With a theme like "summer games", this year's AnimeCon had to be held, of course, in the middle of sweltering June. The location was, again, the World Forum in The Hague, and this year I was thoroughly prepared; the public transport route had been researched, a list of things to pack drawn up and the hotel room booked for the weekend with a separate booking to tide me over to Monday. I even stopped myself in the nick of time from twisting my ankle again. Showing how far the con has evolved since the days of "no, we're not going to tell you in advance what we'll be showing, and we may change the programming at the last moment if someone left the DVDs at home", the whole con timetable including the video programme was now online on the animecon.nl website some weeks before the con's date, so I could do some websurfing and strike off any shows that promised to be absolute lemons. Like Wanna be the Strongest in the World, about an idol group of which two members get involved with professional wrestling. I found the manga that the series is based off, and it's thinly disguised pornography. Not that I have anything against pornography, mind you; I'm absolutely fine with pornography. As long as I don't have to waste even a single second of my life watching it.
(And while I'm naming titles; I do get the feeling that the video programme is leaning more and more towards giving the English translations rather than the original Japanese titles. And because I'm not conscientious enough to look up any original titles, if the video programme gives a translation, then the translation is what I'll use. Sorry.)
Hopping on an early train, I reflected that the main thing wrong with the Dutch public transport system is its passengers; having gotten up from a seat facing two girls who sat down and instantly started nattering, I found an empty double seat in another carriage and soon discovered why it was empty. In the seats beyond sat a merry group of revellers including four middle-aged women who made more noise than the rest of the group combined, and whose shrill, shrieking laughter literally made my ears hurt. I thanked my lucky stars that the journey required changing trains about every second station. Another source of irritation was the usual rash of "orange" activity indicating that, once again, the Dutch football team had a very slight chance of winning a cup. Not only had football matches been incorporated into the video programme, giving me more items to instantly strike off the to-watch list, but while changing trains I walked past posters of three birds "singing for orange" and requesting all patriotic Dutchies to join in. Apparently the Dutch are such drones that they will not cheer for even the things that most rouse their enthusiasm, unless a poster tells them to.
After arriving in what I thought was a timely manner, began the second ordeal: Waiting In Line. Despite being almost an hour early, I joined the end of a line that had already doubled twice on itself, and although there were four ticket desks, I ended up having to wait a whole two hours while carrying two bags - after the first hour, my back and ankles were complaining so loudly that I'm surprised no one heard - because of how slowly the line moved. Since the con and its ticket booths opened at the exact same time that the video program began, I wrung my hands at the thought of missing a whole hour of anime. Behind me, the line had again doubled twice on itself, and those who came after me missed two hours or more. Not that it mattered much, because the first two hours of con were some rubbish, some other rubbish and something that would be reshown later. While waiting, I saw that the con-goers (whose average age looked twenty, much like twenty years ago when the first anime conventions were held) had also gone with the times; not only did I see them carrying folders of printouts of the con timetable, but mobile phone owners left and right were scrolling through the timetable itself, as was a visitor right next to me who had whipped out his iPad-thin netbook. The official timetable and con booklet again testified to the proliferation of activities that were pushing the original reason for the con - watching anime - into a lonely corner, and maybe I just happened to be in the wrong rooms all the time, but the relative emptiness of the video rooms, while assuring that I never had trouble finding a seat, were perhaps a foreboding sign of the direction in which the con might be headed.
The very first room I entered, by mistake as it was showing Angelic Layer which had underwhelmed me at the con of 2004, was even completely empty; understandable, as it was a dubbed version, and to the anime enthusiast, "dub" is a dirty word. The second room played what I was hoping to see: a film called The Girl who leapt through Time, something I would have liked to do myself, since I was just in time to see the ending. It's about a girl who finds she has the ability to go back moments in time, which she uses to fix whatever she caused to go wrong, and just before losing that ability she also loses someone who she discovers she had feelings for, so she has a great big cryfest and then becomes depressed, until she discovers she has one more chance. I was expecting this to be funny, which the ending wasn't, but it would be reshown later, so I planned to give it another chance, and changed rooms to watch the tag end of the third show that had started as soon as the con opened: Strange Dawn. That, too, was utterly underwhelming: two schoolgirls, a demure type and a selfish brat, are whisked off to a world full of little people who see them as, and I quote from the con booklet: "'Great Protectors' who can protect their land in a time of strife." Of course they can't, and brat-girl doesn't even want to try until Shall, the munchkin who announced them as such and who offers to escort them to safety after their refusal to help, is almost attacked by another munchkin for supposed treachery. These two munchkins are in military uniform, that is, they wear baby suits with handles on top of the hoods, as if they could be picked up like suitcases. The mini-people's character designs, probably meant to be cute, are very off-putting, the schoolgirls are two variations of dumb and, in all, the ten minutes I saw offered nothing gripping.
Next came the first show I'd hoped to see, one that I absolutely didn't want to miss: Garden of Words. While skipping classes, a (young, male) student and a (female, older) teacher meet in a park during the rain, and to instantly dispel the false impression given by an online review I read: no, the teacher is not a pedophile, the student is the one hitting on her, and the reason she skips school all the time is not "a crippling social phobia", but intensive bullying because another student also hit on her, and his girlfriend began a hate campaign against her in revenge. And she certainly isn't immature; she's simply very sensitive, and if anything the two enjoy each other's company because the student, being the quiet and responsible type, is as mature as the teacher. Not that I care about the story much, because the film was lauded for its animation, and it ends in a double cryfest, which I hate. Loud "wahhhaaaaaahhhahah" crying seems to be the new gimmick in anime, which is already beginning to sound like a stockpile of standard soundbytes strung together; the derpy "hehhh", the tearful "datte!" and "doooshte?" and all the variants of "oh nothing" when asked what the matter is, when something is very obviously the matter.
Anyway, the main character in this film is rain. Conscientious though he is, the student, feeling estranged after his move to Tokyo and about to be left alone when his older brother moves out and his surprisingly youthful-looking mother threatens to do the same, is so fond of the rain that when it rains, he skips class and goes to a roofed sitting area in the public gardens. The animation shows rain, rain, more rain, dripping off the leaves of plants and forming little streams, to the sound of ceaseless piano music. That same area is the refuge of a teacher who gets ready for classes every day, but who, when the train arrives, can't bring herself to board it, and instead goes to the park to drink beer and eat chocolate, because she can no longer taste anything else. The boy eyes her shoes, and all the shoes she wears on subsequent visits, because it's his dream to become a shoemaker, and his immediate project is making a pair of women's shoes. They exchange lunches, he measures her feet, and she buys him a book on shoemaking. The rainy season ends, they're apart for a bit, he finds out about the bullying and slaps the culprit but gets roughed up for his trouble, they both get caught in the rain and go to her apartment to dry out and make a meal together, and he confesses his love. She gently reminds him she's a teacher - after all, isn't this situation what forced her out of her job? - and he doesn't take the rejection kindly, claiming she doesn't take him seriously and was just having a little fun with a student. She protests that she was going through hell and he was what helped her bear it, and they hug and cry a lot, and ultimately he does make that pair of women's shoes. And none of this matters, because, you know, rain.
Following this was a film that I felt obliged to see: Miyazaki's latest and final production, The Wind Rises, a tribute to Jiro Horikoshi, who, unable to become a pilot due to nearsightedness, decided to design airships instead of flying them. Certain ingredients can be expected of a Miyazaki film: scenes of rural Japan, a brave child with dreams, a dash of disaster, near-identical sexless faces that look ten years younger than the intended age (common to anime, but particularly true of Miyazaki's works) and an irritating younger sister that in this case is soon shaken off, because the brave child ages in leaps and bounds and is soon an ex-student and cigarette-smoking employed engineer, though he still has the face of a primary-schooler; even more incongruously, from adolescence to late maturity he has the same, slightly lisping old man's voice. But first, the audience is treated to his eerily realistic dream of meeting with the Italian aeroplane designer Caproni, and an earthquake so bizarrely destructive that it seems like another dream. During this earthquake, which makes the steam train he is travelling in crash to a halt, he helps the girl who will later become his love interest to get her wounded sister home.
Their meeting is short, because his work takes him all over Japan, and even to Germany. The film makes it clear that neither Jiro nor Caproni want war, they simply love aeroplanes, but they end up making them for the military - at the expense of the common folk, who go hungry while the Great Leaders spend everything on war - because that's where the money is. The fact is that they are part of World War I, and on the losing side at that, and Jiro, apparently a broken man although this doesn't show in either his childface or his unemotional voice, ends up staying at the hotel run by the father of the girl he loves, and learns her secret: her mother has died of tuberculosis and she caught it too. Great, so she's passing around germs with every breath. They make a deal to marry once she's cured. Spoiler: this is not going to happen, and in the end they marry so she can spend her dying days with him. Great Leaders never learn, so World War II breaks out and our intrepid aeroplane designer is whisked away to create more death machines. He has more surrealistic dreams about Caproni, the last one while he's mourning over the scrap metal which is all that remains of the planes that contained his fallen comrades.
I should be moved, but the film is too damn long, more than two hours. The title is translated from the French saying: "Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de survivre" (a more modest way of saying: "when the going gets tough, the tough get going") and sadly this is repeated at several moments in a robotic voice while an actual wind is rising. With the same mallet-like subtlety, the nice old German staying at the same hotel as Jiro lets the audience know how the protagonist has been healed and comforted by his great love and even remarks on the girl's rare beauty, which is laughable considering she has a typical plain, cookie-cutter Miyazaki face. Miyazaki characters also smile too much at times, and this man's smile and round button eyes as he looks around to make sure the audience got the point, yes? positively creep me out. The deceptively young faces and constant tobacco consumption make an impression on me of trying to encourage kids to smoke, and the stupidity of letting a tuberculosis patient live under one's roof with not so much as a face mask for protection just defeats me. I did notice similarities to the two films that went before: lovingly and intricately drawn backgrounds, a "waaahaahah" scene (in this case not from the lovers themselves, but from the annoying younger sister who is now a doctor and knows exactly how close to death the girl with tuberculosis is) and for background music, a plaintively romantic piano that just will not stop. However, unlike the previous two, this film alternates between sappy, witty and outright disturbing.
The chronic disease of, by now, six cons running left me with no stamina for any activity, even something as lazy as anime watching, so after this tiresomely long film it was time for my first nap. The next three items were again remarkably similar, the common element now being a single sane, smart, deadpan young male surrounded by silly twats doting on him while engaging in activities normally considered "manly", but dragged down to bimbette level. I was reminded of both Infinite Stratos (shown at the con of 2012) and one of this year's items I had, after some websurfing, decided not to watch: the Girls und Panzer OVA, in which a new item has been added to the list of girls' hobbies, alongside flower arranging and making tea: fighting each other with tanks. Of course, engaging in tank battles never makes the bimbettes less stupidly overemotional, nor does it reduce them to piles of smouldering body parts as real tank fights would. I don't know if Girls und Panzer contains a male centerpiece, but Walkure Romanze certainly does: the male in question is a "Begleiter" (when not enjoying Engrish, the people of Japan love a nice bit of Germanese), that is to say a coach, for the schoolgirls who have taken up jousting because they want to acquire knightly virtues. Yes. Not kidding. And despite only being their coach, he is still the central character of the series, since any girl trained by him apparently becomes undefeatable. Oh, and because various girls are crushing on him; the whole situation whiffs of harem anime. The creators evidently had no idea of the hardships real knights faced, or, as I've said in an earlier write-up, that in the time and place that knights existed, women were not allowed to become knights; that jousting was only undertaken in full armour and often ended in the death or mortal wounding of one of the contestants, that knights-in-training were not called "knight" but "squire", and that full-fledged knights had servants to do everything and did not groom their own horses, unlike the idiot "Noel" who, while brushing her horse, asks him to be there for her in that special competition she wants to enter, at which the horse rears and whinnies loudly, showing teeth, presumably because she's brushing against the grain. I'll not go too deeply into the fact that the "destriers" or battle horses of real knights (who owned stables full of horses) were huge heavy stallions outfitted with brutal bits to control them, or the other fact that "noble knights" were murderous thugs who put on airs before pretty ladies. Suffice it to say that while I was prepared to sit out a whole episode just to give the series a chance, discovering that the knightly virtues cultivated by these "knights" were respectively winning, being popular and getting boys, and seeing these "knights" actually flash panties during a joust, made me nauseous enough to leave half-way through.
The Irregular at Magic High School is already an improvement in that, although the student body central to the story seems all-female except for that one irregular student, and the bitchy type he has a conversation with is in a kendo (swordfighting) club, there don't seem to be gender roles, not even ridiculously reversed ones. Not all the girls are stupid all the time, and rather than crushing and gushing, they're involved in a genuine and interesting plot. The Shiba siblings, consisting of magically gifted little sister Miyuki and big brother Tatsuya who is seemingly a poor student, are in separate classes due to their grades, but come together again in the Student Council and specifically the Public Morals Committee, where Tatsuya is initially looked down on, but soon becomes respected for his rational, intelligent, unflappable attitude, something he shares with Mayumi Saegusa, the head of the (mostly female) student council. He is approached by Sayaka Mibu, another low-class student and kendo practitioner, who wants to involve him in a rebellion that demands "equality"; when he tries to draw out of her what, exactly, this demand would translate to in practice, she can't answer. As Tatsuya later expounds before the other members of the Public Morals Committee, it appears that terrorists are stirring up hatred among the low-class students in order to get magic outlawed and weaken the country, so the source of the trouble would be from abroad. From magical high school to international political intrigue! Tatsuya is the brain of the series: he helps to defuse the student rebellion, and when its fire is put out by a stirring speech given by Mayumi and the terrorists behind the rebels emerge and attack by themselves, he plays a central role in defeating them despite his supposed lack of magical skills. As an extra improvement, magic is now a branch of science and is cast, not through waving staffs or uttering ridiculous cries, but by loading psychic energy into mechanical devices.
Log Horizon appears, at first sight, to be a clone of Sword Art Online (shown at last year's con) but is in fact the opposite. In both cases, players suddenly find themselves trapped in a virtual game world, unable to log out. But where Sword Art Online makes the game "real", ie. players who "die" will actually die, Log Horizon remains a game, meaning that killed players respawn, game rules apply, and stats still matter very much, even if the main character urges his companions to stop using commands and start fighting as if they were using a real body. The unrealism is such that even the most delicious-looking food is tasteless, survival is easy, and boredom is the greatest enemy; for lack of quests or other things to do, players are turning to killing each other. That said, the game does have its own reality - the NPCs are now sentient living beings - but the players are not really part of it. How did this situation come about? I missed the beginning, but the con booklet tells me that in an online fantasy RPG called "Elder Tales", whose world map is a smaller copy of the actual world map, the installation of the expansion pack "Cultivate the Noosphere" has trapped thirty thousand players in Japan inside the game. From the series itself I gather that players outside Japan have fallen victim to this expansion pack too, and that the day of installation is rather pretentiously called the Apocalypse. The main character is a veteran player who in the real world doesn't relate well with people, but in the game world is admired for being a brilliant strategist, which he is. The con booklet furthermore tells me that he forms a guild called "Log Horizon", which is not strictly true, as he doesn't relate well to people even online and so steers clear of guilds; the last, famously successful, party of adventurers he led, "Tea Party Debauchery", was not a guild, so neither is "Log Horizon". In fact, he turns down an admission offer from two busty bimbettes who are guild leaders, because he doesn't want anything to do with guilds. He also turns down an trapped in another town - the Apocalypse has also led to gates between towns closing - and offers to undertake the mission with his own team, consisting of a highly capable but overly roleplaying assassin, a dumb-as-rock tank and himself. The guild member in question, an extremely pathetic healer-type player who has specialized in "maid" skills, has already been rescued by a tall, gentlemanly cat player who inserts "nyan" into every sentence, but still needs an escort out of town. The cat seems the only character besides the strategist who isn't some form of annoying.
Time for another catnap, and a flash of Captain Earth: a boy and a girl, dressed in blue and pink respectively, are cornered by the military and brashly say that they hate to waste food, but if they have to kill someone, so be it. Apparently they are demons/aliens who feed on human energy, and they have come to collect Teppei, a so-called "Designer Child" who has a wheel of lights in the palm of his hand and is trying to come to terms with the fact that he never had parents. The military, who look more like an underpowered resistance movement but nevertheless manage to chase off the duo, consider this Designer Child a liability because, as the demons say, once he meets them he will be irresistably drawn to their side. For now, however, Teppei is much too close with his childhood friend Daichi to join anything that would cause him harm. He is sent with an expert hacker called Akari (a young female who isn't a bimbette, to my surprise) to rescue Eiji, his biological father, who is kept in stasis for the crime of, as it turns out, trying to protect his child no matter what it took. Despite appearing adolescent, this father has a good head on his shoulders and, when they are ambushed and cornered, turns himself in to save them, only to escape again later. And there's giant robot suits and two factions with opposing solutions to the alien problem. The only reason why I'd watch more is to see what became of Eiji.
What I'd really come for, though, was JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, and as with the wannabe-knights, I was driven out before the end of the first ep by its sheer idiocy. Online research had shown such promise; the title applies to several arcs of transgenerational adventuring as descendants of a certain family discover that they have a kind of independant astral body called "Stand" which helps them in fights and times of need. What I saw was three fishermen, all with steroid-abuse figures and Hokuto-no-Ken faces, unable to speak in any form but bellowing, hauling in a long treasure chest, opening it and... Change scene to the boat found adrift, Marie-Celeste-style, with cups still on the table, but the crew gone and the chest empty. Shortly after, Hokuto-no-Clone JoJito, just seventeen (yet already such pecs!) and a star as well as a perfect gentleman, has committed some crime to be admitted to prison, and refuses to leave. So his mother is called in. Supposedly forty-five, she looks thirty and acts sixteen. He calls her a bitch. So his mother calls in her father, Grandpa JoeStar, a Hokuto-no-Clone with a beard and fedora. She glomps onto him and he bellows at her to act her age, since he, like all males in this series, is in permanent Bellow mode. Only JoJito can talk quietly (but still menacingly, of course) while explaining that he doesn't dare come out because an evil spirit possesses him, and he's afraid it will hurt someone. He demonstrates the astral creature's abilities, JoeStar bellows at him to come out and then bellows at a pseudo-Egyptian to scare him out of his cell, and the pseudo-Eygyptian summons a similar astral body which gets into a highly destructive pissing match with JoJito's until JoeStar can finally be arsed to explain that it's not an evil spirit, it's a Stand, and it has a purpose. I guess I'm supposed to squee at the lack of diplomacy and common sense, but testosterone fests are as repulsive as bimbette-fests, so I abandoned all further viewing plans for the evening and left for a good night's sleep.
Morning came, and I set off for the next promising series; but first, because videos tend to start ten minutes earlier or later than it says on the timetable, I had to undergo a few minutes of Cosplay Complex. There is anime; then, there is cosplay, real people dressing up like anime characters and barely succeeding, because the faces and hairstyles of anime characters are both simplifications and caricatures of real facial features and hair, and animated costumes don't have to deal with gravity and cohesion; to close the circle, there is anime about cosplay. It's another bimbette-fest, recycling all the stock phrases that jaded voice actresses have been forced to repeat a million times, showing cosplay that only works in anime because in the real world, clothes are not glued to the body but drop down or fall apart, and demonstrating cosplay's attraction: for the girls, to show themselves off in pretty clothes, and for nerdy boys, to ogle them and discuss their breast sizes. It's more a Miss World competition than actual cosplay, and the ending credits of each ep are filled with shots of real-life cosplayers, who, of course, fall flat compared with the animation.
What I came for was UN-GO, a detective series starring master of deduction Shinjurou and his sidekick Inga, a boy in panda hood who is (of course!) a demon in disguise. Shinjurou is the unnamed man at the series' very start, coughing up blood and wondering if he is dying, only to be informed that he is already dead. But before he can be properly introduced, the daughter of Chairman Kaishou is having a pet because she's been ordered to go to a costume party in daddy's stead. It's not just a party; the host, President Kanou, stands accused of corruption and intends to hold a speech to clear his name and avoid arrest. Shinjurou and Inga are the last arrivals, and they are clearly not welcomed by the forces of law and order, while the flocking of guests towards Rie Kaishou shows the popularity of her father, also a detective of renown. Kanou is (shocker!) murdered just before he can give his speech, and the culprit appears to be first two associates both dressed up as Napoleon, then a security agent, now also dead. Shinjurou and Kaishou, who has joined the party via a teleconference session, reason that neither are true, and with the help of Inga, who transforms into a grown woman and, while looking into President Kanou's wife's eyes, asks one question that the questioned person cannot help but answer truthfully, confirm that the wife did it because she wanted to spare her husband the shame of being caught. Chairman Kaishou, the unofficial head of propaganda in a Japan plagued by domestic terrorism, with legislation that smacks of the USA's Patriot Act, rules that the dead security officer did it, and this becomes the official story. Shinjurou shrugs it off, since that's how it always goes: he unearths the truth, only to have it covered up by the more influential Kaishou, hence his nickname "The Defeated Detective". And that's the main point of the series: not the bizarre mysteries (like the dead woman delivered to her own home in a suitcase), or Inga's unsettling transformation from panda-boy to soul-eating lie detector, although both are entertaining enough; but the constant contrast between what the media say, and what actually happened.
After that, it was time for a late breakfast and another must-watch film, K-On the Movie. I'd already seen the first eps of K-On at the con of 2010, and found it not exceptionally funny, but likely to improve. The film is presumably the culmination of the series, since the Light Music Club has scored a fifth member, undergraduate Azusa ("Azu-nyan") and the original four who are in their last year, are planning both a graduation trip and a present for their youngest member who still has a year of school to go. After letting their pet tortoise choose their destination, London, which one club member is surprised to hear is in England (another member sighs "I feel sorry for the university that admitted you") they have an idea: let's write Azu-nyan a song! The most impulsive and almost stupidest club member undertakes this mission and scrawls words and phrases in her notebook in an attempt to come up with lyrics; poor Azusa, catching sight of the open notebook, thinks she's the subject of a lesbian crush. For the rest, the film is as not-quite-funny-enough as the series. The London scenery and accents are done nicely, but the girls run around squealing (like the noisy passengers I always have to put up with when travelling to and from cons), make guaranteed mistakes (like going to the wrong hotel) and, although they insist on lugging their guitars around, play barely a note of music. Although their clumsy and rather unwise behaviour is supposed to be the comic element, to me it feels like being forced to passively watch a baby play with razor blades, and when the five ninnies accepted an offer to play in a concert starting at 4 pm when they knew their return flight would leave at 5 pm, the limit of my endurance was exceeded. Sitting through so much of this film waiting for it to become funny even made me miss the first episode of Tonari no Seki-kun. I was miffed.
What was worse was that I then went to the wrong video room (again!) and got an eyeful of Say 'I love you' which I couldn't believe wasn't an anime adaptation of a dating sim. There is a shy girl who, against everyone's expectations, attracts the interest of the local popular boy - despite having wounded him, no less. So the con booklet tells me. What I see is a short conversation between a plain short-haired girl with wide fear-filled eyes and anime's idea of a hot stud, in which the stud admits to liking cats. So when she takes her own fat white cat "Marshmallow" to his house on an invitation, she chooses to believe that the invitation is for Marshmallow and not for her. Helping to prepare dinner for the invited girl is hot stud's little sister, who could not be more jealous and possessive if she were an overprotective mother, and who he has to admonish for being bitchy. When the two are alone, he embraces her from behind, which of course startles her, and then smilingly explains that he'll never do anything to her without her permission. At which point it was clear to me that this was not the series I'd come to watch.
(I did a websearch later and the truth is worse; Japanese culture being one of those that won't allow people a life of their own, this is a moralistic tale of a shy loner - because she's had bad experiences with people - being brainwashed into trusting people again and making lots of friends, like a good little Japanese girl. "See, if you open up to people, hot studs will suddenly be yours for the taking!" Not only is such misinformation as reprehensible as teaching kids that smoking makes you look tough, it's sappy as hell. So it offends me on several levels.)
The first genuinely funny series of the day, in fact, the funniest series I saw at all, was Tonari no Seki-kun: "Seki, master of killing time". Think of the very old flash game "Bored Meeting", a parody of board meetings, but applied to a classroom situation. At the very back of the classroom sits a boy called Seki, who never pays attention during class, but instead becomes totally absorbed in whatever game he's playing. Next to him, and frustratingly unable to keep her eyes off his activities, sits Yokoi; judging by her bust size they're both between fourteen and sixteen, but, going by their behaviour, they might as well be primary schoolers. Seki never speaks. Yokoi speaks loudly and constantly, but fortunately for her, most of it is internal monologue. During the second period of school - every episode is a period, and I'm so sad I missed the first one - she watches him draw a grid on his desk, wonders if the ink will come off and if the teacher will hear him (the teacher never sees or hears him, and she's the one who always draws attention when she gets too carried away watching) and sees he's playing Shogi. Fantasizing his pieces to be real characters in the way of card players watching their deck come to life, she's so enraged at the betrayal of the "king" that she finally shoots her rubber at the traitor piece, causing it to fly out the window. Other games he plays are: post office (when she hands him a note telling him to stop disrupting class, he slaps a notice on it that it doesn't conform to postal regulations), Go (although he makes it look like a Pokemon match), golf, a continuation of the earlier Shogi match, a driving licence test, and the ascent, by a tiny bear, of a perilous mountain (the shirt back of the pupil in front of him) and at the end of every period Yokoi announces "Tonari no Seki-kun!" in an angry, excited or tearful voice, depending on how his shenanigans went for her.
Catnap number three was followed by the Mystery Movie, of which the title is (thank you Google, as I missed the opening credits): Uchu sho e yokoso. The animation is beautiful and, as soon as the plot gets moving, wildly fanciful, but it starts with an ordinary rural scene: in a village that seems to have exactly five children of schoolgoing age, ranging from a boy who looks a very mature twelve to a little girl of seven, these five children will be spending their summer break, as usual, camping out in the empty school with books, cellphones, snacks & drinks, and each other for company. One member of the company will not be there: Pyon-Kichi, the youngest girl's rabbit, has run away because the oldest girl let him out of the cage, something for which she fruitlessly keeps apologizing, but this rabbit will play a role in the finale. This oldest girl's dream is to become a superhero, something that also plays a part in the finale. Anyway, as soon as they're settled in, they decide to go on a rabbit-finding expedition, and instead find crop circles and a wounded dog (with a very big head on its little body), so they take it back to the school to dress its wounds. When they're playing ball outside, the dog, having recovered, jumps out, chases the the ball, catches it in his mouth and holds it out in his little paw, thanking the children for rescuing him. He introduces himself: "My name is Pochi. I'm from Planet BOW in the Animal Stellar Region." and shows them a hologram ID, which of course means nothing to them, but does make them realize that this is by no means an ordinary dog, and he takes grave exception anytime they call him that. As a reward, the children ask if he can take them on a trip to the moon, and from here on it gets psychedelic.
They all sit on the playground gym with their rucksacks full of snacks & drinks. Pochi encloses them in a bubble which detaches the gym and sends them drifting up into space and towards the moon; not just the outer shell of grey rock, but the bustling metropolis under the surface. The gym, by now littered with crisps and bottles, is left in a landing bay ("Please pick up your gym on your return journey", a voice says over the intercom) and after being issued special passports (as Earthlings are, strictly speaking, not allowed here) the children enter a giant mall in candy colours where Pochi treats them to the lunar equivalent of MacDonalds. He then gives them all some money to spend on whatever they want while he reports back about the need to protect Earth from alien invasions, especially poachers looking for Zuggaan, a plant that has become extinct due to over-harvesting. Somehow, releasing a bunch of kids unsupervised into a foreign environment doesn't end in disaster, but Pochi's warnings lead to an instant shutdown of all services to Earth, and now the children can't get home. The only possible route is via his home planet using the Intergalactic Express, but this is pricey, and although the children all take temporary jobs and Pochi tries his hand at betting, they can't come up with the cash until one girl, taking a break and opening a packet of snacks, drops one and an alien passer-by, picking it up to taste it, cries "Zuggaan!" and she's surrounded by creatures of all shapes and sizes offering her rare and valuable currency for bits of wasabi. They can now afford tickets for the Intergalactic Express, a multi-segmented giant dragonfly whose every segment is a carriage, remodelling its interior as needed, from seats to couches to beds. And they went to planet BOW and from there they went back home - no, not quite. The villains - the trio who caused the crop circles and left Pochi for dead - are hot on their heels, hoping to steal the prized Zuggaan. Their boss is the owner of an intergalactic circus-slash-theatre that is preparing for its final show, and both he and the elegant greyhound lady who is the circus' main star, have unfinished personal business with Pochi. While the children are staying with Pochi's parents, the youngest girl is abducted; in a scene with much crying and yelling, the older children insist on saving her, although they have no idea how; Pochi, fortunately, does have an idea how; and the oldest girl lives out her dream of being a superhero in the grand ending of a film that manages to be interesting and suspenseful, if a bit sappy, right to the ending where the children are picked up by the grownups just after being dropped off at the school, while the gym playground sits forgotten in a landing bay.
Looking through what remained of the video program for something funny and not sappy, I chose the series about the student who is a direct descendant of Solomon, and therefore has 72 demons at his beck and call (anime logic!) but first had to sit through five minutes of Love Live! School Idol Project, which, according to the con booklet, is about nine high school girls forming a pop idol group to stop their school from shutting down, but which to me looks like stereotypical anime bimbettes recycling cliched soundbytes. There is a genre of manga called "guro" (from the word "grotesque") in which interchangeably pretty girls are submitted to graphic violence and torture. I can relate to that.
According to Makai Ouji - Demons and Realist, the famed king Solomon was not a bearded brown person, but a beautiful green-eyed fair-haired youth who collected his demons - that also chose to manifest in bishonen form - by summoning them, pulling them onto his lap and telling them something like: "You lonely, yes? Me lonely too."
From the nether regions of Hell, I hear the squeeing of a million yaoi fangirls.
Solomon's modern-day descendant and inheritor of tamed demons, William Twining, who belongs to the British aristocracy and is identically fair-haired and green-eyed, doesn't know about this inheritance, nor does he care, because he has a disdainful scepticism towards the supernatural that would put Scully from the early X-Files to shame. Whether God or Devil, if it can't be quantified, then his brilliant brain - he is a top student at a prestigious university - refuses to process it. His friend Isaac, a devout Christian who does believe in God and the Devil and witchcraft and trolls and fairies and other heathen things that good little Christians shouldn't be believing in, berates him for not paying attention during service, and William points out that Isaac's fascination with the unreal isn't doing anything for his grades. Yes, A-student William Twining's future seems assured, until the headmaster calls him in to ask about unpaid fees, and he goes home to an empty house, greeted by only (bishonen) butler Kevin Cecil who has just come in from working in the fields, because everything has been sold and all other servants dismissed because his uncle and guardian messed up financially, and now they're broke.
Pondering on what to do next, searching the house for more valuables and finding something odd in the basement, he's disturbed by a cape-wearing, pointy-eared crazy who claims to be a demon and servant of Solomon and who wants William's vote, because Lucifer, the king of Hell, tends to take very long naps during which an interim ruler takes command, and only William has the power to assign this interim ruler. Whaddya know, he really is a demon, and magically solves William's money problem and enters the university as a new student so he can hang around his "master" and protect him from the other demons who used to belong to Solomon and would also like to be replacement kings. The second demon, a foppish "fallen angel", doesn't take long to appear, and likewise registers as a student. A third demon has already registered, not to pander to William but to stay close to the dorm matron, now an ailing old woman but once his childhood love, because, as any fan of Edward Cullen knows, demons and vampires alike are not dangerous and terrifying fiends, but fabulously handsome yet lonely eternally-young men who only want to be wuved. The university priest, sensing these demonic presences, attacking them and getting seriously wounded for his trouble, is replaced by Kevin Cecil, who apparently has a clerical background, and who has already made an alarming remark about his master's "stamina". Yes, this is harem anime, and if it isn't based off a BL game, it will no doubt be processed into one. And it's still funnier and less irritating than anime bimbettes. Go figure.
The con booklet's description of Strike the Blood promises terror, but the series itself only delivers lame high-school quasi-pornography. Quote: "The fourth Progenitor is the most powerful vampire once thought to exist only in the world of legends. Yet when it appears in Japan, the government for some reason chooses an apprentice "sword shaman", Yuki Himeragi, to observe and obliterate it." In a slightly dystopic future Japan where occult types live in their own part of the city, a very messy-haired and probably underachieving male student passes a woman on his way to/from school, has a vision of his silhouette sucking blood from her silhouette's neck, and looks at his hand to see blood, although the woman is unscathed. A little girl in school uniform (the sure sign that she's a secret superheroine) passing through that same part of town is accosted by two men, who turn out to be a werewolf and a vampire respectively. Messy-hair wants to rescue her, but she pulls out a huge sword, scares them off and turns on him, because he's the fourth Progenitor. Huh? She also accidentally flashes tartan panties at him, and makes a big deal out of this. Running away, she loses her wallet, which he picks up with the intention of returning it, but he can't resist sniffing it, because a woman's wallet smells good. Again: huh? Do women perfume their wallets, or is this an oblique reference to the smell of used panties? She does come back for her wallet, because it contains all her money, and she's hungry because she couldn't buy lunch. So they go and have lunch in another MacDonalds clone (what is it with anime and fast-food joints?) and he admits, throwing in a flashback, that he did inherit the powers of the previous Progenitor, which I would like to know more about, only he spills his drink in his lap, so she uses her napkin to wipe his pants, ie. she puts her hand on his thigh. Yes, I think I see why the government "for some reason" threw together two clumsily hormonal high-schoolers. Oh, and that blood on his hands? It came from his nose.
Time for a break. In addition to noodles served at the con's fast-food outlet, the hotel's restaurant, "Pangaea", also had an AnimeCon-related dish on the menu: chicken teriyaki. The waiters were running around to serve all the customers and forgot to bring me the ordered drink, and the food, while okay, wasn't quite like the salmon teriyaki of my fond memories, so after paying, I went to my hotel room, at the Crowne Plaza ten minutes away, to have a chug at the water bottle and sleep a few hours. There, I was greeted by the sight of women in orange T-shirts dancing and hugging on the steps (GRRRR) and one apparently British woman (so what did she have to do with this display of Dutchness?) remarked that it was a "great party" and, noticing my complete lack of enthusiasm, asked if I was "hung over". I was a bit mollified when I later learned this was the women's hockey team who were celebrating their own victory, as opposed to the usual couch potatoes who yell "WE WON!" about some sports match in which they were purely passive spectators, but my ire returned when, accidentally blundering past their rooms in the search for mine, I saw a note fixed on one of the doors reading "you can be a hero for a day". Courage being completely absent from the collective Dutch psyche, it's no wonder the Dutch can't understand what heroism is, and confuse it with both skill and luck.
I took care to rise early and watch Neon Genesis Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo, which should have started at 05:20 but clearly started earlier, as Shinji was alive and back with Misato; a websearch later told me that he was rescued from a fight in which Rei fused with his Eva's core, and disappeared. That websearch was needed anyway to tell me which version of Neon Genesis Evangelion I was watching, because there are three. First, the original TV series with its "I'm OK, you're OK" ending. Then, an alternate ending, smeared out over two films, the first of which squashes most of the original series into just over an hour and tacks on an alternative ending, the second, that I saw at the con of 1999, expanding on this ending, where Shinji, instead of hallucinating a kind of psychoanalysis session with a happy end, becomes Adam to a giant Lilith (and not Eve, as I'd assumed before) grown out of Rei and, ultimately, his mother, of whom Rei is a clone, only to return to mortal form in a world destroyed by the Third Impact (these impacts being part of a plan, hatched between humans and angels, to "evolve" humanity by mashing it into happy primordial soup) and where Asuka dies. Thirdly and finally (for now?), there is a four-part retelling of the whole story, where the first part again follows the original series in which Shinji is dragged to a base and pressured into becoming an Eva pilot, the second part follows the film where Shinji and Rei/Lilith merge and become a god-like figure as part of the Third Impact, the third part, which I would be watching, shows the aftermath and as such is a new material, and the fourth part is still in production.
So. Ego-meister Shinji (seriously, all of the series plus its films and retelling revolve around Shinji's crushed and vulnerable ego) has been recovered from the unit in which he tried to save Rei, and accidentally combined with her into a superangel that triggered the Third Impact. As such, his name is now mud, and although he's told he couldn't pilot an Eva if he tried, he still has to wear a collar that, if he tries, will terminate his life. "Does that mean I'll die?" he stammers. (Yes, Shinji, if your life is terminated then you die. Ever the bright bulb, aren't you?) He also stammers about Rei, who was with him, but of whom no trace could be found in the core of his Eva unit; a core that is now used to fuel the ship of WILLE, a resistance movement that has split off from NERV and its commanding organization SEELE, and is fighting them to prevent a planned Fourth Impact. Whoa, Asuka is still alive! Naively, Shinji greets her, and she punches the glass wall between them so hard it cracks. Although he has been out cold for around ten years, she looks exactly as old as when he last saw her, the curse, she says, of the Eva. (As an ailing older person who was never completely well, I fail to sympathize with the "curse" of being forever young and healthy.) Then an Eva's fist rams through the wall of his chamber and announces itself as Rei; Shinji angsts a little on whether he should take up its offer to escape, but there's nothing to stay for here. The one person who showed him some kindness, a friend's sister who was supposed to be dead, begs him never to pilot an Eva again. So guess what the bright bulb is going to do.
In the wrecked and deserted NERV headquarters, Shinji does meet Rei, but she doesn't remember him, and behaves like a robot. Angsting time! Oh, and look who survived - although in this retelling, it turns out he hasn't died yet - it's Kaworu! He repairs Shinji's walkman and invites him to play duets on the piano. He also takes Shinji to the surface to show the city that was destroyed in the Third Impact. Angsting time! Because this is all Shinji's fault. Never mind the machinations of his shady father who arranged for all this to happen, and who is even now planning the Fourth Impact so he can be reunited with his "wife" - here he adresses the dead-eyed head of the giant Lilith, while her bloated white body stands on hands and knees elsewhere. One of daddy's associates visits Shinji and shows a photo of his mother, saying that Rei was a clone of her and this Rei is an earlier clone. Waaaangsting time! So by the time Kaworu transfers Shinji's collar to his own neck and reveals that the piano sessions were preparation for the dual-piloting of the newest Eva, that will reverse the Third Impact and make everything like it was before, our bright bulb is ripe for the plucking. Asuka has burst into the base just about now and is yelling at Shinji, as per usual; she calls him a brat, and he fires back that she's clueless. The irony, it bites.
Shinji, guilt-ridden, is determined to carry out the plan. All they have to do, says Kaworu, is remove the two spears from Lilith's body. However, once the Eva is hovering over the corpse, poised to take the spears, Kaworu notices that they are identical, and says that something is very wrong. Shinji wangsts that they can't stop now, and starts tugging at the spears, which, of course, triggers the Fourth Impact, just as WILLE breaks in and activates the killing collar that Kaworu now wears. For Shinji's sake, Kaworu stops the Fourth Impact by spearing their unit, just before the collar blows off his head and Shinji is ejected. Blaming himself for the death of his friend (yes, Shinji, for once it IS your fault, you should have listened to Kaworu) he curls up in a foetal position, and who should show up but Asuka, yelling at him to "be a man". (Asuka, you've been around Shinji for long enough to know that he's a pile of fail. GET OVER IT.) WILLE takes Shinji back on board, while elsewhere his father does a "heh-heh, just as planned" villain routine. To Be Continued.
Both dazed and annoyed, I settled down to a hearty breakfast before the final leg of the animethon, half wondering if I should simply go home while I was still awake, yet wanting to stay for an item on the programme that looked funny, but extended to almost 18:00, and I had a long journey to Groningen ahead. I checked the route home on the free Internet terminals made available by the con organizers, heavily distracted by a group of cosplayers at the table behind me who were yelling and screeching over their card game as if they were still on stage; anime characters scream a lot, ergo, so do the cosplayers impersonating them. As with the revellers on the train, their sheer level of noise output hurt my ears, and I reflected that the main thing wrong with the AnimeCon these days is the congoers. Since the technical difficulties of the con are being ironed out further every year, and there are less mechanical glitches to cause irritation, maybe they feel they should pick up the slack.
Kuroko's Basketball 2 was the first series I watched that had anything to do with the con's theme of summer games, meaning both sporting events and intellectual challenges. I didn't particularly want to watch it, but had to kill some time, and due to the rarity of young female characters, it wasn't very irritating. It's about a basketball team of "legendary players" that, a visiting enthusiast discovers, isn't good, it's very bad, so he sets about coaching them to their full potential. Rather than a cohesive team, they are all individuals with slightly comical quirks: my favourite is the tall one with huge hands (an unexpected asset when getting the ball past defenders) and a permanent dopey smile.
The crude, mostly black-and-white (but gaining colour towards the end) "gekiga" animation used in the film Tatsumi is unlike any anime style I've ever seen. It's a grungy version of the Disney-inspired style of Tezuka's Tetsuan Atom, and follows the life and career of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, his first baby steps in manga drawing, his visit to the legendary Osamu Tezuka, and the splash he made as reporter on the aftermath of the atomic bomb, when he photographed the silhouettes, burned into the wall of a shattered house, of a man massaging a woman's shoulders, which appear to capture the last moments of a mother and her devoted son, only, after the photo leads to the erection of a war monument and a donation drive for victims of the bombing, the son shows up, alive, so he has to murder him - wait a second, that couldn't have happened. The animation continues: after the war, Tatsumi finds work in a factory, content to live in a small apartment with his pet monkey, gramophone and pinup girl, until a real woman shows interest, making him rip the pinup off the wall and write a letter of dismissal, and carry it to work on the very day that a machine accident rips his arm off - wait, that definitely couldn't have happened. In fact, these are animated versions of Tatsumi's own stories, cleverly tacked onto each bit of autobiographical narration to blur the line between reality and fantasy; except when the main character of the story is clearly not the author, as in the case of the Japanese prostitute wooed and then deserted by an American soldier (great Yankee accent there), or the ageing company manager who wants to cheat on his heartless, manipulative wife just once before retirement, only to discover that he's impotent.
Being on time for the second viewing of The Girl who leapt through Time, I saw it from the beginning and yes, it really is funny. It begins with the titular girl waking up late for school (her younger sister, having got up in time, is dressed and ready to go) and dashing off to school on her rickety bicycle with a bag of peaches for her aunt, whose job is restoring an old painting. It's surprising the peaches survive the journey, as she cannons into people and almost gets under a train. Although she claims otherwise, it's clear she's a clumsy ditz, stumbling from one mishap into another (in cooking class, she almost fries her fringe off in a fire accident) and even tripping and dropping a stack of papers when checking out a possible intruder in a deserted science lab, and finding only a small walnut-like device. So far, it's just a "bad luck" day, but when, on a day with even worse luck, the malfunctioning brakes of her bicycle land her under a train, she's suddenly alive and it's a few days ago. To sum up what she discovers by trial and error: she can travel in time, but only backwards, and the same events play out, but because she knows what's coming and avoids it, they happen to someone else. For instance, by letting the classmate handle her cooking job, she exposes him to possible burn wounds instead, he panics, grabs the fire extinguisher but accidentally squirts it at someone and is bullied for this, and ends up lobbing something at, and hospitalizing, her friend. But there are harmless instances of time travel too: if she wants to eat her favourite dinner twice, she just goes back to the day when her mother served it. Her aunt seems suspiciously wise about time travel, remarking: "Doesn't that mean the bad things will happen to someone else?" and "So, you haven't used it for anything important.". Her two best friends, the two boys she hangs out with after school, are also affected; one suspects that she's using time travel, while another gets killed in the train accident because he borrowed her bicycle. That does get fixed, but not by her, because there are a finite number of time jumps she can make, and the counter has just reached zero; there is another time jumper, and his action gives her the chance to fix everything from the very start (after that waaaah-ing scene at the end, of course) and since this film is worth the watch, that's all I'm going to give away.
With that rewatched and out of the way, hotel room checkout done and bags deposited in bag room, it had just turned noon and I was tired and thinking of going home right now. In this mood, Dragon Collection, another Pokemon clone, was just shallow mind candy. There is a boy who is suddenly transported to a magical world. He finds a magical card. It can summon what is usually an ineffectual little red dragon cub, but what, in one particular case, becomes a huge red dragon and defeats an opponent. The boy gets a "reward" that he doesn't know what to do with, but bumps into another boy who is a native, and explains to him that in this world people have their card-monsters fight for magical rewards, and that these card-monsters, usually dragons, belong to a particular element like air or water. They can also acquire new cards, and the boy who is not in Kansas anymore is followed around by a small, droll walking contraption who offers to combine cards for people for the purpose of powering up the card monsters. Adventure comes when the clueless newcomer buys his new friend dinner, and then suddenly finds his wallet is gone. The angry restaurant owner insists they escort a caravan as repayment, and from there on they meet an "ally", a masked fop whose card-monster is of the superheroine type, three "enemies", of which the lion-like leader has fearsome bunches of red armpit hair, and a waif-like little girl who turns out to be a con artist. Seriously, mind candy. For little kids.
Mind candy for adolescents would be Saki the Nationals, about a bewildering multitude of characters who are all schoolgirls entering a huge Mahjongg tournament in teams on behalf of their school. A fitting subtitle would be "Boardgame Champions: Behind the Scenes", as it's all about girls at various stages of emotional immaturity ooh-ing and aah-ing about being in a luxury hotel in the big city, rushing out to shop and sightsee, and bumping into each other in public bath-houses, and there is at least one ditz who gets lost. A bit like K-On the Movie, if it followed all students of that school and had no comedy to speak of.
Wake Up Girls! is a bit more serious and mature. At first it seems like another anime bimbette series: seven girls want to become an idol group - interchangeably pretty girls dancing in tight formation while singing in syrupy voices - and have signed on with a formerly well-known, but now almost bankrupt talent agency led principally by an eccentric thirtyish-looking woman in heels, whose familiarity with the idol business suggests she must be over fifty. I walked into the ep where one girl unnecessarily tearfully defaults on an important show because her granny, who has made her wannabe-starlet granddaughter a banner together with the granny neighbours, has just been hospitalized with heart trouble. The agency's director, though dressed like an office bitch, surprisingly doesn't whack the little dweeb into shape to teach her that "the show must go on" but tells her to go visit her grandma at once; the grandma tells the granddaughter that she really wants to see the show, it will make her feel better; the girl rushes back and the show, ultimately, does go on. So far, the sappy element; but then it gets interesting. They call themselves the Wake Up Girls; their popular and well-established rivals are the I-1 Club, who have numbers instead of names, who have to chant corporate slogans at every rehearsal, and any of whose numerous members can be summarily dismissed for dancing a mere inch out of step. An ex-member of this group has joined the Wake Up Girls, after leaving due to some scandal (or just the fascistoid training regime?) and she gives them both the beginnings of fame, and notoriety; in the last ep I saw, an internet mudslinging campaign was already underway.
At last, time for the show I'd stayed all this time to watch, one that, while promising comedy, was at the far end of the timetable: World Conquest Zvezda. It seems that, after exhausting their fascination with wartime Germany and "America" (the USA, as represented by MacDonalds and whitey in uniform), the Japanese are now turning to "Russia" (the no longer communist but still totalitarian remains of the Soviet Union) to inspire humour based on whacky behaviour. The secret organization Zvezda (Russian for "star") has been created with one goal in mind: to conquer the world. The awe that this goal might inspire falls flat on its face every time they try to execute it. The first member we see is a little girl on a bicycle, trying to find her toy, a stuffed bunny with fangs, in a country where martial law has been declared, well after curfew. We meet her through high-schooler Asuta, who, homeless and without a working credit card after an argument with his father, has bought two buns with his remaining pocket change, yet offers one of the buns to Venera, the girl, because she seems even more hungry than he is. As a test of character (and because she's a little brat) she snatches both. Still worried about a child being outside at this time of night, he joins her in the search and so meets the other members, who are either hugely incompetent or more concerned with eating cake than with causing slaughter and destruction, although, due to the incompetent members, both of these happen. With no roof over his head, he accepts a position as odd jobs man at Zvezda's headquarters.
And then it was time to go home. Did I enjoy this con? I didn't not enjoy it as much as the last one. Factors affecting my unenjoyment were anime fatigue, physical fatigue, the lack of a tasty Japanese-themed buffet (once you've been spoiled like that, there's no return) and the fact that, so much anime being produced, a lot of it is bound to be mediocre and unfunny. But what most repelled me about the last two cons held in the Hague (and they're contractually bound to host the next three cons in this same location) is the inevitable result of its own success: the growing Dutchness. It used to be that getting to the con was annoying because of all the Dutchies, and getting back from the con was annoying because of all the Dutchies, but the con itself was another world. Within the area housing the main attraction - the three video rooms - Dutchness was on hold, because we'd all come to watch, enjoy ourselves and be immersed in foreign fantasy worlds. By now, Dutchness - like the incorporation in the video programma of a fecking football match that will have the sodding Dutch strutting like cocks if "their" team has more goals than the other team - has infiltrated the con like a malignant tumour. There are more people making pseudo-Japanese caricatures out of themselves, scooping goldfish, visiting the Dutch "maid cafe" (the horror!), folding cranes and trying their hand at martial arts, than there are watching anime. It's like being surrounded by tourists, specifically the kind that wear T-shirts saying "I'm not a tourist, I live here". It may be my imagination, but from some noisy types in the less than half-filled video rooms I got the impression that keeping it down for the sake of the other watchers is no longer a pressing concern. Whether or not because of the growing attendance numbers, the general noise level has risen. While I haven't been physically jostled yet, I was beginning to feel crowded out. The anime con used to be the highlight of the year for me; it looks like I'll have to find a new highlight, as, despite all the efforts of the organizers, this one is progressively dimming.