Ari Rockefeller presents: Katsucon 2011 — This Time Will Be Different!

                When the topic of going to a convention comes up, the amount of planning for any given con is based on a wide variety of factors—mostly monetary issues, but things like how badly you want to go and even the convention itself can sway the issue in one direction or another. Otakon, for example, I plan for starting the day after the previous Otakon finished, while on the other end of the planning spectrum, I have literally gone to a convention with about 48 hours of preparation.
                Suffice to say, Katsucon 2011 didn’t skew too far one way or another in terms of crazy planning and/or micromanagement. But one thing tends to ring true about your plans, regardless of how meticulous they are: things can go horribly fucking wrong with the slightest provocation.
                The travel plans suffered the most amount of apart-falling. DJ Ranma suggested I come down as early as I could on Friday, while he and a good portion of our adventuring party would be down there on Thursday afternoon. Not an atypical setup. Unfortunately, DJ’s plans were the first to fall, so the arrangement changed. He’d arrive in Jersey at a bus station and I’d drive the rest of the way down. This was to take place in the dead of night. This became implausible because a) I’m crazy, not stupid, and despite my nocturnal behavior, driving in the middle of the night over 3 hours could be disastrous and b) DJ’s plans fell even more apart due to a botched costume transport.
                So, our new plan was for me to pick DJ up in Philadelphia and drive down to the convention. However, he still needed to finish up his Stocking (Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt) cosplay. We bombed around Philly for about an hour acquiring the appropriate pieces for his cosplay. Once that was settled, we got on the first ramp for I95-S and were on our way.
                There are the usual aggravations that come with driving to conventions like this—tolls hurt your budget and are traffic bottlenecks; a stop at a rest house planned for five minutes can drag on to last a half hour. But driving up and down the east coast provides a very unique set of strains on a con goer’s sanity. See, I-95 is the main highway artery that runs from Maine to Florida, and hits just about every major city en route. Our route would hit three of the biggest cities. Along with I-295 and I-76, midday traffic in the Philly area is a stop-and-go drag. Navigating the Baltimore Beltway made me wish it was July and I was turning off to go to Otakon. And the less that’s said about the Capital Beltway, the better. We ended up rolling into the Gaylord convention center and hotel just before 6:00. I felt like I lost a day at the convention, but I would make the best of the time I had available.
                The first two hours or so were apparently ordained by the gods to test those intentions.
                The expense for the room took a big chunk out of my budget for the weekend, which was already strained seeing how I’m currently unemployed, badly seeking work, and had to clean out some set aside savings for other means to pay for this trip. But that’s not what gets me upset right away; I’ve gone to enough cons to experience ending the weekend almost completely broke. At least when I had steady employment, my bankroll could be replenished by my next paycheck.  No, what really burned me was the badge itself. Since becoming a contributor for Anime Jam Session, 9 times out of 10, my cohorts have managed to finagle for me a press pass at…well, let’s say a discounted rate. This time around, though, through a combination of miscommunication and some key information withheld from me thanks to the con staff, that did not happen. It didn’t help that I wasn’t pre-registered, considering a) I wasn’t sure I would even be at the convention to begin with and b) one person registers our entire group at once. As I purchased my pass for the weekend, I started dreading the experience more, considering the little money I had left would be tied up in food, gas and getting out of the parking lot when it came time to go (more on that last bit later). My traveling partner and I explained our situation to the con staff, but the person we had to direct our issue to was unavailable at the time.
                The only thing left for us to do was to find our rooms. The rooms at the Gaylord National Resort were lovely, but space soon becomes an issue the more people are in the room itself. It wasn’t long after I appropriated a corner of the room for my belongings that I got a call from a member of Katsucon’s press relations. His name was Chad Dietrichs. Chad got the gist of our situation from other staffers, but wanted to meet with me personally to discuss the issue. After several minutes of exposition, Mr. Dietrichs gave me (and assuming DJ; he had his next time I saw him) the press pass I was seeking. This immediately made the convention much more enjoyable for me, and it felt like a massive weight was lifted from me. So, thank you for that, Chad.
                I didn’t attend any panels that Friday, seeing how we arrived at the convention late and relatively burned out. So I spent the next couple of hours on the more mundane aspect of my con write-ups—evaluating the convention area itself. The hotel was a square shaped building about twenty stories high, with one of the walls instead “open” and walled in with large glass panels. The result was a very pleasant open-air section that always seemed to be the perfect temperature and was very relaxing. Two of the walls had balconies looking out over the rest of the hotel, and I was told those were the suites. We didn’t have one of them, so we couldn’t use them to hang stuff from the guard rails to display for everyone looking down. Several balconies were decorated with personal effects, from balloons to specific logos (a Green Lantern symbol was very prominent) to, much to our chagrin, a kigurumi mask that, despite being seven or eight stories up and neglected on a deck chair, felt like its lifeless eyes were staring straight into your fucking soul. The one thing that was peculiar about the convention building itself was the smell. There seemed to be a lingering odor about the place. Something…fishy. And it wasn’t because the hotel was overlooking a harbor; that smell was actually quite pleasant. No, it smelled more like a grocery store’s seafood section, with product of dubious quality. One cosplayer who allowed me to take her picture brought up the issue, and after the encounter, I couldn’t un-smell it.
                The bottom floor had a very large gym, a paltry excuse for an arcade, and a huge swimming pool. I made it a point to make a beeline for the swimming pool, as I frantically needed to go for a swim and relax. This one was miles above the one at MangaNEXT. It was a large, well-maintained concrete structure. My only complaint about it was that it was shallow. The pool was 3½ feet deep. There was no deep end in this one; the entire pool was the same depth. This was the shallowest part of my own swimming pool. I suppose it was that shallow because they had seen a lot of children come through the hotel and they didn’t want to take any chances. But the same kind of preventative measures could be taken by parents being more attentive. The fact that the choice wasn’t even there to begin with was what really made it a letdown.
                Off in the corner of the pool area was a large hot tub, which had the same depth as the pool itself. In addition to the typical water jets, the back wall of the room had a long, narrow slit that allowed water to cascade down into the water or onto the necks and shoulders of people sitting under it. Not only did it feel wonderful, but I could even invoke that cool meditating-under-a-waterfall effect…though the effect was lost when I was still sitting in a hot tub and the only cold water I came in contact with was when I jumped back in the pool after about twenty minutes in the hot tub.
                The first event of the convention I attended was the formal ball on Friday night. Dances and I usually don’t get along very well at conventions, so when I was reminded to bring a suit, and the subsequent explanation as to why, I was a little apprehensive. Although, I’ve been told I look damn good in a suit, but that’s another story. The ball wasn’t a ball in the sense of the word I’m familiar with. Given where in the building it was held (the back half of the game room), it felt more like a high school dance than anything. There was lots of shuffling around and awkward, uncertain dancing—in short, it was just like my high school prom. For what it’s worth, the music was better than what I put up with back in the day. At the convention, the music ran the typical gamut of anime themes and instrumentals of songs from old Disney films; at my prom, they played Limp Bizkit. QED.
                I generally have trouble getting sleep when on the road, even if it’s in a nice hotel bed like the Gaylord had. It didn’t help that my roommates were much more rambunctious than I’m used to rooming with. I didn’t sleep as much as I did lie in bed with my eyes closed this weekend. I fear that my ability to report on and recall events of Katsucon may have suffered as a result.
                I still pushed on, though, because journalistic integrity would not be so easily trumped. The theme of Saturday at the convention: Panels. Panels everywhere.
                The first panel I covered was something very relevant to my interests, pro wrestling. In “Japanese Pro Wrestling,” the discussion was rife with the influence Japanese professional wrestling or puroresu had on anime, manga, and video games, as well as the American pro wrestling scene. Puroresu was started in the mid-50s by a failed Korean sumotori named Rikidozan. One factor leading to his failure was simply him being a Korean in Japan, and the massive cultural backlash that he had to deal with. He was also the trainer for puroresu legends Great Baba and Antonio Inoki. Their major topics of discussion shifted from Japan’s three biggest promotions (New Japan Pro Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling, and Pro Wrestling NOAH) to the indie leagues, particularly Dragon Gate, which, with help from cross promotion with Ring of Honor in the United States, helped Japan’s largest independent promotion get a North American branch started (Dragon Gate USA, headquartered in Philadelphia, PA), and Dramatic Dream Team or DDT, which is the Japanese equivalent of the WWE, taken to its goofy, theatrical conclusion, and has created the greatest joke title ever, the DDT Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship. This title is defended anywhere at any time, and has been held by inanimate objects (including a series of blow-up dolls), stuffed animals, actual animals, and no less than three different ladders. Stark differences were drawn between WWE and TNA, most prominently how women are typically joshi puroresu or actual wrestlers. By contrast, WWE and their “Divas” are notorious for being models first and wrestlers a distant second, if at all. TNA and their “Knockouts” aren’t as bad in this respect, but Knockouts matches are notorious for high levels of botching. Puroresu and anime have had plenty of references to one another, be it an anime-inspired wrestler (such as Lupin from Lupin III), pro wrestlers in fighting games (Street Fighter, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, etc.), or flat-out discussion of the sport (Karl Gotch name-dropped in BECK). The best example is the manga series Tiger Mask, who has appeared in both anime and pro wrestling form. Both he and his nemesis, Black Tiger, have had several people take up the respective mantles over the years; Tiger Mask is always Japanese, while Black Tiger is always a foreigner (Tiger Mask #2 was portrayed by the late Eddie Guerrero).
                My second endeavor made me very grateful for my press pass, as I got a perfect seat for the premier of the new Neon Genesis Evangelion movie Evangelion 2.22: You Can(not) Advance. Mike McFarland gave a short introduction to the film. I don’t want to give too much away about the film, but this isn’t as mind-screwy as the anime was. Some of the key plot points include Rei trying to coax Shinji and Gendo to improve their relationship, and Unit-03 going berserk with Asuka inside, prompting NERV to dub it the Ninth Angel. One of the most poignant scenes was a class trip to an aquatic research facility tasked with restoring the ocean’s ecosystem (which were destroyed during the Second Impact and the oceans turned blood red). Aside from the long, humorous decontamination montage Shinji, Asuka and Rei endure, Shinji, especially, is dumbstruck by the notion that the oceans were once teeming with life and were blue. Also, remember that beer can censoring thing they did to Shinji? Well that joke gets revisited, only it’s Asuka who’s on the receiving end of it this time around.
                Next on my to-visit list was a panel entitled “Becoming a True Pokémon Master.” I felt an odd compulsion to go to this panel…probably because given my dedication to the franchise, if I missed it, my adventuring party would probably never let me live it down. Or maybe it was because my new AJS business cards describe me as a Pokémon Trainer. Long after the panel, I had asked DJ what came to mind in regards to the panel’s topics based on the title alone. He assumed it meant battling strategies in-game, and the best Pokémon for any given situation. I simply thought it would be a frank discussion about the anime. Turns out, we were both wrong. It was all about using Action Replay (the modern day Game Genie) and use of random number generator abuse to take min/maxing in the Pokémon games to what I can only describe as its logical conclusion. The entire panel can be summed up in a single sentence. And here it is, from the panel moderator’s mouth, no less: “This basically takes all the fun out of Pokémon and leaves only the math behind.” Well, way to alienate about 80% of the fan base, there, chief. They also discussed how this technically isn’t cheating, as when you enter your game into a Nintendo sanctioned Pokémon tournament, when they scan the games for any “this game has been hacked” red flags, these methods don’t show up. But then again, when he explained some aspects of the programs that were typically used, he flat-out stated that there were things he was either unsure of, didn’t use, or just had no knowledge of. After a beaten-into-the-ground Chuck Norris joke, I cut my losses and bailed on the panel.
                The next panel I arrived at was “So You Wanna Dub?” It was run by Todd Haberkorn, who ran down the many methods dubbing studios use to provide English voices to anime. The anime they used as an example was Soul Eater. As a bonus, several members of the audience got to do their own dubbing for the intro and first scene of one episode. He stated outright that they wouldn’t do a full episode in the two hours of the panel. To fully dub one 22-minute episode takes, on average, a week. Great care has to be taken to get every subtle nuance just perfect. I admit that I hadn’t seen any of Soul Eater going into the panel, but in the end, it was placed on my long to-watch list.
                The video rooms were large and expansive, as were the spaces set up for the Artists’ Alley, Dealers’ Room, Gaming Hall and Dance Hall. The only problem I had with them is that the first two and last two were combined into two separate rooms. This makes sense if saving space is a priority, but why Katsucon chose to do that boggles the mind. The convention pretty much had free run of the convention center; it’s not like they were hard-up for space. The “Artists’ Alley” section of the combined Dealers’ Room was right by the entrance, meaning that more than likely other con goers would blow right by it for other merchants. The game room/dance hall was no better. The two sections were fighting with one another to see which attraction could drown out the other one. As I’ve mentioned earlier, there wasn’t anything I could spring for with my limited budget, so I instead browsed around and picked up a few business cards for artists and dealers whose wares interest me enough to shop from their websites. One of the dealers I had a long, interesting discussion was Nick, one of the proprietors of MAGfest. He discussed some of the finer points of the convention, and I had to admit I haven’t attended, yet. The video of them planning MAGfest 8 was brought up (“Alright, Christ, I’m here. Sorry I’m late for my own meeting.” “Yeah, for the third time.”). Nick also brought up an awesome story about Jon St. John (Duke Nukem, Duke Nukem), and how throughout that weekend, his goal was to attend as many room parties as possible, racking up almost two dozen appearances. The following year, he attended about three dozen, popping in, hanging out for a bit and leaving, building a Bill Murray-like mystique about himself among voice actors.
                Around 8:00 or so, I met up with DJ to go and find some dinner. As money was rather tight for the weekend, I had been surviving on whatever I could get to eat at the news stand on the atrium floor, being careful not to spend more than $5 at a time. The desire to have at least one hot, cooked meal this weekend, combined with wanting to sit down and eat with my friend/s, led us into the nearby city. There were two major obstacles to contend with. First, the prices at the restaurants in town were ridiculously high. In one place, the appetizers themselves were more expensive than the entrees at similar places back home. Secondly, the shortest wait time at the handful of places we tried was 45 minutes. The general consensus was that waiting at least an hour to pay $20 for a hamburger was fucking ridiculous. So we headed back to the hotel and down to the National Pastime sports bar. The wait wasn’t any better, but at least we were allowed to order, eat and sit at the bar this time around. Well, one of us got to sit; we only managed to fine one empty stool, so one of us sat down and the other stood. The meal was good, if a tad bit pricey (though not as bad as other places). 
                The last panel of the night I visited was “The Ninja Legion Game Show: Otaku Wanderer.” The game show was a test of otaku knowledge, where up to ten people were invited to be contestants. I was fortunate enough to be one of the ten. There were two rounds—one straight-up Q&A;, the other a video round. The hosts went down the line, asking everyone a question related to general anime, gaming, etc. knowledge. Everyone else got to participate in a small way. If a contestant got it wrong, a member of the audience could jump in and give the right answer; if they did, they won a cup ramen in their choice of beef or chicken flavor. The questions stretched across innumerable series, ranging in difficulty from everybody knows that to how the fuck was anyone supposed to know that? There weren’t any opportunities for players to steal points if you knew the answer and they didn’t. Which was especially bad in my case because after getting a really difficult question, my opponents would get some easy rather questions—questions that I knew and they didn’t. It was maddening. The second round was a little different (and the questions weren’t as valuable). We would be shown videos of people being asked some general knowledge questions and we had to guess whether or not they knew the answer. Whoever got it right got a point. After two rounds (and being ushered out by con staff for going over), we ended in a four-way tie. The tie-breaker was a throw-down round, where we had to fire off answers as fast as we could without repeating; whoever couldn’t was eliminated. The topic: Characters in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. I ended up in the last two, but my brain stalled out, leaving me in second place. My prize was a copy of Summer Wars on DVD. Third place got a manga whose title escapes me, and first prize was a series on DVD whose title also escapes me.
                I had a minor crisis related to being locked out of my room, followed by unpleasantness at the rave. That’s how my Saturday night ended. Sunday was a little better, food situation aside. The last panel I went to was “How to Start a Webcomic with Onezumi.” Onezumi and her cohort Harknell discussed numerous issues pertaining to people who wanted to start a webcomic series from the ground up. One of the key issues was that it’s much more difficult to get a webcomic up and running, given competition from YouTube, Facebook, and of course, other, more seasoned webcomics. It was simple early on, with comic series like Penny Arcade, Megatokyo, and a few others. The argument between digital and traditional art had strong arguments on both sides, but it ultimately came down to what was more comfortable for the artist. It was important to set a schedule that was manageable; a seven-day schedule could easily lead to burnout. You also must, must have to buy your own web domain; do not rely solely on deviantART, as it looks very unprofessional. There are numerous free web hosting sites out there, such as keenspot or drunk duck.
                We spent the last couple of hours taking photos of cosplayers and interviewing people for the website. I practically kissed my press pass when we were the first in line to meet Vic Mignogna. He was a pretty cool guy to hang out with for the few minutes we spent getting his autograph. When we left the convention, and after nearly getting fleeced on parking, our adventuring party sought out a mutual friend who could not make it to the convention on account of illness. We dropped off Vic’s autograph, and made the long trip back home. We made it to Philadelphia, where I dropped off my friend so he could catch his bus back to New York City.
                The last time I was at Katsucon, it was in 2004, thereabout. I had a bad experience related to the con, and the DC area, and I stayed away from the convention for quite some time. From what other members of my adventuring party and Anime Jam Session have told me, everyone goes through bad convention experiences. However, it was only my second convention, so I had virtually nothing to go on. That said, this Katsucon was much better than my last appearance. There were some parts that I’d rather not repeat, but overall this convention was much more enjoyable. I will definitely consider going back to Katsucon, especially since it’s going to be at the Gaylord National for years to come, if I don’t add it to my personal convention circuit. Hopefully by next year they’ll have gotten rid of that odd, fishy smell.

When Ari isn’t writing for Anime Jam Session or catching Pokemans, he’s writing for the Philadelphia Examiner, swing by and take a look at his reviews.

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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2 Responses to “Ari Rockefeller presents: Katsucon 2011 — This Time Will Be Different!”

  1. Hi, Ari! I'm really glad that you had a better time at Katsucon this year than you had in the past. I just wanted to chime in on something you had mentioned. That fishy smell was, believe it or not, the new carpet that they had put into the convention center side of the hotel. I have no idea why the smell was fishy but it certainly was. I had been at the hotel a month prior when they put it in and had hoped that it would wear off by the con but unfortunately, it was still there. 🙁 Thankfully, it will *have* to be gone by next year!!

    Thanks again!
    Christine Larson
    Co-Chair, Katsucon 18 in 2012

  2. @Christine Larson

    New carpets? Huh…I never would've expected that.

    Thank you for clearing that up.

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