Convention Report: Anime Weekend Atlanta 2013

FbvVo0R Last week, I sat in a car for 12 hours on a never-ending road through Virginia and the Carolinas while my friends played the same two Eurobeat CD's. I got through it via some sweet PB&J sandwiches and by occasionally napping on a pile of stuffed tails. This trip had a purpose - get to Atlanta for the annual Anime Weekend Atlanta convention, where the creator of the Touhou franchise, ZUN, would be making his first U.S. appearance.

Well, Atlanta certainly delivered on the ZUN front - that's me pictured with him in the above photo, by the way. Each day featured multiple Touhou-related events, starting with a Q&A session on Friday night.

An aside, before I go any further - Touhou is a series of danmaku, or bullet hell shooters. Titles in that genre that have experienced an American release include "Ikaruga," "Akai Katana," and "Castle of Shikigami III." The Touhou series has 14 main games and countless spinoffs. A big draw to the series is the characters - they're all girls! Most of the games base the characters off of some sort of folklore to come up with the girls' designs and powers, but sometimes ZUN just pulls stuff out of his ass. He's real good at that. The games have increased in popularity through the intense fandom that surrounds it, and they are absolutely worth playing if you haven't already.

Anyway. The Friday night Q&A session was most attendees' first chance at seeing the All Holy Creator of All That is Touhou, so the room was absolutely packed. This event was also the first bit of forewarning that the staff didn't know how to communicate properly. Up until the point that the event started, it had been announced that the only questions allowed to be asked would be by people with press passes - so that essentially, it would be a press conference with the public allowed in the room to hear the questions and answers. This was not the case - it was basically a free-for-all in terms of who could ask the questions, which (understandably) upset members of the press who had to go through an extensive process to get their press passes in the first place. ZUN didn't do any private interviews during the convention, either, so the fact that the AWA staff just shrugged and said "anyone can ask questions" when they had said for weeks up to that point that it would be a press-exclusive event was kind of a kick in the balls for a lot of those people.

That being said, I don't think the event suffered for it. A lot of fans had some pretty interesting questions, or at least I thought so. I've been playing the Touhou games since about 2008, so I've had a good bit of time to sink into learning about the storylines and characters and so on and so forth. But, as in any fandom, many people get snotty and elitist about it. I heard, on almost every question, people complaining and saying, "He's said that in an interview before, don't you know that? How can you not know that?" and shit like that. Guess what, douche caboose - not everyone knows that. Get off your high horse or get out of the room if you want to attend a public Q&A like that.

I ran into ZUN himself shortly after the panel. He had a small entourage with him, and he didn't speak a lick of English, but he was very nice and let me take my picture with him. I think it helped that I was cosplaying as the main character from the Touhou franchise, Hakurei Reimu.

The following day featured a plethora of Touhou events, starting with a group photoshoot for all of the cosplayers in the morning. There were more than a hundred people there, and as such, it was very difficult to coordinate. There were probably better places to shoot, also, since in the big group shot you can't see anyone's costumes, just heads. You can see my costume though, because I was the main character and therefore the most important and in the front of everyone else. I am a special snowflake.

Following the photoshoot was a "Touhou Fan Panel," which was apparently supposed to be about the fandom as a whole. It started off okay but quickly diverged into one huge circle-jerk with "representatives" of the fandom from different regions of the country talking about the Touhou fandom in their area. Now, the way this should have been done is by getting in touch with the more well-known fandom leaders and having them submit a few photos or Powerpoint slides showing off their region's fandom or whatever. But no, it was basically a circle-jerk around certain people for an hour instead. So I left.

The Saturday Touhou events are another example of the AWA staff not communicating well. There were three events back-to-back with each other in the same room - the Fan Panel, Touhou Trivia, and Gaming with ZUN. Staff had said repeatedly, all goddamn day, that they were going to do a room clear following each panel. Guess what they didn't do? A room clear! Correct! So this totally screwed a lot of people who I saw patiently waiting outside to get a good seat for Touhou Trivia and probably ended up in the back corner somewhere. That's a shitty thing to do, AWA staff. I don't care how much of a hassle it would have been for you guys - if you're saying you'll do a room clear all day, YOU SHOULD DO A ROOM CLEAR.

I skipped the Trivia panel to go get some food and returned for Gaming with ZUN. He didn't play his own game, he had some poor kid sit next to him and play through Double Dealing Character, the latest entry in the series, instead. He started off by asking, "are you sure you can clear this?" The kid did alright - he died a few times, but if I had the creator of the series sitting next to me and drinking a beer while I tried to play his game, I would be a little nervous, myself.

After Gaming with ZUN ended, I had to go change into my Utena costume for my panel, called "Everything is a Metaphor, and the Metaphor is a Penis." It's exactly what it sounds like. Thankfully I have a friend who was willing to record it for me, so you can watch it in parts here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

I'm pretty happy with how my panel went - I wasn't expecting that many people to show up, and I wasn't expecting that many people to laugh at my stupid dick jokes. I've been told multiple times now to flesh it out a little more and do it at another convention, so perhaps I will work on that.

Sunday went by pretty quickly. I got another picture with ZUN, bought some things from the merchant's hall, and then drove 14 hours. On the plus side, we found gas for under three dollars in North Carolina. It was awesome.

Overall, Anime Weekend Atlanta was a great time. That being said, I probably wouldn't do it again, simply because it was a pain to get to - I only went because ZUN was there, and I got all of those Touhou feelings out of my system. Good things: The hotel we stayed in was awesome (free awesome breakfast with bacon and eggs and pancakes!), and most of the people I met were genuinely awesome. A lot of the programming was great, too. Not good things: The convention's layout was a little awkward at times, and many of the rooms were not clearly labeled. Staff had terrible communication issues during big events. The game room was really poorly placed.

Next up: Tigercon, which is October 19th at  Towson University. It's free, so be sure to show up! I hear a certain podcast might be doing a live recording, too...

How SyFy's Heroes of Cosplay is getting everything wrong

Heroes of Cosplay Heroes of Cosplay is an awful show and SyFy should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for airing it – but they won’t be, because these are the people who came up with Sharknado. I have yet to watch a single episode start-to-finish because every time I've tried to watch it, I get an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don’t even feel like I need to, based on the conversation that happened in the most recent episode regarding body image. It’s clearly an absolute disgrace to the entire hobby.

In case you didn’t know, I’ve been cosplaying for about the last decade. So when this show got announced, I wasn’t exactly sure what to think. I love cosplaying and the people who I’ve met through doing it but turning it into a reality TV show didn’t seem like a great idea. I was pretty spot-on with that assumption.

While criticisms of the show have included typical reality TV show criticisms – over-dramatic nonsense, certain scenes feeling scripted rather than actual “reality” – the most recent episode featured a conversation that reflects poorly on the entire cosplay community. This conversation was about body size versus what people should cosplay – that someone heavy shouldn’t cosplay a skinny character, basically.

In my experience cosplaying, I’ve done a revolutionary girl, a fluffy puppy secretary, a spoiled vault brat, a potentially lesbian vampire – and her possible princess ex-girlfriend. I’ve been every guy’s bunny girl dream and the most dangerous youkai in Gensokyo. I’ve done both your obnoxious rival from Pokemon and the soccer-loving tomboy from Digimon. I’ve been a thousand-year-old witch and a young boy who’s soul is trapped in a robot so he can fight the greatest evil in the universe.

Do you want to know exactly how many times my body size has affected my cosplay choice?

Zero.

I am not a wafer-thin anime character and I never will be. My bone structure does not allow for that (I have enormous baby-making hips). No matter your body type, you should be able to cosplay what you want. As long as your costume is made well and you genuinely love what you’re doing, you will have my respect. I know the same is true for probably most of the community as a whole.

I find it unfortunate that Syfy would rather play up catty drama than show cosplayers in a truly positive light. This show is not portraying us well. Please take my word for it – we are not all dramatic, bitchy people. Sure, we’re still human, and we’ll get stressed out over this stuff (I personally have two costumes to make in the next five weeks or so), just as anyone puts stress on themselves.

If you want to get into cosplay, go for it. Do whatever character you want. Don’t let these awful people on Syfy tell you that you can’t because you’re too heavy or too thin for whatever it is you want to do. Cosplay isn't about pleasing other people - it's about doing what YOU want to do.

Otakon 2013 report

S9XxrC0 One of Baltimore's biggest events - and the second-largest anime convention in the U.S. - has come and gone. Otakon 2013, the 20th iteration of the annual convention, was this past weekend. It was my 11th time attending this event, and it didn't disappoint. For the most part.

I started going to conventions with Otakon 2002, when I was 12 years old (yes, you read that correctly - 12 years old). I went with one of my friends and her parents, and it was overwhelmingly awesome. I had only just begun to really get into video gaming and anime, so to have a whole convention full of the stuff was a sensory overload. I was hooked. I've been to more conventions than I can count ever since, including Otakon, Katsucon, Anime USA, Anime Boston, and MAGFest. While Otakon is no longer my favorite convention to attend - that award goes to MAGFest - Otakon is still my "home convention" and I still love going every year.

This year, they had some pretty major guests - but honestly, none that I was too terribly interested in. They did a world premiere of Oreimo 2, but not having seen any of Oreimo, I didn't really bother with it. Music-wise, they had TM Revolution and Home Made Kazoku, both of whom are pretty well-known for some popular anime theme songs, such as the Rurouni Kenshin theme and one of the Naruto themes. They also had Yoko Kanno, who's an incredible composer - she's done scores for Turn A Gundam and Cowboy Bebop, among others. I didn't make it to either of the concerts, unfortunately - the Kanno show required tickets you had to get in advance, which I missed out on, and I'm pretty apathetic about TM Revolution/Home Made Kazoku. I saw TM Revolution way back in 2003, when he made his first US appearance, and I had kind of wanted to see him for nostalgia's sake, but that particular concert was held outside of the convention center, and the idea of walking through the summer heat in uncomfortable shoes and a wig for a show I only wanted to hear one song out of just wasn't appealing to me.

I did end up going to a couple of panels, including a Digimon one on Sunday. Digimon is one of my all-time favorite series, and the people running it did a pretty damn good job of going over the history of the franchise, all the way back to the original virtual pet toy. Remember that commercial? I do. I bugged the shit out of my parents for one of those and never got one. I did, however, get hooked on the show - the first two seasons of which you can now watch on Netflix. If you've never seen the original Japanese Digimon Adventure and Adventure 02, you should definitely watch it. The Japanese and English versions of the show are so different, Netflix treats them as two separate series rather than just different language options of the same show.

Overall, the convention was really great. I saw a lot of friends I don't often get to see, since they're really only in town for conventions. One of my con-going buddies proposed to his girlfriend on Saturday night at our big group dinner at the Inner Harbor - she said yes, which was awesome. I managed not to spend all of my money in the dealer's hall or artist's alley - the only thing I ended up buying for myself was a clock made out of an old Zelda II cartridge. The people selling them also made wallets made out of broken NES controllers, which I regret not buying when I saw them. I went back on Sunday to get one and they were no longer set up. Total bummer.

The biggest downside to the convention was the traffic control problem. Convention staff and con center staff didn't seem to be communicating with each other very well - more than once I was told by a convention staffer that I could get somewhere by going down a certain hallway, only to be told by a con center security person that I couldn't actually go down there. A lot of doors were entrance-only or exit-only for reasons I just didn't understand. They might have just put up a sign that said "Welcome to Otakon, where just because the door's open, it doesn't mean you can actually come in." It made sense to have one lobby as an entrance-only area during the huge Friday registration lines. It stopped making sense to keep that up once that line dissipated. Sending con-goers on wild goose chases around the entire Baltimore Convention Center for the sake of finding the "correct" way into the building was absolutely asinine.

I did have a great time at Otakon despite that nonsense, though, and I can't wait for the next event. In case you haven't heard, Otakon will be moving out of Baltimore and into Washington, D.C. after the 2017 convention. It makes a lot of sense - the DC Convention Center is a lot bigger and a lot nicer than the BCC, and Otakon will for sure outgrow the BCC by then. Obviously that's a few years down the road from now, but I think it will be good for the convention to expand into a bigger space. Maybe they'll actually let us use all the doors in DC.

Editorial: Ranma 1/2 and Turbo Teen: Sex Change to Oil Change

“More than meets the eye” is line from the theme song for the Transformers that informs you that more lies beneath the surface than what might be originally seen by the naked eye. The phrase also refers to the transformation that occurs when the Transformers spring into action. Transformation is not something that only happens for robots in cartoons; it has been attributed to humans as well. This article deals with two examples from the 1980’s and 1990’s Turbo Teen and Ranma ½. The goal is to look beneath the surface of these cartoons at the underlying sexual and gender implications for their protagonists.

Fans of anime are familiar with Ranma ½. In this series, cold water changes Ranma into a girl while hot water changes him back into a boy. This anime was based on a manga series that was serialized from 1987-1996. The sex changing main character is cursed due to an accident that occurred during his training. During training, Ranma fell into a spring in which a girl drowned. His father Genma is cursed because he fell into a spring in which a panda drowned. While Ranma becomes a girl his father becomes a Panda. We won't go into the implications of that in this article.

The second cartoon under consideration is the 1980’S cartoon Turbo Teen. Turbo Teen is the story of teenager Brett Matthews who accidentally crashes into a lab while driving his red sports car. An experiment is occurring when he crashes into the lab and he gets hit by a molecular beam becoming fused with his car. The scientist conducting the experiment was Dr. Chase (as in car chase I guess) along with a government agent named Mr. Cardwell. Because Brett is fused with his car he has the ability to transform into the car when he is hot and transform back into Brett when he is cold. He and his friends use his new found abilities as Turbo Teen to go on crime fighting adventures. Although the series only ran for twelve episodes, the zeitgeist of its images still remain.

Running Hot and Cold

To run hot and cold is run back and forth between two extremes. In the case of these cartoons we have a boy changing to a girl and a boy changing into a car. Ranma’s change is a common change for transsexual individuals. For transsexual individuals their assigned sex does not align with their psychological gender. The difference is that Ranma never stays one sex or the other. (S)he changes based on the temperature of the water that (s)he is presented with. (S)he literally runs hot and cold.

Psychologically this is something where gender becomes an important issue. The term intersex has be coined to describe those individuals who have sexual characteristics of both males and females. However, this has been defined as a disorder rather than a way of being. The Intersex Society of North America sought to abolish this term in order to validate the status of intersex individuals. The argument is that just because an individual has the sexual characteristics of both male and female does not mean that they have the gender identification “issues” that go along with that. For some individuals they may feel more male than female or vice versa. However, the goal of the Intersex Society of North America was to give validity to the status of intersexuality as a way of being rather than a disorder. It brings new meaning to the They Might Be Giants song SEXXY.

So, if Ranma is an intersex individual, both male and female, what ramification does this have for our good friend Turbo Teen, aka Brett Matthews. My argument is that there is something else going on here psychologically beyond a simple transformation into a car. The change that occurs is much deeper because instead of a sexual shift, we have a fusion of two objects. There is a more sexual undertone to this transformation. Why do I say this? For one thing Ranma changes when he gets cold water splashed on him…Brett changes when he gets hot and I would add bothered.

There is a group of individuals who have a special affinity for their cars. This group is known as mechanophiles is attracted to cars, emotionally and physically. Like Brett they become fused with their cars; however, in this case it is in the biblical sense. One man Edward Smith claims that he has had sex with over a thousand cars.

"I appreciate beauty and I go a little bit beyond appreciating the beauty of a car only to the point of what I feel is an expression of love," he said. "Maybe I'm a little bit off the wall but when I see movies like Herbie and Knight Rider, where cars become loveable, huggable characters it's just wonderful. "I'm a romantic. I write poetry about cars, I sing to them and talk to them just like a girlfriend. I know what's in my heart and I have no desire to change." He added: "I'm not sick and I don't want to hurt anyone, cars are just my preference."

Edward first had sex with a car at the age of 15. Since that time, he has had sex with over a thousand cars. Oil changes become real sexual innuendo here. Apparently his sexual appetite does not stop with cars. He states that his most intense sexual experience was with the helicopter from Airwolf.

So what does this have to do with Turbo Teen? I would argue that psychologically Brett wanted to be with his car and therefore became "fused" with it. When he gets hot (and bothered) the two become one. He is able to talk through the speakers of the car. Instead of simply being the car he is both the car and Brett simultaneously.

 

Show me your Oh face!

The other part of this equation is that people get inside Brett. Not only does Brett desire to have sex with his car he can make it a threesome, foursome, etc.  You be the judge. Take a look at this animated gif using clips from the show.

For all you outraged Turbo Teen fans out there give me your thoughts. I am ready for them!

References

Man admits to "having sex" with 1,000 cars http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2000899/Man-admits-having-sex-with-1000-cars.html