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AnimeIowa 1999 — Ucchan in the Cornfields, Again


Packing the trunk: "Okay, that's the case with the electronics, uh… where's your stuff, 'Natsu-chan?"

"It's in with the electronics."

I know we packed the VCR and the laptop in that suitcase, so there can't be that much room in there for other stuff. "Wow, you do travel light, don'tcha, sugar?

"Hey… did you leave your car window open on that last delivery? Waste time to lock the doors if we're gonna leave the windows open."

"Ukyou-sama, you made the last delivery light night… remember?"


We're nowhere near as organized this year getting to AnimeIowa as we were last year. No taking off on Thursday and crashing at a friend's place partway along (more on that at the end of the report, BTW) and getting a jump on the traffic. Heck, we're not even sure AI has record of our pre-registration, as we paid cash, and any receipt we might have gotten last year seems to have been lost.

But there are reasons beyond laziness and disorganization why we're not taking off so early. We have to make sure Dan-chan gets to school today (yeah, I can close down the Ucchan, but the law is the law). Fortunately, Granma Kuonji is more than happy to keep an eye on him over the weekend — and I understand he'll be bouncing back and forth between my parents and my sister. And I'm pretty sure 'bouncing' is the word for it, knowing him.

En route, we encounter a couple of rainstorms… good thing we've got the windows rolled up by now…

It's a little tricky getting into the hotel, as they're doing a bit of remodeling. Hopefully, this won't pose too much of a problem. But the room is ready as soon as we check in, which is a plus. Granted, it's on the third floor, but it's right by the elevator, and plenty spacious for the two of us. Besides, 'Natsu-chan's long since been off the crutches.

Not that my kunoichi won't pass up the chance to soak that foot in the hotel whirlpool. I can tell this isn't gonna be the hotspot the pool atrium was last year, though. This one's off to the side, as opposed to being right in the middle of the hotel where all the rooms opened up into it, so it's not gonna get all the drop-ins (and I mean that literally) the pool did last year. Doesn't help that Mandy Winn-Lee isn't here — which is a first for any con I've attended. So it looks like Hiroshi Aro is safe from being tossed in… or is someone else gonna fill that firecracker's shoes on this one?

Turns out our lack of organization didn't make a whole lot of difference. Sure, when we walked in, the hotel activities sheet seemed to suggest that AI events were going on starting at 8 a.m.(!), but I'm gonna haveta assume that was just set-up. For plain old attendees like us, we still ended up waiting in line. Still, they do have our pre-paid badges… Yatta!

Speaking of disorganization… we run into a couple of old friends from college at the registration desk (and later, the con suite). James had reserved a room at another hotel (he was late, these things happen), but when he called them, they had no record of his reservation. Well, our room's big enough — even got a pull-out queen-size bed — so we offer to let 'em share the room. Konatsu, ever the scrupulous one, insists we let the concierge know about our change in plans. Amazingly, they provide us with two more keys at no additional charge — sometimes, honesty is the best policy, I suppose.

Haven't seen too many fellow fic writers yet, so we head off to the con suite. There's nothing you could make a meal out of, but it's certainly well-stocked with chips, dip, fruit and bread — in other words, the typical AnimeIowa con suite setup. And as if to respond to ACen's closed-circuit raw anime setup, AI's con suite includes a jukebox, complete with two staff members' collections of anime CDs. You'd think I'd find writers where there's food, but no dice. Ah, well, it's early yet.

But it's getting late enough that the con is just about to open officially, so we hurry downstairs. There's a sizable crowd in the area outside the program rooms, waiting to get in… to the dealers' room? Yup. The dealers' room opens up, and the lobby empties. What… isn't anyone going to the opening ceremonies?

Evidently not. Only two tables fill with folks waiting for the opening. And we wait… for forty minutes. We're starting to think of this as a chicken-egg issue: Is the opening delayed because everyone's shopping, or is everyone shopping because the official opening isn't happening?

Finally, our hosts and guests of honor arrive, to considerably less applause than they might have garnered under other circumstances. Steve Bennett announces that, as promised at AI98, anime is poised to take over the world! Waitaminnit… that's a WB series…

Which reminds me… I mentioned that Amanda isn't here. As it so happens, Steve sends her greetings, but she claims to be up to her lips in work for WB. Kami alone knows what she's doing for 'em… Steve's not elaborating — he's worried about saying too much. Noel Burns, the man behind the con, won't comment on her absence, but he does point out that AI is 'on probation'. The hotel's never hosted a convention before, and if they aren't happy with our behaviour, well…

Robert DeJesus manages to chew shoe leather: "It's good to see some new faces, and old faces… uh…" We're not that old, Bob…

AnimeIowa's scored a coup with Hiroshi Aro's presence. Hey, for a con this size, it's a big deal to get an artist in from Japan — in fact, it's a first. Turns out, he didn't finish all his assigned work when he left Japan, so he's gotta complete it sometime during the con. I wish him luck, but I dunno how he intends to do it… a con's distracting enough for a mere attendee; how much more so for the guest of honor? But if he manages, it'd be interesting to watch… it's not often one gets to watch a manga artist in action.

The truncated ceremony out of the way, I decide to check out the fansub demonstration, dragging Konatsu with me… and find myself out of my depth in short order. All these technical details! The guys in here are bantering back and forth about hardware, and the differences between this and that model number — it's all alphabet soup to us. Between all the technical talk, and the fact that the A/C is going nuts in the room, it's getting a bit cold in here. We head out.

Time to find out what was worth ditching the opening ceremonies for. The dealers' room seems more full than last year, but maybe it's just a smaller room. It's definitely promising… especially when one of the first vendors is a T-shirt artist willing to (among other things) make roadkill out of any Pokemon you choose. On the subject of Pokemon, I'm coming up with another good reason to not bring Dan-chan along. I don't think I could stand all the "want this" "want that" that I just know I'd be hearing all the time we'd be in there. Good grief, the Pokemon have taken over.

The Studio Ironcat guys have set up shop, and when I mention I'm subscribed to Futaba-kun, Steve Bennett shakes my hand vigourously. He botches my name introducing me to one of his fellow Ironcats, though. Maybe it's because someone else has caught his attention… specifically, two women done up as Cutey Honey and some bunny girl from Bust a Move 2. He takes enough cheesecake shots of these two to fill an Eli's catalogue. Not that I'm jealous or anything… I know for a fact I couldn't wear anything like these costumes. And I'm not sure anyone should try to dress up like Cutey in particular… you have to have a perfect body for that.

For our part, we didn't get a chance to put together any costumes at all [sigh]. But it's kind of intimidating, seeing these two, a woman done up as Ayeka with her companion in a magnificent Ryo-oh-ki costume, and a near-perfect Belldandy complete with diamond markings… it makes our (unfulfilled) plans seem kinda small by comparison.

(For what it's worth, we were planning to go as Tamari and Key, the Metal Stand-Up Comic. Tamari would give Key as big an intro as possible, whereupon Key would begin a knock-knock joke. Upon the audience's reply: "Who's there?" Key's face would fall, and she would dejectedly say, "oh. you have heard this one before. Key is sorry," and walk offstage. End of skit.)

We don't purchase much this time around, and we're getting hungry. But just tryfinding our new roommates to go out to eat. For some time, we have two of us in the lobby, and a third looking for the fourth. Then the fourth gets back without having seen the third, and someone else would have to look for them. I swear, it was a miracle we got out at all. But get out we did, to some low-rent Chinese-Mexican place (you try and figure out that combination. I can't), and once full, we head back to recoup and recount the day's activities thus far.

Now that we're rested, 'Natsu-chan and I wander through the second floor. Unfortunately, the art room is locked for the night already. On the other hand, the video game room is going full blast.

"Hey, 'Natsu-chan… you're a Tetris whiz… think you can handle this game?" Something called Puzzle Fighter… and for whatever reason, I suspect we're among the last to know anything about it.

Yeah, I said 'we': "I don't think so, Ukyou-sama. This isn't that much like Tetris… and dumping stuff on the other person like that? I couldn't do that."

"Suit yerself…" so we kill the rest of the hour in the con suite, tasting some home brewed stuff and reading 'Girl Days' aloud. A guy comes in to announce a pool party under consideration, and Konatsu is keen to go. But first…

…I finally get a crack at Magical Knights Rayearth. So this is what Libby and Lurker have been talking about, hm? I'd best get to reading about it, now…

Konatsu slips out when it's over, but I sit through an episode of Silent Moebius. It's okay, but not my taste, and I decide to follow my kunoichi. Turns out, there hadn't been enough buzz to get a party together; by the time 'Natsu-chan showed up at the pool, the two guys trying to put it together had had enough and were drying off. And by the time I showed up, 'Natsu-chan was trying to convince a nine year old not to be afraid of the bubbles in the whirlpool. Since I wasn't dressed for the occasion, I figured I'd check around for anything else worth watching.

Idol Project is kinda cute and silly, but after a couple of episodes, my head was hurting. I think it's already turned to swiss cheese…

Now that I think of it, I could murder a portobello mushroom with goat cheese just about now…

Hey, it's past midnight, and I'm tired… you expect me to make sense?


Maybe I should feel guilty for crashing just before midnight, and getting in a full eight hours of sleep for the first time in two weeks. After all, you're not supposed to do that at an anime convention, now, are you?

Maybe I should, but I'm not. An informal poll of the foursome finds that everyone else turned in well before one. Okay, so maybe we are getting too old for this… especially James, who was planning on checking out Magical Stage Fancy Lala — but it started at six, and here we haven't gotten started 'til eight-thirty.

Still, why let our slow start stop us? After grabbing a couple of donuts and whatnot from the nearly vacant con suite, we decide to drop in on Fancy Lala… okay, we just wandered by the video rooms and that's the one that looked interesting. Cute and silly enough, but what really got my attention was the last episode that showed, involving a magic pen that brought whatever it drew into reality (although living things would not come to life until they were bathed in moonlight). I wasn't the only one finding the premise familiar, and I wound up leaving the room with several folks that I had to assure that yes, ‘Pencils’ was still in progress…

It's still early, so the dealers' room isn't open yet. Not that it's boring outside; we run into a girl done up in a "Shadow Skills" costume (yes, that's the anime that the TCAMS showed last year at their MSTing party — the three of us agreed that the dubbing on that show was completely ridiculous), and a U of I student from Japan who was rather startled at our custom-made "Okonomi-yaki Ucchan" delivery uniforms.

A few card games later, we're back in the dealers' room, still debating about that T-shirt artist's stuff. Now he's got one with Little Caesar uttering 'Pika! Pika!' instead of 'Pizza! Pizza!' like he usually does… and yes, that's a Pikachu instead of a pizza on his spear. Not the sort of thing to take home to the kiddies. Someone else mentions the roadkill shirt again, and it occurs to me that Dan-chan would probably get a kick out of seeing Team Rocket and Meowth run over… but do we really want to encourage his dark side like that?

Konatsu's still playing cards, so I mention I'm going to check out the video rooms, or if nothing's interesting there, to the con suite with the laptop. If any of you are wondering "Something interesting? How could there not be something interesting? You're an OTAKU, for gosh sakes!" I should mention I'm not nearly the otaku that most people here. And I don't have time or money to get obsessed with every single series out here. I call 'em 'prospector's tangerines,' after a story about an old miner who refused to try the fruit, stating that "I've got enough tastes I can't satisfy to add one more." But 'Natsu-chan reminds me that it's interesting to at least see some of the pilot episodes for some of these series… you just have to take into account that obsession is the risk you run.

I do wind up sitting through a very silly episode (are there other kinds?) of Sailormoon S. So when I come up to the room to get my laptop, Konatsu's already there waiting for me. My kunoichi evidently forgot that I mentioned the video rooms, and checked everywhere else for me. Thankfully, there wasn't time to get too worried, but still…

We never actually get to the con suite, as we find out Urusei Yatsura is playing downstairs, and we get in just as the first episode's starting. I don't need to tell you all how funny UY is, so… that'll save some time. After two hours, though, 'Natsu-chan's getting a bit cramped — the chairs aren't comfortable for one to sit in for hours at a time — so we get up, go outside and stretch. I'm planning to go right back in after this — 'His & Her Circumstances' is s'posed to be the next big thing from Gainax after Evangelion — but Konatsu has had enough, and would prefer to head elsewhere. That's fine, except that as we step outside, we run into Richard Lawson and Lara Bartram, just exiting another of the video rooms. Jeannie Hedge also joins us, and, not wanting to miss getting in on a congregation of fellow writers, I follow.

Richard is hard-selling this series: "In my modest opinion, this is the best-ever… not just best-ever anime, but the story…" (sorry if I miss of bit of what you were saying, Rich) Even my kunoichi is sold on it. So are a ton of others… the room is absolutely packed by the time the video starts up. Lucky that we'd been here already, so we got good seats. I almost feel sorry for Aro-sensei, as he had a panel scheduled for this same time, but if everyone's in here watching this, well… once again, he's not gonna get the crowd he probably deserves.

There will be some who will argue Rich's assessment. There are those, for instance, who prefer anime with space opera and serious mecha. There are those who favor magical worlds and fantasy. This has none of that. What it does have, is painful, and painfully funny, reality. It would be too simple to speak of two model students who go from rivals to friends to… possibly more. This is getting inside the kids' heads, and (sometimes) recognizing yourself and others in the two apparently perfect (but we all know better by now, don't we?) protagonists. It was discomfiting to consider my own resemblances to Yukino Miyazawa and her quest for success and praise in the name of 'image, image, image.' Konatsu added that "I'm so glad I'm not in high school anymore."

Of course, what brought down the house was when Yukino's younger sister began to give her some advice on love and relationships — and it actually made enough sense, to the point where Yukino asked how she'd gotten so smart. Ah, the wisdom of novels and manga…

One problem with H&HC, though, that I had to point out: as good as it is, it's almost too good. What kind of fanfiction can you make out of a series with writing like this? Richard agreed wholeheartedly. Still, one doesn't have to make fanfiction out of every series one knows and enjoys, ne? (Am I one to talk, what with all the obscure series I've worked with?)

I need to get to the dealers' room — I seem to have missed a volume of Futaba-kun in the mail — but en route, we come across a girl wearing a T-shirt from a local establishment — and I mean local as in less than a mile from the Ucchan back home. Small world, ain't it? We exchange phone numbers and addresses, and the Ucchan may have picked up another customer. Or maybe we'll drop by her (or her friends') place to watch anime some day.

The delay serves us well, or we might have missed Aro-sensei completely. As it was, we left the dealers' room and were headed to wash up for dinner at the same time he was off to work the Ironcat booth. Do I need to mention I turned around? Well, actually, I darted up to the room, grabbed my entire Futaba-kun collection, and then followed him back to the dealers' room. Yes, I got his autograph, and a cute li'l sketch of Futaba-chan in the bargain.

We wash up and prepare to head off for dinner. Konatsu wants to see if we can hook up with some others, and as it so happens, we run into Richard and Lara again. They're not going to the banquet with the guests of honor, so they're game to head out to eat. Among other topics, Richard mentions that the crowd is smaller this year, and not some illusion caused by the larger hotel. Congrats, Krista… looks like AnimeFest drew more writers this year than AI. There's some discussion about writing longhand versus typing straight to the computer, and a bit about writing drunk… and you know, it might explain certain things…

Dinner over (and Lara just a wee bit sleepy), we head back to the con and the con suite… well, we gotta dump the leftovers somehow ^_^;; It's livelier here than usual — the crowd here is, among other things, making a totem pole with stuffed anime characters: since Mokona is God, does he go on top or on the bottom, holding it all up? Whatever… it doesn't stay up for very long.

Nor do we… we missed the cosplay last year, and despite Richard's assurances that it wasn't much (sometimes he's too modest for his own good — and ours), we intend to get there early to make sure we get decent seats.

But even the best of intentions go awry. I can't remember why, but I barely got out of the room by the time the cosplay was scheduled to start. Fortunately (or not, depending on if you'd already be waiting there long), the show is running fashionably late.

Someone in the crowd is doing a full-bore Mokona worship ceremony. But once the MC comes out, the service is over. The MC may be reluctant, but he's well-rehearsed.

The costumes, too, are quite extraordinary — or did I mention that already? On the other hand, the sketches leave a bit to be desired for the most part. There are exceptions: a scene with FY's Chichiri and some tiger girl from Escaflowne is done in Japanese, complete with confederates holding large banners to serve as subtitles (pity they can't raise 'em high enough for everyone to see 'em). Another crossover involving that Bust a Move bunny girl and the Inspector from Lupin III is very witty, and when Bunny Girl tries a high-kick, the Inspector backflips out of danger! Quite a feat… but of course, the Inspector spends too long congratulating himself, and Bunny Girl gets away. Very cute.

But the grand prize goes to a costume without a sketch: Anna Johnson's elaborate winged creation (sorry, Anna, the character's name has slipped my mind) with "more sequins than I've seen since the 70s," according to Steve Bennett, takes the cake. And a garage kit or two, if I'm not mistaken.

Eighteen entries out of some 420 people… you know, if that proportion were reached at ACen, the cosplay would never end.

But this one does, and swings promptly into an auction to benefit next year's AI. The Ryo-oh-ki costume is offered up, and Steve Bennett volunteers to wear it if $100 is bid on it. The bid is promptly made upon his announcement, and after a few teases (you know, the MC gets just past "Going twice…" when someone else make another bid), it finally sells for $120, at which point it is spirited offstage, along with Steve. After some difficulty (although it's not entirely clear, as the MC is simply looking offstage and commenting upon the unseen activity), he emerges, as promised, in the costume… Steve, couldn't you have taken that Confederate cap off your head just for this? Oh, well…

This year's piñata, a giant Pikachu, is also offered up for auction. Richard doesn't bid on it this year, but the bidding once again runs up to $60 even without his assistance. This year, also, a bokken is provided for the winning bidder, rather than having to provide one's own. The doomed Pokemon is strung up just outside the program rooms by the hotel staff. I manage to ask the lucky winner if she knows and can recite the Team Rocket slogan before attacking Pikachu; all I get in reply is a shrug.

She steps up to the unfortunate rodent and takes aim. There is a thunderous smack as the bokken connects with Pikachu's nose and splits the poor Pokemon apart.

Somewhere in another dimension, Ash Ketchum weeps.

Back in this dimension, one of the AI staffers pops the crown of Pikachu's severed head on his own like a hat and does a little jig. Definitely not a scene for the kiddies to be watching. Oh, the Pokemonity! …or would that be 'oh! the Pokemonstrosity!'?

Leave it to the grammarians… we've got room parties to attend. Specifically, the TCAMS. Where these guys find all this parody stuff, I dunno, but I gotta find out before ACen. The show kicks off with a parody dubbing of Otaku no Video, if you can wrap your head around that concept: a parody of a parody.

During a showing of Ranma 1/3 (seen it before, but hey… it's still funny), Steve Bennett (geez, this guy is everywhere!) makes his presence known: "Hey, is this a Viz dubbing?"

The rest of the evening is a series of CDS Productions parody fandubs (yes, the same group that did Koko wa Otaku we saw at ACen — in fact KwO2 is slated for an October release according to one of their trailers), which are great fun… but I still couldn't get their webpage copied down fast enough. It was also kind of disappointing that there were no bad commercial dubs for us to MST… when I ran into one of the TCAMS leaders later on, he mentioned how last year had gotten a little too rowdy, and so we needed to keep things toned down. Besides, not all their neighbors were con-goers this year: in fact, one room nearby had a couple on their honeymoon (honeymooning in Cedar Rapids? You're kidding…). Granted, we wouldn't be keeping them awake, but I suppose it's gotta be disconcerting to be hearing all that laughter next door when you're trying to be romantic.


There's a reason they don't hold the cosplay on Sunday… how boring, when everybody would show up as Gosunkugi! At eight a.m., there are enough bags under my eyes to carry $20 worth of groceries.

Why get up so early? Good question, and not one that can be answered. But as long as we're up…

I'd heard so much about it when the Lion King was released, so I had to check out Kimba. Someone had mentioned earlier, with some admiration, that the video rooms had been set up to run on autopilot, and this was proof. We were the only ones there when the show started, but it had fired up and was underway as we settled in. It's a decent show, and while I don't think Disney could have been accused of plagiarism, there are a number of similarities.

As ten o'clock draws closer, I'm checking my watch. Why on earth they've scheduled the fanfic panel this early on Sunday morning, I've no idea. But they've set aside two whole hours for us, so that's nice.

But where the heck are the regulars? I know I saw Jeanne in the foyer outside the program rooms, but she's not here. Nor, for that matter, are Richard and Lara… is there something else going on that I don't know about that's preferable to this?

As it turns out, it's not a panel, after all, just a group of writers and would-be writers gathered around one of the round tables. At rather a distance, actually — there's no way we would have gotten all these people right around a single table. No moderators, no set topics, no nothing… gaw, how's this supposed to work?

But work it does, with the topics flitting about from tentacles to trolls, from Sailor Moon (most of these guys are SM fans, it seems!) to self-insertions (I still cling to my unique 'acting-on-paper' theory of writing). It's pointed out that a character's opinions in a fic do not necessarily represent the author's opinions, even if it is written in first person. At the same time, just because an author's biases do show through, and they agree with those of a reader, it's no guarantee that the reader will like it. Basic stuff, but necessary to remember.

We talk about humanizing characters, and the sliding scale between cartoony and dramatic. Ranmaversal physics serves as a great example of the potential for silliness and sadness from the same series; depending on what an author decides for a fic's purpose, a blow from a hammer could have tragic (lethal) or comic (L.E.O.) impact — pun intended. Speaking of hammers, kudos are sent to Kenko in abstentia for setting aside the canon debate once and for all regarding Hammerspace. Whether it is or isn't canon is irrelevant — what's important is that it works and it's funny. After all, we should be quite aware that no fanfiction can technically be considered 'canon' unless it's actually written by the series' creator (although, come to think of it, that might actually rule out portions of the original manga/anime in some cases — we just don't know, do we?)

Anna Johnson asks about self-promotion, and the approaches each of the rest of us take. It's not a concept I'm prepared to field — if my stuff gets out there by word-of-mouth, that's fine, if not, I'm not losing sleep over it — but then, I have no intentions of making a living at this like she does. There are a fair number of responses to her query, but I didn't manage to write them down.

Two hours is pretty long for a fanfic discussion, I guess, and late in the second hour, it does sort of diminish into a discussion of our personal favorite fanfictions. No, I'm not gonna name names, as I'll miss most of 'em and wind up offending someone. Sorry.

Not much happens after this. We drop in on the Ranma 1/2 movie, which is being shown in its dubbed form, but with the subtitles as well. It's interesting to look at the difference; however, after recently meeting up with the guys behind RadioPlay Productions, I've become quite familiar with the differences that emerge between the spoken and the written word.

Two-plus hours to go until closing ceremonies (maybe more if the opening was any indication), and a four-plus hour drive back to the Ucchan. The choice is clear: we're off. So the convention ends on rather a whimper for us. I confess, while the hotel was a lot nicer and spacious, the con itself was not quite what it had been last year. Perhaps they were a little too aware that they were 'on probation,' and tried too hard to play nice. Maybe they were low on guests of honor; Steve Bennett did what he could to add color, but he's no Amanda Winn-Lee. Maybe the con itself had raised the bar too high for itself last year, and so we expected so much more — for instance, it turned out that the number of attendees had actually increased from last year, but as it was expected to double, the increase was viewed as a failure by some — than it should have been expected to deliver. Just observations, people. I'm not rendering judgements here; we had fun, we're going back.

But before we go, we mention our little plan for ACen to a TCAMS fellow manning the makeshift bar at the con suite. Yes, this is the announcement you've been waiting for: we're opening the Ucchan for pre- and post-con parties. Since ACen is being held at the Hilton right by the Arlington Racetrack, barely a mile and a half from the Ucchan (and closer to us than any other hotel nearby), we're offering to host folks who'd like to arrive early or stay late but would just rather not deal with more than two nights of hotel bills. In addition, the place is roomy (it's not the Kuno manor or the Tendo dojo, but it's serviceable), and we're not likely to wake up the neighbors if we play anime all night long (and we're working on putting together a decent lineup of stuff even as I type — although folks are welcome to bring stuff of their own if they like). Anyone who's interested, please contact 'Natsu-chan and me at this e-mail address, and we can hammer out the details together. Sleeping space may fill up rather quickly, though, but if you fall asleep in the video rooms, you won't be kicked out (unless you snore too loudly).

Anyway, that's all for now. Until my next fic, or next installment (yes, yes, I promise to get back to Greenwood before ACen rolls around), ja mata!

Itsu mo,

Ucchan ^_^

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