Created: 01-01-2022
Last update: 30-11-2022


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AnimeCon 2019 - "AnimeCon Goes South"

I don't know whether the con organizers are aware of the colloquial meaning of the phrase "goes south" (also: "goes pear-shaped", "turns ugly") but in this case the literal meaning is that the con venue changed from World Forum, The Hague to the more southerly Ahoy, Rotterdam. The new location took some getting used to; I never thought I would miss the World Forum rooms named after rivers, and the prairie-type vegetation lining the driveway that led obliquely away from the entrance. One advantage of earlier con locations was that hotels could be found within walking distance. No such luck for Ahoy; going to and from hotels had to be done by metro (using the hated OV-chipcard) by day, and per taxi at night, the con organizers also having arranged a taxi shuttle service. I booked a room at Hotel Thon, arriving one day before the con started so I would be at Ahoy early and right at the start of the queue, as bad health was eating into my ability to stand in a line for hours on end. The con's first day began with rain.

So. I was present at 10 am, second in line. The con's doors would open at 12 am. I waited an hour, then had my ticket barcode checked and was given the weekend pass on a lanyard. Then I had to wait another hour, because security would not let us in until five past twelve even though the con's programme had already started. At this time, my calves were trembling with fatigue. To be let in, I had to open my heavy bags for a quick search, just in case I was a bomb-smuggling terrorist. I planned to stuff said bags in the locker I'd reserved, but the line to the lockers didn't move for at least half an hour; by then, I was so faint I had to get down on my knees. I thought the delay was due to a more thorough bag search, but it turned out the lockers hadn't been set up yet! In fact, they would not be available until 14:00! Having run out of patience as well as missed the first hour of the con, I did what I'd rented a locker in advance to avoid: deposited the bags at the cloak and bag room, to be retrieved and transferred to the locker later. A con visitor remarked that the lockers open late every year, which I filed under "things I would have liked to know in advance".

Due to these delays, I missed half of the first five eps of Chio's School Road, so named because quick-tempered readhead Chio and her friend Manana walk to school together, mucking about and getting into trouble like little boys despite being teens, arguing and fighting to the point that their class president (compares to a prefect at old-fashioned English boarding schools) doesn't even realize they are friends until they perform a corny little "best friends" dance. At first it seems like their friendship is the comic element, such as when they somehow get hold of a cigarette and treat it like dangerous contraband, but Chio can get into silly predicaments entirely by herself, as in the ep where she really really really needs to pee, dashes into a public toilet, finds out post-urination that she's in a men's toilet, panics and employs all kind of tricks to keep out the men who might enter, see her, and draw shameful conclusions, and finally, thinking she's found the solution to leaving unseen, shows the whole street her wiggling butt as she attempts to climb out of the window backwards.

Chio could take lessons in deception from Himouto! Umaru-chan's absolutely perfect - in grades and behaviour - schoolgirl Umaru, who lives in an apartment with her brother Taihei and who, the moment she's inside the front door, puts on a hamster cape, acquires a chibi face and transforms into a spoiled brat who hangs around pigging out on junk food while expecting her brother to pay all the bills, cook and do the housework. She even bullies him into buying her hamsters, sobbing in a pet shop that he's just so mean and won't let her have anything until the glares of onlookers make him relent. He is surprised, even though he knew this was coming, that months later, she still hasn't cleaned their cages. The comedy stems from the way they constantly try to be one step ahead of each other. Luck favours the sister, but the brother gets unexpected help from Nana, a pupil at his sister's school who has a rural background, and is so embarrassed by the accent she tries to hide that she thinks everyone is judging her for it, when in reality people are just ogling her "eyes", y'know, the ones that aren't "up here". Nurturing a secret crush on Taihei, Nana is invited to their house and assumes that the hamster-caped brat is impeccably perfect Umaru's younger sister, thereby dashing Taihei's hope that Umaru will be forced to behave properly in front of visitors from now on. Other people who mistake Umaru-at-home for a younger sister are Kirie, the girl with resting "menacing glare" face, and a fancy blue-haired girl who always gets slightly lower grades than her, and who Umaru therefore decides must be a rival bent on revenge. Recurring jokes: the former biker gang member who delivers the newspapers, and the long white blotchy cat pillow Umaru does her best to win at the arcade and finally buys online after Taihei, who does win that pillow, thinks he's done the right thing by giving it to Nana.

The title Is it OK to pick up girls in a dungeon: Arrow of Orion is not only long, but misleading. Is this RPG-type fantasy? The opening shot of a ruin raises that hope. Is this dating comedy? The title suggests it, as does the arrival of studly young adventurer Bell Cranel at an inn run by Hestia, Goddess of the Hunt, and her equally annoying catgirl colleague. In a dim echo of the "pull the sword from the stone" legend, he has come to join a competition for an arrow that is in fact a spear, and which he wins because the "arrow", which calls him "Orion", has chosen him for his "innocence", ie. cluelessness. He then has to go on a quest, getting involved with characters named after Greek deities and dragons and scorpions. I didn't pay attention because ye gods and things on toast, Hestia is annoying. The whole cast is annoying. Such bimbettes, so much crying. You'd have to be zonked out after a long exhausting workday to watch this without tossing the TV out the window. As the big projection screen was firmly attached to the wall (just kidding, I would never damage the con's video equipment, it has enough hiccups without me touching it) I decided this was a good time to travel (stiff walk, metro ride, another stiff walk) to the hotel.

Speaking of hiccups, I returned from the hotel on time for Friday evening's run of 10 Episodes per hour, but still missed the first hour of it because the film that was scheduled before it, ended an hour late. At about six minutes per episode - and that's without subtracting the opening and ending credits - these mini-series still manage to pack in a lot of gags. My favourite was Skull-face Bookseller Honda, a wannabe manga artist who settles for working at a bookstore where all employees wear animal or theatre masks. From the store manager who politely inquires why the bonus material is delivered later than the comics it's supposed to be sold with and then cracks the phone with fury as she hangs up, to the branch manager who terrifies the bookshop staff into gibbering puddles of sweat, it's hilarious and relatable. I didn't think much of Japari Park in the Future, a safari park where all animal species, even extinct ones, are anthropomorphized into cute girls who have to fight blue star-shaped things called "Cellians" (pronounced "Cerurian", I think they were going for "Cerulean") while a "guide" drives around in a leopard-shaped tour bus. The only not-irritating moment in Cinderella Girls, about an idol group, was when they were too late to watch a cherry tree blossom and had to sit under a wisteria instead. One series whose title I didn't catch, but which gave me a sense of deja-vu, featured a train crossing on the way to school, and the interactions of teachers and pupils waiting at that crossing. In one ep, a teacher thinks a schoolgirl is so quiet because she's bashful, and tries to put her at ease by chatting with her until she can't contain her amusement any longer, and bursts out laughing. In another, two siblings stand silently side by side, facing straight ahead, seemingly unaware of each other but, in fact, engaged in a furious texting battle.

Whatever warmth and jollity a title like Boogiepop and Others suggests: it is false. This is a grim, bizarre series in which anime bimbettes have no place. The series is not quite in chronological order, or maybe the con room's video player scrambled the order of the eps again. The urban legend Boogiepop is a shinigami or death god, so when high school girls go missing, he is considered a suspect by Kirima, the Japanese high school version of Fox Mulder, who is personally investigating the disappearances. However, his first visible act is one of kindness, when a mute man in rags - named Echoes, as he can only use words that others have spoken to him first - stands bewildered in the street and no one stops to help him, and Boogiepop, cloaked and wearing a puffy top hat, berates the passers-by for their neglect. Echoes is an alien who has come to judge mankind (are humans nasty or nice?) and after his no doubt gruelling experiences so far, he is taken in by Kirima, who hides him in the school building. Meanwhile, a boy who thinks he was stood up on a date, sees his date's face under the brim of Boogiepop's hat. Because Boogiepop can only act while possessing a human's body. And he is only here to fight some menace that kills humans; when he thinks the danger has passed, he leaves.

Either before or after that, another, rather sleazy boy, having been rejected by his crush, has instead focused his love on the creature devouring said crush. This creature is called Manticore and, we discover later, was created when humans discovered Echoes and made clones of him in their lab; Manticore is an escaped clone. Cooperating with her human lover, Manticore guzzles one high school girl after another until there is one that, for some reason, she can't eat, so she makes a zombie out of the victim by filling her up with blue stuff. The zombie also hands out the blue stuff to classmates, who end up getting eaten by Manticore, so this should have happened before the Boogiepop sighting.

Oh, and then there's the student counselor who sees a rose in each person, and becomes a serial psychic killer because he wants to nurture those inner rose plants to perfection, so that the rose-containing students can die happy.

And oh yes, at some point Kirima and Manticore face off, and Echoes is almost destroyed by Manticore, and Kirima is killed, but Echoes changes into pure energy, bringing her back to life, and beams back into space, while other high-schoolers kill Manticore with the help of Boogiepop, who's back, and late to the party. I think. I had to look up a synopsis online to make sense of it all.

Re:ZERO - Starting Life in Another World is a similar mindbender. Subaru, for whom an appropriate title would be "Sir Dies-a-Lot", is up late at night playing computer games. He stops and goes out to buy a snack, sees himself dying, dismisses it as as a delusion brought on by too much gaming, and is suddenly in a medieval fantasy world, where he assumes he is the Player Character; he doesn't seem to have acquired any special powers, though. He is almost killed; a silver-haired half-elf with a furry sidekick comes to his aid and says her insignia was stolen by Felt, an annoying twerp who will be killed by the sinuous, lip-licking assassin Elsa later. (Elsa will kill a lot of people. Repeatedly.) The half-elf calls herself Satella. To thank her by recovering the insignia, Subaru finds out where the thief lives, but just as he's about to get the insignia back, Elsa kills him.

And he's back in the real world.

He's transported to the fantasy world again at the same point in time, this time managing the timing a little better and trading his cellphone for the insignia at the hideout of an old fence called Rom, before Elsa turns up and ends up killing him again.

Reset. Now he's back and killed by three thugs he managed to evade earlier.

Reset. Now he meets the silver-haired girl again and she's furious that he called her Satella, as that is the name of an evil witch. The girl's real name is Emilia and she's the protegee of the slightly evil-looking Lord Roswaal, who wants her to win a competition to become queen. Subaru, getting a job as servant at Roswaal's mansion, meets his colleagues, the twin frilly maids Ram and Rem who only show one eye, the other one obscured by long bangs. A fixture at the mansion is tiny librarian Beatrice, with her disapproving deadpan baby face, who obviously knows her way around, causing a bit of slapstick by illogically popping in and out of rooms that apparently connect to each other by hidden pathways known only to her. Subaru dies again, but this time, he returns to the mansion; his reset point has shifted, moving the narrative along a bit.

If this sounds at all like a tricky game where the player must restart from the last save point, it is, only the dying before respawning is extremely and traumatizingly real. If it also sounds like a dating sim where the player has to frequently go back to a save point in order to try out all dialogue options; Subaru certainly seems to think so, as he tries to "win" all the female characters.

What a watch the surprise movie, The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl, turned out to be! The animation style is most unusual, and has a limited palette: faces are white, or red when drunk; the lines are simple yet fluid, enhancing the surreality. The night, which is definitely not short, starts with a group of students celebrating at tables in a bar. While "Senpai" dotes on "Junior" and works up the courage to profess his love to her, "Junior" is, without the usual accompanying drunkenness, indulging in her love of cocktails, and wishing she could float on a sea of liquor. A perv who sells erotic prints and sighs about his estranged family, is knocked over by her "Peaceful Punch" when he makes use of her sympathy to grope her. Impressed by her strength and tolerance for alcohol, other barflies invite her to drinking parties all over town, including one of aged academics who teach her the Sophist dance: bending forward at the waist while putting on a duckface, and walking in single file with bent knees, body swaying, index fingers pointing outward. In an alcoholic finale, she saves the perv from persecution by a local boss by beating said boss at a drinking contest, never mind how wasted she should be by now, with a special, potent brew that I've forgotten the name of. All this time, "Senpai" has tried to buy a copy of "Tarararam", a children's book that he knows his crush likes, but is waylaid by the very god of books himself. Senpai becomes increasingly desperate, even entering in a superhot pepper eating competition to win the book. Meanwhile, Junior is off on another mission; successive scenes of a subversive play, the "Codger of Monte Christo", are being performed across town. It seems like nonsense: two men are on a love conquest for "underwear man" to find "apple girl"; but they perform their scene very quickly and then dismantle the stage and disappear before the authorities arrive, to pop up again somewhere else for the next scene. They need a new female lead, and she volunteers. Her admirer finds a new way to pursue her when roped in by the head of the student body, a sinister behind-the-scenes type who is the reason why this silly play is being suppressed. Remember, this is all happening in the same night.

The boss she defeated has caught a cold which spreads through the town like wildfire, but the mother who taught her the Peaceful Punch also passed on an efficaceous cold remedy made of eggs, sugar and sake (still with the alcohol!), which she makes and distributes to all those affected; the last one being the patient zero, who she visits in his windy stronghold where she catches the cold herself. The film finally ends on a mind-bending scene representing Senpai's desperate love, after which Junior is united with her crush and her beloved book.

It was now in the small hours, and rain was drumming furiously on the roof of Ahoy's entrance area. I went outside to look for the taxi stand, and managed to get soaked to the bone waiting in the wrong place before spotting a taxi. Due to a mispronunciation, the taxi almost dropped me off at the Hilton Hotel.

The next morning, the very local War on Terrorism took a new turn; my bag was searched again, and suddenly, my reusable water bottle was not allowed! First, I had to prove that the bottle contained water, not fizzy drink, in which case I had to hand in the bottle's top, which would be thrown away; when I insisted that this was not a disposable bottle and I needed that top, I could only take the bottle with me if I promised to stow it in a locker, which I was going to do anyway. And all this to catch the must-see Gabriel DropOut, which I'd missed the first half of anyway, by oversleeping and then by missing my stop, because usually the metro stops are displayed on a screen and called out over the intercom, but, this Saturday morning, neither screen nor intercom was on.

Why was this rather mediocre series "must-see"? Because, in this unassuming comedy, angels have come to Japan in the form of young girls, including a fallen angel who tries to interfere with them, and this antagonist was characterized by a reviewer as "smol satan". So I expected uproarious moeblob comedy. Disappointingly, it's more a silly anime bimbette sitcom. Two of the bimbettes - purple-haired Vigne, a demon in disguise, and lavender-haired Raphiel, an angel in disguise - have ordered three cream puffs, one strawberry-flavoured, one custard-flavoured, and one very spicy; it's impossible to see from the outside which is which, and the unlucky person to bite into the spicy one will have to pay for them. Vigne and Raphiel both pick a mild cream puff, offering the third one to a boldly defiant-looking girl who is the "smol satan", the proudly named Satania, who munches it without comment as, it turns out, she has no sense of taste.

The series revolves around Gabriel, the angel who scored top marks at angel school before going to Earth in human form to spread happiness, but who, as soon as she became involved in online computer games, developed a gaming addiction and began to neglect all duties both angelic and domestic, ie. her apartment looks like a pigsty. Vigne is the moderately evil demon who Gabriel helped out when Vigne was newly arrived in Earth and had trouble finding her way around, while Gabriel, not having become addicted to gaming yet, was still sweet and helpful. Today, Vigne and Gabriel are almost equally disinterested in their respective purposes on earth. Raphiel is the angel who scored the second highest marks, is still a very conscientious angel, and checks in on Gabriel, whose drop in motivation concerns her; Satania is determined to be the evilest demon in hell, specifically by pitting herself against heaven's most highly regarded angel, who, though too surly to care, has zero tolerance for any demons who are not Vigne, so when Gabriel lands a job at a coffee house (whose owner waxes absolutely lyrical about coffee) and Satania bounces in expecting to be served, Gabriel, to the shock and horror of the owner, unceremoniously kicks her out.

Scrapping other possibly bimbette-containing shows off the list to make time for a meal, I bought okonomiyaki (small vegetable pancakes) at one of the con's Japanese food stands, then left Ahoy to pay a visit to Rotterdam's most imposing culinary attraction: "de Markthal", a building that looks like an extended upside-down letter U, the thick sides containing apartments, the arching ceiling covered with a mural depicting fruit and vegetables, and the space under it sectioned into squares and filled with snackbars, mini-restaurants and specialty food shops: tapas bars, seafood snackbars, chocolatiers, cheese shops, oriental street food bars, coffee corners, fruit and nut sellers, one shop selling Moroccan herbs called Spices of Marrakech (where I picked up some zaatar, a mix of oregano and sesame seeds), sushi bars, ice cream salons, bakeries, tea shops, a smoothie bar... Not to upset my delicate stomach, I bought some unadventurous food and ate it while looking at the big chess board, with knee-high pieces, built into the floor near one of the exits.

While I was out, the con showed the series Overlord, which I was already familiar with from last year's con, and its sequels, Overlord II and Overlord III (points for originality!) which I planned to skip in favour of concurrently shown fantasy series, beginning with the interestingly named Merc Storia: The Apathetic Boy and the Girl in a Bottle. Well, the name may be interesting, but there it stops. In a typical pseudo-medieval fantasy setting, a young boy called Yuu gets a bottle of water from his father. Yuu, who looks misleadingly tough with his big purple headband, is in fact a dweeb, as he has the gift of healing monsters' hearts - which immediately makes them harmless - but is terrified of monsters, and only applies his gift to stop them chasing him. Anyway, Yuu opens the bottle and out pops Merc, a tiny girl with liquid hair (supposedly she's completely liquid, clothes and all) who doesn't know who she is or why she's in a bottle. To find out, she drags him into a quest (apparently this anime is adapted from a game) and within a few eps they're joined by a Pokemon-like cute animal with a tiny unicorn horn. I assume Yuu is called "apathetic" by contrast with his liquid companion, a bitchy firebrand who is also, of course, an anime bimbette. They come in all sizes.

The Rising of the Shield Hero is similar, but much less saccharine. It was shown in the same time slot as the above, and I planned to watch the first half of the former and the second half of the latter, but, tired of Liquid Bimbette after the first ep, I switched video rooms just as the titular hero found himself court-martialled. Synopsis: a magic kingdom needs four heroes, armed with one of sword, spear, bow, or shield, to save them from "Waves" of monsters, and summons them from the real world. In this company of four, Naofumi, the "shield hero", is snerked at by the weapon wielders for, basically, not having a weapon, then accused of a crime he didn't commit, and not only abandoned, but made an outlaw. This is not exactly what he expected, and he is bitter. What I walked in on was this hero dragged before the king, accused by a girl who stole his money, then sent off to fend for himself. To have at least one companion who won't betray him, he buys a slave, Raphtalia, who is magically bound to him. Raphtalia is some sort of fox-girl who knows about the monsters they'll be fighting, as those monsters killed her parents.

This is an RPG setting where heroes have to level up through combat, but since the shield hero can only use a shield - any weapon jumps out of his hand - he can't level up. Taking pity on his slave, he treats her like an adopted orphan, taking her out to dinner, even buying her armour and a weapon. That is how he finds out that when his companion levels up, so does he. From now on, Raphtalia will have to do the fighting, while Naofumi experiments with all the gadgets he can turn his shield into as his power increases.

In Overlord III, gamer Momongo, who refused to log out when told to many eps ago, and who is now stuck in a game world as Ainz Ooal Gown, the lich ruler of Nazarick tomb, is still struggling with his lich role, striking poses and trying out lordly-sounding phrases when alone. His servants, formerly NPCs, still dote on him. Albedo the succubus still wants to, literally, jump his bones. She almost succeeds when he's taking a bath (think: onsen) with his male colleagues. Ainz, sensing that everyone except him knows what his plans are, cleverly questions Demiurge, his strategist, using the "I already know, but what do you think?" approach, to pull this information out of him.

One thing Ainz apparently wants to do is form an independent nation, while remaining allied to a nearby town, to help fight a looming threat. The Carne village that fell under his protection after being almost destroyed, and that he introduced to goblins (little green men), in earlier seasons, is doing well, and the ethnic goblin group, in particular, has assimilated nicely, the goblins joking among themselves at dinner over who is going to marry Erin, one of the few surviving human villagers, who used an artifact that Ainz gave her to summon them. Nifrea, the goblin pharmacist, needs more of a particular herb, so a party of goblins is formed to harvest some in the dangerous forest, where they rescue a scarred and wounded goblin child from a Barghest, a huge wolf that wields a chain using telekinesis. The child is a hobgoblin, son of a tribal chief, and has come looking for help. The party also captures a group of ogres, who decide to join. Since the hobgoblin child bears tidings of giants and undead coming to take over the forest, Erin, not wanting to ask another favour from the friendly lich who already provided her with a goblin troop, goes to the nearby town to see if she can get help from the Adventurers Guild, but the artifact that Ainz gave her almost gets her arrested.

Again, I switched rooms after a while to watch something else shown in the same time slot. The first scene I saw of Run with the Wind was a drunken celebration by ten sporty young men sharing a dorm. They are athletes; their coach has entered the whole group in a famous university marathon. There is one small problem: apart from the trainer and a fellow professional runner, they all suck.

The trainer has a year to raise this rag-tag band to their full potential. They are wildly differing individuals, the animators actually bothering to give them all distinct faces. Some train to win, others just run for fun; one character, called King, slacks off because he refuses to let training dominate his life. The running gag of the show is a very weak, ghostly boy called Prince, who almost expires after each training session.

Punch Line is panty shot comedy; as such, I gave it very little time. Having missed the very beginning, I'm not sure why a boy seeing a girl's underwear has caused an asteroid to destroy Earth, but no worry, he can just go back in time to the moment before it happened. Now, ecchi comedy can be worth watching, but this boy, who gets bullied and treated as a servant by a gaggle of girls who flip up their skirt at him whenever they need to use his panty-shot-fuelled, nosebleed-spurting superpowers, neither makes me laugh nor interests me in the slightest. Not even if he's actually a spirit occupying a girl's body.

Uchi no Maid ga Uzasugiru! (UzaMaid! for short), on the other hand, is fantastic. It's just as pervy but without panty shots, as it's about a grown woman stalking a child who is wise to her tricks. A half-Russian orphan, who has become a shut-in after losing her mother, lives with her Japanese father; their housekeeper is an ex-military woman with an eyepatch who is unhealthily obsessed with the little girl. The girl loves the housekeeper's food, but nothing else. The housekeeper tries to lure her out with food, only to have the dish taken and the door slammed in her face; when this adult tries to approach the child by posing as a child herself in an online game, she discovers that her little bundle of joy has a sharp tongue.

It had stopped raining when the taxi drove me back to the hotel just past Saturday midnight, but on taking the taxi to Ahoy on Sunday morning, the roads were so congested that I missed the start of what would have been Hayate the Combat Butler!, only it wasn't shown, its slot taken by The Price of Smiles. The title might just as well have been "the price of pretending", because there are two girls, each ruling an empire, and the empires are at war, but one of the girls - the younger one, whose appearance screams "clueless pretty princess" - doesn't even know this! Anime series tend to treat the subject of war in a disjointed way, showing not so much the whole conflict as how it affects specific individuals and communities, so from the scene where the clueless princess wants to have a friendly meeting with a nation that would as soon blow her up, I'm dropped into the starkly contrasting scene of soldiers passing themselves off as a cleaning company to infiltrate and destroy one of the enemy's food plants, thereby acquiring a throng of hungry orphans.

After that, I still didn't see the series I came for, instead getting a taste of BanG Dream!, which is idol girl anime featuring a truly excessively clueless prospective idol girl. It starts out like this: little girl sees stars. Little girl hears music. Little girl wants to be a STAR playing MUSIC! This girl, who I should add has no idea of the concept "personal boundaries", blunders into a pawn shop where she finds a star-shaped guitar, then into a concert where it occurs to her that she would like to play at concerts on her newly acquired star guitar. This truly is a bare-bones idol girl; they usually start off with something called "talent", and, optionally, a "clue". Verdict: unfunny, and too painful to watch.

I worried that As Miss Beelzebub Likes It would be as disappointing as Gabriel DropOut, but it was fantastic. The Japanese don't really buy the idea of Hell as a place of eternal torment, seeing it more as the hideout for rebellious angels who got fed up with Heaven's oppressive regime, and left. Pandemonium, the realm of Miss Beelzebub, a permanently absent-minded anime blonde in a pink dress with a huge boob window, is a clean, pleasant, well-run metropolis where fallen angels (no horns or cloven hooves) go about their business, and her personal home is an opulent mansion where she receives dignitaries and civil servants and fulfills the daily task of leadership with a distant stare. She seems so aloof that her new personal assistant, Mullin, is terrified of not living up to her undoubtedly high standards, until, entering her bedroom on his first workday, he sees her naked and hugging the eiderdown. Because Beelzebub loves anything fluffy, to the point that she wriggles out of her pyama to maximize skin contact with the snuggly bedclothes. In a flashback to the time before she was banished from heaven, she is shown sitting on a woolly cloud, tugging little tufts off it in quiet fascination. Mortified at seeing his employer in a state of undress, Mullin gives her a soft sweater to sleep in, a ploy that is only partially successful; in her sleep, she manages to ruck it up all the way to her armpits.

Mullin is also terrified and deeply awed by Azazel, a silent hero type who holds up signboards to communicate; rather a lot of signboards when he bumps into the unfortunate assistant, causing a fall:
"Are you all right?"
"Are you hurt?"
"I'm so sorry!"

Azazel, like Beelzebub, has an unexpected quirk: he likes cute things, like pancakes in the shape of a teddy bear's head, or animal plushies, which he makes himself and regularly gifts to Beelzebub. He is also the secret love of Belphegor, who in this series is a tiny pink-haired girl who gets extremely nervous around others, which manifests as a need to pee; she is introduced running into Beelzebub's house squealing, and while Mullin looks on in confusion, Beelzebub, with a deadpan expression, picks her up and hurls her towards the toilets.

Since the inhabitants of this version of Hell are in their own element, there is no cutesy comedy about superbeings passing themselves of as ordinary girls and trying to do "human" things. They do try out new things, though, like baking cookies together as a way of bringing Azazel and Belphegor together. As they knead the cookie dough, the subject of Beelzebub's extreme strength comes up when she flattens her ball of dough with a megaton-pressure squeeze.

Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood, on the other hand, was a letdown. The theme, just as in UzaMaid!, is the shut-in who is dragged back into a social life. In both cases, the characters being dragged against their will have the appearance of little girls, but in this case, the shut-in is an undead immortal, as in, a vampire. Not so much scary as perpetually cross, this living (unliving?) Elegant Gothic Lolita doesn't bite people but orders blood online - indeed, her whole waking life consists of ordering things off the internet - and stays in for good reason; sunlight does not agree with her. Sadly, her neighbour, a bouncy, screechy girl with, as usual, no sense of personal boundaries, decides to have a crush on her, stalks her, and invades her home whenever possible, bringing friends along and getting her involved in more and more social activities. It could be comical, but somehow, it's not. I blame the screeching.

So I slipped out for mochi ice cream, which is literally ice cream in a shell of mochi dough, and takoyaki (small octopus-and-vegetable pancakes) which were delicious, despite being liberally topped with mayonnaise. The next show, The Journey Home, was 3D-animated, as well as actually funny. Two insects - an ant and a bee or wasp, it's hard to tell as they are extremely anthropomorphic - are inside a lab in a space station. At least, they are in a mini-habitat; that they are in a space station as test subjects only becomes clear later, as there are no humans left on the station, so the insects are no longer being fed. Hunger makes them break out of their comfortable little environment and into the larger space of the station itself, where there's plenty to crawl into or climb over, so it's just as well that one of them has wings. They run into a fat purple spider who is likewise wondering where the food went, and who could frequently have saved them from life-threatening situations by throwing them a rope, but who doesn't spin any more due to being traumatized by humans forcing him to produce thread. He does get over his trauma just long enough to allow the trio to break out of the station - they want to return to Earth, hence "the journey home" - and.. into a space pod? Meanwhile, there are other, larger animals that are also going hungry. Animals with long sticky tongues and a lot of jumping power. I'm talking, of course, about frogs. One chases the insect and arachnid trio who keep making hilarious daring escapes, but there's a whole colony of them.

Due to the slight irregularity of video schedules, in waiting for the con's big feature, I caught half an ep or so of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. The main character is a slime, and when the slime closes its eyes, it looks like a ball of mochi ice cream. I saw the part of the show where this apparently underpowered blob had to face off against dire wolves. It has no mouth, but nevertheless possesses the magical power of eating almost anything and then mimicking it. Its purpose in life? Make Peace With Everything, starting with a dragon who was sealed away for good reason. As a slime, ie. the lowest life-form in a fantasy RPG setting, this underdog would do well to make as many friends as possible, but the con booklet synopsis gives another reason for its pacifism; in its previous life, which must have been shown in a previous ep which I missed, it was a "salaryman" (Japanese term for office worker) who died through being stabbed.

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms was this con's big feature, and recipient of glowing reviews for its animation and storytelling. The animation is fine. The story... meh. In its ability to take hours and hours to tell me very little, it reminds me of The Wind Rises, that hours-long bore I saw in 2014. It is likewise a succession of scenes to drive the film's motto home; in this case, that mortal and immortal beings sharing a life will run into personal problems as the latter are unable to conform to the expectations of the former. This is hinted at right from the start as the immortal, or at least very long-lived, inhabitants of Iorph refer to themselves as something like "goodbye-sayers", meaning that even if they try to live among ordinary humans, they end up having to leave; and that is why they live in their own secluded colony, high in the mountains. Lesson learned, I'd say, and let's move on. But no. This theme is driven into the watcher's head again and again and AGAIN in a story that proves wisdom does NOT come with the years, especially not for people who don't physically age beyond their teens, and ends in a Pyrrhic victory to emphasize that watching this drivel took hours from my life that I'll never get back.

Let's start with the mystical people of Iorph. They have golden eyes and golden hair, are dressed in flowing white robes, and look perpetually fifteen. Their craft is weaving a cloth known as "hibiol", and while in the outside world this cloth is known and prized for its high quality, to the Iorphans (can I call them that?) it is so much more. They can actually weave messages into this cloth, and consider it an embodiment of their life; they refer to their fate or path in life as their hibiol. The opening scene is these weavers all weaving on tall looms, the cloth draping down like flags, and taking this cloth to the lake to wash it and hang it to dry. Among them is Maquia, who looks and possibly is fifteen and who is SO. LONELY. despite being surrounded by clones of herself. Maybe Iorphans are also cold and distant towards their own kind? A less wishy-washy clone of her called Leilia, who has a crush on a boy-clone and is afraid of nothing, has to bring a long woven cloth to the lake, but instead of climbing down to its banks - it's a steep drop - she throws the cloth over her head and, holding the ends, jumps off the edge and parasails down to the lake's surface. Maquia is shocked.

Maquia is even more shocked when the outside world that she was so eager to see, bursts in on her in the form of soldiers who demand the Iorphans come with them, on the king's order - the Iorph elder sharply tells them they have nothing to do with the politics of ordinary mortals - and massacre the whole colony to carry off one girl: Leilia. This because the king of Mezark, who already controls the Renato - white dragons with very strange heads on long necks, used as mounts by his army - feels he needs even power, and hopes to get it by marrying his son to an Iorphan to create a bloodline of immortal successors; which should be fun when they start to fight over succession, but the king doesn't think that far ahead. (Nor does anyone pause to think about the wisdom of destroying the only source of legendary high-quality fabric.)

An apparent lone survivor, Maquia runs into a laconical stranger whose hair is covered in a shawl. (Spoiler to save anyone having to watch to the end; he is half-Iorph, proving that the immortals have had families with mortals before, and wears a shawl to hide the typical golden hair.) Either the soldiers or some bandits have killed an ordinary human couple nearby; hearing their baby crying, she wrests it from the stiff grip of its mother's corpse, and decides to become its "mother", because apparently that's the only possible way to take care of a child. She calls the baby something that could be Erial or Arial or Ariel. The stranger helps her find her way to the inhabited world. A kind farmer woman with brats of her own takes her in for a while, teaching her a bit about how to raise kids. Nevertheless, Maquia still feels SO. LONELY. although the antics of her adopted bundle of joy keep her busy. Meanwhile, Leilia has been forcibly married to and impregnated by the prince. The handful of remaining Iorphans mount a rescue mission, but Leilia, now dressed like someone's fancy mistress and sporting a big baby bump, refuses to leave, because suddenly she wants to be a mother, which apparently involves staying with the man who basically raped her.

Oh, and the Renato, despite being somehow controlled, can develop "red eye disease" and turn murderous, at which point the red-eyed specimen is killed and the body burned. Leilia commiserates with one dragon in its cage, hinting that "red eye disease" isn't a disease at all, but the moment when a dragon is so fed up with its captivity that it snaps and goes berserk.

About ten years down the line, Maquia takes Erial to the city where she finds work in a bar, and he, having been taught her weaving secrets, weaves his first hibiol that says something like "I love you mother". He is still friends with the brats he grew up with, and will later join the army along with them. For now, as he enters his teens, he becomes disgruntled that he seems to overtake his "mother" in age; he now works at the same bar, and when a group of men gets him drunk while leching on his "sister" (she can no longer pass herself off as his mother to outsiders), he stumbles home and confronts her in what could become a very nasty scene, but instead ends with her tearfully confessing that she's not his mother, and adopted him to relieve her loneliness, which of course is always a great reason to bring a child into one's life. In disgust, he turns his back on her.

Leilia is going through something similar with her biological child: her daughter didn't inherit the Iorph traits, so the king now considers her ballast; she's not allowed to see the child, because she's considered "crazy"; and the prince, no longer interested in her, is fooling around with other women offscreen (I don't get to see him, his actions are only reported on). Due to red-eye disease, there are very few Renato left, so they are kept in their cages, and parades that they were once used for, are held with huge cardboard fakes on wheels. Erial has joined the army as a jab at his "mother", to prove he doesn't need her, and because his childhood friends joined too, and there's this stern upright officer who is a bit like a father figure.

Oh, and then there's a big war! (Because the king's position has now eroded to a point where no one fears him, and maybe survivors of Iorph had a hand in it too.) In the ensuing chaos, Leilia's daughter, a spoilt girl whose parents are so absent from her life that she's basically an orphan, demands to know what's going on, while elsewhere, Leilia herself finally escapes when her proverbial golden cage cracks wide open. Her boy-clone crush, looking as if possessed by demons, offers to kill her child to "clean the stain off your hibiol" so they can be a couple. She doesn't kick him in the nuts or even firmly say NO, but fatally stabs him, and there goes, I think, the last male Iorphan. Leilia and Maquia escape together on what is definitely the last Renato (all the others having succumbed to red-eye disease by then) flying across a lake in a scene supposed to recreate Leilia's first parasailing scene.

In the big war, everyone dies except, of course, Erial and anyone else still needed for the plot, so, many years later, a still young Maquia returns to the farm that once took her in to say her last goodbye to a very old and dying Erial (the new crop of brats gambolling around are his grandchildren) who says that maybe she was his mother after all, because she took care of him when he was a child, and anyone who takes care of a child is automatically a "mother". Apparently the theme of this film is motherhood. I'd say the theme of this film is making bad life decisions which turn out disastrously for everyone involved and driving rare species to extinction, but for anyone who doesn't mind watching two solid hours of Humans Being Stupid, it's a great tearjerker.

There was one last show on the schedule, but after the above-mentioned crap, I was so done with anime for the year that I bought more takoyaki (it was truly yummy!) and went home.

And that was the last anime con for years to come. 2020 tempted me with a triple attendance; the standard anime con, a special "Classic" con to be held in Theaterhotel Almelo, and a newcomer I'd just discovered: Nishicon. Late in 2019, SARS' more successful spinoff SARS-CoV-2 happened, and human stupidity ensured that it circled the globe, spawning deadlier and more contagious versions of itself. All three cons were called off. As I write this, the 2021 con has been cancelled following the umpteenth surge in COVID-19 deaths, and the Omicron variant promises to render the current vaccines useless. I don't know when I'll attend an anime con again, if ever.

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