Zenkaikon 2019 – Conning in an Amish Paradise

When someone says they are, or at the very least, have, gone through Amish country, primarily in either central Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio, they’re usually going to explore and enjoy the vast, mostly pristine countryside, enjoy Amish artisanal craft goods ranging from food to home decorations, or to just straight-up gawk and stare at the technologically reserved people living there (because people can be quite rotten sometimes). But when you ask us what we’re doing in Amish country, we’ll tell you we’re going there to an anime convention.

We can be weird like that sometimes.

Zenkaikon was back for another year, at its very comfortable digs at the Lancaster Convention Center for another year of anime and game related fun. Our crew was looking forward to this con, and we made sure to make the most of our time here.

Thursday took me straight from work down through the soft underbelly of Pennsylvania, remembering that the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s tolls were an exercise in extortion and prices that can and do get raised on a whim. Not that I minded; the countryside going up through PA to Lancaster was much more pleasing to the eye than the multiple lanes of concrete and asphalt that had little of interest to look at, save for billboards describing just how and why I am going to hell (like I need any more reminders). The trip was otherwise uneventful and I got to the Marriott attached to the convention center and soon settled in.

The first thing I noticed was there was quite a bit of construction going on at the hotel. For one, the little bar/diner/pub that is usually immediately to the left upon entering was instead shuffled off to the main hotel’s lobby. The city had approved nearly $40 million in renovation and expansion for the hotel, which meant another tower for rooms and hotel space, while the bar would simply have to make do until the renovations were complete. Everything I could find about the renovations had the start point well before the start of the con, which I’m assuming means it’ll be done by next year, or significant progress will have been made. Either way, they still had good alcohol and food specials, which differed each day of the con. The $5 for a medium pizza at the bar was great when you couldn’t eat sushi with the rest of your squad.

The pool was still there, as always, doing pool things, but all the times I checked in on it, no one else was there, the water wasn’t too warm, and the hot tub remained boarded over and forgotten. So not the most fun time I’ve had at a hotel’s pool area.

Friday got off to a good start, even if the topic of the first panel made me laugh in derision and resignation. “Otaku Parenting: How to Share Your Fandom with Your Family” was a good informational panel about how to introduce other members of your family into your interests, be they younger or older than you. I, unfortunately, wouldn’t benefit from this too much, as their coldness and anger were partly what drew me to anime and to dive deeper into gaming in the first place (though that’s another story completely). But nothing against sharing with those who would be interested in hearing about your interests; if you can bond with family members over some anime or game, good for you.

I made my way over to the panel “Still Dreaming: 20 Years of SEGA Dreamcast” shortly thereafter, seeing how it was a system way ahead of its time, only to suffer an ignoble, undeserved slow decline and fall into obscurity. It also served as a history lesson for the console, nothing that some of the bigger fans of the system didn’t know already, though the panelists pointed out how some of the hottest and best-selling titles on the system came out in its first year. Though it was interesting to learn about the other features of the system I didn’t know it had. Too bad it went out the way it did; it had so much more potential.

The next panel I came to was “Failed Americanized Anime.” Part of me immediately thought that it would be about “‘American’ Anime” despite the oxymoronic nature of such a phrase. But no. It was worse than that. It was about how other titles were adapted for American audiences regardless of the source material. Now here, I could just type “Saban Moon” and start a new paragraph, but little did I know that there were other titles made with Sailor Moon in mind. And they were far worse. Such as there being four girls who turned into (shoddy looking) angels to fight evil. And there were only four of them. Suffice to say, we were all baffled by what we saw. Oh, Children Driving Robots…you never cease to amaze and stupefy.

I once again fell in with Mr. Dunbar and his panel on “Samurai Stories.” It was a long history of the samurai culture and class in Japan, as well as stories about individual samurai exploits, the exploits of the 47 Ronin, how Samurai are portrayed in pop culture, as well as anecdotes about Yasuke, an African man from Mozambique who became a samurai for Nobunaga. I’ve always been drawn to samurai stories like this, and it was a very captivating panel to sit in on.

I was so glad I got to catch +2 Comedy’s stand up special again, Noah Houlihan always puts on entertaining sets. His story about how he got concussed wrestling for CHIKARA, on the first collar-and-elbow tie-up at the start of the match, worked the match to a finish, then did a stand-up routine that he absolutely does not remember never fails to make me laugh, along with his other retinue of jokes and stories.          Laura Prince was also entertaining, but what really got everyone going was the open Q&A at the end of the panel, where we could ask whatever geek related question we could think of. After he brought up how Pikachu talked in the Pokémon: I Choose You movie, I advanced the theory that it was just a hallucination brought on by a bad concussion…much to Noah’s chagrin.

There was much ado about nothing on Friday after that, aside from occasionally wandering around the game rooms and taking pictures of other peoples’ cosplays. Saturday was off to a much better start, as I got to participate in the “Gameshow IMPOSSIBRU!” panel put on by the always entertaining Manly Battleships troupe. The first “round” was simply them playing random opening themes to anime, cartoons, what have you from the 80s until now. Whoever got a guess right got a piece of candy; these would be critical for the rest of the show. I was one of the top earners, if you will, having gotten some rather obscure themes right, which surprised and delighted the panelists. The top 4 winners got to act as captains for ¼ of the audience, each, for the final round, where you had to write down the answers to the 10 themes they would play. And while other captains opted for some rather uninspired team names, I went with the simple “city name—nickname” format that had benefitted sports for as long as anyone could remember. And thus, the Lancaster Fightin’ Amish were born. One of the panelists thought this was one of the best names he ever heard. I entered into a 3-way tie, only to lose on tiebreakers and only get a shirt out of the deal. Not bad, though the winner got comped next year’s badge, which was incredible for them.

By the way, were you picturing a Fightin’ Irish logo but with an Amish man instead of a leprechaun? Good, because that was what I was going for.

And while we’re on the subject of Amish country, I would be remiss if I failed to mention my exploits in and around the city. The mornings were spent wandering over to the nearby Farmers’ Market for breakfast and browsing. The holy grail of breakfast pastries, the Maple Bacon Donuts of Shady Maple Bakery, were ripe for the pickings, as was the individual (read: pint) milk bottles that look like shrunken down gallon milk jugs, with all their delicious flavors. That was just during the morning. A good bit of Saturday afternoon was spent wandering around Lancaster, exploring numerous small shops in out-of-the-way locales, including the Dragonfly and the Rabbit coffee house. While we were idling in a nearby courtyard, we stumbled upon the Lancaster Pickle Company, and while I’m not a fan of pickles, I followed one of our friends inside mostly to get out of the chilly winds. Though they did have other delights such as flavored pretzel pieces and covered pretzel balls, which I didn’t hesitate to pick up after trying a sample. All in all, very good stuff. This is the best part about small-town cons when you’re not at the con itself, exploring the city and finding little hole-in-the-wall places like this.

I helped film an interview with Monica Rial for the site, and it went over well despite some technical issues. After that, it was on to “Pokémon: The Original Dark Journey.” While I’m always one to go to a Pokémon panel regardless of what it would be about (usually), I had some reservations on how this would just be an (over)analysis of every single grimdark, edgy, or otherwise needlessly mean or nasty copypasta about the Pokémon universe…especially when I and most other longtime fans are sick and tired of hearing about them. No, this was about analyzing the PokéDex and seeing just how these abilities and traits of various Pokémon would work if they were taken to their logical conclusion. Now that I type it as I recount the panel, I have a feeling at least one fanfic was written exploring this very same scenario.

The rest of Saturday night was spent rather slowly, with a few of us chilling in the room, having the occasional drink, and watching the Food Network…either getting ideas or just riffing on whatever was playing. The finale to the weekend came at Noon with the Cosplay Pro Wrestling panel in the main hall, which I always look forward to. The card as always was very entertaining, with the highlight of the day going to Killmonger accidentally making Robin eat total shit when he made him fly completely out of the ring off a turnbuckle powerbomb. Noah’s Giovanni was a giggling, ham-fisted assclown as always, which is infinitely enjoyable. But the real swerve came when über-heel Luigi reconciled with Mario and gave way to the Bullet Bill Club. I wasn’t sure if they had merchandise on hand just for starting that angle, but I would’ve been all over it. And I typically spend little to no money on con merch anymore. Thankfully, Tee-Public is your hookup in that regard.

All that was left for me was to leave, having packed up in the early morning hours and gotten everything squared away so I could relax, enjoy the last panel, and not have to worry about anything else; just get in the car and go. The only major bump in the road came from having to wait over half an hour at a PA Turnpike rest stop for the cooks to finish making my order. And it wasn’t even that crowded either. Another reason to avoid PA’s toll roads, if you will. Besides the outrageous prices, anyhow.

Ultimately, Zenkaikon was a success for me as well as the convention itself. It was always lively, there was always something to do, and I do enjoy my treks out into Lancaster during the day. There hasn’t been anything to really deter me from coming to the city or the con in all the trips I’ve made out there, and I don’t see that trend changing any time soon. And with the impending renovations to the hotel coming, I can’t wait to see how the convention grows along with it.

And I still maintain that that “Saban Moon” tape should’ve stayed in that storage locker.

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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