Zenkaikon 2018 – Pain is Just Normalcy Leaving the Body

It’s almost unheard of for a convention to cause me actual physical pain, but that’s precisely the theme of the convention this weekend. Not that it was entirely my fault…

Zenkaikon returned to the Lancaster County Convention Center for another year of anime chicanery deep in the heart of Amish country. A favorite smaller convention of the rest of the staff, I was growing more and more in to the con the more I came to it. It might not have the same impact on me as Otakon, but it’s wedged itself into my heart in its own fashion.


I arrived in Lancaster on Thursday afternoon, having taken the route through Delaware and up through Pennsylvania, undoubtedly the scenic route for this convention. It was mid afternoon when I arrived at the hotel, got into the room, and got everything unpacked and settled in. Now we’ve all come to see the Thursday of the con as “Day 0”, wherein we rest and just hang out, gearing up for the con the next day, and getting our badges ahead of time—thankfully without incident. But what was especially fun about this particular Thursday was that we were all down in the pool, swimming, conversing with other con goers, having all sorts of fun (and yes, the hot tub that I had a hand in decommissioning remained decommissioned). It was especially exhilarating for me because I’ve wanted everyone to hang out in the pool for some time and it almost never happened. The only down side to this encounter was that with everyone splashing and displacing the pool water all around, the tiles around the pool turned abnormally slick. I didn’t fall and eat total shit, thankfully, but I did wind up dropping into an odd position, which also led to a constant, low, nagging pain in both my back and my right knee. These would persist throughout the weekend.


This pain didn’t quite stop me from waking up Friday morning early and going out to the farmer’s market, getting some breakfast in the form of the eternally coveted maple bacon donuts. I browed the various other shops for other goods, having contemplated bringing home some unique blocks of cheese, but ultimately forgot about it over the course of the weekend. I’m sure the other wares the other merchants were peddling were nice, but I found myself falling into the paradox of hoping to have enough money to do the convention weekend comfortably but not wanting to spend it, especially on what could’ve been stuff that just sat around collecting dust.


Once I made it back to the hotel, I went and got around to the panels proper…though in quite a bit of pain. The first one I attended was “On the Edge: Tackling Sexuality in Anime/Manga.” The primary issue of this panel was not just LGBTQ representation in manga and anime, but how, with the changing attitudes of the past decade or so, it’s treated with more and more respect instead of being the sole defining trait of a character or, worse, a punchline. There is still a lot of progress still to be made, though, as a country like Japan can’t be expected to just change its attitudes in the blink of an eye. But they’re getting better.


After that, the panel “Back to the Farm: Why Stardew Valley picks up where Harvest Moon left off” was one I was especially looking forward to. As they’re both rather calm farming simulators (on the surface), I’ve been a fan of Harvest Moon since the 64 iteration, and Stardew Valley has been incredible since the first time I played it, despite the hiccups in implementing all the advertised features. Aside from having similar hallmarks of its inspiration—great music, wide varieties of crops to grow, interesting characters throughout town—Stardew Valley tackles a few topics that HM didn’t, such as domestic and familial strife, PTSD and emotional issues, and same-sex marriages, a feature long since sought out by HM fans but never implemented.


The next panel was another one that had grabbed my attention, “American Anime: The Ultimate Oxymoron?”. The thesis was that more and more American animators were laying claim to the description of “anime” to their works. It also asks if “American anime” is an oxymoron, which should go without saying, since “anime” as the rest of the world knows it, is animation created in Japan by Japanese animators and artists, while in Japan, “anime” is a catch-all term encompassing any animation, regardless of its country of origin. Simple enough. Yes, there has been heavy influence on the rest of the world by anime, and there’s nothing wrong with claiming it as an inspiration or an influence, but those who go by the definition will find that, yeah, it is an oxymoron. What more is there to discuss?


Another convention staple for this part of the world was “Greggo’s Game Shows: Press Your Luck.” The classic game show with a nerdy coat of paint to it was back for another year. I didn’t get to participate, but the winning contestant won big and got what I presume was a good hall of merch from their winnings.


After getting dinner, I made my way over to the +2 Comedy Anime Stand-up Comedy panel. The folks at +2 Comedy each went on with their own individual sets, and their brand of nerdy humor was a perfect fit for the convention. I always look forward to their performances, either this or their Cosplay Wrestling events.


Saturday was more of the same, walking around in quite a lot of pain as my body still was not happy with the little slip I had on Thursday night. I got my typical breakfast from the farmer’s market (sans maple bacon donuts, sadly), and headed out to take in the sights again. The first panel I hit up was “Anime Openers from Around the World”. I might have attended a similar panel at another convention somewhere down the line, or maybe it’s because when the panel just plays the openings and/or closings as the bulk of its visual appeals, they tend to run together. Either way, it was a comparison of opening sequences from anime series that get sent to other countries. The panelists were especially bemused by the fact that America got the shortest end of the stick when they got an anime series. While such classics as “Cha La Head Cha La” and “Moonlight Densetsu” were translated into other languages, we got either generic rock, expository and/or roll-call style lyrics, or cringey attempts at “rap”. And the less said about the first openings to One Piece and Pokémon, the better.


There were two game rooms again this year, one for tabletop gaming, the other for video games. I didn’t spend too much time in the former, but the latter took up a good bit of down time for me. I wasn’t expecting anything new, though a nice touch was the retro stations along the back wall did have an actual Famicom system, something which I’ve had little opportunity to use in my life. Sadly, no copies of Takeshi’s Challenge were around.


We took some time to sit down and interview several of the con guests, which will no doubt appear on our YouTube channel. The last panel I checked out that day was another +2 panel, “+2 Comedy Presents Game the Gamer”. The premise is that 4 gamers are given a set amount of cash that they get to keep if they win…but in the meantime, they can spend that money before each round on advantages or to keep themselves from getting disadvantages. First choice of controllers is the most common, but in the later rounds the stipulations get worse and worse, and could be things like weighing someone down and making them jump, handcuffing them, or just straight-up sticking them with the most weird, broke-ass, jank controllers they could find. Ever wonder what someone would look like playing Smash Bros. Brawl with a controller from a professional bowling game? I didn’t, not until I saw it for myself. Still beats Project M, though.


The rest of Saturday was spent getting dinner, as well as bouncing around the convention, hitting up the game rooms, taking pictures, and occasionally walking in to a video room to see what was playing, if only to get away from the noise of the rest of the convention for a few minutes. And drinking in the hotel room. This is a con, after all.


Sunday was spent packing up, loading up our cars, and generally winding down the weekend. We scored a few cosplayer interviews here and there, but I had to leave rather early, as I was invited to watch WWE Backlash that evening with some other friends. If I had known what a lackluster and underwhelming pay-per-view it would be, I wouldn’t have been so eager to join them. Or, at the very least, take a little more time to leave Lancaster and get home.


With each passing year, I look forward to Zenkaikon more and more, and much like my other hosts, the con is really starting to grow on me to the point where it’s my second most looked-forward-to convention of the year, with Otakon still sitting in the lofty top slot. Though part of me does feel like Otakon would have to hit a major skid and the wheels fly completely off for it to be unseated at this point. Still, if every Zenkaikon just gets better and better with each passing year, it might be my new favorite convention to visit. I don’t know where it would go if it does inevitably outgrow Lancaster’s convention center. Maybe it’ll hook up with a hotel that has a working hot tub sometime in the future.

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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