“In the space of one night
I seem to forget so much!
How is it, then,
that my dreams of the past
yet remain so clear?”
Back during my experiences in ICON 2010, I resolved that come next year, I’d try to get my gopher hours out of the way early and enjoy the convention with an easy mind. Otherwise, I had few complaints and looked forward to ICON 2011.
With Molly, I showed up on Thursday as before. The work was the same; Molly & I carried a tremendous number of tables hither and yon with cheer. There were more familiar faces than I expected, and the old woman handling the volunteer paperwork recognized me right off the bat. (In part due to the last name. People seem to find me fairly memorable; I am never sure whether to be insulted or flattered.) Things went smoothly until the sub dinner was served as before. There seemed quite a few people there and the submarine sandwiches vanished quickly. Indeed, there were so many people that there were coordination difficulties putting up the curtained islands. Mercifully, there was far less adjustment of tables this year so the work even felt useful. But all those people meant that the work finished early, around 7:30. We were told we’d be credited for 3 hours. I had been hoping for a solid 4 or even 5 hours. The good news was that there was work available on Friday before the convention started, as early as 10 AM. Excellent!
So I didn’t get back to the gym at 10 AM. Oh well. The gopher table took a little while but again, things went better than in 2010. There were only a few other people to deal with, it was the same gal as last year2 who also recognized me, which made things faster. I got to snack on their munchkins while I waited to pay my Jackson and receive my gopher pass.
I didn’t go to the gym immediately. With the other gophers, I stood around for a while. We carried a number of boxes into the auditorium. Then we sorted PVC pipes by size. Then some of us were volunteered to work in the gym. (Fine by me!)
At the gym, there was initially not much to do. The vendors had started to trickle in, half a dozen carting in boxes on hand trucks and arranging their wares. I initially moved the occasional chairs and tables. (I was surprised to learn that ICON charged for additional tables even if the vendor was just putting the table in their own space—$15 or so. Apparently SBU charges ICON for how many tables are used, which seems like madness to me.) I saw some cute things—one vendor brought his wares in 7 or 8 pieces of connected rolling luggage, each smaller than the next, like little ducklings in a line. I spent some of the time listening to this little gnarled old ICONer smoking away by the gym entrance who had been coming since forever and enjoyed telling stories. He told some stories of a giant Society for Creative Anachronisms festival and his last ditch defeat of some sort of reigning champion of swordsmanship there. I didn’t really follow. He mentioned that the fighting was for the men, and the dancing and food brought in the women, which was neatly in line with my own theories about gender balance, cosplay, and SF/anime conventions. (In retrospect, I think he was talking about the Pennsic War festival.)
Eventually I felt like a leech and guiltily sought out work. I began helping vendors unload stuff. First 2 old women selling unicorn and dragon glassware and figures, who had a ton of small boxes and other things that didn’t go well on the hand truck. When we finished with all their stuff, they tipped the girl I was working with and she gave me half. I felt very mixed and decided I would reject future tips. I was being paid, after all, and fairly well. (8 hours work for 3-day admission worth $59—close to $10 an hour, above minimum wage.) The next memorable merchant I helped was a dice vendor. Not a challenge right? But a vendor’s worth of dice is incredibly heavy, and they kept them all in metal cases, which were even heavier. Each one was at least 30 pounds, and I took 10 at a time on the hand truck. At this point, despite the creatine, my arms began to hurt. On I continued, unloading vans. One video game vendor had brought many boxes of games and consoles—and a surplus man-high Sony display tower for a PS3 and TV. That mad man thought to set it up by his tables. (Getting that into the gym was fun.) The hours passed with back and forth deliveries. I never checked the time or thought about where to go next. Finally, at around 3:30, I helped carry a book vendor’s load, went back to the volunteer gopher table, and had some water. At that moment, a slender woman in leathers came up to the table to ask for someone to watch her table. She had to go back to the hotel to change. As the gopher there, I volunteered.
It meant sitting there for an hour or two, but that was fine by me. I had been on my feet since 10 AM, and when I finished watching the table, I would have exceeded 8 hours. The table turned out to just be a few score of books by a convention guest, Joe R. Lansdale, who was in fact this year’s convention guest of honor. I had never heard of him, but now I had every opportunity to become familiar with him3. The vendor to my left selling SF posters and prints turned out to be a fan of this guy, and recommended I start with his Drive-In books. I read the thinnest book first, Christmas With The Dead; not terribly impressed, only a little whimsical and darkly humorous although I could see why someone might turn it into a short film. Then I read The Drive-In 1 and 2 and was… more than a little weirded out. Stylistically they were competent, technically they needed a great deal of work (tons of misspellings, for example), the treatment was pulp but with more cannibalism & sex than one would expect, a plot that veered around, and creatures of horror that were more just confusing like a malevolent hybrid of a white and a black boy which spat out living corn parasites for its B-movie devotee followers. There didn’t seem to be anything more to the narrative than what you saw. Then I read a comic book issue sitting on the table, which was another odd tale of 2 fat Southern rednecks who go out to drag a dead dog around behind their car and wind up drowned by even more redneck rednecks; lurid and violent, and trafficking in such extreme stereotypes (about all characters, even characters one would expect to not be so treated, like the black character) that I had no idea how to regard it. Was it critical of the South? Was that just how this Joe Lansdale fellow saw the world? I couldn’t tell. It began to dawn on me that these might be pulp novels and that this Lansdale regularly churned them out—like Robert Heinlein but without any lasting impact or L. Ron Hubbard but without any sinister Scientology cult to lend the espoused ideologies a real-world significance. (I also began to question ICON’s wisdom. Weren’t there better writers available?)
Well, by the time I had read through all 4 works I felt antsy, Kitty had not returned as promised, and events would be starting soon. I asked the poster vendor to watch the table for a bit, went to the volunteer table where another gopher had shown up, roped him into watching the table, and got the head volunteers to sign off on my hours. Straight off to the SAC. I got my money back and could rest easy according to plan. And I had yet to miss a single event. Keikaku doori.
The first panel, “Cthulhu Haiku and Other Uncanny Poetry” was… a bust. What the heck? This happened last year too, some of the most interesting-sounding panels were just canceled. A Star Wars thing over in Harriman was similarly boring. A “There Have Always Been Furries In Literature” panel was active but it was just lazy looking at mythic or literary anthropomorphism and transformations, which to my way of thinking is quite distinct from modern furries. “Generational Differences in Comics” was more interesting, as that was American comics people discussing how that industry has been changing to cope with the Internet and with the explosion of manga (I don’t remember much about the implosion, however, of companies like Tokyopop). There seemed to be sort of an opinion that American comics and Japanese manga are quality vs quantity (no prize for guessing which is which), and considerable interest in the iPad as a large high-resolution display medium for American comics. “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics” was elementary and I didn’t learn anything from that. I popped in on the Rocky Horror in Javits and left after a little while. (I don’t really get Rocky Horror.) I can’t figure out where it is on the schedule, but at some point there was an anime-themed panel showing old dubbed anime that are awful in different ways; there was one anime which had been sponsored by a Japanese cult where the kids go back in time to historic events like Moses parting the waters (actually thanks to the spaceship from the future!) or Jesus’s execution, presumably to see how it all led up to the Japanese cult. I wondered what connection, if any, there was to the actual Christian anime, The Flying House. Another panel at some point apparently was for showing a extraordinarily sexist and violent humorous cop show (which, much later, reading an old Animerica issue, I learned was _Mad Bull 34); to describe it in any more detail one would either to have been there or perhaps read Justin Sevakis’s “Buried Garbage” column on it; to my lasting shame, after I got over my shock, I found it fairly funny in the so-bad-it-overflows-and-becomes-good way and watched most of the rest of the screening.
I finished up the evening by watching the Japanese horror film Uzumaki, based on a manga I have partially read. The film was slow, as befits a descent into psychological horror, but the color balance was excessively green and the direction is very ham-handed in focusing on the spirals and increasing oddities, resorting in some places to what look like randomly placed CGI spirals in air or walls. Worse, the film completely wastes one of the most horrific deaths, and the female protagonist is so passive and helpless one quickly switches to wanting her to be doomed by the spiral curse. Anyway, about half-way through, Molly found me and insisted on going home. Gee, thanks. (I finished Uzumaki a few months later. My opinions didn’t much change.)
The highlight of Saturday afternoon was the 1 PM charity auction. They had all sorts of fantastic stuff; tons of games like Street Fighter signed by the voice actors or directors or what-have-you. The dude describing them apparently works as some sort of producer or director for localization and had got some pretty unique swag. I was particularly impressed by the draft Black Lagoon episodes which were signed by somebody. (How often do such in-progress works become available?) It was also deeply sad for me: I know enough about these things to know that most of the items sold for vastly less than they would have fetched at a larger convention or online. A loss for charity but also a loss for fans—the goods were going to those who valued them little. Some of the autographed games or pairs of games went for less than they cost new!
I wanted a number of items, but I was outbid on the Kamichu! eraser boards and the Haruhi Suzumiya dakimakura just weirded me out. Sometimes I seemed to be the only person there familiar with the anime. (To be fair, there was one item I did not recognize but several girls in the audience did.) When the dude brought up a Texhnolyze folder signed by the dub cast and by Yoshitoshi aBe himself (not just a signature but a sketch!), I called out, “Does it come with an explanation of the ending?” Not one person laughed, but the guy replied I ought to bid since I was familiar with the anime. I was not actually all that keen on Texhnolyze, but I asked him for clarification on aBe signing it (whom I respect tremendously for Haibane Renmei and Serial Experiments Lain) and when he confirmed the claim, then I was interested. No one else bid even after that, so I got it for $40. I sometimes wonder how much that folder would be worth to the true aBe fans; almost surely much more. (I haven’t even framed it yet.) You can see a fairly high-resolution scan of the front page of the folder (the signed part) at http://imgur.com/jsxdn. There were many items in total, and I was tempted to bid on some just to resell them.
Passing through the lecture hall on Saturday, I noticed the master board of schedule modifications included an announcement of a new panel: “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: The Fandom Phenomenon! Bronies Unite! Group Discussion” the next day at 3 PM. The foreign exchange student who had lived with us had some My Little Pony merchandise_ and had said it was better than one would think and that I should watch it, but I knew nothing about it, so I picked up a flyer. Couldn’t hurt. As it turned out, I would miss the discussion and for good reason. The exchange student later visited and prevailed upon us to watch 3 or 4 episodes off YouTube. She was right, it was not what I had expected. It was a little more sophisticated and cynical than one would expect, and some of the plot details are distinctly odd. (I was particularly struck in the first episode when the ‘fashion’ pony character—of course there is one, just as there is an athletic pony character or a geeky pony character—demonstrates her worth by cutting off her hair to make a mustache for a inconsolate dragon blocking the way. Yeah. The TvTropes entry covers some of the details that Wikipedia, in classic fashion, deems beneath its notice.) However, I was not that impressed and see no need to watch more. It certainly surprised me, however; I little more expected to see a watchable cartoon (to a male adult!) out of My Little Pony than I did of, say, the Polly Pocket franchise.
At 1:30, I saw a “Cold Reading Workshop” listed. Cold reading has always interested me—how do otherwise sensible people fall for vague leading questions and take them for evidence of deep penetrating psychic knowledge? In an interrogation of a relative or an emotional argument, they would recognize such evasive tactics and Rorschach-blob answers for what they are, but tell them you speak to the dead and though they ought to be even more skeptical, they are the opposite! So, the topic is interesting.
I get there, and I see this well-groomed sleek man—obviously the teacher—and this burly Hispanic guy (who instantly reminds me of Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception), and then two older men in nice leathery medieval raiment wander in later. The teacher waits impatiently for more people to come but gives up and he begins talking about acting. I must have looked increasingly confused (I can understand what connection acting has to cold reading since at the very least you need to affect a knowing manner but I do expect some thesis statement or other prefatory material), because he eventually stopped and asked me what I was there for. I said I was there for the cold reading workshop. He said that this was it but was I sure I was in the right place? What did I think cold reading was? I said much what I said before: cold reading is when a person, especially psychics, uses vague wording and good guesses to learn about a person and then convince them of personal knowledge. He was fascinated. He had never heard of this meaning of ‘cold reading’. Did it really exist? (It does.) How interesting. But this workshop was about ‘cold reading’ as in acting, where it means a kind of audition where the actor is handed a script and must immediately act out part as best as he can. Did I want to stay? Well, I had a little acting training myself and it was only half an hour and I had never really tried it, so I said I’d stay.
He discussed the general idea for 10 minutes, and then paired me up with the Hispanic guy (who turned out to be named Diego) and paired the two old guys up with each other. Both groups were given scripts—he had a whole pile—and were sent off to rehearse for 10 minutes.
The script turned out to be a nice one to act out. It’s an old excerpt from some sitcom I’ve never heard of, titled “Better With A Bargain” (I don’t know whether that is the whole episode’s title or just this excerpt) in which a wheeling-and-dealing sort of guy (Diego) tries to wheedle a discount on luxury baby strollers out of the haughty European employee (me). We quickly decided to ham it up: Diego would lean in, tilt his face down insinuatingly, and speak in a sort of Chicago or New York wise-guy accent while I would stand ramrod straight with my chin up, sound vaguely German or French, and be the stereotypical European maitre’d. I’ve always been fairly good at acting out prepared pieces, though I have been accused of being on the autism spectrum and so intuitively I would guess that I come off in person as stiff or inscrutable. So it went pretty well. The final line is mine, when the salesman points out the shipping costs defeat Diego’s last scheme, and says “Good day, sir!”
When we performed before the assembled group (such as it was), we drew a fair bit of laughter and genuine applause at the end. The instructor, jaded though one might expect him to be, seemed especially pleased. (Although one always wonders about a professional actor’s reactions—is he acting there, or then?—I looked at the corners of the eyes where the body language books say genuine smiles produce wrinkles, and there seemed to be wrinkles.) In ‘grading’ us, he said he was particularly pleased by a little thing I had spontaneously starting doing during rehearsal: spinning around with my hands spread at the waist and intoning “time passes” as a way to mark the scene shift (there are 4 distinct little scenes with considerable in-universe time between). He really enjoyed that as a sort of clever theatre or fourth-wall breaking. I was glad as well; teachers get bored with seeing the same mediocrity and it always pleases me to show some originality or novelty which they can appreciate and be startled by. (It also makes me feel less guilty about how I let down my previous acting teacher, professor Lantz-Gefroh.)
At this point, the workshop ended. (The two older guys turned out to be small-time theatre producers or employees or something, and declined to perform their piece.) At 3, I went over to the SAC auditorium to see what ‘Worm Quartet’ was like. That was a bust. From the auditorium, I went up to SAC 303, “Autonomous Warfare—When Will We Have Robot Soldiers?” That was kind of a bust too.
The next one was better. 4 PM saw “Origins of I-CON: A Look Back at How It All Started”. This was a bunch of old-timers swapping random I-CON stories. I found it very interesting.
Turns out the Javits lecture hall was where the first one was held, which explains why things are booked so late there. (One thing is different: in the first ICON, they got drunk off their asses. Drunkards are much more discreet at modern ICONs.) Some of the backstory for the year I-CON was off SBU was told—the administration despised ICON, and renovations of the gym were a good excuse. But the renovations were delayed so ICON had not truly needed to relocate to SCC, and the lost revenue was substantial enough that the administration reportedly rued its eviction of ICON and was grudgingly tolerating it. (No wonder if they were charging the vendors in the dealer room for additional tables!)
Another interesting factoid was that in the past, some fairly prominent bands would play ICON for an obscure contractual reason: apparently club or concert hall contracts would often specify that a band could not play within 50 miles of New York City after playing their place, but SBU is >50 miles from NYC and very accessible via the LIRR, so bands could easily pick up some extra money by immediately playing in SBU after their original NYC engagements.
Another curious story was that when SF author Jack L. Chalker visited, he demanded an adult-sized baby crib (the former ICON staffer recounting this was the poor fellow who had to find it and deliver it, strapped to the top of his car, to the hotel); it was not specified why Chalker wanted the crib save that he had ‘issues’. I was reminded of the old-timer who had told me on Friday that at another convention, people staying in the hotel would commander the various hand trucks and carts and spirit them away to their rooms… Some backstory I had definitely missed was that ICON had almost died at ICON 9 or 10, I think, because the executive board had badly overspent and SBU was furious at the financial requests; that staffer reflected that the following ICON was a very subdued and low-key affair.
The panel spent what must have been half an hour discussing Harlan Ellison. Well, why not? The man left interesting stories behind him wherever he went. In this case, Ellison entered into ICON because he was extremely close friends with someone named… Julia or Julie, I think. (I am writing this section months later and my recollection is fuzzy, to my regret.) Ellison would call her on a weekly basis at the same exact time, and would come to ICON solely to see her. The only Ellison anecdote I recall was the pudgy old magazine editor’s anecdote from when he was on a panel with Ellison. Ellison had been ranting about the abuse of suspension of disbelief in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when the main characters crash in a plane and go over a waterfall and land on their raft safely when the editor interjected a witty comment—I believe to the effect that the raft was like buttered toast, of course it landed bottom down—and cracked up the audience. Ellison was furious! “No!” he said to the editor, “now everyone will remember your joke and not the failure to maintain suspension of belief! Now you’ve ruined everything!”4
After Ellison, the editor was on a roll. He and the others began reminiscing about the ICON parties he would throw; at one party, an obnoxious fan went around challenging people about knowledge of Tolkien and offering to answer any questions. OK, says the editor, what does the ‘R.R.’ stand for in ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’?5 The fan opened his mouth confidently to answer and paused and stammered “I—I don’t know!”, to general hilarity. The next year, he arrives at the party and demands of the editor, “Ask me what J.R.R. stands for!” Too late, concluded the editor shaking his head, much too late. (A lesson for all us nerds. Like vocabulary, trivia or expert knowledge is best employed with a sort of sprezzatura, where it is integrated so smoothly the audience barely notices it. If you have to highlight it in any way like ‘Did you know…’, you have failed.)
Well, to echo the epigraph, my memory of some of the anecdotes is very clear, and others not so clear, so I will leave it at that. I had skipped the start of a showing of Evangelion 2.0 (the only NGE material in all of ICON, I don’t think I even saw any cosplayers) for this panel, so with its ending, I scurried over the Javits hall through a torrential downpour (thanking my foresight for bringing my waxed-cotton drover coat & hat). The projection was pretty crappy and the image quality seemed to be that of the DVD release. (I have a rip of the Blu-Ray; it is very nice. Animation quality seems to be on a sort of Moore’s law and I am glad I will be alive to see what animators can do in 2030 or later.) The movie was more than half-over, though, so I lingered for the Asuka-centric parts that interested me and to try to evaluate the dub quality. I have nothing against the newcomer voicing Mari Makinami, but it has been a long time since I last watched NGE TV dubbed, and I have to say: Tiffany Grant, as nice & funny in person last year as she was, does not voice Asuka well. With a high nasal voice like that, no wonder so many anglophone fans write Asuka off as a haughty bitch. Amusingly, a number of people fell for the cheap post-credits trick 2.0 pulls but most knew to stay and watch for the real ending. With that concluded, it was 6 PM. Otaku no Video was next, but while ONV is well-worth watching (being one of the best anime dealing with SF conventions), I have already seen it and had no secondary purpose like evaluating the dub. In fact, the overall schedule wasn’t too hot at this point. I considered a panel on personal genomic sequencing, but possibly I knew as much as the panelists and hard sciences don’t lend themselves to panel discussion anyway.
So I decided to followup on an old resolution of mine: learn how to play Settlers of Catan. It is so popular that surely I would find teachers in the board-gaming room. There were a ton of people when I got to the SAC ballroom, but wouldn’t you know it? There was exactly one game in progress, and none of them wanted to play a second one. I watched what was left, trying to understand the strategy as best I could. As they packed up, a game-master asked me whether I wanted to play another game, Fresco. A dad and his kid showed up to play as well, so why not? Conventions are for trying new things.
Fresco turned out to be a classic German board-game: unusual conceit and a myriad of subtle trade-offs which accumulate to a victory. In Fresco’s case, the idea is that every round, you have n apprentices which can be allocated among earning gold to buy paint, buying paint, mixing paint, and ‘painting’ specific sets of mixed paints, each painting being worth both points and future gold income. The general strategy seems to be to evenly allocate apprentices so you can paint the simplest paintings, gaining you some steady income, and then you can focus on buying and then mixing up the rare paints you need for the higher-point paintings. It took us a while to figure this out. (It took us a while to figure out how to play.) Thanks to some last-ditch choices in the final rounds where I gambled and blew all my resources, I managed to not place last. All in all, it was a decent enough game although I’m not sure I would want to play it again, and definitely not with regular people. (For regular people, casual games like Fluxx are better. My older sister’s friends have an story-telling game which would be much more fun6.) Well, Fresco took more time than I had expected and by the time we began clean up, it was past 8 PM.
The Cosplay contest had already started when I got there, and a skit was under way. I had a little difficulty finding a seat. I took one, and then was ejected; took a second behind the first, and was ejected from that. The third one stuck. Skits were performed like last year, although the only ones that spring to mind were a short Oh! My Goddess themed skit (to which I could not hear the audio & was more notable for the quality of the OMG cosplay) and a funny crossover with Solid Snake and 2 others where they played an elaborate form of Dance Dance Revolution. Overall, they were not as good as last year’s skits. The capstone of the skits was an extremely long dance number by the MC, who was the same penguin-man as last year; after dancing himself into a sweaty frenzy, he announced that he was retiring. Apparently he had been MCing the ICON cosplay contest for several years in a row and was stepping down, challenging the audience to keep the contest going with new and excellent skits. (Some cosplayers yelled their acceptance; I am skeptical they will amount to anything. Will they even remember?) The cosplay awards were judged pretty much as I expected, with the OMG cosplayers getting several.
Then came the AMV contest… and technical problems. And more technical problems. And then a Summer Wars/Digimon movie AMV that would not play at more than a frame a second or so.7 It was brutal and embarrassing to watch. Perhaps 20 minutes into this, it was announced that a “Reni” would perform for us while the staff messed with the laptops—but we all had to chant “moe, moe, moe”… And out came the bunny-eared Japanese girl in a maid outfit. (I had noticed her in the hallway and remarked to myself that she was probably the cutest girl I had seen at ICON yet. Well, that explained that.)
At first I was extremely impressed, but as the choreography continued into a second song, the MC’s words belatedly sank in and I realized this Reni was some sort of professional. I later looked her up on Facebook, and apparently she runs a maid cafe in NYC. Learning to be a J-pop idol and then emigrating to the USA to pursue a career—a remarkable sort of career. (It’s a little ironic to me that her business career shows that she is far cannier and more aggressive than her cutesy high-pitched image.) The J-pop was pretty forgettable J-pop, but the choreography remained nice and some parts of the music were catchy. I was mostly surprised at how long it went on—how many songs was it, 5 or 6? The final song was participatory and naturally much of the female audience clambered on stage to participate in the gestures for the last song. (The kids were especially cute in their enthusiasm.)
With Reni’s performance done, the AMVs were finally shown. The Summer Wars was a bit of a disappointment; the conceit was excellent but the visual quality was very poor, the song chosen didn’t match up well, and the editing was only mediocre. A long drama one based on Monster impressed me for its insight into the series and its evocation of Monster’s themes. I was not surprised when the ‘dance’ AMV based on K-On! won, because the song matched reasonably well and the editing was just over-the-top with a substantial amount of new animation. (I believe there were also a Romeo x Juliet one that was so mediocre I can’t recall anything about it, and a bad Final Fantasy AMV.)
I would later see Reni at the annual ‘Sakura festival’ at Stony Brook’s Wang Center. I’m sure she wasn’t there last year either since I watched most of the live performances then. Her performance was pretty much the same as at ICON, down to the maid costume & only coming out to the ‘moe’ call (which felt a little weird when sitting with a bunch of old white and Asian people, as opposed to SF & anime fans in cosplay). This time around I paid less attention to the songs and more attention to the trio. I cynically noted that while the 2 dancers seemed pretty good at their job, they were undeniably more heavily-built than Reni and so even if they were singers as well, not real competition for Reni—which makes me wonder if Reni picked them in Japan in part because they would have a hard time upstaging her. (To be clear, I don’t mean they were fat or chubby in the least; they seemed quite fit. I mean they are physically large & muscular, and not all that ‘cute’.) I also noticed that the 2 dancers were wearing these rubbery black sock-shoes, while Reni wore high heels—but she was still pulling off dance moves and kicks. I have out of curiosity worn high heels briefly, and smoothly dancing in them (without a single fumble that I spotted) impresses me. (Her songs are still mediocre though, and I hate her falsetto cutesy voice. I’m not much of a fan of moe or kawaii stuff.)
The cosplay contest ran until 11 PM, and I had time to kill until Voltaire’s concert. I checked a movie midway through, Monsters. Vague SF; it left me cold. Then Hero Tales, extremely generic shonen martial arts adventure. (The kids there liked it a lot.) Dark Love was just a hentai, as its 18+ rating would indicate. I didn’t stay long for that one. I did stay at the “Anime Parliament”; this was mildly interesting, two of the OMG cosplayers (the dad and his daughter) were conducting a sort of legal debate about whatever crimes or situations anyone thought up. The one that occupied the most time was what restrictions a sovereign nation could put on visiting vampires inasmuch as their fangs are concealed lethal weapons—we concluded that substantial restrictions could be justified although requiring extraction was unconscionable. Unfortunately, no one brought up any of the classic questions involving Ranma 1/2. Too old school, perhaps. (I may’ve taken a nap during the Parliament.)
Fortunately midnight and Voltaire came soon. It started on time. I noticed that his son wasn’t with him this year. Voltaire apologized to his fans for canceling the animation exhibition8 earlier that day, and said (had been pressured by the convention staff to fill his quota) that he would perform an extra hour or two in repayment. He played a great many of the same songs from last year, although he seemed much less chatty and I missed one of my favorites, “Day of the Dead”. However, he did play some songs from his in development album, which had a strange naming story. Voltaire’s music isn’t easily classified (dark cabaret), and a Facebook fan had tried to describe it, saying Voltaire’s songs were like “riding down the side of an exploding volcano on a white unicorn while drinking from a chalice filled with the laughter of small children”. I think. I may have missed some adjectives in there. Hopefully the actual album title will be shorter. The title song seemed pretty bad to me (hard to write a song around an awkward sentence like that, as much fun as Voltaire had saying it three times fast), but a story-ballad about a king and a mechanical daughter struck me. That might be worth listening to. He must have played until 2:30 or 3 AM, at which point he quit and began doing autographs and selling merchandise. Our exchange student of course had to have his autograph so after watching the proceedings for a while, I headed home and hit the hay.
I woke up late, of course, and didn’t get there until ~1 PM, which is when I had learned a second charity auction had been scheduled in the ESS. (Not in the brochure, of course.) This auction was decently attended and was auctioning off everything left. There was a lot of stuff, a good deal of soft merchandise. Here too I set mental prices on everything and bid up to it. This meant I was disappointed with some of them, like the blue raccoon hat, but didn’t mind losing others like the World of Warcraft artbook. (I did better than the old Dr. Who cosplayer behind me with the very long scarf, who bid and won a number of items and was clearly suffering from some winner’s remorse.) A very nice metal and quartz bracelet went for a song to me, which I gave to my sister for her birthday. One odd item was a plaster mask—like a death mask—of the actor who played Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones, Temuera Morrison. (I guess he was there at ICON? I had no idea.) As they said, it was quite a unique item… I believe it went for $40–50. By the end, things had gotten well and truly silly. The Tuxedo Mask cosplayer gallantly donated his 3 shiny Hershey’s kiss roses, which I bought for $3. (Non, je ne regrette rien! They fit nicely into my chest pocket and were striking.) At the end, they auctioned off one of the empty plastic bags for $10 or $20—but not just any plastic bag, a plastic bag signed by the auction staff. (I signed it too; I was on staff, in a sense.) The auction was a load of fun, although my loot not as nice as the first charity auction’s aBe signature.
By this point, panels and things were disappearing without notice, and the schedule was emptying fast. I wanted to go to “Why Most Scientific Papers Published Are Wrong” but it had been canceled. So I headed over to Javits again and tried to watch a movie called Oh Inverted World. I can only describe it as a pretentious black-and-white film about drifting vaguely-artistic twenty-somethings, somewhat like Clerks but far worse. There seemed to be some sort of zombie or time travel aspect; who knows. I headed to the last major event, “Anime Idol”. This was very well populated—much of the remaining convention-goers had gathered. (RIT girl was there helping out, for example.) Surprisingly, there were no technical glitches and the signing began on schedule. The judges’ panel wasn’t very interesting to listen to—they either focused on criticisms that were tremendously obvious or spent a lot of time praising or cushioning their comments. (I was a little annoyed by the end.)
First up was Joe, big Asian guy who sang a sort of rock song. Not too terrible. Then Steve went up and dressed in his sports clothes (you know the ones I’m talking about, with the backwards cap) did a horrible little rap piece. A large woman named Pat did—a cappella!—one of the DBZ openings. It was much better than I had feared when I heard she was deliberately doing it with no musical accompaniment, and for daring and pulling that off, I gave her my top-ranking in my vote. Then came up Veronica, another large woman with green and black in her hair (I kept thinking she was cosplaying as a horror video game character, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember which), who did pretty well. I believe a Kevin, dressed as a Team Fortress Engineer, came up and with a friend on the ukulele, performed a Pokemon-related song. That was… odd. Not bad, necessarily, but a little hard to compare to the others. The most memorable singer was a thin black-haired girl named Jenna who dressed and looked somehow like a ballerina. She sang Utada Hikaru’s “Sanctuary”; I was deeply impressed because “Sanctuary” is in my music collection and I knew well the high notes and constant ascending and descending, but Jenna pretty much nailed the whole song. I thought I heard a few errors, but I could easily have been imagining them! While I ranked Pat above Jenna, it did not surprise me when the votes came back for Jenna. It’s hard to dispute such a pitch-perfect rendering of the song.
And what was my little sister doing this whole time? Not much. Only after Anime Idol did she continue working as gopher and finished up her 8 hours! I had finished back on Friday but she had put it off and put it off. I didn’t have the energy to help out more (my muscles were still sore from Friday), so I took a long nap in my car until she finished.
#46 ‘Passing like a Dream’; Unforgotten Dreams: Poems by the Zen monk Shōtetsu; trans. Steven D. Carter, ISBN 0-231-10576-2↩
In an even more revealing burlesque outfit, which I was of 2 minds about. On the one hand, she had quite a bust. On the other hand, she had quite an everything.↩
Not in any physical sense. As far as I know, I have yet to lay eyes on him.↩
It is a measure of how much trust should be reposed in my retelling of these hoary anecdotes that I cannot, for the life of me, remember what the witty interjection was. It was pretty witty, however.↩
As it happens, I already knew the answer! That lent extra humor to this anecdote for me. Though, strange what bits of trivia lodge in one’s head. Why do I remember ‘Ronald Reuel’ and not any of the much more interesting things about Middle Earth? I made no effort to learn his initials.↩
To steal my description from my San Francisco journal entry for that day:
…It was one entirely new to me; it was based on collaborative storytelling with adversarial aspects. The players take term narrating an improvised fairy tale, and like Uno, get to discard cards with story elements when they manage to weave them into the developing tale, but other players can steal the role of narrator if a story element happens to match their cards, and the winner is the one who discards all their cards and can then manage to bring the story to a convincing end that matches their ‘goal card’. (One goal card was something to the effect “…and that is why you should distrust strangers you meet traveling”.) The game does require a fair bit of cooperation and good-faith interpretation among players, though. (I am still mildly annoyed that my attempt to steal the narratorship failed when the others disagreed that mention of our protagonist’s parents implied that they were married and I could steal with my ‘husband and wife’ card, arguing that this could be a modern story with unwed parents or even homosexual parents! Come on, guys.)
That AMV actually had a very interesting idea at its core; the staff of Summer Wars had worked on that Digimon movie and the resemblances of the plot and visuals are so complete that Summer Wars can be considered a remake. Intercutting the same scenes demonstrates this unacknowledged heritage while also in theory being a good action AMV.↩
Later I looked up Voltaire on Wikipedia. Apparently he is mostly known for his animation. I only knew him as a musician!↩