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Much has changed since the last Anime Iowa. For starters, there was no doubt I was going this year and there was no doubt I was using a vacation day on it. Instead of competing with Otakon, Iowa almost drew my Whitewater chums, though Scott had to cancel at the last minute. The convention had also found a spiffy new hotel in Iowa City that actually had enough convention space without resorting to floors 3-16. While last year was marked by football-related stuff in the Dealer's Room and my fantasy draft, this year I had no real reason to constantly bring up Eyeshield 21. The series was formally dropped from my Top 20 list to make way for FMA and the draft for my Seyruun Nagas team isn't until next week.
I had no real reason to bring up Eyeshield, so the hotel provided me with one. The amenities alone make it an improvement over last year's site.
In Which AI Attempts to Impersonate ACen
In spite of the encouraging environment, things got started with a bushel full of failure. For starters, my plan to hitch a ride with the Green Bay delegation had a logistical problem- the van was full. Now, I've been preaching to Tony since ACen '05 about the need to fill a hotel room slightly beyond capacity, and I've seen improvement in the field. But when you've already got six in a van, there's not much else you can do. So it was just me and Aurus braving the cornfields for the second straight year, with the additional hurdles of rush hour traffic in Madison and a 30 mile stretch taking me off the freeway and through silly little Iowa towns en route to Iowa City. At least this time I was armed with the latest Eric Stuart Band CD. A bit more country this time around, but still a great songwriter.
Google Maps, as always, was right on the money with its calculated driving time of 4:07, somehow factoring in rush hour, a stop for breakfast and gas, and a troublesome interchange which insisted on taking me back to Madison instead of letting me go southwest. At 11:07, I was there just after the registers opened.
This terrace/pond alone earns style points (+1 Cosplay Photo Backdrops) for the hotel, but like a video game, it isn't just the graphics- it's the playability. The layout was good, and except for the viewing rooms (accessible via large staircase on floor 2) and the consuite (floor 8... to make people earn the free food, I guess) everything was on ground level.
I arrived at the beginning for two reasons. One was that the preliminary schedule was released just 24 hours prior to the convention in a 9 MB PDF file, so I had no idea what was happening when. Second was due to my contribution to the freebie table:
If I'm going to have an original series fashioned like a webcomic, I'm going to promote it as such. Thanks to my employee discount allowing me crazy-cheap paper and ink, I printed 50 copies of this nifty MST promo booklet. Armed with all 50 copies and my usual convention bag Kari Wahlgren loves so much, I figured I'd get the whole registration thing out of the way before pimping my webnovel...
This was not the entire line. This is merely how far I had advanced in one hour and forty-seven minutes. I was only halfway through.
First off, let's make this perfectly clear- this was the pre-reg line. The at-con registration line was infinitely shorter and infinitely faster, a repeat of a similar problem at ACen a couple years ago- which ACen remedied by making both lines infinitely long and infinitely slow. Of course, I had to ask around to make sure this was the pre-reg line as there was no signs indicating it as such where the line began. It wasn't until an hour in that a staffer walked by with an easel and sign reading "At-Con Registration Ahead 2 Miles. Pre-Reg Line Begins Here. (You Guessed Wrong- Ha Ha!)"
Apparently, due to a computer glitch, only half the badges were printed... a major impediment to the registration process, as you can imagine. Even after they supposedly got everything printed, the line still did not move. In the time it took for me to read an entire volume of Eyeshield 21, I had not gained enough yards for a first down. You can bet I wanted to punt somebody. Yes, computer malfunctions and such happen. But that was still not an excuse for AI to have a line akin to ACen: for something as crucial as registration, a convention needs crisis management capabilities, backup plans and spare printing equipment. Seriously, it's Iowa- if nothing else, these guys should be masters of redundancy.
Wondering how I knew it had been exactly one hour and forty-seven minutes? Unlike most of the line-squatters, I carried important information to pass on to the registration desk (assuming one existed). When I first got in line, a staffer handed me a slip of paper- a data-gathering instrument, as it were. Essentially, the time I got in line, the number of people ahead of me, and the time it took for me to go through. The bottom text read "We are trying to get an idea of how long people have to wait in line for registration and when the line gets too long."
Hours later, the staffer who gave me the data-gathering instrument saw me in line, still with a ways to go. I casually observed that the line had gotten too long. He almost starting crying.
I included a brief comment on the slip when I finally turned it in three hours later.
I opted to take the picture with my watch rather than hold up the line further by taking the picture after formally clocking in. But yeah...
Anyone who has attended larger conventions would know that 244 is *not* a lot of cattle to push through. Furthermore, as a final insult, they divided the pre-reg line by last name. An effective solution, although I was the only "P" located in the "Q-Z" line. Apparently, that's that what I get for having a mother with a maiden name starting with Z.
After throwing my program into my bag and discarding the enclosed Iowa City visitor's guide, I was off to the only panel they had running. Thankfully, it was the Otaku no Yen fan panel.
Roku and Drazz, quickly becoming recap staples, were guests of honor this year at Anime Iowa, along with Greg Ayres and a few voice actors and industry folk I didn't really know. I wasn't quite sure how to approach that as you all know my prior history with guests of honor. I mean, Drazz is in my fantasy football league this year and I was hoping to rely on him for Cubs updates as I did at No Brand.
As I walked into the room, the panel stopped. Roku and Drazz cheered as I triumphantly announced my conquest of the line... and then starting bitching about it. That pretty much set the tone for the weekend, although I came in as the discussion got interesting- discussing the culprit featured in a recent yuri-fused page, dismissing a popular suspect due to conflicting breast sizes. (That sentence alone may earn ONY a couple new readers)
After the panel, I found three of my four roommates in line.
Theresa, Joe and Jasmine waiting ever-so-impatiently. Joe pretends that the end of the line is in sight. It isn't.
The fourth, Tyler, did not pre-register, advanced to Go and collected two hundred... but wait, what's this??
Just as I explained that they would be in line for another couple hours, a miracle happened. Somewhere through all the toiling by the registration staff, something clicked and the machine started running again. The line (even longer than in that first picture) was instantly cut in half- from no movement to conveyor belt in seconds. It was the strangest sight, but I couldn't follow up on this as I secured a room key from Theresa and finally got to unload my bags, leaving 20 or so copies of MST at the freebie table.
After lightening my load (and paring it down to one bag), I went back down to invade the con and saw KORfan manning the info desk. He explained the full details of the registration hang-up and chatted about some of the finer points of the convention. Besides the info, it was also a great vantage point to see if anybody was biting on those MST booklets (actual literary content certainly beats mere business cards; I was restocking all weekend and burned all 50 copies easily). But it was soon time to check up on how our friends were doing in the line.
Uh oh. This was all that was left of the pre-reg line. Meaning Theresa, Joe and Jasmine were loose in the convention.
Thankfully the at-con line didn't budge and Tyler was just getting out. We joined forces and looked for the others.
Nah, forget the others, the dealer's room just opened!
Okay, score one for Iowa: the dealer's room was incredible, and this was where the location really stood out over last year's site. Even the dealers were up on the trends this year, although I'm sure the one looping the Hare Hare dance from Haruhi probably drove a few vendors insane.
As I was somewhat on a controlled budget, I tried to stick to my "deuces rule" of buying just two anime series and two manga series at a time. At the moment, my anime choices were Haruhi and Pani Poni, with Eyeshield and School Rumble on the manga list. As I was up-to-date on Haruhi and Eyeshield, I dove after volume five of Pani Poni. Didn't take me long to violate the rule, however, thanks to my fantasy football team.
You see, my team name is the Seyruun Nagas, a reference to the perennial champion Shinryuuji Nagas of Eyeshield 21. Yes, half the team is named after Saiyuki characters, but Let it Go: I went with the Nagas and the obvious Slayers reference. Ergo- I've been nostalgic over the old Slayers movies for a couple weeks now. So when I saw Slayers Return for $11? That's a value buy.
The Green Bay group is present and accounted for... Tony and Cassie have been spotted elsewhere. Apparently, more than one of them did not actually purchase a badge, but instead just roamed the halls all weekend looking for fun, friends, and perhaps a random battle or two. At some conventions, not actually buying a badge is a foolish and silly idea. This is not one of those conventions.
Tyler and I retreated to the room and found the rest of our group chilling, chatting and watching TV. At some conventions, chilling, chatting and watching TV in the hotel room is a foolish and silly idea. This is not one of those conventions. Iowa is very much a social convention- fairly light on panels and activities and more focused on just getting a bunch of otaku together to hang out. So I found it perfectly acceptable for us to just relax in the hotel room for an hour or so. Tyler wanted to (and did) go out and do something, but we reminded him that along with being a convention... this was also a day off work for us. And a sorely needed one too. I can't spend all my energy dodging cosplay photo takers in the hallway.
In fact, at some point during the day, I actually snuck upstairs to catch parts of the Cubs game before karaoke. With Drazz perhaps occupied with his Guest of Honor duties, I wanted to make sure I stayed up on things. Besides, the next big thing for me was karaoke. When the time came, I handed the remote to Joe so he could watch the History Channel show he had been clamoring to see, and went down to sing some tunes.
Things went in typical karaoke fashion- some could sing, some couldn't, too many people resorted to anime/game songs written originally in English. One guy tried Ride on Shooting Star from FLCL (maybe the only song ever written that rhymes a word with orange), but the computer wasn't equipped to handle stereo sound. So the staff improvised. Not that the riff is complicated...
As a prelude to the contest on Saturday, I led off with an encore performance of Dang Dang from Eyeshield. As always, it was awesome... whether or not it was because it was a Japanese song and wasn't replayed constantly is for the jury to decide.
This was one of only two times I wore the Devil Bat hat all weekend. The other time stemmed from the revelation that the University of Iowa football team was also in the hotel with us- sharing elevator space primarily, although some stopped by the dance Saturday night. Now, there are far worse groups to share hotel/convention space with. Last year, a prom was lucky enough to be staged right alongside ACen (I'm sure those kids were thrilled, which may or may not be sarcastic depending on what they were looking for). If nothing else, the Hawkeye factor was a conversation starter. When one of the guys in the room across the hall said how football and anime don't mix... well, I just had to prove him wrong. Turns out that he was an Eyeshield-reader too, so I used the hat to upstage him just a little bit.
As I didn't have anything else I felt like singing at karaoke, I retired to the room to catch the end of Cubs game. Over the course of the last two innings, the others arrived from their various adventures- mostly complaining about the nonstop homogenized techno during the dance. As it was nearing midnight, there was only one thing to do- eat. While a mysterious bar & grill named The Edge caught our attention, mostly because we were all curious what Iowa considered a restaurant with "edge" consisted of, we settled for Perkins because it's always open and is only a block away.
But first we had to wait for the Cubs to close out their 6-2 win over Colorado... Cubs win! We're out!
So let's recap... 24 hour diner one block away from an anime convention? No surprise that the restaurant put "Welcome Anime Iowa" on its sign that weekend. They were bank.
Like most of us, I ate (and spent) a bit too much. So when it's midnight and you need to burn some calories, what's there to do?
Good thing the gaming room was also 24 hours. We all got a little DDR in, but were too sleepy to head to the non-video game wing and get our Risk on, so we retired for the night. Because Friday's just practice at Iowa. Saturday is game time.