Another Anime Convention 2022—You Weren’t Using That Soul Anyway, or Worst. Con Swag. Ever.

The end of summer brings about a lot for people, such as the end of the beach/pool season, the lessening of daylight as the winter months approach, and for us at Anime Jam Session, our yearly sojourn up to New England for what is turning into one of our favorite anime conventions to go to.

Another Anime Convention took place in Westford, MA at the Westford Recency Inn, which is the same place it took place in last year. So, props to them for getting consistency with their locations. It must feel an incredible relief not having to jump around from city to city, bopping all around New England from year to year. I’ve spoken at length about the accommodations last year, and with the hotel remaining essentially the same, there’s little use in repeating myself on the matter.

But one thing that hasn’t changed about the trip up to AAC is the length of the journey; at over 5 hours and over 250 miles one way, it’s an excruciating trek that there isn’t an easy way around…and only less so for my traveling companion picked up along the way.

I left a little after 11—a little later than I wanted to, since my aim was to get to NYC by noon to pick up Ranma. Once that was done, we set off out of the city and through New England, with the typical array of traffic, bad drivers, and rest stop chicanery along the way. At the very least, there weren’t any major car crashes, unlike last year. And the road signs in Connecticut are as aesthetically pleasing as always.

We got to the hotel just a little after dark, with our room for the weekend being set at the very end of one of the longer hallways—which ranged from inconvenient at best to a serious drain on my morale and energy at worst. Combine this with being in a lot of pain walking around or staying on my feet for too long, and it made planning what panels I wanted to visit, where I wanted to go to eat, etc. call for incredible precision, lest I wind up in too much pain to do anything but sit there and not pay attention while trying to recover. At least the room itself was nice. The couch pulled out into a bed, which made things a little cramped if you had to get up in the middle of the night, but it otherwise meant no one was sleeping on the floor.

As we’ve said many times on the show, the days of packing half-a-dozen or more into a room for a con are long gone.

The rest of Thursday evening was spent between getting provisions from a nearby grocery store for the weekend, ordering dinner from a local Pho bowl joint—the same one we were at last year, which was much better for me this time around—and getting our badges for the con.

I got an early start Friday morning, though the events didn’t start until at least around 1:00, which left me plenty of free time on my hands. So I went to the pool for a little while—same as it was last time I was here, with very few people actually using it at the time…and even fewer who actually knew there was a convention that weekend. Nothing I haven’t experienced before. After swimming for a little while, I got properly ready for the day, and went to get breakfast. The hotel, thankfully, had a breakfast buffet going that weekend. The price was decent for the standard breakfast fare they had, though closing at 10:00 was a little early for my liking. I may have also caused a misunderstanding with the wait staff, as I arrived to eat about five minutes before closing…without noticing when breakfast service ended. This also caused a bunch of other con goers to also not notice they had since closed and tried to get seated as well. It was very awkward.

It was still several hours before my first panel, which gave me plenty of time to kill. The game room was in the same part of the convention as it was last year, complete with DDR and Rock Band setups at the far end of the room. Competition was fairly robust, though without having to wait too long to get into a game when desired.

The first panel I wound up going to was at 3:00 PM, and it was called “Hand Sewing Basics.” Now, given the context, this was clearly designed as a beginner’s guide to dewing when preparing one’s cosplay. But I was more interested in learning mostly to repair my own clothing at home without having to find a tailor (or more likely, a dry cleaner) to patch up any unsightly holes. Both are perfectly acceptable motivations. The people who ran the panel gave everyone a little baggie with sewing supplies (the panel was held in a conference room with rows of built-in desks), bits of scrap cloth, as well as illustrated guides on how to do several common stitches. And they let you keep the supplies they gave you, which really come in handy at home when trying to remember how to do them.

Later on, I headed over to “Anime Theme Bingo.” Which is exactly what it sounds like. Everyone who came in was given a bingo card, with numerous series titles printed on them. They put their laptop’s playlist on random and let it go, playing a snippet of a theme before moving on. Now I didn’t expect to win right away, but it was about a half hour into the panel before I got even a single mark on my card that wasn’t the free space. Prizes were given out to the first three people who got bingo, but by the time the panel ended, I wasn’t even close.

…at least everyone would mark out over themes to shows we haven’t seen in a while?

The next panel I attended was one I knew I’d have to hit up just by the title alone: “Shou Tucker Did Nothing Wrong.” Now, admittedly, I came into this panel expecting this to be a trolly defense of one of the most reprehensible things done in anime, something that still hangs over the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise like a lead shroud, and how the very mention of the man’s name causes a barrage of groans, winces, and bracing for references to dogs and small children. But there was a lot more to it than that. While the panelist admitted his actions were reprehensible from a viewer’s standpoint, within the story itself, it was meant as a way to advance scientific understanding. He drew comparisons to The Jungle and similar works of the era that (unintentional as they were) led to changes in things like how food was prepared, safety conditions in factories, slaughterhouses, etc.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the entire panel, as I was suddenly task to film the “AAC Whose Line Is It Anyway: 18+ Edition.” Like any 18+ panel, there was absolutely no chill to be had anywhere, and panelists and contestants took great pleasure in taking shots at each other, the audience, one staffer in particular, and generally left the audience in the kind of pained laughter that suggests one or more souls had been lost that evening. Good times.

The last panel I attended that evening was another one I had been tasked with recording…and it was another 18+ panel, the “18+ Cosplay Dating Game.” This was about ten times worse/better than the previous panel, and both I and Ranma—who popped in towards the back half—were completely gobsmacked by what we got to watch. There were three “games,” the first all-female, the other two all-male. I can’t promise the YouTube videos of the panels won’t get our channel immediately deleted, but just know this: you’ll never look at how Kratos says “boy” the same way ever again.

The rest of Friday night was spent hanging out in the room, watching TV, and having the occasional drink. We didn’t bring that much liquor this weekend, just a bottle of vanilla vodka I brought from home that made for some pretty good mixers. Saturday got off to a slow start, mostly due to nothing starting so early in the morning. But then again, the smaller, more relaxed atmosphere of a con like this has really become part of its appeal. I at least remembered to get breakfast at a more reasonable hour this time, thankfully. The buffet was so much better when everything was fresh and hot.

While the game room was fun, they also had a separate room for tabletop gaming nearby. To check out any of the games, you had to sign them out and let the attendant hold onto your con badge as collateral. I can understand security being an issue, but something about this system was a little bit…off putting. I didn’t spend much time in the tabletop room, actually…then again, it looked like there was only one or two games of anything going at once. Needless to say, it wouldn’t have been any fun.

The first panel I saw on Saturday was called the “Bad Summary Game,” which was the explain-a-plot-badly shtick in panel form. It started out with just anime, but as the game went on and people kept guessing the names more quickly, the panelist was quickly running out of steam, and wound up improvising a bunch of them in the last ten minutes or so.

Another panel I attended, another which also caught my attention based on title alone, was called “Sword Lesbians in Anime.” It was a discussion about storylines involving female characters taking on typically male roles in their respective societies—most commonly, ladies who would ordinarily be princesses taking the role of a prince, and all that it entails. Swordplay is a recurring element in the archetype, though not mandatory. The panelists also explained influences of the genre included classic fairy tales and things such as Noh theater, specifically the Takarazuka Revue, famous for its all-female cast, with the otokoyaku (male) roles being the top stars of the show…with top billing. It was definitely more than what I expected to learn about, and it made me want to get into watching Revolutionary Girl Utena, one of the works they discussed.

But the one panel I was most looking forward to for the entire weekend was “Anime Press Your Luck” in the main hall. Another incarnation of the game show Press Your Luck with anime questions, answers, and board spaces/prizes, this time run by Big Bucks Entertainment game shows. The game show was very well put together, and thankfully used the modern 2021 layout and values on the big board. I was lucky enough to not only get on the show itself, during the first of its two games, but I ended up winning, too. If you’ve seen BBE’s Facebook page, you probably saw the preview of the game in which I hit a Whammy and get my soul ripped out of my body; in context, I was up over $55,000 and hadn’t hit a Whammy yet, and my misfortune was almost universally accredited to the host jinxing it. I won’t spoil the rest of the game for you, because, as the host said, it was one of the most dramatic he had seen in a long time. The prizes were based on the winner’s total earnings at the end of the game (the prizes were mostly there for anime themed flavor). For every $20,000 you earned, you got to pick a prize from their prize box. And they weren’t some cheap things, either; one of the winners walked off with, among other things, a nice pair of cat-eared, light-up headphones. It was a ton of fun all around.

Screencaps grabbed moments before disaster

Sadly, for me, I didn’t attend any other panels that night. The rest of my time at the con was spent either wandering around, hitting up the game room some more, or just spending time in the room, watching TV, and finishing off the rest of our alcohol, as well as anything else we weren’t going to take home with us. I didn’t bother going to the artists’ alley or dealers’ room—not for a lack of money to spend, quite the opposite. At the last few cons I’ve attended, I’ve always made sure to bring plenty of money on hand, but it mostly gets spent on food, gas, and occasionally tolls and/or parking. Being left with any other spending money always makes me think, “I shouldn’t spend it on this, I might need it on something more important back home” or something to that effect. It’s very paradoxical, I know. I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

The con wound down on Sunday, with the main focus being on packing up, loading up the car and going home. We stopped off at a local place called Mac-n-Choose, a gourmet mac-and-cheese restaurant that serves platters of, well, mac-and-cheese with all kinds of flavors and extras imaginable. We got our orders to go, though I had to wait until I got completely home to eat mine. It didn’t help that even the small orders looked gigantic; the large looked like it came in a cast iron skillet—a normal one you’d use for cooking at home. The traffic getting out of New England was much worse than going up, and once again, we did not make it to NYC before nightfall. I must’ve been on the road for at least eight hours by the time I finally got home, tired, but able to enjoy my mac-n-cheese.

There are a bunch of things I’d do differently about AAC, but they’re all personal and health related things that have no bearing on the con itself. It doesn’t change the fact that I’ve really come to enjoy going up to New England for the weekend and I’m already looking forward to next year, waiting on the date announcement with great anticipation.

Oh, and I got sick the days after the con. All the vaccinating, masking up, and doing everything suggested to stop the spread of disease couldn’t stop me from catching COVID at a convention. Granted, I only missed a few days of work (with pay) and I do wonder what kind of effects it’ll have on me in the long run, but it still sucked.

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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