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By Charles On 28 Jun, 2012 At 07:20 PM | Categorized As Conventions, Editorials, Featured, Reviews | With 1 Comment

No GravatarI’m kind of insane. Not the bad kind, I swear there are no women in a pit in my basement trying to steal my dog to prevent me from throwing lotion at them, just the kind that comes from spending too much time and energy doing what makes my life filling. And while in the pursuits of said endeavors, I often wreck my body (especially my voice), spend hours cramped in cars and trains, and often wedge myself into impossible crowded rooms, all for a few hours worth of validation and education. And only half the time do I get paid for all this.

All I can say is: I’m an active fan, that’s what I do. Insanity comes with the territory.

It’s been about a month since I’ve written anything here, with good reason. I spent the past 3 weeks in perpetual transit visiting conventions. Two of those weekends required 7+ hour commutes, from the southern edge of Virginia, all the way to Portland, ME. While that might sound like the prime time to spend working on a flurry of articles, trust me, it’s not (most of Portcon transit was spent watching anime and staring blankly out the window). So, instead of preparing three separate reports on the three cons I hit up, I’m going to try my best to sandwich them all into this one article, and hope I can touch on everything.

June 8-10: AnimeNEXT. 6 panels, one cosplay, 10 hours in line.

What can I say about ANext that hasn’t already? Well, it certainly was crowded. And I mean CROWDED. I’ve been watching this con grow since 2003, when it was a small social con in Rye, NY. That year I had a great time hanging in the halls and watching random people (and getting glomped down a flight of stairs, but that’s pretty much a legend now). Then there was the move to the Meadowlands, then to the Garden State Expo Center, with each successive con getting bigger and bigger…

Well, this year will forever be etched into my memory as “Line-con 2012.” Everywhere you looked, there were lines. Lines for Main Events. Lines for the Dealer’s Room (even as late as Saturday afternoon). Lines for EVERY SINGLE PANEL (i’m not exaggerating). The only places I didn’t see lines were for the Artist Alley and the LARP. It was THAT crowded. At some point, the Fire Marshal got involved, and then those lines had to be relocated outside to prevent code violations. Panel rooms were packed to capacity and shut down, sometimes with half the line not getting in. If I remarked last year that the lines for the rave were Cartman’s worst nightmare, this year he likely would have summoned Cthulhu and devoured the entire con.

But if one could look past the lines, the event itself was fun. Plenty to do (if you were willing to wait), plenty to see, lots of photoshoots and random hallway hijinks. A solid variety of panels and artists. And despite the crowding, it never felt like the con was suffocating under its own weight (at least not for me). I’ve read a good deal of scathing criticism on both the forums and the blogosphere about how the event was “mishandled” and ended up an “administrative nightmare,” but honestly…it reminded me a great deal of this past Katsucon. A bit crazy, a bit frenetic, but ultimately fun. Panels staff were courteous and kept things flowing as best they could, there was a minimal amount of “glut” and I still found time to relax. Final verdict: B+

June 14-18: Anime Mid Atlantic. 18 hours travel, 7 panels, one girlfriend.

My strongest memory of AMA has to be that I “programmed” closing ceremonies. Seriously, I spent about 4 hours of my weekend working on a video project that “opened” the closing, and got one of the best reactions I received all weekend, with numerous calls to “do it again.” All I can say to that is…maybe.

AMA is my “vacation” con. Of all the cons I attend, this is the one I use to “take it easy,” (yes, that includes the 7 panels I presented). And of all the cons I attend, AMA might be best suited for it. It’s not the smallest, not the most laid back, but it does wonders to recharge me, despite the effort I put into commute getting there and back.

This year was no exception. Coming off the craziness of ANext the week before, AMA was comparably placid. No lines, no crowding, lots of relaxation outside (courtesy of the mild temperatures and consistent breeze off the bay) and a general air of mellow that kept my head clear for the entire weekend. Also given the close proximity of everything, it lent itself wonderfully to late night wanderings (mostly to Wawa) and plenty of food choices for the gourmand (or foodie, in this case) to sate their appetite.

That’s really all I can say about the weekend, honestly. I have no complaints, no criticisms, not a single bother to recount. I got there, I had fun, I hung out with some voice actors and played a late night game of “Betrayal at the House on the Hill,” and took the scenic route back home. Final Verdict: A-

June 21-24: Portcon Maine. 4 panels, 2 hotels, 5 cheap SciFi DVDs.

I got a gift bag. Full of Maine-related stuff, my favorite brand of gum, water, and a notebook that saved my life at one point.

For a con with around 2000 attendees, Portcon was a “hot damn mess,” but not in the bad way. I had a rather flat opinion of the con last year, but this year that was rectified quickly. There was an energy that swept through the con on Friday morning that blew my mind. The lines were back too, but somehow that wasn’t a bad thing either. Yes they did block the hallway a bit, and left some of the rooms packed to the hilt, but it just added to the charm of the weekend.

Portcon attendees are both forgiving, and a hoot to be around. When my panel on Supernatural TV got swapped last second with one on Anime OPs, nobody complained. In fact, I think they enjoyed the OP chronology more. When thunderstorms rocked South Portland for a chunk of Saturday, nobody fled indoors and we got some rather unique cosplay shots. From what I’ve been told, the same rain actually made “Extreme Geek” better than usual. Newbury Comics sponsored a cosplay competition in the Maine Mall (right across the street) which drew out some of the best cosplay of the weekend. And I spent a total of 4 hours playing adult “Apples to Apples” that was the perfect capstone to my nights.

Portcon is billed as the largest, and longest running, geek culture celebration in Maine. This is true. It is also one of the best multi-genre conventions anyone can attend. The friendly atmosphere, excellent location and diversity of programming ensures that there is always something to do. I used to give out this “award” called “The Best Kept Secret in New England” on my website, and I feel the need to confer it this year on Portcon, simply for maintaining the fun and making me feel welcome for 4 days of conventional irreverence. Final Verdict: A

As for those DVDs…I blame FYE and Newbury for taking my entire slush fund on Alien movies and James Cameron.

And here I now sit, in the lull weeks between cons. Up next for me are Connecticon, a personal favorite of mine in Hartford, and Otakon, where I’m a featured panelist. Pray for my sanity, I know I will need more of it.

By Charles On 14 Dec, 2011 At 12:55 AM | Categorized As Animation, Editorials, Movie News, Reviews, Television | With 0 Comments

No GravatarOh look, it’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas time (though it’s that also), but the time to reflect and recount on the previous year’s ups and downs. And this year there were plenty of both. From freak snowstorms and wayward hurricanes to genre-defining anime and a plethora of new games on which to whet one’s appetite, 2011 was nothing if not eventful, no matter what you might have been looking for. So let’s take a look at some of the year’s highlights and things best-left-avoided.

The Good:

Marvel Superhero Movies: 2011 was a good year for action-driven superheroes. Especially those in the Marvel stable. I will admit that I had very low expectations for Captain America, and prayed they wouldn’t screw up Thor. And thankfully, I was wrong on both accounts. 2011 had plenty of Iron Mans, with no Iron Man 2s to sully the field. Thor was amazing, with an excellent cast, striking visual effects and a compelling plot. (In a Marvel film, that’s a real achievement honestly.) X-Men First Class threw out everything we knew about the franchise and managed to reboot from the god-awful “Last Stand.” But the true highlight of the year was “Captain America.” Hokey outfit aside (which they dealt with rather well, actually), the film got us ready for 2012’s “Avengers,” and took viewers on a trip back through World War II, without sacrificing its entertainment potential. Less a set-up film, more an in-depth origin story, and a wonderful addition to the Marvel filmography.

Mid-Atlantic Anime Cons: I have been known to sing the praises of Anime Boston, and a lot of the New England conventions, for their diverse programming and attendees. This year, the mid-Atlantic entered that fray in force. From February’s Katsucon hitting stride in National Harbor (it’s still the best “weekend con” I’ve ever been to), to Anime Mid Atlantic’s family-friendly summer party, to Nekocon’s progress in quality programming, and Anime USA’s last hurrah in Crystal City, 2011 gave the mid-Atlantic some truly memorable experiences, enough that it would be hard to choose which convention to attend. But fortunately, given that they are held in a relatively small area, staggered throughout the year, one doesn’t have to. If you’re looking for something new, away from the hustle of Otakon, or want to find a friendly, intimate convention experience, give the mid-Atlantic a try. You will not be disappointed.

Usagi Drop: Given the predominance of action-heavy, moe-dominated anime series floating around, sometimes a nice, grounded, realistic series is a welcome breath of fresh air. The Summer 2011 entry “Usagi Drop,” based on the popular manga of the same name, is one such series. No flashy, supernatural heroes. No mecha. No lolicons or schoolgirls. Just a simple, refreshing series about a man and his “daughter,” a girl born to his late father, and their journey through an often chaotic life. Maturity, family values, adaptability, responsibility and good old-fashioned comfort are the rules of this day. And it’s worth every minute.

Two Decades of Vampires: 2011 marked the 20th Anniversary of Mark Rein-Hagen’s landmark RPG “Vampire: The Masquerade.” While the setting was rebooted a few years back, many fans of the original game still held strong ties to the political machinations of the warring vampire clans, and the general melding of gothic, cyberpunk and urban horror that first graced the game world in the early 90s, when fantasy dungeon-diving was still the de facto experience for gamers. Vampire brought an entire new culture into roleplaying, switching the emphasis from dice rolls to personal interaction. Rather than a collection of statistics and combat equations, Vampire stressed crafting a finely tunes, well rounded CHARACTER, who had to survive in a modern world where EVERYTHING wanted to kill them. Fights with orcs transformed into power struggles with opposing clans, and the monsters lurking in the dark were still capable of falling prey to other monsters lurking even further into the darkness. White Wold Game Studio commemorated this event with the release of the “Vampire 20th Anniversary Edition,” a massive, 500+ page tome collecting every clan, bloodline, supernatural power, morality path, character merit/flaw for the first time in one place, and gave fans a limited window to snag a copy. But if you have $100 lying around (likely more now that the print run has ended), and you’ve yet to experience this level of in-depth roleplaying, go out and find a copy. It will be well worth your time.

Criterion Collection Releases “Kuroneko,” Acquires Rights to “Gojira:” Unless you are a fan of Japanese art-house cinema, the former film might be completely unknown to you. (And if you are a fan, you probably already own it in some form.) But in October 2011, the Criterion Collection, already known for giving fans of early J-horror their fix, finally released a remastered edition of the horror classic “Kuroneko,” a story of betrayal, revenge, honor, and ghost cats. And for those who had never managed to track down a copy from its VHS release (including yours truly), this was a fantastic release. The other great “ghost cat” film (the first being the irreverent Hausu), Kuroneko is a character study in folklore and the samurai, bringing to light the dark side of both, and well worth the price, given that the last time this film saw a stateside release, it was the 80s, and art-house Japan was still truly an underground phenomenon.

The latter film, however, should be very familiar to US audiences. After years of re-releases by original producer Toho, now Criterion has the chance to once more introduce us to the ravages of nuclear war, overconsumption, and giant, radiation breathing dinosaurs. While Criterion Godzilla won’t be around until February or March, fans will no doubt be eagerly anticipating what kind of treatment will be bestowed upon this kaiju classic.

Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger: Super Sentai series aren’t exactly known for their riveting plots and developed characters. What they often are is over the top excursions into action and adventure, with “giant robots” and spandex suits. But in honor of the 35th anniversary of the ongoing sentai serials in Japan, viewers were treated to an even more gratuitous exploitation of young adults, space aliens, rubber suits, and men in oversized robot outfits. Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger managed to do what no other sentai had ever even tried- it brought together every single sentai series into a single entity. And it did it with PIRATES. (Sorry Ninjas, but you lose…with authority.)

Forget Power Rangers, forget zords, funky weapons and stock footage- Gokaiger is at the same time a celebration of previous sentai entertainment, and a new beginning. Every rule broken, every battle a crazy mess, every feasible type of hero present and accounted for- this is what sentai was meant to be, and finally is. Given our 2 year lag behind Japan in this area, we won’t see Mighty Morphin Pirate Rangers until 2013, but in the meantime, check it out online. And prepare to be blown away.

Up Next: Remake Extravaganza, Fantasy Fever, and Mindf**king