Only Cat-Girls Get My Shoes
By Jake Forbes
Anime Expo is hard enough work to keep up with when you're just there to have fun, but when you're there to work... Let's just say that ever since convention season started, I haven't had a weekend. Sure, I'm only covering the booth for around five hours a day, but then in my breaks I have to stand in line for DDR 5th Mix, walk a half mile to find pizza that costs less than $5 a slice, make sure that the model kit that I had my eye on hasn't been sold, and find something to write about for Animefringe. And then there's the screenings! Sure, this year didn't feature any premiers per se, but they did have Blood and the new restored Akira. This year I could skip out on the gaming tournament, since they were doing all old games. Gran Turismo 2? I mean, pa-lease! Oh! I can't forget the Music Video Contest! How wonderful it is to see the cast of Robotech singing like the cast of a Broadway musical. As you can see, there's really not enough hours packed in a day.
Yet despite the shortage of time that any fan is sure to encounter at any convention, there's one tradition that's particularly bloated, poorly planned, over-hyped, dull-as dirt, and completely wonderful: the Masquerade. While no one actually starts displaying their costumes until around 9:00, the "action" really begins at 7:00 when a few thousand otaku start forming a mob outside the concert hall doors panicking that they won't get a seat, despite the fact that a staffer with a megaphone keeps telling them that it's assigned seating, and everyone with a ticket gets a seat. I got to go in with the press who are the first to enter- much to the dismay of the angry mob who are worried that the dozen of us press folk are going to take their spots. Anyway, they let us in a good half hour before the rest of the crowd, so we press folk could get to know each other. Being an introvert, I was expecting this to be quiet time to sit back and compose myself after a busy day. Instead I was fortunate (?) enough to be seated next to a teenage cat-girl who took great pleasure in playing with my hair and shoelaces. Of course it only makes things worse when you tell her you are the editor of the only shoujo manga magazine in the country, and a writer for the BEST monthly anime web-zine around. What's an Internet journalist to do?
Before the actual Masquerade commenced, the expo staff welcomed a young boy who came to the convention on the Make-A-Wish program. We all took great pleasure at making the good kid feel embarrassed by applauding him to no end. Most of the major anime publishers helped make his trip one he'd never be able to forget by loading him up with over 200 DVDs and a DVD player! For all the greed you see on the sales floor of the convention center, the Expo really does a lot of great work for charities. So go to Anime Expo and help make less fortunate kids' dreams come true!
You know that the Masquerade is about to begin when people start yelling "CHAIR!" For some reason there seems to be a tradition at all masquerades at comics and anime conventions around the country. Whenever there's a lull (and oh, there are many of them) you just yell out a reference to Masquerades past that everyone in the know will laugh at and everyone else will learn soon enough. For Anime Expo, this word happens to be "CHAIR!" If a chair so much as peeked out from behind the curtain on stage the crowd would go wild and demand that stagehands bring it out to admire. It's very cute for a while, but after a few dozen demands for CHAIR, I started to feel sorry for the poor hostess who got so frustrated with the CHAIR that she had the stagehands execute the chair on stage to prevent people for demanding it further- she wished! A new tradition was almost started when a guy in a rocket suit hopped onto stage and proceeded to fall over. There's really nothing quite as amusing as watching as someone in a missile suit falling down. A few demands for ROCKET happened later in the show, but nothing can usurp the classic CHAIR.
This year I was "fortunate" enough to serve as an industry judge for the masquerade. What does this mean? Well, not only do I have to sit in the packed Long Beach Concert Hall from 8:00 to midnight, but I have to PAY ATTENTION! You would think that keeping track of cosplayers would be easy enough, but believe me- fifty sets of characters (half of them from Final Fantasy or Sailor Moon) putting on dreadfully un-funny skits really start to blend together after a while. Fortunately I had my digital camera with me to take quick reference shots of the ones I thought were good.
If there was a trend in this year's show, it was gender bending. Guys in Sailor fukus have always been good for a cheap laugh, but this show featured no less than three skits in which all the guys in the audience yelled out "Oh my god, she's a man!" Either the guys are getting dumber or the transvestite cosplayers are getting better (or both). Add on to that the fact that there were at least three Uranus and Neptune seductions and a few skits that end with a shonen-ai punch line, and you get a very kinky show.
After the 50th entry was concluded, guests were treated to a very special surprise performance by the singer of the Ah My Goddess theme song who gave a very spirited, clap-along rendition of that song. Afterwards, the comedy music videos from the night before had an encore screening while the judges calculated the winners in the back. As I was just an industry judge, I only had to run back, pick my prizewinner, and return to my seat to sit by my new cat-girl friend. By the time winners are announced, everyone's screaming for things to finish up so they can go back to their hotel rooms/DDR/screenings/$5 pizza slices.
So with hours of dead time waiting to get in and waiting for things to get moving, unruly crowds that won't stop beating a dead horse, costumes that are no more impressive than what you see people walking around in all day long, and groaner jokes so bad that they make you want to strangle the performers, why does anyone want to attend these stupid Masquerades? Maybe because the few thousand people in the hall are the only people in the entire country who could put up with the spectacle, and birds of a feather, you know… Maybe we all have a little respect for anyone who would willingly stand in front of this mob while wearing a silly costume. Or maybe we just wish that we could all wear silly costumes, make bad jokes, and win free DVDs. I don't really know. But as long as there are cat-girls in the audience to play with my hair and shoelaces, I'll be there.
Oh, and if you were wondering, I voted for the nice ladies dressed as Suu and Orahu from Clover.