16 May, 2017

More Guild Wars Girlies

This is something of an ode to a post I made way back in 2008, when I first started playing Guild Wars for the first time (nine years ago!). I've always taken pride in my characters, even (or especially?) though they're all basically representations of me as a female, in the skimpiest armor available to each profession. Nevertheless, I also take some pride in their names and the equipment they wield. So I'd like to catalog them here for posterity (and just plain fun).

2008 Characters

Three of the four original characters I created from my first stint on Guild Wars were represented in my original post (the fourth must have been created just after I wrote that post).

Kazekirino Flora (Elementalist)

Kazekirino Flora was the first character I ever created. Out of all the professions available (six, originally), Elementalist was the most appealing to me because I've always enjoyed offensive spellcasters. Elementalists are basically the Black Mages of Guild Wars. She's the only character of mine named after a previously existing fictional character - from the manga/anime series Claymore. The first part of her name is Japanese for "Windcutter". Fire is the most popular element for Elementalists (nuking!), but I switched to an Air build (lots of armor-ignoring lightning spells and interrupts) to do justice to her name. I even finally got a sword that works functionally like a staff! It's pretty badass, too.

Salix Sepulcralis (Ranger)

When it came time to decide on my second character, I looked at all the armors for all the different professions, and picked out my favorite one (Elite Druid), and made a character of the corresponding profession. I named her Salix Sepulcralis, which is Latin for Weeping Willow - my favorite type of tree. She's an archer (weapon of choice: Feathered Longbow), and these days she keeps an Iguana as her preferred pet. I used her bow techniques a lot (some of which have inspired one of my characters' skills in my RPG) to do a lot of pulling/aggro control and interrupts, which gave me a slight advantage in those early days before I had heroes to pad out my team. I haven't done much trapping, but I tried out a Touch Ranger build once to get through an annoying primary quest in Eye of the North. It's a very effective build, but I enjoy using a bow, so I usually stick with the classic Splinter Barrage build for satisfying AoE damage.

Malady Grimm (Necromancer)

Here is Malady Grimm, my Necromancer in her Elite Scar Pattern armor, hanging out in the Underworld (the fact that I can even hold my own in the underworld, albeit with a crack team of heroes, shows how far I've advanced). Necromancer is actually the one profession with the most styles of armor I actually like, so even though this is one of the skimpiest armors in the game, I often switch it out with several others (I like Krytan, Profane, and Elite Cabal) for variety. I'm probably "wasting" my Necromancer by using a life steal-based Blood Magic build, but it's worked for me. I never could get the hang of using Spiteful Spirit, and Minion Masters (while a fun novelty) are better left to heroes. Call me simple, but the game is just more fun when I'm dealing direct damage to enemies (the more the better!) - which is probably why one of the only professions I still haven't tried is Mesmer, although I'm starting to regret that now. But that brings me to my next character:

Filia Spatheros (Warrior)

I'm surprised it took me so long (relatively speaking) to make a Warrior, because I like her Elite Gladiator armor almost as much as the Ranger's Elite Druid armor. Plus, I love swords. I love swords so much, I tried to have my Elementalist wield a sword, and I even started collecting evil-looking blades for my Necromancer! Which is why my warrior is named Filia Spatheros, which is a (probably muddy) amalgamation of various Greek words roughly translating to "lover of swords". Filia is a nominalized version of the suffix -philia, and Spatheros combines spatha (sword) with eros (the root for erotic). Does that mean this character has a sexual attraction to swords? Yes. Yes it does. Lol. Check her out wielding her Deldrimor Sword and Shield. Pretty badass. For a long time she was my most satisfying character to play, dealing out heavy damage against enemies, especially after I capped the Hundred Blades elite skill for AoE damage (AoE - however you reach it - is the holy grail in this game for me). Later expansions seem to have rendered the Warrior more or less obsolete, however (see: Assassins and Dervishes).

2013 Characters

I don't remember all the ins and outs of when I started and stopped playing Guild Wars over the years (except for the period preceding this latest resurgence, when I pretty clearly put Guild Wars aside to make time for RPG Maker), but Guild Wars is an easy game to slip into, so it's entirely possible that I played it on and off a lot through the years. I don't remember the circumstances, but at some point I bought the Factions and Nightfall expansions, to add brand new continents and campaigns to explore. It must have been in 2013, because that's when my next two characters were born, one for each of the two new expansions.

Kunoichi Nanashi (Assassin)

I mentioned this briefly in my last post, but when I fired up Factions (an Asian-flavored campaign, involving a deadly plague afflicting a sprawling urban jungle), I had to choose between a dual-wielding Assassin and an ambiguous, spirit-summoning Ritualist. I chose the Assassin, which sounded more interesting to me, and had the better armor choices (you can see the Imperial armor - my favorite - in the picture above). Although, Factions probably has the best original professions - because spirit spammers and dagger spammers alike are highly effective - so I couldn't go wrong with either one. I named my Assassin Kunoichi Nanashi ("nameless female ninja"), and gave her sais. It's funny, when I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid, Raphael was always the lamest one because his weapons were so unimpressive. But then I watched Ronin Warriors (a.k.a. Yoroiden Samurai Troopers), and I fell in love with Lady Kayura's weapons - which are sai-like, though extended to the point of basically being swords. I've been looking into having my Assassin dual-wield katanas as an alternative, however.

Sandra Lumina (Paragon)

The other full-size expansion is called Nightfall, and it takes place in the desert, with a Middle Eastern/African vibe. The story involves an ancient demon god who is in the process of being resurrected, so as to plunge the world into darkness. Since you're fighting on the side of light, and you're surrounded by sand, I named my character Sandra Lumina. She's a Paragon, which is essentially a paladin or white knight who wields throwing spears, and specializes in using shouts and chants to support the team. I picked this profession solely because it had the better armor choices (Dervishes, like Ritualists, are plagued with unattractively long and bulky skirts), even though, as it turns out, Paragons have very limited effectiveness. Their only meta build is the "Imbagon", a highly defensive build, which just isn't that much fun for me to play. Which is a shame, because strictly from a visual standpoint, this is one of my favorite characters. She's got highlights of gold in her armor, accented by the shimmering shield I picked out for her.

I actually have a funny story about that. I was looking up shields online, to pick out the one I wanted for my Paragon, and I decided on the Diamond Aegis. But this is a rare shield, that would require a lot of work and/or luck to acquire (since I'm not, at this time, in the habit of buying/trading with other players - besides, the Guild Wars economy runs on ectos, or Globs of Ectoplasm, and I barely have any, since I've done very little elite dungeons/endgame content). So in the meantime, I settled on the more common Aureate Aegis, colored gold. Then, believe it or not, while I was playing on my latest character (since I'm doing more Hard Mode content than ever before), I actually stumbled across a Diamond Aegis! But, when I tried it out on my Paragon, I decided that I actually liked the gold shield better. At least I hadn't gone out of my way to get that Diamond Aegis... Oh, by the way, the spear she's wielding is a Spiraling Spear, which I like because it reminds me of the Lance of Longinus (sort of - it's single-tipped) from Evangelion.

2016 Characters

Fantazma Gloria (Ritualist)

So when I came back to Guild Wars last year, I still had two empty character slots unused, but four professions left to try - two from the original Prophecies campaign, and one each from Factions and Nightfall. And for the first time, I was ready to pick a profession for practical considerations, and not superficial ones. I heard that Ritualists were pretty powerful, with their ability to summon armies of spirits to their aid. I was not disappointed, as much of the content in the game became much easier than it had been in the past. (Although, to be fair, I'd also at this point learned how to look up killer builds for my heroes, and put together whole team setups for optimized performance - 7 Hero Player Support for the win!). I named my Ritualist Fantazma Gloria - an obvious play on the word "phantasmagoria" referring to her ability to bind spirits to her will.

Sylvia Divinora (Monk)

I chose a Monk for my last slot, largely because I wanted to try out the 55 farming build (although now I'm hearing that it's not as effective as it used to be). I'd avoided playing a Monk in the past, despite this profession having armor comparable to the Necromancer's Scar Pattern armor (in the picture above, you can see the Dragon armor, dyed green), because the idea of healing a party doesn't interest me as much as dishing out damage to enemies (also, it turns out that heroes generally do a better job of healing). But I've been playing with a smiting build, based on the Ray of Judgment elite which deals AoE damage, and it's actually been lots of fun. I named the character Sylvia Divinora, a slight modification of Salvia divinorum - not because I actually have any interest in the psychoactive plant, but because I wanted a holy-sounding name, and I really liked the sound of this one, as well as the fact that it evokes a sense of "divine salvation". I remember thinking up the name while watching the Rio Olympics last summer - I swear, I almost called her Christa Redentor! I have her wearing a halo, and am working towards earning her the coveted title God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals. It's a lot of work, but I got off to a good start by earning Legendary Defender of Ascalon for my first time ever!

Beyond

I'd love to complete my collection of professions by making a Mesmer and a Dervish, except that doing so would require $20 for the two extra character slots (up to this point, I've been using only the ones that come with the game and its expansions), and, perhaps more importantly, it would mean a lot more hours to sink into this game, and I'm at a point where I need to think about taking a break. If the server stays online well into the future, though, maybe someday I will!

14 May, 2017

Mother's Day



I've been re-watching all the old alien movies in anticipation of the new one coming out next weekend, and it occurred to me that, although it's not the first thing you'd think of, these movies - especially the second one - all deal with the theme of motherhood. Okay, maybe that's a really morbid way of looking at it, but how else would you describe the climax to Aliens (one of the greatest extended movie climaxes ever put to film) than as a battle royale between two of the most baddest mothers in all the universe - each one trying to protect (or avenge) her young? Call me twisted, but I can't think of a better movie to watch for Mother's Day.

And on the subject of being twisted (ufufu), by pure coincidence (funny how these things work out sometimes), the image I happen to be using as my desktop background at the moment - a drawing inspired by and featured in the Fate/stay night spinoff series Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya (a magical girl re-envisioning) - features a mother engaging in some bath time skinship with her daughter. Here's to all the badass mothers in the world (and their pretty daughters, too)!


13 May, 2017

Returning to Guild Wars

I'd say it's been about a year now - but the time all runs together; I'd swear it's felt longer than that - since I started playing Guild Wars again in earnest. I actually stopped way back when, right in the middle of my first run through the Nightfall campaign, and shortly after I'd finally gotten around to purchasing the Eye of the North expansion, in order to switch all of my time over to working on my RPG. When I first got RPG Maker, I was so absorbed in it, I couldn't even stand to step away from my computer long enough to get a good night's rest. Would that I were still that absorbed. Do not despair, though - I am still working on my RPG, albeit at a slower pace. I actually recently purchased Minecraft for the sole purpose of using it as a 3D modeling software to help me visualize the ledges in a hill-based town I'm working on. Mapping that town has been a nightmare, but I'm really excited about how it's shaping up; I think it's going to be really fun to explore once it's all done.

But this post isn't about my RPG (I have a different blog for that), it's about Guild Wars. About a year ago, I was feeling kind of downtrodden, after having lost a little bit of my freedom and independence when I wrecked my car, and in response to a growing atmosphere of intolerance regarding my sense of radical individuality. My roommate and life partner was beginning to have some medical problems that ultimately resulted in surgery (pretty routine, thankfully - she's fine now), and a pretty dull summer, as far as vacation plans go. But we made up for that the following October with an exciting trip to Niagara Falls (my third - including the memory that perfectly epitomizes my anxiety - her first), and even before that, I scored an exciting win in a large nude volleyball tournament. So things are a little bit better now, and we're even on the verge of moving from our apartment into a house - although, as always seems to be the case, that's taking longer than originally planned. (I'm getting pretty desperate for a change of scenery).

But last year, I fired Guild Wars back up again, and dug my nose into it. It helps that it's such a fun and easy time sink. I can absorb myself into it and tune out all the stressful distractions going on around me. And I swear, it's as if I can never get bored of it. When Guild Wars 2 came out a few years back, somebody asked me if I was looking forward to playing it, and I honestly and matter-of-factly said, "I haven't finished the first one yet". Which was true. And still is. (For what it's worth, I see a lot of people returning to Guild Wars these days after playing Guild Wars 2 for a while, getting bored, and wanting to go back to the original). I haven't gotten as much play out of a game over an extended period of time since Doom! (And Guild Wars doesn't have customizable fanmade content)! Anyway, I still had the Nightfall campaign to finish, and six characters to run through Eye of the North. Plus two empty character slots yet unfilled - each one promising hours of content to defeat and unlock.

I used one of those slots to make a Ritualist, after hearing about how OP Spirit Spammers are. First time I played Factions, I opted for an Assassin, because I thought it sounded more interesting than the Ritualist; and, frankly, Assassins have the better armor in my opinion (I've always chosen my characters primarily for superficial reasons :p). But making this Ritualist character was one of the best decisions I've ever made in Guild Wars. I've always felt discriminated against in the game due to the fact that I am a solo player. I never could compete in any of the endgame material because the AI-controlled henchmen are crap. That content was ostensibly created for teams of players to work together, like in other MMORPGs. So I've always been willing to use any unfair advantages - exploiting bugs and the like - to expand the percentage of content available to me.

Lucky for me, henchmen have been more or less replaced with heroes these days, which are similar, but allow for far better user customization - they can level up, so you don't have to rely on whatever level the henchies are in any given outpost, and (better yet) you can customize their skill builds to make them pretty damn badass. Originally (I hear), you could only have up to three heroes in a team, but (perhaps in a bid to increase interest in a dying game, or at least give players a fighting chance in the absence of the kind of player base required to form teams of real players) now you can make full teams with up to seven heroes. As a result, endgame content - including elite dungeons, and pretty much everything in hard mode - is finally within my grasp (if still not exactly easy). Hell, I've even joined a guild - although that doesn't mean I'm social. I was invited by a recruiter, and I figured I'd give it a try. If nothing else, it's nice to monitor the background chatter (even if I don't usually join in) - makes the experience feel slightly less lonely, hearing other people talking about the game.

So it's been a year now, and I'm still playing (in between other things, like working on my RPG) pretty much daily. How is that possible? Well, I discovered Zaishen Missions. Every day, one of the missions in one of the campaigns (Prophecies, Factions, Nightfall, or Eye of the North) is selected (on a rotating and predictable cycle) to be the daily Zaishen Mission. And all that means is that you get bonus rewards for doing that mission on that day. But one of those rewards is Zaishen coins, and Zaishen coins can be traded for special items. The only one that really matters to me right at this moment, though, is the Heavy Equipment Pack. If you know anything about me, you'll know that I'm a packrat, so I'm always in need of more storage space. You can buy extra storage panes with rl cash, but I'm also a firm believer in games that don't require micro-transactions (the only reason I'm still playing Guild Wars is that I've only had to pay for it once - when I bought it - with no monthly subscription fees).

So one of each character's personal storage panes (separate from the panes that are shared by characters across an account) holds 5 slots, and can be upgraded (up to 20 slots) only by buying storage packs with Zaishen coins. Needless to say, I embarked on the grueling journey of taking each of my now seven characters completely through each campaign (previously, I had only taken each one through their starting campaign), including the new (to me) Eye of the North, collecting Zaishen coins as I went (the missions come up in scattered order, so it requires a good bit of juggling). Did I mention that Heavy Equipment Packs are exorbitantly expensive? Most Zaishen missions reward something in the vicinity of 50 to 150 copper coins per mission (double if you collect during double rewards week, which comes up once every nine weeks). Every 50 copper coins can be traded for a silver coin, and every ten silver coins can be traded for a gold coin. Do you know how many gold coins each HEP costs? Fifteen. Which is equivalent to 7500 coppers. Across seven characters. But hey, the game is fun!

But that's not all. Last summer, I made my latest character - finally filling up that final character slot. I decided on a Monk. I'd never played a Monk before, because the idea of healing just doesn't seem that fun to me. But I've been playing her as a Smiter, which is lots of fun. Anyway, I wanted to finally try the 55 Monk solo farming strategy. (Although now I'm hearing that the 55 has been nerfed, and nowadays you're better off with a Dervish; another popular profession these days being the Mesmer, which is the only other one I don't have... orz). I started her off in Prophecies, and decided that I would finally try to get the title Legendary Defender of Ascalon, which you can only get by growing your character to max level 20 in Pre-Searing Ascalon. Once you leave Pre-Searing, which is the beginner's area in Prophecies, you can never return. It's not made for high level characters, so earning the experience to hit level 20 is grueling work. But it's the only way to get that title.

Level 20 Pre-Searing

So I worked at it for a while, and it was fun to be back in Pre-Searing after all these years. And I finally got the title! (I screwed up getting Survivor, too - but I'm gonna get that a different way). I also decided that I was going to consolidate all the alcohol, party, and sweets points I had been gathering up, and use this character to finally go for the coveted God Walking Amongst Mere Mortals title, which you can only get by maxing a bunch of other titles. Titles you can max are things like reputation points (by doing quests and stuff in different regions), completing all the missions on all the campaigns in normal and hard mode, capping elite skills, and vanquishing areas (defeating all the enemies in an area on hard mode). Suffice to say, I've got my work cut out for me. I think sometimes that I spend way too much time playing Guild Wars - each time I work out an exit strategy, I find some other goal I want to reach. But I enjoy it. And it can't go on indefinitely. I've got other things in my life I need to get back to, like putting more time into that RPG...

27 April, 2017

Introducing Egalitarianism

For a long time I've had a tumultuous relationship with feminism. I identify with femininity more than masculinity, and I actually like females better than males. I've wanted to like feminism because I'm concerned about women's issues, I believe in gender equality, and, frankly, in modern culture, not being a feminist is equated with sexism and misogyny. But, having been born a man, I feel "left out" of the movement in a fundamental way, where I can only, at best, play catch up in a community that's predisposed to assume I'm their enemy. No matter how imperative the cause of feminism has been framed by our culture, I've never been able to get comfortable with it - there's always been something that has felt a little bit off. Especially considering feminism's problematic and inconsistent approaches to sexuality.

Enter egalitarianism. It's not as though I didn't know the term "egalitarianism" existed before, but I'd assumed it was merely a way of saying "feminism" without using the word "feminism" - which is basically how I've identified for a long time: supporting the basic tenets of equality without wanting to associate myself with the feminist movement (except as a form of protest). But I've learned now that I was working under a fundamental delusion that has been deliberately cultivated by feminists. They want you to believe that "feminism" is a synonym for "gender equality"; that if you support gender equality, you are a feminist, and that if you criticize feminism, you are contributing to a culture of sexism and misogyny. But in actual reality, this is not true. Feminism is not the only - and not even necessarily the best - route to gender equality. It's possible to criticize feminism, and still support gender equality. In fact, for an ostensibly eqalitarian position, feminism makes the critical flaw of prioritizing one sex over the other. Despite being suspicious of feminism, I've never taken to the Men's Rights Movement either, for the exact same reasons - a tendency towards extremism and divisive politics, and prioritizing the struggle of one sex to the exclusion of the other (while often ignoring the struggles of those who reject the gender binary). Women have issues, and so do men. Neither one is more important than the other. And equality can only ever be accomplished through a bipartisan strategy.

So, now, thanks to this incredibly well-reasoned essay I found linked on reddit, I can finally come to a definitive conclusion about where I stand, and stop feeling bad about not being a feminist. Feminism's monopoly on gender equality is over. I am an egalitarian!

If you're intrigued, even if you're not quite convinced yet, I urge you to read the Non-Feminist FAQ linked above. Whether you're a feminist or not, anyone who's concerned with true progress and social justice, free from partisan bias, owes it to themselves to give it consideration. It is not - I repeat not - anti-feminist. Nor is it affiliated with the Men's Rights Movement. But it does provide a refreshingly reasonable alternative to the feminist echo chamber.

tl;dr - I am not a feminist, I am an egalitarian. I think women's issues are important. I also think men's issues are important. And equality can only be reached from both sides. A bridge that reaches only one shore is just a dock.

P.S. I used to think that wearing a speedo was a feminist act, because it promoted gender equality. But there was always something a little bit off about that. Now I know why. Feminism isn't about gender equality - it's about female empowerment. What I was doing wasn't a feminist act, it was an egalitarian one. It makes so much sense now!

14 April, 2017

Tekko 2017



As Tekko (Pittsburgh's premiere anime convention) celebrates its fifteenth year, I am celebrating my tenth year of attending! (I'd attended the Pittsburgh Comicon - which Tekko split off from - since 1999, but missed the first five years of Tekko due to being out of town for college, and then not being aware that Tekko even existed - but that's a story I've told before). So it's not inappropriate that, for me, the overarching theme of this year's convention was growth. These things tend to ebb and flow (although Tekko's attendance has been, for the most part, consistently on the rise), so it was that two years ago I sensed the need to document the crowd of attendees I'd personally gathered around myself - including one person that has come to these cons off and on since the days of the Comicon, and three brand new people I'd introduced to the con, who wouldn't be coming at all if not for me. I don't say that in order to boost my ego (it's only three people, after all), but I am proud; and happy that I've been able to share all this fun (which, in the darkest years, I've had to experience alone) with more people in my life.

Which brings us to this year, which added three kids (actual children, who've never been to a convention of this magnitude before), and, on the periphery (i.e., not part of our core group), six more of one of my group's local friends from out of town. All people who, I've been told, if I hadn't planted my little seed many years ago, likely would not be attending now. And I don't expect it to end there, even though, as I said, these things tend to ebb and flow, and next year's group may not be as big as this year's was (for one thing, the kids may not be of an age to properly appreciate the con yet); plus, there's a limit past which a core group of attendees becomes unwieldy to manage/coordinate. But that's okay. The goal is increased interest in the con, and more friendly faces in the crowd - which is true also of those people you don't know in your regular life, but start to recognize as dedicated congoers who show up year after year after year (and I'm happy to say that I've made that kind of impression on at least some of the congoers, with my always interesting cosplays - more on that later).

Preparations


It may be true that the glory days of my anime fandom are behind me. When I joined MyAnimeList (many years ago now), I was already splitting my anime history into three critical phases. The first was the exciting era of discovery - watching anime on Toonami (Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing), taping obscure anime features that would air at 3am on the Sci-fi channel (now Syfy), and ordering fansubs in VHS format that would come in the mail. Then I shipped off to college, joined an anime club, and was exposed to a dizzying array of titles pooled by each of its members as well as the university library's own collection. Post-college, I became a NEET, and devolved into your stereotypical, attic-dwelling otaku. Those were the days of Sankaku Complex (which introduced me to the heights - and depths - of anime fandom), when internet trading came to the fore, and I began following series as they aired in Japan (with a slight delay for subbing).

I haven't been so absorbed in anime as I was in those days, since reemerging into the daylight several years ago. But the landscape has changed drastically from the '90s. Nowadays, with streaming services commonplace - many advertising simulcasts of series officially licensed, subtitled, and distributed by legitimate companies (usually FUNimation - which has evolved from rogue butcher to monopolized distributor) while they're still fresh in Japan - kids grow up these days with long lists of series (both new and old) available at their fingertips, to view on a whim. Concurrent with the rise of geek chic, anime has evolved from cult fandom to near-mainstream pop culture. Suncoast may have faded into obscurity, but walk into an f.y.e at your local mall on any give Tuesday, and you'll be bombarded with an array of goodies you used to only be able to find at the dealer's room of an anime convention.


So, in the run-up to this year's con, I made a point to brush up on some series that had been languishing at the top of my watchlist for some years now. One of those was the last of the "tsundere trilogy" I'd yet to watch - three independent series connected by the actress Kugimiya Rie (the "tsundere queen") who voiced the lead love interest (a tsundere character) in each series. I'd already watched Toradora! (featuring the "Palmtop Tiger" Aisaka Taiga), and The Familiar of Zero (featuring the pink-haired Louise); the remaining series being Shakugan no Shana (featuring the eponymous Flame-Haired Red-Hot-Eyed Hunter). [Incidentally, Kugimiya Rie also voiced another one of my favorite tsundere characters - Sanzen'in Nagi from Hayate the Combat Butler].

I'd also finally managed to find (crunchyroll for the win!) A Certain Magical Index and its spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun, which proved to be a delightful mixture of action, supernatural/scientific themes, and plenty of cute fanservice (which is not to be confused with the distasteful sort that features jiggly breasts and obtrusive closeups - it's amazing how different people's tastes can be). This is the series, by the way, that features the character in the ultra-skimpy bikini that I bought a figure of three years ago. I managed to finish all of these series (barely) in time for the con, in addition to finally watching Avatar: The Last Airbender (which was fantastic, as I'd heard). I also got a decent chunk of the way through the new Dragonball series, Dragonball Super. (It's an ongoing series, so I didn't feel pressured to get completely caught up or anything before the con).

Thursday

On account of the new people joining us for the con this year, arrangements were a little more involved than usual. Mostly in that we had to take two separate cars, so one of our group could drive back Friday night and bring the kids up on Saturday. So we were a bit splintered during travel phase (and had to pay more in gas/parking fees in the end). But come Thursday of con weekend, after putting the finishing touches on our cosplays (to the extent that we managed to finish them in time) the night before, I watched the last episode of Railgun and hit the road to Pittsburgh.


The core of our group headed to the con in the evening to pick up our badges. Not much goes on at the con on Thursdays, and the line for registration is actually longer than it is later in the weekend, but since there's nothing else going on to be missing out on, it's fun to get there and soak in the reality of being at the convention center, and let the anticipation of the coming weekend wash over you. Plus, a lot of people dress up (and to this day, that's one of my favorite things about conventions). I keep telling myself I'm going to cosplay on Thursday, despite it being a non-day of the convention, and I keep ending up deciding not to bother. But I've got so many good cosplays now that I think next year I'm really going to go for it (weather permitting, I guess).


In the past, we've made it a tradition to dine at Lulu's Noodles (in the nearby Oakland district) after picking up our badges on Thursday. But this year, we discovered what I would call an even better restaurant - an authentic ramen bar in Squirrel Hill. It's a little bit further out (though still not terribly far from downtown), and the parking's no better than it is in Oakland, but it's worth the trouble. I had a(nother) delicious bowl of curry ramen, which is what I had the last time we were there (for Sangawa, I imagine) and had been looking forward to; and I'm looking forward to the next time I'll get to have it, too!

Friday


Maybe I haven't mentioned this yet, but there's a reason I'm calling this con Tekkosnowcon II. Like last year, it snowed the weekend of the con. And, like last year, I decided to wear a cosplay that essentially consists of a speedo (and nothing else) on that day. Not because of the weather, but quite in spite of it. In fact, it's something of a coincidence (or maybe God is just an asshole) that two years in a row, it has snowed in April, on the day I've planned to wear this particular cosplay. It also happened to be the Pirates home opener that day, so the city was packed with baseball fans, and the parking garages were - nearly without exception - filled to capacity. We left the house at 10:30 that morning, and I didn't actually get in to the con until after 1:30. I had wanted to make it to a panel at noon (Lolita 101 - since we're finally planning to do that Lolita cosplay I've always wanted to do next year, and I could have used some pointers); and while planning to make "early" panels usually results in failure, we were in the city before noon, and could have made it if not for the parking situation. Alas...

But that's one of those things about cons. In the truest Buddhist sense, you either learn to accept it, or you continue to suffer. I guess the silver lining to that cloud (if you could call it that) is the fact that, although there is much I enjoy about the relatively smaller size of Tekko (compared to, say, Otakon), average panel content quality is not one of them. So this con was mostly about wandering the dealer's room (I'm still calling it the dealer's room, even though its official name has been "Exhibition Hall" for years now), and reveling in cosplay (both our own and that of others). And even without panels, I still enjoy the experience of the con - the camaraderie of the fan community, the creativity on display, and the friendly, accepting atmosphere. If there are exceptions to that (and there inevitably are), I've been lucky enough not to have encountered too many of them, such that I feel comfortable saying that they are relatively few and far between.


So by the time we had all made it in to the con (the Thursday group plus one), we were due for some lunch. I had heard good things about a place called Jimmy John's, which was literally right around the corner from the convention center's entrance (and attached to the building, I believe), so we decided to give it a try. Can't say that I was impressed. To me, it seemed like a lamer version of Subway (which is really only a half a block farther of a walk). Their competitive edge, as advertised, wasn't the quality of their ingredients, or even the ability to customize your sub (there wasn't any cheese on mine!), but speed. They had the quickest subs around. (Not like I've ever been in a Subway and caught myself thinking, "this is taking too long"). And heaven forbid you were expecting a hot sandwich on a cold day (no time for toasting - we've got a record to keep!). Yeah, I don't think we'll be returning anytime soon.

Back at the con, it was time to change into what would turn out to be our star cosplay of the weekend. Last year, as you might remember, I cosplayed a sexy version of Pikachu, which consisted of a speedo (covered in yellow felt), with a tail attached, and ears. Part of the idea was to level the playing field in terms of sexualized female vs. male cosplays, although to be honest, I have to admit I also wanted to get in on the fun, after seeing a sexy female Pikachu the year before. Since I wore that cosplay last year, to his enduring credit, one of my traveling companions volunteered to join me in the future with a sexy Charmander cosplay of his own. Well, we spent the whole year working on it, and debuted it at this convention. It was a smash hit.


Now, my Pikachu cosplay drew a lot of attention last year. I got more people asking for my picture than I usually do (and a disproportionate amount of them didn't just want a picture, but wanted their picture taken with me - which is great!), but I sensed that there were a lot more snickering behind my back, who maybe didn't have the courage to approach me. Plus, I found almost no pictures of my cosplay shared online after the con, as if everybody was too embarrassed, and decided to keep those pictures hidden away in their personal stash. To be fair, it should also be mentioned that it was really fricking cold that day, and so I only managed to wear that nearly naked cosplay for a limited period of time.

But I'd like to believe that where one person could be dismissed as an eccentric, two people are needed to start a movement. And I'll be honest, when I first did this cosplay last year, I had in the back of my mind the idea that it could someday become a phenomenon, with more people joining on in a snowball effect. I never could have accomplished such a thing on my own, but with Charmander by my side - drawing even more attention than I did, with his impressive collection of tattoos - who knows, it just might be possible. We still need more people. But these things take time. If we get even one new person next year, that will be positive growth. Regardless, I'm excited that these cosplays have been received well (in the vast majority of cases - you can't expect everyone to appreciate them), securing their future appearances.

Maybe someday I'll even be able to wear my Pikachu on a nice day, and take it outside, and not be constantly freezing, counting down the moments until I can cover myself back up. That day was not Friday, however. We all got dressed again before heading out to dinner (after making copious rounds of the convention center circuit, and posing for tons of pictures - I only hope more of them turn up online this year) - our annual trek (on foot) to Market Square for some burgers/dogs and fries at Five Guys. We hunted down some coffee/hot chocolate afterward, to innoculate ourselves against the cold, passing up a closed Dunkin Donuts for the McDonald's where I was asked to cover up while wearing my Sexy no Jutsu cosplay five years prior. As an aside, I'm not really a fan of McDonald's, but their shamrock hot chocolate totally hit the spot (after it cooled down enough for me to actually drink it).


As Friday began to wind down, I made my first purchases in the dealer's room - a cute Chobits t-shirt, and my yearly figure acquisition. I was hoping to find something, you know, maybe related to one of the series I had just finished watching (especially Index/Railgun, which had a lot of cute characters), but, as vast and expansive as the dealer's room (sorry, Exhibition Hall) is - so much so, that you can easily become overwhelmed, and feel as though you don't know where to even begin, then subsequently spend hours going down the aisles looking at all the things on display - there's still never enough variety, and you gotta choose from what's popular/what dealers have for sale. So, the best thing I saw was a sexy bikini version of a character I really like from a spin-off of a series I've watched - guaranteeing that I will have to make a newfound effort to watch that spin-off. It's Illya from Fate/kaleid liner - which, as far as I know, is Fate/stay night re-envisioned as a magical girl series (sounds adorable, right?).


So how was Friday night at the con? It was surprisingly dead. Of my core group, one had to leave early to drive out of state (so she could bring the kids up in the morning), another was ready to call it a night, and the third went off to party and spend the night with friends. Leaving only me. I'm not bitter or anything - but it was a switch. Reminded me of back in the early days when I spent a lot more time at the cons alone. But it wasn't just my group, either. It seemed like everybody had left the con early on Friday. I caught most of the EGL fashion show, which I usually like to see, but I have to admit that these fashions are best appreciated at a closer distance. Of all the Lolita panels hosted this year (and there were a lot), I didn't make it to a single one. The fashion show didn't have much in the way of advice for aspiring Lolitas, nor did it have the segment at the end inviting audience members dressed in Lolita to get a taste of the spotlight.

I didn't have a lot else to do Friday night. I considered going home myself, but there was a panel at 12:30 I wanted to wait for. So I watched some AMVs, strolled up to the roof (in spite of the cold), and caught two episodes of Shugo Chara in the video room. That's an adorable series. I wish they'd played more of it. But when 12:30 came, and I strolled into the appropriate panel room, it was basically empty. The two panel heads were there, to their credit. But they didn't seem very gung-ho about getting started, and I told them I wasn't going to force them to run through their panel just for me alone. (Actually, that would have been kind of awkward, so they were also doing me a favor). Still, I would have liked to have learned about the history of moe. It was just as well though, as I was able to get home at least 45 minutes earlier than I would have otherwise (though still after one in the morning), earning me precious extra minutes of sleep during a weekend where sleep is in short supply indeed.

Saturday


Our group was pretty splintered come Saturday morning, but we all met up at the con (with kids in tow) and decided to have lunch together. We ended up at Pizza Parma (since the kids are picky) and had our annual pizza for lunch instead of dinner (and though we ended up ordering from there for dinner, too, we all independently decided to have something other than pizza twice in a row). Back at the con, I changed into my tentacle rape cosplay, and spent some more time in the dealer's room. The only thing I bought on Saturday was some melon pan (in honor of Shana) - the Hokkaido Cream flavor that I had wanted to try at Sangawa (but couldn't, because they sold out before I'd made my decision). It wasn't filled with cream like I was hoping, but it did have a creamy flavor, and was very good. I was strongly tempted to buy a "peanut butter cup pretzel" at the fudge booth (not necessarily anime or Japan-related, I know, but still a welcome fixture in the dealer's room), but they sold out fast. Nevertheless, they had more on Sunday, and I ended up buying one after all (it was also very good).


There was a panel on ramen scheduled for Saturday afternoon that a bunch of us wanted to attend, but when we got there, it was packed - standing room only - so we sat outside for a while to rest instead. I tell you, even when you make it to the panels you want to see, there's either too many people, or not enough! (Who schedules a moe panel at 12:30 at night anyway?). I was kind of curious to see if anyone at the panel would mention the Ramen Bar in Squirrel Hill as a local place to get ramen (since we'd previously learned of Lulu's Noodles from a Japanese snacks panel at this con), but alas. They should bring back the kendo and/or iaido panels - those were some of the best I've ever seen at Tekko.


Saturday afternoon was kind of a lazy affair. I spent some time trying to get pictures of my cosplay - first on the roof, and then in the halls. I wasn't super impressed with the results, but then the kids buzzing around were a little distracting. This would be a good time to mention that I tried an experiment this year. I brought my real camera, but I left it in the car. I wanted to see if I could get by just using my phone (since I now have an iPhone with a pretty decent pocket camera), because I wanted to try to reduce the amount of crap I had to carry around with me everywhere (although I still ended up carrying more than I probably needed). Honestly, I didn't even miss my real camera. I feel like, unless I were a professional dedicated to taking pictures (and not doing a million other things, including modeling my own cosplay), it's more trouble than it's worth. Although it was a different challenge altogether trying to find places to set up my little mini-tripod that I can attach to my phone. I considered using a selfie stick that I have, but it's not good for full-body shots (which I like to take - especially when cosplay is involved), and I have to say, to me it feels like those things are lightning rods for attention...

Prior to dinner time, the kids were getting bored and restless, so they were sent away to their motel. Joe decided to change back into his Charmander cosplay to soak up some more admiration. I regretted not having the good sense to keep my Pikachu cosplay on hand, as I have to admit I started to get a little jealous. I would have originally liked to have done Pikachu on Saturday and not Friday (as I did last year), but the rest of my group were planning to do a family cosplay together, and the kids weren't going to be around on Friday, so that seemed like the opportune time to do our sexy Pokemon. I chose my tentacle cosplay for Saturday, then, although I had planned to change into Griffith in the evening. However, I was already getting chilly, and not looking forward to taking even more of my clothes off (shocking, I know), and I noticed that the weather report for Sunday was even warmer yet. So I decided (and rightly, in the end) to save my Griffith cosplay for then, and ride the tentacle to the end of the night.

If anything, not being in my Pikachu cosplay put me in a better (less conspicuous) position to observe the reactions that Charmander was getting. Although, several people asked where Pikachu was, not recognizing that poor schoolgirl with the tentacles wrapped around her body on the next bench over (although somebody did recognize me as the Pikachu from last year when I was wearing my Griffith cosplay on Sunday). I remember when I was getting started on doing cosplay for real, how impressed I was by the people who would have, like, two cosplays per day at a con - AM and PM cosplays. I was going to do that this year, and I kind of did on Sunday. I feel like I have so many great cosplays to wear right now, and I'm still planning to add more! But Charmander's reappearance on Saturday made me stop to think. Maybe it's better to stick to one or two cosplays, and wear them more often - to give people a chance to see them and admire them. If you change cosplays every couple of hours, hardly anybody's going to get a chance to see them! It's something for me to think about...


Saturday night was, as usual, the night of the Extreme AMV contest. But I'll be honest, the more of these I go to, the more I feel like they're a waste of time. I guess AMV contests are always hit or miss, but the caliber of talent you get that is willing to work on "extreme" content is not super high on average, and tends to trend toward comedy/parody as well. As a sophisticated erotic artist, I lament this fact, and am working to change it, but it's true. Neither a thousand fucks, nor a gallon of blood does a good AMV make. And the sexually explicit ones? Pure adolescent fantasy. The sexiest AMV I saw this weekend wasn't even in the extreme contest - it was in the regular contest! Maybe I'm more of a softcore kinda guy, but just stringing together a bunch of money shots from a splattering of different hentais - again - does not a good AMV make. One good thing did come from that contest though: I was able to track down a promising-looking hentai from some of the clips from the AMV that was played while the judges were tallying the votes (not part of the contest). I'm looking forward to giving it a viewing. Maybe I'll find a hentai (as opposed to just ecchi) I like for once.


I actually didn't go to the rave at all this year. Last year, I got about as deep into the rave as one could possibly go, and I realized that it just isn't for me. And not just because my Pikachu tail got (temporarily) busted. I still enjoy breathing in the atmosphere, and watching the people go in and out, but I'm not as drawn to it as in the past. We'll see how long that lasts. But instead, I stayed up for the Violent Japanimations panel at 12:30 Saturday night. I'll admit, I was mainly drawn in by a mention of Demon City Shinjuku, which is one of those awesome obscure anime films I saw on the Sci-fi channel when I was first getting into anime (and have been looking for on DVD in more recent years). But what I hoped would have been more discussion, history, and fandom camaraderie, turned out to be an hour-long highlights reel of clips extracted from some of the most violent animes of all time. Some of it was pretty cool, but I have to admit it was a little much, even for me ("why is the bread bleeding?"), and I can't help wondering about the mindset of the panel head. In any case, after that, it was late, and I was exhausted, and ready to make the drive home for what little sleep I'd be able to get that night, before getting up to do it all over again, one last time.

Sunday

The kids dropped by for a visit Sunday morning, to meet my dad, and see the banging room I grew up in. I wore my Misty cosplay just as plain clothes for the day (because otherwise I wasn't going to have a chance to wear it at all), and changed into my Griffith cosplay as soon as I got to the con, in the parking garage. Spent some more time in the dealer's room, got a scant few avid fans asking for a picture (and one telling me, "Griffith, you did nothing wrong!"), then spent some time on the roof. In stark contrast to the weather on Friday, it was bright and sunny, with a temperature at least as high as seventy degrees. Outside on the roof, wearing literally nothing but a towel (and underwear), I was perfectly comfortable. I got some great pictures in the sunshine (which is awesome, because the scene I was cosplaying took place outdoors), and even lay out in the sun on a bench for a while. It's amazing how therapeutic that warm sunshine was. I felt so calm, and relaxed, and happy.


Eventually, I went back inside. The dealer's room closed at 3pm, at which point it was time to find out which AMVs had won the contest this year. I can't say I was super-duper impressed with any of them, although the coordinator's pick, Into The Lingerie, was pretty good. We were all planning to finally hit up Lulu's Noodles for a late lunch and last hurrah before heading out of town, but I'm sad to say that one of the kids was getting moody (not going to name names), so that caravan left prematurely (and after so nearly making it to the very end!). Sigh. So instead, as the con was beginning to deflate, Joe and I headed out of the city and had what turned out to be an early dinner (and the only thing I ate up to that point on Sunday, aside from a single muffin in the morning) at Olive Garden, before making the cross-state trek back home.

Two days later, I'm still exhausted, and I think I may be showing signs of con plague*. But I regret nothing. I had a blast, and I can't wait til next year. I believe the only thing left to talk about is all the other cosplay I saw this year. I didn't get any pictures (for the usual reasons), but there was lots to see. I don't even imagine that I'll be able to remember everything cool I saw. Some of my favorites include a sexy Luffy cosplay (we're talking daisy dukes, crop top, wedge heels - best Luffy cosplay I've ever seen), and the Grand Couturier from Kill La Kill, which is great because when I saw that character in the show, I instantly thought about how much I'd love to cosplay her! She wears such a pretty pink Lolita-like dress. I spotted a Lara Croft, Hitgirl, Beerus-sama and a bunch of other Dragonball cosplayers, more than one Rick from Rick and Morty, even a few Avatar: The Last Airbender cosplayers (Suki, Zuko, and the Blue Spirit), Zero Suit Samus, a bubble-spewing Gyarados, a really good Silent Hill nurse. The list goes on and on and on. I have to say, though, that Deadpool is way overdone. It's become the new Homestuck of Tekko.

*Indeed, the reason for the lateness of this post is that I've been feeling quite miserable the past few days. But, on the bright side, I think it might finally be clearing up!

20 March, 2017

The Illusion of Representation

I've spoken out against democracy in the past, because I'm not fond of the notion of majoritarian rule. Yet a lot of people insist (not inaccurately) that we do not live in a pure democracy, but rather a representative democracy. But I have my problems with representative government, too.

[Although, none of these things are black-and-white. I'm not interested in knowing what it takes to run a country, and I think it's neither practical nor desirable to expect every citizen to be involved in that. I have faith that there are people out there with the proper knowledge and motivation, who are better suited to the task of running these things. I just think they should be chosen by, say, grade point average (in fields of relevance) as opposed to public opinion].

The reason I don't feel like voting represents my voice is because I'm voting for people who are not me. And as far as I can tell, they're not like me. The moment somebody I can really identify with runs for office with a conceivable chance to win, I'll become involved in the voting process. Until then, I think there are far less futile ways to have my voice heard.

Elections will occur, and politicians will be elected. With a single vote, I have little influence over that process. The majority will have their way with the system whether I'm involved or not. Instead of giving my tacit approval to everything the particular representative I might vote for thinks, says, and does - whether I actually agree with it or not - a much better way for my voice to be heard is to simply be present in society. And I know - as a hermit, that's not my strong suit. But with even just a little bit of effort, the returns are enormous in proportion to being present at the polling booth.

Being out there in society - both in the real world and online (because though you can say a lot of things about the internet, you can't deny that much of it involves people having social interactions) - letting people see who I am and what I'm interested in, and hearing what I have to say (in my particular case, this is more true on the internet) affirms that I am a part of this collective culture, and that I can't simply be swept under the rug.

And I know that politicians - representatives elected by the public (mostly) - will continue to be the ones in charge of making decisions on important matters. But only a collective consciousness can wield power in an election, and I have more influence over that consciousness by making people aware of my existence and what my concerns are, than I do participating in an anonymous poll.

So don't be a voting booth activist (somebody who campaigns futilely for change only when an election is imminent, and then criticizes people for not voting, as if that's the only and most effective form of activism [note: expressing this opinion makes you look stupid to people who are actually smart - celebrities are not exempt from this rule, either]). Make your voice count in the real world!

14 March, 2017

Scoff Law

"The natural separation of the races is...an undeniable fact, and all social organizations which lead to their amalgamation are repugnant to the law of nature."
 - Supreme Court of Louisiana, city of New Orleans versus Willie V. Piazza (1917)*

I have no faith in the law to uphold such righteous declarations as "women are equal to men", "blacks are equal to whites", or "gays are equal to straights", only because public sentiment has, over the course of history, been shifting in that direction - when anyone can look back decades or centuries and find examples of lawmen justifying the prejudices of the time in the same language used today, which is disguised to look like reason, but in truth hides a wellspring of personal and public bias.

We can work toward shifting emotions - this is an effective strategy, and it is happening all around us - but I'd like to be able to trust in the belief that a competent application of logic will lead us down the path of virtue. Yet this is no more than a fantasy. Homo sapiens is and always has been ruled by its emotions. It is a highly illogical species that irritates me and tries even my patience. I'd prefer to have nothing to do with it.

Not that emotions are not valuable. But when they trump reason, then facts cannot overcome bias, and the outlying individual (along with his rights and freedoms) is swept away by the overwhelming (and irrational) tide of public opinion.


*Context: I've been reading this fascinating book about Storyville (which inspired the highly controversial film Pretty Baby), a unique social experiment in which, for two decades starting at the turn of the twentieth century, New Orleans attempted to establish a legal red light district. The result, while not exactly glamorous (despite how well-outfitted some of those mansions were), was actually a reduction of vice and corruption throughout the city, by keeping it confined and regulated, instead of allowing it to flourish beyond the reach of the law.

Unfortunately, the United States Navy (in its infinite wisdom) eventually stepped in and forced Storyville to close, upon threat of military intervention (because totalitarianism - not freedom - is the American way). But before that happened, the city attempted to produce a second district, so as to enforce racial segregation.

The case quoted here was the result of a complaint by one of the original district's leading personalities, whose business was to be uprooted by this new modification to the Storyville Ordinance, based solely upon the color of her skin. Most of the court's argument wastes time rejecting Piazza's complaint by emphasizing the city's right to regulate houses of prostitution, missing the point that if Piazza had been white, she wouldn't have been facing eviction in the first place - even as the owner of a brothel. But when the court does finally get around to the issue, their legal defense of the doctrine "separate but equal" starts to sound alarmingly like a KKK manifesto.

P.S. Additionally, the amount of weight that precedent carries in a court case bothers me. I'm sure the courts don't want to reinvent the wheel with every case they come across (although with the amount of thought that goes into these cases, I'm not convinced that they don't do exactly that, and are just citing precedent to legitimize their own derivations), but just because one dumbass court made a bad decision once before, doesn't mean that the next court should feel all the more confident in propagating that bad decision. It's inherently biased towards conservatism, and stands as a very real obstruction to progress.