Editor’s note: Sadly, due to a catastrophic error while transferring the site in late 2000, nearly every photo from this convention report was lost. Poof. Gone. Completely. This report will remain here, but without photos (except for a precious few). If you think you have some of the photos from this report saved or cached, please email me at your earliest convenience. I’ll make it worth your while if you do.)
(Disclaimer: Like most of my deranged ramblings, the following is peppered with exaggerations, half-truths, and outright fabrications. If I mention you by name in these pages and you feel as though you’ve been unfairly represented, well, tough shit– you’re gonna have to sue me to make me shut up. Now, on to the report.)
Hey, look at me, I went to Animazement! In a rather spur-of-the-moment move (I only made plans about 6 weeks in advance), I decided to hit this convention, simply because it was in close proximity to my birthday and because I wanted to meet Yu Watase. The addition of Chiho Saito and Kunihiko Ikuhara, however, clinched it for me. So I went, I got pictures to prove I was there, and I had a gay old time.
The flight down to Raleigh was rather dull. However, I knew that the con would be interesting when the first sight Geoff Tebbetts (he of Animerica and Anime 2.0) and I were greeted by was that of Kunihiko Ikuhara and Chiho Saito themselves, just kind of sitting placidly in the lobby. Since my command of Japanese is basically limited to “Omae wa mou, shin de iru.” (“You are already dead.”), I didn’t try to engage them in a friendly chat.
We quickly checked in and hooked up with our other roomate, Brad “doesn’t run a webzine” Lascelle. Unfortunately, our newly-minted keycards didn’t seem to work. So we went downstairs and got new ones. They didn’t work. So we went downstairs and got new ones, and got one of the desk jockeys to follow us up and make sure things worked. One of the cards worked, so she left. The other two didn’t. So we went back down to get new ones. They all worked. Then I lost mine, so we had to all get new ones. See? Less than an hour after arriving at the hotel, and my life had already turned into a Sam Beckett play.
Finally, we resolved things. Down in the lobby, we soon encountered Richard “Pocky” Kim and Brett Weaver, the famous voice-actress. Brett, genial as ever, flashed us his gangster hand signals as he strolled up. Richard just mugged for the camera.
Others filtered in. An entire flotilla (heh heh… flotilla) of Japanese guests passed by– in fact, with the exception of Ikuhara and Saito, just about all of them trooped in. Unfortunately, my camera was only quick enough to get Akira Kamiya, famous voice-actress– er, voice-actor.
Not to mention the famous Rachael Lillis, she of Pokemon and stuff. Rachael and I were happy to see each other, because we’ve been corresponding for the past year or so. Of course, I didn’t see her after this point until the tail end of the con, because that’s what always happens.
Of course, we also saw the ubiquitous Kevin Lillard of A Fan’s View. I was envious of his camera, which was about twice as expensive as mine. I also asked him how he kept up such an impressively hectic travel schedule. “Two and a half jobs,” he said. He didn’t go into what exactly those jobs were all about. For my money, I think he’s a company CEO, a negotiator, and a crime-fighting superhero. Big Fansview, showtime!
After a couple of hours of wandering around and watching Brett drink beer in the hotel lobby, it was time for the “Meet the Guests” reception. This was where all of the guests were arranged at tables and them bum-rushed by all 200 of the con attendees who arrived on Thursday. I could see the terror mounting in the guests’ eyes as people gathered for the charge. While I waited, I chatted with Pocky about random stuff. He told me an interesting story about a Japanese game show that featured otaku trying to answer tough questions about obscure anime, while voice actors and industry types made commentary from a panel. I expressed skepticism that such a show would be that difficult to play, but he told me that questions involved such obscure series as Vickie, the Boy Viking (more on that later). He said that a skilled challenger had been stumped by one question: What was the first name of Inspector Zenigata from Lupin III?
“Koichi,” I replied absentmindedly.
“No, you’re wrong HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT?!” Richard replied, grabbing me by my lapels. I’m a big Lupin III fan. But then, it was time to make a pass– uh, I mean, pass through the guests’ tables and chat with them. Being nice guys, we figured we’d skip trying to talk to the popular guests (I briefly attempted to pry my way to Yu Watase, but I nearly had my arm taken off by the six-deep wall of giggly fangirls surrounding her) and hung around with the people who didn’t create wildly popular romantic girls’ comics. It was kind of fun– since Pocky actually speaks Japanese, we didn’t really need the overworked translators hanging around each table. We talked briefly with Nov. Takahashi of Studio Hard, who complimented me on my site’s URL, and action figure journalist Toshifumi Inagawa, who spoke lovingly of Toys R Us.
Then, we swung around and talked to Koichi Tsunoda, an animator and drawing director who, judging from his bio, did his best work for Toei Douga in the 70s. It was fine work indeed– turns out that this guy had been a major collaborator on Mazinger Z, and had even had a hand in the design of such super robot-o-riffic creations as Mazinger’s jet scramble (his bulky, winged jetpack). Pocky and I are big Mazinger fans, so it was definitely fun to talk to this guy.
Then we talked to Akira Kamiya. We both love Kamiya’s work, so we pretty much stammered and gushed and made asses of ourselves. Kamiya was cool, though– he gracefully posed for a photo, and even shouted one of his characters’ trademark battle cries into our nerdy palmtop PCs.
I got a nice, candid little shot of Rachael and the famous Lisa Ortiz.
Unfortunately, after that, it was time to leave. Too short! Much too short. Oh, well. After that, the guests and other important people hung out with the staff for a couple of hours (fringe benefit for being on staff), so Geoff and Brad and I followed Pocky up to his hotel room, to help him price the huge stack of filthy doujinshi (fan-produced comics) he was planning on selling. It was amusing, but the weird stuff I saw in the comics is probably not actually legal to even describe, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Then, it was time for that most blessed of con events: the first trip to the bar! The bar was a gaudy affair with loud, annoying music and poorly-mixed drinks. Still, Brad, Geoff, Brett, Richard and I– along with EK, supreme overlord of Big Big Truck, and Amy “Nova Forester” Howard and her beau Dave “The Third” Wilson– hung out for awhile. See?! Lookit!
The thrill, however, wore off quickly. We then decided to hop in EK’s car and go in search of alcohol more to our liking. In the lobby, Richard cheerfully informed Nov. Takahashi and his lady-friend (who was wearing platforms that appeared to augment her height by at least three feet) that we were headed out to Wal-mart. “Ah, Waru-Maato,” said Takahashi. At this point, my friends felt compelled to grab me and drag me out of the hotel behind them, as I screamed “AGAIN! MAKE HIM SAY WAL-MART AGAIN!!” Anyway, Wal-Mart turned out to yield little but an amusing photo:
I love photos like this, because they present a potentially infinite spread of possibilities. For instance, take EK’s position.
She’s just making a goofy face, but just think of the things I could place in those highly-marketable hands!
Things wound down quickly after that illustrious excursion. Booze was not to be found, so after quietly hanging out in the lobby for a couple of hours, I turned in.
Friday started, as always, with a quick dip in the pool. After the lifeguard rescued me and I regained consciousness, I went and got cleaned up and went to Opening Ceremonies. But it was early, and I spent a little time nosing through the stuff in the dealer’s room. I soon bumped into Brett and EK, met back up with Geoff and Brad, and we went on a Quest for Beer. Beer was found quickly enough to get the hell back in time for…
Opening Ceremonies, which are usually just kinda tedious, but I always feel obligated to go. It’s kind of like the family fourth of July barbecue, in that respect. Anyway, the guests each got to make a speech, after the emcee made small talk and asked that nobody use flash photography on Yu Watase, because it gives her headaches. Then the guests started talking.
“Where the hell am I?” remarked Ms. Watase pleasantly, as hundreds of flash bulbs went off simultaneously. “Ow. I can’t see a goddamn thing. Sumbitch.” Then Kunihiko Ikuhara, director of Utena, pointed out that he wasn’t at all satisfied with the way Japanese animation production companies do business. Chiho Saito said something vague and pleasant, I dunno, maybe it was about the Super Bowl. Kazuto Nakazawa, character designer for El Hazard, then took the mic, and explained that, since he’d made such an ass of himself last year, he wouldn’t be drinking this year. Unfortunately, the mic picked up the telltale sound of a beer can tab being popped under his table, so we knew THAT wasn’t going to be happening. Akira Kamiya wowed us with his vocal gymnastics, proving that he is, indeed, the Michael Winslow of Japan. Skilled director Hiroyuki Kitabuko immediately asked if there was a buffet. Nov. Takahashi and Toshifumi Inagawa got in a fight over who had a bigger collection of action figures. Kia Asamiya just sat silently, wearing a gigantic Mardi Gras-style Ruri head to conceal his identity from the press.
Koichi Tsunoda knew exactly what to tell the crowd, however. “Do you want to learn to draw characters like Mazinger Z and Sailor Moon, Dragonball and Candy Candy?” he asked the audience. “Then come to my panel!” The audience received this in stony silence. “And free beer,” Tsunoda hastily added after a moment’s pause. The crowd erupted in cheers.
The American guests were considerably more gregarious. I honestly don’t remember if Lisa Ortiz, Rachael Lillis, Scott Houle, or Pamela Weidner said anything of merit, though, because I fell asleep about twenty minutes into Brett Weaver’s incredibly rambling, long-winded speech. I’m told that it lasted nearly four hours, but I lost consciousness while he was explaining at great length about how eating steak and mutton pie was the closest thing to being in heaven.
Then, Yu Watase’s panel was happening in the same room, so I stuck around. She was personable and answered all of our questions. She spoke with great candor, easily answering questions about the cast of Ayashi no Ceres screwing each other, and only losing her temper and screaming her head off for a few moments when she got asked how she got inspired to do Fushigi Yuugi for the 4th time.
Then, pandemonium briefly occured. “OH MY GOD, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?!” Watase bellowed, pointing at the hapless person dressed as Tama the kitty from Fushigi Yuugi stumbling in disorientedly. The costume was certainly impressive, but it seemed to render the wearer almost totally blind, which isn’t necessarily a good idea, though it was kind of amusing.
I did eventually get to meet Yu Watase, though. I shook her hand, told her that I thought she was brilliant, and that she should keep making stories. She thanked me, staring at me like I had just burst through the wall, screaming “OH YEAH!” I then turned to helpful translator Taka Karahashi. “Taka,” I said, “you look like Abraham Lincoln.” “I do?” Taka wondered aloud, and I walked away. Later, at the autograph session, I got this blurry picture of Watase and myself.
I’d like to call special attention to my enormous, pumpkin-like head. Isn’t it ridiculous? She’s awfully cute, though, don’t you think? After seeing how ugly, misshapen, and otherwise odd-looking most popular American superhero comic artists are, it’s kind of disorienting to see reasonably attractive people making comics for a living, let me tell you.
After that, there was a panel with Bandai Entertainment‘s Jerry Chu. He was quite the swanky dresser. He rambled politely about the success of Gundam Wing, and forthcoming DVDs of good stuff like Cowboy Bebop and Outlaw Star. Midway through his panel, however, a call came in on his cellphone from Bandai Important Guy Nobuo Yamamoto. Nobuo always seemed strangely out of place at cons– his air of quiet seriousness and austere dressing habits always made seeing him wandering around the dealer’s room was akin to seeing Marilyn Manson at church on Christmas eve. But Jerry held up the phone so we could say hello, and unfortunately the rest of the audience’s friendly “HELLO!” drowned out my frantic “AHH! UNTIE ME! UNTIE ME!”