Anime Vegas, Day 1

Today was opening day for Anime Vegas and it was a lot of fun—I had a great time. But first, some other topics:

My Gambling Story: I don’t really gamble much at all—it’s too lame. But I brought $18.00 of quarters from my change drawer to use (my usual M.O.). I put them in a video poker machine last night and won—$14.25. Typical. I spent a buck or two of that today on stuff, but put the rest in another video poker machine tonight and won—$8.00. Good thing I don’t take this seriously or have the addiction…

Anyway, last night I went to pickup my badge at the new venue (Renaissance Hotel next to the Convention Center) and it’s really nice. I was prepared for a long wait, but it was only 15 minutes. I then made a slight mistake in choosing to eat dinner at The Outback Steakhouse on the strip—the food was great, but i’d forgotten just what a hellacious, crowded, annoying ZOO the Vegas strip can be, especially on a holiday weekend. And don’t even get me started on Las Vegas DRIVERS—the worst I’ve seen anywhere, and I lived in Italy for 2 years…

So then that brings us to today. I attended the Funimation panel first thing and made absolutely certain to publicly thank Funimation and told them they were the only anime company I trust anymore. I also asked about BIG WINDUP, and they said with the volume of shows they’re working on right now, they’re not sure yet when it’ll actually get dubbed and released—probably next year. Just after it started, VA Todd Haberkorn came in and sat next to me too—nice guy.

The rest of the day was mostly spent perusing the (slightly overcrowded) dealers’ room, waiting in line to talk with the various VA guests and get their autographs, and watching a few new anime episodes (I think I liked .hack/Roots, and Maburaho looked cute but I’m not sure. Lucky Star also looked fun, but I’m even less sure about it…).

But the BIGGEST thing I attended was an absolutely PACKED panel room where they World-Premiered the first three dubbed episodes of Ouran High School Host Club, one of my favorites and hotly anticipated show. I thought the cast and performances they gave—at least in the first 3—was outstanding. I KNOW it’s going to turn out to be a surprisingly big hit for Funimation, and deservedly so. It always makes me feel really happy when I can DELETE fansubs and BUY the real thing. In fact, as penance I’ll be buying 2 copies: one for me and one to give to a friend!

Stayed until after 7:00 to talk to Colleen Clinkenbeard and Caitlin Glass (and get their autographs, of course), then back to my hotel and my first real food since breakfast: the $2.99 soup & half sandwich special. At least I can afford to eat on my meager gambling winnings…

In Vegas, Baby!

So I’m sitting here in my surprisingly nice and comfy hotel room at the Vegas Club hotel in the OLD part of Vegas. I drove up here today to attend the Anime Vegas convention this weekend, which is sort of of my new annual tradition (kind of pushing it since this is merely my third time). I came the first time in 2006 since I’d missed the usual Anime cons while I was in Japan, and so the same happened this year. The drive was fast and uneventful (even though my cruise control was set at a mere 5 mph over) and I got here in about 4 hours.

But first, the Victoria update:

She’s getting stronger and a bit brighter, but still is pretty skinny, bony and you can tell she doesn’t feel her usual self. I took her for a checkup yesterday, and the doctor found she was anemic, gave her a shot of iron and—get this— has me giving her Epogen! That seemed to pep her up a bit—she spent time with me, laying on my lap, being more sociable, etc. whereas she’d mostly been sleeping in the bedroom by herself. The doctor also insisted that I board her there this weekend while I’m gone and they will see she gets her meds and try to fatten her up a bit before I pick her up Tuesday morning. Max gets to fend for himself (and by himself) but my Mom & Dad are going to check on him Saturday.

So then, now I’m in Vegas for the weekend. This convention really is a lot of fun and so much more relaxed than the big cons. I mostly come here to socialize, see new stuff and get autographs—It’s always well attended by Funimation VAs and others. I’ll fill you in as the weekend progresses. I don’t have a lot of money at the moment, so there won’t be a whole lot of purchasing going on. One thing new this year, is that they’ve moved it “uptown” to a hotel rather than at the Cashman Center next door to the gun show. That may also mean some other new surprises—can’t wait to see what’ll be new.

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.

Fun in Puerto Rico

This was my first time ever to the caribbean, and it was very interesting. I think I’d like to come back for a vacation or when I can otherwise spend a bit more time…

So this marked my first trip to Puerto Rico and visit to the Amgen facility in Juncos. With all the hurricanes this year, I was initially a bit apprehensive, but the weather was sunny, hot and tropical every day. If I had known, I would have brought some shorts to wear. It certainly was different from CO and RI where it’s already showing signs of winter.

One of the best things is that my company has a deal with the Ritz Carlton hotel, and that’s where I stayed. It’s beautiful—located right on the beach in Isla Verde near the airport. It’s a bit of a drive to the office, but worth it. I would have loved to be able to spend more time there enjoying the resort services: maybe a massage at the spa, hang out by the pool or in my own hammock on the beach, maybe jet skiing, whatever. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time (and I’m in absolutely awful shape anyway). I definitely must plan for more time on my next visit. Here’s a photo:

Welcome to poolside at the Ritz Carlton San Juan

The classes at the office went fairly well, but I did have some technical issues in the end. Of course, with a huge time difference, there really wasn’t much I could do about it so I worked around. The people were really nice and everyone spoke English perfectly—way better than my ersatz-Spanish. The funny thing, though, is that I could really understand a lot of what I read and heard in Spanish. By the end of only three days, I feel like I could almost just start speaking Spanish at will. It really would be a very short leap for me to learn.

Again, there wasn’t much time at all for sightseeing. I’d originally intended to take a vacation day on Tuesday, but got some more sessions booked for then. After some fancy juggling, I managed to only have to go in in the late afternoon, so spent the morning visiting Old San Juan and especially the Spanish forts. WOW! They were truly amazing and totally reminded me of Pirates of the Caribbean—both the movie and the Disneyland ride. They even had the same damp, musty, dungeon-like smell. I pretty thoroughly explored both San Cristobál and El Morro and took lots of photos and videos. I only wish I’d had a couple more hours so that I could have wandered through the town of Old San Juan itself and look at the other buildings. Again, all the more reason to return someday. Here’s a photo:

Inside El Morro

Oh yeah—one more thing about Puerto Rico: driving. I’d been led to believe that PR was a veritable hell-on-earth when it comes to driving. Consequently, when I first arrived—at night, in a place I’d never been, not knowing how to get there—I was understandably paranoid. But once I’d successfully seen the world in the light of day and navigated the hour drive to the office, I actually realized it’s not so bad. To qualify that statement, they are indeed wild drivers and you can see all manner of goofiness. But, having said that, I kind of enjoyed the challenge. Being a native-born Los Angeleno, I know a thing or two about “assertive” driving and actually had fun. I did spend some time on the road laughing out loud at some of the things I saw, but I never saw an accident. It seems that if everybody’s applying machismo to their driving, at least they’re paying attention. So my estimation is that driving here is not for the faint of heart, but other places are worse (like, for example, Italy—at least as I remember it…)

EDM-E World Tour 2005

It has been SUCH a long time since I’ve written in my blog—but this is no worse than my personal journal writing ever was. I’m in the midst of an unusually long spell of business travel so I thought I’d write about my adventures so far.

Even though I love to travel and am always ready and willing to do so (I pride myself on being ready to go anywhere in the world in 30 minutes), this has been an unusual autumn for me. It has all been business travel related to our document management systems, delivering training.

It started Wednesday October 12 with a trip to Austin, TX to deliver training to the Unisys service desk staff. I LOVED Austin! The biggest things I learned: 1) Texas hill country is really beautiful, 2) houses are REALLY cheap (new tracts advertising from the mid $90s—Sheesh!), and 3) everything I’d ever learned in my life up until then about barbecue was a big fat lie. Thanks to the County Line, I’m spoiled for the rest of my days. It was also particularly fun to get a feel for where Will Barnett spent his freshman year at UT in the Uncle Sean series of novels by Ron Donaghe. I really enjoyed myself there, and the fact that I wasn’t there alone was nice for a change (Armando Arballo was there too, assisting in the training). Believe it or not, I could see myself living there…

Texas State Capitol Building, Austin.

I then came home for one day at the office and then off again on the longest part—a 3-city, 8-day “world tour”. Stop number one was Denver, CO, where I visited and taught at the Longmont facility. The classes were OK, but I found out too late that the training machines I was provided were missing some software I needed. I like Denver too, but it was already starting to be chilly in the evenings. One of my favorite places in Longmont is a new community called Prospect. Each of the homes and condos is uniquely designed and the place gives the image of an eclectic village. If only such a place could be built somewhere where the weather is better in the winters.

The other thing I always do is treat myself to a trip to the Denver REI flagship store. It’s absolutely amazing—sits right on the river where people ride by on the bikes on the river paths or kayak in front of the store. It’s truly incredible—but this time I actually got away without buying anything!

The REI Flagship store in downtown Denver.

Stop number two was Providence, RI where I spent a day teaching at our West Greenwich, RI facility. We’d called ahead to get the required software installed, but ended up having to redo it anyway. Still, the classes went without a hitch. The facility there is for manufacturing, and since part of it is still under construction there were lots of workmen around and security was rather tight. Still, it was an interesting experience.

This was my first time ever to New England, and with autumn coming on, it was really beautiful. I got to spend all day Saturday driving around and seeing some sights. The one I chose was Mystic Seaport, CT which was really fun—though I’m sure it would be better with it not raining. It was pretty much as I’d imagined it and very interesting to see what a New England community looked like. Another highlight was getting to eat real New England clam chowder in a small inn that positively oozed charm. The final leg was a drive to see the modest little “cottages” of the turn-of-the-century patrician classes in Newport, RI. Unfortunately, I got there too late and wasn’t able to go on any tours—drat, maybe next time. It must’ve been nice being the likes of the Astors or Vanderbilts back then. Here’s a photo:

A view of Mystic Seaport.

So I started this entry while waiting at the Providence airport to board the plane for my next destination: San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’m finishing it up on the first leg to Chicago, where I’ll hopefully be able to upload it for your viewing pleasure. I’m sure that Puerto Rico will deserve an entry (or two) all on its own…

Back from Chicago!

The ups and downs of my adventure to meet my two favorite authors. In the end, it was definitely worth it.

Having never been to Chicago before, the first “down” was when I spent an hour and a half going the wrong direction on I-90 at rush hour, in the rain—then another hour and forty-five going back the other way to get to my hotel. An inauspicious beginning to my weekend to be sure…

But Saturday arrived, full of hope and excitement—even though I lazed out and slept in until 10:30 AM and consequently missed my chance to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House (steeeerike two!). I did go see the Home and Studio in Oak Park, with just enough time to visit nearby homes to take pictures. I ended up going back for the Home & Studio tour (which was awesome) Sunday morning.

I arrived a fashionable 30 minutes after the book signing started and was both thrilled and disappointed: Mark Kendrick was speaking to the audience and recognized & acknowledged me as soon as I walked in the door as did Mark Roeder. That made me feel pretty good, and I was really happy to have come.

The disappointment came when I realized that I was the seventh person comprising the audience—counting Mark R’s friend Eric and the guy who ran the library where it was being held. I had certainly expected that this was going to be a bigger deal and that there would be more in attendance. Their writing certainly warrants that.

Anyway, one of the things that they ended up discussing—along with Josh Thomas, the other author speaking with them—was how they as midwestern authors are often overlooked by the LA and NY publishers: the literary equivalent of “fly-over country syndrome”. Each had previously attempted to contact larger, more established publishing houses, but couldn’t get the time of day. Fortunately, through the wonders of on-demand publishing and the internet (not to say a publisher located in Lincoln, Nebraska), their books have been printed and are reaching a wider audience. It made me realize just how important my involvement with word-of-mouth promotion of their works is. I resolved then and there to redouble my efforts and look for new ways to bring these important novels to the folks that need to read them.

Another discussion that was interesting was their readership demographics. Given that their novels are basically young love/coming out stories, it was interesting to note that their biggest demographic was 40–80 years old—older men reliving their youths or happy to imagine a youth they wish they’d had. The other major group is teenagers, which is right on the money for who should be reading their works. The lowest is the 20- and 30-somethings who’ve obviously bought into the pop-culture, glamour, big stars vision of literature (in other words, the crap that those big NY and LA publishers churn out).

After the book signing, taking a few pictures and buying Josh’s two novels (Murder at Willow Slough and Andy’s Big Idea, both of which I’m now anxious to read), Mark K. & partner, Mark R. and Eric and I all went out and had a nice dinner. I tell you—they’re every bit as nice, decent and cool as I’d expected, and I finally started to relax a bit. It was weird that I was so nervous meeting them—I’m usually pretty gregarious and confident, but somehow I felt slightly uneasy when confronted with greatness!

Anyway, it was a great time and I feel as though I’ve made some new, close friends with whom I hope to stay in touch over the years. As important, it once again reinforced my desire to join their ranks by completing my own novel.

One last thing—two, actually: before dinner when we were sitting in Mark K’s beautiful home, he pulled out an old scrapbook of his from when he lived in California. He showed me two snapshots he had of the guy he based Scott Faraday’s character from Desert Sons upon. It was like being given a special little glimpse into the parallel reality of that book, that time and that place. I secretly wished I could get copies for myself—it was totally cool.

A little after that, Mark R. was talking about getting Summer of My Discontent ready for publishing. He said it was kind of slow going when he got my final review version back, so he just clicked on “Accept all changes” and took my word for it. I was extremely flattered and honored to think that he’d trust my judgment and abilities so highly. It also makes me realize how important it is that I uphold my highest standards and always give my best effort.

Anyway, thanks to Mark and Mark for being terrific authors, great people and for showing me a wonderful time. I wish you all the best of success, and want you to know that I’ll be out here doing my best to bring your books the attention and audience they deserve.

Here’s a picture of the panel at the event:
(L to R Mark Roeder, Mark Kendrick, Josh Thomas)