This year had, hands down, the worst conditions for going to a convention. Were the hotels sold out? Not at all, and for once I was in a hotel less than a five minute walk from the con: the Marriott Hotel. Was the food bad? The food, like the con itself, was a blur. Was the trip a nightmare? Since it was made from a chalet in a holiday park rather than the intensely depressing Overschild, not really. No, the problem was that the juridical nightmare concerning my house and possible imminent homelessness was about to draw to a close in a court session planned the very day after the con. I even booked a room in a budget hotel next to the court building to stay the night between Sunday (happy anime gawking) and Monday (throwing myself on the mercy of a judge). Then the opposition backed out and offered a settlement at the last minute, and I was stuck with a booked room that I couldn't cancel, and a pre-printed train ticket that I couldn't set back to a day earlier, and I had to stay in that room close to that court building with the same sense of deflation as when I received the news that the court case was cancelled. In that frame of mind, of course, I took no note either mentally or on paper of what anime played before my empty eyes. I did, somehow, manage to scratch the skin off the tip of my nose. That, alone, I clearly remember: the tender feeling of exposed underskin, and the bite when sweat rolled onto it in the stifling June weather.
So braindead was I, that I managed to forget to take a con booklet, and lose the printed timetable. The year after, looking up the 2017 version of the anime con in the Wayback Machine in an attempt to find what the heck I'd been watching, I was presented with the database for 2018, despite browsing a snapshot from 2017. So I went to the actual site and browsed under History, which has a page for each past con going back to 2011, and promises "the whole list" for that year's video programme, but delivers nothing more than a long white page. All I've been able to recall are a few highlights, so this is (and unless I find that timetable one day, will remain) a very short write-up.
Last year, the building's entrance had been extended, so that the depressing mural that used to greet me on my school's yearly Speech Day was now inside the building, and the food court that had been laid out in front of it like a small market, had likewise moved inside; but the indoor stall that sold bento boxes the year before, had been absent. Still no bento boxes this year, but the fish waffle stand - I now know they're called "taiyaki" - was back, with its fillings of red bean paste, chocolate, custard, and cheese. Though arriving early enough to be one of the first in line, I still had to wait an hour to enter the building. I stuffed my bags in a locker, bought some taiyaki (4 euros per waffle!) and parked my rear in a chair to watch what may have been Magic Kyun! Renaissance. (I definitely watched that show. I just don't remember whether it was the first show I saw.)
It's an odd show. Not a comedy, but it has its funny moments. The setting is a boarding school for students of magic, but it's not your standard Hogwarts. The students are not witches and wizards, but artists in various fields, and the magic part is that when they practice their art, be it painting, calligraphy, dancing or even baking, the finished work should produce sparkles.
A new student, Kohana, is shown the way on campus by a boy whose appearance and manner scream "love interest", but when she offers him a bouquet of flowers as thanks - the first time she makes something sparkle - he tells her that they are rivals, because apparently their families are feuding. Other students are less aloof; one, a slouching slob who keeps to himself in a kind of tower where the halls are hung with his calligraphy samples, is much too worried about his writer's block to be looking down his nose at her. Being on a school committee for an upcoming feast, she has a double duty: produce a sparkly masterwork, and motivate all the other students to actually turn up for committee meetings. The former, she does by looking through an album of her mother's work - they both arrange flowers - and then duplicating the best arrangement. Her masterpiece looks nice but, and this happens while the whole school is watching, there are no sparkles. Kohana feels crushed and humiliated. Her designated love interest tells her she isn't really fit to head the committee, but she refuses to accept defeat. Her teacher gives her a key to the room where her mother used to make flower arrangements, and as she practices in solitude, trying to find that magic streak, she makes an arrangement that doesn't merely sparkle; it causes a cherry tree to grow through the roof and shed a whirlwind of blossoms. That's why this show is memorable: it's very pretty to watch, as the sparkly art doesn't just please the teachers, it pleases the audience too.
I left the con before Friday midnight because my eyelids were dropping like shutters, and my stomach was burping as it always does these days to signal that I need rest. On Saturday, I snacked on a little plate of teriyaki (sweet glazed meat) and a row of takoyaki (tiny hearty vegetable pancakes, quite oily with mayonnaise on top, but the mayonnaise really brings out the rich taste). I also bought a beaker of matcha (green tea) bubble tea, because not only were there no bento boxes again this year, there was no matcha ice cream either! A real shame, as matcha ice cream not only soothes the digestive system, it also tastes quite nice.
Apparently, I then went to watch something with "phantom" in the title. No amount of websearching for "phantom, anime" has turned up a result I recognize, so here are the five shows I do recall, and could find the titles of:
Interviews with Monster Girls: Tetsuo Takahashi's biology class has some very interesting pupils! Society today is more accepting of demi-humans (any monsters or demons in humanoid form), and a number of these have ended up at the school where he works. Not just accepting but encouraging, he takes a personal interest in these special cases and what he can do to help them fit in better in human society. The first and most obvious one, called Kyoko, has a detached head that she has to carry everywhere. Sitting with her head in her lap, she complains, in a shy, listless tone, that she never has her hands free to touch and hug other people. I can easily think of some head-holding construction that could be mounted on her shoulders, but the most her biology teacher can arrange for her is being allowed to use a backpack instead of a satchel.
A more handicapped, but less low-energy pupil is Hikari, a vampire from a mixed human/vampire household who drinks tomato soup instead of blood, dislikes daylight, and gets itchy fangs sometimes. But hello, demis are not restricted to pupils! Who is that mysterious woman, shy and withdrawn, hugging a baggy tracksuit around her body and taking the earliest train to work and the latest train back to avoid drawing attention to herself? Why, it's a bona fide succubus, teaching math while doing everything she can to avoid erotically mesmerizing every male within sight. The only person Sakie Sato feels at ease with, although she worries her involuntary powers could affect him, is her colleague the biology teacher, and, informally, social worker for demi girls.
Zombieland Saga: Sakura is an energetically happy idol singer who's about to make her big debut today! She bounces out the door, into the street and in the path of an oncoming truck. BAM! She comes round in a room with six other girls/women who moan and shamble through the room, looking like death warmed over - because they are! They're zombies! AAAAGH! She tries to defend herself with a spear or poker which she chucks through one of the zombies' skull (don't worry, the zombie gets better), escapes from the room, runs towards a policeman, and is shot at! A man called Kotaro Tatsumi brings her back inside, and explains that she is a zombie just like them; he brought seven big names from various periods back from the dead. Double AAAAGH!
So far, Sakura is the only self-aware zombie. To make the other six regain their senses, their new manager hangs electric guitars over their shoulders and enters them in a death metal talent show as something like "Daughters of Death". Sakura is worried because she can't sing or play death metal, and the others don't even know where they are; they just make EUUURRGGH sounds and rock back and forth, throwing their heads impossibly far backwards: luckily, this is what the crowd likes, and they're a roaring success. The experience causes five more zombies to awaken, so Kotaro introduces them to each other and explains his purpose. The seven are idol singer Sakura Minamoto, biker gang leader Saki Nikaido, idol singer Ai Mizuno who Sakura was a fan of, Junko Konno, an idol singer who predates the other two, the mature and elegantly old-fashioned Yugiri who is more a geisha type, the child actor Lily Hoshikawa and non-artist Tae Yamada, the only one who is still in "braaaiinnnz" mode. Oh, and there is a dog zombie too, called Romero. Kotaro wants them to become famous and economically revive the area where he lives.
Saki doesn't like being told what to do, and the two older idol singers just run away, prompting Sakura to go after them and help them flee when they run into the same policeman that shot at her earlier. They return, and, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, follow their manager's instructions on their path to fame, which means doing promotions, participating in competitions and, of course, musical performances. To avoid discovery, they are coated in a thick layer of makeup before every event, which, whether successful or not, always ends in hilarity, and relies heavily on the gimmick that zombies are indestructible and, apparently, self-regenerating, judging from the limbs and heads that drop off and have to be stuck back on.
Oushitsu Kyoushi Heine, or The Royal Tutor: the philosopher Wittgenstein has a partial namesake in anime. His first name is Heine, he is very well educated, and he has the looks and size of a child. As such, he often has to suffer being cooed at and patted on the head before he gets a chance to introduce himself. The king of Glanzreich ("shiny kingdom"), who is apparently an old buddy of his, summons him to the palace - cue headpats from the palace guard - to deal with the four middle children. The eldest child is an adult and the youngest a tiny tot, but the four princes Wittgenstein has been summoned to tutor are all in their teens, and act like it. Kai, the oldest of the four is violent; Bruno, the second, is highly intellectual and arrogant, Leonhardt, the third, is vain and petulant and the fourth, Licht, only has eyes for pretty women despite his young age. The king wants them to have an education that will make them fit for the throne, but so far they have sent every royal tutor packing.
The new tutor is wise as well as educated, and soon sees that i. the princes are not what they appear to be (although Bruno is genuinely gifted, and Leonhardt is absolutely petulant) and ii. what previous tutors misunderstood: they each need a separate approach. Kai is not violent, but withdrawn and very protective of his siblings. Bruno has a much higher than average intelligence, and Leonhardt's intelligence is much lower, but he is very athletic. Wittgenstein interviews them to establish their level, wins their respect when necessary, makes lesson plans, and takes them to town where hijinks ensue, because obviously, a show with a man who keeps being mistaken for a little boy is not going to be dead serious.
Nanbaka is a pun: "Nanba" ("number") is the name of the high-security prison that the show is set in, and "nanba-ka" (inmates of Nanba) can also be read as "nan-baka", where "baka" means "idiot". This is of course a slapstick comedy that has nothing to do with the gritty reality of life in jail; it's more of a roommates sitcom, where some of the roommates wear ridiculously decorated uniforms and nearly all of them have wildly coloured and impossibly styled hair. The most forceful presence in this prison, a prison guard called Hajime, has neither, as his uniform is relatively spartan, and he's bald. He has a scar under one eye that looks a bit like the glint in the eye of a deadly opponent, and is the harshest and most violent member of staff: in the first episode, he has to catch, and return to their shared cell, the four most heavily guarded prisoners in block 13, and does so like an angry parent rounding up teenagers who play truant.
The four inmates of cell 13 in block 13 are: Uno the womanizing gambler, Jyugo the lockpicking expert, Rock whose love of food is only trumped by his readiness to brawl, and the smallish Nico, bandages covering his limbs and, disconcertingly, half of his face, to indicate his fragile health from drug abuse. On escaping their cell, the foursome have to brave one ridiculous trap after another, their over-the-top escape attempt ending when Hajime collars them at the exit and marches them back. Not only do they break out often, they are perfectly content to be inside; Jyugo has even let himself be imprisoned voluntarily, as a guard once put shackles on him while he was asleep, and it's beyond his skill to remove them. He has been to all other prisons looking for this guard, to have the shackles removed; Nanba is his last hope. The gluttonous Rock gets on well with the prison cook, a blank-faced former inmate who presents food by way of communication. Uno is over the moon when he spots the new warden, a pretty woman, until he finds out that she's Hajime's younger brother. An actual woman arrives; she is Hajime's superior and unnerves him with her steely glare, which is in fact an infatuated gaze as she can't keep her eyes off him. Other characters are introduced, including the mild-mannered Seitarou who has to stand in for Hajime, fears that the inmates of cell 13 will not listen to him, and is advised to mollify them by giving them what they want, which in Nico's case is manga and video games. Then, focus shifts to the New Year Tournament, an episode-spanning series of competitions between the various blocks, where the humourless Hajime favourably surprises me by being good at calligraphy.
The Saga of Tanya the Evil was a show I definitely wanted to see, as it's about an adorable little girl who is evil through and through. It was a letdown to find out that Tanya is in fact a grown man in a little girl's body, although the flashback was sorta cool: this man is an office worker in modern-day Japan. He is tasked with firing employees, which he does without compunction. One day, a newly fired hire kills him in revenge at a station on the way home from work, time freezes, and he is addressed by God, who speaks with the mouths of the frozen passengers, admonishing him for his lack of faith. He is as coolly dismissive of this supernatural phenomenon as he is of the workers he kicks out for a living, so, to punish him and force him to "believe", this God has him reincarnate as a little girl from a poor family in an era where women have no rights; to wit, an 18th-19th century setting in Europe where Germany and Russia are fighting a war, but with magic. To anyone who has seen the Star Trek: TNG episode where Q teleports the Enterprise into a very sticky situation to force captain Picard to say "Q, I need you!" - it's like that, and I'm unimpressed. At least Q had a likeable side.
I did say "with magic"? Little Tanya, having magical talent, enters the military at an impossibly young age, and at nine years, she's a drill sergeant who, in a high-pitched voice, blasts at the new recruits: "I don't expect you to excel! I don't expect you to succeed! All I hope is that you won't let me down too badly!" before putting them through the Training From Hell. Her inner monologue is still in the flat, soulless voice of the office sociopath who has already thought of a way out: work your way up in the military ranks until you can join the strategists who don't have to set foot on the battlefield themselves, then kick back and relax. Problem: Tanya is such a good soldier and strategist that her superior decides she belongs in the heat of battle. Well dammit!
After that, it gets formulaic. Tanya flies around in a snowy landscape on her military magic broomstick, acts callous to fellow soldiers, kills enemies, almost gets killed herself and, any time things really get out of hand, prays to God. It's like the final Sailor Moon season, where every episode culminated in Chibi-Chibi doing her precious little prayer pose. The puffy upper lips and suggested duckface of the female characters, including Tanya, also got on my nerves. And my stomach was sending up burps again as a sign to go to the hotel and get some rest. So that was it for Saturday.
Whatever anime Sunday kicked off with, I must have found it unimpressive, because I slept in. This con's surprise movie was the Sailor Moon R movie, or, to give the full title, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon R: The Movie. Having bought that season's laser disk set complete with movie, I recognized it from the opening scene of Usagi (Sailor Moon in civvies) and friends at a rose-filled nursery. The Sailor Moon R season featured, as villains and comic relief, two elf/alien creatures called Alan and Ann who crashed on Earth with their life-sustaining spaceship/tree. The season's movie introduces a third called Fiore, who forcibly, using mobile aggressive plants, abducts Usagi's boyfriend Mamoru (Tuxedo Mask) to a floating floral paradise in space, which then hurtles on a crash course towards Earth. The abduction part is because when they were both children, Mamoru gave Fiore a rose, and Fiore swore to return the favour one day; and also so Fiore can heal Mamoru, who was almost killed when he threw himself in the path of an attack aimed at Usagi. The crashing part is because Fiore, who, like the other aliens, lives in symbiosis with plants, is being mind-controlled by an evil plant that wants to scatter its seeds all over the planet. Long story short, the Sailor girls and Tuxedo Mask unite to stop this happening; Fiore dies; Sailor Moon almost dies but is revived; everyone lives happily ever after.
And that's all I can remember about this year, sorry!