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AnimeIowa 2001 — The Secret of the Sauce


I'm guessing that this con report will be a bit shorter than most of the ones I've turned out over the years. Although it's not for the reasons you might suspect. Personally, I'm surprised I'm not completely jaded by these things. Last time around, there weren't a whole lot of fellow writers at AnimeIowa, so you'd think the fellowship angle would be out. And I've been picking up so many anime titles lately that I don't really need to go to a con to have an excuse to watch anime.

But I'm actually excited about this, and Konatsu even more so — we're actually taking the Ucchan on the road, complete with batter, vegetables, and grill. We even got ourselves a refrigerating cooler for the occasion to make sure everything keeps while we travel out to (of all places) Iowa… for what we consider to be the best anime convention around.


FRIDAY AUGUST 24

It's tough dragging ourselves out of bed today — our preparations went well into the wee hours of the morning — but we do it. In fact, we're both up some time before Dan-chan (hey, school's still out this time, so he figures he can sleep in). At least it gives us a little more time to load the fridge. Dan-chan himself is gonna have an interesting weekend: Mom Kuonji is taking him today and tonight, while L-chan is taking him to the beach tomorrow. And once they get back, L-chan's dropping him off with Jeni-imouto-chan. He's gonna feel a bit like a ping-pong ball… but he doesn't seem to mind.

I wish I could say the trip was uneventful, but considering we took a wrong turn and almost found ourselves in Wisconsin, I doubt I could say that truthfully. The rain we flew through for 50 miles on either side of the border kept it interesting, too: something to think about besides the monotony of cornfields, not to mention the discovery that cruise control doesn't work so well on wet surfaces — the car tends to boogie, that's all I can call it.

Once there, the fellow at the desk checks our reservation: "You're listed as having a room starting Sunday…" "No! We're supposed to be here Friday through Sunday!" Omigosh, and I specifically said I was with the AnimeIowa bloc when I phoned in our reservation months ago, too. Actually, considering that they claim to be sold out over the weekend, it gets sorted out relatively quickly… and our room, while on the top floor, in really rather convenient to the consuite (which is also up here this time around).

We head over there as soon as we get settled in, and it isn't too long before Nick Leifker and Zen walk in. They're looking for Rich Lawson(! I haven't seen him at a con for nearly two years!) — evidently they'd made bets back in 1998 on the presidential election, and Rich lost. The others are looking for the place that serves the most expensive steaks in Cedar Rapids to soak him with it. I tell them they're too cruel… what with Al Gore losing by only so much, he ought to be allowed to treat them to Philly cheese steaks (you know, where the steak is sliced reeeeeal thin?) Apparently, a loss is a loss, as the Electoral College made abundantly clear, and they're gonna apply that logic to this bet. Well, considering that Nick picked the actual winner by name back in '98, I guess that's worth something.

These guys and their friends/spouses aren't the only ones up here: Steve Bennett shows up too, and immediately pegs the two of us (well, we're wearing our Ucchan's caps, after all) We tell him about our plans to serve okonomi-yaki, and he immediately tosses us in the deep end by asking about sauces. What sauce do we use? Well, gosh… I just use shoyu, myself, and 'Natsu-chan prefers store-bought oyster sauce. We're up against a native 'yaki-eater, and we know we're gonna disappoint. It's enough to make us grow a pair of sweatdrops. But not to worry — Steve offers to give us a simple recipe for tonkatsu sauce that we can try when we do set up.

The volunteer currently in the con suite nixes the idea of setting up the grill right now: after all, the Guest of Honor banquet is only in a couple of hours (and you know? We had, for the first time ever, considered going to this. But one look at the schedule put the kibosh on that: they'd placed the fanfiction panel right up against the banquet) Well, that's okay… what with the schedule, it isn't as if we could stay here long. Besides, now we need to get ingredients.


I am a bit shamed to admit that Chicagoans (myself included) will on occasion, refer to Iowans as "Idiots Out Wandering Around." Not that Iowans deserve the derogation: it's just the typical native reaction to tourists — any tourists. If y'all live someplace that get a lot of goggle-eyed visitors, y'all will understand. The point is, it would seem that Iowans are aware of it, and now that we're on their turf, they are attempting to turn the tables. We know the shopping and eating establishments are to the east of the hotel, requiring us to turn left. But on exiting the hotel parking lot, there is a sign forbidding left turns. Fine, then — we'll just pull a U-ey at the next stoplight. No dice: there's a sign there saying 'No U-Turns'. And after that, the westbound and eastbound lanes are separated by a concrete barrier: you couldn't turn around it you wanted to. And the road goes on like this until it comes to a dead end… a mile and a half out of town. There, we finally turn left on the road we run into, and turn left again, and head east for several miles longer than we would have had to. Okay, all you I.O.W.A.ns — I consider my karmic debt paid.

We manage to get back for the opening ceremonies, which are actually quite well-attended for a change. Chairman Charles does his usual jokey patter (it's really no wonder he can't get someone to take his place, no matter how hard he tries — he's a hard act to match). He mentions that AI is the fastest-growing convention of any sort (assuming you're speaking in percentage terms). They are expecting 700-800 people (and maybe more, though he's reluctant to actually say the 'n' number: he does ask the crowd "What are y'all telling your parents so they let you come?") and Chuck makes a plea for volunteers… several times. There have been a few problems with the con T-shirts — apparently their scheduled printer is surprised that delivery on Tuesday is not gonna work out too well. Several members of the staff are buying shirts at WalMart as we speak, for a local printer to do the job instead. This may cause problems with other programs, if they aren't allowed sufficient prep time.

The guests of honor are introduced, all two of them. Bob DeJesus begins by stating that this is his last con as a bachelor (which seems odd, given his 'marriage' at AnimeCentral — when I'd asked him earlier how married life was treating him, he confessed that the ceremony at ACen hadn't been legally binding. Well, I guess that comes as no surprise — as opposed to the original ceremony itself.) His fiancee is here with him, of course… he's still working on persuading her to vacation in Japan with him. Steve Bennett is introduced with the reminder that "We are here to have fun," and he certainly does, regaling us with tales of his first visit (replete with X-Files fears, especially when the threshers went on in the middle of the night).

The call goes out for folks to reserve their spots for the Guest of Honor banquet. Both of the guests have causes to sponsor, too — Bob with hospice (his fiancee's grandma), and Steve with cancer (his late father). I mutter apologies within the crowd, and scramble upstairs as soon as the ceremonies are over: the fanfiction panel is already starting.

The weird thing about being back in the Collins Plaza is that things are not where they had been last time around. The fanfic panel, for instance, is taking place in '99's consuite. I recognize a number of folks in the audience — G.F. Sandborn, Zen, Rich Lawson, Nick Leifker, among others — but I recognize *none* of the panelists, three girls wearing Burger King crowns turned inside-out with their names written on them (There's a fourth girl, but it's not obvious immediately whether she's part of the panel). They call themselves the "Queens of Orochi", and I guess their stock-in-trade is citrus work about SNK. This prompts the inevitable question: SNK is…? Turns out, it's a video game (to which Travis Butler can be heard singing softly "the times, they are a-changing…"), so they have very little canon backstory, and plenty of leeway to create some for the characters involved.

Nick raises the question about dealing with the 'been there, done that' syndrome, of which Ranma fanfiction, in particular, appears to be suffering these days. One of the girls agrees that this is a real problem; she's seen cases where a decent writer puts two people together, only to start a trend of mediocre writers pairing the same characters ad nauseum.

The girls are not keen on crossovers: they consider them difficult to pull off without turning into parodies (not, they admit, that there's anything wrong with that, necessarily). They mention a particular distaste for Harry Potter crossovers (which has Zen asserting that Naga the White Serpent has to be a Slytherin, to a few groans)

They bring up the subject of C&C, and the annoyance of giving thoughtful C&C only to be rejected outright. The consensus is that if you're so thin-skinned as that (one of the girls refers to 'all my words are precious' people), then you really shouldn't be writing in the first place. There will be people who don't like your work, and you have to deal with that. There will be things to correct and adjust even in the best stories, and you have to deal with that, too.

This topic segues to the concept of beta-readers, and where to find them. The panelists suggest that the smaller fandoms have the better pre-readers, as they're on the lookout for good fiction on 'their' anime/game, and will be more willing to review and improve such fics.

Then it's on to the other end of the response spectrum: flames. Our friend Victoria from last year pipes up with an email she received from someone claiming to be a close personal friend of the Gundam Wing creator, and that he was very offended at having his characters portrayed as gay. This gets a big laugh all around, and in fact, the email turned out to be completely bogus: the thing was sent out without the knowledge or permission of the actual address owner.

The panelists are asked why they bother to write. The first spoke of constantly getting ideas along the lines of "wouldn't it be cool if…?" and continuing from there. The second admitted to always being a creative liar: at least this way, it's being put to more positive use than in some cases. The third has an affinity for neglected characters, and the final panelist started out by writing original fiction, and kind of backed into fanfiction as a challenge.

The topic turns to smut, which the girls discuss with surprising relish. Please, they insist, if you're going to write stuff like that, make it anatomically correct; they recommend watching porno (or, if the outlet's available to you, doing field research, heh-heh) in order to get it right. Richard is palming his face at all this talk; he's clearly embarrassed about it all, but the exact reason why isn't clear.

A question comes up as to how long is too long. The logical reaction is forthcoming: how good is too good? A good fic can be long, and still leave you wanting more. As an example, they speak of a great fic (their words, not mine) "where Akane suffers from some kind of anger disorder…" at which point the group goes nuts. The audience knows Zen is sitting among them, even if these girls don't. He refuses to take a bow, even as the girls praise him to the heavens.

And with this little bit of chaos, the panel runs out of time and breaks up, several of the old-line vets fretting jocularly about how Zen will be insufferable for the rest of the weekend. Comparing notes, I discover no one else of the FFML seems to know these girls: Nick, I believe, recalls having attempted to located their website, to no avail. There is a suggestion that these girls simply asked the folks running the con if they could head the fanfic panel, and were given the green light to run it as they saw fit. Of course, if we have a problem with this, we ought to beat them to the punch for next year.


After a quick breather at the room, we head back to main programming for the game show. Not that there's any need to rush; the staffers involved had been part of the T-shirt run, and they are rather less than prepared at the moment. But eventually, things get underway. This time around, the format is akin to 'Weakest Link'. I drop my name in the fishbowl, although I suspect I'll look pretty stupid if I get chosen.

I'm not (despite having what amounts to a 50-50 chance), but the ones chosen do. Whole rounds go by with no one answering correctly. I get into trouble whispering the answers to Konatsu as the game goes along (and I at least have the satisfaction of only missing one of the ones I try) — the first time I do so, the host reminds the audience (ie, me, the loud one) not to coach the contestants. It's not that it mattered; the poor sap didn't heed my 'advice', and got it wrong. Again. The Queen of Mean would have a field day with these people.

Even more so as the three girls systematically eliminate the four boys one at a time, despite the fact that the guys dominate (if that word is applicable in a game where a good round has two questions answered correctly in two minutes), and then agonize over the vote once it is down to the girls themselves. The first girl to go has a vociferous fan club, it would appear, and are quite upset about the results. Granted, she'd gotten only one question right in the entire game…

Not that the two remaining contestants fare any better. The head-to-head competition goes into overtime, as the two girls miss each of their first six questions. Finally, one gets the seventh question right, and as the other one misses hers, we have a winner. After half an hour of my whispering, Konatsu tries to console me for not getting picked by telling me how I could mop the floor with these guys. Personally, I figure I'd'a been voted off pretty quickly - even the Queen of Mean acknowledges that the truly weakest link is not always the one eliminated. This game sure bears that out. I will give the hosts credit for hauling out what I thought were easier questions as the game progressed, but that's a relative term, after all.


While we don't intend to set up the grill tonight, we decide to check out the consuite, and at least figure out a way to set up the laptop so as to run anime while we cook for future reference. We've digitized nearly our entire collection of parody anime, and just for the fun of it, we set up the old standard, Neon Genesis South Park. It doesn't take long to get a crowd assembled watching it…

…and it doesn't take long after that to get asked to leave. Seems the crowd NGSP draws in the suite creates a bit of a fire hazard (not to mention blocking the path to the supply room — and the beer!), so the volunteer asks us politely to set up elsewhere. At least he had the decency to wait until the show wrapped up… still, this changes things a bit. Somehow, I doubt we'll be watching much anime at all this weekend… and it's even less likely we'll be seeing anything we haven't before.

I won't say that by moving things back to our room, we clear out the consuite; however, we still have a sizable crowd here with us to watch Lina Warrior Sorceress, Koko wa Otaku, and our newest acquisition, Bad Scottish Dubbing. The laughter also attracts a number of other curious passers-by, many of whom stick around to watch, including a fellow who works for the Right Stuf International. He, too, assures me that KareKano is in process, and will be out soon (and I offer condolences on their loss of their first director)

He and a few others stick around after the parodies are over, discussing doujin anime… some of which I just so happen to have. So I fire it up — after closing the doors so no one who shouldn't see this kind of stuff will. I guess in some circles, the Ranma hentai anime has acquired legendary status, but in all honesty, it's nothing to write home about (yes, I know Iím writing y'all about it, but it's a whole 'consumer report' type of thing). Most of the 'action' is little more than a series of animated .gifs, and without audio (well, apart from the music track — wouldn't be a porno without that music track) you can't tell if Ran-chan is groaning in ecstasy, or just suffering a nervous tic.

The Shampoo-Mousse pairing I mention only because it prompts one of the funniest lines of the con: "Time for Shampoo's cream rinse!"

Well, it was funny at the time… of course, it was after two in the morning on…


SATURDAY AUGUST 25

After a decent night's sleep (all things considered), Konatsu is up and raring to go… to the dealers' room. After all, Steve had offered to show us the sauce receipe, and need to get it from him before we plan to set up in the consuite 'round about noon.

He's not at the dealers' room, however… not that it stops us from buying stuff, including a few things from Ironcat. It's there we discover that he's in main programming with Bob DeJesus, doing a guest panel that's to lead into an autograph session. As we join the admittedly small crowd (hey, it's only ten in the morning or so, after all), he's talking about the way HyperDolls concluded — yeah, he said, it really was that abrupt. The magazine Itoh-san was working for just up and folded, leaving the story pretty much in mid-arc. There's some talk about resuming the story through Ironcat and then bringing it back over to Japan, and wouldn't that be sweet?

He waves us over, and we set the requisite ingredients up on the table while he and Bob continue to draw on programs and T-shirts. For nearly an hour thereafter, we stand aside quietly (well, quietly for me) and watch the two guys work; no point interrupting them or the other fans gathered here. Let them interrupt themselves, as Steve does occasionally when he gets a whiff of Worcestershire sauce and remarks on how it's getting him hungry.

Some time after eleven, Bob takes off for another panel, while Steve is scheduled to stay to update the growing audience about Ironcat. Instead, he takes the bottles and begins by announcing a very special episode of 'Cooking with Steve.' Gee, all I wanted was for him to instruct us on how to put this thing together… but hey, if he's gonna show the whole crowd, that's cool, too. He makes sure someone's videotaping, too, before he begins… wotta ham ^_^.

In any case (and if it doesn't interest you, feel free to skip over these next few paragraphs… although I doubt this is any more boring than anything else I'll be telling you), he talks about growing up Japanese in 60s/70s America, when you couldn't just run down to the corner ethnic marketplace like you do today (and some of y'all are looking at me like, "we can do that today, even?") So his family had to make do with ersatz concoctions like this one when they didn't have care packages from relatives back in Japan. In fact, he tells about having actually worked in a Japanese restaurant in the days before Ironcat, and whipping this stuff up when they'd run out of genuine tonkatsu sauce. His sempai chefs were a bit dubious, but apparently impressed enough with the results to modify it slightly and make it their own specialty.

For what it's worth, it's surprisingly easy to cobble together — hell, if Steve Bennett can do it, anyone can. All it takes is ketchup, a couple tablespoons of sugar, less than a teaspoon each of lemon juice and shoyu (he expresses disappointment that we've brought La Choy: "It's not that we can't work with this, but there really is a difference between Chinese and Japanese soy sauce," kinda like French versus California wines, I suppose. I was a bit surprised, myself — I thought we'd brought Kikkoman) and enough Worcestershire sauce to turn the mixture "the color of a well-tanned saddle." We offer him a number of plastic spoons to taste-test his creation from time to time, and he jokes about DNA swapping: "after all, when you do this at home, you don't think twice about dipping a finger it to test it. Of course, if it were a restaurant, I'd be yelling for the check right now…"

It takes about three or four plastic spoons (and the audience reaction to each taste ratchets up from nervous giggling during the first lull to outright hilarity as he makes a show of his final check) and about a third of the bottle, but he pronounces himself pleased with the results, and to the audience applause, he exhorts everyone to try the stuff upstairs at the consuite — where we're headed right now.


(Okay, all you non-culinary types can tune back in now… I think)

To be honest, it's hard to sit around patiently waiting for Steve to finish signing stuff after a while. I like to think I'm pretty easygoing about scheduling for the most part, but if I have it in my head to be somewhere at a certain place and time, I get very edgy as that time approaches and I'm not there yet.

On the other hand, it's not like we're on any official list to volunteer at thus-and-such a time (it would have been easier if we were, frankly), so it's not like we're gonna be in trouble if we're not up there by noon. And we're not… albeit we're not all that late.

I should mention that setting up is nowhere near as easy as my anime counterpart makes it look. For one thing, that propane-fired portable grill of hers would be completely verboten indoors like this. But finding an electrical outlet isn't always easy, either. The first one we plug into starts out okay, but while I'm working on our first customer, we're also plugging in a soup pot (for the less adventurous, we're offering ramen. Yes, I know, but Shampoo isn't here, so why not?). Whether this is the straw that breaks the camel's back isn't clear. What is clear is that the consuite has blown a fuse, and we have to relocate.

At least the other room of the suite still has lights, so I move the grill (which still has an unflipped 'yaki on it — whaddya gonna do, ne?) and plug it in on the floor. And for the next four hours, I am on my knees, mixing ingredients with batter, pouring it on the grill, bantering with the crowd that surrounds me… and there *is* a crowd, usually two or three waiting with their handpicked ingredients while I'm frying up as many okonomi-yaki as that already. In fact, there's no letup to this pace until about 3 pm, when I finally fix myself an okonomi-yaki — my first food of the day.

Yeah, you heard right. It's ironic that, at a convention most vaunted for its well-stocked consuite (not to mention how I'm spending so much time in here), I'm not actually getting much chance to sample its wares — or even my own — for so long. Oh well… I probably could stand to lose the weight: my figure isn't what you'd call 'schoolgirlish' these days…

For what it's worth, the sauce is a keeper reciepe: tangy and spicy, like teriyaki meets BBQ. Nearly everyone who tries it likes it — although some, when told that Steve Bennett prepared it himself, eye the stuff warily, like it's gonna grow tentacles or some such (others just think it's cool that he'd do that). For myself, I'd fretted over putting sugar in the mix — I'm not big on sweet-and-sour combinations — but it plays off the shoyu and the lemon juice real well. Those of you coming up for ACen next year may want to drop by and try it.

Oh, and yes, we fix a couple for Steve, although Konatsu has to deliver them to him in one of the live programming rooms. They make the guy earn his keep here, and no mistake. He did gripe good-naturedly this morning about how you'd think being a 'Guest' of Honor should allow him the ability to kick back and relax, but noooo….

In any case, he likes the stuff. Whew.


It's almost four o'clock, and we've just about gone through the gallon of batter we brought (and several pints of ramen, apparently — Konatsu's been minding that in the other room, as well as instructing guests how to select ingredients for their 'yakis), but there's been no sign of any of the writers. I take a breather and head for the art show — Victoria says the place closes at four, and she had some of her work on display. No luck: the sign outside states that they closed at three.

However, I do run into Mark Engel (another face I haven't seen in a couple years of cons), who tells me that he and the others have just gotten back from Iowa City. I ask him for Zen's room number, and head back to the consuite. I've got just enough batter for one last 'yaki, and for all the times he's been *this* close and missed out, he deserves it.

I call him, and he's up here within minutes — sans spatula, for once. Which is just as well — that stainless steel would scratch the Teflon, in any case, so it's pretty damn well useless under the circumstances. He and I and several others start chatting up series to look into: Gasaraki (Evanglion mixed with Noh theatre, and not so downbeat), Hand Maid May (I can't summarize the description, but it sounded funny), and Dual! They also mention something about the South Park sendup of Pokemon: "You have got to see this," and one fellow says that what South Park ought to send up next is Evangelion.

Konatsu and I pause. You weren't here last night, were you? "No… did I miss something?" We invite him, Zen, and the rest over to the Ucchan after the cosplay for Mihoshis and parodies.

(At this point, 'Natsu-chan takes me aside and confesses that one of the liquor bottles broke somewhere along the way. Since the cooler is brand-new, it was clean enough to pour into a different container, but my kunoichi figured I ought to know. Well, these things happen.)


Speaking of breaking things (how's that for a segue?), it's just about time for the traditional piñata. And for the third year in a row, it's Pokemon-related (boy, these otaku have it in for that show, don't they). This time, it's Jigglypuff. Just before the drawing to see who gets to slug'er open, someone offers to play the music… others object that they want to be awake when their number is called.

Five lucky folks get called up to take their licks with a broom handle, "And if this doesn't do the job, after this we'll use a tire iron!" The first swing takes off the right eye, and underneath the blue rondel is a purple one with a dark X drawn across it. The details these folks work on can be amazing at times…

The next two strikes dent Jigglypuff in the back, the fourth merely sends it swinging wildly, and the fifth and final shot pops the lid off its top like a Poke-yarmulke. No candy has spilled yet, so, true to their word, out comes the tire iron. And it still takes two hits before falling to the floor.

The scramble for candy is, I presume, frenzied (I can't see a lot of it from my perch several yards from ground zero, and in any case, I'm in no mood for candy myself, so I'm not joining in). By the time I manage to pass through to where they're showing music videos, nothing is left on the ground but scores of Tootsie Rolls.


I should mention at this point about folks wandering about in costume. You see 'em at every convention, but this is the first time I've heard of giving awards for hall cosplay. Not a bad idea, considering how some folks develop stage fright, and there usually are only so many entries a cosplay can bear. We've seen the obligatory Vash the Stampede (I mentioned at the time how no con is complete these days without one, and a fellow in the elevator with me informed me that Otakon had something like fourteen of them running around. Now that's what I call a Stampede…), and several very good Kikis (and a girl dressed up as a very large Jiji, to boot)…

…And then there are the ones showing LOTS of skin. I realize that it's August, but my goodness… cleavage, midriffs, that sort of thing. No Kekko Kamens, however — judge for yourself whether that's a good or bad thing. You can tell who they are because of the fanboys crowded around them — although that doesn't guarantee you'll know who the character is, or even that the fanboys do. One in particular is bare from the middle of her cleavage down to her bikini line — accompanied (wisely) by her muscular and (as she put it) "very tolerant" boyfriend. That's tolerant insofar as he lets her dress up like this, not insofar as he'd let some idiot touch her. I can't resist, though: I have to ask how she stays in such great shape — I certainly wouldn't look good in her outfit. Believe it or not, she admits that she wouldn't have looked good in it a few months ago. So what's your secret, girlfriend? "I skipped a lot of trips to McDonald's" That's it? "Yup." Sheesh…

Anyway, they're stacking chairs on which to hang the screen so they can show the music videos — I sure hope things aren't so makeshift in the video rooms (which should imply to y'all that I haven't been in the video rooms yet). Next to me and Konatsu is a young woman making a very good sketch of Lina Inverse and Gourry, although it does remind one of Groucho Marx' line about how "I wouldn't go to a movie where the guy's tits are bigger than the girl's."

Now they're stacking chairs on which to put the projector

Finally, they get the show on the road. And while there aren't that many entries, most of them are pretty good; enough so that a favorite of mine, Neko-Sama, has a run for his money. His "Love Machine," set to Sorcerer Hunters, is quite funny (and Victoria points out the puns even in the song later), but it is quickly overwhelmed by Excel Saga clips set to — get this — the theme from 'Pinky & the Brain.'

A Fushigi Yuugi video moves Konatsu-chan to tears — looks like I know what series we'll be watching together next. The contest wraps up with "One Night in Bangkok" from Chess set to Cowboy Bebop… which, while amusing in spots, doesn't affect me like seeing Excel cast as Pinky. But Chess wins, based on audience applause… then again, I could mention Weakest Link again.


The nice thing about waiting in line for the cosplay is that I have plenty to do here. While I catch up on some transcriptions (not nearly enough, to be sure, but better than nothing), I'm running a bit of Adolescence Mokushiroku. Several people — mostly my college sempais — are watching over my shoulder as I type, so I'm keeping busy and keeping them entertained at the same time. Konatsu-chan wonders aloud why I tease them with a feature-length film that can't possibly finish before we're let in to the cosplay. I don't have an answer for that.

Finally, the doors open and we file in for the cosplay. Charles does his usual schtick (although apparently, he's not going to be tap-dancing for us — 885 is respectable, but it's not over a thousand), with an announcement: he will no longer chair AnimeIowa. Disappointment is tempered by the fact that he's still required to MC, as part of the deal of his release.

He introduces the judges: Steve Bennett, of course (although for whatever reason, Bob DeJesus isn't joining him — is he afraid they're gonna pull another surprise wedding on him?); Elizabeth, an AI staffer known for her own considerable cosplaying talents; and Kevin, a big fellow who I believe has been working security for the con. Kevin waves to the crowd holding a stuffed pink elephant, and the audience denies seeing, much to Chuck's mock consternation.

First off is Sailor Saturn and… Nag-a-Mom? Saturn takes too long to put on make up, and Mom smacks her and huffs off the stage as Saturn pleads for a ride home.

Ryo-oh-ki 'miyahs' the theme from Tenchi, followed by Four girls doing Fake: they claim to be saving up their best skit for YaoiCon, and it shows.

A red-haired Princess from Sailor Stars walks across, while Gambit (from the X-Men[?]) has a sword and knows how to use it. Kuno could use some lessons from this guy.

Shaolin from Mamotte Shugogetten gives the MC flower and a kiss on the forehead. Shiji Ikari can't convince himself to stay onstage, despite constantly repeating "I mustn't run away" several times…

The entire cast of Ranma 1/2 (led by a phoenix-headed Kuno) sing a silly little ditty about mud on the carpet and washing the dog. Decent costumes, but Kuno, "don't give up the inheritance."

The Lodoss Wars cast: 'pow-pow Parn'. Once again, great costumes, weird skit.

Inu-Yasha: what does the bad guy do when he's not trying to kill I-Y? Embroidery. And apparently, IY knows; no wonder the guy wants to kill him.

Dizzy from Guilty Gear: Ah yes, the girl with the flat (and flaunted) stomach.

FF8's Seifer walks on with a BIG sword.

From Irresponsible Captain Tylor: Azalin and her fool: the care and feeding of same. Rule #1: Feed your 'pet' — but he insists on juggling the apples she tosses him. Rule #2: Get a friend for your pet — a stuffed Pikachu, which knocks him down when tossed at him. All of which leads up to Rule #3: Pick up after your pet.

FF6's Setzer and the Mog rock to Queen: they *will* rock us — and the audience is more than willing to be rocked. The Mog, in particular, can't be dragged off — too busy doing air guitar. The MC makes it clear that if we can see the Mog, he can see a pink elephant… which brings the inevitable "What elephant?"

FF9's Kuja and the Princess "Nice day… reminds me of a day I killed someone" "Who?" "Oh, lots of people." The princess summons up punishment — after all, it's not nice to kill. Principal Kuno doesn't fare too well against Kuja, but the pirate from One Piece manages to clear the stage.

Inu-Yasha and his girl step onstage to the show's theme. Wonderful costumes.

Sorceror Hunters' Dota-chan does a quick walk-across, as does Ruby Moon from Card Captor Sakura.

Digi-Charat: Rabi-n-Rose and Random Finger Guy send up Britney Spears' Pepsi commercial. The MC points out that the con suite serves RC products

Victoria walks onstage as Mad Jackal Bean from Digimon, followed by DBZ's Trunks, posing for the cameras.

Rei, Shinji and Kensuke (with the subtitles) do "the Lost Scenes," complete with subtitles (which apparently is all Kensuke's good for): Shinji returns Rei's panties, and gets slapped for his trouble.

Spike from Cowboy Bebop does some more poses for an appreciative crowd, while Princess Mononoke — in full battle dress — stalks the MC: thank heavens an apple (from Azalin's sketch) pacifies her

Kazumi from Haunted Junction is possessed by the spirit of… Steve Bennett? The miko sends out two scantily clad girls, and the possession changes… to Bob DeJesus? "Live models?" he grins.

Lain Ayukawa and Denjiko from Digi-Charat offer "a message from the Wired:" "We are all connected… all anime… well, except for cheap shojo."

The MC offers Haunted Junction's Haruto freedom from the Holy Student Council… all he has to do is MC at AnimeIowa for the next five years. "Oh my GOOOOD!" and he runs off.

Rio from… City Hunter, waiting for a chance to 'hone his skills.' Fushigi Yuugi's Miaka and Yui, as preistesses, do a silent pass.

The final sketch, shows how to refuel a Robotech mecha. And now, the stall while the judges deliberate. Thankfully, the MC is not going to sing or dance (well, if we'd had a thousand people, he says he'd'a been willing to tap dance) He will mention nearly everyone who's been involved with this year's AI — and he still has plenty of time left to thanks the Collins Plaza. Everything worked great, except for the water in the dealers' room… looks like the renovation money was in vain.

Finally the judges come out, and present a prize to the MC: the pink elephant. did we see it this time? "No." Of course not. The three prizes are handed out, and I can only tell you the order in which they were announced, as I didn't catch first-second-third or anything like that.

Setzer & Mog take the first prize and Mog's head winds up on one of the judges, followed by Princess Azalin and her fool, and the Digi-Charat Pepsi commercial. Then come the Judges' choice awards: Elizabeth gives the nod to the Lost Scene, while Kevin likes Lain and Digi-Charat's mixed message, and Steve…? The crowd snickers, as it's a foregone conclusion as to which one actually had him in it. Chuck insists that Steve can be professional about this. That's as may be, but the possession sketch still takes the prize.

Finally, Best of Show goes to… the Lodoss crowd. There must be something to the chant of "pow-pow-Parn" that I'm not getting. On the other hand, the costumes, especially Deedlit and the dwarf, are amazing.


Cosplay over with, we take the elevator back to our room… and it occurs to me that no one's done the 'chick speech' from Utena this weekend. For that matter, no one is even dressed in Utena costume. How quickly these series become passé…

We get ourselves settled upstairs, but we hold off on showing Neon Genesis South Park (for a third time this weekend) until Zen and friends show up… as it so happens, most of the group here tonight had been by last night, so there's little reason to repeat everything to this crowd. I start out with a bit of "Read or Die" (finally, something I haven't seen), but only ten minutes into it, the fire alarm goes off. Well, I don't care what anyone thinks, I'm not leaving my laptop to burn. I shut it down, close it up, unhook it, and head out the door… at which time, the alarm suddenly stops. I find out later the alarm was due to some dust kicked up by the last of the hotel's remodelling, and while it's nice to know it wasn't our fault, it's still thrown me off-balance.

Fine, then. Forget Read or Die for now… this group's here to be amused, anyway. I start them off with a bunch of fluffy music videos; Doki-Doki Productions' stuff and the like. The last of theirs is set to Weird Al's 'Harvey the Wonder Hamster,' and it's really gooney. Enough so that everyone wants to see the original anime from whence this footage came… Ebichu the Housekeeping Hamster.

I think it's about time to break out the drinks. The plastic container into which we poured the Goldschlager is a bit awkward, but it's serviceable, and I'm proud to say I didn't spill a drop of it all night (you'll understand why I'm proud of that later — if you haven't figured it out already). I think there's a way to layer the Irish Cream atop it or vice versa, but I don't succeed at this — so never mind. I swirl the mixture around in each of the cups, and pass 'em around to those who can take it (Victoria, f'r instance is underage, so she refuses. Good girl. Thankfully, she's not alone in this).

Let me just say that Ebichu is really really wrong on so many levels. If it's not the blood from the hamster constantly being smacked around, it's the dude who falls in love with her in one episode, or maybe the fact that Gainax (yes, it's by them) makes up for the fact that this animation style doesn't 'bounce' by having a lot of dirty talk — it's amazing what they tried to put past the censors. One guy winds up asking for a refill at everything truly offensive — he winds up having seven or eight shots in the course of six ten- to fifteen-minute episodes (of course, he wasn't powering 'em down so as to keep up with the raunch — that's just all the time he had).

I make the mistake of trying to keep up with him, even to the point of chugging one down a la Misato… which leaves me breathing fire for a few moments. I reach my limit at four, before the guy admits to being something of a professional drinker. This, I'm not used to, and while I burn him a copy of the series after it's over, it starts to hit me… and I utter the blonde mating call: "Oh man, I'm so drunk!" He corrects me: "You probably should use the brunette mating call —" well, all right; I am a brunette, after all — "I SAID, 'I'm so drunk'!"

Gee, now that was below the belt.

I confess to being living proof of the Mihoshi's slogan (it's blonde, it's tan, it'll make you stupid), but it doesn't happen very often, and it's a really weird experience for its rarity. Konatsu pleads with me not to have a hangover for the drive home; I can't promise my kunoichi anything, but I'll try. Victoria crashes in our hotel room tonight, hoping to wake up at 4:30 for a show she wants to see…


SUNDAY AUGUST 26

But unless she just stayed up and headed out before going to sleep, she missed it, because when I get up and shower at 8:30, she's still out cold. So is Konatsu, for that matter. And while I probably wouldn't recognize a hangover if it bit me on the leg, I admit to having a rather pronounced headache. Not the kind where you can't bear light or sound, just about at 'not-tonight-dear' level.

Well, maybe not quite that.

I slink over to the consuite for a couple of donuts, and later take another spin around the dealers' room. And as usual, I find myself buying stuff… so I suppose that I can write off the hotel's Sunday brunch; I've spent way too much already.

We barely get our stuff out before noon, not because we don't have it all together (although it isn't particularly self-contained; besides the suitcase and cooler, there's about a dozen little bags of stuff), but because its sheer awkwardness requires a luggage cart; and they're in short supply. We do manage to get it out, though, and doubly good for us; not only do we want to check out before noon, we also want to see a new program that's been initiated this year…

…Anime Improv. The way it had been described during the opening ceremonies (or was it at the game show?) made it sound like my trademark "Whose Line Is It Anime," and there is a slight feel of that in the different games played by the contestants picked from the audience. But the real feel is more like a Second City workshop with a thorough anime feel. The guy directing (if you can call it that) the show says that it doesn't matter: "It's just what we need at the tail end of a long convention — cheap laughs," which garners some of its own.

The Second City is especially evident in the first game: Freeze Tag. Two characters are given a scene, and at certain times, folks from the audience yell 'Freeze!' and replace someone. Sometimes, even their character. So, things mutate from Chibi-Usa and the Space Pirate Ryoko outside of a locked restaurant, to Kintaro begging as Asuka's (and later, Shampoo's) feet for a glimpse of panty, to a fellow portraying Washuu-chan's sycophantic puppets (befuddling his on-stage partners, and charming the crowd in the process), to a 'battle of the insane laughs' between Vegita and Jinnai, and wraps up with a guy playing Haruko bashing his partner with the chain-saw guitar (and the hapless partner, clearly not familiar with Furikuri, gamely trying to fend him off as if in a swordfight), and rolling around in Haruko's panicky "ohmigosh-Ikilledhim-Ikilledhim-Ikilledhim." The leader calls a halt to this just before 'Haruko' would have to give the other guy mouth-to-mouth, and I'm sure we're all grateful for that.

The next game is about performing an ordinary everyday activity in the style of a given anime series, and I give it a shot. Now, will someone tell me what kind of normal everyday activity dragonslaying is? At least I get in a good line: when my partner talks about all the good meat on those bones, I demur, saying that "I think it'd be a bit too spicy for my tastes…" And neither Ruroni Kenshin nor Sailor Moon can bail us out: the hide's tough enough to break a sword, and as for Moon Tiara action, well, dragons aren't from the Negaverse, after all. Normally, we were supposed to go through three series, but I decide the dragon has probably noticed us by now, and allow myself to get roasted.

A trio gets handed the everyday activity (? I sure hope not) of shooting everyone up; at least in Tylor mode, they forget the ammunition. In Slayers mode, they find it (although what kind of shooting goes on in Slayers?), but set it aside to eat. Even the leader points out that they're supposed to be shooting, to which they reply, "Yeah, but who wants to do that when there's food to be had?" and go right back to fighting over the imaginary meal while the audience roars.

The final game is most like 'Whose Line'; in fact it is 'Whose Line', where the players choose two lines at random from the fishbowl to use whenever they get stuck in a situation. The biggest laughs go to a pair supposedly discussing their children at a PTA meeting: but Bulbasaur and Card Captor Sakura? It's hard for Bulbasaur to actually say his lines, but "baka-baka-baka-baka" isn't all that far out of character (and when Sakura uses a card on him at one point, he changes to "Ivysaur"). Sakura's last line drawn from the bowl? "Pika-chu." They couldn't've planned that one better.

At this point, things become rather anticlimactic. Should we stay and say good-bye to the friends (old and new) we've met this weekend? Can we even find them? And of course, there's the cooler in the car — it's plugged into the cigarette lighter, and I don't really want to drain the battery or anything. But Konatsu wants to give the place one last turn, just to make sure.

In the dealers' room, we toss in a few bucks for a raffle of original artwork by Bob and Steve. It's for a good cause, but I wish I'd'a known sooner it was a 'must be present to win' type of deal. Oh well.

In the consuite, a fellow is holding forth about his year in Japan as an English teacher; it appears that any gaijin off the street can make good money doing this job, virtually no experience necessary (well, okay, you need a bachelor's degree, but it doesn't matter in what). But you have to be under 35, for whatever reason, maybe so you still have enough energy to keep up with the kids. Damn, but I'm running out of time!

And so we are. Time to go, pick up Dan-chan at the folks', and get a decent night's sleep for a change. Until next time, y'all…

Itsu mo,

Ucchan ^_^

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