Fracture AMV

I laid head to pillow last night, expecting a late morning and a possible three-day weekend. Sadly, high temperatures and asinine school district ruined my snow day. Work and a classroom of equally upset teenagers awaited me instead.

Outside the classroom, I waded through projects, yet-to-be-graded homework, and — my saving grace — AMVs. This is one of my favorites over the last few months. Truly a work of art.

Lost in Wonderland 2009

A semi-true story . . .

Dasad picked up a box, inside sat a smiling figure with long blonde hair donning a short nun’s frock and a pair of whirling yo-yos.  “How about this one?” he shouted to me as I crouched down to look at several swimsuit clad girls on the lower shelf.  “She looks cute and Catholic too.  Your family shouldn’t give you too much crap about that.”

bridgetI smiled.

“Uh sorry, no traps for me.  If you find a cute reverse trap, like Kino, I might give it a look.”

“What?”

“ ‘Traps,’” I explain before any of the nearby otaku or anime fans overhead us; aloud my explanations of otaku culture always sounded a little embarrassing.  Not that anyone really cared.  On the last day of Otakon, one of the East Coast’s biggest anime conventions, the attendees filed into the vendor hall by the thousands decked out in their finest costumes or cosplay.

“In other words, a gender bender.  Bridget there is a guy that looks like a girl, thus the ‘trap.’  I don’t recommend gazing up ‘his’ skirt.  It’s not pretty.”

“Oh,” Desad said, gently pushing the box back on the shelf.  “So a ‘reverse trap’ is . . .”

“A girl that looks like a guy, yeah.  Typically the ones in suits and hats, accessories that hide their . . . femininity.  Check out that Persona 4 wall scroll over there,” I point behind me.  Dasad gazes at the shingled wooden board painted with images of various students relaxing in a classroom. “The one in black hat and suit is a girl.”

“Looks like some badass street punk.”

“Yeah, she’s a detective in the game, but wraps up her chest like a female swordsman to make herself appear more masculine.  You see, the theme of role reversal is not limited to Shakespeare.  Many Asian . . .”

otakon2009_2“Whatever dude, are you done here?” Dasad asks impatiently, quickly evading a pair of giggling otaku fan-girls in black lace who raced cameras in-hand toward a long-haired cosplayer in blue uniform.  As my impatient friend did so, his head bumped against the outspread black wings of a sweaty thirteen year old, causing a momentarily spasm of panic akin to seven-year-old infected with cooties.  “I’m real interested in your sexual perversion and all, but my stomach’s been growling for the past hour.  Let’s grab some tacos from across the street before that guy eats them all.”

A fat pox-marked kid jiggles past us sucking on cheese-dribbled French fries; residual finger grease and ketchups stains smear a Robotech t-shirt.

“Aw . . . I don’t know if I’d say that.  Kid looks like a serial eater, doesn’t have any friends to tell him otherwise.”

“Probably ‘cause he ate them all.  Let’s go.  We’ll be safe as long as the concession stands are still stocked up on nacho cheese and pork rinds.”

“Okay,” I sigh, spying no interesting figures on the shelves and still deciding on a rather ecchi Fortune Arterial artbook.  “Let me walk through this row of stands and then we’ll head out.”

And so, I – nearly – drag him through the rows of manga, art books, DVDs, posters, and cat-eared hats, my eyes like anchors latching onto the latest series box set or plastic swimsuit clad swordmen.  Occasionally I lose Dasad while taking pictures or gazing at DVDs, only to find him surrounded and petrified by uniform-donned girls gyrating to some techno-enhanced soundtrack.  He nearly collapses when we leave the vendor floor.  Considering we had scoured the figure shelves for nearly two hours amid the thick Sunday crowds of the Con, I found his patience truly commendable.

otakon2009_4“Some of those girls in the bunny suits were not girls,” he pants, sniffling slightly.  “Son of a geek must have coated himself in olive oil to fit into those fishnets.  He stunk like week old garbage left out in the sun too long.”  He sneezes.

“Moldy too.”

“Those crowds don’t help either . . . Say dude,” I say flicking through my collection of photos on the viewer.  “You want to do sushi instead of tex-mex?”

“More Japanese stuff?” he heaved, with a reluctant smile.  “Sure I don’t mind.  What places are around here?”

Near the stairs, we tiptoe through groups of otaku clustered near the walls, their bags strewn open to reveal stacks of doujinshi, art books, manga, and other swag.  Some stretch out, relaxing atop friends and bookbags reading, others fast sleep curled on fake wings and stuffed animals.  In a separate corner, a group click and stab excitedly at their pocket game systems.  I hear the familiar roar of Mario carts, lightning bolts, and bubbling lava.

“There’s someplace nearby, I think.  Further north.  Sushi Sano or something like that . . .”

“Ugh,” he groans accidentally treading on a Naruto artbook before its owner could snatch it away.  “No way.  Is there anyplace else?”

“Why?  What’s wrong?  I hear the food there is pretty good.”

“That’s the place we visited last year, remember?  They kept an aquarium right beside the bar.  Staring at the customers, ten or so live fish in a tank . . . swimming!”

“Uh yeah, they do have a nasty habit of doing that.  So?”

“So . . . any place that cuts and prepares raw fish in front of live fish is disgusting.  It’s like eating a Big Mac in front of your cows.”

“Yeah, apart from the smell of livestock comingling with good food, it’s not really that big of a deal.  I mean, the cows and the fish don’t mind, dude.”

“Well, I do.  It’s disgusting and inhumane.  Let’s pick another place.  Maybe one within walking distance . . .”

As we reach the top of the stairs, crowds of otaku flow through the doors: young and old, in all manner of costumes and thus in all levels of dress and undress.  I recognize half-a-dozen characters from my favorite series and video games; others, perhaps more out of an urge to participate, appear to have worn whatever they found on their hotel floor this morning: assorted cat ears, human-sized swords, blood splatter, bells, whips, blue hair dye, silver trays, Coke bottles, and stuffed animals duct taped onto their person. One old lady strode rapidly up the escalator dressed in white frills, her hair flailing in all directions, looking every bit the part of a burnt-out (and slightly hung over) tooth fairy.

otakon2009_3“Whoa, look at that guy,” Dasad gasps.  “Tights should not be worn on legs like that.  Every bit of my manhood just shriveled up like a popped balloon.”

“I think that was an old lady.  Nearly fifty or so.”

“Ugh, that’s even worse,” my friend sighs. “Pop!”

“Hey,” I suddenly suggest, my eyes staring at a girl in a giant open pocky box.  “We need to dress up next . . .”

“No.  Hell, no.”

“Come on . . . Look how cool that costume is.  Maybe we can start out slow, with a T-shirt and maybe a tattoo . . .”

“Nope, the only costume I have is this nerd badge,” Dasad said patting his convention ID.   Across the front, a smiling blonde soldier in an orange jumpsuit stares wistfully at a blue sky.  “And I only chose this badge ‘cause it seemed more . . . normal than any of the others.  No half-dressed girls or supped-up robot maids.”

“Ooookay,” I whine.  “Well, I have a year to convince you otherwise.”

We walk up the escalator, welcoming the open empty spaces.  Among the upper levels of the center, the crowds thin and navigating felt much more manageable.  We breathe easier too but in Dasad’s case, this is quite literal.

“Listen dude,” he says without sniffing, “do you really think you’ll still be doing this next year?”

otakon2009“Well possibly . . .” I begin, momentarily distracted by a group of six or seven girls in various colored sailor-suited uniforms, all wielding bats, paper fans, bamboo swords, or in one case a pair of sub-machine guns.  At their center a uniformed boy crouches, suffering blows from the girls’ weapons across the shoulders or playfully about the head.  At each strike, the girls scream ‘Baka!’ and scowl haughtily.  The abusive circle strides past the in-house Starbucks before posing for pictures.  I snapped a few shots myself and continued walking.

“Shoot,” I curse, scanning through my shots.  “No stabilization.  All those shots look like a speeding train.”

“What was that?” Dasad asks as we cross the landbridge connecting the two halves of the convention center plaza.  “And why are we still inside, where there is no food?”

“We have to cross the street anyway,” I answer.  “Figured we could take some shots of the costumes before we leave.  If there’s any more costumes like that tsundere troop back there, we can’t miss it.”

“Is that a show?  Girls who beat guys, and the guys who love them?”

“Something like that.  Tsundere is a loose term for a character archetype, the introverted tomboyish girls, who have difficulty admitting their feelings.  Typically they tend to abuse the guy they like when they can’t express how they feel, but below that rough cruel shell, they’re actually quite kind and loving.”

“Like that girl in the Love Hina show, you liked?” he grins.

“Naru?” I laugh nervously.  “Yeah.  Personally I find it quite cute.”

“You would.”  Dasad sighs.  Someone behind us shouts ‘Marco!’ immediately followed up en mass with ‘Polo!’  This exchange continues for some minutes as more and more people join in what soon becomes a chant.  Others seem more irritated by the noise, but most of us, myself included, just grin and laugh.  Dasad looks questioningly at me.

“No clue, dude.  Just go with it.”

otakon2009_5The easternmost egress from the convention center opens onto a wide atrium brightly lit like a greenhouse by tall windows along the walls and ceilings.  Dark volcanic tile, a wide regal staircase, and a jungle of ferns and trees give the impression of a Polynesian resort; clusters of brightly colored cosplayers crowd together for pictures, chatting excitedly before the last AMV show of the Con begins in a nearby theater.  Dasad and I lean against the railing and look down from the upper floor, scanning the crowd for any interesting costumes.

I snap a few shots of Mario and Luigi as well as some of the Kingdom Hearts groups – girls with spiky hair wielding giant key-blades – meanwhile noticing that the gaming plaza had closed early.  Sunday really is not the day to visit this place.  Next year, I reminded myself I would have to get here either Friday or Saturday.  With a final sigh Dasad and I escape through the doors and walk down the street towards the harbor restaurants.

“I probably should have bought that artbook,” I mutter, glancing behind me.  “From what I’ve seen online, the art in that game is gorgeous.  Be nice to have it around in print too.”

“You’re really into this, aren’t you?” my friend says matter-of-factly.  “I suppose that you’re already thinking about next year.  Heaven knows why you like all this nonsense.”

“The whole adventure of it all,” I smile stretching my arms out wide.  “I mean look around you.  Ninjas, samurai, elves, zombies, and lovers.  They adore these characters; they love their stories.  The enthusiasm for the strange, wonderful, and heroic is contagious.  Everyone here is seeking something different, something extraordinary.”

“Something fake.  Whatever they’re looking for, they probably won’t find it.”

On the street a group of cat-eared girls run past us waving a long wooden paddle.  Japanese kanji decorate one side, on the other ‘yaoi’ is written.  Several long-haired boys in purple uniforms see them and bolt inside, like spooked antelope, nearly knocking down a group of swordsmen in blue and green tunics, who raise their swords and shields shouting ‘Varlet’ in protest.

“Yeah, but sometimes it’s enough to keep hoping anyway.  Something like . . . if we forget who we long to be, we won’t find who we really are.”

“Which is gay.”

“Yeah,” I nod.  “Yeah, I know . . .”  We cross the street and pass through a small park.  Yellow metal children twist and curl about what seems to be a lamp post, marking the city’s contribution to artistic impressionism.  Waterfalls and fountains splash against stone walls at the opposite end; brick steps lead down to turbulent pools where more costumed conventioneers pose with ornate umbrellas.

“. . . but not as gay as that.” A thin otaku wiggles past us, wagging his rear from side to side, swinging two attached raccoon tails.  A bell jingles from a collar around his neck.  He joins the crowd near the water and growls with um . . . paws raised: Rowr!

“No that takes the cake.  So what can you deduce about his hopes and dreams?”

“Whatever they are.  They best keep far away from mine,” I shudder.  “Perhaps as a house cat in La Casa de Dasad.”

“Whatever.  No one can say anything about me.  I look perfectly normal.”

“Nerd badge,” I cough quickly ducking into a nearby restaurant.  Horrified Dasad pulls off the convention badge and stuffs it into his pocket.  After a few furtive looks, he shrugs and goes inside. Another year, another con.  Resting our weary feet, we relax a bit toasting a successful morning with a large pitcher of sangria.

A Musical Pause

A few weeks ago just after posting our trip to the anime convention, Dasad mentioned how much he enjoyed the anime music video (AMV) linked in the blog.  Since then I search about for some other interesting or unique AMVs to show him and others.  This post-convention season churns out many high-quality AMVs that have won awards during the summer at conventions, thus I thought that I would post one or two just for kicks.

Essentially this is what I watch when I’m bored or need a good pick-me-up.  Better than coffee . . . for me at least.

Lost in Wonderland, 2008

Over the years since Dasad and I first attended Otakon, the East Coast anime convention, my fascination with anime and manga has risen to new heights (or sunk to deeper depths) such that I can only ponder (and shudder) at where my interests will lead me next year. Curiosity provided impetus for our first visit; the following year, my love for stories and all things weird beckoned me back, a fact that still astounds Dasad today:

"Wait, you want to go back?"

"Wait, you want to go back?"

“Wait, you want to go back?” he wrote, ostensibly astounded after I pre-purchased tickets. “Why in the world would want to go back? Anime conventions are like social quicksand. Do you WANT to die alone and unloved?”

A little dramatic perhaps but I understand his concerns. Still normality never appealed to me, and so despite my impending destiny, I bought tickets again this year. Recently a few new anime series had captivated my imagination, and thus compelled me to seek out new DVDs, posters, and art books. Yet the real reason, my honest intent was to purchase an anime figure.

Buying an anime figure in the otaku community is akin to primal man’s first successful hunt or a wide receiver’s first touchdown: a rite of passage as well as a point of no return. Some otaku collect hundreds of figures, which they entomb in little glass cases or scatter around their workstations like protective spirits. Yet while owning hordes of figurines is a mark of honor in the anime community, everywhere else collectors are stapled as “thirty-year-old guys who plays with dolls.” Social quicksand indeed, conventions are more like a social black hole.

Normality never really appealed to me . . .

Normality never really appealed to me . . .

Still normality never really appealed to me, and thus this year I convinced Dasad to join me yet again. As we stood in line, I think he still had trouble coping with this decision:

“Remind me again why I am here?”

Dasad and I stood at the end of a long line into the convention center. Dressed in normal street clothes, we actually felt outlandish among the various costumes, makeup, and hand-made wands donned by the rest of the conventioneers. The lady before us was applying copious layers of red face-paint on her boyfriend’s face and arms while adjusting her lank black wig and the sash of her red kimono. Hellboy and Hellgirl then sucked down a can of Red Bull and leaned against the building to cuddle. Dasad wrinkled his nose. The couple smelt of soggy gym socks.

We should have dressed up, I thought.

We should have dressed up.

We should have dressed up.

“Freaks,” Dasad muttered. “I mean, we just visited the anime convention last year. What purpose do we have in coming yet again?”

“Well,” I said, focusing my camera on a host of ninja piling from a nearby van. “Last year was a bit of a farce. Months of waiting which amounted to a measly four hours of convention time, hardly enough to catch music videos and browse the marketplace. This year, the family gave me the whole day off to geek out.”

“Fine for you maybe, but what am I doing here? Besides inhaling geek funk, oh terrific . . .” The couple apparently had kissed. When I saw the girl again, her face shined with smudged paint, like a lioness after dining on fresh zebra. Dasad and I changed lines.

“You’re here,” I said, snapping a few more photos of some tight-donned swordsmen, “Because you’re a good friend who rejoices in my happiness.”

“Nope,” Dasad mumbles as the swordsmen’s ten-foot carboard sword nearly skewers him. “Freak, get far away from me and take your freak-stick with you.”

“Ummm, let’s see . . . there is a chance that I might get assaulted and/or molested by freaks, and you would not be here to watch and/or laugh.” At this point, I realized that we were in the wrong line altogether. Pre-registered attendees could go right inside.

" . . . take your freak stick with you."

". . . and take your freak stick with you."

“As well as capture your humiliation for posterity,” Dasad considered. “Okay I can accept that. Your camera does take movies, right?”

“I think . . . it has that video camera switch. Hold on . . .” I snap a few photos of some greenish wizard holding a large gray bomb and hand the camera to Dasad. I have to give my friend credit; he possesses a true talent for taking quality shots, holding the camera like an expert marksman. Meanwhile I shoot on the run, like an 80’s action star. Almost one-hundred percent of the smeared and blurred shots I delete afterwards were my own.

“So what are you looking for today?” Dasad asks inspecting the camera. “What’s the agenda?”

“Um . . . well, last year we came home with lots of stuff. DVDs, box sets, posters . . .”

“Speak for yourself. I came home with a bad rash and five hours lost, which could have been better spent watching Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares.”

“Well, this year I wanted to maybe buy some artbooks and maybe, if it’s not too expensive . . . a figure.”

“A figure?” Dasad said, suddenly smiling a broad Cheshire grin.

I have always had a fascination with carven figures and models – not that I myself am much adept at the art. When I was a mere tyke, Mom would collect David Winter houses, intricately carved Old World cottages, houses, and ruined castles. Never allowed to touch – lest my PB&J-smeared hands desecrate the artwork – I would nonetheless stare at them from behind glass doors. Now anime figures are equally detailed, and unlike my mother’s other collections, the childish Hummel figurines, do more than push wheelbarrows, plant flowers, and stare dumbfounded into space. Meanwhile, anime and video game characters can wield swords, mount spells, and look cute in bathing suits, hair billowing with the summer breeze. Moreover the transition from the 2D realm into three-dimensional statues fascinates me, and I wanted to commemorate this convention by buying my first figure.

"A figure?  Which one?"

"A specific figure? Which series?"

Nonetheless, this further descent into geekdom frightened me a bit. I have always been a moderate fan at best, picking and choosing my shows based on good-storytelling and interesting plot-lines, always ready to keep my obsession in check. Thus, purchasing a figure scared me some. Dasad of course knew this, and in order to relieve me of my fears, mocked me openly.

“Any specific figure? Which series? A sexy one? You, pervert you . . .”

“Umm . . .” I muttered, my face reddening. “No specific one in mind. Maybe Fate/Stay Night or Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya . . . or anyone that looks good.” Despite my mortification, the quest for the perfect figure had an opposite affect on Dasad, who at once seemed excited, ready and willing to humiliate me as I shopped.

The industrial plaza and its maze of venders regrettably were closed until eleven. Thus, we change direction and head for the art gallery and AMV contest. Navigating around the convention center is like finding oneself a rat in a maze. If you refuse to jump through the right hoops, you might find yourself lost, electrocuted, and a fire hazard.

“Whoa, that fuzzy Pikachu just shocked me,” Dasad shouts as we make our way through the crowds to the lower lobby.

“Wow,” I admired. “That’s quite a costume then. What do you think of the pageantry so far?”

"I can't even recognize half these characters."

"I can't even recognize half these characters."

“I can’t even recognize half these characters. The Dragonball and Naruto guys, sure. But what about that guy with the blue hair . . .”

“Gurren Lagann,” I said, taking a hurried picture. “Awesome show, the plot spans several years and considers the ramifications of changing the world and having to live with those changes.”

“ ‘kay, what about that one: the green haired girl in the straitjacket?”

“Umm . . . Code Geass, I think. New show, I haven’t seen it yet, but I hear it’s very popular in Japan now. The DVDs just came out this week so I’ll probably pick them up later today,” I said, now scanning the hallways and atriums for characters. Many I recognized but failing fluency in Japanese could not pronounce their names. “The kid with the guitar over there might be FLCL or Beck, I’m not sure. And the bunnygirl over there in her mom’s S&M clothes, well, I’m not quite sure what that is . . .”

We passed a large couple stretched out on a black couch. The husband rested his head in his wife’s lap; she slouched down in the sofa, eyes blurred over a magazine. I stopped to photograph a few cosplayers posing near the outdoor veranda.

“It’s ten o’clock in the morning,” Dasad whispered to me. “The convention opened at nine. Are they already exhausted?”

"I'm not quite sure what that is."

. . . the crowd's reaction to specific scenes and anime amaze me.

“Parents,” I said. “They have a long day ahead of them.”

We strode down to the anime music videos (AMV) contest. In previous years, the AMV’s proved the highlight of the convention. Fans would combine technical artistry, fast-paced songs, and their favorite shows into a short four-minute music video. Very impressive all in all. Yet this year, most of the videos – particularly those categorized as romantic or sentimental – proved more soporific than sensational. I believe Dasad fell asleep through half the entries, which failed to maintain his interest – and mine.

Nonetheless, the crowd’s reaction to specific scenes and anime amaze me. In past years during a particularly intense or memorable moment the audience, the size of a small stadium, would shout, cheer and clap. I would smile, infected by the crowd’s energy and excitement. Even faced with a dull video, the love of the fans for the medium made the whole experience bearable and fun. At home my own excitement was often met with odd stares and rolled eyes; here I could love my hobby with abandon.

Moreover, I discovered that some songs even improve when coupled with a little animation:

Eventually the industry arena opened, and a tide of conventioneers slowly flooded the marketplace, settling to a steady current throughout the numerous stalls and booths. Anime markets are an example of chaos in bloom. Otaku love to buy things: figures, books, DVDs, posters, key chains, anything associated with their favorite series. As I mentioned they are fairly obsessive people, and as Dasad and I drifted through the stalls, we witnessed fans dancing, posing for pictures, congregating around videos, and some – shoplifters – escorted out by security.

Half-way into the arena we encountered a group of girls dancing, shifting their hips back and forth and flapping their hands near their heads like cat ears. Energetic synth music blared in the background.

“By all that is holy, what is that?” Dasad asks.

“Caramelldansen,” I said. “A Swedish song set to these two anime characters dancing . . . well, like these girls. It’s a very addictive song. If you listen once, you’ll never get tired of it.”

“I have no idea what is going on anymore.”

“Neither do I,” I laugh. “That’s all the fun.”

Nonetheless, despite the choreographed dancing and ensuing chaos, we found our way into a relatively unpopulated booth to begin our search.

“So what are we looking for?” Dasad asked, fingering a large robot I recognized from the series RahXephon.

“I’m not sure myself, but I have to display it at home with the kids so . . .”

“PG-13?”

“Nothing excessively graphic . . . oh and no robots. I hate giant robots.”

“Gotcha, how about this one? It says ‘Cast Off.’ Does it fire missiles or something?”

“No, that means her clothes come off.”

“Whoa, okay. So no.”

“No, I’m not into that stuff. And the family would never let me live it down if I bought it.”

“Fine, but I’m making note of it . . . just in case you change your mind. Oooh . . . this one is sexy. Hey Murphey, don’t you want a sexy figure? Why don’t we buy the one with the swimsuit?” Dasad has a wonderfully honest way of embarrassing me in public. Possessing no shame – but then who does at an anime convention – he will announce with great acumen what I am thinking but probably too embarrassed to speak aloud.

“Ooo . . . I like the one with the girl in the short school uniform. Hey dude, did you know you bend the box at just the right angle you can see up . . .”

“Let’s go over there,” I interrupt, my face as red as sunburn.

. . .  rising from the earth as if flying

. . . rising from the earth as if flying

After much searching, I finally find the figure I am seeking: a Belldandy figure from the anime “Oh My Goddess.” The statue is well-crafted, beautiful with flowing robes, hair, and ribbons, rising from the earth as if flying. Dasad simply shrugs and asks for my camera. He films my purchase, much to the concern of the old man behind the counter as if he fears my whole exchange will appear on Inside Edition later that night. His eyes dart from side to side, and anxiously he quickly slides my credit card while shoving the figure in my hands.

We walk off and I hurriedly stuff the figure into my backpack. “So I have less to carry,” I explained to Dasad.

“Sure, sure,” he said. “Don’t worry no one cares. Shove your shame into your backpack and let’s head out. I’m starving for burritos.”

We leave the industry arena, and hesitantly I look back. Given more time, I think I could have bought a bit more, but for the sake of my stomach, sanity, as well as my wallet, we depart. Until next year then . . . when I will try to convince Dasad to buy that schoolgirl figurine.

“Fat chance,” he said his mouth full of rice. Oh well, but then perhaps I have a good lead on Christmas gifts . . .