Thursday, July 16, 2015

What to do at an Anime Convention

I'm sorry for so late a post guys.  I've had a very tiring week and just couldn't finish editing anything.  I should be back to my regular posting schedule starting Saturday.  
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I've written about cons for a bit now and I keep mentioning that there are all these things that you can do at cons but not saying specifically what those things are. Well, this post here is meant to rectify that.  Here is a list of things to do at an Anime Convention (because that's the only kind of con I've been to).

The Dealers Hall

I've often been dismissive of the Dealers Hall.  Mostly because I don't really need anything from there anymore, my tastes tent to go in the more mature direction (josei and seinen) than the popular shonen and shoujo trends. Also I mostly buy manga and I can get that cheaper at my local shop. Still, the Dealers Hall can be a very fun place to visit. 
A few tips:
1.   Sunday is deal day since many dealers don't want to carry merchandise back with them. The best sales happen Sunday afternoon.
2.   If you want limited edition things you should line up early on Friday because they sell out fast.
3.   Don't be afraid to ask for a discount. If you are spending a lot of money vendors may be open to giving you a better deal than the one advertised.

Artists Alley

Be careful with this one. I say that because I've managed to spend $300 there in the span of an hour before. Artists Alley is a place for people to sell their fan made art, products, toys, original comics or books, fashion, jewelry, etc. Depending on the con it may be divided between art products such as prints and bookmarks etc. and crafts such as clothing, accessories, toys, and jewelry.  It’s a great place to check out especially if you like to buy art. It's usually located in the same area or right beside the Dealers Hall.  I would suggest giving yourself a hard spending limit to avoid overspending because the temptation will be crazy. 

Panels

So, this is the main reason I go to cons. I love panels. What are they, you may ask? Well, panels are small (or large, depending on the topic) discussion groups usually moderated by or presented by a few people (can range from one to ten depending on what the topic is).  At anime cons these panels tend to be either lecture style panels or participation panels where one or two panelists moderate a discussion between the attendees through questions or activities. 

Topics can range from discussions of Pokemon games to 18+ panels about kinks in yaoi manga.  They are often run by attendees and so can be hit or miss for quality so I suggest looking through the con's forum to find out which ones were interesting. If you feel like it you may even want to try running a panel yourself. Many cons will give you a refund on your pass if you run a certain number of panels or a partial refund or prize if you run one or two.  Check out my post on tips to run a successful panel if you are interested in trying it out.

Screenings

Screenings are just what they sound like, screenings of shows or movies at a specific time. They are usually organized around a theme of some sort such as best shows of the 90's or new shoujo anime released this year. Screenings are a great way to relax and sit down for a bit. I like to use them to check out things I've never seen before or even just to take a nap.

Major Events

I'm lumping many things into this category because major events tend to be one offs that will only happen once during the whole con. Things here include music guests, dances, the AMV contest (which tends to be a pretty big thing), certain display shows such as Japanese drumming, etc. The events will usually be displayed on the con website and will also be in both the program booklet and the schedule booklet that you receive along with your badge. Check the con's website every so often to see what events are planned as they often get added throughout the year as guests confirm their attendance and as the schedule begins to take shape.  Be aware that some events may have an extra free involved (Such and the Sunday Brunch) while others may have an attendance cap.

Contests

These are fun. They come in many shapes and sizes. Some, like fan fiction contests need submissions before the con and do the prize giveaways during it.  Others are more like game shows where attendees can compete for a small prize.  I don't have much more to say about these because I don't really go to them but a lot of people enjoy then so try checking one out and see how you like it.

Cosplay

Oooohhhh, the most visible part of the con experience! Cosplay can be tons of fun and may very well become the main reason that you attend cons. It can also get a bit frustrating if you are trying to get through a hallway and people decide that it's the best place to take photos. 
Here are some tips on enjoying cosplay from both sides of the camera lens:
1.   If you want to cosplay go ahead and do it! Never be discouraged or think that your effort is not enough. There will always be someone with a better outfit than you. What matters most is your own enjoyment and the love that you put into your work.
2.   Start work on your outfit early because these things take time.
3.   Many cons will have dedicated photo shoot times for cosplays of the most popular series. These are the perfect times to get to know others in the cosplay community and to take photos without disturbing people. Some of the most popular ones are the Tales of... series, Bleach, Attack on Titan, etc.  The schedule booklet with have the times and areas for the shoots outlined.
4.   You don't have to be a cosplayer to dress up and just because you decided to dress up doesn't mean that you need to attend all or any of the cosplay events.
5.   Always ask before taking a picture of someone.
6.   Do not be sad if no one asks to take a photo, you may just be in a not very popular area.  If you want photos then try going outside, many people will congregate there specifically for photo opportunities.
7.   Don't take photos in the dealers hall, it just created traffic jams that no one wants.
8.   Sign up early for the Masquerade as spaces fill up fast.

Gaming

Anime Cons have a fantastic selection of gaming options.  LAN parties, MMOs, tabletop gaming, traditional Japanese games, Nintendo DS areas, LARP, anything you can think of you can find.  If there isn’t an organized version of your preferred game then there will usually be an area full of tables where people can set up their own thing.  Otakuthon has a whole hall set aside for all types of tabletop gaming while Anime North has many spaces in different buildings set aside for people to be able to relax and sit down, have a bite to eat, or do some gaming of their own. 

LARP is also a popular activity and different LARP groups usually hold their own events to let people try out LARP and also have booths set up if anyone is interested in joining.  I’ve done it and had a ton of fun and it’s a great time to try it out if you’re interested. There are also gaming contests, usually Counter Strike, Super Smash Bros, DDR and the like.  All you need to do is sign up for them so it’s really easy to participate.


That’s about it for things to do at a con.  The most important thing it to have fun and enjoy yourself.  Have I missed anything?  Do you guys have a favorite thing to do?  Are there parts of a con that you don’t really like?  Do any of you agree with my views on the dealer’s hall?  As always tell me your thoughts below.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Blame!



For my second review I decided to go with something very different to Red River.  This time it's Blame! (Pronounced Blam). Blame! is a 10 Volume post-apocalyptic manga by Nihei Tsutomu. The story follows a man named Killy and his search for Net Terminal Genes.  How much do I love this series? 
  


About that much. 

There are no specific reasons that I love this series so much, unlike Red River. There is just something in the overall feel that caught me from the very beginning and didn't let me go for hours as I read it all in one go. It's a stark, desolate, and often lonely journey that the story takes you on through a never ending city that just keeps growing as it builds itself higher and higher with no reason. People encountered are few and far between and Killy's journey doesn't have an end. The feel of the series reminds me of the same feeling you get looking at stark and never ending views of nature. That same slight feeling of awe coupled with the feeling of being tiny in a vast world.



... Is an amazing artist and the city scapes of Blame! Are some of my favourite pieces of manga art.



There are parts of the story that many people will probably not like. It can be confusing at times, especially since a lot of places and things look the same and characters may have the same body but be different entities. An enemy can become an ally and then revert back multiple times as the situation changes and there is very little dialogue.  At times the story progresses slowly but it will rapidly speed up catching you unaware and rarely is anything explained. It takes the whole series to finally understand what happened to the world, what Killy's aim is, and what the future will be. 


This story is very niche but I hope that I've managed to interest at least some of you in it. If you give it a shot tell me your impressions and if you like it the I highly suggest trying Biomega be the same author. It's a lot faster paced but just a wonderful and confusing and beautiful. As always, have fun reading. :)


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Con Misconceptions

Cons are fun there is no doubt about that. They are collections of people who all love the same thing and are willing to talk about it or play it or act it out. They really are a great way to spend weekends. If you look online there are a lot of guides to attending cons, or enjoying cons, or what is great about cons. Many of them are really good resources but they also tend to gloss over or just ignore a few of the misconceptions that people have about conventions. That's what I'm here for, to give you a heads up about a few of the misconceptions about cons, where they came from, and how to deal with them.

Pre-registration is faster than registering at the door

Wooh, this is a big one. Pre-registration is one of those things that is always recommended both because it is cheaper and because you can pick your badge up a day early and in a dedicated line. Now, price wise, pre-reg is indeed cheaper, and if the con has a cap on attendance then pre-reg is the way to go otherwise you may not get a ticket at all. The misconception is with the speed of collecting your badge. This always depends on the con and if you are attending the bigger cons then expect to stand in a line those same 2 or three hours that you would in a regular registration line. This is because everyone and their mother have pre-registered and are picking up their passes at the same time. Even if you have ten volunteers working the check-in desk they still won't be able to go fast enough to process a thousand people or more without taking a few hours. And this is just for early pick-up. If you come the day of the con expect waiting times of two hours at least because all the rest of the people who pre-registered are getting their badges at the same time. Sometimes you'll look over at the regular line and become envious as its moving a lot faster and is quite a bit shorter.

That said, here are some tips to minimize the pain.
1) Come a few hours early. I've been known to start waiting in the pick up line three hours before pick up starts. You still have to wait all that time but a) you can sit since you won't be moving anyway, b) you can go grab lunch while someone holds your spot in line, c) if you are there with friends or have a laptop or tablet then you can entertain yourself for all that time. The greatest thing about coming that early is that you will probably be one of the first twenty people in line. Check the forums, just to be sure, because depending on the con the line may normally start earlier or pick up may be a much faster process. 
2) Become an event host or run a panel or try for any kind of "special" status like a vendor or artist in artists alley. Many cons will have dedicated lines for these attendees and they are usually a lot shorter simply because of numbers. Same thing on being staff, we usually have our own check in line and Depending on what you are staff for you may be able to put off picking up your badge until the con actually starts or your department head may pick up all the badges for his team in one go so you won't need to wait in line at all.
3) Join a group registration. Most cons will have a special price and a dedicated pick up lane for those attendees who register as a group of 10 or more or 15 or more, however many that a con designates as a group. In that case it is upon the group leader to pick up all the group's tickets and then distribute them. No lines at all, unless you decide to be the leader. Just remember to have the leader's contact info and agree on a time and place to all gather and pick up your badges.

The dealers room offers great discounts

This misconception is very dependant on where you live. Who the dealers are, what you wish to buy and how much you are spending. Dealers WILL often offer a discount on certain products. Manga will usually be US cover price no tax and buy ten get one free or buy ten get 10%off. Boxed anime will have deals on certain titles or have bundles of a whole series at a reduced price. Merchandise tends to be reduced but by how much depends on the dealer. What I'm trying to say, in a roundabout way, is that the deals aren't really that great on most things. 

If you live in a big city you will probably find better deals on anime and manga at your local comic book store or even on Amazon. My local store has a quarterly sale where manga is 20% off US cover price and anime is 25%. For manga and anime Amazon will most likely have better deals than a con and will deliver for free to your house if you spend $25 or more. A lot of merchandise vendors don't do discounts at all, especially on merchandise from Japan, and it can get pretty pricey.

Where did this idea of deals come from? Well, in times gone by, when such conventions were a lot rarer it was probably the best deal that we lovers of alternative entertainment of the more marginalized sort would get on comics, figurines, art, merchandise, etc. and if you live in a small town still it's probably the best that you will find. And indeed there are a few very good deals that can be found in the dealers room but they are usually on old or unpopular material and on Sunday when all the vendors want to get rid of things. Here you can find the whole of Orphina for $12 which is great if that's what you want but if you're looking for the latest volume of attack on Titan or a Miyazaki film or The Long Halloween then don't expect much of a discount. 

Lines 

Cons are sort of notorious for long lines. Lines to get your pass, lines to get into the venue, lines for the dealers room, lines to events, lines to the bathroom and ATM, there are probably lines to get into lines but reality isn't that bleak. San Diego Comicon is of course going to be full of lines, there is no getting away from that but the medium and small sized cons will be pretty fine. What it really seems to boil down to is the layout of the venue. Anime North is a giant con with a cap of 35000 attendees but it doesn't have too many lines simply because it is really spread out. It has events in four hotels and the Toronto Congress Centre. The lines that do occur during the con move fairly quickly and are more to do with how many people can safely fit through a set of doors than with capacity. Fan Expo, in Toronto, on the other hand, has atrocious lines because they stick all of their events into one area and quickly reach capacity. 

Certain lines you won't be able to avoid. Registration, the line into the dealers hall on opening day, lines for autographs, mainly things where a bottleneck forms.  The best way to avoid them is to see if your event is held in a different area.  Many panels, for example, are not in the same place as the dealers room and therefore have fewer or shorter lines.  As for ATMs, just see if there are any banks around you, they may have shorter lines and will probably carry a lot more cash on hand, or look for small shops.  The best way to avoid ATM lines, though, is to bring all your cash with you, that way you can set a hard limit on spending and also avoid wasting time in lines to get money.

Cosplay

Cosplay is fantastic.  It's amazing to look at, especially if its done well, and every con has some cosplay in it.  What I want new con goers to realise, though, is that cosplay is not the be all and end all of conventions.  It's a very showy part of cons and something that is fun to post online about but you don't have to participate if you don't want to.  You don't have to take photos of people in cosplay if its not your thing.  Cosplay has become so big that it almost seems to have taken over conventions but people need to remember that cons still have so many other events and activities.  

Another point to remember is that you don't have to dress up if you don't want to or don't feel comfortable doing so.  If you aren't into cosplay, or only into seeing it on others then jeans and a t-shirt are the best con clothes as they are practical and easy.  Pins or something related to the genre of the con is perfectly fine if you want to fit in and even if you have nothing don't sweat it.  You're there to enjoy yourself, not to re-hash high school clothing drama, no one will judge you if you don't dress up. And if you do dress up, don't feel bad if you don't have the perfect cosplay.  Everyone started out from the bottom, just enjoy yourself and if you want to get better then look up tips online for sewing cosplay or ask people you meet at the con.

Age

This little misconception is more for the media out there.  For some reason the tv and movie industry still thinks that cons are populated by stereotypical nerds and geeks who are stuck in the 80s.  Now, don't get me wrong, there are people like that at cons and you can usually tell them apart by their smell but they aren't the only ones at cons, not by a long shot.  Cons attract people of different ages for different reasons.  There are the aforementioned cosplayers who do it for the love of their craft.  There are vendors who make a living catering to those who like niche products.  Many cons are also attracting Japanese alternative fashion followers, most notably Lolitas who are the furthest thing from a stereotypical nerd.  Many cons are also very welcoming to younger children and have areas dedicated for them and programming aimed at the elementary and middle school crowd.  You will see adults who are there with their kids and also adults who are there on their own.  You may even see senior citizens who love whatever the con is about.  

What I'm trying to say here is that everyone is welcome at a con and most of the time people are very welcoming.  Don't be shy about going because you think you won't fit in, most likely you will find people there just like you.  I'm going to end by saying that though cons can be very different depending on their content, organizers, location, etc. but they all have one thing in common: they are places to meet people who have the same interests as you so just do a bit of research, find one that suits you and go, have fun, you won't regret it.

Do and of you have any other misconceptions about cons that I haven't mentioned?  Are there things that I've written about that you don't agree with?  Tell by by commenting below.  

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Red River

I want to start off my recommendations with an entry from my Help!  I’ve been transported to another time/place series.  It’s a panel that I did at Otakuthon once which went pretty well despite a lot of people not knowing what I was talking about.  So just a quick overview to begin with.

During the 90’s shoujo manga came out with quite a few series about girls who were magically transported to either a different time or to a totally different world and subsequently had to save it from evil overlords or take part in a prophesy.  By the late 2000’s, though the genre was dead and I don’t know any recent series that follow such a plot (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, I always love to know more manga series in this genre).  It seems to have been influenced by the changing role of women in Japanese society and the entrance of women into the workforce in a much greater number than before.  With this in mind I will start with the first of my review recommendations which is from this particular genre.


Red River by Shinohara Chie

Red River, also known as Anatolia Story, is a shoujo manga about a young 15 year old girl who gets sucked into the past by an evil queen who wants to use her as a sacrifice to secure the thrown for her, the queen’s, son.  The series follows Yuri as she directly and indirectly influences the politics of the kingdom and falls in love with a prince.  That’s a purposefully vague description because I’m trying to avoid spoilers.  That said it sounds pretty generic: regular young girl from future goes to the past and becomes way more important than she should, everyone falls in love with her and the evil people get what is coming to them. Honestly, if this is all that this series was then I’d have given up by the first few volumes but I stuck through all 28 of them and even re-read it twice.  It’s that good.  Let me explain why and I hope that I don’t give away too much.

The Setting

First off, the setting for Red River is the Middle East during ancient times, specifically the Hittite Empire at the height of its power.  It’s a time and place that isn’t very well known in literature and the Hitties aren’t really well knows to anyone except those studying them.  I read about ancient history and hadn’t heard of them till I read the manga.  Shinohara Chie also did a lot of research on the lives of the Hittites, the history of the time and the people who lived there.  Red River is full of real characters and real settings, even the main character is most likely based on a real Hittite queen.  It’s beautiful to look at all the backdrops of the different cultures that Yuri encounters and see just how much research was put into them.

The Heroine


Yuri is one of my favourite shoujo girls EVER!  She’s really normal, a 15 year old girl that you could meet at any high school who tries to make the best of any situation.  That isn’t to say that she manages to be the best at everything, or overcome all the obstacles in her path.  Not at all, she often can’t do anything about her situation but instead of crying and complaining about how she wishes that her prince would save her, or thinking that he won’t because she isn’t special enough, she just makes the best of it.  

For reasons of politics she often ends up in sieges or abducted or just in the wrong place at the wrong time and yes, she cries sometimes.  But then she does what I think most of us would do in the situation, she calms down and makes the best of it.  She doesn’t try to run away when she knows it won’t work but she does try to make it easier to rescue her.  She knows that her prince will try to rescue her when he can but also knows that it may take weeks or even months and so she tries to make the wait easier for herself by doing something useful, either by helping her people or hindering the enemy.  She also grows as a person, both in age and in character.  We follow her transformation from a teenager into an adult.  With all that she still remains human.  When a particularly bad tragedy befalls her she doesn’t bounce back quickly, it takes her quite a bit of time to return to normal.  She also doesn’t try to deny her surroundings, she accepts responsibility for her actions and also for her influence on people. Which brings me to my next point:

The Secondary Characters


A lot of these were real people and some of their actions are, of course, already known but Shinohara Chie manages to make even the tiny characters into people whose story you would want to know.  These are people just like the main characters and you can see their feelings and ideas shine through.  Many of them are influenced by Yuri and in turn they influence her.  They aren’t all in love with her, some dislike her but still respect her, others see her as an obstacle, and they act like real humans and not just as furniture or plot points.

The Plot

The Story is fantastic.  It’s so many things from a love story to a political thriller to a historical fantasy because there is a small element of magic present.  Shinohara Chie doesn’t shy away from many realities of the time such as famine, war, disease, prostitution, rape, childbirth and miscarriage, anything really.  She shows all this but also shows the beauty of the time, that people still felt joy, that they lived and loved just like we do.  The story moves along very well and balances between showing the love between Yuri and Kail (the main male lead) and all the politics of the time.  Death is ever present but isn’t random (though this must be helped at least a bit by actual historical facts).  The plot is engaging and fun but I’ll be honest, I was pulled along by the strength of the main character more than anything else.

The Bad Stuff

After all the gushing you may be wondering if there is anything bad about this series, well, here it is.  There are a few moments that I think could have been done better.  For example Yuri gains knowledge of the Hittite language one her first day by Kail kissing her and pretty much making her fluent by magic!   Magical language acquisition is a pet peeve of mine.  Also, Yuri has phenomenal luck.  Both in bad and good ways.  She will often be in the right/wrong place at the right time for things to happen.  I understand that this moves the plot forward but there are only so many times that she could get kidnapped, at some point it really has to end. 


Even with that, though, I love this series.  If you like shoujo then you should check it out.  If you’ve read it as well do you agree with my comments or did you find it to be the opposite?  Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.  If there are any series that you’d like me to review then mention them in the comments as well and happy reading!