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Animecon 2013 - "To Udder Worlds"



This year was a first for the Animecon, a change in location: it was held not at Theaterhotel Almelo, but the World Forum in The Hague. So I was lucky to have eaten that kumpir last year. Not quite a first, maybe: I remember the different conventions that merged into Animecon being held at a variety of interesting locations, the THA finally being settled on for the space it offered, for having hotel rooms on-site and for its Japanese buffet, which over the years had dwindled down to almost nothing (caused, I was told on the anime forum, by a change in kitchen staff). Apparently, the con had outgrown the THA, so the organisers had chosen an even more spacious venue, surrounded by no less than three hotels, in one of which I duly reserved a room, with feelings of regret; I would miss that walk, generally on a sunny day, from the station through Almelo's not-too-bustling shopping centre to the shady wooded area facing the hotel.

It was a first for me also, in that I sprained my ankle at the start of the journey, limping along until I found a shop at Den Haag Central Station that sold elastic bandages and bandaged up my foot, which, as I refuse to use any part of the Dutch public system that forces the OV Chip Card ("oh, we won't use it to trace your journey and sell the data, except we will") on passagers, made the hours-long walk to the World Forum more bearable. (I later found that, presumably to humour the tourists who don't accept this chipcard nonsense, chip-free tram tickets are sold for 3 euro. Something to remember for next con.) My hopes for arriving early dashed, I noticed, on joining the end of the serpentine line of con visitors waiting to be admitted, a certain mural beside the entrance that brought back not-so-happy childhood memories: yes, this place was where our school held the annual Speech Day, when all its pupils had to appear in full school uniform including emblazoned blazers, to be subjected to hours of speechifying followed by the awards ceremony, where all the little sheep that had been especially good that year had to line up for gifts that would have been better sent by mail.

This bad start cast a gloom over the con that was in no way the fault of the organizers.

Well, maybe it was their fault that I consistently failed to find the Amazon Aniway room. The timetable, again a masterfully crafted piece that laid out the video programme for the entire weekend on a surface only just exceeding A4 size, told me that this room was where the earliest anime was shown, yet when I followed the floor map, all I saw was a room filled with generic equipment. Maybe the con staff were a bit late in clearing it out and getting the chairs and the video projector lined up? But no, the room stayed that way throughout the con, and I felt too dispirited to locate the Information Desk and ask in what alternate dimension I might find the Aniway room. Instead, I just crossed it off the list of four rooms where anime was shown. I would not miss much, as most items on the programme would be reshown in other rooms. Likewise, although I'd asked about the possibility of a Japanese buffet in the new location and been told that the organisers were looking into the possibility of snacks, I didn't notice the food court serving anything but standard junk food until the second day, when I spotted eaters with cartons of noodles. Oh, noodles, that's totally worth getting in line for. Ironically, the hotel where I stayed had a Japanese dish on its menu card, but I didn't care to sit in its restaurant with my stomach pills and generally ill appearance, and didn't feel posh enough to order room service.

Which brings me to the con's theme: To Udder Worlds, because it's about the many other worlds - virtual reality, the future, historical settings - created in anime to cater to the escapism of the downtrodden Japanese civilians with their overly regulated lives. That other civilian populations are in the same bag can be inferred from the popularity of anime abroad; the Animecon has, over the years, included more and more events like sake tasting and sushi workshops to teach visitors more about Japanese culture, when the urgent need of the Japanese to get away from their culture is the reason why anime exists today. And why "Udder"? Well, because the con's mascot is Magical Girl Marieke, whose sidekick is a cow... It's a Dutch thing.

Speaking of other worlds, apparently the bathing customs of Ancient Rome and, by extension, modern Europe derive from twentieth-century Japan, or so Thermae Romae would have the watcher believe. Every so often, Lucius, a Roman bath-house architect, takes a dip and is sucked away only to find himself in a strange country with miraculous bathing devices, which he then introduces in his own culture. A straw-haired, blue-eyed typical "foreigner" with an immovable marble-statue face expressing shocked severity, he instantly overcomes the daze of culture shock as soon as he spots anything related to bathing, jumping over and around it and going "Ooh! Ooh!" It's funny at first, but the novelty soon wears off.

Never funny at all, because it tries too hard, is Fairy Tail. What I suspect is a spelling error, is the chosen name of a wizard guild, whose members are a fiery-tempered fire mage, a bimbette celestial mage and a blue cat that's constantly stuffing fish in its mouth. This is STUPID. As they are beginning wizards with not much money to their name, when the celestial mage finds a house to rent for herself, the others crowd in for "housewarming" (in other words, mooching) just as she's having a bath. She yells at them, then goes bipolar and treats them to a demonstration of how to acquire a cute wobbly celestial pet. Then they go on a mission where she not only shows more bipolar behaviour - she tries to infiltrate the castle as a pretty maid but is turned down for being "ugly", so now her woman's honour needs to be avenged - but the fire mage keeps switching between TOTALLY BADASS and a bumbling fool. People who feel that Dragonball Z is too cultured and quiet for them may derive some amusement from this.

That an RPG-like series can be done right is shown by Sword Art Online. The setting is an online multiplayer game; the premise is that once you're in, you can't get out until the game is cleared, and if you lose, you're dead. Oh, the angst as noobies who thought this would be fun, realize that their life is on the line! Oh, the mystery of the silent, brooding swordsman who is the main character, hides his high level, and may just be one of the developers! Oh, the anger of some blowhard over these developers who hide the rules and take all the cool artifacts for themselves, leaving the common gamers to struggle along until they die! Okay, not entirely done right: the characters are often dumb and irritating, as if their puppet show is as interesting as the mystery of how this game works and why it was made. Still, there are some noteworthy plot twists, like the loving husband of a deceased player being the one who had her killed, and the scenery is beautiful, to the point that the main character urges a stressed-out team leader to relax and enjoy the sunny weather.

As an intermission, I saw parts of Cowboy Bebop; "parts" is right, as there was something wrong with either the DVD or the player, which kept shuffling the chapters. So I saw the scene where Spike's foil ("nemesis" is too strong a word for this ditz) that he gallantly took aboard, takes the last item still remaining in the fridge, a can of dog food, in front of the corgi Einstein, and... eats it herself. I hope it gives her some serious indigestion, although she claims that "we women are tough" which must be why she's sponging on the Bebop crew in the first place. Okay, this is such a classic that I shouldn't have to explain what it's all about, but I will anyway: in a universe which can be described as "Wild West in Space", and where the only sad attempt at enforcing the law is sending bounty hunters - "cowboys" - after criminals who have seriously crossed the lines, Spike Siegel and Jet Black, two "cowboys" chasing their prey in a spacecraft called Bebop, are often almost successful, meaning, they do catch the prey but don't get the bounty, because circumstances have changed, or because the money is just enough to pay for all the damage they caused. Consequently, they are always out of food and money, a situation only worsened by the addition of Faye Valentine, the aforementioned ditz, and the super-intelligent corgi Einstein. How Einstein joined the crew was shown the next day, when the second half of the episodes was scheduled, but the chapter-swapping caused a jump from the "Bloody Eyes" (eyedrops that make the user homicidal) episode to a chase scene where a fleeing corgi is fanatically pursued by a Frank Zappa lookalike, who is member of some kind of animal liberation group. I now understand, even from these fragments, how this series became a classic: the "police series" music of the opening credits indicates how action-packed it is, there are moments of genuine comedy, and most of all, the characters seem to be of normal intelligence and emotional maturity, which compared to the average anime character (certainly those of the shows I'd just watched), makes them well-adjusted geniuses.

An online game of quite a different nature is featured in BTOOOM!, which is supposed to be the sound of exploding bombs. In this online, multiplayer, first-person shooter, the only weapons allowed are not guns, but bombs. A jobless loser living with his mother is completely immersed in this game, where, being the top player, he has admirers and even a cyber wife. Those avid gamers that become front-page news every so often for killing their parents who tell them to stop playing Halo? He's potentially one of them, lobbing a game controller at the head of his timid old mother who pleads with him to accept that job at the supermarket instead of waiting for the position at a gaming company that he's dreamed of for so long. His comeuppance is almost instant: without explanation, he wakes up on what appears to be a deserted tropical island, with a belt and box full of mysterious doodads. Not so deserted, the island is home to other gamers like him, one of which attacks him straight away, revealing the nature of the doodads - they are bombs - and the loser slowly works out what the audience grasped straight away: he's in a "Btooom" game, but now in the real world. The piecing together of the story from his own flashbacks, alternated by shots of the ditz (his cyber wife?) who was also transported to this island, and who is there to be dumb and helpless and flash titties, was too slow and annoying to hold my attention.

Anime titles that combine the words "Space" and "Pirate" repel me, but I've been wrong a number of times before, so Mouretsu Pirates, English translation: "Bodacious Space Pirates", despite sounding as though titties would be the principal attraction, was a show that I reluctantly gave a chance. It turned out to be the best thing I saw at the con. The title refers to the fact that the pirate captain is A Woman, and a young girl at that, conscious of her looks, but none of the episodes I saw contained any of that boob humour that is guaranteed to make me not laugh.

Marika is just an ordinary schoolgirl with a part-time waitress job and a working single mother with purple hair and a no-nonsense attitude. That is, until she is told of the spaceship left to her by her pirate father. It comes with a pirate licence that she will have to renew if she wants to follow in his footsteps. At first, she's shocked by the thought of robbing people, but she's won over by the explanation that the original pirates were a resistance movement, and that piracy today is a tourist attraction, and strictly legit. The rest of her all-girl class turn out to have special backgrounds, too: one of them has a criminal record for hacking, and another, a serious black-haired girl who despises her for acting like an airhead, is a pirate's daughter like herself. Just how special she is becomes clear to her when, during her waitressing shift, the cafe is full of men in black, except for a seemingly harmless visitor who makes an attempt to abduct her. That she really is a bit of an anime bimbette - the kind that squeals about doing your beeest and working haaard - comes out when she chooses to take up daddy's career because she can Make Decisions. Yes, when in a tight situation, she can Make Decisions! Only a future pirate captain possesses this ability!

Aside from her "ganbatte ne" attitude, the series is prettily animated: the sequence of girls floating up hallways and assuming their positions when they ready their spaceship (they are all members of the "yachting club") for a trip around Tau Ceti would make a good music video. During this trip, they are attacked by, but turn the tables on, a hacker intent on taking over their ship; a young, all-female, yet competent crew, a rarity in anime! It also has that other thing rare in anime: understated comedy. Such as the moment when Marika, thinking she has a holiday before her, runs into her friend while walking towards the beach in a bathing suit and carrying the usual beach paraphernalia including an inflated dolphin, and is then rushed off by her future crew who tell her she hasn't a moment to lose if she wants to renew her piracy licence, leaving her bemused friend holding the dolphin.

Unlike Fairy Tail, Blue Dragon would suit people who enjoyed Dragonball Z, but would like a little more depth. Drawn in the bratty Dragonball style, the blue-haired boy called Shu really is only 10 years old, but he says some surprisingly intelligent things for such a little brat. The village he lives in has suffered attacks, and with a band consisting of his same-age friends and slightly older sister/girlfriend, he bravely wants to defend it. Aware that he might be a little lacking in the fighting skills department, he has heard that a special kind of warrior has come to town, who he hopes will teach him. How to locate this warrior, of whom they don't even know the name? Simple! Go to town and hit random likely people with a stick - if they are The Warrior, their superb reflexes will make them dodge. After infuriating a number of citizens this way, the boy accidentally finds the warrior by picking a fight with her apprentice. Aloof by nature, she is especially un-charmed by his behaviour; besides, the vacancy for disciple has already been filled. She changes her mind after an attack on the town, launched by the evil King Nene (Nene? Are you kidding me?), and presumably caused by her presence there. She and her pupil counterattack with their Shadows, astral projections in the shape of giant animals, and so, to his surprise, does Shu, who manifests a giant blue dragon that becomes so heady with destruction that, after the enemy has been defeated, it wants to carry on smashing things, and has to be punched out by the warrior's pupil. She accepts him as an apprentice after all, partly because it is now unsafe for him to stay in his village - for the village, that is. Not only does he need to learn to control his inner dragon, but enemy forces want to use him for their own purposes and will attack until they capture him. A fourth person joins the group, refusing to be left behind: the sister/girlfriend, who, as an aside, loves robots so much that she goes googly-eyed at what is in fact an enemy mecha.

I've seen, on a VCR tape (how nostalgic) the film Macross: Do You Remember Love? where Minmei's magical singing stopped the giant alien Zentradi in their tracks gasping "Protokaltjaa!!" and that was sort of okay. Later, I watched Macross Plus (the one with Sharon Apple) on DVD, and it was awesome, although I was surprised that there could be human/Zentradi interbreeding, given the size difference. So I thought Macross Frontier would be at least watchable. I soon changed my mind. Not that there's anything wrong with the animation or the concept of a city-fortress in space, but why the love triangle? A love triangle appears to be an essential ingredient of any Macross series, and this one is especially pathetic; it's more of a quadrangle, really, but I'll come to that in a minute. So, there's this flying city, and, in it, a group of army cadets who will do a stunt pilot act during the concert of a visiting intergalactic pop idol, Sheryl Nome. She doesn't want their antics compromising her safety, and her cold behaviour makes them so resentful that one of them, a former Kabuki actor (hint of what's to come: in this form of theatre, female roles are played by men) who deeply disappointed his father by choosing a military career and still ties up his hair with what looks like a bell cord, dives too deeply and almost knocks Sheryl off her socks, but like the professional she is, she tells him to swoop her up and pretends it's all part of the show. This thaws the ice between them, and he introduces himself as Alto Saotome. Before the concert, Alto meets a happy-jumpy little girl called Ranka Lee, who mistakes him for a woman; she has a ticket for the concert, but is lost, and he helps her to get there on time. She is supposedly part Zentradi, not that she could know, as she remembers nothing of her past, and her older brother is not her brother, but a soldier who adopted her after her family was massacred. And he later saves her again when they're attacked by aliens called Vajra, an attack in which he sees a colleague killed. Because he has witnessed something top-secret, he is now obliged to join the secret special unit that the colleague worked for; cue more ribbing about his feminine appearance. And he saves Sheryl's life by dragging her into a shelter during an attack. And Sheryl, the by now melted ice queen, meets Ranka and urges her to follow her dreams, so Ranka, who is currently a waitress, takes part in a singing competition, a first step towards her future idol career. And the new aliens, Ranka's real past and anything else that might be interesting in this universe will, for the rest of the series, take second place to Alto's agonizing over whether he should Choose Sheryl or Choose Ranka, although they interact as if they could easily choose each other and leave him out in the cold. Oh, and continuing reminders that he looks like a woman. Sorry, I'm not going to sit that out.

Due to running from one video room to another when a show fails to interest me, and the fact that, despite all best efforts, shows are going to start earlier or later than what the schedule says, I kept missing the beginnings of shows, so when, in Accel World, a little piggy that appears to be a short plump boy's game avatar pops back into his body, I could only infer that this little wizkid had just made a high score in a virtual reality game; and that is why the teenage queen of the school he goes to, suddenly wants to get to know him. This is another show that, if not on the level of Dennou Coil (another series where real life and virtual reality are intertwined), was worth the watch. The opening credits showed three young children running together: they are Piggy-boy, and a boy and girl that are now a couple, which places strain on their childhood promise that they would be friends forever. The teenage queen hooks up with Piggy, literally, through a serial cable, uploads the Accel program, and tells him to stay off the internet for a day. He accidentally logs on the next morning so his mother can give him his lunch money. As he goes to school, his surroundings freeze, then turn into a surreal junkyard, and a punk on a motorbike roars into view screeching how super lucky he is to have run into this noob. Piggy, who is now not a piglet but a slender silver figure with wings, is beaten up before he knows it and miss teenage-queen berates him, then explains that he has just lost 10 of his starting 100 points, and if he loses them all, the program will permanently uninstall itself. Correctly guessing that this is an online VR game in which people battle each other to raise their points, he didn't expect that these points can serve a purpose in the real world: those who have the Accel program installed can use the points to accelerate themselves and do things they could not otherwise do. This is how one of his friends became a champion at swordfighting, and things turn ugly for a moment as they meet in battle, the champion revealing his jealousy at having to share his girl with a mutual childhood friend, but surprisingly their friendship survives, which is just as well as Piggy, given the chance to level up, takes it, unaware that this will cost points, too. Suddenly, he is down to 8 points, which means that if he loses one match, the program will erase itself and never install again, and he would not be able to help the teenage queen, to whom he has become quite attached, to realize her dream: reach the highest level in the game, and see what happens. His swordfighting friend, who is in a similar position points-wise, arranges for a powerful virtual bodyguard to protect him: a nerdy girl with a laptop. Ah, real and virtual selves are so different!

Magi! was a bit of a disappointment. An Alladin-like youth, sickeningly subservient to his evil fat boss to whom he is apparently deeply in debt, has just finished the hard work of loading up merchandise when, in one of the carts, he sees a little boy pigging out on watermelons. The little boy sees no evil in his actions and, when the boss starts to threaten the little thief, jumps up to him and starts to snuggle into his manboobs, professing a disturbing love of breasts. The boss vows to punish the youth, who sighs and drags the child home before he does any more harm. They run into a girl who drops her load of lemons and accidentally reveals what she was trying to hide: slave shackles chaining her ankles together. The evil boss kicks her around a bit, gloating over how slaves have to put up with abuse. Unable to see the problem, the little boy plays on his flute and releases a genie that breaks the chain. The youth, having aspirations as treasure hunter, is cheered up, seeing in this boy a potential magic lamp, but news of the genie-in-a-flute has reached the corrupt and slightly insane young local potentate, who recognizes the boy as the wizard that he was foretold would make him king, as he feels he deserves. So Alladin ends up in an actual treasure hunt in a temple full of traps, with the tyrant and his remaining two slaves - the other ones having been used as meat shields to get him past all the traps - and guess what, one of them is the girl who was carrying lemons. She is enslaved not only physically but psychologically to the tyrant, who has been terrorizing her since they were little. The child-incarnation of the wizard is unimpressed and has his genie help his friend escape on a flying carpet, telling the girl he hopes to see her again when her mental chains are also broken, and the tyrant remains behind to die in the self-destructing temple. Not only is the child-wizard annoyingly disingenuous, his precocity when it comes to breasts puts me off a bit.

Guin Saga was a huge disappointment. According to the con booklet: "The story follows Guin, a powerful swordsman with a leopard head, the adolescent royal twins Remus and Rinda, and the young and ambiguous mercenary named Istvan." What I walked in on was battle in armoured body suits, and more battle in armoured body suits, and yet more armoured body suits, with much roaring, and a scene of a pretty woman in nightdress at the end - can't have grim, bloody wars without some female flesh to liven it up! From the time spent watching and waiting for something more interesting than battle in armoured body suits (or female flesh), the impression I got was "Gundam in feodal Japan".

Kyoukaisen-jou no Horizon II, at least, piques the interest. There is a clumsy and kind-hearted boy who appears to be from a rich family, although the indications of status are unlike anything I've seen. He goes to a kind of school which has just one class, and seems more like a student club. One schoolmaster (I assume?) has a cyborg "wife" - not of the metallic kind, she looks like a geisha, she just acts like an automaton - who somehow incorporates part of his (deceased?) real wife, and with whom he does have an uneasy love relationship. She is one of many such cyborgs, the "animated dolls". Another doll, more a schoolgirl model who shares with the real underage girls the feature of ridiculously globular boobies, and who the clumsy boy is in love with, incorporates part of a female relative of this boy, making her the heir to Musashi, a flying city-ship. Then, the situation gets tense, and it looks as though the whole class and indeed entire civilian population of the area the class is in, may have to evacuate, as some crazy yet ultimately omniscient person makes the Platonic Plate Reactor explode - this will destroy the entire area - to cause a conflict that will prevent the destruction of the world. The schoolmaster, staying behind to make sure the explosion will happen as planned, wields a special weapon that kills by catching a person's reflection, to fight a foreigner with a similarly bizarre weapon and Heels of Speed, backed up by his "wife", who uses her telekinetic ability to save his life at the cost of her own. The explosion does happen, but now the whole country will have to surrender to the faction of which Heels of Speed is a member. And their bizarre weapons? Eight of them are known, and a ninth must be found so that they can all be brought together. It turns out the animated schoolgirl doll and heir to Musashi is also the ninth weapon! Oh, and for some reason, she's also going to be executed tomorrow. Never a dull moment.

I'd missed Binbougami ga!, but since there was some time left at the end of the previous show, the video room staff kindly re-showed the first eps, and so this was one of the few items I saw right from the beginning, without missing anything. And the beginning is essential to understand why a woman in rags and toting a giant syringe is constantly chasing a high-school girl. The latter is described as the luckiest girl in the world; an orphan with her own dedicated butler, she's super rich, pretty, top student of her class, and let's not forget that big rack of hers! Looking down on her from above, the gods decide she is just too lucky and send a binbougami - a god of bad luck, in the form of a beggar with one permanently hidden eye - to suck some of that luck out of her. However, she is so lucky, that all the binbougami's attempts to stalk, overpower and drain her fail spectacularly. Frustrated, the spirit of bad luck explains that the girl is only this lucky because she drains luck and life from those around her; something that doesn't impress her until her beloved butler gets a heart attack and is hospitalized, precisely on her birthday. She agrees to be drained, then snatches the capsule of good luck and rushes to the hospital, intent on saving him, and unintentionally creating a Lourdes effect when she trips, breaks the capsule and dumps good luck all over the hospital, causing miraculous healings. At the end of the day, the binbougami's work was for nothing, as all the good luck that was drained has simply returned to her.

Worried about his health, the rich girl fires the butler and tells him to start a new life in a healthier environment. He, having misinterpreted the mad pursuit of the woman in rags, says that he's glad she's found a friend at last. Apparently, being incredibly lucky all the time doesn't make you friends.

By contrast, I stumbled straight into the middle of Shangri-la, which introduced itself to me badly through a scene where a deep-voiced woman tells a teenage girl she should never go into battle without make-up on, and applies some lipstick to her. This superficial impression can be explained by the fact that the deep-voiced woman is a post-op transsexual who therefore feels it his duty to be flamboyantly and militantly superfeminine, as he reminds anyone who is anywhere near him at any time. The girl herself is more a plain action type. They are both part of a resistance movement in a jungle village. Here, it would have paid to watch from the start, as all the con booklet tells me is that Tokyo is now covered in jungle to combat global warming, and the rich and powerful have retreated into a tower city called Atlas, where the common folk dream of living. The camera switches between the campaign of the resistance movement (the wispy teen is of course a martial artist) and a little girl in the tower who manipulates the world economy and sucks money away everywhere by creating panic and emergencies through a piece of software that manifests as a small serpent trapped in a circle, frantically whispering: "help me! help me!" The only moment in this series that makes me crack a smile is when, while lazily reclining and reading the mail on her tablet, the little girl gets a message: "Your parents must be proud."

After more chapter-shuffled Cowboy Bebop, I went to the largest video room expecting to see some Code Geass, only, the con staff, seemingly realizing that the Aniway room was non-functional, had switched its schedule to the room where I was, and the item currently on the schedule was Berserk: The Battle for Doldrey. How I regret watching that.

To start with, what I know as Berserk is a supposedly funny (it tries very hard, with panties and innuendo) series where a simplistic virginal boy changes into a white-haired villain-hero every time he's kissed by a certain girl. This old series, dating back to the time when Slayers was popular, has been eclipsed, even in Google searches, by a humourless set of films based on a manga centering on Guts, a slightly less exaggerated Hokuto no Ken who is a quiet type, but very, very good at killing people. When I walked in, he had just rescued Casca, a short-haired woman, from a dip in the river, and though feverish, she still attacks him, apparently because "Griffith" preferred Guts to her. And how do I know this crop-haired character is female? Because while she was unconscious, and he was checking her for wounds, his hand came away bloody and he muttered to himself: "Sucks to be a woman." An attempt at realism that falls flat on its face, since there is no follow-up about belly-aches and blood-encrusted pants; it seems her menses stop flowing the minute they've served their purpose of identifying her gender. Oh, and it does so suck to be a woman and not be able to hold heavy weapons, although anime babes have been toting huge guns without breaking a sweat for decades now. Not long after, they are found by enemy forces and Guts tells Casca to run while he fights them off. Two things wrong with this: a woman so fevered she could hardly stand can now run like a gazelle, and Guts continues fighting despite being shot full of arrows (or bolts) and manages to kill all the soldiers, gaining him a title that is something like 100-man-killer. Okay, my suspension of disbelief has now officially snapped.

They then rejoin Griffith, leader of the mercenary Band of the Hawk and a bishonen if there ever was one, although he's supposed to come from a poor background, so I'd expect him to be as rugged as Guts. Follows: the long and, to me, boring battle for a fort called Doldrey, the defeat of which impresses the king, who promises to give the brave mercenaries riches and a title of nobility. A feast is organized in their honour, and here my jaw drops, because what seemed like a band of ronin is apparently living in Elizabethan England. Guts and Casca are drawn together by their mutual unease of the upper crust environment, and afterwards, Guts tells Griffith he's leaving. Griffith tries to stop him, but is defeated in a duel, and, to soften the sense of rejection caused by his implied man-crush, ruins his future by visiting the king's daughter, who is naively in love with him, and being spotted by a servant while sexing her up. He is locked up and whipped bloody in the dungeon, while the Hawks, declared outlaws without their knowledge, are lured into an ambush. And that was the last Berserk film, I overheard a con staff member say, because after this feast of blood and gore with a dash of bishonen sex (the only thing vaguely worth watching) scandalized Japan by being accidentally aired in an "all ages" time slot, the planned sequel had been shelved. The manga continues the story, and is apparently better. I'll believe that.

The protagonist in Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari is supposed to be the brother of a character from Tenchi Muyo. Oh, there are going to be titty shots. As so often, I walked into the middle of the story, where a boy surrounded with girls of various races and social backgrounds (harem anime?) is hypnotized by a big-busted teacher into touching her boobs. The booklet tells me he has been summoned into this world, called Geminar, from another world. A bright lad and model employee, he works at the bath house in a huge boarding school, where his post-hypnotic suggestion kicks in and... well, the titty shots are offscreen, but at least I get to hear the screaming. The victims fall into two classes: those that would like his special services again, please, and those that want to take revenge and do so in a mecha called a Seikishi, which is related to the reason why he was summoned. The mecha does a lot of damage to school property, which, atypically, the guilty girls will have to repair; the boy, apparently skilled at restoration, will oversee the effort. As a side effect, he is accepted into the school as a pupil, and placed with the elite pupils, which of course leads to snubs and dirty looks. Oh, and near the end of the eps shown, he was digging up crystals. Not that it wasn't funny to some degree, but it wasn't enough to scrub the Battle for Doldrey from my mind.

The Mystery Movie, that I'd counted on to get my spirits up, was Therma Romae - The Movie (oh no), a live-action film (oh no no no). While the opening scenes of Lucius getting fired for not coming up with bright enough ideas and the rowdy customers in a huge Roman bath house are funny - and the actor playing Lucius looks not-Japanese, to give the "foreigner in Japan" plot some credibility - the inevitable time travel to modern Japan and the dumb "eeeh?" faces of the locals at his sudden appearance were enough to make me get up and walk out. Luckily for me, the last episodes of Mouretsu Pirates, the only anime shown at this con that I wholeheartedly and unreservedly enjoyed, were being played in another room.

There was no description on the con booklet of the last show I saw, Gintama, so I looked it up in the internet corner, mainly to see if it was (very important at this point) funny. It is, though mainly through running gags, so I would have to see more episodes in a less worn-out state to really appreciate it. "Gin Tama" ("silver soul") is a samurai in a modern world. So modern, in fact, that it has been taken over by anthropomorphic animal aliens, who do not allow their human subjects to wear weapons - which is a problem when trying to make a living as a modern samurai. His sister owns a snackbar which is also a dojo, and which is about to be repossessed. He tries to make money to prevent this, while his sister agrees to work in the brothel of the nasty man who wants to do the repossessing, leading to a rescue action by Gintama and friends, which, since the brothel is a floating ship, leads to an aerial shipwreck. It appears that the house is being repossessed because the location is special to the aliens, who simply move in while he and his sister are out, so in another group effort, they blow up the house with the aliens inside. It really is funny. If rather mind-bending.

In conclusion, a final first: this is the first time I didn't enjoy the con. Progressing illness and a badly timed injury had something to do with this. As did the location: a city where I passed "beware of pickpockets" signs, a cushy hotel with international appeal that, consequently, attracted dumb Americans theorizing that the Dutch are so tall because of all the cheese they eat (if that were true, the Swiss would be the tallest people in the world), and a gloomy location that brought back unpleasant memories. As did the visitors: when I entered a public toilet dominated by two hysterically giggling cosplayers, remained locked up in the stall waiting for their hours-long screech-giggle fit to end, and finally left to empty the rest of my bladder in a quieter place, they accosted me with the aggressive joviality I know so well from the Dutch, as if to remind me that using "their" toilets was a privilege, not a right, and I wondered whether there was going to be a fight. The childhood strategy of ignoring the bullies worked, but for the first time I felt threatened and out of place among the weeaboos, probably because I was so weak that, in the eventuality of a fight, I could not even begin to defend myself. Funny how, in Almelo, getting into fights with other con visitors had never even been a consideration. Now life in the Netherlands is an eternal struggle against the aggressive Dutch mob mentality anyway, but the anime con had always been a magical exception, catering to my need for escape just as anime in general does for the Japanese, making me laugh, transporting me to another world where Dutchness doesn't exist and nothing is truly threatening. This time the con even had "to other worlds" as a theme, yet it failed. Although not bad, none of the animes shown had the mesmerizing beauty or gut-busting potential of shows seen at earlier cons, possibly because anime is itself decreasingly losing terrain to other con activities. The promise of Japanese food had proved a disappointment and the location, a complete downer. Maybe it's a question of adjustment, and next con will be a hoot. I'll give it a try, next year. But without the usual enthusiasm.



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