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!