Here's me and Sushu in our costumes for Anime Central. We're Iroh and Toph from Avatar: the Last Airbender.
Wow, it really looks like Toph (Sushu) is sucker-punching me in this picture.
The girl on the left is Kitara in her Fire Nation disguise. Um, I don't know what her name is in real life. That's anime conventions for you: instantly bonding with total strangers just because they're dressed as characters from the same show as you are.
We found a lot of other people cosplaying Avatar. It's a popular show! (And nobody seems to care that it's "Not really anime". I'm glad; it's a stupid thing to care about.) Here's a group of us, including two Kitaras and two Zukos:
That one Zuko is shooting lightning out of his arm, in case you can't tell that's supposed to be lightning. It's made of clothes hangers. I thought it was pretty clever.
Here's what our characters Iroh and Toph are supposed to look like:
Sushu did all the sewing for both of our costumes. I just made my armor (cereal boxes, coat hangers, hot glue, paint), grew a beard and colored it grey, and bought an "Einstein" wig which I failed to completely get all the curls out of. Also I ran out of time so ended up not making any footgear, which is why I'm in those very inappropriate sneakers. Man, I could have done a lot better if I had more time, but it was a really busy week at work.
Non-Avatar cosplay that was cool:
This Jack Skellington had stilts inside his pants to get the proper proportions. He was like ten feet tall. It was freaky!
Other really cool cosplay that I did not get pictures of included...
- A group of ALL THE BATMAN VILLIANS, in their old-school comic-book versions. They sang an a-capella version of "Never Gonna Give You Up" (a.k.a. "the Rickroll song") to passersby in the dealers' room.
- An absolutely fantastic-looking Final Fantasy 6 group, which was all the obscure characters: Gogo, Relm, Setzer, and Gau. It warmed the cockles of my bitter heart.
- Rorschach and the Comedian, from Watchmen. Later I also spotted a red-headed hobo-looking guy with a sign that said THE END IS NEAR, but I don't know if it was the same guy as the Rorschach mask or not. Spooky.
Here's us with Helena, who was the president of the U of C anime club way back in 2004 when I first met them all.
She's not in costume; she just always dresses like that. "It's not cosplay! It's fashion!" she likes to say.
From left to right are Kimberly and John and Cat, then Helena and Sushu. (Hey Helena, what are you up to with my betrothed?) John and Kimberly were in the club before my time, so I only know them from A-CEN. That's the main thing that's cool about A-CEN - meeting up with cool people I never get a chance to see otherwise.
It's pretty much a college reunion that just happens to take place at an anime convention.
Oh, you know what else was awesome? On our way home from the con, me and Sushu and Cat stopped by my parents' house to see Aleksa (who had her ninth birthday the same weekend). She had also been watching Avatar, borrowed on DVD from the library, and she had gotten almost all the way through the series. We sat down and all watched the last episode together, with us still in costume. Is that perfect or what?
Then of course she was all hyped up, and we had to go act out battles in the living room, where punching a pillow at someone is "earthbending" and whipping someone with a blue sheet is "waterbending". Ahhh, good times.
Acen 2006 And What It Taught Me About Myself
A Very Long And Soul-Searching Convention Report
I didn't get one good night's sleep during the week before the convention, because I was staying up late working on my costume and rehearsing our skit and editing the soundtrack for our skit. Thursday night I got maybe 3 hours of sleep, then had a full day of work, then went on a long grocery shopping expedition to get okonomiyaki and onigiri ingredients. Then came carrying many armloads of crap up to the 10th floor hotel room. So by that point I was dead tired, grumpy, and not in the mood to enjoy anything. The hotel room was a party atmosphere but all I wanted to do was sleep. I say this by way of apologizing for my grouchiness. I don't remember too clearly but I think that before I passed out on the bed I snapped at a couple of people who I really shouldn't have snapped at. If this was you, I'm sorry.
The group from University of Chicago was 35 people! Transporting us, our costumes and props, our clothes and toiltetries for the weekend, our food, and our cooking supplies, to the hotel, and getting rooms for all of us, and registering our skits with the masquerade people, and then getting everything cleaned up again and checking out and transporting everybody and all the stuff home: That was inherently a logistical nightmare. Many kudos to Sushu for pulling it off with style (she printed out sheets of who was sharing a room with who, and everybody's contact info) and for keeping everybody from killing each other!
Acen itself is also inherently a logistical nightmare. (So us going there as a group is a logistical nightmare within a logistical nightmare.) Acen has grown to almost 10,000 attendees who all descend on the hotel and convention center for a weekend. Events have to be organized, schedules prepared, guest celebrities flown in, dealers signed up, registration taken, hotel staff negotiated with, and so on and so on. There is a nonprofit organization called MAPS (Midwest Anime Promotion Society) which exists solely to make this one weekend happen, and it keeps them busy for most of the rest of the year.
Now that I've been a part of organizing a small one-day anime convention (Uchicon) at the U of C for two years, I have some appreciation of the massive amount of volunteer labor that must go into ACEN, and for the skills and patience of the people who run the masquerade every year and put up with our insane skit ideas and our last-minute changes and stuff. Every year they get better and better at what they do. This time they had a secondary badge for registered masquerade participants, which solved the problem of knowing who should be allowed into the Green Room.
Anyway, the ACEN people are so cool that I am seriously thinking of volunteering to help staff the con next year. The thing is, I'm not actually all that into anime for its own sake anymore. If somebody else puts it on the TV I'll watch it, but I don't go seeking it out. Most new series don't interest me, and even for the few that do, I feel no need to obsess over them or to watch every single episode. I'm old and jaded. But I still love cosplay and the con experience and hanging out with cool weird people and seeing the insane costumes that other people come up with. So staffing the con might be the thing for me.
My single biggest complaint about the logistics of Acen: the hotel really needs more elevators. There are only four. Our hotel room was on the tenth floor, the events were on the first and second, and I ended up taking those nine flights of stairs many, many times because it was faster than competing with the big clump of waiting cosplayers. At more than one point there was a huge traffic jam because the hotel staff had to commandeer the escalators and one elevator to bring somebody who was having a medical emergency down to street level. The elevator problem was exacerbated by this huge bar that we had as a stage setting for one of our skits. More on that later.
Oh, we usually share the convention center with some boring convention. We avoid stepping on each other's toes but it makes an interesting contrast. Like last year there was an Optometrists' convention. This time it was the Powder And Bulk Materials Expo, an industrial trade show which sounds like it must be the most boring thing on earth. Just imagine if you were a manager at some powder factory and this show was like the high point of your year. Scary thought.
The show is not in the showing rooms, the show is in the hallways.
I have this sorta love-hate relationship with american anime fandom. I love that the fandom is approximately 50% female, unlike American comic-book/sci-fi/RPG fandom where the gender ratio is still skewed. I love their passion, I love how crazy these people are and the amount of work they put into their costumes and their fanfictions and the way they chase after and hunt down their entertainment instead of just watching whatever's on TV.
But when they look back on their lives, this thing that they have poured all their energy into is, still, after all, a commercial, mass-marketed product. It's a passive form of entertainment. They're putting their energy into somebody else's creation instead of creating something of their own.
The anime fans I respect are the ones for whom anime was a gateway to something more worthwhile, like learning Japanese, or making their own comics, or their own animation, or learning to sew kimonos, or something. The people who discover that making is infinitely healthier and more fulfilling than watching.
But they will constantly be replaced by the influx of sparkly-eyed newbies for whom the cliches of anime are still fresh and exciting. I envy the fun these people are having, even as I roll my eyes at the stupid stuff they say. Like when a Vincent (FF7) cosplayer walked past and these two girls went "Vincent-san! Wai, wai!" Their bad and childish Japanese ("wai" is not even a real word, it's like a literal reading of a manga sound effect) is not as annoying as the affectation of it, like affecting a fake British accent or something. I know because I used to do the exact same thing myself.
Trends In Fandom:
Costumes that remain popular year after year include characters from Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy games,
and always, always, Vash the Stampede. Vash is a perennial favorite and if you counted the total number of costumes
over all the years that Acen has been running, Vash just might be the most popular cosplay of all time. Not hard to see
why. He's a character who everybody loves from a show who everybody loves, and his costume is cool and highly
distinctive. Even women like to dress up as Vash.
Hentai is mainstream now. I saw a car in the parking garage
had "I <3 TENTACLES" painted across the windows. It's no longer "you
look at hentai eewwww", now it's "Oh what kind of hentai do you
like?" It's quite clearly labeled in the dealer's room, and it's
advertised openly but tastefully. A very popular item for sale lately
is the "Yaoi Paddle", a wooden paddle proudly bearing the word "YAOI",
sometimes "SEME" and "UKE" on opposite sides (if you don't know what
"uke" and "seme" mean... don't ask.) Lots of people were carrying
these around. I met one guy who was collecting signatures on his yaoi
paddle of people who submitted to being spanked with it. He was in a
contest with a girl he knew to see who could collect more signatures.
There is also a "YURI" paddle.
More and more people are brining their kids to the con. There is a generation of anime fans who are now beginning to raise their kids as anime fans. I wonder if the kids will later rebel and become, like, huge Disney fans just to make their parents mad. There was a whole track of children's programming at the con. I saw all sorts of intergenerational cosplay -- like a teenage girl dressed up as that devil girl from Disgaea, with her 40-year old dad as her blue penguin sidekick, doing a skit together. Man. Talk about a cool dad. I hope I am that cool when I'm his age. I wonder what will happen when this trend and the previous trend collide. "Mommy what does YAOI mean?"
There were SO MANY KINGODM HEARTS costumes!!! What the heck? Every way you looked you saw those silly keyblades. Last year it was FFx2. There were like hundreds of FFx2 cosplayers. I think every job of every character was represented. I see why that game is a cosplayer's dream come true, since it's basically "barbie j-pop-star dress-up" disguised as an RPG.
Full Metal Alchemist, Bleach, Naruto. Super-popular new shows I've never seen. And I don't really intend to. (Maybe this is shallow of me, but seriously, what kind of stupid name for an anime is "Bleach"? Is it a story about a laundromat or something? And "Full Metal Alchemist"? Is that what you get when you cross Stanley Kubrick with Albertus Magnus? At least I know what "Naruto" means -- it's that pink spirally fish-paste thing used as garnish in bowls of ramen -- but it's still a dumb name for a ninja anime.) But because I've never seen these shows, I'm missing out on an awful lot of jokes. That kinda makes me sad. But not sad enough to start watching them.
Here's a practical joke I want to do sometime. Come up with a huge elaborate costume that looks like an anime character, and then make up some plausible sounding name for a character and a show which doesn't really exist. So when people ask me what my costume is, I would tell them it's character X from show Y of course. What? You've never heard of it? It just started playing on japanese TV last week, you must be behind the times. Come up with a plot synopsis that makes it sound like the most incredibly awesome show ever. See if I can start an urban legend about this amazing show that nobody has seen.
Costumes I Was Impressed With
Then there was our very own Cat as Maromi from Paranoia Agent which doesn't count for the above list because I helped to make it. Well, I made the infrastructure for the head, Cat did the sewing and everything else. Inside that huge scary pink head there is a bicycle helmet attatched to a latticework of aluminum tubing held together with zip ties and covered with insulation foam. We're all proud of how this came out. Here's some pictures of Maromi from the cartoon show along with a good review of Paranoia Agent (the best new anime I've seen in years).
There was also Guy with huge foldable gun, I think he's from Trigun or something. He had a great idea making his huge gun foldable. That way he avoids inconveniencing anybody when he's carrying it around but he can unfold it to pose for pictures. He's obeying the letter and the spirit of the "4-foot rule" while also remaining true to the character design. That's called being a good congoing citizen, folks.
Sushu made a lovely Kenshin costume over the course of like two days with her amazing speed-sewing skills. This was to be part of the Pretend Robot Pants skit. Aza wore it and got mobbed by fangirls. We were both surprised by this. We thought that Kenshin cosplay must be totally overdone and boring and played out by this point and people would be like "bah, another Kenshin, why don't you try being creative". Nope. MOBBED BY FANGIRLS. Had to pose for pictures every five minutes. He had all these 14-year-olds asking him for his phone number. It reminded me of teaching junior high in Japan. My favorite phrase for situations like that is "juunen hayai" which is a bit of samurai-movie stock dialogue meaning "[you are] ten years too early [to be able to defeat me]". I did not see a single other Kenshin cosplayer at the con. I guess Kenshin is so old and played out that he was ready for a comeback!
I tried to like the Rurouni Kenshin anime. I really tried. The Meiji restoration is such a cool time period, rife with possibilities for nifty historical drama. And it has a really strong central character. And it had good animation and a sense of style. I remember renting episodes of it from the Japanese video store and watching them with a translated script from the internet. I remember getting about five episodes in and then realizing that it had already turned into a boring fight-of-the-week-against-villian-with-stupid-gimmick show, and there were no signs of anything else happening, so I gave up watching it. Some fans told me that I need to watch the Kyoto arc, or the OAV series. Well, I saw the OAV series and here's my impression of it:
The moon is pretty!
STAB KILL BLOOD SPLATTER
The freshly fallen snow is pretty!
SLASH STAB BEHEADING MORE BLOOD
The falling maple leaves gracefully alight on the still pond and are pretty!
BLOOD BLOOD DISEMBOWLING STAB CUT POKE SLASH BLOOD
repeat for four episodes with a brief interlude about shacking up in an abandoned farmhouse
OK, so it was all artistic and stuff, whatever. It was boring. OK, I get it, I get it, every single character
gets chopped up with swords, how much longer does this thing go on?
So, I failed to become a Kenshin fan. Aza suggested that you have to
encounter it at the right point in the course of your Anime Fandom
Arc, as he and Sushu did. I understand. When I was at the beginning
of my Anime Fandom Arc I would watch anything. I was an overzealous
Sailor Moon fan for crying out loud. But now I am at the end of my
Anime Fandom Arc and 99% of anime shows make no impression on me.
Something has to be really oustandingly original and good to catch my
interest these days.
Wanna Try Some Okonomiyaki?
So in previous years I made onigiri for my friends as a way to combat the Con Hunger caused by lack of access to sources of real, non-Pocky food during the convention. This year I decided to go one better and make my specialty, okonomiyaki. I stocked up on ingredients at Mitsuwa and brought an electric hot plate to the hotel room to cook.
Wait, it gets better: I cosplayed as Ukyo from Ranma 1/2, who is an okonomiyaki chef in the cartoon. I sewed a two-layer kimono and painted kanji all over it (Satomi helped with that!) and made a huge 4-foot spatula and a rambo-style bandolier for normal-sized spatulas. Turns out the costume is extremely comfortable and practical for cooking in. And when I was done I stuck the dirty spatulae back into the bandolier, and the fact that they were dirty was part of the costume. In-character cooking.
Cat Nagle brought another electric hot plate and made pancakes and bacon for everybody in the morning. Aza brought a rice cooker and made onigiri. There was also instant ramen and PBJs. So all things considered we had a ton of food. We're still eating leftovers. Next time you go to a con you should do this. Ask the hotel for a room with a minifridge. It improves the experience immensely when you don't have to leave the convention to get food.
We had so much leftover okonomiyaki after lunch on Saturday that I decided to give it away to random strangers. This is an idea I've been toying with for a couple of years, and I finally got to do it. Chopped the okonomiyaki into bite-sized pieces, stuck toothpicks in them, put them on a makeshift tray, and carried them around the con offering them to everybody. Good times! Reactions ranged from "What the heck is this are you trying to poison me?" to "Oh my god that's really good thank you so much!"
I went to Artist's Alley and gave okonomiyaki to the people there, like webcomic artist Dirk Tiede. I've met him before at Uchicon, he is cool. The artists in the alley were more appreciative than the general public, maybe because they are stuck in booths all day and can't go back to their hotel room for ramen and PBJs any time they want, so they think that people bringing them food is a great idea.
Almost nobody recognized Ukyo. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since she's a secondary character from an older show. And I'm the wrong gender. A few people knew me after I dropped the name.
One person asked me if I was trying to be John Belushi as the samurai delicatessen clerk from Saturday Night Live. What huh?
Oh man am I sick of explaining what okonomiyaki is, over and over. It's not a well-known thing like sushi or tempura, it has no Western equivalent for comparison, and I don't even know of a concise way to describe it. I wish okonomiyaki would catch on and become popular in America just so I wouldn't have to keep explaining it all the time!
One girl was so happy about the gift of free okonomiyaki that she glomped me. Normal social rules of behavior are suspended at anime conventions, apparently, because people think it's OK to just go up and hug random strangers.
"Glomping" is named for the sound effect "GLOMP" used in some translated manga to represent the action of hugging someone by surprise. It happens all the time at anime cons. Some people wear shirts that say "GLOMP ME" even. (One could probably write an essay connecting the glomping phenomenon to anime themes of gender confusion and sexual repression and the kind of romantically confused individuals that the fandom attracts.) Glomping is generally harmless (it is meant to be friendly, not sexual) but I would just like to remind congoers that not everybody is comfortable with having their personal space violated, especially as the fandom expands into the mainstream. I understand now how women feel when strange guys come up and start hitting on them.
It would probably behoove the fandom to create an "opt-out", some easily-recognized symbol that means "no glomping". Something like the handkerchief codes the gay community used to have. Let's implement this before somebody gets sued for sexual harrassment. That would make me a sad panda. Hey, has anybody done a sexual harrassment panda cosplay yet? Dress up as a panda and go around telling ppeople at the con why they shouldn't glomp people without permission?
Tsushimamire and Corny Music
Tsushimamire is an obscure Japanese indie punk-rock band, three women, who played
a concert at ACEN. I didn't get to go to it because I was being Ukyo and
distributing okonomiyaki at the time. But later I met them and got their CD
and they signed it and everything.
I'm listening to Tsushimamire now, and maaaaan, I wish I had gone to
that conert. They are kind of like Shonen Knife but with way more
musical skillz. They are on Benten records, a Japanese indie label
specializing in girlie punk rock and named after the goddess of music.
Come to think of it, I actually downloaded one of their MP3s a couple
years ago when I was browsing Benten's
website and I wanted to buy the album but back then they didn't
take paypal so you have to write them an international money order
which is all inconvenient and stuff. Uhh, that was kind of a tangent
but anyway Tsushimamire is good and you should listen to them.
Tsushimamire is not corny. But I realized, on the way to the con, when listening to Kyu Sakamoto, that there is a common thread uniting the majority of my eclectic musical preferences, and that thread is corniness. I like really corny music. ABBA, Rush, Kansas, Yes, Styx, Queen, Frank Sinatra, Genesis, Kyu Sakamoto, Renaissance, swanky old jazz crooner tunes, lounge-lizard singing, showtunes, japanese enka, prog-rock, psychedelic rock, jazz-rock fusion, '80s synth-pop, Motown, anime theme songs from the 70s, Bollywood scores, funk, disco, the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, Simon and Garfunkel, and so on and so forth. They are all corny and I love them and I'm not going to apologize for it.
I am not one of the cool kids, with their "cool" genres of music, like rap, punk, metal, grunge, alternative, emo, and goth. These are all the genres I don't like. The cool kids are probably cringing with horror after reading the list of corny music in the preceeding paragraph. That's, like, stuff that their parents used to listen to, ewww. It seems to me that the entire driving force behind certain musical genres is "don't sound like your parent's music". Driven by rebellion above all, the cool genres avoid corniness like it's anathema.
(Do you know where the word "anathema" comes from? It's originally greek meaning an offering to the gods; in Greek translations of the Old Testament it was used to translate the Hebrew word "haram" which means something sacrificed to god which is therefore off-limits to the community; "haram" was also used to mean the extermination of idolotrous nations, i.e. anybody the Hebrews didn't like, because they were making those nations a sacrifice to their god. By association with the Hebrew, "anathema" gradually took on this meaning of "off-limits" or "extermination", quite different from its original meaning. In the fourth and fifth centuries "anathema" became the name of a ceremony the Catholic Church used to do, even more severe than excommunication, to banish heretics from the church. There's your trivia fact for the day.)
So many people from anime club have dated other people from anime club that there is a running joke about "animecest" (by analogy with "house-cest", referring to people dating people from the same "house" in the U of C dormitory system). If you actually dug up everybody's personal histories and drew a chart, you might find that nearly everybody in anime club is connected to everybody else via a chain of prior relationships.
I am no exception. At one point, during the convention, I looked around and realized that every person I've ever kissed or snuggled with was all in the same room (except Isaac, he wasn't there, but he doesn't count because the snuggling wasn't exactly consensual on his part). I am happy to say that I am still good friends with all these people. The breakups were all amicable. It could be a lot worse.
This got me thinking. Over the past few months I have given this "relationship" thing a few tries and I have decided that it's not for me. I mean, I used to say that before, but I was speaking from ignorance then. Now I am speaking from experience when I say that I have no interest in dating, sex, romance, etc. I think I just don't relate to people that way. If I like somebody I'd rather just have a good platonic friendship. A relationship is a lot of work, and it's not clear to me what the goals or the benefits are supposed to be. (Yeah, pretty cold of me, I know.) I don't want marriage or kids, and as I have recently discovered after some experimentation, I don't enjoy sex much either. Like, not at all. Also I hate sharing a bed with somebody. I can never sleep like that. It's hot and cramped and sticky and my whole body basically goes WTF THERE IS SOMEBDODY IN MY BED YO and I can't relax.
I do enjoy snuggling. Snuggling is nice, and I will miss it, but snuggling alone is not worth the aggrivation of trying to maintain a relationship.
I'm not looking for sympathy or pity and I don't want to hear anybody telling me "don't worry you'll find the right girl for you someday". No, I really don't think I will. I think romance is just one of those things that I have little or no use for in my life -- like religion, team sports, movies, parties, and TV. (And, as I said above, I am at the point of adding anime and video games to this list.)
This may sound sad, but I feel it's a positive development. The things that I really want to do are too much to squeeze into one lifetime anyway, so if I can cross another major category off of the list, it gives more space for the things that are truly important to me: aikido and electronics and physics and programming and drawing comics and traveling the world and hanging out with friends and family. And RPGs. And making award-winning ACEN skits.
Sweeping the Masquerade
So, the UCJAS (University of Chicago Japanese Animation Society) skit tradition is in its sixth year now. There were three years before I started going to this school when their skits won some prizes. The first year I came here, 2004, UCJAS proper did the infamous Sailor Gendo skit, and because we had too many people to all fit in one skit, we created a spin-off group Pretend Robot Pants, containing me, which did the Pocky-boxes-dancing-Yatta skit (judge's choice award). 2005 UCJAS did Towel Duel for World Revolution and Pretend Robot Pants did Lupin III: the Katamari Caper (first place!). This year UCJAS did Mario and Luigi: What Is Love? Pretend Robot Pants did a skit which has come to be known as Kenshin Matrix.
Our idea, partly inspired by the Matrix Ping-Pong video, was to do a really cool skit, with no dialogue, on the basis of having an extremely well-executed fight scene and a few cool stunts rather than the outrageous humor or musical numbers that most skits tend to go for. We planned it as just a fight between two samurai, and it was only later on that we chose Kenshin ( from Rurouni Kenshin ) and Jin ( from Samurai Champloo, which I haven't seen... man, what kind of dumb made-up word is "Champloo" anyway? ). There are some ninja who lurk in the background and help the samurai to do cool stunts, kind of like in kabuki theater. I was originally going to be one of the samurai, but since I am 1. heavy and 2. decently strong I decided I should be one of the ninjas instead, and have Marcel who is very light be Jin, and have me pick him up.
Every skit has to be presented to the masquerade staff at a special meeting Saturday morning, so the MCs can make sure the skits are following the rules and nobody's going to get naked or get hurt.
I was very worried that the MCs would not approve our skit, because it seemd kind of dangerous what with all the
rapid swordplay and jumping and tumbling and stuff. But we are very professional because we practiced it like a hundred times! So even though we knocked one of the ceiling tiles out during our demonstration, we were still approved. Those MCs are so cool. One more reason I want to volunteer for the staff.
There are certain things that are becoming part of ACEN lore. Like the "Dance" chant, and Stripper Vash. And those guys who dress up as dead presidents with hubcaps around their necks. I don't know what the heck is up with those guys. And the skits put on by UCJAS are becoming part of the lore too. Other skits are actually starting to reference and take influences from us. And I hear tell that this year when the UCJAS skit presented their skit to the masquerade MCs for approval, the MCs were like "Oh my god it's YOU! Nobody else would do something this weird!"
Mwa ha ha ha ha.
While we were waiting for our turn, we watched the stage on the closed-circuit TV in the Green Room.
I forgot how it got started, but between the skits the two MCs started
teasing each other about liking yaoi and the crowd was just eating it
up. "Who wants to write the first slash fiction about these two?"
All sorts of hands shot up in front of the camera. The comedic timing
was perfect. There was also a running joke that we must be on the South
Side since every skit involved stabbing or carjacking or drive-by shooting.
My sister's friend Kristin Stromquist did a very good belly dance (she has been studying it all hard-core lately and developed mad skillz.)
And then there was the skit with the transforming transformer. Sadly, it wasn't very good. There were characters from Saiyuki doing a Backstreet Boys dance, and One-Pound Gospel rendered as a Queen musical, and the Legend of Zelda rendered as interpretive dance, and a really quite well choreographed fistfight between the bald Shinra guy from FF7 and some character I didn't recognize, who obviously had some martial arts training. And the guy who did "Stripper Vash" got together a group and did a very high-quality comedy sketch based on mutliple mistaken identity based on video game character lookalikes. Most attempts to do dialogue-based comedy for Acen skits just flop miserably on stage, but the audience loved these guys and it was all because they had good delivery. There have been so many skits with great ideas which failed because the delivery wasn't good. The Stripper Vash group is one to watch for.
It turns out the masquerade staff is even cooler than I thought. I found out after the fact that roller blades, as used by the UCJAS skit, are so totally against all the hotel rules for insurance reasons that in previous years, people who wanted to rollerskate in their skits had been forced to just glide their feet along and pretend like they were skating and it was totally lame. But this one staff guy, who I think is named Jazz, called all the way up to the guy who owns the CHAIN of Hyatt hotels in order to get special permission just for us to do the roller blades just this once! Because he wanted to see the UCJAS skit in its full roller-blading glory! Wow!
Here is the video of the Pretend Robot Pants skit. (Man, I'm looking at that now, and I totally forgot to put my ninja mask up! How embarrassing.) There are also still pictures starting here. The crowd went wild over this. I've never heard them scream so loud and so long. We got a standing ovation. I was afraid for a second that the stage was going to be attacked by crazed Kenshin fangirls because we dared to have Kenshin lose.
The UCJAS skit was right after us. The gist of it is that Mario and Luigi get dressed up snazzy and go to a bar to hit on chicks, but it turns out to be a lesbian bar. There's a lot more to it than that though. Here is the video of the UCJAS skit. The still pictures start here. They executed it perfectly! All the timing was exactly right, the sound effects happened on cue, the audience laughed in all the right places... it was great! What did I say about the importance of delivery? They got a standing ovation too!
And we both won! We didn't just win, we swept. Pretend Robot Pants got first place and UCJAS got second. U of C dominated ACEN! It will go down in anime club history. When we went out to accept our prizes, Kenshin and Jin did a stage kiss (i.e. no actual lip contact) for the yaoi fans, and we got yet another standing ovation.
Let me tell you about the bar. For the Mario/What is Love skit, we needed some kind of stage setting to indicate that Mario and Luigi were at a bar. Geoff, a first-year in the anime club and a consummate Boy Scout (like, I think he's an Eagle Scout, he's really into it hard-core) volunteered to make us a bar. The thing is he want way overboard and made us this massive, solid, life-sized bar out of wood. It wasn't a prop, it was a real bar that we could have installed in somebody's basement and used to serve drinks for real. He made it with hinges so it could fold up for transport but it was still huge. We had a horrible time getting it up and down between the first floor and the tenth floor where our hotel room was. We had to commandeer the service elevator a few times, something the hotel staffers were not very happy about. That's the main thing I worry about: when we have huge props like that, we're not only inconvenicencing ourselves, we're inconveniencing everybody around us.
The worst part was when we were trying to get The Bar back upstairs after the masquerade was over. This meant we were fighting the post-masquerade crowds to get an elevator. Finally an elevator with space opened up and we bar-carriers yelled out our claim to it. Near the elevator was a girl in a Chii costume, in a wheelchair. I (holding the back end of the bar) yelled out "Let Wheelchair Chii go first!" but Jeremy (holding the front end of the bar) yelled out "No, we have to go now! Move move move!". I should have stood my ground but I gave in to peer pressure and we brought the bar on board the escalator. There was still room for a wheelchair so we thought we could still let her on, but then the doors started closing and we couldn't get to the Door Open button in time and...
OH NO WE STOLE A HANDICAPPED GIRL'S ELEVATOR!
Oh man I feel so bad about this! If I believed in hell I would be worried about going there. They would probably have some suitably ironic punishment, Simpsons-hell-style, where I would be tormented with wheelchairs and elevators for all eternity.
Jeremy said "sometimes when there's extenuating circumstances, you have to be a jerk". OK, maybe, but I don't agree that there were extenuating circumstances. We could have waited another ten mintues for another elevator and nothing bad would have happened.
I wish I had met Wheelchair Chii again so I could have groveled and begged for forgiveness. Anyway, if you should happen to be out there on the internet somewhere reading this page, Wheelchair Chii, please accept my apologies.
Went to Mitsuwa for lunch on the way back on Sunday. Mitsuwa was, as I expected, swarmed with ACEN people who had the same idea as we did.
Aleksa's birthday party was the Sunday of ACEN. I talked Jeremy, Cat, and Sushu into stopping by my parents' house on the way back so we could all say hi -- and because I thought the kids would love seeing Cat in the Maromi costume. I got us a bit lost trying to find my parents' house because I was unaware that La Grange Road is not called La Grange Road north of Roosevelt -- it's called "Manheim Road", so if you're on the Eisenhower Expressway, Manheim is the exit to look for. How confusing. Gradually I am learning my way around Chicagoland, but I am much more familiar with the mass transit than with the highways, for obvious reasons.
Anyway, we got to my parents' house after the party ended, and there were only three kids left, but they did indeed love the Maromi. Cat was pretty tired by that point, so I'm sorry for putting her through the little-kid attack zone. I'm grateful she agreed to it, cuz that's something Aleksa and her friends are going to remember for a long time. I also gave Aleksa a Hamutaro DVD that I picked up at the con.
If you haven't read enough yet, here are links to my friends' LJs where they talk about their ACEN experiences.
Also see this video that Sushu posted a link to: a special on Japanese TV about "Otaku from USA". It's so embarrassing because it's so true.
Stab to the neck!
Anime Central is the weekend after next, so my friends and I are racing to finish our costumes, skit choreography, and soundtracks. I'll take some cool pictures when I get a chance and post them here. We're once again doing two skits this year; though we have abandoned the "Transformers the Movie in Two Minutes" idea as being infeasable, we have a replacement which might be even cooler. One of my tasks has been to build a gigantic character head that one actress is going to wear. To build the infrastructure for it, I used the trick I discovered when making the Katamari last year: aluminum tubing! It's cheap, lightweight, strong, and flexible. Pieces of aluminum tubing can be bent into curved shapes and lashed tightly to each other with cable ties (works even better than duct tape!). I'm also using Audacity and iMovie to edit together a soundtrack for one of the skits. The coolness of the skit depends on the soundtrack syncing up perfectly with the movement, so it's going to be very demanding on the skit actors.
I tried to help with swordfight choreography, but I soon realized that my Aikido-derived knowledge of actual samurai swordfighting is a hindrance, not an asset. Stage fighting is like the exact opposite of Aiki swordplay. Stage fighting involves all these big, slow, sweeping movements, wide blocks, unneccessary spins, etc. All I can think of is "Man, you're wide open! Why should I follow your sword and block you way out there when I could just stab you in the neck and end this right now?"
I also have a non-skit cosplay costume I'm working on. I'll show it to you soon enough, but I just want to say that this is the first time I've made a costume which is more comfortable than my regular clothes. I'm tempted to make several and wear them all the time!
A Very Nintendo Halloween
To follow up on last year when we went as a Pokemon and a Pokemon Trainer, me and Aleksa wanted to do another group costume.
I suggested being Mario and the Princess, since I didn't have a lot of time to work on a costume this year, and I already had overalls and a fake mustache.
Here we are!
I wore my Mario outfit to work on Friday and guess what? I couldn't believe it - there were two other people also dressed as Mario. Yes, three Marios. What are the odds? John Lily was like "I'm very disappointed. Not one person wanted to be Luigi?"
Some people joked that there were 3 Marios because Mario has 3 lives. This gave me an idea for an anime convention skit: You have three Marios off stage; one of them runs on, does some stuff, gets killed. Play sad Mario-dying music. First Mario lies on the stage pretending to be dead. Second Mario runs on, does some stuff, gets a little further, gets killed... you get the idea. Maybe you could have a person representing the "player", holding a controller and cursing every time Mario dies. Then maybe the third Mario doesn't want to die so he goes over to the player, smacks him around a bit, and grabs the controller away. Discuss.
Aleksa just got Smash Brothers for the Wii. I have always hated Smash Brothers games; my friends always used to play it on the N64 and the Game Cube (holy moly, did you realize we've been playing Smash Brothers for ten years now? Discuss.) and I felt left out of the fun because I couldn't figure out how to really play (half the time I can't tell where on the screen my character is, let alone understand anything else that was going on).
So I resigned myself to randomly mashing buttons just to make Aleksa feel like I was playing with her. But this time, something finally clicked, and I finally figured out how to play and enjoy Smash Brothers. Huzzah, a personal breakthrough!
I think it was because we started out with two-player fights, on simple levels, with no items, which simplifies things down to the point where I could finally grok the basics. Then when we ramped up to more complicated fights, I was still able to follow along. Before, with N64 Smash and Game Cube Smash, I always got thrown into the deep end with huge crazy free-for-alls so I could never cope with the learning curve. I wish I had thought to start with stripped-down two-player matches ten years ago.
(Interface gripe: Smash displays damage as percentages, which is wrong because it's not actually a percentage of anything. Nothing particularly happens at 100%; it's just another number. Thus the percent sign is misleading and makes the game harder to learn.)
Aleksa is disturbingly adept at Smash Brothers, and usually beats me. She plays as Peach, Lucario, or R.O.B. We invited Googleshng to join us in a networked game (the wonders of modern technology!) and did some three-player fights. Aleksa won most of those, too. She's hardcore.
Real-life Smash! Of course we had to act it out. Me and Aleksa, we act out everything cool.
It occurs to me that there's a connection between why kids love acting out their favorite cartoons and games, and the reason kids love holiday rituals like trick-or-treating or decorating a tree. It's this sense of enactment, where you already know how everything is supposed to happen, and you're bringing it to life through some kind of bodily motion. To adults, this kind of activity is boring because there's no challenge or surprises, but kids seem to need to go through these motions as part of learning how to do things.
On Halloween, I made this question block, which I used to hold candy, and this jack-o-lanter, which was made to look like Wario.
A close-up of the Wario jack-o-lantern. I was trying to do that cool thing where you carve away different thicknesses so the light shines through with different colors, but it didn't work out the way I hoped - getting the pumpkin shell thin enough without having the thin areas fall apart completely is really hard!
The camera got moved while it was taking this picture of the decorations on our front porch. The result is unexpectedly awesome.
More Halloween costume pictures
Here's Sushu, dressed as a Colonial Era American Dude. She sewed this whole costume herself.
Isn't she cool??
Also from Halloween, here's Nick, head of the Add-Ons team at Mozilla, in his Starfleet uniform:
Astute observers will notice this is the version of the uniform used from Star Trek II through Star Trek VI.
Nick is a pretty big trekkie. He was very excited when Shin Bishonen Star Trek* came out and went to see it a bunch of times. He lent me a comic miniseries explaining the movie's backstory. It... wasn't very good.
* - "Shin Bishonen Star Trek" is a name I made up to disambiguate the 2009 Star Trek movie from others with the same name.
Giant Robo Cosplay
Yeah, ACen was like two months ago, so sue me. Like I said, I've got a lot of blomiting to catch up on.
Me and Sushu decided to go as characters from Giant Robo. I'm Taiso (the dude who swigs sake from a jug and spits fire) and she's Youshi (the barbarian woman with the magic extend-o-pole), who are husband and wife in the cartoon too, appropriately enough.
Both of our characters are originally bandits from the ancient Chinese story of the Water Margin, better known to anime fans by its Japanese title, Suikoden. Sushu's character is a man in the original story, so, um... they took a lot of license with the adaptation, I guess.
One more cosplay pic: this is our friend Rachel from the U of C anime club. She's a character from Zeta Gundam (don't know anything else about her, never having seen Zeta Gundam). And her costume was so cool I can't resist posting it:
In the background on the right you can see the sheet music to Yakusoku wa Iranai, which my accordion teacher Denis helped me figure out and write down. (Yes, I brought the accordion to ACen. I'm not real good yet, but my goal is to get good enough by next year that I can jam out with The Spoony Bards.)
Denis was really amazing at figuring out the song. I had found some sheet music for piano on the internet, but I was having a lot of trouble figuring out how to rearrange it for accordion. I brought Denis a YouTube video link and said "I want to learn to play THIS." He watched it, got a real strange look on his face, then started feeling it out on the keyboard, rewinding, playing again, feeling out the notes some more... then he turned to me and said "You picked a really good song! This is a beautiful chord progression. It's going to be really hard to play, though. Hear that? That's an inverted ninth chord... you don't have a button for that but you can fake it by doing this..."
Yeah. Yoko Kanno doesn't fool around. It is a hard song, but it's so beautiful.
Oh, by the way, note the first comment on this Yakusoku wa Iranai video:
dude i really love this song!! my mom was always playing anime music when i was really little and this is my FAVORITE!!
Dude. That made me feel so OLD. Gah.
Aleksa: "Let's dress up as our Wizard 101 characters for Halloween!"
Me: "Um... OK!"
That's right, my ten-year-old sister got me to do something I would normally consider too hardcore-gamer-nerdy even for me: LARPing as our MMORPG characters!
We're wizards! We're gonna save the Spiral from Malistaire!
Thanks to Sushu for doing all the sewing on my elaborate robes.
She's pretty amazing - she managed to do all that AND then make her own costume, in just two nights:
It's a variant costume for Toph from Avatar - I think she only wore it one episode. But it's based on real Tang dynasty clothing so she thought it was pretty cool.
She painted the floral pattern on there, too.
Aleksa's friend Evan, when he heard what we were doing, decided to dress up as Lord Nightshade - the "end boss" of the first world.
You can't see it here, but we spraypainted the grass to make a big magic duel circle in the backyard, and then Mom videotaped me and Aleksa battling Lord Nightshade. I'll post the video once it's edited.
I'm a necromancer! Watch me animate skeletons!
This was my favorite house that we saw while trick-or-treating: this family really went all-out.
You can't see it but they've got smoke machines and weird-colored lights, too, and all sorts of fake body-parts-in-jars up on the porch.
Close-up of two of the skeletons.
My favorite costume that we saw while trick-or-treating was this kid, who dressed up as a YouTube video.
Actually, it's even crazier than that: He's dressed as a YouTube video of himself winning a costume contest while dressed as a YouTube video. It's recursive!
fly pupa! flyyyyyy!!!!!
It is decided! For ACEN this year my posse is all cosplaying the Homestuck trolls.
The Troll Arc of Homestuck might be the single weirdest thing I've ever read. But somehow it's the kind of weird that makes you want to PARTICIPATE.
I'm going to be the adorkable Tavros seeing as Brian already called dibs on Sollux, who knows all of the codes. ALL OF THEM. (Do not eat the MIND HONEY, Brian!)
Tavros lost the use of his legs in an EXTREME ROLEPLAYING ACCIDENT but cosplaying the wheelchair would be, um, inconvenient to put it mildly, so I'll be him in Pupa Pan mode. Meanwhile Stephen already has a head start on this guy who wants to kill all land dwellers and Isaac has plans to be a certain troll Juggalo.
Sushu might be the huntress Nepeta, sea princess Feferi or else the blind Terezi who enjoys ORCHESTRATING THE DEMISE OF THE WICKED.
First time cosplaying a webcomic instead of an anime. I wonder if anyone will recognize us.
For Tavros and Vriska:
A few layers of styrofoam glued together and carved with a hot wire cutter, then slathered with glue and paint (the glue layer makes the paint stick better).
Using the hot wire cutter is kind of like roasting marshmallows: you've got a hot stick and some slowly melting white sticky stuff and you have to be very patient in order not to ruin it or burn yourself. The marshmallows smell a whole lot better, though.
In progress: Aradia, Gamzee, Sollux, Eridan, and Feferi. Yup, I'm the Horns Guy for my group of cosplayers this year.
It's cool. I'm always happiest when I'm making stuff. And I've been making a lot of stuff lately.
Alright fellow trolls, listen up. I've made the horns but I don't know exactly what kind of hairdo / hoods everybody is going to show up with next weekend. So I don't know what exactly will be the best way to attach all these. Please let me know whether you want me to A. glue your horns to a hairband, B. glue your horns to a pair of hairpins, C. leave your horns alone and let you figure it out, or D. some other options.
Thanks, and see you at ACEN!
I thought we might run into one or two other Homestuck cosplayers. If not that, at least a couple of people who at least got the reference. Oh boy was I wrong.
The Homestuck group photo shoot, on Saturday afternoon, was bigger than any of the groups for any of the actual, you know, Japanese cartoons at this supposedly Japanse cartoon party. Between cosplayers, photographers, and general hangers-on there had to be two hundred people in this crowd.
The con was swarming with us. There were troll horns sticking out of the crowd everywhere we went. It was way beyond my wildest expectations.
These weren't even supposed to be Homestuck cosplay pictures, they just happened to be in the backgrund of the shot.
Everybody was really cool and friendly and SUPER EXCITED about their favorite Homestuck characters. It was a great feeling.
Some other groups might have had better costumes...
but I was proud of the fact that we were the only group with...
...not just four...
...not just six...
But EIGHT of twelve trolls. Felt like an accomplishment. Especially since we gathered from as far away as California, Florida, and New York.
Cat and her new boyfriend Kent didn't hadn't ever read Homestuck but they were very good sports when we asked them to be Feferi and Equius with us. We explained to them a bit about their characters. (We... left out some parts of the Equius explanation. We didn't think Kent was ready for Musclebeasts just yet.)
Sushu made her own Flourite Octet by ordering blank white d8s and coloring them in. I kind of jokingly suggested that she could use my hand drill to drill out the pips, but she actually did it. Across 8d8 that adds up to 286 painstakingly hand-drilled pips. Sushu, you are amazing.
Alexis battled flu and final papers to get her Aradia costume done on time. She looked pretty fantastic. I'm really glad she joined us for this crazy project, despite all the hardship!
Brian was super serious about being Sollux, right down to the vampire fangs and different-colored shoes.
You have to imagine the psychic death-beams shooting out of Sollux's eyes here.
Wait, maybe I can add them in with my mad "Photoshop" (coughGraphicConvertercough) skills:
Isaac made a VERY SCARY Gamzee. He got right into character and lurched around muttering creepy nonsense and HONKing. It kind of freaked me out.
Stephen was REALLY excited about his Eridan costume, maybe even more than the rest of us. He programmed his phone to play Eridan's theme music so he could start it playing whenever he entered a room or strode dramatically down a corridor.
He left us for a while on Saturday night to go hang out with the other Eridans, who had apparently all bonded immediately over their shared romantic angst and desire to murder all land dwellers.
Reactions from people who didn't know Homestuck:
1. "So like... what anime are you guys from?"
2. "Dude it's... evil Peter Pan?"
Reactions from people who did know Homestuck:
1. "You guys look amazing! Can I take your picture?"
2. "PUPA PAN! SQUEEEE!" (running start) (pouncegreet) "TAVROS IS MY FAVORITE CHARACTER!" (hugs)
I tried to warn them about getting grey paint on their clothes but I still got hugged by three or four different excited fangirls. Who would see me from twenty yards away and come RUNNING. My fellow trolls got glomped too, but for some reason being the awkward, wimpy, handicapped troll dressed as his role-playing character got me the most attention. i'M a lITTLE cONFUSED aBOUT wHY tHAT iS.
At the group photoshoot, first we went through each character: "All the Karkats!!" All the Karkats would pose together and everybody would take their picture...
... all the Terezis ...
.. then all the Nepetas, etc.
There were eight or nine copies of some of the trolls, but only ONE lonely Kanaya.
There was only one Rose, too.
But plenty of Bros.
There were more Daves than any other kid. And like more than half of the Daves were girls, crossplaying. There were more girl Daves than there were Roses and Jades put together.
Come to think of it there was a LOT of crossplay (more F2M than M2F). Maybe the inherent bisexuality of trolls attracts a more gender-flexible fandom?
No character, character variant, or prop was too obscure for the Homestuck cosplayers! We saw...
The Mayor of Can Town!
Time turntables! (They hung from fishing line, and really spun!)
Check out Ahab's Crosshairs here. When I see stuff like this I feel jealousy for those who don't have to fit their props on board an airplane to get to the con.
and... Nicholas Cage from Con Air ?!? As a girl?
After that the crowd started treating us like the MSPA suggestion box and just yelled out commands.
Requests to act out their favorite rivalries...
...favorite Strife scenes...
Favorite scenes of tragedy...
And anything else they found amusing.
That's when the dead Daves start piling up. And dead Daves are the enemy.
Towards the end it degenerated into fangirls demanding their favorite crack-fic pairings. (I had no idea Tavros/Gamzee was even a pairing, but Some People were Very Excited about this.)
This one girl brought a copy of the children's book "How Full Is Your Bucket?" and went around asking all the trolls she met to sign her UNSPEAKABLE FILTH.
Me and Vriska played "Explore", the song from [S] WV: Ascend on banjo and accordion. Here's a video of us doing a run-through of the song in our hotel room:
"Explore" ([S] WV: Ascend) from Jono X on Vimeo.
We almost didn't get to play it. The crowd was really rowdy and there was no structure to the event so it was hard to get everyone's attention. We couldn't "just start playing" because the song starts out quiet and everybody would have just been yelling over us. So we needed a momentary hush. Had to push our way to the front and yell "HEY! WE WOULD LIKE TO DO A SONG FOR YOU!" Eventually enough people in the crowd shushed each other that we could start.
This was our first public performance together. We were pretty nervous, and the banjo was hard to hear, but we did it! We didn't screw up too bad and we got a lovely round of applause. Thank you for listening, Homestuck fans! You're awesome!
It was kind of like doing a Masquerade skit like in previous years, except this was for a select audience who understood and cared what we were doing.
ACEN as a whole is less fun than it used to be, because it's gotten so big and impersonal, and because I'm so far away from the anime fandom these days, and the fandom itself is kind of diluted and Balkanized and no longer has much of a shared reference pool. But the thrill of our Homestuck cosplay (seriously guys, this made me SO HAPPY, you have no idea) makes me think that one solution to this is to build your own con-within-a-con for the fandom you care about.
It would be fantastic to do another group cosplay next year. Any ideas?
Non-Homestuck pics from ACEN
Cat and Kent were only moonlighting as part of our troll horde. Their main cosplay was Gurren Lagann.
Cat attracted a lot of attention dressed as Anti-Spiral Nia. These two couldn't walk ten feet without someone stopping them for a picture. (Cat, you're one of the only people I know with both the figure and the self-confidence to rock the latex bodysuit look. My hat is off to you.)
Here are some pics from a Gurren Lagann group photo shoot, which while not nearly as big as the Homestuck photo shoot, was pretty cool.
Some Kaminae punching some Shimons
Lord Genome! There's a cosplay I've never seen before!
Yoko flying the flag of the Dai-Gurren-Dan!
The supposed end-of-the-world date of May 21 came and went during the convention, and the wold stubbornly continued existing. There were a lot of jokes about that; my favorite was:
...Rorschach here updating his sign.
Once in a while I still see some old-school Squaresoft cosplay, which always makes me really happy:
Rydia from FF 4!
And Frog from Chrono Trigger!
Here's Helena, who was UCJAS club president back when I joined in 2004.
She's not in cosplay, this is just how she always dresses these days: Her own custom hand-made dresses, and a mohawk. She's kind of badass.
And now for random pics...
These guys just need a Goemon and a Zenigata.
Not just a Creeper, a Dapper Creeper.
The best use for Yu-Gi-Oh cards.
Kame Sennin aka Master Roshi from Dragon Ball. There's a nostalgia trip. (Keep this guy away from the Yoko cosplayers.)
See, we're not the only people who come to the con as non-anime characters. BUZZ LIGHTYEAR TO THE RESCUE!
Stuff Sushu made lately
Sushu wrote a really good essay about the feeling of not fitting in.
She also designed her ideal handbag, bought some fabric, and sewed it up.
Right now as I type this she's sewing her self a Shinsengumi Halloween costume. (The shinsengumi were a counter-revolutionary samurai group during the Meiji Restoration, and heroes or villains of many an anime.)
Sushu is cool.
Do you like to get into fisticuffs john? Scrums and what not?
Easiest. Cosplay. Ever.
Too bad I don't have enough hair to style it into a point. I should at least lose the sideburns though.