Damn, I've been going to a lot of cons lately. I'm not sure I'm looking forward to March 2010, where I'll have 4 cons in 4 weeks... Fun times surely, but lots of work. For now, let's talk about our latest convention experience at Another Anime Convention in New Hampshire. This is AAC's 4th year and the 2nd back at the Radisson since its premiere.
Day 1 - Friday (Miscellaneous)
I arrived at the con center around 12:30 pm, having missed the Nashua exit off the highway. It being the first one on the immediate right after the New Hampshire is telling, as there weren't really any signs to let me know this. Future AAC attendances, please keep this in mind, as exits in New Hampshire are often 5 miles or more apart, so correcting mistakes is not an easy thing to do.
Checking in was hassle free and I met my roommates quickly, so no problems getting into the room. For the next 2 hours, I familiarized myself with the layout of the convention and toured the game room and vendor's room. The vendor's room was well laid out with a nice design for easy flow of traffic. I met some familiar guests from our times at other conventions, so it was good to catch up. The highlights of the vendor's room were the artists and wallscroll sections. Not having enough money for any major purchases, the greatness of the room is sometimes lost on me.
Day 1 - Friday (Video Games)
The game room was a large dedicated room, around the corner from the side stage and near the two hotel dining areas. My hopes were high for a variety of video game systems and titles. Unfortunately, the first day had little beyond the requisite convention games. Rock Band, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, and Dance Dance Revolution. I've found that after BakuretsuCon, one can never base a game room on a convention size, so AAC's was a bit of a disappointment.
There were stations for Left 4 Dead 2 set up, so it was cool to play that game after it was just released last week. Turns out that you can only play 2 players on each console, shutting out the potential of 4 player zombie-killing adventures. It is a real shame because the partner A.I is pretty stupid in this game.
I know why Microsoft did this: they only allow 4 players via online because they want people to buy Xbox Live subscriptions. While it is prominently advertised as only 2 players on the back of the case, the nature of the game just lends itself to 4 players on one console. A real shame that this potential was limited by greed. Playing online is a great option if you're by yourself, but most games are always better with friends by your side!
Day 1 - Friday (Panels)
3pm (Q and A with Tiffany Grant) - The first panel I attended was the Q and A with famed voice actor Tiffany Grant, probably best known for her role as Asuka Soryuu Langley in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Her role as a VA and writer allowed her to address many different areas of the voice actor medium. She has a certain sense of style, calling her thoughts "Tiffany Epiphanies". Mrs. Grant was the first voice actor in the state of Texas in the year 1994 for her role in Gun Double Target. Her experiences in Evangelion are what she is most well known for, so let's discuss that.
She was one of the first people who didn't audition for EVA, allowing her to avoid the often trials and tribulations that go along with the auditioning process. I asked her about solo VS group recording. All recording on EVA was done solo in a soundproof room. This experience is not as isolating as it seems, due to the ability for the VA to add interpretation to the character without having to play off the other characters at the same time. Tiffany, being a firm believer in interpretation throughout her career, surely relishes this modus operandi.
She also spoke of her fellow cast members, namely the voice of Shinji Ikari, one Spike Spencer. She made light of Shinji's whiny nature even before Asuka met him in the 8th episode. Due to the nature of sole recording, she didn't actually interact with Spike until the 15th episode.
Besides her role as a VA, she writes a lot of scripts, but has never been a producer. Due to her place among the pantheon of voice actors, she is often asked to produce all kinds of series and genres of anime. When it comes to her favorite characters, she acknowledged that Asuka was a very challenging character to do, due to her parental background, her role in EVA, and how Shinji is able to upstage her despite her years of training as an EVA pilot. The amusing thing about Tiffany is that despite her love for Asuka, she still relishes opportunities to play happy-go-lucky characters, whose only care is being happy.
The following parts cover the politics of the voice acting industry. I was very pleased that Tiffany Grant was very willing to address this somewhat controversial topic. She is a critic of the disparity between voice acting and other performing arts. A lot of voice acting is non-union work because some states have a "right-to-work" policy, so no unions are allowed. If the Screen Actors Guild finds out about non-union work from its members, they levy a heavy fine to the point that they pretty much take your entire paid salary for the project. The best example of this is how Gary Oldman was planned to voice General Grievous in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. His SAG status prevented his involvement in this project, so Matthew Wood took his place.
Another common problem with voice acting is the tendency for certain actors to be typecast by their most familiar roles; play a sullen character and that's all you'll receive readings for. Tiffany thinks it is definitely great for the VA industry that she does have to deal with being typecast, as it can show outsiders or the disinterested that voice acting is not the same job all the time. It is not just come in, read, shout, record, done, go home. There is nuance to each performance, even without considering when the VA chose to emote more or add gestures and motions to their performances. While this is mostly for effect, many voice actors feel that it enhances the performance.
7pm (Voice Acting VS Stage/On-Camera Acting) - I attended this panel on Tiffany Grant's personal recommendation, stating that there would be plenty of industry politics discussed. I could comment about my favorite lines/jokes/anecdotes, but seeing as how I recorded the panel, you should watch it:
Part I: (follow the links for the rest)
8pm (Fanfiction 101: Is My Character a Mary Sue?) - I was hoping that this panel would be AAC's anti-Twilight panel, due to the character of Bella Swan being an acknowledged archetype. It would have been rather timely, as the latest movie was released in theatres on Friday. Instead this gathering was really just a discussion of information already available on the Internet. The idea of a Gary Stu is pretty funny though. Moving on.
10pm (Steven Party Hour) - Having seen some girls chugging 64 liters of generic soda in the gaming room, I followed them to this small dance event. It was amusing how the all the food was generic brands, but the music wasn't. I met a girl named Rebecca Corson there and had a fun discussion about the nature of popular music, especially Eurodance. It is a real shame that this music has been supplanted by hip-hop in dance clubs, which really doesn't work. There were dancers much more skilled than me, so I was wise not to mess with it. More than anything, the Party Hour served a precursor to the Saturday night rave.
11pm (Rule 34 Gone Wild and the Science of Awesome) - This panel was basically a primer on the insanity that is the World Wide Web. Rule 34 can't really be explained in a sentence or two, and I really don't care to. Fetishes, gross pictures (to some...) Internet memes and other tasteless bits were the order of the day in this panel. A Sub-Zero's antics was a fine accompaniment to the panelists, but repetition may have worn their act a little thin by the middle of the panel.
In closing for Day 1, it is too bad that the Hentai 3000 panel was at 11pm too, as I heard it was a really fun time. The same thing happened to me with most of the Penny Dreadfuls panels on steampunk. It can't really be helped, as a typical convention would have to be a lot longer in order for people to be able to attend every event. Guess I'll have to get more people to come next year...
Day 2 - Saturday (Panels)
10:30am (Extreme Iron Editor) - This was a competition between two highly skilled video editors designed to see who could make the best video from an assortment of footage within a certain time limit. I didn't have time to watch the whole event, but it was an energetic contest, with great audience participation and some odd places to hide keys...
11am (Anime Auditions: the Process) - This panel was hosted by Kyle Hebert, of Bleach and Street Fighter IV fame. The premise was that Mr. Hebert brought pre-written scripts for volunteers. I tried to get Neil to volunteer, and he to me, but to no avail. Too bad, as I would have done an incredibly over-the-top radio broadcaster, if only to further belabor the point that radio is nothing like voice acting.
Kyle also described his passion for voice acting in video games, specifically fighting games like Naruto and Street Fighter. You have a light attack, a medium, and a heavy; all of which require different levels of intonation and voice carrying. The best example for Naruto is the great hyperbole that accompanies many super attacks. YEAAAAHHHHHH for like 3 minutes, during which Kyle would pretend to sleep, pantomime, and check his watch, mocking the supposed lack of skill the medium involves. Nothing like a consummate professional making an appeal to the ignorant, an argumentum ad ignorantiam, if you will. This is due to the fact that altering your voice is easy for anyone to do, therefore it must be easy to voice act.
12 pm (Girl on Girl Interview) - This provocatively titled panel, laced with double entendres and other fun, was disappointingly just a series of pre-selected questions with Wendy Powell, Michele Knotz, Tiffany Grant, and Chris Cason as the questionnaire official. Humorous responses still abounded, with tales of Japanese toilets, Wendy's way too many shoes, the places that they would most like to visit (Tiffany has voiced lots of German characters, so she really wants to go the Germany, regardless of her role as "the German lady"). Other highlights of frequent travel included Tiffany's lack of patience for infrequent fliers (!) such as those who don't know about security rules for flying.
12 pm (Health and Fitness) - I wanted to know how this somewhat unusual chosen time for such a discussion would do at AAC. Worse than I realized, as the panel let out due to lack of attendance at the 15-20 minute mark. I'm going to go ahead and say it is because of the somewhat inopportune time for such a panel. AnimeBoston had their version right before the feedback panel on the final day and it was very well attended. I think this is the key. Either that, or all congers are slovenly lazy people who only want to eat Pocky and do the Carmelldansen, caring nothing about health or proper fitness. Yea, either explanation is totally reasonable, especially if you watch Fox News...
(Game Room 1pm-4pm) - The game room was expanded for Saturday, with 4 flat screens arriving late Friday. Again, kudos to Connecticon for providing them; it is clear that they are very helpful in acquiring extra supplies for conventions when needed. These extra TV's allowed more Xbox 360's to be connected with Halo 3, Halo ODST, and Left 4 Dead 2 taking up much of their time.
I myself was more interested in Prototype on the PS3 near the staff station. The only downside to its location was that people who didn't care to read badges assumed that anyone near there must be staff. It was confusing. Anyway, I've seen the game in action, but playing it is a whole different experience. Alex Mercer is quite the character, brutally murdering people and eating their remains very callously, all for the sake of health powerups. The people of whatever city Prototype takes place in really seem to take this behavior in stride, right down to ignoring any people that Alex eats, even if they are right next to them.
Ragdoll physics in the game are a lot of fun; carrying people vertically up buildings in really funny just to see them flail about randomly in the same pattern over and over again. Throwing them off into the horizon is the icing on the cake. It is equally fun to run straight through peds with super speed, just to see them scatter. A ninja cosplayer was having so much fun with the game; she didn't want to do anything else including any of the missions. It is indeed a rare game that makes just wandering around as much fun as it is in Prototype.
3pm (Written Japanese) - This panel focused on Kanji, Hiragana, and Karetaka, all forms of writing the Japanese language. Given that the language evolved from Chinese, there is enough similarity in the characters for each to understand the gist of what the other speaker is trying to say. They can't understand it outright, but it is similar to death being analogous to dying. The host was entertaining, encouraging us to ask questions about the language, or she would talk about her thesis!! AHH!!! Several audience members were up to the challenge luckily. Overall, this was a very good panel who those looking to learn more about the subtleties of the Japanese language.
4pm (How to Make Women Laugh - An Otaku's Guide to Social Humor) - This panel was originally submitted as a joke, as the creator never expected to have it approved. Not only that but the panel was very well attended, with many having to sit on the floor. It is safe to say that this panel will receive a bigger room, should it return to AAC next year.
As for the panel itself, it is well established that conversation at anime conventions is akin to having your teeth pulled. The hosts included Severus Snape, Cooking Mama, and a Weasley. Being constantly in character made this presentation all the more fun. Aside from the fun, this panel also had a serious edge. The hosts pointed out cosplayers who try to dominate the panels, taking attention away from the hosts, is being disrespectful. This behavior is a disservice to conventions and fandom in general.
The rest of the panel could be referred to as common sense. But due to the environment of the con, rules often need to be reiterated ad nauseum. I can understand the need to repeat relationship and interaction rules, but it still seems like a way that stereotypes are enforced rather than challenged. I still maintain that there is no universal rule to social situations. Always remember the Socratic Method; if you want to know something, ask! As long as you are not overtly inappropriate, it is often the best way to deal with any such problems.
5pm-7pm - More game room, writing, and wandering around. I now wish I had gone to the 6pm panel on Axis Powers Hetalia. Luckily there would be an even better panel on Day 3.
7pm (MASQUERADE!!) - I've often heard of this premiere event at many a con I've attended. I've unfortunately dismissed it in the past as solely being a costume contest with judging and similar activities. I was glad I was convinced to check it out at AAC, as I couldn't have been more wrong about what happens at masquerade. You have live performances, comedy routines, and skits; all under the stern eye of the judges: Sketch, Bill Rogers, Michelle Knotz and others.
The show didn't actually start until 7:45 pm due to skit setup logistics and technical difficulties with the audio setup. Luckily they were able to entertain us using some tricky camera manipulation and some really rapid and random word and phrase typing. I was glad I was able to get such a close seat, where filming the highlights was effort-free. My favorite part was the constant banter from the Axis Powers Hetalia cosplayers; America was the emcee for this event and performed with gusto. I'll definitely be attending these events at future conventions.
Game Room again - The Game Room was same old, same old, but a fighting game enthusiast named Alex brought his labtop, giving access to pretty much all of Capcom's 2D fighting greats. His 3 favorites are Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, and Street Fighter IV. It was a lot of fun to play some of the more obscure Capcom fighters, like Vampire Savior and Cyberbots. I stayed in the game room until it was time for Amber Frazier's (The Hentai Pirate) panel on What, Where, Why Hentai!
10pm (Hentai) - Having already attended this panel at Connecticon 2009, I was still interested to hear Amber's dissertation on the misunderstood nature of the hentai genre of anime. She is a very interesting person to listen to and an excellent presenter. Her confidence in presenting a topic that can often generate snickers from immature people is a testament to her skill and dedication.
10pm (Rave) - Raves are always popular at conventions, and this one was no exception. The audience was organized in a large semi-circle and it was very easy to navigate through. Most of the music was pretty standard Eurobeat, trance, and some hardcore. Surprise highlights include the Chemical Plant Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and The Imperial March from the Empire Strikes Back.
12pm (Con Horror Stories) - This panel is fast becoming one of my favorites of the regular panels you often see at conventions. During this panel, fan participation is very much encouraged, both to add and detract from the experience with the many tales that cover the full spectrum of risque to downright creepy.
Highlights include The Impatient Hentai Dubber. Anxious for her turn, she took off all her clothes and proceeded to jump on stage and perform (the voice). Because of this event, the con posted appropriate signs in the future, ever though the panel attendees didn't really mind (she was pretty cute, or so I'm told...)
The infamous 18 year old "fanservice for free" story was also recalled. As pleasant as the idea of a girl with no panties doing a full split, we still don't want to have a full view of everything. It is rumored that this was the same girl as the "Will Do Hentai for 5 dollars" during a previous year.
Another host had a story of a particularly crazy daughter who was a rather zealous fan of their organization. The father actually approached this person and asked for them to give the daughter (16 year old) a "good time". This same daughter later wrote a special fanfic with herself as a Mary Sue character. CREEPY!!
A first year organizer of one of the larger New England conventions had to deal with a guest and his wife from Los Angeles, who despite the late arrival (1:30 am) refused to pay for incidentals with a credit card. The director of guest relations didn't want the con to look bad, so they took care of it with one of their debit cards. What resulted all over a few hours with Internet was a significant negative balance on their card next morning. And that was just the beginning of trouble from the LA guests from hell. But that's for another discussion at another time.
Follow this link for Day 3 and my closing thoughts!