Friday | Saturday | Sunday
We were a little slow getting up Saturday, but Jas, Theresa and I got out... almost on time. Thankfully, we beat Green Bay to the bathroom and left early in my car, leaving them to fend for themselves. To hell with them. It's the first full day of the convention, and like any trip to Iowa it's centered around one thing:
Final Fantasy Football Plushie MAX 2!!
The AMV Contest was at 11:30, so the early-ish start gave us about an hour to peruse the dealer's room. I really wasn't sure what to expect, especially with the sexiest of vendors over in Maryland getting drowned out by the FUNimation booth.
Still, many of the local vendors that were present at No Brand Con like Fast Food and Eagle Anime were there. After buying volume 9 of Eyeshield 21 and chatting it up with some of the familiar faces from No Brand and ACen (venders, not congoers; congoers are nuts), Jas clued me to a hidden stash... the mother load. Yes, that's right... Eyeshield 21 gear.
Besides the manga, a sports towel and a football-shaped plushie. Fear the Devil Bat!
Next up was the AMV contest, the first time my video was in a balloted contest- the people would decide the best video in some harsh democracy. The catch? No categories- it's a massive battle royal between comedy, action, and melodramatic emo. Only one will reign supreme, and thankfully the crowd wasn't there for the emo.
As soon as I grabbed my ballot (and a few extras in case I felt like I really deserved to win), I knew this was going to be interesting:
Of the twenty-five selections up there, I'm right up on top. So immediately after the cute little opening movie, off we go with a joyous romp through the "beautiful" world. Fun feeling, and as the crowd was itching for some AMVs at the time (rather than being half-asleep from a string of bland Advent Children videos) I got a good response. Of course, in return that meant that my video would be long forgotten by the time we got through the field and my chances of winning were virtually nil. To be fair, this was an excellent field, especially with an updated "Dare to Be Stupid" video and a great Yakitate Japan vid to the mix of "A Little Less Conversation." My chances weren't great to begin with. My vote went to Yakitate, mostly because the the original "Dare to Be Stupid" was still better... and had subliminal messages. The crowd was with Stupid, but since I doubt many of the newbies had seen the original (I mean, the original used DNA² in abundance, do you think it's a tad dated?), I can't blame them for awarding the championship to what still was a very good video.
Although the DDR Tournament was supposed to start well before we were let out of the AMV contest, I headed up to the see if I could still sneak in. After all, DDR tournaments don't exactly run like train schedules. The only problem was getting there.
You see, most conventions operate on a somewhat horizontal basis- one or two floors of action in a convention center and/or hotel conference area, where roaming the halls randomly is easy and fun.
When I was a kid, my fourth grade teacher introduced us to children's books about Wayside School, which instead of being one floor with thirty classrooms, was mistakenly built to have thirty floors with one classroom each (the builder said he was very sorry). Anime Iowa was laid out kinda like that- with just main programming and the vendor's hall on the main level and the rest of the convention interspersed among the other fifteen floors of the hotel. Like the featured class of Wayside School, the consuite and the karaoke lodge were on the very top. I'll get to them in a second.
Point is, all weekend long, the elevator entrances looked like this:
This was actually one of the less-crowded moments. Adding to the problem was the convention's rigid enforcement of safety laws (Boo!), posting volunteers to act as elevator operators to push the buttons and make sure none of them were overloaded.
The major aftermath was that the only way to get anywhere in the convention was to actually plan to go there. No wandering aimlessly, unless you liked stairs.
Since I actually planned to go to the video game room... I liked stairs. Twenty-six flights worth to get to the video game room on Floor 12.
The game room was not a conference room. It wasn't a ball room, or an open floor of Bemani madness. It was a hotel suite- and not even a very big one at that. Just a couple TVs lying around. In one of the side rooms, a whole mess of people were gathered around a couple kids playing light mode DDR on Ignition Pads. Given the August temperature and the lack of any ventilation in the room, I didn't bother to ask if they were still signing people up for the advanced tournament; I was gone.
Turns out that those kids playing light mode were in one of the preliminary matches of the Advanced tournament. Not exactly ACen quality here...
Anyway, since I was already on floor 12, I climbed the remaining stairs to the consuite to take a break and catch up with Jasmine. Now, Anime Iowa had been heralded for its consuite last year- with a whole buffet line of goodies and a clean, friendly atmosphere that from all accounts surpassed ACen's in '05 (and since congoers literally trashed the place in Chicago, there was no consuite at ACen '06).
Yep, another crowded suite, with a few scattered appetizers on the tables and the requisite Dew and Dr. Pepper on tap. Not terrible... but not the legend that it was made out to be. At least the view outside was nice.
After attempting to wander aimlessly with Jasmine, we gave up and headed back to the car so she and Theresa could change out of their cosplay and I could give Aurus my Eyeshield stuff for safekeeping.
Gilgamesh! Yeah, I haven't seen it either... point is, overcoats and August don't go well together. Makes you wonder why you see so many Vash's at Otakon.
With lack of anything better to do, I went to the fanfiction panel. I know, I know... old hacks that have put away their Ranma stories to move on to the more lucrative career of making fun of fanfiction.net. Or was it?
Right off the bat, the panelists had us move the chairs into a circle. Despite unhappy flashbacks from my old college writing classes (which despite my alleged writing skillz, I never actually attended for more than a week), we obliged and I heard something refreshing- the panel would be a round-table discussion on anything and everything fanfic, with no bashing or arguing allowed. Given how fanfic works best in a community setting that ignores age and experience in favor of what's on the page, this was a nice touch.
Although I can't say I really learned anything (I've been writing it far too long for that), I was able to share some of my thoughts and experiences on topics. Instead of a few "experts" swapping Mary Sue stories, we talked about how to avoid them; given how many original characters I've worked into my stuff, my advice of "just don't force anything" seemed to go over well. I also shared my little story behind Adam from Level 2: Children: as I called him- a tertiary character named after myself "just to screw with people."1 They loved that.
My fears about the format were confirmed, however, when they went around the room and asked what series we all write for. I eventually confessed that I was primarily a Digimon writer, and despite a couple muffled laughs from the back, I also got a couple cheers from a few girls who also wrote Digimon, and confessed to it. All in all, easily the best fanfic panel format I've attended. And it was only on the fourth floor.
By the time this was over, it was about 5:00. With the masquerade nearing, the schedule was starting to get light and there was nothing else to do but make another round in the dealers room. I did manage to catch up with the Green Bay group there... Mike at least.
Don't let the fangirl-love pose fool you; these girls were actually attempting to whore off Mike to the highest bidder. I offered to buy Mike off, not because I didn't want him subjected to fangirl abuse, but because I knew the 20 dollars he was going for was low enough to net me a nice profit if I turned around and sold him later on. Alas, resale laws being what they were in Iowa, I continued my tradition of leaving Mike hanging. It was hide 'n seek all over again.2
Anyway, I used the money instead to buy the DDR MAX 2 soundtrack. That's three of the mixes now... six once I get around to ripping the audio off the DDR AMV Project videos and burning them to CD.
It was nearing six now, and Jasmine and I were officially bored. We had both decided not to attend the masquerade, which left precious little to do until Otaku no Yen: Live Action. We settled on the screening of AMV Hell, but that was at 7:00. That left us an hour in the early evening to do something that I have never, in all my years of convention attendance, done...
We went out to eat.
For many congoers, leaving the convention center to consume actual food is routine, normal, and above all healthy. For me, it's sacrilege. Who the hell needs real food? I've got granola bars and pocky! But alas, Jas and I both shrugged and gave in to our combination of boredom and hunger. Ten minutes later, we were dining at KFC.
During dinner, Whitewater Nick called me from Baltimore. This year the fansubbers reserved two suites- one for partying, one for sleeping. The partying one got busted and everybody got thrown out of the room... meaning the floor of the sleeping suite was covered wall-to-wall with people. Correction... not people- fansubbers. And he asked if I regretted not coming.
I also beat him on the merchandise front- while I was covered with my Eyeshield 21 gear, Nick couldn't find anything in that massive Otakon dealer's room to celebrate his love of Meloncholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. This may very well have some correlation to my keychain purchases at conventions.3
After an bizarre scene with Theresa trying to find us, and then chartering a hotel shuttle to KFC to accomplish her mission, the three of us went right back to the hotel. For Jas and I, it was off to AMV Hell because there wasn't anything better to do. We were greeted by a group whose leader was more than likely drunk (keep in mind that it's only 7:00 at this point) and pretended to know who we were (Frank and Susan from Canada). Given that the room had neither a video operator nor any video equipment of note, the crowd was getting a little restless.
Ya, just a smidge restless, eh? In any event, although the guy running the show was supposedly on his way, the half hour wait was too long for Susan and I. Especially since the hour-long cinematic marvel would have run up against my fantasy football draft, inconveniently scheduled at 8:30 that night.
Bear with me; it does technically relate to anime as it's not just any fantasy football draft- it's the Eyeshield Football League! Intended for fans of Eyeshield 21 and encouraging team names inspired by the anime... and half the participants actually played along!
Of course, the draft being scheduled for when it was, I had lamented needing to sneak away from the convention to do this. Thankfully, there was nothing going on anyway. Apparently AI has never heard of alternate programming during the masquerade. Anyway, I had asked Jasmine to bring her laptop and I had brought my "draft packet," so all we had to do was find a quiet corner of the hotel, tap into the wireless connection, and hope to Lombardi the laptop liked ESPN's draft program.
After some difficulties at first, we enlisted the help of a very friendly DDR pad. Say hi, Very Friendly DDR Pad.
Thanks to her, we were able to connect to that smokin' Iowa wi-fi and I could set up my portable war room for my team, the Green Bay Aliens, and gather some players for my first match against the Las Vegas Gunmen and prepare for future matches against the Houston Devil Bats, Tokyo Poseidon, and my pal Richard's Milwaukee White Knights.
Note the Devil Bat football I used for inspiration (I didn't use the towel; it wasn't that intense). I logged on with plenty of time to prepare my draft, brag to Richard about my Eyeshield 21 goodies, and bore Jasmine enough to send her up to the 12th floor with Very Friendly DDR Pad (who apparently got Jas hooked on Animal Crossing). The next hour was basically a brief transformation from anime geek to sports geek, and as such I won't rant about my exploits in the draft (although it's a shame that LaDainian Tomlinson, the ace running back that actually does wear both an eyeshield and the number 21, went to one of the non-Eyeshield-themed teams). I did get some strange looks when I was done, especially from the Digimon-fic girls from this afternoon who asked what I was doing. Funny that admitting I write Digimon fanfiction would impress somebody, but admitting to playing fantasy football (played by countless seemingly-normal guys around the country) takes me down a few notches. Oh the oddities of the anime convention.
After that was all over, I found Jasmine again and we again attempted to wander aimlessly. While the elevators were slightly-less insane thanks to the masquerade, we still weren't patient enough to wait for them. So we burned off our fried chicken on the stairs.
This was a very common sight this weekend. We trolled around, but there wasn't much going on upstairs either, except for a random panel trying to get us to join in. The schedule said it was an FMA fanfic panel, and when I asked if it was they said, "No! Naruto!"
We didn't stay for the rest; we were back in the stairwell.
Since attempting to go to karaoke was futile as the stairs inexplicably refused to give us access to floor 16, we gave up and headed back down to get good seats for Otaku no Yen: Live Action. We beat the hosts by five minutes.
For those who don't remember the ACen recap, the idea of the panel is that audience members would fill in the dialogue of a comic. The comic's stars, without screening the submissions ahead of time, would perform them. Roku-chan and Nobaku entertained us until Drazz could arrive and start the party right.
Considering that Nobaku was reading the "Big Book of Boys Love" in the comic, Drazz probably needed to slam those four bottles of Bacchus before going through with this. According to him, they tasted terrible. If he thought those were bad, he wasn't nearly prepared for the onslaught of yaoi jokes at his expense, the most severe of which (let's just say it involved a Chocobo), left him like this:
If you dare, you can find it on their site; it'll be one of the more recent strips.
Jasmine and I made one more attempt at wandering for random fun and ended up crashing about three different room parties- the gathering of cosplay "den mothers" who offered free pixie sticks and cheese (don't ask), some of the Whitewater guys (that I don't know all that well) showing off their fansub of the original Dirty Pair (in just ten minutes, I saw how big a disservice Flash does to Kei and Yuri). Finally, we hit the giant elephant of a room party on the seventh floor, where all the hot late-night action was. I stayed long enough to say hi to No Brand Nick (content with a beer in his hand and a girl on his lap) before Jas and I pulled ourselves out of there and set off to find Theresa.
Theresa had found her own room party- an outdoor room party made up of a few smokers who headed out for a quick fix and ended up hanging on the street for a few hours.
If it weren't for that randy Chocobo, I'd easily draw the conclusion that she had more fun than we did.
It did kill plenty of time, however, and since it was close to 2:00, we headed back to the hotel... and went swimming again, this time until 3:00. The night being young as it was, we watched a couple Eyeshield 21 fansubs before finally crashing at four or five... right about the time the Green Bay guys came in.
One more dawn, one more day, one day more!
Okay, he wasn't named Adam solely to screw with readers; that was honestly the best name I came up with for him. But the reader reactions were pretty fun.
Mike organized the hide 'n seek game at No Brand this year. It was one of the longest one-round games ever recorded.
I've bought three keychains total at conventions. The Kitsune (from Love Hina) keychain from ACen '03 lasted about eight months before snapping in half. The Yomi (from Azumanga Daioh) keychain from Otakon '04 lasted exactly two days. The Utamaru (from obscure ren ai port Da Capo) keychain from No Brand '05 is still going strong a year and a half later.