09 April, 2013

Weekend Constravaganza

As I write this, a mild 69 degree night-time breeze blows in through the window, [hopefully] heralding the sudden and long-awaited arrival of Spring, after a long March embittered by cold, frequently freezing temperatures. It is a shame the change in weather did not come a week earlier, but nevertheless, the shifting season is a sure indicator that it is once again con season in Pittsburgh. Last weekend marked not only my annual pilgrimage to the anime convention Tekkoshocon, but also another Steel City Con (a local toys, comics, and pop culture convention). The last Steel City Con I went to - two Decembers ago, if I'm not mistaken - awarded me Linda Blair's autograph (you might remember her as the possessed girl from The Exorcist), and this time, the con boasted one Madison Lintz, the girl who played Sophia on the hit AMC television series The Walking Dead. In other words, it proved to be a very busy weekend.

Of considerable note this year is the fact that Tekkoshocon has moved back into the big ol' downtown convention center - the DLLCC (David L. Lawrence Convention Center) after the past two years in a nearby cramped hotel building. As such, there was much more space this year - particularly in the halls and stairways. But as a result, the con - and the people attending - was much more spread out. Certainly, the hotel was much too small for the con's crowds, but while the convention center gave us lots more space (more than we needed, truth be told), the con itself felt smaller in comparison, and it didn't seem like there were as many people - or cosplays - there.

I'm not saying I prefer the hotel - although it would have been lots less stressful if they had actually finished the grand ballroom staircase like they promised, as the worst part was getting between the first and second floors either via the deathtrap stairwell or the overloaded elevators - just that it had a kind of coziness to it. It's much harder to find people (and chase them down) and see everything there is to see when everything is so spread out. On the other hand, I sincerely hope that Tekkoshocon's future involves the kind of growth that would make having this much space necessary, although I can't say how realistic that dream is.

On a related note, while the space was very well utilized for the Dealer's Room and Artist's Alley (located, for once, on the showroom floor), I, among others, found it particularly inconvenient that they were situated so far from the rest of the con (panels, video rooms, main stage, etc.). It seemed like you had to walk a mile just to get from one node of the con to the other. And while the ample space all around is welcome for cosplay photoshoots and keeping the hallways navigable and such, having all that space between two very important poles of the convention, requiring your repeated traversal, can be a bit frustrating, and doubtless more tiring than is desirable. I can't say what possible solution there could be for this problem, however, as having the Dealer's Room on the showroom floor was very appealing.

Being back in the convention center (for whatever reasons), the con this year was stripped back to the standard Friday, Saturday, Sunday schedule, with no on-site programming on Thursday, as with last year. In the case of my group of pilgrims, this was just as well, as the rest of my group was not very well-impressed with Thursday's con atmosphere in previous years (although that's one thing I disagree with them on), and scheduling would have made one more day of con madness more trouble than it would have been worth. As such, we arrived in town on Thursday night and proceeded eagerly to the con on Friday morning (and I do mean morning - like, before noon!).

In recent years, you might recall, I have become very fond of cosplaying. This year, I regret that lack of funds and other issues resulted in me not doing all the cosplays I was planning. I still hope, however, to work through the kinks in my Chii bandage and White Rock Shooter prospective cosplays, among others, so that I can debut them next year or some other time in the future. But this year, I whittled my cosplay down to one single costume - which consisted of me recycling my trusty Japanese schoolgirl uniform (which I usually find some excuse to wear at least once every year), refitted with a bright red bow and coupled with that unique hairstyle that can only be associated with Tsukino Usagi - the magical girl who moonlights as the crime fighter Sailor Moon!

So instead of focusing on my own cosplay this year, I thought it would be a good opportunity to refocus my efforts on getting pictures of other cosplayers, since I kind of used that as an excuse not to get as many pictures last year. Unfortunately, though, as it turns out, I didn't get a whole lot of pictures this year, either. Part of that was due to my anxiety on Friday, and the fact that we chose to leave Tekkoshocon for a few hours to hit up another con, but on Saturday I found to my surprise that being in cosplay, despite my anticipation that it would make me more self-conscious, actually made me feel more comfortable about asking other people for their picture. I don't know if it has to do with the idea of putting on a mask or alternate persona and allowing that to buffer my thoughts and my actions (like it might with an actor), or if it's because I feel like a participant - like I'm playing the game, and am not just an outsider in street clothes wanting to get pictures of those nerds in funny costumes - but either way it helped.

Still, though, it seemed like I was seeing less cosplayers overall that impressed me - and that could be because of the quality of cosplay this year, or more likely the difficulty in tracking people down over the large space, or else just my becoming accustomed (and, in a sense, bored) of the cosplayers I see every year, exacerbated by my changing and refined tastes as a photographer. I'm not sure about that, though, and anyway, another contributing factor may be the rising popularity of American cartoons among Tekko-goers - Homestuck is inexplicably popular, as is My Little Pony, among others (including the usual comics offenders).

Whatever the case may be, despite my not putting very much effort into my cosplay this year, I did have a couple people ask for my picture on Saturday, and several that expressed their approval of my crossplay. I ran into one other Sailor Moon in particular who was very friendly and interested in getting a picture of the two of us together (I have to admit, placed side by side with a real girl just emphasizes - at least in my mind - all the ways in which I don't measure up to my own visual ideal).

There ended up being a lot of potentially interesting panels (although still not as much on topics of my preference as I would have liked) that I didn't make it to this year, mostly due to scheduling. One exception was the Better Than It Sounds panel about anime series with stupid (or weird) names that are actually good. The best thing I got out of that panel was a description of the cult hit series Madoka Magica, which was totally hyped up for me by being described as Sailor Moon meets Neon Genesis Evangelion (two of my favorite series!). From how it sounds, it's like what Evangelion did to the mecha genre (adding in angst and all that), but with the mahou shoujo - magical girl - genre instead. I've got to watch it.

Speaking of watching, I got to watch the AMV contest again this year. There actually wasn't a whole lot of great AMVs, but it was worth it for the one Serial Experiments Lain AMV alone (Terror In The Depths Of The Wired). It was set to an instrumental track from the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack, and it was fantastic. I voted it best in show, but it didn't win any awards. Lousy judges. (Yes, that includes the audience members who voted :p). There was also a great romance AMV set to Victoria Justice's Best Friend's Brother, but the award went to a Toradora video featuring Taylor Swift's poppy We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together instead.

I made it to the Extreme AMV contest again this year, since I enjoyed it so much last year, but it was unfortunately pretty lackluster. Allegedly this was due to a sheer lack of submissions. There was a funny AMV using explicit clips from La Blue Girl, and a violent one with Hellsing imagery, but only four videos in total, and nothing to go totally gaga over. Ah well. Note to AMV makers: don't be shy, make those extremely violent, pornographic AMVs with pervasive [foul] language - we want to see them! I would love to see an Urotsukidoji (Legend of the Overfiend) AMV, or even just an AMV that serves as an ode to tentacle rape - that would be awesome.

For, like, the first time ever, I didn't buy anything in the Dealer's Room this year. Money was tight on the one hand, and on the other, I didn't see anything that totally blew me away. Except this great Black Rock Shooter figure, but I wasn't going to pay $70 for it... Although, apparently, somebody else was, because it was gone when I looked again on Saturday. There were a lot more dakimakura (body pillows) this year, although after last year's complaints (I'm sure), they were either on display and crudely censored with post-it notes, or wrapped in plastic with only a tiny cardboard picture on the corner to look at. I was sorta hoping to get one, but as I said, I didn't see one that really blew me away. Plus, I get really self-conscious looking at the 18+ stuff. It's silly, but even though I'm an adult and everything, when they put up signs and talk about checking IDs and stuff, it just makes me feel like a kid again, like I'm trying to get away with something, and I have to avoid getting caught. It's bogus.

I haven't much to say about the rave that I haven't said in years past. Fun atmosphere, but I can never really get into it, on account of me not being much of a dancing, partying kinda guy. But it's like I want to be. Plus, people start taking their clothes off (not all of them, mind you), or switching into skimpy, sexy raver gear to go dancing in and that's pretty cool to see. Of course, flashing lights aside, there's not much light in the rave, so you can hardly get the benefit of enjoying the eye candy. :-\

Although on that note, I was treated to a marvelous surprise on Saturday, when it became clear that the convention center was also being rented out to a serious cheerleader competition. Early on, there were scores of young cheerleaders gathering in the halls and even, to an extent, mingling with congoers and cosplayers. And then later, in the walkway overlooking the two larger showrooms in the building, I had the opportunity to join the myriad other Tekko-ers spying on the cheerleading competition, watching their bombastic, tumbling performances. It was like something straight out of Bring It On! It was not at all an experience I was expecting, nor one that seems in tune with the whole atmosphere of being at an anime convention, but I'll be damned if I didn't enjoy the spectacle, and if it didn't amplify my overall enjoyment of the weekend. Hell, I wish that were a regular feature of the con, and not just a happy scheduling accident. I might have to consider getting tickets to a cheerleading competition instead of an anime convention next time! ;p

And finally we come to meeting Madison Lintz, although it actually happened early in the weekend - on Friday. I'm always nervous meeting people, and especially interacting with people I don't know very well, but I wasn't even prepared for how nervous I was anticipating my meeting with the girl who played Sophia on The Walking Dead. The scene where spoiler happens (if you've seen the show, you can guess what I'm talking about), was such a heartbreaking moment, and one of the greatest moments in TV history, in my opinion. I told Madison as much, even if I did so very awkwardly. But she was very professional and took it in stride. Then I got her autograph and posed for a picture with her, for a very modest fee. It was certainly one of the highlights of a very busy, and at times stressful and exhausting, but ultimately very exciting, weekend.

Post-script: One thing I forgot to mention was checking out one of the musical guests. Last year I remarked that, despite being a musician and a music-fan, I hardly ever check out the musical guests at anime conventions (at least partly due to the fact that it's not Japanese music I'm largely dedicated to). So this year, I made a point to attend one of the concerts. I picked Dazzle Vision, which seemed to offer the best chance of hearing some rock n roll screaming guitars. Unfortunately, the only screaming was in the vocals, as it was a screamo band, and the guitar parts were harsh and uninspiring. I was disappointed, but they just weren't my style. It was worth checking out, though, and I'm willing to give some other acts a chance in the future.