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I recorded the Bulls-Cavs game that happened a few hours ago and I’m about to watch it now before bed (yes I know I’m up really late already).

Before I came on I checked on Twitter and saw that Bulls and Rose were trending (but not the Cavs or Lebron). I don’t know what that means but I don’t think anyone would be posting about them unless something of significance happened tonight. But the thing is, I don’t know if it’s going to be something amazing or something really terrible.

So I’m really worried and excited at the same time but I know this could go either way and I need to be able to deal with that and I don’t know if I can. I mean of course I can but look, I’m really excited for this season and feel more optimistic about the Bulls than I have since 2011. And yet that’s about half belief and half hope, there’s so many really good teams out there and anything could happen so you just never know.

btw LeBron coming back was really cool even if it did get blown out of proportion. I like him and hope that doesn’t change because why should you hate people you don’t even know?

edit: I shouldn’t have made this post and he’s going to be fine.

This does, however, set the table for the next post I’m going to make, which is pretty much done but might show up in a drastically edited form if I know what’s good for me*.

*edit 2 (Nov. 10): I’ve decided that’s a post I would definitely be better off not publishing. Trust me.

edit 3 (Nov 14): I kind of want to throw up right now.

1. Seattle is a beautiful city. Clean, not congested, and full of friendly people. The homeless are a lot crazier and assertive than those in Chicago but still seem pretty harmless.

2. The convention center was easy to get around in. No panel or event required more than a five or six-minute walk to get to. Having multiple levels to one building, instead of spreading out across acres and acres of land, made getting around a breeze.

3. Panels seemed a little disorganized at times but you’d have to be a dick to actually complain about ten or fifteen-minute delays (usually caused by technical difficulties) at a con staffed by volunteers.

4. These things are really turning into 4chan cons, aren’t they? I mean, maybe that’s what they’ve been for at least 5 years, but never quite like this. I guess that’s fine but if the Internet is going to invade real life, can we at least retire all the memes from 2007 already?

5. Naruto cosplay and fan excitement in general was lower than at any convention I’d ever been to. This, on the other hand, was everywhere:

6. Hardly bought anything at this convention except for a poster from artists’ alley. Usually, I find myself wanting to stock up on DVDs but I can’t help but feel that I’m gradually beginning to realize that my collecting habits are not sustainable in the long run, and that we are watching more anime online than ever before, so… overall, I just enjoyed this convention for what it was, and not as a shopping trip.

7. The “Otaku 25 and older” panel needed to be more than a half hour long, but it was nice to be in a room where I was actually one of the youngest people, for once.

8. The Hyatt at Olive 8 is a wonderful hotel, comfortable and very close to the convention center. Despite offering a very reasonable convention rate (as listed on the Sakura-Con website during registration), it somehow wasn’t listed in the final convention program’s page of participating hotels. So maybe it’s kind of a secret, and one that you should really look into for next year if you want to be a truly savvy con-goer.

9. Were there more cosplayers in attendance than “normals”? As I rode escalators surrounded by Hetalia girls, people wearing animal pajamas (not sure what the deal with this was but these people were everywhere), guys dressed as soldiers and SWAT team members (again: why?) and girls in schoolgirl outfits, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe I was the one who was standing out in the crowd.

10. Pike’s Place Market is a wonderful destination for strolling, people-watching, and stocking up on actual healthy con sustenance and snacks. It’s also the most idyllic symbol of living, sustainable capitalism that I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit and participate in, at least compared to the strip malls and big box stores that make up my hometown. Also, people seem to really enjoy showing off their dogs there.

Do I support the Libyan revolution and our recent intervention in it against Col. Gaddafi’s forces because it’s the right thing to do? Or just because these are the last two anime series that I’ve watched and my imagination is primed for yet another story of against-all-odds revolution?

I’m an idiot, I know.

But seriously, consuming stories like these has got to make a person a little more interested,  inspired, and involved when the real thing starts going down. Or at the very least, a little less cynical.

For the record, I don’t think this is about oil, and to try to conflate our motives here with the misguided ones that got us into Iraq is cynical ignorance. I want to believe that, for once, we’re out to do the right thing. Time will tell.

I first set foot in Borders some time back in the mid-90s. One had just opened less than 20 minutes from us, and it was the first “big” bookstore I’d ever seen. Until then, the only bookstores I’d ever visited were the tiny and then-long closed B. Dalton in the nearby derelict mall (where I bought “Garfield” books as a kid), and a quaint, independent store on the other side of town that carried little I was interested in. Borders, on the other hand, was like a playground for a kid like me who was interested in books, music and periodicals. I wouldn’t say that I was a “bookworm” so much as a little media junkie who couldn’t get his fix anymore at the tiny town library. I loved combing through the CDs and magazines, and being the little consumerist I was, I burned through my allowances and earliest paychecks there at an alarming rate. But even if I wasn’t buying anything, Borders was still a place that I somehow ended up at when I didn’t have anything better to do. Yes, I was/am that much of a huge nerd.

Years later, shortly after college I moved in with a roommate and began the process of job hunting. Go figure, there wasn’t much demand for an unmotivated media studies major with no experience, so after several months, my priorities shifted from finding the ideal entry-level position to just landing any job at all. Once again, I found myself at Borders, this time filling out a job application, one that (gasp!) actually landed me an interview. It turned out that they liked my library experience and were looking for holiday help. What began as a short-term holiday employment eventually turned into a two and a half year gig before I finally resigned. In between I had some of the best and worst work experiences of my life.

Borders Book Store, Alameda, CA

After a good six months of ringing up customers at the register, I was “promoted” to working at the cafe. I never thought I’d be serving lattes to people after graduation, but there I was, ringing up stale baked goods and artfully squirting chocolate checkerboard-patterns onto whipped cream-topped mochas. This was (at times) relaxingly predictable work, that is, during weekday afternoons. Weekends brought seemingly endless queues of customers, which packed the cafe with stacks of books, almost all of which would be left behind for us to pick up and deliver to the restock shelf at customer service. We were commonly understaffed, so what should have been a mellow job was often pretty stressful. In hindsight, I look back on all the times that I let it stress me out and wonder just what my problem was. Out of plastic spoons? Stroller moms with crying kids in the cafe? Customers dumping hot coffee out in the garbage can? None of it really mattered, and I should have just let it all slide, but instead I often let it agitate me to an embarrassing degree. If I took anything away from this time, it was that I learned a lot about myself and my abilities to deal with stress.

The only thing that got me through all the headaches of the job were all the fantastic people I met on the job. Through my coworkers, I was able to experience a kind of “second college,” being able to hang out with cool people my own age, only this time without all the religious social hangups that perpetually hampered my college relationships. After work, we’d congregate outside the store doors and smoke cigarettes before heading off to a bar for a few drinks. I went to parties and concerts with my newfound friends and had a blast. Who knew that making friends was this easy? Finally, I had people to hang out with outside of work, who I could enjoy a few drinks with without being silently judged.

Borders Book Store, Alameda, CA

Bookstores naturally draw an eccentric mix of people; my coworkers included a handful of anime geeks, a music teacher, art students, a few stoner-types and a fair share of fellow liberal-minded people like myself. I felt that I fit in really well. For the first time at a job, I felt comfortable. This was good, right? Maybe not when you’re just getting by at a few quarters over the minimum wage. I regularly struggled with money during my whole time at Borders, but after a year or so of working with such cool people in such a relaxed atmosphere (er, for the most part), I had a hard time imagining myself working anywhere else.

After a year or so at the cafe, I was offered a position working in the music/DVD section. This was the big break I’d been waiting for. It wasn’t quite the proper “music store” job that I’d always wanted, but it was close enough. Stocking and rearranging CDs on the shelves, sorting out the mess that was the DVD section… probably sounds like a pain in the butt to most “normal” people, but hey, if I’m going to be set to mindless tasks then it might as well be ones that come natural to me. My coworkers and I had the entire upstairs of the store to ourselves, and put on whatever music we liked. Gorillaz, Daft Punk, David Bowie, Bjork, Talking Heads… usually anything but the CDs that corporate mandated us to be playing every day.

Border's Store #1 in Ann Arbor

I can remember some of the first times that I ever visited Borders, scanning through the CD sections, and finding more music than I’d ever seen in one place ever before: the entire Sonic Youth catalog, multiple albums by Autechre, Throbbing Gristle, Aphex Twin, Wire, Plastikman, Merzbow (!), Swans, Silver Apples, Suicide… by the time I working in the music department, this once-rich selection (which about half of my CD collection was purchased from) had been cut in half with almost all the hard-to-find artists completely purged from the inventory, and the worst was still to come. Every month meant a new RPL, in which we’d pull all of the interesting albums we were actually still carrying off the shelf to be sent back to the distributor. Soon we were down to only the essentials, with the monthly listening-station titles being the only source of interesting titles that weren’t Celtic Woman or post-mortem Ray Charles duets. This made my job as a music seller somewhat difficult. Whenever the opportunity arose to actually recommend a title to an interested customer, chances were that it was one that we no longer carried. Of course, we could always order it, which would usually prompt the same customer reaction every time: “If I wanted to order it, I would just go to Amazon!”

There lied the problem that Borders was unable or simply unwilling to deal with. Customers were turning to the Internet for their book, music, and DVD needs, which provided a greater selection at a lower price that we simply couldn’t compete with. Our closest competitor, Barnes and Noble, had been selling books online since 1997. Maybe in a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” sort of way, Borders contracted Amazon.com to handle its online orders for most of the 00’s. I have no idea whether Borders reaped the full profit from such sales or just a small commission. Either way, it helped drive customers out of stores and onto their home computers, where they found a more comfortable and easier shopping experience. The new Borders website, launched in 2008, was and still is a sad imitation of its competitors’ sites, its most unique features being the slow-loading (now defunct?) “magic shelf” and embarrassingly-tiny search results which have somehow managed to diminish over time. As of 2005 and 2006, though, things were still looking up for the company, as it kept expanding and working to improve its existing stores.

In the Book Store

Store remodeling eventually brought the religion and manga sections upstairs to us, which meant bringing the manga kids upstairs with it. Our manga section was always over-packed and strewn with discarded food wrappings and torn shrinkwrap removed from mature titles. I wish I could say that this corner of the store was a hangout for otaku teens. Rather, it was always packed with ravenous ten year-olds whose parents likely abandoned them for a few hours’ worth of shopping across the street at the mall. Still, I enjoyed trying to keep this section straight, as well as the anime DVDs. But there’s only so many 4-episode Inuyasha DVDs (for a low, low price of $24.99!) that you can fit on a handful of shelves, so it was often a struggle to pack everything in. As time went on, I noticed that to be the case throughout the DVD section, as well as most of the books we held upstairs. I wouldn’t say that people weren’t buying stuff like they used to, but they definitely weren’t buying it at Borders anymore.

During the last few months of my time at Borders, I experienced one financial crisis after another, and the once-close web of friends that I enjoyed was splintering apart due to resignations and in-store drama in which once-friendly coworkers grew embittered and succumbed to workplace gossip and backstabbing. Every other new hire seemed to possess once psychopathic quality or another; we hired a wise-ass slacker who’d sit on the countertop at the information desk and blare awful pop-punk music at full volume throughout the entire upper floor, which caused management to crack down on our entire department with a new set of strict rules. Then there was the aspiring MMA fighter who bragged about beating his wife and taking her wedding ring, and the new manager who was fired and arrested for stealing a TV. But I guess it’s hard not to get nostalgic for a time when any loser off the street could walk into a store and get a job, a general state of affairs that it looks like we’ll never see again.

Borders

I eventually reached a point where I realized that my life was going nowhere. I put in my two-week notice in the middle of a huge remodeling job, one which covered every square inch of the store in dust and marked the final transition of the chain from a simple bookstore into a bookstore/games/nicknacks/wrapping paper shoppe. My final week was spent working overnight shifts, moving stock from one section to another, and nearly losing my mind from lack of sleep. On my last night I reorganized an entire wall full of headphones, CD cases, and accessories, mostly by myself, while my coworker blasted My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult on the overhead speakers. I said my goodbyes to a handful of people, packed up my belongings from my locker and walked out the door, wondering if I would ever set foot in the store again. It’s been about five years now and I still haven’t.

I’ve kept a close eye on the slow demise of the chain, from its interoffice drama to its decade-late scramble to finally establish itself online. Its desperate reliance on “make” titles (see how desperately they’re pushing the “Millennium Trilogy” books these days and you’ll get an idea of how much they needed regular hits like Harry Potter just to stay afloat) and sideline items began to push its wider selection towards the margins of its business. Nothing’s taken a hit quite like the CD and DVD stock, which became a liability for the chain in recent years. Of course, that’s just the nature of business in the digital age, but unfortunately Borders didn’t have the luxury of treating such items as loss leaders like Wal-Mart or Best Buy. Everything they sell has been devalued by the big box stores, iTunes, and Amazon.

It’s such a sad situation for the employees of the chain who truly loved their jobs and took them seriously, even as they were treated like wage slaves and likely making less than your average Taco Bell employee. But the writing’s been on the wall for months, maybe even years, hopefully long enough for workers to begin preparing for life after Borders. Since leaving, I’ve found a better-paying job that I can actually support myself with, but I still get wistful when I think about all the carefree time I spent working there. Days could be hectic and annoying, but were just as often a breezy blur that I remember most for the friends that I made and the good times that we had. It was more than just a job. It was the center of a mellow lifestyle that seems to have passed for me, and after this week’s news, is likely passing away for thousands of others, too. Hopefully the remaining Borders stores can ride out the crisis and stay open for years, but even if they do, the fin de siècle for the industry is definitely upon us.

From a profile on Baltimore’s Otakon in the UK anime magazine Neo:

But for fans who want to go to have fun and hang out, Otakon is the place to be. “You can’t pirate seeing your friends in person” says [Otakon event chairman Sean] Chichankitmun. “One of the big differences to me between American conventions and European conventions is that American conventions seem more social” says Volkmar. “Everyone goes back to the hotels and hangs out for hours after we close down [at 3AM.]  Here it seems like the programming ends at 7 and everyone goes home.”

That Guy With the Glasses talks about anime conventions:

let’s face it, no one really sleeps in their hotel rooms. Actually, no one really sleeps. People tend to load up on unhealthy amounts of caffeine and stay up all night partying; because it would be criminal to waste one hour of your precious con time on sleep. You can sleep when you’re dead; but while you’re alive and paying for a hotel room, partying is definitely in order.

UK blogger Mrlewissmith discusses his fondness for conventions:

One great thing that I have taken from Anime conventions is a great group of friends that I trust a great deal. We will mainly meet up at Cons and spend a lot of time at a local pub/bar etc… And generally we will have alot of fun, make a lot of noise, pandemonium and get into trouble with the accomodation /Con Staff, but we only get to meet up a few times a year and meet literally from all over the UK so what do ya expect!

Ogiue Maniax on the irreplaceable benefits of anime conventions:

One thing that’s said about conventions in the internet age is that they’ve lost some of their utility, as conventions used to be about meeting people you couldn’t otherwise, whereas now you just head over to your favorite chatroom/messageboard/whatever and talk it up. One thing that hasn’t changed though is that it provides a common gathering point for fans, only now instead of meeting total strangers you get to meet people with whom you’ve chatted, and once after you’ve bonded over fine anime and cola, you can then continue your friendship online. On a personal level this has worked out quite well for me. Quite well.

None of these testimonials comes close to describing my own convention experiences. This leads me to the question: have I been going about conventions all wrong?

I know there’s no single way for everyone to enjoy a convention, but if message boards and blogs are to be believed, a huge segment of congoers regularly turn out not for the panels, the special events, or even the dealers’ room, but for the simple act of socializing. Meeting people — or “meeting up” with people — seems to be the biggest draw for lots of fans, who may seem to be taking in the day’s events with interest but are really just be looking forward to an evening’s worth of partying and memory-making, Facebook update-worthy hijinks.

No one’s really coming out and saying it, but here’s what I’m getting from reading blog entries and message board posts like the ones above: anime fans go to conventions to meet and hang out with their friends from the Internet. As I walk the hallways in the convention center and in the hotel, is this what’s happening all around me? Someone set me straight, because I honestly don’t know.

This April we’ll be attending Sakura-Con in Seattle. It just so happens that we’ll likely be meeting up with… friends from the Internet! Well, Mandy’s friends, to be precise, but I’m hoping that it’ll make things a little more exciting then they were when we attended ACEN last year and stuck to ourselves the entire time. Not that there was anything wrong with that; we had a fantastic time all by ourselves. But were we missing something? Is socializing an essential part of the “convention experince” that I’ve been missing out on? What role has socializing — particularly that experienced with friends and contacts from the Internet — played in your enjoyment of conventions? Is the simple act of hanging out and partying the primary draw for many (most?) fans who make the trip to conventions? Or am I reading too much into a few Internet comments?


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39242482/ns/weather/
http://www.daylife.com/photo/00uDcLs4Gee6u

I spent much of the past year looking forward to Anime Central, and did my best this time around to better prepare for it in advance. This time, we booked a room at the Hyatt and avoided an extra day’s worth of driving. This was probably one of the smarter decisions I’ve made in a while, an indulgence for sure, but a wise one as far as they go. No, we didn’t stay overnight in order to get the full convention “experience,” or at least that wasn’t my motivation as I made sure to request a quiet room as far removed from the glut of noisy congoers as possible. We didn’t attend the hardcore synergy dance on Friday or stay for the famous Soap Bubble rave on Saturday night. We didn’t cosplay, didn’t go out of our way to mingle with other attendees, didn’t meet up with online friends, didn’t do most of the things that probably draw at least half of the visitors every year. So why was it so important to us, or at least to myself to go?

To be honest, I guess it’s really one of the only times that I’m ever able to feel caught up in an experience that’s bigger than just myself, or at least bigger than anything I deal with in my everyday life. I’ve never been into “partying,” don’t make it out to many concerts anymore, aren’t involved in any clubs and feel nothing but awkwardness and doubt every time I find myself back at church. But just being around a mass of other people whom I feel I have something in common with — whatever their lack of self-awareness my be or how much younger they grow with each passing year —  is still an energizing experience, however much it gets dragged down by the 4chan/Internet lulz culture that continues to slowly consume it whole year after year. I’m sick to death of this tired, lazy, mindless bullshit and disappointed at how any of the self-appointed gadflies of this scene are more likely to revel in it and use it as a crutch than to ever call it out for being the social disease that it is.

But enough about that. We had a good time and that’s all that matters. The panels were hit and miss: the Fullmetal Alchemist fanpanel never got off the ground, as the hosts never showed up and visitors did their best to improvise a discussion on the spot. Time was better spent at the Satoshi Kon (“Anime as Artistic Film”) and the always-engaging Evangelion panels. “The Bad Anime Panel” was a riot. Anime Hell was fun. The Iron Editor contest was… not as fun as last year, a little slow and weighed down by its reliance on boring AMV community in-jokes that should have been retired last year. The fanfiction panel was pretty much what I expected, affirming in so far as it’s good to sit in a room full of geeks that are still somehow older than myself.

Once again, I brought my camera along this year, but only took one photo during the entire convention. I appreciate a well-made costume as much as the next guy, and finally understand that most people who cosplay at conventions do so because they want to be photographed. Still, it was difficult to bring myself to snap anyone’s picture, partly because I didn’t want to bother anyone who wasn’t already posing for photographers, and partly because I didn’t feel the slightest bit motivated if it wasn’t of a reasonably attractive girl and/or of a character I liked. Here’s a girl who put together a pretty awesome Haruko (aside from the mini-guitar, but who wants to carry a 10-12 lb bass with them all day?) and pretty much fit the bill. Whoever you are, thanks for humoring me. Maybe next year I’ll actually ask more than one person for a quick pose. Hey, it could happen.

Overall, this year’s visit didn’t leave many strong impressions on me. I still had a great time and hope to come back again in 2011. I spent over $100 on DVDs (here’s most of my haul) and got a pretty reasonable rate for the room. Will I have enough money left this month to go to DEMF Movement, buy an external hard drive, and pick up the new Flying Lotus album? Who knows?

Oh yeah, the Embassy Suites hotel caught fire on Saturday night. Here’s some video I took. Brace yourself:

Following my visit to Anime Central in 2004, I looked forward to returning again in 2005, hoping to get more out of the experience than the initial taste I’d had. Having to play “spirit guide” to my lost and bewildered friend, leading him through the strange and sometimes frightening world of anime fandom, probably held me back from geeking out to the extent that I’d wanted to, but I’d make sure that wouldn’t be an issue again. Yet as the springtime rolled around once again, I found myself in financial ruin and unable to cover the single-day admission fee, let alone any of the other likely expenses that a budding otaku would try to budget for. This happened more than once, and I didn’t find myself back on my feet until 2008, ready to give the convention another go. This time, however, I had a trustworthy companion every bit as primed for the day as I was. Mandy had attended a con somewhere out west several years ago and was new to ACEN but was ready to brave the crowds, explore strange new panels, seek out new DVDs, and boldly go with me where no couple quite so nerdy had gone before. We arrived in Rosemont, parked in the massive garage, and made our way to the convention center.

At this point in putting together this entry, I began to recount the experience of arriving at registration and waiting in line for two and a half hours, only to find ourselves less than halfway through the queue before giving up and leaving. It’s probably best to skip the details of the notorious “Linecon ‘08” and skip directly to the next year, where we pre-registered in advance and arrived on Friday morning to a pleasantly-empty registration area. Organizers had fortunately remedied the technical issues from the year before, and it’s likely that lots of other visitors had decided to avoid the process altogether by registering ahead of time as we did. Getting in was a breeze, but what to do next? It’s been about eight months so my memory isn’t as precise as it probably should be for my purposes here, but I’ll try to recall as much as I can.

One of the first panels we visited was “An Introduction to the Animation Process,” run by “Gold Digger” creator Fred Perry. I was vaguely familiar with his work and enjoyed the short but fun clip he shared with us of his characters come to life in animated form (a clip similar to this, likely from the same work). Demonstrating the process via simple stick figure computer animation, the panel was a brief but interesting look at an art form once out of reach of the average person, now apparently available to anyone with a personal computer. A few technical difficulties aside, I enjoyed just getting a chance to listen to an artist talk about his work and the creative process. From there we proceeded to the “How to Create AMVs” panel, which I’d been looking forward to ever since the convention schedule was released online. AMV-making was a hobby I’d been interested in for several years and I was hoping to witness a demonstration akin to the one that Mr. Perry had just hosted. Unfortunately, the hosts never showed up, leaving a handful of editors already on hand setting up for the evening’s other programming to throw together a quick introductory panel on the spot. They did the best with what they had, and all things considered they put on a good presentation, showing a handful of videos and answering everyone’s questions as best they could. To be honest, their improvised panel was probably better-informed than whatever the original host had prepared (which was probably nothing at all). After this we watched the first half of the AMV contest entries (the best of which being “A Feel Good AMV,” definitely worth watching or even downloading if you can) before we stepped out for some fresh air.

A trip to the dealer’s hall netted me nothing this day. Mandy got a couple of shirts, but neither of us bought any of the usual swag that people supposedly stock up on at cons. We finished browsing and headed back to the hotel, where the next panel we wanted to attend was being held. “That Troublesome Naruto Fanpanel” was right up our wheelhouse, or so I thought. Finding ourselves in what would be the white-hot center of Naruto fandom on the entire planet, if only for an hour or so, was one of those strange experiences I just had to have for myself. That’s not to say that my interest was born out of any kind of ironic fascination; we’d both been heavily into the series for almost a year, tearing through the DVDs at frightening speed. I anticipated a healthy number of “Narutards” to be on hand but who was I to judge? Besides, I probably wasn’t as personally disgusted with them as much as I was bitterly jealous of their carefree lack of self-awareness. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?

What I witnessed that afternoon was a total and complete disregard for social norms, an eager and energetic fulfillment of every negative and embarrassing stereotype surrounding anime fandom, and perhaps even a glimpse of the downfall of Western civilization. The panel hosts, cosplaying as various Naruto characters (Choji and Hidan, if I remember correctly) showed a PowerPoint presentation, bringing the audience up to speed on upcoming plans for manga publication, DVD releases, and streaming episodes online. The audience didn’t seem particularly interested in any of these details (likely perfectly content to continue reading scanlations of the latest manga chapters from Japan and downloading fansubbed episodes online) but was incredibly eager to shout at the hosts and at each other, screaming about their favorite characters and couples, acting out the characters they were cosplaying as, and butchering the Japanese language (in the midst of excoriating English translators for alleged mistakes, no less). At one point a kid (who looked like an emaciated Andrew W.K. with tattoos) was handed the microphone and proceeded to passionately rail against the Nickelodeon network for a laundry list of crimes against its anime properties. The hosts had to cut him off in mid-rant and several times had to implore the hyperactive front row to calm down. The floor was opened up for questions, at which point the panel became a contest among the audience to see who could yell out the most revealing spoilers the loudest. I won’t reveal what was said at this point, but to this day neither the English release of the manga or the latest episodes of Naruto Shippuden has arrived at some of the plot points that these maniacal fans apparently devoured in advance and violently regurgitated upon everyone else that afternoon. The panel was stopped to allow fans who didn’t want to discuss spoilers to leave the room. Immediately, I told Mandy that I simply couldn’t stay for another minute, and I bolted to go wander the hotel for a half hour or so until it was over.

We met up soon afterwards, took another short tour of the dealer’s hall, and watched some more AMVs in the screening room before deciding to call it a day. As we drove home I couldn’t help but feel that the day had gone by far too quickly and that I hadn’t quite gotten my convention fix. Mandy was too tuckered out to come back on Saturday, so I ended up returning on my own the next day. There were just as many panels and events that I wanted to attend on Saturday as there were on Friday, although they were more spread out through the day and probably not Mandy’s cup of tea, so it was probably a more suitable day for flying solo, anyway.

Upon my arrival, having missed most of the early events that would have piqued my interest – my old copy of the schedule has “Living and Teaching in Japan,” “The Tainted World of Jrock,” and “Japanese Pop Culture” highlighted – I made my way straight back to the AMV room and sat in the second half of the AMV contest entries. This screening segued into a panel called “Koop and Atom’s Top Ten Indie Vids.” “Koop,” of course, being the one and only Koopiskeva on AnimeMusicVideos.org, Atomx being the former moniker of editor Arashinome (I think). It was a laid-back screening of ten or so videos from past and present that were very good overall and worthy of showing, and it was just fun to sit and listen in on a few guys who were actually talking AMVs (while riffing on themselves and each other, too).

I spent some time back in the dealer’s hall, picking up Interstella 5555, a copy of Castle of Cagliostro on the cheap, and the four-disc Last Exile set. I spent a lot of time just browsing, watching people, and just feeling oddly caught up in the experience of being at such a strange event, scanning booth after booth for wasteful products I don’t need next to other people dressed in silly costumes who were doing the same. The experience itself was certainly out of the ordinary, but what was probably even stranger was the ease at which I’d so quickly gotten used to it all. Maybe I wasn’t completely at ease; on a few occasions I came close to asking a cosplayer if I could take their picture, but having never approached a stranger with such a request before in my life, couldn’t quite work up the nerve to do so. But I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I bought lunch, a sloppy joe and a cup of coffee, from a vendor in the convention center. I ate at a table with some older adults and a young Japanese couple before heading off once again.

“Creating Electronica” was the next panel I attended, and a pretty apt summation of an interest I’ve held for over a decade but never actively pursued. The description in the convention program promised a demonstration of the Albeton Live software, and that “free versions of the program will be given out to everyone attending.” For someone who needs to be walked through every little step when being introduced to almost anything new or different, and given my long-repressed intent to actually make music in such a way, it just doesn’t get any better than that. Upon arriving, however, we were informed that the free copies had been lost and that technical difficulties would prevent the panel’s special guests (synthpop band The Slants) from showing or playing us any music of their own. To put it mildly, this was a big disappointment, even as the open forum provided the only time in memory that I’ve ever heard people utter the names “Matmos” and “Autechre” out loud in public. After a half hour or so I walked out and headed to a panel already in progress, one I’d really wanted to catch but had unfortunately decided to pass up in favor of the washout I’d just attended.

“An English Major’s Look at Evangelion” might sound like a hopelessly pretentious panel but featured some of the most thought-provoking and spirited discussion of anime that I’ve ever been privileged to listen to firsthand, the complete antithesis of the Naruto panel, to say the least. The hosts’ presentation was well-organized and lead itself well to audience participation, and the conversation was civil and enlightening, even in discussing the most controversial aspects of the series. This was my favorite panel of the weekend, and I made sure to tell the hosts so afterwards. I’d love to be able to discuss anime like this but even after taking college courses in the analysis of literature and film, I often find it difficult to organize my thoughts or to separate my personal feelings from an unbiased reading of the text. What I loved about this panel (and the AMV screenings from earlier in the day) was being able to see and hear other people giving serious consideration to many of my interests, especially the ones that would seem least likely for anyone else to treat with respect and reverence. I’ve always held certain things in high regard that others have commonly dismissed as trivial or worthless, so walking into a room full of other people suddenly willing to affirm the worth of some of my private obsessions was tremendously gratifying.

The Studio Ghibli panel was held in a tiny conference room, leaving no extra room to sit or stand, so I decided to pop back in to the AMV room to see what was going on before heading home. The “Iron Editor” challenge was being held, which initially hadn’t sounded like the most tempting event to catch, but I decided to sit in on it for a few minutes before heading home. I ended up staying for more than an hour. The editors themselves were clicking away onstage, and only occasionally would the MC give us a peek at what they were working on. Most of the time, various AMVs were screened, mostly con-favorites that had the audience in stitches or even singing along. A few years of forced participation in church youth group had burned a severe disdain such sing-a-longs into the core of my being, especially ones involving clapping and silly hand motions. This all melted away as I found myself caught up in the experience of joining the crowd in a momentary surrender to my most regressive, geeky nature. I know I spent an absurd amount of time during the convention watching AMVs (while still only seeing a fraction of what was actually shown) but I really love the atmosphere of the screening room and the experience of enjoying such a solitary pleasure in the presence of so many other people.

Saturday was much cooler than Friday. I wore a sweater for most of the day and was glad I had it as I walked through the hotel, down the long pedestrian walkway to the parking lot and out into the crisp night air. I’d gone most of the day without saying much of anything to anyone, but I felt genuinely happy and oddly content with myself and what I’d been able to take in during the day. I still feel like my experience was incomplete and I might expound on why that is at some point in the future, but my only real ACEN regret was that I waited so many years to finally make it back there. I don’t know if next year is going to bring any big changes, since I’ve pretty much scrapped my plans to actually get a room for the weekend. But I definitely can’t wait to go back again. Hopefully I’ll come back with a more interesting story next time.

Nearly eight months ago I sat at my computer, hand on my mouse, cursor poised over the “publish” button displayed on the Blogger webpage on my monitor. Over the weekend I’d attended Anime Central in Rosemont, Illinois, and enjoyed two days of insightful panels, relatively restrained DVD/merch hunting and fascinating people-watching. I wanted to share my thoughts on the convention with the world, so I typed up a few paragraphs recounting some of the highlights. Or at least that was my intention. A thousand words or so later and ready to finally post my work, I looked over my piece and realized that I’d somehow managed to type out a rambling, incomprehensible essay in which I vaguely alluded to having attended some kind of large event, without ever naming just what is was or what I did when I was there. So paranoid was I that some of my friends might find out I had attended an anime convention (let alone enjoyed myself at it immensely) that I danced around the topic for several paragraphs without saying anything meaningful about it at all. Does that sound neurotic? Funny, I was thinking the same thing. Reference my first post here from a week or so ago and you’ll see that this was becoming a distressingly common pattern in not just my blogging, but in all my attempts at online communication, which is why I’ve attempted to start over here.

This wasn’t the first time that I’d felt the need to censor myself online for the benefit of others. Many times before and many times since have I begun a blog entry with good intentions only to omit one detail after another, keeping in mind that people I know could be reading my secrets and judging me accordingly. I know perfectly well that I’ve always had a tendency to make mountains out of molehills when it comes to these things, but I’ve also experienced and witnessed the consequences of geeking-out on the Internet with no sense of self-awareness. But that’s no longer an issue here, so I’ll attempt to piece together the weekend one last time into a coherent recollection. This will likely be a lengthy entry so I’m going to divide it into two or three parts.

My first visit to ACEN was in 2004, in which I dragged along a friend whose exposure to anime had likely been limited to the matinee of Spirited Away that I’d also dragged him to a year or two before. There’s no way I’d even consider trying to rope an anime virgin into accompanying me to a con today, but I had no one else to ask aside from the otaku girls at work that I knew would be there, but who already had full schedules devoted to volunteering, cosplaying and likely plenty of partying throughout the nights. My friend was surprisingly receptive to the bizarre scene that greeted us at the convention center, despite the fact that I’d more or less brought him along without saying exactly where we were going. Did he even know was cosplaying was? If not, by the end of the day he’d seen more of it than most people ever should and seen a side of me that I’m not sure he was prepared for.

We sat in on a panel on AMVs, did a lap or two around the dealer’s room (I bought a Haibane Renmei poster), watched the first few epidoes of R.O.D. the TV and Texhnolyze, and caught a bunch of AMVs in a screening room before leaving some time around 9:00 or so at night, pretty early departure by many people’s standards but being single-day guests with a job and homework to do the next day (respectively), staying late wasn’t much of an option. I’m sure that we did more than this while we were there (besides walking around hopelessly lost for an embarrassing amount of time, I mean) but those are the most memorable events of that day for me. I had hoped to meet up with some otaku girls from work that I knew would be there, but it wasn’t to be and I’m not sure if we would have “hung out” or anything anyway. This was the biggest uncertainty for me: what were people really supposed to do here, anyway? And even if I knew, could I do it with someone who wasn’t into this stuff like I was?

Sitting in the screening rooms was a first for me. Being able to watch anime with a few dozen other fans was a first for me, as my viewing had strictly been a solitary experience up to that point. Being seated behind some of the taller con-goers in a non-raised seating room of simple meeting room-style chairs meant plenty of neck-craining to see the screen (and likely obstructing the view of others as well, unfortunately), but for better or worse I guess that’s part of the experience. We got better seats at the packed opening of the AMV contest showing, and saw some really fantastic videos (Daniel Chang’s “Here Comes the Sun” still a favorite of mine to this day) and ended the night on a positive note. After driving home I collapsed in bed, exhausted from all the miles we’d walked and slightly overstimulated from everything that I’d tried to take in throughout the day. The next morning, I felt slightly hungover from it all, never having tried to pack so much escapism into a single day before.

But still, I couldn’t help but feel that there was a difference between myself and most of the other 7,400 people who passed through the gates that year. I was about 25 years old, which probably put me in the middle third of the congers there by age, but as much as the convention allowed me to forget about my adult responsibilities and to indulge in what most people would consider childish pleasures, I left feeling somewhat older than most people there. I was also aware of the social aspect of the con, the primary attraction for many but one that I was unsure how to take part in, myself. While others traveled in small packs, arriving with groups of friends or meeting up with people they knew online, I was a lone wolf, my somewhat bemused friend in tow aside. How could I find an “in” to this world? What would I need to change about myself or accept about others? I was a very shy person at the time and am only still getting over this handicap now, so naturally integrating myself into groups was never my strong suit. On the other hand, just walking around and seeing everyone genuinely excited to be at the convention, genuinely excited about many of the same things I was, was a reward in itself, and one I was eager to experience again.

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