Monday, August 18, 2008

Spored to Death Special Report: Otakon 2008

Welcome back Sporefans. Many of you are wondering why there was no movie review last week. Well it may come as a shock to you, but I do other things besides watch bad movies. Some of you might remember that last year I posted A Look Inside Spored to Death Publishing, and it seems that its becoming a custom that each year I post a tale of high adventure, which may or may not contain some fictional aspects. Much like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson, it will be up to you to judge what is truth and what is fiction; even though I made it as obvious as possible. Regardless of your opinion, I now present to you:

Spored to Death's special coverage of Otakon 2008!

Last weekend I took it upon myself to mosey on down to Baltimore, Maryland to check out Otakon 2008. My therapist told me it would be a good idea to get out of the house more often, and Dr. Giggles is rarely wrong; so I took his advice and hooked up with a pair of strange people on a trip into madness, chaos and cat girls.

We embarked upon our journey at the ungodly hour of 11 o'clock in the AM. The sun rained its radiance down upon us, birds filled with foul droppings sang happily in the sky while thinking their little bird thoughts of what to eat and where to poop; and I couldn't have been in a more wretched mood if you put a hand grenade in my pants. The contents of the bottle that I had consumed the previous night demanded that I find another bottle and consume its contents.

We set off in a Southward direction, down the path referred to as "Smuggler's Run" by the people who refer to such things in that way. My companions informed me that we would be blessed with the soothing music of Larc 'en Ciel, The Yellow Monkey and Nightmare; all of which helped soothe the savage beast that bashed the inside of my skull and threatened mutiny on the good ship midsection which sailed the rocky seas of my stomach. I was handed a map which lacked an X, but would hopefully lead to treasure; or at least Baltimore.

And crab. Did you eat crab? He ate two.

Baltimore is home to large ornamental ships. Not to be confused with boats. Click on any of the pictures to get a larger view!

The road was long but not treacherous, full of twists, turns and traffic; leading ever Southward toward our intended destination. Several hours passed and many adventures were had, but those are tales for another time. Our arrival at the hotel on the outskirts of Baltimore put us within reach of our final destination, but my companions and I decided to rest before tackling the madness and mayhem which inevitably waited for us with baited breath just a short ride away.

I refer to, of course, the problem of finding parking in Baltimore.

Unfortunately you can not park inside the submarine. Its a museum or something.

That being said, if you can find parking in the city of Baltimore during Otakon while a nearby an Orioles game gets underway at 5 PM on a Friday afternoon, you can handle any and all weirdness that you might encounter once you actually arrive at the Con. Not knowing what lay ahead of us, I turned to my companions for advice.

"I needs me a cat girl," exclaimed the bearded man, "I brought my tranquilizer gun! I'm gonna bag me a cat girl!"

"I want some Hello Kitty DVDs," replied the well endowed woman, "Hello Kitty's so cute!"

This would certainly be a trip to remember. Now all that we required was parking.

A sea of gleaming steel boxes was all that stood between us and the wonders and madness of the Baltimore Convention Center. We pushed ever forward through the tide, inching toward the parking deck off of Calverton Street, which taunted us as only a shady oasis from traffic for a mere $10 a day could. Gotta love event parking.

Otakon wasn't the only neat thing we found in Baltimore. Check out this Lamborghini parked on the street.

As we approached I noticed somewhere off our port bow was a scantily clad girl with furry ears. "Cat girl ahoy," I cried as the bearded man leveled the darkened steel of the tranquilizer gun. He fired wildly out the window but hit only the wide bottom of a passing nun. Once she was felled, the remainder of the pack of nuns scanned the area for the unknown assailant; for only a deviant of the highest caliber would dare to shoot a nun in her backside.

"Go! Go now!" I shouted, as a gaggle of black and white garbed women turned on the traffic, rulers in hand as they searched the cars for the perpetrator. The nuns were closing fast as we weaved though four congested lanes of traffic. Our car barely grazed the side of a purple cab headed to some destination where a pimp was undoubtedly waiting for a ride to the supermarket. The well endowed woman let out a cry as a man dressed in black clothing with a large sword strapped to his back filled the view of our windshield. He barely had time to spit out a half-eaten corn dog before the collision. He vaulted at the last second trying to leap over the car. Sadly, the poor soul fell short and was affixed to the windshield, which prevented us from realizing that we had shot down the wrong side of the entrance of the parking deck into oncoming traffic. The wiper blades and cleaning fluid proved no match for our obstructing visitor, who's cries had alerted the nuns to our position.

"Oh my god, I'm gonna die," he screamed while hanging on for dear life.

Baltimore is home to "Ride the Duck" tours which allow you to tour the city in an amphibious vehicle. Here, Angry Toast contemplates taking a tour.

With desperate grace the well endowed woman twisted the screaming hunk of steel on to two wheels, tilting the entire frenzied party as we passed over several oncoming cars. It was then that I noticed that we had lost all but the most recalcitrant of the nuns who clung to the back of our car with frightening zeal. She swung wildly with her free arm, attempting to hit anything and everything that would come within the reach of her ruler. The fury of the nun must have endowed her with unrealistic strength as she climbed atop the roof of our speeding vehicle. She lashed out with her handful of hickory hate, closing in on our unsuspecting guest who had camped out on our windshield.

"Look out, you fool," I cried, "She's got a ruler!"

The poor bastard barely had enough time to deflect the blow from the nun's hickory truncheon. They fought like madmen atop the speeding automobile, serenaded by our screams as we careened around the deck looking for an open space. They say that the gods of fortune pity fools, and that day we must have been most foolish. Somehow we had managed to weave our way into the bowels of the parking complex, possibly locating a previously unknown level of Dante's Inferno. At the bottom of the deck lay one remaining parking spot, stuck between two large SUV's. With no time for delicacy the well endowed woman spun the car around, backing into the spot with expert precision. The car barely had time to settle into park as we bolted from the vehicle. The sound of the engine dying still rang in our ears as we sprinted for the stairwell.

Remember that scene in Ghost Busters when Venkman asked to be informed when they reached a specific floor so he could throw up from climbing all those stairs? You don't? What's wrong with you. Anyway, we saw this in the dealer's room, someone made it. It's not a prop or a shot from the movie. Click the picture for a better view.

The nun and the costumed man fought atop the car as we ran for our lives. As I climbed the stairs after my companions I heard a cry from the parking deck behind me. Someone shouted "There can be only one!" as I took the stairs two at a time, scrambling for freedom and sanity. To this day I still can't determine who was the victor in that brutal underground conflict.

Emerging from the stairwell, we had come face to face with downtown Baltimore. It was quite an impressive sight as costumed Anime fans and Orioles fans mingled with the local residents amidst the backdrop of the inner harbor. Shops and restaurants lined the far side of the street giving us only a glimpse of the harbor and the small boats that gracefully passed over its surface. Over the years the local residents have adapted to the yearly convention, accepting that people with crazy hair and fake weapons would be walking their streets for a weekend. You could find a vendor on every street corner selling everything from bottled water to food to glow sticks. Shops advertised discounts for anyone who came in dressed in a costume. A copacetic symbiosis had evolved between Baltimore and the Anime convention, giving off a vibe that might have given Woodstock a run for its money.

I'm not sure what Anime this is from, but these guys sure are dedicated.

The Baltimore Convention Center stretched three city blocks with streets running in between the major buildings. The buildings were connected by a second floor sky walk which passed over each of the streets, allowing visitors to roam from one building to another without ever having to fear traffic. Although it was the first day of the convention, the lobby of the nearest building seemed sparsely populated as many of the convention goers would not arrive until Saturday. We asked one of the guests where we could procure our convention passes, and were told that we would have to go down to the main entrance of the first building.

I feel that I should point out that whoever designed the Baltimore Convention Center was probably a sadist of the highest caliber. The center is constructed in such a way so that if you need to reach a specific area of the center the only way to get there is to exit the building and walk around it in its entirety. While the individual buildings are connected via sky walks, the area inside the second floor where you enter the building may or may not connect to other parts of the building. Indeed Cochran, Stephenson and Donkervoet, the architects who designed the center are probably having a good chuckle as they read this.

If they read this.

They're probably not going to read this.

A young man and his companion cube.

This young lady built up quite a Katamari. I'd say it was at least 1.3m large! Now let's make it into a star!

Once we found the main entrance to the center, my companions and I set about obtaining our passes to the convention. My companions, who only needed access passes had no trouble obtaining entry. I however, required an official press pass to the convention; a back door to the inner workings of Otakon, necessary to obtain the real story about the deepest secrets of the convention. I had questions; questions that needed answers desperately. How did they manage to organize a convention with a capacity for 25,000 guests every year? Did the organizers sacrifice goats to a heathen god in exchange for the powers needed to bring this mammoth building under their sway? Or was it the work of a highly intelligent super computer which housed a never before seen artificial intelligence capable of scheduling all of the videos, panels and special events in this monstrous three day orgy of Anime fandom.

"Good day sir," I said to the young man running the registration booth, "My name is Spored to Death and I am here to cover this convention for Spored to Death Publishing. I believe that my editor has called ahead and acquired a press pass for me to attend this convention. I am here to procure this press pass, and have the proper credentials and visas with me to assure you of my identity."

"I'm sorry, you're who?" replied the young man.

"I'm Spored to Death, with Spored to Death Publishing," I replied, "Now if you'll just give me my press pass I'll be on my way to conduct my interviews."

"I'm sorry sir, but we don't offer press passes at the convention."

"What?!" I shouted, "How can you get by without the good favor of the press? My readers want to know what goes on here! They demand the real story, not some hopped-up white wash that only panders to the powers that be! I need to get in touch with the seedy underbelly of Otakon to really understand the operation you people are running here. I need access to the back rooms where people of power decide the fates of thousands over tables of drugs, money and naked women!"

"Sir, there is no seedy underbelly to Otakon. We're just an Anime convention."

"Lies! All lies," I screamed. If only I could make enough of a scene I might be able to bully a press pass out of the kid yet. "I know that you know what's going on here! You've been skulking about in the darkness with the rest of the villainous scum who exploit the masses and prey upon their fears. You stall because you don't want the public to know the truth! But the public must know and will know. Your press releases can't possibly feed the demand for knowledge that spreads throughout the world even as we speak. Don't attempt to obfuscate the will of the public. That's my job!"

"Sir, I just volunteer for a few hours at the booth this weekend. What the hell are you talking about?"

Stonewalled. This one proved to be more shrewd than he appeared. No matter. There's more than one way to skin a cat. "Very well. I'll buy one of your visitor passes. How much does that go for?"

"Sixty-five dollars sir," the young man said with hints of both relief and annoyance in his voice.

"Very well, but I shall need a receipt for my editor," I replied pulling a heavy satchel out of my briefcase, "Also, I should ask this up front... do you accept payment in pennies?"

Forty-five minutes later I had my visitor's pass to the convention.

Because of my antics people are no longer allowed to pay for Otakon with pennies. If you try they send robots after you.

It took an hour to get acclimated to the environs of the convention center. Throngs of people moved through hallways and across vast carpeted areas between small islands of snack carts, video rooms, a makeshift cafe, panels and events. Our initial attempts to navigate the seas of Otakon were nothing more than a learning experience. We had initially set out for the video gaming hall, but found ourselves unable to gain access though the direct route, which would carry us through the walls of the Baltimore Convention Center. Horrible chains of carbon linked together in a seemingly innocent white wall; but under its bright surface lurked the evil of impasse.

Eventually we found our way to the Artist's Alley and beheld the wonders of some great talents. While all the entries were impressive, sadly I only thought to grab a couple of business cards from the artists in the stalls. One artist in particular showed an impressive amount of patience and fortitude, and I hope that she makes it big before she goes blind working on a level of detail that would frighten most human beings. Huzzah to you!

After we drank our fill of the Artist's Alley we broke for dinner. Baltimore was riddled with upscale restaurants waiting eagerly to suck the money from our pockets in exchange for luxurious food and drink. Luckily this was a business trip, and I planned to hike up the bill and send it to my editor.

One of our first sights in the Artist's Alley were these hand made plushies. You want them. You know you do.

Once our bellies were full with food, the well endowed woman received a call from Machine, a compatriot who also happened to be at the convention. "There's a rave going on, come on over to the rave!" So we set off in search of the rave, around and around the exterior of the convention center. Machine's directions were obscure; undoubtedly he was in the middle of having a good time when he called. We spiraled about aimlessly and clueless, seeking out the "main entrance" to the building. We followed the sounds of music and frolicking until we could see the lights through the deep recesses of the windows, casting the darkness away with their dancing rainbow hues.

Then we saw the nuns.

They were waiting for us in force outside the entrance. One nun kept leaning on the others, obviously still under the effects of the bearded man's tranquilizer darts. We dared not proceed, for they would be on us like large monochromatic flies on so much crap. I felt that it was time to retire to the sanctity of our hotel.

Then some fear and loathing happened.

The next day we set out for the convention from our hotel, but first, a quick stop at Arby's. Yum. After filling our bellies once again we set out to the convention center, this time armed with knowledge gained from the mistakes of yesterday. At once, we seized upon an opportunity to storm the dealer's room; exposing it for the capitalistic orgy that it was. And we partook in that orgy, buying various baubles and trinkets, videos and compact discs. At some point during this hedonistic embrace of the dollar I was separated from my companions, and when I found them once again they had both sprouted ears and tails.

Some of the items that were aquired at Otakon.

"Cat people!" I screamed, and ran for the exit. My companions chased my down, and luckily I was not bitten in the scuffle. One could only imagine the spelling and grammatical errors of a reporter typing with fur covered paws. "Back! Back, you fiends!" I cried as I was summarily tackled and dragged off to eat lunch.

After a few pints I returned to my senses. Once calmed by the inebriating effects of alcohol we returned to the convention and wandered down once again into the Artist's alley.

Then we ate crab.

Go back and buy a plushie. Do it now! It's a zombie plushie, what other justification do you need?

The bearded now cat-man pointed out that one of his friends had set up a booth in Artist's Alley. She was talented and quite friendly. She pointed to the doll sitting on the corner of her table and told us that she had created all of the clothing for the figure.

"By the way, my little doll is also anatomically correct," she pointed out, "I have some more at home like that, but I didn't bring them this time." The fear rose up in my guts again. I had to get out, away from the nice girl with the creepy dolls. I grabbed my companions and we headed out of the art room pausing briefly to pick up some stationary from the artist we had met the day before.

Believe it or not, this is actually a different doll from the one mentioned above. This doll is owned by someone who was working at the chainmail table from Rabbit Dance Designs. I did not ask if it was anatomically correct, nor did I think to check at the time. Check out their website if you're interested in purchasing chain mail or chain mail jewelry.

"We've yet to make it to the video game room," I pronounced, "We'll all be fools if we can't make it to the very first place we set out for. Come on, this way!" We circled round the building yet again until we found the entrance to the appropriate building; but where there was only a small group of conventioneers the day before was now a swelled mass of costumed characters, milling about the floor and pausing occasionally for impromptu photo shoots. We pushed our way through gently, trying not to upset the delicate balance of the crowd, until we found our way to the doors of the game room.

This was just a small section of the room where the cos-players were gathering. I wasn't kidding about it being like a sea, you could crowd surf across most of the room but I would advise against it. The drop from the second floor is a little... intense.

"Yo, don't come in here," a uniformed guard said quietly, but we waved our passes and walked by undeterred. It was as if I had gone back to the halcyon days of my youth; there before me were rows upon rows of high definition televisions all sporting fighting games, shooting games and strange Japanese games the likes of which I had never seen before. The days of old had risen again; the days when you could walk into an arcade and play a myriad of fighting games for only a quarter. The good old days, the all or nothin' days. Hours passed as I stared in amazement and the sharpest graphics of the latest games side by side with classics and not so classics that time had left behind.

I may or may not have been hallucinating at this point, but I think Vega and Dee Jay were about to duke it out in the dealer's room. As always, click the picture for a better view.

After a few hours my companions tired, and I conceded that it was probably time to find some place to rest. Upon exiting the game room, we encountered a cos-player that I had never seen before. Over the two days at the convention (and during my previous conventions) I had seen many different levels of cos-players performing many different roles. There were people dressed like characters from Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, Hellboy, Final Fantasy, Bleach, Kenshin, Naruto, Tonari no Totoro, Gurren Lagann, Crayon Shin Chan, Death Note, Sailor Moon and countless other Anime titles.

But I've never seen anyone cos-play as Hard Gay before.

For those of you who don't know, Hard Gay is a Japanese comedian who... well, he does stuff. To people. In public. You see Hard Gay is a... well, just see for your self. Go on, don't be shy. The story will sit right here while you watch.

Here are some shots of the cos-player who came as Hard Gay.

There is no caption in the world that would do this shot justice.

Hard Gay hard at work on a cos-player's sword.

Are you done? Have you had enough Hard Gay? All right, lets move on.

After our chance encounter with the leather clad cos-player, we decided it would be refreshing to get some ice cream from one of the ice cream trucks parked outside the convention center. While paying for my cone, I heard a voice from somewhere in the line behind me.

"Look Agnes, it's one of them," said the hushed voice.

"Weren't there three heathens before," asked a second voice.

"There were, but I don't see the other two," replied the first voice as I decided to try and disappear into the crowded street.

"What about them? Those two right over there," the second voice pointed out.

"No that can't be them. They didn't have cat ears and tails. These people clearly do. Therefore they can't be the one's we're looking for," the first voice said as I moved into a crowd of people passing by.

"He's getting away," cried the second voice as I broke from the crowd, leaving my companions behind. I ran about twenty feet down the sidewalk, looking to join a crowd of people who were not dressed in costumes so that I could blend in; but the crowd parted at the last second to reveal a gaggle of nuns. There was no avoiding my collision with the burly sister who even as I approached swung her ruler forward to greet my face.

The next ten minutes were a blur. The memory of the event is a jumbled mess of black and white flashes, pain, fear and loathing. In case you were wondering, most nuns wear comfortable shoes underneath their habits, but at least one set of shoes were steel toed work boots which found my kidneys with horrifying accuracy. Do these puritanical penguins practice their kicking skills to the plexus, positioning their blows for maximum pain? Perhaps.

The savage beating continued for some time. I couldn't say how long, maybe thirty seconds, maybe five minutes. The concept of time was as distant as a far reaching horizon with promises of wealth and splendor; a luxury I couldn't even imagine as splintered pieces of ruler scratched up my arms while I shielded my face from the blows.

I don't remember when it ended, so I must have had a concussion. I woke up in a pool of blood on the steps of the convention center. It couldn't have been for too long as the sound of sirens approaching told me there was more trouble still to come. I climbed up the steps on all fours and fell over into a shrubbery. "Damn it," I screamed, "the least they could have done was let me eat my ice cream first!"

There were way too many great pictures from the convention. We ran into Hellboy in the dealer's room as well.

I stumbled down the steps of the convention center as blood ran down my face decorating my shirt. "Cool costume dude," a young man cheered, "Who are you supposed to be?"

"Huh? Who me? I'm, uh... that guy from Fight Club. The one that lost."

"Oh cool," cried the pretty young girl hanging from the young man's arm, "Can we get a picture of you?"

I held up my thumb and tried to smile as best as I could. "How'd you get the blood to stay on your teeth like that," the young man asked, "All my fake blood keeps running off and I swallow it."

"Trade secret," I replied.

I found my companions by the ice cream truck. Not only were they unharmed, they seemed happy.

"We need to leave. Now," I said tersely.

"What happened to you," asked the bearded man.

"Nuns. Everywhere, nuns. They're after me, and they're coming for you next." I looked around, they could be anywhere. I needed to get out of the city before they caught up with me again.

"You mean the nuns from the parking deck," asked the well endowed woman, "They complimented us on our ears, and bought us ice cream."

"Don't eat that!" I cried. "It could be poisoned. With, uh.... nun... poison." I paused, realizing what a crazed madman I must have sounded like. "I need a disguise, or we'll never get out of here alive."

I surveyed the area and found a small store. "Follow me. My life depends on it."

"But I'm not done with my ice cream."

"Look," I screamed, spinning around on my companions and screaming through my clenched teeth, "Nuns! Beat! Me! Up! Let's get the hell out of here!"

I purchased a clever disguise at the store. There would be no recognizing me now, I looked like a completely different person. All we had to do was reach the car and we were home free.

Alternatively, I could have used the "box technique" to make my escape, but I'll save that trick for next year.

Parking was $24.

It was the single most important purchase of my life. We fled Baltimore with the dogs at our heels; Dalmatians with rulers for teeth and iron feet. But we sped on into the night up I-95, away from the madness; safe... at least for a little while.

Inevitably someone needed to pee.

We stopped at a rest stop somewhere in Delaware. After cleaning the blood off my face in the restroom, I exited to find my bearded companion speaking to a man dressed as Mario. The faux plumber seemed to be engaging my companion in some sort of illicit deal. My companion received a wad of cash and handed over his tranquilizer gun.

The well endowed woman acted as my photographer on this trip. This explains two things. First, it explains why there are no pictures of half-naked cat girls. Secondly... well, maybe you should just read the wikipedia entry for Yaoi. Next year I'll give a camera to the bearded man as well; for fairness.

"Are you coming from the con," I asked Mario as I walked up to the pair.

"Nope, I'mma goin' to the con," he replied staying in character.

"Watch out for nuns," I said as my companion and I walked off, "They hate it when you shoot 'em in the ass."

"Nuns," Mario asked, his accent slipping, "What Anime are they from?"

I didn't answer. Indeed, I didn't have an answer. Only a strong yearning to be back on the road and to put distance between us and my monochromatic assailants.

We piled in for the last leg of the journey, back up Smuggler's Run into the heart of New Jersey. "So, did we all have a good time?" I asked, wiping my hands on my bloodied shirt. My companions were happy. They had not known the cruel lash of the hickory rulers as I had. I said nothing, but knew that even if it mean more beatings at the hands of angry nuns, I would return the next year. Who knows, perhaps I too would embark on a hunt for one of the elusive cat girls of Otakon.

Nah. Better off just bringing one with me. That way no one gets shot in the ass.

But why take my work for it. Check out this video of Otakon 2008, and the madness.

I'll definitely have to go back next year.


esuarez said...

awesome post. Looked like a good time.

Next week do we get a review of the yaoi you picked up.

Spored_to_Death said...

That'll be easy. Since I didn't pick up any, I'll just not post anything next week.

min said...

if i had known you'd be at a con, i would have charged you with buying me hats with ears. damn you. you're always keeping me down.

Spored_to_Death said...

I didn't see any hats with ears. I did see ears. And tails. I could hook you up with some of those next year. We're planning on going to that one too.