The theme this year was "children of the night", ie. vampires, zombies and anything else undead. Feeling pretty undead myself due to a steadily worsening ailment, I packed listlessly at the last moment and forgot my stomach pills, an indispensable digestion aid these days. Shoot: that meant fruits, veggies and starchy stuff only. Coincidentally, the protein (meat, eggs, soy) part of the buffet had shrunk considerably: the salmon teriyaki had finally been scrapped, like the sweet omelette-with-mincemeat dish a con or so before. Fortunately, the tomato salads were still present, along with okonomiyaki, the Japanese veggie pancake, and my new staple and favourite: a salad of narrow green strips of seaweed and cucumber with what appears to be green sesame seeds, although those may be part of the seaweed. Some strands are so mistily green that they look as if they were made of plastic, which looks much more charming than it sounds. The bottled apple juice plus glass had become bottled apple juice plus straw: economic recession, or too many glasses knocked over?
As I found out during the con, though, due to the association between night and s-e-x, the genre labels tacked onto shows often included "ecchi" (adult), "pantsu" (panty shots) and "big breasts" (speaks for itself) and where last year's con booklet had warned against minor infractions like carrying bags on the con grounds, this year's booklet warned very strongly against sexual harrassment of other congoers.
Usavich is an animation in short instalments about two rabbits in a Russian prison that doesn't look like any real prison I've ever seen. For starters, and this is a recurring joke, rather than have a guard behind the door, the door itself is the guard. It has mechanical tentacle-like arms with grippers and two eyes in a letterbox-like slit. As the series starts, one of the two inmates, with a sagging bulldog mouth, is being washed, in his cell, by the door's arms, and then hung up to dry like laundry. Now it's the turn of the other inmate, a red-tinted character who looks more like a proper rabbit. The second inmate is clearly a tough character; there is an altercation in which the door is bent double. The background music is a constant bopping rhythm - the bulldog-faced rabbit even dances to it when sleeping, which he does standing on his bunk - and is the subject of the second episode, where a tiny chicken/duckling that shares the cell with them chases a fly that is caught by the frog regularly surfacing from the cell toilet, the noises they make forming a little concert. Nothing is said throughout the series. The routine of prison life - visitors, exercise, the pain of having to share a toilet, playing cards with the guards and getting treats from them - is played out in fantastic, bizarre slapstick, up to and including the day of their release: because the door-guards tried to beat up the tough rabbit the night before and ended up running for their lives, the cell door is heavily barred with planks, so he breaks his way out through the side of the prison.
Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha is an upgrade of Sailor Moon. Except that the first (undubbed) Sailor Moon season was at least funny. The main characters: a girl in the third grade (I don't know what that means in terms of age, but she looks six and so is probably fourteen) and a mongoose-like creature from another planet. It calls to Nanoha for help, and tells her to use its magic bead to fight three cloud-monsters. As she does this in the typical clueless anime bimbette way, the talking mongoose marvels at her power. After she defeats the cloud-monsters and they are reduced to crystals, the alien creature explains that it came from another world and that it is to blame for these monsters because it excavated the crystals that animate them (the flashback to the excavation shows a human boy, so, like Chibi-Usa's crush Pegasus, he's probably hiding in an animal form) and then, apparently, lost these crystals, so now Nanoha has to collect them all. Her secret weapon is a violet bead that, when "activated", changes into a wand with a heart, transforms her clothes into a dippy superheroine outfit and, while in battle mode, changes shape and function according to her thoughts. And it speaks English. It. Speaks. English. Arrrrgh. Luckily it does understand Nanoha's stammered Japanese. Just when it exceeded my Engrish tolerance and I walked out, another girl (the villain, or at least antagonist) was shown watching from the shadows, clearly very interested in those crystals, and holding a triangle that has the same function as the bead. And that also speaks English.
Arakawa under the bridge is hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. I strongly recommend it. The main character is a the son of a rich businessman, who has been mercilessly taught self-reliance by his father - even as a young child, for every bit of childcare he received, daddy demanded payback - and so he makes it a point never to be indebted to anyone. As the series starts, he is standing on a bridge in his underpants, as a band of yobs just stole his pants and hung them high on a pylon. But hey, he's cool with it! It's not like there's anyone to see him here. Except for the girl fishing off the side of the bridge, who asks him in a deadpan way if he needs help getting his pants back. Eeek! No, it's all right, he can manage for himself and he doesn't want to owe her. He climbs the pylon and grabs the bit of clothing, but a metal part has broken off under his weight and he falls backwards into the river, now dragged down under its weight. The girl rescues him, and, of course, he demands to know how he can repay her. Since she doesn't need anything from him, she says, in a clueless way that makes one wonder if she even knows the meaning of the word, that he can be her lover. This means that the successful son of an important businessman will have to live under the bridge, just as she does, but: never be in debt to anyone! She says he'll need permission to live here from the mayor, and starts to splash the water. "Calling the mayor," is what she replies when he asks what she's doing. In response, a kappa rises from the water. The young man is pretty impressed, until he sees the zipper on the rubber suit. All new inhabitants get a name from the mayor - the girl's name is Nino, the mayor is simply Kappa, and the young man is named, to his dissatisfaction, Recruit - and then find themselves a place to live in the bridge's structure. Nino's "house" is a draughty room with a huge curtain for a door, and she has a "villa", with no walls at all, at the top of a huge supporting structure; "Recruit" manages to find quite a cosy living space inside one of these structures. At the welcoming party organized in his honour, he meets the neighbours: notably Hoshi, the man with a star for a head and the Ironheads, the two masked children in his care. Hoshi is incredibly jealous and keeps bugging him in subsequent episodes. They all seem to live in a fantasy world - Kappa thinks he's a kappa, Nino thinks she's from Venus - but nevertheless they are part of a completely self-reliant community, and the new arrival, who would otherwise have dismissed them as delusional bums, is constantly forced to re-evaluate himself. That the community extends beyond the bridge becomes clear when he is taken to a "church service" held by "Sister" - reality check, Christianity does not allow women to lead religious services, but it's okay because "Sister" is a big man in a nun's habit with a facial scar, a military past and his gun always at the ready - and later goes with this Sister to get some cake ingredients from a nearby farm run by Maria, an apparently sweet and innocent woman who loves to make remarks so nasty that even the outwardly emotionless Sister collapses and starts bleeding out of his scar.
Hatsune Miku '39s Giving Day Concert was a filler in the programme, so once it was time for the next show, the concert was simply switched off midway. The special thing about this concert is that it featured Vocaloids: Sharon Apple, but for real. The Vocaloids are 3D computer animations plus voice simulation, like Poser dolls that can sing. I don't know how the voice simulation works and whether maybe a real person was doing all the singing, but the animation was impressive. Hatsune Miku is the name of the first Vocaloid, with the typical all-eyes-and-no-nose anime face and two long, long blue ponytails hanging down her back, and when she swung her arms back, the ponytails flowed around them like real hair. Idol singers are more like dancers in that their appearance and the way they prance over the stage matters more than their musical qualities, and this Vocaloid's voice was hard and unappealing and the songs uninteresting, except for one with staccato vocals at the beginning that went very well with her "robot girl" image. Still, the musicians seemed to be enjoying themselves and the crowd enthusiastically waved their lighters, even though they were just cheering at a hologram. The advantage of using a hologram being that the dancing and prancing is all done by computer, so no embarrassing slip-ups onstage, and the character can be altered at a whim: Miku cycled through a number of outfits and hairstyles during her part of the concert. Just before the concert was cut short, she made way for the second Vocaloid performer, a pink-haired girl with a lock hanging forward over one shoulder, whose voice was more melodious. There is a series of Vocaloids, each provided with a "personality" and back story, but although their idol-singing and attempts to make them seem like real people doesn't do anything for me, the technology that must have gone into them is pretty neat.
Requiem for the Phantom is a humourless, self-indulgent anime. It starts with various people - a rich-bitch-type blonde, a topless short-haired brunette, a small woman in maid uniform and a vacant-faced boy of apparently her age - working together to assassinate some wealthy criminal. One remarks that they're already in hell, because their organization is called Inferno, haha, get it. Actually being in hell is supposed to entail suffering, and the smug chick that made the remark isn't suffering nearly enough. Switch to the vacant-faced boy waking up amnesiac in a cell and making his way out while being watched on a monitor by a white-haired, velvet-voiced scientist code-named Scythe (do I correctly detect the voice of Miki Shinichiru, successor of Shiozawa Kaneto who tragically died in a fall?) who remarks on his amazing potential, and pitted against the Phantom, that small woman previously dressed as a maid and now wearing a mask. Scythe controls them both through drugs and brainwashing, and individually calls them Ein and Zwei. Ein is mentally enslaved to Scythe, but their common situation draws them together. Scythe is dismissed from Inferno and goes on to become the series' nemesis when a clumsily failed attempt to liquidate him proves that the writers want him to hang around for a while. Zwei almost shoots him, but Ein throws herself in the way to catch the bullet. Later, Zwei, whose real name is Reiji, has gone free-lance. A little girl ("Cal") is supporting an obviously drunk obvious prostitute ("Judy") who she calls big sister, walking home after a working day of no clients. The "big sister" is shot, and the little girl turns to Reiji with a big bag of money for revenge. He says the money isn't quite enough, but she can pay the difference by becoming his housekeeper: a smart idea, as he sees she needs a parent figure to replace the prostitute kind enough to take in a little runaway girl. He takes her shopping for clothes and she falls into her old role of the child mothering the grownup, doing the cooking and cleaning in a heart-covered apron. He even, at her insistence, takes her on missions, training her to become an assassin like himself. All goes well until he promises to be home for dinner that evening, but is killed on his mission by a bomb. Oh no, Cal feels so betrayed that he won't be coming home! I skipped a few eps, and now Ein and Zwei are alive and well and attending a school as, supposedly, brother and sister. Cal has grown up to become a cat-eyed blonde consumed with hatred, under the tutelage of the still-surviving Scythe, for the word-breaking Reiji. The third Phantom, she sees it as her mission to kill the first two. I hope a bomb drops on the lot of them. However, I see a reference to the much less irritating Noir in the musical watch that Reiji buys for little Cal as a present, and that nasty big Cal later opens just before killing someone.
High School of the Dead is summed up in the con booklet as: "The world is overtaken by a very deadly disease that turns humans into zombies. In Japan, several students and the school nurse of Fujimi High School band together to survive the present apocalypse." The nurse would be the bimbo with the extremely bobbly boobs, then. The genre labels include "Action, Angst, Coming of Age", but also "Harem, Large Breasts, Pantsu", as if to say: "If you're not interested in the story of a group of teenagers trying to survive or the mechanics of being a zombie, you can always ogle the boobies. After all, if you're watching this, you're a heterosexual male who doesn't get any, right?" In other words, the genre choices rather belittle the show. I came in on time to see "Act 3: Democracy", so called because the band of students are joined by a Darwinofascist teacher and his class - when they run towards the school bus and one of the pupils stumbles and sprains an ankle, he smashes that pupil to the ground to be bitten by the pursuing zombies, because he doesn't want to be held up by weaklings - and this teacher, once on the bus, has the gall to state that their combined group needs to elect a leader, and then becomes that leader because of course his class votes for him, despite what they just saw. Ladies and gentleman, we have a villain. The episode started off promisingly, the band of pupils with various guns and stabbing weapons hiding inside the school and deducing that zombies, being dead, cannot see and, since they only seem to respond to sound, it should be safe to tiptoe past the zombies stomping around the school moaning. A theory they will have to test, as they can't stay there forever and want to escape by using the school bus. It works, but of course some idiot has to shout, and then the other class shows up making even more noise, so they have to make a run for it. Inside the bus and having driven onto an open road, an election is forced, and two students who don't like the outcome decide to continue on foot, promising to meet up at a set time and place. The animation is tinted orange and yellow as if to say "code alert!" and when one of them comes across a crashed motorcycle, there is a tense moment when the zombified driver mindlessly snaps jaws at him, but can't bite him because of the helmet (and being dead, the driver doesn't have the sense to take the helmet off). In other words: this series has the potential to be interesting enough that it shouldn't need to advertise itself with boobies.
I'd heard of Panty & Stocking as Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, described as a show that people either love or hate. I loved it. It is proof that sex and comedy can go together. Looking like a crude flash animation, the series follows two angels, Panty and Stocking, who live in Daten City, a place just between heaven and hell and therefore full of ghosts, which the angels have to banish in return for angel coins, that they have to collect in order to get back to heaven. Assisting them is a black (presumably Catholic, in any case boy-loving) priest with an afro that looks like a turban, called Garterbelt. No need to ask why the angels were thrown out of heaven in the first place: Panty, the blonde bitch, devours men by the dozen, while the goth girl Stocking, who wears striped socks and carries around a cat that seems to have had brain surgery, is a glutton, especially for sweet things. Their names come from their weapons: when they have their ghost cornered, Stocking takes off a stocking and transforms it into a sword, while Panty takes off her panties (woo! woo!) which change into a gun. My first impression of the show was "Powerpuff Girls meets Ren & Stimpy" - their dog Chucky, who survives being thrown around so hard that his skull cracks open, even looks like the dog of the duo - but as I saw them in action, it changed to "Powerpuff Girls meets Ren & Stimpy meets Dirty Pair". Not only do they cause massive amounts of damage on their missions, but almost every episode is based on something generally considered sordid. In the first ep, the ghost is that of a plumber who died of stink, it makes toilets eat people, and Panty first runs afoul of it when she takes a dump. At the end of the episode, she is literally covered in shit, and people pale at the smell of her. In another ep, that compares sperm cells to soldiers, ghosts have sabotaged the production of anything tissue-related, including toilet paper: "Children are crying because they can neither doodle nor diddle!" A ghost is making people pick boogers out of their noses to use as fuel, but to Stocking (oops, here comes my gagging reflex) the snot seems edible. The sisters make their own movie which almost bombs because Panty lets out that she made a porn video once (except she didn't realize it was porn, and wondered why nobody had seen it) so they chase down and destroy all but one of the tapes. Then Panty tells the reporters that she had Stocking edited out of the movie, and as revenge, Stocking uploads the porn vid to Youtube. The duo meet and fight their demonic equivalents, shrink, and are accidentally swallowed by a geeky boy who admires them and follows them around; the priest gives him a strong laxative and orders him to poop them out, promising to watch the process very closely. Stocking, the glutton, enormously gains weight, and the culprit is a tittymonster - even its eyes are nipples - that sprays cakes with "milk" containing germs that make people fat. There is a three-parter, luckily without spoken text as here the sound began to give out, about Chucky and the evil presence that lives in his brain. Proving how indestructible he is, he gets smooshed time after time, at one time ending up as just one eye in a green puddle; the eye rolls around in the puddle, collecting slime until he pops back into dog shape. Fortunately the sound picked up in time for the next ep, which was an episode-long rock concert by the main characters. If anything in this paragraph made you feel queasy, do not watch this horrendously funny show.
The next show I wanted to see was Professor Layton in the same room, Video Room 2, but due to continuing technical difficulties it wouldn't play at all, so I took a short peek at the other shows before leaving due to ecchi overload, and then called it a night. Queen's Blade, still playing in VR2 when I came in, is about a free-for-all tournament to become the next queen. I walked straight into a nude scene - apparently somebody's bodyguard had been captured and disgraced - with lines in the spirit of "oh no, you have been seen naked before your marriage" and an argument by a big-boobed aggressive redhead in a skimpy fantasy outfit, because, according to the anime hair colour code, red hair equals aggressive. Strike Witches is about women who combine their psychic powers with machinery to form some planetary defense force; no skimpy outfits and less boob, but still skirts short enough to flash some panties. The scene I saw was where the "witches" wear "leg rockets" (that make them look as if their legs were amputated and replaced by metal stumps) and the veterans are still flying around while the new recruits lie on the grass exhausted. A third show the next day in the same vein was Seikan no qwaser/Quasar of Stigmata where the peek I caught was not even of an episode, but of next episode's preview: a girl mistaken for a boy threatens to prove her gender by taking off her pants, and another character tells he she is getting to enjoy this undressing thing far too much. Quoting from the con booklet: "The story takes place on the grounds of St. Mihailov Academy, a Japanese Eastern orthodox school, and draws heavily on religious references from the aforementioned religion." Skipping, of course, the Orthodox (and any other Christian) religion's deep dislike of women, nudity and anything that hints at sex.
Retiring for the night to get some very necessary sleep meant that I only saw a few minutes of Shiki, a show whose makers seem to have realized that in a true horror series, boobs and innuendo-based humour only get in the way. In a small village cut off from the world, old practices like burying the dead are still observed. Since this is the standard practice in Europe, my thoughts are: "what else would you do with them?" but then Europe has a long tradition of vampires. Bada boom! My short eyeful included an unshaven doctor treating an old woman with arm punctures and thinking about the other, similar cases he treated for anaemia. He tells her to report back to his clinic tomorrow, even though that will be a Sunday. On the morrow, the woman's husband phones from home to say she's feeling better, ashamed to bother him on a Sunday and will visit later, although the woman lying on the ground is clearly dead. The doctor muses on what is the premise of the show, moreso than the horror and bloodsucking: that all the evidence points towards vampirism, yet admitting to vampirism means disconnecting oneself from the "normal" world. There is a story circulating that a dead and buried girl was alive and at home again the next day; two children have seen the "risen". The last thing I saw was a buried corpse (the old woman, or someone else?) waking up in the coffin and beating her hands against the lid frantically to get out.
Next morning, I became aware of money problems. I'd rented the hotel room for an extra day to get some rest, which had left me with mostly small change. My bank account was empty. An attempt to transfer cash from a credit card account to the bank account didn't work at first, and then told me the money would arrive "within three days". I had a general bus ticket, but no money for the train ticket back home. Surfing on the Dutch public transport site, I found that travelling by bus alone wouldn't work. I would have to make the longest train journey my funds allowed for, and finish the trip by bus. But, somehow, I couldn't quite make ends meet. Until I found, in a corner of my wallet, a folded-up forgotten 10-euro bill. I've never kissed money before, but there's a first time for everything.
I was lucky enough to see both beginning and end of the psychological drama Canaan, a word that I know as the biblical Promised Land, but that the writers of the series have decided, means "hope"; therefore, it becomes a code name for a secret agent working for a NGO that battles a terrorist organization called Snake. Lucky in that if I hadn't seen the end that ties up all the pieces, I would forever be wondering what happened to its many characters. The story plays in Shanghai, China, starting with the arrival of a slightly sleazy tabloid journalist and a happy, dippy, innocent photographer, who is of course called Maria and will play a major role in the series and even grow up in the very last ep. She natters on about how she wants to photograph because she wants to capture what people usually can't see, and to amuse her, the journalist draws a third eye on her forehead with a felt tip. As their plane lands, festivities are going on, so nobody gives a funny look at three men in round, head-enclosing masks. One loses his mask, starts screaming and goes into convulsions. Thinking he's dancing and being merry, others imitate him until finally he drops off a bridge and drowns, just as a giant dragon float comes up the river. Later, the second one loses a mask and similarly screams and twitches, expiring in a back alley. Surprised children touch the pool of blood around him and dab it on their faces. A second thing unnoticed by the revellers: a white-haired girl is running, dodging and popping balloons with her gun. Her name is Canaan, she has been raised and trained by a man called Siam, and she is a synesthete: someone who can hear sights and see sounds. It is she who, a long time ago, met Maria and inspired her to become a photographer.
What the tabloid journalist has come to investigate is the disappearance, in "Marie Celeste"-style, of all the inhabitants of a certain village. Not to give too much away, because the beauty of the series is how it reveals its mystery bit by bit: they were used as test subjects for the Ua virus, which either kills, or gives the sufferer special abilities. One of the scientists involved now runs a bar with a surviving villager, a woman who pretends to be mute, because the sound of her voice can kill. The journalist and his photographer assistant are also invited to cover an anti-terrorist summit in the city, for which the security just happens to be organized by Snake. Maria is captured and kept alive by Snake's leader, Alphard, a tall dark-haired woman, as a lure for Canaan, since Alphard knows Canaan is very fond of Marie, who is plot-conveniently good at making friends with total strangers. Which is how she also gains the support of another villager and employee (because her life depends on the medicines they give her) of Snake, who, with her can-do attitude and her hair pinned into two circles, looks and sounds like Sailor Iron Mouse. In fact, Snake isn't much of a terrorist organization. It is based on the revenge of Alphard against the organization that trained her - yes, she was the first Canaan, has been trained by Siam, and was the one to kill him - and it is due to her manipulations that the link is discovered between the deserted village and the NGO that claims to protect people from terrorism, although, as its leader laconically admits, it needs terrorism to stay in business, so the two support each other. Justice of a sort is served, people die, other people seem to die but miraculously survive, both Canaans confront each other, and their pictures appear side by side in a press photo gallery.
The school in comedy series Baka to Test has an unusual way of motivating students: they are sorted into grades depending on the marks for their entry exam, and their facilities depend on that mark. So, there is the grade A class whose classroom looks like a luxury hotel, the grade B class whose classroom is not as nice but still very comfortable, all the way down to class F which has a bare floor, thin kneeling pads for chairs, wonky low tables for desks, and a sign that was clearly a hand-me-down from class E. Time to recall the anime hair colour code, which has been adhered to a number of shows I saw this con: red hair means aggressive. Black hair means dark and mysterious, purple hair means unsettlingly mysterious, white hair means transcendentally mysterious (like the white-haired synesthete from Canaan). Fair hair means innocent, pink hair means ultra-innocent. I remember from Lucky Star that a girl with long pink hair, big breasts, glasses and a timid way of speaking is considered the pinnacle of feminine perfection in Japan. Such a pinnacle is sitting at the entrance exam when she has to leave due to illness. The male student who rises to help her is warned that leaving the exam room means an automatic score of zero. Which is how the pink-haired girl, who is in fact highly intelligent, ends up in the F class; the boy ends up there because he just is that dumb.
He finds himself with a rag-tag group including a lazy president who believes that smarts are not a matter of high marks, an aggressive girl (guess what colour her hair is - also, she's a dead ringer for an A class boy so androgynous that he's considered the school's pinup model) and the pink perfection. She is still ill, and the musty, mouldy classroom air is making her cough. He is concerned, but the president reassures him that there is another way to get better amenities: fight for them. If a teacher is present and gives permission, members of two classes can declare war, summon avatars of themselves and duke it out video game style; the class that runs out of its collective hit points first, loses and has to trade classrooms with the winning class. Too bad the avatars' initial hit points are the same as their latest test score... But this boy has a special advantage. Since he is the kind of pushover who always ends up having to do jobs for teachers - wipe blackboards, empty waste baskets - his avatar is physically real, which means that when its hit points reach zero, he too is knocked out. It's uncertain how this will give them an advantage, but the class prez, master strategist that he is, sees opportunities. They successfully defeat class E, and then lose ungracefully to class A. Incidentally, each time a pupil avatar's hit points reach zero, a crazy teacher appears out of nowhere to drag them to remedial/detention class. This happens even in a public bath.
The comedy is high school comedy with clumsy attempts at romance, every kind of ho/lesyay mixed in (the love letter that the main character finds in his locker is from another boy, while the redhead who is secretly in love with him is possessively claimed by another girl), the problems and solutions of being poor (having to take the girls out for pancakes so often, the main character has no money for food, and so chops up his pot noodles into smaller and smaller rations) and plain slapstick (the main character has to carry a table around all day because he accidentally superglued his hand to it). And it is very, very, very funny. In the last ep I saw, in a D&D-type treasure hunt, class F wins iron bracelets that will let them summon avatars without a teacher's permission.
I half did, half didn't want to see Tears to Tiara, because it was based on Celtic mythology, and a number of shows and games (notably Ah! My Goddess) have shown how brutally the Japanese can rape the mythologies of another continent. The con booklet's summary tells me that "In a world resembling the Middle Ages, a girl, Riannon" (should be "Rhiannon", niggle, nitpick) "is set to be sacrificed to appease a resurrected demon lord, Arawn." (Ruler of the afterworld Annwn, once traded places for a year with a mortal king so the king could slay his nemesis, see, I do have a grasp of Welsh mythology.) "As her brother Arthur" (in fact half-brother of Morgan le Fay and king of the Britons who fought the Anglo-Saxon invaders) "attempts to rescue her, Arawn defies those who resurrected him and frees Riannon from her captors, which leads to Riannon admiring him." Anime bimbette alert. And she becomes his consort, no less. Demon lords have bad taste. Okay, facts. Celts did practice human sacrifice. Generally not on beautiful women as Hollywood has led people to believe, but on men, and, quite likely, by priestesses. Although the style of sacrificing could be pretty gruesome, being a sacrifice, that is to say being sent to the Afterworld, was an honour. The idea was not to murder, but to empower and immortalize the sacrifice. So it is highly unlikely that i. a girl would be sacrificed ii. any member of her family would protest the decision. Also, in the Middle Ages, the Anglo-Saxons had conquered most of England, driving the native Celts into Wales and Cornwall, and this after the Romans had destroyed their priestly orders first. So I doubt the practice of human sacrifice was still alive then.
Having missed the start because I was watching something way better (see show above) I came in to the sight of an anime bimbette in maid uniform showing Lord Arawn the scribblings a child produced in his honour. I can't blame him when he tells the servant to let the child know not to waste so much paper next time, but of course this is to show that he has a Warm Heart under a cold demeanour. Riannon doesn't look so different from the maid-cafe wannabe, except that she wears a headdress that looks like a pillow with two ribbons hanging off it (oh yes, that's totally the Welsh national costume) and certainly doesn't act very different; I have to snarf when, in Arawn's absence (he's leading an armed offensive somewhere else) she walks around giving bashful orders in her simpering voice, and some awed underling remarks on her high rank in the castle. Next time, just sacrifice the bint already! The general situation is that they're in a state of war, under siege in a castle (Celtic tribes did not necessarily have a fixed abode, let alone a castle keep, and were fighting among each other all the time) and Arawn, with a band of warriors including the stupidly impulsive Arthur, and some sort of elf-girl (elves are from Scandinavia, the European mainland had fairies, who were generally hostile to humans) is trying to infiltrate enemy lines. The enemy is a nod to the Roman army, except dressed in red armour. Oh, and the priest, Ogam (should be "Ogham", the Celtic alphabet made up of tree symbols, equivalent of the Germanic futhark) is really a dragon. And he transforms into one. To battle giant golems hidden in a mountainside. And that's when my nonsense tolerance level was exceeded, and I fled.
Baccano sounded interesting: "Each of the stories in the series involves several unrelated plots intersecting and crossing each other as events spiral further and further out of control. Immortal alchemists, mafia operated speakeasies, and many other elements of pulp fiction are mashed together for a world straight out of the movies." The snippet I caught showed a world straight out of the late nineteenth, early twentieth century. Some young woman has arrived at her brother's house and, on coming into her bedroom to check on her, he pulls an incredibly naff, lopsided face and says to "Mary" that "you're not praying again, are you?" Of course, that explains her name: "Mary" = innocent and devout. His facial deficiency seems part of the series; watching the ending credits, I saw a succession of faces (all the main characters, I assume) with increasingly pronounced leers. Way to kill my interest.
Sacred Blacksmith is another series apparently set in medieval Europe, opening with a market in which one customer aggressively demands lower prices at an ore stand. Enter Cecily Campbell, last of a line of nobles, whose knightly duty it is to defend the common people, and whose knightly armour consists of a shoulderplate and a breastplate so moulded around her bosom that it would be better to call it a titsplate. She sees off the aggressive customer, but is helpless towards an old warrior going berserk and breaking down the stands. After a battle that makes her look like the incompetent boob she is, and that also breaks that precious family heirloom, her sword, a quiet type appears and calms the warrior down. She tries to hook up with the quiet type, confessing that although it is her family duty, she's new at being a knight and has a lot to learn. He blows her off. Later, she comes to bug him at his cottage because she's heard that he's a special kind of blacksmith, and she really really wants her sword fixed. I would have kicked her out in a wide arc, but in anime, girls that push their pathetic selves into your face are "cute" and automatically melt any male character's heart, so, using his psychic powers and a magic circle, he forges her a totally new one. Great way to attract himself an unwanted friend, and sure enough, when she's fighting a kind of giant white ice spider, he has to save her ass again. Series rendered unwatchable by stupid female lead in titsplate. Oh, and reality check: in medieval Europe, women, even nobles, were not allowed to become knights. Even today when a knighthood is just a medal for extraordinary achievement, like the non-blue-blooded Anthony Hopkins being knighted for his acting, the British still reject the idea of knighting a woman, because it would be such a break with their beloved traditions.
Ever since the con moved to the Theaterhotel, the best shows on the programme tended to be shown in Video Room 2. During this con, the mechanical glitches also tended to happen in Video Room 2. This meant that the film Eiga Layton Kyouju to Eien no Utahime (Professor Layton), originally scheduled after Queen's Blade, wouldn't play, and I only saw it because it was played, by popular request, in the programming gap at the end of the second block of Canaan. I'd been inclined to skip it for its simplistic, almost ugly character design - Professor Layton's face is so rectangular that he could be called a blockhead - but what it lacks in character looks, it makes up for with its warm, lustrous, almost oil-painted background and ditto mecha design. The term "mecha" is misleading, as there is only one machine worth that name, and for most of the show, it looks like a complicated organ. The story seems set in Victorian England, with Professor Layton as Sherlock Holmes and his "apprentice" (as he already has a much more capable grown-up assistant, and the boy must maintain his position as favourite somehow) Luke, as a very young Watson. They are visited by a young opera singer whose friend has recently died. She says she has met a little girl who claims to be her friend, and has discovered the secret of eternal life. The girl knows so much about them both that she can't simply be pretending. Layton and Luke accept both the case and an invitation to her performance in the opera about the queen of a mystical kingdom modelled on Atlantis: as in, it has disappeared under the sea, and there is a lot of popular speculation about it. They go to the sumptuous palace of a concert hall, and Layton explains to Luke that the organ-like instrument played by the single musician present has been specially invented to replace every instrument in an orchestra. At the end of the performance, they are the only ones clapping enthusiastically; the rest of the audience reacts listlessly if at all. It appears that everyone except the detective duo has come here, and sat rather reluctantly through the opera, to learn the secret of eternal life. This secret, a voice from a speaker announces, will be given to only one person, who solves all the riddles; the others will die. Fazed by this, some members of the audience rise and scurry for the exit. Trapdoors open under them. The concert hall slowly detaches itself from the coast and moves out to open sea; it is a ship. As spoilers would really ruin this film - although it gets enough appeal from scenes like the lit concert hall going adrift, and the comedic police inspector with his full chest of hair who keeps getting dumped in the water, yet always manages to escape the sharks - I'll say no more except that the "secret to eternal life" is not what it sounds like, most of the contestants survive (and at least one of them is there for entirely unselfish reasons), a caped villain turns up at the end and Layton's assistant appears in time to save them from a sticky situation involving robots.
Trigun is a classic, or so I've deduced from the many fanarts of the pointy-haired Vash in his long red coat and the VashxWolfwood doujinshi, so I had to see the movie Trigun: Badlands Rumble. The film starts with a successful robbery by enormous musclebound Gasback and his weaselly assistants, who would prefer he spend less time on perfecting the robbery, and just grab the money and get out. One tries to shoot him, but Vash appears on the scene and in a bumbling apologetic way (that I'd sooner expect from an anime bimbette, but from this character, at least, it's funny) hinders the kill. Gasback fires his assistants there and then, and wonders at Vash's actions. Skip many years ahead: one of the assistants has become mayor of the town Macca and made a statue of himself. Fearing Gasback's revenge, he has insured the statue for an astronomic amount, and brought in bounty hunters from all over the place to catch him. Travelling to the town on what looks like mutant emus - this is a typical cowboys-in-space universe - are Meryl and Milly, employees of the insurance company that would go bankrupt if the statue were stolen, and borderline anime bimbettes, that is to say they're dumb, but still amusing. Especially as they are always tracking Vash the Stampede, who has a huge bounty on his head for supposedly causing wholesale destruction, but who behaves as such an apologetic pacifist every time they meet up with him, that even when he declares himself to be Vash the Stampede in an inn full of bounty hunters, nobody believes him. Vash himself shows his way of dealing with violence on an aircraft full of bounty hunters, two of which are accosting Amelia, a moody woman in trenchcoat: he bumbles his way around until they end up caught in a big bag and tossed off the ship. Amelia is also after Gasback, but not for the money: she has personal reasons. She hates Vash for having saved Gasback and thereby caused the deaths of so many other people. Travelling with and protecting Gasback, because he owes him a favour, is Nicholas D. Wolfwood, who carries a huge, indestructible cross that shoots like a gun and is great for hiding behind. When Gasback offers him a permanent job, Wolfwood declines because he's a "man of the cloth". Ahem, I know the history of Christianity is a bloody one, but real-reality men of the cloth don't like to present themselves as killers, and might consider using a crucifix as gun - although it is an instrument of torture and death - as a form of desecration. But, okay, Wolfwood fulfils his obligation and then rejoins Vash, his old friend, who now finds himself caught up in Gasback's new robbery of the useless statue, and the much more important power plant (which looks like a giant lightbulb). Amelia faces off with Gasback, Vash bumbles around to stop them getting killed and is supposedly killed himself, and there is a serious ending which I'm not going to spoil by giving it away. The film was funny, but not uproariously so; just enough to offset the grim side of it.
Yosugo no Sora is boring. It starts off with potential, and then devolves into harem anime. A boy is taking his sickly sister to their new house in the village where his grandfather used to live. She is not only weak, but quite a princess, wanting to be transported by cab, only buying snacks when he takes her to the local supermarket to stock up on food, and insisting that an internet connection be installed before anything else. The girls he meets on the way, in the supermarket, at school; their boobs vary from big to very big, and they all crush on him. And there is a flashback to when he accidentally kissed his sister and they both discovered their feelings for each other. The incest thing might lead to watch-worthy character development, if the boy wasn't constantly covered in girl drool.
The twelve-parter Maria Holic is a lesbian comedy of which I saw the last episode. What has gone before is that an androphobic girl enrolls in a girls-only boarding school hoping to find the girl of her dreams, but Maria, the one she falls for, is a crossdressing boy. With eleven episodes gone by, she's still attached to him, and trying furiously to fall in love with someone else, as a boyfriend is precisely what she doesn't want. In this episode, she's set her sights on the swimming lessons, where, since this is a girls school devoted to the Virgin Mary, girls are free to express themselves in skimpy bikinis and lolita suits - in her dreams. It is a "Christian" school, which means there is a priest who doesn't seem to have a problem with her lesbianity, but who does try to interpret her screamed gibberish - she goes into a kind of seizure every time a man, including himself, comes near her - as meaningful, and believes that she suffers from "Tchaikovsky syndrome". What she suffers from is extreme nosebleeding each time she sees something suggestive, so to prepare herself for the curves that await her in swimming class, she tries to boost her health by things like eating raw liver, causing her to miss every swimming lesson in a row due to ailments like getting food poisoning from raw liver. On the day before the final swimming lesson, that she will refuse to miss come hell or high water, I finally see the crossdressing Maria that the series is supposed to revolve around: he puts a tape recorder next to her bed, playing the message to the sleeping girl that what she really wants to see is a man in a red loincloth. So, once she's surrounded by swimsuits, she's exasperated because all she can think of is men in red loincloths. The priest overhears this and wants to help, so he pops off for a quick change of clothes. Yes, that is totally what a real priest would do. She thinks she spots Maria and, to expose his gender to the school and break her attachment to him, rushes at him and pulls down the swimsuit to reveal his breast fillings - only it's not Maria, and she's staring at real breasts. This has the double effect of curing her of men in red loincloths and making her faint from nosebleeding. The priest runs towards her to help, starting off a squealing: oh no, it's the priest! In nothing but a red loincloth!
In Shinryaku! Ika Musume, a little girl in a dress comes out of the sea. She wears a squid-shaped hat, from which tumble thick strands of grey hair ending in arrowheads, that... could this be a real squid? Yes, this is a squid come to punish humanity for polluting the sea, by conquering all of dry land. Her first target will be that seaside snackbar. The waitress and co-owner, a short-tempered (and therefore redhaired) girl, orders her to serve customers and clear tables, and when she shows herself not so good at this, berates her: how does she think she can conquer the human world if she can't even handle a snackbar? The little squid is clearly not Nature's best choice for turning the tables on humanity, since she's immature, none too bright and easily bribed with shrimps. Having let herself be conned into waitress duties and met the redhead's older sister, an apparently kind, sweet person who doesn't even fly into a rage at having squid ink sneezed all over her, she realizes that she has not yet used her secret weapon: the tentacles! She smashes a hole in the side of the shack, lifts the redhead into the air and goes for the older sister. Who, for all her sweet manners, is a martial artist and quickly chops off those tentacles. (Not to worry, they'll grow back. And squid ink is edible? I had no idea.) Now the squid is not only too scared to conquer the snackbar, but in debt for wall repair costs. So she can expect to work there for a while.
Situations include: the squid girl almost drowns because of tentacle cramp and is saved by the handsome young lifeguard who has a crush on the older sister; but she thinks his bashful behaviour means that he too is afraid of this terrifying female. She is left at the snackbar every night, but one night the TV isn't working, so she amuses herself with the sauce bottles. A friend of the snackbar owners sees her, and falls in love with her beautiful "cosplay outfit". She's scared half to death by pool toys in the shape of orcas. A rival snackbar's owner thinks her tentacles are mechanical in nature, and invents a "squid head" for his own asistant, which is huge because of all the hardware he stuffed into it. The first model is like a happy clown face, the second like a leering grandma that can cry vinegar, sneeze salt and breathe flames to fire up the barbecue; this head catches fire, and the assistant refuses to wear any more squidheads. She goes to a school, thinks it's a military base, and captures the principal. One customer thinks she's an alien, and convinces her to believe it, so the sisters tease her: should aliens be eating shrimps? It's funny. And then funny. And funny some more.
Soredemo machi wa mawatte iru made my ears bleed. It's the reason why I went back to the dating game show, on which more below. The show is about that new phenomenon and manifestation of the Japanese fascination with all things Victorian: a maid cafe. At least, that's what a certain Arashiyama tells her friend: that there is now a maid cafe in the area. In fact, it's the old cafe where she works as a waitress and where the owner and herself have now donned maid outfits because apparently maid cafes are the "in" thing these days. So the friend goes to the cafe and is greeted with: "Hell[insert chainsaw/stretched catgut sound]llaaaooo!" The friend, who was expecting something more sophisticated, cries: "You call this a maid cafe!?" and shows them how it's done; the owner spots talent and offers her a job. And from there, it's supposed to get funny and interesting.
What's wrong with this show: the main character. She is simple and clumsy in a way that is supposed to be endearing. This means that she has a VoICe like a wAILing EleCTRic GUItar and talks in the whining way of a Japanese pre-schooler - and pretty much acts that way too, even though one boy has a crush on her and she herself has tried to nail a boss by framing him for sexual harrassment. Remember, kids, sexual harrassment is cool! She is sent to the greengrocer to buy two (2) items, breaking some traffic rules on the way, and still manages to get one of them wrong. When a teacher catches her at her waitress job and lists the rules for after-school jobs, her eyes start to roll and her friend warns that her brain is about to snap from information overload. Her plans for attracting more customers are dumb, and guaranteed to fail. Add the voice, and it's just too painful to be funny.
So I went back to Kami nomi zo shiru sekai, which I'd taken a peek at since it started at the same time as the parody The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya-chan and Nyoron Churuya-san, which sounded like a good laugh but, alas, was shown in Video Room 2 and therefore, due to technical problems, never got past the opening credits. I hadn't been keen on watching the alternative, since it's about an "otamegane", one step worse than an otaku, and this dweeb's claim to fame was his expertise at dating sims. The snippet I caught was interesting enough: a boy is playing a console game in class. Smiling dangerously and showing a bulging vein on her forehead, the teacher asks him what could possibly be more exciting than her class. Resigning himself to the inevitable, he asks if he can save first. I left then, so I don't know what grievous bodily harm was inflicted on him by way of answer.
After a taste of the ear-rending show above, I gave this one a second chance. In my absence, the simming master, whose name is Katsuragi Keima, acquired an assistant from the otherworld who thinks he's a real god just because he's called the Capturing God - in sim games, the romantic conquest of the game character is called "capturing" - and a task: to capture ghosts in real life by winning over the girls possessed by them, after which they forget all about him. This doesn't faze him, and neither does the fact that his real-reality efforts horribly resemble those of a sim game, since he's mentally stuck in a game world, and dismisses the real world with: "Reality has such a flawed game design." Between winning the hearts of a no-longer-rich girl who can't face her new financial situation and an idol singer who's terrified of being ignored by even one unimportant nobody, he spends an entire episode trying to capture the heroine of a game so buggy that the rest of the fandom has given up in disgust.
And here I must insert an urgent request. Please, animators and screenwriters of Japan, do not make references to cultures that you do not understand. Yes, I realize it's revenge for crappy ninja movies, but please, don't ruin an otherwise entertaining series by having the characters happily cry out "oh my god" at the end of an episode: this is an expression of despair. Please don't insert nonsensical Engrish-babble generally. Understand that the Celts were a number of aggressive, warlike tribes, who did not allow their human sacrifices to live, least of all trot around in ribbony headdresses and babble in sickly-sweet voices; nor did medieval Europe allow women to become knights. Please don't call female characters "Mary" or "Maria" or some other variation to indicate how innocent they are (or not). And, pretty please with soy sauce on it, don't depict Christians, those shedders of Infidel blood and eradicators of eroticism, as gentle souls with a talent for exorcism and a tolerant stance towards homosexuality, crossdressing, and anything nonconformist. Such inaccurate depictions of western culture are incredibly painful to those who live with the real thing. Having said that, seeing Katsuragi proclaim the superiority of virtual idol singers over flesh-and-blood ones in a parody of a Nazi rally was pretty funny.
It's a tradition to end the anime con with a "mystery movie". This con's "mystery movie", Yona Yona Penguin, started late because the staff and/or cosplayers were still snapping pictures of each other, was delayed further because someone in the audience required medical help for an asthma attack, consequently broke off at exactly 17:30, the con's ending time, although it had about ten more minutes to go, and, finally, had no subtitles. But that didn't matter, as it was chiefly pretty to look at, and the story was more or less obvious. A little girl in a penguin suit skips through a village, and the suit looks so felty that I wondered if this was 3D animation, and yes, it is, with lifelike fuzzy textures. She is greeted by people left and right, so it's apparently normal for her to play penguin, but three bullies challenge her to prove she is a bird, so she jumps off a bridge to fly. Ahem, penguins can't fly. As a penguin would have, she drops into the bushes below.
She sets off for home slightly scratched, bruised and depressed, and finds... a little white wing. Near a public fountain/basin/thingy with a group of statues in the middle, one of them missing its head. Conversation with a friendly old man follows, and then she goes home, where a toy cat and the portrait of her father await her, and to bed. Magical things happen at midnight: she wakes up to find that the toy cat is now a real, talking cat, who leads her to the fountain/basin where she plays a tune by pressing on the underwater tiles, and opens a passage to... Penguinland!! An amusement park where the rides are penguins, and an adjoining supermarket has nothing but penguin merchandise. The cat takes the girl to a one-seat cinema to watch a film about the Goblin Village, but as the film rolls, the seat, a two-person couch with a penguin-shaped control handle, disengages itself from the wall and flies off to the real thing, where it crashes in the (luscious, colourful) jungle just short of their target. They reach the village and are hailed as saviours, since apparently a bird ("But I'm a little girl," the little girl protests) will save them from the darkness. The servants of darkness also introduce themselves: five platforms descend, carrying an angry, fat little baby-faced man and four mosquito-like creatures who do a musical number. Long story short: the baby-faced man is a (wayward, gluttonous) angel and probable owner of the detached wing, the forces of darkness are corrupting him and feeding on his angelic light, the girl makes a plan to save him, the old geezer makes an appearance and if the film had been shown to its end, all would have ended happily. And prettily. In cute, lifelike 3D.
Wow - done within one month! I seem to have broken with the habit of finishing each con's writeup just before the next con. Until next con, I'm free! Free! No more scribbled notes lying around, no more con booklets looking at me accusingly for my lateness. Hopefully, I'll be as lucky next year.
And, yes, I did manage to train- and bus-hop my way home.