Labor Day Weekend: Anime Vegas 2006

What did I do on my last 3-day weekend vacation of the year? Why, I spent it at an anime convention, of course…

Almost by accident, I found out about 10 days ago that there would be a convention in “nearby” Las Vegas. I asked for half a day off on Friday (so I could fight the holiday weekend traffic and have a faint hope of arriving there before it ended), booked a hotel and pre-registered. I figured that since I missed the really big cons this summer while I was in Japan, this would be the chance to get my fix for the rest of the year.

One of the big reasons I also decided to go was the impressive list of guests! They had over a dozen voice actors who were there to sign autographs, host panels and generally mingle with the legions of otaku like me. What really clinched it for me was when I saw listed two of my favorites: Rich McNanna (voice of Shuichi Shindou in Gravitation) and “the goddess of anime voices” Laura Bailey (voice of Tohru Honda in Fruits Basket and Sana Kurata in Kodocha, among many others). I figured this would be a golden opportunity to get to meet them and couldn’t pass it up! In addition to them, about half the cast of Kodocha (Jerry “Akito” Jewell, Colleen “Mama” Clinkenbeard and Sonny “Zenjiro” Strait) were there plus many others like Lex Lang, Sandy Fox, Mike McFarland, Troy Baker, Jennifer Sekiguchi, Jeff Nimoy, Johnny Yong Bosch and others I’m forgetting. This turned out to be the best part of the whole weekend, and there are now lots of new entries in my autograph album!

One of the things that was most fun was that since it was a smallish convention, you could simply run into the VAs as they were strolling around the venue. This gave me a chance to tell my story to Rich about how he indirectly got me into this whole hobby. It was, after all, a chance interest in Gravitation that lead to other anime and manga, then studying Japanese, visiting Japan for the first time this summer—all of which have created a very large change in my life and potentially my future and career. We had a long chat, and he’s a really nice guy. I thanked him for playing Shuichi’s role and how he ended up being a sort of “catalyst” at the right time which led me to this change. He’s also a teacher, so he understood what I meant about the “a ha” moment. Really cool.

An important thing to do at conventions is go to screenings of anime I’ve never seen before to see if it’s any good and something I’d be interested in; sometimes trailers and online reviews just aren’t enough for me. I did see some interesting things like Shana, Negima (which I already ordered), Kamichu, Fate/Stay Night and some others. I also got to watch part of the live action film Densha Otoko which was really good—I’ve got to find it too so I can see what happened in the rest of the story. Unfortunately, they only had two screening rooms and it seems they were having lots of technical problems. It also seemed like they would change around the screening schedule and shows on a whim—meaning that I missed some of the things I wanted to see. That was frustrating and disappointing. This is only their third year, so maybe it’ll get bigger and better organized.

Another letdown was the series of panels. About half of the ones I wanted to go to just never happened. I did enjoy the Geneon previews presentation and both the Voice Acting and Fullmetal Alchemist series panels were good. But again, it was frustrating to have planned before I left home to see some very specific things only to find out that they were dropped without explanation.

On Saturday night, I had the chance to see the Fullmetal Alchemist movie again, and I think it was even better the second time. Since I’d now done a little studying up on the real-life historical background used in the film, it was even more enjoyable and made even more sense—I still can’t get over how well they fit the reality and fantasy together so beautifully. I can hardly wait to get my DVD, though the Special Edition release date has been bumped to November. Maybe I’ll buy the regular edition in the meantime, then sell it down the road…

In order to make sure I got a good seat, I arrived early and had to suffer through—yes, SUFFER through— two episodes of Hellsing: Ultimate that were being shown. It was appalling. I made a good-faith attempt to watch it since I know it’s a popular series, but only lasted about 15 minutes of the first episode before I couldn’t take the constant gunfire, gratuitous, constant violence, buckets of blood and gore, zombies, vampires and generally disgusting visuals. To me, it had absolutely no redeeming qualities about it at all. Luckily I had my iPod around my neck, so I tuned in, turned on and dropped out of the screening until it was over.

As expected, there were also a lot of cosplayers there running around. Some of them were pretty good, but again, you could tell this was a small, hometown kind of show and most of them were not as “advanced” as I’ve seen. I think just about all of them wore the same costumes the entire weekend and most weren’t really acting in character much—just an excuse to dress up and be crazy, I guess. The most adorable one—as you can see in the picture—was a chibi Inuyasha being carried by his mom dressed as Kikyo. He was probably 4 years old and I don’t think he’ll ever get more photos taken of him ever again! There was also another mom dressed as Momiji Sohma from Fruits Basket in his costume for the New Years dance and her daughter dressed as Uo in “The Red Butterfly’s” riding coat. I didn’t take many pictures of the creepy ones, but there were some other nice costumes. I inadvertently didn’t take a photo of a very convincing Sesshomaru, which is a pity—she’d (it was a girl) put in a lot of work on the costume.

Finally, the dealer room. There were about 20 booths, the biggest names being Funimation, Geneon and Media Blasters. It took maybe an hour to get through everyone at a leisurely pace but I spent many more than that—mostly because there just wasn’t anything else to do (especially with the screening rooms down or the panels getting canceled). I bought some fun things like Kujibiki Unbalance figures, some lovely Naduki Koujima folders and the complete Samurai Deeper Kyo boxed set for $40.00—I even got a small, stuffed “Chiyo-dad” which is really hysterical. They had the autograph signing table in the very back of the hall which turned out being great because it gave the fans a chance to jump in there and get their goodies signed.

So in the end, it was fun and worth the trip. The disappointments inevitably happen, but the positives made up for it for the most part. I certainly hope this con continues to grow and become more popular—yet doesn’t lose the fun, “small-town” atmosphere. I’d like to come back again sometime for another go.

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