It is no joke that Hitomi and I paid a few thousand this year to travel and attend an anime convention, in LA, in the summer, where I spent quite a great deal of time in a hotel with my son Leo, napping in bed.
Still, the best vacations are typically crazy, when done right.
One of the crazy decisions made was to buy and pack an induction burner ($80 or so) from Amazon, and take it along with a pressure cooker, plus rice and various ingredients (canned fish). We’d be set for breakfast (tea) and lunch (rice balls), without the time and expense (and disappointment) of eating out every meal. But remember: We’re also traveling with a two year-old, so it’s not like we don’t have a stroller, a car seat, a ton of diapers, toys, books, sleeper, and baby snacks to take as well.
Oh, and Hitomi had Leo two cosplay outfits, and I had two sets of cosplay clothes as well. The cosplay clothes were nothing too fancy, Leo and I dressed as both Okarin from Steins;Gate and Nyanko Sensei, though my Nyanko outfit was basically a blanket.
Oh, and Hitomi’s pregnant, but fortunately just 4 not 8 months like she was back in 2012.
I dreaded the first part of the trip: Getting up at 6:00am and loading the trunk of a taxi coming at 6:30, and getting ourselves through security and on the plane. Leo’s a ball of energy so having to sit still for two and a half hours is a challenge. The iPad, loaded with videos of Shimajiro and Wanwan Wonderland, did quiet Leo most of the flight. I got berated by Hitomi, though, for not buying an extra seat for Leo. He was supposed to be on my lap, but instead ended up in Hitomi’s lap mostly at his insistence. Paying full price ($350) for 30 pounds of Leo seemed like an unfair deal to me, for such a short time I’d put up with it.
Finally at the hotel (11PM or so), I head down to Anime Expo for picking up my badge. We’re staying at the Marriot, which is second only to the Ritz-Carlton in downtown LA, making it convenient at least. Yet, this is LA, and everything is still a bit of a walk, and further still as registration is in the LA Convention Center West Hall. No matter, the last time I was there it was only a matter of minutes to get my badge, so I thought. Two years ago I arrived early in the morning and it was a cinch, but with anime conventions it’s still a dice roll: You can be in line not at all or 4-6 hours. (Why many anime conventions still don’t mail badges: They hate their attendees.) I ended up stuck in the pre-registration line for 2:30, which would have been okay, but the line was outside. Besides getting really hot, I ended up sunburned which I wasn’t too happy about. Inside was a temporary relief, as I was upside seeing that although plenty of computers setup to process registrations, still only six people were handing out badges, and of course pay-at-con registration had no line.
Enough of that, I headed over to the food truck area across the street. I ended up paying $15 or so for a sub-par Indian dish plus drink. Food trucks often produce pretty inconsistent food, maybe due to the kitchen being so uncomfortable to work?
Hitomi and I met at the AX Maid Cafe, which is not really a cafe since they do not serve food or drinks, but sort of a show for…Well, they do a couple of dances on stage, plus play a game or two with guests at the table, and take pictures at the end. Yes, the girls were easy on the eyes, but it seemed so far removed from the Japan experience it was its own thing. Leo had fun playing the games and running around as he usually does during a performance. Being so cute and little meant the maids were fawning over him, and I felt a bit like bragging, “I made this!” We had a group picture, which I ought to post.
There was a concert at 6PM for Aya Ikeda. Originally I was going to take Leo back to the hotel and Hitomi could watch in the front row, courtesy of our otaku friend Tim reserving a seat. Leo seemed pretty happy to join though, so vacillating between our official assigned seating (back) and Tim’s ‘reserved’ seats, we all watched the show. Leo had a tendency to run off, throw his glow stick, and make it tough for us, but he was in the spirit of the event. Oddly, AX told us all to not stand during the performance, but what kind of Ani-song event has people sitting? In Japan, you are standing, either waving something, clapping, jumping, or doing something. Sitting peacefully is somehow disrespectful, I think.
We didn’t stay for the second act, instead dinner was our priority. We ended up at a Japanese restaurant Katsuya, which was more fancy than I might have liked. It was like Hotel dining, which is usually good, but expensive for what you get. There was outside seating, which was great for Leo to bounce around in. The tea (and the tea we made using tap water) tasted funny, and Hitomi made the request we get some bottled water.
I did make a trip off to Ralph’s (supermarket), which I was told was a 5 minute walk but really 15, by the hotel. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the walk in the night: Walking around at night during a convention is great, since it’s fun to see cosplayers out and about the town in different contexts. Walk into the local Denny’s and you can see gigantic foam swords and other props tucked behind their chair. It’s kind of like all these people were transported to a different dimension by mistake.
This being July 4, we saw plenty of fireworks from our room window over the city of Los Angeles. All the booms and fizzles seen and heard from our hotel was a not-so-subtle reminder we were missing out on another Important Holiday yet again. (Easter, always Sakura-con weekend, is another holiday I miss out on. Easter is easier to ignore, at least the day of.) Getting Leo to sleep through all this was a bit of a trick.
Getting Leo out the door in the morning is a challenge as well: Dressed, cleaned up, fed, dipers changed, etc. and it feels like the morning is gone. And after an hour or so, it’s already nap time. I volunteer to nap with Leo and Hitomi’s out on her own. With the pressure cooker, I prepare onigiri with canned fish and furikake.
At 2:30 was a cosplay meetup for Natsume’s Book of Friends. Leo had a costume for his first cosplay gathering! It was a bit of a wait in the sun, but eventually a fairly big group of cosplayers (not quite Nintendo or One Piece gathering numbers, but maybe 10 people) appeared on the grass next to the convention center. Two thoughts: Yes, Leo was popular (“cute!”) with the group, but didn’t understand what was going on and looked confused and somewhat scared. And maybe hot in a fur suit. Secondly, although he could have been in everybody’s photoshoot, it didn’t really make sense to steal the spotlight as it were, so we took him in and out at times.
At night we headed off to Japan Town for dinner, a short taxi ride but complicated by having to take a car seat out, put it in, put Leo in, put the stroller in, etc. LA’s Japan Town is quite walkable and has a lot of interesting shopping. Apparently free karaoke is a thing, and there was a mix of singing quality. Dinner at Kagura was quite decent, some hit and miss dishes. Soft-serve was fun sharing three ways. Leo eats with his face.
The AX Dance was at 10PM, with Ram Rider, a DJ guest from Japan, appearing at 11PM. I met up with Kent who had flown in that night from work in line, and here I was waiting in line for a dance. Inside, some other con friends are there too and we wait for about 15 minutes for Ram Rider’s set.
I wouldn’t call it a dance in the traditional sense, it is more like your body becomes part of an undulating organ, driven by auditory stimulus. I was not equipped with any glowing paraphernalia, but instead had to use my hand to wave approval. Quite a number of Go-Go dancers in various levels of dress provided visual stimulus as well. Lots of eventual shoving and I was in the front of the blob, where Ram Rider was wearing his glowing jacket and spinning CDs or something of his music and others’.
Around 1AM, although tempted to ‘hang out’ and have fun, I go to the hotel to sleep like a responsible person.
Of course, the later I go to sleep the earlier I am woken up: Leo woke up very early in the morning (4AM), walked out of his sleep sack, and started fishing for food in grocery bags. I’m not sure how he eventually got back to bed, but I was happy Hitomi helped out.
I had yet to cosplay myself, though I was wearing my anime jerseys (Ika-Musume, Madoka Magica) and getting a bit of attention that way. Today, Hitomi had scoped out a set photo area for cosplayers, which had interesting backgrounds. I finally got to wear my lab jacket, white shirt, etc. and dress up as the character ‘Okarin’ from Steins;Gate.
Leo was dressed as my younger double, but he also had the other, more substantial costume from yesterday. The problem was getting him to stay put with not only video game machines next door, but fun curtains and whatnot he could run around and hide behind. There was also three professional photo service areas where we got about 6-7 shots taken and paid for prints for 3 ($25).
We had booked a babysitter for the evening concert, the Japanese band Porno Graffiti. At this age, hiring a babysitter sounds easy (though expensive) but it confuses Leo at bit and she had a tough time getting him to eat and sleep. Twenty minutes or so of screaming for “mama” and “papa” later he did settle down.
Alas, we were having a great time in the balcony. I’m not too familiar with all their songs, just the 2 or 3 I’ve heard through anime, but they were well down. Definitely professional, quality musicians deserving their notoriety in Japan.
(Listing to Porno do the Fullmetal Alchemist opening song once, then again in encore, I did have a couple of sad thoughts: I never did finish reading the manga, watching the first series, nor the second series of Fullmetal. And now with the second season, is it worth revisiting the first? Will my eventual maternity leave next year leave me with time to catch up with all the shows? *sigh*)
We went to Lawry’s for dinner, and although the incarnation out of Staple’s Center you order at the door, it’s still great food. It’s also great eating without directing traffic around’s Leo mouth. We also ate on the sidewalk and nothing beats relaxing while interesting cosplayers walk by.
I got an invite to attend an industry event (sponsored by Sakura-con), so after briefly returning to the room, I took a taxi off to this restaurant full of a hundred or so anime industry people: Voice actors, studio execs, producers, Japanese companies, etc. I’m not that much of an introvert, but I don’t do too well at loud parties full of people I don’t know. I did run into Eugene and some other folk from Sakura-con. Rhubab, who worked with me at Sakura-con with h.Naoto’s, happened to be there with a Visual Kei performer and her boyfriend. I hugged and chatted with her circle briefly about being a dad and showed them pictures of Leo.
It was great seeing a few people, but I was already done with the party. Rather than get a taxi, I walked back alone, enjoying the night.
The convention came and went so quickly. After eating breakfast and packing up (which took a long time), it was 11AM already. With Leo in his stroller, we were hoping he’d eventually sleep, which he did.
The lunch plan was to eat off one of the food trucks, which unfortunately mean you are out in the sun in line to order, but I wasn’t going to pay for convention food. There was a good bit of shade and we enjoyed our Japanese-style hot dogs and fries.
With our flight in the afternoon, basically we only had time to explore the exhibit hall. I did run into Toshio Maeda, the self-proclaimed master of tentacles. He speaks good English yet I talked Japanese anyway, more than I should have, because after talking English to me, I should have been polite to stop. I bought his dojinshi of La Blue Girl and explained I needed a plastic bag, ostensibly because I didn’t want my wife to see the cover, as it was a bit racy. He suggested that, oh yeah, your wife “might fucking kill you.” Really, I just wanted a way to hide the cover’s breasts from view as I walked around.
I kind of wished I was more of a fan of his, given the art quality, innovation, and controversy of his work. I’m big into erotic manga, but really his main titles were released before my time, really. And I never felt interested in tentacle sex, nor violent rape stories. I have yet to watch Urotsukidoji or La Blue Girl, but I remember all the controversy and trouble those titles caused. (Texas convicted a comic book staff member for selling an issue of this man’s comic, Demon Beast Invasion.)
As Hitomi and I reconvened, we suddenly realized we’re late for our flight, and quickly grab a taxi from the hotel. With the time to load up, traffic, and having to check bags, we get put on a later flight without incident.
Flying is tough: Leo doesn’t sit still and Hitomi is annoyed that I suggested we did not buy a seat for him. Oh well, he’s 2 in a few weeks and that issue will be moot.