Created: 13-06-2018
Last update: 30-11-2022


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AnimeCon 2016 - "All aboard"

In the summer of 2018, mere days before that year's anime con, I was sure that I'd typed down my first impressions of AnimeCon 2016 somewhere, in a way that I'd only need to polish the piece before completing it. I was pretty sure that I had no such rough draft of AnimeCon 2017, since that year had been a nightmare overall. No amount of searching turned up a rough draft for 2016 until I'd all but finished the write-up, allowing me to splice in what details I'd forgotten.

This was going to be a tense outing, as I was getting involved in a juridical battle over my house, which the municipal government wanted to have pulled down even before the con started. I went anyway, determined not to let the bureaucrats steal my yearly treat from me. To my extreme disappointment, this con's food court did not feature boxed lunches! No omelette bento! Aggh! But the fish-shaped, paste-filled waffle stand was still in business, and this time I didn't have to buy two cheap return tickets with a free sandwich and drinks; I found out where to buy a set of two extremely cheap single tickets, without the option of either making a detour to a food stand or agonizing over missing out on one measly part of a special offer. I swear I'm cheaper than any train ticket in existence.

For a combination of high-school nostalgia, over-the-top teen behaviour and sinister mystery, Da Capo III makes a good, if non-thematic entry. The series centers on - what else - a cherry tree. A magical cherry tree, causing the blossoms of Spring to last forever (for anyone totally ignorant of Japanese culture, "cherry blossoms in Spring" just about sums up Japan) and granting wishes. Until one day it turns into an ordinary, non-magical cherry tree. And becomes an object of interest to a group of aspiring school magazine journalists, consisting of one boy and five cute girls. The school already has its magazine, of whom the editors and writers blow spittle in their angry outbursts at the would-be usurpers, who, to compete by appealing to a different audience, focus on the supernatural. Like that perfectly ordinary cherry tree that, legend has it, was once magical. At one point, the aspiring young journalists stand in a circle around the tree, hand in hand, trying to revive its magic. Apparently adapted from a visual novel, this is harem anime, centering on the boy in the group; even his rivals seem to crush on him. The story takes place on an island, and is utterly suffused with "cherry blossoms in Spring", to the point that one could watch it in a happy daze, unconcerned with what will happen next.

Legend of the Millennium Dragon, despite being action-packed, is somewhat in the same category. A high school student is transported back in time to Kyoto in the samurai age, when humans are at war with demons - oh, nostalgia. That time in fantasy-history when you didn't have to worry about doing your homework, as you could claim with perfect credibility that a demon had eaten it. This is one show I left in the middle of without being at all concerned what would happen next, although I would not have been left in suspense, as this is a film and not a series, and all the nostalgia can be sucked up in one setting. Anyway, the student is (cliche #1) destined to be the hero that will save the day and (cliche #2) pretty sure that he isn't, and that this is all a big mistake, although a demon attack on a settlement of very flammable houses on poles, during nightfall (oh glorious spectacle) makes him consider getting his act together. A monk living in a less flammable stronghold-type building offers to be his mentor. That I left was not because I was disgusted with this jaded premise; I would happily take in this eyegasm without paying any attention to originality or plot.

The same could not be said of OZMA, prefaced by none other than Harlock-creator Leiji Matsumoto himself to say that even if this is a fantasy, it does have some bearing on the modern age, you know, and environmental pollution is something to worry about. It was the first theme-related anime I watched that day, the theme relation being the giant spaceship OZMA, hanging rather closely above Earth. Because people didn't realize that environmental pollution is something to worry about, Earth is now a wasteland. When a typical Matsumoto-style young woman (think Maeter, Maya) drops out of nowhere on top of a boy who is quite adept at survival in this wasteland, chased by grim soldiers from OZMA, he does what he can to help her escape. They even flee on giant hoverbikes, making me wonder how Earth can be such a wasteland, if it has this kind of technology and the energy to power it. After much, much chasing, they are cornered, and the woman agrees to return if the soldiers will let the boy leave unharmed. The boy will have nothing of this, continues to try and help her escape, and discovers that, spoiler, she's not young. She is very old, and what's more, a clone, or rather succession of clones, of an ancient queen bee type woman who somehow gives life and energy to OZMA - OZMA's heart, as it were - but with each cloning her vitality diminishes, and soon this clone, too, will wither and die. And due to the endless chase scenes, it took a while for the plot to reach this revelation.

Oh, and Emeraldas shows up, accompanied by Tochiro. Either that, or their chara designs have been recycled.

Time for a snack: custard-filled fishwaffle, apple-flavoured bubble tea (the flavour being best described as "Granny Smith"), and a matcha (green tea) ice cream to make it all go down smoothly, as I had no intention of getting heartburn during this weekend. (Ironic foreshadowing.)

Initial D, where the "D" surely stands for "drifting", is about a young man and racer who has perfected his Dukes of Hazzard driving style as a tofu delivery boy. The con booklet says that all drifting scenes are real, not edited or enhanced by computer graphics, which suggests that this is live-action, but I remember it as animated. Also, his father is a bit of an asshole.

Love live! School Idol Project - pupils of doomed school form idol group to save it - is definitely animated, not to mention either a series I've seen before or the most hackneyed premise of anime, judging from the overwhelming sense of deja vu, and said pupils are, of course, bimbettes. (I did in fact see it before in 2014, when I considered it a justification for the guro genre.)

Wakakozake is definitely live-action, though an adaptation of an animated series, in which an office worker whose biggest hobby is enjoying food, goes restaurant-hopping in search of yummy treats, while a constant, almost whispered interior monologue mentions every little detail of what's on her plate, sometimes before it even arrives on her plate. Her exploits are educational for anyone wanting to know more about Japanese culture, or at least what to expect in a Japanese snackbar, but the way she extols what is basically fast-food does raise an eyebrow. For instance, she enters a cafe and orders deep-fried flatfish. Oh, it is perfect, perfect! But she has been given two sauces, and can't make up her mind which one to eat the fish with. Ah! A solution presents itself! She cuts the fish in half - with the chopsticks - and uses a different sauce on each half. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!

Sometimes I don't know whether a show is comedy, unintentionally funny, or going for cheap laughs and being more laughable than expected. As GATE shows, anime nerds can be army recruits. They can even be visiting a huge anime/manga convention, complete with catgirl cosplayers, in Tokyo just as a huge gate rises outside and historical and mythical menaces march out. In the ensuing chaos, this nerd does his bit to protect civilians (who are mostly in danger from their own stampeding, since the menaces are easily taken out by modern weaponry) and, as a reward for his brave and level-headed actions, is sent through the gate with a special task force to investigate what's on the other side. To those who would like to see army trucks with artillery, rations and radio units driving through Japanese fairytale scenery: this is your anime. The menaces, again easily dispatched with modern explosives whenever they attempt to attack, are threatening not only modern Tokyo, but also the fantasy world's inhabitants, who, as refugees, join the military band and adapt gradually and in various degrees to a leisurely boot camp lifestyle, one of them being a magical-mistress prostatot (thank you, internet, for teaching me that word) who insists on sitting on drivers' knees. The last scene I saw was of a razed-down empty village said to have been burned down by dragons. Hm, how will modern explosives fare against those? To make things worse, the firing (in self-defence, admittedly) on locals of this "peace mission" makes them designated enemies of the ruling shogun, and they find themselves drawn into a war, even as their superiors on the safer side of the gate do nothing but criticize and reprimand them.

Definite comedy is After School Midnighters. A school is scheduled to be demolished, and is therefore out of bounds, particularly the biology lab, home to an anatomical model called Kunstrijk (deliberately named in case the show ever came to the Netherlands, or an exercise in putting random letters together?) and his skeleton model and assistant, Goth. This does not stop the intrepid young trio Mako, Miko and Mutsuko, for whom "out of bounds" is a challenge, not a deterrent. At midnight, when the models and other objects - notably the partly dissected bunnies, whose pseudo-military manoeuvers are a running gag - come alive, Kunstrijk briefly has to pretend to be inanimate when three little girls break into the lab, and undergo the indignity of letting them decorate his face with markers. This means war!! The next night, he has special invitations dispatched to them by the bunny brigade, challenging them to competitions that he hopes will scare the everliving daylights out of them, in weird baroque-Gothic rooms that seem too large for a simple elementary school building to contain. Little does he realize just how fearless they are. They best him time after time, while Goth shakes his skeletal head in commiseration, and he even ends up ejected from the building and having to sneak back in a trenchcoat, as legally he is guilty of indecent exposure: even his guts are showing! Goth fares no better, his bones ending up disconnected from each other from time to time. Not only did the fantasy horror slapstick appeal to me, the animation is beautiful, as if painted on glass. Oh, and there's a fly! As revenge for being locked in a toilet years ago with nothing to eat but poo (don't flies love that?) he emerges as a dreadful monster, only to be caught as a specimen and put in a bottle by the budding scientist of the three.

That was it for the evening. There was more I wanted to watch, but I still had to walk to and from the twenty-minutes-away hotel for a very necessary night's sleep (fuelling my desire to book a room in a nearby hotel next time, even if it cost more) and to add insult to injury, the Mr Bento stand did not sell boxed lunches. Most stands seemed to be of the "how little food can we sell for this much money" type, including one that sold just a cup of compressed rice standing like an island in a plate of curry sauce, with a little flag on top. In short, I went home hungry and bolted down food from my backpack.

Late next morning: So. Many. Shows. Missed. I cursed both my weak health and the distance to the hotel and sat down to Polar Bear Cafe, one show I was determined not to miss. According to the con booklet, "Polar Bear Cafe revolves around a Canadian white bear that quits his boring job and starts a cafeteria near a zoo." No, it does not. It revolves around a very lazy young anthropomorphic panda who is told by his panda mother to go get a job. Each time he weakly protests that he would rather roll around on the apartment floor and eat bamboo, she uses the vacuum cleaner on him as punishment. This is not a show for the impatient; little panda boy is of questionable mental state, and during the hiring interviews that draw a very mixed crowd - more animals, and even a tentacled brain monster if I recall correctly - he lets out that he would sooner eat the snacks than serve them. An ordinary human girl gets the job of waitressing in this extremely WTF cafe, which the young panda makes his haunt, to stuff his face when he can't stuff it at home for fear of being hoovered. He does try to get a job at the zoo next door, lying around and eating bamboo in the panda cage, but finds this job, I kid you not, "too tiring".

The Cowboy Bebop Movie was top-notch entertainment, marred only by the fact that it was a dub. Which made me not watch a lot of it, as the sound of drawling American voice actors tends to drive me out of any room in short order. Time for lunch, and a perusing of food courts for something that was more than just a highly decorated bite. In an ongoing effort not to get heartburn, I bought some green tea jelly to go with the gyoza (too spicy), kimchi (spicy) and okonomiyaki (perfect).

The premise of Arpeggio of Blue Steel is that global warming has caused most of the world to flood, but I didn't care about that. Nor about the Fleet of Fog that appeared and had to be fought tooth and claw by the human navy. No, what interested me were the humanoid constructs that controlled the ships belonging to this Fleet of Fog: called Mental Models, they appear to be women, but, if put under too much pressure, will revert to a piece of metal, their "core", which retains their mind. After an unsuccessful battle against I-401, an ace ship from the regular navy, one of these Mental Models does just that. The other one manages to retain her physical form, takes the core, and flees to a mansion that happens to belong to a brilliant scientist and his daughter. The core is inserted in the daughter's lifesize teddybear, which it animates. The scientist asks the Mental Model and the living teddybear to become friends with his lonely, standoffish daughter, but of course the higherups don't want The Enemy to have access to one of their top brains, no matter how indirectly, and launch an attack.

Saturday's highlight was Genius Party, the collection of winners of the competition for which the animations in Genius Party Beyond (seen in 2010) were the runners-up. It contains not five but seven short films, the first called, quite appropriately, Genius Party. This is a kind of shamanic acid trip, with living tennis balls that have eyes and pop hearts, that get eaten - I'm not sure I remember it right, but that's how psychedelic it is - and finally one of the things undergoes some sort of Pokemon evolution and becomes a bird, a crane by the looks of it. Next, Shanghai Dragon: snot-nosed kid finds magic crayon that lets him make things real by drawing it, and lives out superhero fantasy; Deathtic 4: into an orderly zombie world falls a frog that is chased by the zombie police for the crime of being alive, but helped by a zombie boy to return to the land of the living; Doorbell: a man constantly tries to go through doors only to find that a doppelganger already arrived before him, an understated horror story; Limit Cycle: a lot of CGI here as an office worker, no more than a silhouette overlaid with circuitry and static, continually and non-verbally monologues about Deep Things throughout the activities of the day; Happy Machine: a baby raised inside a mechanical nanny acidentally slips outside, has a lot of scary encounters, devotes its life to getting back inside "mother" again and, as an old man, finally succeeds, and Baby Blue: the ostensibly simple story of a boy and girl skipping school to go to the beach together, yet constantly suggesting that something terrible is going to happen to them. But before I could enjoy high-quality artistry, I had to suffer the end of the live-action film Hanuman vs 7 Ultraman, and to those who would not believe that an actor would dress up as the famed monkey god and defeat cardboard villains by stomping and waving plastic weapons: let this film dash your faith in humanity. In one word: cheeeeesy.

And then it happened. Too much excitement, too little proper digestion: heartburn, and the feeling of concrete being poured into my colon and solidifying there. I'd gone to the hotel for a short afternoon nap, that became hours of hugging my stomach and moaning as time, and the anime program, ticked away. Towards the evening, my condition had improved enough to return and catch the shows at the end of the day. The first one was Mind Game, featuring a shy young man, who has a crush on a girl at a restaurant, who has a crush on a buff young man. The girl has an older sister who works at the same restaurant and a father who owns it, and who owes a crime boss money. The crime boss's thugs turn up to collect, harassing the younger sister and prompting both her crush and her admirer to come to her aid. The latter is shot. He wrestles his way through the afterlife, past God who is a belligerent bovine, to a tunnel from where he returns to his physical body and relives the past in a more successful way: he drags both girls into the thugs' car and drives off with them, over a bridge and into the sea and the mouth of a giant sea monster (common sense suggests a whale, but common sense also suggests this whole story could never have happened). It looks as if they're trapped on a strangely shaped island, as they're in a breathable atmosphere surrounded by water, but there's no way off the island, and an old man who was swallowed a long time before, assures them that they are, indeed, inside a living animal. Glad to finally have some company, the old man presents them with a rich buffet of seafood and a storehouse full of radios and other luxury items that the creature has swallowed. The four of them live the happy life of the marooned, dancing and romancing, until they notice that the water level around their "island" is rising, because the creature is moving deeper into the sea. Escape is now quite urgent, and the shy young man tries to use his car to get out of the creature's mouth, his companions right behind him. The animation is as bizarre as the story, of which I'm not even sure whether they all end up back in their own homes.

Upotte!! is a dumb and forgettable series. In KanColle, shown at this and last year's con, girls are anthromorphized battleships; here, they are anthromorphized guns. That carry guns. At a school where they have rivalries, punctuated by spattering bullets, over which gun-girl (and one of them has a vile character) gets to be some guy's personal weapon. The series is formulaic, lacks a real story and quickly runs out of laughs once the novelty wears off.

BIG ORDER (what's with these caps?) also irritated me. Less obviously dumb than the previous show but more confusing, it has a clueless schoolboy with a superpower, and a Rock God (it does something with big rocks, I dunno, tosses them?) who attacks a bunch of people that have to be saved, among them a screechy female with torpedo tits. There's a lot of screeching and screaming overall. Only after websurfing to find what this is all about, did I learn that the clueless boy actually ruined the world ten years ago by stupidly making a wish that a fairy granted, and that's why it's become a kind of supernatural jungle. Reading online reviews also confirms that the story is a mess.

By comparison, the understated horror series Another was a breath of fresh air. No screaming, no gore, just a tense, restrained atmosphere with occasional scary sound effects. There is a school. It is a very normal school, but one class, a new transfer student notes, is different from the others. In this class that he transferred to, a student died, a generation ago, yet the class is still affected, as if under a curse. The curse seems centered on a girl with an eyepatch, who the class ignores, and he is told to do likewise, even by the girl herself. Curious as to what is under the eyepatch, he ends up following her into an old curiosity shop. An accident happens, someone is hospitalized, the eyepatch girl visits the hospital; coincidence? It seems as if there is some murder mystery to be solved, but if you watch the series to its end, an exasperated online review that I later read complains, there isn't. It's all in people's heads. And that may be the most horrific aspect of the show.

Time to get some sleep, and I wish I could say this nightmare show kept me from sleeping, but if anything kept me awake, it was my still whingeing stomach and guts, causing me to stay in bed until checkout time.

On Friday, I walked in on Five Star Stories, and saw: a moment of public tenderness, as at a wedding, between some young man and his robot-like girlfriend; rage from some older notable, his superior and/or the story's villain; a fight including raised boulders; and the beginning of a happy ending. The animation style was old-fashioned, almost all characters having heart-shaped faces, eyes twice as wide as their mouths, big hair in unrealistic shades and Matsumoto-style uniforms; the colours were lustrous and oversaturated. The booklet told me that the robot girlfriend was a "fatima", an android co-pilot who chooses a human pilot to help operate a giant robot craft. The film was shown again on Sunday morning, and this time I hoped to see it from beginning to end, but I woke up so late that, on arriving in the video room, I walked in on exactly the same scene!

Of the next show, Garakowa: Restore the World, I likewise saw and remembered very little, and it, too, made mostly a visual impact. Consulting the con booklet: "A space inhabited by multiple worlds, countless timelines and a diversity of people, where Dual and Dorothy battle the enemy - viruses encroaching on the world. A world infected by a virus must be deleted." Yes, I remember a girl embedded in an era of lace, ribbons and horse-drawn carriages, having to destroy her world and the people her embedded self had grown up with and come to love, shredding it to fragments and erasing it. Skipping a few lines: "One day, Dorothy and Dual discover a new virus attacking a girl. ... She calls herself 'Remo' and has only one thing to say: 'I have to return to the flower garden...'" This too I remember: an ethereal yet anime-bimbette girl floating in a room of crystals and monitors, the sort of room from which one would expect all these world-simulations to be run, and a narrow-petalled water-lily flowerhead blossoming.

There is nothing unrealistic or psychedelic in the animation of Galilei Donna, following the lives of three sisters who are descendants of the illustrious Galilei. Only seeing the end of the last shown episode, I found it hard to make head or tail of, but Googling it led me to a review criticizing its weak and inconsistent plot, so maybe my puzzlement wasn't entirely my fault. There's nothing wrong with the art, and for those who like historical settings, this show could be just another example of eye candy where plot is not something to worry about.

A show that is plotless by definition, because it's the slice-of-life kind, is Non Non Biyori Repeat. It's set in the countryside, but not as remote as the con booklet's description would have me believe; there are still shops and motorways. Still, it doesn't have the distractions of a large town, and young children's social circle is limited to five girls and one boy, who all know each other from their single tiny village school. But they make the most of it: they hold "knock your opponent's ruler off the desk" competitions, where the girls all gang up on the boy (who, admittedly, is the best at this game), and experience harrowing adventures like getting totally lost, and becoming so weak in the knees that a friend has to carry them back to the village. It's not so much comedy as child's eye view, for adults who wish they could go back to that age when life was so much simpler.

The first time I saw Genius Party Beyond was at the con of 2010. I rewatched the short films with a better understanding - in the story of the masked boy and the witch-girl, the former has been dragged out of his own dimension into the current world by the latter, causing the destruction of both this world and himself - and particularly enjoyed the one, in green-yellow-greytones, of the woman who injected bits of illicit life-form into her dolls.

Here is a description I find unappealing: "Asuna spends solitary days listening to the mysterious music emanating from the cat's-whisker receiver her father gave to her as a memento." It conjures up images of an orphan moved out to the countryside to live with her grandparents, feel lonely and left out, and have what could barely be described as adventures. It does not do justice to Journey to Agartha, that hallucinatory trip that I'd avoided at an earlier con because of its humdrum description. The film does start as expected, although the countryside is more a mountainous wilderness. Here, this girl uses this receiver to pick up what sounds like whale song, and meets a boy who should not have revealed himself, but who saves her from a diseased monster that he shows concern for. He claims to be from Agartha; she asks her schoolteacher what this means, and the teacher says it's a fantasy land of happiness, and lists a number of alternative names including "Arcadia". She is also followed around by an animal that she thinks is a pet cat. The boy takes her to a grotto which has a gate leading to Agartha. There, they run into a military black op intent on discovering this gate. The schoolteacher saves her; turns out he's part of the military, but isn't about to give them access. In Agartha, which is a continuation of the wilderness outside, the girl is almost swallowed up by shadow creatures, but the schoolteacher catches up with her and saves her. She meets people and receives hospitality and knowledge of sacred creatures that die when their mission in life has been fulfilled; her "cat" is one of these. There is a special place where people go to have a wish fulfilled, at the cost of a sacrifice. She goes there to wish for the safe return of the boy who helped her. The schoolteacher accompanies her, but he has his own wish, and it's not compatible with hers. I'm not really spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen this film yet, because what I can't describe is the sheer visual spectacle of it. I could give away the whole ending, and watching it would still come as a surprise.

Not only had it been worth the watch, it was the last show that I found worth watching. I had high hopes for the classic Riding Bean, but found it too full of gratituous shouting and violence. Why the surprise movie disappointed me, I don't remember; it was probably something I'd already seen and very probably a Leiji Matsumoto film, as his works featured prominently during this con; the late night shows included live-action versions of both Space Battleship Yamato and Space Pirate Captain Harlock. And so the con was over for me before it really ended. I went to the waffle stand, but it took no more orders, because all customers had to be served before the food court closed. Unable to obtain a paste-filled fish waffle treat, I settled for a curry sauce rice island with a flag on top, which tasted surprisingly good.

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