For one thing, an old online friend of mine - one who's actually been heavily into anime for longer than I have - got the chance to visit for the week in Meatspace, and we hit up some local nerdery hobbles and had all sorts of delicious take-out and generally had a grand ol' time. Too bad we didn't think to buy booze until the last day, but with us getting out at around midnight and then waking up at 7 the next day as it was, it probably would have been more counter-productive than we'd hope it would be, anyway. Good times were had by all, far as I can tell, and I do hope I'll get a chance to have him over again next year.
I didn't go to any of the "premiers", but with most of those essentially being titles long since leaked to the internets with a fresh dub I have little to no interest in, the only one I actually regret missing was the English subtitled world-premier of the firts ever crowd-funded OVA, KICK HEART. My friend managed to get there, and said it was a fantastic experience - far more impressive in motion than the stills would suggest, and the only real downer was the fact that they wound up playing the entire 45 minute making-of (for a 15 minute project) PLUS a giant promo reel for Studio I.G, evidently by mistake, not leaving any room for director to go over what an unusual piece it was. He did leave with a very special piece of director Masaaki YUASA crafted art, and while it's a shame my schedule didn't quite line up to see it for myself, I'm glad to hear it was everything it could have been and so much more.
The highlight for me, you'll surely understand, was the chance to meet Toshio MAEDA, infamous "Tentacle Master" and creator of both 淫獣学園 La☆Blue Girl and 超神伝説うろつき童子 / UROTSUKIDOJI: LEGEND OF THE OVERFIEND manga. While, true, I fell in love with the OVAs that were very loosely based on Maeda's original comics, I later discovered the originals which had their own unique style and aesthetic that do a fine job of complimenting the wildly differing adaptations - one isn't inherently "better" than the other, they're just drastically different takes on the same broad ideas. Maeda is in no uncertain terms the man who created the universe of the Choujin, the sexually charged and violently spiritual concept that helped set me on a lifetime of fascination with both extreme exploitation films and animation as a means of pure artistic expression, and while I certainly tried, there's nothing I could ever do to truly thank him for having had such an impact on me.
I did, however, commission an original sketch from the man - for a fee as high as he'd ask for, I find no shame in admitting - and when we'd discussed the terms and the price, he asked me to write it down: "So you wanted: Akemi, with tentacle rape. Penetration visible, fully X-rated." He then turned to my wife, hiding behind me and beet red, and began to tell her "It's okay you know, there are actually a lot of women who enjoy this erotic material - even when it's shocking." I just smiled and told him she has been a big fan of La Blue Girl for years, and we were only asking for Akemi because it looked like everyone else had already requested Miiko. I was even lucky enough to get the Urotsukidoji LD BOX insert I've owned for a few years signed, as well as an inexpensive full color print that's ripe for framing right in the living room.
At that point I was thrilled to go to his panel, and it may be the most inspiringly honest, no-bullshit interview I've ever seen. He talked about the fact that his current wife didn't care about his legacy as the creator of tentacle rape pornography, but probably never would have given him the time of day if she'd known he was originally from Osaka. He was perfectly honest about not being a fan of manga and anime himself, preferring old Hollywood movies and even jokingly telling his son that manga's a waste of time. When someone asked him a stupid question ("What would you give up for the power to grow tentacles?"), he'd give a fitting answer ("Sorry, I don't speak English!"). He revealed that the animation crew behind Urotsukidoji was the same staff that handled the Gundam TV series, but used fake names to protect their identities from being ruined with the mainstream. He talked about how he always considered himself a child of American pop culture, particularly television and comics, and was surprised that his work seemed so amazingly foreign to most Americans.
And, yes, when he asked a young black man in the audience if the rumors about "his people" having large genitals were true, and the audience roared with laughter, he looked around shocked and asked us all: "What? I didn't say the N-word! I am a decent man!" See? It doesn't even matter what you did on the Fourth of July. Mine was the best.
Sunday was even better, as Maeda was willing to take a handful of fans - my wife, my good friend and I included - on a journey to a local steak house to eat, drink and be merry. We did just that, talked about everything from the American school system to the difference between Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, the difference between religion and morality, how devastating the car accident that had forced him to retire for a long period had been, and yes, what a swindling asshole Uchuu Senkan Yamoto producer Yoshinobu NISHIZAKI was.We even discussed eating pussy, and I made a joke that had him laughing so hard I thought he'd bust a gut. Maeda speaks very good English, has a fantastic sense of humor and a charming level of brutal honesty, I couldn't be happier that the man who helped shape me into the creepy erotic-grotesque obsessed bastard that I am today is actually a cool, fun, perfectly normal guy who just reads John Grisham novels in his spare time between drawing paradoxically impossible rape-fantasies to pay his rent. (So, no, he wasn't directly inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos. He says he doesn't even like zombie movies, and always looks away during the scary bits... go figure.) Toshio Maeda is a wonderful person, an exceptional talent, and I'm thrilled I got to spend as much quality time with him as I did. The wife and I even made a few new friends at the table! Good times all around, and I couldn't have asked for a better way to cap off the convention.
And, for those curious, here's MAEDA'S WEBSITE. You can pay about $6.50 to get access to damn near everything in the tenticular style he's drawn for a month (though for obvious reasons his "political" and even kids mangas are owned by different publishers). Considering how fucking amazing his work is, and how little he seemingly has to show for it after he lost everything in a major accident a few years back, your 650 yen would indeed be a good deed towards a good man.
Tentacle Master aside, I had quite a bit of fun. The food trucks out front were something; Jogasaki's world famous Sushi Burrito was pretty damned tasty, but left me sick as a dog the next day. The Maine Brothers Lobster Roll was also a surprising addition and, being a New Englander by birth, it was nice to get a fresh, cool bite of underwater Lovecraftian Horrorbug with just a hint of mayo after a year and a half of brain-burritos and elastic noodles being my daily dietary staples. Probably the nicest surprise was the Super Boba truck that had the strongest goddamn iced green tea I've ever tasted, but just enough diabetes-catalyzing sugar and pomegranate syrup to make licking a tea bag sound like the best fucking idea on the planet.
Cosplayers, naturally, ran the gambit from "Aw, that's cute that they tried..." to "HOLY SHIT that's the best [insert character] possible" to "...goddamn it, now I can't look at Link and not get a boner anymore." Mrs. Kentai is quite a seamstress herself, so she's always skulking about with an over-priced camera looking for particularly well made costumes, and will utterly ignore even the most gorgeous of cosplayers if their work wasn't up to snuff. It's one of the reasons I love her, truly. I am a little sad I didn't get a photo of one particular entrant, though; without trying to sound any more like a pedophile than usual, a young lady who showed up on Saturday with what I can only assume was her parents dressed as a bloodied Vegeta may have been the most amazing costume on the floor, and I'm incredibly disappointed she disappeared into the throng of unwashed otaku before I had photographic evidence of it. Vegeta Girl, you were awesome, and if you're reading this... well, you probably shouldn't be anywhere near the Kentai Blog to begin with. But I guess I was mainlining Maeda OVAs at 14, so I'm not one to judge who does and doesn't look over explicit Berserk comparisons, now am I?
Just so y'all know, I'd be lying if I didn't say that this guy was the star of the show:
So... THIS the hit show of 2013? Really?
You're sure about this one, internet? Alright...
We went to several panels, though Maeda's obviously stole the show. My friend was quite satisfied with the Makoto SHINKAI Q&A - apparently he was into it, discussing the process for his animation and even the symbolism behind it all, but having always found his movies to be a bit of a dull slog I decided to go play arcade games instead. Mike Toole's Dubs that Time Forgot covered some fun, obscure nonsense including the Toei produced WILD SWANS film, Sanrio's delightful looking Greek mythology rock-opera THE WINDS OF CHANGE, and even had a rarely seen promo reel for ROCKY JOE, an aborted English dub of the classic Ashita no Joe TV series that was reportedly killed off when the localization team got wind of how the TV show ended. (SPOILER ALERT: It's one of the single most iconic images in anime. Even if you don't know what it means, you do know how Ashita no Joe ends.) There was a panel called Ero-Manga: The Good, The Bad and the WTF that turned out to be a charmingly educational basic course on the history, styles and range of fap material available in Japan. It covered a wide range of artists, even paying attention to artists like John K. Peter, Horihone SAIZO and even Waita UZIGA. Truth be told I knew most of what the panel had to cover, but I suppose having run around in the same circles as the guys who actually had those artists' scanned and translated in the first place, I'm probably far more experienced and jaded than I tend to assume I am. Whatever the case, the gentleman* in the neon Goth-Loli gear who ran the panel was refreshingly amusing, really had his shit together and was, above all else, treating the material with the respect it deserved: Whoever you were, good sir, I salute you.
*When I say "gentleman" I'm merely assuming the neon Goth-Loli gear was a festive occasion choice - then again this is Southern California, and I'd be lying id I said I hadn't seen more unusual fashion choices around.
As for what I spent most of my time doing... well, hell, you guys know me. I'm a collector at heart, and after throwing more dollar bills at Maeda than I could keep track of a good chunk of my time was spent either getting bumped out of panels or being too fucking exhausted to care, at which point I'd simply go back to the Exhibit Hall and spend more money. At this point I don't even remember everything I and my wife bought; the Pile of Toys has mushroomed pretty hard (particularly on the Wifey's side...), but I'll go over the surprise highlights and leave it at that for now:
* Region 1 DVD copies of GUNBUSTER 2: DIEBUSTER, MAD BULL 34 and CASSHAN: ROBOT HUNTER ('93). Discotek is, sadly, about the only table that sells titles for more or less the same price you'll find them for online after shipping, so they were the only ones I threw cash at for home video releases. If Viz, FUNimation or Sentai Filmworks/Section 23 wants me to drop coin at their booth, they can at least pretend to be competitive with Amazon and TRSI.
Seriously guys, Discotek kicks ass and they only up the ante every year. GO BUY SOMETHING. C'mon now, they've gotta be losing their shirt on re-doing the subtitled original version of Samurai Pizza Cats. Yes, really, the subtitled version of a show people only even know exists because of it's absurd English dub! Why did they even bother to release the subtitled Cat-Ninden Teyandee version? Because they're just that cool.
* While not "mine", technically, I did stand in line for over an hour as a tap-out to help my wife get an exclusive Madoka Nendoroid - THIS little cutie pie, to be specific. What's cool is she's an event exclusive, but they're actually releasing her world-wide at the same time in Japan, North America and China. She also got THIS BEAUTY, but that's... another story. I have mixed feelings about skipping the Maiko Miku Nendo, particularly once sell-outs completely cock blocked my Link and Samus Figma sexiness, but we own so goddamn many things with that cute little bitch I guess I can let this one slip past.
* SUPER ROBOT CHOGOKIN: Shin Mazinger Z. I spent way too much on this one, but the product is pretty goddamn awesome so, whatever. The world of die cast robots is a new one on me, and I honestly don't know if I can go back to plastic for my big honkin' kaijuu punching fun after this. Just wish I hadn't literally seen it the next day for twenty bucks cheaper...
I also picked up a set of Tamashii figure stands for an okay price, so my Megaman toys are at last able to stand without blue tack on their oversize feet. Finally, Mega can pew-pew-pew without falling over!
* A 12"~ tall black-and-white Kenshiro figure.. which I can't even find a photo for. Don't get too excited, it's not the Real Action Hero figure or anything - it's copy-written to SEGA 2003, so I assume it's a forgotten run of UFO crane toys and only cost someone 500 yen and some patience. But it's a pretty cool looking figure, and well worth the $15 I paid for it.
* "Devilman Lady Cyber Figure". Yes, really, it's a goddamn talking Devilman Lady alarm clock from 1999. For $30, I couldn't say no, though I am a little pissed that the box suggests I'm missing a remote control for it. Yes, a remote controlled Go Nagai alarm clock. If I'd known it was incomplete I may have been a shit and tried to talk them down, but for something this shockingly absurd I'm still pretty satisfied.
* Three NHK circle ero-doujinshi featuring artwork by NEWMEN. For those of you unfamiliar with Newmen, go read his SECRET PLOT books and come back when you've mopped up your own shame. I was thrilled just to see more filthy Newmen pr0n, but the fact that one of those books was a hardcore Dominion (ie: "Tank Police") book went from "Wow, this is a cool surprise..." to "FUCKING HELL, WHERE'S THE ATM?! HOLY SHIT, SERIOUSLY? A $5 TRANSACTION FEE? ...WHATEVER!"
* DBOX. What's more fun than unlicensed porno fan-comics? Unlicensed and horrendously lazy foreign reprints OF unlicensed porno fan-comics! Yeah, this is exactly what it looks like and somehow even worse, and is especially notable just because of his hilariously shitty the whole thing is; some French publisher went to Japan in the mid-90s, picked up all the late Cell/early Buu era doujinshi they could find and then reprinted them without giving a half a shit if they'd get slapped on the wrist or not. There's no fake copyright, no table of contents, no translation - yes, the book published IN FRANCE is still in Japanese! - no blank pages at the front and back of the book to keep the cover from getting all stained by the ink, the page numbers in the corners are based on whatever the original books had, there's zero consistency between art styles, the very first story is a weird Dragon Ball cross-over with I don't even fucking know what, sometimes creator notes are included and other times they're not, everything's cropped to fit the same weird sized page... it's kind of awesome. Plus it's got Gohan X Piccolo buttsex. How was that alone not worth $20?
* REVOLTECH - QUEEN'S BLADE: Sigui (1P Version). For $20, brand new! Christ, I'm surprised I didn't buy two. If they'd had the 2P version I'd be tempted to swap the underwear bits to my ultimate preference, so it's... probably for the best that they didn't. I should not own more than one of each of these figures, particularly not at the prices some of them have been selling for.
* Devilman Polystone Bust Collection Vol. 2. A gorgeously sculpted and okay-painted lump of pure Body-Horror released in 2005, it was available at a stand offering a BOGO sale, which in turn justified the purchase of a different 1/7th figure (which is, for better or worse, another story). It was marked at $40 while the "big" figure was $100, which means we either got this one free or we each got them for $50 - justify it however you like.
Either way I'm absolutely in love with the nasty concept of Devilman literally shredding out of Akira FUDOU, and I'm only disappointed that American eBay resellers have the other Polystone busts listed at outrageous prices starting at $100. Guys, c'mon; these actually sold in the US for $50 a pop through Diamond Comics Distribution. I get the concept of after-market mark up, but when somehow it's cheaper to buy them through YAJ with all deputy and shipping fees accounted for, you're probably doing it wrong.
I'm sure I'm forgetting a hundred little things - stories, purchases, anecdotes and so much more - but for the time being, it's nice to have one last day off to see my friend home and chill the fuck out before I plow back into work head-first. Anime Expo was a blast period, but the fact that I actually got to hang out and have dinner with the man who created something that touched me so deeply (and in so many crevasses!) was a once in a life time experience. Thank you, Toshio Maeda. And yes, thank you, Anime Expo. It's been one hell of a weekend.
Also, by far my favorite non-Maeda quote of the weekend: "Unico is Best Pony." Amen to that, sister, amen to that.