just me? What about everyone else? Where are they? Where am I?

There's a strange melody, like an etherial choir singing in a minor key, and a voice. Not God's… at least I don't think it is. I wouldn't've expected God to be a woman.

"Well, now, this just will not do. Let's see if I can fix this mess… my goodness…"


Menchi, Naru and the others walk offstage to applause, and I'm looking around, perplexed, wondering what just happened. It's as if nothing did. But… shouldn't there be a hole in the stage, where Excel and Hyatt just popped out? Really, shouldn't there be a big crater from when that… grenade?… went off? And shouldn't we all have been blown to kingdom come by all that?

But the only evidence I have that I wasn't dreaming all that—and how could I be? I have a responsibility to take notes and relay it to y'all—are a few singe marks on my notebook.

Okay… maybe I was dreaming it. Damn, but it would have made a good story.

o/~ Ahhh-ahhhh o/~

"Tee-hee-hee… you are so good at this, I'z-chan…"

So… where does this leave Excel and Hyatt?

*koff*koff* "Sempai… where are we?"

It's a good question, and one I'd like to try to answer if I could, but I can't, so I won't. All I know is that we're outside somewhere, so I guess the blast blew us out of the hotel, except if the hotel fell down, in which case being in the hotel would also be outside by now, which makes some sense except for the fact that we're not on—or under, thank the Great Will of the Universe—

o/~ Ahhh-ahhhh o/~

"You're welcome, Excel-chan."

- a honkin' pile of rubble, or even flintstone, for that matter, but rather atop a grassy knoll, which would be fine if we wanted to assassinate a President, but that's not what Il Palazzo-sama asked us to do, so we aren't gonna do that, and he's probably not here in Chicago in any case, and we'd have a lousy shot 'cause there's trees all around us, even though I can hear traffic somewhere out there in the dark, but at this point it still hurts too much to move a lot and it's obviously kinda late so I'm gonna call it a night.


"Sempai?" *piku*

Well, whatever just happened—assuming anything did happen—everything seems back to normal now. Guess I might as well go with the flow.

The Sorcerer Hunters are pitted against the Slayers when Carrot proposes to Lina—"Oh, I'm sorry… I thought you were a girl"—and then to Gourry—"What, another guy?" Lina attempts a Dragon Slave to no effect: that time of the month again, huh? And when a Gundam Wing Zero steps onto the stage, everyone stops fighting while it… discos?

Also set to music is the entrance of a magnificent 3-headed dragon, heads lip-synching (sort of—think Crow T. Robot with electric eyes) to Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. The crowd is on its feet at this, and flashbulbs go off like strobe lights, which only adds to the effect.

These days, no cosplay is complete without a reference to 'all your base are belong to us'. This time, the cast of Evangelion are menaced by a SEELE-eque monolith with 'C.A.T.S.' emblazoned upon it. As a result, the bridge dialogue decays to the point where everyone is speak bad Engrish.

Another sketch about bad fanfiction, as two normally-dressed fangirls discuss possibilities while the actual characters come out and perform their narration.

A guy comes out in a yellow gi, carrying a huge red mallet. It would seem that Akane Tendo has decided if you can't beat men, join 'em! Well, it'd make my job of snagging Ran-chan easier, wouldn't it?

The CCSakura cast come out, singing about being 'Captors of Mights' a la Mel Brooks' merry men. It gets a big hand, although it's amazing no one got clobbered with the 'punch out your lights' line…

A Bust a Move character proves that a Kodama (from Mononoke Hime) makes an excellent—if rather large—maraca, and a group done up as the J-rock group Marise Mizelle (sp?) comes out—but they can't find the sound. The MCs ask if they can wait until the sound guys locate their CD, and they are directed back to the green room for a moment.

While the sound people scramble, Laguna from FF8 is offered up for auction. The bidding gets rather frantic, which comes as a surprise to him. Once he gets taken away by the lucky bidder, the sound guys announce they've found the CD, and Marisse Mizelle is trotted back out on stage.

Their lip-syching is okay, but it gets hard to follow once it breaks into two different songs, and the group starts arguing among each other. It gets a fair applause, and the MC states how it was worth the wait, but I dunno… maybe I just don't 'get' J-rock.

As penance, the sound guy offers to do a jig onstage while the judges deliberate, and his bluff is called. He proves to be both a decent sport and a decent dancer, although the up-to-now well-behaved crowd is starting to haul out the heavy artillery. It's enough to prompt my kunoichi to comment: "Feel the love… and then go wash your hands."

Why, Konatsu… I had no idea you had it in you!

The Iron Chef invasion wins for best skit, and the cast offers the con chairman a yellow pepper, which he bites into obligingly and smiles. King Hydra wins a special award for mecha, but does not take best of show—later on, we encounter its creator dismantling it: "If it doesn't win first prize, it gets junked," he shrugs. It's the other gold shiny one that brings it home: Saint Seiya.

We leave to look for room parties, but instead find a panel on "Bad Bad Anime" already in progress. What the hell… why not?

Good grief, this stuff is worse than what they ran last night at Jigoku. That stuff tended toward self-parody (if not deliberate parody)—this stuff is just that bad, including a vampire show that purports to take place in Boston, but the panel leader denies any resemblance, since he hails from there. It's also weird, seeing Drac' eating a hamburger—and on top of that, the burger doesn't get smaller with each bite! What, does he suck the burger out from between the buns?

For a finale (well, this is what happens when we show up in the middle of a panel… we miss a lot), a 'Titanic' based anime is shown that rips off nearly every Disney film one way or another, from the Scottie dog a la 'Lady and the Tramp' (granted, he sets himself apart by rapping—an innovation that Disney cannot be blamed for), to the chef chasing the mice (who resemble Fievel and family, by the way) through the kitchen like in 'The Little Mermaid' Konatsu assumes that this show must predate some of the cliches—the animation quality is on par with say, Mysterious Cities of Gold, suggesting a late-80s, early-90s issue. We're wrong: it's from 2000. Good grief

At this point, I've gotten too groggy to party all night, and still get home safely, so we take the better part of valor and drive off.

Last night wasn't the end of bad Japanese. At the breakfast table in the morning, Dave-sempai has my laptop fired up, and is showing something called—appropriately enough for the moment—"Tokyo Breakfast". Basically, this live-action show is performed entirely in English… or would that be Engrish? He nods. "The usual reaction to this is, 'That was awful! Can we see it again?'" And I can see why: it is awful. Japanese humor, if this is representative of it, is very crude stuff. But it's still funny—albeit not necessarily for the same reasons the Japanese find it funny, perhaps. Of course, who knows? Maybe Spanish-speaking folks find the classic SNL sketch "¿Quien es Más Macho?" hilarious for similar reasons.

As might be considered fitting for a Sunday, discussion turns to religion… and somehow that means mentioning End of Evangelion. James-sempai hated that show (although part of his resentment stems from how he saw it—on a double bill after "Wedding Peach"): "You're down to the last two people in the universe, and they're both raving loons." Based on that, it'd be better off if the world is destroyed.

Speaking of destruction, it's time to head back to the convention, despite the nagging sensation in the back of my mind that all we should find there is a heap of smouldering rubble. But no, it's all still there, and the first place we come to out of the skyway is the con suite, where Crispin Freeman is hosting "Mythology in Anime." And among the parallels drawn is the story of the hero's descent to the abyss and return. I actually think I understand this. On the other hand, the comparisons between say, Lodoss War and the Ring Cycle (Wagner's, not Tolkien's) get me lost, with references to Siegfried eating the dragon's heart and all that.

I should mention two things. First of all, despite not being on the program, the place is packed, and not just for the food (although people are grabbing some as things proceed). Second, and more disappointingly, this isn't really being done by Crispin himself, live. Oh, he's there on the con suite stage, but the 'discussion,' such as it is, is done on video—one of the talking heads looks a bit like Bill Moyers, I dunno. And while I understand the value of this format for a topic this heavy—Kami knows how chaotic it would get if this was a live discussion with Q&A from the audience—it does get tiresome, and Konatsu and I decide to take another spin around the dealers' room—see if we can find a few last-minute bargains.

Brr, but it's cold out here, which makes sense, since it's only April, but it's a lot warmer than this in Japan, even at this time of year, and wasn't it about thirty degrees warmer just a couple of days ago? Maybe we'd better get going, since we know they know and love us, and won't Il Palazzo be pleased to hear that?


"Well done, Excel-kun. ACROSS rules the world; now rule at my side as queen"

WAI! I'm queen of the world!! Get stuffed, Kate Winslet!!


*sigh* Oh, it's just too wonderful, that we might take the world by storm even yet! Let's get back, and get started! We haven't a moment to lose! We…

We have a damn big manhole to deal with, here. I thought it was supposed to be Texas where they make things big. Hey, Ha-chan, can you give me a little help with this thing? It's almost as big as me, for crying out loud, which, okay, isn't as big as Il Palazzo-sama—at least, I hope he's pretty big, he sure looks it in that cloak and all, but he may be hiding something—and what am I SAYING?! Il Palazzo-sama can't POSSIBLY be anything less than perfection!

…where was I?

"You were about to open this manhole, so we could get back --"

To Il Palazzo-sama! Right!


It's open, Ha-chan! Let's gooooooooo..!!


"Sempai… *koff*koff* I think we're in the wrong tunnel…"

First stop is Kris Overstreet's White Lightning Productions, where the Juri has returned the verdict: this'll probably be his last ACen, unless things change dramatically. The booth is too expensive, the Hyatt has no loading dock, and all in all this year's con has just been lousy from his perspective. What about AnimeIowa? He acknowledges that it's cheaper to set up there, but getting there eats into the profits: there's no straight drive to Cedar Rapids from Texas. In any case, the dealers' room filled up there faster than he could react anyway. Maybe another time… maybe. We offer our sympathy, and buy a few Ranma portfolios as we go on our way.

Paul Corrigan catches up to us, still energetic despite only three hours of sleep (which is as much a surprise to himself as to us). Maybe it's that he's stumbled across three KareKano doujinshi. "Inspiration?" I ask sardonically. Not necessarily, though one does have Maho and Yukino… he claims it's a case of serendipity, where the volumes found him rather than the other way around. I ask if he can scan copies (considering all the artwork he keeps on Studio Poutine, why not?), but evidently, his only access to a scanner is at school, and while fanart is one thing, hentai might pose a problem… oh, well.

Speaking of hentai, my suspicion is confirmed at one booth, where several such titles are prominently displayed, advertising the dubious 'talents' of apparently well-known porn stars. It leaves me rolling my eyes—porn stars are not hired for their acting ability, vocal or otherwise. Why don't real voice actresses—who can actually act—do this, even pseudonymously? Most of them are married or are otherwise familiar with the requisite sounds, aren't they?

"Yeah," says another customer, hearing my gripe, "but they don't want their husbands to know they can do this." It's enough to make me facefault.

At Bob DeJesus' table, the missus (evidently Bob himself was up rather late last night, and is still recovering) recognizes me and asks where my kunoichi is. Well, Konatsu's right… here?

It takes me ten, fifteen minutes to track 'Natsu-chan down, but we return to the DeJesus table, where Ellen tells us about Bob's entry into the Iron Guest competition. Turns out, the theme he was competing on was 'marriage', and he drew himself holding… triplets! "That ain't comin' outta me!" Mrs. DeJesus announces emphatically. One, maybe… in a year or two… and, she makes it plain, she is not gonna have her baby at a con the way she got married. There's too many people looking in as it is when you're in the hospital—why make it so much worse?

Konatsu shows me what got us separated: Anime Anonymous is selling homemade ice cream. I've never been partial to green tea, but I get Konatsu a scoop of ginger peach. The only complaint I hear is that "it's more peach than ginger."

We peruse Artists' Alley and, since I actually have cash left over—I really haven't spent much this weekend—I arrange a commission to be done and mailed to me: it's probably gonna be as close as I get to actually riding a Vespa, personally. I have to explain the concept to the artist for a moment, but once he gets it, his eyes just light up like he wishes he'd come up with it. Heh.

And on the subject of interesting art, Konatsu persuades me and Paul to watch the final installment of Iron Guest. Granted, I don't know either the guest (Bruce Lewis) or the challenger (Caitlin Oliver), but how familiar am I with the Iron Chefs, either?

The con chairman comes out, still dressed as Kaga-sama… you know, for all they talk about ACen's slogan 'got soap?', I wonder if the chairman practices what he preaches, given that he's been wearing that outfit every day.

But no matter; the theme for today is: Kaiju. Giant monsters. Oh my God-zilla. Which is exactly what Bruce draws; although his Godzilla has his feet propped up on an enormous desk in a colossal office. This big fellow's the top of the economic food chain. Caitlin takes a potshot at Bruce by drawing them as monsters duking it out over a city. Caitlin with a prehensile tail looks kinda cute, but the judges make cracks about the attack of the 50 foot Bruce: "Isn't that an Australian horror flick?"

I imagine the judges consider the challenger's subject a bit of a cheap shot; the detail and use of color is better in her drawing, but it doesn't win.

While the 'Artists' Stadium' is dismantled for the closing ceremonies, I duck out to the powder room for a quick freshen-up. En route, I encounter a crowd surrounding two cosplayers—a catgirl/maid and a Akiraesque ninja type—who look like they're on the verge of fighting. They also look like this is supposed to be all in fun, but the con staffers are having none of it, stepping in to break it up in booming voices… which amazes me, as mine is pretty cracked still from last night's activities.

Just before the lights go down for the ceremonies, I run into Jessie Calvello, and ask her about Excel. I believe the phrase she uses is that the girl "is kicking my ass".

I can relate.

Since we're short on time, she scribbles a web address in my notebook (www.jessicacalvello.com, of course) where she's keeping a diary of what it's like to actually be Excel. She gives no indication, however, that she remembers having seen her just last night.

Maybe I am going crazy.

The final tally is in: 4,520 attendees this year. I have no idea how that shakes out against Otakon or Anime Expo, but I suspect we've got a long way to go before we're out of third place.

Pioneer has brought boxes of chocolate that Carl Horn and the guests hand out to the crowd—Scott Frazier, in particular, whips the bars deep into the audience—with remarks on the rewards of staying to the end. On the other hand, the wrappers advertise some of Pioneer's latest series—is it really a good idea to open a chocolate bar labelled "Soul Taker"? Wouldn't "Strawberry Egg" be at least a little more appetizing?

Each of the guests that are left (yes, apparently, there are some who are missing out on chocolate, too) is given the microphone—and in most cases, a background theme—so as to say their goodbyes. Steve Bennett, as a hometown boy (well, a generation removed from Chicago, actually) tells the crowd "you guys do my father's memory proud" for being so well-behaved—evidently, Ironcat had lost some stuff, and it was promptly turned in to the con staff. Good work, people.

And on the subject of lost items returned, we step out of the skyway into the parking garage, and I don't know why I didn't see it before, but…

"Hey, Konatsu… isn't that…"

"MY CAR!!" My kunoichi is on it like a shot, practically hugging it for joy.

Well, hey… not a bad finish to the weekend. Although, it makes me wonder: "You know, what are the odds we'd run across it so easily, given that the Hyatt has two multi-level parking garages, and a lot of ground space?"

My kunoichi gazes up at me beatifically. "Just savor the plot contrivance, Ukyou-sama."

Uh… Konatsu… you do realize we're blowing the fourth wall to pieces here, don't you?

"Not to mention blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction. Yes, I know… but it's just so good to get my car back, even if it is a heap." Which it is, but… oh hell, whatever makes you happy, 'Natsu-chan…

Let's go. "Hai, Ukyou-sama."

We pull out of the parking lot together, my kunoichi leading the way. This way, if something goes wrong, I'm not driving off, blissfully unaware of Konatsu-chan's troubles.

And sure enough, something goes wrong: a police siren. We both pull over, and I leave enough space between us for the cop car to pull in. Bet he saw the airbag hanging out.

I hop out of my car, and get to Konatsu's just in time to hear, "License and registration, please." I have a suspicion of what's coming, but at least the car's in proper hands, and everything should be in order. On the other hand, the officer is taking an awful long time back at his car to check things out. I stick my head in, just to make sure Konatsu's got the insurance paperwork in the car—it was a bit of a mess last week when I had to bring the stuff to the accident site to avoid a $200 ticket.

Finally, he strides back, with a grim look on his face. "This car was reported stolen on the 18th."

"Yes, sir."

"You realize reporting a false police report is a serious offence?"

"Officer, it was stolen from our house on Thursday. We just discovered it a few minutes ago by the Hyatt Regency. Is it all right if we just… cancel… the report or something?"

It's hard to read his expression, but I suspect he's a bit puzzled. "I think that would be up to the police department you reported this stolen to. But the papers are in order; you are the owner of the car," and he hands back the license and registration card. "I'd recommend that you go to the Arlington Heights station tomorrow morning, and straighten this out. You don't want to be nailed for insurance fraud for filing a false claim."

"No, sir."

He notices the airbag remains hanging from the steering wheel. "Hm. Well, you know this thing's not exactly street legal like this, but how you want to get it to where you need it to be is your business."

"Uh, hey… could you, maybe, escort us to the body shop, so we don't get pulled over again?"

He looks at the drooping airbag, and shakes his head. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't really condone this. Technically, it's against the law, but it's up to you if you want to take the chance." And he heads back to his car and drives out. I hadn't realized how long I'd gone without exhaling until I finally let it out.

We decide to take the chance, and as it so happens, we don't get stopped again.

Con report #9:


This weekend's experiment…….. well, I'll leave it up to you readers to decide, okay?


AAAHH!! Ha-chan, I dropped the tape recorder! How's anyone gonna know what we've been through this weekend?! How's Il Palazzo-sama going to know of the depths we have go to for his sake?! How…

"Ahhhhh…" *splat*

Oh, Ha-chan… you're gonna help me look for it in all this sewer water! Thank you so much! But… you should lift your head every now and then to breathe, you know. Not that the air's any more pleasant than the water, but it beats drowning, now, doesn't it?

Author's Notes: Yes, you read that correctly—this is my ninth convention report. Can you tell I'm getting a little tired? It's nice to be known for these con reports, but it's embarrassing when it's more or less my sole output to the FFML in a given year. So I decided to have Excel chew me out for it: and she sort of took over in the beginning, at least. So you'll have to take certain parts of this con report with a grain of salt (although those of you that were there should be able to distinguish fantasy from reality… wait a minute, we're otakus. Never mind).

A couple of hints: yes, Konatsu was in an accident last week (between this and having gotten knocked off a bicycle shortly before AnimeIowa98, my kunoichi has a knack for getting into accidents just before conventions), no, the car was already in the shop by the 18th, so it couldn't have gotten stolen, and no, there wasn't even anyone dressed up as Excel or Hyatt (let alone the genuine article).

I wonder if SOMEone's gonna complain about this; after all, it's my first con since September 11th, and what am I doing? I'm getting myself and Konatsu hijacked, and eventually blowing up the Hyatt Regency. Really tasteful, Ucchan… still, tastelessness seems to be de riguere for Excel Saga, so why not?

Lemme tell ya, Excel's fun to write, but also a real chore. In fact, most writing has become a bit of a chore… it's why I don't write so much as I used to. I won't call it quits—there are more ideas out there, somewhere, not to mention more conventions to attend (and report on—hey, SOMEone has to do it)—but I've cut back a lot, and doubt there'll be any change in the foreseeable future.

If y'all are hurting for fic ideas, though, drop me a line, or stop by the Ucchan: I'm on-channel (if not necessarily in front of the computer) 24/7 in irc.nabiki.com:6667. Just /msg Ukyou, and I'll do what I can for ya… eventually. Till then (or till AnimeIowa), ja!

Itsu mo,
Ucchan ^_^

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