Photographer Shannon Cottrell and I started off 2009 with Anime L.A. and then proceeded to hit up every convention and non-con fandom event we could attend. Needless to say, it's been a whirlwind year of panels, cosplay, ball-jointed dolls and "Hare Hare Yukai" dance-offs. We decided to end the year, then, with a shout-out for the best of cons.
We're not sure if the same person is showing up as Pedobear at nearly every con this year, or if this is become some sort of cosplay trend, but it wasn't the 4chan icon that impressed us so much as the reaction to him. There were times when it felt like Kevin Smith walked in the room, with throngs of con-goers running up asking for photos as those on the sidelines remarked at varying volumes, "Someone dressed as Pedobear?"
Howard Moon meets Howard Moon
It's not that often that we find people cosplaying The Mighty Boosh, so when we did at the U.K. comedians' San Diego Comic-Con gig, we followed the cosplayers to the backstage door. We waited and, after a few minutes, Julian Barratt, who plays Howard Moon on the show, walked outside to pose for a photo with cosplay Howard Moon. (For more on the Boosh, check out our feature story.)
Anonymous has been showing its Guy Fawkes-masked face all over the con circuit this year and we're still unclear if its as a sign of solidarity with the "Why We Protest" movement or if it's simply become the thing to do. Perhaps it's a bit of both. We chose this Anon because he seemed serious (we never saw him lift up the mask) and his shirt forced us to wonder "What's The Game?" We later found out what it was, thus realizing immediately that we had lost it.
What makes a free hug epic? Is it simply that the sign is massive or are there other qualifying factors? We appreciate the level of salesmanship evident in this sign. When half of Comic-Con is giving our free hugs, you need to let people know that yours are the best.
Despite their stealthy nature, even ninjas need some public interaction, and maybe a free hug. This ninja, who we met at San Diego Comic-Con, became the go-to guy for hugs and conversation while waiting in the hours-long line for the Masquerade.
Most Dedicated Fans
Sheyne and Glenn
From the biggest cons to the smallest non-convention gatherings, there were few events where we didn't run into Sheyne and Glenn. The enthusiastic and creative couple have become well-known for their elaborate, mostly DIY outfits (check out the Kuromi cosplay from the Hello Kitty Bats and Cats Masquerade at Royal/T). They're incredibly tuned into the fan community and frequently help spread the word about upcoming events. Sheyne is also helped organize Pacific Media Expo's Angelic Pretty Tea Party.
Ceese and Megan
Like Sheyne and Glenn, we've managed to run into sisters Ceese and Megan at nearly every major event this year and they always look pretty fierce. Megan designs and sews many of their outfits herself and Ceese gets crafty with hats. Ceese also organized the Harajuku Fashion Show at last spring's D1 Grand Prix, while Megan showed off her line of dresses at Anime L.A.
Best Con Accessory
Gurren Lagann's Yoko Dollfie Dreams
We're of the belief that Gurren Lagann is one of the best-written anime series to hit the U.S. in the past few years, so when we spotted heroine Yoko as a Dollfie Dream at PMX, we couldn't resist the opportunity for an impromptu photo shoot. This doll was basically made to order, so you might have difficulty tracking one down now, but for fans of ball-jointed-dolls and Gurren Lagann, she's the ultimate collector's piece.
League of S.T.E.A.M.
We first met the members of League of S.T.E.A.M. at a steampunk-themed party at L.A. club Malediction Society last spring. The crew of "inventors... monster and creature hunters and paranormal experts" brought their interactive performances and workshops to Comic-Con, Labyrinth of Jareth, Pyrate Daze and other conventions and events this year. They're a must-see at any con you might find them.
Nico Nico Douga
There are those who look down on the use of cardboard in cosplay. We are not of that camp. Cardboard and marker costumes are often intentionally funny, like when this guy at Anime Expo dressed as Nico Nico Douga, the Japanese video sharing site that allows for comments to play over the videos.
The Venture Bros. @ San Diego Comic-Con
There's a reason why fans of The Venture Bros. spent much of their Saturday afternoon line-up for an early-evening panel. It's just about the funniest thing you'll hear outside of the cult favorite cartoon series. Jackson Publick, Doc Hammer and James Urbaniak (Dr. Rusty Venture himself) have a good rapport with fans that are, at times, about as quick-witted as they are. However, they could probably use a bigger room next year. (Check out our Comic-Con interview with Publick and Hammer too.)
Should Twilight Be at Comic-Con?
When Comic-Con opened with the panel for New Moon last summer, it sparked an exceptionally vocal outcry that lasted the rest of the weekend. There were loud complaints from those who blamed fans of Stephenie Meyer's series for causing a run on four-day passes and hotel rooms and then, allegedly, left after the panel. There was even more debate as to whether or not the Sweet Valley High of vampire books was actually appropriate Comic-Con material. With Twilight protest signs littering the line for Saturday night's masquerade, talk of the controversy infiltrated completely unrelated panels, like the Women in Manga panel and even Kevin Smith's talk.
Road Warrior Weekend
Road Warrior Weekend isn't just a Mad Max convention. It's a Mad Max con held out in California's High Desert that mixes autograph signings with Gyrocopter demonstrations, campfires and hours of pounding dance music. Many had described it as "Burning Man without the hippies" and that's about as accurate a statement as it gets. While this was a one-time event, we can't help but keep our fingers crossed that the organizers decide to do it again. It was that much fun.
Tune in Tokyo and Cure Magazine's Anime Expo Afterparty @ Second Street Jazz
As Anime Expo began to wind down on Saturday night, visual kei and J-pop fans headed to Little Tokyo to check out four of Japan's up-and-coming artists and an event hosted by Cure Magazine and monthly club night Tune in Tokyo. The line was long, but it was worth the wait just to see scores of fans in decorated surgical masks dancing along to songs that had never been played in the U.S. before.
The artist alleys at Anime Expo and Comic-Con might be far bigger, but we have a special affinity for the one at Anime L.A. for several reasons. It's a smaller artist alley than at the mega-cons, and located in a separate space from the merchant area, which makes it easier to navigate. Also, perhaps because ALA is a smaller (but not tiny) convention, you get a strong turnout of new artists. The variety of fan art is impressive, but we particularly like checking out the DIY comics and handmade fashion and jewelry.
Jishin Taiko at Mikomicon
Mikomicon, the largely student-run anime convention at California State University Northridge, is one of the better cons to hit up if you want to check out a lot of live music. The highlight of their weekend-long gathering is the performance from the campus musicians Jishin Taiko. They perform a mix of traditional and original pieces and sometimes even host drum clinics at the convention.
There are few things that are hard to argue. San Diego Comic-Con, for as fun as it is, is pretty Hollywood. Anime Expo may offer more Japanese pop culture than you thought existed, but if you want to check out the concerts and maid cafe, it can get really expensive. Anime L.A. may not have as many of the features as larger cons, but if you want to hang out with other fans, it's the place to go. Ticket prices are reasonable, panels are designed with a focus on related hobbies like fan fiction, photography and anime music videos. Cosplay and collector groups host meet-ups in the common areas and fans spend much of the weekend collecting ribbons to attach to their badges. Basically, you can go without oodles of cash and still have fun.
Takuya Angel at Pacific Media Expo
There's only so much sweet Lolita some of us can handle, so it was refreshing to see Japanese fashion designer/DJ Takuya Angel and his cyber-goth devotees at Pacific Media Expo. Takuya Angel's handmade creations include outfits made from vintage kimono material, faux fur wraps trimmed with bear claws and elaborately decorated fake eyelashes.
Stephanie Yanez frequently travels across the country to perform as a cosplay idol at anime conventions and Japanese cultural festivals, in addition club gigs both in the U.S. and Japan. At Anime Expo, she took her cosplay inspiration from K-On, a series about high school girls who form a band, and performed a cover of the show's closing theme "Don't Say Lazy." The song has become a staple of her sets and actually turned us onto the series. Can someone release K-On in the U.S., please?
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If you like cons, but dislike the lack of bars available at them, we suggest checking out Pyrate Daze. The new pirate gathering takes places on the Queen Mary, which features a bar that overlooks the port. We found more pirates gathered around tables with mugs filled with rum than we did inside the main hall, which is fitting.