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Anime Reactor 2003

My first anime convention, the inaugural of AnimeCentral, took place at the Holiday Inn Rosemont back in April of 1998. I had been given less than a weeks' notice; an email from one of my sempais alerted me to the event, and as Konatsu-chan was visiting Clan Kenzan at the time (and over my birthday, no less!), I had nothing better to do, and so I went. The rest, as they say, is history (albeit unrecorded history, as I did not think to put together a con report at that time)

So as we prepare to attend our fourteenth anime convention, the inaugural of Anime Reactor, being held at the Holiday Inn Rosemont, it's hard not to draw comparisons. Even the name, although it's supposed to convey a sort of atomic power, also suggests that this is "reacting" to something that ACen lacks. It's as if this convention were announcing, "hey, we're starting out in the same place, but we're gonna go in a whole different direction!"

So here I am, curious as to what that direction would be. What is AR reacting to? Will it be so different from its competitor, ACen? And how will it differ? That's what we're about to find out.

I should point out that I'm probably reading too much into things. When I first encountered the Anime Reactor website a year and a half ago (well, that's one difference from ACen. Of course, I've gotten a lot more savvy about looking for convention info since then), I wrote the organizers, asking them this exact question, "what are you reacting to?" They seemed nonplussed by the question, as, of course, that's not what they meant by "Reactor". Ditto when I encountered their advertising booths at ACen and AIowa; they also were completely unaware that ACen had started out in the same venue they had chosen. "It was available, and it was cheap," was the response as to why they'd picked the Holiday Inn.

Perhaps it shouldn't surprise me. The folks I've seen advertising AR have in fact been different from the old style otaku of the early days of fandom. First of all, they're younger than myself (a feat that gets easier every year, to be sure). Secondly, they have all been of what one might refer to as "minority groups". And I hope that by pointing this out, I don't sound like some kind of bigot. It's just that it's hard not to notice.

The fact of the matter is, it just used to be so rare that an American otaku would be anything other than a white collegiate (or slightly post-collegiate) male. The last few years have seen a great number of females joining the ranks, but it's still been largely a white (and Asian, but since they started this, they can hardly be considered a minority, now, can they?) population. But AR's visible staff have, as far as I can tell, all been either black or Hispanic. Maybe this is the difference they're referring to.

Of course, to the average Japanese, we're all gaijin, so it doesn't matter, right?

Enough speculation, I suppose: time to find out what makes Anime Reactor so different. Or whether there is something that does that at all.


One thing that will be the same as the first ACen: we're going to commute. Dan-chan's irritated enough that we're planning on having him babysat throughout the weekend; the least we can do is spend the evenings with him. We're still debating whether or not to get a pass for him to join us at the con on Saturday. Unlike say, Rachel Wilde, he hasn't taken to the anime scene very well; subtitles are difficult for him even still, and the conventions take Mommy and Daddy away.

Clearly, the two conventions a year we already attend are enough, as far as he's concerned. But we have curiosity to satisfy.

On the other hand, enthusiasm is in surprisingly short supply. Maybe it's the fact that we've had trouble coming up with babysitting for the weekend (scratch that, people — we've had no success whatsoever). Maybe it's the fact that, being this close to Halloween, we have costume issues to deal with that have nothing to do with cosplay (like I said, Dan-chan's no otaku; he wants to be a Lego mini-figure, actually). Maybe it's having to deal with the lousy parking rates that every place in Rosemont charges, especially if we have to pay every time we come and go, be it to pick Dan-chan up from school if need be (and it looks like it will) or to eat. Maybe it's the fact that the sempais haven't shown up: they're taking a "wait-and-see" approach to this convention; if it succeeds, maybe they'll be here next year. If not, well…

Of course, how's a convention to succeed if everybody takes such an attitude?

At the same time, my sempais aren't the only ones we don't expect to see. You may or may not have noticed, but there has been no mention of AnimeReactor on the FFML in the days and weeks leading up to it. Without a cattle call for panelists, there'll be no fanfic panel, and really, that's the main draw as far as writers are concerned. We're just not their target audience, it would appear.

So we're not going there to see or be seen. It leaves one just a bit cooler towards it (through no real fault of its own).

After a thirty minute drive from the Ucchan (I thought it used to be twenty. Urban sprawl, I guess), and some confusion getting a parking space (the attendant tells us to get passes at the concierge that will allow for in-and-out privileges), we pull in to the back of the hotel. It's quiet as we slip in.

Too quiet.

We come across a couple of girls chatting at a cafe table; one of them spots the Utena and KareKano buttons on my jacket, and offers to buy them. Well, at least we know we're in the right spot if someone recognizes this stuff. I turn down her offer, and she seems disappointed until I explain that they're handmade, and easily put together. Thus cheered, she leaves us to our search for signs of life around here.

We do a full circuit of the ground floor before coming across the pre-registration desk. One explanation is that it's been five and a half years since we've been here, and that's fine. The other reason is that there's no line by the desk; in fact, nobody waiting at all. That's not fine. The good news is that we get our badges, our booklets, and other goodies in jig time.

Konatsu makes several observations as I comment on how few people there are here as compared to ACen98. First off, the inaugural ACen had been held over Spring Break, as evidenced by the fact that my Kunoichi and Dan-chan had been out of town, training at Clan Kenzen when I was signing up. More trenchantly, Konatsu points out that in that day, there were no anime conventions between one coast and the other to speak of. AnimeCentral was breaking new ground, in a new territory, and the response showed a hunger that Middle America had for anime at that time.

So does this mean Middle America's hunger has already been sated?

Maybe it's just that early. Not too far from where we originally came in is the Artist's Alley, where a few artists are set up, but most are still setting up. Among them is one Erika Door, whose name sounds familiar…

It's Konatsu who remembers the stuffed PeroPero we ordered ACen and never received (we'd seen Erika at AnimeIowa, and she offered to make us a second one free of charge, the original apparently having been lost in the mail) This time, it appears we should have remembered to email her about it a week or so ago, so she could have brought it. It's finished; it just hasn't been mailed yet — especially since, having just moved, she doesn't know where her local post office is. She tells us that she'll send it when she finds out, and we thank her and move along.

Konatsu is tempted by a table offering a limited edition volume of "A Fan's View." Essentially, it talks about cosplay, and the various individuals and groups who've made their name doing cosplay at conventions throughout America. How limited is it, might I ask? "Eight copies," replies the fellow at the table, "That's when my printer conked out, and I haven't got a chance to get the cartridges replaced." It is a lovely book; Konatsu flips through it (and finds an article on Erika, by the way), looking for a friend from small-kid time who's joined up with the Not Ready for Bandai Players. They aren't listed, and my kunoichi sets it down with a shrug. "Someone else will want it more than I do."

It's barely been an hour that we've been here, but it's already time for the opening ceremonies. Far be it from me to miss 'em, given the chance. The stage is alight with florescent tubing designed to resemble power rods, spotlights seting in a trefoil setting, a ceramic plasma light set atop a spinning column, all to give the place the whole nuclear look.

Let's hope no one from Greenpeace shows up. Or that any of the guests object.

Actually, Bob DeJesus is quite impressed at the setup, while his wife Emily quietly thanks everyone for inviting them. Steve Bennett bounds onstage, scanning the audience for distant relatives (evidently, the Bennett family originally hailed from Chicago, but that was a generation or two ago), and announcing that Ironcat is back, having released their first volume since The Troubles this summer, a Digi-charat manga as it so happens.

Retouch artist Dan Nakrosis considers it "nice to be appreciated" for his very behind-the-scenes type of work, while Jay and Phillip Moy are impressed to be guests as well: "Usually, we just come to these things as fanboys ourselves." Tokyopop writer Jay Torres also expresses pleasure at being invited, while toy designer Daisuke Kobayashi is very enthusiastic in his greeting (come to think of it, the only other Kobayashi I know is the girl who plays Puni Puni Poemi — you can see the family resemblance).

The staff of Bungie Studios, Chicago natives all (albeit transplanted to Redmond, Washington, to work on X-Box games), are glad to be back. At least, so Lorraine says: Robert and Shi Kai Wang don't say much.

James attempts to introduce the next guest as a MAN-ga artist, and the audience breaks into laughter as he ridicules his own mispronunciation with a redneck-style monologue: "Ah jest luv that MANga, 'speshly that thar HEN-tah stuff…"

Finally, Sachi Ochimizu is introduced, and in contrast to James' redneck impression, expresses her pleasure at being here in very formal terms. Her editor, accompanying her, seems equally ill at ease, despite a better grasp of English than most Japanese guests. She states that her job is hardly glamorous enough to merit an invitation, but will do her best to be worthy of the honor.

It's at this point that the next guest is introduced, with no small amount of fanfare or reaction: Amanda Winn Lee. Loud and boisterous as ever, she announced that she is really psyched to be back in Chicago, especially since (she admits) having been banned from some other convention for one thing or another. She vows, however, that at AnimeReactor, her behaviour will be "beyond reproach." As she says this, she strips down to her infamous red bra (Konatsu points out that it's more a light rose color; so, maybe it's faded in the wash since '99), and literally bounces (we're talking Gainax bounce here, people) to her seat, to an enormous roar from the crowd. Yeah, AR is different from ACen right there.

So who's gonna follow that? James introduces Tetsuya Aoki as a big guy, and coming from him, that's saying something. And he's every inch as advertised. But what really gets the crowd going is his offer to pass out copies of his manga to everyone for free. Granted, the ovation doesn't quite surpass Amanda's, but all things considered, it's darn good. James: "The traffic around someone's booth just increased a thousandfold…"

C.B. Cebulski is introduced as the "driving force behind Anime Reactor", and speaks of his work at Marvel Comics — Marvel? Isn't anime big enough by now that we don't need to appeal to fans of the US comic industry as well? But he points out how Japanese artists have inspired American artists and vice versa, and speaks of the need to bridge the gap between the two artistic cultures. Well…

Before Mia Yazawa is introduced, staffer Leah Lawson is asked to take a bow for her set design, and after some coaxing, she rises to applause. Ms. Yazawa then comes out to admit — in English — that she is very nervous about her first time in Chicago. I wonder if our "Gunsmith Cats" reputation is back, after a peaceful decade in which the world knew us as the home of Michael Jordan.

And it occurs to me that at least one of my sempais will be disappointed at having missed out on meeting the creator of Wedding Peach.

Artxilla shows up, looking well-stocked on street cred. Not the sort of folks you'd've expected to see as the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic — especially since their movie was rapped by a white guy. This is their first foray into the anime convention world, although they insist that they've been heavily influenced by the anime style. They invite the audience to visit their booth in the dealers' room, and James seconds this: "Spend a lot of money. If the dealers are happy, then there's gonna be another AnimeReactor. If not, well…"

Tsutomu Nekai delivers a poker-faced greeting suggesting that he's been drinking beer after beer since arriving in Chicago, and gets a laugh and a big hand. Finally, Kia Asayama, now on his fifth visit to town, jokes about "Porn-Boy" (our MC, James) asking him where he wanted to go when he got off the plane: "Shopping?" "No way, man. I'm forty years old! I've outgrown those toys!"

Well, not entirely. He still makes a living off this stuff, after all.

And speaking of shopping, we figure we might as well take a turn around the dealers' room; the video rooms won't be showing anything that piques our interest until 1:30, when Read or Die is scheduled. The room is pretty well stocked, to be sure, with everything but customers at the moment. For their sakes, I hope that doesn't stay this way.

It does give Konatsu, who can be a real social butterfly at times, a chance to chat with the vendors without too much interruptions. One gruff fellow standing behind a table full of VHS cassettes talks about his recent conversion to anime — it would appear that his grandkids got him into it shortly after the last ACen. Since he's a comic shop owner, this wasn't a large leap, and leap he did, with both feet, going to GenCon and so forth, and taking the tapes off of manufacturers' hands in bulk for what amounted to $1.50 per. Selling them at a measly $5 each, he makes a handy profit even if he doesn't sell all that many.

We talk about the fate of VHS in the wake of the DVD revolution, and while we agree that the tapes still have their place as long as recording on them is comparatively cheap and easy, we all realize they are going the way of the dinosaur, just like vinyl records and audio cassettes. The question is, how long will it take? His partner says two years, he counters with ten years. In any case, he's got time to unload the collection before him.

Although perhaps not time enough. A customer comes up, asking if he has any Vandread on tape. Sorry, kid, that was only released on DVD.

As we continue to kill time by wandering through Artists' Alley yet again, Konatsu makes a discovery about AnimeReactor — they don't have a consuite!

Actually, that isn't so surprising. The first ACen didn't have one either; and maybe the layout of the hotel, with the cafe pretty much right in the middle of the ground floor sort of precludes it in any case as a place for congoers to hand out and (if they can afford it) eat. But we've probably gotten spoiled by AnimeIowa's lavish (for their size) spreads, and for that matter, ACen's figured out how to put them on, too. A convention doesn't feel complete without a place to snack and socialize.

Of course, who's to socialize with? And in any case, at least AR isn't touting a consuite and then not actually having one, like OhayoCon did in their first year. Which is worse, omitting any mention at all of one, or advertising one and not having it?

With one less place to visit while we're here, we head downstairs to check out what other programming is going on. Konatsu peeks into the video game room. The place has none of the huge lines that plague ACen; in fact, there's hardly anyone in here at all. There turns out to be a reason for it, besides the obvious lack of attendees: apart from the PlayStation hookups, all the machines are charging for the privilege of being used. Well, forget that

We slip into the main screening room as Infinite Ryvius comes to an end. We've heard plenty about Read or Die, and are anxious to see what it's like. The room is set up with chairs to accommodate over 300 viewers, and there's barely a dozen of us in here.

It may explain why, as 1:30 comes and goes, Infinite Ryvius gives way to… another episode of Infinite Ryvius. Now, I've read the synopsis of IR somewhere along the line, recently, and under certain conditions I might enjoy it. But quite frankly, we're here to see something else, and this is a bit irritating. We walk out.

My normally mild-mannered kunoichi is actually peeved enough to head to the registration desk and complain. It's not like it would inconvenience a whole lot of viewers if the schedule were more properly hewed to. The poor folks at the desk really can't do much but shrug and offer apologies, but not much in terms of explanations.

We spend enough time at the desk that by the time the dust settles, the new episode of IR is just about over. Maybe now, we'll get satisfaction — although, considering we have to pick Dan-chan up from school in an hour and a half, maybe not.

In fact, definitely not. It's another episode of Infinite Ryvius. That's it. It's 2 pm, and we've nothing to hold us here. We might as well go home and get ready to pick Dan-chan up and… whatever.

We drop by the concierge to ask about in-and-out parking fees. While we admit that we're not actually staying at the hotel at all, the girl at the counter still hands us three blue slips, one for each day, to hand to the attendant so that he'll give you the receipt back so we can re-enter without paying. Now, that still means parking is $10 per day (hey, this is Rosemont — they gotta squeeze the money outta you one way or another), but considering that otherwise, the one-time rate jumps to $13 after a two-hour stay and $17 after twelve hours (assuming we ever stay for that long at a time), this saves us some money.

I don't recall if it was Greg, Travis or Zen who asked me why on earth I would buy stuff in the dealers' room at the inflated prices they charge. I do recall replying that it was the only time I actually thought about purchasing anime, and by then, I was sort of in a bind as to where else to get anime from.

Not so as a commuter. All I have to do is go home and get online. At half.com, they tell me that if I'm willing to wait for the time it takes to ship, I can get the entire series of FLCL online for the price they're charging in the dealers' room for a single 2-episode DVD. Needless to say, I snap it up.

So you see, I can be a shrewd shopper. I just need the opportunity.

Konatsu's already hungry as we make plans to pick Dan-chan up, and for that matter, so am I. Since I've closed the Ucchan for the weekend, the grill's not available for making okonomi-yaki. So we do the next best thing: we head to Mitsuwa, and make it an early dinner.

Ofukutai is open for business, and I do love their takoyaki (sure, it takes a while to cook, but it's worth it, people!) Dan-chan likes the children's set ramen, and we place our orders. While we wait, we watch the television broadcast of the Japan Series. It's a tape delay re-broadcast of the final, where "my" hometown team, the Hanshin Tigers, win all the marbles for the first time in I don't know how long.

Konatsu points out that it's probably a good thing that the local team, the Chicago Cubs, didn't make it to the World Series. Otherwise, there would be just that much more apathy for AnimeReactor to face. Cold comfort for my tastes; I just hope the Yankees lose to the Marlins in fewer games than we did, just so we can say we gave the future U.S. champs the best run for their money. (Incidentally, although it has nothing to do with the convention, I am curious as to whether Osakans have the same "second-city" antipathy towards Tokyo as we Chicagoans have to New York City.)

As long as we're here at Mitsuwa, we might as well pick up Pocky and other snacks to tide us over once we get back to the con, and cheaper, too. We figure we'll need to conserve funds, as registration at the door for the full weekend is $40 — ten bucks less than we paid for both of our admissions.

But surprise! When we get there, the guy at the registration desk asks Dan-chan's age… children's discount, maybe?

Like fun it is! He's free, 'cause he's under twelve. Well, hot dang. He gets his badge, we thank the fellow, and head on in.

As we do, though, I finally find a familiar face in this unfamiliar crowd — Pearson Mui, fellow six-time ACen veteran, photographer, and major collaborator to Undocumented Features, among other works. Ironically, he arrived here at about the time we were giving up and leaving. He tells how he's blown a sizable amount of his budget for the next two weeks at the Artists' Alley — primarily a UF-related picture for Ben Hutchins showing Kozue Kauru in the cockpit of her fighter (do I remember this right, Doc?) I let him know about the parking arrangement — he'll need to save some dough where he can — and he's grateful, as he was just about to head out for dinner at home. Doc gives me a money-saving tip of his own — it turns out that, while the video game machines do charge, they require nickels instead of quarters. I didn't know you could do that.

Well, when Konatsu and Dan-chan and I head down there later, we see a kid feeding quarters into Puzzle Fighter, and, after some observation (trying to pick up on the rules and whatnot) Konatsu decides not to attempt it. Not for two quarters' worth, anyway.

It's more or less six o'clock by now, and we decide to check out whether the dealers' room is still open while we have the chance. It is, and they let us in — evidently, they're not closing for a while. It's certainly busier than when we were here last, that's for sure. I get waylaid by a dealer in an Azumanga apron (which I think I've seen before at ACen, come to that) who claims to have H doujinshi from any series you can name, and at reasonable prices. I can't resist. KareKano doujinshi? Reasonable? I try my hand at "stump the doujin man".

And lose. Between three series, I end up dropping $60 on five doujinshi. Oh, well…

Even as we wrap up this transaction, the announcement goes out throughout the room that "the dealers' room is now closed! Go home!" Well, gee… it's 6:18. What kind of time is that?

And in any case, we don't leave, not just yet. Dan-chan is in line at one booth (yes, there's a line. A nuisance for the customer, perhaps, but a good sign otherwise) and begging for a soot creature from several different Ghibli fims. Ah, what the heck — we get it. It staves off getting tossed out unceremoniously.

Konatsu is interested in a panel entitled "Straight Eye for the Queer Guy". Ya gotta admit, a title like that is pretty damned intriguing. As it turns out, the folks setting up the panel admit it's just the yaoi panel, which we're not particularly interested in. Meanwhile, the folks running something called LARP are preparing to move out for the yaoistas' sake. LARP? The heck's that? Oh, live action role playing. They do make an effort to interest us, but frankly, our D&D days are long behind us.

As we exit the room, we encounter a girl in a high school uniform from… "Oh, no. This isn't supposed to be from an anime. It's from when I was going to school in Nagoya." It's her actual school uniform. Imagine that. She and Konatsu chat for a while, as my kunoichi's spent time in Nagoya as well; some place called Tsumago, if I recall correctly. Turns out, the girl (who I should point out, is every inch a gaijin) has since earned a degree in Japanese, and is working on another in Animation. Very impressive. Although I didn't know colleges offered courses like that.

We decide to head upstairs to wait for the Terrell Show to come on. We plant ourselves in what we consider a pretty good spot in the main programming room, ply Dan-chan with a pad to draw on and some pencils, and sit back and wait.

Since Dan-chan's happily occupied, I take the opportunity to peruse the doujinshi. It turns out that one of them has a scene featuring Aya Sawada and Rika Sena. Paul Corrigan, call your office.

It takes a while for us to notice it — perhaps we're inured to Other People's Music, and have learned to tune it out with time and practice — but it's hard to ignore the language of what passes for elevator music here. I prefer not to comment on the musicianship of rap, which could lead to some nasty arguments, but the fact that every third or fourth word is one or another of George Carlin's infamous Seven Words You Can't Say on Radio/Television, along with another word that apparently is okay for one ethnic group to use, but which would get me beaten to a bloody pulp if I used it, starts to bother us. Even Dan-chan is upset: "Stop saying those naughty words!" he shouts at the speaker system. I'm proud of him that he knows these words aren't proper, but since we don't use 'em, where'd he figure out about them in the first place?

Finally, Terrell comes out and explains the rules of the game. There'll be two teams of five otaku competing over twenty anime-related questions in three rounds. Straightforward enough, but now the twist — there's not so much a prize for the winners as a penalty for the losers. A kind of "Fear Factor" thing going on, if you will. I'll explain this in a moment, but first, our contestants:

The red team, calling itself "Four Guys and a Transvestite", is in fact anchored by a familiar face from AnimeIowa: CardCaptor Will. Picture a young (if slightly less athletic) Scottie Pippen dressed up like Sakura, and you're reasonably close; he doesn't have the shock value of Sailor Bubba, but he'll do in a pinch. On the blue side, they have a central figure dressed in camos, with an unlit cigarette, carrying a sign (which becomes their team name) reading "Will Teach for Pocky". I think the guy's supposed to be from GTO, but the Pocky reference — and the fact that, with his glasses, he more resembles Kei Kusanagi than Great Teacher Onizuka — lead me to think of a very different teacher. Great Teacher Onegai, perhaps?

The questions are not particularly easy, and the two teams combine to answer less than half of those in the first round. Blue argues that their buzzer doesn't function, but tests show that it works just fine (although Red has to hit theirs in order to reset both once the test is run), all of which prompts a fair amount of mockery from Terrell. He's very in-your-face about everything, and I am damn grateful I didn't consider trying out for this little contest.

Particularly once it gets to the penalty stage. Blue teams loses the round, and two of its members are required to drink a random concoction that ends up combining… sloppy joe mix, vinegar, and wasabi. One fellow actually manages by holding his nose and taking small sips, but when Great Teacher Onegai tries to power it down, it won't stay there. Worse yet, when it comes back up he doesn't turn his head quite fast enough; I'm not sure, but the reactions of two of his teammates suggest that he might have nailed them to some extent or another.

Dan-chan is going into conniptions at this point about how mean the host is about all this.

Blue gets its own back for round two (despite only answering four questions correctly — once again, you can see this is a tough game just for that), and is no less vigorous in its pursuit of punishment. Clam chowder and tunafish might go together, but not cold, not pureed, and not with caramel sauce. Still, the two chosen victims bear up manfully (kind of odd, considering one of them is the aforementioned CCWill), even going so far as asserting — well, the one fellow does, anyway — that "this is actually pretty good."

I think his taste buds may have been shot off in the war or something.

The third round has Terrell wading through the audience for questions, and there's a fair amount of "stump-the-panel" going on (although the one audience member offering a Ranma question when Terrell specifically asked for an Evangelion question gets his share of abuse). Terrell has a preference for the ladies with questions, though I'm not about to let him sit next to me so I can quiz the teams on Aya Sawada's pen name — if for no other reason than his own safety, as Dan-chan's getting furious about his treatment of the contestants.

It gets worse when Blue team loses a second time, and is faced with the Ultimate Challenge. I'll get to that in a minute, but first, an explanation. Dan-chan hates the color red. With a passion. He doesn't even like to see a red team win.

For what it's worth, I had forgotten this, too. I thought he was just going into convulsions over what exactly the Ultimate Challenge was

…a bowl of chitterlings (or is that spelled "chitlins"?).

Every ethnic group has its one thing in its cuisine pantheon that is revered, and yet left uneaten. For the Scots, it's haggis; for the Nordics, it's lutefisk; I haven't figured out about Japanese cuisine, and frankly, I'm in no hurry to find out. For the Afro-American, it's this. Really, it probably wouldn't be so bad for our contestants (all of whom are white, as it so happens, and therefore presumably unfamiliar with the stuff), except that Terrell takes pains to explain what they are. I won't go into details, but will refer y'all to a comment by Bill Cosby why he doesn't eat chitlins: "There ain't no food in that part of the pig; matter of fact, I think someone's misspelled that word!"

Actually, Dan-chan's not the only one taking this poorly. When Terrell asks for the two victims, the one girl of the entire lot gets pushed forward. She doesn't take too kindly to this (it doesn't help that it was one of the Four Guys), and she grabs a pitcher of water — several of which are on the table to help the unlucky swallow their pride and their poison — and heaves it at the fellow volunteering her.

By this point, we're so busy trying to calm Dan-chan down that we don't even catch whether or not anyone actually does eat the stuff, although Terrell reluctantly offers to take a bite himself. I'm on the verge of taking Dan-chan and leaving the con for the night when he flops down, exhausted from his little tantrum, and Konatsu offers to watch him as well as the Otaku Big Date, coming up next in this room.

Meanwhile, I head downstairs to Steve Bennett's cel painting panel. Now, I'm not much when it comes to art. I'm decent at calligraphy, and I can paint reasonably well, but you'll damn well never see me at a table in Artists' Alley or anything. So why am I down here, listening to Steve talk about his days of learning how to really draw?

I probably should be embarrassed to admit it, but what I really am is curious. Tonight's class is specifically hentai cel painting. So how's the man gonna handle this crowd?

Actually, he doesn't let us get down to work straightaway; that's not the Japanese way. For the first forty, fifty minutes, he talks about his experiences when he was first learning how to draw ("I was a Type A artist: the type that thinks they're hot stuff, 'cause everybody they know tells 'em so." The other type, B, are the sort that thinks everything they ever do is crap, and those that say otherwise are either blind or just trying to make them feel better — which doesn't work) apparently, for the first several weeks of a month-long apprenticeship with a respected Japanese animator, he did nothing but menial household tasks. When he finally was presented with pens and paper, he was asked his favorite character (Lum — UruseiYatsura was big at that time) and least favorite (Mendou) — and then ordered to draw Mendou a thousand times.

Steve was halfway through the stack before he realized: "This guy's trying to pull a Miyagi on me!"

And to a certain extent, he's returning the favor to us by talking for the first forty, fifty minutes of this (supposedly) hour-long panel. Impatience will not get you there, he says, Slow Down. Besides, it's not as if anything else is scheduled in this room afterwards, so we can paint as long as we think we need to (or can, given the need to sleep and what not)

Anyway, hentai. Yes, painting hentai cels is different, and not just for the obvious reaason of subject matter. Certain techniques are different for this genre. Particularly in the use of white paint. Steve hems and haws about this particular issue, leading us to draw the obvious conclusion.

We're wrong. It's not about bodily fluids (at least not the one we're led to believe) It's a question of sheen. Take a typical cute-girl drawing, ratchet up the light/shadowed areas, particularly skin, and suddenly she acquires this glistening aura of sweat or oil or whatever and goes immediately from "cute" to "sexy".

Apparently, glasses are a big turn-on, too, Dorothy Parker notwithstanding.

Anyway, I pick a reasonably tasteful shot of a girl in a babydoll leaning forward (Steve offers apologies for not having any shots of handsome men, but, as he insists, "I like girls, after all." Just 'cause he can draw Mendou doesn't mean he wants to, after all), and get to work.

Next thing I know, it's past 11pm, Dan-chan's looking over my shoulder, and asking "Is that a picture of Ukyou?"

"Uh… no. Just a girl…"

"Why's she in pajamas?" Fortunately, Konatsu is short behind him, and spirits him off to the video game room again. Evidently, they'd bailed out on Otaku Big Date early on in the program, as the language was getting every bit as salty as the music that had preceded the Terrell Show. They've been playing video games (on someone else's nickel, literally, to start with — so now we know all the games run on small change, at any rate) ever since, but Dan-chan is getting curious, and both my kunoichi and I are getting tired. Besides, I've got most of it done: apparently, it's rare that anyone every finishes a cel in these sorts of panels.

As I'm preparing to pack up, Steve suddenly recognizes me. Without my traditional cap or "Ucchan's" T-shirt, I'm a bit incognito, but with the three of us all together, he remembers. Thus outed, I offer my apologies for not having gotten him his okonomiyaki at AIowa, which he brushes off. "There's always next year, right?"

We attempt to check the schedule on our way out, although the pile of papers on the by-now deserted pre-registration desk are all Friday's. The list posted outside the main video room, however shows very little of any consequence, or at least, nothing requiring that we bound out of bed early in the morning and make a mad dash to the hotel. So we head home, pile into bed, and decide to let nature take its course.


Of course, this means that it's almost 10am when we get up, and — after bathing and breakfasting — past 11 by the time we head out.

Actually, we're not yet underway even once we're underway. Konatsu woke up wondering about a Halloween costume for Dan-chan for some reason, and having hunted one out of storage, Dan-chan insists on wearing it to AnimeReactor today. It's a pirate costume, but to the best of my knowledge, he won't look like anyone from One Piece. He points out that a lot of the people who do cosplay dress up as video game characters; he does look like a character from his Lego computer chess game.

It's not quite the same thing, though. Like I've said before, Dan-chan is no otaku, nor does he understand the "rules" of these sorts of things. Nor does he care to. But for now, he's happy; who am I to mess that up?

Well, not entirely happy. He decides that the costume needs something: specifically, an accessory like a dagger or cutlass. So we stop at Walmart to pick one up. Now, it's true we could pick something like this up at the convention; there's at least one dealer offering live steel for sale. Do remember, though, that Dan-chan's only ten, after all — no age to be messing with real weapons. Besides, it's a cheap costume, why go overboard (although that might be appropriate, considering the maritime nature of the costume) with this?

We finally arrive around noon, and despite what I've just said about the dealers' room, that's where we head first thing. And it's pretty crowded at this point. I'm not about to lose another round of "stump the doujin man", but I do buy a few manga volumes here and there: Azumanga and Futaba-chan (Ironcat seems to have stopped issuing the monthly comics somewhere into the sixth or seventh volume).

Our next stop is the video game room, and while most of the consoles are busy, no one's playing Puzzle Fighter, which is clearly Konatsu and Dan-chan's favorite. So we play a round, and Konatsu beats Dan-chan, Dan-chan beats me, and I beat Konatsu. So who's the best player, here?

We also discover a nearby PlayStation console vacated, so Konatsu and I take a shot — literally — at a garden-variety shoot-'em-up, complete with handgun controllers we fire at the screen. Yes, I know we're way behind the curve when it comes to video games, so what? We still have an old Atari 2600 we treasure at home.

We don't get far, although I vastly outpoint my kunoichi. But when Konatsu lets me play the game solo, I barely register the losing score on our joint game. "Well," 'Natsu-chan shrugs, "it's nice to know I was necessary."

We've missed the first five episodes from this morning, but we drop in on something called "Neighborhood Story." I don't know how recent a title this is, but it has an old-style appearance to it. Maybe it's the clothing styles, which seem vaguely reminiscent of the late sixties/early seventies here in the States (of course, Japan has been known to be behind the fashion curve on occasion. And there are always the occasional retro fads, after all). Maybe it's the fact that the lead character looks a lot like Sana-chan, if blonde and slightly older (although not grown up in any sense of the term, if you ask me). Maybe it's the washed-out backgrounds, which make it look like an anime take on "Schoolhouse Rock" without music.

The characters are mildly amusing, but apart from Jiro (who's clearly a type B artist), most of them are annoyingly self-centered. Maybe it's what comes of attending a school for artists — they all have that irritating artistic temperament? Anyway, it doesn't capture our imagination the way we thought it might, and Dan-chan, never much for reading subtitles, is thoroughly bored by it. So we leave after watching an episode and a half.

As we wander about the lobby, we run across a woman with a black Labrador retreiver at the concierge. Konatsu-chan has this thing for dogs (much like Sakaki-san and cats — only my kunoichi knows how to handle 'em without getting bitten). Turns out, Lady is a guide dog in training, and her name certainly fits her.

Both Konatsu and Dan-chan pet Lady quite thoroughly, while we chat for a while. Lady actually becomes the least of the topics. Yes, the woman is here because of the the convention, although not for herself. Her nephew is a rather freshly-minted (ie, within the past year or two) otaku, and she's here for his sake. She doesn't know much about the scene, although she's amused by the cosplayers. She expresses concern, however, about the subject matter in some anime titles and series.

Now, I understand that anime has a reputation outside of being rather excessive on the violence and the sexuality from time to time, so I offer to address her concerns. After all, the fact that anime addresses more complex, grown-up situations is part of its appeal, to me, over American cartoons.

It turns out it's the latter of the two issues. Granted, her nephew is about fourteen or fifteen (judging from his brief appearance to tell her about the stuff in the dealers' room — he's a reasonably friendly sort, but clearly eager to dive in as opposed to chatting about it), and knows everything about sexuality "or so he thinks," the aunt adds sardonically. But she'd rather he not be exposed to too much just yet.

Personally, I prefer sex over violence any day. Some actress once complained that a scene in which someone's breast is hacked off merits an "R" rating, whereas once in which a similar breast is kissed gets slapped with an "X", and I couldn't agree more. But I do understand her concern.

Does she have any particular examples? As a matter of fact, yes: there's this one show where the girl's a computer, and in order to switch her on, the guy has to reach between her legs… "Oh!" we laugh, "Chobits!" We do a bit to distinguish between "ecchi" and "hentai", and how Chobits falls into the former, milder category. Sure, Hideki seems to wind up in compromising situations with Chii — and he's certainly a red-blooded male, after all — but all in all, he knows right and wrong, and does his best to do right by Chii, even though she's "only" a persocon. We do advise her to screen series as she comes across them; bottom line, a well-informed parent is the best defense against kids seeing what they shouldn't.

Besides, doesn't it help if the two generations share the hobby?

It does cross my mind, once we part company, that if she was talking about "Buttobi CPU" aka "I Dream of Mimi", that'd be a whole different thing — one that she ought to be concerned about.

In Artists' Alley once again, and Dan-chan is fascinated by a series of sculptures of bugs, many of which light up. However, they run somewhere in the neighborhood of $200-$300, and we don't have that kind of cash (and I doubt that any of the artists are equipped to take plastic). Kami alone knows how much he's asking for the full-size alien female statue, complete with illuminated tubing and a spherical implant filled with bubbling liquid that — now that I think of it — looks rather womblike.

Dan-chan is upset that we spend so much money on ourselves as opposed to him. Part of that is because anime doesn't interest him to begin with so why would we spend as much on him here? On the other hand, it's not like he has nothing from today's excursion; we point out the three cloisonne pins (Kuroneko from Trigun, and the Cat Bus and Jiji from Studio Ghibli — he's into cats, in case you wondered) as evidence that we're just as willing to spend on him as ourselves.

Speaking of spending money, Dan-chan's also getting rather hungry, now that it's mid-afternoon. We're concerned that the café's prices will be exorbitant, given that we're really rather isolated here in Hotel Alley — the nearest actual restaurant is about a mile up the road (and it's a Denny's). But for six bucks for a sandwich, chips and a drink, it's not that bad. And as neither Dan-chan nor Konatsu know exactly what they want on their sandwiches (and when they do decide, both have to be made a la carte, as the exact combinations aren't on the menu), we make the staff work for it.

I've noticed that, among the televisions they have mounted on the café wall, at least one of them is usually tuned to the Cartoon Network. And accordingly, this means that once in a while, they're playing anime in here as well. Perfect.

Only they're not at the moment. Something called "Sitting Duck" or some such, followed by "Scooby Doo". It's enough to hold our attention, when we're not dealing with making sure we don't miss our mouths with our food. Konatsu points out that for once, Velma's wearing a T-shirt instead of her traditional sweater. It's still orange, though — some things must remain constant.

It turns out to be a pretty efficient approach; by the time we finish eating (and I polish off the first of the two Futaba-chan graphic novels), it's barely a half-hour before the first cosplay starts.

AnimeReactor's approach to cosplay is a little different from most: they've split it up between walk-ons (which they've entitled "Anime Fabulous", like a fashion show) and skits ("Cosplay Idol"). In all, they have cosplay scheduled for the next four or five hours. Good thing we've just eaten.

The twenty-minute wait eventually stretches to fifty minutes (well, that's one thing that doesn't change no matter what con you go to, I imagine), and Dan-chan crosses the hallway to find a comfortable chair rather than standing in line (or, in Konatsu's case, sitting on the floor). In rather short order, he's asleep.

Which, naturally, would be our cue for the line to start moving. I scurry back and carry him into the main room.

Despite the line, there is no orderly filing toward a seat here. That's in large part because there is no shortage of decent seating. The stage has been configured into a sort of catwalk, and the contestants enter from backstage, walk past maybe five or ten rows of seats, strike a pose, then turn and walk off stage left.

That about sums up the activity for the next forty minutes. I take two whole pages of one-line-per-entrant notes, but between the fact that I recognize so few of the costumes (like I've always said, I will never get into all these video game characters, and Final Fantasy continues to dominate the lists), even with the occasional nudge from Doc to assist my identification. It doesn't help that the girl doing the MC duties is difficult to hear and understand, although she does her level best to maintain a continuous fashion-show patter as each individual or group comes out. And finally, the edge of the catwalk, where everyone poses for pictures (and there's a lot of flashbulbs going off here and there) is far enough from the main stage as to leave the contestants in darkness — you're gonna need them flashbulbs, boys.

There are a few highlights: a guy dressed as Akane twirls Mallet-sama — and drops it; Dr. Tomoe (Sailor Saturn's father) boogies onstage; Rabi-en-Rose is introduced with "who doesn't love a cute bunny girl?"; one Vash gets a big enough hand that he forgets which way is offstage, while another one strips down to a series of leather straps crossing his torso (to huge screams); someone shows up dressed as the Rocketeer, and while it's not an anime (is it even a comic book character?), one can appreciate the work that went into it; several no-shows in a row begins to irritate the MC, and she makes her aggravation known; Haruko Haruharu charges down the catwalk, brandishing her guitar as if it were a bo staff; the main cast of Trigun is introduced with "collect all four!"; and Belldandy wraps up the show with another screaming ovation.

The announcement goes out that they need to clear the room for Cosplay Idol. Should have figured they wouldn't let us stay. So we slip out as quickly and unobtrusively as we can, expecting to find a line already forming.

There isn't one. So I plunk myself down to wait, while Dan-chan finds that same comfy chair he slept in earlier.

Doc drops by with a picture he's gotten from Artists' Alley: a character from the video game Metroid looking at Tomb Raider's Ms. Croft and uttering, "Lara who? Never head of you." Since even I've heard of her, I can appreciate the humor.

Seems Doc's been keeping busy today. Not only has he spent time (and money) at Artists' Alley, he's been out helping folks who he's found playing Pokemon Sapphire or Ruby. He explains that he's got something called an Eon ticket, allowing the systems to link or some such. I confess, I really don't understand much of it, so I find myself smiling and nodding at his enthusiasm. He admits that he hasn't seen anyone else familiar here besides ourselves.

As we chat, we can hear the occasional applause and screams emanating from the main room.

Did we leave too soon? Well, if by that one means we're missing the awards ceremony, yes. I poke my head in to see Haruko walk off with her guitar and her prize. But as I barely recognized half the entrants, it'd probably do no good to relate the winners even if I had stayed for that.

The contestants filter out of the main room, and I get tired of waiting — there's no line forming behind me, at any rate. I will say that, while some costumes gain a lot from an up-close look, some… don't. An example of the former is Erika Door, who's apparently yet another Final Fantasy character. What sells the getup are these elaborate tattoos running from her neck down to her cleavage (and apparently, beyond) as well as on her arms and on her exposed right buttock. Believe it or not, she claims to have drawn them on this afternoon with a Sharpie pen (although the drawing on her rear is actually on pantyhose, as she couldn't otherwise see what she was drawing). Very impressive, but not something you can see from the crowd.

On the other hand, a girl dressed with black wings a la Morrigan really impressed Dan-chan, who's gone nuts over the character after all the time spent playing Puzzle Fighter. But when we catch up to her, we discover she's not Morrigan at all, but rather a bird from Pet Shop of Horrors, a pet gone horribly wrong. Turns out, her blouse isn't actually pink, but (I presume fake) bloodstains. Dan-chan recoils.

We do run across a girl dressed as Yukino Miyazawa, in crisply pressed uniform, holding a stuffed PeroPero (not one of Erika's creations, mind you — she'd sewn this one herself. It looks a little flattened, but the way she's holding him, it might be considered understandable)… and with red eyes, even! This girl is a perfectionist — and therefore perfect for the character.

Of course, to some, Dan-chan is no slouch in the costume department himself. He's still young enough that, even if it isn't an anime character he's dressed up as, he's still cute enough to photograph. As evidence of this, a pair of very scantily dressed girls (they're portraying Violet and Lily from "Miyuki-chan in Wonderland") ask to take Dan-chan's picture. Pity that he's also a little young yet to be truly enthusiastic about the opportunity, but I suspect that if he was like that, he'd cease to be cute, so there you are.

Actually, he's not the only non-anime pirate wandering around. There's a girl dressed up as Johnny Depp's character from "Pirates of the Caribbean", and based on the movie still she has with her, she's not too far off. Except for the voice, perhaps. What's really silly about her getup is that she and a friend are sitting in the hall, begging for a handout in order to go out and get Chinese food. What kind of pirate does that? She should just take the money from folks!

Konatsu checks the schedule once again, and points out that the Cosplay Idol isn't scheduled to start until 8pm, not 7. So that's why there's no line. But what else is there to do, especially since we expect a line to build up by then? A Chii and two guys wearing caps resembling the "Atashi" character from Chobits meander in, so we follow. Turns out, she was announced during AnFab, but didn't have her costume together, so she didn't show up. In fact, the Black Chii counterpart is still trying to get her costume together, back in their hotel room.

Since no one makes a move to throw us out, we plant ourselves in some choice seats, and wait. A staffer does come by, but only to say, "Hey, I've seen you guys at Anime Central, haven't I?" and to make sure that we're having fun here at AR. The staff is nothing if not solicitous. And at any rate, sitting here beats standing around in line any day.

We offer the fellow congratulations that the population has picked up from Friday morning.

apparently, the con was counting on the fact that Chicago city schools were to close at noon yesterday, but there wasn't any noticeable effect. Basically, the upsurge came at about three or four, more in line with the suburban schedule.

Unlike AniFab, Cosplay Idol has very few entries — nine in all, to be exact — so there's no need to rush through the skits. In fact, to slow things down further, the guest judges are going to be offering on-the-spot reviews, a la the Gong Show — and probably just as objective.

While some of the judges barely register as they're introduced (one of the Moy brothers, I believe, simply points out that "This is my first time, so please be gentle"), most of them do their best to leave an impression. Steve Bennett makes his usual pronouncement of "Let's have some fun!", while James throws a shoe into the audience for some reason (heckler?) and Terrell threatens any bad skits with leftover chitlins. Leave it to Amanda, however, to really steal the show: she literally bounces onstage, and attempts to fly off, landing in a heap beside the judges' table. She's okay, apparently, and husband Jason shrugs as he's introduced, "how do you follow that?" He's had at least five years to deal with that question, though; you'd think he'd have figure something out by now.

It's clear that this is going to be more a matter of pure entertainment than serious cosplay evaluation, I suspect — especially since the judges have made it clear that bribes will not be turned down.

Our first contestant is the guy dressed in Akane's gi. He claims he just got fed up with perverted martial artists ("especially that City Hunter fellow," which gets a chuckle), doused herself with Nannichuan, and is now in search of a good woman of "her" own. A girl in the audience offers herself, but unfortunately, Akane doesn't hear this. And it costs him dearly; Steve, in particular, mentions he would have given him twice the score he had if that offer had been acknowledged and accepted. As it is, he gets no score better than a five.

This is followed by two girls in Final Fantasy X gear (one is introduced as a "femme Cloud", whatever that means), complete with huge mother swords, and they proceed to hack at each other with them, pausing to complain about broken nails, the impracticality of their high heels and finally, "Why are we fighting, anyway?" "It's Final Fantasy — what else are we supposed to do?" At this point, a guy shows up from backstage in similar gear: "And to save me, of course!" The girls look at each other for a moment, hack the guy down, and walk off arm-in-arm. Steve gives the yuri goodness a ten, but most of the others give them sevens. When it's pointed out that the girls are sixteen (well, one is — the other's eighteen), Jason replies that "That makes it better!" and gives them an eight.

The next character onstage is a fellow in a Texas football jersey (what anime is he supposed to be? And he's not making any friends with this crowd by announcing that "the [White] Sox stink!") answering mail: "Dear Strongman, what do you think of anime cons?" And as with the Sox, he insists they stink, too. But at least he gives a reason: it's all the cosplayers out there. Sure, you have girls that dress like the Sorceror Hunters (as they wlak onstage), but you also have the likes of CardCaptor Will (ditto). At this point, Will deals out the "Windy" card, and his petticoats fly up — with Tomoyo eagerly filming the result. Unlike Tomoyo, Terrell and James are absolutely grossed out by the implications, and between them, give the skit one and a half points. Steve, on the other hand, gives Will all the credit in the world for having the balls to get onstage and do that, while Amanda simply admires Will's legs.

Dr. Tomoe is up to his old tricks; trying to manufacture an evil Senshi, he creates Sailor NeoGermany, a burly fellow in a sailor fuku. At least you can't tell if he has a Bubba-like beard, since he's wearing a black, red and yellow mask a la the Masked Rider (hell, for all I know, Matrose neoDeutschland might very well be an East German woman) This Sailor isn't very cooperative, though — Tomoe is threatened with "In the name of Der Speigel, I will punish you!" To combat this, Tomoe switches to Plan B — chugging some sort of Hyde formula. Two problems with that, though. One, the cosplayer can't down it in one gulp — or at any rate, can't keep a straight face — his inadvertent spitting on the judges costs him. Two, as Sailor Germany puts it: "Why do these transformation sequences have to take so damn long?" just before he punches the mad doctor's lights out in mid-transformation. Several judges refuse to give high scores because of a lack of "boobage", as one puts it. Sailor NeoGermany offers to strip, but is turned down.

Two characters from different Final Fantasies — Riku from X, and a heavily costumed Gogo from VI — get down and funky, but the only sound is from the boombox they're using as dance music. The joke? Eveidently Gogo has some sort of mime command… hence, no lines. It doesn't work for me (not being into Final Fantasy), but several of the judges get it, and as a result, it scores well above CardCaptor Will and company.

The next one captures Konatsu's fancy, and I don't know if that should worry about that or not. Basically, it's Ash Ketchum and Pikachu, but he's all grown up. And a pimp, complete with feathered hat emblazoned with the same crooked "C" logo that used to be on his baseball cap. Pikachu herself — yeah, she's a she — is his skimpily-dressed "bitch". Two characters (from Lodoss War? Damn, but my notes are really squirrelly, here) request "Pika-ho's" services, but Mack Daddy Ash claims she's reserved — for the judges. But he does have others in his stable: how about… CardCaptor Will?! Several of the judges short the skit of a ten simply for Will's appearance — they just can't get past the crossdresser, for whatever reason (Konatsu suggests that perhaps Ash should offer a actual girl in a future sketch, but one dressed up as — and properly shaped for — Jigglypuff. I think that'd gross the judges out every bit as much, frankly — but then, that's the whole joke either way!). Steve, however, gives a ten for Will's nerve — he refers to Will as "the Kevin Bacon of cosplay" — as well as for Pika-ho's, and I quote, "bling-blings". Others dole out high marks simply for the bribe itself — and "Pika-ho" makes good, snuggling with most of the judges (I don't think she bothers with Amanda).

Another videogame sketch, but not using videogame characters this time: InuYasha is playing a Gameboy (wonder if Doc Pearson managed to upgrade it for him?), and not even the monk Marago can rouse him. On the other hand, Kagome can do it — with Pocky, you perverts! Speaking of perversion, two girls dressed with black wings (demons or batgirls?) come out, pleading to bear the monk's children (Kagome's response: "InuYasha, kill!"), but the monk is asking someone else "Will you bear my children?": Steve Bennett. "I've been asked many things in my life, but…" and he gives them an eight. Other judges grade it well, too; I think the Pocky they're handing out has something to do with it.

The Bakuretsai Hunter girls are back, and now I'm recalling a few hours ago when they showed up in the video game room looking for a fanboy they could abuse during the cosplay. At the time, one fellow expressed interest, but admitted it wouldn't go over well with his wife, so… (well, neither part of that should surprise me, anyway) Turns out, they weren't kidding about the "abuse" part, as they introduce their "Pain-in-the-Butt" workout program. Their victim — er, customer — clad in a karate gi, climbs onstage, and they order him to do jumping jacks and military pushups. And as he doesn't perform fast enough for 'em, they start whipping him (hence the "pain in the butt" title) and even once kicking him in the groin (now, I know girls aren't always as familiar with all of the male anatomy, but I'm pretty sure that's not the butt), to the audience's shock — and later laughter, as it turns out their patsy included a protective cup in his costume. They also! wind up hauling Terrell onstage, and make him do situps — they don't kick him, though, despite some other judges' encouragement. Despite (or perhaps because of it), he gives them a ten, as do several others, either for the serious amount of fanservice this delivers, or the fact that otaku-boy has given his all (they don't know about the cup yet). Steve's ten, in particular, is a long time in coming, as he's videotaping the shenanigans.

This isn't an easy act to follow, but at least there's only one group that has to. Vash is carrying Wolfwood's cross for some reason (maybe this is a spoiler for the second half of the series I haven't watched?), when he discovers he's being followed by a ghost — or at least, a guy in a sheet. Turns out, it's Wolfwood, with a message from the beyond… which he never gets the chance to deliver, as Haruko Haruharu struts onstage, guitar on her shoulder like a baseball bat. Peering at Vash, she delivers her verdict: "oooh, red leather… how original." At this point, the group is joined by Dark Vash, who shoots Haruko dead. But since Dark Vash stripped to the waist for AnFab, the judges clamor for an encore. He obliges, but the skit gets docked because they have to ask. At least one judge would offer more points if Haruko would strip; she takes off her jacket, but the pullover isn't particularly conducive to getting farther. Oddl! y enough, it is Amanda who gives them the lowest score (a seven; good, but not good enough to beat the PitB Workout), prompting Dark Vash to assert that "Tiffany [Grant, Evangelion co-star] would have given us a 9."

"Tiffany," Amanda counters, "is a bitch."

After the laughter dies down, she quickly recants and acknowledges that she and Tiff are, in fact, good friends, and she admires her work, et cetera.

The judges congratulate themselves and AnimeReactor for the best cosplay they've ever seen. I'd argue that, but when Steve clarifies (ungrammatically, but who cares?), "the funnest, anyway," I fold. It's been an amusing spectacle.

Now it's time to announce the winners. Konatsu and I have been keeping track of the scores independently, so we know how it's gonna turn out. In third place is Mack Daddy Ash and "Pika-screw", as Amanda refers to her. Terrell takes the moment to apologize to his girlfriend backstage for any, ah, reactions to Pika-ho's getup.

The Bakuretsai Hunters are called up next, which puzzles me. According to my calculations, they should have won. They don't seem to notice (who's gonna do the math while they're in competition? That's just distracting) or mind. Otaku-boy in the karate gi does have a request — ice, for where he was kicked, to renewed laughter. Steve offers him a bottle of Miller Ice. So close, and yet…

Vash and company are called up, and as they are, the MC offers her apologies. apparently my math wasn't off after all. Still, second place isn't so awful, although Dark Vash is still in a competitive mood: he does a sort of dog-crawl move onstage, as if to challenge otaku-boy. He's up to the challenge, as it happens: he strips the top of his gi off and attempts to copy Vash's moves. Not a bad ending for such a raucous event.

We hang out in the video game room until it's supposed to close, playing the shoot-em-up console we'd seen yesterday. We're having a ball, until someone clears their throat behind us. When we turn around, we discover a line of at least five others waiting to play.

Aw, jeez! Why didn't you guys say something sooner? We drop our guns and make a break for it.

Outside the game room, I run across Erika Door yet again, this time asleep in a chair. Well, not exactly asleep… more like "full": a deep-dish Chicago-style pizza at 11 o'clock at night will do that to ya. We talk about our individual convention experiences: her with the cosplay and artist circles, I with fanfiction. apparently, we've both been going to many of the same cons, although she started later than I did (not by much, though — AnimeIowa98 was her first experience). She's also been further afield, having gone to some of the east coast conventions that I haven't had time or inclination to bother.

When I mention that she transacts business at these cons (as opposed to myself, a mere fan), she points out that it's not always profitable: in fact, here at AnimeReactor, she's just managed to clear the price of the table and admission. Still, it's better than I do. She asserts that anyone can be an artist with sufficient practice, which I find hard to agree with (or maybe I have a different type of artistic talent — writing — which isn't nearly as marketable). But my reply that I haven't the time to practice is shot down: "Hey, I have a day job, too, you know."

Dan-chan, meanwhile, wanders into a nearby screening room, and when we follow him in, we find he's willing to settle in for a while; a rarity, given the subtitles (which he still chooses not to read) On the other hand, it is Lupin III. So we grab seats and enjoy the rest of the show.

As we leave, I decide to drop by the main programming room. The program lists something going on there that they've entitled the "Den of Sin". Granted, we probably can't take Dan-chan in there, but why not check it out?

At least he won't be bored waiting for us; outside the room, we encounter Lady and her mistress yet again, and while Dan-chan and Konatsu pet her within an inch of her life, I check out the place.

It turns out to be little more than the usual after-cosplay dance, although the actual dance floor is well tricked-out with black light and anything that reflects it. Several of the guests of honor are seated onstage (they wouldn't dismantle that elaborate setup just for this), but they don't seem to be all that enthusiastic. Maybe they've been short on sleep, too.

On my way out, I notice the volunteer in the Security t-shirt. Was I supposed to have been carded? I ask him about the schedule; according to the convention program, wasn't there supposed to be something organized in here? "Yeah," he shrugs, "they had more stuff planned, but it was decided that in the interests of this being a family con and all that…"

It gives me pause. After stuff like the Terrell Show and all that, it's a bit late to go for the "family" label. And at this hour of the night, one would think they'd be able to dispense with "family" programming in any case, especially considering that he is inspecting IDs as people go in at this point. Oh, well… if that's what they want to be now, that's their prerogative.

Actually, at some point down the line, Dan-chan darts in past the bouncer, which merits the poor fellow a dressing-down from another staffer: "What was that that just went by?" I hope the guy doesn't get into too much trouble, as Konatsu and I run in to retrieve our errant boy. But he's just staring at this light and that, and even if something salacious were going on, he wouldn't likely notice a thing.

More than any concerns about exposing Dan-chan to anything he shouldn't be, we need to get home and get some rest for tomorrow. Besides, I don't really want to head home in the wee hours of the morning, when I might be too drowsy to drive. Best to head home straightaway.

Not that we go to bed straightaway once we're home. I start Googling for Puzzle Fighter, as Dan-chan seems quite taken with it. Turns out it's been made for PlayStation; unfortunately, it's not being made any longer. Well, there's probably eBay, at any rate — and it's not like we have a PlayStation in any case. We'll get back to this some other time.


Actually, there is one shrewd thing about AR's choice of time slots: Daylight Savings Time. We "fall back" in the wee hours of the morning, and gain an extra hour of convention in the process.

Well, some folks do. We just gain the extra hour of sleep. Or is it an extra hour to rummage around the house looking for Halloween decorations? Because once again, we don't get back until about 11am. Not that it's a great concern — Sundays are usually slow, what with people recovering from Saturday's activities and what have you.

Actually, it's kind of weird as we take our usual first turn around the dealers' room; we see a fair number of people with "Sunday"-only passes. Of course, those were a steal a $10 (compared to twice that for either of the other two days), but how much is going on today after all?

Back to the video game room; at least, Dan-chan is guaranteed to enjoy his time here. The PlayStation consoles are all gone, but there's still Puzzle Fighter.

Did I say he was guaranteed to enjoy himself? I take it back, as he's not too happy about losing to me. But even so, he's no happier to see me lose to a twelve-year-old that challenges me in turn. Thankfully, Konatsu is an expert at calming him down.

Several guys are in the middle of the room, playing hackeysack with spare nickels. The coin spins and sparkles as they kick and knee it around, but it never quite touches the ceiling in its flights.

Elsewhere in the room, a fellow lies sprawled spread-eagled on the floor. Konatsu comments wryly, "ah, the effects of DDR on a body." Indeed.

I wander out of the game room momentarily, and spot a girl with a sign pinned to her: "Make your mark on me." On closer inspection, it turns out that her hooded sweatshirt is covered with drawings made in either a grey or silver pen by various artists and would-be artists throughout the convention.

Upstairs in the café, a couple are chuckling over a Quicktime film about a coffee bean raid: this red bean invades a party with all sorts of brown beans, and starts shooting up the place. I see the last 15 minutes, but there may have been a lot more to it; the guy tells me it took nearly three years to put together. Impressive, but I can't imagine dedicating that much of my life to this sort of thing. Maybe I should just be grateful that others are willing to do so for my (and everyone else's) enjoyment.

By Artists' Alley (where some folks already seem to be working on taking down their displays), a girl plays with juggling sticks, and well enough to garner a small audience.

Outside the dealers' room, one version of Nicholas Wolfwood's cross is leaning against the wall. "Please give this cross a good home," a sign pinned to it reads, and includes an AIM address; evidently, the folks who built this thing want to know what becomes of it.

Within the dealers' room, I take another chance at "stump the doujin man". This time, I win; he has no Abenobashi doujinshi, but he recalls having seen a very nicely drawn one several times (and when he describes it, I recognize it myself). He also has no Ukyou doujinshi, and in fact, he'd sold out of Ranma½ stock way back on Friday. He does point out that, back in the day, there were several doujin circles who did Ukyou hentai almost exclusively (and one that, apparently, still does). I grimace when he mentions that most of them involved Ryouga — I've nothing against the lost boy, but I haven't anything for him either — and he offers to look for scenes with "me" and "my" spatula instead. Nothing with "me" and Ranchan, eh? Still, I take down his Internet particulars, and admit that I'll consider it.

Heard en route back downstairs: some fangirl dreaming of a live-action version of Initial D starring Vin Diesel.

Did I mention that the escalator has been out since the wee hours of Friday morning? Well, it has. I just walk down 'em to get back to where Dan-chan and Konatsu continue to play games. Right next to them are a pair of girls duking it out on DDR — they're both working on perfect combinations of well over 250 straight moves.

You know, I'm starting to suspect that the whole purpose of those machines is to turn everyone who plays 'em into Pink Lady, boogieing with that robotic precision and all.

It's barely after noon, and I check out the video schedules. Two of the rooms are playing live action stuff (Great Teacher Onizuka, and Lone Wolf and Cub): that means only half the screening rooms are actually playing anime at this anime convention! Not only that, the live-action stuff is playing in the larger of the rooms. Not that they need it: GTO's pretty sparsely attended.

We'd like to stay for closing ceremonies, but frankly, it's two hours away, and there's nothing much to do here until then. Not only that, the fact of the matter is that the Art Auction is to be held "at the closing ceremonies." Does this mean just prior? During? After? I'm all for auctions, but generally I don't have the scratch to participate by the end of a convention. And I'm not much of an art collector to begin with, anyway.

So, do we stay or do we go?

"Personally, I think we could watch more anime at home."

"Yeah, that'd be good."

We go.

It's a gradual departure, though. We make one last stop by Artists' Alley, where we encounter a fellow dressed as Drunken Ryo (or maybe it's just sleep deprivation) who gives us the skinny on the games we've been playing all weekend; something to think about hunting up on eBay or some such, maybe for Christmas?

Also on our way out is the registration desk, and I stop by to ask: how'd AnimeReactor do as far as turnout, anyway? The girl with the Hello Kitty hat shrugs, "Well, we broke a thousand." There haven't been a lot of pre-registrations here, though — not that this worries the pair at the desk. Most of the registrations for this year were done online, and they expect the same for the coming year.

We don't make any effort to buck the trend ourselves.

The last person we run across as we leave the hotel happens to be James, the organizer of the convention himself. "Did'ja all have fun?" Yeah, we did, believe it or not. We tell him how we miss the fanfic crowds we normally hang out with, "Yeah, a lot of the old otaku are probably taking a 'wait-and-see' attitude to this, see if it catches on." For what it's worth, the dealers came away happy, so there'll be another AnimeReactor next year.

"You signed up?"

We don't have the heart to say "no" outright. As much as every convention needs the support of anime fans, some just aren't for everyone, and not everyone can support all the cons in their area — we've even missed KazeCon entirely already. Two is generally enough for us, and we can't see jettisoning either of our old standards for this one.

As promised, we do wind up watching more anime this afternoon once we're home than we have throughout the convention; about four episodes of Haunted Junction.

Well, Halloween is just about upon us, after all. Might as well get into the… ah… spirit… of the season.

Nearly four weeks have elapsed between the convention and this report. It's been busy at the Ucchan, and that's part of it, but that's not unusual. I should be able to work through that.

What's really kept this thing down is a general lack of motivation. Sure, I'd love to sell this event to y'all, especially since it would mean I'd see a lot more of you at next year's Reactor. But while we did enjoy ourselves, we honestly couldn't say it was all that different from any other anime convention we'd been to in the past. And what differences we did notice hardly recommended it for the future.

I wish AnimeReactor every success, really I do. But if it succeeds, more likely than not it will be without me, without Konatsu, and most likely, without the fanfic community at large. It's a pity, but that is how I see it.

Itsu mo,

Ucchan ^_^

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