Prior to attending Ushicon 4, I had never before attended an anime convention. I had wanted to attend cons before, but due to distance or circumstance, I never quite made it. So I suppose the angle of the article was decided long before I ever got a mind to write it: the impressions of a first-time congoer. My job here was to portray, as closely as I can, how I experienced the convention. This is my story.
Friday – A Stranger in a Strange Place
I didn’t know what to expect from my first con experience. I read a few message boards, and the response to conventions are mixed at best. Half of all posters seem to absolutely adore cons, as though they were miniature Promised Lands for anime fans. The other half, the one I more readily identify with, tend to focus on horror stories of being glomped, shouted at, threatened, groped (in the case of females), or even seedier things I don’t really care to detail. Granted, being a pretty good-sized guy, I doubt too many people would try to touch me for fear of being flattened, but you never know. This is a big-city anime con, after all. But even so, all those horror stories had to be worst-case scenarios, right? Surely the overall con experience would be a bit more normal?
By the time I pulled into the parking lot of the Renaissance Hotel, I was scared. Suddenly this whole “going to a con” thing seemed like a really bad idea. I walked into the hotel, and immediately saw cosplayers wandering aimlessly around the lobby, an activity I would later find myself frequently engaging in. I was here, at Ushicon, no backing out now. Time to go get my badge and start doing the con thing. Heaven help me.
I had a problem right away. Evidently, my name wasn’t on the list. That could have been the start of a very, very short convention report, but the staff on hand were determined to get to the bottom of things. We soon learned that there had evidently been some form of address foul-up, and my credentials had never arrived to the right people. Fortunately for me and this article, since this was a unique situation they were very understanding, and we eventually got everything straightened out. That was my first experience with the con staff, who were all very nice and helpful throughout the weekend.
Administrative issues done away with, I found myself attending the Studio Ironcat panel, only to learn that it would likely be the final Ironcat panel ever. The fate of Ironcat has since become public knowledge, so I won’t dwell on that aspect of the panel. But contrary to what you might think, the tone of the panel was very optimistic. Steve Bennett was looking forward to possibly getting a new project started, and he encouraged everyone present to learn from his experiences, make sure to get at least a little education in business, and to be the best you can at whatever you do. Say what you will about Ironcat’s business decisions or whatever, but Steve himself seems like an interesting, friendly guy.
The rest of my Friday was spent bouncing aimlessly from event to event, with one notable pause to watch random fanboys and girls compete for fabulous prizes on Anime Jeopardy! Anime Jeopardy only served to cement some notions in my head. One: anime is so large and compartmentalized that it’s really hard for anyone to gain a “blanket” knowledge of the entire medium. Two: my mind for minute details is so shot, there is no way in hell I could win a round of Anime Jeopardy. Three: evidently, people who watched Berserk do not exist outside of the Internet. Four: I can’t believe I was the only non-host person in the room who knew that M.D. Geist was the spokesmecha for Central Park Media. Five: computers cannot be trusted, as the second game was cut short by technical foulups.
The con’s official opening ceremonies didn’t take place until Friday evening, which seemed odd considering the con had technically been underway since late morning. There wasn’t anything terribly exciting about the ceremonies, but I felt obligated to attend if only to get the full con experience. I don’t really know what I expected out of these ceremonies, but all that really happened were the introduction of the guests, and announcements of the events to come later that night, which included HentaiFest and the Shoujo Pajama Party. I think I spent more time waiting in line than I did watching the ceremony.
During the opening ceremonies, they had announced a con suite with hot dogs to feed hungry congoers, but after being on my feet in a high-stress environment all day, the idea of hot dogs for dinner and watching anime in a dark room for the rest of the night didn’t sound that appealing to me. So I went and had a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant and found myself a place to sleep for the night.
So I survived the first day of an anime convention. Who knows? Tomorrow I might actually enjoy myself!
Saturday – Through the Eyes of the Amused Observer
Saturday is always the longest day of any three-day con, which makes it all the more surprising that I actually did less con-related stuff on Saturday than on any other day. I spent most of the day attending industry and fan panels, and spent much of the in-between time not doing much of anything.
My first event of the day was the Funimation panel. It was a fairly loose, easygoing panel. No new titles were announced (not that I particularly expected any to be), but they expected to announce two new titles in the coming weeks. We were then told of release dates for future titles and all the T-Shirts and other goodies Funimation would be releasing for their titles. I did note that their release of Kodocha will contain a lengthy interview with Akitaroh Daichi that will probably span more than one disc. The rest of the panel was spent on fun miscellany like what it was like to work at Funi, voice talent scouting, and Napoleon Dynamite.
This photo comes from the Iron Cosplay panel, where people try to put together clever costumes out of little bits and pieces one might find around the house. I didn’t actually get to attend this panel, but it looked like it would be amusing to watch.
Next up was the ADV Panel, where everyone who asked a question the panelists liked got a free DVD. It was the most popular panel I was in all weekend, and it was also in the smallest panel room. As expected, there was no earth-shattering news announcements, but a host of issues were discussed. The most interesting thing I found out was that the issue with Newtype USA and its “now there’s no disc, now there is again” didn’t have anything to do with sales or production costs, but the fact that stores were complaining about people stealing the discs and leaving the magazines. The subscription price of the magazine has not changed.
The only other two panels I attended Saturday were the Women in Anime and Christianity in Anime panels. The Women in Anime panel was Monica Rial and Tiffany Grant discussing their views on female characters in anime and women’s roles in the anime industry. It was a fairly civil panel with a few good questions, but like most of the other panels, it got diverted into the specifics of voice acting by the end.
The Christianity in Anime panel was run by the people who produce the Anime Angels fanzine, where Christian manga artists showcase their creations. The discussion was primarily about the Christian faith and what it’s about, its portrayal in anime, and what Christians ought to do with anime. I showed up late for the panel, so I don’t know what all was said, but there were some interesting views expressed. Vic Mignogna sat in on part of the panel, and he shared stories and talked about how his faith affects his life and job. This was probably my favorite panel of the weekend. By that time, whatever I had eaten for lunch had worn off completely, so I struck out for sustenance.
By the time I returned from dinner, the only things still to come that night were the cosplay showcase and the art auction. I attended the cosplay showcase for a short period of time. It had a few fairly amusing skits, and most of the costumes I saw ranged from tolerably good to very impressive, but there’s no way I could ever drum up the patience to stand or sit at one of these things for four hours. I stayed for maybe 45 minutes, then went to the main hotel lobby for to people-watch for awhile before returning to my room.
And my favorite photo of the weekend, which is even funnier taken completely out of context…
I didn’t attend the art auction that night, as I was busy counting sheep. Even if I was there, I wouldn’t have any pictures to show you, because the con wisely had an iron rule about no cameras being allowed into the art auction. It’s just as well. Even if they did allow pictures there, my crappy disposable camera would have made even the most skillful works of art look like an epileptic gorilla sneezed all over them.
Sunday – A Farewell to Alarms
As the crowd numbers began to die out on Sunday, so the enthusiasm began to die with them. I arrived a little early that morning, and since there was nothing much going on at the moment, I had a little conversation with some of the con staff. I ended up learning that between Ushicon and a military ball being held Saturday night, the Renaissance Hotel was completely full – and it was a pretty good-sized hotel. Not bad for a fourth-year con in the dead of winter with no super-big-name guests. Also, the charity art auction was a big success, with over $2,000 being raised to donate to the victims of the recent tsunami. It’s a touching example of people helping others by doing what they do best: artists showcasing their skills, and anime fans spending money.
Tickets were being sold for the big Breakfast with the Guests, which I ended up waffling out on. I would later wish I hadn’t, because what was left of the meal looked pretty good. In lieu of the breakfast, I found myself attending the “Parenting and Anime” panel, which consisted of the panel moderator, three parents, a teenage girl (I assume she was related to one of the present parents, but that’s purely my assumption), and me. The panel moderator was undertaking writing a book about anime for parents, and most of the panel was spent defining terms and kicking around ideas. If she ever gets that book done, I’d be interested in seeing how it turned out.
The final event I attended was a skit show called “Whose Line Is It?” which was an anime-based takeoff of Whose Line Is It Anyway? It had many of the same games as the TV show, but with an anime twist. The contestants were volunteers pulled out of the audience. Normally I would have run away screaming – improv is like doing impromptu film heckling: only the experienced or the quick-witted can get away with it – but I ended up staying for the heck of it.
It wasn’t really as bad as I expected. In fact, it wasn’t such a bad way to kill an hour. It’s not that the improv was always first-rate – in truth, it could be downright painful to watch at times – but this event was probably the most representative of the con’s one quality I could really appreciate: the sheer raw enthusiasm and carnival spirit: “we may not be skilled improv comedians, but dammit, we’re gonna give it a shot!” That sort of attitude isn’t something I can find much fault with, even if the results weren’t always of the best quality. I guess I know where karaoke gets its popularity now.
After Whose Line was over, I dragged myself over to the schedule. By that time, I was hungry and completely exhausted mentally, if not physically. The only events remaining that day were a Yaoi panel, hours of tabletop RPG gaming, and the closing ceremonies, the first two being things I have absolutely no use for. I decided it simply wasn’t worth it to stick around for another four or five hours just to see the closing ceremonies, so I decided to be on my way. Farewell, Ushicon. Maybe we’ll do this again someday.
I spent the next week laid up with some flu-like bug and what felt like an eye infection. I guess I ended up taking home some souvenirs after all. Hooray for closed, overcrowded spaces full of people practicing questionable hygiene!
Though I have no prior con experience to which I could compare Ushicon 4, I will say that it went a lot more smoothly than I expected. The staff was more friendly and helpful to me than they had any reason to be, and I could find no fault with the air of enthusiasm and excitement that permeated the air at all times. There was a certain can-do atmosphere to the whole experience, where people were willing to throw off their inhibitions and be completely and utterly ridiculous for a few days, for their own entertainment and that of others. It’s easy to be cynical when you’re constantly being exposed to the worst of what anime and its fandom has to offer, but it’s difficult to be a cynic when you’re around so many people who are thoroughly enjoying themselves. It’s like trying to be cynical when taking your kids to an amusement park: you may dislike the crowds, the heat, the noise, and the way some people are acting, but you can hardly fault your children for having the time of their lives.
I enjoyed the panels and the activities I took part in, but truthfully, my favorite part of the con came on Saturday night, where I did little but stroll around watching people. There’s just something inherently interesting about people at anime conventions. You see a little kid not even in kindergarten running around in costume, eating up all the attention he’s getting, and you can’t help but smile. You see men and women old enough to be your parents (or even grandparents), and you can’t help but wonder what their stories are. You see people making costumes and setting up elaborate shows, all in the name of entertaining other fans of goofy foreign cartoons, and you wonder what motivates us to do such things. We’re a strange lot, we anime fans.
That’s really what cons are supposed to be about: fans working to entertain other fans. A con without that connection is worthless. That’s the spirit I sought to find when I came to Ushicon, and I found what I was looking for. I don’t think I could have reasonably asked for more than that.