Thursday, July 21, 2011

Anime Overload

 This year was the 3rd annual Anime Overload convention, and our second year going as regular patrons.  Both my daughters are heavily into the anime culture ("anime" refers to Japanese-style cartoons and comic-books)... so much so that this year they each went dressed as some of their favorite anime characters (referred to as "COSplay"), they create their own anime artwork, and at least one is learning Japanese.  Anime has a broad cultural impact, influencing the look of video-games, toys, and even advertising here in the US.  In Japan, "manga" (anime-styled comic-books) is one of the most popular forms of media with stories in every genre and for every age-group.  A few years ago I even read that military manuals in Japan are illustrated in manga or anime style.

 Anime Overload lasts a weekend, beginning on a Friday at 10am and ending the following Sunday at 5pm.  At least for the last 2 years, it has been held at the Crockett Event Center on North Lamar Blvd, and the date has been set for early summer; late June or early July.  Last year, there was some mix-up with their original venue, which is the reason they moved to the Crockett Center.  The Crockett Center may not be the most ideal location; one half of the building houses a Hispanic Flea-Market, and the event center more frequently caters to mixed-martial arts tournaments and gun-shows... but it seems to be the easiest one to book.

 Anime Overload features a variety of vendors and artists selling their wares, including an "artists alley" which seems to include mostly local artists.  Among the vendors are several artists who visit conventions like this one nationally, traveling from convention-to-convention largely on the profits earned from each event.  One of the artists, Ali Morgainne, who markets her work as "Hoshikko Ink", is from Houston, and travels the state at these conventions.  Another artist, Chuck Porcheron, of "Warhound Art Studio" travels the country.  Both artists have got my daughter and I considering participating at future conventions.

 There are two distinct groups of people patronizing in Anime Overload.  One group I would refer to as "deep-geeks".  These are the people who are deeply invested in time, money, and effort into some fringe past-time or hobby.  A deep-geek can be into just about anything, but if it is profitable (like tattooing) or socially well-received (like football), the "geekiness" is less obvious.  The deep-geeks at Anime Overload participate in the seminars, discuss and break down anime plots and characterization, and share tips on creating COSplay costumes and accessories.  The deep-geeks often are deep into the anime scene; they know the people who have been invited as guests, co-ordinate their own activities locally, and probably are involved in some fashion with Anime Overload's production team.

 The other group, which make up the dominant majority of the people you see running around the place, are "fan-boys" (despite appearances, the distinction is gender-neutral).  These people are fans of anime.  They have their favorite manga or anime shows/characters, and are up on the latest series being played on channels like Cartoon Network.  They COSplay, getting their costumes pre-made with little or no personal effort in the creation or design.  Some of them wear costumes totally unrelated to anime or anything going on at the convention.  This is because, unlike the deep-geeks, fan-boys are interested in being recognized by others as a fan of anime.  Their investment is not in an interest in anime itself, but rather in anime as part of their personal means of self-expression. 

 It is there way of being special.

 There are numerous events to participate in.  Sleeping Samurai is a performance group that invites the crowd to participate in mock sword-fights with nerf or padded weapons (many of the patrons showed-up with custom-designed "regulation" weapons).  The rules are simple; each opponent tries to land a strike on one of their enemy's limbs.  Combat is referreed.  If a limb is struck, that round ends, and during the next round the victim cannot make use of that limb; the struck-arm is placed behind the back, a struck-leg requires the victim to go down on one knee.  The fight is over when one of the opponents looses the use of all four limbs (or both arms, whichever comes first).  There are a few people who get deep into this mock-fighting, and are almost acrobatic in their performances.

 COSplay chess involves participants in costume acting as a living chessboard.  Each participant is assigned a piece (pawn, knight, king, etc), with each team selecting one person to be the player.  Each player calls out to the COSplay character and instructs them on wear to move. 

 This year there was also a zombie-hunt.  Video-games are more-often-than-not using the anime style of illustration in their character design, and numerous of the more popular games involve zombies.  COSplayers show up as both the protagonists form their favorite games and as zombies.  There was even a vendor who sold clothes made to looke like the wearer had been a victim of a zombie attack.  Patrons bring Nerf-guns and hunt the zombie COSplayers in a refereed game. 

 Throughout the day, there are a variety of seminars and classes, a video-game arcade (featuring the latest or most popular home-system games), opportunities to speak with professional anime artists, writers, and character actors, kareoke, and of course viewings of anime cartoons.  Friday and Saturday nights end with a rave, starting around 10pm and lasting until midnight. 

 In preparing for and participating in Anime Overload, I have a few recommendations.

 -Buy your tickets early.  Buying your tickets on-line, a few months in advance, gives you a big savings compared to buying at the door. 

 -Buy a three-day pass.  The cost of a one day ticket at the door is almost as expensive as a three-day pass purchased on-line, especially if purchased early.

 -Buy the VIP pass.  The VIP pass gives you more access and a gift-package.  When purchased early, it is the best bargain offered.

 -The convention begins at 10am, Friday.  The line for pre-registered ticket holders was over 2 hours long, and despite their intentions to the contrary, the event coordinators where not able to get people there passes at 9am.  You are better off showing up after noon on the first day.  The convention doesn't officially open until 4pm.  Unless there is an event that you wish to participate in that morning, your not missing anything but a wait in line by showing-up late.

 -Plan your visit ahead of time.  The events scheduled are listed on the website.  There really is nowhere to sit, wait, or lounge (all though plenty of fan-boys camp-out on the floor near the bathrooms).  You could take about an hour to walk around and check-out all the vendors, but afterwards without something to do the convention can be fairly boring.  Knowing what is scheduled and having a plan will either fill the void between events or allow you to leave and return for your events.

 -Bring your own beverages.  Food options are limited in the convention; there is a stand selling Japanese snacks (including sushi) and the event-centers hotdog and nacho vendor... both ridiculously over-priced.  At this time, there is no prohibition on outside beverages (no alcohol), and as far as I know outside food is also allowed (I have not tested this).  If you get hungry, there is Chuy's Tex-Mex right across the street from the Crocket Center, and McDonald's, Taco Bell, What-a-Burger, Popeye's, Wendy's, Burger King, Sonic, and Subway all about three blocks south on Lamar.  There is also a Shell station across the street and a 7-11 about two blocks south.

 -Bring your laptop, Magic the Gathering cards, hand-held game systems, etc.  The event center is wifi-capable, and it will give you something to do.

 -Bring your camera, and a backpack.  There will be things and people you want to take pictures of, and you will need a place to store your loot.

 Anime Overload seems to play second-fiddle to Ikkicon, the anime convention held during New Year's weekend.  Everyone I spoke with said the Ikkicon was better, which may have more to do with the weather in Texas (HOT in the summer, mild in the winter) than anything else.  If you're local, and want a free ticket, see about volunteering... although the event manager I spoke with said they actually had more volunteers than needed this year. 

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