Zenkaikon 2022 – Did You Miss Me, Lancaster?

I can’t begin to tell you about how much I missed going to conventions (though I may have mentioned it once or twice before). And while I may have consolidated the number of cons I go to in any given year, especially after the plague times have fallen upon us, that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. Especially with a con like that that I have been looking forward to for a long time, and very much enjoy going back to. Which is how I finally, finally found myself back in Lancaster county one fine Spring weekend.

We finally made our way back to Zenkaikon in Lancaster, PA, at the Lancaster County Convention Center, with us staying at the Lancaster Marriott once again. As beloved as this convention has become with us, suffice to say, anticipation was heavy leading up to it.

I got a good start bright and early on Thursday, rolling out to pick up the rest of the crew at the 30th St. Station in Philly. And in my brand new car, no less; this would be the first time my new ride, a ‘21 Camry TRD which I have named and classed like an F-Zero machine, the “Bottomless Inkwell” (C-B-A). The ride from the station was fairly uneventful, but it was made aware that, every time we drive out to Zenkaikon, we end up taking a different route. And this time, we ended up driving through more than a few back roads and small towns between Philly and Lancaster; we even ran across an actual Waffle House, which I didn’t think were located this far north.

Regardless, I always pride myself on making good time getting to a convention, and we got to the hotel in plenty of time to rest, get settled in, get our badges, and wait for the rest of our people to show up. We didn’t get to go to the pool this year due to the pool area being closed. Because the water was green. For whatever reason, the pool had fallen into such disrepair that it was closed completely off, with other hotel guests and/or con goers learning about its state through peeking in through the closed doors. I tell you, that part of the hotel has really gone downhill since they closed off the hot tub. At the very least they had an entire new tower built by the time the con came around, and we wound up in one of the newer areas. Everything was especially nice and clean, no doubt because it hadn’t been used as much.

The weekend’s festivities got underway for the lot of us first by hitting up the new rooftop bar The Exchange for drinks, before we made our way over to Decades for dinner. I had been to barcade style places before, but what set this one apart was its facade—that is to say, it looked like it was made from an old high school…with the gymnasium hosting the event itself. The food was good, if a bit pricey, and the drinks were decent as well, especially since they had nerdy themed beverages on their menu. About ⅓ was for dining, another third was for gaming, and the other was for a six lane bowling alley. And while my relation with bowling has been contentious to say the least, it would’ve been fun to stay around and bowl with everyone. Maybe next year. And after the issues I had with being blown up from walking over there to the excessively rude Uber driver carrying my half-dead carcass home, I’ll absolutely be driving us over; I don’t care if I’m the designated driver.

Thankfully, Friday started off much better than the night before, soreness notwithstanding. I did get breakfast at the Two Kings, which was a glorified breakfast buffet. Okay food, but too overpriced for my taste.

My first panel wasn’t until around noon or so, which gave me plenty of time to wander around, hit up the game rooms—tabletop and gaming, like last time—and generally enjoy the feeling of being back at a convention. Yes, I still had AAC the previous autumn, but that still felt like a lifetime ago. And it’s not a trip to Lancaster without hitting up the farmers market across the street, cockeyed hours and all. I did manage to score a maple bacon doughnut, as well as flavored milk in miniature gallon bottles, so all was good on that front.

My first panel for the con was called “Hideo Kojima Understands American Culture Better Than You”, and with a title like that, my attention was grabbed from the moment I read about it in the guide book. It was a long look at the body of work of Hideo Kojima, and how he, essentially a pop culture junkie before the term could be even coined, took countless amounts of inspiration from American movies, television, and the like, when crafting, among other things, the Metal Gear franchise. It was a very fun, and quite animated discussion put on by the panelists.

Next up was “The Sword & The Pen: Writing the Effective Fight Scene in Genre Fiction”. This was another one that spoke to me on title alone (I swear this is not a trend, trust me), but it was also very informative as a writer. Putting pen to paper and trying to convey action sequences is always a challenge, as it can be incredibly difficult to convey what you’re imagining when you’re writing versus what the reader sees—or how it’s shown in other adaptations. They can be incredibly difficult to navigate, and just as a good fight scene can draw you in, a bad one can eject you clear out of the narrative; the incredibly clunky, comically bad example they read out—from an actual book, keep in mind—really set the tone for the panel. And here I thought trying to convey multiple people talking a) at once, or b) over one another was difficult.

Another panel that I was definitely looking forward to was “Selfie Squares with Many Battleships.” Game Show panels can be pretty hit-or-miss, but with Uncle Yo acting as a guest host, Manly Battleships was on fire with their take on the Hollywood Squares show format. Had this been an 18+ panel, I have no doubt that the humor would’ve been exceptionally dark.

Of course, we at Anime Jam Session support out own in our various endeavors, and that meant I absolutely dropped in on “Anime Conventions 101: A First Time Con Goer’s Guide” by our very own La Chocola. And while I have never done my own panel myself, I have to give her credit through working through first-time jitters, one could call it. Someone who’s new to going to conventions could certainly learn a lot from a pane like hers.

The rest of the night was mostly uneventful besides that, with a lot of my time spent in the game room. Which was especially satisfying since they not only had a bevy of fighting games available, but in cabinet form as well! Seated cabinets, too, which was a great relief for my aching body, still sore from the previous night! It felt good playing 3rd Strike and Capcom VS. SNK 2 again, even if the competition from others was hit or miss…and you can only deal with the AI’s bullshit for so long before you go and look for something else to play.

And this was the Japanese version, so I also got to see—and cause—the “FINEST KO!” screen. Good times.

I had another panel planned for Saturday morning to attend, but it was nixed in favor of going to board game tournaments. The first of which was in Settlers of Catan, which ran two pods of four, the top two in each pod (one of which I ended up winning) moving on to the finals, which was Star Trek: Catan. I had never played this—or any other—variant of the main game, as my experience with licensed board game products has always been “License + Game = reskin of main game” with nothing new to add. I’m looking directly at you, Monopoly. This one ended up having mechanics and abilities more in line with the series itself, which was a very refreshing change of pace. I ended up coming in second by a narrow margin, and walked out with a consolatory card game. Which…I have misplaced and currently cannot find. At least the experience was fun. The second tournament was a game I had never heard of, much less played before, Red Dragon Inn, a game about a band of RPG adventurers…who head to the titular in to celebrate their questing by getting shitfaced and partying like there’s no tomorrow. I’m not kidding, either; when I learned one of the mechanics was to keep your life total as high above your intoxication level as possible or you pass out and are out of the game, I was in hysterics. But, alas, my inexperience showed, and I was the first one out of this particular game. Definitely makes me want to pick it up at some point.

While I was in between tournaments, I had checked out another couple of games, mostly to kill time. I was looking at another version of Azul, which revolved around stained glass instead of glazed tile, when a staffer had noticed it and commented that it was just like a similar game, Sagarda, which came out about a year before. So we (and a third player) played it, and it was surprisingly fun to play. By strategically placing d6s with respect to their colors and results, you create beautiful stained glass displays. I’m not sure which one I might buy in the future, though it’s likely I could end up with both at some point.

It’s not very often that the color of the dice itself plays a factor in a game. That was different.

After that was “Pokémon: Another Dark Journey.” And “Another” was very much the operative word. If you went into this thinking it was going to be another grimdark take on the Pokémon franchise and how screwed up things can really be in the world if taken at absolute face value…you’d be right. It certainly wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before, and certainly nothing the fandom had long since grown tired of.

Thankfully, the last two panels of the day would more than make up for it. “The Awesomus Show! Rated M for Mature” took place in the Tellus 360 club across the street from the con, which was hosted by Awesomus Prime. They put on a hell of a show, using the Superfight card game format, appealing to the crowd to best argue their who-would-win-in-a-fight arguments, often with nonsensical stipulations added to each round. Whoever got the biggest pop from the crowd took the point. It was a hell of a show; of course now I’ll have to determine whether or not Superfight is worth purchasing.

And to close off the night, I attended “Guests Against Humanity” which starred Manly Battleships and Carolina Manga Library—the people running the manga library at the convention. Two of the panelists were also cosplaying Dipper and Mabel Pines from Gravity Falls, staying in character for the entire event, which only added to the line-crossing hilarity.

Sadly, all good things had to come to an end, and we set out early Sunday afternoon to get home. We stopped for lunch on the way back, and—once again—took a route that got us back to at least Philadelphia in the same time frame, and was vastly different from the road we took up there. These moments of going our separate ways always suck, even if you fully subscribe to the “this too shall pass” mentality, but above all else, I just enjoyed hanging out with my friends in a convention setting. At least everyone got home safely.

I can’t begin to describe how good it felt to travel up to Zenkaikon, to enjoy Pennsylvania Dutch country while going to what is becoming one of my favorite conventions, especially with Otakon not back in Baltimore as of yet. And throw in the fact that this is my first con I attended after turning 40, so throw in some existential dread for good measure.

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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