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AnimeIowa 2002 — The Debriefing

Getting ready to go to AnimeIowa 2002 is a mad scramble once again; buying ingredients for okonomiyaki, mixing up the batter until late at night (it's a lot of batter that we're gonna need for a crowd this size), responding to email (Will we be coming? Yes. Will we bring fansubs? Sure. Will I be cooking? Gee, I guess so.)

The preparations are complicated by the fact that we just flew into town from a two-week vacation. Now, I suppose it's somewhat in bad taste to mention stuff like this, the sort of 'I went to such-and-such place, and you didn't, nyeah' that might annoy some readers, but then, a con report already bears a bit of that tone, anyway, so what harm? Besides, it's a bit germane to the subject, as the con will serve as a sort of otaku debriefing.

You see, we just got back from ten days… in DisneyWorld. That's right; for the last week and a half, Ukyou Kuonji and family have been consorting with The Enemy.

Now, before y'all jump down my throat about this, do keep in mind that without Ol' Walt, there would not have been an Osamu Tezuka, as Walt was Tezuka's idol and role model. And without Tezuka, there would hardly be manga and anime as we know it.

Besides, while Disney's current body of work may be considered shallow and/or derivative (Konatsu actually wore a Kimba T-shirt the day we visited Animal Kingdom, which went uncommented on by the staff — 'scuse me, ‘cast members’ — but a fellow visitor gushed about how she enjoyed that show when she was growing up), there is no way to fault them in terms of hospitality. They bend over backwards to make you feel like royalty.

They also know how to make a guest spend like royalty, too…

But never fear, fellow otaku. I have not gone over to the Other Side. I bought one DVD while I was down there… a copy of Armitage Dual Matrix. I'm still an anime fan, even in the middle of Downtown Disney.

Anyway, you aren't reading this to find out How I Spent My Summer Vacation. You wanna hear about it, drop in on me in the FFIRC — I still make the occasional appearance in #fanfic and #void from time to time, and I'm generally in a couple of other channels as well — and I'll be more than willing to spill my guts about it. This, of course, assumes that I'm actually online and active, which, now that Dan-chan has taken a shine to the computer, is considerably less likely than it used to be.

Speaking of Dan-chan, it turns out we can't get a babysitter for the weekend on such short notice, so he's gonna come along this time 'round. Well, he always wanted to know what his folks do at these things; now he's gonna find out.

Or not. As we check in and attempt to get settled, he's acting pretty UNsettled himself: swinging on the luggage cart, knocking on the connecting door to the adjacent room (thankfully, no one was in at the time — he'd gotten way too used to having L-chan in the other room while we were on vacation), attempting to kiss the girls in costumes, and generally behaving like the obnoxious, stir-crazy nine-year-old that he is. Not that it makes his antics any easier to take.

By the way, we discover that there is no discount to registering children, despite the fact that he'll doubtless get far less out of this con than either Konatsu or myself will. In fact, since we pre-registered at last year's con, his admission ticket is half again the price of either of ours. It's probably still cheaper than the hourly rate a random teenager would charge for a weekend (not that I would ever do that).

But now that he's registered, Dan-chan wants to jump in with both feet… into the hotel pool. For that matter, so does Konatsu. Well, all right. It gives me a chance to look up Don Swentik, one of the fellows behind it all. He'd e-mailed me — me, of all people! — asking about whether I was going to be cooking okonomiyaki again this year, and whether I'd be interested in being a cosplay judge. Would I?!

The bad news turns out to be that he didn't get my reply — which, seeing as it was barely sixteen hours previous, is understandable. The good news is that the offer still stands, and I jump at it. I'll get more details as the con goes along, apparently. And he has no problem with my plying my trade Saturday afternoon like last year.

That settled, I take a spin around the dealers' room, not that I can really take advantage of it this time around. I really hope I don't find much that I absolutely have to have…

…aw, they've got the seventh volume of Futaba-kun Change. Dammit. I shell out the cash, while taking $50 from my stash and secreting it so that I don't use it for anything but next year's registrations. Other than this, Ironcat's supply seems somewhat… limited. "Yeah," says the guy behind the table, "Steve's been at a lot of cons lately —" So what else is new? "— and he hasn't had the time to restock our merchandise." His loss, my savings, I guess… although so far, he's the only one with my money in his pocket.

We were worried that we wouldn't make it to the con in time for opening ceremonies; what with washing and chopping up so many vegetables beforehand (and in the car), we got a really slow start on travel. But we needn't have worried: while several panels did take place before our arrival, the official opening doesn't take place until six p.m., after we've checked in, split up, regrouped and changed. Granted, we still don't manage to get down there in time to get a decent seat…

It's Charles, AI's MC-for-life, who kicks things off with, of all things, a Winnie-the-Pooh reference: "Now We Are Six." And to think, I've been to all but one of them. But Charles' focus, at the moment, is on the newbies: who is at their first AnimeIowa? their first anime con? their first con of *any* sort? Dan-chan goes three for three, but he's hardly alone, which simply astonishes Charles. Looks like another year of double-digit growth for this convention. And to think, they couldn't fit everyone into this hotel last year — my sempais, in fact, were stuck having to make reservations in the Holiday Inn Express next door.

The guests — Stan Sakai, Lea Hernandez, Tiffany Grant, and the inevitable Steve and Bob Show — are introduced to applause. Suddenly, a guy storms in, claiming to be from the Pokemon Protection League. Apparently, he's protesting the piñata smash — well, it's been one Pokemon or another for the past three years. Still, can you blame us? But Charles is prepared: this year, we're doing Yu-Gi-Oh! Surprised, and apparently mollified, the 'protester' exits, at which point Charles holds up a smaller piñata designed specifically for the under-ten crowd.

Yep, you guessed it… it's Togepi. Well, maybe you didn't guess Togepi, but you know what I mean.

Further announcements: AnimeIowa is solvent this year (as a matter of fact, Don Swentik offered to reimburse me for the ingredients et cetera that I was gonna bring for Saturday's 'yaki-fest because of this. I would have none of it: this is for the fans, after all! It's a payback to the community). Part of it has to do with the fact that they don't market the con. It wouldn't do them any good; this is apparently the largest hotel in Iowa that could host something like this, and it's at capacity. AI doesn't need to grow larger (although it is, in fact, growing — registrations quietly tick past one thousand by the time opening ceremonies conclude). In a similar vein, mention is made of a proposal for a Minneapolis-based convention, which is welcomed by the staff. At this point, something like that would not be so much competition as a pressure release valve, I imagine.

In conclusion, Charles admonishes the assembled otaku to "Pace yourselves! Eat! Sleep! Bathe!" although his tone gets a little more serious when he speaks of costume weaponry. "It's not that we don't trust you to be responsible with it; we just don't want someone else going 'Hey, neat sword, can I try it?', whipping it around and taking someone's head off with it." Another reader of the Darwin Awards, I see.

As amusing as Charles' intro is, it's not enough for Dan-chan, who's stretched across our laps, asleep, as folks file out of the main programming room. Those that notice us fawn a bit over him. No question, Dan-chan's a cute little boy… when he's asleep.

My sempais find us in all this, and hand me a few disks. We were going to try to arrange a trade, but my laptop and my external burner aren't speaking toeach other these days, so I'm kinda stuck to repay them for now.

After some wrangling (it's not easy to move about when you're weighted down with a live but inert 70-pound mass), we head back to the room to decide what to do about dinner. Apparently, that Chinese/Mexican hole-in-the-wall is still up and running, among other things. I'm starting to get a little worried about Scott Jamison — or SKJAM, to his readers. I'd invited him to stay in our room, as he just recently found out about the con, but we still haven't made connections, despite the fact that his bus would have gotten in to Cedar Rapids before we showed up, several hours before.

Before we can think about this, the con chair shows up at our door with more info regarding both the cosplay and the consuite. Yes, it's a go for okonomiyaki. No, I can't bring my laptop to show anime — that's for room parties, and anyway, from last year's brief experience, it would quickly create a fire hazard. Yes, I'm willing to judge. No, Konatsu doesn't want to, and in any case, Dan-chan will need looking after. Fine. I'll report in tomorrow at 7:30, and with the fanfic panel ending at about noon, that leaves us about six hours to ply our trade in between. That settled, Donald heads off to tend to this or that emergency — his walkie-talkie's been crackling with stuff throughout our conversation.

Well, if I'm not going anywhere with this laptop, how about connecting it to the television? We get it hooked up in jig time, but it takes us a while to figure out how to display it on an auxiliary channel: Konatsu eventually stumbles upon it by pressing zero twice on the remote control (we'll have to remember that in future). Once hooked up, we run a few music videos to test it out, and then decide not to bother leaving the hotel, but rather have pizza delivered in. This is not just because we've got anime to watch, but it's raining sheets out there right now.

While James-sempai places the order, I head downstairs to see if Scott's actually shown up and registered yet. From there, I might get directions as to where he may have gone. Oddly enough, he arrives at the desk at the same time I do, sleeping bag and rucksack in tow. Did he just arrive? No, he's just been dragging them around while he's hung out in the viewing rooms (you can watch videos at an anime con? I can't tell ya how long it's been since I have). Offering my profuse apologies, I show him up to the room. He offers a present, a stuffed alien cat, to Dan-chan for ostensibly displacing him from the couch. Well, he probably would have slept in our bed, anyway, but I accept it on his behalf for the moment.

We watch a few music videos and chat about Scott's latest sidestory to Ma Vie Et Roses (he's still waiting for SOME response from his partner, Scott Johnson, before proceeding on the main story) while we polish off the pizza. We can't stay too long afterward, though, as the Anime Improv is scheduled for this evening.

We arrive just as it all starts, which means we get seats way in the back. This means we can't hear the hosts as they explain the rules, nor the participants as they begin engaging in a game of Freeze Tag. Only once I yell 'Freeze' and stride forward — only to be thwarted, as I apparently didn't give the scene sufficient time to play out — do I get close enough to the stage to find out what's going on. There are a few gems, such as Wakaba gving Naga one of her patented flying glomps while Vash the Stampede takes pictures of the whole affair. But the moment permission is given, a dozen people yell "Freeze!" at once. I prefer to think what the next move will be — I'm NOT going to get a chance to participate. I discard my slip and head back to my chair.

The second game is very different, and somewhat more promising. A generic character type is placed given a specific anime genre; what would the character say? The biggest laugh is the one given to the "little kid" in the "mecha" series: "Mommy! I want one of those!!"

Actually, it sounds painfully familiar.

Speaking of Dan-chan, this thing is boring him back to sleep, even with the nap he took earlier. Konatsu takes him upstairs, while I decide to take in Gainax' latest, something called Abenobashi Mahou Shoutenkai. Yes! My first time in a video room in two years!

And it's a weird one, which, given that it's Gainax, should probably be expected by now. They have a knack for series that leave you wondering a) what were they smoking when they came up with this, and b) where do I get my hands on some of it? It's thick with cultural references, a little bit of Shinto mysticism, and a lot of in-jokes. I half expect the kids, upon arriving in yet another warped version of their rundown Osaka backstreet shopping district, to let out with a Sam Beckettesque "Oh, boy…"

By 11pm, I find myself thinking pretty much the same thing… I'm losing focus already. So even though the screening isn't finished, I totter out, passing several still-active artists' tables, including a massive scroll laid out in the middle of the atrium, on which a dozen or so people doodling anime characters on it (and quite well, I might add, especially for this time of night).

Upstairs, Konatsu is nearly asleep on the floor, while Dan-chan is playing on the laptop. Well, it's not as if I had been using it at the time. My kunoichi will not go to bed until Dan-chan is ready, but thanks to those naps, it looks like that'll be a while. I decide to check out the con suite, and Konatsu requests that I bring back a root beer if they have any.

As it turns out, they don't (although later, when I return emptyhanded, I am told that a Dr Pepper would have been perfectly acceptable as well). What I do find is a fellow who expresses interest in my shirt, depicting myself in Student Council garb and rose crests engraved on my mini-spatulas. He takes the opportunity to plug his 'Revolutionary Girl Ukyou' fanfic, which, while promising enough at first, starts to include crossovers with American comics like Samurai Cat and Snow Crash, and landing certain members of both the Utena- and Ranma-verses in America for no apparent reason.

That's about enough for me, and I return to the room shortly beforee Scott does the same. We wind up chatting until nearly one in the morning, although I confess I haven't much remembrance of what we were talking about. All this while, Dan-chan continues to play on the computer. You think he'd appreciate it, and be willing to call it a night when we request him to.

You'd be dead wrong. I'm a little embarrassed that Scott has to see this, and I'm certainly not going into details about what we had to do to get Dan-chan to bed, but suffice to say, it wasn't pretty.

You know, I'm really getting tired of hotel beds. The waterbed at the Ucchan doesn't give me a backache like these do. I manage to sleep for a little more than seven hours before the pain forces me to get up — I'd been half asleep for some time before.

Boy, I'll be glad to get home.

While Konatsu and Dan-chan head to the car to retreive a few toys Dan-chan left there (my kunoichi noticed them missing last night, and hoped it would go unnoticed. It was too much to hope for), Scott returns from breakfasting in the con suite, and we return to talking about his latest works. Besides Ma Vie Et Le Femme, he's working on a few Harry Potter fics, including on where he discovers a mentor in, of all people, a Dr. Jones — that's right, a ninety-year-old Indy bridges the gap between the muggle and the magical. In another, Draca Malfoy (a female version of Draco) has a bad day, as Crabb and Goyle discover the differences between boys and girls, among other things.

Scott eventually heads out for a panel, while I follow his earlier lead in search of breakfast. Konatsu-chan and Dan-chan are already up in the con suite (having found Dan-chan's missing toys some time earlier), as is Dave-sempai. A gentleman named Stephen is making pancakes for the relatively few otaku coherent enough to crawl to the suite and ask for them, and when he hears of my plans for lunch, offers the use of his skillets should the need arise. I am doubly grateful; while we packed a skillet, the ability to only do two okonomiyaki at a time created a fair amount of bottlenecks last year.

I obviously am not sufficiently awake to take proper notes, because it says here that a girl in costume gets Dave-sempai to talking about a song entitled 'When I Was A Boy'. Stuff like "we only had Three-tran in those days" and so forth. Funny stuff, to be sure, but I don't remember what sort of costume could have set that off…

…and at this point, I really should mention the fact that there are a LOT of people that have been wandering about in costume. Intimidating costumes, not so much in what they ARE — it's not like any of them could hurt you — but in HOW MANY there are (those dressed in street clothes almost seem out of place) and HOW GOOD they are. I used to think we might someday get around to dabbling in cosplay ourselves (unfortunately, I'm much keener on dressing up Konatsu-chan than myself, but my kunoichi looks so much cuter in costumes than I do), but the level that these folks are at in some cases gives one pause. One cannot dabble in cosplay. You either stay out, or jump in with both feet.

Of course, some can be simple and still be good. There's at least one Nabeshin running around: I don't know whether to congratulate him or run off screaming "NOOOO!!" He tells me he has a spare afro, if I'm interested. I demur — I don't look a thing like Pedro.

In any case, it's time to head for the fanfic panel. After last year's disaster (and considering there is still much to be done), Konatsu merely returns to the room to finish chopping vegetables for this afternoon, while I go and take notes.

Just outside the panel room, I encounter Zen for the first time in over a year. I had heard he was here, and that he wasn't quite the same fellow he used to be, but it's still a shock to see him without either beard or battlespat. But you can tell a man by the company he keeps, and Nesse and Jerry can certainly vouch for him. Besides, I'd know that rumbling voice anywhere.

Speaking of company, Greg Sandborn is with them, and together they're a little miffed at the lack of attendance by certain fanfic regulars. Nick Leifker can be excused, as he'd been in Iowa recently for a wedding — and it's a heck of a drive from Texas. But Rich Lawson's and Travis Butler's absences are without explanation, and Travis in particular may have something to answer for. Anyway, on with the panel.

From one extreme to another; last year's panel were a group of total unknowns, so AnimeIowa has somehow managed to get three professionally published writers this time around, along with an interesting wrinkle, a web cartoonist. Granted, their published works are not necessarily what we're here to talk about, but it is impressive that we have such a lineup. Greg and Scott, of course, I've already mentioned; our cartoonist goes by the pseudonym "Amethyst Angel" — I forget her real name, but I'll mention more about that sort of dichotomy later — and creates a Slayers-based comic entitled "Hamlet: the Manga" (Zen murmurs praise of it as 'a priceless piece'); and the whole show is headed up by one Daniel Snyder, known best for the remarkable Utena/NGE crossover "Fane of the Firebird".

The audience Q&A is somewhat limited; Mr. Synder is rather take-charge regarding the topics at first. Considering the panel, I guess it's no surprise that it starts off by discussing the leap from amateur to professional status: "Listen to your editor" is the theme of the reply. He'll demolish and rewrite and change your work to the point of unrecognizability, but he knows what sells. The fan novel market is intensely competitive — there's a lot of fans out there who want to write, and only so many fans out there buying them. To make money in this business, you have to whore yourself (their word, not mine). Granted, this advice won't sit well with most of us, but then most of us harbor no illusions about making a living at writing, and no desire to try.

Of couse, who among us hasn't dreamed that they could make a living doing what they're now doing for fun? Greg points out, though, the unreasonableness of that dream. Even reasonably successful writers still have day jobs.

Continuing in a similar vein, they talk about self-promotion, which amateurs like myself might consider overly egotistical, but needs to be done if one is to even try to make money in the business. Scott speaks about the importance of schmoozing, and how many jobs were through friendly contacts with editors here and there. Greg points to his Fox Squadron shirt as the most literal example of promotional materials, as well as the frequent use of business cards. The Angel still maintains an amateur attitude, wherein good work in itself will create a buzz, which will create traffic. Scott points out that it helps to place material in high-traffic areas, where they'll be noticed. He favors various mailing lists — but NOT Fanfiction.net. Something tells me there will be more on that later.

Daniel emphasizes that, in this Internet era, you MUST be familiar with HTML code in order to get by. Primarily, he suggests familiarizing oneself with <META> tags, which tip off search engines to the type of material on your webpage. To someone whose webpage hasn't been updated since 1999 (and who now uses ff.net as a fic repository), this is kind of amusing, but then, I'm not as serious about my craft as these folks. I admit it.

How about other forums besides your own webpage? The 'old grey lady', rec.arts.anime.creative, is trotted out, and the panel is relieved to find that most of its attendant audience is still familiar with USEnet groups. Mailing lists, especially the FFML are mentioned; Daniel mentions the problem of flame wars, while Greg shakes his head: the moderation on the FFML is such that the uncivility of times past is pretty much that, past. Scott also states that the FFML has done well by him, although he has his own ML and subscribes to several more specialized ones as well. The Angel complains about how listbot used to work well, until they started charging for it, and Daniel allows that MLs can be rather hit or miss: they can, without proper control, get spammed or mined.

And now the topic turns to ff.net, and the panel notes sadistic chuckling from the audience. For all its faults, though, Daniel points out that this site has the biggest fanfic audience out there, it's easy to use and search, and feedback is quick, if about as satisfying as a bag of chips after a week in the desert. The knives are hardly out to carve up the site's faults when Daniel mentions being victimized by a plagiarist through ff.net, and how (once the matter was resolved to his satisfaction) he was of the impression that this had become a relatively rare occurrence.

The audience disagrees about the rarity of plagiarism, and any dissection of ff.net is forgotten. Axel Terzaki's "The One I Love Is…" is brought up: evidently someone copied the whole thing and rewrote only the ending so that Shinji chooses the other girl. Took considerable effort to remove the fic from ff.net; more from the fellow's determination to keep it posted (under whatever name) than any fault of ff.net's. The Angel recalls someone asking permission to do exactly what she's done with "Hamlet: The Manga", except using the Transformers. Same jokes and everything. Greg, as a counter to all this, shrugs that no one has the energy to plagiarize his over-hundred-kilobyte fanfic epics.

The mention of "Hamlet" brings up the question of what precisely falls under the category of plagiarism. After all, who would imply that Kurosawa stole from Shakespeare's "King Lear" to create "Ran"? The panel agrees that use of basic themes is not plagiarism, nor is characterization. So it may be possible for two people to independently put the same characters in a similar situation and get very similar fics.

The mention of Shakespeare also brings up the idea that some fic writers take themselves WAY too seriously. One of the panelists mentions a fic which, while good, found itself quoting Homer. Not that it was necessarily inappropriate, but that sort of thing is unnecessarily pretentious. Someone in the audience mentions a web-based group called The Fic Bitches, who've made it their calling to demolish all different styles of stupid fics…

…which, combined with the plagiarism thread, adds up to a perfect lead-in to the MST3K genre. Daniel makes a distinction between a friendly and unfriendly MST, but for the most part it boils down to a question of permission. Someone mentions the Satellite of Revolution, and how could those hilariously scathing reviews have gotten permission? Another audience member responds that Chris Rain does at least try to get permission before ripping into a fic (it may be part of why she abandoned work on a Chris Davies fic a while back). On the other hand, the panel isn't clear as to whether an explicit request for C&C in a fic is an open invitation to MST it. One of them claims that a MST still should respect the author and their work, to which Zen snorts, sotto voce, "Sure, the same way they (referring presumably to the author of the original fic) respect Takahashi's original work."

On the subject of C&C, the panelists struggle with a curious dilemna; where the reviewers feel they have a right to have a fic and the characters therein do certain things to suit their own tastes. This is the sort of review to ignore. Also suspect are the "I hate you… you kept me up reading your fic till 3am" — is this a compliment or an insult? At the same time, there is a general complaint of how good feedback is rare as hen's teeth. For Daniel, it took three years before he received a dozen emails, while Greg (rather optimistically) concurs that "only one out of a hundred" readers will respond to a given fic. Scott adds that longer, multi-chapter fics suffer even more, with each subsequent chapter garnering considerably less feedback, unless something totally unexpected happens. Daniel and Greg disagree, and suggest that a fic's conclusion tends to result in a flood of responses

Fanfic forums have been covered, but at The Angel's request, keenspace.com and fanarts.net receive mention. Not all fanworks are fiction, after all — something to keep in mind.

We're running out of time; the next panel is waiting outside the door, so Daniel asks for one final question. What's your position on Mary Sues? "We spreadeagle 'em and cut 'em open!" he replies with a measure of sadistic glee, to laughter and applause.

I take a quick buzz around a very crowded dealers' room — I don't know why — before heading upstairs to the room, where Dan-chan is watching the Cartoon Network and Konatsu-chan is chopping bok choy. I slice up a good supply of mushrooms, and proceed to mix up the tonkatsu sauce according to the half-remembered instructions Steve Bennett gave up last year. This year's mixture looks a little on the reddish side — too much ketchup? not enough soy? or Worcestershire? so I go looking for Steve — and for a luggage cart, so we can haul everything up to the con suite.

It turns out to be the only time all wekend that I see him, but Steve is easier to find than a luggage cart, just wrapping up (how convenient!) his traditional cel-painting class. After a few moments of my hiding in the background, he spots me and asks if I'm doing okonomiyaki again this year. Actually, that's what I came to talk to you about… and I offer him the tonkatsu, and a spoon. He tastes it, stares off into space for a moment to ponder, and delivers his verdict: "I think you've got it just about perfect. Not too sweet, not too sour." Whaddya know… it's the most minor ingredients that really matter, not the basic sauces. Have to remember that.

That taken care of (and Steve is great for advertising, too, telling the departing 'class' to stop by the con suite for a 'yaki), it's time to get to work. First, back to the room for some last minute vegetable chopping (Konatsu apologizes for forgetting the mushroom slicer; I figure it wouldn't carve 'em up sufficiently thin, anyway), we bundle the cooler and the supply bin onto a luggage cart my kunoichi has snagged, and wheel it to the elevators. Now there's something that Takahashi-sama just glosses over; it's not like I can just whip out a griddle and fix something out of the blue like that. But, of course, you all know that. Only in manga and anime could I store all my ingredients in Hammerspace.

Anyway, we get everything set up in the con suite anteroom, with a little help from our friend Victoria (from the last few AIs), and people start queueing up. I still have to explain the concept of okonomiyaki to some folks, although not as much as last year; while fewer people seem to be familiar with 'me' from Ranma½, quite a number recall our activity from last year. Nothing like repeat business and word-of-mouth, I tell ya.

I should probably emphasize the fact that, as time goes by, fewer people seem to actually be familiar with Ukyou Kuonji, and Ranma½ as a whole, while at the same time, there are a lot of people dressed in costumes from much newer series than I'm familiar with. I wonder if I'm watching a generation gap, here. At the same time, most of the folks I don't recognize turn out to be game characters, and video games hold little to no interest for me. There is much merriment as I admit that my familiarity with video games stops at Q*bert and Pengo.

At the same time, there are a few costume ensembles from the older days of anime. I feed a Chii or two, but we are also visited by four girls dressed as Miyuki-chan in Wonderland, complete with Rabbit Girl, Mat Hatter, and Cheshire Cat. They get a lot of pictures taken of them, too. Given that several of their costumes might outdo Naga's (and yes, someone's dressed as her, too), it's no wonder.

But you don't necessarily have to flash flesh to attract attention. It's been said that a way to a man's heart is through the stomach. I suspect that goes double for otaku. I heard about this secondhand, so it can't be confirmed, but evidently someone was talking about us in the elevators. The gist of it was along the lines that (were I not happily married already) this someone was in love with me. Or more accurately, with my okonomiyaki. Hey, otaku, there are worse ways to pick up potential mates. Bring some unusual (and good) food to a convention… you might be surprised at the results.

Of course, that was just secondhand knowledge… the firsthand stuff was odd enough. A fair number of people were actually taking pictures of me over those griddles, and I'm not at my photogenic best after a few hours over these things. Takahashi-sama would probably (if she considered it) picture me with a light sheen of sweat, a few hairs cutely out of place, that sort of thing. The truth is, a couple hours of those hot griddles, combined with the fact that we may have blown the fuse on the air conditioning unit in the room, and I look rather worse than that for wear. But like I said, folks were as happy to shoot my picture as they were over Miyuki-chan and company.

We brought twice as much batter this year (though twice of what, I couldn't tell you. I could guess two gallons of batter, but it'd be just that, a guess), so we figured we'd be working the grills for twice as long, until six o'clock or so. We hadn't considered the fact that we would be using one of Stephen's griddles, so it would go twice as fast. So we're completely out in less than three hours of nearly non-stop, four-at-a-time cooking. Runners come up from time to time to gather 'yakis for Steve Bennett, Bob DeJesus, and Stan Sakai (I later meet Stan in an elevator. He praises my work, but points out my style is more Hiroshima than Kansai. Oh well — as long as he enjoyed it). Konatsu makes a point of having me fix something for the runners as well, although by the time the 'yakis are ready, we practically need a runner to find the runners. A volunteer's work is never done, evidently.

Dave-sempai nearly manages to miss the show, too, thanks to his volunteering schedule. As it is, he arrives just in time to get the final one, as I pour the last of the batter on his mixture. Last year's finalists, Zen and company, made it in plenty of time to hang around and chat for a while (one particular discussion revolves around Chobits: the argument is made that if persocons really existed, otaku would die out from non-reproduction. I mention that the otaku tribe does not grow through reproduction, but rather through conversion, like the Shakers of early America. The main difference between us and them is that we do not condemn, nay we aspire to, the opportunity for, ah, the reproductive process, if not reproduction per se). Zen and Nesse invite us over to their room after the cosplay — and Zen makes sure that I remember his room number — Nesse's come up with a drink that needs a name, among other things.

It takes us some time to rinse things off and pack up the unused vegetables (frugal Konatsu plans to use them for a soup once we get home), but Dan-chan's still happily playing with the Lego Harry Potter software when we return to our room at about 5:15. Coincidentally, Scott shows up shortly thereafter. He's just come back from the dealers' room, where he's actually found someone selling Japanese import CDs, rather than the Chinese pirated stuff. He relates with slight wonder about a dealer back home in Minneapolis who refuses to stock the genuine imports because "that would be illegal." And pirated copies aren't?

Scott also mentions a fandubbing panel he attended, including a group in his area that's hurting for male voice actors. After talking with them, he may have landed a role in a project of theirs. But don't hold your breath waiting for him voice acting debut; he seems to think the actual likelihood of anything happening is pretty slim.

They say that, when it comes to working hard, only horses sweat. Men perspire, and women 'glow'. I wish. If that's so, my 'Ucchan's' T-shirt should be mistaken for radioactive material, judging from the scent. I'm going to have to wash up and change before the cosplay — and I only packed two shirts for the weekend! I'm going to the dealers' room, see if I can't find something there.

Konatsu-chan gets wind of my intent, and asks if I mind some company. Well, I don't want to turn my kunoichi and my son down, but in the time it takes the two of them to get ready — especially persuading Dan-chan to leave the computer alone and find his sandals — I probably could have been down there and back already with my purchase.

Well… maybe not quite. I'm not particularly interested in DBZ or Voltron shirts… ah, here's a NERV one in my size. Fine, I'll take it. And none too soon: even as I pay for it, a con staffer walks through announcing that the room will close in two minutes. I look at the vendor with some surprise. She shrugs: evidently, she's been here since eight this morning, so she's perfectly okay with closing. However, "they don't give us a lot of warning, do they?"

Outside the dealers' room, on the edge of the atrium, is the reason for the closure: no one would be able to get in or out through this crowd. What gives?

Ah, the piñatas. Looks like we're in the right place at the right time… well, sort of. With the crowd maybe about ten deep in places, I can't actually see what's going on. Konatsu hoists Dan-chan up so he can see everything from shoulder height. "I'm jealous," he says of the kids permitted to give Togepi a whack — we hadn't bought any raffle tickets for the opportunity.

Maybe he shouldn't be. I hear ten light taps in a row before one kid accidentally takes out one of the strings holding it to the ceiling. Another one soon follows, and Togepi is sent to Poke-heaven once it hits the ground, but suffers nary a dent before. Meanwhile, Konatsu has carted Dan-chan forward to watch the proceedings — evidently, the under-ten set are the only ones allowed to collect candy from this one, too — and they get lost in the crowd once Togepi falls.

A little later on, as they announce the lucky five who are to smash Yu-gi-oh, Konatsu and Dan-chan return. 'Natsu-chan is beaming with pride: Dan-chan knows how to scramble for candy, filling his hands, giving the handfuls to his parent, and diving back in for more. And even after collecting his fill, there is apparently plenty left over, as folks in the crowd (mothers thinking their kids have more than enough?) toss candy back into the crowd. At about this point, Konatsu suggests running for carryout from a nearby Chili's while I get ready for the cosplay judging. This works fine with me, and once the two of them head off, I turn my attention to the five hitters lining up to administer last rites to Yu-gi-oh.

None of them raise so much as a welt the first time. The second round has them taking off an eyebrow, an eye, and cracking open a lock of pointy hair — no candy inside, though. The fifteenth strike breaks the stick they're using to bust the piñata… which leave them no choice but to haul out the tire iron. Even so, it takes another six strikes to take it apart — one of which had a girl dressed as Sailor Jupiter getting the iron stuck in Yu-gi-oh's nostril, like she's picking his nose with a crowbar — before the ball falls, and the otaku storm forward, some for candy, some for souvenirs. One fellow struts by wearing a point of Yu-gi-oh's hair like a dunce cap. This means something, people.

Victoria limps out of the fray: "I can't feel my ankles." Looks like someone fell on them in the melee. Candy or no candy, it's not worth fighting for like that. I head upstairs to shower and freshen up.

On my way, I pass Charles, who's putting on his weskit and coat. I confirm with him that 7:30 is when I'm expected, and proceed on my merry way.

Showered and dressed, I'm working on these notes as Konatsu and Dan-chan return with cheeseburgers. Even though I've got more than a half-hour before I need to be there, I wolf mine down. My appointment isn't particularly formal, and I want to slip in before the crowds get restless (and possibly jealous: why should I get in, but not them?)

And while they aren't exactly restless yet (they know it's an hour before anything's even scheduled to happen), there is a crowd already gathered outside the main programming door. I find the nearest staffer, and ask him what I need to do in order to get in. He rushes off to check with Donald about my credentials, before returning and letting me in…

…where I wind up standing around, wondering what to do next, and deciding the best I can do is make myself unobtrusive. At some point, I am ushered to the front of the stage; the judges' table is set up right in front of the room, in the aisle. It's a vulnerable spot.

I'm not the only one here, thankfully, although the guest judge hasn't shown up yet (indeed, it's not altogether clear who it's going to be, Lea or Tiffany). The staff judge, a fellow by the name of Gerald, dressed up as Captain Harlock, is there to explain some of the ropes to me. First off, I should explain that AI's tradition is to use three judges; one representing the guests, one representing costume designers (which, of course, is Gerald's role), and the third to represent the fans. That's me, in case you hadn't figured it out. As a rule, the costumers (being the most experienced in this field) tend to be the toughest — he recalls a colleague who was referred to as 'the East German judge' in cosplay circles. I mention that since each judge has their award to hand out (along with Best of Show, Best Group and Best Solo), even the East German would have to choose a best, even if she didn't think it was good. He agrees.

Since the judging is somewhat subjective, he makes it clear that the rules are not hard and fast. One that comes close, though, is that "no costume is no costume." Off the rack doesn't cut it. He mentions an extreme example from Star Trek conventions of a fellow who would take his girlfriend (they have girlfriends?) strip her virtually naked, cover her in green body paint, and throw her onstage as an Orion sex slave (and they manage to KEEP girlfriends after subjecting them to THIS?). No matter how good a girl looks like this, it's still no costume. It's not even worth considering. Myself, I'd deck the guy who tried that.

The word comes that this is going to be the biggest cosplay AI's ever held: thirty-four entries, with ninety-one people. Charles suggests in future that the number of people in an ensemble should be limited to no more than ten. Is this an issue this year? What we have barely averages to three people per entry. Charles admits he doesn't know. What he does know is that the first entry involves a five-year-old child. Well, that's nice of everyone to let her out first. No, comes the reply, it's a practical issue: it's better than letting her sit around and get bored.

As nerve-wracking as the experience is (omigosh, I am representing all the fans here! When can we get started so we can get this over with?!), I would recommend it, it if were possible, to any fan of cosplay. Judging is an eye-opening experience, a real look behind the scenes. There is a LOT of frenzied activity going on here, and this is just the staff. I can only hear what's happening in the green room. Oddest of all is a father dozing nearby with his several-month-old baby in a stroller; the child wakes up, and proceeds to rouse daddy with its cries. After a few tries, he figures the kid is hungry and makes for the green room, where a woman dressed as Sailor Pluto steps out and accepts the baby, and takes it with her back in. I can hardly visualize the concept of Sailor Pluto nursing… some doujinshi artist would kill for this image.

Someone comes by, making sure that everyone has enough water to drink. I ask if that's such a good idea. Gerald points out that most costumes — with certain obvious examples — are heavy and hot. Cosplayers tend to dehydrate quickly under all that material. Water's not just a good idea, it's an absolute necessity. Well, what about 'bio breaks'? He shrugs; the order isn't cast in stone, it can be adjusted for stuff like that.

All good and well for the cosplayers, but I'm starting to worry about myself. I just took care of matters before showing up, and I don't dare leave the main room after the difficulties of getting in. I hope this sensation is just nerves. I've got a lot more respect for what these guys go through all of a sudden.

Finally, Lea Fernandez arrives (and she corrects my notes, as I've been writing her name as 'Leah' up to this point), and we are officially briefed. We are each given a sheaf of papers, one for each entry, upon which to take notes. Gerald mentions that at most cons, judges would have to rely on their own note-taking ability (which would not have been an issue for me after all this practice. On the other hand, reporting and opinionizing are difficult to do simultaneously, especially given the time constraints) The categories are confirmed, but they are subject to alteration — we have the option to award Best of Show and two runners-up, and considering how few individual entries there are, that may be for the best. We are to focus on the costume first, and then on the sketch, if any. We have to also keep in mind the characterization and the spirit of the source material. It's a heavy burden to bear.

Finally, we are ready, and at an amazingly early 8:33 (only three minutes late!) the doors open, and the fans file in. Lea is impressed: "It's like at church — bride's side or groom's side?" She's so proud of the otaku, especially as "it was just insane out there," when she arrived. She does clarify that she means insane in terms of the vast number of people waiting to get in, not their behaviour, as their entry makes clear.

In all the confusion, Charles realizes he hasn't gotten a name from me, so as to introduce me as a judge. I give him the name you all know me as, to which he responds, on-mike: "I don't believe this…" But he dutifully introduces me as ‘Ukyou Kuonji’, seeing as he really doesn't have an alternative at this point.

[Once everything is said and done, he pulls me aside and asks me my real name. I tell him, but really, would that have been important? What I do, either on the FFML, in the FFIRC, in the AI con suite, is all done under the name of Ukyou Kuonji. There are otaku who know my real name, but only a couple dozen. As far as identification goes, I'm better recognized as Ukyou at this point; the best thing to do is to go with the flow on it. What's in a name besides that, after all?]

Anyway, on with the show. Charles has some microphone troubles that cause him to dance a bit onstage in an effort to find a spot and a pose in which his voice won't dissolve into massive static. Well, at least it should squelch the crowd's standard demands.

As promised, our first entrant is a five-year old girl dressed as Chibi-Usa, accompanied by a woman dressed as Sailor Mars. While Mars utters the usual 'punishment' speech, we examine the costumes, which are quite elaborate, even down to Chibi-Usa's pink vinyl boots — it's great to be up front like this, where you can see everything. I give the girl full marks for bravery, even as she gnaws her hand in palpable fear.

A mixed bag of characters, beginning with Clef and Digiko, announce their goal of worldwide happiness — but what will make the world happy? Chii thinks she knows: "Panties!" Only Clef's quick action nips that in the bud. A Drunken Mage appears and gives the answer that at least makes the audience happy: "Booze!" Clef is left onstage, wondering why he ever left Cephiro for this.

Another mixed bag of characters confront what they claim to be the Ultimate Evil: a cute girl? I don't get it.

Digiko — a male Digiko, I should mention, but the costume is quite elaborate — faces off against Bill Gates (yes, the Bill Gates of Microsoft, and not an anime character from anywhere that I know of), who states that knowledge is half the battle. But what's the other half? "Violence!" and Digiko-otoko knocks Gates flat with that round yellow ball of hers… his… whatever. The crowd gives them a minute-plus long ovation, and even we're laughing. Isn't it everyone's fantasy to sock it to the Ubernerd?

Utena and Anthy walks on to announce that the sketch they were going to do — the ending sequence from Apocalypse Mokushiroku — has been scrubbed, as the con would not permit two naked girls on a motorcycle onstage. (Besides, they're wearing the costumes from the TV series, anyway — and very good costumes they are. Granted, both girls look a bit pudgy in them, but you would have to be anorexic to look right as any character from Utena) So they're just going to do the bit where Utena draws the sword out of Anthy's chest. And it works out well… except Utena snags the sword while trying to pull it out. After some tugging, it comes out… and Anthy is mortified to see that her red lace bra is dangling from it! Another big laugh.

A Kodoma with a beautifully large and slightly misshapen head walks across the stage.

Lina and Gaurry face down Zangulus and a pair of Urumungun clones. I like Gaurry's hair and Lina's attitude… and to use a giant, translucently red beach ball for the Dragon Slave is an inspired touch.

Digiko again, but this time, she (yes, it's a girl this time) kills Vash the Stampede. Never fear, though, as Rabi-en-Rose kisses him back to life. Nice costumes, but a very odd sketch.

The next costume I'd seen out in the halls earlier today, an homage to Stan Sakai: Usagi Yojimbo. Gorgeous kimono, complete to the traditional clogs of the feet. But the real selling point is the face. Even at this range, I can't tell if it's putty or latex, but it is molded over the cosplayer's nose and month, giving her a lapine texture to her human face.

The cast from Inu-Yasha gets up and sings the English lyrics to the show, and what they lack in musical ability (and choreography), they make up for in enthusiasm. It's a reminder that not everyone competes to win; these four are just up there to have fun. Well, why not? I understand that's the way it is in Japan… cosplayers walk out, get their fifteen seconds, and walk off. No contests, no awards, it's all in fun. Enjoy it, kids.

Charles introduces the high priest Zagato and his beloved Princess Emeraude. Zagato, in full helmet and shoulder bracers, stalks elegantly onstage, face a brooding mask. He turns with a longing look as a giant silk rose is hauled in on a litter by two fellows dressed in standard theatre-tech black. The rose unfolds to reveal a fragile-looking girl, a near dead ringer for Emeraude. Zagato takes her hand and bids her rise for a moment, before she shrinks back into the rose prison and is borne offstage, Zagato following behind. Nothing is said throughout their act, and yet somehow you can understand everything between them. Amazing.

Nicholas Wolfwood and his identically dressed wife Nikki inform Vash that business has been slow and money is tight. Vash offers to help in any way possible, whereupon Nikki takes her portable confessional, pops over her head and Vash's (dropping Kuroneko out of it in the process)… and when she removes it, she's wearing Vash's glasses, and a very dizzy Vash has her cigarette. Ta-da! The Wolfwoods have captured Vash the Stampede!

Takeo Takakura from Mahou Tsukai Tai comes out, and announces she has a new role model. She's reading from a script, actually, and reluctantly states that "I want to be like Charles."

The next pair is an odd one for us to deal with. Sailor Moon's costume is store-bought, so we're to focus on the costume belonging to… Kiyone? But it's just a basic kimono, or maybe just a yukata. It doesn't look particularly like the Galaxy Detective any more than it does like anyone else. The sketch, too, while promising (Moon complains about hard-nosed Sailor Mars, while Kiyone bitches about dim-bulb Mihoshi), just falls flat. It's a swap that perhaps an enterprising fanfic author could tackle though: imagine exchanging Moon for Mihoshi, or Mars for Kiyone. Granted, it'd be the same problem with a different face…

Relena Peacecraft, in an elegant costume, comes onstage pursued by a Gundam that looks vaguely plush. Protesting that "But Heero, I didn't even tell you to kill me yet!" she is struck down to a ferocious ovation. It's enough to turn me off of the entry; good as the costumes are, they have their award.

A young woman dressed as Lenneth Valkyrie walks on, and while I may have described costumes as elaborate before, this one is something else. Arm and ankle bracers, even the tassels on the skirt are uniform. Impressive.

Zelgadis thinks he's found a magic book to cure him from being a chimera. Unfortunately, it's not that sort of magic book, and he winds up having to deal with yet another "food-eating girl and a close-eyed priest." Are Miaka and Chichiri an improvement over Lina and Rezo?

Neya from Inifinite Ryvius does a walk-on. This is another intricate costume, with a series of coattails resembling wings in the back.

Legato Bluesummers and the rest of the Gung-Ho Guns discuss new diabolical plots to eliminate Vash the Stampede: at least one has the idea for an explosive donut that might just work. But one of them, after a bit of discussion, asks plaintively, "Why don't we just… shoot him?" Upon being turned down flat — evidently, it's not sufficiently evil, or at least not dramatic enough, for the others — the poor sap shoots himself dead onstage. What we see from our vantage point is even more amazing — there's a bullet hole in the guy's hat!

And now, a bit of revenge. Last year, a girl dressed as the Studio Ironcat took Steve Bennett's Judge's Choice Award. This guy thinks he got passed over. So, in retaliation, HE'S dressing as the Ironcat catgirl. It's a funny concept, but he's no Sailor Bubba. In fact, apart from the hairy legs and the lack of curves, he doesn't look bad, all things considered. And then, there's the fact that his revenge backfires: not only isn't Steve judging, he's not even HERE. Neither, for that matter are any of the guests of honor, aside from Lea, of course — despite the fact that a whole front row is set aside for them. Charles does assure the fellow that a copy of the tape will be given to Steve, and that he will make sure that Steve sees this.

A hyperkinetic Ed from Cowboy Bebop pretends to panic over something or another. Bayman from Dead or Alive re-interprets the scene with a Russian flavor: "Holy borsht!" Miss X from Gal's Fighters repeats this in Japanese: "Gojira!" A bit weak, but amusing punch line.

Sana-chan walks onstage, evidently in her junior high uniform. Apparently, she has laryngitis, so the rap has to be played through the speakers. But for the entire time, the girl stands stock still. If ever the crowd had a right to holler "Dance! Dance!" this would be it. But they don't, and she doesn't, and… well, it's not Sana-chan without the hyperactivity.

Detective Bright Honda comes out to warn the audience about the Shadow Lady. She verifies by demonstration some of his descriptions — although she takes offense at a reference to her weight — before tapping him on the shoulder and reminding him that all she steals are hearts.

Victoria walks out, dressed up as the Hellmaster Phibrezo from Slayers Next. Apparently, she's going to the dealers' room — it's the best place to find people willing to sell their souls.

A pair dressed as Dante and Trish from a Capcom video game walk on next. The biker chick's leathers are cut down to here, but at least the dude tends to hold their foam motorcycle in front of her rather than pander for the 'biggest tits' award.

Another quick walk-across, this time by Spike Seagal… to ENORMOUS applause and other audience noise. Another fellow who has his reward, if you ask me.

Five characters from Final Fantasy X. Some of the costumes are very good, but others are more or less average. It's sort of a pity, really.

Ryutsume Sharn… all my notes say is "Huh?" There isn't even a show associated with her.

There isn't a show associated with Eternal Sailor America, either. I'm all for patriotism, and I admit the costume's very well-made, but… it's a bit over the top, if you ask me.

Several characters from Dance Dance Revolution (I didn't know there were characters in that game) come out and… well, they don't even dance particularly well, I'm afraid.

From Alichino: Tsuguri and Light and Dark Myoubi. The first two costumes are very nice, especially Light Myoubi, an etherial fairy-like creature. Dark Myoubi's costume, on the other hand, seemed to be falling apart as they danced. The fact that Dark was played by a guy gave the impression that Dark's shabbiness was deliberate.

Genma-panda and Shampoo: This one suffers in my mind by comparison to a costume at ACen a few years ago (those who were there will remember) This one is okay, but not clearly spectacular. Ditto for Shampoo: purple wig and cheongsam: how hard could it be? And the fact that the panda's wearing a lei and a grass skirt… shouldn't that be Kunou-kouchou's schtick?

The entire(?) cast of Final Fantasy 7 storms enthusiastically onstage. One fellow nearly falls off the back of the stage, but he's okay. One girl in particular is coated in brown body paint and tattoos from head to foot; if we were seated any further back, we wouldn't be able to tell where the paint ended and the actual costume begin

Finally, another mixed bag of characters representing The Anime Sideshow. First, the he/she: is it male or female (Ed from Cowboy Bebop)? Then, the psychic, who can even predict her own death: "Right… now. Oh, damn" *fump* (Ora from Clover). The tattooed woman, Rin from Blade of the Immortal? The half man, half machine, Folken (from Escaflowne?) And the fat man… Totoro himself. But the piece de resistance, the most startling freak of all: "Hey, wanna check out the latest hentai anime?" The OTAKU!!

At this point we three are escorted out of the main ballroom to 'an undisclosed location'… shyeah. It's just the service hallway behind the ballrooms. And now, the deliberations begin. Really, it's a simple affair to go through each page and discuss the merits of each entry, but it is by no means easy. I am going to try not to name names, so that no one of us gets blamed for spurning a deserving entry; however, I'm going to try to explain the rationale behind the decisions.

The detail of Chibi-Usa's costume is remarked upon, as well as her courage in going onstage. However, her fearful expression is pointed out, and it is agreed that we do not wish to encourage parents forcing their children onstage like that. We set her aside.

(It is only much later that I learn that the girl had been dressed as Chibi-Usa the whole day and begged her mother to let her enter the cosplay herself — but you'd expect someone who could out-argue Sailor Pluto not to be intimidated by something so insignificant as a cosplay crowd, ne? Turned out, by the time she went onstage, it had just gone past her bedtime, and that's what really provoked her agitation. But we didn't know any of this at the time.)

There are very few individual competitors, and it seems almost unfair to tilt the playing field in their favor (after all, their odds of winning are better than 1 in ten, versus 1 in 25 or so for the ensembles). We do debate the merits of the individuals. The Kodama was impressive, but only from the neck up. Below that, it was really only a guy in sweats. There are others more deserving. Usagi Yojimbo is the most contentious issue. I loved the face, but there was an argument that the face made it look like a live-action version of the character, rather than like the character itself. Several of the other merit comment, like the Valkyrie, but little actual emotion as far as 'yes, we must give that an award.'

My focus tends to be more on sketches than on the costumes per se (which balances off against Gerald) and I mention the Anime Sideshow. There is agreement as to the delivery, but Best Group? No way: "The Totoro was coming apart at the seams! That just wasn't a finished costume." Deadlocked on Best Group and Best Individual, we inform a nearby staffer we're changing the structure to Best of Show and two runners-up. Now to pick them.

We'd almost settled on the Final Fantasy 7 group as the Best Group; Now, to determine whether they deserve Best of Show instead. We sift through our sheaves of paper, discarding as we go. Lea finds her favorite: the Gung-Ho Guns. Gerald picks Shampoo and Genma. I realize it's his call, but… "Are you kidding?!" He turns to me and says quietly, "Did you realize that panda had claws?" No… no, I hadn't. Wow… talk about attention to detail, both on their part and his.

Since I said at the outset I would be more likely to focus on sketches, I'm torn between the Anime Sideshow and the Utena sketch. Suddenly, the others consider the Utena sketch for a second-runner-up: "Hey, the costumes were very good." "And hell, it was a funny bit." This is actually a relief — while I couldn't agree me, there was a little bit of bit that is bothered by giving the fan award to the skit with the most fanservice. I don't really want to encourage that necessarily (Granted, they didn't show any skin, but the humor was all geared that way) I snap up the Sideshow.

"Hey, can you guys hurry it up? The crowd's getting a little restless." Once more through the papers.

Then, it strikes us: Zagato and Emeraude. We put them up against the FF7 crew, and decide it belongs higher. All right: Best of Show. We're ready to go on.

I call up my award first, and hand the prize to the girl who'd played the sideshow barker with a slight bow. The other judges award their prizes with handshakes. Oops.

The Utena pair are the most surprised by their award; one of the staffers actually has to fetch them from the green room because apparently they don't believe it when they're told. They pose for pictures in the 'sword of Dios' posture, with enough of the bra hanging out to be obvious. "You're not going to put it back on, are you?" I ask, and immediately regret it. What it sounded like, I'm sure, was a request for Anthy to continue to go braless. The tone I meant to take, however, was simple disbelief. I mean, anyone can get a bra off from under clothing. Getting it back on, while still wearing clothes, now, THAT would be a trick. But it didn't come out right, and girls, if you're reading this, I apologize.

The Final Fantasy troupe run onstage, as enthusiastically as in their performance, and I almost suffer the same fate as one of their number did earlier — the stage is getting pretty crowded already.

When Zagato and Emeraude are called up, the two of them stride to the podium as gracefully as ever. I'm a bit surprised to see Emeraude walking: the way she'd been carried about and never quite stood, I'd wondered whether she was actually handicapped or something. But no matter: they're still a beautiful pair.

Konatsu finds me some time later and admits that, having watched it all on closed-circuit television in the overflow room (with quite a crowd, I might add), they was a bit of questioning our call in awarding Best of Show to Zagato and Emeraude. Most of the problem was that, on the television, Emeraude could barely be seen. Upon visiting the main room as people milled in and out, it was much clearer. Some things television can't quite capture, perhaps.

I actually get to keep my copy of the judge's notes — which is a good thing, as there was no way I could take reporter's notes at the same time I was watching the cosplayers troop across the stage — and Lynda, the backstage staffer, invites me to help her drop a cache of Paratroop Ninjas… from the ROOF? Oh, whew, no… she just means from the 7th floor into the atrium. I can handle that.

As I head upstairs to meet her for the drop, I keep running across deserving cosplayers that didn't win. I fight down a compulsion to apologize profusely… with only limited success.

Speaking of apologies… Lynda arrives to inform me that the drop has been scrubbed. It seems that a number of con-goers had been flinging paper airplanes during the afternoon… and what with the atrium opening up onto the hotel restaurant, some of the diners were understandably miffed. So that puts the kibosh on that. However, how about a drop-in to the post-cosplay party for the volunteers? I don't feel like I've really volunteered for anything, but why decline?

As it happens, I'm currently sitting under a page advertising a room party held by one Rick Hunter. A girl comes up to us, asks us (and anyone else in the elevator area) if we know this fellow. Meeting with no acknowledgements, she proceeds to, erm, adjust one of the capital letters in his name, I won't say which. At this point Lynda exerts her authority as staff, and orders the girl to tear down the sign.

Well, it could have been worse… she could have adjusted both his initials, I suppose…

In the hospitality suite, Charles loosens his tie, and offers this toast: "Here's to making 1,250 seem like 500." He's not talking about the cosplay, he's talking about the con itself, and the volunteers who make it all possible. This is, after all, the largest fan-run convention in the Midwest. It's all volunteer, and I feel a bit out of place here. It's not like I've done much, or what I've done has been public enough to be its own reward. Besides, I have elsewhere to be, anyway. I slip out, and head for Zen and Nesse's room.

Even though there's only one other person there besides the two of them and Jerry, their little party is in full swing. Eventually, my sempais join us as well. We chat about music videos — Nesse recalls a guy who did Sarah Brightman's "Once in a Lifetime" as a romantic El Hazard video, without realizing the lyrics referred to a horrible SMish relationship. Somewhere along the line, Jerry and Zen rail against the Digital Milleneum Copyright Act and the contradictory effect it has for folks from other countries (it requires encryption on all copyrighted software or music, thus preventing the ability to copy said works. At the same time in Russia the laws require that a piece of software or music be copyable, in case something happens to the original. So a Russian fellow who devised way around US encryption is evidently being prosecuted by the US… correct me if I'm getting this wrong, will you Zen-chan? That stuff Nesse served us may be clouding my memory)

Ah yes… that stuff. A simple concoction of Squirt, orange juice, and rum. Yellow, cute, and it packs a punch (which I needed - the whole judging thing still had my nerves on edge) But what to call it? Well, what about that ball that Digiko uses? Gemma? "No… he's an annoying snot," Oh.

How about something involving the Puchus, from Excel Saga? This is greeted with mild indifference, but since nothing else seems forthcoming, Puchu Juice will have to do. Thanks, Konatsu-chan.

Somewhere along the line, a staffer pops her head in. I worry that it's to complain that either we're being too loud, or that we shouldn't have the door propped open — I've gotten both complaints at various times at previous cons. But no, she's just warning us not to get freaked out if we see a police officer and a drug-sniffing dog. Apparently, they do routine patrol at the hotel on Saturday evenings… a regular fishing expedition, if you will. We appreciate the warning, but since nothing illegal's going on here, we've nothing to hide.

Conversation continues along the lines of parody anime, and I repeat an offer I made everyone back up in the con suite. I've brought my collection, and — as long as Dan-chan's not playing with the Lego software (actually, he and Konatsu had been swimming, and in fact both of them had showed up at Zen's eventually still wearing their wet swimsuits) — it's available for the watching. It takes a while, but eventually everyone follows. Nesse, in particular, warns me that she's on the verge of turning into a pumpkin. On the other hand, she manages to keep up with me as we head downstairs to our room.

We never actually get to showing much in the way of feature-length parodies, just a handful of music videos. I'm scrounging for the short "Asuka the Black Knight" without success. Since I've had these for a while, I tend to forget that some folks haven't seen these AMVs.

Zen informs me that I must let him know how to get these — along with all the stuff I haven't had the opportunity to show — and I promise to do so… as soon as I've put this report to bed, I think (or considering how much I've drunk, is that giving myself too much credit?)

Maybe it's just the hooch, but I actually manage to sleep longer this morning: seven hours, until nine. When I wake up, Dan-chan is the only one still in the room, snoring softly. Where'd everyone go?

Fortunately, Konatsu returns before I fully regain consciousness. Turns out 'Natsu-chan wandered off to see what the video game room had to offer — there's one game in particular that my kunoichi's reasonably good at — only to find the place closed and locked up for the moment. Instead of returning directly, though, Konatsu dropped in on a video room playing what was billed as "Short and Silly New Anime." A title called Kogepan left quite an impression: a burnt piece of bread gets even with the perfect buns that tease him by telling them about their ultimate fate and scaring them into hiding (and closing the bakery for the day). That, or playing nice and giving them milk — which proceeds to get them drunk.

Konatsu mentions that this series explains a number of plushies available in the dealers' room that looked like acorns or something — apparently, they're from this show. On the other hand, Konatsu mentions overhearing a girl muttering how the character's behaviour in the anime 'doesn't exactly inspire me to go out and buy [Kogepan] merchandise.' Perhaps not, but it leaves me curious. Or maybe that's just my head hurting: I won't admit to a hangover, per se, but this headache I've got is something else.

My kunoichi also sat through a bit of something called the Juvenile (well, it was something starting with a J, anyway — Konatsu couldn't remember. Any guesses, gang?) Terrestrial Defense League, a trio of eight-year-olds in the Magic Knights mold. The only problem is, they don't have anything to defend the world with against a giant invading cat — well, apparently they have this wand, but the budget doesn't permit them to use it. And they spend their screen time bemoaning the fact that they really SHOULD be trying to save the world, but they can't. On second thought, it's more like Puni Puni Poemi than Magic Knights Rayearth.

Somewhere along the line, Konatsu leaves (probably to seek out Dan-chan in the consuite — at least the boy is predictable as far as his disappearances go) and Scott returns from his forays in the screening rooms. His droll descriptions of Mahou Yuugi and Dragon Drive are quite amusing, but I'll wager his descriptions are more entertaining than the actual shows. He also mentions a magical-girl show in which stock transformation sequences once took up 22 of the thirty minutes of a show before the animators figured the audience wouldn't let them get away with that, and began abbreviating them.

Once dressed (in that NERV T-shirt I just bought), I take one last spin around the dealers' room. I run into, and bid my farewells to Zen, Nesse, Jerry and Greg. Zen and company have a long trip ahead of them: twelve hours' drive to Tennessee, oy vey. Needless to say, they sha'n't be staying for closing ceremonies.

Can't stay long, as checkout is at noon, and I barely got to the dealers' room by eleven. I find a place that takes plastic and sells doujinshi and make one last purchase — since it's KareKano, I suppose I'll have to scan it and send it to Paul Corrigan for inspiration — before scrambling upstairs to clear out the room.

Checkout is a nightmare; as with yesterday, I can't find a luggage cart, and it's five minutes to twelve. I toss everything out of the room, and scurry downstairs to return the keys. With that wrapped up, I return to find that my ninja has once again managed to scrounge up a cart. How Konatsu does it, I will never figure out. We fill it, and haul everything down to the car.

As long as I'm here, may I say a word about the elevators? SLOW. We've been at this hotel three times out of the last four, and I don't ever remember them being this bad. When it's faster to run up the stairs to the con suite than to wait for a lift, that's a bad sign. Even once it arrives at our floor, it happens that there is room for either ourselves or the cart, but not both. We push the cart in, and race it downstairs, and almost win — although Dan-chan runs into someone on the way down and gets cursed at for it. He may well have had it coming — he's been known to push.

Once we've dropped off our stuff, we head back inside for the rest of the afternoon, and encounter Stephen on his way out. We thank him once again for the use of the griddle, while he talks with some disappointment about the Aa Megami-sama movie he and his nephew have just come from. It's not the art he seems to object to, or even the storyline per se. It's the fact that it has nothing to do with AMS continuity. "There is so much source material out there, why can't they use it? This way, it's just like Tenchi, and Tenchi in Tokyo and so forth." By way of contrast, he speaks glowingly of Babylon 5, which was essentially written throughout the life of the series by the same man, thus maintaining perfect continuity throughout. Not being familiar with the series (to which he insists I familiarize myself with it), I'm in no position to argue with him; certainly the consistency would be a great plus for any series, be it American TV or Japanese anime.

We bid Stephen and his nephew safe travel, and turn around… to find Dan-chan's gone missing yet again. But for once in the past three weeks, I make up my mind not to panic. The Collins Plaza is not a theme park, or even the Carribean Beach Resort. There's only so many places for him to go, and even fewer places that he'd want to go. He'll turn up. Besides, it gives me a chance to sit down and write out some more notes…

…because once we locate him in the consuite, my notes get pretty spotty. We come across a fellow with a dealer's badge on in the con suite, presumably resting from a long weekend's work. In fact, he kinda looks like Touga Kiryuu on vacation, with a long red wig and a Hawaiian shirt. He tells us how the Right Stuf has been having some rather serious difficulties; apparently, one of the owners bought out the other… with a rubber check. While this was going on, evidently Jeff Thompson was given his walking papers. Jeff Thompson, the man who finally brought KareKano to America! But it looks as though something may be in the works between him and ADV, so all is not lost. Still, it's rotten treatment from a company I thought were made up of otaku.

The fellow's been to twelve anime cons already this year — that more than I've gone to in my entire otaku career! His next stop is a new one for him — a 'furry' convention — and he's a bit scared. Granted, these people are willing to spend money like water: $35 a yard for costume fur that you could get at JoAnn Fabrics for a third of that price. But these guys are serious fetishists, and he's just a little leery of dealing with people whose biggest fantasy is to make it with a catgirl or what-have-you.

Someone else in the suite is the person responsible for the piñatas, and is puzzling over next year's models already. Another person suggests the head of Usagi Tsukino. The dealer counters that the reason SailorMoon is hated is because of bad dubbing, and recommends the head of Carl Macek, complete with a speech device defending himself and his choices for voice actors (so that folks would recognize him). For the kids? I suggest a Puchu, with a breakaway face that reveals him in all his snarly ugliness.

The dealer discusses cosplay, or masquerade, as he's more familiar with it (cosplay is a synonym only used by anime fans to the point where you can tell what kind of fan a person is by what the call the dress-up event), and mentions a few cosplay groups that could make up a cosplaying Hall of Shame. For instance, there's a group called 'Impact' that, according to him, basically waltz into a competition, win Best of Show or what have you, and leave… without ever having bothered to register for the convention. Another organization, more of a cosplay supplier than actual cosplay group, called 'Jasper', evidently charges $750 for a basic Spike Seagal outfit: you know, shirt, pants, jacket, tie, stuff you could get off the rack for probably less than $100 easy. Not only this, but they actually have a web page devoted to trashing cosplay groups (presumably, who find other sources for their costumes), notably, a group called Sailor Jamboree. I had no idea of any of this, and hope I hadn't unwittingly awarded someone who was undeserving of it. He says not to worry — these groups have been banned from numerous cons already, and in any case, AI would probably be beneath attempting for them in any case.

The subject somehow veers to the topic of a hentai-oriented con, a concept that has been bandied about for a long time, but never actually realized, save for the further-specialized Yaoi-Con in San Francisco (where else, I ask you?) and evidently a corresponding YuriCon… somewhere in New Jersey? Apparently, Steve Bennett and Bob DeJesus have already come up with a name for this theoretical convention, one that would not raise eyebrows save among those in the know: TentaCon.

And on that note, we get Dan-chan to put away the PlayDoh he's been messing with (the con suite had this for bored attendees to play with — and needless to say, never had to take it out of storage until Dan-chan poked around and found it about an hour or so ago), and scoot downstairs to the closing ceremonies. And a good thing, too, as they're over in jig time. Hall cosplay winners are announced, and a special round of applause goes up for little Chibi-Usa, Charles announces the gate: 1,252 attendees (and less than 30 no-shows), and he declares the con over.

Well, not quite. A staffer reminds him of the contributions for the American Cancer Society, and he states that we've exceeded $500 between the surplus, the piñata raffle, and any outright contributions. That out of the way, he declares the con over. Again.

Well, not quite. He requests applause, and gets it, for the con volunteers, and strongly recommends that the assembled masses give volunteering a shot in future. Maybe the staffers will be permitted to watch anime next year.

And now…. "Go home! Be with your families! They want to know what you look like! Some of them are gonna be surprised…." And that's the end of it.

Well, not quite. There is still a bit of post-mortem to conduct. While Dan-chan plays with Chibi-Usa (and he's playing with that Neo-Pet cat, Scott, just so you know), we join the staffers and a handful of others in the post-con gripe session. Evidently, there was a fair amount of less-than-civilized behaviour this year, and seeing as it involved bokkens and elevators, it's safe to say that Dan-chan was, compared to some folks, a very good boy. There is also talk of assembling more kid-friendly programming (like Kogepan? Wonder if it would aid the dealers selling plushies if they did?), and maybe a centralized bulletin board for con-sanctioned room parties in future (and possibly arranging for certain floors to be party floors, as opposed, say, to sleeping floors, for those whose taste run one way or another). Some ask for more dances, others for a little karaoke (to which Charles consents, but warns that he will be as FAR from this event as possible)

Finally, as we prepare to leave, we get wind that of one more bit of misbehaviour on the part of con-goers (presumably). Evidently, last night's fishing expedition we'd been warned about turned up a couple of adults and three kids with marijuana. Lovely. Not exactly the best note to leave on, but I suppose at least the guilty have been caught and will be punished. Pity they have to be from our number. You know, when I talk that way about Gainax and its products, I hope you understand I'm kidding

Anyway, we're off toward home. I had a decent time — although we'll haveta try harder to find a babysitter next time. Still, these were unusual circumstances. And hey, Dan-chan wasn't all that bad, ne Konatsu-chan?

Konatsu? Oi, wake up, sugar!

'Scuse me, everyone…

Itsu mo,
Ucchan ^_^

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